2013 Reflections

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Our calendar, which records the intangible passage of time, is a human invention. It is wisdom accumulated from observing the celestial motions of stars and moon, alongside their interplay with tides. It is wisdom inherited from our forebears.

Isn't it strange, however, the way we live our lives according to these lunar markings? Isn't it strange how we have arbitrarily decided that a certain day marks the start of a new month, a different year and a fresh beginning?

Perhaps, it isn't that strange. After all, human beings do have the tendency to derive meanings from the chaotic and unfathomable.

This post is my all-too-human attempt to make sense of the changeable year that 2013 has been.

Family

Thankfully, there has been less friction between my brothers and I. We no longer quarrel that often, though we do quibble over who should pay for the next family dinner or do the household chores.

They frequently suggest that I remain in the school hostel during the weekends. Each time I return home, I'm occupying space they need, exhausting bandwidth they require, depleting precious oxygen. I tell them - quite jokingly - that it is my birthright, that I'm entitled to these resources because I'm the 2nd son.

On a more somber note, one uncle was hospitalised due to intestinal cancer. He had been suffering from constipation and excreting bloodied feces for two months before the pain got so excruciating that he sought medical treatment.

The doctor suspected that the cancer could be in a Stage III phase - almost incurable, with treatment focused on extending the patient's lifespan and relieving pain.

Thankfully, the prognosis was off. The cancer turned out to be in its early stage and large parts of my uncle's intestines were surgically removed.

In the squarish hospital ward, the family congregated. There was a poignant moment, when Grandma gently touched my uncle's face and asked him to take care. Her face was wrinkled with worry, looking every bit like an aged parent would after fretting over her invalid son.

There were discussions about the importance of insurance - yes, please buy insurance for your loved ones and yourself - the causes of cancer - a mix of genetics and epigenetics - and the dietary requirements for someone without the bulk of his large intestines.

Someone asked if intestinal cancer was a heritable disease. We - children of the Tan clan - tend to die from high blood pressure. No prolonged pain from chemotherapy or surgical invasions. Just suffering one or two strokes, maybe a heart attack or two, before dying in bed at home. This is, perhaps, the most peaceful way to leave, among all other very-debilitating ways.

Friends

The undergraduate years are drawing to an end. Things will fall apart, breaking into shards and sprinkling in different directions. Most of us will become friendly strangers or, at best, useful and exploitable contacts. In this age, we've not learnt to drift apart skillfully or reconcile with less awkwardness.

During one dinner with another unattached friend, we shared our fears of growing old, remaining lonely, single and unmarried, without friends, eventually being ensconced in an old folks' home. There was a harmonic fear of being lonely, alongside a genuine craving to be left alone.

Overseas Exchange

Singapore is an angry palette of energy, dynamism and churn. It moves at a rapid pace, too dizzying for most people. After sampling the refreshing shots of freedom in a foreign environment and realising how easy living can be, there is an ache to be anywhere else, other than on this red, pulsing dot.

There is a desire to be free from the various socially sanctioned constructs, to be liberated from the suffocating limits of Singapore's elastic meta-narratives. Our country has a numbing presence and urges us to hanker after dream homes, where we can eat, sleep, procreate, then die within the convenient walking distances of train stations. That's what we hope for, don't we? To have a home near the train stations. 

Being overseas has also cured the 'small island mentality' I was suffering from. Often, people are unable to conceive of the broader picture, so consumed they are with the minutiae of everyday life. The overseas experience has helped to situate the challenges that Singapore faces within a global context.

Sometimes, locals do not intend to be unfriendly towards strangers. Perhaps there's a miscommunication; perhaps theirs is a culture that is more reticent. Sometimes, they may be outright racist. Each time, it's not easy to tell why.

It has been revealing, to be submerged into a place where my privileges - being no longer part of the dominant racial demographic - are revoked, and to be perceived as part of the intrusive foreign minority.

Science Research

This honours year has been spent on studying efficient catalysts for storing and retrieving energy. This branch of green chemistry, quite frankly, is fascinating.

Being able to take part in such cutting edge research, as a somewhat ignorant undergraduate no less, has clarified the meaning of the word ‘research’.

Science advances because there are people committed to experimentations, undeterred by repetitive cycles of trying and failing. Studying in a laboratory, surrounded by people who are re-re-re-searching the mechanisms of chemical reactions, has inspired an understanding about the often-arduous, sometimes-brilliantly rewarding nature of not giving up.

To expect failures, to be surprised when something goes well, to be humble, to question, to not be so quick to condemn - all these are skills that we acquire, honed with every experiment we conduct.

Future?

I think of Cavafy's poem about how all life is wasted:
[...]
There is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you have destroyed your life here
in this little corner, you have ruined it in the entire world. 
I think of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything:
“If you imagine the 4,500-bilion-odd years of Earth's history compressed into a normal earthly day,  [...] The whole of our recorded history, on this scale, would be no more than a few seconds, a single human lifetime barely an instant."
The Earth will survive without us. Compared to its extensive history, we exist for nanoseconds before dying away.

There is no need to crave so ardently for material goods, to hanker after recognition and fame, to want to make a mark. Perhaps, the greatest gift we can leave behind, is simply to do no harm during the mere blips we flicker into and out of existence.

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The Christmas Goose

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Once upon a time, there was a goose, with a plump body of white feathers and a marigold-orange beak.
How the goose looked like.
Source credit: Animal Pics Wallpaper
It lived in a farm, provisioned with food and water that it didn't need to work for. Life was easy, cushy even, but it - like many of us - kept hankering after what it didn't have.

Every spring, there would be flocks of migratory birds, soaring against pastel skies, sharing gossips of the exotic places they had just holidayed at. These vistas had an abundance of fruits, swollen with sugar and sunshine; mountain waters, crystal clear and humming; lush vines with broad green leaves. 

The goose longed to experience such wonders. It kept its eye on the sky, flapping its awkward wings, always hoping to fly.

It grew obsessed with this dream that it began to pick quarrels with other animals. According to the goose, the roosters were "brainless", the dogs, "unambitious" and the cows, "silly beasts preoccupied with eating tasteless weeds".

