Kayaking with WWS!

On the 10th of February, ODAC 31, still high from the CNY festivities of the previous day, brought their enthusiasm to the banks of Kallang River, all ready to do their part with Waterways Society. Having already garnered our Kayaking one-star, and for some, their two-star, we were all ready to get back into the water! But of course, we were doing came with a larger purpose behind it.

As part of the River Monster programme offered by Water Watch Society (WWS), we were tasked to clean up the nation’s waterways by picking up litter found in the rivers and reservoirs. To achieve this, we would be cruising (more like paddled strenuously?) the waterways in two-seater kayaks to ‘litter hotspots’, where we will carry out our operation!

LET THE OPERATION BEGIN!

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The operation begun with an educational briefing by our group leader, a staff of WWS. We had a good recap on the skills we learnt in the 1-star kayaking course we took last year. The briefing also covered the importance of having a litter-free waterway. The most important reason would be to protect the marine life living in Singapore’s waters as the trash has the potential to kill marine animals and plants.

SMILE AND WAVE BOYS 😀

We hopped into our kayaks and started rowing like it was second nature. As seen from the big wide smiles, we were all very comfortable in our kayaks, and we set off to various checkpoints that are hot spots for litter – most of the time areas where commercial and recreational activity were carried out.

After rowing through the beautiful Marina Reservoir, we reached our main checkpoint. It was nestled in between commercial areas such as the Singapore Flyer and the Esplanade (which can be seen in the background). We were given a final briefing before we started on our operation. As we paddled, rather strenuously might I add, we attempted to retrieve floating litter onto the kayak.

But we were not alone. Mediacorp also wanted a share of the action, with filming crews from It Figures joining in (hardly) to pick up litter, but also to highlight the state of Singapore’s reservoir system. When it came time for us to shine on camera, however, we all shied away with much awkward shuffling

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After 3 hours of hard work, we managed to find 57 kg worth of trash!! Shockingly, we found 2 brooms as well as a traffic cone. In such a small area and such a short time, we had already found SO MUCH rubbish. Imagine the amount of rubbish in our waterways. Thankfully, we have hidden heroes who clean up our waterways daily. The Marina catchment specifically (where we kayaked) has a cleaning battalion of 120 workers and 8 boats deployed daily from 7am to 7pm. Doesn’t this once again highlight the fact that we are not the cleanest nation but rather the most cleaned nation?

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Even though the areas around waterways are meant to be a fun and enjoyable space for the young and old to relax and engage in recreational activities, giving people greater access to reservoirs and parks also runs the risk of more litter and pollution. But is that really the way we should approach this? As a great man once said, “with great power comes great responsibility”, we have been given the freedom and privilege to use this beautiful space, shouldn’t we be the ones to take ownership of our own trash as well?

 

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A trek along the Green Corridor

The entrance to the green corridor is landmarked by a prominent black metal bridge behind the bus stop where we alighted, along Bukit Timah road. It had been a year since the senior batch had visited and the experience was noticeably different with different company. However, a surprise visit from some J3s – who bore gifts of Kitkat as well as stories from the army and their awe-inspiring travels – triggered some nostalgic reminiscing. Eventually, all of us started at a leisurely pace down the dirt trail, chatting animatedly amongst ourselves, and surrounded on both sides by lush green forest.

Where to?

Where to?

The path was level and straight for most of the trek, allowing us to engage in more quiet, intimate conversations with one another or simply stroll along and enjoy the view. A mix of natural and urban environments unfolded before us as we walked along the paths, as the scenery morphed from thick forest to buildings to the tunnels underneath highways which were haphazardly spray-painted with colourful graffiti – perfect chance to strike a pose!

We are the cool kids

The feature that was hardest to ignore, however, was the silence. Throughout the first half of the trek, we noticed the absence of the sounds of traffic and large crowds we have become accustomed to, a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of our daily living. Keeping quiet for a while and just soaking in the atmosphere, one could fall into a relaxed, meditative state.

However, not all of us felt that way of course – a couple of sharp-eyed ODACians came across some quirky plants and creatures and called out excitedly for the rest to come and examine them. We found a red-and-black caterpillar so strikingly coloured that it was surprising how many of us walked right past it without noticing! We also sampled the sweet fruits of the Indian cherry tree, a seemingly ordinary plant. Truth be told, it required a fair amount of trust to swallow something that someone had plucked from a random tree, but the best way to ensure that it is safe is to always let someone else try it first!

Anyone who has watched the Hunger Games would be weary of these...

Anyone who has watched the Hunger Games would be wary of these…

We also witnessed a strangling fig that had almost entirely engulfed a rain tree towering above us and would soon literally strangle it to death. According to Mr Chew, it is possible in some areas to climb such trees as you would a natural rock face, as the many crevices of the tree surface provide excellent handholds and footholds. Chalk powder is also rarely ever required as the surface of the tree bark is textured and absorbs sweat, allowing a firm grip. Tree climbing – added to the bucket list!

An example of a strangler fig - who knew plants could be so malicious!

