let’s talk about death

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Content Warning: I talk about some pretty morbid topics, not because I necessarily want to but because it’s become important to process some recent events.

Last week, after an already incredibly emotional series of events, as I was waiting to board my plane to London, I found out that Eric Judge, my fraternity brother and someone I always respected and looked up to had passed away. If you have read my post about pain, then you’ll know exactly what my body and mind went through at that point. I had to find a space, sit down and try to calm myself before I got onto the plane, because I had lost someone I cared about and the realization that I would never see them again hit me. This time last year, my paternal grandfather passed away of old age, and I remember feeling a reeling sense of shock. Now, my body knew what death of a close one was and immediately reacted emotionally.

Eric was one of the first people I met in my fraternity as I began my education process and immediately I knew he would play an important role in my understanding of Lambda Chi Alpha. Yes, he was known as the frequent caps player and the teacher of all things beer related, but he was also a brother in the most expansive form of the word. He would celebrate everyone who joined the organization, and he would shut down anyone who spoke poorly of another brother without regard for their dignity. It’s weird to speak praises about those who have passed only after they left, especially knowing that he was in Chicago and I only spent one other occasion with him before his incident. I wish I could have told him all of this – how I respected him and how my time in the US was made that much more special because of him. I will remember him dearly. Eric, this is my way of processing your death. I tried speaking to friends and family, but it helped little knowing that I had lost someone I cared for. My friends mean the world to me and it’s horrible that the cosmos wouldn’t give us any more times to celebrate our lives.

Eric’s death made me all the more resilient in speaking my truth to others. I am no longer ashamed of being honest and spontaneous in my expression to those I care about. It’s naive for me to claim that as we get older, death will be a more commonplace occurrence because so will marriage, birth and all kinds of other celebration. I am entering a portion of my life where the innocence of living is eroding and I have to choose how I interpret the things that happen around me.

There is a part two to this post, one that I feel I must write although I’m not sure how to write it. As if Eric’s death wasn’t enough to dampen my mood, as I landed in London I saw on the news that there was another terrorist incident in northern London. The cities I plan to visit – Berlin, Brussels, Paris – are also no longer strangers to acts of terrorism. I am literally living in a time and place where the concept of chaos is close and familiar and I have to adapt to the fact that I have to choose daily to live my best possible life. I have to also choose more than ever to be cautious, alert and smart about things around me.

But there’s this weird what-if question that remains. What if I do die? I know, I know – the human psyche is afraid of the question. It’s one of my biggest fears in life – my mortality. It’s very much why I continue to do the legacy work that I do. I feel like I should start thinking about it though, not to give the enemy any upper-hand in mental victory, but to give it the intellectual space it needs to provide insight. I immediately thought of my family and my close friends, the ones who actually do care for me the same way I cared about Eric and maybe even more. I immediately thought of the same pain crashing through them and felt awful myself. I want my life to speak for itself, my values and my character to continue beyond my existence. I want my conversations to have lasting impacts on the people I had them with. I want people to keep believing in a community that supports itself and is resilient.

Ironically, even considering the impact of my death made me so much more committed to fighting to live and to fight the forces that threaten my or any of my loved ones’ existences. There’s so much more work that needs to be done on this planet and no one should be able to steal that opportunity from us. I also recognize that the issue is so complex because of the politics involved. Terrorism only seems real because it happens in cities with people of actual power, but attacks happen in other parts of the world including Syria and Iraq, by countries like the US and UK. People all over the world are dying because it seems easy to detonate a bomb. Death is becoming a stranger topic until it hits someone close.

That has to stop. This desensitization to death has to stop. We need to feel emotionally connected to every aspect of the human condition and that means recognizing that it’s completely wrong that people have to die for acts they were never responsible for. I am carrying and will continue to carry this pain. I have a few ideas of how to move towards addressing these problems and am making efforts towards them, but I hope everyone who reads this recognizes they have that power to change their perspective on death in the world.

this is a perspective shift.

make a difference.

breath of the dragon – visiting east asia (part #3 – Taipei and Jiufen)

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You have been warned – this post has an unprecedented display of photos of food. Known as the only other place that can satisfy a Singaporean’s food cravings , Taiwan didn’t disappoint in any way. I spent a good 4 days in Taipei, and another day out in Jiufen , to get a more balanced exposure to what Taiwan has to offer and I’m glad to say that among all the cities I’ve visited, I’ve shortlisted Taipei (alongside Berlin) as my top cities to live in. There’s so much to see and do, and the proliferation of street food everywhere adds the cherry to the top. Let’s jump right in.

