The island nation of Singapore is one of the smallest countries in the world. It is also one of the most technologically advanced. Lead by an environmentally conscious…
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The digital revolution was supposed to bury everything from film cameras to record players to pen and paper. But after a long, slow slide many of these analogue objects are undergoing a renaissance….
Hello from the TEDxSingapore team! We know it has been a bit quiet for a while around here, and apologies for that, but trust us when we say we’ve been brewing something special.
This 11th November 2017, TEDxSingapore is proud to present our 40th TEDx event, themed ‘Growing Up’.
Our tickets are on sale now (buy here!) , and the team are working on the finishing touches and while the excitement is building I wanted to take the opportunity to share some insights into the theme and our intentions behind it.
So. The Theme.
When you first read ‘growing-up’ – how many of you immediately thought about kids and education? This was our starting point too, but through our curation sessions with the team it became clear that we do not (and should not) stop growing the moment we finish our formal education.
Indeed, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘to grow up’ as:
There is no age or time period. Growing Up, we realised, means a period of transition where we develop. And what a great theme that is for a TEDx event! From that point onwards, we knew we would explore the widest expressions and meanings of this phrase and its implications for our TEDxSingapore community. We decided to specifically look at a few thought provoking questions:
And of course, the theme has implications on a national level – Singapore is nearing its 200th birthday, still a baby compared to China’s five millennia, but still going through its own transitions and always growing and developing.
Once our theme and topics were decided, we looked to our community for speaker recommendations – and we’re proud to say that 40% of them came from your suggestions. So thank you for contributing and helping your speakers bring their ideas to the world!
For those who have attended previous TEDxSingapore events, you will know that the moments outside of the talks are just as impactful – a time to share ideas and meet a like-minded community. Indeed for many of us this is one of the best parts about the whole experience. We won’t say too much here, but rest assured we have curated some great activities that we hope will grow connections, conversations and hopefully inspire some action.
We hope you will join us for what is certain to be a thought provoking occasion. No matter if you take part in it for the full experience (we’re planning something special here) or for the afternoon of talks and conversation, or simply join us online via our social channels, we like to think this will be the start of something special. Our intention is that the entire experience will inspire change and growth, for you to take back into your lives and communities.
Buy your tickets here
TEDxSingapore 2017 Team
What does Growing Up mean to you? What has inspired you to grow recently? Share your thoughts below.
As a student in Temasek Junior College, Dave Lim started a magic club and organised a full-scale magic show on campus. He didn’t know any magic tricks, but he knew a schoolmate who did. Today, the 48-year-old puts together talks on topics spanning poetry to public policies.
He is not an expert on any of the subjects, but he enables those who are to reach others, by giving them a stage through TEDxSingapore, an independent, local event styled after TED Talks. Even in his day job, Lim brings people together for a bigger cause.
His corporate innovation company, Ideas Worth Doing (a spin on Tedx’s tagline “Ideas Worth Spreading”), helps to bring innovative conventions and conferences to Singapore – such as Wisdom 2.0 Asia, focusing on mindful leadership, and Unreasonable Sea in 2013, a global entrepreneurship experiment that puts tech-entrepreneurs and mentors on a ship sailing to 13 countries to work on social and environmental challenges.
Getting people to share their talent and expertise seems to be a constant in Lim’s life. And it’s not just because he wants to learn. As a venture capitalist and economist, he sees the need for Singapore to move towards an idea-driven economy and society. “We used to trade commodities, now we trade ideas. The intangibles are even more valuable than the tangible.”
These factors led him to take up the licence for TEDx for Singapore, when the founders reached out to the global community to take the initiative worldwide. Since 2009, the TEDxSingapore community has grown from just over a thousand to some 70,000 local followers. “If you include the overseas followers, we have about 100,000,” says Lim. TEDx was held last month at Nanyang Technological University to an audience of 1,700 – a scale larger that TED Talks. This year’s speakers include global health expert Hans Rosling, who entertained as much as he enlightened the audience on global population trends, social activist Melissa Kwee and tropical disease scientist Thierry Diagana.
