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UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit if you're interested in more recent writing.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Home away from home?

I've been meaning to post this for a long time, but have always held it off - cos I've been too busy, cos I've been hoping I was wrong or would be proved wrong, cos I've just been letting these thoughts ferment in my mind and become more clear and concise. But we're already more than halfway through this term, and I guess I finally felt the need to post this, because I think I've finally figured it out, and cos I've recently been asked about it.

Disclaimer before you read on and jump to conclusions: the views aired and mine and mine alone, they do not reflect the views of a typical student because I'm weird like that.

Honestly, I don't enjoy being in my college much. I find it rather exclusive. Individually, they are all very nice people, but I think as a whole, as a group, they're a lot more clique-ish. I can go to hall/JCR and sit there and have my meal and feel like Nearly-headless Nick. Probably one more reason why I don't like going to hall, apart from the less-than-awesome food.

I thought it was just me, cos I'm really not much of a social person, quite bad at small talk and stuff. And I guess I thought perhaps with time, things would get better. But it's already more than halfway through the year, and I still feel as foreign in my college as when I first arrived - or perhaps even worse. Cos the window of friendliness to freshers has closed, maybe.

There's no lack of welfare support, really. There are plenty of people I can talk to if I wanted to, to air my views. But partly because I think it's just me, and partly because I don't see the point of doing so. It's not just pride preventing me from approaching such help, but also realistically what can they do? Force my presence on others? Nothing would work out - probably best to just keep quiet and live my life out of college.

Though to be fair, there really are nice and friendly people around. Maybe I just need more time to re-establish my comfort zone.

Or maybe it really is just me. Just back from CUMSA (Malaysian and Singaporean Association) Ball and I feel traces of the same feeling. I'm pretty much a floater, very planktonic, friends with everyone. Don't particularly have a clique, bunch of people I always hang out with, unlike in rg/rj days. Though I guess I don't feel that excluded, nor particularly bothered, cos at least people still talk to me...

Still, especially when everyone's at the peak of photo-taking, as though it were gradnight and you're not gonna see each other again, I sit there and think about my friends back home and the gradnights I've attended (and felt the same, distant feeling), and I wonder if I'll ever feel at home anywhere.

I guess I'm just highlight this cos people always think studying overseas is all fun and exciting; but perhaps the slight negativities just aren't mentioned. I wouldn't say this really disturbs me though, I'm trying to write as matter-of-fact-ly as possible. I would still say that overall, I'm thoroughly enjoying myself and the things that I do here.

If you're not the very sociable kind, yet not introverted either, (that's how I'd describe myself), then I guess all you really need is to expand your comfort zone. Courage. And know that God is always with you, and with Him, nothing else really matters.

Again, these are only my thoughts and feelings and definitely do not represent everyone in my college, or everyone who's studying overseas. There are plenty of people who thoroughly enjoy their time in college, I'm sure. Just check the JCR website and read the testimonials. I'm just providing an alternative opinion. Don't let this put you off applying to Peterhouse, cos I guess your experience depends on your batch and personality as well!

Also, (if you're concerned about my emotional state) I really am not very emo about this, at least not this term (one reason why this term is better than last). I have been listening to a lot more hymns of late and they do have a very strong, calming influence on me. I have also been spending quite a bit of my time out of college. Though I guess this leads to a positive feedback loop since the more time I spend out of college, the less I feel attached to it and yeah.

At the core of it, I guess it's just that for the past year or so, I've been able to just go out with different groups of people and be perfectly content, yet being back in a schooling context where cliques are the norm, I just feel a little out of it.

Anyway, I'm going climbing tomorrow at Peak District and that's enough to make me happy :)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

familial ties.

When you think of home, or wanting to go home (whether short term or long term), it's probably because of your family. Because you miss your family, the warmth, the little idiosyncrasies of the people you love, the things they do or say, and just knowing that you can just be yourself without being judged.

