Nature Lover or just greedy photographer?

Many times when I go on my nature jaunts and take bird photos, I have been irked many times by the irresponsible behaviour of some of the photographers. One time in Sungei Buloh, there was this guy who was playing a taped bird call that was so loud that I can hear it from 50 metres away! Another thing that irked me is when photographers go beyond the trail and venture into the forest. Not only are they causing unnecessary stress to the birds but they are also unfairly denying other photographers of a clear shot. So I was particularly happy to read this report that a photographer was fined $3800 for baiting and trespassing. Co-incidentally I think it is the same guy in my earlier blog post.

Are these people nature/bird lover or just photographer? I like to believe that if they are geniune nature lover, they will naturally know how to behave and act responsibly. In this particular case, I think these people are just photographer interested in getting that trophy photo at all cost. So to do that, they have no qualms and will bait the birds, do stuff like tie the legs of the bird to prevent it from flying and cruel thing like putting styrofoam in fish to bait birds. All for the sake of getting a photo which they can post on some Facebook page. And let face it, after all the effort, the photo is still going to be nothing and pales in comparison to those taken by professional. These photographers are a disgrace to the birding community and brings a bad name to the genuine caring nature lover and photographer. 

I hope that people in the community will speak up whenever they see fellow photographers behaving irresponsibly and unethically. And the admin of the various group like Birds, Insects N Creatures of Asia; Singapore Bird Group; Birds Sighting; Wildlife of Pasir Ris and Vicinity to name  a few, will banned these people and not allow them to post their photos on their page. Collectively, perhaps then such unethical behaviours can be monitored and stamped out.

Scammed and Conned Willingly

Take a look at this photo. There are 3 different items in it. A few pieces of stickers, a pen and a baggage tag.

These 3 different items actually have a lot in common.

  1. They are all pirated ripoff of copyright items
  2. Each particular item cost $10.00 each. Grossly overpriced for imitation items
  3. They are all sold by  people who purported to be “students”
  4. They are sold for a “good cause”
  5. A “sucker” bought them even though he knew they are overpriced and may be a scam.

That sucker is me and yes I bought them with my eyes open even though I knew that they are overpriced, not original products and the proceeds may not really be for a good cause. So what drove me a usually practical hard headed man to buy them?

As stated, they were all sold by people who claimed to be student. The pen and the Batman baggage tag were bought from pedlars who went door to door. The stickers were from a young men standing in the middle of Cecil Street. And I bought them because I admire them. It takes a lot of guts and determination to go door to door to sell some stuff that nobody actually needs. It takes a lot of mental power to have door slammed in your face and yet to continue on knocking at the next door. And it takes a lot of will power to stand in the middle of a busy street and try to persuade people to buy the cheap imitation stickers.

I half buy into their story of raising funds for their studies and I like to believe that it is true and it is not a rip off especially that nice boy selling the stickers. This is not the first time I bought the stickers from him. In fact I make it a habit to buy something from him every time I see him never mind that I don’t need the stickers. I just gave them all away to my colleagues for their children. On the most recent purchase, I managed to find out that he is a first year student at Ngee Ann Poly and selling the stickers to raise funds for his studies. The baggage tag and pen were also from 2 youths who claimed to be selling them to raise funds for their studies.

I know I shouldn’t be encouraging people to sell imitation and rip off over priced items but somehow I hope these young people do raise some money for their studies and nothing goes to those syndicate.  And I also like to think that I earn some good karma for helping these young people a wee little bit.

 

Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore 2016

This is going to be a super long post.

Once again it is the time for the biggest running event in Singapore, the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, the only Gold Label running race in South East Asia.

This year’s edition has thrown up some new surprises and controversy way before the flag off.

First up was the shocked announcement of the financial situation surrounding the previous 2 edition’s organiser, Spectrum Worldwide. Following that, a new company, Ironman Asia took over. The change of organiser and race director raised some initial hopes that finally the Singapore’s edition will live up to its Gold Label status. After all, Ironman the company is the organiser of the World’s Ironman series

And indeed things seem to look good when the event was launched this year in June. No huge jump in race fee and big promises to give participants a good experience. “it’s all about making sure that the athlete experience is the best it possibly can be,” said Ironman Asia managing director Geoff Meyer, –.TNP 8 July 2016. But that was the only well received news as after that everything that came out from the organiser were bad news and PR disaster!

