Learning about Skitch

Pei Rong, my Changi beach sea cucumber student dropped by my office to catch up on a discussion about the heterogenous nature of Changi beach and what we need to follow up as a result of some mapping she did. For starters, we can improve the LSM1103 Biodiversity class’ Changi Beach practical with a couple of maps.

We got distracted (as usual) when I realised she didn’t know about Skitch – somehow I had not mentioned it when we worked together.

Well we fixed that straight away!

Cheo Pei Rong & me
Using the Snap function in Skitch!

My century ride at the NTU Bike Rally 2012


Kenneth, Kevin and I rode the NTU Bike Rally 2012 yesterday and we made the first cut-off for the extended ride, looping into Tuas to Raffles Marina. We did not make the second cut and so clocked 148km+ during the Bike Rally this year, which we are pretty pleased about!

At my first NTU Bike Rally in 2003, the ride began and ended at NTU itself. By cycling there and back, I clocked more than 100 miles (160km). The idea of a century ride had been suggested by Mark Chan, one of my Zendogs kakis who had ridden with me on my first round island ride in 2002. Anyway, if I have the energy and am alert, I’d rather cycle than dismantle my bicycle.

Well that distance as a target intrigued me but you can’t achieve a century on a round island loop alone, as the length would usually be in the region of 128km. Riding to the start point and back did add enough distance but the Bike Rally start point was moved from NTU to the south. 

As a result of that, the last time I did a century since the Bike Rally restarted in 2007 was 2008. In 2009 and 2010, I reached ECP and packed it in at about 135km. Last year I was struggling with severe cramps for about half the ride and was really happy I had managed 134km.  

So it was with great pleasure yesterday when I realised we had made the Tuas loop cutoff. Coupled with my ride to and from the F1 Pit, I had finally clocked a century again.  


Kenneth Pinto and Kevin, my NTU Bike Rally 2012 kakis at the start point!

Breakfast at Changi with kakis from NUS

First posted in NUS’ “The Change is Me“, 24 Feb 2012

These past few Sundays, I have been meeting kakis (= friends) at Holland Village MRT at 6.30am and cycling down to Changi Village for breakfast via Lornie Road and Tampines. We meet other kakis who begin their shorter ride at a more leisurely pace from the East Coast park C1 along the Coastal Park Connector at 7.00am. Shortly after 8.00am, we were all chomping on pratas and dosais and catching up!

To think that all of this began in 90’s with my NUS biology classmates! As we rode together over the years, some of our juniors in NUS whom I taught or shared a lab with joined in and eventually we also linked up with other friends. A relaxed bunch, we treasure the journey and feeling of freedom most of all, and call ourselves Zendogs.

And yes, we even have a blog!

Zendogs 2.0 - It's the journey not the destination
Classmate, juniors, friends and my mentee have
breakfast at Changi Village, 29 Jan 2012!
Photo by Kevin Lim

I had a lovely time in NUS and met many people. It was in biology that I was to be especially lucky for we had a very good time during field trips with a hardy bunch of people and some would go on to become very good friends. Over the years, I am still enjoying occasional cycling trips, forest hikes, RISK sessions, nature guiding and other activities with them. And Facebook has helped me reconnect with quite a few more!

Thus it is with great delight that I see our first year undergraduates in LSM1103 Biodiversity, a core module for Life Science students, get reasonable exposure in the field with their classmates.

These days though, the class size has almost reached 300. It certainly is a challenge ensuring we can maintain a small group environment to facilitate learning and safety in the field.

Happily, the Chief TAs have managed to recruit a very precious crop of Teaching Assistants – honours and graduate students in biodiversity with a motivation to share, facilitate and inspire!

LSM1103 Group B Animal Diversity Practical (21 Oct 2011)
Animal Diversity Lab – can you sort out the fish and amphibians in three minutes?

LSM1103 AY 11/12 Sem 2 Kent Ridge Practical
Identifying plants and animals on Kent Ridge after a rain.

LSM1103 Group B Changi Practical (28 Oct 2011)
Seining in the waters off Changi Beach for fish and invertebrates

The first lecture with the first years in Semester 1 for this module is a precious session – it is here that I explain, amongst other things, the complicated arrangement of classes for this particular module to a group of students new to the whole university setup.

