Valley of Timelessness

in


We were in a valley, hemmed in by verdant trees. The cotton clouds wafted lazily across the skies as though they had just woken up and didn't have nothing better to do.

It was a perfect time to just lie down and soak in the beauty. 


Crystal waters bubbled joyfully down the scarred rocks, creating a music that only they could understand but all could appreciate.


It's an amazing place. Just wonderful.


"But I know every rock and tree and creature,
has a life, has a spirit, has a name."
                           - Pocahontas

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2011 reflections

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This post'll be introspective navel-gazing...

2011. A few more days and it'll be over. On hindsight, I'm glad for how the year had went. I had exposed myself to a diversity of opportunities, to interesting, unexpected results.

I had conversations with successful people and wise people. Sometimes, they're successful and wise. Sometimes, they're successful and smart. From them, I've learnt precious lessons, ones that I'll frequently remind myself of.

On writing
I've decided to take my writing more seriously.

To be honest, writing has always been a cathartic hobby. I write essays, for schoolwork, because I have to. I write online posts when I don't want to do my essays. It feels as though I'm always writing some article for someone or somewhere.

When the opportunity to write for Kent Ridge Common presented itself, I dropped the editor an email and joined as a writer. One article was extremely well received, with a sizable number of people sharing it on social media; in fact, it had over a thousand views in two weeks or so. I had felt (and still feel) strongly about this phenomenon. Unfortunately, my other articles on the local arts scene wasn't as well-received. But, oh-well, there are always hits-and-misses.

I also signed up for a poetry workshop with Jay Bernard, a Foyle Young Poet who had graduated from Oxford. She is currently writer-in-residence of USP, NUS. It was rather enjoyable, those evenings of mad scrambling to produce poems within 1.5 hours.

According to Jay, I've got to refine my poetry more and carry the metaphors further. Note to self: stop being lazy and check out those recommended anthologies soon.

Visual Arts
It has been fairly happening on this front, especially towards the end of the year.

Took part in a small exhibition organised by Instinc gallery. Didn't manage to sell anything but it was an exciting experience. I had a litany of reservations before I attended the opening night - what it no one else turned up? What if people asked me why I was there? What if someone mistook me for the waiter?

It turned out better than expected. Made a number of new acquaintances and had great conversations all around.

Then, I participated in the Art Garage @ The Arts House. In fact, I got a small mention on several websites as a "visual artist". Kind of mortifying since I consider myself as a "sometimes only visual artist". In fact, I wouldn't even have the guts to call myself an artist. (Apparently, to the arts community, the term can be bandied about readily; anyone who put a brush to a surface is an artist; what a receptive and warm community!)

Had the opportunity to meet up with old friends and talk about the space that art occupies in us. Such nourishing conversations have become increasingly rare as we age and grow further apart.

Business
Took part in a business case study competition. It was an eye opening experience.

We lost at the finals due to several reasons. We are a very strong team but our opponents are stronger. We didn't understand the Vietnamese market well. We are young and inexperienced. They're working professionals.

Wait, I'm actually quite lazy to write about this now, especially since I'm working on another post dedicated to this recent experience. Stay tuned if you want to read more about it - in a mysterious, movie-worthy tone. To be continued...

It will suffice to say that I am woefully ignorant about finance matters. Planning to pick up such information in the coming semester, perhaps even a minor in business. I'm glad that this experience has highlighted a glaring shortcoming in my education.

Now that I've recognised this, the onus is on me to rectify it. We're all responsible for ourselves.

Overseas trip
Backpacking in India was initially uncomfortable. 4 guys travelled together and so the pre-trip planning was non-existent. We went, guided by our trusty Rough Guide to India.

Along the way, I saw majestic architecture and landscape. And, along the same way, I learnt to live with contingencies.

It's weird, how we want to plan for every eventuality. We want to know where to visit, where we'd stay, where we'd move towards. Then, we realise that it's okay if we don't know where we're going, that life is more vibrant when we allow ourselves to be surprised.

Recently, after the case study competition concluded, I visited Binh Lam village again. Exactly a year ago, I was there for a volunteer trip. This place holds wonderful memories for many people - my fellow volunteers, the children, our hosts.

