Monday, May 21, 2007


Amidst intermittant internet connection while here on holiday in China, I find myself pleasantly surprised by a long awaited preview sampler from Wildfilms! After several years of filming on our shores, finally, a sneak preview aptly named "Singapore Surprise" was released on youtube!

Nothing cheered me up more by the familiar sights of the flora, fauna and even people of our shores! The music coordination was excellent and complimented the video better than a Charlie Chaplin movie soundtrack enhances the dramatic flair of the mime. Add some naration and it'll be the David Attenborough of Singapore!

It's definitely rated PG for sex and violence. Catch rare sights of coral spawning and dodgy liquid secretion during mating season and don't blink or you might miss scenes more exciting than the lion using the lynx in the African savannah!

Honestly, perhaps it is when one is away from home when one appreciates the beauty of what we have more so than ever. It's not that we have more or less but when this monkey met the live seafood trade along the shores of Northeast China, I fervently pray for the preserverance of our shorelife despite threats of reclamation and IRs. At the same time, I really wish Singaporeans would stop and rethink our ostentatious and mostly unsustainable seafood consumption level.

Naked and in a tub in China. Photo by Monkey

When I was in Lueshun, near Dalian city in Liaoning Province of Northeast China, a coastal town that cultivates kelp and pearl, I encountered a market that sells live seafood fresh off the fishing boats. You can find any and everything here. From sea urchin to crabs to fish to snails and all kinds of things I usually prefer seeing live and swimming in the sea. It is also here that I first encountered the first real naked hermit crab I've ever seen in my life. I honestly prefer to see my hermit crabs, not naked, and alive on the shore in Singapore. Sadly, here it is, naked and about to end up on somebody's dinner table.

Hermit Crabs about to end up on somebody's dinner table in China. Photo by Monkey

I really don't want my first time to be so traumatic but maybe that's when it really pushes the point home. I want my first time to be with a real hermit crab, with a home on its back and alive and happy on the shores of Singapore. So please, save the homes of our hermit crabs or so they'll all end up naked and maybe not on somebody's dinner table but just dead and lifeless, buried under a casino.

So join our aptly named guides, the naked hermit crabs, on a trip to discover, uncover and explore the homes of our hermit crabs and see them clothed and happy on our shores! I hope that you, like me, get a chance to see our wildlife alive and happy while you have a chance. I think that seeing them as I have on our shores is definitely a more treasured experience than when reality hits home and you see them as nothing more than a crustacean meant for your dinner table.

Quick details of the walk

Dates: 5 Jun 07, Tue (Family Trail) and 6 Jun 07, Wed (Adventure Trail)
Time: Starts 7.30am for both dates
Duration of walk: Family Trail=1.5 hours, Adventure Trail=2.5 hours.
Cost: $5 per person (does not include Sentosa entrance fees and charges)
Exact details on meeting point will be provided to those who register for the walks

How to sign up?
Just email with "Sentosa Walk" in the subject line and these details
(a) Name and contact of lead person
(b) Number of adults
(c) Number and age of children
(d) Date of walk you wish to join
Please sign up by 25 May 07 (Fri) so that we can finalise details.

For more information, see Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Read full article here

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Let's move beyond plastic bags

Ever since the launch of Bring Your Own Bag Day on 18 April 2007, there has been much public and media outcry on this tiny island city-state. On the day of launch, I heard my colleague complain about the lack of widespread implementation of the campaign while my sister and brotherinlaw called me up on a conference call to seek my "expert opinion" on the myopia and contradiction of the campaign. (Read my article on Bring Your Own Bag Day for more information)

To add to the latest foray, Andy Ho, a senior editor at The Straits Times wrote an editorial piece recently on 12 May entitled "Plastic bags are not the enemy".

"On average, Singaporeans use 625 bags per person per year. Research in several countries shows that the main problem with plastic bags is not their environmental impact per se but littering."
Of course, I have to agree that littering is the greater evil behind the plastic bags problem as the international coastal cleanup exhibition mantra is the "curse of the marine litter". The below poster shows how plastic bags and all plastic things really are killing our marine life!

However, it's wrong to say that plastic bags are not the enemy but it is merely not our ONLY enemy. Yes sadly, we have more. Unfortunately, Andy Ho goes on to say:
"But littering is generally not a problem here. In countries where it is, discouraging their use might be justifiable."
I think that Andy has yet to see the above ICCS poster but we shall let that past. However, it really does not justify him questioning the purpose of the whole campaign at all. What more, he brings up all the evils of the ALTERNATIVES of plastic bags. Regarding the cotton bags, I think he simply has not heard of organic cotton yet.

Organic Cotton at the Eco Product Fair 2006

Admittedly, the whole campaign has become a very myopic one. We are only focusing on plastic bags as if it's the be all and end all to all our problems. Do people not realize that this is only the beginning?

