Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Timepiece named Chek Jawa Batik

Photo: © TANG Portfolio

2014 has proven to be an exceptional good year for friends of Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa as it comes to a close. It is as if the best has been left for the last.

Ubin Day marked its place of significance in our local calendar on the 30th of November for all Singaporeans as we celebrated it with our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who graced an eventful day on the island by signing off, “Enjoy nature and the silence. Leave with happy memories and share them with friends”. 
I left Pulau Ubin that day with happy memories too but unbeknownst to me my happiness would escalate a hundredfold as I read the news back at home. 

A special Arbutus timepiece has been named after Chek Jawa in an event the day before!

The one-of-its-kind-only watch is named Chek Jawa Batik. It is one of 12 unique creations presented by watch distributor Crystal Time on a roadshow at Orchard Central aptly named Art and the Art of Watchmaking.

On the surface, one might ask, “So what?” It is just a watch, one watch bought by one lucky person and that’s it. End of story.

Well, I must digress, and the story – a heartfelt Singapore story - must be told and understood for all the significance it brings to our vibrant “Little Red Dot”.

Perhaps I might start metaphorically that a watch is more than just a pretty face, a facade that tells time. Beyond the superficial, there is a movement, a heartbeat and life. There is an elegant symphony of cogs and wheels, of people who chipped in to make it happen, culminating in the precision of purpose and the inner beauty of art – the art of living and giving. If there is a time to tell, Chek Jawa Batik indeed tells the life and time of our society that sticks together and aspires for the good of all.

So, who are these people who came together and made it happen? How did they contribute?

Working with one heart are many hands on deck. Let us begin the story with the people at Crystal Time. They came up with the fabulous idea of celebrating SG50 (Singapore’s 50th Anniversary of Independence 2015) by giving something of value back to society as well as commemorating the “precious vignette” of Singapore’s rich heritage. Chek Jawa no doubt inspires as the “Jade of Singapore… one of Singapore’s few remaining wetlands” (International Media The Epoch Times December 5-18).

Crystal Time got on board seashell artist Elmo Chung to hand-paint all 12 Arbutus watches that formed the Singapore Heritage Commemorative Timepieces and dedicated the entire proceeds from the sale to fund two worthy beneficiaries – the Little Arts Academy and 10Square @ Orchard Central – both of which are founded and run by the good people at the non-profit RICE Company Limited in their quest to nurture and develop the artistic skills of young talents and youths from economically-challenged families. Seven of the timepieces were sold at the time of the roadshow itself and raised nearly $13,000.

Partnering RICE’s ground up initiative at 10Square are the people from Far East Organisation who has gifted 13,000 square feet of space for our young aspiring artists to realise their potential. Substantial financial assistance also came from The Business Times Budding Artists Fund.

Another ground up initiative, Dream Journal, was staged at the opening of 10Square by a cast of seven students from Hougang Secondary School representing the youth of Singapore. Their words summed up the collaborative spirit of the whole enterprise, “All of us are here, we have a choice to come together or not. We’re now all scattered around. However, if we come together, great things happen.”

Indeed possibilities are endless and great things can happen when people genuinely come together to share their passion and goodwill. Each bring to the table the best of their imagination and the art of their craft, for it is when people do what they do best and do it passionately, it becomes art... the art of business, the art of science, the art of care-giving, the art of teaching, etc. 

Could I have been a teacher and these young people my students, what would I have shared with them?

I would love to tell them that there is one more art which I hope they will not forget, i.e. the art of believing. I would share with them the wisdom of Oscar Wilde, that "we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars". I would love to tell them to dream dreams and not to lose hope if ever they are told it can't be done, it is not possible, it is only one watch bought by one lucky person only, end of story. I would love to tell them the story of my metaphorical watch called Chek Jawa Batik and tell them that if they look hard enough, they can see it on their wrist and feel the spirit next to their pulse. I would finally tell them, "Look for your star. When you find it, go share it".

Monday, September 8, 2014

APPEAL: Saving our Dugong Models for all Children in Singapore

APPEAL: I am looking for people who can repair fibreglass models free-of-charge for a good cause.

