Transitional Monsoon rain in Singapore

Yesterday I posted on Facebook about the shift from southwest monsoon to southeast monsoon in Singapore originating from Sumatra, Indonesia. The transition from southwest monsoon in June-July to northeast monsoon in December-January appears to happen around September.

This morning, torrential rain brought by prevailing winds from Sumatra (otherwise known as Sumatra squall) came visiting Singapore again. Though the wind directions in Singapore shown in the weather app by National Environment Agency appear haphazard, the rain seems to be moving from southeast to northwest, as shown below.

How will this knowledge help us?

For me, it can help me plan my route if I want to cycle from the western towards the central or eastern part of Singapore during this time. I can ask myself: Which route shall I take to avoid the brunt of the storm as much as possible? When would be the best time to start my journey?

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Two issues on Geography education (in Singapore and UK)

  1. Eurocentrism

Just as Singapore Geography tends to be Singapore-centric, it is expected that UK Geography tends to be UK-centric or Eurocentric.

That means students will be studying Geography through Eurocentric lens. Their understanding would be shaped by Eurocentric upbringing, experiences and perspectives.

While it is somewhat inevitable that we are ethnocentric in our outlook of life, it helps us to be aware of how we perceive cultures that are beyond our personal experiences, so that we don’t impose on our own values and belief systems onto them, and we don’t project our own bias and prejudices onto them.

Students also need to keep in mind not to subscribe stereotypical views about certain countries. For example, a photo of Dhaka, Bangladesh, shows a crowded city on page 72 of Interactions, but it doesn’t represent the whole country.

These may be highlights to the world, understandably so, and due to the sheer diversity of people and cultures, some amount of representations and generalisations have to be made, in order to not be overwhelmed by too much information packed into one book.

What do I mean by “Eurocentric”?

“Eurocentric” as in the system and mindset we grew up in, which includes:

  • We are defined and separated by our national and racial identity.
  • We live in a Western-based monetary capitalistic system (as opposed to barter trade etc).
  • We communicate through the medium of English language.
  • We judge what is considered normal through our own culture and lifestyle, eg a life in which we grow up, study, work, get married and retire etc is considered “normal” and mainstream.

 

  1. Inquiry approach vs Examinations

Therefore, as we seek to tackle Eurocentrism, the enquiry approach comes in as a methodology to ask ourselves why we perceive things as they are, so that we can understand that how we perceive things is a reflection of how we perceive ourselves as we are.

The enquiry approach opens the door to understanding the world wide, so much so that it leaves questions open-ended, to the extent there is no right or wrong answer to every question.

But the challenge is how to do well in exams if we apply the enquiry approach to learning and understanding Geography.

After all, exams is about getting “right” answers and scoring high marks for being able to conform to the norms and standards of the exam papers. Anything that is deemed outside the norms may not get any mark, even if the answers are interesting and insightful.

Late afternoon Sumatra squall

As evening approached on 18 June 2017, Sunday, a late developer of Sumatra squall made its presence felt in Singapore.

Strong winds blowing from southwest brought heavy rain coupled with thunder and lightning, which lasted over an hour. 


“Squall-lines usually occur during pre-dawn and early morning, and are most frequent between the months of April and November. However, squall-lines can occasionally form in the afternoons and move landwards along with the prevailing winds.”
(From Stormy shores: the Sumatras)

Will Kallang River Make It?

kallang river polluted
Kallang River in Potong Pasir. Some flotsam and debris are seen floating on the water on 13 September 2016.

According to an article dated 29 March 2017, Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) has an ambitious plan to turn the areas along Kallang River into a lifestyle hub. The agency is calling on the public to share their feedback on ideas to revitalise the river. Here is a gist of my ideas and aspirations for Kallang River:

First and foremost, the river itself must be clean and conducive to thriving aquatic life, or else no amount of cosmetic changes to the surrounding landscape will do justice to the river.

We cannot solely depend on dredging works in Kallang River that are carried out downstream near Kallang Basin.

Rubbish still occasionally flows into the river from drains in the suburbs such as Toa Payoh and Bishan in the upstream area.

As recent as August 2016, a plethora of unsightly rubbish was seen in Kallang River behind Braddell Road bus depot after a storm, as shown in this website .

Until every effort is made to curb pollution, littering and inconsiderate disposal of waste – whether in the river premises or in the surrounding suburbs – the vision of a vibrant and living Kallang River will remain an elusive dream.

Can we truly see a transformation from “A stagnant, ugly, dirty canal runs through it” to “An active, beautiful, clean river runs through it”?

Time will tell.