The flightless bird was so preoccupied with its dreams that it forgot to be courteous.

One cow got so offended that it laid a line of bricks over the path where the goose often walked.

The next morning, the goose began to make its way to the food trough. It kept its head pointed towards the azure skies, dreaming once more of flight, of cold winds ruffling its feathers. However, it tripped over a brick and broke its neck.

The cow was upset that it had caused someone to die but remorse and guilt were feelings that always came too late. As the cow mourned over the dead goose, their farmer walked past, saw the scene and sighed. He picked the dead bird up and roasted it for Thanksgiving.

Beware of where you set your eyes for others may set you up.

Beware, too, of setting traps for you may come to regret it.


Source credit: Kaleidoscope Cultural China
And, with this story, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a great year ahead.

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The Tale of The Frustrated Orang Utan

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Two days ago, an orang utan rooted through his pile of clothes, trying to find a clean piece of underwear. He tossed and turned, flipping over shirts and shorts but there wasn't any piece visible. How could this be?

What about his work? The orang utan was researching some chemicals at that time. How could he go for work and mix chemicals without wearing that protective piece of clothing? What if there was an explosion? That area is particularly important and it's always advisable to protect it with more cloth.

O underwear, underwear, wherefore art thou?

The character in the story.
Source credit: All Malaysia Info
With each passing second, the ape became increasingly frustrated.

But why did he feel the need to wear an underwear so desperately?

The act of wearing undergarments is a social construct. Only apes wear them. Take a look, for example, at dolphins or dodos (when they existed). They frolic in the wilderness - stark raving naked - but feel absolutely no shame. Look at them, bouncing around, without a single stitch of cotton protecting their modesty.

Yes, wearing undergarments reflects the blind and unquestioning obedience to a socially sanctioned construct.

As a protest, the ape decided not to wear any for one day. 

Just as he was about to leave, the hairy creature turned around and found one piece, almost glittering in the sunshine. It was beige-coloured, soft and limp in his trembling hands. Yes, a clean underwear. One pristine piece. Isn't that a miracle?

He started to giggle, then laugh and then quake with mirth, before putting the underwear on.  

At times, deliberately adhering to social constructs is no big deal.

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RE: Rioting, Inequality And The State

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This article is concurrently published on The Kent Ridge Common
Source credt: SCMP

Rioting, Inequality And The State, an article published last Thursday by fellow contributor Bryan Cheang, examines the Little India Riot. It offers food-for-thought by suggesting that the tinder for this unexpected incident is not the exploitation of low-wage migrant workers by profits-driven corporations; the true problem and enemy is the State, “its inherent tendency for self-aggrandisement” and “constant mischief”.

I agree with Bryan that there is a need to be wary of the State, especially after this highly controversial and potentially fractious unrest. The State may politicise this shocking incident to further its influence and curtail civil liberties. However, I find it difficult to believe that the corporate system is free from blame.

Demerits of The Capitalist System

According to the articles that Bryan has written, there are merits to the capitalist system. It is a moral system; it encourages economic freedom that is instrumental to economic development; it is the ideal option when examined against alternative systems.

However, there are significant drawbacks to the capitalist system, ones that have not been as thoroughly discussed.

Capitalism concentrates wealth and power in the hands of corporations and an elite minority. This leads to a widening wealth and income rift between the elite and the majority of the population. Also, there is a deep and structural erosion of basic civil liberties and human rights as power is not evenly distributed between people with means and people without.

Companies can become so titanic that they exert their gravitational strengths and obtain legal and political powers, beyond the economic influence that they already hold. The existence of numerous corporate-sponsored lobby groups and significant political donations in America are obvious attempts by companies to sway legislation in their favour and expand their spheres of power.

Like the State, companies are more than well-positioned to be exploitive. They are ultimately profit-driven and may not be hindered by something as inconvenient as morals. Considerations for the cohesion of the society, the welfare of workers and the health of our natural environments may not even be considered at all.

The Little India Riot: Exploiting Workers? Yes, It’s Exploitation

In an ideal world, companies will not exploit workers. They will fulfill their contractual obligations, pay their workers on time and not suppress their freedoms of expression. Such a utopia, however and most regrettably, does not exist.

Articles on the Little India Riots have contained much anecdotal evidence that there is genuine exploitation of low-wage migrant workers in Singapore. According to Transient Workers Count Too, a group that defends the rights of these workers, employers get away with paying extremely low wages, at times paying even less through all sorts of illegal deductions. Since some employers make money out of the placement fees that workers pay upfront for their jobs, they have no interest in retaining workers and illegally cause labour churn. Injured workers may be denied medical attention and repatriated before they can seek compensation.

It is undeniable that the power structures are overwhelmingly stacked against low-wage foreign labour. Their voices are suppressed by influential companies that are not hesitant to flex their muscles, whether illegally or legally.

Speaking up for these exploited workers, asking the State to defend their rights does not equate “unknowingly inviting the State to slap on their wrists the handcuffs of slavery”.

The State and The Corporate System Are Both Dangerous

I wholeheartedly agree with Bryan that it is important to be wary of the State and to temper its influence such that civil freedoms are not forfeited. Sakthivel Kumaravelu, the low-wage migrant worker whose accident sparked the Little India Riot, has passed away and hence, can no longer speak. His death is a conveniently blank canvas for the government to paint all sorts of narratives and justify measures to curtail civil liberties.

There is an equal need to be wary of the corporate system as well. There are countless examples where the interests of the society and its people do not align with the interests of the corporations. In such cases, the role of the State is vital. It defends us against exploitation by companies solely focused on making bottom-line profits.

Mechanisms to check and balance the authority of both the State and Corporations must exist. And in this case, what citizens want is equitable treatment by corporations, while holding on to their freedoms of speech. These are different freedoms; they are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to have them both at the same time.

