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UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit jocelynesze.wordpress.com if you're interested in more recent writing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mountains, forests and long hikes.

In Cambridge, mountains, forests and hikes are probably more distant than in Singapore. It's not that it isn't possible - the hillwalking club and mountaineering club do weekend trips (Fri-Sun) to Wales, Peak District, Lake District - but like I mentioned in the previous post, I'm not that willing to sacrifice that much time away from work especially in term. But at least there's the Banff Mountain Film Festival UK and Ireland tour, a screening today, and another one (with a different set of films) a fortnight later.

And it's great. It's a reminder of why I wanted to work with the natural world, to keep it as status quo as possible for a while more. I care about biodiversity conservation, and most of the adventures are in landscapes that seem fairly barren, almost definitely not where the highest species richness is. But ultimately, seeing sunrises/sunsets, completely dark night skies completely covered in stars, landscapes not marred by skyscrapers and feeling the raw power of nature, that's all the same.

List of films screened today: https://storify.com/jocelynesze/banff-mountain-film-festival-2015

Makes me really wanna go on an expedition, or a nice long climbing trip. And I realise that getting tired, and questioning your actions is something that happens even to the best of us. That you could be at home looking after 5 children, or at the office working at the computer, attending lectures 5-6 hours a day, or walking through the desert, and "Why am I doing this? What am I doing with my life?" are still questions that race through your mind. Questioning motives doesn't imply that you don't love what you're doing enough, but it makes you love what you're doing more. But what I feel is that being outdoors, surrounded by nature, pushing your mental and physical limits, that's when you really free yourself up to contemplate and reflect. Which is why there is also the spiritual element.

Then coming back, feeling rather psyched, I read this Guardian article on stories from Auschwitz survivors. Where they also mention long walks. Death marches from concentration camp to concentration camp. Forced out to ghettos in forests. Completely different context and emotion from the self-seeking adventures of thrill and purpose.

The excited, buoyant feelings are somewhat deflated, and I wonder why humans can be so cruel at times. But tragedies are not reasons to wear ash and sackcloths, rather a reminder to not repeat the same mistakes, that life is fragile and transient, and that we really should make the most of our short stay on earth.


Meanwhile though, essays on conservation physiology and evolution of endothermy in mammals still need to be written.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Is it stressful??"

Being from Raffles and now Cambridge, it's not uncommon to be asked that question. I always found that to be a bit of an odd question, because surely how stressful you find an environment depends on yourself and how well you cope with stress. Every individual organism has a range of tolerance to various stresses in the environment, some with a smaller range, others larger. Of course, the environment itself can be considered stressful or not. In biological terms, a habitat like an intertidal rocky shore is usually considered to be stressful as organisms are exposed to a wide range of environmental parameters over a short time period, eg daily high and low tides. But that doesn't mean you don't find living organisms living at an intertidal rocky shore; you just find organisms better adapted at coping with the stresses there.

A better question would perhaps be 'do you find it stressful?', to which I would probably have a long, ponderous answer.

When I was in Raffles, whether the four years in secondary school or the two years in junior college, I don't think I felt it particularly stressful. I didn't feel the need to produce a perfect piece of work all the time, or to have read widely. I could engage in all the other things I enjoyed doing, hold multiple positions in several different groups/societies, spend a fair amount of my time not studying and not feel particularly bothered by it. Sure, there were times when I was stressed by the activities I was organising when they weren't going well, but those are only to be expected. I had my friends who were in similar situations and we could gripe and whine about our problems together.

The city of stress. View from St. John College's tower

Here in Cambridge though, it's a little trickier to answer that question. I read an article on Quora on what it's like to attend the University of Cambridge, and there appears to be quite a few voices saying if they could turn back time, they wouldn't have come to Cambridge because it's competitive, stressful, fitting in socially was difficult etc. There is a current on-going campaign by the Cambridge University Student Union to reduce the stress experienced by students during term time here, by introducing a reading week in the middle of term. Most people seem to be in favour of it (the motion passed during CUSU's council meeting last Monday) but I am rather apprehensive of how effective it would actually be. There is a high number of students in Cambridge who suffer from mental health issues (though I'm a bit doubtful of the rigour of that survey and it's reliability), which was probably why the whole Cambridge-is-too-stressful issues was brought up in the first place.

