Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stargazing at Bidadari

There is a big dark field inside Bidadari that is suitable for stargazing and astrophotography.

This is the map of that location (open grounds at right of Upper Serangoon Road):

Since I need to attend an appointment at Potong Pasir in the late afternoon yesterday, decided to recce this site alone for myself for the first time last night. Somehow didn't manage to visit this site earlier even though I stay in Toa Payoh which is relatively near and this site has been mentioned every now and then in singastro astronomy forum over the years.

While checking Potong Pasir map online for my appointment, saw this nearby big green patch. Thought it may be a good location for stargazing without realising/remembering this is the same woodleigh/potong pasir field/bidadari area that was mentioned in this forum and on newspapers. Turns out this may be good thing for me as I could evaluate this place without much bias. More on this later.

Firstly, clear up some potential confusion about the naming (which may have contributed to my not recalling this site). Here are some names used in singastro forum previously by various members, in online maps and newspaper reports:

(1) Cemetery off Upper Serangoon Road
(2) Observation site or open field near Woodleigh MRT
(3) Former Muslim/Christian Cemetery
(4) Field near Potong Pasir
(5) Field near Upper Serangoon Road / Upper Aljunied Road
(6) Bidadari
(7) Bidadari Park
(8) Bidadari New Town

Turns out, they are all referring to the same field/observation site which is the big open field between Potong Pasir MRT and Woodleigh MRT! (5) is probably the most descriptively accurate "name" but is too wordy. To those who stay near that area and nature lovers of Bidadari (especially birders), this may not be confusing. But for the rest of us who are not very familiar with that place, it can be!

So for the sake of common discussion and ease of future forum searching, I suggested we just call this site/field "Bidadari" from this point onward! And if you prefer to shorten it and to call it more affectionately like some birders do, "Bida". :)

By the way, interesting fact I read from Nature Watch (Nature Society Singapore): " "Bidadari" was derived from the Sanskrit word "widyadari"; meaning a nymph or fairy."

Before I begin my brief recce report, some history and credits about Bidadari mentioned in singastro forum.

It was mentioned at least as far back in 2007 by forum members Kay Heem & Hommel in the General Astronomy forum (you won't find this thread if you search for "bidadari" instead of "potong pasir".)

Check out the nice panoraomic photo and annotated google map of Bidadari in Kay Heem's zip attachment.

It was mentioned as recently as last year 2013 by George when he posted about shooting Milky Way and Comet ISON at Bidadari.

In between these posts, several other forum members must have discussed about it too. This is an example which initially started off as a discussion about Dempsey observation site in Coffee Corner.

Those who are interested to find out more about such previous discussions can continue your research by searching "bidadari" in singastro forum.


Now back to my recce report. Most if not all of these observations may be the same as observed/reported by others who have visited Bidadari earlier:

Big open spaces, no lighting inside the field, low grass level, didn't hear any mosquito or got bitten by any.

Here's a low quality video from my phone:

Nice pavement/track in decent condition for joggers. Occasional pot holes. Should not be a problem for pushing astro gear along it on a trolley. Better than over grass anyway.

Spot where the above video was taken later in the evening.

Saw joggers continue to jog when the sky/field is dark, i.e. 8pm++.

Comparing the google map satellite photos Kay Heem took in 2007 and current ones and from onsite observation, there are fewer trees.

No big glaring lights from the nearby roads and houses especially if you walked closer towards the center of the field.

Facing South. Brighter stars of Centaurus and Crux captured with phone in HDR. Silhouette of jogger in the background. 

The field is like a very gentle hill with the highest point in the center. So if you walked beyond that and further away from the main Upper Serangoon Road, the hill itself can be used to completely shield off some of the distant lights from the street lamps and some far away building lights.

Jupiter (white "star") setting in the west.

Near Potong Pasir MRT and Woodleigh MRT. Overall, the whole field is slightly nearer to Woodleigh MRT. Additional advantage of Woodleigh MRT is you do not have to cross any road if you come out from Exit A. There's a lift and wheelchair friendly slopes near this exit. You may just walk a few meters on grass from there to reach the nearest field track. To the stargazer, this translate to less hassle and time saved to transport your astro gear to the darker areas in the dark field.

Quite a few bus stops near the field. There's one near Woodleigh MRT Exit A.

Woodleigh MRT Exit A

Woodleigh MRT at far left. Bidadari at right.

No temporary shelters. If it rains suddenly, run to nearest MRT/bus stop.

No car parks nearby. According to George, some drivers park their vehicles here temporarily, somewhere between the two MRT stations along Upper Serangoon Road, slightly nearer to Potong Pasir side:

Back to being able to evaluate this place with lesser bias. Since I didn't know it was Bidadari, I did not realise then it was a CEMETERY! For many minutes with no joggers in sight, I was just enjoying the peace, darkness and starry night in the field alone. Every now and then, I will squat down to take some photos with my mobile phone in HDR mode (else all black images as it was too dark and/or phone camera sensor not sensitive enough).

I did not recall seeing or feeling anything unusual or eerie and my photos and videos didn't not capture anything strange too. Just saying how I felt then as a matter of fact, not trying to disprove if eerie things are still present there for those who believe.

So the more "scary" part of this recce to me is to realise now it is *the* Bidadari that will be gone soon! Now I remembered all the news about Bidadari turning into a HDB New Town soon and Nature Society trying to protect as much of it as possible. Also recalled attending this Bidadari New Town exhibition at Toa Payoh Central last year. A quick check with recent news online seems to suggest that the earliest construction work could be as soon as next year 2015.

Here's the official video by HDB regarding the future of Bidadari:

After watching the video, I find it ironic Nature has to be destroyed to build a garden for the community. And destroying the Heritage of the cemetery and important resting place for migratory birds to build a heritage walk to admire the "heritage" of a new concrete jungle? And don't get me started on those three searchlights beaming into the sky! You never know when robbers might parachute into your house at night! :)

Unless we find a super rare one-in-a-billion bird species in Bidadari, this field turning into a New Town is a forgone conclusion.

Growing up as an urban kid, I hear stories from my older friends and relatives about growing up in kampungs (villages) in Singapore. For example, the fun and horror stories of walking back home late night across pitch dark cemeteries after a late night hangout with friends.

Last night, I walked around this field, said hello to joggers and people walking their dogs, stopped every now and then to take a photo and admired the dark starry night sky. For that magical hour or two in the dark and alone, I felt I got a little closer to experiencing what my friends and relatives were always reminiscing about - the good old kampung days where much more stars and Milky Way were still visible in Singapore on a clear night.

So to all stargazers, photographers, joggers, historians and nature lovers, do check out this place at least once before it is all fenced up for construction in a few months!

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