Announcing the St Andrew’s 150th Anniversary Commemorative Book: “Hearts Courageous” – pre-order copies now

Dear Saints,

some exciting news – the long-awaited book about the history of the school by Mrs Belinda Charles, former principal of St. Andrew’s Junior College and St. Andrew’s Secondary School, has just been announced.

The book is 272-pages long in full colour; hard-cover copies cost $100 and soft-cover cost $30. Pre-order by email:

UP and ON!

Hearts Courageous

Sucker for punishment? Join me this Sat @ the pre-National Day mangrove cleanup!

That shell-shocked look from the morning’s celebration!

Now that my fever has receded, and the chest infection is under control, I see a glimmer of flu-free life beckoning. I also found my very carefully kept national flag, and recalled how happy we are every year we do the pre-national day mangrove cleanup. Our 2011 group photo has been my desktop picture for a year now!

I’m still feeling a little light-headed so I sent out a few messages to ensure I’d have some mangrove cleanup veterans there with me – I never do this alone for safety and thankfully never have to. Sure enough, Adrian, Joelle, Airani, Kai Scene, Yi Yong and Weiting have confirmed so its safe to get this going!

Well registration has been initiated very late, but it will be interesting to see how many answer the call this year. We’ll be fine with any number and the hard-core who turn up with short notice are inspiring to work with.

I recall some participants faded in less than an hour, so we’ll take a break after 30 mins, for everyone to get water and rotate their positions on the beach. Weekend warriors may not be used to intense work.

From the photos, I realise I will perspire like a monsoon, so will gear up like I usually do for my bike rides (head cap, halo headband, energy gel and Camelpak). My debrief notes reminded me to order pizzas for the glove washing crew the moment we leave, so food is waiting once we are done with washing!

We do rack up some impressive amounts of trash, and last year’s group of 64 removed more than a tonne of trash in 133 trash bags; NEA is notified earlier and will ensure this all get removed to an incineration plant.

Want to get a piece of the action this year? We can do with muscles for heavy lifting as well as dainty fingers for fine work but all with a heart for the environment. See details and registration on the News from the International Coastal Cleanup blog. There’ll be a bus to and from Clementi as usual, provided by ICCS/Raffles Museum.

Kenneth Pinto took lots of photos last year, which are featured below. Yes, I’ll wear red, my beaten-up ICCS Coordinators cap and that preciously secured national flag! We are celebrating National Day!

Briefing at the bus stop at Lim Chu Kang Road end
Pre-NDP Lim Chu Kang Mangrove Cleanup 2011


Not a pretty sight!


Get a workout with friends!






We chain-gang the trash bags to the Trash Disposal Site and weigh!





Pre-NDP Lim Chu Kang Mangrove Cleanup 2011




All done by 11am! Glad we woke up early and came, always!

Photos by Kenneth Pinto and Kelvin Lim from the 2011 pre-National Day Coastal Cleanup 2011.

First Otter Cycling Trail completed!

On 6th May 2012 my former hons students Meryl Then (aka Otter Girl) and Amanda Tan (aka Gallus gallus Girl) joined my cycling kakis, Zendogs, on a ride to Changi Village.

The start of it all – Meryl and Amanda cycle with Zendogs, 06 May 2012.
Photo by Kevin Lim.

And now I am really happy to share they have just completed their first Otter Trail guided bicycle tour from Changi to Punggol, talking about mangroves, red jungle fowl, otters and other aspects of nature and the environment in these areas. They had the support of Zendogs and other Raffles Museum Toddycats for cycling safety and nature guiding and covered 37km with participants.

Organisers Meryl and Amanda; Photo by Alvin Wong

A previous organised ride I had managed was Pedal Ubin, whose origins lie in June 1999. After more than a decade, I ended that series as Pulau Ubin had become much better known to all, and after most of the land had been returned to the state in preparation for reclamation (deferred in 2002), NParks had sign-posted the island well and good maps were available online.

Also, the third generation volunteer Pedal Ubin guide pool and project managers were tired. I had moved on to full-time teaching in 2007 and had no energy or time to train a fourth cohort of guides. So we retired the project in July 2009 with a farewell page

As I rode with Zendogs almost every week this year, we enjoyed the many safe routes the park connector network had to offer us around Singapore. It had matured to a point a decent 40km ride could be made – that’s the width of Singapore!