“People love TED because it gives them an avenue to express and explore what they like,” says Lim. “As for me, I love all topics! But the magic happens when I connect the dots while listening to different speakers, come up with an idea, or realise a commonality between fields. These unexpected connections, ideas and inspirations are the wow moments for me, and what drive me.”
Read the full article at ThePeakMagazine.
“Now, be good adults, sit down and listen,” said 12-year-old Dylan Soh, facing a group of about 1800 people assembled in front of him, and gets a hearty, resounding applause.
The venue was Nanyang Auditorium, NTU, Singapore, where all things being in order a child of Dylan’s age would still have some years to go before he entered. But then again, the event is TedXSingapore’s “The Undiscovered Country” held on 6 & 7 November 2015 where discovery of limitless human potential is the undercurrent. After the initial sense of amazement, Dylan proceeded to wow the audience with the rendering of his own “Try song” and his story of the “Big Red Dot”, to show from a child’s point of view what Singapore is to him, today. Memorably, he says, “The hero of our story is female… [we need] to be fairer to the fairer sex.”
A citizen born in the social media age, his tale was about the importance of curiosity, resilience, self-belief and most of all self confidence. In Dylan’s narration, the “little red dot” was no “little red dot”, since it saw itself as a “Big Red Dot”.
In showing that size doesn’t matter as much as vision, imagination and attitude, Singapore is many things to many people.
On a used car bought for a hundred pounds, Tony Wheeler set out from London with his wife Maureen, in 1972 on a trip that took them across Europe and Asia all the way to Australia. As someone who has been visiting Singapore for about four decades, he had interesting stories and vintage pictures to share.
They landed in Australia with 27 Cents between them. Their first travel guide “Across Asia on the Cheap” came out soon. Tony quit his job as an engineer and devoted himself to full time travel writing and then the rest, as the cliché goes, is history. They travelled regularly and compulsively, sometimes with their young children on baby carriers in a day and age when that was unheard of. They wrote it all down and today “Lonely Planet” is a synonym of travel. Tony shared off the stage later “If there is a place, go see it”. And yes, they resold their used car somewhere along the way in Afghanistan at a profit, for a hundred and fifty pounds.
Among the pictures Tony Wheeler shared was a single photograph showing a small round side table with a typewriter and sheaves of paper lying around. That was the first manuscript of “Across Asia on the Cheap”. Location – Palace Hotel, Jalan Besar, Singapore which is where a seed was planted, and which was where it all began.
In being the setting when a seed is planted, a seed which would grow to be the most famous name in its genre, Singapore is many things to many people.
An internet pioneer, who was trained and excelled as a molecular biologist, Tan Tin Wee has several first and achievements in a glittering career. A few random samples – the first cybercast of a National Day Parade, First Chinese Website, First Tamil website using Tamil scripts.
Dr Wee highlighted the ubiquitous line that one gets to see in the footer of most emails – Please think of the environment before printing this email. Most responsible thought, yes. But have we paid attention to how much of data we are storing in cyberspace, and how much of energy such storage and retrieval consumes, and how much of such energy comes from non-renewable resources, urged Dr Wee.
Deriving from the symbiotic relationship where animal manure and plants are mutually interlocked in a positive cycle, Dr Wee explained how it might be possible to harness the heat from data storage centres for re-gasification of LNG which is essential before transmission in pipes to the end-users – a live example of out of the box thinking.
Providing an atmosphere that fosters excellence, inspires meritocracy and seeks to be ahead of the curve at all times, Singaporeis many things to many people.
“You’ve never seen data presented like this” announced the conference guidebook in the introduction about Dr Hans Rosling. A pioneer of Médecins Sans Frontières in Sweden, a physician, public health specialist, a statistician, founder of Gapminder foundation which developed Trendalyer software (since taken over by Google and to top it all, a sword swallower, Dr Rosling held the audience captive in the way he presented big data. Population, per capita GDP, time scale of decades – possibly dry topics all, nevertheless took a shape and life when Dr Rosling proceeded to narrate them in his unique style and present them on Trendalyzer. Among other things he left us with two simple and key truths.
