Rice Propagation At Jacob Ballas Children’s Park

This post comes in two parts.  Part one on what I have done in a national garden today.  Part two on the toad and snake my wife has encountered.  We save the best to the last so first, here comes part one.

I am a big fan of corporate volunteering activities, even though some are pretty laborious – at least to an office worker like me.  Next week, my wife and I will be holidaying overseas.  So why not wrap up this work year with some volunteering work at the Botanic Gardens?  As usual, I have little idea on what I have signed up for.  The event was in the afternoon.  My wife and I took the opportunity to have lunch at the garden.  She asked what to do while waiting for me to literally get my hands dirty.  I said, why not take a nap and play her favorite Android game Duo Lingo?

We visit Singapore Botanic Gardens often.  But it was the first time we visited Jacob Ballas Children’s Park.  Admission is not free.  And it is – I think – for the children.  Hence, the why.  There were only a handful of us from my company joining the activity today.  We were led by a young female staff who walked a lot faster than we did.  Oops.  I hope we were fit for what we were about to do.  And we have gained access to a restricted area!  Exciting.  As we walked in, I saw rows and rows of plants that I do not know of.  Once we were indoor, I saw this lying on a bench waiting for us.

These are baby rice.

The young staff then announced cheerfully, “Today, we will do rice propagation!”  I looked at these two trays of ‘baby rice’ and was wondering, do we need twelve of us working on this?

Turns out we do.

First, we have to take empty pots, put the fertilizer at the bottom and fill them up with soil.  Then, we have to move the pots to the bench area where those who were assigned to work with the plant would need to take out three tiny stalks of rice and plant them onto the pot!  How fragile these stalks are.  All of a sudden, this activity was going to take some time because there were many stalks.

After planting the stalks onto the pots, we would need to water them and transport the pots to an outdoor nursery area where we lined them up on the top shelf, and the bottom.  Something like this.

Rice pots!

In life, I seldom take the role of what everyone is doing.  So I volunteered to be one of the two transporters.  It was a rather tough job.  Two of us went around looking for pots from the bench ready for transportation and moved them onto a trolley.  We then took turn to water the plant, pushed the trolley to the designated area, and arranged them nicely.  Under a hot sun!  We must have moved more than 200 pots in the afternoon.  Tiring it was, but pretty fun stuff we did.  I have a much better appreciation of what goes behind the scene in maintaining such a large world class garden.

Before we parted, one colleague wished to take some pictures of the fruit of our work.  Just as I led her into the nursery area, one Indian staff frantically said, “No photo!” We were puzzled.  Just when we were about to ask why, he frantically waved his arms and screamed, “Water!  Go!  Now!”  Lo’ and behold, all the water sprinklers were switched on simultaneously!  We were deep inside the rows of plants and both of us ran like mad!  What a laugh we had.

What’s the point of doing what we did?  I learned that each stalk of rice produces six seeds.  So I guess by propagation, we help to increase the seed pool.

When I finally reunited with my wife, I asked her what she has done while I was gardening.  She told me that she had a half-an-hour nap on a bench (no wonder her eyes were so big when we met).  After she woke up, she saw a toad hopping towards her and stopped in front of her.  Not long after, there was a snake coming from behind going after the toad and the toad – naturally – hopped away.  Both disappeared into a bush nearby!  My wife said she jumped out of the bench seeing the snake approaching her.

“Where are the photos of the toad and snake?” asked I.  She said none.  So I conclude that either she was dreaming of a toad and snake during her nap.  Or the toad came to her, woke her up, and warned her of the snake.

OK.  One last picture to share.  Here is the entrance of Jacob Ballas Children’s Park.  All photos are taken using my mobile phone, Nexus 4.

Entrance of Jacob Ballas Children's Park

Learning Trail With Children At Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park

As a keen supporter of corporate volunteering program, when the learning trail activity with children from low income families was announced, I quickly signed up for it.  Turns out, only 6 of us have put our names down.  Unlike the one we did for the elderly, this activity was intense.  And it involved quite a bit of reading up and preparation as well.

Bishan AMK Park with the Children

By the time our chartered bus has rolled into the neighborhood, immediately, I saw kids and teenagers jumping up and down eager to attend our learning trail event.  Once they entered the bus, one by one they have started screaming!  Really loudly so.  I was slightly intimately by them.  I did a quick headcount.  Around 20 of time.  All screaming at the same time as they dashed into the bus looking for a seat.  Aged between 8 to 18, these kids were active.  Hyperactive.

Soon, we found out that these wonderful kids were from four Malay families.  Beyond Social Services has organized this event and our organization has participated.  Their target groups are low income families.  Families that may have a single parent, or from teenage mothers.  The kids may not have sufficient parental care because their parents need to work, and at times night shift.  Some kids may be delinquencies and Beyond Social Services‘s role would be to facilitate the parental ownership of the issue.  Beyond Social Services also engages volunteers to provide tuition to the kids, as well as regular activities such as soccer for the boys and dancing for the girls.  Our role today was to bring them out for a half day trip and raise the awareness of water conservation.  Play some games that were relevant to the theme.  Hand out gifts to everyone.  Basically, have a fun time.  By the time the event has ended, I was exhausted.  But it was a heartwarming and fulfilling experience.

