Start of dissertation process

So I just want to quickly document how lucky I got today before I go to sleep!!! I have had met a few logistical issues with my dissertation process without even starting the process proper. Basically my dissertation title is “Assessing the ecological benefits of river restoration: case study of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park in Singapore”, and in this project I will document dragonfly diversity and population in the park itself as well as collect water samples. You can message me privately if you are keen about what I am actually doing, but in this blog entry I will write about issues I faced that I had not anticipated ahead of time, what a disgrace.

1. Insect net

I easily wrote it into my dissertation proposal to use an “insect net” to catch insects if they are too far to be identified by close-focus binoculars, and to identify them before releasing them into the park. The problem is, I never knew what a proper insect net was. Until I met Jiawei for her insect collection day, when she had a 1m deep insect net that was provided to her by the NUS lab. Mine was probably 15cm deep, the kind you use to catch fishes in the aquarium. To make it clearer as to why I was holding such a loser net, it was $2 from Daiso…

So I tried looking online for commercial sources. I emailed her lab technician to ask if there are spares that I may buy directly from the lab (too much to ask to borrow it since I was not a NUS student), but I was turned away and instead redirected to a link where the lab bought the net for the students enrolled in the Entomology module.

A month delivery from USA? I would be in London by then…

So I DIY-ed my own net as seen in the picture… joining together two collecting nets that I too, obtained from Daiso for $2. I honestly am not going to know how useful this is until I use it tomorrow, but it definitely is much longer and more effective in theory, follows through my hand movements well and let’s hope the dragonflies won’t escape as easily as they did when I did my first site visit about 4 days ago!

2. Camera

I wrote to photograph the dragonflies for identification after returning from the field, because honestly I am no expert at identification. My digital camera failed so badly when I tried to zoom in on the insects which were perched on the leaves.

Aloysius is the saviour of the day. Thanks for lending me your DSLR, and I will make sure to wipe it well every single day after fieldwork.

3. Dragonfly identification

How? Seriously, how am I going to look at a dragonfly and tell that this is a Gynacantha basiguttata? Or a Raphismia bispina?

I could not find the reference books that were used in Singapore dragonfly studies, particularly Dragonflies of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore by Orr (2005). I tried requesting for the book online via Sciencedirect but I had gotten a reply directly from the author that it was no longer in print, and that they are looking to publish a newer version. Now how do I get around to these dragonfly references?

I have since borrowed two books from Central Public Library, because this was the only place searched online potentially holding something that was of relevance, in particular a book titled “Dragonflies of Singapore” as seen in the picture. It seems promising and I hope it helps me very much with my identification from this point, although I have not started on fieldwork proper yet. I may also have problems differentiating a female and a male…

4. Buffer solution

My pH of all my water samples reflected 6.80, 6.81, 6.81, which seemed like a major booboo to me. My tap water reflected 6.80 too. I decided that there was a huge problem with the calibration and sought to obtain buffer solutions to calibrate the pH meter. Now the problem is, where do I obtain these buffer solutions since I flew the equipment in directly from the UCL Geography lab?

I tried to seek help from RVHS, because I suppose it would have been easier to obtain favours from teachers who taught me directly. Unfortunately RVHS did not stock up on these buffer solutions (see screenshot of conversation below), and it was honestly unsurprising to me because I haven’t seen it when I was in school anyway. Regardless I was really thankful that Ms Lim actually went to find out about it for me, given that it has been 2 years since I last contacted her, maybe during graduation… or on A Levels results day.

I then desperately sought help from my NUS friends, despite getting turned away for the insect net. I asked Yu Jie and Sarah who were most likely in Science modules with lab work, but to my dismay both of them had not seen these buffer solutions before too. Until…




If you look at the time stamp, you can see how coincidental this whole thing was — in the afternoon, she had no idea what I was talking about. In the evening, she happened to have a freshwater lab, where they introduced the buffer solutions for them to measure soil pH!!! It is so crazy coincidental, it’s almost like striking lottery. I ran out of my house, took a cab down and arrived at NUS within 10 minutes. I was so so excited because it represented the one and only opportunity I might ever have to do my calibration for my pH meter. After running around the lab when the lab class was ongoing, I managed to seek permission from the lab technician who allowed me to use their buffer solutions!!!

I was so so so thankful.

Later I find out that I made a very big and stupid mistake when it came to using the pH meter, but nevertheless I got the pH calibration done and I was so so so happy. It really made my day. Please ask me privately if you want to know what embarrassing mistake I did this time. HAHAHAHA.

So tomorrow I will be commencing on Day 1 of fieldwork and I am truly not excited because of the potential cock-ups. I really hope that this will be a good project, and that I will have much to talk about in my 12000 word dissertation after this. I also hope that I will be more hardworking these few weeks and work harder on what I am seeking out to achieve, other than my dissertation. Hehe.

