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.

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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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Cycling is political

Cycling in Bukit Batok nature park
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Cycling is itself political, and it would be futile to separate cycling from politics. The act of cycling itself is a political statement. Whenever we choose to ride a bicycle, we are challenging the status quo of the power structure in the society that favours the rich, powerful and privileged people who predominantly drive cars. We are subverting the classist system that treats cars as status symbols. We are helping to reduce the impacts of environmental degradation caused by pollutive motor vehicles run on fossil fuels. By switching from travelling by motor vehicles to bicycles, we are also easing traffic congestion on the roads. Last but not least, cycling empowers the marginalised and disadvantaged, and restores equality to them.

Then again, I am coming to realise that the moment I become more actively involved in politics, I begin to experience pushback in the form of repression and dissenting voices from some people. For example, last night when I shared a photo of a fellow countryman riding a bicycle in Love Cycling SG Facebook group and commented that he was living by example, the group admin deleted the photo. I decided to post a question in the group to ask the admin why the photo was removed. The admin deleted that post as well without explanation. This gave me the impression that the admin wasn’t interested in dialogues and was unwilling to be held accountable for their actions. I decided to post one final time to call them out for being discriminatory.

I also decided to leave the group with my dignity intact (remembering the importance about being true to myself and not succumb to groupism). I am in the process of working through my thoughts and emotions based on the responses to my post by articulating them in this blog:

If I didn’t challenge the admin like this and let things slide, the discrimination would continue. The fact that photos of ruling party members riding bicycles are allowed but not other party members shows this group is indeed partisan and discriminatory. It smacks of hypocrisy.

This episode underlines a fear-based climate and controlling culture that inhibits free speech and expression of our fundamental human rights. It keeps people repressed, small-minded and immature. I refuse to allow myself to be intimidated or humiliated or talked down at. I am hurt and disgusted by their treatment. I need strong and forceful language to speak my cause. The fact that admin initially refused to respond to my post shows they were not willing to be accountable for their actions. It reminds me of the same way a former prime minister depended on his lawyer to defend him when another politician confronted him directly in the law court.

I chose to leave the group with my dignity intact. If anyone is inspired, it is to encourage them that they too can stand their ground and let their voices be heard for the sake of justice and equality.

So the admin finally replied, saying the photo was linked to SDP Facebook page, and was deemed “political”.

Firstly, why didn’t he clarify earlier? He could have chosen to reply my question in my earlier post instead of removing it without explanation. Why wait until I challenged his action publicly and called out on the apparent discrimination and lack of transparency and accountability?

Secondly, does the link itself denote a infringement of the rules regarding “no political statements”? If so, then I would say it is double standard on the part of the admin because they have allowed photos of politicians from the ruling party to be posted in the past. In any case, the reason the link of SDP Facebook page was shown together with the photo I posted is because the photo doesn’t belong to me, and when I shared it via Facebook, the link was automatically shown. If I were to save the photo in my computer and upload it onto the Facebook group, I would have to acknowledge the source, and SDP Facebook page would still need to be mentioned.

The point I want to make is that the link of SDP Facebook page alone doesn’t necessarily constitute an infringement of the rules, or else the rules would have applied to all other political parties in the past.

In reality, cycling and politics invariably overlap because it is through politics that policies are formed and mindsets are shaped to influence the cycling culture in Singapore, for better or for worse, depending on how we live by example through our cycling activities and conversations, as well as our interactions with pedestrians and motorists.

At this point, I am glad to have removed myself from the group as it might not be worthwhile getting into a debate with them, and this blog can serve as a platform for my voice to be heard. At the very least, I am glad the status quo in that group is being challenged and political awareness about justice and equality is being increased, I believe.

 

My feedback on the concept master plan to develop the Green Corridor in Singapore

A news article that was published yesterday features proposals for the Green Corridor (aka Rail Corridor) in Singapore.
In the same vein, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) website that is dedicated to the Rail Corridor says:
“The Rail Corridor is a very unique public space differentiated from other community spaces in Singapore. The Rail Corridor connects homes, work places and schools. It encourages a spirit of discovery and exploration, and provides a common space for shared experiences across a diverse segment of our population. There is great potential in fostering social-bonding and community-building activities along the Corridor.”

