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UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit if you're interested in more recent writing.

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