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…