The Joys of the Outdoors

NOTHING is as liberating as engaging in outdoor activities, taking in the sun and all of God’s fresh air. Sometimes, there’s rain, but that’s not all bad. There’s always a cool vitality and calm serenity that envelops you when the rains clear. That’s where the outdoors teach us to appreciate Mother Earth, reminding us all to be kind to her. How are we, for instance, reducing our carbon footprint?

When you’re out there in your skis, a tiny lone soul, under the vast skies in the company of majestic mountains, as I was in Zermatt last winter, I can’t help thinking about how we urbanites forget the wondrous gifts of Nature. Such reminders are good for us. They teach us the value of gratitude, not just for nature, but all that life has to offer us.

So when I got selected to be part of the Outward Bound Singapore Challenger Program last March, I got many lessons in gratitude—not exactly the Zermatt kind, but the ones that got me thinking about how blessed I am to have so many good things in my life. Out there sleeping in the tent with four other boys, one of whom was an incorrigible snorer, I was screaming in my heart for my own bed. I felt like kicking this grunting boar, nudging him awake, but what good would that have done?

And so, on the fourth and final night, having chalked up only two hours of sleep each night, I walked out towards the beach and lay myself down on a bench, sleeping a good stretch of four hours, but only after having been kissed on my upper lip by some strange bug. Creature comforts, where art thou? But it’s precisely from the lack of them that we learn to be tougher boys. Which is what the army does to us. Ah Boys to Men, as local filmmaker Jack Neo has aptly observed. 

Here at this grueling camp, we sweat hard, we play hard, we sleep little, and we wish we didn’t have to visit the toilet so often. We learn very quickly how rationed food, like pre-packed buns and Digestive biscuits, tastes surprisingly good. And for us boys, we learn the gentle art of chivalry and experience the heroic high of rescuing damsels in distress.

Once, I switched canoes to relieve this one girl, the back rower to a down-and-out, menstrual-cramped front rower. Her arms had totally given out and her spirit had nearly given up. And there I was, jumping in, rather than zooming ahead.

That was the other big lesson from the outdoors: teamwork. You never get ahead until you’ve looked back to make sure every sheep is accounted for, even though you may not be the default shepherd. I guess that’s not so much teamwork as caring and consideration and kindness. You don’t have to be a leader to help the weaker and slower ones.

Really, I’m not bragging about my leadership qualities or my rowing prowess, given how I had this ten-minute lull, ripping open a juicy orange while waiting for the struggling slower pokes to catch up. Then the gratitude theme hits you again: why was that one orange the sweetest you’ve ever eaten?

Ah, the outdoors! If only we had more time to face the elements, instead of our books and our smartphones. Surely, we’d all be better boys for it, and I’m sure in time, better men.

(578 words)

Chester Chua, Secondary Four
October 2016

For more essays by Chester, visit Chester Writes.

This essay was written in response to the question:
Describe some activities that you enjoy outdoors. How have these helped in your development?

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