“A huge explosion of humanity across the planet.”
Those were the words Dave Lim, founding curator of TEDxSingapore, had to describe the raw energy of the TEDx movement, at the opening of TEDxSingapore 2015: The Undiscovered Country.
And his words were appropriate enough: TEDxSingapore, an early product of that explosion, has itself mushroomed from its first event back in 2009. On Friday, 6th November, well over a thousand TEDx fans converged onto the striking Nanyang Auditorium. Against a stunning minimalist backdrop, eleven speakers made them laugh, cry, and sing, as they heard the speakers’ stories.
Twelve-year-old Dylan Soh delivered a thoughtful reading of The Big Red Dot, a book written by his father and illustrated by him. With unwavering confidence and wisdom beyond his years, he delighted and charmed the audience from the outset. Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler then recounted his story of travelling across the world in the early 1970s and arriving in Singapore in 1972. Ever the skilful raconteur, he held the audience captive with his account of how the first book in the Lonely Planet series was written right in Singapore, on a tiny table at the Palace Hotel, a small, now-defunct establishment on Jalan Besar.
Michelle Wan, co-curator of TEDxSingapore and our host for the afternoon, asked him if the planet was still lonely in an age of digital connectivity. Yes, he said. “It’s the only one out there in the galaxy.”
Some speakers explored the undiscovered country of the past. Archaeologist Noel Hidalgo Tan spoke about rock paintings in Southeast Asia that contain complex, fascinating stories about Singapore and the region. Michelle Lim, a ceramicist, shared her tale of stumbling upon the story of Singapore’s dragon kilns in the unlikeliest of places: in a discarded 1979 issue of a ceramics magazine at a university library in Australia. Michelle went on to rekindle dragon kiln pottery in Singapore, even convincing the government to protect the kilns.
Other speakers explored the undiscovered country of the future. Biologist and technologist Tan Tin Wee merges insights from stable, symbiotic cycles found in nature into the technology world, and laid out a vision for a Singapore that could be both technologically and environmentally progressive. Chief Executive of the Singapore’s Housing and Development Board (HDB) Cheong Koon Hean dived into the intricate and wonderful details of how technology is helping urban planners create Singapore’s homes of tomorrow.
Writer Gwee Li Sui made an important and persuasive case for celebrating Singlish: “a finished language has no future in a multicultural society, because a multicultural society resides between languages.” While doing so in his trademark style, he reduced the audience to fits of laughter, as did Marc Nair, who made as convincing a case for poetry in Singapore: “the beauty of the world is often seen in the smallest images.”
There weren’t many dry eyes in the audience after singer-songwriter Crystal Goh shared her inspiring story, while Inch Chua left us spellbound with her story set in Pulau Ubin, a place she calls “my version of the cabin in the woods.” Inch ended with an audience sing-along of one of her new songs, inspired by the sounds of mousedeer and birdsong.
But the speakers were only one part of TEDxSingapore. As we’ve said before, community is absolutely central to the TEDx experience, and an aspect of it you wouldn’t get by watching a TED talk at home:
We at TEDxSingapore can’t wait. We can’t wait for the video recordings of today’s talks to be out so that we can be enthralled by today’s speakers again. And we can’t wait for Day 2, which will bring with it twenty-one more speakers.