Saturday, August 25, 2007

After 2 Years...

Today is a special day... exactly 2 years ago, on 25 Aug 2005, I signed up as a Semakau Landfill guide.

Time really passed quickly for the past 2 years. It's not that long actually, but some how it felt like I've done quite a lot of things within these 2 years.

Thought this will be a good time to recap on how I got into the scene, what I've done so far, and what's coming up next...

How It All Started

I've always been a nature lover, and had thought about doing some nature work many times in the past, but some how just never really got into it. It all started because my company wanted to organise a trip to the southern islands, and the HR department asked me to help do some research. Some of my colleagues were in some fishing club, and so they had heard about some island called "Pulau Sekeng". So off I went searching for "Pulau Sekeng" on Google...

And found out that these days it's usually called "Pulau Sakeng", and in fact, it had already been combined with another island called "Pulau Semakau" to form Semakau Landfill.

One of the websites I found was Ria's WildSingapore Website, and at that time, they were recruiting guides to start guided walks at Semakau Landfill. I dropped Ria an email, and she told me to give her a call. It was kind of a funny conversation actually. Some how I got the impression from the various blogs I visited that most of the volunteers were like undergrads or just graduated, so I was asking Ria if I was too old to be a volunteer. I think Ria was probably a bit offended when I told her my age, since I'm much younger than her. HAHAhahaha...

My First Face-to-Face Encounter with Other Nature Volunteers

I soon received an email from Ria that she will be giving a public talk at Sungei Buloh on 3 Sep 2005. Since I was quite new to all these, I decided to attend the talk to at least find out more about the nature scene in Singapore.

It was also at this talk that I had my first face-to-face encounter with the other nature volunteers, which include Ria and some other Blue Water Volunteers.

My First Intertidal Visit

Finally, Ria dropped us an email saying that they were having a few field trips to Semakau Landfill, and I signed up for the 18 Sep 2005 trip. Although I had visited my Grandma who used to live in Punggol, the area where she lived comprised mainly of mangroves, and thus I had never really been to an intertidal area before.

We were supposed to depart at 3am, but since I'd never been to West Coast Pier before, I decided to leave my place earlier. I ended up being the first to arrive at around 2.15am, in my booties, all ready to go. Only when the others arrived then I realised that we're not jumping into the water straight and there woould be dry land for me to change into my booties on Semakau itself :P

Anyway, this was also when I first met Luan Keng from RMBR, who was doing the co-ordination work for the Semakau walks.

We eventually reached Semakau Landfill and went to the intertidal area. Being my first trip to an intertidal area, not knowing anyone and totally clueless about anything, I managed to tag along with another lone ranger who supposedly had gone for the Kusu walks before. But out there when I was looking into a tidal pool trying to find things, she suddenly disappeared into the darkness. So there I was, all alone, don't know anything, and so I decided to just bash to the reef area and hope for the best.

Finally bumped into a gang of Blue Water Volunteers, but then wind was picking up, and it soon started raining. We had no choice but to go back to find shelter, feeding mosquitoes. Basically, I hardly saw anything during this trip since I really had no idea what to look out for, except for a pair of gymnodoris rubropapulosa that some of the others found and brought to the shelter.

My First Guided Walk

After the field trip, we had a series of classroom sessions at NUS, and at the end of the sessions everyone had to submit a script for the guided walk. We also had a visit to Tuas South Incineration Plant on 26 Nov 2005, and another field session, but the one I attended on 18 Oct 2005 was on plants by Joe Lai. I learned many interesting things from him, but still did not get any proper exposure to intertidal life.

And finally came the D-Day - my first guided walk on 3 Dec 2005. I had a surprise, or in fact, a shock, when I saw in Luan Keng's email:

Group 3: Sea Star - 6 pax
- Ron (lead guide)
- Chay Hoon

And this was my response to her:

Noticed that I'm the lead guide in my group, but I think Chay Hoon is more experience than me in terms of guiding. So not sure if you have got it correctly...

And this was her reply:

Correct. I'm plunging you straight into deep water as I believe you CAN guide. Chay Hoon will be a good assistant. I will be around as well. So go look at your script again and Ria's comments.

So there I was, someone who had only attended classroom sessions, never properly explored any intertidal area, never attended any guided walks, and I was going to guide a group of visitors.

So the first time I attended a nature guided walk was the one guided by me, myself, Ron Yeo.

Can you imagine telling the visitors about common seastars when that was also the very first time I was seeing them? I was probably more excited than most of them, since apparently some of them had been to the Kusu walks before.