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End of VA2 

It’s the last day of two long and stressful months. I have felt a lot through these two months, felt desperation, helplessness and unfairness at many points, and most notably, felt bitter and unhappy.

I remember encouraging my juniors (when I met them) to strive and achieve their COC as much as possible, and I truly meant those words when I stood in a position without so. I would not have the opportunity to even make a choice between summer school and UGPMET back in Singapore, I would have to go back to the  same squadron with an equally taxing routine, or even worse when I’m supposed to be “enjoying” my summer holidays. In my current position and extra experiences from these two additional months, I can see on hindsight why I did not succeed in my previous assessments. It truly takes a lot of moral courage to vocalise that you are not ready because that means you are way behind your peers, but I can say with certainty now that I would not trust that unconfident individual one year ago. One year on and I am far from being perfect. But I am much better and I definitely will be way more confident when dealing with unexpected scenarios in harbour.

I also had a brand new crew this year, much to my surprise when I did not get posted back to the same ship because of their constraints from an exercise. I was initially apprehensive, at the same time  happy, because I was worried that I would be identified as HT’s girlfriend when I’m on board instead of my identity as a YO in the process of learning. I regretted that decision along the way because it was once again a struggle to establish rapport with the crew as well as gain support in your endeavours when they knew nothing about your competency. It eventually paid off, but I cannot deny at many times I regretted not expressing a preference to return to the same ship. It seemed much much easier, and it would also have been easier to return to the same page where I can continue learning instead of restart learning.

This year I couldn’t wait to get out of VA because I was extremely stressed and it was really taking a toll on my mental health with all the tears shed after demoralising debriefs. I thought about the possibility that I may have to restart this journey all over again, and I felt so so so beaten every single time. I am extremely thankful that all this is over, and I am happy to leave on a good note with my last day at FF Training at Mandai. I learnt much much more about fighting fire in a more realistic setting (which was my very weakness since last year), and where I managed to have great conversations with the crew over my farewell lunch. I definitely feel attached to everyone especially after seeing them day in day out for 2.5 months despite the rough start, and am thankful that I had a unique experience despite having stayed put in the same squadron.


In everything, there is a lesson. And I am thankful for the many lessons learnt this year.

COC

I have taken my baby steps for the many many hurdles ahead, and despite an awareness that today’s assessment was an underperformance I truly cannot be happier. In all honesty today’s assessment could have been done a lot better — if I took a step back to observe myself conducting my assessment, I would have realised that I lacked a lot in my technical steps, my reporting procedures and prioritisation. I forgot, once again, to establish boundary cooling as soon as possible until I was prompted. I forgot, once again, to remember the positions of all my manpower allocation. And many other things, many other mistakes that should not have been made by this stage. I was however given an opportunity to proceed, despite knowing myself that my performance for the assessment was sub-par.

But today more than anything I am thankful for the support that was rendered to me. At the start of this VA I set goals for myself and priorities — I thought to myself what was important (to myself) to deem myself fit for the awarding of the COC. Competence, confidence, and rapport. Competence and confidence could slowly be built up during the course of the YO journey as you learn more from experience and cope with new situations each day, but I thought rapport was something I could not neglect in my journey of COC attainment as well. It became increasingly apparent as I witnessed fellow peers struggling because of this very fact attributing to the lack of support from others. Today re-affirmed the importance of rapport for me. It was a non-duty day, and I struggled to obtain manpower for my fire drill because there was honestly no obligation to do a favour for me. Nonetheless most of the crew positively showed their support for me, and this was when I realised I showed at least slight success in achieving the third. Today I also found out who were the people I could depend on when I require any form of assistance on ship, and I am especially thankful to those who set aside prior schedules and postponed their commitments just to provide me support when I was lacking manpower (“ok la, I support you” / “See you tmr” when they were originally not intending to come).

I still have a lot to improve on. And in my message to my CO, I promise to stay humble and to continue working hard to become better.

Edit:

I will remember the moments I sat on board 84’s bridge crying endlessly because I felt so much like a failure. It hit me harder when my then-CO told me that I was nearly there, and then I would only need another VA. Another year?! It triggered my water works immediately. I imagined myself having to start at ground zero once again, re-learn everything like a rookie and once again regain my standing among the crew. I felt so terrible because I stuck out like a sore thumb among everyone else in my batch who had no problems obtaining their COC by that point in time; I felt so, so, so useless when I came to the wharf for the first time again this year. I felt “overdue”, and I also had to face crude comments in my face such as “you’re from the 74th? Even batches should have no problem getting their COC.” I was discouraged again and again when I failed assessment after assessment, and received so, so many debrief pointers from my fire drill training opportunities repeatedly. It was made worse by the knowledge and awareness by myself that I am now on the wharf for the second time, and I had little excuse to continue being mediocre. I started wondering whether I had to come back again for the third time to continue my fight for the COC, and it only made me feel worse knowing that no one takes this many tries. It may be bad luck for rare individuals, but for many (and to me) it signified a lack of aptitude or attitude, or maybe both. “Am I that lousy?” was something that continually occurred to me as I saw myself drifting further away from my goal whenever I failed an assessment, especially as it started tapering to the end of my attachment.