However, most students and friends I talked to were still unaware of the opportunities available to them. Although I talked about these opportunities in lectures and at public talks I wanted to introduce a ride on mainland by our young volunteers in Raffles Museum Toddycats.

Otter Trail’s 36.89 km from Kenneth Pinto’s Runkeeper

So in July 2012, three years after retiring Pedal Ubin, a new ride has emerged to take into account new spaces which have emerged in Singapore. its mostly not even secondary forest but the onset of restoration and recovery which participants will see along the way. We’re done with reclamation in much of the north-east, sliver of mangroves persists and otters have returning to seek refuge in some of these new spaces.

The students leading the ride went from suaku to gung-ho over two years, working on species biology projects. They have previously communicated their projects with stakeholders and public alike and now can mix it up on this cycling trail.

And you no longer need a mountain bike to handle our ride, a foldable will do!

I think the best part was – I was not there! Well, not so happily stuck at home with flu and fever, there were enough tweets and Facebook photos for me to feel happy and blog about in the Raffles Museum Toddycats page.

Congratulations to the team and I’m looking forward to more in the years to come!

Rail Corridor – a safe green ride from Bukit Timah to Holland Village


I was resting with my kakis at the Binjai Park coffeeshop yesterday after an enjoyable ride on some the easier mountain bike trails in Central Catchment. As we were heading off on our separate ways, they enthusiastically suggested I ride the Rail Corridor back instead of braving Upper Bukit Timah and Clementi Roads.

The Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway track used to run from the causeway in the north to Tanjong Pagar in the south of Singapore. Malaysia returned the land to Singapore and about a year ago, the railways tracks were removed. The remaining trackbed and its adjacent buffer of grass and scrub has left us a clayey walking/cycling trail. Over the past two day, a scorching sun would have dried that all up for a smooth ride.

So I joined the Rail Corridor off Upper Bukit Timah at about 1.00pm and I had the space to myself for the extent of the short four kilometer ride. It certainly was the pleasant countryside ride it was made out to be, with chirping birds amidst scrubby vegetation, shaded in parts by trees but mostly exposed. It was a much shorter route back, heading straight past Holland Village. A couple of SLA signs wished me a pleasant time in this recreational space, which was pretty neat. They have marked out areas to be cautious about but otherwise little else confronts you, which is really nice. A small fallen tree made things a little interesting.

The route on Runkeeper

Cycling Activity 5.31 km - RunKeeper

I mentally monitored my whereabouts and marked off the King Albert Park residences, Clementi canal (this drains to Sg Pandan in the south), the Greenleaf – Bukit Sedap residences, the Holland Road bridge, Jelita (you can see the back of Cold Storage) and Ghim Moh.

A bunch of cyclists zoomed into view just before the Commonwealth Ave bridge, riding down a steep slope with whoops of delight, obviously enjoying this safe, serene, green route to Bukit Timah. We greeted each other and I clambered up into the car park across the road from Buona Vista MRT, ultimately emerging at the Holland Drive food centre.


If you have not tried the Rail Corridor on a bicycle yet, plot your route along any part of the stretch using Google Maps – the old railway line is still marked on the map. I was asked if slick tyres can handle the trail – well, along this stretch are a few patches with large gravel bits and a couple of mud pools. These would challenge a city bicycle but it could survive, I think.

Exit at Holland Drive Food Centre!


Most mountain bikers I know hate riding on the road, which are a necessary evil to brave on the way to the serene mountain biking spots in Singapore. Finding a safe route there was not always possible and the Park Connector Network has been a great relief. Some of these PCNs link with the Rail Corridor and this has opened up an unparalleled feeling of safety and space in this crammed little red dot.

Imagine the possibilities if this 25km route incorporated commuting and offroad trails which would span the north to south of Singapore. This was immediately obvious to cyclists the moment the release of the Malaysian owned land was announced in 2010.

Thankfully the Nature Society (Singapore) put forward a coherent proposal almost immediately and supporters from the community rallied through the Green Corridor webpage and facebook page to promote an awareness and appreciation of the space and the proposal. The government was responsive and today the path is peppered by welcome signs and the authorities promise to try to maintain a green link even as development looms. The area has been largely accessible since January this year.

