Saturday, December 30, 2006

Aye Ay' Capn!

Replica of Swedish ship Gotheborg docks in Singapore
By Satish Cheney, Channel NewsAsia
30 December 2006

"A replica of an 18th century Swedish ship has arrived in Singapore, bringing with it the message of friendship.

Boom! boom!

Believe it or not, it is not the rum talking but in the old days, ships entering a new city fired their cannons as a sign of friendship!And bringing its message of friendship is a replica of The Gotheborg. It has been at sea for almost 500 days, retracing its original voyage from Sweden to the Far East 250 years ago. When the original ship sank in 1745, everything was forgotten until a diver discovered the remains and began a marine excavation. It has taken 10 years to recreate the vessel to make sure it is as realistic as possible.

N. Sivasoth, a research officer at National University of Singapore's Biodiversity Research, said: "A phone call came. My friend in the Asian Civilisation Museum said, 'an 18th century replica of a Swedish East Indiaman was sailing from Hong Kong to Singapore, tell me within 24 hours, can you go for three weeks?' It was supposed to be really tough, you could not bathe and it was physically demanding. It sounded like a wonderful holiday and a chance to understand the historical voyages of the past. So I said, 'I'm definitely coming'."
Tomorrow, a few of the monkey menagerie will be visiting the otter on the boatship! Looking forward to it as I have already met the very friendly, hardy and adventurous crew on Tuesday when the Otter, Monkey and a few other jungle fowls brought the swedish vikings to Pulau Ubin to rough it out in the wilderness of Singapore in this December monsoon!

Stay tuned for more reports!

To read more about Otterman's adventure with the vikings, visit "Aboard the Swedish Ship, Gotheborg".

Read full article here

Friday, December 22, 2006

Winter Solstice

Today is Dong Zhi or winter solstice. It is a day of ancestral celebrations, or ancestral worship if you wanna look at it that way. It marks the beginning of winter, the preparation for winter and asking the ancestors for blessings. But ultimately, every seasonal beginning, every equinox and solstice, the Chinese will celebrate that day of seasonal change. This is probably true for most agrarian societies that depend on the seasons for their livelihood.

This is the day where we make Tang Yuan or glutinous rice dumplings. Some of you might be familiar with the Ahballing version with stuffings inside. But traditionally, just the "kosong" one will do. We make it from scratch and then boil it before soaking in brown sugar syrup.

According to my dad, the dumplings also serves as food offerings for ancestors and for the hungry lonely souls who do not have any family. Apparently they used to stick the dumpling on their doors for the passing ghouls.

See my flickr set for step by step pictorial instructions on the making of the dumpling! The only part I missed out is how to turn the flour to dough. Ack! The most important part actually. Hopefully there's still time to learn it in the next winter solstice.

Related Reads:
"For Winter Solstice, try some dumplings"
by Monica Eng, Chicago Tribune, 14 Dec 2006

Read full article here

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Let the flooding begin!

To be honest, in case you didn't know this, Singapore has undergone intensive flood management and modifications over the years. All these concrete canals that people complain about actually are the key to flood management in Singapore. From regular floodings from heavy December monsoons and flash floods, to a relatively uneventful "hazard-free" island country. I grow up learning simplistically that Singapore is a great country for FDI because we are safe from any natural hazards. Over the years, we became complacent. I even started to really believe that we are sheltered from all hazards.

Then we started to hear rumours about Singapore being potentially vulnerable to tsunamis, earthquake aftershocks felt in parts of Singapore and then landslides and now we have cars being half submerged due to heavy rains!

Most of these occurrences happen during this December-January period when Singapore is in the path of the northeast monsoon. The landslide in NUS Business School for example happened in January 2006 and earlier this year on 8 January 2006, I blogged about the extreme rain, landslides and comparative dry weather we had in 2005 that led to forest fires. So what is worse - floods or fires?

On 14 April 2006, I blogged about flash floods in Singapore and even then I noted how it is not from a lack of trying that we still continue to suffer from floods. Do not be mistaken. The Singapore government and various agencies have been working miracles over the years but it is time Singaporeans are more aware of the low-lying nature of our island. We are susceptible to flood. My mom recounted the days when my aunt lived downtown near the rochor, chinatown area where they were constantly plagued by annual floods. Back then, their beds were on stilts and things were never left on the floor. Floods were something people lived with.

At least we no longer flood like Bangkok but we used to!

But now? We are unused to floods and therefore suffer from being caught off guard.

Hey, even the best gets caught unaware. Look at New Orleans. That is the place of regular flooding but even the city was wiped out due to unknown highs. In all my natural hazards textbooks, it is always written about how people try to predict what the highest flood level would be and then still getting caught off guard. What is a 100 year flood? The rain measurement we had on Tuesday was apparently the 3rd highest in almost 75 years. Still people get caught off guard because it's been such a long time since the last high which was in 1978.

If we all start to build levees and protective walls along our water channels, think of how high we have to keep building and how ugly it would be when somewhere in the lull period, somebody looks at it and complain to the gahmen as to why we need such a wall when there is no flood. So they tear it down and the next year we get hit by a flood. No no no, protective walls and levees are not the answer.

That is not just a massive longkang. It used to be a river but how much longer can it hold the water in?

So what is the answer? Perhaps the marina barrage?

It is written on the Marina Barrage website that one of the purpose of the barrage is for flood control.