During the launch, the organiser came up with a “Digital Race” where people were invited to post their experiences on social media and get as many Likes as possible to win race slots and other prizes. The idea seems great until friends’ Facebook got spammed by friends trying to win that free slot. And after frustrated Facebook users complained about the spamming – guess what was the suggestions from the organiser? – to temporary unfollow their friends who are participating in the digital race! screenhunter_154-nov-26-22-43Wow! What kind of a response was that? This particular gimmick certainly didn’t win them any friends and will certainly count as one of the biggest failure of a digital marketing campaign!

Then the surprise announcement that the Full Marathon(FM) and Half Marathon(HM) will start together from Orchard Road instead of 2 different locations as per the last 2 years – from Orchard Road (FM) and Sentosa (HM) much to the disappointment of many recreational runners who were hoping to start from Sentosa and take some photos with the mascots from Universal Studios and Resort World Sentosa. However, this move is understandable as logically it is easier and financially cheaper to have 1 start venue than 2. Interestingly, the event website still state  “2016 will mark the 15th anniversary the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore and we are set to once again feature three different routes for the Marathon, Half Marathon and 10km”

Except for the longer route at East Coast Park for the FM, the route is almost identical for both the FM & HM and much of the 10km overlaps the route for the FM & HM. Immediately runners were concerned with congestion at the start but the organiser were quick to allay these fears with reassuring statement that the runners will be separated until….

It emerged that both FM & HM will start together from 4.30 am onward, abide with different pens and wave start for runners with different race timing. With an expected 50000 runners and assuming divided equally between the 3 categories, we are looking at 30000 runners converging on Orchard Road and running together. How the organiser is going to separate the runners remains to be seen. Knowing the ugliness of our local runners, I am sure many of them will try to jam up the front areas not meant for them. This year Sundown had a similar pen system and wave start. And the FM & HM starts at separate time. Yet many runners were caught in a human jam trying to enter their respective pen and were delayed by more than 30 minutes. Will the same thing happen at the SCMS? 

And the congestion fear is all too real. The FM & HM will run together for the first 12 km until separation at East Coast Park. Will there be full road closures to allow the runners to run through smoothly throughout? From past experiences, inevitably the full road closure at the start narrows down to 2 and even 1 single lane further down the route especially at road junctions. Based on the Traffic Advisory issued, there will only be full road closures at Nicoll Highway and some of the roads around the Marina Bay areas. There are only partial road closures in the CBD and Fort Road areas. Will this mean a nightmare for runners trying to get a PB or hoping to use this race as a qualifier?

According to the SCMS website, the FM & HM routes will merge again at Fort Road on the return leg. The organiser has promised lane segregation. I don’t know whether they will do it all the way from Fort Road, which I hope they will really do so, otherwise this will result in a frustrating experience for the sub 4 & 5 hours runners in the FM who will have to weave through the strollers and walkers from the HM for the last 9 km.

It seems to me that this year, the combined start will only benefit the elite and fast runners, those FM sub 3 and HM sub 2 who will reach the finish line well ahead of the main group of runners. Pity the FM sub 4. They will be caught in the mass of of the sub 3 and sub 4 HM and the sub 2 10 km participant.

The latest bomb shell was given barely 3 weeks before the flag off. No MRT services! Unlike the past few years, this year due to “track maintenance” reason, there will be no early MRT service to bring the runners down to Orchard Road. Instead, private chartered bus will be available at $5 per person from 30 separate locations. SMRT claimed that it has informed the organiser way back in May yet SCMS only announced it this month. Why the delay in the announcement? Was it due to fear that the sign up rate will be lower if this was made known earlier? Whatever it is, the non availability of the train service means that runners will have no sleep at all with the first pickup starting at 2 am. And with so many bus converging on the same location within the same period, will there be a big jam and chaos at the drop off point?

So far it seems that there isn’t any evidence of a good experience yet and in fact all evidence are pointing to a chaotic start venue and real bad congestion both at the start and at the end.

