25 July 2005

Pasir Panjang Heritage Trail 2005

The Pasir Panjang Heritage Trail is one of the activities for the Singapore Heritage Festival. This trail was jointly organised by the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, NUS (RMBR) and Reflections of Bukit Chandu, National Archives of Singapore (RBC). This year, it was held on Sat 16th Jul, Sun 17th Jul and Sun 24th Jul 2005. There were 3 sessions per day at 9am, 11.30am and 2pm. The longer time between sessions allowed the guides to return to the start points for the next session more comfortably.

Overall, each session of the trail took about 2 hours, the starting point being Carpark A of Kent Ridge Park, and the end point being at Reflections at Bukit Chandu, the interactive visitor centre featuring information about the Battle of Pasir Panjang. The information conveyed to the participants during the Trail included aspects of natural history as well as culture and history, reflecting the area's rich heritage.

For the first one and a half hours, the Pasir Panjang guides led the participants around the Ridge, exploring the flora and fauna as well as explaining to them the historical background of the Ridge. This included a geographical orientation to the major sites of the battle which ensured that participants would have a better understanding of the historical significance of Bukit Chandu when they visited the museum there.

Guide training/refresher course
These sessions were invaluable and were reduced to just two sessions in the classroom and one field session. There is a lot of resources on the Pasir Panjang Heritage Webpage which guides can read up themselves. Reading up before the session and doing more quizzes or analysing text to sort out the battle complexities as we did this year was probably more interesting than the usual lecture format.

Manpower limitations
Work commitments, illnesses and injuries had left us with very few active guides, so we had to reduce the number of participants we could allow this year, to some 300+ instead of the 800+ last year.

Still, over 9 sessions, and many affected by rain, Oi Yee, Marcus, Kenneth, Kiah Shen, Wendy and Airani guided some 307 participants.

Some sessions had registered 50-60 participants instead of 40 and this exceeded the maximum participants: guides ratio, which was tough. It was also a strain to handle more than two sessions solo and the resultant sore throats and low energy levels made it clear the Pasir Panjang Heritage Trail programme is vulnerable with such small pool of guides (currently about 10 of us). So we are planning to recruit more guides soon - just a few more would be helpful. Just two new guides this year, Marcus and Kenneth, who were let loose with incomplete training, proved invaluable.

This was done rather late but with much fewer places available this year, the last minute publicity to NUS was enough. Otterman sent out an email notice to NUS Staff through Campus Green Committee and Kiah Shen posted a notice at IVLE. That was enough to fill up all places in days.

Meeting points
This year, RBC arranged for participants to be picked up by a ferry bus from Harbour Front Centre, unlike Bouna Vista MRT station last year. This change was made in hope of attracting more participants from the East and North of the island.

Stella Wee (RBC) was on the ground to welcome and coordinate matters. It helps that RBC staff actually compile the registrations into an excel list with names and telephone numbers! It allows us to call the no shows and check if they are on their way, and reassure them if its no too late. Last year Otterman did this and also recruited some Toddycats to become volunteer ushers for the specific sessions they were attending. We must do the same next year as manpower is now more sorely needed at Harbour Pavillion, which is a much bigger place!

Harbour Pavillion was also tough because many were unfamiliar with it still - reminding them that it is the former World Trade Centre proved necessary! Stella eventually directed participants to the bus at Lobby C Coach Bay of the Singapore Cruise Centre. Since RBC staff had personally called up participants earlier so all were informed. Also their redirected their office lines to their handphones, and thus remained accessible to participants who were lost. So everyone found their way.

At Kent Ridge Park, a hiccup in communications led to a significant number of participants waiting at Carpark B instead of the new meeting point at Carpark A. The start point had been changed this year as more routes through the park could be employed this way and it minimized the distance of the route that was repeated, and provided a dramatic surprise for participants later with the view of the Southern Islands.

During the first session, there was heavy rain and the ferry from Harbour Pavillion picked up the waiting participants who drove at Kent Ridge Park, and headed over to RBC. So the trail was conducted in reverse and that worked out well.

Path maintenance
A difficulty experienced during guiding was the fact that the NParks has been pruning the plants along the paths very frequently! The luxury of pointing out a plant from the path was lost to us and participants were coaxed onto ant-filled grass to view the plant closely. Thus the more urbanised participants who would not leave the concrete path did not examine the plants closely.

More significantly, the natural shapes of the plants were altered by the pruning. For example, many Simpoh Air plants have been pruned to look like trees instead of bushes, preventing the visitor from recognising the natural shape of the plant.

Perhaps we can persuade NParks tto leave certain signature trees alone, and even add a label to it so that it would be possible to learn a range of plants by walking around the park.

The guidesheets (which were prepared in 2000) could be revised as some of the plants are not included. There was insufficient time for a proper lunch break and rest before the 2pm session but bringing our own packed lunches would solve the problem. Or more guides would solve that as we could each do two sessions.