Click here to view the photo album of today’s event.

As mentioned previously, Bishan-AMK Park has recently been renovated.  The old concrete canal has been converted into a natural river.  It is part of our government’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) initiative to transform Singapore’s drains, canals, and reservoirs into beautiful and clean streams, rivers and lakes for recreation and community bonding.

Singapore is a small country.  We have been relying on Malaysia – our neighbor – for water supply under two bilateral agreements.  One expired in 2011 and the second one will expire in 2061.  With the completion of the Marina, Punggol, and Serangoon reservoirs (which brings the number of reservoirs in Singapore to a total of 17), the water catchment area has been increased from half to two-thirds of Singapore’s land surface.  We have plan to boost water catchment area to 90% by 2060.

Then we have NEWater, which is a high-grade reclaimed water produced from treated used water that is further purified using advanced membrane technologies and ultra-violet disinfection.  Our NEWater plants is now meeting 30% of the nation’s water needs.  By 2060, we intend to push this to 50%.

Singapore has one of the Asia’s largest seawater reverse-osmosis plant.  Producing 30 million gallons of desalinated water a day, it is currently meeting 10% of our nation’s water needs.  By 2060, the plan is to ramp up the desalination capacity by 10 times in meeting at least 30% of our water demand.

Today, our per capita domestic consumption is 154 liters a day.  Water conservation programs are important.  We can never have enough water if we do not treasure what we have and use water wisely.  Here are some of the ideas that may help lowering the consumption to 140 liters by 2030.

  • Monitor your water bills.
  • Take shorter showers and turn off the tap while soaping.
  • Use a mug when brushing your teeth.
  • Check and repair leaks promptly.
  • Install water saving devices such as thimbles.
  • Use water-efficient devices.
  • Cut down your shower time to 5 minutes.

It's a beautiful park!

Spending Time With Elders At Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park

I have always enjoyed participating in the corporate volunteering programs.  It gives a little extra meaning to what I do for a living.  Year 2011, I have done weeding in one of the islands.  Boy, that was laborious.  Year 2012, I have done art crafting with the children in a hospital.  I hope by now, they have fully recovered and who knows, I might have tickled the kids’ artistic bones a little.  This year, I have signed up for a learning trail excursion with the elders from a senior citizen center.  A walk in the newly renovated Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park

I am pretty surprised how well the mobile app Snapseed works on this picture.

I have been driving pass Bishan AMK Park for years as it is located quite near to my home.  It was not until a 2010 blogger event that brought me to this park.  Soon after, the park was closed for years.  What was used to be a canal has now been transformed into a 2.7 km long meandering river integrated with the park.  The park looks clean and beautiful, sustaining a healthy mixed of flora and fauna.  During my visit, the water level was low.  Besides a few gardeners working along the river, there were large white birds “playing” in the water.

The elderly group has a good mix of different cultural background.  And the eldest was a 104 years old lady.  Initially I was concerned if my lack of Mandarin speaking skill would be a burden.  Fortunately, my Cantonese sufficed.  Some of my colleagues do not speak the local languages.  So they helped out with photograph taking, or carrying of umbrellas.

There is a fast food restaurant in the middle of the park.  Probably not the healthiest choice for the elders.  But it is a convenient location.  There is a patio and I got to serve food, together with my colleagues.  Quite possibly the most relaxing and enjoyable volunteering event I have participated thus far.  The elders appeared to be happy.  I took some pictures in the park with my wireless phone.  The one above has surprised me a little.  Snapseed application has done a great job in making the picture pops.  But what delights me most is how well the perspective holds.  It could only be a tinny miracle.

Art & Craft With Children At KK Hospital

The corporate volunteering event organizer remembered me.  At KK Hospital, while we were waiting for our lift, she turned to me and said, “We haven’t seen you this year!”

It is true.  It was one year ago when I joined the weeding program at Pulau Ubin.  That was hard work.  Since then, I have been looking for something less laborious and less shocking.  In fact, another option is to spend an afternoon at a mental hospital, which I still haven’t got the courage to sign up yet.  Now that I appear to bond well with my two to six years old nieces and nephew, I thought, perhaps I could contribute my time doing art and craft with children in a hospital.

Except, I have totally forgotten that these children are residing in a hospital for a reason, and they are quite big.  I can’t possibly play hide and seek with them screaming at the top of our lungs and let them beat me up while pretending to be a big bad monster, can I?

Uh oh.  All of a sudden, I realized that I had zero experience for this particular event that I have happily signed up for.

Meet “Lisa”, my proudest creation at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital witnessed by two children whom I spent time with this afternoon.

Before meeting the children from different wards, 12 of us were briefed inside a room specially prepared for the volunteers.  The dos and don’t’s.  And we have a crash course on how to play the games brought in by our corporate event organizer.  Since I am a balloon phobic, I could not join the balloon making team.  Since I am not that good at playing children’s games, I could not man the common playground area either.  Instead, I was paired up with a female volunteer to visit the children at their beds.  Best practice says that children bond better with women.  I was happy to tug along and let my volunteering partner did the introduction.

