Friday, May 14, 2010

Tekong Days...some hilarious moments!

On many occasions while I was out on Orienteering sessions with the IE or NIE trainee teachers in the heartland of Tekong, I would come across our young NS men every now and then. Mostly, I would leave them alone as they went about their business much similar to, compass, bearings, checkpoint locations...the works. I noticed they were always in a smaller party or group.
Then invariably, a few would take courage to approach me to strike up a conversation while my party was either having a short rest or doing map-setting on the ground. We never talk about the weather if you want to know.
They wasted no time in going straight to the point. And the conversations went along these lines:-

NS man: "Hello sir! Can I ask you something? "
They knew I was probably someone who could help them out by having observed me. They also knew about our presence on the island for camp training we worked closely to update the SAF CO's of Tekong Camp and vice-versa as when there was"Live Firing" or "Live Grenade Throwing" activity for certain days and time, the locations were known to me prior to activity.
Me: " Certainly! Go ahead and ask. "

He and his buddies look closely at their maps and pointing at a spot there, he asked,

NS man: " Sir, this place we are now at...are we here?"

He pointed to his map and showed me the point they thought they were at. It was usually either a cross junction, a "Y" junction or "T" junction or at times just a path to right or left...but with no identifiable or clear landmarks around. As soon as he pointed, I knew they were "lost"...for that spot they were looking for was more 200 m away over hills and vales. Tekong's interior is not flat land. There are numerous rocky hills all covered with jungle or other growth, much "berlukar"
and rivers and streams. Over the northern side, there are hot springs and swamps. Here and there, as you hike around, you will come across cemeteries or graves, both Muslims and Chinese, simple Chinese temples that look quite eerie within. Some had coffins placed there! Whether there were bodies inside we never knew.

Me: " No, are quite a distance from here !"
The shock registered and they asked me to show them just exactly where we were then.
Then I asked them: " Do you know how to get there from here?"
They: " Not too sure, sir. What's the best way to get there sir?" ( their next checkpoint which was their objective).

They came from previous checkpoint "A" and was supposed to be headed for "B". But poor orienteering skills led them to "C", where we were.
From C, it was now slightly nearer to their objective "B".

However, since they had asked me and most were younger than even our trainees, I advised them to go back to their last known position "A" ( what we call Backtracking )...and from there start again carefully, being mindful of distance travelled, using "pacing technique".
If they had gone from C to B they would probably end up lost again.

The skill of Backtracking is never to be taken lightly!
Many travellers and hikers lost their lives in countless incidents all over the world when they got themselves lost in hiking trials, forests, mountain paths. Even with map and compass in hand, they forgot the GOLDEN RULE of Orienteering...the first moment you realise you are not headed in the right path or direction....STOP, SET YOUR MAP, DON'T GUESS. THE COMPASS IS NEVER WRONG. Your map may be off a little. GO BACK TO YOUR LAST KNOWN POINT
which you are familiar with . Then you can make a decision whether to proceed again or curtail the hike, walk, whatever and return to your starting point.

As I said, not following this simple rule have resulted in many deaths for many lost adventurers, hikers, tourists etc..

I once led a small party to climb Gunong Ledang (Mt Ophir) in 1974. Because of a misplaced signboard along the Y junction of the main trail, we were led in the wrong direction for nearly 2 hours! I led the climbing party. We had no map and compass (no use in deep jungle ) and all jungle trails look similar.

I had blogged about this "never to be forgotten" Ophir trip in this blog. Check it out.
Backtracking all the way ...enabled me to locate the main trail and continued on a most successful climb. So certain disaster was averted. Had we chosen NOT TO backtrack and simply bashed forward into unknown territory in this primitive Malayan jungle...I may not be here telling this story.

This group was led by David Tay ( squatting, extreme front left ) as watch Leader.
I have accompanied many different groups on Orienteering, Land and Sea exercise over many years. But I always have fond memories of this particular group because of something hilarious that happened. ( Nothing bad...just hilarious, remember ).
Here they were before setting off with me for their Orienteering 2 activity covering only 4
checkpoints. Trainees had undergone basic precamp skills training with us before the Camp.
In my lively Orienteering sessions back at the IE campus, I always ended my session with a summary of about 10 main Golden Nuggets, all starting with the word, "DON"T".
Eg, DON"T be a....Confucius !
DON"T be a smart aleck !
I then defined each of these Don'ts. Much laughter will be the result.

