Pulau Ubin – Ours to Treasure

Pulau Ubin’s rustic and natural charm is highlighted in this website. Ten minutes away from mainland by jetty, the island of Pulau Ubin is an experience of the senses. Once an important granite producer for the mainland, Pulau Ubin is better known for its rustic charm and village life. Lesser known is the diverse flora and fauna and the denizens that continue to make Ubin its home. The island is a miniature paradise of biological diversity; wild pigs and jungle fowls still rule the forest.

Book Summary

Only 10 minutes by boat from Singapore, Pulau Ubin is an island that offers visitors a glimpse into the remnants of the last remaining wildlife in an increasingly urbanised and over-planned society. This volume is a labour of love undertaken by Chua Ee Kiam, a dentist by profession but a passionate photographer and nature-lover.

Many of his weekends over five years were spent covering this island, where hornbills, sea eagles and flying lizards can still be easily spotted on a good bird-watching day.

There are 220 quality illustrations that capture the wildlife and village life that is fast disappearing. Dr Chua discusses, in a well-tempered manner, the future of the island, and cogently argues why Pulau Ubin should remain largely undisturbed. This beautiful volume also contains checklists of plants, mammals and birds.

Other Photographers:
Ali Ibrahim, Jimmy Chew, Elfie Eleza Kamarudin, Andy Ho, Billy Kon, Lee King Lee, Tony Lim, Ong Kiem Sian, Phang Tuck Pew, Raymond Poon, Jacky Soh, Mohamad Yusoff, Morten Strange, Robert Teo, Sutari bin Supari, Wong Tuan Wah

Book Review 1

Hemisphere Vol 2 No.1 – 2002

There are 139 pages, which gently underscore the interconnectedness of the people and their natural environment. Dr Chua takes a balanced view of the fate of the island, recognising the need of Singapore’s growing population for land, while at the same time wondering if such an urbanised population doesn’t also need the serenity of a rural retreat like Pulau Ubin.

For many years, Pulau Ubin has sustained a wonderfully diverse human community of farmers, fishermen and shopkeepers as well as a rich population of birds, reptiles, mammals and a large variety of indigenous flora. It is a “feast for the senses” according to the author of this timely and gentle book, who advises his readers to: “Go, look carefully, listen And do it soon, before the old Ubin is gone.” What started many years ago as a loving tribute to a beautiful, wild and relatively undisturbed place is about to become, sadly, a memorial to a place and a way of life that will not be available to us for much longer. In either case it does its job well.

There are 139 pages, each with fabulous pictures and friendly prose, which gently underscore the interconnectedness of the people and their natural environment. Dr Chua takes a balanced view of the fate of the island, recognising the need of Singapore’s growing population for land, while at the same time wondering if such an urbanised population doesn’t also need the serenity of a rural retreat like Pulau Ubin. “Once dismantled, we cannot… restore the wilderness.” The book is thorough in its documentation of the variety of life found on Ubin. The index lists by common name species mentioned in the text or appear in photographs. There are also checklists of the plants (scientific names only) and the mammals and birds (scientific and common names) found on the island, with residential and scarcity status indicated.

The only oversight, of which the author and his collaborators are painfully aware, is of the renowned Tanjung Chek Jawa, which at the time of publication of this book, was not well known outside the immediate Ubin community. It is an extraordinary area and an exciting “discovery”, a mud flat and mangrove paradise that has given rise to surprising biodiversity. Visitors such as Dr Chua and his colleagues have helped bring public attention to the treasures of Chek Jawa, and a new book is in the works. (This one will be even more poignant than the first because, at press time, Chek Jawa was destined for land reclamation works. Barring a last minute reprieve, its wonders will be lost forever.)

The Graduate Jan 2001 – Excerpt of a Book Review by Associate Professor Tan Wee Kiat

Book Review 2

Dr Chua Ee Kiam’s gentle prose and excellent pictorial presentation brings out the splendours of nature and lifestyle on the island.

… Dr Chua’s documentary book, Pulau Ubin -Ours to Treasure, describing these villages and kampongs in addition to the island’s plant and animal life, is thus all the more precious. In a somewhat fortuitous turn of events, the contrasting lifestyles of the rural Malay and Chinese can still be found in Pulau Ubin. The interested reader, therefore, not only gets a good and broad overview of the plant and animal life on the island but also of its people, and the racial and religious tolerance and understanding between the Chinese and Malays there. A high quality of life requires not just harmony between man and nature but also among man.

The book triggers a sense of this harmonious balance in the reader with the writer’s gentle prose and well-taken photographs, especially in the chapters Nature in the Balance, Portraits of a Lifestyle and The Cultural Heritage. Which reader can remain unmoved by the vivid accounts of the famed Ubin hospitality, and the island’s gracious 94 year-old headman and other senior citizens, as well as the leisurely bicycle rides, scenic granite quarries, quiet prawn ponds and zinc-roof houses. This book will also stimulate some of our best minds to think of ways to conserve what is left of Pulau Ubin.

Book Launch

The book, “Pulau Ubin- Ours To Treasure” was launched at the Botanical Gardens (Palm valley)on Jan 8 2001 by Minister for Community Development and Sports, Mr Abdullah Tarmugi. The event was sponsored by the Marine Parade CDC and supported by NParks. On display were posters of nature and paintings by “Ubin artists”. The first ever coffee-table book on Pulau Ubin, was written by Dr Chua Ee Kiam

Book extols rustic life on Pulau Ubin (excerpts) by Sharmilapal Kaur

Straits Times Jan 9, 2001

A DENTIST has written a book on Singapore’s nature getaway, titled, “Pulau Ubin – Ours To Treasure”. Dr Chua Ee Kiam spent seven years researching and documenting life on the island.The 140-page book, with 220 exquisite pictures, captures all aspects of life on Ubin – from its cultural heritage and lifestyles of the people there to its green cover and wildlife.

He said the call to house some of Singapore’s booming population in Pulau Ubin should be carried out carefully. He said: ‘The challenge for Singaporeans will be to balance the demands of population growth with needs for a closer association with nature.’

Dr Chua added: ‘Ubin is our link to the last rural retreat of Singapore. It may eventually succumb to the pressures of population growth and economic development. By promoting public awareness of the natural heritage, I hope to delay if not pre-empt this process and play a role in preserving the natural treasures on this island.’

Pulau Ubin was also a menagerie… But like parks and zoos the world over, it left me with an indelible impression – for many people, the only way to appreciate nature is to imprison nature.

..For once the island is developed, it is difficult to imagine how much can be saved when so much would have been lost.

Some may argue that a few plants, birds and mammals should not dictate how we live our lives. But how we live our lives has a direct effect on how the environment is sustained. And the more the environment is sustained, the more enriched our lives will be…

Take away the wilderness and the special denizens of Ubin, you take away the tenuous link between people and nature.

Standing guard to the entrance of the island is a granite rock that has an uncanny resemblance to a rhinoceros. Shaped by natural elements, it will continue to weather the storms of nature, but I am not sure if Pulau Ubin can weather the storms of progress. The rhinoceros is endangered, but our obvious indifference to its dwindling numbers is alarming. In many ways, this rhinoceros rock symbolises Ubin’s plight. Which way will we go? For me, there is only one answer. Pulau Ubin is ours to treasure.