To give the people behind the campaign some credit, I must confess that a big part of this "myopia" is created from years of campaigning Singaporeans but we are so stubborn that it's become such an impenetrable wall to break. Over time, people have become focused on the most minute detail to campaign and change the consumer lifestyle in Singapore.

Unfortunately when something "revolutionary" in singapore's standard swing around, they start to pick on the myopia of the campaign and lament the lack of holistic approach to tackling the problem. But what is the REAL problem?

Most importantly, let us NOT divert attention away from or deny the existence of the problem or even presenting it as if its an unsurmountable task?

Are plastic bags our Inconvenient Truth?

There needs to be change, not just a little change but a full overhaul. but unfortunately we need to start somewhere, a baby step. So while taking the baby step, try to look up and far ahead of you instead of complaining about having to take any step at all and saying how you should be leaping forward when you cannot even take on this one step. This step is somewhat symbolic and possibly doesn't make a real chip in the whole journey you have ahead of you. But that's why it's called the first step. You need to start somewhere and this is it!

Perhaps as I have said on my post on metblogs, it is important for the government and state agencies to map out clearly the long term plan for all to see so they know what is ahead of them and not use the myopia of the first step as an excuse to criticize the government. Or perhaps it is not the government's myopia but our own convenient amnesia of past efforts.

Making a big hoo-haa about plastic bag is tiring, passe and it's time we move BEYOND plastic bags. There's a whole climate change crisis ahead of us and we are building dykes to combat this global problem?! Come on!

Let's not act like certain world leaders who try to deny the existence of a problem by means of diversion like saying climate change plastic bag is not the problem or perhaps there is no problem at all. This is NOT how we solve problems!

After all, as Andy Ho said, plastic bags are not the problem as much as littering is! But we have been having littering campaigns for decades and nothing come of it. Well, we are cleaner than many other countries but why compare? We should be setting the standard instead of placating ourselves by only measuring up to others! Who will innovate if all thinks the same?

This is a call to all Singaporeans.

Take on the challenge. If you cannot even overcome a little change like taking on less plastic bags, how much better do you think you will fare when it comes to more unsurmountable challenges?

Read full article here

Taking waste to a higher level

Ironically or not, in my most recent travels to Germany, I find myself noticing more environmentally sustainable practices in the everyday households than I did when I was on an official tour of waste management facilities as part of my Bayer sponsored trip. Whatever their reasons, the point is they are doing it.

What more, these are not individual initiatives, limited to the confines of one household but widespread neighborhood-, community-, city-, state- and nation-wide initiatives, some even mandated by law!

For example, the above photo was taken in the courtyard of my apartment block in Berlin, near the Savignyplatz area near downtown Berlin. Here, we see the usual recycling bins for the residents of the apartments but lo and behold, there is even a bin for "Bio Gut" which is essentially for all things organic. In other words, this is a separate bin for all organic products or "wet waste" as we call it. Not quite a community compost yet but it's a start!

The waste sorting here is so meticulous that it would not allow you to even mix your organic waste with your other papers or packaging waste. Of course the others beside it includes plastic, glass, paper and sometimes packaging waste is even distinguished from your usual plastics. In fact, in all waste bins at the airports and train stations in Germany, rubbish bins don't just come in one but they come in a connected threesome everywhere you go. There is especially one for packaging waste.

In another example in our rented apartment in Dresden, the capital of Saxony and former East Germany, the rubbish bin in the apartment, when you open the cover, you will find it is divided in 3 color-coded compartments! One for paper, one for plastic and the rest for miscellanea.

Perhaps this is why a rubbish chute in each home is not such a good idea after all. When you have to take all of your rubbish out to a central deposition area which comes with carefully indicated bins, it makes waste sorting so much easier.

This is really not about recycling. Nope, waste sorting and waste minimization goes far beyond mere recycling. It's about reducing the need for landfills which even incineration, to a point, cannot help reduce.

That's why in Germany, there is also a Container Deposit Legislation which "require that a deposit on carbonated, water or alcoholic beverage containers be collected when the beverage is sold. When the container is returned to an authorized redemption center, or the original seller in some states, the deposit is partially or completely refunded to the consumer."

This is called the Reverse Vending Machine. After digging around on the web for a really long time I finally found it because I was so enamored by it I didn't take any photos. This is taken from a UK website so it is widespread in Europe. The one in Germany is not quite the same but the feeder and receipt spitting out part as pictured is the same.

This really makes it very fun for the monkey when we go to the supermarket in Hamburg, the highlight of the trip was not shopping but popping plastic bottles into a giant plastic-eating machine which shreds up your bottles and then pay you for it. However, it does not directly pay you cash for your bottles but instead it prints out a receipt for your amount of refund and you can use this refund to get a discount and rebate off your purchases at the supermarket! What I find is more interesting is that it shreds the plastic which I suppose makes it easier for transportation and also as an alternative to melting down the plastic before remoulding, nowadays they pop these bits into a giant tumbler and let the heat do the work, or something to that effect.