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I don’t really visit museums when traveling, unless it has an interesting exhibit I want to check out. The National Palace Museum in Taipei stands majestic with the hills in the background, and one wouldn’t guess it was a museum till they read the signs. The Museum is easily accessible by bus from Shilin , and once you enter it, you will be taken aback by the quality and diversity of Chinese art pieces. My favorite are the landscape paintings by Fan Kuan, that evoke so much subtlety while projecting magnificence. You’re not allowed to bring cameras into the museum and so in respect I didn’t take any photos – but take my word that the exhibits will make you want to spend your time’s worth there..  cks

You could probably knock out most of the tourist attractions in one day. Most of them are just sights that you can awe at – for example the Taipei 101 tower and the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall park in the title photo. Here you can see the courtyard for the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. While the hall itself is grand and holds a bronze statue of the eponymous man, the courtyard struck me for its calming sense of balance. The courtyard also holds the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall. Take the time to visit the Concert Hall, and you’ll notice groups of youth practicing their Hip-Hop, which is a sight in itself. Youth culture in Taipei is exciting and its presence is felt all through the city.

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I don’t really visit temples during my travels, although I like to awe at the architectural styles they possess. I’ve always felt that architecture emotes the feelings of the time and the hopes of the society. Taipei has a strong collection of interesting temples, but the one I remembered the most was the Confucian temple. This collection of buildings and gates translate Confucius’ edicts into physical interactions that you can easily take away a lot from. In this case, the pool represents knowledge, and the fence is in the shape of bamboo thorns to represent the struggle necessary to attain true knowledge. Deep, right?taipei sausage

Now onto my favorite part of the trip. Night Markets. There are almost 8 night markets in Taipei itself, and unfortunately (or fortunately if you think about it differently) , each market actually serves its unique range of snacks and dishes. That means you can actually eat something new at each night market, and the inner explorer in me couldn’t bear that I wasn’t visiting them all. Perhaps it was coincidence or a blessing, but I lived literally adjacent to Shihlin Night Market – the most popular one in Taipei. There’s so much to try, but my top choices are the Sausage in Glutinous Rice buns (in picture) , Oyster Omelette, Pepper Pork Buns, Gua Bao, Scallion Pancakes and the bubble tea (of course). There’s so much more you can try, and I’d recommend shortlisting both Shilin and Shida for visits. Having friends to share snacks with can also be a huge boon.

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Beef Noodles are known around the world, but having it in Taipei definitely lets you feel the difference. You could compare it to Pho in Vietnam, but the Taiwanese beef noodles are special because they braise (or stew) the beef, giving it an extra kick in the soup. In fact, Taiwanese love braising everything, which you’ll come to discover as you walk the streets. My friend , Jacky, brought me to this out of sight beef noodle place that definitely knocked the rest of my experiences out of the water. Located near Ximending, on Yanping South Road (張家清真黃牛肉麵館) , the broth for this leaves you wanting more as you devour the dish. The noodles are slightly al dente, as most good soup noodles should be, and the beef melts in your mouth. I actually got myself hungry writing this, wow.

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You’d think this is a simple dish, but this is a Taiwanese staple – Lu Ruo Fan, or braised pork rice. It’s so simple, but the flavors are balanced and make the dish easy to be eaten by itself. If possible, I like to get a bowl of this to accompany side dishes, and am always satisfied at the end of the meal. If I’m not wrong, they’re making it into the Taiwanese national dish, and I’d support that all the way.taipeibreakfast

I’ve always felt Asians do breakfast the best. It’s more complex than just eggs and pancakes, but they set you off on the right food each day. Make the trip to Yonghe Dou Jiang Da Wang, on Fuxing South Road to be treated to aromas of eggs and soy milk. There are so many options, but try the freshly fried You Tiaos (dough sticks), and the Da Bing (in picture) which are thin egg pancakes that you can top with soy sauce for one of the most mouth-gasmic experiences. Wash it all down with a cold soy milk and you’re good for the day. shavedice