An example of a strangler fig – who knew plants could be so malicious!

It wasn’t just us along the green corridor that day. We also came across interesting characters en route – mountain bikers, cyclists and of course the occasional jogger for whom we would hastily make way for. We even came across a few elderly men sitting in their foldable reclining chairs just chit-chatting under the shelter of the concrete highway. What surrounded them looked like the furnished interior of a house, transplanted outdoors, making it seem like somehow, we were outsiders intruding into this private moment. This scene encapsulates the sentiments I felt that day – that no matter where you may be or have been, it is always the people around you that make each experience unique and memorable. More HT-HTs and a few wrong turns later, we found ourselves heading home, weary and mosquito-bitten but happy from a long day’s adventure in the company of friends.

RI ODAC @ Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Tired of reading? Watch a video of our trip here!

It’s not often that ODAC gets to enjoy the comfort of a chartered bus on a regular ODAC excursion. As we made our (rather long) way on four wheels to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, some of us were chatting while others escaped into the musical worlds of their headphones. Some also caught a bit of shut-eye, like sleeping beauty Jonathan (below).

A sensual picture of chan wai hon

“Paint me like one of your French girls”

We also passed by (what we believed was) a portion of our Pipe-A-Pipe trek along the BKE. Felt good to be going that distance on wheels after enduring the same portion for hours on foot.

Arriving at Sungei Buloh!

Arriving at Sungei Buloh!

Sungei Buloh, a nature reserve in our island’s northwest, is an important pit stop for many migratory birds in the region. These migratory birds can fly non-stop for thousands of kilometres at a time, fuelled by fat that they store up in themselves whenever they arrive at a stopover like Sungei Buloh. One of two ASEAN Heritage Parks in Singapore (the other being Bukit Timah Nature Reserve) It’s home to many different animals you don’t often see on the mainland, so much so it’s like a zoo with no enclosures. (Which is how zoos should be, right?)

Sungei qualifies as ulu for many of us

Sungei Buloh qualifies as “ulu” for many of us

We started off from the Migratory Bird Trail, and it proved to be a fulfilling trip from the moment we got there, as we were privileged to be graced by the presence of a rare estuarine crocodile. Even though most of its body was hidden underwater a la the sneaky predator it was, we did manage to see its eyes peeking just above the surface through the binoculars. Eventually it did show its face 🙂

I spy with my very very small eye a crocodile just swimming by!

I spy with my very very small eye a crocodile just swimming by!


I can see you

I can see you

We weren’t alone on the bridge that we watched the crocs from. A couple of our long tailed macaques also turned up, chilling out on the railing of the bridge. It just so happened that one of them seemed to have a hormone rage, jumping on one of the others and letting the birds and the bees fly. It was a rare sighting of wild love, and a rather surprising one. After being told not to look directly at them, lest they think we were going to attack them, we quickly hurried away.

Just monkeyin' around

Just monkeyin’ around

Along the way, we also saw the signature yellow beaks of great egrets along the mudflats. These great egrets are regular visitors to the wetland.

To the fear of many, there were also many Golden Web spiders with their spider webs among the leaves, across the boardwalk on top of our heads. Mr Tan did try to feed a spider with a tiny bug, but it bounced off the spiderweb. Perhaps if Mr Tan improved his skills as a waiter and served the meal in a less abrupt way, the spider would have happily accepted the treat.

One of the spiders. We became the watched.

One of the spiders. We became the watched.

 

Watching, waiting...

Watching, waiting…

As we crossed a bridge, we found a group of square-tailed mullets desperately looking for food to eat as they swam hungrily towards the bridge where we were standing. They blended in with the colour of the water rather well and it took a while before some of us realised that they were there. Mullets are considered rather cheap fish and are widely eaten in Singapore.

Can you spot the mullet in the top picture? Perhaps some brightness and contrast edits might help

Can you spot the mullet in the top picture? Perhaps some brightness and contrast edits might help


Matthias with the not-so-affordable binoculars

Matthias with the not-so-affordable binoculars

At the end of the trail, we climbed up the aerie tower (an aerie is a large nest of an eagle or other raptor located high up on a tree or cliff) to get a bird’s eye view of the nature reserve, with great views of the mudflats, and also of Malaysia.

View from the aerie tower

View from the aerie tower

As we turned back to the visitors’ center, we also chanced upon mud lobster mounds with Buta-Buta (Blind-your-eyes) plants growing around it. The mud lobster’s mounds are made from organic matter that they excavate to the surface from inside the ground. This helps to recycle nutrients and also serves as a habitat for other animals! Sadly, we didn’t get to see the mud lobsters as they usually emerge at night after a rainstorm.

Next, we left for the Coastal Trail, which brought us to the Mud Experience – a man-made replica of a mudflat, a place home to many mudskippers. We saw mudskippers of varying sizes, and were fascinated by the adorable way they moved – using their pectoral fins to walk on land. They looked like very determined fish unstoppable by their lack of legs in a quest to conquer the land. Some of them even appeared to fight! Others appeared to playing staring contests. A small well at the Mud Experience served as a site for mudskippers to submerge their eggs in water for hatching.

