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UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit if you're interested in more recent writing.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in review: a year is fairly long

I'm currently 2/3 through my trip in Italy, and in Naples now. It's quite a good place to celebrate New Year's apparently. Fireworks/fire crackers/various other explosives have been going off since the afternoon (including some yesterday), and especially since sunset at 5pm. Though crowds and loud noises aren't my thing.

Time again for reflection and resolutions. I'm quite a reflective person I think, so the end of a calendar year is just yet another opportunity for me to think about my life, and how I affect others. But also what I've done this year and what I wanna do next year. It's quite funny how time is continuous, but we break it up into days and months and years, just so we can do some stock take once in a while I guess.

I've quite enjoyed 2015. Highlights for me this year include West Highland Way, final exams, Brisbane and Silwood, cos they all marked a period of time when I learned something about myself, and grew a little more. Physical and mental limits, getting over disappointment, my interactions with others and trying to find peace within myself.

Looking back at what I wrote last year on NYE: "May 2015 be a good year for humanity, with stronger climate action and more social justice and that everyone will be kind, sensible and see the joy in life. I hope that I do get to dive more in the coming year, that I learn more programming skills (and go on adventures with R woohoo!), finally get round to picking up some trad climbing skills, be disciplined in my fitness and studies, read and pray more.", I think 2015 has kinda lived up to my expectations.

Pope Francis' Laudato Si called for environmental justice, the Paris climate talks succeeded in coming to some agreement amongst countries, and I think people are showing more kindness and humanity to each other, if only to counter the seemingly increased occurrences of terrorism. I guess with no darkness, there is no light; with no bad, there is no good.

I've not dived at all this year, but my programming skills have improved (and definitely will next year). I've done my first trad lead climb, and I hope to do more next year. Discipline is probably still lacking for me, though I think I have read and prayed more this year. Finished Guns, Germs and Steel, An Unnatural History of the Sea, A Short History of Nearly Everything and Your Inner Fish, which I was only halfway through a year ago. Also Serengeti Shall Not Die, Night Climbers of Cambridge, Tigers in Red Weather, and Call of the White: Taking the World to the South Pole (and a bunch of others I can't remember).

I'm really looking forward to 2016. Finally working on a proper research project, on a topic that I'm interested in using skills that I'm very keen on. I really hope I will learn discipline (time management) and coding skills by the end of it, and, fingers crossed, a publication too. Looking forward to more climbing (and hopefully my first 7a lead), and more experiences that give meaning to my life.

May 2016 be filled with peace and joy for you, and in the words of Pope Francis, may you come
"to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously".
The last sunset of 2015 of the Bay of Naples.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Three weeks in Italy.

After 11 weeks of term (the horror, after having had just 8 weeks of term for the past three years), it's finally Christmas break. It's gonna be my first Christmas without my family :/ But thankfully I've got a good bunch of friends to spend Christmas and New Year's with in Italy, where I'm gonna be spending my entire vacation. The highlights of Italy are probably lost on me, being a plebian who cannot appreciate art, but thankfully I can still appreciate the landscape. My main reason for being in Italy anyway was to climb in Sicily in Jan, resulting in me having to lug around a 17kg backpack stuffed with climbing rope and quickdraws.

Milano 18 to 20 Dec 2015
Also known as the fashion capital of the world (though I didn't feel too out of place in my hiking boots and jeans). We flew into Malpenso airport, before taking a coach into the city centre and walking to our hostel. Spent most of our time wandering around the Duomo area, and checked out Luini's panzerotti (which looked and kinda tasted like Singapore's hum ji peng).

Highlight: Cimitero Monumentale

[Update 4 Jan: still can't figure out why some of the photos on my iPhone are not appearing on Photos on my Mac, but least I can import them using Preview into a folder]

A very very tiny fraction of the beautiful graves in the cimitero. 

Trees are just way cool. Also found in the cimitero.

Firenze 20 to 23 Dec 2015
Took the train from Milan to Florence, which reminds me of a mix of Innsbruck, Austria and Heidelberg, Germany, probably cos of the Arno river. I thought it was prettier than Milan, with some nice winding cobblestoned alleys. We usually cook dinner in the hostel, but this hostel (PLUS Florence) turned out to be more like a hotel (just imagine a regular hotel but instead of your own private room it's a dormitory room with bunk beds) that didn't have a kitchen, and banned food and drinks from rooms. My friends had already bought groceries though, and so it made for an interesting dinner, eating on the window sill outside our room. The mercato centrale was pretty good, had the best ravioli ever, with a pumpkin filling and bolognese sauce. We also visited a pottery studio which was pretty cool.

Highlight: Fiesole (day trip, taking bus 7 from San Marco piazza)

The archeological museum in Fiesole (that wasn't open when we were there)

The ruins in Fiesole

Sunset from Fiesole

The river Arno cutting through the city of Florence

The pottery studio where the owner hand paints these plates.

Roma 23 to 28 Dec 2015
We then took the train from Florence to Rome for the other main reason why I chose to travel in Italy - Christmas Eve mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica :D A friend told me about papal masses and that one had to request for tickets for them. It's all free, but you either have to snail mail a request form or fax it to the Vatican, and you usually had to do that well in advance to get the tickets. Thankfully I managed to get 3 tickets despite requesting just 2 months in advance (apparently people usually request 6 months in advance? Especially for big groups) so I was very very happy and excited.
Obtaining the tickets and attending mass involved a lot more queueing. Had to wait in a line on my own (cos the security personnel decided that we shouldn't have friends with us when queueing...) that was barely moving for 50 minutes to collect the tickets for mass itself. Real trial of patience that was, I hate queueing and would usually skip a stall if it involved massive queueing. For the mass, we started queueing to get into the Vatican at 5pm, managed to get past security after about an hour, then waited another hour before the doors into St Peter's Basilica itself opened at 7pm. We thought it was a midnight mass, but it started at 930pm, so we only had to wait about 1.5 hours (cos there was rosary recitation at 9pm).
The longest procession of priests I ever saw preceded the arrival of the Pope. Then a sea of cameras: phone cameras held in hands, on selfie sticks, DSLRs etc. I wondered what the cardinals/altar servers thought, because people were obviously trying to take photos of the pope not them. And I wondered what they thought about camera phones in mass, cos some/most of them must have been there since before everyone had a camera phone... I refrained from taking out my phone until mass ended, and I somehow wished that cameras were banned, cos they somewhat spoil the mood for mass. Mass itself was mostly in Latin, but with bits in various other languages - first reading in Portuguese, responsorial psalm in Italian, second in English, prayers of the faithful in an assortment of languages included Arabic, Mandarin Chinese and Aramaic. The gospel was the most beautiful I had ever heard though, chanted in Latin.

- interjection of felicitations: Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad! Feliz Natal! Frohe Weihnachten! 圣诞节快乐!Merry Christmas! -

Most of the rest of the time in Rome was spent visiting various tourist attractions, which I was not overly enthused about. Too many people for my liking :X We almost didn't visit the Vatican Museum, as it was closed on St Stephen's Day, 27 Dec was the last Sunday of the month which meant free entry (and an insanely long queue that stretched a kilometre probably, from the entrance of Vatican Museum to St Peter's Square. They stopped accepting people at 12.30pm and we probably wouldn't have made it in), and we were leaving about 11am on 28 Dec. On the way to the Vatican on the 28th, we passed this tour agent who was advertising queue jumps for the Vatican Museum, so we paid €28 each (student price, instead of €8 if we had queued on our own) and got into the Vatican Museum at 9.25am. Whizzed through/skipped most of it due to lack of time, and headed straight for the Sistine Chapel. I can only say I wish I had more time to spend there, and that there weren't that many tourists. But wells.

