Friday, April 18, 2008

What's wrong with an Ubin-Tekong reservoir?

On April 18, 2008, Syu Ying Kwok wrote in to Straits Times Forum suggesting that after the Marine Barrage, to make the biggest reservoir ever, we should connect Ubin, Tekong and Singapore together to form the biggest reservoir ever. In fact, Syu esq. wrote that "If we can do this, the volume of this new body of water will be at least twice that of MacRitchie, Lower Peirce, Seletar and the new Marina reservoirs combined."

Sure, as we all know, for Singapore to be fully self-sustainable in water supply is one of our most important national prerogative. In fact, somebody commented on ST Online Forum that "it has been long overdue"! However, are we becoming myopic in our hunt for water?

Do you know where we are talking about? Check out the map. The blue placemarker at the far most left of the map is Sembawang Shipyard. Across is Pasir Gudang. The blue boundary indicates possible ubin-tekong reservoir location. within the boundary is Chek Jawa
View Larger Map

Here are some reasons why having a Ubin-Tekong reservoir is ecologically, politically and logically problematic:

1) Humans can only drink fresh water. The idea of reservoirs is to dam up rivers, which is a source of fresh water, so that we can pool this fresh water together to become a constant reservoir of fresh water supply. The marina barrage was already a problem because it is at an estuary which we have never dammed up before. This means they have to flush out all the sea water from the area before we can slowly let fresh water from further upstream (from Pierce Reservoir) fill up the reservoir. Now if we dam up the sea, where will we get this supply of fresh water to fill up this mega swimming pool? Malaysia?

2) In the first place, would Malaysia sit back and let us build this mega swimming pool at their door step? When the Pedra Branca dispute is not even settled (results out middle or end of May 08), mere suggestions of such a mega infringement of international boundaries is simply unimaginable. Let's not forget the quarrel over Tekong's reclamation.

Aerial view of Tekong Reclamation. Photo by Helen.

3) Why would they be upset you say? Well, you do now that the area between Ubin, Tekong and Singapore happens to be one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world! Ships travel between Pasir Gudang, Sembawang Shipyard and the world. Even if we ignore our neighbors, surely you would not want to kill one of our biggest industry at Sembawang would you? Previously when we wanted to connect Singapore to Ubin and Tekong via MRT line, there was already a big hoohaa. If you look at the google map above, you'll realize that for a ship to want to travel to any of the northern ports and shipyards in Singapore, you'll have to travel through the place where the supposed Ubin-Tekong Reservoir is. We have to keep to our side of the international boundary after all!

Shipping Lane between Sekudu and Singapore. Photo by Juanhui

4) Being a shipping lane, that area is also potentially polluted and constantly dredged. If we think that technology can overcome everything like the Marina Barrage then alright. But how much do you think this venture will cost? If we look at the cost benefit analysis, it'll probably not be justifiable. As a tax payer, I'm not willing to have my money being spent on building another swimming pool which may start a war when there are now a lot more other technologies out there to provide water in a more intelligent way. Yes, we are all about technology but as a Professor of mine said, it is no longer at technology's forefront to build reservoirs to collect water. Desalinization and reverse osmosis is just some of the examples of newer technologies but even those have been circulated for a while now. Besides, with potential sea level rise, a swimming pool out in the sea risk submergence or infiltration of salt water. Once salt water infiltrates the reservoir, do we have to flush out the fresh water and start over?

5) While most people may not care what happens ecologically but let me highlight a few items. If we are to reclaim Ubin Tekong and Singapore, then it's goodbye chek jawa. Goodbye Sekudu. Goodbye dugongs. Goodbye coral reefs. Goodbye mangroves. If that doesn't mean anything to you? Think seafood. We always see fishers off the waters of Ubin because there are fantastic amount of seafood there. Goodbye fish farms off Ubin. We'll now have even lower self-reliance on seafood supply and have to further import from others. Is it a worthy trade off?

Marine life found at Chek Jawa. Photo by WildSingapore.