Happy bobblepin

Happy bobblepin


ODACians observing the mudflats from above

ODACians observing the mudflats from above


If a mudskipper doesn’t motivate you to walk like 10km a day I don’t know what will. Thing has no legs and it can WALK ON LAND.

If a mudskipper doesn’t motivate you to walk like 10km a day I don’t know what will. Thing has no legs and it can WALK ON LAND.

The trek wasn’t all pretty, though. An unfortunately common sight at the wetlands were human rubbish, much of which was improperly thrown off the boardwalks onto the inaccessible areas. It’s sad to think that there are so many visitors to this pristine place who give little concern to the environment around them, and for lack of the patience to keep their litter first before discarding them in appropriate bins, just toss them out onto the mudflats. Hopefully one day we can do our part to help clean up this area, and possibly encourage others to keep it clean.

How much rubbish can you spot?

How much rubbish can you spot?

Finally, we ended at the Visitor Centre, where we were instantly drawn to the playground, playing with the rope-pulling-platform-thingy, even engaging in an inter-batch competition where we sent out our best man, Brayden, against the formidable Zai Xuan. We ended off with a group photo before setting off home.

“Boys rule, girls drool.” Cayson Chong, 2015

Our trip to Sungei Buloh brought us to a Singapore so different from the one we were familiar with, away from the concrete jungle. It was really an eye-opening experience on many fronts – not only did we learn more about the various flora and fauna tucked away in parts of Singapore, but also the importance of treating our wetlands with care and concern. To quote to wise words of Ivan Tan, “Despite the fact that Singapore is such a small country, there are many beautiful nature spots, we just have to go out there and look for them.”

A lizard through Kelsie's super lens

A lizard through Kelsie’s super lens


This is Eagle Point, not a satirical news site.

This is Eagle Point, not a satirical news site.


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Spot the monitor lizard


Resting on a tree and also known as The Annoying Thing, he broke into the international music scene with a eurodance remix of “Axel F”

Resting on a tree and also known as The Annoying Thing, he broke into the international music scene with a eurodance remix of “Axel F”.

Pipe-a-pipe Trek!

PIPE-A-PIPE

PIPE-A-PIPE

On the 8th of April, ODAC 30 and 31 visited the colloquially known “Pipe-a-Pipe Trek”, a stretch of grassy slopes and forested paths that followed the water pipe lines leading to our northern neighbor.

For ODAC 30, it was our second time visiting this secluded route, and we were all very excited on being here again. With fond memories on our minds, we nostalgically recalled our anticipation and curiosity on visiting this trek and we could tell our juniors were feeling the same way too.

Participants' Guide (2014) filled us with anticipation to meet our "tall, dark and handsome" tour guide.

Participants’ Guide (2014) filled us with anticipation to meet our “tall, dark and handsome” tour guide.

We were dropped off at Marsiling MRT by a chartered bus at around 3pm and had to take a short walk over to the HDB blocks opposite to reach the trail head. The start of the trail is traditionally at block 402 Woodlands Street 41, and we all sat down at the void deck for a quick briefing by our “tall, dark and handsome” trail guide.

Pictured: Tall, dark and handsome tour guide takes selfie with his fans

Pictured: Tall, dark and handsome tour guide takes selfie with his fans

Blk 402 - where the trail starts!

Blk 402 – where the trail starts!

Once the briefing was over, we were off! We followed the fence by the side of the block and it wasn’t long before we saw some familiar white pipes…

Juniors are so easily excited

Juniors are so easily excited

And so is Zaixuan

And so is Zaixuan

These pipes are purportedly responsible for carrying water all the way from Malaysia to our homes, so it was understandably with some nervousness that we stepped onto them – afraid that the pipes may just collapse and everyone would die of thirst cause of us.

BOOM! and everyone dies

BOOM! CRASH! and everyone dies!

For the first half of the trail, we followed the pipes and slopes. It was a very scenic walk and is one of those beautiful places in Singapore where you can’t see any high rise buildings or roads. Instead, you are given a chance to appreciate the pretty plant life and listen to the sounds of nature that surrounds you.

NATURRRREEEE

NATURRRREEEE

I guess we are the coolest ODAC after all

I guess we are the coolest ODAC after all (@VJODAC)

One thing we noticed this year, to our dismay, was huge piles of garbage and waste lying about. We weren’t sure if this was something we didn’t notice last year or was a recent phenomenon, but the amount of garbage was absolutely astounding! It was amazing how there could be so much rubbish in a place that was so secluded, and this probably also compounded the issue, as there was no one to clean up after those that littered here. Fortunately, some of us had spare trash bags, and we quickly set about picking up as much litter as we could.

Herman the green hero and Jenny trying to be useful

Herman the selfless, green hero and Jenny 

So much TRASH D:

So much TRASH D:

After walking (and enjoying the scenery) for about two plus hours, we reached Mandai road. From there, we crossed over and continued the second half or our journey, the forested trail. This part of the journey involved us walking along the fringes of central catchment, mostly following the BKE. And though there were no more pipes for us to see, it was a nice chance for us to be completely immersed in a tropical forest environment, the dense forest feeling completely at odds with the open plains earlier.

