03 June 2007

MacRitchie to Bukit Timah Briskwalk 1

The first of the two public briskwalks in June 07 was held today. Great weather, comfortable turn up of around 26 people!

02 June 2007

Pedal Ubin - why we switched our M. O.

Pedal Ubin - Monthly rides?!
When the Ubin Journeys series of public education rides were redesigned as Pedal Ubin and stocked with new guides by late 2003, I was surprised by their suggestion of monthly rides.

It was partly suggested to enable the many guides an opportunity to guide. Also, there was an idealism to provide an event regularly every month and to alternate between Saturdays and Sundays.

Eventually I felt that they may as well try this while they were still eager. After all, who knows how it'd turn out. And guides who turned up regularly would quickly become experienced.

Stress, stress!
This year, I talked to Project Supervisor Airani and Project Manager Kaixin separately and together and confirmed that after three years, the monthly rides were the cause of some distress! Mind you, it took some interrogation to eek out this confession - Kaixin, especially, is a long-suffering sort of character, not given to complaint.

Publicity and signups
The monthly rides were so frequent, project managers kept forgetting to alert Kenneth and myself to advertise the rides. I had not advertised widely partly because I had felt uncomfortable about sending out monthly adverts. That frequently, our news would soon be regarded as spam!

Still, enough people were somehow finding the website and signing up. Initially the relatively low numbers worked out but absentees would mess up our guide: participant ratio.

Absentee registrants solved!
Every month, excess guides were turning up at Changi Jetty in the early morning for nothing - all because of absentee registrants! This was infuriating but unfortunately, many public events suffer from this anti-social behaviour by an irresponsible minority of the public.

The no show element messed up our roster. After consulting with other volunteer managers, I tried something - initiate a minimal payment of $10. The guides met participants at Changi Jetty, organised them into groups of 13, paid for their bumboat crossing and similarly negotiated bicycle rental and helped them choose bikes.

But it worked! Zero absentees!

But this was no easy solution. Raffles Museum is not well setup for public payments and the process required painful and inconvenient adjustments which eventually required Ivan to drop in at the museum every month to settle paperwork on his off-days. Inconvenient and complicated.

Also, charging for an event went against the grain of the Toddycats too, even though we were operating at a loss. The museum paid for the difference which wasn't much.

The roster that failed
Kaixin was juggling a roster in which guides needed turn up at least four times a year. But which four months would this be? The roster commitment was difficult for guides to honour too far ahead of time, so it was a headache waiting for guide confirmations each month. The roster was a nice idea, not practical and had become a painful process!

Not all help is helpful
The guides were helping participants chose their bicycles in Ubin and although this was helpful, I felt we were denying participants the opportunity of exploring the village, figuring out how to rent a bike and bargain! That part of the Ubin experience was being facilitated away by the guides, and I felt that was not necessarily a good thing.

Monopoly is not ideal
We stuck with one shop with a helpful proprietor who even offered to pick up and replace problem bikes by van. But his bikes got worse after time, and other shops were friendly too and deserved some business too.

Free, quarterly rides
After some further observation and the consultation with Airani and Kaixin, I decided to switch to quarterly rides. The first Saturday of the first month in every quarter was now reserved for Pedal Ubin and it would not clash with any other Toddycats event.

With Pedal Ubin conducted only four times a year,
  • All guides are required to turn up for ALL the rides - no more wondering about guide availability.
  • The mailing list is programmed with quarterly reminders.
  • Guides unable to commit would have to be dropped and participants numbers reduced accordingly - less stress for project managers.
  • Notices of each rides could be publicised through all our usual channels without being a nuisance!
  • Registration would once again be free.
  • Over-subscribe registration (80 pax) since 20% at least would not to turn up - the remaining numbers would result in a satisfying ride for all.

First quarterly ride today, what worked?
Pre-ride issues
  • We advertised a month in advance.
  • We used the usual publicity channels - people said they heard about it via NUS IVLE (student notice board), NUS Staff circular, Habitatnews mailing list and webpage, word of mouth via friends, blogs, WildSingapore, etc. We need to add this question to a web-based registration form.
  • We should have advertised a closing date.
  • Kaixin said registration was relatively easily but I must try to find her some help.
  • We are switching the registration email to the museum gmail account and the participants spreadsheet to Google Spreadsheets, so a few of us can cross-check or help out.

