From Classroom to the Field and Back: Understanding the Ways Fieldwork Empowers Geographic Learning, pp. 4 of 7

Why Chong Pang market?

In Singapore, geographers, from school to university level are taking students to fieldwork sites around the island. Little India and Chinatown are probably the most popular field-site for human geographic learning. While both the sites could have been good for our fieldwork, we selected Chong Pang market at Yishun (Figure 2). There were two reasons for selecting Chong Pang market – first, we wanted to observe liveability, informality and occupancy urbanism through everyday practices by local residents. Often liveability has been seen through more objective indicators of urban living and largely through the lens of expatriates and elite sections of the society. There has been an increasing call towards accounting
for subjective feelings of residents towards their lived environments along with objective indicators (Das, et al., in press). Chong Pang market is one of the oldest neighbourhood markets in northern Singapore. Its location within a mature HDB neighbourhood provided us the opportunity to observe the local residents’ (beyond expatriate and elite residential areas) lived experiences, their everyday practices and negotiations. Second, both Little India and Chinatown are probably the most popular field-site for human geographers and social scientists in Singapore. Instead of doing fieldwork in one of the most obvious site, we selected Chong Pang market. Chong Pang market provided us an opportunity to explore beyond the usual areas studied and look at a fresh site with new perspective.

Getting the most out of the fieldwork

On a bright and sunny Saturday morning, during the month of October 2014, seventeen students of NIE gathered around Chong Pang community center – excited about doing fieldwork, learning more and connecting it back to classroom discussions. As students arrived at the site on time, we began with a brief introduction about the residential neighbourhood surrounding the market, a small history about the market and its importance for the larger neighbourhoods of Yishun and Sembawang. A colored map of the market with designated commercial blocks and roads was provided to each student to make them familiar with the market and different locations in and around the market (see Map 1). Three student groups of 5-6 students were created and then given specific tasks in order to collect information through the specified methods. Group 1 was asked to proceed towards Yishun Avenue 3 and collect field information along Blocks 101 and 102 (see Map 1). Group 2 was instructed to collect information from Blocks 103 and 104 and Group 3 moved along the Yishun Ring Road and Sembawang road to collect information from Blocks 105 and 106. Students were instructed to specifically observe the everyday practices in the
market and surrounding area, observe the ways locals negotiate space, eat, shop, and relax and look out for instances and occurrences of occupancy urbanism. It was communicated to the student groups that the first phase of the fieldwork was for 3 hours where they needed to observe and take images of the everyday urban practices. Before the beginning of the fieldwork, the student groups were provided required understanding of ethical concerns of doing fieldwork and they followed instructions accordingly.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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