The above news article also says:

“The public is invited to give feedback at the exhibition and online at http://ura.sg/railrfp from now until the end of next March.”

So, I decided to submit my feedback to URA via their website with regard to the concept master plan to develop the Green Corridor, as follows:

It seems the plan is only to commercialise Tanjong Pagar railway station, so hopefully the rest of the green corridor will be spared (and I understand nothing is set in stone as the plan will be fine-tuned based on public feedback). I also don’t wish to see the green corridor becoming another east coast park, but at the rate it is currently being used and will be more frequently used in future, it is inevitable that some degradation of the muddy track will result, such as compaction and erosion of soil. Bukit Timah nature reserve was closed to public for the time being (except on weekends) for renovation for that reason, so if paving is going to be done carefully, such as using gravel (or something equivalent) instead of concrete to emulate the cycling trails in Pulau Ubin, that allows infiltration of rainwater into the porous surface, I would say it will likely serve the dual purpose of protecting the environment and making the trail more user friendly.
Green Corridor, Singapore
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

The night lighting can be solar powered, and have motion sensors. So, if there is nobody in the area, there isn’t any need for the lights to turn on. This will help conserve energy. Solar panels can be built throughout the Green Corridor to harness more of the solar energy for nearby buildings.

Natural vegetation, as far as possible, should be left as they are – like in the case of Sungei Buloh wetland reserve. It is fine to enhance the zen tranquility of gardens or urban parks, but not the rainforests etc because the latter already have their own natural serenity.

One concern many nature lovers have is that the Green Corridor will lose its quiet ambience and natural feel, especially when it becomes too popular and crowded in future. For example, if the corridor becomes too user-friendly to the extent that it becomes a bicycle expressway, it will somewhat lose its rustic charm. Similarly, if we are going to build plaza spaces, cafes and amphitheatres, it is likely to disturb the quietness of the surroundings, and people will no longer find the Green Corridor attractive as a sanctuary to get away from urban stress and commercialisation.
Mountain Bike Track
© Photographer: Haslinda | Agency: Dreamstime.com

So, maybe one way to prevent the green corridor from being too inviting for bicycles and becoming overcrowded is to have a holistic development of cycling infrastructure in Singapore, such as by developing the green corridor in tandem with the cycling infrastructure elsewhere. For example, if dedicated bike lanes are made available along the roads nearby, then cyclists can choose to take these alternative routes to their destinations instead of solely depending on the green corridor to use as a bicycle “expressway”.

Similarly, let’s seek to find a balance by not over-developing the Green Corridor in order to minimise noise level and any form of commercialisation and artificiality, in order to retain the original spirit of rustic charm and healing balm of Nature.

Green Corridor, Singapore
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Education on Nature conservation is always good because no amount of penalty and fines are going to stop people from littering or destroying the environment or poaching the wildlife unless people are armed with the understanding on the importance of their interrelationships with Nature, and how any harm done to the environment will ultimately affect themselves. People need to be guided from within instead of having to be controlled by laws and regulations from outside authorities. We as a human species have never lost our inner wisdom and affiliation to Nature – we simply have forgotten who we really are in the quest for development, and we only need to reconnect ourselves with Nature and remember our true identity, and then we will be able to act responsibly based on that revelation.

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Cameron Highlands notes (an exploration of Nature conservation theology)


Having spent a couple of days in the cool and green Cameron highlands in Malaysia, which happens to bear some ominous signs of increasing development and air pollution from the traffic and from the surrounding regions (specifically the temporary haze from the forest peat fires in Sumatra), and especially after taking part in a tour of a tea plantation and mossy forest that is soul expanding, thought provoking and spirit connecting, I felt a need to type a blog and try to make sense and articulate some of my thoughts while taking a long, sleepy bus ride back to Singapore on the third day.

No (as I would like to clarify to myself), this is not a diary or journal for the sake of romantising Nature or academic meandering (as much as there is sometimes an inclination for me to do so). This blog is neither for development nor against development in an absolute sense. It also isn’t really about modern civilization versus ancient civilization. If anything, it is about bridging the gap between these two (if that were possible at all). Ultimately, it is an attempt to put together seemingly raw unfiltered thoughts, like raw apple cider vinegar, hoping to find a coherent message or two from the mishmash of ideas.

