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