The big picture by Jason Silva

“There’s a great anecdote about the very first photograph taken of earth from the vantage point of space.

The idea was that this photograph occasioned a profound shift in the understanding of ourselves.

You see, for the first time in human history we could look back at our planet in its entirety and see the big picture.

This provided an ontological awakening, it changed our story, our narrative, it upgraded our self-image and expand our consciousness, new maps for new realities as they say.

Astronauts in orbit call this experience the overview effect.

A boundary-shattering sense of revelation and global interconnectedness where we shake off our petty differences and emerge with a sense of global responsibility, global consciousness, and global citizenship.

Carl sagan’s famous “Pale Blue Dot” film echoed this same idea.

From the vantage point of space, there are no lines dividing nations, no geographic subdivisions, no flags or racial divides or disputed territory.

There is only earth, a single celestial body teaming with life, the womb in which we dwell.

Yet the fact is our historically myopic view, most certainly our limited perspective has resulted in much animosity.

We have all too often organized ourselves into competing hostile tribes subjugating each other for land and resources and misrepresenting the big picture into a story of borders, subdivisions, and dividing lines.

Too much hostility and not enough empathy and compassion.

Cultural differences, religion, tribes, nation, race, these are created expressions and variations that should and could be celebrated.

Instead, they have become symbols that are all too often used to create suffocating boundaries.

They are increasingly ill-conceived to address the challenges of a hyper-connected global world.

As advancements in technology and information enable greater mobility of ideas goods and people, the role of the physical boundary has shifted and due for an upgrade.

Conflicts remain and too many people are restricted access to the increasingly fluid means of migration, transportation, and movement.

Migration has always been a defining factor of the human experience.

Migration has and continues to touch all nations, cultures, and regions, all peoples on the planet.

Migration has been the seed at the heart of thriving societies accelerating the dissemination of knowledge and ideas.

Restricting migration is ultimately like restricting the flow of ideas and much the same way that we don’t tolerate censorship or book-burning we might consider the ways in which restricting the free movement of people can be equally punishing to the idea of human flourishing.

The desire to become a global citizen is human, we all have it and we all share the same goals for safety comfort and prosperity for our families.

Some are fortunate enough to be able to invest in a second residence and citizenship while others are forced to seek asylum for their survival.

Being a global citizen is also about the strong and the wealthy helping the weak and the poor.

As we saw with the global citizen tax initiative, border disputes, conflict zones, armed borders, these are things that persist and need to be addressed.

We need a new story, a new lens with which to address these inconsistencies we need to scale up to unleash a truly global citizenry.

Exchanging ideas, beliefs, goods, and services.

It has been said that empathy rarely extends beyond our line of sight and so perhaps it is by extending our gaze using marvelous new storytelling tools like virtual reality that we can bridge divisions and bring worlds together ushering a form of radical empathy, to see the other as ourselves, where boundaries are dissolved and compassion reigns supreme.

A massive transformation of consciousness a software upgrade for mankind birthing a new kind. ”

– Jason Silva


Introduction to my new website and Facebook group

To all my readers and followers,

Happy New Year. May 2018 be your best year so far.

Recently, I have created a new WordPress blogsite called Jimmy’s evergreen glen and glade. Thank you for reading and following my posts here so far. In future, I will be posting more often in my new blogsite, though I may still post here on environmental issues from time to time.

My new website introduces who I am and what I do for a living; namely writing, editing, photography and video-storytelling.

You are welcome to drop by and read and subscribe to my new blogsite, where I share my life stories, reviews on workshops, and so on.

And if you would like to get free tips on basic writing and editing English, do check out my new Facebook group “Write Better with Jimmy Tan“.

Hope to see you on the other side/site.

Questioning the western colonial perspective in Geography education

Do you know that we study Geography mainly through a Western colonial lens?

Despite many years of Geography education in schools, we are still tackling recurring social and environmental issues around the world.

Poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, climate change – to name a few.

Something must be amiss in the way we approach our understanding of Geography.

How can we address the shortcomings or limitations of our Geography education system and mindset?


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?


Two issues on Geography education (in Singapore and UK)

  1. Eurocentrism

As Singapore Geography adopts the Cambridge syllabus, it is inadvertently Eurocentric in many ways.

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 the UK geography textbook 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.
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.
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.
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:

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:

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:

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.




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.


 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.
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?
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…
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.