During this trip, I also saw for the first time a noble volute, flatworm, bristleworm, striped eel-tail catfish, fang blenny, and the list goes on...

It was certainly a good experience. I thought I did quite alright for my first assignment. My visitors definitely enjoyed themselves :)

Indeed, over the the past 2 years, Semakau has secured a special place in my heart. The Semakau gang was also a great one - Luan Keng, Chay Hoon, Robert, Tiong Chin, Samson, Ed, Kah Chine, Alyce, Siew Chin and also the newer guides like July, Siyang, Helen, Juanhui, Jing Kai etc.

Looking forward to more great trips with all of you! :)

Joining Beachfleas & Wildfilms

On 4 Dec 2005, I went on my first trip to another southern island - Sister's Island. After a few trips, I was invited to join the Beachfleas on 15 Jan 2006, and later, Ria invited me to join Wildfilms on 4 Feb 2006.

Frankly, I don't really enjoy doing video stuff much, though it did take me two modules in NTU to find that out. Not that I did badly in them, just that I realised it's not my cup of tea. But guess doing it for Wildfilms was kind of different, since I'm doing it for nature, and I don't mind helping to carry stuff and assisting Alvin especially when they do need more manpower sometimes.

But one advantage of being part of Wildfilms was I got to visit our shores very often, and I picked up a lot of new things along the way. When I see something new, I'll go back home and surf the Net for more information. If not for the Wildfilms trips, I'll probably know much less things now. Wildfilms also brought me to other shores less often explored by others, and these places often mean new things to see.

And the Wildfilms gang was a fun gang too, with people like Ria, Alvin, Chay Hoon, Wai, Helen, Andy, Yuchen, Cynthia, Pris etc. And sometimes we get some of the wild beachfleas like Dr Chua, Marcus and November too!

Becoming an Ubin Volunteer

During the rainy season, Luan Keng decided to cancel one of the walks, and we managed to tag along with Ria to one of the Chek Jawa public walks, where I was introduced to some of the Nparks people like Adelle and Choon Beng.

This was my first time visiting Chek Jawa actually, and those days before the great flood, Chek Jawa was really beautiful, with lots of carpet anemones every where, and many common sea stars near the sand bar. It was certainly very different from Semakau Landfill.

On 6 Jun 2006, I finally decided to sign up to become an Ubin volunteer.

I had one on-the-job training session at Chek Jawa with Ria, and soon started guiding on my own. After some time, I did another OJT with Ley Kun on the Sensory Trail, and started guiding there as well.

Ubin has certainly become one of my favourite places after Semakau - interesting Kampong trails, beautiful quarry lakes, quiet shores, friendly people, delicious seafood - where else can you find all these existing together in Singapore?

Not to forget the fun-loving ubin volunteers - Ria, Chay Hoon, Robert, Ley Kun, Alyce, May, Kah Chine, Dr Chua, Mr Wong, Kaifen, Jiansheng, Evelyn, Terry, Jane, Robin, Alan etc.

Monitoring Seagrass with Team Seagrass

On 31 Oct 2006, I joined yet another group - Team Seagrass, and met other interesting people from Nparks, including Siti, Shufen and Weiling.

Have to admit that my seagrass ID skills is still quite miserable, so pai seh. But at least I think I've learned a lot of things about seagrasses from the various sessions.

The seagrass trips were certainly very fun too, and I got to know more like-minded people. It was also during a seagrass when I saw my first shark in local water. How exciting!

Team Seagrass is also where I first met some of the younger volunteers like Kok Sheng, Jing Kai, Dickson, Gaytri and Annabelle.

My Blog

I started a personal blog in 5 May 2005, but hardly update it. Finally, on 19 Jan 2007, I converted it to a nature blog, which is what you are reading now.

Unlike what most people think, blogging is actually quite time-consuming, and we didn't do it because we are very free. It takes a lot of commitment and you need to invest a lot of time to write a story and put up photos.

On every shore trip, I had to consciously take enough photos so that I could blog later. And frankly, it's not an easy task, since I had to help out with Wildfilms most of the time, when you need to help carry equipment and hold lights etc. And when you are guiding, it's very hard to take photos too as the visitors will be casting shadows or murk up the water, and you do not want to make the visitors feel neglected. I always have to reassure them that I'm documenting the things we saw so that they can refresh their memory on my blog later, and have to take the photo quickly before the visitors settle down on a spot.

As such, most of my photos were not very well taken. When I was looking through my photos last week, I realised I don't even have one single photo of a carpet anemone that I'm satisfied with, and I've probably seen hundreds of them already.

