Sunday, 20 November 2011

Reflections by Janet

Being a participant of the EXCEL program in Chek Jawa has been a most invigorating and fulfilling experience. I cannot exactly explain how I came to experience such pleasure in exploring Chek Jawa, except that such a delightful place must indeed stir up a passion for life.

I remember how there was a large protest against the Singapore government to keep Chek Jawa from being reclaimed. Environmental activists petitioned that Chek Jawa should remain as it is. The end result was successful and the government relented in keeping away their plans for an urbanised Chek Jawa. Such a story piqued my interest in joining the environmental EXCEL program. There was unorthodox leadership in this – meaning that a non-conforming yet passionate leader rose up to defend the helpless lives of Chek Jawa. This speaks more than any leader in a guaranteed position because this leader believed strongly in his ideals, even if it went against economic and national progress logic. Although many leaders lead well, they lead accordingly to pragmatic and practical reasons for meritocratic progress. However, I believe that outstanding leaders are able to lead with such excellence because they will not compromise their values for just a practical or economically beneficial reason. I consider these leaders abstract, because they do not lead out of duty, but they fulfil and yet fuel their passions. With this, they do not merely pique interest in their followers, but they inspire similar value systems in them.

The above paragraph captures my thoughts on the talk that Ria gave. Though she was not the first to discover and protect Chek Jawa, she was quickly caught in the whirlwind of preserving wildlife, an ecosystem untouched by human civilisation. She became the fervour to arouse enthusiastic individuals who will share her passion. What a force of leadership she is to be reckoned with!

My first trip to Chek Jawa was an eye-opener for me. It had been eons since I last stepped onto Pulau Ubin, and my senses towards Nature have already been dulled by too much of a familiarity with concrete, stone and tar. I was attached to Ley Kun, who took me in as a co-tour guide with her. A European family followed us on this tour. Quite very quickly, I became friends with the 2 young daughters of the family.

Guiding a small group has its advantages. Initially, I hoped for a big group, so that I could blend in together with the crowd. However, I thought that that was not what I should be doing. I ought to be taking the first step to initiate the family into experiencing the joy of Nature in Chek Jawa. Now, this proved to be quite a feat, as it was also my first time at Chek Jawa. So how was it possible for me to impart a passion I had yet to experience?

But this I knew: I chose to come to Chek Jawa because it possesses a value which few can see, and even if many saw it, they could not internalise it. Such a value of life is intangible and mmeasurable by any indicator of success. I had a liking for Nature, but I didn’t yet know how much I loved it. This pre-conceived idea of delving into a relationship with Nature helped me very much to speak forth my interests in this area.

Figure 1 Family who toured with me on my first guiding experience.

The elder daughter was roughly my age, while the younger one was about 7 years my junior. To connect with the family, I found that the easiest way was through bonding with the daughters. While I spoke more easily with the older one and discussed studies at length, the younger one was significantly chattier and enjoyed mimicking the sounds of Nature, often making bird calls and the likes. This did not really bother me at all, but it did give me an insight into their family dynamics to further understand them and guide in such a way to cater to their needs.
Figure 2 Mudskipper showing off his gill.

We saw many things that day; mudskippers that were hard to spot, crabs in the lobster mounds, a ‘sea’ of tiny red claws waving atop seaweed on the beach, a huge ant weaver’s nest, etc. All these creatures were so full of life, each an embodiment of Nature’s great work of hands. As I spent more time opening up my senses to the environment around me, my senses grew keener and sharper, which readily aided me to follow up clues to look where that crab or that mudskipper might be found.

Figure 3 Crab on the lobster mounds.

This proved true indeed on my second trip to Chek Jawa. It was much easier to point out mudskippers (even the different types of them), camouflaged crabs against a brown background, monitor lizards, snails and the ant weavers again. Well, it was easier for me, but my capability fell short of children’s naturally superior touch with Nature! One of the little boys who was on the same trip as me told me that he counted 20 mudskippers, 10 crabs and 4 monitor lizards! His eyes must be keen as an eagle’s. This reminds me, that we saw a white-bellied eagle perched atop a withered tree rooted in the water. Such a splendid sight called to my mind a scene from Lion King, sweet reminiscing of a childhood past!