Highlights: Christmas Eve mass and Riserva Naturale di Monte Mario

St Peter's Square and Basilica

The nativity scene in St Peter's Basilica
Rows of pines in Monte Mario

Roma from Monte Mario

River Tiber at mid-morning

Columns at the Roman Forum, one of the many tourist attractions. It was quite nice to have people familiar with Rome on the trip.

Napoli 28 Dec 2015 to 1 Jan 2016
From Rome, we took another train to Naples. Having had enough of the city and crowds, we spent the first two days around the region - Vesuvius, Vico Equense (a little seaside town), and Sorrento. Skipped Pompeii cos I had had enough of tourist attractions - Vesuvius was rather disappointing. Then spent the next two days wandering around Naples with no particular objective. Spent a nice New Year's Eve in the hostel room with wine and good company, though the celebrations are quite raucous in Naples.

Highlights: Sunsets on the rocks by the pier, and a little hike to Sant Agatha village in Sorrento

Sunset on the rocks (we just stumbled into this little gem)

Above the clouds on Vesuvius

View of Vesuvius and Sorrento (foreground) from Monastero di San Paolo

From the tower in Monastero di San Paolo, Deserto, Sorrento (access to tower only from 3-4pm)

One selfie on the last sunset of 2015

View of Naples with Vesuvius in the background from Castel San Elmo

Catania (Sicilia) 1 Jan to 3 Jan 2016
[Time to sleep. Updates on Sicily later]

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A terrible cold, and home sickness.

I'm just about recovering (I can talk and make noises!), but the past week has been slightly crappier than usual. Caught a cold bug, likely from someone on campus, at some point last week, and was trying to stave it off. Went for a nice wander around Seven Sisters at South Down on Sat with some people here, and that probably killed any hope of that - started coughing terribly on Sunday, and lost my voice on Monday. Being in this rather non-stressful environment was quite helpful for recovery, since there weren't essays or any assignments due, nor did I particularly have to attend lectures. So I stayed in bed almost the entire day on Tuesday, getting up only for lunch, dinner and a 2-hour practical that looked like it would be useful (it was, vaguely). I wouldn't normally be too fussed about colds and a quick recovery, but it's Silmas tomorrow (celebrating Christmas in Silwood. Like Bridgemas back in Cambridge) and I am in the acapella group which is gonna be putting up a few songs, along with general carolling.

Anyway, the thing about being ill is that it affords a lot of time alone. I managed to finish two books (Tigers in Red Weather by Ruth Padel, about tiger conservation, and Call of the White by Felicity Aston, about an all-women expedition to the South Pole), and watched lots of funny videos, and episodes of BBC's The Hunt. As well as managed to feel a little homesick, watching this

It's my grandmother's 80th birthday soon, and my mom was digging up old photos, to put with more current photos for a slideshow. All the memories of childhood and times spent with family. And all the more recent photos from which I'm usually missing (cos I'm here, halfway across the world). I've been blessed to be able to spend most Christmases with my family, this is going to be the first without them, but I've missed Chinese New Year for three years already, and at least one more to come. Along with all the weddings I've missed. Ah wells, such is life I guess. I chose to come here to study, and I'm glad I did, but it also means missing out on everything back home. It's something I've gotten used to over the past few years, which is why perhaps suddenly thinking about all of that again makes me homesick. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

It's a quarter after one.

I am genuinely starting to get rather concerned about my lack of ability to sleep at night. It's been a long day, I've been so tired, and still, I get close to falling asleep, wake up for some reason, then can't get back to sleep. I lie in bed thinking about sleeping and thinking maybe I'm hungry and maybe I need to eat something, but maybe I'll fall asleep. I give up, open 5 doors to get to the fridge, a further 3 to the kitchen, then back through the 8 doors to my room (it's crazy, the number of doors we have). Then I sit in bed eating and wondering if I'll be able to fall asleep now.

Meanwhile, I'll do some background reading for my project, and hope I'll eventually fall asleep.

It's been a pretty good week though. Had a random camping night last Wed on Silwood grounds, then  lots of climbing over the weekend (6 hours on Fri and 6 hours on Sat). Doing science communication this week at the South Kensington campus, which has been pretty fun. Only complaint is the 1.5 hour coach ride to and fro everyday from Silwood Park. For some reason, it's just really tiring, though all I do when I get on the coach in the morning at 8am and 430pm is sleep. And the worst thing is despite how exhausted I feel (and look), I'm just not sleeping right now.

小幸运 - 电影《我的少女时代》主题曲


遇见你的注定 她会有多幸运



Never have I felt more glad that I spent 10 years tediously learning Chinese than when I'm here, and I can read and understand the song lyrics.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Praying for humanity.

So I was out of contact when the Paris news broke. I was on a camping/climbing trip with some friends in Dorset from Fri night till now, and didn't have any mobile reception at all (which caused other issues with my family, cos I forgot to tell them I might be out of contact and they got worried sick. I'm so sorry :( ), but one of my friends went to visit her relative on Saturday and heard about the Paris attacks and told us yesterday. Sitting under the open, cloudy skies, listening to huge waves crash right below us, feeling the sea breeze on our faces though, it's so hard to truly imagine what was happening in Paris, and in the rest of the connected world. And I promptly put all thoughts of terrorist attacks and hatred and unhappiness in this world out of my mind. Coming back online and onto Facebook though, I am immediately hit by all the posts about Paris, and about other unreported unnoticed attacks in Beirut, Baghdad, Syria and everywhere else in the world. And I am overwhelmed.

I feel overwhelmed by humanity, by humans. I went into London on Friday to meet some people, and as soon as I got out of the train station, I felt overwhelmed. By all the people. I looked at all the faces passing me on the street, about their stories, possible preoccupations, emotions. Everyone has a story to tell; you can't judge too quickly. Living in cities is so easily desensitising. You stop treating people as individuals, you see them as part of the scenery, or part of a category. Like the homeless on the streets. The banker-type. The tourist. Etc. I don't think I ever realised properly how flippantly we treat people in cities, having grown up in one. I guess being at Silwood was just that much more isolating (I'm interacting, seeing, walking past with the same few people everyday, no more than 50 probably), that going into the city after about 2 weeks, it was just too much, my brain was going into overdrive. 

While outdoors though, my mind was a blank. It was just so nice and peaceful and calming to be out there, without any external pressures. It's hard to even fathom the horrors that are going on. I thought, perhaps people wouldn't be so unhappy and violent if they spent more time outdoors. But then, if people don't even have basic comfort and security, being outdoors would be more of a threat and a fear. I guess I say what I say cos I'm in a position of luxury and privilege. I feel like there is nothing much I can do, physically, about all the wrongs that go on in the world. The only thing I can do is to pray. For those who died in the attacks, their families, and perhaps especially for those who perpetrate such atrocious acts, that they will stop. 

I know, but I just don't understand this world we currently live in, I don't understand the humans. I am naively still hoping for world peace one day, but meanwhile I am praying for humanity. For lives lost and lives still present.

Friday, November 13, 2015

sleepless nights.