In the aftermath of this Little India Riot, I worry about the cosy relationships between the State and various corporations established here. In this highly globalised and connected world, companies are not beholden to any particular country. They go where the money is. As such, governments may be compelled to make concessions in order to lure them into establishing their presence here. The fault lines exposed by this riot, and the circumstances that low-wage migrant workers face, the government is probably aware of these factors but has chosen to ignore them for various reasons.

So yes, there is a need to be wary of both the State and the corporate system. After all, ceding civil liberties to corporations invested with political, legal and financial powers is as dangerous as ceding them to a power-hungry State.

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A Critical Analysis of The Trees, by Phillip Larkin

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The Trees
              by Phillip Larkin
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
This poem meditates, laments and celebrates the life cycles of trees. It is an evocative mix of emotions, delivered with an economy of words.

The first stanza conveys the poet’s melancholy – instead of deriving joy and hope from the tenacious growth of plants as they sprout new leaves to welcome a season of warmth – the poet see their budding ‘greenness’ as ‘a kind of grief’.

The choice of ‘greenness’ and ‘grief’ is inspired; these two words alliterate and the repetition of the internal vowel ‘e’ in both creates a haunting rhythm. It concludes the first stanza with an impactful and melodic image by associating a colour with an emotion.

The second stanza wonders about the cosmetic youth of trees. It asks rhetorically if the trees are ‘born again’ while humans are destined to ‘grow old’. The poet then decides that no matter how tender the growing leaves are, the trees’ appearances are merely superficial facades. Their true age will forever be inscribed in the ‘rings of grain’ within their trunks.

This middle stanza relates to the preceding one. In the first stanza, budding leaves are compared to sentences that are incomplete, dangling, not heard, ‘like something almost being said’. This startling comparison is a reminder that the seasonal budding of trees is not merely about living; it’s about the many deaths that that have been accumulated, now ‘written down in rings of grain’.

The final stanza is somewhat hopeful, with the vivid image of the trees’ thick thrashing crowns, luxuriant and energetic in the sunshine each May. The rhyming couplet - 'May' and 'say' - along with the repetition of ‘afresh, afresh, afresh’ wraps the poem up, with a succession of succulent sounds, almost as though the leaves themselves are whispering these words.

At a surface level, Larkin is examining the growth of trees, casting his eyes on leaves, trunks and whispering crowns. However, one cannot help but extrapolate this cyclic nature of growing in green plants into the cyclic nature of life itself. This is a lucid and compact poem, composed and calm, that laments how everything is dying, no matter their desperate attempts to stay youthful and hold onto life.

Source credit: Miriadna.com

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Unrest in Little India

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This article is concurrently posted on The Kent Ridge Common.

Last night, a fatal accident involving a 33 year-old Indian national occurred in Little India, a place frequented by foreign workers. This sparked off a riot concerning some 400 people, with a total of 18 casualties. A few vehicles - including police cars and an ambulance - were overturned or set afire.

It has been more than four decades since Singapore experienced an unrest of such magnitude. Police have classified this incident as "rioting with dangerous weapons".

Some vehicles were set on fire. Source credit: Channel News Asia

In this grave period, it is important to stay composed and not spout inflammatory comments in the cyber world. There are people making comments based on the skin colours, places of origins and wage-classes of these foreigners. These comments are uncalled for and the commentators are tacit in stirring up unrest, which others have been actively trying to restore. 

This issue has the potential to be extremely divisive. It involves controversial factors and people, including deaths, entropy, foreigners, drunkards, low-wage workers, repercussions of globalisation and hateful online comments.

The many parties involved will seek to stake their narratives and counter-narratives. The dominant political force may see the online outrage - some decidedly racist and xenophobic - as potential evidence for a greater need to curtail internet freedoms.

Other parties may view this as the inevitable result of poor infrastructure planning, inapt immigration policies and suppression of low-wage workers in Singapore - issues that have been tinder waiting to catch fire.

In the coming days and weeks, the various perspectives need to be rationally examined, without resorting to name-calling, game-blaming and stereotyping. It is critical to discuss these issues; it is just as critical to discuss them in a sensible manner.

As the damage from this unrest is tallied and various parties seek to establish a dominant discourse, we should remain calm, think carefully and pause responsibly for a minute or two before sharing our comments online. It is how we react to this unexpected incident that will reveal the strength - or lack thereof - in our society.

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UOB POY 2013 Results

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The UOB Painting of the Year is one of the most prestigious visual art prizes in South East Asia.

As usual, the top winning paintings generated much debate and controversy.

For this review, I'll look at some of these artworks and attempt to understand their aesthetic merits.

Pieces I particularly enjoyed

Silver Award (Established Artist Category, Singapore)
Gazing ""
Oil on Canvas
by Tan Rui Rong

Instead of climbing real mountains and appreciating the wonders of Nature, this child is looking forlornly at the Chinese character for mountain. This is an incisive commentary on the mountainous load of homework that children have to face.

Look at the bag he's carrying!

 Silver Award Winner (Emerging Artist Category, Singapore)
Silent Life
Oil on Canvas (Triptych)
by Ong Xin Hong

There are incredible textures, with a skillful depth to them. I like how the disparate pieces - although drawn from different pieces of leaves - form a wriggling insect when conjoined as a triptych.

Absolutely amazing tones, with a mild tint of yellow and violet.

Bronze Award (Emerging Artist Category, Singapore)
Strength
Oil on Canvas
by Ang Cheng Hui

It is often the case that a hyper-realistic work lacks a dynamic tension, appearing controlled and not conveying much motion. This painting is a great antithesis, with its wondrous blend of realism and energy.


Pieces I can't really appreciate

2013 UOB Painting of the Year (Winner, Singapore)
Space Odyssey
Acrylic on Canvas
by Stefanie Hauger

This grand prize winner has been described this as "a piece I really don't think much of", without "much composition" and with an "unexciting palette of colours".

I can see it as a nice, pretty piece hanging in someone's office but I'm not sure the extent to which it has stretched the boundaries of art, be it in terms of techniques or themes.


  Gold Award Winner (Emerging Artist, Singapore)
O$P$
Mixed Media on Canvas
by Lim Wan Ying

Apparently, there is colloquial humour in this very much reduced abstract painting. I'd imagine the artist to be very pleased to receive a large sum of money for what appears to require minimal effort.