"The Marina Barrage is also part of a comprehensive flood control scheme to alleviate flooding in the low-lying areas in the city, such as Boat Quay, Shenton Way, Geylang, Chinatown and Jalan Besar.

With the Barrage and other drainage projects concurrently being implemented, flood-prone areas will be reduced from the current 150 ha to 85 ha. A significant achievement considering that back in the 1970s, the flood-prone areas were about 3,200 ha."

How It Works

The barrage will separate the seawater from the freshwater and act as a tidal barrier to keep out the high tides.

Under normal conditions, the crest gates will remain in an upright position to separate the reservoir from the sea.

If it rains heavily during high tide, the crest gates remain upright and excess storm water is pumped out into the sea.

As such, with the Barrage in place, the pockets of low-lying areas in the city will no longer be prone to flooding.

Notice the low lying areas that were stated on the marine barrage website. These are the very same areas that the meteorological service sent a warning to yesterday:
i) Chinatown/ City area
Mosque Street, Pagoda Street, Temple Street, Trengganu Street, Upper Pickering Street between South Bridge Road and New Bridge Road, South Bridge Road, Upper Hokkien Street between South Bridge Road and New Bridge Road, Chulia Street beside UOB Plaza, Circular Road and McCallum Street/Boon Tat Link;

ii) Tanjong Katong area
Dakota Crescent, Meyer Place, Meyer Road, Dunman Road, Fort Road, Rose Lane and Stadium Road;

iii) Geylang area
Guillemard Road between Lor 26 to 32 Geylang, Lor 4 to Lor 22, Geylang, Lor 101 to 106, Changi Road and Langsat Road;

iv) Area off Jalan Besar between Weld Road and Kitchener Road;

v) Lorong Buangkok.
Police said that the flood at the junction of Admiralty Rd West and Woodlands Ave 10 has subsided.
Those areas that are mostly affected are usually the river delta, estuary areas, near a reservoir or large body of water or near the river. Of course, we think nothing of these waterways in our urban environment as over the years we have been writing them off as "drains" and "longkangs" instead of rivers with active hydrological processes. We begin to underestimate the powers of nature, rain, monsoon and most of all, the tide. But notice that there are also many other areas that are not covered under the Marina Barrage's coverage. In fact, in the April report on flash floods, "police said they received many calls about flooding in low-lying areas in Chai Chee, Bedok Reservoir and the PIE towards Changi". Even our airport will not be spared, surely being reclaimed, lowlying and near the coast. Previous flash floods have also inundated east coast and buried it under a large pile of sand from monsoon deposition. Of course immediate actions were taken to elevate these lowlying coastal areas. What more, all our storm drains and canals are connected to our reservoirs and as this current flood event showed us, the ones with pipes junctures leading to the reservoirs flood more easily! It's like being at the center of the traffic jam.

Friends, romans and countrymen, ultimately, the take home message is that:


Indeed, and very regularly as well! So what do we do about it? Well the government is already doing their best but it helps that we are on our toes and are aware of our environment. First of all, know when the monsoon season is. Second of all, if you see your pond being submerged, salvage the fish before it gets washed away. Make flood precautions. Do not walk near gushing drains in the rain if you know that you might get swept away. Don't get swept away then blame it on the government for not building railings. (Yes, seriously this happened near my house a few years ago) Most of all, opt for green cover instead of paving all our ground cover in your schools and estates! Trees, plants and grasses does an amazing ecological service for us in terms of moderating flood events. It's natural engineering.

Of course, perhaps the most logical for Singapore's case is to, STOP LITTERING. It was reported on the news that the Thompson road flooding was partly due to the cluttering of the drains with litter and even a fridge! This reminded me of a presentation by the waterways watch representative where they expressed the pains of seeing singaporeans litter our waterways! c'mon people, stop it. A fridge?!

CNA reported that "According to the Public Utilities Board, about 1,500kg of debris — including plants and cardboard boxes — have been cleared from drains in Olive Road, the area worst hit by the rains."

And again, even though the affected nursery at Thompson Road mentioned that flooding is a regular event in the area, this came unexpectedly. There have been so much research done in the past and even in the present about why people continue to live in flood plains but in Singapore, it's more a matter of our insensitivity towards our natural environment and its processes. Let's stop overestimating the engineering works, underestimating the powers of nature and our over reliance and complacency!

In this age of climate change and sea level rise, there is more need for consideration of such things as flooding. Imagine if the sea level is already risen and add to that a major rain event and flash floods. More areas will be affected! The landslide that occurred in NUS also happened during the monsoon season in January. What more, there is already landslides happening during yesterday's rain event. Add to that the concretization of all our ground cover, that makes the water runoff even more intensive and our slopes become more vulnerable to landslides. Our drain capacity is limited because it is afterall a fixed concrete container, unlike the natural abundance and flexibility of our soil. But even that is limited, much less our drains. When our drains overflow and our canals spill over, are you ready for it?

27 Dec 2006 - "Slope failure forces two Singaporean families to evacuate homes" [link]

Read full article here

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Labrador in Pictures


In June 2006, Habitatnews reports that the Government Gazette, Electronic Edition published the following:

"There are currently 26 berths at Pasir Panjang Terminal (PPT). To cater for the future growth of our port, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) plans to carry out land reclamation to build more berths at PPT. Existing submarine services at the land reclamation site will need to be diverted before actual reclamation and construction works can begin."