I've had more nights having trouble going to sleep here than I've ever had before. Can't figure if it's because I'm underworked (gave up trying to keep to my 'proper bed time' of 11+/12 after a while) or because I'm having to feed myself all the time and so occasionally give myself crappy meals (like half a focaccia cos it was on sale, and yogurt cos I couldn't be bothered cooking at 8+pm), which means I'm hungry by midnight. It's really frustrating. I've been working quite hard this past week as well - it seems that week 6 is when work picks up a little more, or maybe it's just cos we joined the conservation science students on their course this week, and they get worked quite hard. A report to write up by the end of the day, and a presentation the next day, twice this week. Just annoyed that I can't sleep, despite being really tired the whole day (I was up since 7am to feed chickens). It's just frustrating that I'm tired right up to the point where I decide to go to bed, then lie there for hours just not sleeping. Really tempted to get sleeping supplements if this continues. Though I am now thinking maybe I really just need to feed myself better.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Half-term Imperial style

So it's the middle of week 5 of a 10 week term today, i.e. half-term.

Rolled out of bed at 9.30am to make pancakes with my friend for breakfast, before heading for practical at 11am. It's R week, and (almost) everyone hates it. I have to confess though, that I actually somewhat like it. I'm still struggling with some of the coding, haven't completely figured out how to get R to do what I want. But I do enjoy what we're doing, and won't pretend otherwise. Left practical early at 12pm to go for a cappella practice (yes I've joined the singing group here don't laugh), and after an hour and a bit, headed back to hall to make lunch. Got waylaid on the way back to help move wood for the bonfire (we're celebrating Guy Fawkes night on Friday; yeah it's a celebration of burning a Catholic and fireworks aren't the most environmentally friendly, but I'm just treating it as an English cultural festival). It was quite fun, though I almost scratched my friend's eye out >< Finally got back to hall about tea time, to eat my lunch (leftovers from yesterday's dinner). Chatted with corridor mates a bit, sent a birthday greeting to the people celebrating in the kitchen below us by lowering a piece of paper on a string, showered, did laundry, then sat at my desk to blog. Probably gonna do a bit more R before going for hall meeting in the evening (free pizza!).

It's such a stark contrast to mid-term at Cambridge. My first mid-term at Cambridge was definitely already quite bad (as a foreshadow for what was to come for the next 8 terms...). This is nice though, because I can take the time to hang out and chat with people and make friends without feeling guilty about neglecting work. It's definitely going to pick up pace though, especially once I've decided on what project to do.

The one thing I think has really been drilled into me over the past few weeks of lectures is the need to actually understand what is being done to data that produces the given output. Many things are a bit of a blackbox, especially models. You collect data, chuck it into some programme which models the data and gives you some numbers and figures in return. What seems rather heavily emphasised here is actually understanding what data has been used and if it's been validated, the methods for manipulating the data, models used, errors and uncertainty involved.

There's also a rather solid R grounding, in my opinion, with two weeks of R practicals. Back in Cambridge, I had picked up a lot of R on my own, while doing projects. We were taught the very basics, and everything else we just figured our own way around. Even with referencing software (like Mendeley that I use, or RefWorks etc.), we were never told explicitly what to do. And it kind of surprised me how many people got through undergrad without having come across these things.

Anyway, I should get back to doing some work.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Pretending to be a computer geek.

As anyone who knows me would know, I'm not much of a computer or tech geek. I don't care very much for the latest tech stuff nor do I really know what they do. I got the current MacBook Pro (MBP) I'm using in late 2011 (according to the laptop), when I somehow managed to destroy the previous one (something to do with flattening the screen too much). Passed that on to my older brother who managed to rehabilitate it. So I am somewhat of a brat, just getting a new thing to replace older things. But that's obviously pretty bad for the environment, and I'm trying to cut down on having things I don't need (which is really hard :/ So many books and outdoor kit).

I'm starting to realise however, that my 'childhood' dream ('childhood' cos it was more like when I was in my late teens; I was one of those iffy city kids who didn't like being dirty) of being a field biologist will likely never be achieved. It seems modelling/GIS skills are more in demand than field identification/sampling skills, and it's a lot easier to gain the latter skills by volunteering and hanging out with cool people (ie fellow biology geeks). So anyway, I'm trying to really brush up my coding skills (mostly R, but I've been trying to learn Python on my own to little avail due to my lack of discipline) and become familiar with GIS software. My MBP had started running really slowly sometime earlier this year, and my older bro suggested upgrading some of the hardware (RAM and hard drive). He had made the suggestion a year or so ago, but I brushed it aside thinking I didn't need it. Definitely wrong I was, and after dallying the whole summer, I finally got round to it last week.

I had issues with one of the plug-ins for QGIS, and it turned out it was cos I was on a fairly old OS (10.7 Lion). So I backed up my stuff and updated to the very recently released 10.11 El Capitan last Tuesday. I've always been rather apprehensive about the updating and upgrading of computers, probably cos in the past, things ALWAYS go wrong, and you lose everything/you have to reset all your preferences and stuff. I've gotten so used to doing things a certain way and having things look a certain way that I don't really wanna change, and if I had to I'm not sure I could make it like it was previously.

To my immense relief though, the transition was really quite smooth! Everything remained pretty much the same; my desktop picture, the extensions/plug-ins I had, the shortcuts I used etc. Sure, the look is slightly different but I can't pinpoint what it is and that doesn't really bother me. One thing though that was not the same after I updated was my language preferences. I'm on the 'British' keyboard (so I can easily type £), and I realised I was back on the U.S. one when I tried to type £ and got # instead.

By Friday, the Solid State Drive, RAM memory cards and the hard case enclosure I ordered had arrived and I had the weekend to do the hardware upgrading. I was rather excited and unnerved by the prospect of doing it, excited cos I've never done anything like that before and I can't wait to have an awesomely fast laptop, unnerved cos I was afraid I might ruin my laptop. I borrowed screwdrivers from our computing office, a fairly normal cross screwdriver and a Torx star-shaped one. Then I sat in my room and got ready. Backed up my computer into Time Machine again, and this time it took agesss. It started out being 9 hours, then 10, 12, and eventually 'about a day'. I cloned my HD to SSD at the same time, basically following these steps. Though I looked through several websites to make sure they were all saying about the same things first, and consulted my older brother and another friend, who were basically my tech advisors.

I left everything running over the weekend, and came back on Sunday to find that yay, nothing bad has happened. I used Super Duper, following this recommendation, but when I got back I couldn't tell if my SSD had really been cloned. I tried rebooting using the option start combo (holding down the option key while switching on the MBP) and selecting my SSD as the start up drive, but wasn't sure if it was really working, cos there were supposed to be some other options for me to select after I did that, but none came up (might be an El Capitan thing). I eventually rebooted from System Preferences to check that cloning was successful, before actually physically making the switch.

Wasn't entirely sure what this 'Other' was...

Cos my HD showed this...
Everything went rather well, I didn't lose any screws (used blu-tac to help me keep them in place), didn't break any fiddly little parts, and managed to fit the 8GB memory cards and the SSD back in place. Huge sigh of relief when I turned it back on and it worked :)

Blu-tac yay!
Before, with the HD and 2x2GB memory

After, with the SSD and 2x8GB memory!