Am I done? Not yet. Back in the bad old days of 2014, I broke the news of diverted runners. Since then there has been some changes made. Runners who are diverted will be disqualified and will not get a timing and medal although I understand they still get their finisher tee. But that ok and still an improvement over the days when diverted runners who run shorter distances or are assisted to run shorter distance can still get a timing and their medal and finisher tee. So why am I harping on this again?

The thing is, I still fail to understand why despite this being a Gold Label race, the organiser is still not able to set checkpoints cut off timing or state where the designated cut off points along the routes. This is the very vague statement from their website:

Note: There might be staggered cut-off times at selected sections of the race route. Details of diversion points will be released closer to race day. For participants’ safety and to avoid being caught in between live traffic, diverted participants must obey as instructed, or they will be pulled off the race course immediately.”

What is “staggered cut-off times”? And where is “selected sections” of the route? And “might be” meaning there may not be any at all? Having pre-determined checkpoints and announced cut-off times will help the runners to plan their race strategy. All major international races have them and even the KL Marathon have them and that is not even Gold Label. So what is the problem with Singapore?

I hope my misgiving are unfounded and after many many years of grumbling and complaints, with a new organiser on board, this year our runners will finally get a race that they can be proud of and truly have a great experience. And I really hope I don’t have to come back here to write a “I told you so” report.

Meanwhile, to all the runners doing this. Happy Running! Chin up and smile when you see our camera.

 

Getting Slower

I used to be able to run a sub 6 minutes pace fairly easily. Now I struggle to even do a sub 6.30 pace. I console myself with all sort of reasons.  I getting older; less mileage; no race to train for blah blah blah. But I know I am only fooling myself. I have many friends who are older than me who seem to run faster and faster with age. I have friends who runs once or twice a week and yet are able to fly during their runs. So what ail me?

Then it hit me one morning as I was plodding along on one of my run. Out of the blue, I suddenly saw this:dsc_1801

Now where did that sign come from? I must have run here many many times yet never noticed it. Surely it wasn’t there the last time I came by? Then more and more variation of the sign appeared:

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Then it hit me! There it was. SLOW.  Somehow somewhere perhaps someone up there was telling me something. To slow down.

And so I now know the reason why I been getting slower and slower. No, the signs didn’t appear overnight. In fact they were there all along. Just that I was too busy running to see them but somehow the message has sublimely went into my mind and my mind and body had subconsciously reacted to it. Whew!! and I thought all along there was something wrong with me. So now I know this is there to send me the most obvious message. whatsapp-image-2016-10-25-at-9-21-35-pm

Leave Coney Island alone

I was running at Coney Island last weekend, enjoying the rustic feel to it and the lack of concrete and buildings. Sadly this won’t last long because soon the bulldozer will come in and 10% of Coney Island will be taken up by the Outward Bound School for a new campus..

The move to have an OBS on Coney Island mystified me. Is there really a need to site one there and not any other places? So far I have not seen any justification to that. Mr Ng Chun Pin, deputy chief executive of the National Youth Council (NYC), which OBS is part of, said the new site on Coney Island was picked because of its proximity to the mainland, serving as a gateway for new activities. For example, participants may be able to go on multi-element expeditions on customised bicycles, with kayaks or canoes attached, to explore Singapore’s coastal waterways and park connectors. – ST 31 March 2016. That is equally true and applicable if OBS is located at East Coast Park or Punggol Waterway or even Changi Village.

To me, there are better and more accessible sites that can house the new OBS. The OBS at Coney Island will cost a whopping $250 million including $45m to build the basic infrastructure.  This mean installation of water pipes, electrical and communication cables; roads for trucks and cranes to come in. The whole nature of the island will be destroyed. Trees and plants will have to be cut down to make way for the OBS and wildlife whatever little that remained there will be adversely affected by the noise and dirt from the construction.

If what the OBS want is a site that is bigger and close to the mainland and near water, there is an alternative site available just a stone throw from Coney Island. It is this vacant piece of land at Pasir Ris Industrial Park 6. screenhunter_153-oct-15-12-52

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Building the OBS here has a lot of advantages.

