In brief...

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
My interests vary from conservation to education to heritage to Nature (biodiversity & wildlife) to outdoor activities to life in general.
They occupy most of my waking moment.
Do read my blogs, follow me on Twitter (@jocelynesze) and friend me on Facebook (subject to my discretion). Visit my Nature blog, Nature Rambles, at

UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit if you're interested in more recent writing.

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in perspective: finding out what truly matters in life

2012 is coming to an end, and it's time for the yearly reflection. Though I reflect more often than just once a year.

My mom, dad and younger bro have just left NYC to head back home in sunny (and rainy) Singapore. It was worse sending them off in the airport, than it was for me to leave Singapore for the UK. I guess after having spent 3 wonderful weeks with them, it was rather hard for me to have them go back to Singapore, and for me to eventually go back to Cambridge. Which is a really nice place, but where I don't have parents to look after me (read: so I can behave like a kid) and I don't have my favourite younger brother (I only have one younger brother but that doesn't matter) to bully into carrying things and baking yummy food for me.

Mom and I; snowing in Callicoon, NY.

Me and my dad (with his cool sunglasses); at the Highline, NYC.

My favourite retard and I; outside the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.

Not that my older brother is any less awesome. But I've spend lots of my time when I was younger taking care of and placating my younger brother, and I'll still be spending the next 10 days or so in NYC with my older bro.
Jonathan, Jeremy and me

What I love best is how we each have our own interests and hobbies and talents; how we're not all fixated by studying hard to get As to do the course that would earn us the most money in the future so we can get a huge house with a big car and lots of money to fill the house with useless things etc. But more with doing things that will make others happier (hopefully), or others' lives better, or things that make us happy, and well, good things. And I think a lot of credit goes to my awesome parents, for bringing us up. 

So, number 1 on the list: thankful for my family who have always been supportive of all that I do. And you never miss them more than when you're overseas alone. And to all my extended family as well, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Gonna be so different not spending Chinese New Year with them.

Thankful also for my friends; you guys know who you are (: Not having good friends with you in school is hard, I learnt. No one who will for sure without fail and without asking look out for you and take notes for you when you miss classes; no one to study with and ask silly questions; no one to make life more interesting and more exciting when you're feeling damn sian about going to school. I realise I kinda enjoyed going to school, because of the people. 
Not having good friends out of school is also sad, cos there are fewer people to go out with and relax and do stuff with. 
And most importantly, to have good conversations with. 

Infinitely thankful for my faith, for God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Cos with Him, I know He's always looking out for me, even when I feel like no one else is. And with Him, all things are possible. And with Him, there's no reason for me to be afraid.
Especially when you feel like you can't go on anymore, and on the verge of tears, His strength will help you carry on. Something I felt acutely while in Nepal last year.

And something I never really felt before till I went overseas, food. I really never realised how important Singaporean food was to me. Home cooked food is the best. Hawker centre food is the second. And whatever else other people may say, food is important, not just for physical well-being. As the saying goes, the family that eats together, stays together. Meal time is bonding time, a time for sharing stories and making meaningful conversation. Which is why in Singapore, or with Singaporeans (or with any friends at all), the usual activity is to go makan (eat in Malay).

2012 has been yet another really awesome year. Worked in NParks, went to Malaysia and Philippines for a month each for volunteer work, had awesome trips with friends to Bali, Indonesia and to Sydney, Australia. Received the good news that I got the Jardine scholarship and made it into Peterhouse, Cambridge. Started uni, made new friends and learnt a lot, not just about academics, but also about life in general. Thoroughly enjoyed my gap year.

The year 2013 will be a vastly different one. No more gap year; a lot more studying. Plenty of things I want to do, and need to do. Exercise more, for one. And pick up some form of dance, perhaps, since dancing apparently can make people quite happy (a talk I attended listed dancing as the activity that made people the happiest). And sleep early. 
I'll also have to deal with organising a climate and sustainability forum, managing the newly set up Cambridge Uni Nature Society, studying, climbing (more!), keep up my blogging, fundraising for my Summer trips and lots more random things that will pop up I'm sure. 

New Year's resolution? I think it'll be to keep God in the centre of all that I do. With that, all else will fall in place.

take time to reflect and ponder over what matters to you in your life (:

Happy New Year everybody! :) Have a safe and happy holiday!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tis the season to be jolly!

It's Christmas! Was. Or still is, depending on where you are. Being away from Singapore for months now, I am more aware of the different time zones and it's cool how a holiday like Christmas can stretch for more than a day cos friends in Australia and Singapore celebrate it more than 12 hours before me (in US).

My whole family, finally reunited in New York City, drove upstate to the Middle Of No Where (nearest town is Callicoon, New York) to celebrate Christmas in a resort for the week. There's wifi here, thankfully, but tragically it's so slow I can barely load anything on my laptop. So I'm blogging for the first time from my phone! (Not too sure where my photos are gonna appear..)

It's been awesome, spending time with my family. Visited the capital, went to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, saw the National Christmas Tree, a number of other tourist sites; went to a factory outlet mall in New Jersey; travelled to Elk Mountain in Philadelphia to snowboard (I can somewhat confidently use the front edge of the snowboard now!) Also went around a few places in New York City itself, but I'll be spending another week or so there in the new year before heading back to Cambridge. Perhaps one of the most exciting thing I've done in NYC so far is pretend to be part of my bro's Argentine Tango Club in his uni, Baruch College in the City Uni of NY during some Global Fair event on my first night here.

But really, being surrounded by my family has been the most awesome thing this holiday, really miss having them around. So nice to have people looking after you again, and to have people to bully into doing things for you xP gonna miss them very much when they leave for singapore at the end of the week:(

Had to spend some time finishing work that was due on Christmas though. But didn't study anything else that I had originally planned to, not surprisingly. Sighs, mock exams are gonna be a nightmare.

Anyway, back to the topic, had a really nice Christmas with family and bro's girlfriend's family, though we had to spend the WHOLE day cooking. So much food!

We went for Christmas mass on the eve at the church in Woodstock! Spent the eve in Woodstock (1.5 hours drive away from our resort, Villa Roma). Really nice town! Plenty of interesting things and shops to see. We were leaving to head back to the resort where a priest was coming down to celebrate Christmas mass, when we passed by the Church of St John the Evangelist and decided to drop by and take a look. And it must be God's will I'm sure, that it just happened that the mass was going to start in 15 mins' time! 4pm! No church ever celebrates mass at that time in Singapore I think... :) so we went for mass, really awesome singing and there were really cute kids:)

Anyway, I shall blog about other stuff soon.. Been pretty MIA online, but when you rarely have time to spend with your family, and they're all here now, choosing to spend time with the laptop seems a poor decision.. Though with the mobile it seems like choosing between spending time chatting with friends, or interacting with family..

In any case, hope everybody had a lovely Christmas with family and friends, and pray for those who haven't been able to.. Thank God for my family, friends, faith and food!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

End of term!

It's finally the end of term (: I know, it's pretty short compared to most other universities, but it's been an intense, hectic and tiring term that I'm just so glad it's over.

Deer park in Peterhouse, which has no deer.

Been talking to a few people, and yes, I guess the first term is always the most tiring and the hardest, because there are so many things to get used to. The academic system, the new environment, new people, new country etc. On top of the academic workload and other random things I do, as well as attempting to make friends and socialise.

Overall though, despite all the complaints and occasional negative thoughts that cross my mind, I'm infinitely glad I'm here in Cambridge because it just buzzes with opportunities for learning and making a difference, and I'm very grateful to the Jardine Foundation for that.