Let’s not forget about desserts. Mango Shaved Ice take over the streets of Taipei as the best possible dessert around. Similar to Ice Cream, except that there’s more Ice than Cream, this dish is sweet and its texture gives you the sensation you’ve always been looking for in a dessert. Most important to this dish are the fresh Taiwanese mangoes diced for you. I’ve always been in love with fresh fruit, and if you come to Taiwan and don’t try the mangoes fresh I’d feel sorry for you.The sweetness could bring you to another level.jf2

Taiwan’s notoriety isn’t just in its food. The land is filled with mountains and lakes that take your breath away and incite imagination. You’ll come to appreciate the stunning efficiency of Taiwanese public transportation. Buy a refundable EasyPass and use that to get you anywhere around Taipei, including the outskirts. An hour away from the city by bus, you’ll come to Jiufen, the mountain town that reminds you of an Asian Santorini. Climb the mountains to get magnificent views and burn off all those calories you gained from eating at night markets.goldmine2

In a nearby town, Jinguashi, you’ll see the gold mines that were the main reason for occupation here. There’s a lot of history in the place , including the Japanese and Chinese exploitation of the mines, and you’ll feel transported to a different time in this nicely preserved part of Taiwan. Entrance is free which makes the visit all the more worth it. There’s even the ‘largest gold bar’ ever which people queue up for. I’d avoid it, unless the photo is absolutely necessary. Imagine the germs on that one bar. goldmine

Among the numerous hiking paths, one of the ones that I’d recommend is the path to the Japanese Shinto Shrine, built high over the town of Jinguashi. You’ll notice many people drop out from fatigue, but persist and you’ll not only be treated to a stunning view, but a bit of history as well. You’ll be quiet once you reach the place, partially out of solemnity and partially because you’re too tired to say anything anyway.

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Another trek worth taking is the one to the Golden Falls. Named after the assumption that this waterfall was pouring liquid gold, you’ll notice quickly it’s the copper in the rocks that are providing this unique color to the waterfall. It’s right next to the Pacific Ocean as well, which in all honesty , is pretty darn cool to look at.taroballs

Head back to Jiufen in the evening to walk around the night market on Old Street. Once again, there are many unique dishes for you to try, but the Taro Balls Dessert are famous and for good reason. Chewy and fresh, these balls provide a cool counterbalance to the heat in the area. They’re handmade right in front of you, so you can trust it was made with love.ximending

Taipei ranks as one of my favorite cities for many reasons. Above all, it’s the strong vibrant culture that’s present, without the stress of regular city life. Visiting Shanghai and Hong Kong infects you with the ambition of their societies, but it also passes on the stressful hurry that’s apparent in everyone. In Taipei, that sense of hurry isn’t that common, and that gives you a pace of life you can appreciate. Want to experience nature? Just take a quick bus ride out. Want to eat good food? Just go find a night market. Clubs such as Lava and Elektro give you a good look at the youth culture in the city as well (Lava is by far one of my favorite clubs in my adventures)

I honestly see myself coming to Taiwan a lot more times. With friends and with company, there’s still so much to discover.

Shoutout to Emma, Jacky, Nicole, Kevin, Angela for showing me the haunts of Taipei I wouldn’t have known to go to by myself.

The adventure ends in Hong Kong in my last post.

Till then,

geronimo.

breath of the dragon – visiting east asia (part #1 – Beijing)

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Last month, I traveled around South India in hopes of getting in touch with my Indian background. This month, I took a trip to East Asia, in the pursuit of appreciation of my lesser obvious Asian side, the one that’s been developed purely because of my presence in Singapore. I called it the Breath of the Dragon trail – two weeks spread across four of the biggest cities known in Chinese modern history.

East Asia definitely opened my eyes to a whole world of knowledge and culture. The Chinese have been known for their unique approach to all topics – especially those of spirituality and society. As I traveled from Beijing to Shanghai to Taipei (and Jiufen) to Hong Kong, I was slowly discovering the evolution of this demographic and how despite the changes in infrastructure , the consistency of beliefs and traditions remained. It was an accident that my trip was planned in the way that it was,from a city that spoke the least English to a city that spoke the most English, but I’m definitely blessed to have witnessed and encountered the conversations and experiences that I did.