The natives or the original inhabitants of Malaysia who have sought to modernize Cameron highlands, or Malaysia in general, appear to have lost sight of the natural beauty and heritage of their lands. Why? Because in their quest to develop the economy and build infrastructure, they are trying to generate more income at the expense of the environment, the wildlife and the remnants of the indigenous people (eg Orang Asli) who retain their ancient self-sustainable lifestyle and culture.

It takes the outsiders such as the westerners to bring the message of nature conservation to the Malays, to remind them to save their own land and culture. The strange thing is that these westerners do not speak their native language; rather the Malays were taught to speak the English language.

Through colonisation, the Malays became westernized and sought to be modernized and ended up destroying their own environment and culture. Now, westerners – many of whom used to colonise Southeast Asia – are telling the Malays (or more specifically, the government and large corporations) to conserve their own heritage of nature and culture.

Can anything be more paradoxical than that?
One question may arise at this point: why is it considered strange that the westerners do not speak the language of the local Malays? Wouldn’t that be expected of foreign colonialists?

Yes, but I believe there is a significance to this self-evident fact. For example, isn’t there a passage in the bible that says “you shall be ruled over by people whose language is foreign to you”? Doesn’t it sound like the experience of the indigenous people in Malaysia when they were colonised by westerners for a period of time?

Similarly, isn’t there a passage that says “because you have rejected the gospel, it shall be preached to the Gentiles and and those who did not seek me shall find me”? Wasn’t it the case whereby the inhabitants of Malaysia refused to listen to their own native prophets and continued to destroy the environment in the name of development, and the good news of nature conservation is preached to the foreigners, who in turn shall bring back the gospel to the inhabitants of Malaysia, not in their native tongue but in the foreign English language? By rejecting their own and risking doom and destruction to their land, the message of salvation comes from outside their land.

Once again, how paradoxical can it be?

Now, who is the messiah? Who are the prophets? What is the gospel in this context?

I venture to say in this context that the messiah is our true self that defies time and space, and any form of outward identification, such as nationality, gender, race, language or religion. The prophets are the voices of the ancient spirit that reminds people of who they really are and warns the people who are oppressing the less privileged and destroying the environment. The gospel is the good news of our true identity and the call for us to reconnect to Nature, thereby reconnecting to our own soul and humanity.

We are all connected?

Haze over the region –

Are we all connected?

Hell yea, you betcha.

“Economic development,” you say.

How about environmental destruction?

Isn’t there a price

not only we pay

but also future generations?

But nay, as always,

we prefer short term gains.

“From swamp to city,”

You say to us,

As if that’s success.

No way. “How so?”

If one suffers, then

all suffer together, right?

We are all connected;

We can isolate ourselves

and live in bubbles –

work, family, entertainment, etc

At the end, nothing…

Nothing really matters, yea?

Origins (2014) documentary

Origins (2014)” is a very important and meaningful documentary. I found it to be a useful reminder and summary on how looking back on the origins of our species some 20,000 years ago can enable us humans to understand the keys to the survival of ourselves and our planet. Yes, I have always believed that, however simplistic as it may sound, one way to resolve the problems in modern societies, whether chronic health issues or socioeconomic woes, is to go back to Nature, back to the original and ancient wisdom and ways of our ancestors who live and thrive in traditional, nature-based societies.

Indeed, our bodies and souls are designed to flow in synch with the timeless rhythm of Nature instead of the artificial clocks of the system, and it is like experiencing the deep reset in our circadian rhythms whenever we retreat and re-immerse ourselves in the bosom of the forest or the coolness of the river or the breeze of the sea. I like especially the part shown in the 48-minute segment of the video on how people can reconnect to their true selves and Nature by doing qigong and meditation in the peaceful nature sanctuary, such as by the river.

I also agree with the need for people to support traditional local farms and farmers’ markets that offer live, grass-fed, free-range, organic food – indeed each of us has the power to help ourselves and the environment through the choices we make, such as choosing where to get our food from.