I just Skyped (I love how nouns are now verbs) home. I Skype with my parents and younger bro maybe about once a week. Sometimes short calls, because they're rushing to go out soon, or because I have to leave soon. Sometimes longer ones, when we both have nothing (better that we want) to do. And we talk about the usual things, how life is here, studies, food, what's going on back in Singapore, how's everybody, what are my parents doing, how's my younger bro and his studies etc. Today though, my paternal grandma (ah ma) happened to be at my house, and so I talked to her for a while.

I don't deny that I somewhat struggle to talk to my grandparents. I'm from the generation that is essentially monolingual (there are definitely exceptions) – my mandarin Chinese is just about passable, while my Teochew (the dialect my grandparents speak) is close to negligible. There are plenty of things I wish I could speak to my grandparents about; the past, their lives etc. Though I sometimes get the feeling that they don't quite like talking about it, because it's not that enjoyable.

My paternal grandma is a pretty staunch Catholic, someone who really prays a lot and goes to church a lot and prays for world peace and that everyone will be happy and all. So I was talking to her about life here, Chinese New Year celebrations (and how it really pales in comparison to Singapore) and going to church and praying and everything. Halfway through though, she got quite teary and said she really missed us (cos my older bro's overseas as well). Which got me tearing as well, because I'm just emotional like that. (Yeah I was just telling my friends how I cried watching Ip Man, Brave and even Tangled. Ridiculous, I know.)

It made me realise though, one thing. I miss my family, I miss my extended family  – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and everyone. I miss the weekly makan and chatting sessions, just seeing them and hearing them and everything. But on a usual basis, going about my day-to-day life, it's easy to just overlook all those.

My grandma said, come back soon. How can I say no to that? How can I tell her, why should I, Singapore is going to be more crowded, there's gonna be less wonderful places around, etc etc. I guess what I'm trying to say is that one of the major reasons why I would go back home to Singapore is because of my family. More than because Singapore is a hub for x and y and z, more than because we're a City in a Garden etc. That may attract expats or foreigners, perhaps cause more foreign companies to invest in Singapore and hence provide jobs. But I don't know, family is definitely one of the major reasons why (probably most of my peers? and) I would go back, not so much the economic prospects.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

First Chinese New Year spent away from my family

Happy Chinese New Year :)

So far away from home, and I feel so disconnected from the festivities. There's no spring-cleaning of the house, no buying new clothes, no day of food preparation, no extra holidays, no visiting of relatives and no ang baos!

There is Chinese food though, and meetings with fellow Asians. It could be a lot worse. I could be stuck in a blizzard.

The week leading up, there were a few videos circulating on Facebook, Malaysian CNY commercials, and it made me really feel the pang of homesickness.

This was so cute. I can never believe in such stories though. But still, it was very sweet.

This just made me cry buckets. :/

I don't know why I had such an emotional response towards these videos. They are Malaysian commercials, and the setting, while very 60s or 70s Singapore perhaps, is still pretty much what you can find in Malaysia.

It just cuts through really well I guess, that family's what's important, that we should always appreciate our loved ones.

And then coupled with the news about the Tampines brothers who got knocked down by a cement truck, it's just.

I think we sometimes really forget how fortunate we are. Especially those of us overseas.

Taken from:

While many of us come from rather privileged backgrounds, I don't think you can brush all of us with the same stroke. But I do hope that everyone, whatever background we're from, would not lose our ability to empathise.

Anyway, have a joyous time with family and friends this holiday, it really is another excuse to spend more time with family and friends and appreciate them, instead of working. Though I can't quite say the same here.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Singapore in 2030

I haven't been keeping close tabs on the developments back home with regards to the Parliamentary debate on the Population White Paper. (I've had a pretty insane week, with 6 supervision instead of the usual 4, though thankfully only 1 day of practicals instead of 2.)

The debate has thus ended, with 77 who voted in favour of the White Paper, and 13 against. All the Workers Party MPs voted against, as well as 3 Nominated MPs. It just makes me wonder whether the PAP MPs who voted for, did so because they truly believe it is the way forward, or because it's the party's stand or whatever.