Circuses and our evolving consciousness

National Geographic has published an online photo gallery of the Ringling Bros Circus. I don’t remember following Ringling Bros Circus but I vaguely recalled having watched some circus shows on TV when I was younger. In today’s rising consciousness about animal welfare, changing lifestyles and perceptions and so on, it is perhaps understandable that circuses aren’t generally as popular as they were during their heyday.
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One vivid memory I had about circuses though is the book I read when I was in primary school called “Mr Galliano’s Circus” written by Enid Blyton. I remember I was struggling with learning English in Primary 1 or 2, and did not score well in English tests or exams, partly because I wasn’t well read at a young age. When I stumbled upon “Mr Galliano’s Circus” in the school library, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the language level was just right for me at that point in time, and I believe it marked a turning point for me to develop a love for reading story books, thanks to the intriguing premise of the story about a boy called Jimmy (the name sounds familiar) who embarked on an adventure when he got to travel with the circus with his parents.
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I googled about the book and found it interesting that a reviewer wrote the following

“But Mr Galliano’s Circus is also quite subversive. An ordinary family gives up their comfortable suburban life and joins the circus. Ultimately this is a book about freedom and escaping the rat race.”

For all the controversies surrounding circuses, I have to admit that circuses at that point in history probably would have developed from a different set of cultures, values and circumstances than that in the kind of modern societies in which I live. Back in those days, animals from the wild were seen as mysterious and taming wild animals was a wonder for people who grew up all their lives in urban concrete jungles to watch, and the circus life was seen as a source of entertainment and an escapade from the mainstream societal system that didn’t have iPads, YouTube and MTVs for instant entertainment.
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As much as I empathised with the wild animals such as lions and elephants that had to bear the ignominy and inconveniences of being confined in unnatural cages and subjugated to perform circus tricks, I have to understand that the people who grew up being involved in circus life didn’t know much better at that time, and through a rising consciousness about how we are all interconnected, we begin to understand a bit better about ourselves and others, and we begin to make positive changes and learn to make adjustments to create a better, more humane and equitable world…

Water pollution issue in Singapore

This is the original, unedited letter I emailed to Straits Time forum. It was published online on 8 September 2016, entitled “Don’t overlook rubbish in less-frequented areas“.

It has been said that Singapore is not so much a “clean” city as it is a “cleaned” city. I agree. On 23 August 2016, I saw lots of rubbish floating in the river next to Braddell bus depot. It must have been washed into the river from drains flowing through Bishan and Toa Payoh after a storm.
Polluted river canal
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

I highlighted the water pollution issue to PUB via OneService app, and three days later, I saw some workers cleaning up the river at Potong Pasir from the rubbish that we, as a society, have been littering or disposing of.

River cleaning
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

On 7 September, I revisited the river at Potong Pasir and noticed that the rubbish has reappeared after a pre-dawn downpour.

Polluted river
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

I think we tend to focus on having clean-looking waters in the more frequented areas such as Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and Kallang Basin where residents and visitors hang out, but the less frequented areas are often neglected. Also, I doubt that the otters living in Kallang Basin would want to swim upstream back to Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park when there is rubbish floating in Kallang River that flows through the high-density populated areas.

We must realise that everything that we throw indiscriminately in the drains will end up in the rivers that flow towards the sea. But we are so preoccupied with our own lives that we fail to see the impacts of our inconsiderate actions. It is usually when a storm occurs that all these accumulated rubbish in the drains are washed into the rivers that we notice the full impact of our actions – unsightly flotsam, stinking water and eutrophication caused by algal bloom, all of which affect aquatic life negatively.

Are we going to continue to ignore the root of the pollution problem in our country and shirk our responsibility in keeping the environment clean by distracting ourselves through our consumeristic lifestyles and not caring about how we dispose of rubbish in public places? Are we only concerned with keeping up an image of living in a supposedly “green and clean city” by focusing only on the appearance of the more frequented areas and neglecting the less frequented areas? When we do not think about how our actions affect the animals, plants and the environment, our actions will ultimately affect ourselves adversely because we are all interconnected in the ecosystem.

Two days after my letter was published in ST Forum Online, I noticed the river at Potong Pasir appeared to have been cleaned up by the national water agency PUB (Public Utilities Board) as it looked cleaner, but this morning (13 September), I noticed the water pollution has recurred, as the river had floating rubbish and debris, presumably washed into the river from nearby drains after a storm had occurred the day before.

“Water in the Kallang River flows into the Marina Reservoir.”

(From PUB says water pollution at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park “not likely to be kerosene”)

Enough is enough – something has to be done to deal with the persistent water pollution problem at its roots. We are all complicit in this violation against the environment, and ultimately against ourselves.

