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  wild people: Chua Ee Kiam

Dr Chua was a legend to me since I started giving as gifts, his wonderful "Ours to Protect", which to me remains the only book of quality about nature in Singapore.

The first time I met him was at Chek Jawa, before deferment. It was a 4am departure and there was only one other person on the boat with me. I knew it had to be him. I plucked up the courage to talk to him and we spent a very sad morning exploring what we thought were the last days of Chek Jawa.
Since then, our paths crossed often and we spent happier days on Chek Jawa after deferment. He became a key Chek Jawa volunteer guide and trainer. His support and gentle influence was critical in setting up the volunteer system.

He is also the most tenacious of the Beachfleas, outplaying and outlasting all the others :-) as we trekked Singapore shores seldom seen by others (simply because super low tides happen before dawn).

Dr Chua has made many amazing achievements and yet takes the time to spend quiet moments with newbies like me. Gently guiding and inspiring us in our early explorations of nature and what we can do for it.

His quiet support has been invaluable in bringing the Chek Jawa Guidebook into reality. His encouragement and advice have played a large part in making me the nature volunteer that I am today. I don't think I would be the photographer I am today without his constant cajoling advice.

Having personally experienced his generous nature, it was not surprising to find out that Dr Chua has contributed time (to give talks, articles, to teach and train) as well as substantial funds to a wide range of groups including the Nature Society (Singapore), schools and the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. It is amazing how he finds the time to do field documentation, write and give talks, on top of all his other work, community and family commitments. He is an inspiration to us all.

Here is more about Dr Chua in his own words ...

How did you first get involved in working for nature in Singapore?
My first nocturnal ramble at the BTNR in 1988 was the turning point. Like most citified folks I had not seen what nature lovers were always clamoring about. That night it was invertebrates galore - scorpions, millipedes, centipedes, crickets, long-horn grasshoppers, fungus beetles, tree hoppers and stick insects. I was delirious! I had not seen so much in short time. I thought to myself, well if there is so much to know about the life beyond my work and home, why is it then that I know so little. As I reflected further, I saw that perhaps I may be able to bring the wilderness to the others who may not have the chance to view and learn about it.

There was more than meets the eye for some creatures are masters at concealment. I saw the magic in still photography. It was the restless spirit in me that when I was in for a year attachment in Los Angeles I looked at their extra-curricular activities and signed up a course conducted by photographers who had worked for National Geography. It was paradoxical as I thought I learnt more about philosophy than technique. I also attended talks and seminars from the world renowned photographers and again found that knowing why you do it is more important for it makes you learn how to do it.

However, knowing how to do it does not that mean you will do it. My first coffee-table book "Nature in Singapore - Ours to Protect (OTP)" became a reality in 1993 despite being surrounded by the pervading pessimistic outlook of friends and despite the little I knew about nature. The networking with the experts and scientists was of great help. They were generous with their dissemination of knowledge and they never made me feel intellectually inferior despite my obvious lack of understanding of the natural world - for there was so much to learn. And the more excited I was, the more I learned and the more I learned, the more I was excited with the new found knowledge.

What do you get out of working for nature?
It was always fulfilling knowing that I share in this world with a myriad of life other than humans and their presence had me wondering the purpose of our lives and how little we know about ourselves and much less about other forms of life. It was also knowing that these play a major role in our well being besides providing sustenance and how little we really cared for them. In truth, not much is known about the diversity of the flora and fauna and there must be sustained efforts to show the public the miracle of the other life forms. I get so much of "kick" looking at the intricacies of nature - the colour, the form and texture and have always marveled at their existence - no matter how small or how dull they look, for each has a story to tell; only if we are prepared to listen. I believe that I could provide the bridge between scientific writing and writing about science and by "infecting" my excitement to others.

My aim is to share the little that I know with people who are interested and in the process create greater green awareness amongst Singaporeans (through publications, seminars and talks, outdoor learning and nature photography).

What is your approach/personal motto in your work?
One must be passionate in whatever one does and the belief that almost nothing is impossible. And I live with the belief that there is always light at the end of the tunnel if we remain true to the mission and to our dreams. Whatever one does, it is important to share the platform to like-minded individuals so that all of us can grow from strength to strength. In essence work in a team and respect one another. And grab whatever opportunities that come your way, for you may not have another chance. You can still reject the offer later on but once you miss the chance, there may be none for the rest of your life!

What are some of your current projects?
A coffee-table book on Borneo -Sabah will be launched on 30 Aug 2004. It will be the most profound project in my life and I do not see how I can ever do something of this intensity again in the future (I remain pleasantly surprised if proven otherwise). I was fortunate that the Sabah authorities believed in me. They actually tempted me by showing me around and how else could I resist!

My association with Ria Tan has helped pushed me beyond my limits, beyond my mindset and she is a great help in unraveling the secrets of nature despite her lack of training. The archives from our work on the intertidal areas of Singapore will one day provide meaning to our understanding of our limited natural heritage.

For more about Dr Chua and his work visit his Simply Green website
Posted by otterman Posted on 10/08/04 10:37
He was quite legend when he came to review slides in the lab for, "Ours to Protect". We regarded him with awe because he was a non-biologist yet had a passion that was inspiring and was achieving so much. Indefatigable and humble, we were glad to confer on him Raffles Museum's first ever Honorary Musseum Associate along with Ria.

Posted by mousedeer Posted on 11/08/04 16:43
Talking about "Ours to Protect"..... I met him once at Chek Jawa. He was the half-naked chap whom chased us away. I kind of sneaked into CJ without permission. Even though I didn't get to experience the fabulous CJ that day, I still don't blame him cos he's one of the protector that saved CJ. Kudos to him!

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these blog entries were first uploaded on MoBlog Singapore! Celebrate Singapore NDP 04
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