My stress was illogical to many, and I knew that having the label of a “scholar” proved nothing as it only reflected that I must do better than anyone else. I had no one to rant to because it seemed like a “first-world problem” (an appropriate analogy) that would not be well-received by others, and I found myself heavily drowning in my negative thoughts especially in countless debriefs with officers telling me that “time was not the issue, most importantly you must be ready”. I felt beaten by those comments as I felt that these were targeted at me, and was afraid that there was no intention to train me up because I was due to leave in a short while. In my inability to share my “elitist concerns” I ended up writing reflections on my leopard book nearly every fortnightly, and I can only say that looking back they were words riddled with desperation, stress and worry. Right now I am more relieved than anything for having obtained the paper certification, but the true burden of responsibility and stress will now weigh down heavily on me especially as the squadron implements their changes to become better. In my limited time left on board I hope I will put what I have learnt and trained up for all this while to good use, and with this knowledge I seek to have very very safe watches after I close up as a OOD/DPO for real.

In dedication to you

I am not coping very well right now, but I definitely am coping much better than our previous few departures. I will not be seeing you for 6 weeks as you are on deployment, and after these 6 weeks, I will see you for 1 day and 1 night before I am off to London again. I don’t think LDR gets any easier. I struggled to fight my tears when I waved my final goodbye to you earlier, but recalling our times spent together this summer triggered me so badly and sent me straight into the toilet in tears. Why are we always subject to this? I hate LDR so much.

I had a lot of highlights with you this summer. Off the top of my head I will miss these the most:

  1. Seeing you at the airport after arrival, hearing your high-pitched voice again and wondering when your voice was this high because I never got a true sensing over Skype (I have actually forgotten how you sounded in real life after 6 long months). You were holding a bunch of flowers and a cup of Starbucks which was heavily diluted, and you mentioned that you had been waiting for me for a few hours already. We got lost in the carpark… because you forgot which floor you parked at. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were reunited, and here we are separated again 😦
  2. Bringing you around my neighbourhood (namely Clementi Mall), with our bubble tea hunts — Large ice-cream milk tea orders from Koi and large royal milk guan yin orders from LiHo. Large llao llao cup with white chocolate toppings, strawberries and bananas. Who is going to share these things with me to reduce my guilt now? 😦 Thank you for always hanging around Jurong and Clementi simply because it would be easier to send me home from these places 😦
  3. Seeing your car drive into my car park on several occasions and running excitedly straight into the middle of the road to enter. And seeing my small Tsums arranged nicely at the top of your dashboard, remembering that this is my boyfriend and this is how I mark my territory :’)
  4. Meeting past 8pm, 9pm or even 10pm for dinner because it was always time-consuming for us to meet each other given that we were separated between Tuas and Changi, at the extreme ends of the island. Pretending to get angry as I was kept waiting even though I was always touched that you would pick me up/have dinner with me/send me home subsequently despite reaching home much later than I would. Just to honour your word on multiple occasions, and to maximise the limited time we had left together.
  5. You ferrying me out from Tuas to go out after a duty Friday, ferrying me to the hospital when I felt unwell (and waiting for me and even buying something prior to meeting me just so I would have a plastic bag to vomit into), ferrying me out of base for dinner when my fire drill debrief ended late. You often came all the way from Changi or home (which might even be worse), and that meant I took up a lot of your petrol consumption and time all this while. Thanks so much for the sacrifices 😥
  6. All the food dates we had together — Sembawang 白米粉 when I first arrived, Imperial Treasure at Orchard when I was grossly underdressed while you were in No.4, Sushi Bar, another Imperial Treasure at Sentosa, Ramen King, Swee Choon when you were too in No.4, On The Table, The Book Cafe, Wings Zone when I desperately wanted to eat fried chicken after my recovery from stomach flu, Poulet, Thai Express, 海底捞, Na Khon, Prive Cafe, 2am dessert bar, Chomp Chomp, random Hokkien Mee stalls (it was GREAT) and Curry Rice (this was nice too!!!) in Bukit Merah/Tiong Bahru just because I was craving after my recovery, IKEA, the multiple late night bingsu hunts in Tanjong Pagar and Orchard.
  7. All the family days we spent together: Korean food with my siblings for the treat you agreed upon last year, Ban Heng when we met officially for the first time, Prima, Jumbo, and the couple of times you came over because my mom was cooking. I met your family for Din Tai Fung, too.
  8. Ice-skating in Kallang, running around the playgrounds in West Coast Park with kids, Adventure Cove, enough said 😥 Mostly I miss how we got lazy queuing for rides, lied on the beach chairs facing the wave pool and just ~slept~ side by side holding hands for a few hours in the sun because we were so tired from the early morning.