Beijing

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Beijing is definitely the capital of China. There is no doubt about it. From major palaces, to political structures, there is no shortage of motifs and symbols here to remind you of what greatness used to reside in this city. The layout of Beijing invites curiosity, as it is concentric, with multiple ring roads demarcating different zones in the city. The innermost ring road borders the most important structures then. Spending time in Beijing can include one of three possible activities : visiting all the grand sights, eating all the good food, shopping at all the local places for cheap products. Of course, the third option wasn’t even applicable for me – I don’t shop that much. But grand sights I definitely opened myself up to, almost entirely in this trip.

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We’ll start with the Temple of Heaven. I highly recommend this park as a window into life in Beijing.The Temple itself stands tall and majestic, but it doesn’t speak as much volume as the people who occupy the park on an almost daily basis.

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Populated by mainly the elderly and retired, you can see people dancing, doing taichi and exercising in the morning till early afternoon. My favorite view was this, where you can see crowds of people overseeing games of Dai-Di (Big Two, a Chinese card game) and Chinese Chess. It’s almost definitive of how people still remain active even in old age here, rather than lock themselves up in retirement houses or in front of the television screens, and that’s very impressive.

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Another interesting sight would have to be the Echo Wall. Just a short walk from the actual Temple of Heaven, and within the park, this wall surrounds the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Legend goes that if you shout at one end of the wall, your voice can be heard at the other end. What ensues then, is a bunch of tourists shouting and screaming at this stone wall, which in itself is a sight. I doubted its effectiveness, it didn’t really seem to be working , but this and a few other structures are interesting deviations from the regular temples and gabled structures.

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I’d also recommend travelers to visit the Forbidden City – it is filled with imperial structures that have motifs only an emperor could be privy to. Its size also challenges you to take in the full grandiose of the kingdom and imagine what it would have been like to rule over China. The Tian’anmen Square nearby was unfortunately closed because of a parade but I had heard good reviews of the place, especially juxtaposing the imperial haughtiness of the Forbidden City, with a similar arrogance in modern form at the Square.

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The Summer Palace could probably be prioritized on a lower peg after visiting the places above,  but one should visit it to take in the view of Kunming Lake, that the Palace oversees.

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Of course, if it’s your first time in Beijing, you’ll have to make time to go to the Great Wall. There are multiple portions that you can visit but the easiest to access is the Badaling portion. Therefore, do not visit that portion. It’s supposedly filled with tourists and the derived industry from it, and you’ll have to walk a significant portion on the wall to lose the infestation of people and focus on the views. Instead go to the Mutianyu portion, where I visited, and let yourself be blown away by the human feat that is the Great Wall. You can take public transportation there, and it’ll cost you only around 20USD one way, although you’ll have to take a couple of bus changes.

For those not informed of the reason for the wall, it was built during imperial times to protect the kingdom from invasion from the Mongolians. You can see multiple aspects of defense aside from the pure fact that it’s a large ass wall. Stairs were built that were almost impossible to climb without breaking a sweat, making it difficult for invaders to make it very far even if they scaled the wall. It’s definitely a workout climbing it.

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Guess the Mongolians eventually made it though. This wall and many other parts are unfortunately subject to graffiti, showing the cost of exposure to the world.

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If you go eastwards on Mutianyu enough, you’ll reach a portion of the wall that is known as Jinshaling. Although technically ‘prohibited’, I suspect it’s more of a measure to prevent kids from falling off this nearly ruined wall. It’s vastly different from Mutianyu – it is overgrown with shrubbery and the path is clearly narrower because the sides have crumbled in. This then presents the ‘authentic’ wall – not maintained and reeking of age and sincerity. The views are cleaner here, and the hike more adventurous. I would definitely encourage travelers to take a bit more to walk on this portion, but keep your bearings about you and don’t be afraid to duck and jump over obstacles.

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The last place I’d strongly encourage people to visit are the hutongs (or alleys). These are the remnants of Old Beijing – where the neighborhood classically identified by its grey roofs transport you to a simpler time.Interestingly enough , and this is a trend I’ve seen in almost all cities I’ve been to, most of these hutongs have been maintained by converting them into a ‘hipster’ district, with boutique fashion outlets and up and coming food stalls. Rooftop bars and cafes are worth a try to see the hutongs from up top. This is Nanluoguxiang – definitely a must visit.

