Coney Island developing $250 million OBS campus

From ‘Keep Outward Bound Singapore out of Coney Island’, 29 March 16, ST Forum

(Dr Aishworiya Ramkumar):The news that there is going to be a new Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) campus built on Coney Island (“$250m Outward Bound campus for Coney Island“; last Friday) is extremely disappointing.

I believe that I speak for many a resident in the area in describing the elation we felt when Coney Island was opened to the public last year. The island is rustic, untouched by development and, simply, nature at its best.

This is something that is rare in Singapore – understandably so, given our constant need for more space for man-made endeavours. Most of our parks already have numerous man-made touches which may make them more comfortable, but ironically, nature by itself does not always have comfortable and modern amenities.

OBS already has two campuses in Pulau Ubin, just across from Coney Island. Unlike Pulau Ubin, the latter is not big enough for one part to be built up into a campus and the other to remain truly untouched. So, perhaps expansion within Pulau Ubin could be considered instead.

Yes, students, and indeed all Singaporeans, need to experience and learn through the outdoor experience. But often, the crux of that lies in experiencing the true reality of untouched nature rather than through a built-up campus.

I truly hope that the authorities will leave Coney Island true to its natural self and not turn it into yet another “developed” nature spot. Alternative possibilities for the expansion of OBS should be considered.

Most Singaporean guys would have the opportunity to experience the ‘true reality of untouched nature’ at some point in their lives. They’ll get to brave the elements, piss behind bushes, dig their own shit holes, bash through vegetation and roll around in mud while fostering deep manly bonds. And all this without pumping in a fortune to build the Singaporean equivalent of summer camp. It’s called NS.

More bad news for the writer and the lone cow roaming the island: The non-park portion of Coney Island is already designated for housing development (Safeguard rustic appeal of Coney Island Nature Park, 13 Jan 16, ST). In fact, the very name ‘Coney Island‘ came about in the 50’s when a businessman opened a ‘health resort’ on the island mimicking its namesake in the US. In the seventies, the isle was already tainted by pollution from Punggol’s pig farms. On my recent trip garbage flanked the beach. So yeah, Coney Island is a far cry from an unmolested rustic paradise. There’s already a trail run cum carnival scheduled, so building an expensive, big ass adventure camp on the island shouldn’t come as any surprise. Not to mention that it’s TINY, less than half the size of Pulau Ubin, where the OBS flagship campus resides. Why the need for TWO offshore camps anyway? Is there so much wimpiness in the air that we need to man up this whole lot of spoilt buggers with mega-camps?

OBS is often touted as a character-shaping, confidence-building experience, allowing a generation of kids brought up on Survivor, Hunger Games and iPads to relive fish-out-of-water fantasies for a couple of days. How applicable all these outdoor skills turn out to be in real life remains to be seen. You may be the fastest knot-maker in the history of OBS, but that doesn’t save you from nasty office politicking where you’ll need to choose the right apples to polish. You could excel as a sailor though, because that’s precisely what OBS was originally designed for in the 1940s, a program borne out of an archaic concept that a boy must face his demons in the untamed wild like Leonardo De Caprio in the Revenant to become a MAN. But even surviving an attack from a beast, thriving on canned sardines or drinking your own piss doesn’t guarantee you’ll walk out of OBS with balls of steel. One teen blogger revealed that she had to ‘pee in the sea’, an act which her instructors told her was ‘life-changing‘.

There are other ways for mollycoddled Singaporeans to toughen up of course. Send them off to climb mountains, volunteer at an orphanage or apprentice at Ah Kong’s coffee shop. The question is whether you need to plow through Coney Island’s natural environment for $250 million to accomplish just that, only for these OBSers to go through the motions for the rest of their sterile existence, reminiscing about the sun, the sand, the sky and urinating in the goddamn sea.


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