The Legends: Storytellers

Stories are an integral part of humanity. Without stories, all of us are just functioning robots. In FSS, we have a whole battalion of Storytellers. They come in various living and non-living forms. In this part of the Legend series, we will share with you the living story-tellers who give the touch of Singapore to our Forest School. They represent a part of the humanity of our community. 

When any of the coaches or children think of Storytellers in the Dairy Farm area, the first one that comes to mind will definitely be Mr See of the Kampong Garden. We call him ‘PROFESSOR’ SEE. He is like the expert in the little human and environment history of Dairy Farm, reaching far beyond the ones documented in our history books. He could tell us how some of the roads and trails were made. He also knows the age of some of the trees, for he was there to witness their seeding. Professor See also helped to make us a little tree swing. He allowed our groups to hang around his little farm, and do some farming and growing. He also knows of and shares with us about the Wild Boar presence and Fruiting seasons of the environment. Professor See is known to a lot of people who frequent the Kampong Garden as well, because he will share his harvest openly, sometimes even to people he doesn’t know. He truly represents the Kampong spirit that we in the urban cities yearn so much for. Professor See offered so much more, that a single paragraph will not sufficiently represent. 

Then there is AUNTIE SERENE, a lady who has been hiking in the Dairy Farm area, for close to 30 years. She walks around with her hiking stick and umbrella almost every day. She shared a lot with us in the realm of the mystical. She told us that at night, footsteps of the ‘Japanese Soldier’ marching through can still be heard even now. She also shared with us that the guardians of the Dairy Farm forest area are the monitor lizards. They are known to be able to eavesdrop on our conversation and help to watch out for the other creatures in the environment. She is quite a mascot in the Dairy Farm area. 

The greater Bukit Timah Forest area is our ‘Campus’. It stretches all the way from Dairy Farm to Rifle Range. FSS began at the quaint and pristine space of Mayfair Park and Rifle Range in 2016. And we only moved to Dairy Farm in 2019 due to re-development of the Rifle Range Forest. A good 3 years of relationship with the community was rooted in the Rifle Range Mayfair Park area. 

In the Mayfair Park region, one of the most prominent figures is MR TAN, or as we call him, Chen Shifu (Teacher in Chinese). Mr Tan used to stay in the Kampong of the Rifle Range area. He has been in the area for close to 40 years. His rich knowledge of the Natural and Human Heritage of the area is so vast that it probably requires a degree module on it to learn it all. Mr Tan was the one who shared with us about interaction and how to avoid snakes in the forest area. We always remember his words on how to spot Snake nests, “Where no other animals disturb and mess with, you don’t too”. He was talking about how the pile of leaves  that is the nest of a snake would be very well arranged and undisturbed. Mr Tan also shares with us how the Mayfair Park area is built and the story of a particular Wild Boar with Silver back fur that he used to raise. It is even known that his daughter is able to communicate with this silver wild boar. A little whistle from her, and there he will come. Sometimes in the middle of the night, the wild boar will actually leave the forest to visit their family. Similarly, there are more stories that Mr Tan has that we have not been able to learn of. And that is the vastness of Chen Shifu’s wisdom. 

In Mayfair Park, there is a playground, and in that playground there is always an Auntie with two old dogs. She walks them every morning, just at the same time we would be gathering for our session to start. Our lovely PLAYGROUND AUNTIE would allow our kids to play with her dogs, and tell little stories of her life to them. We still remember once when we returned back to Mayfair Park, and she was there. She told us that she misses us and asked where we have been. It was so endearing. 

Then there is the quietly legendary MR TAO. An artist in his younger days. He is now wheelchair bound, with dementia. He is usually quiet just enjoying the presence of our groups in the parks in the morning. But once in a while, he will talk to our coaches or parents, and share about his life. Once, he brought our coaches to his place, to showcase his scenic art work to us. Only then did we realise he was a high level artist in his glorious days. He even had a London art exhibition to his name. Really a big WOW. Unfortunately, we don’t see him around as much now even when we visit Mayfair Park. 

In the Rifle Range forest, we get to meet many friendly folks. They also pour out their stories to us when we stop for a rest. 

There was UNCLE CALVIN, an avid Durian picker, who shared with us deeply about the art of picking durians. His knowledge on durians is amazing. He shared with us that stepping on the roots of a durian tree can actually cause the taste and texture of the durian to change. He told us that the kampong durian are the most organic ones we can find now. His knowledge of the Durian Rhythm is 20 years deep. When we first met him, we were dumbfounded by his wealth of experience and knowledge of the Durian. It inspired our work in understanding Nature through the expression of her plants, leading to the designs of our FSS Trainings. 

Sometimes we meet with folks who are rare visitors to the area, but retain in them stories of the old Kampongs that used to helm the Forest area. AUNTIE DEBORAH is one of them. She shared with us the activities of the Kampong in the Rifle Range Forest. Auntie Deborah told us stories of how they used to do Moonshine (illegal rice wine) and Opium in the Rifle Range Kampong. That explains the large liquid pots we find peppered across the Rifle Range area. 

The wealth of knowledge from all these storytellers is so rich, and we feel blessed to be able to interact with them through our Forest School program in Singapore. That is the beauty of a Forest School anywhere in the world. Forest School is about the community and the land. Naturally when done right and in balance, we will gravitate towards all these stories. And these stories make up the humanity of the village that helps to raise our children. 

We love the relationships that we have built together with our village in the Greater Bukit Timah Forest. We hope that through our work, we will be able to carry on their stories through time, and provide the humanity for our children and families to face the challenges ahead of them. Through it all, we will learn to value Mother Nature and hopefully give it a boost towards sharing a climate-balanced relationship together.

%d bloggers like this: