The Green State of Singapore. Singapore has plenty of thriving nature ecosystems. The last of the tigers seen on the island was the 1930s. In the last 100 years, there is a trend of increased use of cultivated land (crops) and increase urban land use. The percentage of primary forests have decreased a lot. The 1960s marked the resettlement of people from village to HDB. NParks works with MINDEF to allocate land for jungle training. These jungles also enable biodiversity to thrive. The interesting thing is that in the 1930s, almost all of Singapore’s bio-diversity was gone and this had to be built from scratch. Today, Singapore has an outstanding range of biodiversity. We have over 400 bird species, which is 4% of the different bird species in the world. We also range high on the bio-diversity index and have improved over time. We top the Green new Index, the Treepedia by MIT. Some interesting species which we have are the Horseshoe Crab, where there are properties in their blood which can detect certain toxins in human blood. Everyone needs to take positive action. Nparks has a nature conversation masterplan in place to boost our conservation efforts. Roadside greenery and the various nature parks, reservoirs are all due to careful planning. 22 May is the bio-diversity roundtable and we also get schools involved. There is a school where the Chinese teacher actually brings students in the courtyard for lessons, where there is more greenery. 93% of Singapore’s forests were chopped in 1883 due to colonization. The Botanic gardens were tasked to re-forest and to grow Singapore’s bio-diversity in the late 1800s. Up to the 1930s, Singapore produced most of their food. In the modern day, we import almost everything. This was largely due to government policy on the need to make better use of the land and modernize our economy. Botanic Gardens actually re-introduces extinct orchids through a hybridization process. The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew was the chief gardener. Almost everything green in Singapore has been created and this provides a conducive environment for businesses to set up shop here. Trees were planted along expressways to impress tourists. When animals (tigers, wild boars, meerkets) are dangerous, we try to get rid of them. The green movement is growing and more young people are on-board. The increase in green energy does not necessarily mean it’s good for eco-systems as these are very distinct. Land still needs to be set-up for natural eco-systems. Roof gardens on multi-storey carparks are also more common.
All in a Traveller’s Day. The Chinese and Taiwanese markets are bigger than Singapore’s for writing. Write about your own experiences. Traveling can inspiring you to write. Mimi is an illustrator and now a comic book writer. One can use social media to update people on your upcoming novel. This might be a niche area. Writing a travel guide is different from a novel as you are heavily constrained by guidelines. Telling your publisher upfront that you are going to work on a particular work might help as it leads to you feeling the pressure and motivation to get things done. Most Singaporeans travel casually because they feel repressed here. However, most do not achieve the type of depth that travel writers experience. It is necessary for travel writing to have some element of universality, and not completely personal. Sometimes, even if you are a travel writer, it is important to just go in with less expectations and to experience as many things as naturally as possible. There is no need to contrive a novel. A good thing about comics is that you can exaggerate things that happened along the trip. The problem is that social media is all about framing and people make the place seems very exclusive and empty. However, in reality, there could be many people waiting for the same opportunity as you. Smartphone apps have changed the way we view things and meet people. Travel writing needs to be very open and chatty. Marc Nair writes a short haiku for every of his photos. There is a need to be a responsible traveler, such as by recycling materials. The problem with some tourists is that they may intrude into someone’s privacy if they go too close to someone’s famous house for a photo opportunity etc. Poetry can be linked with photography if it tries to explore the space in a photo. Write in your own voice and learn to find your own writing style. Sometimes, it is useful to get lost while traveling as it allows you to experience things you wouldn’t normally had a chance to.
From Apart to a Part: Writing to Unite. To some, many do not know where home is as they might have been displaced due to violence, turmoil in their own country etc. However, home is actually within you and once you are at peace, you must feel at home everywhere you go. Suki Kim taught English to North Koreans in NK for 6 months and wrote about her experiences. In NK, everyday felt the same and it felt really empty. There were no news/emails received and you didn’t know how to assess what was true. It was mainly propaganda. Literature can connect the arts/culture and translation is important as it helps to revive old literature. Through the shared power of literature, it is powerful enough to spread culture and important cultures. Learn to immerse yourself in other cultures. Learn to understand the human narratives through talking to refugees etc. The power of fiction is so amazing that someone else might actually think your character is a real person. It is almost possible to fall in love with a character in a book. All of us humans have a story to tell. It sucks being a migrant worker. The panelists shared about a Nigerian woman who tried to go to Italy to work as a result of social unrest in her country. However, her journey was fraught with difficulties and dangers. Stories help us to understand the world and make sense of what is true. Sometimes, the media do not feature such stories and hence the truth is suppressed. Social media is a way of broadcasting to the masses. There is a need to learn about someone else, and one of the best ways are through stories. Poetry is like rain, which politicians can’t stop. Soon, it will seep into the ground like rain. Writers have a social responsibility to share the stories of those who have slipped through the cracks. Through this sharing, it is hoped that the world will be more aware of such plights.
Growing up with Sumiko Tan. Sumiko graduated from English literature and moved on to a journalist covering crime. Later on, she wrote 2 books on crime. She is well known for her personal columns in the Straits Times on Sundays. The good thing about a personal column is that it allows everyone to start off on a clean slate. She wanted to show everyone that small things in life have a bigger meaning. Everyday experiences can be interesting as well. However, most of her columns had the same succinct writing and a certain structure to it. Over the years, she has received much praise for her work and sometimes some criticisms too. She always chooses to write from the heart and that’s how her topics were chosen. It is no wonder that she has written 400+ columns over 22 years. However, she only like 10 to 20% of them. They were compiled into a book. Some of the topics she covers are her pets, love, death, loneliness etc. She has an obsession with death. She only got married at age 46 and does not regret having no kids. Having kids would just have affected her career achievements. Now, she interviews household names like Tony Fernandez, Zoe Tay etc. Often, she also writes about her mum and husband. ST uses readership surveys to decide whether to continue her column and most readers responded positively. Over the years, Sumiko has generated the art to write everywhere, even with distractions abound. Deadlines also help her. Sumiko avoids over-dramatization of her characters and also plans to write short stories in future. She likes works by Sonny Liew and Tash Aw, local authors. Young people nowadays can do an internship or even start a blog to showcase their works and talents. This might help employers notice and aid in a job hunt. It is important to be sincere in your writings. She is grateful to having been born in Singapore, in such exciting times. So far, she does not have many regrets in her personal life.