In brief...

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
My interests vary from conservation to education to heritage to Nature (biodiversity & wildlife) to outdoor activities to life in general.
They occupy most of my waking moment.
Do read my blogs, follow me on Twitter (@jocelynesze) and friend me on Facebook (subject to my discretion). Visit my Nature blog, Nature Rambles, at http://natureramble.wordpress.com.

UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit jocelynesze.wordpress.com if you're interested in more recent writing.

Monday, 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