Last year, I lost that scheduled lecture slot to a public holiday. Desperate, I tried but failed to find an available Lecture Theatre for the make up lecture. I finally decided I would run two 2-hour sessions at Lab 7 instead. As is typical, this turned out to be a blessing – we were able to allocate time for groups to get to know each other, a very precious thing to do!

As students chattered away in the class, the Chief TA for the module, Xu Weiting, and myself, took a photo of every group for the module’s Facebook page.
Students went on to tag themselves and some went on to create group pages to continue the dialogue over the semester.

I hope the chatter will lead to friendships and that some of them will still be cycling together, like we still do, after two decades.

Here’s to friendships, from NUS and beyond!

AY2011/12 Sem 1 group photos!
LSM1103 AY2011/2 Sem 1 groups

I’m blogging on NUS’ facebook account from Feb to May 2012.

Sunrise in campus and a battle remembered

First posted in NUS’ “The Change is Me“, 14 Feb 2012

As the sun rose last Sunday, 12th February 2012, more than a hundred people walked from the University Cultural Centre up to the Ridge, and across the Gap past Kent Ridge Park to Bukit Chandu. In doing so, they traced the route of the battle of Pasir Panjang and honoured the exemplary defense of the ridge by soldiers of the The Malay Regiment on 13th and 14th February 1942, who battled against the 18th division of the Japanese Army during World War II.

2012-02-12 07.08.19
Photo by Kenneth Pinto

This exercise began more than ten years ago but its origins go back to when I was an NUS undergraduate myself.

I was a freshman biology undergraduate in the late 80’s and brought to the ridge by my TA, a botany honours student. I was fascinated as she introduced us to the plants there, for she knew the scientific name of everything! We would go on to explore insect life there in second year ecology, ‘listen’ to bats echolocating in third year zoology, use the ridge as a short cut to Central Library (still only a ten minute stroll), watch birds in both day and night, and be lucky enough to see the occasional snake!

It was only after I graduated, in the early 90’s, that I learnt that a battle that been fought in the area!

My old ecology professor, D H Murphy tossed me a mild remark one afternoon as we chatted on a bench outside the laboratory. I searched for information everywhere but it was ultimately the shelves of Central Library which revealed a University of Malaya history honours thesis devoted to the Malay Regiment. The 1955 thesis by Dol Ramli chronicled the Battle of Pasir Panjang and was eventually published in a journal as: Ramli, D., 1965. The Malay Regiment, 1933-1942. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 38(1): 199 – 243.

I read the words and was fascinated – and also dismayed that I had known nothing of this tale of valor and determination on a ridge I thought I knew so well.

General A. E. Percival, the Commander-in-Chief of the Malayan Command would say of the men in Mubin C. Sheppard’s 1947 book, “The Malay Regiment 1933-1947”:

“…these young and untried soldiers acquitted themselves in a way which bore comparison with the very best troops in Malaya. In particular, by their stubborn defence of the Pasir Panjang Ridge at the height of the Battle of Singapore, they set an example of steadfastness and endurance which will become a great tradition in the Regiment and an inspiration for the future generations.”

This story simply had to be told!

Examining the map in Ramli’s thesis, I realised the battle had begun near the UCC and ended at Bukit Chandu. The thesis told a lovely story of the regiment and we already had our stories about plants and animals, so I initiated the Ridge Walks in 2002. Coincidentally that year, National Archives of Singapore opened the Reflections at Bukit Chandu on the hill. A natural end point for our walks, we began collaborating with them in 2004.

Photo by Kenneth Pinto

Public walks aside, I would eventually lead students up the ridge as part of LSM1103 Biodiversity, a life sciences core module. Three years ago, I decided to extend that walk all the way to Bukit Chandu. This way, our undergraduates flavour their biological impressions of the ridge with a bit of history and geography and early in their NUS career.

The building acts as a beacon and this afternoon, I visited Reflections of Bukit Chandu. There I saw primary school kids seated on the floor of the interpretive centre, learning about the Battle of Pasir Panjang. I need no longer worry, this story is being told.

I’m blogging on NUS’ facebook account from Feb to May 2012.

Do they remember the 15th of February?

There have been several references to the results of this roadside poll by The Straits Times, mostly as a result of the last paragraph in “Fall of Singapore remembered by survivors,” by Lindsay Murdoch. The Age, 16 Feb 2012 [pdf], which reads:

“A street poll conducted by the Singapore Straits Times found that many Singaporeans did not recognise the date while others confused it with Racial Harmony Day or joked it was Valentine’s Day.”