Studying here is rather different from other universities.
1. Supervision system. Probably one of the most well-known facts about Cambridge, that we have supervisions and not tutorials. Meeting your supervisor with just 1/2 other people definitely keeps you on task with your work.
2. College system. Colleges are legally separate entities from the University. But that's not the point here. With a Director of Studies (DoS) who looks after your academic stuff (supervisions and tripos, which is a fancy word for exams), and a Tutor who makes sure you're not dying under the workload etc, there's probably a lot more support for undergrads here than in other unis.
3. Teaching here can be pretty old-school-style still. Use of chalkboards, Over Head Projectors (OHP) and a long cane, instead of whiteboards, visualisers and laser pointers are not uncommon. But still, when they keep telling you about Nobel prize winners and other famous people who studied/taught here, you can't help but feel awed and somewhat inspired. That perhaps, one day, you'd be one of them.

Nope, no laser pointers here.

Life here is quite different as well.
1. Our main social is formal dinners. Colleges hold formal halls (frequency varies with college, but Peterhouse has it daily), and it's just a 2 hour long meal where you wear your gown (and usually something nicer than shirt and jeans), have a 3 course meal served and drink wine.
2. Also, lots of formal events which involve wine consumption. I feel like there's a lot more opportunity to drink socially (not in clubs) here than in other places.

No photos of me drinking (not that I don't drink), so a photo of Peterhouse hall will have to suffice.

Amongst others, I'm sure, but I can't think of them at the moment.

And I guess essentially it's just that you have close to complete freedom and control over your life. You plan how you spend your time. Do you want to sleep in, or do your laundry, or study, or go for talks and plays or go out and party?

I've gone for at least 19 talks this term. Talks ranging from biology (eugenics, molecular basis of behaviour, GM rice plants to increase production, & animal intelligence), to international development (voluntourism, education, & poverty), to conservation (effectiveness of citizen science, methods for monitoring biodiversity, rewards for ecosystem services, habitat restoration, REDD+, bioregional economy, & reducing extinctions), to political stuffs (future challenges of Singapore, & Thaksin's work in Thailand). And plenty more that I couldn't go for due to timetable clashes. And there's an International Development Conference that I'm going for this Sat.

Oh yeah, and I met Sir David Attenborough! ^^ :D

I've managed to get out of Cambridge a few times, to Peak district with the Hill Walking Club and Mountaineering Club, to Oxford for Oxbridge Games, & to London for breakfast and lunch (xD). I've managed to climb once a week at the indoor bouldering gym, and some rowing. And played a few games of football for my college (which we're quite crap at). I've managed to gather a bunch of people who are enthusiastic enough to join me in setting up a Nature Society (:

Climbing at Peak district.

So although I've not managed to make any close friends (no really, good, close friends are increasingly more difficult to make the older you are), and I've not managed to really keep on top of all my work (I've not read my lecture notes for a number of topics in physiology now, and one of my supervisor says my essay structure is terrible), I think overall it's been a rather decent term. Could have been worse.

I can't wait to see my friends again, in London, and my awesome family, in New York! And to all my friends in Singapore (and various other parts of the world), I do miss all of you. Don't know when I'll be going back to Singapore still, but there are times when I'm on Facebook and it just feels like I'm in Singapore :P

No durians here :( no family either :(

Plenty of work to do during the holidays, with mock exams to look forward to when I come back. Meanwhile, happy holidays people (:

Christmas tree in Peterhouse Junior Common Room (JCR)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The nature of people

They say people reveal their true selves when they think no one is looking.

They also say, you can tell what a person is truly like by the way he/she treats the junior/supporting staff (anyone who isn't the boss).

I shouldn't be judging people I guess, I don't have the right to; only God does.

But when people ask for some form of help, I do feel mildly unappreciated when they don't say thank you or return some sort of acknowledgement.

Ever since I blogged about the Jardine scholarship, because I thought there was just too little information out there about it, I've had a few people (about 10) emailing/fb messaging/blog commenting me to ask me about it.

I don't mind spending the time replying, cos I know how hard it is to find any info out there and anything is appreciated really. Though I feel the need to do an FAQ soon, just cos I'm getting annoyed with the same questions over and over.

But seriously, when I spend the time to reply you, and you don't even email back to acknowledge that  you've read it, or say a word of thanks, that's just not cool man. Not cool at all.

I don't think I'm the most polite person myself, I probably could do with some course on good manners, but the least anyone could do would be to say thank you to whoever's helped you.

So whoever's reading this; next time you ask for help, don't forget to say thanks, cos it might just make someone's day!

Apologies for whining here. But it was getting on my nerves. Or is it just a "this generation of kids" thing, to not find it necessary to say thanks to somebody who's just bothered to answer a few of your questions?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I think I'm quite a dreamer. That must be how I spend most of my time. (There's no other explanation for how else I spend my time, when I'm not out going from one event to another)

It's 530pm now (and the skies outside are darker than Singapore's ever will be, since we started putting up more lights), and I came back from lunch at 130pm. 4 hours, and I have no work done to show for my productivity.

Spent some time saying hi to my extended family over Skype, cos it was my grandma's birthday. And then, I don't know what happened.

My evolution essay still sits on my table undone, and I have no idea what was taught during the respiration lectures for physiology the past 5 days (even though I was awake and taking notes for most of them).

Yet I feel a mild sense of accomplishment. Perhaps that is derived from having spammed all my friends' Facebook walls with various articles that I deem to be interesting/thought-provoking/worth-a-share. That is a common complain from my friends, though I'd like to think there are also people out there who like the articles I share. There needs to be more information flow, cos all these wonderful ideas and inspirations are just sitting somewhere out there in the depths of the world wide web (or more like using up energy in a data centre somewhere in the middle of America), waiting for people to read about them and share them.

And with regards to information flow, I feel the need to plug some serious information gap about Cambridge colleges. Don't think we, as overseas applicants, know enough about the colleges before we applied for them. And also perhaps a bit on the academic side of things. But that will be for another post, an end-of-term post.

Coming back to my afternoon, I feel the need to first clarify that most of my days aren't this leisurely. It's just that I had a pretty insane week/weekend, and so taking an afternoon off today was quite justified. Though come to think of it now, perhaps I should have spent it trying to understand what goes on during my lectures instead :X

But I had a good afternoon, and I've figured out my plan for the next 3 years of undergraduate study. Or perhaps, a refinement to the plan I had before I even started studying. I already knew more or less what courses I wanted to do for each of my three years of BioNatSci, and the non-academic activities that I would take the time to participate in. Now, I've got an idea of how I want to spend my vacations, and the thought of vacations is all that is keeping me going now (:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

1.5 weeks more to go!

Almost at the end of the first term. Though most of my friends often go "what, so short! Do you guys even study at all!" I'd like to challenge them to sit through a week of Cambridge term. It's really smart of them actually, from the pov of the uni, cos you just cram everything down the student's throat during the very short term, and leave them to catch up during the holidays in their own time. Save money!

Apart from the coursework that i tend to ignore till i cant anymore, it's been a pretty good past week. Some really interesting talks (which reminds me that I've got pages of notes from talks that I should put up somewhere...), and I'm on the Climate Change Forum committee which should be pretty fun, and best of all, had the very first meeting with a bunch of people who are also interested in Nature and a uni society for that! :)

I really wasn't intending to set one up, at least not in the first year, cos I'd like to get some sense of how the uni works and perhaps build up some local knowledge before I attempt something relatively major like that. But after meeting a lady who works in Cambridge Hub (which is like the Cambridge chapter of Student Hubs), and some encouragement from her, I was like yeah might work out. Really encouraging, how things have been so far (:

Lots of things that I wanna blog about, but might have to wait for the hols. I don't seem to be able to think properly these days, either from lack of time or just lack of focus.