The ride
  • Guides turned up at the Ubin Volunteer Hub - with no other work to do, they had a relaxing breakfast!
  • Participants had to choose, negotiate and bargain in Ubin Village. That was good fun for them, and more bicycle shops had business this morning.
  • About 45 of the 80 registered participants turned up: that's a 56% attendance! The guide ratio? Turned out to be 2-3 guides per 11-12 participants; a lovely, manageable proportion!
  • Guides who felt they were shaky on content helped as last man or simply rode amongst participants and chatted with them - both of these are important support roles.
  • Airani despatched participants to four corners of the old basketball court, and it worked quite efficiently.
  • The guides I observed emphasised cycling safety and techinique early and efficiently.

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25 April 2007

Earth Day at Botanical Gardens

Dear all,

These are some of the thoughts for the exhibition for Earth Day at The Botanical Gardens:

Siva, Airani and I managed to pack the necessary items for the event in only an hour’s time. Off we go the next day to set up shop at Botanical Gardens. In my opinion, it just shows we are getting more and efficient in setting up mobile exhibits. All we need now are better posters (Replace those battered ones) and probably invest in display stands, transport boxes for specimens and equipments (pens, markers, scissors, yarn, etc.) and we can set up shop at any place and any time.

Airani and I did the setup. As usual, once I pulled out our star, the dugong, it drew a crowd before we began putting up our posters. So for those who don’t want any bother before opening shop, leave the star to the last minute. By the way, anybody knows the gender of the dugong. I have got a couple of people asking. Some even ask for its name. I think I will start calling it “Dewi”. (I thought I hear some screams.) Siva, maybe we can have a “Name Our Star, the Dugong” competition just for fun.

Crowd and Guiding
Traffic was not that heavy but the constant stream of people kept me busy throughout the event. Thank you Airani and Dinesh for the help! Most of the time, I’m alone. Later I know from Siva that I could actually abandon the booth to see the film or join in the talk. But talking to the public was really a good way of exchanging information. Did you know horseshoe crab is actually considered a delicacy in Penang and Thailand?

Since most of the time, I was the only one manning of the booth; I was not able to attend to all the people at the booth at the same time. I realized some public will wait by reading the posters on the easel that were put in front of the table before I finished with another group to attend to them. Next time round, we can try putting a few interesting posters in front of the booth to hold on to the crowd before we have time to attend to them. By the way, the two posters on the easel were “Is there marine life in Singapore?” and a self made “International Coastal Cleanup Singapore Process”

Next, to all fellow mobile exhibitors, I am sorry to announce the sea urchin specimen had decided to leave us and joined its brethren either up there or down below depending on its karma. (Up there I hope, since it sacrificed its life for the benefit of educating the public.)

Actually, what happened was someone picked up the specimen and I wanted to hold it for her. In the process of the transfer, it dropped, bounced on the table, rolled off the side of the table and kamikaze like Humpty Dumpty. I am sorry for the lost.

I comforted her and ensured her that it would be alright as museum was already prepared for the lost by bringing them out for display. She did offer to compensate but I refused. I did pick up the pieces and any adventurous soul can try to glue Humpty Dumpty back again. Now I think we should have some idea on what to do with the specimen in case they break, especially those in bottles. What should we do if Dewi decides to join Humpty Dumpty the sea urchin? Would the specimen boxes (plastic one) come in handy?

Tearing Down
Tearing down was only a matter of minutes and as Siva was waiting for me at the porch with horseshoe crab in his hand, he had to entertain the crowd at the porch. Finally did some guiding. Ha ha ha!

Yup,Yup! That’s all. Suppose to be only four paragraphs. Sorry that it turned out to be a full one and a half page report.

Chen Kee… Off to sew a pillow case for his teddy bears…

30 September 2006

Toddycats Exhibition at NLB

For the last 2 saturdays I have been stationed at National Library for a Toddycats exhibition in conjunction with Eco 4 the world's UNEP Passage of Hope photo exhibition. Being more of a regional perspective, our little booth brings a local perspective to biodiversity conservation.

