It’s only been ten days since 2015 started but I’ve already experienced something that will most likely stay with me through the whole year and beyond. Instead of going back to school and lessons, our cohort went to Pulau Ubin from 5th to 8th January for an Outward Bound Singapore (OBS for short) course. Seniors who had gone through the course shared that they kayaked for over seven hours, trekked throughout the day with 15kg backpacks and did jetty jumps. I was excited and scared at the same time but I soon found out that every OBS experience is unique and that your memories were left to you and your watch mates and instructor to build.
Here are three of my snaps the night before OBS:
I’ve read a few blogs on other students’ OBS experiences and I thought I’d share something about what to pack too. If you follow the packing list closely, you should be good to go but here are some items to pay more attention to:
Toothpaste – Bring a big tube of toothpaste because this goes on both your teeth as well as the bottom of your mess tins for cooking. Applying toothpaste liberally on your mess tin forms a protective layer around it so that scrubbing off the soot is an easier process.
Prickly Heat Powder – When you go on your expedition and can’t bathe, “spamming” prickly heat powder all over will greatly reduce your stickiness and leave you feeling less disgusting.
Wet Shoes – I brought an old pair that was meant to be thrown away so I could dump it after using it. Firstly, the sole came off right after I waded in the wet sand and secondly, everyone’s shoes stank (like crazy super stinky) after any wet activities so I absolutely did not want to bring them home.
Upon arriving at OBS, we had a short introductory speech by one the instructors about what we could expect during the OBS experience. Then we broke off into our watches of 15-16 people to get to know them better! My watch was called Tock Seng! We sat in T.H.E. circle, which stands for trust, honest and equal. The idea was that we could trust and be honest with each other, and that everyone in the circle was on an equal level with everyone else. Within the circle, we introduced and shared things about ourselves. We also took our first group picture, which they later printed out and passed to us at the end of the course 🙂
After that, we played a game called Traffic Jam, which was kind of like a puzzle! Then we went to collect our food rations and proceeded to our dorm. Our food rations came in a big yellow crate and ranged from fruits to maggi mee to biscuits to peanut butter. They also gave us a meal plan for us to plan out what to eat for each meal. Apart from the bread and canned foods, there are two other kinds of food known as communal food and happy food. Communal food are things like digestive biscuits or Julie’s peanut butter crackers that the watch has to eat together. Happy food are individually packed food that we can eat on our own at any time! Here’s my happy food:After eating a lunch of bread and biscuits, we started on our afternoon activity – rafting! We had to build our own raft using eight pipes, four barrels and lots of rope. The instructors taught us how to tie some knots and we proceeded to build our raft. After an hour or so, we finally finished building our raft and put on our Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) for our float test! We held hands in a giant circle consisting of two watches and walked slowly into the water. We had to sit, lie on our backs, lie on our stomachs and blow bubbles in the salty sea water. Everyone was squealing and squirming hahaha but it was fun I guess! Finally, Tock Seng carried our raft into the sea and flipped it over so the barrels were floating on the water and supporting the pipes. I sat at the front left corner so I was a paddler. We were all so proud of our raft for surviving the shake and kick test without any barrels loosening! At first, it was quite hard to paddle and it felt like we weren’t moving. Slowly but surely, we made our way 10 metres out into the centre of the sea and started paddling back to shore. On our way back, the currents started getting stronger and pushed us in the direction of some rocks, and no matter how hard we tried to paddle in the opposite direction, we couldn’t overcome the currents. In the end, another instructor tied us to her boat and pulled us back on track.
It was really cool to float on a raft that we built with our bear (bare) hands (hehe Tock Seng joke) and paddle together! It was also our only water activity for the whole camp so it was definitely a memorable one 🙂
That night, we cooked our first dinner using mess tins, solid fuel and toothpaste! I didn’t bring down my camera so I don’t have a picture of that, but we ate canned sardines in tomato sauce, anchovies in chilli sauce, luo han zhai and rice! I’m not sure if I was just hungry or overjoyed to sit down and eat, but the food tasted really good! Shu and I loved the anchovies (ikan bilis) and the chilli sauce so much that we just spooned the rice in there and finished it for our watch haha.