The children fished up a crab, an eel and two fishes from a creek bubbling along the paddy fields. Our hosts treated us to rice wine and some village fare. I hugged Om and Bah - the grandpa and grandma who hosted us - and tried to convey gratitude.

Time in the village usually unfurled with graceful languor. But, for my friends and I, that visit passed with incredible speed.

Academic stuff
Many times during the semester, I considered giving up on my writing and art and 5 children. (Children = students whom I tutored). But I can't really give up on any of them. They all form parts of my identity; they're all important.

It was particularly trying when the 5 children are having prelims/ O levels and I have to rush out lab reports +  churn out essays + prepare for tests. Friends (?) advised me to just skip a few tuition sessions. I can't for it's irresponsible. And I can't because some kids actually look forward to these sessions.

Thankfully, I managed to maintain my grades.

As I write this post, I remember the story about prioritising:

A professor walked into a class and filled an empty jar with rocks. "Do you think I can add any more stuff to this jar?" The class replied with an emphatic No.

"Really?" The prof then proceeded to add stones to the jar.  "Do you think I can add more stuff?" The class replied with an uncertain No.

He went on to include pebbles and sand. "This is the story of our lives. Had we filled the jar with sand, will we be able to fit in what matters?

We have to remind ourselves of what is important. In the greater scheme, certain objects or qualities that appear important may lose their luster.

The prof then poured some Coke into the jar. A student stood up and asked, "why the Coke, sir?"

"Ahh, I'm glad you asked. There is always time to kick back and relax with a glass of Coke."

All in all
What can I say? What have I learnt? I skimmed through this verbose entry, seeking the common thread.

I'm more comfortable with failures. With failing and acknowledging that I've failed. This means that I'm less critical of my endeavors. It also means that I've been more willing to try, to experience.

I'm more comfortable with contingencies too, with the unknowns and unexpected and unpredictable.

I've stretched myself and didn't live life cautiously. To my surprise, I didn't judge that stretched man in the mirror - not that much, at least.

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Growing Orchids

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Recently, my friends and I were in Dalat, Vietnam. 

This city was breathtakingly beautiful. There were sprays of flowers everywhere. Roses, orchids, blooms that we saw only in advertisements. Crimson blossoms that looked like scarlet snowdrops. The city was preparing for their once-in-5-years Flower Festival. 

Since Dalat is in the mountain ranges, it has wonderfully cool weather year round. 

Year round, the winds whisper stories with dulcet tones. The sun shines with an indulgent glow. All locals describe it as a wonderful place for romance and beauty. 

Kind of awesome.

I brought back some orchid cuttings for my grandma.


Planting them in sorgum moss:

Planted! :

Ultimate goal: 
Blooms the size of my clenched fist 


Brilliant place. Only wished that my family and more friends were with me. 

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The Fundamental Purpose of Environmental Ethics

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Fairly glad that I wrote this UPI2205: Ethics & The Environment essay the way I envisioned it. Had I listened to my friend's advice, I'd have written an uninspiring piece that panders to the the opinions of the Prof.

In a way, I'm glad that I defended my own ideas even when I may be marked down for it. Some ideas, I realise, are worth asserting.
*
In the late 1950s, Rachel Louise Carson, an American scientist, turned her attention to the conservation of the natural environment. Her book, “Silent Spring” (1962), explores the toxic effects of pesticide residues and is widely regarded as a rallying point for the fledgling environmental movement. In 1970, the first Earth Day was inaugurated; the next year, the first conference on environmental philosophy was held at the University of Georgia, USA. Since then, ethical questions concerning the treatment of nonhumans became increasingly significant and groundbreaking articles on environmental philosophies were written.

These moral philosophies, drawing from diverse ethical traditions, may be understood according to two broad definitions – anthropocentrism and non-anthropocentrism. The anthropocentric approaches suggest that any analysis of nature must be human-centered. Social ecology, ecofeminism and weak anthropocentrism are notable examples of such anthropocentric ethics. Their conceptual counterparts, non-anthropocentric paradigms, argue for an appreciation of nature from nonhuman perspectives and can be classified under three main positions – biocentrism, ecocentrism as well as deep ecology.

This development of multiple environmental ethics parallels the rapid industrial growth of nations and the resultant deterioration of nature. Most ethicists – if not all – agree that is it wrong to treat nature without respect, to inflict needless destruction (Nuyen, 2011, p.215). The ecological world desperately needs the damaging human population to adopt an ethics that will reverse, or at least slow down, environmental degradation.

As a member of the natural environment at large and human society in specific, I am morally obliged to contribute to the conservation of Nature. For me, examining this topic is a timely opportunity to develop a personal ethic that encourages the responsible stewardship of the natural environment.

The Values of Nature

Values can be described by many broad terms, inclusive of but not restricted to their utility, aesthetics, origins and essence. My interpretation of what is environmentally ethical cannot be divorced from the values that I attribute to nature. Before I share these values, allow me to generally describe the multifarious values that Nature has.

Subjects that are valuable, in and of themselves, can be described as having intrinsic value. They are cherished ends, not merely means to a valued end. They have non-anthropocentric value. And from the perspectives of non-anthropocentrism, Nature has this intrinsic value which eclipses its homocentric instrumental values. Rolston (1994, p.14), a prominent environmentalist and biocentrist, advocates that intrinsic value is a real property of natural objects and processes, not projected onto nature but discovered there:
“Consider a whooping crane defending its own life, or the wild gardenias synthesizing glucose using photosynthesis, converting this to starch, and storing energy. The animals, sometimes, will be subjects of their own lives, and they too will have their preferences, simplified perhaps, but in some respects more or less like our own. […] Such a living organism is, I maintain, a being with a good of its own.”
The intrinsic value that Nature has cannot be proved,observed or quantified with ease. According to Rolston, nature’s intrinsic value is fully independent of a human valuing consciousness. Individual organisms, species and ecosystems have values which they are both sources and loci of, and people are obliged to respect them.

One flaw of such a non-anthropocentric paradigm stems from its fundamental stance of ascribing nonhuman subjects with “intrinsic worth/biospecies equality” (Devall and Sessions, 1985, p. 146). Biocentrism, for example, argues that all living beings have moral standing; ecocentrism attributes not only living beings but also natural ecosystems with intrinsic value; deep ecologists embrace a quasi-mystical perspective that all things in the biosphere are interdependent and “have an individual right to live and blossom and reach their own forms of unfolding and self-realization” (Devall and Sessions, 1985, p.145). These non-anthropocentric ethics claim that natural properties – such as integrity, beauty and biodiversity – can provide an independent, non-human basis for valuing nature. However, according to skeptics, such qualities are neither intrinsic nor non-anthropocentric. In “A Critique of Anti-Anthropocentric Ethics, Richard Watson (1983, p.157) argues that non-anthropocentric approaches are, in essence, anthropocentric:
“The notion of a climax situation in ecology is a human invention, based on anthropocentric ideas of variety, completion, wholeness and balance. […] What would it be, after all, to think like a mountain as Aldo Leopold is said to have recommended? It would be anthropocentric because mountains do not think, but also because mountains are imagined to be thinking which human interests in their preservation or development they prefer.”
Attributing the environment with non-anthropocentric values requires us to place ourselves in their positions and imagine their viewpoints from our outsider human perspectives; this, ultimately, is a human-centered endeavor. It is “logically impossible”, Nuyen (1981, p.221) maintains, to “know how an animal thinks about itself and about human beings”. Likewise, the genuine feelings of mountains and plants cannot be rationally known. Grey (1993, p. 464) agrees and suggests that if we “attempt to step too far outside the scale of the recognizably human, rather than expanding and enriching our moral horizons, we render them meaningless, or at least almost unrecognizable.”

To ascribe nature with intrinsic value is a contentious approach; due to this arguable attribution of intrinsic value to nature, non-anthropocentrism, at its very core, may not be as non-anthropocentric as it appears to be. The attribution of anthropocentric values, on the other hand, avoids the aforementioned fallacies.

