Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Video Collection Featuring Singapore and Malaysia

Last Thursday, I returned from spending over three weeks in Singapore and Malaysia as a teacher-participant in Cultural Vistas' American Youth Leadership Program to Singapore and Malaysia.  It was an incredible program to two fascinating countries with a great group of program staff, teachers, and students from all over the United States.  There is so much to talk about in terms of reflections and findings from this program, but for now I wanted to post a collection of videos that I shot with my iPhone 5S and quickly edited with iOS iMovie.  They will be posted in the order in which the events portrayed took place.  Enjoy!

Singaporean Market from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.
The first video is a visit to a local Singaporean market with the host family I stayed with for a weekend. It was chaotic, noisy, colorful, and full of a wide range of scents, but it also was an incredibly convenient way to get fresh meat and produce. It was also a valuable social meeting place for families in the neighborhood and the merchants selling their products.

Making Chinese Dumplings in Singapore from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.
My host family in Singapore did such a great job sharing local culture and cuisine. The meals they prepared were amazing, and we even had the opportunity to learn how to make Chinese pork dumplings.

Marina Bay Light Show from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.
The Marina Bay area of Singapore is without question one of the most photographed and exciting areas of the city. The development of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, casino, and shopping complex has added to the stature of this area as a tourist, nightlife, and commercial draw. This video attempts to showcase the innovative light show that takes place right on Marina Bay, as viewed from the property of the Marina Bay Sands complex.

A Taste of Durian from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.
When in Malaysia, one has to try the King of Fruits...the mighty Durian. This spiky fruit has an indescribable smell and texture. I got my chance to try durian in one of the night markets of Kuala Lumpur.

A Night in Jalan Alor from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.
This is a video compilation of an evening spent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Jalan Alor. Lots of food and an impromptu street concert.

A Cruise Down the Melaka River from Kevin Witte on Vimeo.
Melaka is a Malaysian city that represents the very height of cross-cultural interaction. It historically was a major trading city along the vital Strait of Melaka that links the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and beyond to the Pacific Ocean. This video is a compilation of video segments from a cruise down the Melaka River, Melaka, Malaysia.

Nothing fancy in any of these videos, as I quickly edited them when free moments arose throughout the program. However, I hope they provide at least a few interesting snapshots from the time I spent in Singapore and Malaysia.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Singapore's Water Challenges and Solutions

One of the great ironies of Singapore's island status is that despite being surrounded by water, it has little in terms of naturally occurring water resources for its 5 million inhabitants.

Consequently, Singapore has had to employ practical and innovative solutions to these water challenges.  Essentially, Singapore's water needs are met by 4 major strategies.

1.  System of Catchments and Reservoirs:  In meeting water needs, Singapore does have the significant advantage of an annual rainfall of over 90 inches.  This means that if they can successfully collect this generous rainfall and store it, then they can begin to address their water challenges.  Consequently, the entire island is served by a network of water channels, canals, and catchment reservoirs to store the abundant rainfall. 
The larger reservoirs serve as places to store Singapore's rainwater

Of these catchment reservoirs, the Marina Barrage has allowed Singapore to utilize the waters of the Singapore River and Marina Bay as a freshwater reservoir.  A barrage is a dam that keeps out seawater.  Through a process of flushing excess water, they have been able to maintain high quality freshwater source with an area that equals 1/6th the size of Singapore.  In addition to creating a large water catchment system in the city center, it also provides for recreation, as both the water and the catchment facility themselves are open for public use 24 hours a day.  The facility contains massive pumps that improve flood control and prevent contamination from nearby salt water.

School group has the Marina Barrage catchment system explained to them.
One additional flood management tool employed is the use of permeable paving.  Particularly in the case of parking spots, Singapore uses paving stones and concrete patterns that have soil in between to allow for some absorption of water and also preventing as much of the car oil and other contaminants from running directly into storm sewers and canals.

Permeable parking spaces
2.  Imported Water:  Currently about 60% of Singapore's water is purchased from Malaysia.  There is a contract for this partnership to continue until 2061, but Singapore has developed it's other water strategies in order to achieve water independence earlier.  It was explained that through catchment, reusing water, and desalinization, Singapore has the capacity today for water independence, but purchasing some of their water gives them one more dimension in meeting their water needs.

3.  Reusing Water (NEWater):  Singapore has developed a sophisticated process of processing used water and sewage through three main processes (filtration, reverse osmosis, and UV disinfection) in order to produce water that meets all health standards.  Sludge and contaminants are incinerated and used as fill for reclaimed land projects.  It takes only 5 minutes to complete the process and production capacity is 117 million gallons per day.  This entire process can be witnesses at the NEWater facility.