Guide response
Overall, the ability of the guides to react quickly to the wet weather and the performance of the new and veteran guides were commendable. Thanks for the good job everyone! For the guides that were unable to turn up, don't despair! There is still the 60th Anniversary Commemorative walk on the 3rd and 4th of September.

Heritage Trail
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Appended by N. Sivasothi

20 July 2005

Pulau Semakau is opened to the public!

16th July 2005: Official launch of the Pulau Semakau Recreational Area

Early morning of the event, we were stricken by bad weather. There was light rain which got gradually heavier, but thankfully the rain stopped soon enough and we didn't have to cancel! The day was really quite pleasant - cloudy, slightly windy and very cool.

We started off on the wrong foot actually - Toddycats Victoria, Grace and myself held up the 7.45am ferry for about 10 minutes, which we regretted and were apologetic for! We were thankful they waited as it meant we reached the booth at 8.30am and allowed us an hour to set up before the guests arrived. Chin Ling joined us later together with the arrival of the VIP party, as planned.

It was a little difficult setting things up because the strong winds blew everything around! Eventually we managed, with the help of a lifesaver float, and a rock!


There was ample time for set up, so we looked around the exhibits put up by the various groups. Blue Water Volunteers was right next to us, and there were also exhibits put up by the NSS bird group and the Sport Fishing Association.


Toddycats and the Blue Water Volunteers

NSS Birdwatching Group

Sport Fishing Association

The VIP party with Minister of Environment Dr Yacoob Ibrahim, and including A/P Peter Ng, Wang Luan Keng and Ria Tan, together with the ex-residents of Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sakeng, arrived at the booth at about 10.15am, after they attended the ceremony held at the jetty.

Ex-residents of Semakau and Sakeng arriving at site.

The guests looked around the exhibits until about 11.15am. Our booth was visited by the VIP party shortly after their arrival as we were the nearest to the arrival point of the guests. Dr Yacoob Ibrahim, accompanied by A/P Peter Ng and others, actually ate one of the mangrove fruits that one of the ex-residents indicated was edible. It was a fruit of Ximenia americana


Minister Yakob also touched the starfish (Archaster typicus)

Some of the ex-residents and other guests also exhibited some interest in the touch pool:


It was quite a crowd and the guests were mingling and looking at the exhibits. One of the groups brought kites to fly and there were bicycles too. There was also a fishing competition for the folks from NEA by the Sport Fishing Association that continued until much later.

The event organisers provided box lunch in a goodie basket and many of the ex-residents and other guests were sitting at the tables provided or at the rocks around the site having a picnic. Some of the guests actually brought tents and camped at the edges of the site and around the lagoon area.

More photos in the Semakau album and more reports in Habitatnews.

The event ended at about 11.45am when the VIP party was ferried back to the jetty by bus. We packed up and caught the 12.30pm ferry back to the mainland.

After thoughts:
I felt we felt we managed to pull through a decent job, although we had just two days and planning was done the same week. We were worried as we had no guide for the collection trip, as Siva was down with the flu, and there was no one else! However, we were immensely relieved that our touch pool held more than just mangrove mud and water!

In fact the exhibit was able to excite the interest some of the ex-residents and guests into peering into our tanks. Some even hazarded to touch the sea stars, but Dr Yacoob Ibrahim took tthe proze for bravery by trying the fruit!

All of us agreed Pulau Semakau was a nice nature spot, and it would be nice to visit it again! We certainly had a bit of fun during the two days!

Setting up the Toddycats touch pool for the Pulau Semakau launch

15th July 2005: Specimen collection trip to Pulau Semakau for the touch pool

On 15th July 2005, a survey trip was conducted by a few of us Toddycats (Victoria, Grace, Marcus and me), to collect specimens for a touch pool for the official launch of the Semakau Landfill Recreational Area the next day.

The collection site was the mudflats at the edge of the young mangrove area, that we got to through a short forest trail. On the way there was a fallen tree blocking a section in the forest trail (must be the recent rainy weather), but nothing we couldn't climb. We reached the site at about 9.30am and got busy collecting specimens for the live display.

We managed to collect a few small crabs (the big ones were too fast!) There were also gold-spotted mudskippers everywhere, but catching them was a futile exercise. We caught a soldier crab (Dotilla myctiroides), a baby horseshoe crab, some hermit crabs, and several snails and bivalves. We also were lucky to chance upon not one but two starfish. They were the most effortless catch, next to the common seagrasses and seaweed on the mudflats. We also collected fruits from the mangrove trees at the shoreline.

Some of our catch:

A baby horseshoe crab.

Hermit crabs, snails and bivalves. Spot the horseshoe crab!

We tanked our lucky stars ;) amongst the seaweeds and soft coral.

Nerita sp.

Some interesting finds
At about 11.30am, although the incoming tide was still low, we had to end our collection due to heavy rain. The collection was not substantial but there were enough interesting animals and plants for display, so we were happy enough! And we did find some interesting specimens. The soldier crab was unusual enough for museum staff to want to take a closer look at it after the launch.