Pieces that don't evoke strong emotions

2013 Most Promising Artist of the Year (Singapore)
The Transcendence of Life
Oil on Canvas
by Lim Quan Zhao

 
 2013 UOB Painting of the Year (Winner, Malaysia)
Old Man
Oil on Canvas
by Gan Tee Sheng


2013 UOB Painting of the Year (Winner, Indonesia)
Indonesian Artist's Studio
Oil on Canvas
Suroso Isur


 Gold Award Winner (Established Artist Category)
Digital Vertigo
Mixed Media on Canvas
Lester Lee Ngai Sing


UOB Painting of the Year (Winner, Thailand)
Hope on the Ruins No. 3
Acrylic Painting
by Aphiphol Techamangkhalanon


Bronze Award (Established Artist, Singapore)
Enshrouded in Myopia
Oil on Linen
Hannah Tan Cheng Hoon

 
Note

This year's exhibition was held at the 72-13 gallery, a fairly isolated space along the Singapore River. My friend and I took about 30 minutes to find it.

This venue was a departure from the usual ones at the Singapore Art Museum and Esplanade by The Bays. Its rather inconvenient location may account for the conspicuous lack of onlookers.

There are a few nice pieces on display but it might be more worth your while to go for the ongoing Singapore Biennale instead.

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The Heartless Crane

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Once upon a time, there lived an oyster. It was a fortress of youth, how green and blue, and violet, with a galaxy of glimmers on its obsidian shield.

Humming and humming, it snacked on shit that tumbled along the riverbed. (At times, shit is food; at times, food is shit. The oyster wasn't a fussy eater.)

A crane sneaked in, lustily kissing the oyster with its sunset orange beak. But the shellfish was shy, its first time being pursued, and with such passion too!

We all know that inter-species love is forbidden. Nothing good can ever come out of it. But the oyster didn't know this.

It lowered its guard, loosening its shell to smooch the crane in turn.

The bird saw the oyster’s heart, was disgusted it wasn’t red. So it pecked and swallowed that instead.

It is impossible to defend against bestial tendencies.


Source credit: Google

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Advice Is Cheap

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Once upon a time, there lived one young monkey and an elderly turtle. They happened to meet each other on the seashore.

The playful primate asked the wizened turtle, "Sir, how did you grow so old?"

"I'm old because I've learned not to listen too much. My ear holes are smaller than my mouth."

"Would you share your secrets please? I want to live as long as you do."

"Well, giving advice is easy. Just open your mouth and speak; no filter is necessary. Are you sure you want to hear what I've to say?" The turtle spoke slowly.

"Yes, sir!"

"Well, giving advice is easy.
"Find your meaning in life."

"Earn more, buy a house, get married."

"Work overseas."

"Study harder, study more."

"Work for something you believe in."

"Take your time."
These are cheap platitudes. Cheap words. Freebies that other animals would throw at you. Whether you want it or not. If you'd just ask, anyone has tonnes of opinions to wish upon you.

After all, giving advice is cheap. All it costs is a little time and the giver gets to believe that he is more important than he actually is.

So, beware of advice so willingly offered, my little monkey."

"Oh..." the monkey scratched his brown furry head.

"And beware of what I just told you too." The turtle said before moving off the beach, towards the cold glittering sea.

Source credit: Animal Liberation Front

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Growing Strawberries in Singapore

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Pots of strawberry plants were dangling in a Kovan landscape garden, amid golden orchids, bougainvilleas and creeping vines.

Some fruits were green, turning white even as others acquired pink hues.  

For a while, I wondered how they'd taste - ripe, succulent flesh bursting with dribbles of juice. Sweet or tart? Tangy or sour? Maybe I should have picked one off and tried.

 
There is something tragic about them, about them being here.

They don't belong, not in this heat, not under this sun. 

They require more attention to flower and fruit. Once, in my Aunt's home, I saw a clump of green leaves, tired and crumpled. It turned out to a strawberry plant, wilting under the weight of the tropic heat.

They need hospital-like care just to survive.


It's easy to buy them on a whim. Less than twenty dollars for one pot, with perhaps seven to eight fruits already hanging there. It's harder - much harder - to meet their survival needs.

Strange, isn't it? How human beings have been shaping the environment with such wanton force. Even clusters of strawberry plants aren't spared.

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Why I'll Return To Singapore, Over and Over Again

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On 5th November, Danny Dover shared his reasons as to why he would never return to Singapore.

He claims that Singapore is a parody of "what happens when everything goes right", "that people simply do as they should do", that Singapore is "sterile" with a "spirit (that) stagnates".

After reading his somewhat-backhanded compliments about Singapore's achievements, I sighed and wondered if there is any point in responding. Maybe I should be spending more time with my school essay.

Every now and then, there will be foreigners who visit our shiny island set in the sea and decide that eeyer, Singapore isn't culturally exciting or historically stimulating or sexily palatable.  

Every time I read such an article, I wish to pretend that I'm a foreigner so that I can blog about why I'd return to Singapore, over and over again. You know, to offer an alternative perspective, a balance of some sort. Somehow, people tend to pay more attention when a foreigner speaks.

But since I'm a Singaporean, I'll have to offer it from a Singaporean's perspective.

Now, what is it about the insidious claim that Singapore is "what happens when everything goes right"?

The fact that MANY THINGS DON"T GO RIGHT IN SINGAPORE. One doesn't have to travel to France, Italy and India to experience train breakdowns. Singapore offers terrific experiences of being trapped in underground trains, squashed alongside other commuters.

On rainy days, there may even be floods! (How exciting!!!) Feel free to scoop rainbow-coloured guppies besides flooded canals, maybe even on expressways. Snap photos of those meandering lines of branded cars mired in brown murky swirls of rainwater. Dance in the storm and sing la-la-la.

The idea that "people simply do as they should do" is reductionist, if not very innocent.