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I personally was a fan of this Churros that they were selling, in a paper holder with soft serve ice-cream. Imagine holding that and walking down Old Beijing, it’s almost surreal how old and new come together so beautifully. duck

And finally must eats in Beijing. There’s a ton of good Chinese food that you can try , including my favorite Mongolian Hotpot Hai Di Lao. But the famous disk is the Peking Duck. I was taken to QuanJude , one of the top places to go for the dish, and honestly I’d recommend spending your value’s worth on this. The duck is almost completely spent on you, with even the carcass being used to flavor a delicious and rich soup at the end of the course. The skin is crispy and salty, and that complements the sweet hoisin sauce that you eat the meat with. Make it in a crepe or eat by itself, the duck is definitely worth the hype. There are a bunch of other brand name duck restaurants out there that I’d imagine are worth visiting so choose freely.

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Beijing stands out for many reasons. While a large number of people you’ll see are not even local Beijing residents, you notice a slice of China that’s burgeoning with optimism. They’re excited to see the world and almost figuratively are ready to consume it. It’s interesting how, because it’s like it got shocked into success by jumpstart cables, the government is forced to find a way to match its economic success with cultural education and propaganda like the signs above.

Don’t expect as many tall skyscrapers as Shanghai, or any English speaking assistance , but instead see probably what’s the closest to how China is like in the rest of the mainland out of all the big cities in this trail. There’s no shortage of nightlife though – Wuadaokou is where all the college bars (and cheap beers) are, while Sanlitun has the more upmarket bars and clubs. You can spend a lot less than you would in any of the other cities in these places.

Out of all the cities I visited, Beijing was definitely where I was the least comfortable. But I like that, I like being uncomfortable because you’re forced to learn and grow. I have a lot more stories from this one city, but ask me about them or check my Facebook Album for them – and you’ll be surprised at how much there is to this famous city. Look forward to my next travelogue post on Shanghai.

I’d also like to sincerely thank Patrick, Amy (and your relatives), Peter, Shuting, Gil  for making my trip so rich and meaningful. You definitely were great hosts.

Till then,

geronimo.

there’s something special here – Singapore turns 50

This country is and will continue to be the most successful city in the world. It’s almost weird to think that , assuming that I’ll live a healthy life, I’ll be 72 at SG100. I’ll be the next ‘Pioneer Generation’ . I hope to God I look good when I’m old, because I want to continue kicking and building society. During the National Day Show today, someone said a line that really hit home for me. She said ‘We grow with this country’ , and it’s probably the truest thing I’ve heard in a while.

We’ve been on a journey. Most countries have epic stories embellishing their history, but very few cities in modern history can claim to build a democracy while holding a siege mentality, and still supersede most large economies around them. Very few can claim to continue to produce people of superior caliber and an attachment to the country that is recognizable worldwide. Yet , you see, that’s our claim. We were presented with a nearly insurmountable problem, and we overcame it. The more I watch various presentations of history, from the veiled propaganda (which isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ word) of the media, and the alternative interpretations of the deferred, there’s still one uniting tone – our pioneers were committed to bringing Singapore out of the Third World.

This National Day, this SG50 , we’re called to do two things – to remember this journey made, almost symbolically pronounced by the passing of founding father Lee Kuan Yew, and to envision our collective future, probably marked by the General Elections rumored to be in September.

You don’t have to look to the media for the truth , people are genuinely proud of the journey made.Naysayers will always exist, but they cannot reduce the pure joy experienced by people for making it to this point in the history of the world. We’ve made it. We’re here, a sovereign country defined by our own rules and aspirations – not anyone else’s.

But it’s perhaps the second call to action that’s more nerve-wrecking. What does the future mean for us? We’re facing our own set of problems. Starting The Hidden Good has given me the platform to interact with people from all sectors of society – youth, elderly, rainmakers and kingmakers; ministers and businessmen; the marginalized and the privileged. I challenged my generation to be an active force in shaping our own future, and not to let it be privy to the whims of the noisy and caustic minority online  (http://thehiddengood.com/2015/08/07/we-are-our-future/). Yet beyond that, I’m still conflicted on how our future should shape out. Solutions aren’t as straightforward as they used to be, and the uniting direction seems to point towards building a more inclusive and affirming society. We’ve built a society that is starting to , very slowly, fracture at the weight of the diversity it’s so proud of.

