Archive for March, 2016

Sundays and Moonnights

This is a complete repost of an assignment I did for NUS PC1322, Understanding the Universe.

PC1322 Astronomy Photo Assignment

Photograph of Sunrise over Bukit Tabur

Date and time taken: 22 Feb 2016, around 0730hrs

Taken at Bukit Tabur, Kuala Lumpur, with an iPhone 6S


Proof I was there (sorry this was the clearest photo I had, I’m the guy on the left).


Even though I went stargazing and attended the solar eclipse viewing and got photos from those as well, I feel this photo means the most to me as it got me thinking about the crazy coincidental balancing of physical conditions that allowed life to exist, and to develop a consciousness to consider it’s own existence.

This photo was taken during recess week, when we made an impromptu decision to get away for just one day and take a bus up to KL to climb a hill right in the capital city itself. We took a midnight bus up, and started the climb at 6AM before sunrise, groping around in the dark for the first part. As the sun rose, things became clearer; we could see the rocks and the trees, and this part of the world waking up. The birds started singing, the butterflies began their diurnal activity, while nocturnal creatures like owls and scorpions went into hiding – two worlds, two ecosystems inhabiting the same space, divided temporally and by the light and heat of the sun.


Our own human schedules and activities, and of course, our existence and survival, due to the presence of a relatively small (in relation to the universe) burning ball of gas. A ball of gas that drives the water cycle, and nutrient cycle via the light that plants use to photosynthesize and maintain the delicate balance required for life on Earth.


Therefore, even though (especially because) there are many other amazing and interesting celestial bodies out there, it’s pretty easy to take the Sun for granted – But to me it’s the one thing out there in space that I can relate too the most (aside from Earth), because of how close (relative) it is to us and how much it affects our lives.



Should the line be crossed?

Just dumping this here for record’s sake.

