Friday, 18 October 2013

Environmental Exposure Reflection by Jeremy

I had no idea what to expect. 

When Ria walked in, the first thing that caught most - if not all - of our attention was her insanely contagious laughter. By the end of the talk, I was thoroughly convinced that that not laughing whenever she laughs, is far from the realms of possibility. Moving on to the important bit. Bringing along with her a very cheerful attitude, Ria gave a fantastic presentation of the various kinds of organisms found in Chek Jawa. Simultaneously, she shared countless personal experiences, many of which left us in tears and fits of uncontrollable laughter. One joke stood out for me. "Why does the male fiddler crab have such a large pincer? Well it's the same as human beings. Why do males have large useless things as well - like sports cars?" Roars of laughter followed. In the blink of an eye, the presentation was over. It was entertaining, informational and fun. 
I wondered how the following two days would be like. 

So there I was, photo bombing Mr Loh's pictures. I'm sure I livened up his photos a lot! 

The weather was better than I could possibly wish for. Cooling, refreshing and revitalising. Perfect for a walk around Chek Jawa. In Mr Loh's group, we followed two enthusiastic tour guides into the great green unknown. With heads saturated with knowledge, they led the group through the forage teeming with life, occasionally stopping for photos to be taken, and especially interesting information to be shared. I whipped out my phone to note down as much information as possible. After all, I was going to be a tour guide in a month's time. Along the way, I asked a few questions of my own. Overflowing with passion, sincerity, respect and humility, they shed light onto my many unknowns, occasionally throwing a couple of jokes into the mix - icing on the cake. In the middle of Chek Jawa, surrounded by organisms of all sorts of shapes and sizes - I guess good leaders really exist anywhere, everywhere.

I could not have asked for better guides.

When seen in person, the sights were breathtaking and the creatures were jaw dropping - photos found on the Internet did little justice to them. 

Simply stunning. 

Finally, the moment I dreaded/ looked forward to arrived. Butterflies in my stomach, I stood in front of the group of information-hungry people, forcing out a smile - hopefully it didn't came out too awkward. The tour guide introduced himself and yours truly. I vividly recall that just a month back, I watched the two guides step up and here I was. The calm, placid looks on their faces spoke plenty of their experience in the field. Either that, or they were simply fantastic at suppressing the feelings of nervousness at making mistakes. Of course, the current tour guide I was following did amazing at engaging the audience - of all ages. I guess I still have plenty to learn in terms of interpersonal skills. Every now and then, he gladly stepped aside, passing over the audience's attention over to me. Internalizing the information of the 5 stations just the day before, I struggled slightly to share the information. Noticing this, a member of the group patted my shoulder, and said smiling, "I can tell you're working hard". I forced a smile.

Thankfully, they were really nice, driven purely by interest in the environment. A number of times, I engaged in conversations with them, asking whether or not it was their first time here. They replied gleefully every time - throwing in jokes occasionally even - lightening the mood and making my job many times easier. Despite my occasional hiccups, they also remained forgiving and understanding. Guess I was pretty lucky.

Alas, the tour had come to an end. Mentally exhausted, I joined the rest. "So how did Jeremy do?" Mr Loh asked almost immediately. Eyes widened, I looked towards the tour guide. "He was good." came the response.

I guess the EXCEL program really did widen my eyes - pun-intended - to a whole range of new things. From realizing the beauty of nature to honing my interpersonal skills, these two days were indeed well-spent. Now, all that's left is to hone these skills even further and apply them to my daily life. 

The future awaits.

Environmental Exposure Reflection by Marcus

Indoor Training

This talk was definitely an eye-opener for us as almost none of us had expected the shores of Singapore to be filled with such a great diversity of marine life. The speaker, Ms Ria Tan, was the most passionate person I’ve seen about her job. Throughout her presentation, she made everything so interesting that everyone, including those who had no interest in marine life, were constantly engaged. It was amazing to see how we’ve lived on this small island for so many years, but yet have never actually noticed that such amazing things could be found on shores so close to us. However, the talk was simply all theory, and thus we were all very excited for our first nature walk as it would be a brand new experience for us! 

Field Exposure

This was my first time actually vising Chek Jawa. The closest that I had previously gotten to Chek Jawa was when we kayaked past it during our level camp in Year 4. There was a relatively small group of people today, with a relatively large number of guides, thus we had the opportunity to not only interact with the public, but with the other guides as well. For today, I was attached to Ria’s group.

This first thing that I noticed was that handling a group of visitors was not as easy as I thought. Our group consisted of a few children, who were very active and quick at spotting various animals around them. However, once it came to the explanation by the guide, their interest level dropped, and they would tend to be easily distracted by new “discoveries”.