I realise I really miss Singapore quite a bit, and things would have been a lot easier if I had just studied local. I still find it relatively difficult to find people to have good conversations with. It's like with fellow Singaporeans/Asians, you've got at least some common ground, either social or political or something you can talk about. With others though, unless it's like environmental/global social stuff, I find that I really have nothing much to say. Not a particularly widely read person, so I don't know much about history or arts or theatre or entertainment or Western politics.

But for now, I've got math assignments due Mon, earth sciences and physiology essays due Tue and evolution essay due Wed, and I can't put them off any longer, so :/

Monday, November 05, 2012

the pains of being a student.

It's middle of week 5, and I'm struggling to keep up with coursework. New content, fast pace, and lack of time to read up before/after lecture = me not really understanding what's going on. Possible, it's the same as when we were in JC. Just that it's been so long since I last studied. I'm immensely glad we don't have mid terms and I'll have the Christmas vacation to consolidate whatever I'm supposed to have learned in these two months.

And naturally I'm here cos I'll do everything else but get round to doing my work – go on Facebook, read interesting articles, do other random things etc.

Argh, this is when I miss my gap year, and being able to go for talks, events, spend time reading, writing, and generally slack off while everybody else is studying.

K that's about enough whining from me :X

I've generally had a rather pleasant weekend, with Teo Li Fang coming all the way up from London to visit me! Miss those times we had in RG, but I'm really glad we're still good friends. Then NatSci dinner with the other Singaporeans, on Sun night; that was the best dinner I had since I arrived(:

Oh and I want to go for Operation Wallacea next Summer! Is it possible to fundraise £5k?? Since I'm already going for Mt Kilimanjaro... :/

I find myself needing to be constantly reminded of others in the world in a worse plight, and that I should not be so self-centred. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012


It's the middle of week 4. Thoughts all in a jumble.

There's a need to blog, but I can't seem to find the time to sort out my thoughts or to blog. Used to use the time traveling on buses/trains to think, else in the toilet (yes I'm one of those toilet-thinkers), but I walk everywhere now, or run sometimes when I'm in a rush, and it's too cold to stone in the toilet for extended periods of time thinking.

Also, physical discomforts are distracting. It's cold, and I sometimes feel like drinking unfiltered hot water (to make my milo/coffee in the mornings) is making me go to the toilet more than necessary, and yesterday/today I somehow screwed up my sleep cycle, that I was so exhausted I went to sleep at 9pm, and woke up at 5am. Feeling a little out of sorts.

But there's no time to slack.

The first three weeks of so have been generally quite good, covering mainly work from A levels for the math and bio modules I'm taking. And then we started to move on, and now I feel like I've dropped off the plateau. You know when you're in the sea/swimming pool, and it gradually gets deeper and suddenly the floor disappears (well not for swimming pools, but for the sea)? The past few weeks I've been slowly tip-toeing my way deeper, tilting my head up to be able to keep breathing, and suddenly I can't feel the bottom anymore and I'm treading water to stay afloat. There's a need to study just to keep afloat, and lots more if you actually want to move up.

Anyway, random thoughts
- lectures here are like those back in Singapore. no talking, no questioning.
- during lectures, everyone writes their notes on foolscap paper, even if it's printed in the notes. I tend to scribble notes all over the margins. writing on foolscap paper what's already printed in the lecture notes seems like a waste of paper to me.
- the impression i get from some lecturers is that they're training us all to be future potential Nobel Prize winners. of course when lots of important people who made breakthroughs in science come from the same university, you get the feeling that that's what you're supposed to do in the future.
- they're really keen on getting student feedback and making sure the course is improved and stuff.
- people seem to be interested on doing things that look good on their cv. At least that's what it seems to be, cos every internship/volunteer opportunity/research work etc has that last line of advertisement being "it looks good on your cv!" yet it's also not something I hear from people. Like I don't hear them saying, oh yeah I did this cos it looks good on my cv.
- people here seem to be quite wasteful. maybe small sample size of my housemates, but I should think they're representative of the average teen here (and yeah they're all teenagers still). taps left leaking a bit, (in my opinion) excessive use of paper towels.
- but people here are very into fair trade stuff. like fair trade tea and coffee and sugar.

Swirl of thoughts in my head, constantly. No relief. Looking forward to the end of term already! Lots to study.

On a more positive note, my parents have successfully made the Poon Hill climb! (: Yay, my parents are awesome, and thank God for keeping them safe and sound and watching over them as they get to the top!

Some Challenges Ahead

The Cambridge University Malaysia and Singapore Association (CUMSA) organised a talk last Thursday, 25 Oct, where the High Commissioner of the Republic of Singapore to the United Kingdom, Mr T Jasudasen came to speak to us on Some Challenges Ahead.

I went, listened and came back feeling just about the same as this, kinda. It was kind of like attending social studies again, I felt.

Brief summary of what Mr Jasudasen said (cos I don't remember/didn't note all)
Challenge 1. How to retain/attract talent?
Lots of (bright) Singaporean students studying overseas, who are a precious resource – will they be lost?
He mentioned great civilisations through the ages, and how the life span of civilisations have been shortening (thousands of years for those great civilisations that started near rivers, hundreds of years during the industrial revolution, and now just tens of years for the internet age), and how Singapore's success was created in just one generation. (or something to that extent). Singapore created her wealth from having bright minds, knowledge-based economy, hence bright young people need to be in Singapore for her to prosper.

Challenge 2. How to remain relevant, useful and extraordinary (to the global world)? i.e. How to make sure Singapore still survives?
Small states don't survive, they die very quickly. He gave the examples of Sparta, something, something and Venice. To survive, we need defence (hence mandatory NS for guys), diplomacy. Won't hold off invaders infinitely, but just to buy time before allies come and save us.
International law allows for big and small countries to coexist (which reminded me of econs and big/small firms), but big countries will ignore international law when they can/want to. (And there's essentially nothing much we can do about it)
We also need to stay relevant to the global world, else there is no reason for us to exist. Small countries have to be useful. He gave the examples of our banking and services sector, port and airport being better than others in the region.

However in the future, things can change (I was thinking more like things will change for sure).
If (and when) sea level rises, because Singapore is a low-lying country, we will disappear.
And if (and when) the polar ice caps melt, and the artic route opens up, Singapore's port might become irrelevant.
Also if technology improves, and flights can bypass Singapore while taking long routes, then Singapore's airport might become irrelevant.

So how to make sure Singapore survives? He talks about how it's very exciting to be a Singaporean, cos there are all these challenges and that as a Singaporean, he has a fire in his belly to think of solutions and he hopes all Singaporeans feel the same (or something along this line, I think)

I think he ended on this note.

Some notes from the Q&A session
There were questions from the floor about the arts & culture scene in Singapore, future industries, immediate challenges ahead, how Singapore will fare compared with Yangon and Shanghai 10 years down the road, xenophobia, etc. (I'm missing out several questions) and of course, I also asked about environmental sustainability.

WRT arts & culture, he talked about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, in the past, if you said you wanted to do dance/music, it was not encouraged, cos it wouldn't bring in wealth, unlike being an engineer. But now, it is encouraged, families and the state support, mainly because wealth has increased. And it's a growing scene.

WRT future industries, he sees IT, pharmaceutical, biomedical and medical tourism being major pillars of Singapore's economy. And how Singapore's been trying to create a whole "ecosystem" (quotation marks are mine) that can support the industries.