Thoughts on Pulau Ubin, Singapore

I came across the above video recently in my Facebook newsfeed. Thoughts went through my mind, and I have long wanted to address the issue of the natural beauty of Pulau Ubin being spoilt by human intervention. Finally, I decided to post my comment in response to the video, as follows:

“Thank you for the video. Pulau Ubin is what Singapore mainland used to be more than a century ago, mainly forested with some self-sufficient farms, few buildings and roads. Many people today are calling for the rustic, natural environment of Ubin to be preserved because capitalism, materialism and consumerism have caused the mainland to lose its soul and character and become disconnected with Nature in the name of material progress.

IMG_0331Littering and improper waste disposal are still a perennial problem, especially along the southern and eastern coasts of Pulau Ubin, where rubbish entangled among the mangrove roots and/or washed ashore the sandy beaches is both an eyesore and a grim reminder of the far-reaching effects of a consumerist and materialistic culture in our urbanised society.

As long as we aren’t dealing with the root of this problem, anything we do to help protect and preserve Ubin will only be like applying band-aid to a deep wound, which may provide temporary relief at best. Unless we drastically change our mindset and ditch the capitalistic, monetary system that breeds inequality and results in unsustainable growth and environmental degradation, Ubin will die a slow death in following the footsteps of the mainland.

History has proven time and again that once prosperous cities such as Rome and Babylon would suffer decline and become no more than relics, and Singapore is no different if we don’t embrace a resource-based system and egalitarianism, as proposed by the Venus Project. It remains to be seen how each of us chooses to do our part for the environment as global citizens and children of the Earth, for every one of us matters and we are all one and interconnected.”

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Thoughts on E-poll on Public Cleanliness for Sustainable Singapore Blueprint Review

I received an email from NParks Singapore that says:

“The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources wants to hear from you on attitudes towards littering and what can be done to get everyone to come together to keep Singapore clean. Fill in an online survey at http://bit.ly/1qzxqEn. The survey will be open from now till 20 July.”

The following are my responses in the online survey.

1. What are the obstacles and motivations to not litter in public places?

The root cause of littering has to be addressed in order for the problem of littering to be adequately and holistically resolved. The consumeristic, capitalistic and materialistic mindset and pattern of the societal system has to change, and the connection between us and the natural environment needs strengthening.

2. What are the main influences that shape our attitudes towards littering?

We have lost sight of our connection to Nature. People are obsessed with running the rat race and competing with one another to buy the things they don’t need just to impress people who don’t care.

3. What can we, the Government and the community, do to change these attitudes?

Stop propagating the illusory dream of material wealth and prosperity, and start advocating an eco-friendly and sustainable culture to replace the buy-and-throw-away culture.​

Please refer to the video entitled “The girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes – YouTube” for more information.

To promote greater community ownership of our environment and to complement community initiatives, NEA also empowered members of the public for action against littering as Community Volunteers, who encourage their fellow residents not to litter. Based on feedback from the volunteers, they want to be able to do more. We are empowering them to enforce against littering. The volunteers could look after the cleanliness of a particular area and enforce against offenders where necessary.
4. What do you think of the Voluntary Enforcement Scheme?
(No comments)

On top of regular enforcement patrols, islandwide blitzes have also been conducted at littering hotspots to increase enforcement pressure at targeted areas and raise awareness of the problem of littering. There was also a pilot scheme of utilising surveillance cameras to deter littering at hotspots such as McCallum Street.5.What are your sentiments towards different types of enforcement approaches?

These approaches have their place, but they only address the symptoms of the problem of littering, much like putting a band-aid over the deep wound. We need to deal with the root of the problem, and it involves going back to Nature and living a sustainable and egalitarian life that benefits both humans and the environment. Please google “The Venus Project” for reference and inspiration. Thank you.

6. Are there ways we can leverage social media or such online community action to bring about our desired state of cleanliness, e.g. more avenues for enforcement, reinforcing positive social norms, or others?

It is really not about more enforcement. Having more laws only keep people in an infantile state of mind and discourage them to think for themselves. Real change begins when people learn to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own actions and not rely on outward regulations.

7. How can we improve enforcement methods? Should enforcement be stern or educational?

(No comments)