The basic three-step process at NEWater can be seen at the NEWater Visitor Center, which has incredible exhibits to better understand how Singapore meets its water needs.  Here's a short video about the visitor center:

4. Desalinization: Singapore does utilize salt water resources in order to produce more fresh water for its citizens.  Major efforts in this industry include expanding capacity and energy efficiency.

The Big Picture:  By combining these four strategies, Singapore is able to meet its growing water needs.  However, in the midst of this expanded production, they are also trying to promote water conservation, as well.  Grey water is used to flush toilets.  Low-flow faucets and showerheads are widespread, catchment systems harvest as much of the tropical rain as possible.

Singapore is a city of over 5 million inhabitants and is looking to grow steadily in the coming decades.  However, in conjunction with this growth is the goal Singapore remaining a "City of Gardens and Waters".  A great deal of the urban planning revolves around expanding and improving natural spaces, trail networks, and waterways, while allowing for further residential and economic development.  Long term planning and a deep analysis of the implications of development seem to be the key in meeting business, employment, residential, and recreational needs.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

National University in Singapore, Public Housing, Senoko Waste To Energy Plant

After a very short early morning nap upon our arrival in Singapore, we began our first day of in-country programming.

National University of Singapore:  We are being housed by the National University of Singapore and had a chance to tour the campus.  This is a university that is considered among the most prestigious in the country and has aspirations of being a leading institution of higher learning on both the regional and global stage.  That being said, there is a palpable energy here, with the feeling that both Singaporean and a good number of students from around the world are here because they sense the growing global role the Pacific Rim and Asian Powers will play in creating and reaping the benefits from the economic landscape of the twenty-first century.

It also turns out that NUS is a fantastic place to begin exploration of Singapore as a true "Garden City".  Despite the fact that the city and campus is highly urbanized, there is incredible attention paid to providing green spaces, landscaping, and fostering a relationship with nature amidst the concrete and steel.  As a consequence, the sweltering heat and humidity is drastically mitigated by the fountains, breezeways, green corridors, and shade, while abundant greenery improves air quality and provides oxygen.  The expected urban "heat island effect" found in so many cities felt like it has been reversed through some very thoughtful planning and design.

UTown Green at National University of Singapore
A huge fan efficiently moves the air in this outdoor study area
Trees and shrubs bring the tropical rainforest back to the urban jungle

Vines run the entire height of this high-rise commercial and academic complex

Public Housing:  On our way to the Senoko Waste to Energy Plant this afternoon, we had the opportunity to witness much about the layout and priorities of urban design in Singapore.  One aspect that we will be learning more about later, but I found very interesting, was with regard to how public housing operates in Singapore.  This conversation was sparked by seeing some of the public housing developments we passed on the roadway.
Public housing development

Public housing in Singapore is built by the government to encourage ownership by the resident.  Housing is very expensive, but favorable, long loan terms are offered, and the property is well-maintained by the government.  These flats have proven to be an excellent way to build a valuable asset for the homeowner over time, as the lack of land and economic growth have driven property values higher.  Again, there is a good possibility that I may expand on this topic later in our visit, but this program does show the value the government places on home ownership and how high ownership rates of quality housing can be a stabilizing force in society.

Senoko Waste To Energy Plant:  With a growing population due to immigration and lack of available land, waste management is a huge concern in Singapore.  Part of the strategy to address this issue is to build plants capable of incinerating large amounts of garbage to reduce landfill needs, but also produce energy.  Here are some images that help to illustrate the process:

This solid waste incineration process requires (from Left to Right) the delivery of the waste, grabbing waste with mechanical claw, placing it in a hopper to release onto a moving grate where trash is incinerated and temperature is tightly controlled, this heats water in a series of pipes, which drives the steam turbines to create power.  Heavy metals, particulates, and other pollution are captured, processed, and/or filtered so that pollution from the stacks is reduced to below rigorous Singapore air quality regulations.