That was artfully inserted, I thought, and many indeed decried the ignorance of our youth or the way they are taught as a result. Well, I wanted to find out just how much “many was”. But it was difficult to find the article, even for an ST subscriber like myself. Eventually though, I did and here it is below, for you to judge. Nice idea to try the poll, I must say.

As it turns out my reaction when reading the article was one of pleasant surprise – of 100 youth polled, 36 knew 15th February was the date Singapore fell while 25 identified it as Total Defence Day.

Sure, we need to improve they way we tell the stories, and get past our conflicts about how and what we tell about the events surrounding World War II. Then I think back and realise I was not taught about Singapore’s history in school! I wonder how long ago that gap lasted – I did read the books older students were using and in those I learnt about the Fall of Singapore.

This year, on the 14th of February, I watched as primary school kids learn about the Battle of Singapore in Reflections of Bukit Chandu. I think they’ll remember.

“What Feb 15 means to young people,” by Kenneth Goh, Chen Shanshan and Denise Cheong. The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2012.

“On the 70th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, four World War II survivors, now in their 70s and 80s, recall how the wartime experience wiped out their childhood innocence and honed their survival skills

Mention Feb 15, 1942, and some young Singaporeans do not associate it with the day that Singapore fell to Japanese troops during World War II.

In a Life! street poll of 100 Singaporeans between the ages of 15 and 25, 39 did not recognise the date.

However, 36 people did know that was the date Singapore fell, and 25 recognised Feb 15 as Total Defence Day. Those how did not know the significance of Feb 15 confused the date with Racial Harmony Day on July 21 and some even joked that Feb 15 is not Valentine’s Day.

Those who do remember the historical significance of the date attribute their awareness to social studies and history lessons in school.

Singapore Management University student Lorraine Loh, 21, who is studying political science, says: ‘Most people don’t remember it well because all we know is that Singapore was this ‘impregnable fortress’, which we learnt in primary and secondary school social studies. If I were not studying history recently, I would not really remember the significance.’

Entrepreneur Mohamad Saddiqi, 23, on the other hand, takes the day quite seriously. The history buff sets aside a few minutes of his time on this day each year to reflect on the tragic chapter in Singapore’s history.

‘It happened on the first day of Chinese New Year, which is considered an auspicious day,’ he says. ‘But if you look at it in a different light, it is also a good wake-up call for Singaporeans not to be over-dependent on outsiders.’

Student Lisa Tan, 21, from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) shares the same view. She says: ‘We are always celebrating the rise and success of Singapore, but no one seems to talk about the fall, which is actually more significant.’

Those who know this day as Total Defence Day mostly recall how it was commemorated during their school years with food- and water-rationing activities and the sounding of the siren five minutes after noon.

Some schools also simulate the tough living conditions of wartime with canteen vendors selling only steamed sweet potatoes and tapioca on the day.

Some students are also given ration coupons to ‘buy’ these food.

Another NTU student Luo Xi En, 21, remembers ordering a bowl of sweet potato porridge at the canteen during a Total Defence Day when she was attending Zhonghua Secondary School.

She recalls: ‘It was a strange experience as we do not eat such simple fare usually and I still felt hungry after finishing the bowl of porridge.’

According to the Ministry of Education National Education website, Total Defence Day is remembered in schools every year to mark Singapore’s fall to the Japanese in 1942. It serves to remind students that Singapore is defensible and is worth defending and citizens must defend the island themselves.

NTU student Pang Ruiting, 21, remembers that the lights and fans in her primary school, Ai Tong School, were switched off to commemorate Total Defence Day.

‘Most of us would have forgotten by now because we are too comfortable with our lives,’ she says. ‘National education is emphasised in primary school, but after that, studies become more important.'”

Singapore Free Press, 26 Jan 1942

“He courageously relived the dark years to inform and educate us” – Jimmy Chew POW, RIP

In the letter below, published today, Mrs Yoko Natsume of Tokyo, who learnt about ‘Syonan-to’ only after coming to Singapore in 1992, says of Jimmy Chew, POW, “He courageously relived the dark years to inform and educate us. … May he rest in peace”

It reminds me of this statement that I read in “The Syonan Years” after the opening of Memories of Old Ford Factory in 2006,

“We meet not to rekindle old fires of hatred, nor to seek settlement for blood debts. We meet to remember the men and women who were the hapless victims of the one of the fires of history.”