Drawing is something I love to do.  So I was delighted for this arrangement.  The tool we have is simple, yet utterly fun.  First, we picked a template with the children.  It could be a bee, a flower, or anything that came with the deck.  Then we put a clear sheet of plastic on top of the template and traced the object with some thick ink.  As and when the ink dries up – hours or days – it can be peel off from the plastic sheet.  I told the 12 years old boy that he could stick it onto his daddy’s Apple laptop and we giggled.  OK, I am jumping ahead of my story.

The girl was 19 years old.  We chatted while we drew.  She said she could not draw.  But nothing is impossible after a few words of encouragement.  We talked about K-pop and J-pop.  We talked about seeing the world.  She liked photography and that was quite frankly my favorite topic.

At the other end of the ward, a 12 years old boy saw the three of us having fun.  He also wanted to join.  With my new found confidence, I headed over to him, alone.

Again, he told me that he could not draw.  And he seemed slightly frustrated by the mistakes he made.  I said, this is art, you don’t have to follow the template!  I showed him what I have got, which was totally abstract and random.  All of a sudden, he smiled.  We removed the template underneath so that he could draw freely.  Halfway he stopped and asked me, “What is this that I am drawing?”  Honestly I have no idea.  But it truly looked beautiful.  So I started rotating his drawing and showing him how we could interpret an art from different perspectives.  I then showed him that we did not have to see the picture from above.  Instead, we could turn flip it over and observe its mirror image.  The boy seemed enlightened and he asked if it was OK to add a sun (that later turned into a hand) onto his drawing.  I smiled and said, “Sure you can!”

He said, “I really love drawing!”

I replied, “That is great!  Now keep drawing!”

“I want to be an artist when I grew up.”

“Me too!”

“What do you do?”

“I love to paint and I love creating music.”  (OK, I did not tell him that I write emails and minutes for a living.  That would have been rather uninspiring, I reckon.)

We talked about many things.  He asked if I have a Facebook account and I said no (as briefed by the hospital staff earlier on).  He asked if my band has a video clip on YouTube and I said no (which is true).  He asked how long I would stay with him and I said till I am hungry.  So we have a few hours, he said and I nodded.  I did not stay long because the medication seemed to have zapped his energy away.  At least he has completed his drawing with me by his side.  And I left my drawing titled “Lisa” for the little boy as a souvenir.

What a fulfilling day today in getting to see another aspect of life.

I took a picture from the garden before the event started.

Weeding At Pulau Ubin

When I told my friends that I was going to do weeding at Pulau Ubin, those who have been playing World of Warcraft with me would say: Herbing?  Yes, one of my favorite past time in that online world is to pluck flowers.  And I thought, weeding is like part of what gardeners do.  It is like how I helped my aunt in Paris to maintain her garden during my summer school holiday.  OK.  I was wrong.  The scale of weeding at Pulau Ubin has way exceeded my expectation.

Pulau Ubin is an island off the northeastern corner of Singapore mainland.  It reminds me of our recent trip to Lamma Island in Hong Kong.  Except, Pulau Ubin seems much smaller, less developed.  According to the guides from National Park, there are no more than 50 families living in the island.  Today was the first time I landed on Pulau Ubin, thanks to a corporate volunteer initiative I have signed up for.  I was so looking forward to this trip that even though I was down with a flu yesterday, I willed myself to get out of the bed this morning.  Surprisingly, I felt OK.  Mind over matter no doubt.

The jetty that transported us from the mainland to Pulau Ubin took 12 of us at a time.  The van that transported us from the meeting point to the reforestation zone took 10 of us at a time.  We have chartered four vans.  So, we must have about forty, eager to do some serious weeding.  Before we started, the guides shared with us why the removal of evasive plants is needed (they tend to take up a lot more nutrient and grow a lot faster).  And what would happen to the weeds (recycled in the form of wood chips and used as fertilizer).

We were told that some plants are weeds and some are not.  To be frank, in the beginning, most of us were confused, unable to tell the difference.  We hesitated.  And we pulled the wrong plants.  As our confidence grew, we aimed higher and higher.  Below is a photo taken using my phone titled, “A Pile of Weed”.

Most of the weeds took five to seven men and women to yank them off the ground with our gloved bare hands.  Some are trees as tall as one story high.  We had 2 hours of solid weeding, which could become strenuous.  Imagine yanking a tree out every other few minutes, under a hot sun.  Towards the end of the activity, looking at how enthusiastic we were in pulling out trees one after another, the guides from National Park hinted to us that we should wrap up.  Because next week, there will be another group from one of the polytechnics here to do weeding.  We have to leave them some, I suppose?

Before we left, I looked around the area.  I was amazed at how much weed we have removed.  I wish I had taken a before and after image for comparison.

P.S. The Chinese translation of the island’s name seems to mean “Island of Sensitive Birds”.  But I must confess that I have not seen a single bird flying above us.  Also, we were reminded to be extra careful when entering into bushes.  Because there may be sleepy snakes inside.  Fortunately, we have not seen one neither.