So yay me, I was feeling rather pleased on Sunday night. I have had some issues, like R software not allowing me to open up dialog boxes to save/upload files (resolved that by using RStudio instead, or command line script), and more annoyingly, the new Preview not allowing me to annotate PDFs with text boxes anywhere I want on the document with a click, though that was already an issue with Preview in Yosemite. And occasionally, the text box annotate option just wouldn't load, forcing me to use note instead. Also, for some reason my Microsoft Office 2011 required me to revalidate my software with a key code thing, which I obviously don't have with me. Thankfully Imperial provides its students with Microsoft 365 for free (though just for the duration as an Imperial student), so I still am able to use Microsoft Office.

Strangely enough, my laptop is still making quite a bit of noise (the whirring when I'm making it do a lot of things for me), and I still need to troubleshoot that. And for some reason my memory used is 9-10GB even when I'm not doing anything more than I used to do with my 4GB RAM. So still trying to figure out a lot of things, but hopefully I will be happy with what I have now and be able to use this machine for a lot longer.

What I had to buy
Samsung SSD 850 EVO 500GB (£120)
Crucial 16GB kit (8GBx2) DDR3 PC3-10600 Unbuffered NON-ECC 1.35V 1024Meg x 64 (£65)
2.5 Sata To Usb Hard Drive Caddy Hdd Case Enclosure (£3.80)

NB: I realise that one reason why I've always put off updating OS/upgrading hardware is the amount of time it takes. Like, there's no way I could have done it while in Cambridge, how was I supposed to do work otherwise??

Friday, October 23, 2015

On being a scientist and faithful.

For the second night in a row, I can't seem to sleep. I lull myself into a dream-like state, and then something, I know not what, interrupts and I am suddenly awake, unable to fall back asleep, try as hard as I may. This night, there were a bunch of people talking and smoking on the benches not from from my hall, despite it being 12.45am (and I had put myself to bed about an hour earlier), somehow not realising that perhaps, some people might like to sleep. I tried to drown their voices with Yiruma, then gave up and started reading on my Kindle (Travels in Alaska by John Muir, in which he describes wonderfully wild and pristine landscapes), then tried to go back to sleep as my eyelids grew heavy. But lying prone in a state of awakeness is I think, one of the most wretched feelings, especially when there is a need to get up early-ish in the morning. I gave up, and decided to blog. Perhaps this was an issue on my subconscious that was bothering me, though I don't think so.

Tuesday nights are bar quiz nights, and though I am terrible at bar/pub quizzes, I enjoy going to the ones here at Silwood (and perhaps I should have made more of an effort to go for the ones at Peterhouse, but anyway). Earlier in the day on Tuesday, a friend made a remark about the lack of an existence of god, to which I replied that I had to politely disagree, and subsequently we agreed to have a polite discussion on the matter after the bar quiz. This issue, possibly one of the most divisive especially in the company of biologists, is perhaps rather soon to broach, it being less than 3 weeks since the start of term (and meeting people). After three years in Cambridge though, I think I felt a lot more prepared and able to take on such a discussion -- in my first year at Cambridge, I can't remember at which point within the year it was, but my housemates suddenly had a discussion on morality and religion, and I was confronted with defending my faith against a group of slightly hostile atheists. Not exactly pleasant, and I was not the most well-versed in matters of my faith, though I'd like to think I have improved since then, in no small part thanks to Fisher House.

Anyway, so it was a civilised discussion with a few others who seemed interested in the topic - it must be said that most people stayed away from it - and well, I tried to explain how the two seemingly conflicting areas of science, with its logic and evidence, and faith, which is just that, reconciled with my being. I truly do not think I can live without either, and to me, they fit well and are hugely important to me - though of course, my faith brings me more joy and peace than science possibly could (perhaps transiently). To me, science is for now, but faith is for ever, and much as I strive to do good in the present and to do something worth leaving behind, I remind myself time and again that I live not for this life but for eternal life. It is hard to say that to disbelievers though, even those (or perhaps especially those?) who have fallen away from the faith, because that just sounds like fluff, probably. And anyway, they need logic, which is not always evident in faith. That's why it's called faith?

I did concede though, that the Catholic Church does have stands on certain issues that others might disagree with, or think outdated, because morals shift with time and age. Is that being heretical? Regardless, it was not a debate and I did not have to convince people that I was right (not that I could, I think, especially based on just words), nor did I have to be convinced that I was merely a fool for believing, and it ended amiably.

Still, slightly distressed for there were no other believers to lend support (not sure if they're all just in hiding or it is a true negative. My floor mate living opposite me is Catholic too but is away this week), I sought comfort in Eamon Duffy's The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Prayerbook for Catholic Christians, which I bought (and got signed) when he launched it last year in Cambridge.  And St Therese of Lisieux had some thought-provoking words on doubt and faith:

"But during the days of Paschaltide, so full of light, Jesus made me understand that there really are souls bereft of Faith and Hope, who, through their abuse of grace, lose these precious treasures, and along with them, the only pure and lasting joy. He allowed my soul to be overwhelmed with darkness, and the thought of Heaven, which had consoled me from my earliest childhood, now brought only conflict and torture. This trial did not last merely for days or weeks; I have been suffering for months, and I still await deliverance. I wish I could express what I feel, but it is beyond me. You must have passed through this dark tunnel yourself to understand how black it is. However, I will try to explain it by means of a comparison. Suppose that I had been born in a land of thick fog, and had never seen the beauties of nature, nor a single ray of sunshine, though I had heard of these wonders from my childhood, and knew that the country where I lived was not my real home--there was another land, which I must always seek. Now this is not a story invented by the natives of the land of fogs, it is the solemn truth, for the King of that sunlit country came and lived for thirty-three years here, but the darkness did not understand that he was the light of the world. But, dear Lord, your child has understood; she asks forgiveness for her unbelieving brothers, and is willing to eat the bread of sorrow as long as you will it. For love of you she will sit at this table heaped with the bitter food of sinners, and she will not stir from it until you give the sign. But in their name, and in her own may she not say: "O God, be merciful to us sinners!" Send us away justified. May all those on whom the light of faith does not shine see at last! O my God, if that table which they defile can be purified by one that loves you, I am willing to remain there alone to eat the bread of tears, until it pleases you to bring me to your kingdom of light: the only grace I ask is, that I may never offend against you.

When weary of the surrounding darkness, I try to find some rest in the thought of a life to come, my anguish only grows. It seems to me that out of the darkness I heard the mocking voice of the unbeliever: "You dream of a land of light and fragrance, you dream that the Creator of these marvels will be yours for ever, you dream of escape from these mists where you now languish. Instead, rejoice in death, which will not give you what you hope for, but an even darker night, the night of nothingness!" ... Dear Mother, this description of what I suffer is as far removed from reality as the first rough sketch is from the model, but I fear that if I wrote more I would blaspheme. Maybe I have said too much already. May God forgive me, but he knows that I try to live by faith, though it bring me no consolation. I have made more acts of faith in this last year than during all the rest of my life.