I hope the corridor will become a reality but not become manicured space in the process. We need rustic spaces to explore and move about safely. This legacy of the Malaysian railway is a boon we should preserve and celebrate.

Other Activity 24.46 km - RunKeeper

Find out more:

Related earlier posts:

  • “The scenery and sounds on the KTM train, from Woodlands Checkpoint to Ghim Moh,” 23 Jul 2011.
  • “Breaking the link – cutting and removing the KTM railway line,” 22 Jul 2011.

In September, a new blood donor centre at Dhoby Ghaut MRT!


From September, you will be able to donate blood in Singapore City itself, at Dhoby Ghaut Xchange at Basement 1 of Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station. 

I just saw this announcement on the Singapore Red Cross Facebook page, after it was highlighted by Geraldine Yeo, the blood donation drive organiser at St. Andrew's Junior College.

This new donor site will be helpful to large number of office workers and shoppers in the city. This is a more accessible location to donate blood, compared to the existing blood donor centres at Outram and Woodlands. 

The other potential catchment will be people working or living close to stations along the North South, North East and Circle lines near to the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station.

Meanwhile, from 16th July to 15th October 2012, the Bloodbank@Woodlands
will extend its operating hours on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 6pm.  

These measures will help address the periodic shortages of blood supply to hospitals during Ramadhan (from Jul – Aug this year), periods of heavy rains and during a surge in accidents or in dengue cases. 

For more information about blood donation in Singapore, visit the HSA and DonorWeb websites.

SAJC’s Blood Donation Drive today: Overcoming a fear of needles!

St. Andrew's Junior College's blood donation drive is a lovely way to introduce youth to the process and a way for some to overcome their fears in the company of friends. An NUS Life Science graduate and old friend Geraldine Yeo overcame her fear of needles and contributed her first blood donation at her college blood donation drive. Earlier this year, she made her 25th blood donation

Now the biology teacher at SAJC, she and a team organise this donation drive and introduce SAJC students to the process. I'm proud that she has done so much personally and helped to organise these drives which encourage others to start the process, just like she did.

I dropped by the school hall last year but sadly had to give the blood drive a miss this year. Massive body aches flattened me these few days and I am still feeling a little woozy. You have to be hale and hearty for this an even panadol requires a three day deferment.

Meanwhile, the status of our blood stocks is:
  • Group A stock: Critical
  • Group B stock: Healthy
  • Group O stock: Very Low
  • Group AB stock: Healthy

Finally – offroad cycling with Kenneth & Kevin with Zendogs at Pengerang!

We have cycled regularly on Sundays since the beginning of the year and have blogged about many rides in Zendogs 2. These were road and PCN rides, and Pulau Ubin’s trails which are too tame to be counted as offroad.

Finally, after half a year, I hit the trails today with Kenneth on his new Giant and Kevin on his still new but already well-used Surly. Zendogs and friends made up nine including route planner Andy Dinesh, a veteran of the area.

046 Zendogs Pengerang 14jul2012

051 Zendogs Pengerang 14jul2012
Chi, Li Ying, Airani, Dinesh, Kenneth and Kevin

Mountain Biking Activity 47.31 km | RunKeeper
Click for larger view.

Route on Runkeeper.

The baptism for Kenneth’s Giant took place in Pengerang – Tg Pelepih to Sg Rengit via dirt tracks through oil palm plantations and young secondary forest – and some overgrown electric able maintenance lines. It’s actually a depressing place for an ecologist, as it is a stark reminder of the long disappeared forests and freshwater swamps which once covered the area.

Ignoring the biodiversity graveyard feeling, on a rainy day like today, the plantation lorry routes test our bicycles for preparation for the mud without severe punishment. Sure enough, we struggled to cope with gear changes once the bikes were embedded with grime. It’s a good way to figure out how to better prepare and to add things like a mouthguard to our kit, so we’ll eat less dirt.

060 Zendogs Pengerang 14jul2012
A heart-wrenching landscape.

082 Zendogs Pengerang 14jul2012
Eat dirt!

057 Zendogs Pengerang 14jul2012
Grass beneath power cables.

100 Zendogs Pengerang 14jul2012
Yes, there was a durian stop!

Offroad with Kevin and Kenneth2

Next – to introduce Kenneth and Kevin to Singapore’s own T15.