Creating a plan to solve that requires a lot more involvement from society than ever before, but there’s one thing I know almost definitely. We have to carry these problems with us and grow with them. Just like overcoming the pioneers gained resilience because of the problems they overcame, we can gain a deeper understanding into the human condition by trying to solve these problems. We became a successful city by the definitions of this day and age, but in the same line, no one’s a successful city yet by the definitions of the next age. We have that opportunity , but we have to commit. We have to commit to home, to Singapore. We have to commit to finding novel ways to contribute to the solution in our own capacities as businessmen, civil servants, students, families etc. , instead of contributing only to the noise around the problem. Let me be very clear – gone are the days when governments are the sole providers of solutions. Yes they hold the main onus, but it’s backward to expect capable people to be only present there. We , the people, hold the ability to shape our society.

I honestly wonder how I’ll be in 50 years time, but I hope to say lines similar to those shared by our forefathers. We did all we could, so that the generations after us could have a good life. We grew with Singapore.

After all, we are Singapore.

geronimo.

 

 

kingmaker or king?

A few weeks ago I posted a blog-post on my initial impressions coming back, and I got some interesting responses to it. Like I mentioned , it was more of a thought in progress than anything conclusive. My summer break is divided into three main trips – my time in Singapore where I’ve built a home and to rekindle the friendships I’ve made here, my rediscovery journey to India where I hope to identify more with my roots and learn more about my supposed culture, and finally my discomfort journey to China and the Orient where I hope to put myself in probably one of the more foreign environments I could be in. Three very different kind of experiences, but distinctly important for me to develop my own sense of self and understanding of society.

I’ve had the benefit of having a few experiences in Singapore these past few weeks. I was able to host friends of mine from the Czech Republic and therefore be a tour guide. I was able to integrate my understanding of systems and societies from overseas to deepen my analysis of Singaporean society, and have rich , developed discussions with some of my friends about the future of Singapore. Perhaps most importantly, I was able to spend quality time with old pals and mentors and I guess express my value for their presence in my life.

The time I’ve had here therefore allowed me to think about three distinct points about Singapore. The three points exist on a continuum of sorts – I begin by appreciating what we have, and then end with wondering about our future.

  1. We’re able to squeeze a nation onto an Island

We’re a small country. That’s probably the most important face about Singapore, and the starting point for a lot of the conversations we have about national policy and culture here. Yet, we’ve been able to have squeeze so magically, both old and new Singapore into an island. We have the tropical jungles of Ubin, and the urban jungle of the Marina Bay area.

I’ve been travelling so much in the past year and while I’ve been able to see the same kind of city planning elsewhere, I’m impressed by how we’re able to maintain that dynamism here. Trees are bountiful on the streets, and while we were taught on how uncommon that is in other cities, I only appreciated it after coming back. We have such a diversity here, that you’re able to find most of the world in this country.

It’s beauty then arises from it’s ability to find points where you can bring together those worlds – like the Henderson waves, where the busy roads of Alexandra are connected to the forests flanking them by the modern architecture of the bridge which in itself is naturalistic.

The best part about all this is then that because we’ve squeezed all of this into our country, no trip is ever too long to truly complain that it’s impossible to do whatever you want. I haven’t had to travel too far to see something completely different. I’ve been able to have visit the country’s biggest Starbucks and go fishing in the jungles all in the same day.

Singapore definitely doesn’t let down with lifestyle options. Or maybe I just know the ins and outs of this country well.

2. We’re definitely in a transition moment

Picture by Jerome Lim

It’s obvious that as we turn 50, there’s a lot at stake. We’ve built a nation, but at what costs? As some countries let themselves stumble into the state where they’re at , they faced adversities at every possible turn.  Yet these adversities were opportunities for the country to decide its values and priorities. The people had to come together as one.

Perhaps it’s interesting then, that when we talk about Singapore which was perhaps engineered from the Merger forth, that we realise we’ve had considerably less adversity. Am I hoping we had more problems? Far from it, but it’s a worthy consideration that we’re 50 years in with a very large spectrum of personal values that don’t necessarily resonate with national values ‘prescribed’ by the government.

We’re at crossroads now, where we’re thinking about issues like population and identity. Yet, what’s interesting to observe for me is the conversations that we’re having. There’s no one leading these conversations , they all seem disparate and inconclusive. We’re supposedly an educated population but the conversations degrade because of anger and frustration. I take back what I said before in my previous post – we do care about issues, and yes that concern is seen through the vehement and activism of groups both online and offline. But there’s no solution being proposed.