Eco4theworld's Passage of Hope travelling exhibition.

Doing this partly as my project for NEA's Young Environmental Envoy, the toddycats exhibit was unfotunately the only 'booth' there. To rectify the problem, I attempted to bring the different groups to the public by helping them distribute their flyes and printed materials. It was an excellent exercise at consolidating the efforts of the different green groups in Singapore and complimented each other very well.

Thanks to Joe from SEC's Green Volunteer Network, Ria from Wild Singapore for providing their excellent Wildfilms presentations, Vilma from NSS for the free Nature Watch which were very popular with everyone, Abby from Blue Water Volunteers for their flyers and all the help from the toddycats, from planning to actual day manpower. Many were bugged by me for months and others responded brilliant to last minute calls for help from the monkey. Even without script, trained Pedal Ubin guide, Andy D was able to help with the exhibit effortlessly. Of course he mentioned that hearing me regale the public with the same stories every 5 minutes helped!

The first Saturday, due to shortage in manpower, we only had the monkey, lots of freebies and panels galore. Many people were wondering if we were selling anything till we told them that there were free things to be had. After 1pm, the lunch time crowd started coming in and it was a jam!

The only picture of monkey over the 2 weekends.

As the exhibition coincided with the International Coastal Cleanup in Singapore, one of the biggest event in Toddycats calendar, the monkey had a shortage of manpower. However, it did not stop us from spreading word of the coastal cleanup and the surprising biodiversity in Singapore.

"Did you know there are dolphins in Singapore" worked brilliantly as an opening line for me on the first Saturday.

On top of that, we had 2 videos from WildFilms, one of which I spent a whole night converting from powerpoint to quicktime while adding a soundtrack from Snow Patrol courtesy of Hua Qin. It proved to be worth the time well spent. We introduced more than 100 people about the marine biodiversity in Singapore, the curse of the plastics and what people can do!

The next saturday, we brought on the help of the specimens, a proven crowd-magnet over past exhibitions.

Time was spent packing the exhibits the day before and on the day itself, 2 toddycats met me in school along with Wai who was kind enough to come and give me a hand loading the specimens into the cab, pass me the BWV flyers and also lend me her camera or there would have been no photos of the day! Interestingly, most of the toddycats that helped out explaining the exhibits were mostly non-biology students but we had no problems holding their attention. There was the geographer monkey, an accountant and an accurer. In fact, our veteran is a bear making mechanical engineer! We may not know scientific name and physiology but we sent the public home with awareness of biodiversity conservation in Singapore anyways.

We had with us a Malayan Pangolin, a Colugo, a Hawksbill Turtle hatchling, a Black Spitting Cobra, a Dugong, a Knobbly seastar and a Beach Horseshoe Crab! People listened on, captivated by the stories and the opening line never failed me.

"Did you know all these animals can be found in Singapore?"

At times I felt like the mobile salesman you find outside NTUC selling his wares behind a table to a crowd of curious housewives. At one point when the booth was left alone save for a monkey, I had to resort to addressing all 10 people in front of me at the same time.

Still, it paid off but nothing beats having and seeing my volunteers attend to the interested public, giving them personalized attention. It's especially great seeing the kids take it all in.

I met a kid who told his mama that they should go to a beach right now and bring a horseshoe crab home to keep in his tank. Hopefully my asking him if he had a beach or mangrove at home to keep the horseshoe crab alive and happy persuaded him otherwise. I doubt he has a forest at home to keep the colugos happy either. Better keep it out there in the wild for all the share.

There were encouraging moments when I saw a returning visitor. A mother who visited the booth on the first Saturday with her two kids returned again to show support to our exhibition on the 2nd Saturday after hearing from me that there would be real specimens the second time round! In fact, the kids loved the specimens so much, I ran out of stories to feed their hungry enquiring minds.

It also helped that we played a little "where can these animals be found" game with the kids and adults alike, with NSS Nature Watch magazines to be given away as prize. Being so popular, the magazine had no problems enticing even the adults to play our game. Before we knew it, 200 copies of the magazine was given out over the two Saturdays! In fact, save for a few brochures, we gave out almost everything we brought to the library! Our bags always came back lighter.

Playing games.