It was interesting to see how the guides were still able to capture their attention while allowing them to stay active, by getting the children involved in the explanation process as well. For example, one of the guides asked a young girl to first stand on two legs, and then on one, to show that standing on two legs was more stable than standing on one leg. From this, he could illustrate why mangrove trees had to spread their roots so widely in order to maintain stability.

Lastly, a skill that I learnt, that I feel would be very applicable to our daily lives, was how to effectively point out new “discoveries”. At the start, when we discovered an animal and tried to point it out to others, all we could do when they asked for its location was to point and say, “There!” That was really ineffective as most of the animals were extremely small and of the same colour as mud, and hence the children had a lot of trouble finding the animals. After a while, Ria realised what we were doing, and taught us the proper way to point things out. We had to look for more prominent objects around the animal, and roughly describe its size, so that others would know what they are supposed to be searching for. For example, she taught us to say, “You’re looking for something about the size of a 50-cent coin, on the right of that yellow leaf.” That made communication between us and the other a lot easier.

On-the-job Training

At the start of today’s walk, all of us on the OJT were definitely nervous as it was our first time having to introduce certain stations and we were afraid of how it would turn out to be. We also spent some time questioning each other to see if we were still able to remember the content that we’ve read. However, these worries turned out to be uncalled for.

We were visited by about 5 wild boars before the walk!

My main takeaway from today was that although it is important to have basic knowledge about the subject, what really makes a tour successful is how we interact with the public, instead of how much information is delivered to them. I realised that just a small amount of basic knowledge is sufficient to successfully engage the public, especially when the subject is something that interests them. For example, after the costal walk, the children were especially excited to finally be able to spot mudskippers. However, I was unable to present all the details about the mudskipper as it would end up boring the public. Thus, I learn that for the first time we spot something, we could first attract their attention by just telling them some basic and facts about it. The rest of the facts actually do not need to be presented, or could be kept and presented later if the same thing was spotted again. Breaking up information into different parts would help to capture the visitors’ attention better.

I also think that it is really meaningful for us and visitors to draw out their thoughts after visiting Chek Jawa, so that they would be able to play a part in protecting the environment there as well. Here’s a photo of a happy Darius after his first visit to Chek Jawa!

It really isn’t an easy task to guide a large group of people, especially in an unfamiliar environment. However, just through these few short trips, we have definitely learnt a lot of new knowledge and skills, and had a lot of fun as well! And I hope that maybe some time during the holidays, we would have the time and chance to be a part of this programme again. :)

Environmental Exposure Reflection by Yu Chong

Indoor Training
I was given 2 choices, the community exposure programme and the environmental programme. The difference was simple the former is about people, the latter is about nature, right? WRONG. I noticed how important people skills are in the first talk by Ms Ria Tan, she talks about the naked truth to succeed in guiding, that is knowing when and what to say to different visitors. The information was not the important part, since that can be done with memorization and with only the information equipped will almost certainly not make you an interesting guide. To be honest, I did not have any doubts in joining the environmental exposure programme because I have been fascinated with nature since as long as I can remember, but knowing that the community programme had more interaction made me feel a little let down since I wanted to do that as well, but I kind of got the best of both worlds by choosing the greener path. 

Ms Ria Tan talked about all the possible species of wildlife that can be seen at chek jawa, I would be lying if I said I knew Singapore had such great biodiversity, sometimes I just doze off during talks since my attention span is not the longest but never once did I feel the need to close my eyes during the 2 hour long talk, and what's more is that I did not have a great rest the night before. Despite all the surprising facts I learnt about chek jawa, it was Ms Tan's charisma that really caught me off guard, it is difficult to not want to listen to her, and that was what kind of a guide I wanted to be. 

First Trip
I have been to Pulau Ubin before, numerous times in fact. Every time I arrive at the island, I get a different experience, this was no exception. It was a leisurely day as we were not expected to do any actual guiding but all those who were there were very excited. Mr Loh himself gave some introduction of the trail and the surrounding environment, I seriously admire his passion for the environment, I know I definitely will not get out of my bed at midnight just to see rare animals on an island separated from you by a 20 minute boat ride. Then I realised the naked hermit crabs are no joke, they are so passionate about the cause expecting nothing in return, that made me wonder if someday I would be able to do the same. 

During this first trip, I learnt how to interact with kids, not that I don't know how before, but specifically how to make them pay attention and absorb information from you. Packaging of content is very important, so our experienced guide made use of as many stories as possible, since they are not interested in the science behind the creatures why force feed them with it? Just make the experience fun for them, if this made them love nature they will be keen to find out about it themselves in the future. 