In every country, there are always meta-narratives that many people adhere to. There will also be counter-narratives that others script. To discover people who don't do what they should, it all depends on where and how hard you look. 

But what such visitors seek may not be readily found in Singapore! They want the dizzying stimulus of venturing into jungles and coming across orang utans. They may expect the delights of being fawned over by sarong-clad people or sledging down hills covered with fresh snow.

If the intention is to be dazzled with a minimal and superficial engagement, it's quite difficult to learn much with limited time. If the intention is to find a place that is akin to a romanticised idyll, then one will be doomed to disappointment.

Singapore is at an exciting phase now, with a spirit that is being contested at almost every level. There are talks on nature, history, literary and visual arts happening so frequently. These discussions contest the opinions and experiences of people from very different spheres.

Should Danny be interested, the recently concluded Singapore Writers Festival would have been an illuminating experience. The ongoing Singapore Biennale is an excellent opportunity as well. To hear people passionately discussing the intrinsic humanity in the arts, to make like-minded friends, to broaden one's horizons.

A few commentators on Danny's article have pointed out that such sterility is also perceived in some American and European cities, notably in Sweden as well.

Perhaps the misconceptions that these places are unimaginative and unexciting come from the speakers' fleeting and very superficial engagement? Or maybe we're casualties of the modern times who expect gaudy excitements every single moment? (Ahh, tourists, always wanting to be entertained.)

The main reason why I'll return to Singapore, over and over again, is because this is my country (duh!) and because I understand that when I find a country boring, it's probably because I've romantic notions of what an overseas adventure should entail.

Or maybe I am just too lazy - or too busy finding problems - to fully engage with and experience the richness of that country.

Singapore isn't a red dot. It is a Red Pulse.
Source credit: Google


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Lab Report on Kinetics of an Ionic Reaction

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The lab report below was submitted as part of the coursework for CM2132 Physical Chemistry. Please do not plagiarise from it as plagiarism might land you into trouble with your university. Do note that my report is well-circulated online and many of my juniors have received soft copies of it. Hence, please exercise prudence while referring to it and, if necessary, cite this webpage.

1.      Aim
This experiment aims to (i) understand the order of reaction with respect to [Br-], [BrO3-] and [H+], (ii) evaluate the rate constant at 25 oC and (iii) observe the qualitative effects of varied ionic strength on the rate of reaction.
2.      Introduction
In an acidic solution, Br- and BrO- react to form Br2 according to the equation below;
5Br- + BrO3- + 6H+ 3H2O + 3Br2
The rate of this reaction is influenced by the ionic strength of the reaction medium and the concentration of the three ionic reactants.
In this experiment, the concentrations of the reactants are varied and their respective reaction rates, measured. The initial rate law is as follows,
rate = k[Br-]0a [BrO3-]0b [H+]0c
where k is the rate constant, while a, b, and c are the orders of reaction with respect to [Br-], [BrO3-] and [H+] respectively. The components of the rate law must be found by experimental means for it cannot be predicted from stoichiometric ratios of a balanced overall equation.
Initial rate method is used to determine the order of reaction with respect to the concentration of these ions while maintaining the ionic strength of reaction medium. The initial rate, R0 is found to follow the equation R0 = k [Br-]1[BrO3-]1[H+]2. The rate constant is then determined from the rate law. The effect of changing ionic strength on the reaction rate is investigated by comparing the rate between two reaction mediums of different ionic strength.
3.       Experimental procedures
Chemicals: 1.0M KBr, 0.2M KBrO3, 1.0M HNO3, 0.1M NaHCO3, 1M KI, 0.02174M Na2S2O3
Apparatus: Stoppered bottle or flask, pipette, burette
In this experiment, 9 sets of titrations are conducted. With the exception of solution 2, each set of solution are filled with the requisite amount of KBr, KBrO3 and NaNO3 (refer to Table 1) in a 50 ml volumetric flask before being diluted with water. Another solution containing 1M HNO3 diluted to 50 ml is also made.
Both solutions are added in a stoppered bottle and 10 ml of aliquots are withdrawn at 2, 4 and 7 min intervals after the start of reaction. To quench the reaction, these aliquots are added to 18 ml of solution containing 13 ml of NaHCO3 and 5 ml of KI. They are then titrated with Na2S2O3 with starch as indicator.
To determine the order of reaction with respect to the reactants, different volumes of the reactants are used while maintaining constant ionic strength. From solution 1 to 9, except solution 2, different volumes of KBr, KBrO3, HNO3 and NaNO3 are used and NaNO3 is replaced by Na2SO4 in solution 2. For solution 2, Na2SO4 is used instead of NaNO3. Since SO42- has a higher charge than NO3-, different volume of Na2SO4 has to be used in place of NaNO3 so that the ionic strength of reacting mixture remains the same.
The ionic strength for solution 1 is calculated to be
I = ½ Ʃ (K+ + Br- + K+ + BrO3- + Na+ + NO3- + H+ + NO3-)                                                                                          = ½ x ( 5/100 x 1 x 12 + 5/100 x 1 x 12 + 5/100 x 0.2 x 12 + 5/100 x 0.2 x 12 + 5/100 x 1 x 12 + 5/100 x 1    x 12 + 7.5/100 x 1 x 12 + 7.5/100 x 1 x 12)                                                                                                            = 0.185 M
In order to maintain constant ionic strength of reaction solutions to 0.185M,
In solution 2 for example, let v ml be the volume of Na2SO4 needed,
I = ½ Ʃ (K+ + Br- + K+ + BrO3- + 2Na+ + SO42- + H+ + NO3-)                                                                               0.185 = ½ x (5/100 x 1 x 12 + 5/100 x 1 x 12 + 5/100 x 0.2 x 12 + 5/100 x 0.2 x 12 + 2v/100 x 1 x 12 + v/100 x 1 x 22 + .5/100 x 1 x 12 + 7.5/100 x 1 x 12)                                                                                             v =10/ 6 = 1.67 ml  1.70 ml
Similar calculations are done to solutions 3 to 8. The volumes are calculated as shown below.
Table 1:
Solution
KBr (ml)
KBrO3 (ml)
HNO3 (ml)
NaNO3 (ml)
Na2SO­4 (ml)
1
5.0
5.0
7.5
5.0
-
2
5.0
5.0
7.5
-
1.70
3
3.0
5.0
7.5
7.0
-
4
1.0
5.0
7.5
9.0
-
5
5.0
3.0
7.5
5.4
-
6
5.0
1.0
7.5
5.8
-
7
5.0
5.0
5.0
7.5
-
8
5.0
5.0
3.0
9.5
-
9
5.0
5.0
7.5
15.0
-
Using the table above, solutions 1, 3 and 4 are compared to find the reaction order with respect to [Br-] as only [Br-] is varied while keeping the rest constant. Solutions 1, 5 and 6 are compared to find the reaction order of [BrO3-] and solutions 1, 7 and 8 are compared to find reaction order of [H+] for the same reasoning.
In solution 9, the amount of NaNO3 added was doubled than the amount added in to solution 1. The ionic strength will then be higher in solution 9 and thus the effect on the rate of reaction can be studied with different ionic strength.
4.      Results and calculation
Given:
[KBr] = 1.000M   [HNO3] = 1.007M   [KBrO3] = 0.2000M   [Na2SO4] = 1.000M
[NaNO3] = 1.000M   [Na2S2O3] = 0.02174M
Solution 1
Time
1 min 55 sec
3 min 55 sec
6 min 55 sec
Initial volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
0.00
0.00
0.00
Final volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
2.70
4.70
6.70
Volume of Na2S2O3 used / ml
2.70
4.70
6.70
Solution 2
Time
2 min
4 min
7 min
Initial volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
0.00
0.00
0.00
Final volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
2.20
3.90
5.70
Volume of Na2S2O3 used / ml
2.20
3.90
5.70
Solution 3   
Time
2 min
4 min
7 min
Initial volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
0.00
0.00
0.00
Final volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
1.80
3.10
4.70
Volume of Na2S2O3 used / ml
1.80
3.10
4.70
Solution 4 
Time
2 min
4 min
7 min
Initial volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
0.00
0.00
0.00
Final volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
0.70
1.20
1.90
Volume of Na2S2O3 used / ml
0.70
1.20
1.90