Figure 4 White-Bellied Eagle

I followed Ria this time round on my second tour, with 2 families to guide at hand. One of the families was based in Singapore, but they came from England. The other family was Malay, who loved Chek Jawa so much that they came back twice in a week just to see and learn more about it! They English family was a large one, with many children. The Malay family was smaller, but they had a disadvantaged child who needed to walk at a slower pace. Yet, she persevered even when she became tired and she neither complained nor showed any signs of giving up. Her bravery for life is worthy to be admired!

When the English family walked on at a faster pace ahead with Ria, I stayed behind with the Malay Family and guided them through. Fortunately, they seemed to be familiar enough with Chek Jawa to be at ease. One of the little girls even brought me to a rock she found on her previous trip to see the beautiful purple flowers which grew in the cracks there. As I stayed with the family, I could sense their appreciation which they showed by wanting to share their snacks with me, though I declined. From a leader’s point of view, I felt that everything was all the more worth it, because the people whom I led understood what I was doing, and they showed their appreciation for that. A weird exchange you might call it, but I suppose such acts of reciprocated kindness give leaders the motivation and strength to strive for excellence in their leadership.

In this trip, I too ‘officially’ talked about some parts of Chek Jawa, and I had to actively engage the 2 families in the stories I was about to tell. Before I came to the parts I was supposed to share about, I tried to engage every participant on an individual level, and more importantly, grasp an understanding as to how passionately they felt about the environment. I found teasers an extremely useful tool to pique the adults’ interest. Both fathers in my tour group were intrigued by my challenge on them finding out what material the boardwalk might be made up of. Children loved a descriptive story of the frog island while the mothers enjoyed learning factual biology which they could reiterate to their young ones.

Understanding the dynamics of a family helped me to lead them effectively. Most oftentimes, I find that mandatory leading is unnecessary. In this case, I feel that ‘guiding’ would be a more suited term to describe my leadership experience with these families. Indeed, as Ria has said, a success indicator of our tour is how much every one of us has enjoyed it. I enjoyed my trips tremendously, just as I believe the families had enjoyed them too.

Leading is a blessed thing to do, and I’ve been made to realise that it can exist in passion - joyful to delight in!

Reflections by Ting Wei

September’s trip marks my first time guiding at Chek Jawa, hopefully not my last. While I have previously been there as part of a CCA trip, I have never understood the significance of the place as I was merely enjoying the sea-breeze and panoramic view, not knowing what was lying beneath and around(: thus the first trip marks a considerably noteworthy day for me(:

The second trip was during November, approximately 2 months after my first trip. It was also my supposed On-The-Job-Training (OJT). While there was not much difference in that there was still a high tide, one thing about nature is that the things and sights that you see will never be the same. Indeed, I have seen much more on this trip including snakes and eagles which I will share more about later^^

There were two purposes for me in these trips, one being a brief personal interlude amidst the preparation for PW, and the other being fulfilling the objectives of EXCEL Programme, which is to expose myself to such a unique leadership and guiding opportunity.

Personally, I definitely enjoyed the second trip better as there were more creatures to see, and not to mention the young kids that I got to interact with during the trip. It is true that kids make a lot of difference to one’s guiding experience, because even the most sharp and observant guide will be amazed by how kids can manage to spot the littlest of creatures and their excitement and curiosity seems to influence us as well^^ Their enthusiasm in spotting even the smallest of animals got me excited as well, spotting the little creatures like crabs was no longer something I took for granted. I really really enjoy talking to them(: 

My next favourite personal experience on the trip was climbing the tower. I did not climb it on my previous trip as the people on the tour didn’t want to climb. So this actually marks the first time I climbed it and it was really cool^^ I actually have a bit of fear of heights but I realise that if you look ahead and you don’t look down it’s not so scary. It was nice to have wenxin on the trip as well because we were both quite scared of the shaking tower so there was some commonality there! :D  Ta Dah! The one in red is me!^^


Not only that, when we were at the top, we actually saw two eagles at the tree a distance away. It was pretty cool because the eagle was “gliding” across and while it was quite far away, Mr Loh’s camera could take a close-up photo of it. so here it is! I like how the eagle seemed so carefree in the middle of the sea^^

The last animal that I was quite surprised to see was the green snake. Apparently I was quite afraid the snake will dart and bite somebody but it didn’t. And the colour of the snake is definitely “striking”.

One thing I noted would be that it really does pay to stroll and walk slowly while on a tour like this because if you walk too fast you will fail to observe a lot of things that are out there. For example, you won’t be able to see this snake or the mudskippers in the mangroves because they blend easily into their environment. So note to self: Remember to walk slowly!^^

I think we (Sylvia, Janet, Wenxin and me) were all very tired after the tour and it was nice to have the seafood lunch after we were back.