Having not actively followed the news, whatever snippets of the debate I got came from Facebook. Those that caught my eye were the speeches by NMP Faizah JamalPAP MP Janil Puthucheary abd PAP MP Inderjit Singh.

There are also many eloquent and well-argued posts out there about the White Paper, way better than whatever I can say. I'm not thinking very well at this point in time, but there's the need to log down my thoughts, even if in raw form.

I am trying to imagine Singapore in 2030, 17 years down the road. And my imagination, it must be said, is very bad.

I will be 38! No longer considered a youth, I should be an actively contributing member to society and to the economy. I would perhaps, be happily married and possibly with kids. Or maybe not. I might be living and working in Singapore. Or maybe not.

I'm finding it really hard to imagine what it'll be like in Singapore at that point in time, because I really lack an imagination. For the middle class, I don't see how things will be any different. People will still be having office jobs that they possibly hate but still keep at it for the job and the income. They'll probably still be able to go traveling once a year at least. Perhaps more people will cycle to work instead of drive. People will still be complaining about life, about the daily routines, about the traffic, about the weather. The low income class will probably still be slogging their guts out for their terrible pay, still be striving for a better future for their children, still trying to seek that Singaporean dream.

We would probably have more land, more infrastructure. At the expense of our wonderful shores and some nature reserves/areas. Would people mind? Majority probably wouldn't, since they get more shopping malls, less crowded and hopefully more efficient trains. Would they miss those areas? They might think, that's what holidays are for.

It's certainly something like what I've heard today. I was talking to a bunch of Singaporeans/Malaysians about the Population White Paper and it being passed in parliament. And we moved into nature and development. This Malaysian girl, she said her school was in the middle of a jungle, and they'd get all sorts of animals appearing in their school. While I would be very excited indeed about it, and some of my friends as well, I can see how that might not appeal to majority of the urbanites. But she's not saying there's no place for nature (though she thinks nature should stay in reserves :/). Then another guy said that Singapore doesn't have anything anyway, and can always go to Malaysia for the forests.

But I think the value of our nature areas is not just in their existence itself, as in the trees and biomass and everything. Fair enough, I guess if you look at it from a global perspective, whatever Singapore has is so minute it probably doesn't count for anything. But Singapore does have a lot of wildlife to be proud of, especially as a city state, especially since we're rather more urbanised.

For one, there's that sense of patriotism, that I can tell my friends, oh you don't have to go to xxx for that, we have it in Singapore too. Yeah, and you can spot them pretty easily. And I can walk along the paths and roadside and little untouched patches of greenery and still see something cool. A lizard perhaps, or some birds, or bugs or something. Something more than just the leaves and the twigs and the trees. I mean, plants are cool, really fascinating (I'm learning about their physiology now), but it's hard to get people as excited about them.

For another, it's about cultivating an appreciation for nature in Singaporeans. It's definitely much easier to get people to appreciate biodiversity, wildlife, nature in Singapore and the earth, and get them to want to act in an environmentally-positive manner when you can show them the creatures and when they can enjoy the scenery, than when they have to drive up about 580km to Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia. Without our nature reserves, without our shores, sure we can survive, we can live, we can prosper. But especially in light of the fact that globally, our climate is heading towards serious troubles, would removing nature areas be good for our future? Without nature areas, there's a greater disconnect between nature and us, and people won't be able to understand as well the need for conservation and change in lifestyle. And while our national biodiversity may be a tiny fraction of the earth's, our national ecological footprint (something like carbon footprint) certainly isn't a tiny fraction of the world's. It's in fact, something like the 12th highest across the world (and the highest in Asia Pacific). Which does have a big impact globally. As part of a global community, we need to do something, we need people to feel for the environment and change their lifestyles. And not just think because we're a small country, we don't make a difference. We may be a clean and green City in a Garden, but it sure doesn't show in the way most of us live.

And last but not least, there's just something calming and awesome about nature areas. It's a place people go to destress, to get inspired, to feel reconnected with the earth. It's where dreams begin, for future zoologists, conservationists, vets, animal-lovers, tree-huggers, outdoor educators, outdoorsmen and women. Who can say that they were very stressed, and they went for a walk outdoors, and didn't feel better? (No, don't answer the question, I can see it already, the forum letters flooded with people who went out, fed some monkeys or something, got attacked and went home thoroughly pissed. Act responsibly when outdoors, the earth belongs to others as much as it does to you.)

Anyway, I digress. Back to fast-forwarding to the future in 2030.

Where would my friends be? Those who are on bonded scholarships, they might remain in Singapore and stay in the civil/public service. Some might become politicians, or public service leaders. Others might not have gone back to Singapore at all, and have decided to just stay overseas.
With fewer friends in Singapore, and fewer places I feel connected to in Singapore, Singapore would be less Singapore. Not to mention the fact that all the awesome food that we have now will probably slowly disappear, as they are mostly cooked by the last generation of hawkers, since we all aspire towards PMET jobs and not want a "low-skilled job". Is the government thinking of importing hawkers as well to replace those who go into retirement? I know there are a few young people who open stalls in hawker centres selling muffins and stuff, but as awesome as muffins are, I don't want to go to a hawker centre selling mostly muffins, thank you very much.

If the education system is still the same, would I want to subject my kids to the unnecessary stress and competition? Where they study hard, but may not necessarily learn a lot? Though I suppose a lot of it is down to parenting as well.

I don't get it though. Governance is a very difficult job to do, I concede. There's never a panacea. People have differing opinions and we all want to be heard and taken heed of.

Would the government staying true to what they said they would do be a good thing, cos they're not conceding to populist pressures? Because they think they know what's best? Just like how LKY always stuck to his ideas for a better Singapore, even when it was not very popular.

 But what they want is not what we want. And we're the ones who will decide what will be in the future. What if I don't like the idea of going back to a Singapore which is 50% foreigners, what if I don't want to go back to a place where all the old buildings and fond memories are gone,  and what if I don't want to go back to a place where there are no patches of wilderness for me to wander about and bring my kids to and let them explore this exciting wild world of ours? And I don't go back. Won't it become a self-fulfilling prophecy in some sense? That the population will comprise half foreigners half born-in-Singapore Singaporeans, since those with the ability to migrate might possibly do so to escape this future that they don't want?

Check this out as well: Do I want to go back to this dynamic Singapore? by Kirsten Han.

This has been a rather long, rambly and rather meandering post. Not as eloquent or succinct as many other posts out there which oppose the White Paper, which argue about the flaws in economics presented, or the underlying motivation for the numbers etc. Plenty can be found on, though whether all the arguments are sound and well-presented is another thing.

I don't really know what to expect or how to respond, but I guess I still have 2+ more years of undergraduate study time before push comes to shove.

I just wonder why is it that most of my peers (both in and out of Singapore) seem unperturbed by the recent developments, seeing as we're the generation that will be most affected by it.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Back home in sunny Singapore.

It's the start of week 3 of the second term here. Already, I'm looking forward to the end of term. But this term is going better than the last, so I can't complain.

Anyways, outside of the little bubble that is Cambridge, in the tiny red dot near the equator, many things are happening. Apart from the Workers Party winning the Punggol East by-election, taking over the seat from the People's Action Party, more recently, there's been the release of two pretty important (to me, and it should be to almost everyone with any relation to Singapore!) news: the Population White Paper, and the Land Use Plan.

Our current total population (2012 data) is 5.3m (of which, about 3.2m are Singaporean citizens), and the White Paper proposes to
1) take in 15,000 to 25,000 citizens each year and
2) to grant 30,000 PR each year.
And by 2030, the projected numbers are
1) a citizen population between 3.6 & 3.8 m,
2) a PR population between 0.5 & 0.6m
to give a resident population of 4.2 & 4.4m and a total population of 6.5 & 6.9m people.

In the White Paper, they state various reasons why these numbers are given. Namely, low Total Fertility Rate, aging population, and the need to keep our economy vibrant (so that Singaporeans will not leave for greener pastures).

So naturally, everybody exploded. It's crowded enough with 5.3m in a land area of about 716 sq km. I certainly do not miss squeezing onto MRT trains.

The next release of information was presumably to address this issue and alleviate people's worries about overcrowding. I have no idea if in general, the Land Use Plan was well-received or not – it was definitely not by my friends in the Nature community, and I would presume neither by those concerned about our heritage.

In the Land Use Plan, it is projected that we will need 766 sqkm of land to support the numbers from the White Paper. And to supply this increase in land area, they will need to
1) reclaim additional land,
2) develop reserve land
3) intensify new developments and
4) recycle land with lower intensity uses such as old industrial areas and some golf courses to achieve higher land productivity.

Presumably, we need these to build (more) good, affordable homes, for a City in a Garden, greater transport connectivity, to sustain a vibrant economy and to ensure room for growth and a good living environment in the future.

It appears that to achieve all that, a few precious places will have to go.

These places may seem insignificant to some or most; but to us who have been there, go there regularly, and want to work in these places, they are very important indeed.

The standard response would be to say, perhaps this is time to leave Singapore, and search for (literally) greener pastures. Some place where patches of wilderness can remain without being threatened by economic progress and needs determined by the Powers-that-be.
And to those of us overseas, further affirmation that leaving was the right thing to do. Or that there is no point in going back. All very pessimistic and doom and gloom.

I wrote about this on my Nature blog as well, a pretty measured response, judging by plenty of other Facebook posts/blogposts on the issue.

Which brings me round to why I even meant to blog here. (I have issues with the Population White Paper and the Land Use Plan, but that will be for another time, perhaps.) What should our response to such an announcement be?

Seems like a strange question to ask. But being a product of the Singaporean education system, where you are rewarded for asking the "right" kinds of questions and giving the "right" answers, (also known as Politically Correct answers), people rarely think critically for themselves and ask the questions that need to be asked, or give answers that express how they may truly feel. (Though I guess this changes once you've wisened up and no longer fear the consequences). Anyway, we get pretty good at giving PC answers to get to where we want to be.
Though perhaps, the reason why RGS girls are reputed to be aggressive, opinionated and having some guts is because we all had to go through Critical Thinking Skills classes (I hated them, but I appreciate the education RGS was giving us), and so may not always give PC answers. But I'm not saying that those not from RGS lack these skills!

Anyway, so when something happens (such as in this case, the announcement of further land reclamation and losing of some nature areas), two responses come to me.

The immediate response, would be some fury, plenty of sadness and to give up Singapore as a lost cause and seek for greener pastures elsewhere. I wouldn't say I'd be utilising my critical thinking skills here, it's probably just an innate response to be upset at hearing more bad news.

Subsequently though, after having calmed down, I would be more moderate in my views, and look at the positive side and try and find a silver lining.

Especially in Singapore, it seems that we need to be moderate in our views and opinions (the PC option), and we can't be too radical. If you want to be heard by the Powers-that-be, whatever you want to say has to be fairly moderate, well-argued, and usually ceding a compromise.

Perhaps personally, with friends and all, you can take a more extreme stance. Yet publicly, as in, if you represent some organisation or other, you can't be too radical in your views, else it'll be discounted.

I can see why this is the way things are done in Singapore right now. Cooperation and compromise gets you more headway than firmly refusing to budge an inch.

But it makes me wonder, will there ever come a time in Singapore when people can take a more hardline, less forgiving and more campaigning stance as in Western countries, and still 'win'? Or will we always have to live with putting up with compromises and looking for silver linings? It just seems that we'll always be on the 'losing end' this way, as bits and pieces of precious places get slowly eaten up by urbanisation. Whereas we might be able to save them if we refused to accept compromises?

This has been a much lengthier than expected post. Thoughts and feelings about the issue itself will have to wait for another day, when I have reduced my supervision work somewhat.