Monthly Archives: September 2017

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.