On 5 Dec 2006, monkey and the assorted menagerie of marine cow and terrestrial duck went to see the changes occuring on one of our last mainland rocky shores since the development started.

Marine works in progress

The far end of the beach has totally been cordoned off and signs of the reclamation surrounds us. Barges carrying machineries greeted us when we first arrive and then further evidence of the reclamation becomes more obvious near the intertidal rocky shore.

Works notice

From certain sources, apparently sediment traps were also laid out in the field of seagrass to assess the impact from the reclamation. The good news is that despite all the development work in the area, and possibly increased sedimentation, there are still plentiful signs of life at the shores.

seagrapes Hairy Crab Seagrass galore makeover after

For more photos, see my labrador flickr set.

Let's treasure the last of our mainland rocky shores or there would be no more.

Other Related Reads:
  • Labrador Revisited, Labrador Blog, 8 Dec 2006
  • Animals at Labrador, The Annotated Budak, 7 Dec 2006
  • Urban Explorations, Fire and Light, 7 Dec 2006

    Read full article here

  • Haikou, Hainan, China

    I will be at Haikou, Hainan Island at the Southern seas of China from 10 Dec to 16 Dec for the PEMSEA East Asian Seas Youth Forum that coincides with the congress that happens simultaneously.

    Read more about my trip at the traveling menagerie.

    Hopefully, I will be making frequent updates there during my trip.

    Read full article here

    The Traveling Menagerie

    In a blatant attempt to enter into the NUSSU travelblog competition, monkey started a new blog to archive her journeys.

    Welcome to
    The Traveling Menagerie

    Looking out a window in Pulau Nias, Indonesia

    Currently filled with a compilation of old posts but will be adding new ones soon, complete with photos and updates. I realized I haven't blogged about my travels despite full intentions of doing so at the time. Guess the memories dull as I get swept away with a new project the minute I return.


    PS: Notice that I have moved to Blogger beta and it is causing me quite a bit of technical difficulties. For example, all my chinese posts have been messed up to high heavens. Pardon the transition since blogger beta is currently not supporting other languages. *sigh*

    Read full article here

    Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    Last look at Clementi

    On Sunday 6 Dec 2006, Acroamatic and I took a trip down memory lane. Two trigger happy photographers getting into every nook and cranny in Clementi Central drew many stares and also captured many windows to the past.

    Neutered Old Barber 70s design Stone seats

    No time to blog about it right now but I leave you with a teaser at my flickr set.

    Shoot outFor more pictorial pleasures, see Acroamatic's
    "Clementi Revisited".

    Read full article here

    Monday, December 04, 2006

    Labrador Park - What Lies Beneath

    What can be expected to be seen on that day over there?

    - gardening workshops/talks/exhibition
    - night tunnel and nature tours
    - plants sale
    - wine tasting and food
    - book sale on Singapore Walking Trails, focussing on Labrador and Kent Ridge
    - stalls on handicraft made from natural products, hand/tatoo painting, etc
    - performances such as skit, children's interactive workshop
    - booth on upcoming activities for Labrador and other events.

    Date: 9 December 2006, Saturday

    Time of event : 5pm - 9pm
    (a historical tour of the Labrador tunnels and outpost guided by API every hour)

    Costs : $2 / person
    (all proceeds go to Club Rainbow, a local charity for children)

    Update @ 5.12.2006:
    The above information appears to be an unofficial one and the event has now been renamed:

    Xmas Fiesta @ Labrador Nature Reserve
    Date: 9 Dec 2006, Saturday
    Time: 5pm - 9pm
    Venue: Seafront Promenade (Near Carpark B)

    For more information, visit the API website or NParks' website.

    Read full article here

    Monday, November 27, 2006

    Wa Si Ga Gi Nang*

    2 months ago, I came across this article which accounted the experience of an university student taking teochew classes in the Poit Ip Huay Kuan. Having heard before of such classes from a random current affair program on channel 8, my curiousity was piqued. I searched for classes in my father's dialect Hokkien but came across none. Since I am also half a teochew, this was the next best thing.

    Several years before that, I was already beginning to have a stronger in improving my dialect abilities. I came across this website which was started by a group of Overseas Teochews mainly based in the United States who organize many classes and activities for its members. The interesting thing is that most of them are from Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, unlike what we would otherwise imagine them being from mainland China. These Teochew diasporas have further spread its reach to the western hemisphere and unlike in our attempts to homogenize the Chinese population, they have no qualms about promoting their heritage. I suppose, they are the frog in the boiling hot water while we are still languishing in lukewarm levels.

    Nonetheless, there has always been much criticism of our stifling of chinese dialects and support for more dialects in media from various sources. Today, this opinion piece "The Dialectics Of Dialect" by Tor Ching Li from TODAY is another example.