– PM Lee Kuan Yew at the unveiling of the Civillian War Memorial, 15th February 1967 .

“Japanese teacher’s gratitude to Singaporean POW,” Letter by Yoko Natsume. The Strait Times Forum Page, 16 Feb 2012.

“I WAS saddened to learn of the death on Feb 1 of Mr Jimmy Chew, 88, a World War II prisoner of war (POW) during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore.

A group of Japanese high school students and I owe him a debt of gratitude for describing to us his personal ordeal (‘Remembering the thousands who lost lives’; Dec 9, last year).

Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the Occupation and many Singaporeans must have bitter war memories.

Unfortunately, relatively few Japanese of my generation or younger are familiar with the Occupation, when an earlier Japanese generation inflicted untold misery on the people of Singapore. It was not until I had a chance to live in Singapore in 1992 that I learnt of the suffering inflicted by the occupiers: renaming Singapore ‘Syonan-to’, forcing Japanese culture on Singaporeans, and committing many atrocities.

All Japanese citizens remember Dec 8, 1941 as the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in the United States.

But there is little mention in Japanese history classes of the simultaneous strike on the Malayan Peninsula and the subjugation of Singapore.

When I returned to Japan in 2002, I was convinced that my fellow Japanese, especially the younger generation, should learn about the dark years of the Occupation because we cannot close our eyes to the past.

I organised study tours to Singapore for my students, which included visiting a survivor of the Occupation.

Mr Chew willingly accepted my request and for six years until his death, he invited me and representatives from my school to his flat each March to share his experiences as a POW of the Japanese.

He courageously relived the dark years to inform and educate us. His telling inevitably filled us with guilt and remorse.

Yet, he would assure us unfailingly that while he remembered the suffering, he no longer harboured ill feelings towards the Japanese. He said he realised that the Japanese must have suffered in their own way; that the trauma and absurdity of war made victims of both Singaporeans and the Japanese.

His remarks never failed to move us.

Now that Mr Chew is no longer with us, I feel it is my duty to pass on what we learnt from him to my fellow Japanese. May he rest in peace.”

Yoko Natsume (Mrs)


Blogging on NUS’ facebook, “The Change is Me”

This year, the NUS Admissions Publicity Campaign has picked the theme, “The Change is Me”. I was asked to contribute by blogging once a week from now until May 2012 at the NUS facebook page.

I was first asked in December 2011 and given a nudge two days ago to have my first post up before the 15th of February 2012. I was busy with World War II remembrance ceremonies and visits so just like my undergrads and their assignments, it was the night of the 14th when I sat down to write. Before midnight, I had shared about the heritage walk the Kent Ridge/Pasir Panjang Guides had led on Sunday from NUS to Bukit Chandu.

National University of Singapore

I actually write to a content management system whose output is embedded to the NUS Facebook page. So I can pen a post in my desktop blog editor, MarsEdit, save drafts to WordPress which can be accessed on my iPhone (jes sayin’), and eventually copy and paste the html over to the CMS system.

I guess I will archive those posts on this blog too so I don’t lose them. It’s nice to be able to look back.

Well a large part of the exercise is NUS Open House 2012 when prospective students get to check out the campus, talk to some flesh and blood here and attend talks and poke and prod the wildlife here which will includes yours truly this year!

You see, a week ago I was informed by the powers that be, who maintain a sharp eye on these things, that my name had turned up on the roster for Academic Advisors duty at NUS Open House 2012.

So I get to meet students on the morning of Saturday 17th March 2012 at the Sports and Recreation Centre. I have already booked the date and look forward to meeting new students. I will have to bone up on the multitude of variations in course offerings before that which tends to be an eye opener.

It looks like I will be in the pink corner. And apparently I am to be friendly.

NUS Open House 2012 - the Change is Me : 17 & 18 March Sat & Sun

The last time I had duty, I read everything official, then asked questions of my department’s admin staff – they know EVERYTHING. Which is probably why they have FULL DAY duty at the Open House unlike the acads’ half-day duty slots.

Then I talked to my research undergrads and Raffles Museum Toddycats undergraduate volunteers to ground truth me – they know exactly how things pan out and what incoming students need to be alert about.

By the time I master all of that information, I may as well volunteer to give talks at JCs about Life Sciences @ NUS.

There you go, I just painted a bull’s eye on my head. I’ll go pick up an arrow and stick in my head next week.

NUS Open House 2012 - the Change is Me : 17 & 18 March Sat & Sun