The mysterious dark forest threatened to keep us in her green embrace forever

The mysterious dark forest threatened to keep us in her green embrace forever

Our survival skills were pushed to the limit

Our survival skills were pushed to the limit

Eventually, after about a total of 4 hours of walking, we reached the end of the trail, Block 276 Bangkit Road.

WE SURVIVED

WE SURVIVED

Feeling proud and accomplished of our hike and also amazed and in awe of all we had seen and experienced that day, we reflected that such a beautiful trail could exist in Singapore without us knowing. It was an eye-opening experience for all of us. Many of us didn’t even know that it was possible to even see, let alone walk, on these pipes and actually being able to see and walk on them is a really unique experience. The beautiful scenery and peaceful walk we just finished was made all the more amazing by the fact that we had been next to a busy road and highway the whole time, yet another reminder of how nature in Singapore will forever be surrounded by the marks of the busy city.

All in all, it was a great trek and wonderful experience for both ODAC 30 and 31, and we hope that you may one day get the chance to experience it yourself!

ODAC’s Outing to Cyrene Reef :D

Singapore. A modern city home to world class infrastructure and exceptional manifestations of architectural ingenuity. Rather than being overshadowed by rapid development, Singapore’s Wild Side is very much alive and vibrant! Nested in a busy shipping lane and accessible only by boat, Cyrene reef is a prime example of how a thriving haven for unique organisms can exist alongside a bustling city.

Err... what did we wake up at 5 am for?

Err… what did we wake up at 5 am for?

All set!

All set!

All set 2!

All set 2!

Leaving the pier

Leaving the pier

The 30 min boat ride from ONE°15 Marina Club gave us ample opportunity to take photos and prepare ourselves for our visit to the reef. The idyllic setting and high-spirited atmosphere saw us striking wacky poses, and talking excitedly with one another 🙂 Not having fully acquired our sea legs and yet clambering around the pitching boat, it was a wonder how everyone had managed to stay on board.

It's a beautiful day!

It’s a beautiful day!

Let's be friends

Let’s be friends

Pulau Semakau is right there!

Look! Pulau Semakau is right there!

We are safe in his hands :)

Steady as she goes 🙂

See you later, Mr Merlion!

See you later, Mr Merlion!

Before long, a rocky landmass crept into the horizon, against the backdrop of monotonous industrial establishment. Cyrene reef! The boats stopped and we were ferried to the reef on small rubber dinghies, which could only hold 6 people at a time.

Cyrene reef from afar

Cyrene reef from afar

Despite its close proximity to oil refineries, the reef is doing well

Despite its close proximity to oil refineries, the reef is doing well

Aboard the reef bound dinghy!

Aboard the reef bound dinghy!

We've landed!

We’ve landed!

Standing up, one would hardly be able to tell the difference between a typical seagrass carpeted, rock pile dotted patch of reef and another. Upon stooping down and peering around however, a different world emerged before our eyes. We could see tiny crabs foraging in the seagrass, a snapping shrimp excavating its new burrow a few meters away, sea urchins ambling along on their bristle-like feet, and maybe even a sea star or two. Each flash of colour, each peculiar shape, could be a novel discovery, a new animal we have yet to encounter! Life was all around us, darting between our feet, shuffling around in the sand, or simply swaying in the current.

Barnacles on a rock?

Barnacles on a rock?

Simply gorgeous

Simply gorgeous

That's a pile of life jackets!

That’s a pile of life jackets!

Seaweed

Seaweed

Possibly a snapping shrimp's abode

Possibly a snapping shrimp’s abode

Moon snail sand collar -- sand is used provide a solid surface for eggs to adhere to

Moon snail sand collar — sand is used provide a solid surface for eggs to adhere to

Spot the eggs!

Spot the eggs!

Sand dollars are sometimes preyed upon by the drill (a species of sea snail), which as its name suggests, drills a hole into the sand dollar's calcium carbonate shell

Sand dollars are sometimes preyed upon by the drill (a species of sea snail), which as its name suggests, drills a hole into the sand dollar’s calcium carbonate shell

A live sand dollar! Notice the mass of bristle feet

A live sand dollar! Notice the mass of bristle feet

An octopus den :O

An octopus den :O

Sea pen attacked by a drill snail :(

Sea pen attacked by a drill snail 😦

A little boy and the sea

A little boy and the sea

Oh yes sea stars! We were quite taken aback by the sheer number of them that were, ahem, mating. They were all scattered about, with a larger proportion of them congregating on sandier patches of the sea bed. Some were half-buried in the sand, blissfully partaking in the intimate affair in private, while some were more liberal with regards to their choice of setting, and were seen moving along the sea bed.

Ahm ... some privacy please?

Ahm … some privacy please?

We had to be especially careful about where we placed our feet, so as not to run the risk of stepping on any of the sea stars.