This was written not as a scientifically backed up argument to win anyone over, but a letter to a leader to inform him that “Hi I am a resident of your constituency, there is this thing I care about, please consider the fact that I (and many others) care about it.” Also I needed to get it off my chest, so pardon the ramble.
“Dear DPM Teo,
I am Sean Yap, a resident of Pasir Ris Heights, now 23 years of age and a student at NUS. You may remember me from our previous engagement over the Pasir Ris greenbelt. I am writing again to you today with concerns over the possible impact the planned Cross Island Line may have on our Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and I hope you will hear me out.
Much has already been said and discussed with regard to practical aspects of this issue, about risks and mitigation, whether or not the line should happen at all, etc. In this email, I hope you will allow me to just share some personal experiences I’ve had over the past few years.
I have learned much since the greenbelt issue, and have worked hard to better understand the environment and issues surrounding it, stakeholders, and issues such as balancing the needs of the economy. Since I ORDed about 3 years ago, I have done an internship with NParks, and I’ve gotten into my desired course of study in NUS, focusing on environmental biology. I’ve volunteered with many groups, conducting guided walks in the forests, on our coastlines, and in the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum for curious members of the public. I’ve even had the privilege of being invited to deliver talks at schools and other events about nature in Singapore.
I’ve learned a lot from all the experiences I’ve gained, but the school talks always strike me the most. These talks are usually about wildlife in Singapore, with slides to answer the title question “Singapore got wildlife meh?” (a question my friends and I get pretty often), showcasing the encounters we’ve with plants and animals such as pangolins, wild dolphins, sharks, the atlas moth (largest moth in the world), and many other examples of local wildlife that many kids nowadays may be unaware of.
I’ve sat through countless assembly talks in my schooling days and I speak from experience when I say that it is not easy to keep a bunch of energetic kids or disinterested teens engaged for more than twenty minutes. When I give my talks however, almost the entire audience is awake and attentive through the entire hour – Kids are scrambling to answer the questions, scrambling to ask questions. Teachers are listening as intently as their students. It’s almost freaky. But I am not bragging – my presentation skills are honestly substandard. In these talks, it is not me that’s engaging the kids – It’s the plants and animals in the slides, engaging the audience through me. The students are shown a side of Singapore they’ve never seen, and that they’ve never thought about. Every plant and animal is interesting – appearance, behaviour, role in the ecosystem – and all these cool, documentary-worthy things can still be found in Singapore. The kids were just never told. The sense of wonder i see in the audience is something special. That Singapore is actually pretty cool. That our natural heritage is pretty cool. And in some of the people I talk to, it gives them a greater sense of appreciation for Singapore, one more special thing they know about their country. A side of their country they’ve newly discovered. This sense of wonder is even more evident in participants of our guided walks, especially when they see with their own eyes the wildlife that can only be found in our nature reserves.
Seeing wonder and discovery in the younger generation has gotten me thinking about nature in the future, but also the past, from which many lessons can be learnt. Much as it is appreciated, the EcoLink was built as an afterthought when the impacts of fragmenting the forest of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the CCNR were made evident. The impacts and the subsequent cost in trying to correct our mistakes could have been avoided if we had considered more during the planning and construction of the BKE. In the case of the CRL, do we really want to act quickly on a decision, only to possibly regret it again later? Especially now that we have more knowledge on environmental impact, I feel we should be careful not to repeat our mistakes.
On the other hand, my peers and I have the privilege of enjoying Chek Jawa on Pulau Ubin thanks to the voices and actions of some of my teachers, seniors, friends, and also a government that actively engaged and listened to them. For this I am very grateful. It is my hope that in my current capacity, I can do my best to be heard and hopefully allow my juniors and perhaps, future students enjoy nature in Singapore in the future as well.
Our local biodiversity has always been there, lurking in the background in the wake of Singapore’s rapid development, almost forgotten. In recent years, as Singaporeans are reaching a relatively more comfortable quality of life, they are rediscovering nature, and being continually amazed. But apart from just aesthetic appreciation, nature has a way of bringing people together. Just as the greenbelt brought residents together and revived a kampong spirit (we are still in contact and great friends with the neighbours we got to know), for many people I have gotten to know, local nature spaces keep us grounded, and give us a sense of place and identity in Singapore. I’ve been interested in wildlife since I was young, and in all honesty I have always considered moving overseas when was older as I’d always assumed Singapore had none of that. But thanks to passionate teachers and opportunities I am thankful for, I see that Singapore is home to a rich biodiversity that is unique and definitely makes it worth staying. Working in the natural spaces here has endeared this place to me, and even though I may also want to experience ecosystems in other parts of the world, I don’t think it will ever quite be the same, and I’ll always come back.
With regard to alignment of the cross island line, I hope that the chosen path will not cut through the core forests of our nature reserves. Objectively, there are advantages to cutting through – some cost savings and less consideration about possible reacquisition of homes. However, this forest is not a young, secondary patch like Pasir Ris, but sections of old, mature forest that may have existed from even before Raffles arrived on the island – truly a natural and national heritage. When I am guiding in the LKCNHM, we talk about the Changi tree, that had lived a long life and grown so tall, only to be felled during WWII over concerns about the enemy using it as a marker to target our forces with their artillery. In that instance, the choice was hard to make but non-negotiable, as lives and survival were at stake. In this case, cutting through our mature forest only serves to cut a fraction of the cost of building the CRL (that can be more easily earned back than the health of a good forest), and in the long run the alternate route may be able to serve residents living on the outskirts of the forest. For a mature forest, even the smallest of impacts can snowball into unthinkable repercussions, and the difference between “some impact” and “no impact” may be hugely significant. In my opinion, the possibility of any kind of impact, no matter how small, to our nature reserves should not even be considered – the risk is far too great. We now have the opportunity to make a more responsible decision and it is my hope that we make good on it.
In the talks I give, I find it necessary to also bring up the threats to our local wildlife, but it is also important to me that I also cover the solutions and the efforts to save it. To me, it’s important that the audience knows that not all hope is lost, and that they too can make a difference. I hope to be able to continue giving such talks, and I hope that like in the case of Chek Jawa, I’ll be able to include the voice of the citizens and an understanding government in the list of solutions.
This is just me talking about my hopes for the future in Singapore, but I do hope views like mine are heard and taken into consideration when making the final decision on the alignment. Thank you.
Sincere regards,
(Insert relevant pleasantries)”