When Dee asked if I’d contribute to a series on outdoor activities we did in our youth, and how that inspires my parenting, I recalled two somewhat life-changing outdoor experiences in my, ahem, youth, that have drawn me into great appreciation for outdoor activity and had also toughened me up considerably.
At age 14, my parents allowed me to go on a school trekking trip to Taman Negara in Pahang, Malaysia. My biology teacher who brought us, recently shared that rules (and limits to indemnity) had changed so much that it would no longer be possible to organise and carry out such a trip. What a crying shame.
I remember that trip for so many reasons.
How some 30 or so, mostly sheltered city girls, crammed 16 to a dorm of bunk beds, some with cobwebs a lil too close for comfort.
Climbing through a pitch dark guano filled bat cave with our bare hands, rendering our clothes in deplorable condition thereafter. It was totally satisfying to receive those looks of admiration by another camping group that went ‘you mean all you girls climbed through that whole cave?!’ They had boys and didn’t complete it. *smirk*
Trekking long distances to a salt lick. Getting used to keeping silent, so as not to disturb the wild life. Lying in silence in a tree top wooden hut in wait of approaching animals deep in the night.
Getting our ears so attuned to birdsong that upon returning back to Singapore, I couldn’t help but notice every single chirp, and how there were so many distinct ones, even in suburbia. It was as if a whole new sense has opened up for me, a switched turned on, a super power attained.
Our guide Subash (whose hair has turned all white now, I am told) has such deep respect for nature, and was so knowledgeable in birdsong and botany that we learnt a tremendous amount on that trip.
I also learnt how not to panic, and to blasé-ly drop some axe oil on the leach that had attached it to my big toe, so as to urge it off. Some blood donated that way, but I was none the worse off for the most part. Fire works too, but I didn’t want to risk immolation. Heh.
The second fantastic life-changing experience was Outward Bound School (OBS)Singapore.
I was somewhat of an OBS junkie. I went three times! First was a 3-day course, then a 5-day, then finally a 21-day! The latter was local and I remember wishing I could go for an overseas 21-day course!
I first went for three days in Sec 2, and my watch (read: group) had kids from many vastly different secondary schools. I was awarded “most adaptable person” and had so much fun with my watch-mates.
It was then that I first learnt the concept of “challenging yourself” and that there is no one to compete against, and that you can decide how far you want to go.
For instance, at the flying fox, the instructor wouldn’t push you off if you begged him. You have to jump; act wholly of your own volition. Some folks spent an eternity up there, considering whether or not to jump. We could decline any particular challenge, but usually with encouragement, most people would make themselves try.
It really taught me to push my limits. It was both extremely liberating (given the absence of external pressure) and exhilaratingly fulfilling (when I realise how much I could do when I took the plunge).
The second time when I went for 5-days, it was part of a NACLI course (leadership training) and I must say I can’t really remember much of that. 😛
The third 21-day course was definitely the most memorable. The entire watch of 16 of us had such an incredible level of bonding. Two in the group even ended up marrying each other!
Nothing reveals a person’s true character like living in close proximity under trying conditions for 3 weeks. You see how people react when extremely tired (after a 10km route march with heavy large backpacks) and realise who you can trust your life with.
I liked to say that it was like a short term BMT (Basic Military Training) without the swearing and tekan-ing.
It was almost as physically demanding.
Every morning began with 5BX (basic exercises). Every meal (that was not cooked over a fire with mess tins) was eaten in a canteen with aluminium rectangular sectioned tray-plates. Every morning we’d have a 2.4km run (as fast as each could go). Every evening, a 3.2km run, with the slowest in the watch in front. It was no surprise that my fitness peaked, and I could run 11km on the last day in an hour. The huge bonus was shedding the 7kg I had put on in my first year of overseas studies.
To this day, I feel like I know the people in my watch very well, having gone through extreme circumstances with them. And I feel so privileged to have had this chance, since they are all pretty amazing people, with great leadership qualities, whether it’s leading at the front or encouraging folks as they bring up the rear.
And as before, I realised how far I could go physically if I developed the mental fortitude to try.
I appreciated the experiences of gliding down the flying fox from a 9 (?) storey high platform, the beauty of swimming in a crystal clear granite quarry, three solo nights to cultivate living in silence, writing a letter to myself to be opened a few years hence, honing my topographical/navigational skills with a rudimentary map, the drama of capsizing in a raging storm during a round-island [Singapore, not Ubin] trip…And most of all, learning to work as a team, encouraging the weary, and rejoicing in our achievement as a watch.
It was indeed a blessing to have had these experiences. I hope my daughters have a similar chance in future, and that they would embrace the great outdoors heartily.
There are so many lessons to be learnt, so much beauty to be wondered at, so much adoration to be ascribed to our Maker, in coming into close quarters with sea and forest, sun and rain.