I'm such a popular seaStar!

I’m such a popular seaStar!

There were quite a number of knobbly sea stars lying around too. Interestingly, some of them seemed to be in the mood for a party, and we promptly gave them a hand, as chauffeurs. Of course, we later replaced them to where we had found them.

Our first knobbly seastar!

Our first knobbly seastar!

Hi! Please help me! I'm drying out!

Hi! Please help me! I’m drying out!

Sea star party!

Sea star party!

See me legs?

See me legs?

That's me tummy, by the way

That’s me tummy, by the way

Mummy I found a seastar!

Mummy I found a seastar!

A recently discovered species of seastar!

A recently discovered species of seastar!

Along the way, we saw strange mounts of grey sand, which seem to have been brought up to the surface from some distance below.

Peanut worm excrement -- yikes!

Peanut worm excrement — yikes!

Mr Tan later informed us that the sand was material that had been expelled by peanut worms. This material is essentially sand from which nutrients and food particles had been extracted.

Green anemone

Green anemone

The anemone wants to hug your finger!

The anemone wants to hug your finger!

We saw 2 types of sea anemones. The first would secrete toxic substances that irritate human skin when touched, while the other had tentacles whose tips would adhered onto intruding fingers. Ever placed your fingers into a small volume of glue and removed them? Yep, that’s the sensation!

Two of the anemones we encountered hosted a shrimp couple each. Anemones and anemone shrimp share a symbiotic relationship, or more specifically commensalistic one (where one organism benefits from the other without affecting it), in which the shrimp seek refuge among the stinging tentacles of the anemone, without any deleterious impact on the host.

P Sherman 42 Wallaby Way

Is Nemo home?

Anemoeee

Anemoneee

Here’s a question for you: What is coral? A) A mineral B) A plant C) An animal. The answer is … it’s all three! Coral polyps, which are animals, excrete calcium carbonate to build stable structures on which they can grow. The zooxanthellae living in the soft tissue of a coral polyp use sunlight to produce food through photosynthesis and create a byproduct that the coral can use as food. Thus, zooxanthellae provide corals with food; in return, the coral provides the zooxanthellae with shelter and nutrients. Each coral colony starts with a single polyp. Identical clones are then created, building structures as small as a coin and as large as entire islands. Unfortunately, zooxanthellae are highly sensitive to changes in temperature and chemical pollutants. Hence, rising sea temperatures threaten to wipe entire populations of coral around the world out, by extension depriving millions of marine organisms the shelter and food that are critical to their survival.

Blue coral!

Blue coral!

Beautiful coral

Beautiful coral

We came across quite a number of sea cucumbers too. Fortunately, all of us were sensible enough not to provoke them to the extent to which their activating defence mechanisms were activated. This would entail the spewing of silky threads (their guts … eek) that solidify into a white, sticky, and unremovable mess.

“Stop squeezing me already” — Mr Sea Cucumber

Crabs can be more agile than you may imagine them to be. Tiny shadows darted around as we walked along. Closer inspection of the spots at which the shadows had stopped moving at would reveal little crabs hiding in the sea grass, or underneath a large rock. We were rather privileged to have been able to meet and greet 5 different kinds of crabs: hermits, mosaics, elbows, hairy (or teddy bear) and decorators.

I wanna hitch a ride!

I wanna hitch a ride!

Hug me please! Imma teddy bear crab!

Hug me please! Imma teddy bear crab!

Fite me 1v1!

Fite me 1v1!

grumpy old hermit

grumpy old hermit

The decorator crab is perhaps the most unique species of crab, amongst the 5, in that it attaches bits of objects — sea grass, sponges, and anemones etc to its shell. This behaviour enhances its camouflage and allows it to stay hidden from predators.

“I like to dress-up” Ms Decorator Crab

The seabed farthest from our point of arrival was peppered with short spined sea urchins, and we had to take special care not to step on any small clusters of sea shell debris that were in the area, as they could be sea urchins.

Long spined sea urchin -- the orange object is its eye

Long spined sea urchin — the orange object is its eye

Doesn't this pencil urchin remind you of a bunch of coloured pencils stuck haphazardly into a holder?

Doesn’t this pencil urchin remind you of a bunch of coloured pencils stuck haphazardly into a holder?

Little hedgehog on my palm (Short spined sea urchin)

Little hedgehog on my palm (Short spined sea urchin)

Alas, after a few hours of exploration, the tide started to rise and we had to head back to the shore. Once again, the elusive reef was blanketed in life giving water, saving its secrets for another day.

Time to go!

Time to go!

It was a sky full of stars :)

It was a sky full of stars 🙂

Party on a yacht

Party on a yacht

Nature never fails to enthral us with its ingenuity, creativity, and tenacity. Even within the confines of a single reef, we were exposed to countless unique feeding methods, defence mechanisms, and symbiotic relationships. Nature’s wonder has the incredible ability to put how we perceive ourselves in perspective, by showing how us humans are not the only organisms which are exceptional, and that we are but one player in a larger web of mutual dependency. 

Sea snail party!