After eating, we finally got to bathe. There was also a fire drill that night, where we all had to assemble at the expedition court. After that we had flag lowering which I completely did not expect! Then, because we were running late, we pitched our tents within camp 1 and carried them to our campsite for the night. Once in the tent, I wasted no time in trying to fall asleep, but still it took me quite a while to get over the discomfort of sleeping in the stuffy tent.
We woke up at 5am because we had to un-pitch our tents and be back at the expedition court for flag raising. I raised the flag that morning! I haven’t raised the flag since P6 hahaha but it was so different because they don’t play the national anthem or anything, it’s just *peep (whistle)* *raise flag* *peep (whistle)* and done. Then we had morning games! Apparently we either do games or exercises, but camp 1 Charlie (4 watches) did games instead hehe. I don’t exactly remember all the games we played, but there was the evolution one where you play scissors paper stone with a fellow cell, tissue, organ, system or body, and the fire, hunter earthquake one where you are either a squirrel or a tree!
After morning games, Jon brought us to another jetty where we sat and talked for a while. He briefed us on what to pack in our OBS backpacks for the expedition later on and then we broke off for our breakfast of bread and more biscuits :’D
After packing, we had belay school! It was very much like what we learnt during rock climbing. During our belay school, some teachers and principals from school came to visit haha. After we all acquainted ourselves with the belaying steps and attire guidelines for safety, we went to the dining hall for cooked lunch! We had rice, sausage, fish cake, vegetables, soup and a fruit. I was so happy that we didn’t have to wash mess tins after that (although we still washed all the utensils we used.)
Then it was time for high elements! We got assigned the Indiana with another watch. The Indiana is a replica of the boat that Raffles sailed in to Singapore. It has two levels – the mid and the high. Climbing the high element would earn your watch 500 points, while climbing the mid element would earn 200 points. Points would come in handy when you wanted to ask your instructor for advice when trekking. Sadly, only 5 people from Tock Seng got to climb the Indiana because it started raining and the activity had to be cut short. I got to try belaying though and that was fun and tiring too!
We were supposed to trek to Kekek or Ketam, but because of the weather we didn’t leave until very much later. We cooked our dinner in camp 1 again, and this time I have a picture! We had curry chicken maggi mee, curry chicken, baby corn and luo han zhai. I preferred day 1’s dinner haha.
We finally started trekking only past 8.30pm, and by then it was already completely dark. There was still a light drizzle but none of us wanted to wear the heavy ponchos so we just left them strapped to our bags. We started off the trek shining our torchlights ahead of us, but soon after, Jon told us to switch them off and let our eyes adjust to the darkness. It was hard to avoid the puddles and watch our step in the dark, but we all held hands with our buddies and followed the people in front of us, trusting that if they were alright, we’d be alright too. 20 minutes after we left camp 1, we arrived at our camp site for the night, which was a field next to a lake. We laid out our lepak mats, dumped our bags on top and pitched our tents. It was the first night we had to use our prickly heat powder because we didn’t get a chance to bathe that day. We also had to change in the tent .-. After getting over the discomfort (again) I fell asleep hehe.
The next morning we woke up at 6 and began to un-pitch!
Also, there was a designated toilet area in the forest hahahaha. The steps for peeing were simple, just pee. The steps for pooping were, dig a hole, poop, cover your hole and put a stick on top so no one would dig the same hole. Simply put, it was quite the experience. x)
After eating and meeting Jon, we learnt that we had the choice to decide where we wanted to go that morning! We decided to trek along the road to visit an old lady and see her house. Along the way, we told our buddies some stuff about ourselves and that really took our minds off the heavy backpacks. There were also countless spider webs among the branches and we stopped a few times at the start to examine them before we realised that they would be everywhere along our trek.
When we finally reached the old lady’s house we were all really tired already! We spent some time talking to her in Mandarin and found out that she lived alone and went out to buy food too. She used to have a plantation with lots of fruit trees, but some “huai ren” came and set fire to them 😥 Now she still has some fruit trees left and is living life simply.
Her house was built in parts all over the big field that she occupied. She built it on her own with things she found around. She used wooden planks, metal sheets, sticks, and did everything from washing to cooking to sleeping in them!