They also have a Green Dot system that marks sales packaging in Germany since 1990 that from my poor understanding of babelfish-translated german, is more or less a system that includes the environmental cost of taking care of the lifecycle of a product packaging. It also indicates what can or cannot be recycled. Maybe somebody who understands German can explain this to me.

Technicalities aside, point being that there are tons of technology available these days and all that is lacking is the legislation and state-community effort to implement these legislation.

Sembcorp's new recyclable chutes project

So perhaps HDB flats are of a much higher density than the apartments in Germany which would result in logistic problems if everybody have to step out of their homes to put out their waste and sort them at the same time. But is it just laziness talking? Sembcorp wants to build built-in recycling chutes in addition to our usual rubbish chute and perhaps that is an alternative and a beginning step. Another popular argument is that our tropical climate do not allow for organic waste to contribute to compost bins in homes as it would smell and vectors would develop. Honestly my sister's compost on her balcony in Hamburg, Germany see hosts of flies everyday but for some reason they never enter the house. Sure she claims it smells when she opens the box but I personally never smell it. What more, Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang has a very successful vermiculture (read: compost) project on campus! How is it that we could not?

But sometimes I feel Singaporeans don't even know how to dispose of their rubbish properly, much less talk about waste sorting or even composting. No wonder we worry about vectors.

Just look at how much of that is packaging waste alone!

Read full article here

UN Global Compact Singapore Network Launch

Originally written for the Toddycats Project Manager Moblog, published on 5 October 2005. Transfered here due to a revamping of the Moblog.

September 16, 2005 (Friday) saw the launch of the United Nations Singapore Compact, which is essentially the Singapore network or branch of the UN Global Compact (UNGC) which launched in Singapore in January 2005. The UN Global Compact is an initiative first proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to promote corporate citizenship in the global economy. This marks an important establishment of a cross-sector initiative that seeks to encourage voluntary membership amongst the world’s business sector to adhere to the 10 universal principles in human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption declarations that have been endorsed by the United Nations and specified by the UNGC committee.

UNGC Brochures

The local champion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is Ms Claire Chiang, the president of the Singapore Compact network. She is passionate in emphasizing the importance of local companies to join the network, not only because CSR and corporate governance is important in today’s local economy but also that it makes business sense. It is noted during the launch that consumers are now increasingly conscious about their consumption choices and would support companies who are known or seen to practice CSR.

Ms Claire Chiang

During this launch, ten pioneering companies, consisting of banks and oil companies and including Ms Chiang’s Banyan Tree resorts, signed to join the UNGC Singapore Network and in doing so, promises to publish in their annual reports ways of which they are making changes in their business operations to support the 10 principles.

The 10 signatories and witnesses at the back

The launch was attended not only by the representative from the business community in Singapore, but also from NGOs and representatives from the United Nations, Mr Andrew Toh, Assistant Secretary-General and Dr Uddesh Kohli who shared the UNGC India network’s experience. Minister from the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Lim Swee Say also graced the event as the guest of honor.

Panel Discussion Q&A
(l-r)Mr Jean-Louis Champseix (STMicroelectronics Director of Asia Pacific HR), Mr Andrew Toh (UN Asst Sec-Gen), Mr Thomas Thomas (Chair of Panel and Hon Gen of Singapore Compact), Dr Uddesh Kohli (Senior Advisor, UNGC India)

The committee hopes that this trend towards CSR will snowball into a prevalent attitude in Singapore and the world. CSR could truly be the first step towards responsible corporate practices. Perhaps, now we can have more effective communication in effecting change with the companies that have signed on with the UNGC. Who knows, soon we may have more companies offering refill packs for shampoos and bathing foams!

More photos of the event

Read full article here

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

European Travels

Photo (Right): A rambling leafmonkey on a particularly bad fur day spotted in Hamburg, Germany with her indispensable accessory.

For those wondering about my absence over the last 2 weeks, I have been absconded to Europe on a family trip to Saxony, Prussia, Bohemia and other Hansa cities.

If you are interested in reading about my travels, notes and sights can be found on and my European flickr collection respectively.

Read full article here

Fastest or Most Impatient?

Have returned from Europe yesterday and could not resist writing about Singapore topping the charts for "world's fastest walkers". Read the report while in Europe where I was struggling to catch up with the Europeans and here they are, claiming that we are the world's fastest walkers.

We should hardly be happy for this latest No. 1 title because being world's fastest walkers come with a price and maybe it's really saying that we are merely the world's most impatient walkers.

Read the full article at "Singaporeans - world's fastest walkers?", Singapore Metblogs, 08 May 2007

Read full article here