Hello, world - and happy national day with 54 years of leveling green ground for bare earth

getting going on the substack rack...

After writing, leaving writing, and then writing solely for an academic audience, I’ve come back to writing for myself. How different. And why?

Take this as a response to a friend’s provocation on Monday, who, over chaai told me, “you lack scale”. Point blank, which to me, is the best thing after a few years learning (too much) patience.

This is a letter from me to the world, and to people like you whom I’ve gotten to know. Maybe I know you well and maybe we’re acquaintances, or maybe we’ve worked together over the years. It’s interesting to write for a personal and larger network of friends whom I know in various capacities, because people know very different sides of me and my interests. I’ve realised I am not easy to know.

Yes, I want to “scale”. I want to learn to present and re-present myself, in a way that is as authentically me as I can, without shying away from the blazing spotlight of my overly conscientious self-talk. Scale, I remember an acquaintance, Josh, saying, referencing the book Scale: Discourse and Dimensions of Social Life (online here) is semiotic as well as physical and abstract. All concepts arise through interaction with one another. That’s scale.

Much as I dislike the idea of scale as it is associated with capitalist accumulation, scale as a frictional force encouraging dissension and discussion IS important. Think about the crazy scales of reference that the Chinese majority media / PR world is being introduced to right now in Singapore (yet AGAIN) that they feel is blowing up in their faces with the whole brownface drama. (Reddit has more opinions too.) Also just think about it: it took me about 6 years of wondering why I didn’t see more critical work and discussion on food and farming in Singapore, before I decided to give it a go with a few others (thus Foodscape Collective, which you’ve probably heard about in passing, was born). It’s taken me about 4 years on from that, and 8 years on from the time I stopped really writing, to decide to write again. Voice is complex, with multiple scales of dominance and marginalisation, and my own journey of talking about the things I care about is part of that. The best we can do, to challenging existing scales, is perhaps to be honest about what drives the actions we take on the journey.

What can I promise in forthcoming newsletters? Timely news! The latest ag gossip! The latest in food circle humour. (There’s a fair amount of deadpan punning.) I won’t promise all that, but I’ll promise insight and some critical analysis. I still don’t think of myself as the most vocal or the loudest (because I am not loud and I did not enjoy the online circle-jerking and enemy-slamming ‘debates’ back in university). But if you knew me then, my days are somehow still back-to-back with interesting people and new connections I see forming.

If nothing else, think of this letter as continuation of ideas from the life of someone who’s had about 12 years now, of learning the art of slow-motion multi-tasking.

In interesting news this week - and Unhynnged Konnections~

  1. Hong Kong is on fire! not real fire, but spirit fire. As the young activists have learnt to be water, so are they transforming the cellular and emotional brickwork of their generation, and those before and after them. Already they have inspired some seniors to march with them in solidarity. It’s important to see how this proceeds. Fears of digital platforms are rising in North America and Europe (on Google’s extensive passive collection of our personal data and the implication of 8chan in the recent shootings in El Paso and Ohio in the USA). The powers of surveillance have been reinforced without popular vote in national constitutions across Asia (including Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand’s). We know that fundamentalism and polarisation occurs not because of the communication platforms that exist, but from the perception of one’s autonomy and dignity being suppressed. Is a discussion around the importance of decentralised digital platforms for social openness, diversity, and connection important to begin NOW, rather than later?

  2. How is the Laos drought faring? As a friend in Laos tells me, the drought continues, and my mind wanders to the fact that farmers in Laos and Thailand have been told to stop planting more rice, in the next planting season due to start around mid-August.

“According to a recent report, the province has a total of 9,678 hectares of cultivable land, but we’ve been able to plant rice only on 5,296 hectares because it’s too dry,” said the official who declined to give his name.

“It’s not raining, [and] the irrigation system is dry,” he said. “Even the rivers are dry.”

This year’s rice production will be more than 17,500 tons short of last year’s amount, he added. — news here

Meanwhile, work on the Xayaburi dam just north of Thailand’s northeast provinces continues, amidst suspicions about the Chinese-funded dams’ current and future impact on the Mekong, pressure on the Thai government by Thai activists in the Mekong provinces not to buy electricity from the dam, and officials saying dams have got nothing to do with the drought.

In the north-eastern Thai province of Nakhon Phanom, where the now sluggish river forms the border with Laos, the measured depth of the Mekong fell below 1.5m this week. The average depth there for the same time of year is 8m.

"What I have seen this year has never happened before," said Sun Prompakdee, who has been fishing from Ban Nong Chan village for most of his 60 years.

"Now we only get small fish, there are no big fish when the water is this low." - The Straits Times (Missing Mekong waters rouse suspicions of China)

Ban Nong Chan is just south of the border of Laos, in Nakhon Phanom province (spot the red crosshairs)

For those who may not know, the Xayaburi dam sits in Laos, and is just one of many more dams slated or already under construction along the Mekong River. Nam MaeKong, which has the connotation of “Mother river” in Thai, is an essential lifeblood of the villages, life and livelihoods of much of Laos and Thailand, affecting ecologies and food supplies all the way across the countries’ otherwise landlocked terrain.

Villages above get flooded, villages below are “drought-ed”. Same story every time. It needs to stop.

—From International Rivers’ report on the Xayaburi Dam: https://www.internationalrivers.org/sites/default/files/attached-files/the_xayaburi_dam_eng.pdf

  1. In happier news, on 8 August the IPCC released a landmark report on land use and climate, tackling the issue of agriculture straight-on. No more word-wasting! Farmers can be supported in shifting towards the green practices they know best, and systemic change is needed to support that. HOORAY. Finally we’re talking sense. More perspectives on farmers in this report in The Straits Times and a broader view at the National Geographic.

  2. And finally - the Prime Minister’s National Day message, which reminds us about the number of new constructions coming up to keep S’pore on the forefront of innovative city design - to me, it’s heartfelt from leadership that is running out of ideas, but it’s also the same old, same old economic push as a generation bred around a domestic construction industry phases out. But how about some celebration of the resource sustainability bill just released this week on e-waste and food waste, and some clear messaging on the opportunities for green infrastructure that actually involves biophilic city planning, photosynthetic economies and strong localised connections for food and fibre? Is anyone excited about the NCCS Consultation and what that might invite?

Wrapping up head-thoughts for one week~ See you in two weeks!

~Huiying