At around 4pm, we packed up and ICCS zone captain drove down all the way from the museum to pick me and the specimens up from the library back to the school. It was a good way to spend my weekend. Talking for 6 hours nonstop was worth it!

Unpacked and home sweet home.

For more photos, see my flickr set.

02 September 2006

Setting up exhibition for NYEF 2006

The night before the National Youth Environment Forum, organized by ECO Singapore and held at SMU School of Accounting on 2 September 2006, the security guard at SMU encountered a car load full of toddycats bustling up towards the building with panels and gear in tow.

While Siva, Weisong and Gwynne has the responsibility of presentation and caucus group discussion tomorrow, Yueat Tin and Chen Kee has the task of setting up the panel exhibition the night before due to logistics reasons. Luckily, Yueat Tin encountered more toddycats, namely Anand and November, at the NUS Masters of Environmental Management Lecture Series and managed to rope them in to help out in exchange for a free ride home! Along the way, the civet cats also managed to pick up an ECO member at the Energy and Climate Change talk that evening and got insider help from him.

After much shifting around to accomodate the feng shui and limitations of the venue, the exhibition team finally decided on a spot not so far or different from the originally assigned one. Setting up the exhibition display panels turned out easier than expected with the extra pairs of hands. We also managed to get extra display panels courtesy of our friendly organizers which helped very much.

After setting up and being very pleased with our handicraft, the team took photos and head off to supper, transfering photos and blogging this very account. But not before we arranged for the logistics for the next day which involves transporting the specimens for our booth from the museum in the morning.

The display includes mainly details about RMBR Toddycats and our activities, RMBR newsletters and museum roundtable flyers. At the same time we will also be displaying several specimens such as the dugong, horseshoe crab, knobbly sea star and the heart urchin.

All photos courtesy of Wong Yueat Tin.

01 September 2006

Activities this weekend

Hi all,

I'll be giving a talk at NUS LT31 at 12pm. It's in conjunction with the
ICCS. See Raffles Museum NewsI'm preparing that now! Dewi and Dongrong will setup an exhibition at LT31 for the session.

On Saturday, Gwynne and Wei Song will be facilitating at the National Youth Environment Seminar at SMU, where I'll give a10 minute presentation on behalf of NSS andd ACRES as well. This is the follow up to the amazingly informative and motivational pre-forum seminar last week.

Yueat Tin, Chen Kee and Kai Scene will setup and man an exhibition at SMU where they'll meet youth from various organisations. Airani just finished preparing the new set of name cards for all our exhibitions.

The International Coastal Cleanup Singapore Kranji team - Wei Song, Yueat Tin, Cheng Puay and Hua Qin - will be conducting a briefing and walk through of the site at Kranji in the afternoon, at the Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. The Kranji team includes several other Toddycats who are handling data, site supervision and leaders of the NUS team.

November will be setting up and manning the ICCS exhibition (marine life and pollution issues) at an NEA exhibition at the National Library. We always partner some organisation for exhibitions so that their publicity will umbrella us and a wider picture of the issues is achieved.

Wai has been helping with the BBC crew filming snakes and crabs in the mangroves. That's been a dawn to dusk effort which was finally completely successful last night. I'll release the crabs at Sungei Buloh tomorrow.

The ICCS Otters led by Deputy Coordinators Angeline and Yueat Tin are communicating with groups to allocate sites for the cleanup and briefing new organisers, partnering up organisations at sites.

Zone Captains, Ng Kai Scene, Hwang Wei Song & Vu Tinh-ky, Ng Hua Qin, Dinesh N., Lim Chen Kee and Kok Oi Yee have recce-d their sites and are handling the management of groups coming on the 9th and 16th of September.

Talks have been given/allocated to about 20 schools and organisations so far, which Chien Fang has been coordinating.

I have to go prepare for my talk - this was meant to be a two liner note! But a lot is happening all the time. We just don't write that much about it.

More things lie ahead in the next three months: ICCS post-even debrief and analysis, Southern Ridges trail (briskwalk and cycling), Sungei Buloh Anniversary Walk, Public Gallery Guiding, the Annual Recruitment, recce of Mandai mangroves, etc.



26 June 2006

Enviro Fest! - Deep in explanations Posted by Picasa