The Naked Hermit Crabs

During a trip to Sisters Island, I had a conversation with Ria, and we felt that more could be done to bring Singaporeans to our natural shores, especially the ones in danger. We decided to start off with Sentosa and did a recce there.

While we were having lunch after the recce at Seah Imm Foodcourt, the Naked Hermit Crabs were hatched.

It was hard work starting another volunteer group. There was a lot of coordination work to be done, planning of recces, getting people to join the group, getting things ready for the walks, and getting the participants and managing the registration. Responding to emails from the public already took up a lot of time, and all these while I am still very active in the other nature volunteer groups that I'm involved with. Not to forget I have a full-time job which has frozen the headcount, several of my colleagues have resigned, and work was really piling up.

The end result, however, was very heartening, and we had 4 successful walks at Sentosa, and now, we will be starting walks to the Chek Jawa Boardwalk soon.

I'm sure everyone had a good time on every of our trips. Thanks to all the Naked Hermit Crabs for been so supportive of the various events!

The Anemone Team

Luan Keng approached me a few months ago to get me to help out with the sea anemone collection. Have not really contributed much actually, since I only managed to attend some of the trips, and did not really find that many anemones. Fortunately, the are several others in the team who were able to help out.

My Photos Got Published

RMBR had published a few nature publications, and many of my photos were used in 2 of them - the intertidal book, Private Lives, and the intertidal guidesheet.

Guess despite the fact that many of my photos turned out crappy, a few of them did turned out quite well.

What's Up Next?

I was really hoping conduct more guided walks to other wild places under the Naked Hermit Crabs umbrella, but guess these days I'm really over-stretched, being actively involved with too many volunteer groups. Was really glad that November was able to help out with the activity schedule for the Naked Hermit Crabs, so I can focus on the guided walks themselves.

Had also wanted to start some kind of environment club in Temasek Polytechnic for the longest time. Must really work out something with the Student & Alumni Affairs Department. So far I have conducted a sharing session and a talk at TP, hopefully can do more in future.

These are the two big plans I have so far. Hopefully things will turn out well :)

Anyway, have a long list of people whom I really want to thank, but at the same time, I'm worried that I may miss out someone. So here's just a BIG THANK YOU to anyone and everyone who has helped me in one way or another for the past 2 years.

Looking forward to more GREAT ADVENTURES with everyone!



ria said...

Happy Two-Year Anniversary!

Wow! That's quite a journey you took. Thanks for sharing.

We sure had lots of adventures together didn't we? And so much more yet to do!

Your joining the effort has truly made a difference. Not only in getting stuff done, but more importantly, in getting stuff STARTED to get done.

You're a wonderful inspiration to me and I'm sure all of us as well.

Your enthusiasm, clear minded dedication and your steadfast good cheer gets us through the bad patches.

Here's to many more good years!

Monkey said...

congrags ron! Hope to have many more years to come :)

tHE tiDE cHAsER said...

Thanks Ria and November! Looking forward to more good years :)

~ Mantamola ~ said...

Cogratulatuins on your 2nd Anniversary!

You are the lucky one! Not many people able to do things they like and worse, to like things that they do...

Your enthusiasm that made us the lucky one too! We are like having a walking guide book with us whenever you are around. :p

It's certainly an enjoyable experience to have you in the team.

Looking forward to more of your tide chasing experiences....

tHE tiDE cHAsER said...

Thanks Samson! :)

Hai~Ren said...

Congrats Ron! May you have many more happy years ahead raising awareness of our natural heritage... =)

Mountain & Sea said...

Hi Ron,
Happy 2nd Anniversary to you, and possibly to myself. I remember very well that faithful day at Sungei Buloh, I was there because I wanted to take picture. I have no clue that Ria will be giving a presentation. Thankfully, it rained cat and dog, which resulted in me attending my first nature talk by Ria. Good thing it rained.
One thing led to another, and yeah 2 years as Semakau Guide.
I would love to hit the shore as much as possible, but constraint by job, overseas assignment, mountains and church.
I am glad that with the knowledge that I have gained over the last 2 years, a walk in the forest or intertidal area, it will not be strange noise or sight, but one that is filled with marvel and surprises.
I wish I have more time - and more so that the next generation will have the opportunity like ourselves to see nature in her own backyard and not some man-made structures.

Happy Two Years
Mountain and Sea

tHE tiDE cHAsER said...

Thanks Ivan and Tiong Chin! :)