In 1800 the global population reached its first billion, which grew to two billion people by 1930 and then quite inexplicably exploded to almost seven billion in the 2000s. Why so? In 1800s, the number of children borne by an adult woman was 6. The figure was the same in the 1900s too. Why then the exponential growth? It so happened that out of 6 children in the 19thcentury, only 2 survived to adulthood, whereas in the 20h century thanks to sanitation, vaccines and industrial advancement, four out of six children survived to adulthood, therefore, doubling the reproductive capacity in a family within a generation. A simple, insightful answer, based on statistical truth.
He further went on to show his prediction of 11 Billion by 2100, despite ageing population and declining birthrates, the world over. He parses the numbers on two fronts – age and region and painted a lucid picture of how that is not just possible but seems very likely unless, say, an asteroid crashes into our planet and wipes us all out like the dinosaurs.
In Dr Rosling’s presentation Singapore was a focal point and he highlighted its growth from a third world country to a first world country within a generation. In being an index for growth, and a bell-weather for global economic progress, to compare and contrast with other bigger and older nations, Singapore is many things to many people.
At the turn of the 20th Century the proportion of urbanized population in the world stood at 13%, fifty years later it stood at 29% and by 2030 it is poised to reach 60% with the two Asian giants leading the way. Singapore in any event is completely urbanized and has been that way for sometime. If it portrays a picture of a concrete jungle where nature takes second place over modernization, its far from the truth, for Lena Chan, Head of National Biodiversity Centre, National Parks said Singapore has a green cover of 46% which is the highest in the world for cities. Some astounding facts that came our way from Lena – Singapore houses 384 species of birds which is more than those in France, 318 species of butterflies while UK has about 60, 255 coral species, which is about a third of those in the world. National Biodiversity Centre and National Parks have transformed this garden city to a city in a garden and as Lena put it, a little green dot surrounded by blue.
Spasmodic Dysphonia is a neurological condition which affects the vocal chords and thereby impacts speech. For singer and songwriter Crystal Goh it meant to give up a career that was her passion. She simply woke one morning to find her voice had gone. While recovering from her therapy, she focused on song-writing and connected with two communities – juvenile offenders and children of prisoners, two of the most vulnerable groups in an urban environment. She spoke with great visible effort as she struggled to finish her words. Her message was one of resilience in the face of odds, belief and hope. Her voice still quivered and broke as she performed a song live. There must have been several lumps in throats as the entire hall was on its feet in rapturous applause.
And then there was Inch Chua, who shut herself up in Pulau Ubin, a rustic island off Singapore, in a house with no running water or electricity. In isolation and a process of self-discovery, she wrote and composed her second album from which she performed a spellbinding number.
There was archeologist Noel Hidalgo Tan, who spoke of the cave paintings in South East Asia – which are usually overlooked amongst archeological wonders such as Angkor Wat, Borobudur / Prambanan and Bagan – which have an importance in chronicling life in prehistoric times in the region. By showing paintings which could have been ritual, or educational, or terrestrial markings or simple a record of what was important in those times, Noel attempted to trace back living conditions to times gone by.
There also was Zakir Hussain Khokhon, a construction supervisor from Bangladesh who during his daily commute, with a pen and a pocketbook has written and compiled three volumes of poetry. I repeat three volumes of poetry. He treated the audience to a splendid oration about homecoming, migration and love in his native Bangla.
There were several others, who merit mention but have to be left out in the interest of brevity – performers, achievers, story-tellers who inspired, awed and enthralled the audience over the course of one and a half days.
Much has been achieved in 50 years, yet the place and its peoples do not believe in resting on their laurels. The future is uncertain and nevertheless exciting. The ingredients have been set in place by extra-ordinary vision and the present is currently poised to meet the future.
In displaying growth as a modern society, providing a predictable, safe, desirable and healthy life to its citizens Singapore checks most boxes. And yet, the artists, poets and special talents showcase another aspect. That arts, life and soul have not been forgotten under economic pragmatism and social advancement but have actually flowered and risen to new heights.
At once being a most watched and well recognized nation and also in some aspects an undiscovered country, which events like TedX seek to bring more to light, Singapore remains many things to many people.
“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.
Twenty-seven-year-old Inch Chua pushes the limits as a singer and songwriter, awakening the local music scene with her own brand of intimate, effervescent tunes crafted from unique experiences.