WRT immediate challenges ahead, immediate being in the next 5 years, he said 1. Building national consensus and 2. Creating social harmony.
In the past we used to be passive citizens, mainly cos not very well-educated. But we're now much more active in airing our views. Singapore has become more fractious, more educated and we've grown up in relative comfort. We all have a view, and a right to assert the view, so how to come to a consensus on a solution (to a particular problem, e.g. Foreign talent "stealing" our jobs, housing transport)? How do you persuade Singaporeans to see your point? How do you organise the different POVs? The internet makes it harder, cos minority views get aired and appears to be a louder voice.
Also, to work on rich/poor/racial tolerance.

WRT Singapore vs Yangon/Shanghai, he's assured that we will still be ahead of Yangon, cos even though Yangon used to be The regional hub in the 50s (University of Rangoon was the best regional university), with all that happened since then, they've still got quite a bit to catch up on. Shanghai though, he was sure would be way ahead of us (China in general), so when China (and India) were still in their initial phases, Singapore invested a lot and built relationships with them, hope to gain some benefits (and not suffer attack), and be useful to them. He also mentioned how Singapore is useful because we're a neutral country, and work on ASEAN as a platform where countries can talk, discuss. Like a mediator, I thought.

WRT xenophobia, he essentially said it's a problem every country faces when there are migrants, because there's always resistance to newcomers. So need to work on improving tolerance, getting new immigrants to go for assimilation courses etc.

WRT environmental sustainability, he said that it is an existential issue for Singapore as well, cos with climate change and sea level rising, Singapore will disappear. So Singapore has been putting a lot of effort into sustainable energy, but wind and nuclear energies are no-go due to lack of space, and solar energy is still developing.

My thoughts
I wasn't very satisfied with his answer, but I think it's cos of the way my question was phrased. I was concerned about our food/water security, carbon footprint, biodiversity, nature appreciation (or at times, lack thereof), sustainable living etc. But it's hard to phrase a question in the context of challenges ahead for Singapore. I don't know, I think it's more like I have issues with the solutions proposed (denser urban living etc) but wells, his answers were valid just not as comprehensive as I'd have liked it to be?

I was also concerned about the fact that when speaking of challenges, they still seem to be focused on existential issues, about how Singapore can survive in this global world, essentially economics. Little mention of social or environmental challenges. Maybe because he was looking at it from a bigger picture, as in Singapore vs the rest of the world, whereas social/env challenges for Singapore is more intra-Singapore problems?

I wonder how does our biodiversity fit into all the worldly concerns, is there any way of making biodiversity/environmental conservation a priority? I feel like such stuff will always take the backseat to economic concerns. Probably will, cos from what I keep hearing, the mindset is that we need to be some kind of economic powerhouse to be relevant in this world and survive. Is it possible that there will be a mindset change and economics is not the only way to survive in the world? Is there an alternative mindset, even?

It's like, if our population increases, it'll be good for our economy (more workers and stuff), but it will be bad for the world (high carbon footprint etc). But if globally, no one else takes action, and as a small country it's like whatever we do is negligible, so we're not gonna be the first to take that step that would put us at a disadvantage. And I guess that's the reason why we're still facing so many problems despite the many decades of talking about them. No country wants to take the first definitive step, and few others want to follow.

Which I find strange, considering how when we talk about plastic bag usage and demand for wild animals and stuff, we always say every individual action counts. So technically, even a small country like Singapore wanting to make a stand should make a difference. But it seems to be negligible.

Also, I felt like maybe there's an underlying current or an unspoken rule that it's best if people questioned less and just listened, cos it's easier to tackle problems. maybe that's why in school we're seldom encouraged to question (apart from asking questions if you don't understand the concept) but just to accept whatever we're taught and memories model answers.

“Our schools are, in a sense, factories, in which the raw materials – children – are to be shaped and fashioned into products… The specifications for manufacturing come from the demands of 20th century civilization, and it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down.”  
– Ellwood P. Cubberly, Dean, Stanford University School of Education, 1898

“A general State education is a mere contrivance for molding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mold in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government…it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body.” 
– John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”

I don't know if I'm making sense, but anyway it's just some stuff I've been thinking.

Overall though, it was great having him here in Cambridge and talking to us. Opportunities for great discussion (: Had a pretty good time talking for about an hour or so about environmental issues and stuff I generally think about with a bunch of other Singaporeans.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Snapshot of life.

Lots of thoughts generated from attending a number of talks; but lacking the time (or perhaps discipline) to put it down coherently in proper blogposts.

For now though, list of talks I've attended so far, and a compilation of live tweets/links I did using Storify
Voluntourism: Does it do more harm than good? organised by Cambridge University international Development (CUiD)
Schooling the World - The White Man's Last Burden organised by Cambridge University international Development (CUiD)

Tropical forests in the Anthropocene: what does this mean for conservation? organised as part of the Cambridge Conservation Seminars

The Ape on your Bird Table: Implications for the evolution of intelligence organised as part of the UK National Biology Week (13 - 19 October 2012)

Have also been doing a lot of reading up for Earth Sciences cos it's the most foreign to me at the moment. Totally felt like #Asianmugger when I went to Macs for lunch today (cos it's the nearest place to my supervision where there's food and I can possibly sit there for a long time) and did some studying for Earth Sciences too. Not a very well displayed culture there, this studying at cafes/fast food restaurants.

And cos this is an awesome song from an awesome movie

Touch the Sky - Brave

When the cold wind is calling,
And the sky is clear and bright,
Misty mountains sing and beckon,
Lead me out into the light...

I will ride, I will fly,
Chase the wind and touch the sky,
I will fly,
Chase the wind and touch the sky...

Na, na, na,na (x6)

Where dark woods hide secrets,
And mountains are fierce and bold,
Deep waters hold reflections,
Of times lost long ago..

I will hear their every story,
Take hold of my own dream,
Be as strong as the seas are stormy,
And proud as an eagle's scream...

I will ride, I will fly,
Chase the wind and touch the sky,
I will fly,
Chase the wind and touch the sky...

Na,na,na,na (x6)

And touch the sky,
Chase the wind, Chase the wind
Touch the sky...

I'm one quarter way through the term!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Opportunities are what you make of it.

So after my rather depressing previous post about being a rather antisocial Asian in a Western university, I'm putting out the antithesis.

Think many people might have the impression that I'm leading a thoroughly depressing life here in Cambridge cos I don't drink much and I don't particularly enjoy clubbing. That is, fortunately, not entirely true. There is always the element of loneliness when you first move to a new environment – or in fact, even when you're in a familiar environment. I'm sure many people can empathise with the saying about being surrounded by people yet still feeling alone. And not enjoying social events the way it is put forth here typically does make that barrier a little harder to cross, but I am definitely not going to be spending 3 miserable years all alone and depressed!

Cambridge is a wonderfully dynamic (if a bit of a technological dinosaur at times) place filled with lots of equally motivated people. The first week had been filled with a lot of social, hi-nice-to-meet-you events, but as it slowly tapers down and we move into the second week, "proper" events have started occurring and I'm way more comfortable with those.

As I mentioned earlier in some post of mine about the activities I've signed up for, there's a whole host of interesting talks, debates and discussions on a wide variety of very mentally stimulating and thought provoking topics. So far, I've gone for a talk by the Science Society on epigenetics, a presentation on voluntourism and its pros/cons by Cambridge University international Development (CUiD), and a film screening of 'Schooling the World - The White Man's Last Burden' [more on this in my next post when I can spare enough time to blog] and a discussion on the Catholic Faith by the Catholic Chaplaincy. And there are many more interesting talks that I've had to miss out on, like one titled "How might we make space for nature in landscapes of the future?" as part of the Cambridge Conservation Seminars and a discussion on "Scientism: How much faith should we put in science?" by the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. There are just too many awesome stuff going around!