We managed to collect a conus shell! But we didn't bring it back because it is venomous. We made the painful decision to leave it behind, to avoid greater pain of being stung! We were a little sad about this, especially Marcus who was the proud collector! It looked pretty, a menacing red with black spots. But I suppose it was not really touch-pool material!

We also saw a water spout! It came along suddenly and stayed for about ten minutes, before disappearing just as suddenly. Only Marcus didn't see it! :D

But we have a shot of him with water spout.

Collection was not the end.
We had to carefully sift through and sort the murky tanks of animals we collected. We ended with two crab and snail tanks, a seastar tank, and a seagrass tank. We left these overnight at Semakau in the main building, equipped with an aerator. We found te sorting to be a fairly slow process as we were afraid to kill or lose anything! It took us up to 2.00pm by the time we left Semakau Landfill, tired and very hungry!

06 July 2005

Public Briskwalks in June

Two briskwalks were conducted on the first and third Sunday of June.

This is the first time I help to co-ordinate a public walk. It was actually a very easy job on my part. Siva takes care of the web page (which is a one-stop information centre) and gets all the registration emails. Anand takes note of which regulars are coming to help out. I think about the route, take note of dates, number of people coming, send reminders, and either take pictures or get help taking pics. Miscellaneous stuff mainly. But I enjoyed what I did.

The route decision took a bit of thinking. Some of us preferred the scenic way by the reservior, some prefer the other way. It was the same distance more or less. But my personal preference (being not as fit) was the scenic way, because a sunrise over water (yes it may be artificial but still its a nice scene) makes one feel more exhilarated. And there are more changes in scenery, not just trees on both sides. The path also feels less "pebbled". At first the summit route was closed. But I am quite glad it opened in time for public walk. Because as someone (forgot who??!!) told me, ending at the summit gives everyone a great sense of satisfaction. And its a good photo point as well.

I was worried about the turn-out being very poor on the actual days, about not enough regulars being around and about what if some accident happened along the way. Yes, I think too much. Anyway, for the turn out, spreading the word on habitatnews and wildsingapore, ivle and to friends and family seemed to work. As for the regulars, I realised that when there are reliable people, there is no need to worry. And since Anand is taking charge there, I should worry even less! As for the accidents happening, the path is really well marked and there are so many other people walking it. Really quite safe. And if anything happens, we all have hp handy!

Most of all, I enjoyed the actual days. Due to the early mornings, a lot of people who sign up will not show up. But sometimes, people who have not signed up come as well. So no matter how many or how few people come, we will just adjust and walk. The regulars are all so at ease with the walking and all, everything ran quite smoothly. All there is to do for me was to greet and chat with the people who come. I found that words of encouragement, smiles and some small talk to distract people from fatigue is useful.

One thing to note, you definitely need more than one cameraman and they all need to be fit! I for one found it hard to take pictures and walk at the same time. Spoils the momentum.

Raffles Museum Public Gallery Guiding: A Recent Experience!

On 25th June 2005, 21 young children, age ranging from kindergarten to primary four, and 2 teachers from a childcare centre, visited the museum gallery. Gwynne and I were roped in the last minute to guide them.

The initial strategy was to have an introduction to the whole group. However we split into 2 groups immediately, as I realized I would not be able to give a good introduction that would capture their attention.

Fortunately their teachers were in my group and I was able to have a better control of the children. I also had better attention from them. Because of this, I was able to deliver my stories completely most of the time without much interruption.

My guiding strategy was to give a brief introduction on the function of the museum, and then hold their attention with as many interesting stories as possible. This strategy worked and I was just able to complete one round of the gallery just as I ran out of stories to tell them. The lack of stories was due to the lack of biology background I have. I dare not talk about the scientific aspect of the specimens, as I do not want to give misinformation. This is one area I must work upon and I believe it will be a major problem for guides without biology background. One example was when they asked me about the flying fox and I was stumped since I knew nothing about it. Luckily Siva was around to helped me answer that question.

For presentation, I told my facts like stories and kept them as simple as possible to fit into their short attention span. I was speaking in kiddie and drama mode and using a lot of dramatic hand gesture. I basically became a storyteller. I also posted a lot of simple questions as I found the audience very eager to answer and it helped me in focusing their attention on the specimens I was talking about. It also gained me a better control of the children.

The biggest problem I had during the guiding was the handling of the comments thrown at me simultaneously from the children. Most of the comments were distantly relevant and at times disrupted the story. Yet I believe it is courtesy to reply to these comments yet not to lose the control and attention of the children.

For the comments that came at the end of the story, I would acknowledge the commenter who was still maintaining the eye contact with me, usually with a very short answer. I would then attempt to gain back the control and attention by gathering them to the next specimen I would like to talk about. For the comments that came in the middle of the story, I would only acknowledge if the comment was relevant or I could use the comment to link to my next point in the story.

On the whole, I enjoyed the experience. I would be able to do a better job if I was more mentally prepared so that I would not struggle in presenting my content. I was also nervous throughout the entire guiding. Both factors contributed a lot to my stuttering. Lastly, I would rate myself a 6.5 out of 10 for my performance.

What a relief when it finally ended!