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  The Straits Times, 28 Jan 05
More buses and staff for farm visits
By Tan Hui Yee

FARMERS in Kranji criticised for offering a 'disorganised' carnival last weekend will be doubling the number of buses to the farms, and mobilising more staff to handle the crowds this weekend.

More than 6,000 people visited the farms on Sunday alone, leading to frustration among those who had to wait for the bus.

The five-day event, which took place from Friday to Sunday and will be held again this weekend, was organised by the Kranji Countryside Association, a newly formed group of mostly farmers wanting to raise awareness of Singapore's rural north-western corner. It hopes to raise the profile of the Kranji countryside area as a recreational and educational venue.

In a statement to The Straits Times, the secretary of the association, Mr Kenny Eng, apologised for the long waits for the shuttle service to and from Boon Lay and Kranji MRT stations. The free half-hourly service was to ferry visitors to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, and to nine farms and one pottery in the area, where they can tour and buy produce or goods.

But the unexpectedly large crowd - more than 10,000 people over three days - packed the buses and caused waits of more than half an hour.

Mr Eng, the business development manager of landscaper Nyee Phoe Group, which is the leading organiser of the carnival, admitted that the 'sheer volume of people' at the MRT stations, and the cars which jammed the Kranji roads, had taken the farmers by surprise.

But they were heartened by the turnout, and 'the open invitation for the next weekend still remains'. To prepare for crowds, each farm, which put in about $1,000 for the bus services, will pay an additional $800 to deploy more people to direct the crowd and increase the number of buses plying the area from five to 10.

But Mr Eng added that the association is still looking for sponsors to bear the extra cost. The farms have modified the bus routes to ease the crush at the MRT stations, and spare buses will also be on standby.

Mr Eng said: 'We hope people don't turn their backs on the last vestiges of rural living in Singapore. 'Only with public awareness of Kranji, can we hope to preserve our farms for our sons and daughters.'

Relax, people, it's the countryside
by Tan Hui Yee

THE media reports had piqued public interest in the Kranji countryside, and free shuttle services to the otherwise inaccessible area made the trip there easier. As a result, last weekend, thousands of people descended on some farms in Kranji more accustomed to hosting a handful of visitors.

The farmers, overwhelmed by the crowds, ran out of food and drinks and farm produce for sale. The visitors, equally overwhelmed, fumed over the 'disorganised' carnival, the inadequate bus shuttle service and the lack of proper signage at the farms, among other things.

My colleague Shefali Srinivas, who was there on Sunday, saw a woman with her child walk off looking puzzled when she found out ice cream was not available.

It says a lot about Singapore's state of development that we can expect that ice cream be available when we trot off to the countryside. It says even more about its people that we are so quick to complain when things don't run like clockwork.

To be fair, there were people who enjoyed their trip out to the farms. Many young children probably touched a goat and peeked under a growing lettuce for the first time in their lives. But the mood among those stuck in the bus queues and their cars along narrow Neo Tiew Road, where the farms are, appeared to be one of rancour.

Are we missing something here? Did these people forget that they were in the countryside, where the pace is supposed to be slower, where the roads are supposed to be narrower and where carnivals sometimes do not go as planned? Did those fuming over the long wait for the buses forget that they could afford to wait because it was the weekend and they had no deadlines to meet?

Obviously, when more than 6,000 people descend within a single day, as happened on Sunday, things can get a little too crowded for comfort. But one wonders what else these people took away from their trip apart from the memories of the heat, the crush of bodies and the inadequate facilities.

Did anybody bother to look up and notice that, for once, they could see a perfect sunset because their view of the skyline was not marred by tall buildings in the distance? Did they try to explore the farms themselves, instead of bristling at the fact that there were not enough farmhands to give them a tour, or tell them where to go and what to see?

One father commented to Ms Srinivas that his child could probably learn more about nature at the zoo, because there are signboards there giving details about the animals he encounters. But that is comparing apples to oranges.

The zoo is built for visitors; farms, mostly not. The countryside is meant to be a little rough around the edges, a little footloose. That's what sets it apart from the city.

I'm not making excuses for the farmers and the inadequate provisions they made for the hordes of visitors. But if we can endure two-hour jams at the Causeway with nary a thought, surely we can be more forgiving of these Kranji farmers, who dug into their own pockets to make sure those without cars could get a free ride to the countryside.

Farms at Kranji: factsheet for visitors

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