I hope it becomes more apparent now that there are far more issues than benefits to building such a Ubin-Tekong reservoir. Honestly there are more reasons that I did not mention. Although we are a country that prides ourselves in our ability to overcome anything with technology, you could not begin to imagine what a diplomatic and economic nightmare it would be to create such a monster out in the most sensitive area out in our international boundary.

Sincerely, I hope that Singaporeans will make more informed decisions before speaking out in nationally published newspaper that is also read by many of our neighbors in Malaysia and beyond. How come we don't get positive letters in the Forum pages expounding the beauty of our northern islands instead?! Not news worthy enough?

update @ 12.58pm (18 Apr)
Finally somebody who thought things through posted a comment on ST Online Forum citing Malaysia sensitivities in the Straits of Johor.

update @ 2.26pm (18 Apr)
Ria at Wildfilms talks about the amazing northern shores of Singapore and what individuals like us should do when faced with such dam ideas.

update @ 19 Apr

Ivan K. has submitted a reply to Straits Times Forum. Hopefully it gets published.

Related Reads:

"After Marina Barrage, Tekong-Ubin reservoir" Syu Ying Kwok, ST Forum, 18 Apr 2008
"Singapore and Malaysia resolve land reclamation dispute" Channelnewsasia, 26 Apr 2005
"Singapore: Target - Private housing for a third of the population" The Business Times, 13 Sep 1991
"Singapore opens first desalination plant to cut dependence on Malaysia", AFP, 13 Sep 2005
"Fourth National Tap Flows", PUB, 13 Sep 2005
"Singapore Pioneers New Membrane Technology", PUB Annual Report, 06/07

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Poll: Your Favourite Restaurant on Ubin

If you like a restaurant that is not listed here, please tell us its name in the comments section! Restaurants means they served cooked food. Drink stalls not included!

Ubin First Stop Restaurant now on mainland Changi

ubin first stop now in changi

On Sunday, 13 April 2008, Straits Times reported that Singaporeans can now get a taste of Ubin on the mainland.

Interestingly, one of the restaurant featured, is run by a previous islander, Mr Leong Kee Keng 56, who served water-skiiers and boaters from his family kitchen on the island's north shore. The restaurant then moved to the mainland and has been moving from place to place, now owned by a businesswoman from the mainland.

The other is the Ubin First Stop Restaurant which may be familiar to people who frequent the island since 1990. Irony again, Ubin First Stop is owned by a mainlander, Mr Alan Tan 55, "who was born on the mainland but visited his relatives on Ubin regularly as a child".

But what is the true cuisine and "taste" of Ubin? Is it synonymous with seafood as suggested by the article or is it fresh kampung food served by the locals in the kampung setting?

Ubin First Stop's owner said that he is setting up shop on the mainland because "some of his regulars began complaining that it was a hassle to travel to Ubin every time they needed a seafood fix".

However, for me, enjoying the true taste of Ubin food is when I can sit by the beach, enjoying my homecooked food as I watch the fishermen cast their nets. I enjoy eating homemade lontong at Pak Ali's in the mornings. Gigantic portions of fried seafood beehoon at the 2 sister's [located beside Ubin First Stop] for lunch. Finally seafood at Ah Lian's restaurant under the canopy and the cool sea breeze. After all, Ah Lian's father in law is now the oldest man on Ubin who is said to have lived to his grand old age from eating all the freshest seafood from Ubin! I was kindly informed by a resident who frequents Hai Liang's family restaurant and provision shop. The restaurant is after all a converted store room from the family's home!

What I find interesting is that, if the banner pictured above is where the new Ubin First Stop will be located, it is actually a precious landmark to the Changi landscape! That building used to be the customs' office at Changi. It is a wonderful building on stilts that is a reminder to the coastal village that changi was! Likewise, the location of Ubin First Stop on Ubin itself is also a historic landmark being where the maternity clinic of Ubin used to be at!

Do you have fond memories of "food and fun" on Ubin? Straits Times wants to know and so do I! Do leave a comment and share your thoughts. Which is your favourite Ubin resturant?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Pulau Ubin featured on The New Paper

TNP 1 April 08 Page 12 TNP 1 APril 08 Page 13 TNP 1 April 08 page 14
Click on thumbnail to read article

Thanks to Kenneth Pinto for alerting me to the articles in today's The New Paper (1 April 2008). This article is partly the result of my trip with TNP reporter Teh Jen Lee to Pulau Ubin on 16 March 2008.