I can't say I haven't been stressed out during my term here. When I go for lectures and supervisions, I do feel like I haven't been doing enough work. I need to read more, I need to remember the names, I need to spend more time thinking about my subject area and trying to form links between different things, I need to write better essays, I need to think more critically etc. I feel like I need to spend more time on my work because I'm not as brilliant (my mind's not as sharp, my critical thinking is severely lacking etc) as some of my peers who seem to produce really good arguments without much effort.

And though most courses here would be equally if not more rigorous (I thankfully do not have labs, though I do have practicals where I stare at bones and rocks and things), plenty of people still find the time to do all sorts of other things. Performing or directing plays/musicals, organising conferences, playing sports which actually require training (I play for my college in netball matches about once a month or so), going on weekend trips hiking/climbing/caving (which I've only ever done once in my almost three years here because I'm paranoid about being away from work for so long), being part of choir/music ensembles, the list just goes on. Oh and of course, people find time to go clubbing, socialising, and drinking till 4am as well.

Or staying in lab till sunset (or past it even). View from Earth sciences department GSA lab

But people are able to cope. We gripe, we get stressed, we can't wait for the end of week 8. It's a matter of what you expect from yourself. Being surrounded by amazing and brilliant people, it's really easy to get overwhelmed and feel insignificant and inferior. I know I've felt that more often than not during my time here, but I try not to let that get me down, because I know I got in for a reason, and different people have different strengths.

To me, academic stress isn't as detrimental as social stress. Everyone wants to do well academically, and getting in to Cambridge is probably a sign that you are able to perform to some academic standards. But not everyone has the same social 'capacity', for lack of a better word. There are really extroverted people, who easily make lots of friends and spend lots of time socialising, and there are really introverted people who avoid social events and spend most of their time in their room, and there are those in between. Every one of these people is likely to have felt alone and depressed at some point in Cambridge.

Those who feel alone, and that on top of all the academic stress, is what I think causes breakdowns. I feel that because everyone comes from such different social backgrounds, have such different interests etc, that people feeling like they're alone, that their situation is unique and that other people don't get where they're coming from/why they're feeling upset or stressed occurs more often than at other places perhaps. But I guess if you've at least got a good group of friends, those moments come and go and you know they're just phases in your life. Or if you've got a somewhat stable mental state.

I'm not saying that people having mental health problems and facing depression in Cambridge is an insignificant issue, or that they are insignificant. It matters, and we should care and look out for these people. But the fact of life is that the world is not going to become less stressful just because depression is on the rise globally. I personally feel that most people aren't prepared to come to university, or to deal with the stresses that come with it. Maybe in particular Cambridge more than others.

Cambridge is a stressful university to be in, but knowing that lots of other people have gone through it and emerged (seemingly) fine, and that other people are in it together with me help me cope I guess, and like what a lady told me when I was on a soup run and concerned that she didn't have a warm place to sleep that night, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

And even during the most stressful period (the weeks before exams), running through places like this just makes one feel better.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Last 6 months.

I feel like finishing my Michaelmas term project deserves a blogpost. Yes, the whining about this project is finally over, as I print and bind and will soon submit the report. Only there is still the Lent term project that begins on Tuesday. Wouldn't say this project was my finest work, it's a bit depressing knowing that your entire project is pretty much not very useful because the quality of the data you can get is quite crap, but the skills learnt through the process were quite useful, and I did rather enjoy it (when I wasn't banging my head out of frustration)

It's just the start of Lent term of my final year. In part, I somewhat still feel like I'm on holiday, as lectures have only just started and supervisions haven't been scheduled yet. But I only just finished my project report – somehow Cambridge manages to turn studying into a year-long marathon, with little respite during the vacations. Though of course, vacation is still a lot more chill than term time, and I did enjoy my Christmas break in Singapore with family etc. Point is, I am finally done and there is suddenly the room in my brain to think about other matters! Like summer plans, driving lessons, Easter vacation plans and how to go about studying effectively for the rest of the academic year.