Solution 5 
Time
2 min
4 min
7 min
Initial volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
0.00
0.00
0.00
Final volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
1.90
3.30
4.70
Volume of Na2S2O3 used / ml
1.90
3.30
4.70

Solution 6
Time
2 min
4 min
7 min
Initial volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
0.00
0.00
0.00
Final volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
0.60
1.00
1.60
Volume of Na2S2O3 used / ml
0.60
1.00
1.60

Solution 7
Time
2 min
4 min
7 min
Initial volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
0.00
0.00
0.00
Final volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
1.30
2.40
3.60
Volume of Na2S2O3 used / ml
1.30
2.40
3.60

Solution 8
Time
2 min 15 sec
4 min
7 min
Initial volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
0.00
0.00
0.00
Final volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
0.70
1.00
1.60
Volume of Na2S2O3 used / ml
0.70
1.00
1.60

Solution 9
Time
2 min
4 min
7 min
Initial volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
0.00
0.00
0.00
Final volume of Na2S2O3 / ml
2.50
4.50
6.20
Volume of Na2S2O3 used / ml
2.50
4.50
6.20







Graph 1: Volume of Na2S2O3 used (ml) against time (s) in solution 1
From graph of volume of Na2S2O3 used (ml) against time (s) in solution 1 above,
V = -2 x 10-5 t2 + 0.025 t + 0.021
dV/dt = - 4 x 10-5 t + 0.025
When t=0, dV/dt = 0.025 ml/s
Br2 + 2I- à2Br- + I2
I2 + 2S2O32- à 2I- + S4O62-
2 mol of S2O32- = 1 mol of I2 produced = 1 mol of Br2 produced
Initial rate of production of S2O32- =0.025 x 10-3 x 0.02174 = 5.435 x 10-7 mol / s
Initial rate of production of Br2, R0 = 5.435 x 10-7 /2 / (10/1000) = 2.718 x 10-5 M/s
Similar calculation was done to get R0 of the other solutions using graph 2 to 9.
Varying Concentrations of Br-
In solution 1, [Br-]0 = 1.000 x 5 / 100 = 0.0500 M
In solutions 1, 3 and 4, concentration of Br- is varied while [BrO3-] and [H+] are kept constant and the following data was obtained:
Table 2:
Solution
[Br-]0 (M)
log [Br- / M]0
R0 (M/s)
log ( R0 / M s-1)
1
0.0500
-1.301
2.718 x 10-5
-4.566
3
0.0300
-1.523
1.631 x 10-5
-4.788
4
0.0100
-2.000
5.435 x 10-6
-5.265

Since [BrO3-] and [H+] are kept constant, initial rate can be written as, R0 = k [Br-]0a
log R0 = log k + a log [Br-]0
Plotting log R0 against log [Br-]0
From the graph of log (R0 / M s-1) against log [Br- / M]0 (graph 10),
y = x – 3.265
gradient of line = a = 1
Varying concentrations of BrO3-
In solution 1, [BrO3-]0 = 0.2000 x 5.0 / 100 = 0.0100 M
In solutions 1, 5 and 6, concentrations of BrO3- are varied and the following data is obtained:
Table 3
Solution
[BrO3-]0 (M)
log [BrO3- / M]0
R0 (M/s)
log ( R0 / M s-1)
1
0.0100
-2.000
2.718 x 10-5
-4.566
5
0.0060
-2.222
1.848 x 10-5
-4.733
6
0.0020
-2.699
4.348 x 10-6
-5.362
Initial rate, R0 = k[BrO3-]0b
log[R0] = log k + b log[BrO3-]0
From the graph of log R0 against log [BrO3-]0 (graph 11),  y = 1.167x – 2.193
Gradient of line = b = 1.167 1
Varying concentrations of H+
In solution 1, [H+]0 = 1.007 x 7.5 / 100 = 7.553 x 10-2 M
In solutions 1, 7 and 8, concentrations of H+ were varied and the following data was obtained:
Table 4:
Solution
[H+]0 (M)
log [H+ / M]0
R0 (M/s)
log ( R0 / M s-1)
1
0.07553
-1.122
2.718 x 10-5
-4.566
7
0.05035
-1.298
1.196 x 10-5
-4.922
8
0.03021
-1.520
5.435 x 10-6
-5.265
Initial rate, R0 = k[H+]0c
log[R0] = log k + c log[H+]0
From the graph of log R0 against log[H+]0 (graph 12),
Gradient of line = c = 1.747  2
Hence overall, the initial rate = k[Br-]1[BrO3-]1[H+]2
Order of reaction, n = 1 +1 + 2 = 4