Earlier this year, Chua stayed on the rustic island of Pulau Ubin in search of musical inspiration (thus truly perfect for the TEDxSingapore theme).
Her stay on the island, resulting in many afternoon naps and lots of 4am sojourns around the island, resulted in an upcoming album Letters to Ubin, which will encompass multi-layered soundscapes reflecting on city life and the countryside.
We had a glimpse of her life and discoveries on Ubin during her rehearsal speech, which of course explores artistic creation as well as Ubinisation Vs urbanisation. We spoke to her about her experiences there.
What’s your one big takeaway from the Ubin stay?
The art of fruitful idleness, the need to practise the art of stillness. And that urbanisation will happen whether I like it or not; it’s about how we can adapt to it and how to never lose sight of what’s important for the soul.
Do you feel like, musically and lyrically, your songs are now different from before your trip?
All my albums are different, so it’s quite normal for the sound to change. I’d like to think I’ve grown a lot outside of music and this personal change naturally changes my perspective and writing subjects.
Would you recommend this for all artists – a stay in Ubin?
Most definitely. I recommend any person, not just a musician – everyone should find their own Ubin.
What’s your relationship with the landlord, did you have to do chores or cook for them?
No, he left me alone for most parts. Some days he comes in to do random things, like kill termites, but he enjoys keeping to himself. My neighbour however, invites me over for meals on the weekends. Everyone’s so sweet.
More on Inch: www.thisisinch.com
“If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes … it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.” ― Arthur Conan Doyle
Hawker food in Singapore can be genuinely breathtaking. It may not always feel like it: a hawker centre meal can be one of the most unremarkable Singaporean experiences ever. Sometimes it is the crowds, the heat, and that newfound menace – the haze – that take your breath away, and not in a metaphorical way.
But occasionally, nestled inconspicuously in vast hawker centres, you find the most astonishing stalls, serving mind-blowingly good fishball noodle soup, or chwee kueh, or laksa. It’s the kind of food that makes overseas Singaporeans “culinarily … the most homesick people I have ever met,” as Calvin Trillin writes (in The New Yorker, 2007). No frills, no pizzazz – just nondescript, understated brilliance.
Only at lunchtime are these undiscovered gems given away, by the queues that form in front of them. People line up at these stalls like devotees at a shrine, patient supplicants waiting meekly in the heat for heavenly blessing. ‘Divine’ is, after all, how the esteemed Makansutra guide describes Singapore’s best hawker food.
In Singapore, the abstract, ethereal realm of stories is much like the hot, delicious, commonplace world of hawker food.
We tell a few stories in Singapore. We tell the story of the gleaming metropolis – this is the one we learn in history lessons. We tell it alongside the stories of the great, visionary men: Raffles in 1819, Lee Kuan Yew in 1965. We also tell the story of the everyman: gritty pioneers who toiled alongside the great men to build the metropolis. And, of course, close to our hearts lies the story of our cultural rojak: the story of communities, cultures, and cuisines converging onto this country from lands near and far, creating a wonderful, irreplaceable whole far greater than the sum of its parts.
To be sure, these stories are incredibly important: they are central to and inseparable from the Singapore narrative. But sometimes we can’t help but feel that they are incomplete. Some of them are tersely, uneasily contested. Others are complicated and disrupted as the country changes with the times. And, like the hidden gems in hawker centres, many more lie undiscovered.
The Undiscovered Country celebrates these untold stories. And there are so many of them – so many undiscovered countries to set sail to. Consider the stories that our speakers are bringing with them:
In the 1991 Star Trek film of the same name, the undiscovered country is the future, a land of both abundant opportunity and lurking danger. Speakers like biologist-cum-technologist Dr Tan Tin Wee, and urban planning visionary Cheong Koon Hean bring with them thrilling prospects for Singapore’s future, while twelve-year-old Dylan Soh brings his hopes for the future of Singapore, already published in a heartfelt book.
If one undiscovered country is the future, another is the past. Co-founder of Lonely Planet Tony Wheeler, for instance, brings with him his fascinating experience in Singapore circa 1972, when men with long hair, frowned upon as ‘suspected hippies,’ were served last at government offices. It was in a bewildering and (to some of us) unrecognisable Singapore that the Lonely Planet series was born.