According to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1785, p.61), humans alone have self-consciousness; humans are therefore fundamentally different in rank and dignity from all other beings, while nature can be treated as means to human ends. His argument, while somewhat absolute, is representative of the homocentric tendency to appraise a subject with reference to one’s needs and wants. The subject, by itself, is not valuable; it is only valuable because it can be used to accomplish a goal desired by the human valuer and are correspondingly tagged as having instrumental values. In Kantian diction, they are means to an end but not an end in itself. Nature, with its diverse landscapes, animals and plants, can contribute to numerous aspects of human welfare and consequently, has many instrumental uses – it preserves a stockpile of genetic materials that may prove useful in curing diseases or improving crop yields; it allows greater understanding of the intricate biological systems; it purifies air by trapping pollutants. Beyond instrumental uses associated with science, Nature can also be mined for commodities such as precious metals and timber – which have quantifiable economic value – or harnessed as serene places for spiritual rejuvenation and recreational activities (Grey, 1992). These various instrumental values of Nature – be they scientific, economic or entertainment oriented – are extrinsic and can only be realized by exploiting Nature’s utility. In these examples, Nature is only valuable because of the substantial benefits it offers. It is treasured due to the anthropocentric values that it has. The values that Nature may possess are the subject of much robust debate. In the following sections, I will reflect on my experience with this discipline of environmental ethics.

My Personal Experiences with Nature

As I wondered about the values that I would attribute to Nature and how my personal environmental ethics would be like, I was somewhat befuddled and did not know where to begin. My past journal entries became a starting point for my introspection. On Dec 27, 2010, after traipsing through Brunei’s rainforest and floating atop Vietnam’s saltwater bay, I wrote an entry for my online journal:

For moments like this, some people wait a lifetime.

I remember that one time when I stood on the top of the mountain in Brunei. In the distance, the emerald green sea of trees merged with the sapphire waters. The air was so achingly clean, so unfamiliarly refreshing.

I had felt small but not powerless, insignificant yet content. It was a commune with Nature.

At that instance, everything faded into obscurity. Nothing mattered - not money, not work, not studies. Nothing mattered except for the complete awareness of something powerful, deeply ancient and omniscient.

I felt loved simply because I wasn't judged or evaluated or appraised. I didn't feel like I'm an individual. I felt as though I was part of the greater cosmos; a mere speck but nevertheless, a part.

In Vietnam's Ha Long Bay, the same feeling revisited.

Bobbing within the bay of serene waters, surrounded by natural monuments... One could simply hear the alluring whispers of Nature. The tapestry of stars weaving throughout the void above - individually pretty, collectively impressive - delighted.

The sense of self disintegrated and merged with the beauty beyond.

Even in Singapore, within the forests of Ubin or atop the tidebreakers of East Coast, one may enjoy the same feelings. Even within the soulless concrete jungles, one may turn one's face skywards and revel in a cloudy panorama.

Each commune with Nature is profound and enlightening. Each time is different and yet, enchantingly similar.


On October 29, 2010, I was frustrated with the lack of breakthroughs in my art. I took some time off, went out and saw the clouds:

Am taken aback by the spools of cotton wefting across the azure skies.

Clouds are beautiful. They were, are and will be continue to be beautiful. But today's clouds, they are special.

They stretch endlessly across the skies, little pristine patches of white against a dainty china blue. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Once, when I was feeling frustrated with drawing, someone told me to look at clouds and be dazzled by them. "The clouds that God painted." Today, as I am immersing myself in these fluffy joys, I recall this friend's words.

A sea of patchy whiteness unfolds forward and backward endlessly.

It seems to be a good way to meditate, to look at the skies above and feel their ancient wisdom flowing through every fiber. Nothing matters, not to these clouds.

They float along, peacefully, serenely. They want for nothing.

In the greater context of life, many things we feel are important may actually only appear to be important. Cloudy steps.

There's no need for a resolute approach/ intellectual rigour when viewing clouds.

Simply look at them, appreciate their beauty and step away from the mindless races.


I had felt an internal conflict as I examined this debate between anthropocentrists and non-anthropocentrists. As a Science student, I am concerned with logic and sense; anthropocentrists’ claims, based soundly on intellectual reasoning, are persuasive. Logically, I agree with the numerous arguments against the attribution of intrinsic value to Nature.