A few interesting points about the process and results:
  • Energy required to power the whole waste incineration process is only 20% of what is produced, so 80% goes back into national grid.
  • Original mass of waste is reduced by 80% and waste volume by 90%
  • Water is in a closed loop steam system and is incredibly pure so as not to damage the turbines.
  • Processed material that does reach the landfill will not produce the methane that is typically produced in landfills because there is little to no new decomposition that will take place.
  • This is Singapore's primary trash solution as there are Waste To Energy plants across the country that handle their respective region.  While recycling is often available in public spaces throughout Singapore, home recycling in high-rise apartments and public housing is rare because centralized trash shoots built into these structures do not allow for the sorting of trash.  (Basically, it is too easy to throw it all away, rather than pull out the recyclables.)
Tomorrow, we are off to the central business district and other iconic sights of the city!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Heading 9,188 Miles West to Reach Southeast Asia!

The journey to Singapore and Malaysia was broken up into stages.  On Saturday, June 28th, our group of 22 students, 2 teacher participants, and 5 Cultural Vistas staff arrived at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California to begin the American Youth Leadership Program to Singapore and Malaysia with a pre-departure orientation.

This orientation time was a chance to step away from our busy lives and focus on what we would experience in both Singapore and Malaysia, discuss our roles as cultural explorers, begin to define the quest for environmental sustainability around the world, and get to know the students and teachers that we would be traveling with for the next few weeks.

Our group has only been together for a couple of days, but this group of students is proving themselves as thoughtful, articulate, and both globally and environmentally engaged.  It is exciting to think about how this program will empower these students in their future endeavors.

On the evening before our departure for Singapore, we shared a Malaysian meal from a local LA restaurant.  There will no doubt be more blogging about food in the future, but here's what we started with:

Again, I can't wait to learn more about and try the wide variety of local food in both Singapore and Malaysia, but we started with turmeric rice, fried rice, green  vegetable curry, chicken satay, a mixed vegetable and fruit salad, as well as a variety of dressings, peanut sauce, and pepper sauces.  My impression of Southeast Asian food has always been that the incredible combinations of spices, sweet/savory/spicy flavors, and perfect matches of meats/vegetables/fruits make for dishes that are incredibly easy to get excited about trying.  Truly looking forward to the culinary adventures of the next few weeks!

As I alluded to above, our task within this program is to be a cultural explorer and look at issues of environmental sustainability in both countries.  With regards to culture, exploring this region opens the door to far greater understanding of all the cultural influences that have and continue to shape both Singapore and Malaysia.  These two nations have been greatly shaped by their strategic location in the South China Sea, along the Strait of Malacca.  This geopolitical reality has placed these two states within the larger spheres of influence of India, China, Muslim merchant enclaves, European colonial interests, Japan during the lead up and through a portion of World War II, and to some degree the sometimes cooperative and sometimes competitive interests of both the United States and China in the world today.  However, despite all of these outside influences, there still exists a local culture that may be influenced by the outside, but is still all it's own.  My goal is to try to understand the complexities of these cultural realities as fully as possible.  I also hope to investigate political and economic realities that make nations like the United States, China, and India such key partners in the region.  While this may sound like an overly generalized explanation of what I'd like to learn about, my hope is to break down small observations and insights into far more coherent blog entries.

With regards to environmental sustainability, I think it will be fascinating to see how Singapore's very unusual situation of being incredibly poor in natural resources (Essentially, they have no naturally occurring potable sources of freshwater or major mineral resources.), has led them to use focused and intentional investment in human resources and innovative technologies to deliver one of the highest standards of living on the planet.  In Malaysia, there will be other opportunities to look at both local and global environmental issues, including agricultural practices, such as slash and burn cultivation in the production of palm oil.

I have to admit and apologize that this entry has gone far too long, but what is one to do when one is at 35,998 feet, cruising at 584 mph over Alaska's Aleutian Islands, roughly 6 hours into an 11 hour flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo?  (Gotta love the flight info monitor!  I don't think I'll ever get tired if trying to wrap my mind around the incredible distances we can travel relatively quickly in today's world.)  The scary thing is we have a 7 hour conecting flight from Tokyo to Singapore, so I can't promise that there won't be an update to this entry.  

All I know is that we left Los Angeles at roughly 1:30pm on June 30, 2014, and we're set to arrive in Singapore at 1:30am on July 2, 2014.  Singapore is 13 hours ahead of Central Standard Time, and I'll be 9,188 miles from Kearney, Nebraska.  Here's to the next chapter of a sojourner's voyage!

Update:  Arrival in Singapore!
We're here.  We made it!  From travel to Los Angeles from our homes on Saturday to our marathon flight path that began on June 30th in LA and had us arriving at Changi Airport in Singapore on July 2 at 1:30am.  In just a few short hours the in-country portion begins, but for now, as I sit and finish this up at 4:00am in Singapore, it's time for a little rest before today's activities.