I wanna go on holiday nowwwwww. But no, 8 weeks of Cambridge term is all I get.
Also, I passed my driving theory test last Tuesday! :D

Monday, January 12, 2015

this world's just crazy.

We live in a such an insane world.

It's an amazing fact that there is life on our planet, that we're just the right distance away from the sun, just the right size, of the right composition etc. etc. That from the formation of the universe and the solar system and the earth, came life. And from tiny microscopic 'simple' life forms, came a mind-blowing diversity of 'simple' and 'complex' life forms filling every space and niche on this planet. And simply, that we as humanity, are here.

Yet so many people don't seem to appreciate all that. It's really sad to wake up to headline after headline of a few, a dozen, hundreds, thousands killed by other humans. Thousands, mostly women, children and the elder, killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria. But they get less press coverage than the dozen killed by extremists in Paris.  Maybe we're just desensitised to the horrors going on in these politically unstable countries, while we expect Paris to be a 'safe place'. And then just with the Paris attacks, first the condemnation of the attack on 'free speech', the 'JesuisCharlie' movement, along with more hate and phobia about the Islamic religion. Then the reverse, with more sensible voices about it not being about religion or Islam, and how we are conditioned to see things through certain lenses, because of the way media reports. Such a convoluted world.

Sighs, why can't we just have world peace? We don't have to agree on everything in the world, but we don't have to resort to violence, do we? It seems like humanity is bent on driving itself to extinction, through a combination of massacres, civil wars, terrorist attacks, destroying of habitats, climate change and whatever else. (Nah I don't actually think we'll be able to drive ourselves extinct by killing each other)




Anyway, in my first world problems, I've arrived safely and unpacked, only to find that I am missing my pillow. Also slept almost through the entire 13:50 hour flight and the 3:20 hour coach ride, but am still sleepy.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's Time.

It's time. Once again, the month flies by and it's time to leave sunny, rainy Singapore and head back to damp, foggy UK.

Compared to the last two Dec hols, this has been a lot more work and a lot less play. Nonetheless, it's been really nice being at home, though I didn't manage to meet up with everyone I would like to as well. Sorry :(

The view from my house. Nothing that can ever be seen in Cambridge.

The three of us ages  ago (I still have that chick I'm holding). Photo taken by my aunt.

The three of us now. Photo taken by a kind stranger. 

Spent lots of times with family though, which is really nice.


Meeting up with friends have been really nice, but rather alarming as well. I guess we're all just growing up.


It's Time - Imagine Dragons
So this is what you meant
When you said that you were spent
And now it's time to build from the bottom of the pit
Right to the top
Don't hold back
Packing my bags and giving the academy a rain-check

I don't ever wanna let you down
I don't ever wanna leave this town
'Cause after all
This city never sleeps at night

It's time to begin, isn't it?
I get a little bit bigger but then I'll admit
I'm just the same as I was
Now don't you understand
That I'm never changing who I am

So this is where you fell
And I am left to sell
The path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell
Right to the top
Don't look back
Turning to rags and giving the commodities a rain-check

I don't ever wanna let you down
I don't ever wanna leave this town
'Cause after all
This city never sleeps at night

It's time to begin, isn't it?
I get a little bit bigger but then I'll admit
I'm just the same as I was
Now don't you understand
That I'm never changing who I am

It's time to begin, isn't it?
I get a little bit bigger but then I'll admit
I'm just the same as I was
Now don't you understand
That I'm never changing who I am

This road never looked so lonely
This house doesn't burn down slowly
To ashes, to ashes

It's time to begin, isn't it?
I get a little bit bigger but then I'll admit
I'm just the same as I was
Now don't you understand
That I'm never changing who I am

It's time to begin, isn't it?
I get a little bit bigger but then I'll admit
I'm just the same as I was
Don't you understand
That I'm never changing who I am

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

another resolution.