Suppose a special interest group (SIG) wants to propose a repeal of a certain law in order to achieve its progressive goal (in its own view of bettering society). Perhaps instead of protesting which granted is also a valid way of garnering attention, it should recognise its ultimate goal is to solve the ‘problem’  the law tries to ‘address’. Does it involve starting discussions, does it involve having open forums? There’s a problem solving strategy that definitely would work more effectively.

I’ll continue to insist that solutions to today’s problems need to come from an intersection of the government’s overview and the community’s crowdsourced proposal. If the community wants to be more participative in politics, then we have to be smarter. In all aspects , all causes and all needs. That’s where we’re moving as we transition, and works need to be done on both sides to garner this new model of governance.

3.  Do we still have talent?

This part of my post could possibly rub people the wrong way, so let me premise by saying I’m focusing on a future regardless of the present.

Elections are coming up , all the signs are in the air. Perhaps it’s ideal that SG50 aligns so well with the four year cycle, but the rest of the political signs are there. Quality of life measures are settling in (road blocks , anti-vice runs etc.) , GST vouchers are being issued and talks are getting louder.

I started thinking about the quality of leadership and started becoming slightly worried. Not for the immediate future, but about the future ahead. See, Singapore’s biggest boast was it’s human talent. We had limited land, limited resources but we could always bank on our human capital to leverage us. That assumption held strongly in the forming years, and the Pioneer Generation deserve everything they get these few years, but I’m not too sure about the kind of talent we’re prioritising in the future.

See, Singapore was built on the back of politicians, economists, justices and businessmen who knew how to adapt and innovate. They had a strong mandate – bring this country from third world to first. Goh Keng Swee did a fantastic job, stripping away the assumptions of pundits and innovating how Singapore should develop. Yet, as we continue to grow, I notice less innovations in how we develop. We’re becoming more conservative,  because there’s a lot more at stake, and the population is a lot quicker to point its fingers. But courageous leadership requires a strong mix of technocratic intelligence and political charisma to communicate those plans.

We’ve become pretty comfortable in trusting our leadership, but we should be holding them accountable in every aspect. Not in the sense where we stifle their ability to govern by keeping them restricted, but by encouraging them to do their job – to build a society, strong in identity, stable in growth and protected from harm. But all those things require movement, not stagnation . How about our judicial system? How many of us actually know our Constitution? There should be more feverous , fact based discussions on what the law means to us online , rather than hypothetical blabber on what the law should look like. We’ve built this country on our constitution, and no matter what, the constitution is what should uphold the rights of the people.

Our leadership needs to evolve. We need to go back to innovating, thinking from Singapore outwards, not from the world inwards. Yes, we’re a lot more globally connected, but we’re also proven more than once, that we prescribe our own policies based on our own situation. The world cannot limit us.

Courageous leadership. It’s a loaded term. Will we allow it, is the more important question.

___

I’m starting to travel again next week, and I’ll be posting more thoughts as I go on. Again, I don’t claim to be a political pundit, just a youth passionate about his country and societies. Singapore has so much in it, it’s definitely a place to be. But to fully appreciate being a citizen, we have to carry its burdens with us. That’s what I’m keeping in mind as I vote this year. We make or break this country.

geronimo.

 

what i’ve done

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I had always suspected my blog had a readership that extended beyond my circle of friends. After all, every time I had posted something about Singapore or topics like youth and society, I would notice a sizable spike in my audience. I always took it for granted though, that these people were just interested in the dialogue I was trying to add to. Recently one of my blogposts received a comment from a reader, urging me to temper my idealism with evidence that I was actually acting on my thoughts. It was a fair comment , most of my new readers wouldn’t have context to the work I do. I’ve gone ahead and edited my About Me page for those who want to click into the links to see the work I’ve done with The Hidden Good.

Here’s my YouTube Channel —> Click

Here’s the Facebook Page —> Click

And if you want to read about what I’ve done, you can read some of these posts/articles:

  1. Vulcan Post’s Article
  2. We are Singapore’s Article 
  3. My Blogpost when I started The Hidden Good

If you have any inquiries or want to work together in some way (which always excites me) , send me an email at rovik@thehiddengood.com .

