Layers of heritage revealed
I came to the National University of Singapore campus in the late 80’s as an undergraduate student but only as a postgrad did I unveil some of the stories of Kent Ridge. As biology students, we learnt about the plants early, and the animals gradually over the four years.
Of the Battle of Pasir Panjang, however, I knew nothing. In the 90’s D H Murphy vaguely mentioned a battle during one of our ‘front of lab conversations’. I would unearth details in Dol Ramli’s 1965 thesis at NUS Central Library only a decade later!
So, when speaking at a class studying the trail recently, I was a little sympathetic when place names, historical markers and other happenings on the ridge triggered no response. Even with google.
I had not learnt about these things overnight myself.
In 2002, in response to the URA Concept Plan in discussion, I setup the Kent Ridge Heritage webpage and began sharing the stories through a guided walking trail
Guides were recruited over the years but there were never more than 10 of us. Veteran guide Kok Oi Yee is a our gem – for she trod the ridge in the late 50’s!
At our glorious peak, this team offered four walks a year.
The Kent Ridge Heritage Trail
During our peak, the energetic Peck Thian Guan of the NUS Green Committee found me and linked up to initiate a series of markers for the Kent Ridge Heritage Trail. These were set up over time, between Clementi Road and Bukit Chandu and are available to the visitor even today.
These days, we only conduct that single annual walk to remember the Battle of Pasir Panjang. This longest version of our walk is a lovely session starting from 7.00am at the University Cultural Centre in February. Participants hail from NUS and the heritage and nature community.
An annual walk for LSM1103 Biodiversity
I reduced the number of public walks five years ago to concentrate on teaching. As I began coordinating the LSM1103 Biodiversity module, an opportunity presented itself. I modified the route of the practical which deals with the vegetation of Kent Ridge to extend from NUS to Bukit Chandu. And now some 500 students are exposed to the trail annually.
It is fascinating to observe their reaction to the view of the southern islands as they emerge on the higher parts of Kent Ridge Park. Spatial awareness is empowering and I’d like them to realise the park and Bukit Chandu is in their backyard, and not somewhere far away.
A walk for the NUS community
I remember a walk in the 90’s with Clive Briffet, conducted one morning for staff of NUS. I think it was for Earth Day and we enjoyed great weather. Adrian Loo and I were as siting to help with the botany and zoology details. The large group of us had a lovely day.
Such walks help to promote a sense of community in NUS.
So I have thought about this for many years but been too busy to make it happen. I have a few new enthusiastic partners now – Lai Chee Kien from Architecture, Yap Von Bin from Mathematics and the NUS Office of Environmental Sustainability, who have seconded an intern, Chai Su Yi, to the project.
Amongst my cohorts of students has now emerged a bird enthusiast – David Tan is a Raffles Museum Toddycat and set up The Birds of NUS after a suggestion during his UROPS exam. He can’t wait to get birding started in NUS.
Methods and equipment can be borrowed from another module I coordinate, LSM2251 Ecology and the Environment. This module includes an ecological birding field trip which has run for nine semesters. It has plenty of lessons on how to engage newbies, besides scopes, bins and bird books to loan.
Just do it
On Monday night, I met Su Yi, the OES intern and forced myself to get the first walk started by posting an advertisement on the Toddycats blog last night.
I will rush down from my class, Chee Kien will be waiting and Von Bing hopes to join us by 6pm after his class. All in all, there will be about 16 of us, a comfortable beginning.
Eventually we will recruit and train volunteers and offer regular walks. The ridge may be less lush than from the time of Clive Briffet, but earlier this year, the Office of Estate and Development happily agreed to reduce grass cutting in several parts of the ridge.
Adinandra belukar will grow and persist naturally in these places and replace the grass monoculture. How nice! This means more and more stories to share within campus itself.
Some nights ago, I examined the vegetation lit up by orange street lights. A bat caught our attention, and then, out of the darkness, the common palm civet of Kent Ridge appeared. It crossed our path and melted into the vegetation which now covers the slope. The plants shivered briefly, and then it was gone.