However, like most people, I am not only rational; I am intuitive too. The privileges of being in different natural biospheres, including Brunei’s primary rainforest and Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, have created an appreciation of Nature that logic alone cannot explain. Emotionally, I find it difficult to agree that the calm peace inspired by the natural surroundings is simply an anthropocentric reaction. As Blaise Pascal, a French physicist and theologian once said, “le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point,” which may be translated loosely as, “my heart has reasons that Reason knows not”. There is a beauty in our natural environment that I cannot comprehend aptly with logic and that homocentric perspectives cannot emotionally justify. To me, this debate between anthropocentrists and non-anthropocentrists may be boiled down to a discussion of the logic/intuition dualism. Anthropocentrists have attacked non-anthropocentric ethics for their internal logical fallacies, claiming that they are essentially anthropocentric (Watson, 1983, p.157). At the other end of the spectrum, drawing from theological and intuitive grounds, non-anthropocentrists claim that it is “morally arrogant” to ascribe values solely from the human vantage (Naess, 1989, p. 187). For many years, these two contrary positions could not be reconciled for they were arguing on different fronts. It is akin to comparing the seas with the skies: both are so different that it is difficult to seek a common ground. From a perspective based on sound logic, Nature has anthropocentric values; from an intuitive standpoint, nature possesses non-anthropocentric values. Neither environmental philosophy is more right than the other; both make sense in fundamentally distinct and incomparable ways. Debating these philosophies is important for it broadens our ethical considerations but we should not be caught up in the debate and miss the forest for the trees. All environmental philosophies, in essence, agree that our collective natural heritage is threatened and aim to conserve it. The approaches may be different, but the intentions, same.

Our Present Predicament

What are we to do – we who are properly sceptical and scientific minded – with this intrinsic value that cannot be quantified with ease? We cannot touch this force. We have no decent way of measuring it. Yet, it exists. Intuitively, we know it is real. Are we to operate with tunnel vision and ignore it because it does not fit in easily with accepted concepts of reason? To do so seems perilous. I do not think we can hope to approach a full understanding of Nature and mankind’s position in it without incorporating and acknowledging the presence of intrinsic value in our conceptual framework. Yet, we cannot reject the arguments that non-anthropocentrists raise. I am, therefore, reluctant to identify myself as an anthropocentrist or non-anthropocentrist. Nature, I submit, may be appreciated from both positions by the same individual at the same time. From the position of carefully-reasoned logic, I am anthropocentric; a quiet sense of intuition, however, swayed me to the perspectives of non-anthropocentrism. On distinct, incomparable levels, I subscribe to the tenets of both environmental philosophies. I see no need to situate myself on either side of this logic/intuition-anthropocentric/non-anthropocentric argument. I do not see this as an either/or dualism and wish to avoid being labeled as a biocentrist, weak anthropocentrist or social ecologist.

While there are key conceptual distinctions between disparate environmental ethics, there is a need to recognize that they share a common goal – that of conserving our natural environment. My personal environmental ethics allow me to combine the best traits from both anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric perspectives; it may be vulnerable to criticisms, but it provides sufficient impetus for me to contribute to the fundamental purpose of environmental ethics. Outsiders may view this simultaneous attribution of both anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric values as contradictory but I see this as being compatible on different levels. By drawing on sentiments from both paradigms, I have adapted an environmental ethics that has strong logical reasoning and, at the same time, appeal to my intuition.

There should be an agreement that the human society is pluralistic and comprises of individuals with differing perspectives; there is room enough to accommodate divergent environmental ethics. What is critical is that each should seek to develop a personal ethics that will encourage a lasting appreciation of Nature. Nature, with its pristine tracts of fauna and flora, requires our responsible stewardship. By accepting and appreciating the nuances of various values ascribed to it, influential stakeholders – including environmentalists, companies and governments – can understand perspectives divergent from theirs and, with this awareness, cooperate to promote a more harmonious relationship with Nature. Leopold (1949, p. 217), an ecologist who campaigned for wilderness conservation, rationalizes: “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Leopold’s statement reflects the two views that most may have of Nature. It may be reinterpreted through the lenses of consequentialism; a central tenet of this philosophy implies that it does not matter how societies view Nature – be it as a commodity to be managed or a community to respect – as long as they work towards protection of their emerald treasures. By acknowledging that different values exist and recognizing that individuals are free to ascribe these diverse values to Nature, there is a common basis for collective action.

