Go with a smile!

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Jogged from the main road to Upper Peirce Reservoir. There's a bit of trepidation about running around now that I found that I have bunions. But I think I can still afford 1 run every week, or every 2 weeks, so long as it's less than 10 km. I used to be very familiar with McRitchie Reservoir Park, since it was one of my main training grounds when I was training for the marathon. I think that one of the great experiences of a marathon is the amount of running that you do to prepare for it, you get to run through a lot of Singapore and see it from the view of the street. OK, it's HDBs, HDBs, HDBs but it's still Singapore right?

Anyway I went to Upper Peirce Reservoir park, and it was not a bad place. The park would be closed at 7:30 pm because they don't have lighting in there, 7:30 is when it gets dark in Singapore. So I didn't linger around long, but there was this huge dam that they built to form Upper Peirce Reservoir, and separate it from Lower Peirce, which was on a lower altitude, maybe 20 metres down. It's not a bad place. The road in was 3.5 km, I measured it using Google maps, so I thought, a run in and a run out would be the ideal length. But I might not try it again because it's a road for cars and probably a little dangerous since the road is full of bends and the driver might not see you.

Well it's a shame that McRitchie is the only reservoir among the central catchment reservoirs that has a track all around it. I suppose you have to keep the forest away from getting messed up by humans. But that would mean that McRitchie is unique. But even then, the northern part of McRitchie's jogging track doesn't for the most part reach the shore. Why is that?

What people don't really know is that McRitchie is also sometimes a training ground. Other than my weekly jogs and the marathon preparation, the thing that reminds me of McRitchie is an exercise they taught us at sergeant school. How to find your way through a jungle. They called it topography. They gave you a map and a compass, and expected you to make your way through a number of checkpoints. Great fun, unless you failed.

First, we had to learn how to walk in a straight line, and if we didn't, how much we drifted to the left or the right. This is important because if you drift too much you end up walking in great circles and wondering why you get nowhere. We learnt other stuff, like how to read maps for geographical features.

Our training ground was in the jungle between Lower Peirce and McRitchie. Naturally we were instructed to stay away from the jogging tracks. We were also told that the north shore of McRitchie had crocodiles and we had to keep away from the water. It was a little surreal to be in army uniform, and carrying a rifle, in a place that was so vaguely familiar, but this was not the first or the last time I had a feeling like that. It would get even worse when I had to wear an army uniform into an office building but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Some of the ramifications of being in army uniforms and carrying rifles in a place so closed to civilisation were rammed home when they told us a story of some people who got lost, found themselves near Upper Bukit Timah Road, and ended up walking into a petrol station and buying drinks. I think the station staff didn't think they were going to be robbed, but those guys were awarded confinements after the instructors decided to go easy on them and not to charge them.

We were given a signal set per tag team. We quickly found the first 3 checkpoints, but we got stuck at one of the check points. Some people claimed to have found it, but many of them were stuck. I could see a lot of my course mates around that area, cursing and swearing.

Topography was also the one time that I got acquainted with the jungle. Much of the time we were walking around in trails, rather than right in the middle of the trees themselves. We were also given parangs, and if we couldn't find a track, we just bashed our way through. (I know that this sort of behaviour is very unbecoming of visitors to a nature reserve, but jungle training is jungle training.) I remember seeing all kinds of weird plants everywhere. Never bumped into a Rafflesia, thank goodness. There were times when I got my army uniform entangled into a bush of thorns. My army boots still show the scars from the time when I tried to extricate myself from the thorny undergrowth.

In the end, because I couldn't find that last checkpoint, we were all made to go for a second round. The second round was easy, we just had to find 2 checkpoints. I found the first 1 in 5 minutes, and the second one half an hour later.

What I could not forget about this experience was the night topo, which was mercifully called off after 2 hours. Walking in a rainforest at night is extremely creepy, whether or not you are allowed to use light. All that wandering around in the dark, and it's really too dark to see. This is not Singapore city where light pollution is everywhere. And even if this was not some neighbouring country where the jungle was so dark that you could not see your own outstretched hand, it was tremendously bewildering. I didn't see how they thought we could find anything in a place like this. Imagine having to fight a war in conditions like this. No wonder Vietnam was such a scary experience.

A few years later I read "Heart of Darkness" and I understood that it was a similar terrain that I had been through in my jungle training.

Another thing I could not forget was when one of my course mates lost the handset of his signal set. We were doing a topography exercise when my course mate panicked and realised that his handset was missing. We had to go back to the jungle to find it. They arranged buses to fetch us between our camp in Jurong to McRitchie for around 2 days to go look for the handset, and we were told that we weren't booking out until we had found the handset. On Saturday afternoon, it started to rain, and I will always remember those times, wandering around a jungle, not for training, but to make up for another person's mistake. Eventually our platoon commander announced that it was found.

When I related this incident 1 year later, a friend asked me if it wasn't the case that the platoon commander was the one who stole the handset in the first place, and set us up, in order to punish the whole company for allowing his handset to be burglarised. Knowing what I knew about the platoon commander, I wouldn't put that past him.



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