Where Kallang meets Chek Jawa

Straits Times Digital Life 17 Jun 08;

Visit Temasek Island in virtual world Second Life and you may find yourself surprised, reports TAN CHONG YAW

BE PREPARED to be slightly disoriented when you step onto this Temasek Island, ensconced in the hit virtual world of Second Life.

The arrival jetty leads to the visitor centre which is the familiar glass control tower of the old Kallang Aerodrome. To the left is a hill reminiscent of Fort Siloso bristling with guns - some of which are trained unintentionally at Elgin Bridge, which connects South Bridge Road with North Bridge Road.

Beyond the bridge are Chek Jawa-inspired mudflats. The tide laps at the prop roots of the mangrove trees while two egrets fly overhead, and horseshoe crabs, starfish and turtles basking in the sun.

But true-to-life representation was not the aim of Temasek, said its creator Kenneth Y T Lim, assistant professor at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University.

Neither was replicating Singapore in its entirety the mission of this geographer. Rather, the six months of labour - his 'national service', as Kenneth puts it - are his interpretation of what's important in this island in the sun.

'I want Temasek to showcase Singapore's culture, ecology and history,' says Kenneth, adding that it gives foreigners a 'taste of real life' here.

Temasek will roll out next Monday, coinciding with Second Life's fourth anniversary.

Digital Life took a sneak peek at the 65,536 sq m plot of land last Thursday to find more treasures afoot.

On the other side of the island, a mall sits atop a marina. At the far end are chalets. A truncated Singapore River winds through the island, complete with a tongkang. Extensive tunnels - like those at Labrador Park - run underground.

Take a guided tour in a submarine that also flies. Or, survey the island on your own in anything ranging from a hang glider to what looks like a wooden helicopter. But you can't ride in the classic Citroen DS parked near the jetty - that's Kenneth's private vehicle.

What's real is the weather: If it rains in Singapore, it will be raining on that virtual isle, too.

That, and the funding for the project: It comes from Kenneth's own pocket, though he declined to reveal figures.

There's also a question of lifespan: Lion City, a Singapore-themed island, which opened with a roar last year has since whimpered to a close.

But Kenneth is not in it for commercial gain: Other than being a self-appointed tourism ambassador, he sees value in Second Life as an educational tool.

He is not alone. The National University of Singapore has a virtual campus with Princeton University and the University of Edinburgh as its neighbours.

Also, if the six volunteer designers of the site are any indication of how well Temasek will thrive, Kenneth's reckoning - that it will go the distance - may be right.

Not a programmer himself, the man had to trawl Second Life for experts who shared his vision and would work for free. Over several months, the team comprising Limkopi Davis, Derekcsy Cortes, Lim Pikajuna, Lonewolf Switchblade, Sanspareil London and Felixx Shepherd was assembled.

The three Singaporeans, Malaysian, Briton and German did the intricate designs that would become Temasek. Interestingly, none of them have met face to face.

'I won't be able to recognise most of them if I walked past them on the street!'