At this time of writing, the British Broadcasting Channel (BBC) reports that no wild black rhinos remain in West Africa, a subspecies of white rhino in central Africa is possibly extinct and the last Javan rhino in Vietnam was poached and has passed away. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) discovers that, despite conservation efforts, 25% of the world’s mammals are at risk of extinction. Meanwhile, the degradation of natural systems continues. Statistics, as reported by National Geographic, paint a grim picture. More than 80% of the Earth’s natural forests have already been destroyed; up to 90% of West Africa’s coastal rain forests have disappeared since 1900; Brazil and Indonesia, which contain the world’s two largest surviving regions of rainforests, are being stripped at an alarming rate for agriculture, cattle-grazing and mining.

Given our current predicament, it is critical for environmental ethicists to work together to protect the environment. Yes, it is important to expand our moral horizons by debating environmental ethics, but it is pressing to conserve whatever natural organisms and places that now tether on the edge of disappearance. There is an agreement that Nature is valuable, albeit in different, incomparable ways. There is an agreement that environmental destruction is occurring at unprecedented and unsustainable rates and must be halted.

What Rachel Carson said in April, 1963, remains relevant today. Not long after “Silent Spring” was published and became a bestseller, she stood in front of an estimated 15 million Americans on a CBS program and said:
“I think we’re challenged, as mankind has never been challenged before, to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature but of ourselves.”
It is time for ethicists with divergent environmental philosophies to agree to disagree and collaborate to reverse environmental damages. Certain aspects of nature, once destroyed, may never exist again.


Bibliography

Anonymous. 2011. Human Impact – Deforestation and Desertification. National Geographic. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15663982

Boettcher, Daniel. 2011. Western black rhino declared extinct. British Broadcasting Channel. Retrieved from: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/eye/deforestation/effect.html

Carson, Rachel. 1962. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin.

Devall, Bill and Sessions, George. 1985. Deep Ecology. Environmental Ethics, Readings in Theory and Application, Sixth Edition, p. 143 – 148.

Grey, William. 1992. The Value of Wilderness. The Trumpeter, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Summer 86)

Holmes, Rolston III. 1994. Value In Nature And The Nature of Value. Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, pg 13-30.

Kant, Immanuel. 1785. Rational beings alone have moral worth. Environmental Ethics, Readings in Theory and Application, Sixth Edition, p.61.

Leopold, Aldo. 1949. The Land Ethic: A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press Inc, p. 217.

Naess, Arne. 1989. Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy. Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, First Edition, p. 187.

Nuyen, Anh Tuan. 1981. An Anthropocentric Ethics Towards Animals and Nature. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, p. 215 – 223.

Watson, Richard. 1983. A Critique of Anti-Anthropocentric Ethics. Environmental Ethics, Readings in Theory and Application, Sixth Edition, p. 156 – 163.

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The Serenity Prayer

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God grant us the
Serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.

Source Credit: Google Images
A cascading sentence of beauty that reminds us to live our lives the way we should. A timely reminder in this fluxing age.

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Dreams & Reality at the National Museum

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Dreams and Reality: Masterpieces of Painting, Drawing and Photography from the Musee d'Orsay, Paris is currently exhibiting at the National Museum till 5 Feb 2012. 

It took me quite some time just to type out the title of this wondrous exhibition. Phew. Have absolutely no idea why the title is such a tongue twisting string of words.

Please do yourself a favour and visit it. For Singapore students, it really is worth the price. Basically, you get to visit this exhibition for free. My friend, with his usual succinctness, expressed it well. "We don't pay any entrance fees. And get to see masterpieces by Van Gogh and Degas. This is definitely worth it."


Upon entering the hall, we saw a beautiful painting of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. She has emerged from the waves, spawned from the brain juice of Ouranos, the Sky God. (Sorry, you don't really have to know that.) Her face is captivating, with an expression of dreamy wonder.

This artwork is big and, I suspect, will entertain my army mates and JC friends really well.


There's also this lovely work, splashed with pastoral patches of colours and light. It speaks of a knight who traversed through a field of perdition and wasn't tempted by his desires. He had ignored the ladies frolicking about him and will go on to perform a great deed. (This tale sounds familiar, hmm. I'm not sure what that great deed is. Perhaps he scored a string of A1s for his O levels.)


Now, to the realistic portrayal of people. Portraits are always engrossing. They offer their subjects up for scrutiny. We are granted license to look at strangers without a gnawing sense of discomfort. We see them and it feels as though they're looking at us too.

Beautifully painted.