    "It was also to "help create a climate in Singapore where our mother tongue is spoken not just in coffee shops but in policy making and matters of higher importance". Why can't the same be said for the use of dialect such as Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka and Hainanese - surely still prevalent in coffee shop chatter?
    Today, the proportion of dialect-speaking Chinese households in Singapore has dwindled from 50 per cent in 1990 to 24 per cent last year, presumably with the passing of the older dialect-speaking generation. The same 2005 household survey showed that Mandarin-speaking Chinese households climbed from 30 per cent in 1990 to 47 per cent. To speak the Government's language, need it be said that dialect has its economic value as well? The Guangdong province in China, for example, where Cantonese is the lingua franca, is now one of the richest in the nation with the highest total Gross Domestic Product among all provinces. Its nominal GDP for 2003 was US$165 billion and increased to US$265 billion last year, and it contributes approximately 12 per cent of China's national economic output.
    Already, it's my loss that I can't speak my official dialect - Teochew - and I found it frustrating to have missed out on the full essence of certain colourful general election rallies held in dialect this year. Fortunately, I can still speak and enjoy the Cantonese language, thanks to my mother - whose mother was Cantonese, hence making Cantonese in a real sense our "mother tongue" - and catching TVB soap operas from Malaysian TV channels in my childhood. Truth be told, I look forward to the day movies from Hong Kong can be shown in Cantonese, and Canto-pop and Canto-banter are allowed to hit the airwaves.
    Surely diversity of language can only help diversity of thought - a necessary condition for a vibrant society. But if nothing is done soon to revive the status of dialect in our society
    and roots, then there may be no point at trying at all. The mother tongues of our forefathers will die out with their generation. And Singapore will be none the richer for it."
    The writer is lucky that even though she is unable to speak Teochew, she has nonetheless found the abilities to speak cantonese. It's not everyday I see a Teochew or Hokkien movie on television. When I did try to listen to the Teochew news on radio, it passed me by in a smattering of musical drifts. Hokkien songs crack me up and my only use of Hokkien is limited to telling my mom I am home and deciphering Hokkien Ah Beng raps on youtube.

    Meanwhile, with my fumbling hokkien, I have brought this monkey on a world tour of Taiwan and Medan, impressing them with my one word wonders. On the other hand, chinese new year has always been a time to embarrass the monkey when all the relatives goo and gaa over my heavily accented attempts at hokkien and my hybrid teo-kien dialect. Apparently my niece and nephew who is spends much time with our teochew relatives can now teach me a few things about teochew!

    It's so embarrassing. While I really just want to focus on Hokkien, I decided to enroll myself in a Beginners Teochew class at the Teochew Clan Association. Since I was not able to entice any classmates to join me since they are paranoid about mugging for exams, I decided to brave the unknown alone.

    Unfortunately since I am stronger in my Hokkien, my teacher announces on the first day that Hokkien speakers will have the most difficult time learning Teochew because of the deep similarities and influences between the two dialects. Also, we read chinese characters in Teochew while I frantically make my own scrimbblings of monkey phonetics at the side. Every Thursday I come home full of teochew-ridden angst, trying to complain to my mom in Teochew how I am pathetically miserable at the dialect. Last week, after the 2.5hours session, the only time I spoke in dialect to my teacher, I ended up speaking hokkien instead. *tears hair out*

    Oh well, my teochew journey continues and it's rather heartening to see some younger faces in the class and at the same time, many of my non-uni friends were all very intrigued and interested to take future classes with me! Many asked if there were Hakka or Cantonese class (which irked me for a full minute) but really I don't know and you guys should be looking out for it yourself! *grin*

    I'm still hoping that the Hokkien clan association will start hokkien classes for this hokkien monkey. Or maybe I'll just have to fly myself to Taiwan to master my hokkien!

    * "Wa Si Ga Gi Nang" means "I am one of our own (Teochew people)" or as the cow translates it "I belong to this group of (teochew) people". Similarly in Hokkien, the same line would be "Wa Si Ga Gi Lang" which is distinguished from the teochews by the say they say "lang" which means people. Little nuances marks the distinction between the two groups of people which really drives this monkey bonkery confused. In the northern dialect of Mandarin, this would transliterate badly into "我是自己人“ but cow wish to point out that "ga gi nang" has a very specific connotation of belonging. But I am sure my Teochew teacher will have better explanations linking back to the ancient chinese language. Either way, I guess that's the teochews / hokkiens "sense of belonging" and "sense of community" for ya!

    Read full article here

    Friday, November 24, 2006

    Goodbye Clementi part Deux

    2 days ago on 22 Novmber 2006, I unwittingly witnessed the cutting of the trees that was pictured on this blog earlier this month.

    Although it was unevitable as they were marked with the cross of death already, and I did see it coming, but it doesn't hit home until you witness it for yourself.

    I was not the only one who stood there watching. In fact I was surprised but almost pleasantly pleased that a row of people had gathered along the bridge leading to the MRT station, standing, watching the execution of these old trees. They have afterall been part of the landscape for the last 30 years. Young and old gathered to watch. I hadn't bring my camera so I whipped out my laptop, placing it on top of a gathering layer of wood dust and took the photo. It feels almost as if I was placing my laptop upon the blood of the tree.

    Really this is not about sentimentality.

    The divinebovine and I had this conversation where [for arguments sake] she said that my agony at the cutting of these non-native, wayside trees are just part of this senseless sentimentality that had no conservational value whatsoever.

    I am sure many people would feel the same way but let me tell you why I, if not everybody, was gathered there watching, if not because they were enjoying the show.

    1) These trees were part of the community. The falling of the trees is only the first sign of much more change that is to come.