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Stubby squids and other mysteries

A National Geographic article shared by a colleague invites readers to watch a video of a googly-eyed sea creature that cracked up scientists. The purple stubby squid is intriguing indeed. I googled about it and found another video of this “muppet” swimming on the ocean floor.
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 The cartoon-like eyes of the squid make me wonder… who came up with the idea that big round eyes make for cute, cartoon-like creatures? Before the discovery of this squid with cartoon eyes, one would probably have thought that big round eyes are the invention of human cartoonists and muppeteers, which are often featured in cartoons ranging from Mickey Mouse to Dragonball to Sesame Street. But Mother Nature surprised us through this discovery, as if to proclaim that such big-eyed cartoon characters have always existed all along since time immemorial in real life – in the form of stubby squids and the like, way way WAY before such cartoons came on the scene through the invention of media like televisions and comic books in the modern world.
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Perhaps another mystery is… how did human beings conceive of big round eyes of a stubby squid when they first drew cute cartoon characters, long before they had ever seen such creatures in real life? Are we human beings an extension of the Universe such that we are all interconnected with all other living beings, and by some telepathy or mysterious soul imprints and mystical connections, we intuitively create works of art resembling some other creatures without knowing of their existence or seeing them before?
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Maybe there is something deeply profound in the imaginations of human beings, which may be a key to unravel the ancient mysteries such as pyramids, crop circles, UFOs, and so on…
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Meanwhile, life goes on… in a world where students are often told by the education system to not daydream and study hard so that they can work in a rank-and-file capitalistic system and live a nondescript life, while the mysteries of life continue to stay hidden in the deep recesses of human consciousness, unexplored and unexplained.

A visit to Lentor-Tagore forest 

Having been reading on Facebook about the impending development of Lentor area that will result in the destruction of forest and two natural streams, I decided to check out the area this afternoon in search of the elusive streams. 

But it turned out that I was a bit too late because when I arrived at Yio Chu Kang road via Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, I saw that the entrance to the forest, where the streams were supposed to be, has been fenced off, and a portion of the forest behind a bus stop along Yio Chu Kang road has already been cleared. 

I decided to cycle around Lentor private housing estate, hoping to find another way to Lentor forest. The nearest I could get to the forest is via a canal near the junction of Lentor avenue and Seletar Expressway (SLE).

From the end of the canal, I could see heavy machinery clearing the forest. I found a path through the forest fringe that led me closer to the clearing. 

I decided not to venture too close to the clearing and turned back. I later circled round the area via Springleaf nature park in the north to the other side of the forest, hoping to find an entrance to the forest from Tagore Industrial Avenue. 

I managed to find a small entrance along the avenue, and walked some distance along the fringe of the Tagore forest. I came to the point where forest clearing was taking place in the south beside a stagnant-looking water body. 

Is that part of a natural stream? I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to trespass the construction site, and decided to hike in another part of the forest. I followed a track through Tagore forest that led me to SLE in the north. 

Apart from some wildlife such as a wild boar, a jungle rooster and munias, I didn’t see much in this area. There seems no signs of any natural streams. I suppose they are only found in the part of the Lentor forest that has been fenced off, which I wasn’t able to access. (Or maybe there is another entrance to Lentor forest that leads to the streams that I am unaware of, as I am unfamiliar with the area.)

I decided to call it a day, as evening was approaching. I cycled via Teachers’ Estate back to Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, and took a lift up to the highest floor of a HDB block, and snapped some sunset pictures, showing an aerial view of the remaining forest next to Teachers’ Estate.

#BLM & #CLM: Being part of an oppressed group and standing in solidarity

#BlackLivesMatter and #CyclistsLivesMatter

I have come to realise that just as Black people, or darker-skinned people in general, are the most oppressed group of people on Earth when it comes to race and ethnicity, cyclists are the most oppressed group of people on Earth when it comes to the mode of transport or travel.

This realisation came to me recently while I was mulling over activism on social issues, particularly issues on anti-Black racism and anti-cyclist sentiments that have persisted for many years.

For a start, what do #BlackLivesMatter and #CyclistsLivesMatter have in common?

On the surface, both of these liberation movements seem unrelated and disparate because one has to do with race and the other has to do with the mode of transport or travel. But I would venture to say that both the Black community and cycling community have been subject to systemic oppression and inexplicable hatred from others for the longest time.