I'm not really sure who did the following painting. Apparently, it was by someone famous. Can't really recall his name now. Perhaps it'll come back to me in time.

Oh oh, just remembered. This artwork was by Henri Rosseau, a poet-cum-painter. I shall refrain from further commentary.


I'm wondering what the lady is doing. Her posture is, erm, weird.


What are you waiting for? This is a rare chance to catch one of Van Gogh's Starry Night painting without travelling to Europe/US. Van Gogh had committed suicide at the age of 37, having only sold one painting in his lifetime. He painted this piece one year before he passed away; hence, there are 36 stars in the painting. 



Look at the lady above. She's waiting for you. Don't disappoint her.

(Although she may just be afraid of getting tanned.  Rather understandable - Estee Lauder/ SKII probably doesn't exist during her time.)

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On a Business Case Study Competition

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Recently, my friends and I took part in a business case study competition.

It was somewhat surprising, how I managed to be involved in this. I saw the team leader; he asked  me if I was interested; I said I would join only if I wouldn't be a liability; he said they would consider about it; we parted; about two weeks later, out of the blue, I received an email from the leader to meet at a place for discussion.

It was part of the "Remaking Me, Experience Life" campaign, I supposed. To take part in different activities and stretch my growth. There was a growing realisation that many people around me were studying and consuming without awareness, satisfied with living life without being alive. I didn't want this. I didn't want to be like this.

This competition was eye-opening in many ways. I had to pick up on the basics of marketing in a few day (managed to acquire a vocabulary of technical jargons although I'm a long way from applying them well). I didn't manage to contribute much ideas (since I wasn't trained in business) and felt rather useless during discussions. I managed only one hour of sleep during the 24 hours challenge (a nightmare since I sleep at least 7 hours regularly). I didn't have proper meals and  broke my golden rule of not having snacks.

From these activities, I've gained many insights into the technicalities of business:

We long for people to fail. In their failures, we become stronger.

During presentations, we analysed our opponents' merits - or lack thereof. We whispered our observations, snug in the row furthest away from the stage. We fretted when they presented well and tried to extinguish our glee when they slipped.

*This is a problem not restricted to business. It happens whenever there is competition of any form.

We're told what's cool and we buy into it.

There is a newfound respect for marketeers. They devote their life to selling products, to telling people what to buy.

Sometimes, they tell people what they need. That they can be happy if and only if they possess product XXX.

The next time you want to buy an Apple product, consider the efforts of an army of marketeers telling you what to buy and the expensive marketing campaigns subtly guiding your consumptive habits. (I'm not telling you what to not buy, but to consider your decisions with greater wisdom.)

In each transaction, there's a loser.

On the stage, when we were about to receive the results, all of us were trembling. We had done well thus far but really wanted to go further.

And we got through! :]

We're going to Vietnam for the final round! (Exuberant, exhilarated, exciting!) Our joy was encompassing. We were relieved and glad and hopeful. Having a mere hour of sleep, irregular meals and horrible caffeinated products didn't feel that torturous after all.

Those tidal waves of felicity ebbed when I left Hon Sui Sen Memorial Hall. Outside, groups that didn't get through were languishing and their disappointment was compelling.

In every competition, there will be fewer winners than losers.

A fight, always.

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Series of Photos




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Streams of consciousness

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Decembers are unusually apt months for self reflection. Activities taper off into a pleasant lull, time expands and opportunities flower. 

This year, he had tried many activities that he wouldn't have foreseen himself trying last December. It felt ... strange. Not strange in a bad way, he supposes, but strange in the strange way.

He had written poems and read them to strangers. He had displayed some art at two galleries. He, through some unfathomable twist of fate, am taking part in a business case study competition (and feels woefully inadequate in every group meeting). 

In the second part of the year, he began to try. Try harder and wider. He realised he was lapsing into the comfort and monotony of daily life.

How easy it is, to fall into the numbing rhythm. One moment of inattention and months would have passed before he realised precious time was being whiled away. How easy it is, to study, have fun, eat, sleep and pollute the natural environment.

He had been drawn, inexorably, like many others, into the whirlpool of self centric paradigms. He had been sucked into the comfortable existence, mindless and unaware.

He isn't really sure what he's writing now. Streams of consciousness, perhaps. But, it doesn't matter, does it?

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