Sea snail party!

A goby!

A goby!

Do you sell any (sea) grapes?

Do you sell any (sea) grapes?

Spot the stingray!

Spot the stingray!

Our relationship with nature does not simply revolve around those charismatic sharks and sea turtles that we know too well of, and too may often associate as being the most impressive embodiments of the wonderment of our watery world. Rather, it entails paying attention to the littlest of things, and in turn realising how awe inspiring Nature really is.

Imma blue dragon! (sea slug)

Imma blue dragon! (sea slug)

I may be a sea hare, but I have wings!!

I may be a sea hare, but I have wings!!

On the whole, it was an eye opening, highly enriching experience for everyone. This may be our last official outing together as J2s, but definitely one of many more adventures to come for ODAC 30, our family 🙂

ODAC 30, our family :)

ODAC 30, our family 🙂

Basic Training Camp!

   Basic Training Camp, or BTC for short, is an annual camp organised and run by the seniors of ODAC, and is conducted every March holiday. As the name suggests, the camp is meant to reinforce the fundamental camping skills taught to the juniors, such as tent pitching, bag packing and outdoors cooking, while giving the more inexperienced juniors their first taste of the outdoors, via an overnight camp in Ubin. 

  Put like that, BTC sounds pretty dull, especially when you compare it to all the crazy antics our CCA gets up to. All night island wide mass cycling events, treacherous ascents up mountains in distant lands, not-quite-legal acts of trespass into abandoned locales, visits to nigh-untouched reefs in the middle of the ocean, digging up holes in the school track and setting them on fire … A camp for “basic training” ? Would it just be a “UG Lite” boot camp, conducted out of formality?

  Don’t let the name fool you – there’s a lot more than meets the eye. BTC is as old as the club itself, and for the past 31 years it has served as the rite of passage marking one’s initiation into the CCA. More so than any other event in ODAC, BTC forges a link between batches past, present and future.
Yes, even more so than ODACIA and senior's farewell. Those are one day events :D

Yes, even more so than ODACIA and senior’s farewell. Those are one day events

   Like any time honoured tradition, the trappings may change with the times, but its core elements and purpose remains the same. BTC is more than just “basic training” – it is the best opportunity the seniors and teachers have to impart their values and vision to the next generation.
IMG_1933
  Valuable lessons aside, BTC lets seniors pass on the timeless experiences and practices of Raffles ODAC culture to the batch below them. Just ask any old ODAC alumnus to do some starry-eyed reminiscing, and you’ll notice more than a few comforting continuities across the decades. Fond memories will be dredged up of Ubin, the ODAC song, the Night Walk, the Long Walk, and the ever present sense of mystery and adventure that comes from having a secretive, slightly sadistic bunch of seniors run your camp. More on that later!
  All of us go through BTC twice, first as green juniors at the mercy of their seniors, then as old fogeys all too eager to return the favour. Thus, every batch enjoys a unique BTC experience, even while keeping our favourite old traditions alive. This year’s BTC was no different, and ODAC 30 did a damn fine job making it an enjoyable and memorable affair for the juniors. (even if we do say so ourselves!) 
You're welcome

You’re welcome 😀

  The first day of BTC was marked with a sense of excitement and anticipation for all parties involved. As planned, the juniors came into BTC with no idea of what to expect, so they would have a genuine response to the activities lined up for them. On the other hand, the seniors knew exactly what to expect, and were more than a little anxious as to whether the camp would run smoothly from start to finish. Everyone was a little wary of the prospect of two and a half days in the company of new faces. Would this year’s BTC be a success? 
Spoiler alert: everything turns out fine. Sorry for the suspense :p

Spoiler alert: everything turns out fine. Sorry for the suspense :p

  The first day of BTC began in the evening, and took place entirely in school, but the seniors still managed to squeeze in a few goofy activities to liven up the day. Upon their arrival in school, the juniors were briefed, broken up into groups, and given the opportunity to get acquainted with each other and their group ICs through some good old fashioned ice breaking activities.
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Orientation games, anyone?

  Once all the getting-to-know-each other stuff was finished, the juniors were soon to discover for themselves ODAC 30s love for wacky station games. Right off the bat, the juniors were thrown right into the first of many madcap activities – the Blindfold challenge.
What inter batch camp would be complete without a little hazing?

What inter batch camp would be complete without a little hazing?

  For ODAC 31, there was no such thing as a free lunch. Their food for BTC had to be earned through teamwork, perseverance, and the willingness to endure just a little humiliation. To get to the food, the juniors had to blindfold themselves and grope their way through a darkened room filled with obstacles, decoys and seniors skilled in the art of trolling. Despite all the poking, prodding and other shenanigans, the juniors emerged from the activity in good cheer, with a veritable bounty of chow to show for their efforts.
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Artery clogging, diabetes inducing, ultra processed goodness. ODAC Diet = Best Diet!

