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The military pilot with muddy boots

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[PHOTO: The Liu family. Albert is on the far right.]

“When I’m up in the air, looking down at Singapore, I can see it. We still have green spaces.

“I think we are not that bad yet. We still have a chance to protect the green spaces,” the 30-year-old military pilot says as we sit in the living room of the British High Commissioner’s residence.

Albert Liu has just been given the Chevening scholarship, a bond-free scholarship to do his masters in biodiversity, conservation and management at Oxford University. It is funded by the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

He joined the RSAF a decade ago and his description of his work is perhaps closer to Aladdin describing a flying carpet.

“Flying is magical. When I am on board a passenger plane and I close my eyes, I know when the plane takes off and lands. I feel it.

“But it is just different when you are flying the plane. It is not like I am a control freak, but it is just… magical.”

His love for planes has not changed but since September 2013, he has a mistress in tow. He is the pilot with a green mission.

His family may be his strongest motivator. His mother says: “I think it is important for him to pursue what he loves, then dread what he does each day.”

The pilot’s green story began in August 2013 when Liu was dragged along as moral support for a friend who wanted to meet the president of Nature Society, Shawn Lum.IMG_7731

[PHOTO: President of Nature Society, Shawn Lum and Albert Liu, after Liu received his scholarship]

“As Shawn spoke to us, I remember he said something about the Cross-Island Line that stretches through the central catchment nature reserve.

“It struck a cord with me. How can a public transport system cut across a nature reserve?

“When I went home that night, I asked myself: is there something I can do about it?”

In the end, Liu did not lobby for the demise of the Cross-Island Line. He did, however, volunteer with Nature Society.

Since September 2013, he has spent time picking litter and saving crabs, among other environmental work, with Nature Society.

His brother claims that he wears a pair of yellow boots for his excursions, which he would hang around the house to dry.

Liu says of his excursions: “When we go out to rescue horseshoe crabs, I am always surprised to see children volunteering. They tell me, it is fun and meaningful.

“I tell you very honestly – it is not. It is dirty, smelly and when we get stuck in the mud, it goes all the way up to your calves. And it is the kind of mud that you cannot wash off easily.

“Half the time, you are in a place all urban dwellers hate. It is a dumping ground with dead fishes, dead stuff all over.”

He admits the environmental cause is a tough fight.

“It is very hard to explain [what I do] to people like my parents. Their generation grew up preoccupied with the idea of survival.

“You got to talk in terms of dollars and cents,”  he says with an air of realism.

He finds himself at the Kranji mangrove swamps often. He has been there many times with other volunteers from Nature Society.

It is the home of the migratory birds and horseshoe crabs. It is also the final resting ground for all things unimaginable – including an old television set.

“It is not a sight you see in Singapore. There is very little public interest about the area.

“The truth is the government needs to take charge of the area, then the swamp can be conserved, but there is no public interest.”

“I can give you a good reason to do so.

“The green spaces like the mangroves are not like Gardens by the Bay – you cannot build them in a short period of time. Nature reserves take hundreds of years to mature.

“And these reserves tug at our heartstrings – that’s our sense of belonging to Singapore.”

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