    2) The trees provided great amount of shade. Previously the shade provided by the cover of just 10 of these expansive raintrees were able to provide shade for the entire bus interchange area. Honestly, now when you go to Clementi, if you found it extremely bright, that is because the trees are gone. Previously they softened the harsh reflectance of the light by absorbing it but now the light is directly reflecting on the concrete which has a higher albedo (it's white so it reflects and does not absorb any). Thus the entire area becomes extremely bright and almost harshly so. It would also seem a lot hotter because there are no layer of tree canopies to filter off most of the brunt of the heat for you.

    3) I understand that for a development project like that it seems almost impossible to go save a few trees. It's easier to just remove everything. But this cut and plant another attitude is hardly to be desired. It does not take into account the time taken for the plants to grow before it can provide equivalent services to the neighborhood. How much shade or even aesthetic decoration can a small sapling provide as compared to a mature tree? The old tree was not sick and if it was, cutting it down would be understandable.

    4) A whole generation would not enjoy any shade at all, cept that provided by man-made shelters which surely cost more money to build than to cut down or even just to maintain an already grown tree. My children would never enjoy the wholesome greens of Clementi and their children might get to see it provided if the landscape designer of today would choose the right types of greens to replace the old rain trees. But what if we got some shadeless palms or some horticultural varieties that would never grow beyond a height of 5m or provide any shade at all? What then?

    5) As my dad pointed out the other day, why are the architects, planners and landscape designer turning out grass-covered, tree lined estates into literal concrete jungles? Fields are turned into conrete gathering point because possibly some people complained that they did not enjoy tripping over the grass. But falling on grass is definitely better than scraping your knees on cement floors. In his words, my dad said "Singapore is trying to be a green garden city so what happened to all our trees?" More and more estates are losing their shady pathways and green fields and being replaced with covered walkways, horticultural garden bushes which sometimes do not last at all. So a line of bouganvillas welcoming you to Singapore along the PIE to the airport makes us a Garden City but what about our own estates? This is not acceptable. We HAD a green garden city. Why change it? Why make it lesser than what it was before?

    6) Concretizing most of our ground cover leads to increased floods. Grass covers help to allow the rainfall to seep through into the ground. People may complain about grubby grass fields but then it does help increase the water being absorbed into the ground before coming out in our drains. It slows down the time taken for all the water to start gushing to the drains. But if everything is concrete, no matter how good our engineers are, you cannot deny the fact that when rain cannot go through the ground, it straightaway goes for the drain without first being slowed down which the soil did for it before. The soil was like a pillow, absorbing the intensity. With so much water gushing for the drain all at the same time, I wonder if the small little drains would be able to deal with the volume. But of course, these days, we have large sewers and storm drains, and engineering feats triumph once again. However no matter how big your drains are, the engineers were basing that on the projection of a particular amount. If one day you get an amount that is higher than expected, then what? Essentially, according to the planning class I took, grass covers are always better than concrete covers. This applies for carparks and walkways. You know those annoying ground cover where its like concrete but with holes where grass grow in between? I use to hate those because I always fall into the holes but those are the kind of structures that help water to permeate the ground. Of course nowadays we mostly have multistory carparks so who cares right? Besides many of my architect friends are all into green designs these days. So how come I seldom see such things put into practice around me?

    As I watched on further from the MRT station platform, I thought with some irony that the sign "Value life, Act Responsibly" in front of the destruction at the back was quite apt.

    Are we valueing the life we are removing today? Do we replace them suitably and sufficiently later? Are we acting responsibly for our future generations or even this current generation who have to suffer the heat of development, literally. It is only us who have seen what we had before that would appreciate what we have lost. Would my children ever appreciate what was lost if they would never have the joy of enjoying the shade?

    Of course, next time they would be enjoying the shade of concrete buildings, air conditioned walkways and covered rainshelters. Just look at Toa Payoh Hub. Do you see any spot of green? Everybody enjoys the airconditioning, the shelters, the conrete concourse with perhaps a few palms or bushes (no deep impressions there). Who would need trees? Or think of them even! If only we step far away from that area then we see the old trees that gives the estate character. Ok, so they are not native and they are not extremely big or tall or rare. But what about the simple services these trees give?

    At the end of the day, do you want a green city with lucious foilage relaxing your minds and eyes or a garden city with airconditioned structures and little manicured horticultural bushes in straight lines? How different is the latter from any urban city in this world? And I always thought it was the trees that set us apart.

    Read full article here

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    The Song of CH4

    A short story written for an Atmospheric Chemistry assignment which I thought is relevant and potentially interesting to share with all of you.

    The Song of C-H-4
    A short story by the Rambling Leaf Monkey

    My name is Methane but you can call me CH4. I used to live in North Siberia but not anymore. In case you don’t know, that’s in the Northern Hemisphere where there are lots of frozen lakes with permafrost. That means it’s permanently cold and miserable. It’s really sad I don’t live there anymore. Not that I liked it very much since I was trapped in an icy crystal called methane hydrate almost ever since I was born.

    I have been in slumber, trapped in a bubble for more than 40,000 years . That’s when I was born through anaerobic digestion. What a mouthful! It really means that when plants died and decay at the bottom of these Russian peat bogs, Mama got some friendly single-celled microbes called Methanogens to help break down these leafs and I was born in the process. They don’t really like oxygen so these bogs were perfect. Much later, the Pleistocene rolled around and a permanent layer of ice covered me and trapped me even as I was released from the rich layer of organic material.