Rate constant
Rate Constant, k = Initial Rate / ( [Br-]1[BrO3-]1[H+]2 )
In solution 1, k = 2.718 x 10-5 / ( 0.050 x 0.010 x 0.075532) =11.54
Considering only solutions 1 to 8, except 2, where ionic strength is constant, the following data was obtained.
Table 5:
Solution
Initial Rate, R0 ( M/s)
[Br-]0 (M)
[BrO3-]0 (M)
[H+]0 (M)
k (L3 mol-3 s-1)
1
2.718 x 10-5
0.050
0.010
0.07553
9.53
3
1.631 x 10-5
0.030
0.010
0.07553
9.53
4
5.435 x 10-6
0.010
0.010
0.07553
9.53
5
1.848 x 10-5
0.050
0.006
0.07553
10.8
6
4.348 x 10-6
0.050
0.002
0.07553
7.62
7
1.196 x 10-5
0.050
0.010
0.05035
9.43
8
5.435 x 10-6
0.050
0.010
0.03021
11.9

Average k= 9.76 L3 mol-3 s-1
Varying ionic strength
In solutions 1 and 9, concentrations of Br-, BrO3- and H+ are kept constant while the ionic strength is increased in solution 9 by using 15.0 ml of NaNO3. As the concentrations of the other ions remain constant in the solutions, we only consider the ionic strength of NaNO3.
Concentration of NaNO3 in solution 1 = 5.0/100 x 1 = 0.050M
Ionic strength of NaNO3 in solution 1 = ½ [(0.05 x 12) + (0.05 x 12)] = 0.050 M
Concentration of NaNO3 in solution 9 = 15.0/100 x 1 = 0.150M
Ionic strength of NaNO3 in solution 9 = ½ [(0.15 x 12) + (0.15 x 12)] = 0.150 M
From the data obtained earlier,
Table 6:
Solution
[NaNO3] (M)
Ionic Strength (M)
R0 (M/s)
1
0.050
0.050
2.718 x 10-5
9
0.150
0.150
2.500 x 10-6

This shows that the reaction proceeds at a slower rate in the solution of higher ionic strength.




5.      Discussion
Initial rate method
The initial rate method is employed to determine the order of reaction with respect to the reactants. This method involves measuring the reaction rate at very short times before any significant changes in concentration occur. By varying the concentration of one particular reactant only, the order of reaction with respect to that reactant can be determined. For example, only the concentration of Br- is varied in solutions 1, 3 and 4 (Table 1), while the concentrations of other reagents remain constant.
The effect of changing the concentration of Br- is correlated to the change in initial rate by the initial rate equation, R0 = k [Br-]0a.  The graph log R0 = log k + a log [Br-]0 is plotted and the gradient, a, is representative of the order of reaction with respect to [Br-].
Reaction mechanism
The reaction rate equation is experimentally determined to be = k [Br-] [BrO3-] [H+]2. Therefore, the overall order of reaction is 4. This suggests that there are 4 ions reacting directly in the rate determining step. However, this is unlikely for several reasons: for a reaction to occur, the particles must have sufficient energy and collide in a proper orientation at the same time.
It is improbable for the rate-determining step to be a reaction between 4 particles – this requires the simultaneous collision of four sufficiently energetic particles in the proper orientation. Chances of such a phenomenon are slim. Hence, a rate equation can only suggest the molecularity and mechanism of a rate-determining step, but not prove it absolutely. By this reasoning, the reaction must have been a multi-step mechanism with preliminary equilibria forming intermediates which then react.
A mechanism is hence suggested:
H+ + Br- → HBr
Step 1 - fast
H+ + BrO3- → HBrO3
Step 2 - fast
HBr + HBrO3 → HBrO + HBrO2
Step 3 - slow
Oppositely charged ions react together to form intermediates in Steps 1 and 2. The two intermediates (produced from 4 reacting particles) then further react in a bimolecular rate-determining step (Step 3). This accounts for why the rate equation has an overall order of 4.
HBrO2 + HBr → HBrO
Step 4 -fast
HBrO + HBr → H2O + Br2
Step 5 – fast
Eventually, the HBrO and HBrO2, produced in Step 3, reacts with more HBr to form water and bromine.
Checking for consistency in the rate equation via the rate-determining step, also known as the elementary step,


This mechanism, like all other mechanisms, is not conclusively proven. It is a suggestion based on logical reasoning of empirical observations.
Effect of Ionic strength
The ionic strength of the reacting solution must be kept constant as it influences the rate of reaction. To ensure so, the volumes of KBr, KBrO3, HNO3 and NaNO3 used have been pre-calculated. To understand the effects of ionic strength on the rate of reaction, the reaction rates of solutions 1 and 9 are compared (Table 6). In solution 1, where there is a lower relative ionic strength, the initial rate of solution 1 is 2.718 x 10-5 M/s. This is greater than the initial rate in solution 9 of 2.500 x 10-5M/s.
This observation may be explained qualitatively in terms of interactions between the reactants and activated complex and the ionic atmospheres of oppositely charged ions which surround them in solution. Three cases may then be identified:
(a)   If the reactants share the same polarity, the activated complex will be more highly charged than the reactants. Increasing the ionic strength of the solution will therefore have a greater stabilizing effect upon the complex than on the reactants, and will thus increase the rate constant by lowering the effective activation energy.
(b)   If the reactants are oppositely charged, the charge on the activated complex will be lower than the charges on the reactants, and the rate constant will decrease with ionic strength.
(c)    If one of the reactants is uncharged, there will be no change in the rate constant with ionic strength.