The juniors soon got to enjoy the fruits of their labour. After pitching their tents in the Marymount field, the juniors partook in some traditional Outdoors cuisine –  Maggi Mee àla Canned Food, cooked in mess tins held over a shaky butane gas canister. Yum!
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Exquisite – the dish was savoury, with just a hint of stray insect…

  There was another activity waiting for the juniors once they had washed up – Find Your Seniors. As evening fell, ODAC launched into a game of hide and seek that sprawled across the entire school, with the juniors ganging up to hunt down the seniors. Once caught, the seniors would challenge the juniors to identify them, and answer whatever lame riddle they had prepared. If the juniors managed to succeed in the above tasks (some answered the riddles embarrassingly fast) the senior would be sent off to the losers corner to be ridiculed. A good time was had by all, and before they retreated back to their tents for the lights out, the juniors were at least marginally better at associating the senior’s faces with their names.
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“Lights out” meant a strict curfew – absolutely no one snuck out to play cards, or anything like that

  The next day brought a fresh gauntlet of fun and games for the juniors, starting with the bewildering Key Punch activity, in which the juniors had to decipher a cypher comprised of cryptic symbols. The game was hilariously off-beat, and more than a little unfair, but the teamwork and communication it required helped the juniors to bond and become more familiar with each other after the activity.
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Seriously? You expect us to understand ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and freaking Star Wars symbols?

  Right after that was the Maze Runner game, which had the juniors scurry around the school hunting down coloured slips of paper hidden in locations all over the school, guarded by vicious seniors, er, “Grievers”. The YA-novel inspired activity let the juniors exercise team work and bonding, while giving them a good physical workout.
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“Vicious seniors”

  A chartered bus took the club off to Changi Ferry Terminal in air conditioned comfort, giving everyone a much needed breather before the next round of ODAC insanity.
  Up next was the game known as “Granny’s Candy.” As you may have guessed from the rather demented clip below, “Granny’s Candy” involves juniors trying to retrieve a bunch of balloons from seniors scattered all over the Changi Beach. At each of these locations, juniors would have to complete a small mini-game to obtain the balloons, then transport these balloons back to the collection zone.
  Of course, there’s a catch to this – seniors, now known as Oompa Loompas, would chase down the juniors, and try to pop the balloons. Imagine an enormous game of rugby no boundaries, fragile balls, with about 40 players, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the activity turned out. Bloody amazing, that’s how.
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  The Scavenger Hunt was held after lunch, and had the juniors look for miscellaneous items spread across the park and take photos of bits of scenery like signs, leaves and rocks . The hidden items included a Rubick’s Cube, a Barbie Doll, a mouse, and a furry ended pencil. Don’t ask why, that’s just how ODAC 30 rolls! Every couple of items found or photos taken, the juniors would have to complete a short mini-game to carry on.
How  is this a

How is this a “game”…

  With the station games ended, ODAC prepared to journey to Ubin to set up camp. In contrast to the zaniness of the past two days, the next part of BTC was steeped in tradition, and contained many elements that past generations of ODACians would find familiar.
  Ubin has always been the location of choice to camp for BTC, and even in the far flung future of 2015, ODACians got to enjoy an open air ferry ride on the way there, complete with a cool sea breeze and roller coaster-esque bumps and dives. 
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#WhoneedsUniversalStudios

 Upon alighting at Ubin, ODAC set about the usual business of pitching tents and making dinner. This time round, the camp site was equipped with a spot to light a camp fire, perfect for creating the eerie mood necessary for the night to come.
  When darkness fell, the juniors were squeezed onto narrow rows of logs facing the center of the camp fire. It was there that the juniors were taught an important part of Raffles ODAC Heritage: The ODAC Song. It’s the immensely cheesy, yet oddly charming song that has the power to tug on your heart strings and stir up a strong sense of camaraderie and nostalgia, while having some really tough bits in the middle that seem to have more syllables than notes. You know which parts I’m talking about.
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Off key, off beat … Encore!

  To be honest, the junior’s rendition of the ODAC song was a little soft and mumbly, but that just highlighted how tired they were after the day’s activities. Thus, it was no big surprise when the juniors failed to notice their numbers slowly dwindling from the campfire, one by one…
  Don’t worry, this is Basic Training Camp, not Cabin in the Woods, so the juniors were never in any real danger. Not to say they didn’t end up getting a little spooked – the juniors were being hauled off to participate in the Night Walk, another venerable BTC tradition. The juniors were directed down a path into forest, with only one other member of their batch to keep them company. The journey was long, dark, and punctuated by clots of barmy seniors that would act in strange, sometimes disturbing ways.
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Imagine running into this bunch of nutters in the middle of the night.