No doubt, dear Mother, you will think I am exaggerating the night of my soul. If you judge by the poem I have written this year, it must seem as though I have been flooded with consolations, like a child for whom the veil of faith is almost rest asunder. And yet it is not a veil. It is a wall which rises to the very heavens and shuts out the starry sky. When I sing of the happiness of heaven and what it is to posses God eternally, I feel no joy, because I sing only about what I want to believe. Sometimes, I admit, a little ray of sunshine shines into my dark night, and I enjoy peace for a moment, but later, the remembrance of this ray of light, instead of consolation, makes the blackness seem thicker still. And yet never have I felt so deeply how gentle and merciful the Lord is. He did not send me this heavy cross when it might have discouraged me, but at a time when I was able to bear it. Now it simply takes away from me whatever natural satisfaction I might feel in longing for heaven."
 - The story of a Soul, ch IX

And now, it's almost 2.30am, it is once again silent (thankfully) save the occasional car, and I think I should be ready to sleep. If the writing style in this post seems oddly contrasting with previous ones, I can only say it's likely the influence of Serengeti Shall Not Die by Bernhard Grzimek, which I have been reading while waiting for scripts to run on QGIS/R. And a post on that book is imminent once I am done with it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Is it not strange how seasick means being sick at sea, carsick means being sick in a car, but homesick means you miss home? [I just googled the etymology of 'homesickness': 1756, translating German Heimweh, from Heim "home" (see home (n.)) + Weh "woe, pain;" the compound is from Swiss dialect, expressing a longing for the mountains, and was introduced to other European languages 17c by Swiss mercenaries.] It just makes it awkward, cos when I want to express my longing for Cambridge by saying Cambridgesick, it could potentially also be interpreted as being sick in Cambridge.

Anyway, it's another layer added on top of being homesick, only it's a fresher wound. Cos it's my 4th year abroad, and while I still do get homesick, I've always been at Cambridge, whereas now I don't even have the comforting familiarity of cambridge. And it's funny, the things that I actually miss. The pretty buildings, wonderful music, reassuring chapels, Grantchester and the river Cam, and most of all Fisher House. I think it's always on Sundays that I miss Cambridge the most.

But I guess this is just life, things, places, people flit in and out of your life, and the reel just goes on.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Starting life as a graduate student

Right in the middle of the first week of my MRes in Ecosystem and Environmental Change at Imperial College London now, and it's still kind of a honeymoon transition period. Despite London being in the name, I'm not actually based in London (please don't ask to come and visit, there is absolutely nothing here to do), but in between Ascot and Sunningdale. It's a pretty and nice, quiet place to be, but it's also far from the nearest train station and shops (30 minutes walk), and the trains to London are slow (1 hour).

My main gripe at the moment though, is that it's far from any climbing centre. I seem to have a knack for choosing terrible places to study (from a climber's perspective). Cambridge with it's one and only tiny bouldering gym, but at least it had a pretty awesome mountaineering club, and now Imperial's Silwood Campus which is at least a 30 mins drive to the nearest climbing centre (Craggy Island) and with about 100 students, little hope of forming a vibrant climbing club. Especially given that I can't drive/don't have a car anyway, unless I find other keen climbers it's not looking likely.

Work-wise it's still a pretty gentle start, for my course at least. Just about 7 of us in it for this intake, but for our lectures we're mixed and matched with other courses, and so far it's just introductory ecology, evolution and conservation. As our lecturer said, it's like an undergraduate course in that, but in a week. Not envying students from other backgrounds (physics, math, psychology) who have all that reading up to do.

I'm having to cook all my meals now for myself, though there is the refectory if I want to slack off on breakfast or lunch. Isn't too much of a problem for now, though perhaps at some point I'll get bored of my own cooking (cos I'm not into fancy cooking, plus Tesco the supermarket is too far to decide to whip something up on a whim).

I am undeniably missing Cambridge, for its convenience, pretty buildings, quaint/weird practices, and most of all the people. But wells fresh start here I guess (and having to make friends and do small talk again). Though not really when there are a smattering of people from Cambridge here as well. I am for now, still the only Singaporean around.

It's also been drizzling most miserably since Monday morning, and it's finally stopped. Gonna go for a wander (the only thing that is available as a free and convenient past time, unless you like pressing weights in the gym) while there's still light, though we did cover most of the grounds during our treasure hunt on Monday in the pouring rain.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


I've just come back from a short trip to Malaysia with my family to visit my granduncle and grandaunt (on both the maternal and paternal side) that I haven't met in a really long time. The last time we went up to visit them, I was perhaps about half the size I am now. Inevitably, the first words they said when they saw my younger brother and I was, "Wah, so big now ah?" This was thus the first time I had any intelligent conversation with them, and could regale them with stories of my past summer travels, and engage in some interesting politics discourse. My grandaunt had been thoughtful enough to put up some old photos of us from our last visit, but we didn't get the chance to see them unfortunately. Nonetheless we could share recent photos of our family that we kept on our phones (thanks to technology) and take a photo before leaving for future reference.

Then earlier today (Saturday), I met up with a group of friends whom I've known for almost 9 years now (since 2007!), and as always when meeting up with such old friends that have not met in a long time, we reminisced lots. Caught up on what everyone is doing currently, then progressed backwards in time to what we used to do, our shared memories, bringing back images of the past back to the front of our minds. It was a four-and-a-half hour long catch up. These are the only friends I've had whom I've travelled with at least twice, and we used to spend so much time together, and despite the weight of our responsibilities (which we perceived to be so great at that point), we were silly yet thoughtful, retarded yet sensible at once. The memories are wonderful, and I'm so glad to have the opportunity to be able to meet everyone still. Looking through the photos we took then though, are perhaps a little more painful - we looked horribly geeky then, as one always supposes when looking back on the teenage years. We still all look the same though, and haven't changed much in the intervening years (in terms of personality, in our speech etc). And once again, we took a photo for keepsakes.

It made me wonder, do we ever know what we grow up/older to be? And photographs, which now being pervasive and cheaply acquired, have somewhat lost their previous value in being preserves of memories for posterity?

Photograph - Ed Sheeran

Loving can hurt
Loving can hurt sometimes
But it's the only thing that I know
When it gets hard
You know it can get hard sometimes
It is the only thing that makes us feel alive

We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts are never broken
Times forever frozen still

So you can keep me
Inside the pocket
Of your ripped jeans
Holdin' me closer
'Til our eyes meet
You won't ever be alone
Wait for me to come home

Loving can heal
Loving can mend your soul
And it's the only thing that I know (know)
I swear it will get easier
Remember that with every piece of ya
And it's the only thing we take with us when we die

We keep this love in this photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Our hearts were never broken
Times forever frozen still

So you can keep me
Inside the pocket
Of your ripped jeans
Holdin' me closer
'Til our eyes meet
You won't ever be alone

And if you hurt me
That's OK, baby, only words bleed
Inside these pages you just hold me
And I won't ever let you go

Wait for me to come home [4x]

Oh you can fit me
Inside the necklace you got when you were 16
Next to your heartbeat
Where I should be
Keep it deep within your soul

And if you hurt me
Well, that's OK, baby, only words bleed
Inside these pages you just hold me
And I won't ever let you go

When I'm away
I will remember how you kissed me
Under the lamppost
Back on 6th street
Hearing you whisper through the phone,
"Wait for me to come home.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Home for a holiday.

Haven't really been in much of a blogging mood, partly because I'm increasingly finicky about how I write what I write and what I'm trying to say in my writing. I feel like by this stage, my writing should be near flawless, spelling and grammatical errors aside, my sentences should flow and my logic be sound, and every post have a point and a message to carry. I also don't want to end up writing things that I may regret later, especially if I'm writing to vent, knowing how these works in public domain come back to haunt you later. Knowing what I want to do with my life, I feel like I have to be ultra careful with what I say on such public spaces. But at the same time, it is quelling my writing and writing is one of those skills that you get better at the more you practice, and once you stop, you lose it. So I guess for now, I'll just have to live with imperfect writing, and hope that it improves over time.