Hopefully this provides deeper context to the overall ecosystem I’m trying to facilitate – with both idealism in my blog and social media, and functional activism in the work I do offline.

Now that that’s done, let’s get back to real work.

geronimo.

first thoughts on being home

Photo by Jonathan Danker

It must be interesting to revisit certain concepts and ideas at different stages in your life. The idea of ‘Home’ is a very easily empathized one – everyone tries to define Home in their own contexts. Surprisingly the last few days have made me question how much of Singapore I find home in, and what it truly means to me. This is but a preliminary but honest reflection though – I simply record my thoughts to track how they evolve.

I landed in Singapore just a few minutes shy of the end of my birthday. I’ve always enjoyed birthdays but this was a new experience for me – ‘celebrating’ it remotely. Everyone was wishing me , my closer friends and family having more enduring wishes than the rest. I was being congratulated, thanked and commemorated (in its own humble way). Yet I was absent of the people that I wish I had around me.

Perhaps more significantly then, I spent the last 15 minutes of my birthday coming out of immigration and into the embrace of my family. That’s all that mattered to me – that I could spend my birthday with someone and with my family at that. I was mentally prepared for some sort of a future like this. I chose the desire to travel over the desire for stability. It’s unique to our generation but I feel I live it out a lot more obviously. This new world demands us to understand complexity and in order to fully embrace unique solutions to existing problems and potentially new ones, we must break out of what we understand to be the ‘tried and tested’ way and look out into the horizon. We must visit new places, see how people approach similar problems or even different ones, and learn from them.

Travelling is therefore partially an individual indulgence, but more so (and if you know me well, it makes sense) a strategic endeavor to reinvigorate my frame of mind.  I want to build better societies and in order to do that, I’ve decided to consume knowledge and experiences around the world. I always decided though, to keep Singapore as a home-base ; after all it was where I was raised and developed. I associated by culture and mannerisms to the society here. Most of my best friends are here.

I left Singapore hoping I’d come back to some form of a better society. I had planted the seeds in the form of The Hidden Good and the various other youths I had hopefully mentored. I had kept a watchful eye and given input when possible – doing as much as I possibly could while overseas. It seemed hopeful. I was hoping for a society more open, more caring and more active on progressing as a society, ground-up .

When I landed, I was surprised to see that in nine months not much had changed. Granted, this was the first time I was returning back home and also nine months isn’t necessarily a long period, but I was disappointed to see that people, mannerisms and structures looked more or less the same. Maybe it’s just me, but familiarity wasn’t as friendly to me. I wanted to see family and friends because of the love we shared, but honestly,  I could have met them in Russia and I would have probably felt the same.

A lot had happened, you see. LKY had passed away, attitudes had shifted on topics like sports, youth and rights., and society was a lot more vocal on both being positive and critical. I had hoped to see some of those tangibly in the past few days – but nothing caught my eye.

I love this country. I had the similar warm fuzzy feeling when I landed in Singapore that I only get when I land here. I got excited when I heard Singlish being used regularly again. I smiled when I was at Zouk and saw that we knew truly how to have a good time. But I want us to be excited about progressing. We seem to be happy with being here, but growth isn’t just about earning more money.

There has to be an excitement to grow as a society in our values and decisions. What are aspects of society we need to address? These are the topics that must be on our tongues. These are the things that must show progress year on year – not the height of our buildings but the height of our inequality gap. Not the amount of green in our wallet, but the amount of green we stand to lose in our environment. Bread and butter issues are definitely relevant, but there must be a point where we realise we’re sufficient and decide to act on humanity to progress.

I can travel around the world and not give two hoots whether other societies make progress in those fields , although I’m definitely impressed and try to take points when they do. But when my own country and society seems to lack the vigor for those to make any tangible change in the past nine months, I end up as disappointed as I am now.

I’m granting that this is just preliminary though. I’ve only been here for a few days , not even a week, and have a lot to catch up on. But at the surface, things look unchanged and that’s something we should think about.

We must decide our lives cannot be just names on paper. We must live, and by live I mean that we must embrace aspects of our humanity that are crying to be brought out. Our care for others, our desire for justice, our sense of rationality. Inactivity and apathy are worse demons than the thoughts of the evil and perverse. For where the latter has lost sight of what is right, the former knows it and decides to let the latter persist instead of disrupting them.

We cannot be stagnant. For our future. For a better society.

geronimo.