While in Chek Jawa I got to spend time with adults, children, families and even individuals who signed up for the trip by themselves. All of them want to know and learn more about Chek Jawa, even if it means enduring the sweltering hot weather and coming all the way to pulau ubin themselves. There was a lady who is currently teaching and she had signed up for this tour by herself, just to see how nature is like in Singapore.  It was a joy to meet them and I hope that after the tour, they would still be continuing to attend more of such trips and embrace the beauty of Singapore’s nature. I do hope to visit the meadows of Chek Jawa soon!

Lastly, some personal thoughts on the environmental message behind these tours, I was encouraged by the number of people who turn up for the guided tours every time I went. It makes me feel thankful that there are families who are still passionate, if not excited about nature. I enjoy seeing kids on the trip because such education and influence from a young age goes a long way in the future. The excitement from the parents will hopefully be imbued in their children as well. I remember that my parents would never bring me on such tours and I realise how much youngsters might missed out schools never organised such trips for them. They might never know Chek Jawa existed before it is gone!

Thank you Naked Hermit Crabs for this opportunity. Thank you to the young acquaintances whom I may never meet again for opening my eyes to the many small creatures out there at Chek Jawa. May we all continue to preserve Chek Jawa and continue to do the hard work that needs to be done. The distinction is that this hard work is voluntary and out of interest and enjoyment. And that is what makes it significant. We can all make a difference.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Reflections by Sylvia

The EXCEL programme to Chek Jawa has been a real eye-opener for me. Although I have been to Pulau Ubin when I was younger, this was different than my past experiences. Perhaps because as Singapore continues to develop rapidly, Pulau Ubin looks even more rugged and different in comparison, or perhaps because of the commentary by Ria along the way, I saw it in a different light, not just a holiday destination but a place brimming with history. Not only is Chek Jawa’s marine life worth preserving, its wonderful sea view that cannot be found in Singapore, coupled with a serene environment that will surely give visitors a sense of release and escape from the hustle bustle of city life is to me also something to be cherished.

This trip has also taught me a lot about the skills necessary for being a good guide. It is important in leadership, as I feel that guides are leaders in their own right - pioneering others to discovering the beauty in nature, and leading in environmental conservation. Although highly overlooked, their guiding skills should be admired and many of the things we learnt from them were relevant to our development as leaders. Firstly, instead of playing a critical role on these trips, as I formerly thought was so, I realized that the guides are actually a secondary feature, there to facilitate and ensure that the visitors have a fun learning experience. I feel that it is applicable to council, where we have to keep in mind that the population we are catering to is the main stakeholder in our events. Although we are important, their enjoyment is our main concern and our purpose and focus is to facilitate that.

I also learnt that it is important to know how and what to say to people, to get them to listen to you. What is said is often not as important as how it is being said, since in the end, our objective is to ensure that people enjoy their experience, bring back good memories and feel more attached to and responsible for the conservation of Chek Jawa. This should be noted when planning events in council, where our end objectives in mind are extremely important and we need to make sure that whatever we do is aligned to those, in order to meet them. That being said, it is important to know how to appeal to different groups of people. As I had the opportunity of guiding 2 different groups- the first being a family and the second a group of adults during my OJT, this really came into play. In my opinion, the first trip was more enjoyable, made lively by the presence of kids. Of course, what is said to these groups of people to keep them interested is vastly different, something the guides managed to do well. This is also applicable to council, where we have to learn to appeal to very different groups of people, such as the teachers and the students, who are equally important groups of individuals, to garner their support. From this, I learnt that we must approach them in different ways to achieve that.

Lastly, I feel that the guided walks to Chek Jawa are an excellent way to showcase its beauty to Singaporeans, as well as conserve it for our children. Knowing about the beauty and aquatic life of the place may not be enough to cause people to want to conserve it, but helping them create happy memories there will make them feel attached to the place and feel more passionate about its conservation, forming a combined effort to prevent Chek Jawa’s destruction. In conclusion, the EXCEL programme has given me experience and skills to better communicate with the masses, teaching me important lessons about being a good leader, as well as introduce the beauty of Chek Jawa.

And a special note… Thank you very much to the guides and Mr Loh for treating us to a sumptuous seafood lunch every visit