Going for the talks and talking to people there, I may not be making lasting friends (cos usually it's like a quick "that was amazing wasn't it!" and then you say goodbye as you head back your own way, but it's still an awesome feeling knowing there are like-minded people out there.

I also went to Peak District with the Hill-Walking Club on Sunday, hiking 16km from Edale to Hayfield by Mam Tor, and got to know the other Hill Walkers well, and had some really good conversations. (And I'll be going again this Sunday to climb! Hooray :D)

I've still got an exciting line up of talks to go for every week (almost every day, even!) but with our priorities still being getting our work done, there are inevitably a few that I'll have to miss. This is where I lament the technological dinosaur that is Cambridge, which seem to lack people who live tweet talks (that I'm used to from back home in Singapore, courtesy of awesome people like Gladys Chua and Ivan Kwan). Though I have proposed the idea to CUiD in the hopes that things will change for the better (:

All in all, I think I just want to reassure people out there that being an Asian in a Western university isn't all doom and gloom like I made out in my previous post. Opportunities are abound, make the most of them and ultimately, what you get out of your education is what you put into it! It does take time to find (or re-establish) your own comfort zone and find like-minded people, and it happens to everyone who've just transited into a new environment, but it's not impossible. Huge thanks to all my friends and family out there who've encouraged and made me smile in spite of the occasional gloomy moments, I really appreciate it (:

That said, I now lament the fact that I do not understand my Earth Sciences lecture at all, and spent a very stressed 50 minutes listening to my lecturer go on about gravity, isostasy and paleomagnetism in relation to the Earth and how it has changed over time and cause the Earth to be what it is now. I do need to spend a lot of time studying, which I am currently not (for reasons mentioned above :/). Time to be Asian mugger.

And also, thinking about what I wrote previously, I realise it is probably a maturity thing. I've been interacting largely with 2nd/3rd/4th year students or graduate students, for the above mentioned events.

Monday, October 08, 2012

On being Asian in an 'angmoh' (Western) university.

The Vice President of the International Cambridge University Student Union (iCUSU) recently wrote an article in the Huffington Post on Asians being antisocial in University.

And being an Asian in a University (that's largely dominated by Westerners), I think I can make some comment on it. This is probably the first time I'm in a minority group in school (Singapore being full of Chinese and all), and I do actually feel it.

So I've been told by many to not be anti social, and to go and socialise and make friends from all backgrounds, and not to stick with just the Singaporeans/Malaysians.

Frankly, it's hard. It's difficult to go and socialise, I mean. For good or for bad, I'm in the smallest college in Cambridge and there are few international students and even fewer Singaporeans, and so there isn't exactly a group of Singaporeans (Sgn) I can stick with.

But be they English or European or Asian or Singaporean, I find it hard to make friends anyway. By nature, I am a little anti social, I don't like crowds and loud noises. I can talk (a lot) in small groups where everybody else is quiet, and where there are common interests. I can talk to people fine. But faced with a huge mass of people, having to keep meeting new people and keep reintroducing yourself constantly everywhere you go, is just exhausting and I will tend to hide in a corner and pretend not to exist. And I'm bad with names and faces in the first place, as most of my friends back in Singapore will know.

I do try to go for most social events, which are often held in a bar/club/party. But I find myself not enjoying it. I find that you would probably need to drink a lot to enjoy yourself in the crowd. It's either that or that I just lack a certain gene that causes people to actually enjoy participating in such events (Not judging people who do go for them, just that I find myself incapable of doing the same and still be able to respect myself for it.)

Anyway, depending on my mood and the people around me, I may actively go up to random people and introduce myself, especially if they look as lonely as I feel. But when there are already little groups formed and with conversations going on, I feel too intimidated to just barge in to their conversation and introduce myself. (and same for many other people I'm sure, Asians or not.)

Also, I find that perhaps all those "stupid" introductory games we played in school like 'whacko', 'name game' etc. may actually have some merits, cos you got to know everybody's names and perhaps a bit about themselves, whereas here it's less structured, and you just mingle and talk to people on your own. Which is not a bad thing really, cos in life, that's what you gotta do to network and meet people.

But anyway, back to why do Asians not mingle with others. I don't think it's quite true. The other Asian girl (originally from China but studied 12 years in Singapore and finished her As in the UK) in my year is a lot more sociable than me, I think. It's really up to your personality I guess. Antisocial or mildly antisocial people like me will be the same no matter where we go. Even if I'm in NUS in Singapore.

Though it is true, as pointed out in the article, that non-native english language speakers are intimidated by having to constantly speak English and will hence tend to aggregate among themselves.

Only that's not an excuse for me. English IS my native language, no matter what some Westerners may think. But I also think that there is perhaps, a bit of stereotype and prejudice. Cos there are some angmohs who aren't that educated and think that all Asians speak terrible English and may hence be slightly less inclined to engage an Asian in a conversation as well. Not many, and I can't quite prove it, but I do think it could possibly be true. It's a 2 way thing.

Or maybe it's just that for the past 1.5 years or so, I've been interacting with people older and more mature than me (at work and at social events). And the students here, while brilliant and very smart I'm sure, are almost all (majority anyway) younger than me. There are graduate students who are older around, but there is rather limited interaction with them. I do think that it must definitely be a maturity thing. How is it that they all seem to enjoy watching (or can stand watching) something like Salad Fingers? No offense (we're just on different wavelengths I guess), but I'd rather read up on electrical capacitors (for my physiology of organisms course). And I don't even like physics.

In all, not all Asians are anti-social – it boils down to your personality. Of course, all that stuff about being out of your comfort zone is true as well, but if I'm comfortable being who I am, why should I step out of my comfort zone and attempt to be more of a clubber just to socialise with others?

NB: That said, I do know there are ways to socialise that do not involve having such an active nightlife, and anyway many Cambridge students are geeky intellects who do hold good conversations in pubs and all.

[updated an hour later] NB2: I feel the need to qualify that I know not everybody socialises by drinking and going to pubs/clubs, and that I do know people who feel the same as me too.

[updated 15 Oct 2012] As an antithesis to this post, I've also published a more positive side to school here.

life here so far, and the term ahead.

Lectures have started (last Thu, 4 Oct) but not quite full steam ahead yet, so there's still time for me to stone around and blog.

They've been pretty okay so far, evolution & behaviour (e&b), physiology of organisms (poo) and mathematical biology (mb) mainly revising A level content. Only I've forgotten just about all my A level math, so been struggling with math hw (completely forgot what partial fractions were. and the chain rule. and just about everything.) Earth sciences (es) though, is pretty new material and is the most interesting module so far (:

During Freshers Fair last Tue/Wed, I put my name down for about 15 clubs and societies. It's not that bad, most of them are for talks and stuff like. The Zero Carbon Society, CU Science & Policy Exchange (CUSPE), CU Biological Society (CUBS), CU Environmental Consulting Society (CUECS), Cambridge Hands-On Science (CHaOS), and Cambridge Hub (CH) all either host talks or post information on talks and stuff like, which are very interesting. Not going for all the talks (cos I'm not all that interested in quantum mechanics, biotechnology etc) and while I may be interested in stuff like genocide prevention and women in power/poverty and carbon foot printing, I don't have that much time to spare. But the great thing is that there is really a whole plethora of events going on all the time, so much opportunity to learn more out of my coursework and to meet like-minded people.

To my dismay, there is no Nature society in Cambridge, the best I could find was the National Trust Society and perhaps the CU Rambling Club. Which I obviously put my name down for (in addition to the CU Hill-Walking Club (CUHWC),  CU Mountaineering Club and CU Underwater Exploration Group (CUUEG)), but tragically due to Sat lectures, I cannot quite go for majority of the walks :(  and probably, most of the events in the rest of the clubs.

