Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Outdoors classroom - Ngee Ann Stream

It is good to be back at Ngee Ann Stream where my water quality monitoring (WQM) workshop first started. Since then, I have brought groups on field trips to many other locales but none as charming as Ngee Ann Stream - so close to civilisation yet retaining the rustic and rural character of a lost world unknown to most Singaporeans. Despite losing some of its charm to development, I have never found another field location quite like it - a combination of different freshwater habitats, chest high Buffalo Grass to bash through, water seeping in through your shoes from the soggy soils, balancing yourself on narrow ledges, climbing down algae infested steps which are really part of a drain... the list goes on. (In KCK's list, Binjai Stream is in a close fight with Ngee Ann Stream for the most interesting waterway in Singapore but Binjai is more back to nature whereas Ngee Ann is more back to kampung so their charms are rather dichotomous.)

This time round, I have the pleasure of bringing students from River Valley High to my favourite outdoors classroom. The highlight of the trip must be the sudden heavy downpour near the end, accompanied by thunderous light show, courtesy of Mother Nature. Before this, many days have passed without rain - not a good sign as this means rain and thunderstorms become more probable with each passing day. (I know, this sounds like pseudoscience but it really works!)

Being in a canal when a big storm comes is a downright lousy place to be in - open terrain with no safe shelter and subject to flash floods which is such a trendy topic in Singapore nowadays. Being young (in age, if not, at heart) and energetic, we scurried back to the safe and dry confines of our transport in one piece. In case anyone thinks that such weather makes field trips a big no-no, nothing could be more wrong. We are living in Singapore, a country in the tropics - heavy rainfall is normal, thunderstorms are normal while shivering in an air-conditioned room all day is NOT normal nor healthy. We should not be baby-proofing nature (phrase is taken from Ice Age 3) for our youth. Given our current rate of development, I hope I won't ever see Singapore entombed in a climate controlled (aka air-conditioned) dome with nature only found in manicured parks and the only waterways are covered or canalised ones.

Ok, rant mode off... here are some pics for sharing.

Figure: Our field trip itinerary includes crossing the currently operational railway track. I always wonder what would happen to this beautiful patch of railway land when it is returned to Singapore. Will Ngee Ann Stream be further developed?

Figure: WQM in the canal. Most people don't get to climb into these canals throughout their lives.

Figure: In my opinion, the best photo of the day. Heavy downpour, wet staff and students, umbrellas out if available, a sense of urgency to scramble out from the canal - something real-life, capturing the moment and not posed

Figure: Posed photo - using a colour comparator to measure the ammonia content in the water back in the indoors classroom