A Week in the Life: Gap Year Week 16


I was back—a late night flight from Ho Chi Minh—and so now everything else was starting. I spent most of the day spinning out plans for the time ahead. In the morning I met someone for a job writing content part-time, and after lunch I Skyped with an organization I want to intern with next year, and daydreamed about what my future would look like. Then I remembered it involved making a fool of myself if the more immediate future didn’t include preparation for that evening’s presentation.

My mentor and I had been invited to talk about the Rail Corridor project—now titled, punishingly, RailWild—at the second annual Biodiversity Friends Forum. After frantic slide-assembling and last-minute advice, an ostensibly ten minute talk came together, barreling through the time limit with reckless abandon. Listening to the other talks, projects, plans, I realized how much I’ve grown since it all started—last year at BFF, sending out emails I didn’t expect responses to, and even before that, stumbling through my first forest walks with a too-big camera, watching every little thing with unadulterated wonder.


When I woke up, I have an email waiting that spells exciting things for the closer future. I debated and planned and scheduled for most of the day, generally ignoring the fact that I had work that evening till I have to leave for my shift.

When I walked in, it all felt bright and intense—but quickly the rhythm of it slipped in, turning cans outwards, ringing up items, the familiar script of “are-you-a-member-with-us” and “how-would-you-like-to-pay-ma’am”. Once again, earning.


The morning was spent directing the cab driver in two neat circuits of the Kranji countryside as I attempted to take a friend to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Finally, after losing any faith anyone had in me I’d been to the place before, we pulled up outside the Wetland Centre.

We spent a gorgeous couple hours wandering the Migratory Bird Trail. Re-visiting a place to show it to others paints it with new light: the sheer oddness of mudskippers, the elegance of egrets, the adorably small beaks of Pacific Golden Plovers, the graceful curves of mangrove roots; the city felt far away.

By lunch, though, I’d dived back into the very heart of it. I met a friend for lunch and advice on social media, most of which made me feel like my grandmother on Facebook. We sat eating Ben and Jerry’s after a heated struggle for the bill, both claiming it in the name of birthday presents—I won—till I had to go to work.


I had growing backlog of other work to diminish before actual work at the grocery store in the evening. RailWild was rattling along at a sure but steady pace, but I still had the citations to complete—a tedious and ultimately fairly boring process. It was, however, necessary work. There’s nothing new under the sun.

RailWild is designed to simplify people’s introduction to wildlife down to two or three choices at a time without overwhelming them with information. You can identify something without looking through hundreds of photographs or descriptions, each choice taking you down the next identification route without needing to sort it yourself. But this method of identification is limited: there are only so many species, and so much information, that can be covered in this tree structure. And so RailWild makes heavy use of existing Singaporean resources. It’s a portal, if you will, to the world of biodiversity beyond, which I can never encompass alone.


The morning found me back in the forest for the last of the walks I would guide at Venus Loop. The school bus was late to arrive, so we spent the hour examining the ten meter space for wildlife. A juvenile monitor inched its way up a tree stump and we tracked its progress towards the sun.

Venus Loop was a different forest this time around. In the intervening two weeks, several dead trees had been chopped down, showering the ground with disconcerting light. The highlight of the walk by far is a colugo at the end: I had missed them in all the other walks and colugos—with their large eyes and awkwardly flattened bodies and mousy heads—are unapologetically weird animals, emblematic of how wonderfully odd our rainforests are.

My mother picked me up in a hurry as the walk ended: for travel plans later next year, I needed visas, and my next month made it such that I likely wouldn’t have the time to apply otherwise. In the embassy, however, they told us—anticlimactically, for our frantic rush from MacRitchie—to come back next week.

I worked the closing shift that day in anticipation of a Friday evening rush. This proved non-existent, as usual.


Today was National Park’s launch event for their official takeover of the Rail Corridor. Stakeholders from every community came together, including guest of honor minister Desmond Lee. Towards the end of the event, after a solemn and much-photographed tree planting, my mentor cornered him and introduced us. I explained my project to him, and asked whether I could get a written endorsement from him to use to launch it. In response, he turned to the nearest NParks employee, asked for a mike, and told me that we were launching it now.

Two minutes later, a mike had emerged and I was facing the hundreds of people in attendance. A little shocked and not at all prepared, I described what I wanted to do with RailWild, and asked for their support. Desmond Lee smiled approvingly, and I wondered how the hell I’d gotten there, with a microphone next to Singapore’s Minister for Family and Social Development.

There wasn’t any answer, but there were a lot of emails and phone numbers to take down in the hour that followed. Briefly, RailWild seemed poised to grow into something larger, with the potential to impact thousands, maybe.

Then I realized it was late and I had to go impact hundreds behind a cashier in the meanwhile. I was working in a different branch today with far more customers, and emerged at the end of my shift a little frazzled but glad it had passed a lot quicker than usual. I was having dinner with friends that night—fresh out of BMT—and spent the next fifteen minutes corralling them from various corners of Singapore they’d wandered to instead of the meeting point, and the next couple hours hearing about Tekong life and feeling very glad the worst I had to do was customer service.


I had work at the busy branch again that day, and relished the peace of my lunch break after the nonstop customers. Work had proved a good chance to catch up on reading: with no one to eat with, I spent time with a book instead. My latest read was Mary Roach’s Stiff—a strange, enlightening, and funny look at what happened to human cadavers, from crash test dummies to medical research. The book attracted even stranger looks, true, but I was learning a lot. Perhaps more than I wanted.

After I got off, my family went for a movie—Johnny English returns, again. It was fun, politically incorrect, and altogether forgettable. The week ended in laughter, and I knew I had no idea what was to come, and that was okay. Every day would be new, and it had been so long since I could say that.





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