Firstly it is on the mainland where there can be public transport making it convenient for people to travel to it, not least for the parents to send and pick up their children

Secondly as the land is vacant, there is no need to cut down trees and chase away any wildlife. No wildlife will be impacted and building and installation of infrastructure will be cheaper and more convenient. As most of the structure for the OBS are man-made – having an open ground will allow the planners to have a free and unrestricted hand in designing the optimum course.

Thirdly the site is still as accessible for water sports and connection to the park connectors with the sea and a convenient jetty just at the end of the field. I also understand there will be a new Park Connector coming up to link the Punggol area to the East Coast and which will certainly have to run through this area.

Last but not least, there is an army camp next to it. The OBS can tie up with Mindef for the OBS trainees to learn from the soldiers. In the event of emergency, the trainees can be treated by the medics there before emergency aids arrives.

So in conclusion, I would like the authorities to re-consider having the OBS campus on Coney Island. There are no value add on top of the inconvenience of having it on the island and it will in fact incur higher building and maintenance cost as compared to one on the mainland.

On the other hand, if we have to build something on it…….

3 Places not to visit in Beijing

Been there, done that. That usually the tourist’s mantra. Go to a country. Die die must visit those iconic places that are featured so prominently in the tourist brochure and advertisement. Like people comes in the hundred to look at the Merlion here.  Or travel 2 hours to have a 10 minute peek into some tourists and touts infested area that is so artificial that it there is an equivalent in every city.

So this article instead of the usual places to visit in XXX country, I decided it is easier to write about places not to go. Places that are not worth the entrance fee or the long journey there or is a total tourist rip off. Since my last major overseas trip is to Beijing I shall start from there.

Forbidden City

This is a must see for every people who visit Beijing be it a foreign tourist or a native from another province. After all who has not seen the beautiful palaces complex in the many movies of China. But is it really worth the time and money?

Firstly on any given day, there is a super long queue to get in. During weekend and holidays, that queue can stretch up to 3 hours not helped by the super tight security and the blatant queue cutting by the locals. And maybe after 2 hours of queuing you finally reached the first courtyard and the ticket counters. And you freaking queue again to buy your admission tickets before squeezing in with the crowd. And talking about crowd, this is the crowd on a Monday morning20160517_101241

This doesn’t look too bad except this is just one of the many court yards within the Palace Complex so there will be more than enough place to walk through until you get to one of the halls and then you get thisdsc_1138

These people are not praying or holding joss stick ok! What they trying to do is to catch a glimpse and perhaps a snap of whatever is inside the building. Now every thing would have been fine and dainty if there is some sort of queue system and directional walking but there isn’t.  Everyone is jostling for space and trying to look inside and which inexplicably for a top notch attraction is shroud in darkness and separate from the public eyes by a piece of blurry perspex which have seen better days. So after all that struggle, what one get is a quick glimpse of some furniture in a dark chamber and nothing else! And repeat this for the 1001 halls there.  And in fact all the other historical places like the Heavenly Temple are the same. Nice looking on the outside. Dark and gloomy inside through the perspex glass.

Tiananmen

Of course if you go to the Forbidden City, you got to go to Tianamen which is just across the road. But to get there, you need to walk a big detour from the exit of Forbidden City and again pass through multiple level of security check to get to a ………. big empty ground facing the outer gates of the Forbidden City!20160517_164308

Its only claim to fame is of course the Tiananmen Protest site of 1998. Other than that, there is nothing to see except facade of the various historical buildings around it and I must admit nice flower bed.dsc09835

But really truly it is a waste of time to be there. You would do better going to go to one of the shopping streets where at least you can get shelter from the heat or cold depending on which season you are visiting and food to eat at decent prices.

Beijing Aquarium

I am not sure whether this is a children playground with fish exhibits or an aquarium with children playgrounds. There is a playground or some thing resembling that in practically every exhibition halls. And the fish? Most of them were kept in small little tanks and this include the 2  Beluga and the dolphins.dsc_1065If you cannot bear the sight of the fish being confined to their prison cells or the sound of a thousand screaming children, avoid at all cost. And definitely not worth the queuing and the cost of the tickets. I have a more detailed post on this a̶t̶t̶r̶a̶c̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ prison here.