I also thought I might want to improve my science writing skills, so I signed up to possibly contribute to the Weevil magazine.

And how could I not sign up with the CU Malaysia & Singapore Association (CUMSA) and the CU Catholic Chaplaincy, Fisher House?

Thought I might want to give a go at something different, and signed up with Cambridge Dancers, (would have signed up with some martial arts group and perhaps musical group as well) but looking
at my schedule, doubt I can make much of it.

On top of that, there are college clubs that I joined as well.

Yeah, a bit too much I think. I'm getting reminded of my RG days. But things have been going well so far, and with enough discipline, I think I should be fine.

On the social side, I have been participating in my college freshers' events. I went to a club, didn't like it, went for a pub crawl, didn't like it either. But yes, at least I went.

Looking at the term ahead, I think it's gonna be a pretty packed one, I'm still waiting for the flood of supervision work and self-study to come with regard to academics. 8 weeks though, will pass soon enough. And I will most probably just wait for second year to do participate more in the club activities that I lack the time for now. If I do geological sciences A instead of physiology in year 2, I just might be able to keep my Sats free... (:

I also attended the chapel service in Peterhouse today, which is Anglican, and it was a very interesting experience indeed. Also, formal dinners are a good time to practise the etiquette skills we learned at SHATEC all those years ago in RGS.

[Updated 16 Oct 2012] I realised, as the days passed, that I signed up for more than what I've listed, as they started emailing new members. I'm apparently also in Aid & Save Animal Planet (CUASAP), and after attending talks, joined the Science Society and Cambridge University international Development (CUiD). Also, the Harry Potter Society that was just started by somebody else from my year! :)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Why I do what I do.

People often ask me how I got so interested in Nature and conservation and biodiversity and all that stuff. I guess it started with outdoor activities in RGS ODAC. And then Research Studies made the biophilia part a lot stronger. And so on so forth.

But why I'm so interested in everything I'm interested in is probably another matter. I think the following narrative will show why. I don't want things to end up like that in the future.

Note: The following narrative was written for an essay competition organised by the Web of Life Foundation. I procrastinated writing it until right before the deadline, haven't written narrative essays in at least 4 years (Commonwealth essays in RG being the only narrative essays I've written, not counting primary school compositions), was never good at it, and with this being written in a very short time frame (I didn't have the time nor internet speed to proofread/check anything), please forgive the terrible writing. Just thought I'd try anyway, for the fun of it. Credits to Alex Teo for (subsequently) proofreading and correcting my grammatical mistakes. I've also put it up on my Nature blog and you may read it as a Facebook note here.

What a Pity…
The girl stood hesitantly at the threshold of the flat. “Go on, it’s your outdoor play time, you know that Lisa,” called her mum from the kitchen, where she was chopping some vegetables that were freshly picked from their flat’s rooftop garden.
Lisa hated this part of the Programme the most, outdoor play time. What on earth were people supposed to do outdoors anyway? She knew that the 15 minutes outside were necessary for her to get her vitamin E, so that she could grow tall and healthy and strong. But it was always so hot, and she would get sweaty very quickly.
She wandered through the corridor and proceeded down the stairs, all 20 flights of them. Well, at least she wasn’t staying on the top floor, else there’d be 40 flights to deal with, Lisa thought as she quickly hopped down. The poor kid who stayed up there, she felt for him. She could not recall a time when the lifts in their estate worked – must have been years ago, when electricity was in abundance. However, ever since the nuclear blowout in peninsula Malaysia in 2063 that caused half the country to be declared out-of-bounds, Singapore did not venture near nuclear energy. Furthermore, with coal reserves running low, Singapore had few alternative energy sources to turn to. Now, more than half the electricity was derived from solar energy – but that was not enough for little luxuries like lifts.
Lisa knew all this because it was taught in Sustainability Education, as part of the Programme. They had to be taught the mistakes of the past, before they could learn, or so they were told during lessons.
Right below her block of flats was a playground; every block had one of these, as part of the Government’s “Play Outdoors, Learn More” campaign years ago. How these hard, cold objects inspired learning she had no idea. She sat on one of the swings, pushing herself idly. The playground was awfully boring, inspired by safety, designed for safety, and constructed with safety. The worse thing though, was not having anyone else to play with, save that boy on the 40th floor. There were not many kids in their area, children were very expensive, she knew. Most of their neighbours were working couples. 
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw an old man flipping through a thick book, mumbling to himself. He was not from around their area – all the elderly lived in the North-West of Singapore, where it was cheaper and away from the rest of the working population.
Lisa jumped off the swing and quietly approached him. “What’s that?” she asked curiously. The old man was startled by her voice, and looked up at her.
“This?” he quivered, “this is a photo album, passed down in my family for generations. It’s a collection of photographs of places long gone, way before our time. There used to be patches of wilderness around, where grasses and trees could grow freely, and birds, some even from Siberia, would come to rest. Places that have disappeared, where you see all these buildings and roads around now.
Right at this very spot, 100 years ago, there used to be a cemetery. Known as Bukit Brown, it was one of the largest Chinese cemeteries out of mainland China, and many founders of Singapore were buried here.”
Lisa listened intently, fascinated and intrigued by this piece of history that no one had ever told her about.
“But too bad, for the sake of progress and development, all these wonderful places had to be sacrificed. The Nature Reserves that we have now? Ha, doesn’t even compare. Those are essentially barren landscapes, no longer ecologically viable. Too many people visit those places, in search for wilderness and the outdoors, but honestly where can one go for that these days?
You kids have programmes designed for outdoor learning and play, but what is the Outdoors now? And all these animals and plants that you learn about – have you actually seen them, in real life?” The old man paused to draw a breath, his agitation and excitement showing clearly on his face.
Lisa shook her head, “No, I don’t even understand why we must learn about them. They’re all dead and gone anyway.”
“Yes, they are,” the old man sighed heavily. “Pity, such a great pity that all we have left are a handful of butterflies and dragonflies and little animals. We’ve done this to ourselves, deprived ourselves of the wonderful beauty of Nature.
We’re almost all vegetarians now; but can you imagine, that just a hundred years ago, people ate meat for almost every meal and every day, just because they could? There were farms with animals bred just for people to eat – not just meat, but fish too!
Look at us now, with our barren landscapes and empty seas. The people of the past were extremely selfish, living in their present, never thinking of the future. They thought everything could last forever, that nothing would ever run out. Ha! If only they could see us now, if only they were born a hundred years later, if only…!” the old man coughed and struggled for his breath.
Lisa glanced at him worriedly, unsure of how to react. All this that he had just told her, it was not news. That was what they have been told over and over in the Programme. Yet, this was the first time she really saw someone getting so worked up over it.
Still wheezing, the old man caressed his album fondly and mumbled, “Well, not like there’s anything we can do about it now. No matter how sustainable our lifestyle is now, it wasn’t a matter of choice. We were forced to in order to survive. But oh, to be able to live in the past and experience all those natural wonders. Kids these days don’t even know what they’re missing out on. Doesn’t matter how you tell them in the Programme, it’s just not the same. What a pity, what a pity…”
Slowly standing up, he gave Lisa a long, hard look and a sad smile. Shaking his head, he walked over to his bicycle in a tired manner, took one last look around the estate, and left.
Lisa stood staring at his disappearing back for a while, confused. Then, with a quick shake of her head as though to clear it, she headed to the stairs of her block. What does it matter anyway, when all that was in the past?
Further reading on similar topics:
A Letter from 2070 shared by Joseph Chun

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Home for the next 3 years.