For the Black community, the age-old enemies have always been “micro-aggressions, white privilege and white supremacy“. Through centuries of white Euro-centric media propaganda as well as colorist traditions and mindsets in various parts of the world that favour white skin or fair skin over dark skin, the most sacred spaces in Black people are “often filled with stories of trauma, internalized racism and the struggle of self-love“.

Black Lives Matter Black Friday
Over the years, many of our Black brothers and sisters, though they were unarmed and innocent, have been subject to police brutality especially in USA. (Source: Wikipedia)

Similarly, for the cycling community, the enemies are usually prejudice, ignorance and classism. On pavements or sidewalks, cyclists are often unwelcome as they are seen as a menace or nuisance by many pedestrians. On roads, cyclists are also regularly harassed or bullied by many motorists who drive cars, taxis, buses or trucks.

cyclistslivesmatter
Cyclists often face hatred and resentment from motorists who do not care about sharing roads with those on bicycles (Source: Cyclists Lives Matter Facebook page)

Both the oppressed groups – the Black community and the cycling community – often feel like they don’t really belong to the societal system because they don’t fit into the perceived norms. They are also often subject to unfair or negative stereotypes.

For example, whenever the issue of anti-Black racism or police brutality on unarmed Black people is brought up on social media or discussion threads, someone would attempt to derail the conversation by mentioning some negative stereotypes such as Black-on-Black crime instead of acknowledging that the problem of racial discrimination and institutional oppression does exist. The irony is that Black-on-Black crime is a direct result of White supremacy and internalised racism. If not for White supremacy, would Black people (or people of colour in general) be struggling with internalised hatred towards themselves and towards one another?

Similarly, whenever the issue of anti-cyclist sentiments is brought up on social media or forums, someone would attempt to deflect from the issue by talking about errant cyclists who knock down pedestrians on sidewalks or who flout traffic rules on roads. While there will always be a handful of rude or inconsiderate cyclists who give the majority of cyclists a bad name, it doesn’t detract from the reality that cyclists in general are discriminated and not given equal space, whether on pavements or on roads.

black-lives-matter-friday-1356
Standing in solidarity with the oppressed as one humanity, and as one family of brothers and sisters (Source: http://www.seattleglobalist.com)

Contrary to negative colonialist views of Black people, Africans and African Americans in general are some of the most amazingly warm, humane and hospitable people in their own right. They have contributed to many important inventions and shaped the American culture, and they excel in art, sports, music and entertainment, to name a few. Without Black musicians, for example, there would be no rap, R&B, rock and roll, and soul music as we know and hear them today.

Similarly, cyclists are changing the world for the better in a number of ways. They take up less space and help ease traffic congestion on roads. They are environmentally friendly, as compared to motorists driving greenhouse-gas-emitting vehicles. Many of them also advocate a healthy lifestyle.

It is time for the world to acknowledge that Black lives do matter and cyclists’ lives do matter. It is also time for the world to stop subscribing to negative stereotypes of Black or darker skinned people as well as of cyclists and stop harming or killing them, and start appreciating them for who they are and how they contribute to the betterment of the world in their own ways and start standing in solidarity with them.

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Being human in an ever-shifting landscape of thoughts and emotions

ultima5
Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultima_V:Warriors_of_Destiny

In a computer RPG (Role Playing Game) game such as Ultima, the character is always in the middle of the screen. It may appear to be moving when we press the direction arrow keys to move it around to explore the virtual world, but it is the landscape that is moving while the character remains stationary.

In a way, each of us is like the character. The scenery around us may change as we move from place to place going about our lives, but in a deeper reality, we remain stationary – only the circumstances around us change, and we feel compelled to react or respond to changing circumstances.

Maybe therein lies the secret of remaining grounded in inner peace and stability? Maybe what we need to do isn’t so much as to remain unperturbed and emotionless, but to observe with equanimity our thoughts and emotions that rise and ebb with each changing circumstance.

mapmyride 24 july 2016
Source: MapMyRide

On my way cycling to Waterway Point via the Northeast riverine PCN (Park Connector Network), I thought to myself it was one of the most scenic and enjoyable places to cycle. The nature scenery, the breeze, the relatively few people compared to the usually crowded East Coast Parkway.

But when I reached Waterway Point, my mood changed. The buildings in the vicinity looked rather opulent and soulless – they looked more like an extravagant display of affluence and grandeur at the expense of the migrant construction workers’ blood, sweat and tears who built those buildings. They reminded me of the Babylonian Hanging Gardens – once a symbol of material success and status, now a relic of a fallen kingdom that has been reduced to ruins. Maybe Singapore would be destined to such a fate if the relentless quest for materialism, capitalism and mass consumerism continues unabated, unchecked and unchallenged.

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