I've been meeting up with friends since being back, as I always do, but this time seems a little different. I seem to have shifted a little closer to being an actual adult, given that I now have a degree in something (Cambridge doesn't actually specify what). But I think I've also become more sure of what I want to do with my life, and what my short and long term career goals are, even if at the moment they're just possibilities (with lots of roadblocks in the way). I am able to state with more certainty what I am doing and will be doing and want to do, and assess my options in Singapore.

A few too many times I've been asked about being a politician, especially with all the politic talk this GE. I have definitely entertained that thought, even from the last GE in 2011. For now though, that's not a career I'm considering. My perspectives might change down the road, but right now I have no desire to give up my weird geekiness to become an MP (and having to interact with people all the time). Furthermore, as it stands, I already habitually apologise when I'm not at fault (think it's a result of excessive politeness, not wanting to offend, and wanting to be humble) and I don't think that's very good either (it gives the impression of a lack of self-confidence I think). Given the current climate and hostility to so-called 'elites', I will probably be apologising endlessly for my entire life if I ever dabble in politics.

In Singapore, we judge way too quickly, way too superficially. Perhaps there is some basis for it, and more often than not, the stereotypes (of ah lians/ah bengs/uncles/aunties/atas people etc) hold. Still though, I find it frustrating when I meet someone for the first time, and after a couple of questions, they find out I studied overseas and go "yeah can hear a bit of accent". Like, really? Or is it 'a bit of an accent' when proper English is spoken? I've realised since coming back, that I actually consciously try my best to speak as Singlish as possible when meeting new people (particular when climbing, but also in every day situations like ordering food/drinks, talking to taxi drivers etc. Not that I take taxis everyday). I try really hard to blend in (as I do when I'm overseas, speaking in a somewhat chimeric accent) that sometimes I wonder if I'm trying too hard? Though at the same time I don't give a damn that I'm the only one reading a book in the MRT instead of being on my phone (though today, in a carriage I was in, there were THREE of us reading, THREE! How amazing is that?!?)

Anyway, it's been nice being home and meeting friends, having good conversations and catching up. It does mean though, that I also slack off majorly, and all my work-related habits (reading papers, articles and blogging thoughtfully) fly out of the window. I've also stopped learning coding and have barely spent time preparing for the GRE. My priorities are primarily to spend time with my family and friends, even if I'm not actually doing anything productive with them, just sitting there and chatting idly, because that's just something precious that I can't do when I'm away.

Physical presence does make a difference, even with all our modern technology to keep us connected when apart.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Singapore's General Elections 2015.

I've been meaning to post on the elections for more than a month now, ever since our 50th National Day celebrations ended and it was announced that we were apparently in 'election season'. But work and holidays and laziness got the better of me, and now it's already voting day. As at GE 2011, I think these are rather exciting times for Singapore, but even more exciting for me is the fact that I can finally vote. There's been so much going on social and mainstream media, from election updates to opinion articles to people posting super long stories about this or that party/candidate or just what they've been thinking in general. But while I'm truly interested in the elections, I don't follow quite as closely, cos I feel like sometimes you just get caught up in vitriol and petty politics. 

This election is a time for us to consider what kind of Singapore we want (I wrote a brief Facebook note on that).  Not so much what has been done so far but more what will be done. Of course, we want to know that the party can deliver the promises they make, but we've only got one track record for one party, and no counterfactual to compare it against. Perhaps Malaysia is our best estimation for what we would be otherwise, but I think it's a pretty poor comparison still.

My biggest bug bear about Singapore is probably with education. Our education system may be well-regarded by many other countries, especially with how we're consistently top-scoring in math and science competitions. But I feel like in other measures, we're coming up quite short. It's a bit like we're a victim of our own successes.

Talking with educators at different levels in different fields, the same things are coming up. Our kids cannot think for themselves, they need to be instructed and need to be told what to do, to be given permission before they start doing anything. They can't think, but our education system doesn't correct that. It seemingly promotes that, and worse, when they get to the workplace, that's condoned too. People don't think critically and don't question, because our exams require us to regurgitate, sometimes word-for-word. There's a fear of failure, and cos we've always been told how to succeed in school, there's no questioning. Deviating from the given formula runs the risk of failure, and then you don't get promoted etc. So there's the refusal to try something new, and to admit they're wrong cos that means they've failed. But is this what we want in an electorate? And in our civil service? And in our leaders?

Scholars get chosen because they do well academically, and they know how to give the answers that the interviewer wants. But just cos they did well at one point in their lives doesn't mean they'll always do well forever. Our scholars have to be promoted before non-scholars, even if they're not performing as well. How is that meritocratic :/

Success in Singapore is still so narrowly defined in terms of academic success. It's a societal mindset thing that's going to be difficult to change, I know, but I feel like more could be done still. Streaming is I think, beneficial for students of all abilities, but resources should still be equally distributed I feel. (Though of course I greatly benefited from Raffles having more resources than the average school...) And there should still be interactions between students of all abilities, and not in a "I'm from a good school let me give you tuition you poor things" way... Our current system picks out the academically able from an early age, but late bloomers and people talented in every other area are sidelined. Even SOTA and our Sports School which are supposed to be specialised schools for students with an interest and talent in other areas still have to perform well academically. But really, if we want to fully develop talents in these areas, why do they have to do that, unless the prevailing mindset is still that it's not a viable career option. Why can't we make those viable options? I don't follow football at all, but Neil Humphreys wrote an article about Singapore's dismal football scene which I thought really just reflected everything that could be made better about our education system.

It's not just about the government and the teachers and the students of course, parents have a huge role to play as well. More helicopter parenting and kids who are incapable of doing anything for themselves. But I realise I'm just ranting about our education system here, and not really talking about GE2015. I guess that's cos I really don't have much to say that hasn't already been said.

I want to vote for a future where our society is more open to discussions and are more able to think critically, where kids aren't punished for thinking and using their brains, where kids don't have to go for tonnes of tuition to do well in exams (cos apparently private tutors are earning lots of money and barely paying taxes, or so I've heard), where character counts more than grades, where people judge less on appearances (whether you're fat or skinny, tall or short, yellow or white or black or brown, tattooed or clean shaven, dressed like an 'aunty' or 'uncle' or 'smartly') and more on substance, where everyone is respected even our bus drivers and construction workers. And where people think more of themselves as global citizens rather than just inconsequential nothings. But none of those are substantial policies, and anyway, I don't think any of the political parties think any of that is an important issue. Let alone environmental issues (which only the Workers' Party has talked about in some depth).

Anyway, my overall feeling for this election is that we're still pretty immature. Which is understandable I guess, given we're just 50 years old (as a self-running democracy). The character assassinations/personal attacks especially, are just painful to watch, amusing as they are. I think I would like to see an election where ad hominem attacks don't exist, where people debate policies and not just very domestic issues but also consider our position in the world. True, we're a little red dot and are almost inconsequential in the world, but as the only developed country along the equator, and if we truly consider ourselves as a first world country, then we should set an example and act like it. I would like to see a progression towards science-based policies, and not just economics-based policies. I would like greater transparency in decision-making, more opportunities for academics to contribute to policy formation.

It's all been pretty exciting, and I'm really looking forward to the results. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

On Names and Going to (other) English-speaking Countries.