  Some seniors instructed the juniors to sit down with their eyes closed, then disappeared into the darkness… Some seniors feigned asthma attacks… Some seniors just wanted to gossip…
  One way or another, the juniors survived the Night Walk, coming away from it a little closer to their Night Walk partner, and a little more leery of the lunacy of some of the seniors. With any luck, the exhaustion of the second day quashed any nightmares the juniors might have had. They would certainly need the rest for what was to come.
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Sweet dreams

  With the start of the third day, came a sweet little activity called the “Affirmation Circle”. The juniors were arranged into a circle and asked to close their eyes. About five randomly chosen juniors students would be asked to stand up and tap the shoulder of three people that they felt demonstrated a certain set of values or qualities, such as “This person helped me over the past two days”, or “This person rallied the group when it was faced with challenges.” It was heartening to juniors supporting each other during the activity, and there were many smiles to go around.
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Cute 😀

  However, the fact that each junior was limited to three taps, and the fact that the juniors had only known each other for about four weeks at best, meant that a large number of juniors didn’t get to have the pleasure of being affirmed by their peers. To remedy this, the juniors decided that, obviously, the best course of action would be to roll up into a big ball for a massive group hug.
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Awwwww

  After everyone had finished throwing up from the concentrated adorableness, ODAC struck their tents and headed back to the mainland. Wow, good job for surviving BTC guys, it’s time to pop open the champagne now the worse is behind us, right?
Wrong-landscape
  Well, the best was truly saved for last – the final task set for the juniors was the infamous “Long Walk”. It’s reputation was fearsome enough that many juniors were dimly aware of it’s existence beforehand, despite the tight veil of secrecy the seniors had tried to maintain. Wild rumours abounded, and seniors were badgered with urgent questions like, “What’s coming up on the third day? Why would we “need a good rest” for later? What is this Long Walk I hear about? Would it involve a really long walk?” Seniors being seniors, all we could say were cryptic comments like “You’ll find out soon enough.” And “Remember to fill up your water bottles.”
  Our BTC journey was to end where it had started; back in Raffles Institution. But how were we going to get there from Changi Point Ferry Terminal? By taking a bus? Hell no! That’s for wimps and senior citizens! Our CCA isn’t called the Outdoor Adventure Club for nothing. We prefer to travel the old fashioned way, the way every batch has done it since 1984: hoofing it on our own two feet. Am I right lads?
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OOH RAH! (Alright we also happen to like cycling and kayaking, but that’s beside the point.)

  Just like with Oddyseus, the real challenge lay in finding the way back home. Laden with heavy backpacks and deprived of Google Maps, the juniors had to make their way back to school on foot within 7 hours.
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That’s the way we like it

  The trek was long, hard and marred with more than a little confusion as some juniors lost their way. Juniors became casualties to sprains and migraines, and some groups were so befuddled that they ended up in Stadium!
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Missed the target by about six kilometers, Houston, we have problem here…

However, it was during such times of hardship that the juniors had the opportunity to display their mettle and character, as they took charge of dire situations and offered help to their fellow group mates in need. The credos of “leave no man behind” was really hammered into the juniors during the trek, as they learnt to be open to giving, as well as asking for, assistance whenever it was necessary. The group ics, being prohibited from giving any direct help, could only give moral support, as well as the occasional serving of ice cream.
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Everybody loves ice cream 😀

  Unfortunately, a couple of groups were unable to make it back before the deadline of 5:30pm, so they had to resort to public transport or Mr. Faizad’s car to hasten the last leg of their journey. Either way, everyone made it back to Raffles (mostly) in one piece, collapsing in the air conditioned Stamford Training Room with aching feet and sighs of relief.
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We are the champions, my friends

  With the last and most arduous part of BTC finally over, the juniors could now call themselves fully fledged ODACians: they’ve learnt the song, they conquered the 22 kilometre trek, and formed an indelible bond with their group mates. Now, they were ready to tackle one and a half years of outdoor adventure together, and along the way, create another unforgettable experience for the next batch of ODACians come next March. Godspeed!
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ODAC 31 in full force

  Of course, BTC would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of ODAC 30 . Special mention goes to Denise, Syahirah and Theng Yi, who were the BTCs ics for 2015- we have them to thank for dreaming up all the nutty station games, and for making sure the camp ran as smoothly as it did. Good job guys!
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No shame, no gain – juniors, give us credit where it’s due! But do try to do an even better job next year 😀

   The teachers also deserve credit for the success of BTC 2015 – their supervision, advice and assistance made things a lot easier, especially when we ran into rough patches. Thanks!
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Mr. Faizad, Mr. Chew, Ms Chua and Mr. Tan

   We’d also like to give a shout out to the J3s who dropped by to visit us and help out on the second day. Seeing you guys brought back good memories of our own BTC, and it was cool to hang out again, we really appreciated it!
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Chester, Wei Jin, Rui Xiang

   To the ODAC batches of the future – we hope you’ll continue or legacy by making sure BTC continues to be the most amazing welcome, to the most amazing CCA. Good luck and have fun, you guys!

ODAC30 at Kallang Waterway

Note the stolen slippers in Ivan's hands

The ODAC30 Armada at Kallang Waterways

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. 

Beach Landing

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.

Hands on learning!

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. 


Taking on the scum of Kallang, one pail at a time

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.

“Awww look at that, it’s so cute!”

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.

It's from some motorcycle... container... thing...

The Snails’ HDB

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.

“Ohgodohgodit’ssohighupputmedown”

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.

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 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?

Before

After

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!

We had 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 😩