So after a 13 hour plane ride (toilet almost always long queue!!), a brief, desperate search for my CAS number at Customs (which we ended up not needing, when we finally decided to just heck it. the process was really fast), waiting for the coach (that left 45 minutes late from the Central Bus Station), 2.5 hour coach ride, and a quick cab ride, collecting of house key at the Peterhouse Porter's Lodge, lugging my luggages that 10 minute walk away and up the 2 flights of stairs, I finally arrived at my home for the next 1 year!

But I realised when unpacking that I forgot to bring my camera :( and for now, while my SIM card is somewhere in the post mail system, and before we matriculate and get our Cambridge accounts, I have no internet access in my room and have to resort to camping out at cafes with free wifi to leech off it.

There's still quite a bit of stuff I need to get and settle, but otherwise it's been pretty uneventful, since most of the students in my college aren't back yet.

There's the usual excitement of being in a new place, and having almost complete freedom (not that I've been doing anything out of the ordinary), but I guess until I meet more people and make more friends, this place still feels somewhat foreign. And I guess, over the next 3 years, memories will be created in places until I've got a mental map of my own.

Reading all the notes given by friends and family who took the trouble to go down to Changi Airport Terminal 3 to send me off (thanks much :D), (as well as all those who emailed/facebook messaged) I felt a serious pang of what (or who) I'm leaving back in Singapore.

I think what struck me the most is that I never thought I had made such a great impact on others. Well thanks guys, I feel really blessed to have all of you as friends/family, and will try not to let all of you down (:

For now, take care and God bless!

Go The Distance - Michael Bolton (RGS Sec 1 2005 orientation song)
I have often dreamed of a far off place
Where a hero's welcome, would be waiting for me
Where the crowds will cheer, when they see my face
And a voice keeps saying, this is where I'm meant to be

I'll be there someday, I can go the distance
I will find my way, if I can be strong
I know every mile, will be worth my while
When I go the distance, I'll be right where I belong

Down an unknown road to embrace my fate
Though that road may wander, it will lead me to you
And a thousand years, would be worth the wait
It might take a lifetime, but somehow I'll see it through

And I won't look back, I can go the distance
And I'll stay on track, no, I won't accept defeat
It's an uphill slope, but I won't lose hope
Till I go the distance, and my journey is complete

But to look beyond the glory is the hardest part
For a hero's strength is measured by his heart

Like a shooting star, I will go the distance
I will search the world, I will face its harms
I don't care how far, I can go the distance
Till I find my hero's welcome, waiting in your arms

I will search the world, I will face its harms
Till I find my hero's welcome, waiting in your arms

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The start of the rest of my life.

So this is gonna be my last post on my gap year, since my gap year is officially drawing to a close.

It's been an amazing 21 months, and I've learned lots. My reflections on the conservation side of things can be found on my Nature blog here, so I'm just gonna take the time to reflect on more personal issues here. I went to Nepal with my friends to climb Island Peak, made quite a number of good friends, practised more of my writing so I think I can express myself better now among many others.

I feel incredibly blessed in my life so far. God has given me so many good things, I feel overwhelmed, and I guess this desire to pay it forward and give back to society is partly what drives me to do what I do. If it's not humanitarian, that it'll be environmental.

I'm thankful for my wonderful family, my parents who are one of the most understanding and liberal parents I know, my brothers for the support they've shown me and simply being there. I'm thankful for my mentors, who guide me and open up opportunities for me to learn. I'm thankful for my friends, who look out for me and have always stood by me. I'm thankful for everyone else I've had the chance to meet and learn from.

"I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you..."
- lyrics of For Good from Wicked
I am truly very thankful, that God has blessed me immensely in life, and I truly hope that whatever I intend to do is His plan for me.
And i love and miss my brother!!!
Although I've had a wonderfully enriching gap year, I also sometimes feel like my gap year was just to delay leaving Singapore for overseas studies, just to let things remain as status quo for one more year, just to keep things constant. Perhaps I just wanted to spend more time with my family (brother!) and friends (since most of my close friends study locally). And this is now, the start of the rest of my life. That things could go horribly wrong, and I end up losing contact with most of my friends.

I realised, while saving contacts, that while on Facebook I may have 1000+ "friends", and probably 100+ contacts in my address book, those worth keeping amount to about 70, and of those, only about 10 whom I would really consider close. I guess all I'm saying is, we meet many people over the years, but friends, true friends, are hard to come by.

So wells, to all my friends in Singapore, take care and make good use of the time we have on this earth!

Next updates will be all the way from Cambridge, UK (:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stories of another generation

I'm a rather sentimental person I think. I spend quite a bit of time thinking about what life is like in the past, and I like reading about them. Have a blogpost on an extract of life in Singapore in the 1830s here, a Facebook note extract of life in Singapore in the 1870s here, and a blogpost on a very short extract about Kampong Lorong Buangkok here.

I also recently read a book, Good Morning Yesterday: Growing up in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s by Lam Chun See, who's the author of the blog Good Morning Yesterday. The book is a collection of memories of growing up in the 50s and 60s, with most of the essays written by him and found on his blog.
Image taken from

There's also a short film on life in Singapore in the past that puts things into visual perspective very well for me, because of my lack of imagination when I read.

Anyway, one of the things I intended to do during my gap year was to interview my paternal grandma (ah ma) for her stories, but I never quite got round to it, me being the procrastinator that I am :/

So on my last Sunday (23 Sep) in Singapore for a long time (I go to my ah ma's house for lunch almost every Sunday when I'm in Singapore), I asked her a bit about her childhood. I've asked her previously, ages ago, but with my terrible memory, I can't remember much (which is why I intended to do a proper interview with a recorder). Had quite some difficulties though, cos my understanding of Teochew (my dialect group) is disgraceful and when my grandma gets excited, she tends to go off in rather rapid Teochew (hence I need a translator aka my dad/mom with me). Also, didn't have much time.

My ah ma, like many others her age, is originally from China, somewhere in the Guangdong province (the Chaoshan region of Eastern Guangdong province according to Wikipedia) . They always talk about "Sua Tow" when they refer to their hometown, so although my parents clarified that "Sua Tow" is actually the port town and that my grandparents are actually from some outskirt village, that's what sticks in my head. (I'm sure my parents know where the village is, because we visited the place many many years ago. I just haven't gotten round to asking them and remembering :X)

Her childhood in China wasn't the best, she groused a bit about how while her brothers could go off to school, she had to till the land for farming and fetch water from the well and generally do the hard work and not get to study, because her grandma was mean... My grandma's a lifelong learner by nature, she picked up some English words a few years ago, so I guess she really wished she could have gone to school...

Her dad brought the family over to Penang when she was 13, and when they got very sea sick during the journey. The boat dropped them off at Singapore, where they visited my grandfather (ah gong)'s family in the current house at Hougang, before heading up to Penang. Their families were friends back in the village in China. My ah gong's mother apparently made my ah ma eat 13 rice balls (tang yuan) cos she was 13 and they were awful back then cos there wasn't the peanut/sesame/red bean filling that we have now.

In Penang, they stayed in a 2-storey shop house, and owned a business selling pots and pans. And then when she was 18, she got married to my ah gong and came over to Singapore. Didn't ask much about what life was like, but she used to go watch the opera/puppet shows during the 7th month Hungry Ghost Festival (getai) with my grandaunt (her sister-in-law), though they were both Catholics, as that was free entertainment.

And like most households, they reared lots of chickens and ducks. Though from what I understood from my dad, my ah gong's family invested in some business for a living. At that time, the house still had zinc roofs, like those of the neighbours. But slowly as the government tried to spruce up the living spaces, the old attap houses gave way to the concrete terrace houses of today surrounding my ah ma house. I don't know why my ah ma house was spared, I think it's cos they actually owned the land it's on. Whatever it is, apparently the old neighbours moved away and well, now my ah ma house looks out of place in modern Singapore.

