By Faith Ho Enki (22A01A) and Mei Feifei (22A13A)
Blue ring octopus? Say goodbye. If your thumb happens to be there, then bye bye!
In this Teacher’s Day Special, we explore the thrilling adventures of our adrenaline-filled teachers: Ms Chuang Sulynn (Literature), Mr Jason Teo (Economics), Ms Michelle Kwok (Knowledge Skills, KI) and Ms Shafarina Binte Sujak (Knowledge Skills, GP).
Ms Chuang has been an active paddler since her JC days when she was part of the dragon boat team. “For some reason I thought a canoeing CCA in JC was going to be the same kind of fun as kayaking [casually], [but] turns out it was actually flat water racing,” Ms Chuang recalled. “It’s just going faster and faster in a boat.”
After graduating from JC, Ms Chuang tried out a variety of other paddling sports such as outrigger canoeing but eventually fell in love with surf skiing. She owns a second-hand surfski that she brings out to sea every weekend.
Ms Chuang has also picked up a side quest on her surfski trips: picking up trash in the ocean. “This is a mess in the ocean,” she said as she pointed at herself. “And this,” she holds up a picture of trash, “is a mess in the ocean.”
Ms Kwok’s scuba diving journey started when her brother—already a certified divemaster at that time—offered to sponsor and accompany her for a diving course after she graduated from university. Scuba diving soon became her weekend hobby.
Ms Shafa started cycling this year after her old sports injuries got worse. Why cycling? “Let’s pick a sport that can keep me fit but at the same time not put too much pressure on my limbs,” she had told herself. “Though I was wrong.”
Similar to Ms Shafa, Mr Teo was inspired to try out diving because of an injury. A right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear from playing football had stopped him from continuing wakeboarding. “I figured since I love being in the water, I [should] try my hand at diving. It’s supposed to be slower and less stressful on my knee,” he shared.
He looks back on his training dives in Pulau Hantu with much fondness. “Honestly speaking, it should have scared me off diving… But I had a few friends join me in diving and enjoyed the company as much as the diving.”
New People, New Experiences
Taking part in a sport also introduced them to new communities and strengthened existing bonds.
Pre-Covid, Ms Chuang was in the dragon boating team for MOE. She would participate in the annual Singapore Civil Service Games with her team—a “usually one-sided” competition because the SAF and SPF had paid time off to train for it. The MOE team only trains three times a year, right before the competition.
However, she gleefully added, “While the teachers may not be fit together, we are usually quite fit individually […] which is why it’s very disgraceful for the Ministry of National Development when they post that they were beaten only by the army, police and teachers.”
Similarly, Ms Kwok bonds with her diving pals over “goofy things for fun”. On a diving trip to Indonesia during the National Day holidays, she and a group of friends “brought [the] Singapore flag underwater” and filmed a short video. They have also tried the mannequin challenge underwater.
To Ms Shafa, cycling is not just a way for her to keep fit, but also an activity to spend time with her children. When the Covid-19 measures were more relaxed, she would cycle around Singapore with her four children, taking full advantage of the Park Connector Network to explore the island. “[We] make it a point to have a pit stop in restaurants that we’ve never been to before, [such as going to a] traditional Indian teh tarik store.”
Ms Shafa felt that she managed to “see a lot of my children’s character, traits and personalities just by cycling with them”. During the first few times she cycled with her younger children, she could see their concern for her as she was certainly the slowest (though she added with a smile, “Now, of course, I can overtake them!”). Her 12-year-old would often lead the way whilst her 10-year-old would be faster, but they often looked back to check on how she was doing.
Sports in different forms and manners bring out the character in you.Ms Shafa
Stepping Into The Unknown
For our teachers, another allure of sports is the opportunity it provides them with to visit different places. During the Heightened Alert measures, Ms Shafa’s solo cycling trips allowed her to find various “hidden gems” around Singapore.
Her favourite cycling spot? “Arab street area – I love the architecture of the place, the feels, the vibes!”
Ms Kwok shared about how diving exposed her to a different world underwater. When asked what are the best places to dive, she laughed and remarked, “I’m a KI teacher, so ‘best’ is relative! The Indo-Pacific region is good for diving – I saw different kinds of coral in Indonesia, whale sharks in the Philippines.” She listed a number of things she saw, from clownfish to bobtail squid to harlequin shrimp, the “sexy shrimp that’s very cute”.