I have recently acquired Papa, Mama and Baby Dugong in my custody and taking a first step towards giving all the children of Singapore free universal right to access these true-to-life models for education and conservation  purposes. But first, these beautiful dugong models need some repair work. There are cracks and holes and Baby Dugong lost a fin. It would be such a loss to lose them through further deterioration.

Can someone help, please? I appeal to you all. Spread the word. Thank you.

You can contact me at

See our Dugong Ambassador Day on May Day 2008. How time flies!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

One Ubin, Two Utanias

I reproduced here with humble gratitude the generous recounting by Dr Wong Khoon Meng of my field contribution of collecting Singapore's newest species! Thank you so much, Dr. Wong.

Pulau Ubin is well-loved by Singaporeans as a favourite get-away island to relax and have fun. For those keen on learning its native flora, its eastern end called Chek Jawa is literally a ‘wonderland of delight’. Joseph Lai, in particular, has taken to its coastal forest like his own home. Every visit to him is like a shake of the kaleidoscope; new insight learned in a new light.

As early as 1997, Joseph collected a plant specimen of a species that was subsequently diagnosed as a new species of Utania (Gentianaceae) by Dr Wong Khoon Meng of the Singapore Botanic Gardens and a former doctoral student working on the phylogenetics of Fagraea, a complex grouping that then included several species that are now better recognised as Utania. This new species called Utania nervosa has now been published in the journal Plant Ecology and Evolution, in effect becoming Singapore's newest species!

However, before this research unravelled the novelty of the Ubin plant, it had been called "Fagraea racemosa", having been confused with a much commoner tree species that is native from Indo-China (Cambodia, South Vietnam) to Thailand, Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. From its wide general distribution, it ought to also occur in Singapore but there were simply no scientific collections known! So that common species, now called Utania racemosa, seemed to be found in many places around but not in Singapore itself, whereas the much rarer Utania nervosa of Pulau Ubin is known only from a restricted area including south Johor and the Singapore islands of Tekong and Tekong Kechil.

Now Joseph has gone on to investigate this further, scouring the woods on Ubin island, and has brought in—for the very first time—scientific specimens of the real Utania racemosa, which he found to be uncommon but occurred side by side with another Utania nervosa tree in Chek Jawa! So Ubin (and Singapore) now has its rightful Utania racemosa as well as a new one! So uncanny...

See photos of the Utanias showing some distinct differences between the two species below!

Inflorescence of Utania nervosa with very short peduncle; secondary veins 10 to 16 pairs.
Flowers of Utania nervosa
Inflorescence of Utania racemosa with very long peduncle; secondary veins 5 to 7 pairs.
Inflorescence of Utania racemosa
Flowers of Utania racemosa

Read scientific paper here:
M. Sugumaran & K.M. Wong, Studies in Malesian Gentianaceae, VI. A revision of Utania in the Malay Peninsula with two new species, Plant Ecology & Evolution 2014.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Homalium grandiflorum flowering once in about 20 years

Glorious flowering 
decks the heights of heaven
Like a bridal bouquet round and sweet
You fill my heart with gladness!

I hold you 
in my hand
And you hold me 
in Time.

A flowering
for my Being
And a happiness

You are my home
my earth
my forest
my love.

You are my tree
my wisdom
my strength
my own forgiveness.

You are my everything
my reason
for being
A joy untold.

I am blessed
Truly blessed
Ten thousand fold
and more.

Wayside Trees of Malaya: Flowering and Leafing (Page 37, Volume 1)
'There was, for instance, a forest-tree (Homalium grandiflorum) in Singapore Botanic Gardens which changed its leaves roughly once a year but which flowered only at very long intervals of some 20 years, and the Lanjut (Mangifera lagenifera) ia almost as tardy...' - E.J.H. Corner

This is a truly magnificent forest giant standing at least 35m tall (about 2m girth) observed flowering 5 July 2014. I am indeed blessed to be in the presence of her company and her rare flowering! This year also records a masting of the Dipterocarps too!