And then there are undiscovered countries in the here and now – wonderful, untold stories about Singapore that scuttle out into the open when we ‘gently remove the roofs’ concealing them. In and around an otherwise bustling, urban landscape, an astonishingly rich variety of flora and fauna thrive in Singapore. Lena Chan, an expert on Singapore’s biodiversity, brings incredible passion and vast experience about our natural heritage. Published poets Gwee Li Sui, Marc Nair, and Aaron Maniam – storytellers by profession – tell stories at the intersection of fiction and truth, poetry and politics. And Zakir Hossain Khokon, a construction supervisor and winner of the Migrant Workers’ Poetry Competition in 2014, conveys hauntingly beautiful accounts of the transient worker’s experience, one which is far too easily overlooked in Singapore.
Can these undiscovered stories sit uneasily with each other? Can the idiosyncratic ones exist alongside our mainstream narratives? They certainly can, in the spirit of the poet Walt Whitman, who wrote:
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself;
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
These stories intertwine – they make us richer, fuller, and more authentic. At the end of the day, the story of Singapore the entrepot resonates with us at TEDxSingapore. For centuries – even before the arrival of Raffles – Singapore has been a hub for trade. Today, Singapore is a hub for ideas and stories – they combine with each other in weird and wonderful ways, and generate unprecedented possibilities.
At TEDxSingapore, every single member of our community contains multitudes, and brings them to The Undiscovered Country. When thousands of stories converge onto the entrepot that is TEDxSingapore, what possibilities can arise? What conversations, connections, and contributions can we create? We will find out in a couple of days’ time – perhaps over a bowl of the best char kway teow in town.
Budding singer-songwriter Crystal Goh was diagnosed with Spasmodic Dysphonia, a rare neurological condition that left her without a voice for two years. She didn’t know if she’d ever sing again. But through sheer will, and renewed strength with the help of her friends, she found her voice in the midst of pain – by offering hope to those in need instead.
Goh founded the Diamonds on the Street initiative to work with girls living in a shelter, and the children of prison inmates, to turn their reflections into songs. Today, she continues to help at-risk youths to derive meaning from crises and to transform pain into new narratives about their lives and possibilities. All through music and songs.
When we watched her unique and immensely moving rehearsal presentation, we felt her pain and her potential. Without giving too much away, we spoke to her to get some insights into her condition and background.
We were really moved by your rehearsal talk. And it seems like it’s really not easy for you to engage with people. How do you deal with people on a regular basis? Would you prefer to just write them notes and not speak?
CG: I used to write notes a few years back right after I lost my voice. After a while, I crafted an FAQ (of my condition) and simple signboards that I would bring to the places I commonly frequented.
However, over the years, my voice has improved and I have learned to pick quieter environments to hold conversations. I also speak with shorter sentences and usually keep my gatherings small too, so that there is space for everyone to talk.
To me, nothing beats face-to-face conversations. However, if the conversation gets too technical or if I find myself having to use longer sentences to communicate and do not have the luxury of time to pause in speech, my friends know that I can always provide details through a later email, note or so.
How often do you work on new songs?
CG: I have been very fascinated with the process of healing and use songwriting as a craft to discover truths about healing every few months.
Often, when I experience a difficult emotion, songwriting becomes a safe space for me to explore my thoughts, and eventually to practise compassion on myself or on others. Songwriting is a way for me to regain control over parts of my life.
Is Diamonds your full time work? If not, then what do you do?
CG: Diamonds takes up a large portion of my time. However, I also regularly feed my curiosity in certain passion/topics by taking on various songwriting and writing projects.
Have you met other people who’ve also had Spasmodic Dysphonia?
CG: Yes, I reached out to an award-winning children book writer, Emily Lim, who wrote a fantastic book that was inspired by her journey with Spasmodic Dysphonia.
Her book, Prince Bear & Pauper Bear, was so hopeful that I sought her permission to turn it into a musical drama, so that the children of prisoners (whom I had been working with then) could perform it to their loved ones. Emily and I have since developed a really beautiful friendship.