As a long-time blogger (almost 10 years! D:), I have long realised coming up with titles (which was only available in the last x years, cos most of my early blog posts had no titles) isn't easy. With this personal blog it's still not too bad, cos it's just me writing crap about myself usually, but it's a real struggle with my nature blog, coming up with a sensible and informative but catchy title. I initially wanted to go with a Buzzfeed-like title of "Five things every Singaporean goes through when going overseas" but realised it just wouldn't be accurate, cos not every Singaporean goes through what I describe (cos it's specifically what I experienced as a Catholic Singaporean Chinese), though most people probably do experience something similar. Coming up with these kind of titles involve massive amounts of generalisation though, and I can't deal with all the caveats and disclaimers popping up in my head as I try to phrase a title, so I just decided to go with the kind of titles scientists wrote in the 19th century ("On the Origin of Species" Darwin 1859; "On the Age of the Sun's Heat" Kelvin 1862; "On the Physical Basis of Life" Huxley 1869 etc., you get the idea).

1. My Chinese name becoming my family/last/surname

Simply handing over your passport/NRIC to an official (usually at the airport) is almost never a good idea, cos you just end up in a mild panic when they tell you "I'm sorry I can't find you on our database". Then you realised it's because they tried to search "Shimin" for family name instead of "Sze". Potentially even worse for people who only have Chinese names like "Tan Ah Long".

2. Trouble with filling up forms

This isn't much of a problem for me, since I do have a Christian/English name, but for those who don't, the institution is always screwing your name up. You'd be Mr Long, Tan A. Long, Tan Long etc. Some people with names like mine try to be 'clever' and get it written 'the way it is on your passport' and write "Jocelyne" under first/given name and "Sze Shimin" under family/last/surname, and I guess that could work out but it's just weird. And when I fill in my emergency next-of-kin details, I always fear someday, someone will ring up my dad and ask for "Kim", and he'll say "sorry wrong number".

3. Having your name wrangled when pronounced

It's not exclusive to Chinese names, it's probably the same with every other name that isn't of English origin. But still, being announced to everyone as "Miss Jeng" (or something similar sounding) at my graduation wasn't very nice. Though to be fair, "Sze" is weird.

4. "What's your real name?"

Kind of like "Where are you really from?" questions I guess, cos you know, "Jocelyne" is actually a fake name. Okay maybe that was a bit of a harsh comparison since not everyone has a Christian/English name from birth, and I can't really think of anyone who's asked that worded exactly like that. Had a few "What's your... Do you have other names?"

5. Not recognising friends' names on Facebook

When you've got friends whom you knew by their Chinese names in school, then they went overseas and become "Amanda Tan" or "Benjamin Lee" (not trying to finger point anyone, but these were the most generic English/Chinese names I could think of)... And I'd be scrolling through my Facebook feed wondering who these people are...

It's probably way easier if we all just adopted the "English" way of naming, but then where's the cultural exchange and broadening of minds and all that stuff right. It's only with exposure that one learns.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Losing skin.

It's one of those things you don't appreciate till you've lost it. Especially for fit, healthy people, I know I often take my physical condition for granted. I fell off my bike last Friday, while taking a turn too fast (it was downhill). Skidded and rolled over a bit, on a pavement not a busy road thankfully, and got a couple of scrapes. Really thankful it's nothing worse, no broken bones or sprained joints, and it's only a couple of scrapes on my hands, knees and foot. It could have been much worse. I just sat there admonishing myself for being silly and actually thinking why not take the turn faster than I usually do, cos like I should improve my cycling skills or something right. So so stupid, really, especially with the bouldering competition on the weekend. A passer-by ran over to help, and she helped me wheel my bike to the uni and got me to the university health service to clean up my scrapes, really nice she was. Anyway, that moment of silliness cost me $75 + however many wound pads I need, as well as some pain from lacking a protective covering.

I managed to get through Boulderfest yesterday with some paracetamol, though I definitely looked the silliest bouldering with gauze patches on my left thumb, right palm, both knees and right foot. And subsequently attained another scrape on my right calf while attempting a boulder problem. I competed in the Open B category, meant for people who, in the last year, did boulder problems between grades V2-V4. (There was also Open C, for V0-V1 grades, and Open A for V5+, and Youth/Junior/Master categories on Saturday).

Boulderfest 2015 at Urban Climb, Brisbane

The format of Boulderfest is quite interesting, with >100 problems of all grades that one could attempt within a 2.5 hours window, but only the top 10-scoring problems would count towards your score. It was pretty high-tech too, with judges submitting your score online once you completed the problem, so that your score is automatically updated and reflected on the projected screen throughout the climbing period. There were some really interesting problems involving gym balls, ropes, and finger boards too.

Overall, it was really quite fun, though I didn't push myself as hard as I probably would have. Doing high steps and sitting in was made possible only through the effect of paracetamol I am sure. Managed to place 6th for that, which for Open B and Open A categories, was the qualifiers round. The finals round was more like standard competition format, whatever it's called, with 4 minutes to solve a problem and 4 minutes rest after, with 4 problems to solve. Only managed to top 1 problem (a nice balance-y one), came really close to topping 2 problems (which were both on overhangs and I couldn't get a hold on the last tile) and didn't even get to the bonus tile on the other problem (kept barn-dooring). Final placing was still 6th, which I think, given I've only got back to climbing for a month (barely climbed the last few years), with all my scrapes and all, isn't too bad really. Also, yesterday was National Day, thought it was quite nice to have "represented" Singapore at the competition, though no one really cares where you're from (I doubt anyone realised I wasn't a regular competitor. It was the first competition for a good number of the other finalists too)

So anyway, losing skin really hurts, it's a very important organ that we take for granted. I can't imagine the pain people go through with burns, or who have epidermolysis bullosa where your skin is so thin/fragile it keeps breaking. I've seen that video of that boy who needs to be bandaged all the time cos of that condition, and you feel sympathy for him and his mom who's his caregiver, but I dont think most of us can really understand the pain. Cos we usually have all our skin intact, or with just minor scrapes (like mine) over small areas.

 It's been such a long time since I had an injury this 'severe' really, so apologies for all the whining. It also means I can't cycle to commute for the time being, which is rather annoying cos public transport here costs more than I'm happy to pay ($3+ per journey, even if it's just one stop).

Hope they scab over and heal soon, especially with this 'healing gel' they use here. I really want to get at least a dive trip in at some point before I leave.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The appeal of climbing.

Because this.

As I get back into climbing proper, I'm reminded of the frustrations and delights of climbing. The frustration of not being to 'stick' a hold, or especially when bouldering, being just too short to get anywhere near the next hold/having to do an insane dyno to get it. But that awesome feeling when you deadpoint to a crimp/sloper and you stick it, or when you thought you wouldn't be able to clear the crux, but you do. 

Dyno-ing to a sloper on an overhang is just insanee. Image taken from Spotsetting blog
I'm more of top-rope/sport lead climber than a boulderer, and much prefer technical routes to dynamic, powerful boulder problems. But the boulder competition is this Sun, so boulder I must. And as I watch people boulder, I often marvel at their strength, cos throwing to a sloper pinch on an overhang requires some insane power. Climbing, I'm sure, is one of the few sports which trains for remarkable superhuman strength that is mostly invisible (i.e. not like weight-lifters or body-builders). 

And it's not just physical, there's just as much, if not more, mental strength that's needed. People fail more from lack of faith in themselves/fear of falling/injury, than from not physically being able to do the move. I think that's why kids who haven't developed the fear of falling do well (and same for little kids skiing. They ski soo well. Or at least, better than me, which probably isn't saying much.) 