Zendogs ride Pengerang, Johor: Kenneth Pinto, Yap Chi Wei, Andy Dinesh, Kevin Lim, Catherine Chew, Airani S., Lee Li Ying, Stephen Yan & N. Sivasothi. Runkeeper route and stats here. 117 photos on Flickr:

Some essential tools on my field trips – iPhone apps

I was Lim Chu Kang East mangrove with a bunch of teachers and on the journey there, I talked about essential tools for a field trip – on my iPhone, and the list wasn’t short:

  1. Google Maps – which I use to determine my present location, intersecting streams along the way cursed to eternity as monsoon canals, as well as a measurement of the distance my route and approximate arrival time, and an indication of traffic conditions, which I monitored to see if we needed to divert the driver,
  2. Runkeeper – an easy interface with which to initiate a plot of my route which I did, in case I need to share a location with someone, or simply remember it, or to add and tag a photo to a location, which I did of the new Kranj Countryside marker no. 4 below. There are also more sophisticated tools like Motion-X GPS
  3. iPhone’s compass – I didn’t talk about this but when I’m in a dense patch of secondary forest, I have used the iPhone’s compass to reorientate myself. I do keep a proper compass in my field pack always but I’ve not had to use that in a long time. Explore the iTunes Store for more nice interfaces like Digital Compass Free, Free HD Compass and so do explore Apps Store!
  4. WeatherLah – this helpfully projected a sound of crackling thunder and loud enough to alert me despite my focus on the class. The early warning about the possibility of an oncoming storm and its attendant dangers of lightning strike on the mudflats, or falling branches and trees in the mangrove prevented me from being caught off guard.
  5. SG Weather – this projects NEA’s rain cloud radar map which I used to determine the size of the thundercloud, its speed and angle of approach. In this case it was enough for me to determine that the scary dark clouds would fade away, so I could proceed safely with the coastal cleanup demonstration and ntohave to evacuate them.
  6. Dengue Lah – early warning if there is a dengue cluster in an area I might venture into. If there are two cases in a 150m radius within 14 days, I alert students and volunteers to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Most times it is the densely populated urban areas with enough of trash catching rain water which pose a bigger threat.
  7. Twitter – because photos and comments can be shared on twitter immediately (like the photo of trash on the stream below) as well as comments like the fact that I had filled three trash bags in 15 minutes (which I had counted and categorised using the ICCS data card). The tweet was ported to Facebook immediately and there friends were more comfortable to comment, raising awareness in the process.
  8. Twitter in combination with BackUpMyTweets, provides for a virtual and brief field notebook.
  9. All that technology (especially the GPS) needs juice and I have a Choiix Power Fort 5600mAh external battery charger which keeps the iPhone going for two additional charge cycles.

This is why I finally bought an iPhone, it is really cheap for a mobile computer. What else do you bring along on your field trip?

Update (10 Oct 2012), a couple more to add:

  • CleanLah for photo-reports of trash and other problems direct to NEA
  • St. John’s Ambulance First Aid for quick information on First Aid, it’s a good way to get or stay familiar with procedures
  • Pocket OneMap, which uses the Singapore government’s map, critical when iOS6 messed up access to Google Maps. OneMap keeps improving and agencies all use this.
LCK East coastal cleanup
Where I walked in Lim Chu Kang East mangrove on 26 Jun 2012.

Kranji Heritage Trail No 4
A new marker – Kranji Heritage Trail marker No. 4,
courtesy of the Kranji Countryside Association.

All that technology…in the end it still requires human motivation to do something about the accumulated trash in the mangrove. This was a 30-minute demo exercise for a class of MOE teachers and we discussed pollution, urbanisation, maps, impact to ecosystems, causes and solutions back in NUS later.

I’ll return to Lim Chu Kang East mangrove in September with a veritable army for the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, but I feel like going back there right now to finish the job. We have such few precious patches of mangrove that I feel uncomfortable about the bulk of the mess still lying there, barely floating in that choked up mangrove stream.

Twitter - LCK East mangrove stream
Mother Nature all choked to the brim – no really,
there’ a mangrove stream beneath all this!