This February, ODAC30 dropped by Kallang Waterways for a service learning trip cum kayaking expedition. Just for one day, we had the honor of being the river’s janitors. Armed with tongs, garbage bags and plenty of enthusiasm, we set sail down the river in a fleet of two man kayaks, collecting rubbish as we went along. Two wonderful instructors were there to guide us along with their swift strokes and keen knowledge of the river.
ODAC30 didn’t go all the way to Kallang just for some fun and sun (though we got plenty of both). We went there fired up with the spirit of inquiry, ready to tackle some pretty heavy questions, like “Is Singapore a clean city, or a cleaned city?”, “What is the importance of keeping our waterways clean?”, and “I wonder if I can steal my batchmate’s slippers and paddle away before she capsizes me?” Being big fans of hands on learning, we decided that there was really only one way to find out.
Kallang Waterway offered plenty of surprises- some were pleasant, some were not, but all were interesting. The first, rather unpleasant, revelation was the sheer amount of litter that had been deposited on the riverbanks of Kallang. The watersides looked clean from a distance, but they looked clean the same way a toilet bowl can look clean if you don’t have a microscope.
The ODAC Armada had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the ugly side of Kallang. Cans, containers, wrappers, bottles, cigarette butts, cigarette packets, pants, shoes, shirts… Strewn all along the beach, there was simply too much rubbish for just the 16 of us to handle, even armed with tongs and buckets. Not to say we didn’t have fun trying though, and we managed to discover a few curioisities hidden amongst the trash.
As it turns out, human refuse can create artificial habitats for a species of slimy little critters called “Apple Snails” or “Mystery Snails”. These extraordinary creatures populate the detritus of our modern civilization, making cozy homes out of beer cans and plastic containers. Thanks to the all the prime real estate our rubbish provided, the apple snail population skyrocketed, tilting the river’s ecosystem off balance. As adorable as these guys are, their numbers made them pests, giving us free reign to harass this not-so-endangered species.
We had a ball of a time prying them out of their residences to gape and gawk at. After living their lives in perpetual darkness, they were rather shy around us, and most refused to come out of their shells without a little coaxing.
Unfortunately, the rubbish gives, and the rubbish taketh away. Our trash didn’t just provide accommodation; for the fish at Kallang, they were floating death traps.
We had a lot of fun messing around on the kayaks and cleaning up the beaches, but all good things must come to an end- a lightning alarm cut our trip short. After docking and cleaning our boats, we gathered around for the obligatory “group reflection”.
We actually managed to hold a rather insightful discussion on our day at Kallang. When we were asked to share one thing that learnt that day, many of us talked about our surprise at the amount of rubbish on the beach. Sure, it’s a whole lot better than the polluted mess that was Singapore River in the 1950s, but who should we owe this improvement to? The good people of Singapore, for becoming more conscientious and considerate? Or the 70,000 strong army of janitors cleaning up after us?
Singapore today is a remarkably clean country, but the amount of litter at places like Kallang suggests that there is still much room for improvement. Littering has consequences beyond just making the streets uglier – as shown by the apple snails and trapped fish, it can damage the natural environment and delicate ecosystems. We should aspire to be a little like Japan, a country that manages to keep squeaky clean without ubiquitous dustbins or cleaners, thanks to a strong sense of pride, discipline and civic mindedness. Littering is one of the easier environmental problems to solve; all you have to do is make a habit of disposing of your trash in the nearest dustbin. It sounds cheesy, but a cleaner and greener Singapore starts with you! Stay mindful, nag your friends and family, help the cleaners with their job, and everything will be swell.
ODAC 30 learned an important lesson that day, so we hope this blog post will impart some of our understanding to you. Have a nice day!
And to conclude, here is a little ditty to sum up the day:
Row row row your boat 🎶
Let’s do some CIP 🎼
Pick up garbage from the beach 🎵
And lament our apathy 😒
Row row row your boat, 🎤
Down the Kallang stream 🎧
Steal belongings from your friends 😏
And listen to them scream 😩