As I grapple with my Michaelmas term project (which I've griped about more than a few times here in the past few months), trying to get my model and report ready for submission in little more than a week, I realised how much I've/we've changed given the social media tools we have. Kinda always known/heard about it, but fully realised what it really meant.

I've spent 9 days out of the past 2.5 weeks modelling my results for the project, and because I don't quite understand the model I'm using/I'm shit at stats/my data is pretty crap, I can't seem to get a working/valid model (or understand its output). And every time I hit a modelling block (like now), there is that temptation to need to update my Facebook status/tweet/announce to the world at large about my modelling pains. Probably over the last 7/8 years of my existence on Facebook, I've whined about lots of things, and it's become a bad habit.

The past few times though, as I try to phrase my status update, I start wondering why do I feel the need to tell the world that, and what am I trying to achieve by it? There is probably the hope that perhaps some of my Facebook friends are familiar enough with the problem that they could help me solve it (which has happened on several occasions, thankful for the brilliant friends I have), but more often than not, I'm probably just trying to get sympathy and attention (also wondering how many people would misunderstand if I say "I'm giving up modelling, such a pain and I can't seem to get it right.").

So I decide not to post anything on social media, but the perceived need to whine though, is not satisfied, and I somehow feel unsettled if I don't let it out, so I whine to friends instead. Or blog, lol. But in the past, before social media allowed you to broadcast your every whim and feeling, people just sucked it up and moved on with their lives every time they had issues. So I think this year, I'm gonna try and repress the urge to whine (or whinge, in British slang) and kick the bad habit.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Avalanche.

Avalanche - Chris Tapper
Starting to feel better
Bring on the weather
I feel we're prepared for anything 


Boatloads of lightning
Fire-fighting
Electric cinema in the air

We are the ones who are never afraid
We need no rehearsal to dance
We're well aware this may be our last chance
So bring on the avalanche, bring on the avalanche

Soon to be forgotten
Old and running
A box of bones buried underground

Like numbers on a race car
Rusted in the junkyard
With weeds in the wheels that say "Superstar"

We are the ones who are never afraid
We need no rehearsal to dance
We're well aware this may be our last chance
So bring on the avalanche, bring on the avalanche

We are the ones, it seems, everyone comes to
To find a direction to go
The over-and-under as our work is done here
But we'll be the last ones to know


Sat in a small town
Lost in a big town
And the in-between isn't anything
TV's and traffic jams

A slick traveling salesmen
Says "What is disposable?" Everything

We are the ones who are never afraid
We need no rehearsal to dance
We're well aware this may be our last chance
So bring on the avalanche, bring on the avalanche  
Bring on the avalanche, bring on the avalanche

Had a great trip to Thailand with my family, visiting the nun and priest who used to run this Mission Home in Wiang Kaen which we used to go to every year. Also road-tripped from Bangkok up to Chiang Saen (at the Thai/Laos border), stopped by a couple of historical parks and learnt a bit about Siam's history. And had a pretty awesome time exploring Bangkok/Chatuchak with my awesome sec sch friend who's on exchange there. Spent some evenings watching the Legend of Korra, most evenings playing San Guo Sha, and every night doing my report. Still, it's no where in the state it needs to be haiz. 

Randomly, I also realised that I tend to speak in a rather tentative? fashion. When I say "I think", I mean, "it is". "It is probably" is "It most definitely is". Maybe just habit from writing too many essays when I'm not sure of anything. 

Right, enough digression, bring on the data-analysis/report-writing avalanche.