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June 3, 2004

The amazing charity race

From: Straits Times, Singapore - Jun 3, 2004

ARTI MULCHAND, who went on a 24-hour charity adventure over the weekend here, is astounded by the kindness of strangers

IT WAS meant to be a test of 'wit, stamina and Singapore's much-lauded public transport system'.

But last weekend's 24-hour Police Charity Adventure race, whose route traversed the mainland, Sentosa and Pulau Ubin, also ended up being a measure of the willingness of strangers to go more than a couple of extra miles in the name of charity.

And they passed with flying colours.

Armed with nothing more than a $25 ez-link card each, army food rations and basic essentials like solid fuel and water, the 18 teams of six in the race had to perform physical and mental challenges at various points and beat the rest back to the finish line, like popular television show The Amazing Race.

The checkpoints were spread across the island.

From the Police Academy in Thomson Road, some groups had to go to Yishun's Orchid Country Club, then to Bukit Batok, and make their way to Sentosa from there, before heading to Ah Hood Road in Balestier.

Not an easy assignment, but almost every step along the way, the team I was in - the Police Media Team - and many of the other groups, saw no shortage of willing helpers who turned the potential ordeal into a display of Amazing Grace.

Their kindness was felt from the word go, when, inspired by Hollywood and not really knowing how to get to our first checkpoint - the Orchid Country Club - from the Police Academy, the team decided to hitch-hike.

Five minutes of wild arm-flailing later, a multi-purpose vehicle driven by engineer H.Y. Chin pulled up. We explained the game, and he agreed to take us to an MRT station.

But he did not stop at the station. He just kept going - all the way to the club in Yishun.

'It was broad daylight, you guys looked safe enough and it was for charity,' the 50-year-old engineer later explained. 'Plus, you guys looked really lost.'

We managed to convince no fewer than 13 drivers to get us to our checkpoints - though we were in Singapore, where hitch-hiking is far from the norm - and at all hours. We got one ride at 5.15am.

As a result, we had to rely on public transportation only three times.

The story was no different for some of the other teams.

The one from Cisco had a driver who did not just take them from Bukit Batok to Sentosa but, for the fun of it, waited for them, and then took them to their next checkpoint in MacPherson.

The team from the Singapore School for the Deaf, with a little help from interpreters, managed to convince two men in a lorry to ferry them to Toa Payoh from Changi Point, instead of dropping them off at Ang Mo Kio as planned.

So willing were Singaporeans at responding to the hitch-hiking call, that the police had to conjure up additional checkpoints - like the one at Orchard Cineplex, and for some, one at Ngee Ann City - because the teams were clearing earlier checkpoints quicker than expected.

The generosity we saw extended beyond free rides.

While getting from the second to the third checkpoint on the back of a lorry, the wind blew the spectacles off one of the journalists in our team. Given that we were on a highway at the time, they were soon cruched under the tyres of passing vehicles.

Soon after, he bumped into an acquaintence, not least because he could not see. After learning what had happened, and of our no-cash situation, she gave him $10 for disposable contact lenses, which allowed him to see his way clearly through the rest of the race.

It did not stop there.

As our team left Sentosa's Tanjong Beach around lunchtime, hunger pangs and the smell of food drove us to a Family Day function by Internet services company Perot Systems further down the beach.

After we told the organisers about the race, they invited us to join their nasi briyani buffet.

Later, a man at Changi Jetty bought us much needed coffee, and a fisherman at Pulau Ubin lent us a torchlight to help us traverse the island at night when ours broke.

It is true all that help meant race participants did not have to face the deprivation which is the lot of contestants in the reality TV series Survivor.

Still, for those of us who took part, reality did hit. We never expected so many here would actually stop for complete strangers - that they would simply drop what they were doing to pitch in, whether in the name of charity or good-natured fun.

For us that day, the realisation that good nature and great grace exist in our backyard in abundance beats winning a million bucks.

Lorry driver with big heart

'While trying to get from Changi Jetty to Toa Payoh for the last leg of the race, we got a ride on the back of a lorry, and the driver said he would drop us at Ang Mo Kio. On the way, I penned a note explaining the charity adventure and passed it to the passenger in front. Moments later, they stopped the vehicle and said: 'Offering a lift to you tired-looking souls is the least we can do for charity', and then drove us all the way to our destination at Toa Payoh Rise. That's what I call having a heart.'
- Deputy Superintendent Phillip Mah, 43, assistant director (media relations), Singapore Police Force, Singapore School for the Deaf Team

A free ride from cabby

'When we were getting from the Police Academy to Sentosa, our first destination, we just flagged a cab, and there was no reason for the cabby to help us for free, but he did. He even drove us all the way to Sentosa. We wanted to get someone to pay him back, but when we couldn't reach anyone, he said it was fine. He even let all six of us get into the cab.'
- Mr Lars Svensson, 38, group sales and marketing manager for Novena Holdings, whose team won

Waited on by an angel

'We met an angel whom we didn't even know, but was willing to let us all squeeze into his tiny Nissan, and because he was free, he got into the fun of the game and was even willing to wait for us after he gave us a ride from Bukit Batok to Sentosa, and then he took us to Genting Lane. It really gave us an advantage.'
- Ms Caroline Ho, 33, assistant director of Prime Accounts at Cisco, whose team came in third

Bus driver who chipped in

'We were boarding a public bus to get from the Spans-Jom checkpoint to Towner Road, and to save money, we asked the bus driver if we could ride for free. She not only agreed right away, but also offered us $50 to give towards the final total. We took the free ride, but not the cash.'
- Store manager Abdul Latif, 37, who was in the 7-Eleven Team

Copyright @ 2004 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.