The area was fenced up to prevent people from crossing from Pulau Ubin to Malaysia and vice versa, because the two were a stone’s throw away. Behind the fence, we saw barrels, styrofoam, bottles, plastic bags and all kinds of litter washed up on the shore.
While we were there, we played a rock toss game. Every one picked up a rock and held it in our right hand. The aim of the game was to successfully toss your rock into the left hand of the friend on your right, while catching the rock that the friend on your left was tossing to you. After my rock made it’s way around the circle a few times, we finally managed to do it without any rock falling to the ground!
After we left the old lady’s house, we trekked back in the direction of camp 1 and stopped 300m away at a Tunnelling and Caving simulator. It was one of OBS’ many facilities around Pulau Ubin. I didn’t manage to take any pictures of it, but it reminded us of the bomb shelter relics at fort canning! Prior to going in to the facility, we walked under a sign that read “Courage is the complement of fear. A man who is fearless cannot be courageous.” It is a quote by Robert A. Heinlein.
Jon explained that we were supposed to split into two groups of eight and seven. One group would go into the tunnelling pipe first and hide rocks, while the other would go into the caving pipe first and do the same. Then, both groups would swap and find the rocks that the previous group had left behind. The hard part about it was that it was pitch black in the pipes and there were obstacles such as slopes, places where we had to climb up and places where we had to slide down. Each group also got one light stick each. We made it through both by passing the light stick along the line so everyone had an idea of where they were headed, and trusted the person in front to scout the routes. It was a fun experience and in the end, both groups ended up with more rocks than we had hidden haha.
Since it was raining outside, we did our reflections inside the dark facility. We shared what it was like to be in the tunnel and what we had learnt from it as well as the night trek. We also listened to Jon give another deep talk about how much we have learnt from the experience and how our OBS journey only truly begins when we leave Pulau Ubin. He also shared that most of us should have found a guiding light that may be a person or a value that we gives us inspiration on how we should lead our lives, and told us the importance of showing appreciation to the people around us. I think I can safely say that all of us left that place with important life lessons.
After that, we made our way back to camp 1 and went to bathe! We were all pretty happy that we could be clean again 🙂 Our meal plan also indicated that we were supposed to have a celebratory dinner that night, which we assumed would be done in the same way as our cooked lunch on day 2, but when we took out the chopping boards and knives and frying wok we realised it was not the case haha. It was still very special though! We had luncheon meat, long beans, mushrooms and egg among other things. We managed to successfully stir-fry our vegetables and fry luncheon meat with egg! Unfortunately though, Jon was running a fever and could not be with us for dinner 😦
The whole of Tock Seng ready to eat! We took over an hour and a half to cook haha as you can see we started cooking in daylight but by the time we sat down to tuck in, night had already fallen.
It was really really cold in the morning when we un-pitched our tents! We assembled for flag raising again and then had service! The OBS motto is “To serve, to strive and not to yield.” For the service part, we picked up litter that had been washed ashore. It was only for a short 30 minutes, but we still managed to clean up a lot of the styrofoam and glass bits!
After that, we started packing up. We scrubbed the ground sheets, put everything back in the store and packed our own bags, ready to go home.
Our last activity was called a Life Run. It wasn’t anything physical though! It was individual reflection time that consisted of us going from place to place to complete four activities to help wrap up our OBS camp. The last task in the Life Run was to write a letter to yourself on your OBS journey and open it 6 months later (8th July!) I thought that was quite meaningful and took up the whole A4 sized paper x)
We also received a journal card each in which we penned down our strengths and weaknesses that we discovered while doing the course. We were supposed to place all our journals together and form a large drawing together on the back of them. We decided to draw a long winding road and fill in everything we did along the way. Since Jon wasn’t able to be with us, we drew his face along the road on every card haha. My part of the road was the old lady’s house!Tock Seng’s completed journey and Jon’s signature face :’)
I’m so glad to have gotten the chance to experience OBS with this amazing group of friends 🙂 We are all too familiar with Jon’s “help friends, help” mantra, which reminded us to always look out for our friends and help each other along the way. We’ve all grown so much in the short four days and bonded so well and I’m so proud of us! I’ll remember the memories for a long time to come 🙂 ❤