Effect of temperature
According to the Arrehenius equation,  , the rate constant, k, is affected by temperature, where A is the collision frequency factor, and Ea the activation energy of the reaction. Generally, increasing temperature increases average speed of particles and therefore their collision frequency.
However, in this experiment, temperature is assumed to be 25oC throughout even though there may be variations. Since the temperature changes are not taken into account, the discrepancy in values of k is expected.
To obtain more accurate results, the experiment should be conducted in an environment whereby temperature fluctuations are minimized.
Possible sources of error
The main source of error in this experiment is the time error. 10.0 ml aliquots have to be drawn at time 2, 4 and 7 minutes after the start of reaction and quenched. The reaction mixture is quenched using potassium iodide which reacts with bromine produced from the reaction of Br- and BrO3-. The formation of iodine is detected by the colour change of starch indicator from blue black to colourless. However, it is challenging to stop the reaction at exactly 120s, 240s and 420s from the start of reaction as the reaction does not stop in the pipette and the long time taken for liquid to be transfer from pipette to the conical flask containing KI. The variation in time will affect to the amount of Na2S2O3 needed and in turn the initial rate, hence deviation in rate constant, k.

Precautions
In this experiment, bromine is a product. Inhalation of bromine may cause breathing difficulties, headaches and dizziness. Any skin contact may cause irritation and chemical burns. As such, care must be taken to avoid direct contact with the chemicals.
Also, all used chemicals were transferred into plastic waste containers, instead of being washed down sinks.
6.      Conclusion
With the ionic strength of reaction solutions kept constant, the order of reaction with respect to [H+] is found to be 2, [Br-] to be 1 and [BrO3-] to be 1. From the rate law, R0 = k [Br-]1[BrO3-]1[H+]2, the rate constant k is calculated to be 9.76 L3 mol-3 s-1. Higher ionic strength is found to lead to a slower rate of reaction.
7.      References
Chemistry, Biology and Pharmacy Information Center. Article retrieved on 4 March 2012: <http://www.infochembio.ethz.ch/links/en/physchem_kinetik_lehr.html>
D.A. Skoog, D.M. West, F.J. Holler, S.R. Crouch, “Fundamentals of Analytical Chemistry”, 8th edition, Thomson Brooks/Cole, USA, 2004
M. C. Gupta, “Statistical Thermodynamics”, New Age International, 2007
P Atkins, T Overton, J Rourke, M Weller, F Armstrong, “Inorganic Chemistry” 4th edition, Oxford, 2006


8.      Exercises

1.    Why does changing the ionic strength of the solution affect reaction rate?

      Ionic strength is a measure of the concentration and charge of the ions in the solution. Increasing the ionic strength of a solution will increase its ionic atmosphere, hence providing a greater stabilizing effect for species which are more charged.
      If the reactants have the same charge, the activated complex will be more highly charged than the reactants. Increasing the ionic strength of the solution causes a greater stabilising affect on the complex than on the reactants. Thus, the rate constant increases by lowering the effective activation energy.
      Conversely, in a solution with oppositely charged ions, cations are surrounded by anions and anions are surrounded by cations, therefore decreasing the activities of the reactants and the overall reaction rate. This effect can be observed from comparing experiments 1 and 9; in experiment 9, an increase in the concentration of NaNO3 means that higher amounts of Na+ and NO3- ions are present in the reaction mixture. The reacting ions’ activities will be lowered and, as a corollary, the rate of reaction is reduced as well.
2.    Consider the equilibrium: CH3COOH      CH3COO-   +   H+. Which substance must you add to produce more CH3COOH?
At pH = 5, what is the prevalent species in solution? What is prevalent at pH = 2?

According to Le Chatelier’s Principle (LCP), a reaction’s equilibrium position shifts to counteract a change imposed, thereby establishing a new equilibrium. To produce more CH3COOH, more H+ and/or CH3COO- ions must be added into the solution. When either aforementioned species are added, the equilibrium shifts to the left in order to counteract the imposed change in concentrations, thereby increasing the concentration of CH3COOH.

According to literature,
pKa of ethanoic acid = 4.75.

By Henderson-Hasselbalch equation, pH = pKa + lg

At pH 5, the solution has a pH higher than that its pKa. By Henderson-Hasselbach equation,  = 1.78 which suggests that CH3COO- dominates. By LCP, at a higher pH, the concentration of H+ is lower, the equilibrium therefore shifts right, causing more CH3COO- to be formed.

At pH 5, the solution has a pH higher than that its pKa. By Henderson-Hasselbach equation,  = 0.00178 which suggests that CH3COOH dominates. At pH 2, the [H+] in the solution is high. In the presence of high concentration of H+, by LCP, the equilibrium will be shift to the left, causing more CH3COOH to be produced. Therefore, the prevalent species in the solution is CH3COOH.
9.      Graphs and Datasheet
Graph 2: Volume of Na2S2O3 used (ml) against time (s) in solution 2
Graph 3: Volume of Na2S2O3 used (ml) against time (s) in solution 3



Graph 4: Volume of Na2S2O3 used (ml) against time (s) in solution 4
Graph 5: Volume of Na2S2O3 used (ml) against time (s) in solution 5





Graph 6: Volume of Na2S2O3 used (ml) against time (s) in solution 6
Graph 7: Volume of Na2S2O3 used (ml) against time (s) in solution 7





Graph 8: Volume of Na2S2O3 used (ml) against time (s) in solution 8
Graph 9: Volume of Na2S2O3 used (ml) against time (s) in solution 9





Graph 10: log ( R0 / M s-1) against log [Br- / M]0
Graph 11: log ( R0 / M s-1) against log [BrO3- / M]0





Graph 12: log ( R0 / M s-1) against log [H+ / M]0


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