We had very very limited time together because of both our busy schedules, but we made the best of the nights we had together. We barely shared any weekends because my weekends were continually eaten up, and it was only until recently we got to share weekend afternoons together. Unfortunately it is time for you to go and in my position I should be the most understanding of all girlfriends. I will miss you very very much, and I know it will only get more difficult from here when I finally have a free weekend but you are no longer around to spend it with me. I will try to stop being lame at this LDR business, stop crying like a baby and earnestly yearn for the day we can spend time together again.

I will keep all these memories safe in my heart. I wish you very safe watches, very very pleasant sea states because you suck at ship rollings, and to stay safe on all your shore leaves. I will see you very soon.

Get well soon please

This is about the longest any illness has lasted in me, other than the rare loss of sense of smell and all the terrible things that accompany it. I feel nauseous when standing up or sitting down. It actually escalates into puking episodes, because my body fails to digest anything that goes in (which explained how all of my anniversary dinner came out at 4am). It feels so terrible to vomit, I hate vomiting, why have I been doing so much vomiting in the recent weeks?

Then there’s the prolonged fever that cannot seem to screw off. There’s also the recent onset of a migraine (throbbing only on one side of my head oh god), sore throat and earache that are bothering me when all I am trying to do is recover quickly. It was really a tragedy that my anniversary was spent at home keeping my puke in, sweating profusely on HT’s shoulder because my body was confused by all the medicine.

I have been sleeping 15 hours out of 24 hours in a day just to reduce the time I’m awake, just so that I do not feel any of the symptoms. Or maybe I’m truly making up for the lack of sleep all this while, as I burnt weekend after weekend. But honestly I am left with 4 weeks of VA and I do not really have anymore time for this. Please let me go back to ship soon.

Edit: I have totally forgotten that I talked about intense period cramps the last post. Turns out that they were real abdominal stomach cramps from stomach flu, and not period cramps. I can’t differentiate them. 😦

First year anniversary

My body has been thrown off-rhythm with all sorts of eventful happenings this week — my period this month with exceptionally bad cramps, my fever that keeps coming on and going off, and (suspected) food poisoning last night. I have yet to fully recover even though my MC has run its duration but I have reached a point whereby it is highly inappropriate to extend my medical leave given my (already long) 3-day absence from ship.

It was unfortunate that yesterday happened to be our first year anniversary, which should have been a good night at the end of it. He ended late, we met late, but he ended up sending me home really early (like 1-2 hours after dinner) because I felt so so queasy, with very intense period cramps. I tried to vomit at 12am but decided not to because it would make me feel really shitty; I ended up waking up at 4am with the queasy feeling, and a stronger urge to vomit. I hate vomiting and I don’t usually vomit (I try to sleep queasiness away), but in the past few weeks I have been vomiting so much from seasickness and (food poisoning?) that I am inclined to believe that my body has been subjected to a lot of stress all this while.

As I sit on my chair now I am hoping and hoping that the sea state today will be much better. My body has had enough and as strong as I may be going through the hectic ship routine with dozens of weekend sailings, I don’t think I can tolerate it for very much longer.

1 full weekend out of 10

If there’s a perfect description for the word demoralising it has to be this.

I’m very tired. I feel like an engine running low on fuel. The recent weekend sailing had in store plans to boost the crew’s morale, by planning a birthday celebration and “special makan” by the chef. It didn’t go too well, I puked it all out. Even with consumption of ginger pills (seasick pills). The sea state throughout the sailing was terrible. I will never forget the feeling leaning over the toilet bowl and puking my entire lunch and dinner out and imagining how I could be at RVNCC’s steamboat (which I had to miss even though I was in Singapore) or at my house’s dining table talking cock with my siblings. In my limited time left in Singapore I had to lose weekend by weekend, and it really hits me right in the heart.

I also remember that this same ship rolling may happen again next weekend. There are also 3 Sundays in August that are going to be burnt. I find it so so difficult to be positive because Sundays are so valuable to me. I also have less than 3 weeks left with HT. I am going to luck out eventually because I only have a few months left (or maybe weeks) in this squadron, but I can’t imagine having to stay positive losing every weekend when I’m back for good, and coping with sea state on top of that.

I hope things get better, because they have to. I am so desperate that I am already checking the sea state conditions for this weekend. It looks better, I hope it really will become better.