In the end, we were made to draw the most memorable moment in the trip, I drew the sight of a pack of wild boars in the forest, though not related to chek jawa, I found them to be equally interesting. 

OJT (On-the-Job-Training)
This was after promos, a time where all the academic rigour of JC1 was past. Another trip to Ubin would have great effects in calming my spirits. Having learnt my lessons, both about the cruelty of nature and the effective way to guide, I set off knowing I will make this mission a success and return safely with minimal number of bites. The weather was rather unfavourable but not enough to dampen our spirits. With a morning rain I thought most would arrive late and/or sleepy but no I was WRONG, AGAIN. 

I was glad to be joined by similarly enthusiastic guests as well, I was assigned to guide a group together with Sylvia. I wanted kids to join our group but unfortunately what I learnt before could not be put to use as there were NONE.  Nevertheless I regurgitated what I have in my head about chek jawa, since children were absent I did not have to go through the trouble of packaging everything into little stories. It was really enjoyable to have the guests so keen on learning about nature, we even went into a little discussion about how evolution brought about the huge claws on the fiddler's crab. 

One incident that I would have probably never experience ever in my life was seeing a bottle adrift at sea, WITH A MESSAGE INSIDE. I quickly borrowed Sylvia's umbrella trying to scoop it out of the sea but to no avail, and I almost lost her umbrella too. I was sorely disappointed not to be able to get it. Nothing in the world could have effectively measured my curiosity on what was written on the note. 

Overall, this journey had been one of discovery, about nature, about people. I'm glad to have chosen what I chose, no regret, never ever. I have new insights on how to interact with people, how to appreciate the nature, a new found respect for the naked hermit crabs, a also found great deal of comfort knowing that a vulnerable place like chek jawa have a flock of guardian angels protecting it and even knew more about my friends. I've always thought of Sylvia to be dominant and a little scary to approach but it turns out she's a little shy and is a very kind and encouraging person, giving much needed assurance of my guiding abilities. I wish her all the best for her own OJT next month. I'm pretty sure everyone else got to know their guiding partners better after the trip as well. Those who came definitely understood Mr Loh a little better as well (:

One last awesome group photo, Jeremy is getting philosophical again. 

Environmental Exposure Reflection by Nikki

Perhaps the environmental exposure program was not what caught my interest initially. Memories of a shore walk some years back reminded me of the unpleasant feeling of walking in the inter-tidal areas with shoes dripping wet, not to mention the threat of stonefish lying around. However, what the trips to Chek Jawa gave me was a completely different, indubitably much more enjoyable experience. Not merely just the fact that we were walking on an elevated walkway instead of the shore itself, but also that experiencing nature in its most genuine form (given what you can find locally at least) and interacting with other like-minded nature lovers to share our pools of knowledge.

It has been said that the way one treats seemingly less significant creatures, such as animals and insects in the wild, will reflect in a way how he deals with his equals. It was through this exposure that I realized how inexplicable the beauty of nature is, especially since Chek Jawa holds one of the most diverse ecosystems Singapore has on her land, and one of the last of such places to be found. Preserving the place would be of utmost importance, I feel, such that the appreciation of wild life found can be an experience shared with younger and future generations. There definitely is a way to meet the needs of our current generation without compromising the ability of the future generations to similarly meet their own. The clearing of Chek Jawa in order to make way for residential developments is, thus, in my opinion, would probably be a wrong signal that it is perfectly fine to clear nature to meet our needs at the expense of future generations.

We were greeted by the sights of unique wildlife, such as the insect above which had part of its limbs in white – certainly something not easily found in mainland Singapore.

Other animals like that of the wild boar, shield bugs and other birds were also eye-opening sightings. For the second trip to Chek Jawa, the few of us were involved in On-The-Job training. Initially the thought of this did frighten me, given that I was not too comfortable with talking to a large group of strangers. Thankfully, the group of people that I got to interact with were open-minded and did not give me any difficulties at all in communicating with them. Some made it very easy for me to share with them about the environment in Chek Jawa by asking several questions.

In addition, the experienced guide in the group was approachable and I could clarify any doubts I had to answer to the others in the group who inquired. The most important takeaway that I brought home from the OJT trip was probably to be humble and not hesitate in learning from the group that I was guiding, since a huge proportion was older than me, and consequently full of more life experience. Though I was in the position of a nature guide-in-training, there were many parts of my knowledge of Chek Jawa which was inadequate and thus could learn a lot from the group, in particular those who were passionate nature lovers and knew much more than I did.

On a whole, the trip to Chek Jawa had taught me not only to appreciate the little things in the world, which would reflect our attitudes towards greater things, and to willingly humble myself to learn from others even when we are seemingly in the position of a leader.