I didn't get the chance to ask her how things were like during WWII and the subsequent tumultuous years of Singapore's struggle for independence and the transformation into what Singapore is today. I do remember that during the occasional lunch conversations that revolved around political parties and campaigns, she used to sing this Teochew rhyme that apparently the opposition party used to play when going around the area (needless to say it was not very supportive of the main politcal party in power). I need to record it!

Some photos of my grandma's place (taken in March 2012)
The driveway

The house proper

The shed. I just found out it used to house chickens...

Old school design, but provides great ventilation (less need for aircon)

The kitchen (separate building from the house proper). Looks like a major fire hazard!

Still using the old food cabinet. And the old fridge...

Working well, only there's a pump installed

Water from the well used to wash clothes here

Though there's the washing machine as well now. Between the toilets (left is a squat toilet, right has a toilet bowl and shower). And yes, the toilet is separate from the main house as well, so my aunt used to have to wake up one of her siblings to accompany her to the toilet in the middle of the night :P

This whole reminiscing about the past thing is not just me, my (older) brother is also quite into old school stuff. Though I think he's more into the gadgets and places, while I'm more interested in the way of life. He did a short Super 8 film on my grandma and her house as well.

So yes, though it's not a thoroughly done examination of my family history (and I haven't even touched on my maternal side), at least I managed to blog a bit about it before I leave for the UK. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

A place can be a powerful thing.

I went back to RGS today (21 Sep, Fri), to see if I could bid farewell to any of the more familiar teachers before I leave.

And thankfully, I did manage to catch some of them (Mrs Anis, Mrs Alison Wee, Mr Shaun De Souza, Ms Tan Beng Chiak, Mr Bryden Chew (briefly) and Mr Lim Cheng Puay) and it was really nice talking to them.

Then spent some time walking around, because RGS is gonna move in about 6 years and I'm leaving for the UK now and who knows what will happen in between. And as I walked around, memories started flooding my mind, snapshots of what happened at that location.

Revisited emotional highs and lows experienced throughout that 4 years, which at that age, were really high and low. I find that as I grew older, hopefully wiser and more mature, my emotions also stabilised. Perhaps I didn't invest so much of myself in all that I did in JC and subsequently, or perhaps I have wised up and realised many things don't matter in the larger scheme of life, or perhaps I just got more cynical.

In any case, it was a rather emotional visit for me. Maybe because I hadn't gone back in a pretty long while, or it could be the realisation that this place will not always be here, or just the fact that I'm a girl and girls usually seem to be more sentimental and emotional.

I remember when I was an awfully geeky Sec One (not that I'm not now), during one of the orientation talks (which I almost invariable fell asleep in all the time), our then-principal Mrs Deborah Tan mentioned something about how the friends you make in this 4 years are the ones you'll keep with you your entire life and how the times you'll spend will form treasured memories etc etc. I recall being very skeptical about what she was saying; I thought that my primary school days in Kong Hwa School were the best times of my (very short) life and that nothing could beat it. I was obviously wrong (though I don't think I'd say now that RG were the best times of my life either. It's very difficult to judge.)

When people (you've just met) hear that you're from Raffles (Girls' School or Institution or Junior College), they tend towards two reactions. Either they go "wah, so smart!" or they think you must be some snobby elitist brat. Stereotypes, which is why I don't like them. But honestly, I think what I got the most out of my RGS education wasn't the academics or elitist thinking. In fact, my grades in RG were rather terrible (below average) and I don't think I can stand for any elitist thinking. 

My best memories of RG are not that of studying, or exams, or even the lessons (learnt in classrooms, taught with an objective in mind, examined with a scoring rubric. Though they are, of course, still rather important). They were of the groups I joined, the places we went, the activities we did, the emotions felt.

I think what I valued the most from studying RG was the freedom we had, in terms of things we could join and do and of course, the exposure we had. There are many flaws in the system still (some may complain about opportunities, or about the achievement-oriented outlook etc), but I can say that personally for me, things went well overall. I learned a lot about leadership (being in Peer Support Board, as ODAC chair and hence the Student Leaders' Network) and service learning (Overseas Service Learning), outdoors and the environment (OutDoor Activities Club and my Research Studies project on seagrasses at Labrador Nature Reserve) and from a whole lot of other rather random things I did.

In no particular order:

Where I did my first climb. And first overhang! Where ODAC met every Tues and Thu at 330pm. Where we did our PTs (Physical Training) and sat in circles for debrief.

The roof under the stairs which had an impossibly difficult route at that point in time, but now doesn't look too hard. With the (un-utilised) gym on the right where we held ODAC exco interviews.

View of the roof route from the other side. 

Where I first abseiled, over the railings up there. 

The dance studio. I watched the Sec Ones do their dance lesson for a while, recalling my own lessons. Also where I recall us Sec 4 OSL mentors sitting and reviewing which Sec 3s to accept into OSL. 

Where we cooked maggi mee and cabbage during some (ODAC or OSL) camp with our Trangia.

The amphitheatre. I remember in Sec 1 during Racial Harmony Day, the theme or something was Food. And I was supposed to be Tom Yum soup, cos our class was supposed to be Thai or something like that. And in subsequent years, having to dance for Peer Support Leader investiture or something. Watching Speech Days and National Days and everything else.

The KS Chee Theatre. Ringers (handbell ensemble) performances and rehearsals for Singapore Youth Festival. And on hindsight, where we received exam results as well. 

Placards for standing positions during morning assembly! 

The PSB notice board. Nicely done up; I recall my year didn't quite bother :X

The parade square. Where we had morning assemblies and volleyball lessons during PE. And the Science labs. 

The low wall (in the left corner)! I remember one of the obstacles during ODAC camp was having to scale the wall. 

And another obstacle was having to commando crawl under the wooden planks meant for sit ups. After it's been made muddy.

The canteen. The layout was quite different when I was there I think. Or we had different benches. Where we had our meals, Open Houses. I recall a retarded conversation with my Sec 4 classmates about why fish balls were a misnomer cos most of the time they aren't perfectly spherical. Or something like that.

Among many other memories. The pavilion, where OSL mentors had morning discussions, where we worked really hard on our seagrass presentation. The corner where I broke down because being Chairperson of ODAC was a pain in the ass. The benches in the quadrangle where I remember I had my ODAC interview, and when asked on a scale of 1 to 10, how much did I want to join ODAC, and I said 10! without hesitation. 

The places bring to mind the people who were there with me, the things we did, the emotions we had. Of course, I missed out on a lot of other places, but I think I could traverse through the walkways of RGS (at 20 Anderson Road) and remember an incident at every location. 

All that will be lost once RGS moves from its current "prime location" to Braddell/Bishan. New memories will be formed for the students who study there, but for us who have passed through those gates for that 4 years of our lives, it will just get harder and harder for us to recall those wonderful memories. Because places trigger memories and emotions and makes people like me sentimental and emotional.

This post may just be about RGS, but looking at the bigger picture, I'm sure it applies to everywhere in the world. But especially in Singapore where the rate of change is fast, so fast that we sometimes forget to stop to catch our breaths, and realise what we've lost. The old National Library Building at Stamford Road (that I have no memories of, but you can read some here and here) is a classic example of what we've lost that comes to mind. And of course, there are also those times when we do want to stop change from happening, but realise that the forces make it impossible to do so. After all, the only constant is change, as some Important Guy (the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, according to Wikipedia, but I shall not pretend to know him) once said.

Somehow I've been dwelling on this topic of change and memories (read more about it on my Nature blog). Must be because I'm leaving Singapore soon, and I'm afraid of what there will be left when I'm back.