    Horrible as that sounds, I assure you it’s definitely more dignified than my cousins who were born through the burps and farts of cows or found in termites and camels. I bet that really smells but rest assured I’m colorless and odorless!

    It’s been pretty peaceful and content for the last epoch or so, but recently the weather got pretty hot and the ice started to thaw. I could feel it in my every molecule that my liberation was near.

    Suddenly I was free. As unexpected as my slumber, I bubbled up through the thawing lake in an ebullition elevator. I shot up into the sky enjoying my newly found freedom. Happy and free I flew up into the atmosphere where I found many of my cousins and friends already waiting for me to play! There were so many new faces for they tell me that with almost 1.3 billion cows around burping all day long, methane became the new black! We were popular. Then we found cousins who were being created by the bacteria in waterlogged rice fields or even just garbage sitting in what they call a landfill. Just think of the amount of land these humans use to produce food and waste. We were really popular.

    One day, rumours started floating up to us in the troposphere that the humans were getting upset with us and started calling us a “greenhouse gas”. They said we trap the heat being reflected from the ground and stop them from escaping from the atmosphere. It was causing Mama to have a fever and everything was falling sick.

    So that was why my home in Siberia suddenly became no more! Because of all this heat that was trapped by what the humans called “global warming” that the temperature increased and made my icy home melt. But because it melted, more of my friends and I were released and it only made things worse! When we were released from the Methane Hydrate, we found some dissolved oxygen in the water and hooked up with them and created some carbon dioxide and water. Those of us that did not hook up with the oxygen escaped to the atmosphere with the carbon dioxide. I heard there were a lot of other carbon dioxides that also escaped into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuel.

    Carbon Dioxide challenged us to a competition and whoever could absorb more heat radiated from the ground would win. We were doing so well, Mama. The Inter-governmental Panel for Climate Change even gave us a higher “global warming potential” than those wimpy carbon dioxide! We were 21 times stronger at warming the atmosphere than CO2. It was only a game, Mama, but now we made you sick.

    I should have known better. I had almost forgotten the last time Mama burped. 55 million years ago, Mama burped but nobody knows why she did it. Maybe she had a fever in her oceans or a comet tickled her. The humans called it the Methane-burp theory . I was released into the ocean and atmosphere and caused global warming during the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum. Within a few thousand years, temperature increased by 8 ºC but there was none of these humans around and nobody to complain about us making a mess of the atmosphere.

    This time, things are different. Other than us Methanes, the Carbon Dioxides and many of the other types of Greenhouse Gases are also wreaking havoc. Mama is not getting better anytime soon.

    Luckily, word is going around that in about 10 years, I will meet those hydroxyl radicals, more affectionately known to us as OH. When we hook up to create CH3 and water. Those of my cousins up in the stratosphere also react with these OH to come back down to the ground. The human scientists call this an oxidation sink which pretty much takes care of us up here.

    In fact we are so good at helping Mama get well by returning to the biosphere in such a short time, the humans decided that we are the best way to help Mama feel better in the next 25 years. I can only hope that the humans learn their lesson soon and stop allowing us Methanes to escape into the atmosphere by producing us less or harnessing us for something useful like biogas or using microbes to consume us. But since half of my cousins roaming the atmosphere came from works of human activity, it’s best they wise up soon.

    Oh, how I long to go home to my arctic bog where I can sing my song another day.

    Suggested Readings
    Schiermeier, Q. (2003) “Gas Leak!”, Nature, Vol. 423, 12 June 2003, pp. 681-682

    Walter, K. M., Zimov, S. A., Chanton, J. P., Verbyla, D. & Chapin, F. S. III (2006) “Methane bubbling from Siberian thaw lakes as a positive feedback to climate warming”, Nature, Vol. 443, 7 September 2006, pp. 71-75

    Nature (2006) “Abstractions”, Nature, Vol. 442, Issue 7099, 13 July 2006, p. xiii

    Hopwood, N. and Cohen, J. (2006) “Greenhouse Gases and Society” (available online at Link; Last accessed: 14 Nov 2006)

    EPA (2006) “Methane” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Available online at: Link; Last accessed: 14 Nov 2006)

    IPCC (1996) “Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change--Contribution of Working Group I to the Second Assessment Report of the IPCC”, Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

    IPCC (2001) “Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)”, January 2001

    Read full article here

    Sunday, November 19, 2006

    Akan Datang

    Monkey branded by NParks! Photo by Ria.

    Today monkey attended the NParks Volunteer Appreciation event held at Venus Drive. More photos and tidbits will follow shortly from the new subspecies of the rambling leaf monkey - Camera-Face Monkey!

    The funny thing about this photo was that I was trying to take a photo of Ria and Dr Chua with their similar giant cameras (which I secretly covet) and the two of them shot me before I can shoot them. If this was a western standoff, I would have been one dead monkey already! All I can say is their precision and shutter speed far surpass mine! Besides, underhanded sneaky surprise shots are...well, sneaky! As the chinese says, 姜还是老的辣!Old ginger is still spicier! *Grin* But of course these two are eternally youthful ;) Monkey has much to learn!

    It's hardly a week to exams and much apologies for not posting more regularly. I have reports from the Eco Product Fair and many other hot stories (turned rather cold) but if you guys are interested, check out my flickr account as it has all the latest photos and news.