Mr Teo, too, had one of his best memories of diving overseas at Sipadan. “It was a truly magical place which [the] legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau referred to as an ‘untouched piece of art’. You just wander about 30m into the water and you are met with this vertical drop which is supposed to plunge 2000m straight down to the sea floor.”
I remember the trepidation I had peering over the deep end and seeing just darkness and no end in sight.Mr Teo
Ms Chuang credited paddling for giving her a greater appreciation for the wonders of the ocean. “I personally suspect that Singaporeans don’t actually know how beautiful Singapore is […] I really enjoy my own country being beautiful.”
“I also really like turtles so whenever I see a turtle I’m like ‘Yay best weekend ever!’” She laughed, and added, “So, every weekend is the best weekend ever!”
It has also brought her overseas. “Dragon boating takes you to different places – I’ve paddled in Canada and Hong Kong.”
However, participating in sports also comes with its own share of risks.
“I went to Hong Kong to do a long-distance race but because Singapore has very small waves, I was completely unprepared when I went [there],” Ms Chuang shared. “I read the tide chart wrongly […] the waves were two times the height I thought they were.”
“Safety procedures are very important,” she emphasised, observing the experience, “I could have died if things had gone wrong.”
Ms Kwok also related a dangerous incident when she was diving. “I was in Indonesia […] with my buddy who at that time was not an experienced diver and more anxious in nature. We went into the water […] I felt pain in my ears, and I looked at my diving computer and realised I was at 12m which is way too fast.”
“The divemaster was just in front of me and he was like “abort dive, abort dive”. We were in a down-and-out current, [and the] current was pushing us downwards and out into the open sea. But it was not so easy; the current is pushing you down, you have to fin your way up but you have to do it safely and slowly.”
“I tried to ascend but my buddy was panicking. She had a panic attack underwater and took shallow breaths. I literally had to grab onto [her] shoulders, shake her and go ‘look at me, now breathe’ while telling her ‘please fin please fin’.”
Eventually, she managed to calm her partner down. While the entire incident only took place within “ten minutes and it’s over, very short”, Ms Kwok remarked, “We were recounting the whole incident back on the boat and realised how fortunate we were because we could have been swept out to sea.”
Before Covid-19 struck, Ms Kwok went on dives at least twice a year. However, she’s only managed to dive once since January—a day trip at Pulau Hantu. She deeply misses longer, overseas trips where she could squeeze in “a bit of shopping, a bit of resort life, whatever I feel like [doing] with my friends.” Now, she is limited to local diving sites where waters are murky and visibility is poor.
For Ms Shafa, she “cannot bring [the] whole gang down” whenever safe management measures are tightened. Before Phase 2 Heightened Alert, she would take a stroll along the beach with her family as an intermission in their cycling trip, but she’s only been able to bring out her second youngest son (nicknamed ‘H3’) for a while. Nonetheless, she’s thankful that she can still cycle in these unprecedented times: “it keeps me sane [and] grounded—it’s part of my self-care regime.”
Save Our World
“Scuba divers are a different breed, and most are into marine conservation. With that comes the sustainability focus.” To Ms Kwok, diving lets her see what happens underwater: the impacts of how land activity affects the marine ecosystem and in turn, humans.
She stands by the mantra that “diving is a lifestyle”: divers usually say no to shark’s fin and unsustainable seafood and swap out for more sustainable fish to give the fish population time to regenerate. “More people need to see the underwater world,” Ms Kwok asserted.
Perhaps marine conservation would move to the forefront of environmental discussions if we had the opportunity to witness first-hand the beauty of the ocean. (Like Mr Teo who stood “in the middle of a tornado of thousands of barracudas just circling around” during his trip to Sipadan.)
During her trips, Ms Chuang has picked up a sizeable volume of plastics and waste in the ocean. “It’s good to remember that human beings are not the masters of this planet,” Ms Chuang remarked disapprovingly. “The ocean is still vastly unexplored. We should take better care of it, [and] we shouldn’t throw plastic in it.”
Our interview with Ms Chuang ended with her stressing upon the fact that “the ocean is a dangerous place, but also a place of wonder.” In true Literature tutor fashion, she closed off with a line from a poem: