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 http://natureramble.wordpress.com.

UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit jocelynesze.wordpress.com if you're interested in more recent writing.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Home.

I know I occasionally whine (or whinge) about being homesick and I sometimes do wonder if I'll ever feel truly at home here. But regardless, I still have much to be thankful for. At least I have a proper room of my own, filled with my stuff (way too much unfortunately) and friends. At least 我不愁吃不愁穿 (I don't have to worry about food or clothes), and I generally lead a decent life.

It saddens and frustrates me though, to see people on the streets, busking or begging, with all their worldly possessions beside them (not much) and perhaps their doggy companion next to them, giving them warmth and some source of comfort when times are the worst. I was at a Cambridge Science Festival event earlier tonight when comedian Robin Ince did a gig titled Robin Ince is (in and) out of his mind. During the gig, he mentioned how dog can't be man's best friend, cos dogs not just can't speak, even if they could, their brains don't function on the same level as ours does and they can't really empathise or understand us (or something to that effect). I like dogs (as much as I like all other animals), but I'm not a huge fan of them; don't have one for a pet and have no desire to cuddle one when I do see one (sorry to all dog people out there, I mean no offence). But I do think that at least dogs don't judge. And perhaps that is why some people prefer dogs as companions to other humans. Dogs are not going to throw you dirty looks just cos you didn't shower or shave, they're not going to pretend you don't exist just because you're sitting out on the streets asking for spare change, they're not going to mock and sometimes even spit on your just because they can.

This week, perhaps because I've been straying into the centre of town more often than usual (my usual circuit is just between my room, my departments, the catholic chaplaincy and my college, all of which do not require me to go right to the centre of town), I've encountered a fair number of people either directly approaching me to ask for spare change, or basking or begging on the streets. As 'dao' (called having a 'bitchface' here, more crassly) as I have been considered to be by people sometimes, I somehow must also have that look that makes people approach me to ask for spare change. In any case, in the past week alone, I think I might have given almost £30 to various people on the streets.

I can imagine some people might disagree/be appalled at that, and I'm not sure if my parents would be all that pleased either. I used to avoid directly giving money to people (unless they were busking), and would instead get them a sandwich, but I was a Cambridge Hub event that was raising awareness on Homelessness last Sunday, and during the panel discussion (featuring two guys who used to be homeless, one of whom works at Jimmy's Night Shelter now and the other is doing his bachelor's degree, as well as a PhD researcher working on homelessness) they brought up the point about how these people already have almost no freedom as it is, and by choosing to get food for them instead of giving them money, we are further reducing the choices they can have, and in some ways de-humanising them. I'm sure people who want to can pick holes at that argument, but it is true that sometimes what they really need is money (to pay rent at a hostel or shared room somewhere) and not food (though food is always good), and in any case, I decided that I will just hope and pray that they will make the best of the money they get to try and improve their situation.

After the comedy gig, I headed to Sainsbury's to get food for the next few days, and there was this lady sitting on the streets somewhat opposite Sains. She was in tears, and asking for spare change. I gave her some, and then went to get food from Sains for her. I started chatting with her, because what hurts the most when you're on the streets, is that people just ignore you, and the boredom is, so I've been told, what makes things worse. It turns out that her benefits was stopped (because of privatisation and some changes or something like that) and that was what was paying for her hostel rent (some information on the hostel here, it's something along the lines of helping and supporting homeless/ex-homeless people, though it does not portray a pretty picture), and she needs to get £15 by tomorrow. I really didn't think I could shell out another £15 for her (that's about 1.5-2 weeks' worth of groceries for me, which covers most of my meals apart from some dinners) and so she had to suffice with the Sainsbury's Meal Deal, some change and my apologies and best wishes (she was really thankful though, she wasn't ungrateful.).

After every incidence like this, I just spend the rest of the time saddened and frustrated, and thinking way too much. If everyone could just spare some change, there are students here who are willing to shell out £100+ for a ball ticket to get smashed (drunk) and stuff themselves silly, surely it isn't that hard to just spare a bit of change, which eventually adds up. But then, people aren't all obliged to help others – if they were, then the world would be a much better place than it is now. Perhaps it's the 'right' thing to do – but what is 'right'? Is there absolute morality? Is there universal morality? I'm not sure what the Church's stance on this is, but not everyone lives by the same morals/guiding principles. And I can't deal with thinking any deeper than this, cos I'm just not that kind of an intelligent/intellectual person, so I gave up.

But you can't stop thinking, there's no way to 'shut down', as Robin Ince pointed out during his gig, so I thought instead, that is it better to give money to these people, or to some charity organisation, which will then redistribute the money to those who need it? There are all these aid campaigns, advertisements tugging on our heartstrings, telling us that this kid in Africa will die unless we text this number to give £3 or something along those lines. People don't seem to have too much of an issue in donating to charity – my parents I know, do fundraise and give quite a bit to various causes as well, usually the mission home in Cambodia/Thailand that they do some other work in as well. I mean sure, we wonder if the money we give goes to line the pockets of the charity's directors instead, but by and large I think people would still give. Of course it matters what work the charity does, that they support. And usually,  it seems that if it deals with kids, their education, or women, their work/rights, then people would be more willing to support.

What about an organisation that gives the money to homeless people though? (At this late stage, I realise I should clarify that homeless =/= rough sleeper. Homeless is a rather vague and general term, but I believe it refers essentially to people who don't have a place to call home, rather than people who don't have a roof over their heads at night.) Often though, it isn't just one problem that makes people homeless, it's a multitude of issues that result in their current unfortunate circumstance. But I thought, perhaps not just outright giving them money – what about a microfinance scheme where you loan out small amounts to them for them to get themselves together, which they then pay back later on?

At which point I reached back to my room and proceeded on with life as usual - opening my laptop, a nice hot shower and a hot drink etc. I don't really think there is much that I can do to change the way things are regarding this issue. I mean, I do what I can, with soup runs with the St Vincent de Paul society, giving small change/buying the Big Issue and perhaps making some conversation when I have the time, but by and large, it's not gonna improve the way things are. I just do what is within my means to salve my own conscience. (And it is a lot easier in Singapore when you aren't faced with homeless on the streets. Doesn't mean they don't exist though, they're just hidden from view. Which is probably what everyone wants, really, for all our problems (social and environmental) to be hidden from view.)


It is rather depressing though, which is yet more reason for me to stick with science than go into social science. At least trying to understand more about the history of our earth, the evolution of vertebrates and the fossils of organisms long gone doesn't make my spiral into the depth of everything that is wrong with humanity right now. Though thinking about changes that we see and are to come in the natural world does somewhat lead down that alley.

Apologies for the essay. It did also mean that I didn't manage to cover the lectures I meant to cover for revision today. Sighs.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Life's for the living.

I probably shouldn't be complaining, but this few weeks have been rather disconcerting. I have not been given quite as much work as I think I should be, and while that's kinda nice for now, it seriously worries me that I'll be super unprepared for exams. So with the worryingly few essays that I've been set to write (none, the past weekend and the coming one), I've instead been spending my time trying to read up on vertebrate evolution and biology (for animal biology) and revise some Spanish (for my exam tomorrow/Mon). But as with whenever I have too much free time on my hands (not rushing for meetings/deadlines etc), I end up sleeping quite a bit (at least 8 hours a day!) and feeling homesick.

I miss home. I miss my family, my home, my friends. There are times when I start to wonder if my friends are still my friends, times when I wonder if my family misses my presence, times when I wonder why I don't go home more often.

I keep contemplating life now, and life in the future. What do I do after I graduate? It seems far, and yet I know the time will come very soon. I want to go back, yet I want to work overseas (for some time) as well. I fear that some day, home will no longer be home. That Singapore will no longer be a home for me, that I will be somewhat homeless, just drifting about. Perhaps all these fears are unfounded, and I'm just being overly melancholic.


Watched this short film by Singaporean film-maker Daniel Yam, and it just made me really, really sad (cried buckets).




Life's for the Living - Passenger
Well grey clouds wrapped round the town like elastic
Cars stood like toys made of Taiwanese plastic
The boy laughed at the spastic dancing around in the rain
While laundrettes cleaned clothes, high heals rub toes
Puddles splashed huddles of bus stop crows
Dressed in their suits and their boots well they all look the same

I took myself down to the cafe to find all the boys lost in books and crackling vinyl
And carved out a poem above the urinal that read
Don’t you cry for the lost
Smile for the living
Get what you need and give what you’re given
Life’s for the living so live it
Or you’re better off dead

While the evening pulled the moon out of it’s packet
Stars shone like buttons on an old man’s jacket
We needed a nail but we tacked it ’til it fell of the wall

While pigeon’s pecked trains, sparks flew like planes
The rain showed the rainbows in the oil stains
And we all had new iPhones but no one had no one to call

And I stumbled down to the stomach of the town
Where the widow takes memories to slowly drown
With a hand to the sky and a mist in her eye she said
Don’t you cry for the lost
Smile for the living
Get what you need and give what you’re given
Life’s for the living so live it
Or you’re better off dead

Well I’m sick of this town, this blind man’s forage
They take your dreams down and stick them in storage
You can have them back son when you’ve paid off your mortgage and loans
Oh hell with this place, I’ll go it my own way
I’ll stick out my thumb and I trudge down the highway
Someday someone must be going my way home

Till then I’ll make my bed from a disused car
With a mattress of leaves and a blanket of stars
And I’ll stitch the words into my heart with a needle and thread
Don’t you cry for the lost
Smile for the living
Get what you need and give what you’re given
You know life’s for the living so live it
Or you’re better off dead

Don’t you cry for the lost
Smile for the living
Get what you need and give what you’re given
Life’s for the living so live it
Or you’re better off dead

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Shrove Tuesday, or the start of Lent.

Today was a really good day. Woke up early, had a supervision at 9am, geology practical at 10am (which I actually kinda understood at the end of the practical, breakthrough), another supervision at 12pm, and then a breather in which I actually looked over some of my notes instead of wasting time on Youtube/BBC iPlayer (though that's not really wasting). Then an awesome talk on the Origin, Evolution and Extinction of Dinosaurs by Dr Steve Brusatte, the Banff Mountain Film Festival screening and my night ended with a discussion on climate skeptics. Kind of just about everything I like and am interested in.

It's the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent (for us Catholics anyway), and is known as Shrove Tuesday here in the UK. According to Wikipedia, "The expression "Shrove Tuesday" comes from the word shrive, meaning "confess"." It's more commonly known as Pancake Day, and I recall that last year, I had pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A bit of an overkill if I may say so myself. This year though, I haven't had any pancakes at all. Pancakes were so you could use up all the leftover milk and eggs in the house in preparation for the fast and abstinence (from meat and eggs) in Lent. Not really complaining though, I'm sorry to say this but American pancakes are way nicer than British pancakes.

American pancakes. Image from: http://www.gamespot.com/forums/offtopic-discussion-314159273/european-pancakes-vs-american-pancakes-29092525/

British pancakes. Image from: http://veggieofile.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/american-pancake-v-english-pancake.html
At Fisher House, the university Catholic chaplaincy, our chaplain Msr Mark gives a weekly lunchtime series titled Catholicism for the Curious, and he covers various topics every week. I've learnt so much about the Church and my faith from these weekly sessions, way more than the 10 years of Sunday catechism back home (which I honestly still think was an utter waste of my time), and this is one of many reasons why Fisher House might possibly be the thing I'll miss the most once my time here in Cambridge comes to an end. The Monday just past, he touched on Lent, bringing together the history and the meaning and purpose behind the Lenten season.

Anyway, Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and alms-giving.
"Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt." - Pope Francis (read full text here)

And I pray that I may have the discipline to do what I need to do, to do what I should do.
Lord God, by your word, fill me with a spirit of repentance and forgiveness, a spirit of hope and trust, a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving, a spirit of love and servanthood, a spirit of discipleship and commitment, a spirit of obedience and humility. Image taken from: http://trendphotos.org/

Sunday, March 02, 2014

"Tradition" and "modernisation".

This is, I think, a conflict that has been at the very centre of myself since I started doing what I enjoy doing. And while it was rather dampened when I was still in school/in Singapore, increasingly I get to the point where I might have to make decisions that would affect not just myself, but those around me.

As I think more about what I want to do after graduation and what I have to do now, this issue is constantly on the back of my head. Perhaps in some ways, it's not a conflict, just what I make it out to be. You could title it whatever you want, but to me, it's a tug-of-war between the traditional family focus and the "more modern" individual emphasis. Yeah, I know individualism is not necessarily progress or modernisation, but it is a shift away from the standard (in Asia anyway) and for the lack of better words, let me just call that "modernisation".

I am interested in history, in heritage, in the past, in traditions – especially in recent years. Raffles, Cambridge, even my religion (the Roman Catholic Church), these are all institutions full of traditions and history (to varying time scales) and I'm proud of them. I feel incredibly honoured and humbled to be part of institutions with an amazing history behind them, and to be able to count myself as part of them.

I love my family and the "traditions": meeting up with extended family every week for a meal, and when we were younger, going out for outings and trips. All the important calendar dates (Chinese New Year, Christmas, birthdays, Father's Day/Mother's Day etc) when we just gather to eat a lot. Family is everything, and you can always rely on your family if anything goes wrong (or you should be able to anyway). Blood is thicker than water, or so the saying goes, and our social policy in Singapore revolves around that central tenet, that you first turn to your family before the state. (Which is why people who have no family to turn to often end up marginalised in society and don't get enough help and support etc but that's another issue altogether)

It seems quite different from here, or perhaps much of the Western world. Not that family isn't important to them – it still is, and you can sometimes see how tight-knit their families are. But I think there is more of an emphasis on the individual, that the family is more like a nursery habitat to bring the kids up, and once they're fully fledged, off they go. Perhaps once in a while they come back, but that's about it. Whereas back home, it's more like an ant colony. You grow up, you head off and venture out into the world, but at the end of the day, you still head back to where you were born, to where your family is. Maybe this is not the best analogy in trying to bring across what I was trying to say, but I hope you get my point.

It's not that what I enjoy doing is incompatible with my family or anything of that sort. My family is incredibly supportive of my pursuits and I love them very much, in particular my parents who let us do what we like doing instead of forcing us to do more "profitable" pursuits, perhaps.

But I want to travel, I want to go on adventures, I want to go out an explore. On my own if I have to. I want to go on field trips, to go to wild places, to do things that the average city-dweller doesn't. I don't know what I want to do exactly once I graduate, but I know I don't want to be desk-bound. Not so soon anyway.

And traditionally, family life is as such: wake up, make breakfast, go to work, come home, have dinner with family, do some family things (like watch TV/chat), sleep. Of course it gets more complicated than I described, but I believe that's the essence of it. At least that was what my life was kind of like, I'm sure there are exceptions. But where does that leave me with what I would like to do?

I'm incredibly blessed and fortunate, to be in a situation where I can feel that the world is my oyster. That I am free to explore, to be fully mobile, that I would have a shot at making my mark anywhere if I would like to, especially in this globalised world. To have been afforded this opportunity by society, in some ways by being born where I was born when I was born. Yet is that what I really want, to be miles away from home? I want to give back, I want help others, I want to do something worth leaving behind.

Right now, at this point in life, I still don't have that major decisions to make yet. I just have to decide between a sandwich or a soup; to go for a talk on this or another event on that; to write my essay now or write it later. Trivial things that don't matter in the bigger scheme of life. I am still a student, and my money still comes from (my scholarship provider and) my parents. 

Once I graduate though, I don't know where life will lead me, what kinds of decisions I will make, how things will pan out.

This reminds me in some ways, of Bound Feet and Western Dress. A book I read ages ago, when I was in primary school. I don't remember the details now (I really should re-read it), and perhaps comparing what I'm feeling with the conflict Chang Yu-I had is a bit too presumptuous on my part. Of course her struggles were greater and more pertinent to the conflicts of being a woman born in her time and I have it a lot easier. Still though, in spite of the progress made in all these intervening decades, I feel like I am still expected to behave in a certain manner.

In essence, I guess I'm just feeling a conflict between the East and the West, a result perhaps of being in Singapore which is a rather Westernised (on the outside) Eastern country, of being brought up in a Chinese family and now being on my own in an 'angmoh' country. And mainly because I don't want to lead a typical (office/urban) life. I feel like I made an awful lot of sweeping generalisations and overarching assumptions in this post, but this is genuinely how I feel. And it wasn't an easy post to write either; this has been in my drafts folder for more than a week.


Where to from here?
(Photo taken at Seven Sisters Country Park, Brighton)