Getting down to (unusual) work

Mr Bok Chee Meng, 61, loved the thrill of amusement rides in his younger days but, these days, he is more concerned with listening out for strange sounds and checking that things are in proper working order.
Mr Bok Chee Meng, 61, loved the thrill of amusement rides in his younger days but, these days, he is more concerned with listening out for strange sounds and checking that things are in proper working order.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Thrills and spills without the danger

The next time you are screaming your lungs out on a roller-coaster ride, the one face you would not want to see is the grizzled, kindly one of Mr Bok Chee Meng.

If the 61-year-old amusement ride safety engineer is at the scene, he is either on an inspection during shutdown periods, or there to take care of an emergency.

Though he did not start out as an amusement ride safety engineer, Mr Bok, an engineer for almost four decades, is familiar with ride mechanisms such as ropes and pulley systems.

He first joined the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) of Singapore when it was still known as the Public Works Department in 1990, where he worked on the design of building services such as lifts and ventilation systems.

He was transferred to the amusement ride safety department in 2011, following the implementation of the Amusement Ride Safety Act that year.

Today, the BCA regulates amusement ride safety through the Act.

Even though he made the switch in his late 50s, Mr Bok said he did not mind it as he was always up to learning new things. "Also, the basic engineering principles are the same," he added.

Mr Bok is one of 27 such engineers in BCA who regulate amusement ride safety.

His projects run the gamut of amusement rides, including roller coasters such as the Battlestar Galactica at Universal Studios, ferris wheels and also water slides.

His job scope includes reviewing design plans for future rides, to make sure they conform to safety engineering standards, as well as ensuring proper maintenance and upkeep of existing ones.

In order to be proficient in ensuring rides are safe, Mr Bok underwent several training courses in amusement ride safety in Hong Kong and Florida in the United States.

He admits to being a huge amusement ride fan in his younger days, but the rush of such rides has, unfortunately, lost its appeal.

"It's not so much of a thrill now. Now I'm listening for strange noises, checking the tightness of restraint, seeing if there are obstructions in the way, or looking overhead to see if anything can drop on patrons.

"I'm not thinking of enjoying myself anymore. It's now work to me," said Mr Bok, laughing.


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Bright and cheery all through Christmas

CHRISTMAS evening may mean a merry feast with loved ones for some, or a stroll down Orchard Road to catch a glimpse of the festive light-up for others.

But for Mr Alex Han, a senior principal engineer with the Energy Market Authority (EMA), the night of Dec 25 was spent ensuring that the twinkling lights lining Singapore's busy shopping district did not go out.

On Christmas Day, the married father of two children aged seven and 11 reported for duty at 10.30pm, after an annual Christmas potluck dinner with his close friends and their families.

As the leader of a team of four staff overseeing the real-time power system operations, Mr Han, 42, spent the night balancing the "supply and demand" of the electricity system.

The process involves ensuring Singapore's six power stations generate enough power to meet the country's electricity needs.

"Every period of the day has a different load," said Mr Han, who has been working with EMA for the past six years.

On weekdays, for instance, electricity demand peaks at 11am and 2pm, when people power up their devices for the start of the work day and after lunch. But on occasions such as Christmas Day, the load pick-up is in the evening - when most people are home and the street lights and decorations are turned on, said Mr Han, who is from EMA's Gas System Supervision Department, under its Power System Operations Division.

Mr Han said while he has never had to deal with a major power disruption, EMA staff are trained to execute contingency plans.

He said: "For instance, if there was a gas supply disruption, we would instruct the affected power stations to switch to using diesel immediately to prevent any electricity supply disruption."

And although Mr Han worked throughout Christmas night, he told The Straits Times in an interview before the day itself that he did not feel he would miss much. "I feel proud to be working on Christmas Day as I'll be ensuring that Singapore's lights are kept on for people to enjoy," he said.


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Marine habitats allowed to thrive

Fish darting in and out of coral reefs while giant clams rest on the seabed - some might see such sights only while on a beach holiday, but not Mr Collin Tong.

Instead, the marine and coastal project manager from the National Parks Board (NParks)'s National Biodiversity Centre makes regular diving trips to ensure that marine habitats in Singapore are healthy and thriving.

His job scope includes monitoring the conditions of coral reef, as well as ensuring that species at risk of being endangered can recover and re-populate. Mr Tong is part of an NParks team of about 10 people, including marine biologists and experts in environmental and coastal management.

It is the 35-year-old's first job after he graduated from Murdoch University in Australia with a degree in marine and environmental science 10 years ago.

His passion for the sea started when he was a young boy, as his father, a retired accountant, would take him and his brother out to fish.

"When I was in school, I would head down with friends to East Coast Park every other day to fish," said Mr Tong.

The stout, tanned father of twin girls prefers being out in the field - or rather the sea - than staying in a laboratory analysing samples.

He decided to pursue his interest in the sea while studying biotechnology at Temasek Polytechnic as he "didn't want to spend (his) life in a lab looking through microscopes at germ samples".

Today, Mr Tong makes about three dives a month, or about 30 dives a year. Night dives are not uncommon.

"I get to go to areas people can't get into, and see a whole new side of Singapore," said Mr Tong. One of his favourite sights occur during the coral spawning season around late March to early April, when he does diving surveys to check on the health of corals as they reproduce.

"Imagine an entire mass of a million small pinkish styrofoam balls rising from the coral colonies. It's beautiful," he said.

"But some researchers have said it looks like snot," he added, laughing.

When Mr Tong is not out diving, he is walking along the coastline of Singapore to do coastal checks of inter-tidal areas.

With camera in hand, he takes snapshots of interesting or unusual things the tide washes up, such as species that might not be commonly seen in Singapore.

Some of the things he has seen on these walks include a giant noble volute snail the size of a volleyball and wild giant clams, a critically endangered species here.

"In this job, I'm able to conserve what I'm seeing today, so that future generations can have the same experience," he said.

lesterh@sph.com.sg

audreyt@sph.com.sg