    Read full article here

    Sunday, November 05, 2006

    Goodbye Clementi


    It pains me to see this. Even though they are just introduced wayside trees for aesthetics and shade, it pains me to see any tree of that age, size and girth being cut down to make way for new developments. It's going to be another toa payoh hub.

    "In April 2005, the HDB announced plans to build a 40-storey complex in Clementi Central on the existing bus interchange site. The complex will comprise housing and commercial zones, with a national library, while renovating the existing bus interchange. It will be ready in 2010. Currently, a temporary bus interchange is being built at a site across the road from the existing interchange." [Source: wikipedia]

    Yet another old neighborhood with the 70s character in the process of being erased and redeveloped. Yet another piece of our history gone like the trees scheduled to be eliminated.

    I understand the need for change but I cannot help but feel a sense of loss. I live in an old neighborhood too and I find my history, heritage and memories slipping away from me. 20 years later, who will remember that Clementi used to look like this?

    I recall Sundays spent more than a decade ago at Clementi hawker center with my aunt after piano classes and a visit to the Emporium departmental store. Some recall the A&W restaurant at clementi. The glory days where the fountain burst into life with vibrancy. 3.5 years spent at Clementi interchange waiting for 96. The sterility of the new interchange lacks the vibrancy and diversity which greeted us when we waited in line on the old red brick corridor beside the shoe shop.

    Life is full of juxtapositions

    Now the sheltered corridor lined with mosaic tiles is being demolished as we speak.

    I feel an infinite sense of loss that the place that has been a part of my memories from childhood, to teenage years and now my university days is being taken apart as I write.

    X marks the spot

    Nothing made the point more poignant for me than when I saw the red X that marks the end of the life of these trees that grew up with me.

    From the biological standpoint, they are nothing impressive, no primary forest species lineage to speak of and are no centennians. Still, attachments cannot be wrought away from me with a wave of a chainsaw. Even so, it doesn't mean they are replacing the trees with native species, or even trees at all!

    Find these plants familiar?

    Do my children have to wait another 30 years before they get to see another tree at that spot? That is provided if they even plan to plant trees! Or perhaps they will merely replace these kind wayside shades with cowgrass and kyoto dwarfs? Or maybe they will just plant palms and weak little horticultural species that have taken over my estate after upgrading. That is afterall the concept of "green living in our heartlands" isn't it?

    That's what HDB propose to scape my heart's land into

    Well let it be known that my idea of green living paints a picture of trees as tall as my HDB flat and luxious greens that my children can run and play on. Not concrete gardens, palms with no shade, aesthetic exotics like trophy wives that nobody have any love for and rough cowgrass that nobody would dream of sitting on.

    Nevertheless, to be forward looking, I've decided to create my virtual time capsule by documenting the last days of old Clementi for my children and their children. Help add to my time capsule by writing about your own recollections of Clementi please. Pictures would be fantastic! Flickr tag your photos "clementi" and drop me a link of your blog post here in the comments. Thank you!

    More of my pictorial time capsule at my flickr set.

    More clementi thoughts:
  • Urban Reflections by Hai~ren
  • Annotated Budak
  • The rambling leaf on

    Read full article here

  • Friday, November 03, 2006

    Extinction is forever

    Conserve Singapore Zoo?
    Is the zoo going extinct? :o

    Read full article here

    Sunday, October 29, 2006

    My Adopted Charity

    I wouldn't really call them a charity but they are my adopted 'cause' for 2006.

    A couple of friends, classmates and schoolmates have taken on the task of sterilizing stray cats in East Coast. They call themselves Project Kucing Coast and maintains a blog at

    Other than regularly trying to bring the cats to the vet every wednesday, they also sent 6 cats for Cat Welfare Society's Spay Day.

    Recently I helped them out at their fundraising booth at the NVAC Bazaar in NUS. Other than buying a few photos of the lovely cats, I also pledge to bear the cost of sterilizing one male cat. It cost $20 for a male and $50 to sterilize a female.

    Alas being a poor student, that's about as much as I can afford. But that's not the end of their cost! They also need funds for boarding the cats so they can recover before releasing them again. There are more than 80 cats there now and some thing must be done to control the population. As Cat Welfare Society writes in their FAQ,

    "Sterilised cats will guard their territory against other non-sterilised intruders. The sterilised colony will first stabilise, and then decrease over the years as the cats live out their natural lives. But this is only possible if pet cat owners do not abandon their cats and kittens."
    A few people have been asking me what I want for my birthday coming up next month and since I do not really crave for any product of blatant consumerism at the moment, it would really make my day if people would gift me with aid to my 'adopted charity'.

    So instead of buying me some consumer product that I might not need, how about contributing similar amount of money towards helping these stray cats?

    It's $20 for a male and $50 for a female!

    Or you can always buy one of the products that they're selling to raise funds like the lovely postcards and calendars that I myself bought.

    I didn't buy this one though... I'm a supporter of adult cats who need more love than the eye candy bambis known as kittens *grin*

    Do leave a note in the comments if you are interested.

    PS: Understanding the importance for transparency in such things these days, rest assured I will put you through directly with them and since they are relatively new and that I have yet to go down to trap cats with them (which I intend to), I am going to speak with them about accounting directly to the individuals who sponsor the sterilization of a cat with a followup on the money used, the cat sterilized, the update on the aftermath and what not. Alternatively you can go down with them to trap the cat and bring him/her to the vet! That would be the best :) Remember to send me photos!!

