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

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