Thanks to my immense luck, I also happened to write about Mr Tan Hai Liang just a day of this article appearing in the press. I had no idea but I'm glad anyways. You can see behind the scenes photos of the interview between Jen Lee and Mr Tan 2 weeks ago.

Living past 100: on Pulau Ubin, Singapore
Teh Jen Lee, The New Paper 2 Apr 08;

Madam Asiah prefers to grow old on the island. 'All I did on the mainland was eat and sleep,' she recalled. 'I fell sick. My joints ached from lack of use.

He's 101 but he can read without glasses. She's a great-great grandma but she can walk 6km a day. Both are among a vanishing breed of long-lifers on Pulau Ubin

EVER wondered what your life would be like if you ever live past 100?

Well, take a leaf from the book of Mr Tan Hai Liang, a 101-year-old Pulau Ubin resident.

But Mr Tan is probably even older.

Though his IC says he was born on 1 Jan 1907, Mr Tan said he was actually born earlier than that. He has no birth records from his hometown, Guangdong province in China.

But Mr Tan looks not a day older than 90. He eats whatever his family eats and does not need a special diet.

He can walk for short distances without the help of a cane and read the newspapers without glasses.

The father of five lives with one of his sons in a one-storey zinc-roofed house in Pulau Ubin's town centre, a five-minute walk from the jetty.

His son runs a seafood restaurant and grocery store next to the house.

Mr Tan has lived on Pulau Ubin ever since he arrived in Singapore in the 1940s. He worked odd jobs and later opened a grocery store there.

In his younger days, he served in the island's residents' committee and even hosted a visit by Singapore's first president, Mr Yusof Ishak, in the 1960s.

But these days, Mr Tan leads a leisurely life.

He wakes up at 9am, brushes his dentures and eats breakfast. His daughter-in-law, Madam Koh Siew Hong, 56, said: 'Whatever we eat, he eats. His dentures are strong enough.'

When the Chinese newspapers are delivered, he pores over them.

After that, he would watch the TV or Teochew movies on DVD.

Madam Koh said: 'We just had to teach him once how to use the DVD player.'

Every few months, he goes to the mainland for a medical check-up as there is no clinic on the island. He suffers from high blood pressure.

His hearing is also failing him. But Mr Tan has generally been healthy.

He told this reporter in Teochew: 'I'm old already, more than 100 years old, but still not dead.'

Madam Koh said that when her father-in-law was in his 90s, he was still taking baths in the sea and riding his motorcycle around the island.

When a Chinese worker we met during the interview found out Mr Tan's age, he said: 'He's special.'

Indeed he is. And he's not alone.

He's part of a small group of aged residents who still call Pulau Ubin home.

Over the last few weeks, The New Paper team caught up with a few of them. Like Mr Tan, Madam Asiah Ibrahim is older than the 86 years that her IC shows.

She recalls not having a birth certificate and getting her IC only when she got married. She was around 17 then.

The sprightly woman walks at least 6km a day from her home to the town centre. She lives in a village about 3km from the town centre.

Madam Asiah is used to being on her feet as she used to work standing in a bottle factory in Ang Mo Kio.

After her husband died in the 1980s, she moved to Pulau Ubin as she wanted a more relaxed life.

She has five children, 30 grandchildren, 25 great grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.

Her children visit her every week, and bring her food and money.

One of her sons works with the Outward Bound School and goes to Pulau Ubin frequently.

Madam Asiah, who lives alone with her cat, spends her free time gardening. On the island, water has to be pumped from wells using diesel generators, which are also used to generate electricity.

Despite this, Madam Asiah prefers to grow old on the island.

'All I did on the mainland was eat and sleep,' she recalled. 'I fell sick. My joints ached from lack of use.

'Here, I can plant trees, walk around and collect leaves and plants.

'All the people here are old. When we are gone, these villages will go back to the cats and monkeys.'