Date: 19 July 2005
SINGAPOREANS love to travel, but very rarely would they even consider
spending three weeks in the land of kidnappings and the Abu Sayyaf.
Not Yong Ding Li, a 21-year old Singaporean birder-illustrator,
who did just that. Two days before going back to Singapore, he was
hoping to stay another day more.
so much to see here," he enthused as he sat on his foldable
chair with a sketchpad on his knees. He had been sketching Manila
Cathedral and San Agustin church with his fine ballpoint pens and
wanted to spend his last day, sketching the walls of Intramuros
on a hot humid afternoon.
before, Ding Li who's an enthusiastic birdwatcher, spent time birding
in Bohol, Benguet and Palawan, racking up an impressive 84 lifers
for this Philippine trip alone. (Lifers in birdwatchers jargon refer
to an avian species one has seen for the first time.)
Li, a first-year life science student from the National University
of Singapore, has been birding since he was 12. Home is Bukit Batok,
Singapore, which is near a nature park.
he was in Primary 6, an audacious bird with bright yellow plumage,
black nape and wing tips and red bill, flew in during class. He
was quite keen to find out what it was -- it turned out to be a
black-naped oriole, a common garden bird with a melodious fluty
whistle. That started his interest in birds.
At aged 12,
he joined the Nature Society of Singapore to be among kindred souls
who shared his passion and interest in birds.
first birding trip outside Singapore was in Malaysia when a friend
took him for a day trip to Panti Forest in Johor Bahru. That was
the start of his birding adventure overseas which has taken him
to other parts of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India, and now
trip to the Philippines has been his longest time away from home.
"My parents and my sister think I'm mad. Why the Philippines?
Why not go to Japan or Hong Kong?"
Ding Li has a fascination for European architecture and he
wanted to sketch Philippine churches built during the Spanish
times. "I like Spanish culture very much. In the Philippines,
it's like I've gone to Spain without going too far away from
home. Things are different here -- the people, culture, scenery,
biodiversity -- but not too different from home."
Li also thought there was a good chance he could see at least
50 more lifers to add to his lifers list of over a thousand
bird species, mostly Oriental birds.
during his first week here, he wanted to advance his departure
date because he thought he'd get homesick. He soon changed
his mind when he visited Mount Makiling, Laguna, which he
birded for three days with Mark Villa, a fellow birder from
the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. At Mt. Makiling, he
already racked up 34 lifers, more than half of his original
stop was Rajah Sikatuna National Park, in Tagbilaran Bohol,
to see the rare Steere's Pitta which can be found only in
Bohol. For four days, he stayed at the park with a cook who
prepared him fried water buffalo meat and boiled rice for
lunch and dinner. On his last day, he had egg and canned sardines
as a treat. He missed red chillis with his meals as it would
have spiced up the bland buffalo.
luck was with him -- the rare pitta was the first bird he saw on
the trail shortly after he had just arrived.
Pitta is the bird of my dreams," he says unabashedly. "It's
a gem because of its rarity and its beauty."
rare bird is also called Azure Pitta because of its unnaturally
bright azure and red wings. "When I saw it, my hands shivered
while I was holding my binoculars. I felt an adrenalin rush and
held my breath for some time."
from pittas, pheasants also give him the shivers. Next on
his Philippine bird list was the endemic Palawan Peacock Pheasant.
And not even reported cases of celebral malaria will stop
him from going to Palawan.
mosquitoes which didn't know OFF lotion devoured him and Villa
while they were birding at Sabang's forest in Palawan, but
the trip yielded a record 75 species including, of course,
the Palawan Peacock Pheasant.
his sketch journal, he says he has run out of pages to sketch
the birds he has seen in the Philippines. Ding Li sketches
his birds with colored ballpens and highlighters.
First of all, they're very economical, he says with a grin.
also exceptionally versatile. When you're sketching a bird, its
shape is made up of feathers which are made up of thin fine lines.
A ballpen can give you a very accurate depiction of a bird's shape,"
Ding Li, who
has been sketching since he was 6, says he started with colored
pencils until a friend introduced him to ballpens at 12. Most of
his sketches have structured lines. "I think my style is closer
to Realism which emphasizes accurate form and shape in drawing."
Art and Conservation
Li doesn't want to be called an artist, but a drawer. He says artists
have their own imagination, and they inject their thoughts into
"But I translate what I see into a visual image. Because I
just draw what I see, I'm an illustrator, not an artist."
searching for my own style and interpretative method, but more or
less, I've found my preferred medium in ballpens and pencils,"
from personal expression, his drawings are also meant to promote
conservation. By sketching what he sees in the forest, he hopes
people will realize what they're killing with each tree they destroy.
he says, "people here know very little about conservation.
In Sikatuna Park, I thought the park rangers didn't feel for what
they were doing. Things were done as a job, as a routine chore."
relates: a pond was built at the park, but halfway through it seemed
there wasn't enough funds to finish it. So, it was left a mess.
not enough strong will to get things done. I think an important
thing for the conservation movement is the will to have it progress,"
advocates that "all politicians should go through an environmental
course before they become politicians because in general, in Southeast
Asia, politicians are corrupt. In Indonesia, there's no respect
for boundaries. People plant vegetables at national parks.
people are poor because they need to use the land. But they
need to have some punishment even in little things. People
think it's an insignificant thing to chop off a tree, and
another and another? Anyway there'll be another tree. Before
you know it, there's a landslide and people die. These things
are happening too often," he says.
not learning from our past whether in the Philippines, Indonesia,
Malaysia and even Singapore."
governments and politicians can't preserve natural resources,
he hopes to preserve
the birds and the treasures that
he has seen here through his sketches. He
wants to see more and vows to come back, perhaps, next year.
rattles his wish list: he'd like to visit Mount Kitanglad in Bukidnon,
Mount Apo in Davao, PICOP Resources Corp's logging concession at
Bislig, Surigao del Sur, and of course, birding sites in the Visayas
like the Tabunan Forest in Central Cebu and Mount Kanlaon National
Park in Negros Occidental.
will he tell friends and family when he goes back home? A prompt
reply: "I will tell them I've been to paradise. Go there before