Cute kids skiing

Though kids these days are climbing much harder routes than before, mainly because it's a relatively new sport (climbing itself has been around for a while, but climbing as a competitive sport is still young). Climbing's on the rise, so there's a lot of boundaries still up for pushing. 

Even anecdotally, climbing does seem to be more popular now than 7-8 years ago when I first started climbing proper. I was even called an 'old-timer' by someone who just started climbing :X In the biology building that I'm currently in, the floor (that I'm on) which deals with environmental/ecological sciences has some 6-8 climbers and within a week of arriving I managed to suss them out to go climbing with (while the other floors that deal with other branches of biology only have a couple of climbers). The combination of conservation ecology/environmental sciences and climbing go really well together I guess. It's great to be able to find fellow climbers/climbing gyms easily, though on the downside, that 'cool' or 'unique' appeal of climbing is waning, and gyms are so much more crowded.

Nonetheless, the combination of being able to physically and mentally challenge myself, the sense of belonging one feels to the climbing community worldwide, and the outdoor adventure is what appeals to me and keeps me climbing. And now that sport climbing indoors is picking up so much momentum, it's impetus for me to go outdoors more and start traditional climbing.

Climbing photo from 3 years ago cos that's almost the last time I climbed outdoors (the last two times I just didn't get photos).

Monday, August 03, 2015

the social comfort zone.

Meant to post this last week, but I haven't been feeling very inspired to blog all that much, for some reason. Been here in Brisbane for almost a month now, though I did go back to Singapore for the weekend. It's been pretty nice, more or less settled in, going to the uni during working hours, climbing at least 2-3 times a week after work (& getting back my callused hands), with weekends spent climbing at Mt Tibrogargan, camping at Girraween National Park, and (rabbit)-trapping at Gatton. Main mode of transport is a second-hand bike that I got for $90, which is way cheaper than paying $3+ every time I take public transport (bus/ferry). Brisbane is super hilly though, a stark contrast from pancake-flat Cambridge, so I'm getting quite a bit of a workout I think.

View from somewhere up the Pyramid, Girraween National Park 
People here all seem rather nice, with the same 'hi, how're you?' greeting habit as in the UK. When I'm back home in Singapore, it stays on my tongue for a while, and I get weird looks from cashiers and bus drivers, reminding me once again that I'm home. But as I hang out with people here, I'm constantly struck by how normal they are, and how I've really just been in a bubble the past decade or so. The conversations, past times, daily routine etc. I don't mean to say that they're horrible people, or that I'm exceptional, I'm just acknowledging my weirdness. Which is rather normal amongst my friends, I should think.

Perhaps this then, is a reason why schools are differentiated. Not trying to justify elitism, but I felt comfortable and secure in rg/rj/camb, in a way that I didn't in primary school. Some of it would be down to maturity and just 'finding oneself', I'm sure, but I think it's more the fact that I managed to find friends there who think similarly to me, who were happy just reading all the time (instead of say, going to the mall? what do people do?), where being geeky was acceptable and the norm (rather than getting strange looks or just feeling like you're talking to yourself, or maybe I'm just too sensitive). I can imagine some people might say, oh that's cos you're in the top school, and in Singapore where success (at least when young) is often measured by academic/intellectual standards, that's a sign of success and why you feel secure and confident. Maybe, but maybe not. As I mentioned in some other blogpost previously, there's a tremendous pressure to perform well, to fulfil expectations, to be perfect, just cos being a good child in Singapore means to be a good student in everything. Usually. And I know people who are insecure and doubt themselves, doubt their calibre and ability, and constantly wonder if they're in the right place. I do that too. But while I know I'll never be the smartest and feel on top of all my work, at least I've made good friends. People who I feel understand me (for the most part) or at least won't judge me (negatively) for what I say or do, people whom I can talk to and chat with for hours, even when I haven't seen them in eons, people whom I'm happy and comfortable around. And so, if only for the emotional welfare of these students, is that reason good enough to keep higher-achieving students in better schools? Or is that just me being too presumptuous, about my abilities, what I stand for, who I represent?

Some of that discomfort could be due to other differences unrelated to academic ability, I'm not saying I only make friends with 'smart' people. I certainly don't get along with everyone in the schools I've been to. But just as a consequence of my schooling, my social circle is as it is, and I hope I don't sound like a snob just for saying that. I try my best, when meeting new people (especially Singaporeans), to neglect to mention my educational history. For some reason or other, Singaporeans seem to think that "whoaa, so smart. I better move away." is a reasonable and appropriate response upon hearing what schools I've been to. In jest perhaps, but it does say something doesn't it.

Dawn at Gatton
I always found climbing to be my major social equaliser, cos climbing is climbing and it doesn't matter what school you went to, or whether others think/act like me. And for me, I'm (usually) very happy climbing which also makes me chattier with strangers than normal. But hanging out during climbing/talking about topics revolving around climbing doesn't necessarily mean I'd be able to hit off well in other situations too. And I guess while I'm usually a rather talkative person, it's only when I'm comfortable with the company I'm with. The same for most people, I'm sure, but some people are better than others at dealing with socially uncomfortable situations.

I don't think I'm considered shy, or to have social anxiety. I don't enjoy parties or crowds, but small groups I cope with quite well. A small group of strangers, depending on the context, I could deal with quite happily or with a little less interaction, but with semi-strangers (people you know and who know you but not very well), that's the one that usually gets me. Probably because I think too much about what they would think about me. I think I can read/understand people quite easily, and without much conscious effort I usually think about how others are feeling or what they might possibly be thinking. In novel environments, I consciously do this more, in an effort to understand what's going on and figure out the social setting, but more often than not, even when I might guess at what prevailing emotions or thoughts are, I may not know what to say still. Which makes me wonder, are socially awkward people socially awkward cos they're not reading other people well, or because they just don't know how to respond. I should think the latter, because people who don't read others well aren't usually socially awkward. They're usually the most obvious/prominent/loudest people, I think :P

Awkward = me in a dress with my waterproof jacket and bagpack heading to the train station at 545am to catch my flight. (I also realised those phone booths that no one uses anymore make pretty good selfie booths ^^)
So for one summer, I'm out of my social comfort zone. Not sure if I prefer this or to be out of my physical comfort zone.

Strong - London Grammar
Excuse me for a while
While I’m wide-eyed
And I’m so down, caught in the middle
I’ve excused you for a while
While I’m wide-eyed
And I’m so damn caught in the middle

And a lion, a lion roars would you not listen?
If a child, a child cries would you not forgive them?

Yeah, I might seem so strong
Yeah, I might speak so long
I've never been so wrong
Yeah, I might seem so strong
Yeah, I might speak so long
I've never been so wrong

Excuse me for a while,
Turn a blind eye
With a stare caught right in the middle
Have you wondered for a while
I have a feeling deep down
You’re caught in the middle?

If a lion, a lion roars would you not listen?
If a child, a child cries would you not forgive them?

Yeah, I might seem so strong
Yeah, I might speak so long
I've never been so wrong
Yeah, I might seem so strong
Yeah, I might speak so long
I've never been so wrong

Excuse me for a while
While I’m wide-eyed
And I’m so damn caught in the middle
Have you wondered for a while
I have a feeling deep down?
You’re caught in the middle

Yeah, I might seem so strong
Yeah, I might speak so long
I've never been so wrong
Yeah, I might seem so strong
Yeah, I might speak so long
I've never been so wrong