    Read full article here

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    NEA website down?

    The haze seems to be worsening and from the NUS canteen I can hardly see the port from the Arts Canteen.

    This morning, shocked from the hazy skies, I turned on the tv but did not see any PSI indications but upon checking the NEA website, I see that it was only in the 80s.

    Right now, checking the NEA website, I find it inaccessible!

    Is the NEA website down from too many people trying to access the website? Classmates have confided that they check the PSI almost hourly just as I do.

    Finally, I found the latest update of PSI on the Channelnewsasia website.

    I wonder where and how they get their data.

    Is it time to get face masks yet?

    The website appears to be working now.
    Must be overloaded the poor thing.

    2nd update
    It appears to be on and off which proves that the website must have been overloaded at points perhaps. I wonder if there's any correlation with the height of the haze with the height of traffic to the website.

    Read full article here

    Saturday, October 07, 2006

    Hazy Days

    Hazy Days Non Hazy Days
    How different it is!

    The haze has finally entered the unhealthy range after weeks of hazy weather. Is this a repeat of 1997 again?

    Edit: With the return of the haze, my mom was reminded of 1997's PSI 226 when my granddad passed away due to the effects of the bad air quality. Having already suffered from lung problems having been a quarry worker most of his life, my then 75yearsold grandfather was at extreme high risk being elderly and having poor respiratory system. The hazardous air quality did not help either. He apparently started coughing badly and died on 1 Oct 1997, exactly 75 years from the day he was born. Only 6 days after his 8 years death anniversary, the haze is back. For some reason, I never remembered that he passed away due to the haze but hearing this from my mom right now brings back sharp poignant memories.

    CNA reported at 7.45pm today (7 Oct)

    "At 7pm, the pollutant standards index (PSI) was recorded at 126.

    The highest PSI reading for the year was 130 at 10am on Saturday morning, and the all-time high was 226 in 1997.

    The 3-hour PSI reading first entered the unhealthy range at 8am on Saturday morning, with a PSI reading of 101.

    It recovered to moderate levels in the early afternoon but fell back later in the day."

    Exactly one month ago on 7 Sept, CNA reported the beginning of hazy weathers in Singapore over the next months but then was optimistic in reporting NEA's statement that "air quality is not expected to go into the unhealthy range and it will continue to monitor the situation closely".

    Upon examination of the PSI records over the last 1 month by NEA, it does appear this way but then situation suddenly exacerbated over the last few days! In fact, latest record at 8pm is the highest so far at 143! See NEA PSI Records.

    Lets all hope this ends soon before getting any worse!

    Read full article here

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Green Carnival Day 2

    2 days in a row talking to nus undergrads and staff at the central library forum in this hazy condition is definitely detrimental for the heatlh. But nonetheless, yesterday, during the 2nd day of the carnival, we saw great support from the toddycats that came down to support. Many of us almost fell ill with exhaustion and dehydration but we perservered! Even when we were being chased around by the weather - first from the rain, then by the sun - we eventually took to it like fish to water. We moved for a total of 5 times in the 8 hours that we were at the exhibition.

    3 env engineers
    3 of the environmental engineers from our ICCS team that came down to help out yesterday!

    Monkey couldn't last till the end and had to beat a hasty retreat an hour before the closing from the exhaustion. Had to go home for a quick nap before night language classes.

    One thing for sure we will be more prepared for future exhibitions (or so we always tell ourselves) but practice does make perfect.

    looking pretty
    Our Booth

    We also managed to sign up several people, with more than ten people signing up over the 2 days' less-than-intensive recruitment. 2 of these recruits being my honors class classmate! Nobody surprising but definitely an encoragement. One of them was hai-ren who is a frequent commenter on duck's blog and an avid blogger himself. The other is amazing claudia, my groupmate in many projects, who has been attending many events. As Otterman said, it's about time to go from participant to volunteer!

    CIC also need to do work
    Putting the Toddycats' commander in chief, Otterman, to work moving the booth for the millionth time

    Not only did we become speedier in moving, we also expanded from 1 table (refer to SEC's booth on the right) to 3 tables!

    hiding from the sun
    Help help! we're melting in the sun!

    Out of all the many applicants, I am sure we will not have any problem meeting our modest target of 5 commited toddycats.

    Hopefully we'll be seeing new faces becoming regulars and maybe some becoming toddycattyos! I know the project managers do get sick of seeing the same ole faces every single time :)

    Unexpected lot
    We even had an unexpected bus load of swiss youth exchange students who were very interested

    30 minutes to the last event contributed by the toddycats in this Green Carnival. Otterman will be giving a talk entitled Confessions of an Environmental Activist in Singapore.

    Green Carnival 2006

    It may be the last event in the official line up of programs in the Green Carnival but it's definitely not the last of us this week. On Friday, there will be free lunch time guiding at the public gallery and on Sunday, there will be Pedal Ubin. It still remains to be seen if Pedal Ubin will go ahead this month, depending on whether we find any participants. Monkey has signed herself up to attend a reef walk on the same day. Ah, why do I exhaust myself so.

    Oh well, time to pop by the talk. More reports later!

    Meanwhile, photos can be viewed at my flickr set.

    Read full article here