The incident:
The group had covered 3 checkpoints well. Now, they were at Checkpoint 3 and next working out the bearing and route to Checkpoint 4, which was to the north of Tekong Camp 2. At each new checkpoint, a pair from the group will takeover as i/c of map and compass direction. The others have other important tasks too. On Orienteering 1, as it was more a teaching exercise, I would stop the group if they were headed in the wrong direction...and point out the mistakes.
But this was O2, and O2 was to prepare them for the Land Expedition...with no hints or any help from instructors.
Thus as soon as they came to a Y junction, they stopped wondering which to take...left or right. They discussed for a while ( good, team effort ) and my fellow instructors and I stood by taking all in. We were glad they made the right decision but then from among themselves "Confucius" suddenly appeared. Confucius unwittingly created doubts about the decision made...and after a reconsideration, they opted to pick the other route. We kept quiet and simply followed. About 20 minutes later on the route...the map and the ground seemed not to match! They stopped again to double check their position. All hell broke loose. Some said "I think we are here."
Another said, " No, we are not there but here." And so Confucius had succeded! They looked to me for some hopes of some hints. Haha. No way!
Then David Tay took charge. He said, " Ok, not to worry. The surroundings seem familiar to me. I have been here before for my BMT. I think I roughly know where we are. "
So no more discussion necessary. All followed David who was a most likeable chap. Of course, I knew they were completely off course and actually straying into a SAF training area.
My younger instructors with me whispered , " are not going to stop them?"
I replied no.
" They are about to stray into the Grenade Throwing Range!"
Me: " Haha...I've Checked lah. Today there's no Live Firing anywhere. Relax. "
When David led his group into the Grenade Range...he stopped and then blurted out, " Now I know this place! It's the Grenade Range ."
This wasn't Checkpoint 4. They had missed the final checkpoint...but had learnt valuable lessons when I did the evaluation with them.

In my news archives, I have this newsclip of David Tay dated 11 Feb 2007.

He has been quite a successful swimming coach since those days.
I have met David on countless occasions in time past. I never brought up this incident.
But I know he'll still remember it as I do today.

Those of you wanting to read, see and know a little more about TEKONG can visit
this blog of Xinli. Blog has a nice name called THE MOOSE. He has some incredibly
good drawings of army life, plus detailed descriptions of Tekong geography, history
and recollections of the time he spent there with his army buddies.
He has also mentioned my Tekong photos and posts.


Xinli said...

haha Confucius!

this post reminds me of what my encik always say "I think, I thought, I die." Very applicable for navigation heh.

Sir do you have an email I can contact you?

unk Dicko said...

Hi Xinli,
In Facebook, under my name..send me a private wall msg and my email will follow.

Lam Chun See said...

Back-tracking. Reminds me of the time when we were doing our Ex Starlight training in Taiwan where some of the places we had to topo were very hilly unlike what we were used to in Spore. On one occasion, our grop realised that we had gone up the wrong hill. Should be backtrack. Where we came from looked so near, but its a down-and-then-up climb :(

unk Dicko said...

About Backtracking...should you backtrack?
In the real incident I recounted here, the NS guys came from last known checkpoint called "A". They met me at location "C". They were supposed to go to location "B". But do remember they all thought they had arrived at "B" already! In fact, Checkpoint "B" was over 200 metres away from where we were.

If the NS guys had met no one at that point, they could NEVER had certain confirmation about their position. They were in fact "lost".
And if you are not sure of where you are in relation to the map...then to take a new compass bearing and proceed on a new GO WHERE?
( Remember? They thought they had arrived at Point "B" already, when in fact it was not so ). You can also "set" your map on the ground but it will be of little use if you do not know where you are, at that setting point. Hope you understand.
The SAFEST thing to do is trace your steps backwards ( Backtracking ) for at least by doing so successfully, you know you won't be lost. You may lose a race or whatever...but you will survive!
The longest Backtracking I have done was that tiring 2 hour plus trek from a cave...back to the main Mt Ophir Trail, 1974. In total, we lost 4 hours which was nothing compared to potentially losing our lives. Btw,it was no easy task to backtrack!
This is another skill which must be tried and acquired if you want to survive in the great outdoors.
During our backtracking incident, had I as Leader, taken a wrong turn in the many criss-crossed jungle paths, it would have gotten us in deep trouble again.
To always prepare for any emergency like possibility of straying off course in hikes, treks, etc..and then to be certain of finding your way back to last known point...My advice is this:
That's why many lost hikers cannot find the way back when they tried to "backtrack"...and paid with their lives. The scene facing them looks very strange and new ( they did not look back as I advised).
I have always been tickled when I see people looking for their "LOST" cars at big basement carparks like Suntec City. Imagine if you can't even locate your own car which you parked in a numbered lot, with nearby referenced columns, with coloured walls help you, how are you going to survive in the great outdoors?