Monday, September 3, 2012

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Singapore compared to Belize

Reflections on Singapore from Belize—one year later.

It is serendipity to be in Belize one year after visiting Singapore to explore how a country and people choose to address the decisions balancing environmental concerns and economic goals. In the interim, one seeming example of a success story, Iceland, has imploded with the economic crisis during the last year. I remember my overall assessment of what I observed in Singapore. Although I would make preservation of natural resources (including wildlife, reefs, and the small remaining undeveloped areas) a priority, I came to understand that the people of Singapore should and would make these decisions based on their goals. The economic goals had been forefront but emerging interest in the environment was building—I hope it is in time to preserve some fascinating remaining areas.

Belize is also a recently (1981) independent country of small size and struggling in a difficult transition of determining their own fate. Like Singapore, Belize is highly literate (92-94% I was told), is dominated by a water setting, but has some potential natural resources. Thus far, the people of Belize have chosen to protect 60% of their country from development and are attempting to use the abundant beauty, wildlife, Mayan history, and reefs to attract tourists. Tourism is currently their primary industry and the people we met over the week seemed happy to live more simply (but comfortably) but preserving their heritage, history and surroundings. Belize pays a price of pinched finances (very different from the financial strength of Singapore), marginal infrastructure, and a lower standard of living.

I enjoyed meeting intelligent, multilingual and hardworking people in each country. Children were clean and happy as they passed by in their school uniforms in both countries. Again, I understand that the people of Belize should and will make decisions about their future and that of their natural environment. The impact of dense population in Singapore and contrasted smaller population in Belize certainly clarifies that limitations on decision making are impacted by forces of population density as much as any factor.

I recall the thought conveyed several times in Singapore. A people can not invest very much into environmental advocacy until after they have provided securely for food, shelter, and the well-being of children and family. Singapore and Belize struggling with these issues can teach us something about the barriers to worldwide issues of climate change and environmental degradation. I suspect most emerging nations are in similar struggles and the developed world (not doing an acceptable job ourselves) can not fairly be critical of our world partners.

C.S. Lewis wrote “Let’s pray that the human race never escapes earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere.”

Shorebirds-Water birds

Just as expected, in contrast to Singapore with “no shore left”, Belize was abundant with bird life on the shore and in the rain forest.
It is an inborn joy to awaken to the varied songs of birds greeting daylight. The absence of un-natural noise (traffic, machinery, neighborhood life noises) drowning out these songs was noteworthy. During the day a variety of birds were visible at each compass point. Frigate birds and Pelicans flew overhead, colorful songbirds were in the bushes, long tailed crackles were on the roof-tops, and along the shore paraded many familiar feathered friends also south for the winter.
(Cormorants, gulls, little blue heron, sander lings, ruddy turnstones, terns, Wilson’s plovers, black rail, osprey like seabird and more)

Up the New River and into the rainforest, we headed for the Mayan ruins at Lamanai. On the way we saw Mangrove swallows, white ibis, great heron. Great blue heron, ringed kingfisher, kites, night hawks, yellow flycatcher, Jacana, river hawk, egrets, red breasted swallow, parakeets, anhinga (also wild boar, howler monkeys, iguana) and big billed macaw.

Birds in Belize--2009

Birds in Belize--2009

Monday, April 14, 2008

Reflections from Home

As I arrived in Singapore, I was wondering what starting mindset participants would/should bring along. Were we there to see what was wrong and how American perspective and ideas could help Singapore or was Singapore a shining example of innovation that had lessons to teach that we should take home and utilize. Of course, Dr. Rittshof said we had no starting mindset—the trip was experiential. (He knew the answer we brought home was a mixture of the two opposite poles). It became clear to me before I left that the people of Singapore should decide their own goals by their own priorities. Additionally, even without outside permission, they Would decide their own path. Recognizing the positive qualities of Singapore’s citizens—education, work ethic, tolerance for difference in religion and cultural backgrounds, desires for sustainability and self-sufficiency, emerging interest in nature and natural resources, and the simple but profound statement by a representative citizen my first day (“We just live together”)—I believe they are sufficient for the task of deciding their own fate.
Starting with my own perspectives of concern for nature and natural resources and frustration with lack of /insufficient action on global warming issues in my homeland, I want to disagree with the possible destruction of their remaining niches of nature. However, I am heartened by the common citizen’s knowledge and interest in environmental issues.
I am hopeful the new wave of growing interest in the environment will save these niches for future Singaporeans. It is clear that Singapore can preserve nature spots like Sungei Buloh and the Botanical Gardens in ways the US should emulate. It is striking to see the success on Semakau of mangrove restoration and a thriving mudflat teeming with life. Hopefully, areas such as Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin, Mandai mangroves, and the remaining coral reefs can be preserved in such an exemplary way for the growing population of citizens who will seek out nature in the future.
I left Singapore with admiration of the people I met and wish them success with this effort to preserve Singapore’s nature.
(did miss seeing the shorebirds that would have lived in Singapore if habitat had been less disrupted –no shores for the shorebirds)

Flight out of Changi Airport--a new friend

Boarding the plane at Changi Airport to start home, I thought my Singapore experience was completed but was pleasantly surprised to sit alongside a new friend, Lawrence, who helped me put my experience into summary/into perspective as we flew toward Tokyo. Lawrence epitomized the positive tone I met in Singapore—intelligent, thoughtful, well educated, interesting and enjoyable. Describing himself a member of a “new age” group of thought, he embodied many similarities to the other exceptional people I had met in Singapore. He clearly was proud of his country and its accomplishments—even willingly supporting many current specific initiatives (water, recycling, growth)—but all pointing to the same goal of self-sufficiency and sustainability in an island nation with no natural resources except geography and the resourcefulness of its people. However, the “new age” component seemed to reflect a balance in accepting many positive government and societal goals but at the same time being willing to think for ones self—not always agreeing. His perspective rejected the culture of a “herd mentality”—going along non-questioning regarding everything the P.A.P./government proposed—but instead seeing the need to be “self thinking”.
For instance, Lawrence acknowledged the goal of having citizens work extended careers—to and beyond 70—to support government economic goals but his personal goal was to retire at 55—having worked regular 9 hour days or more for 5 and a half days per week with additional non-routine work time. He acknowledged his desire to have a time for himself—“what would I be working for?” if able to retire and enjoy life and time more on his schedule.
The goal of 6 and a half million citizens was mentioned and I had heard that Lee Kwon Yew may have stated that his earlier goal should be lowered. Lawrence felt the number should be higher than 6 and ½ million—maybe 7 and ½. Self thinking didn’t mean like minded with me but certainly a thought out statement.
Lawrence pointed out a recurrent theme once again—that individuals and government could now turn attention to the environment and nature as issues of survival, sustenance, and self-sufficiency were being/had been achieved. He voiced looking forward to having a time and health that would allow him to enjoy nature—i.e. when he reached retirement or a less hectic schedule. I see little nature left in Singapore and less may be there when Lawrence is ready to retire. He had an interesting viewpoint on this as well—since nature must be sacrificed in Singapore to meet the goals of the people, Singapore could find and protect some other area of coral reef or nature in return for what had to be sacrifice—even if out of the country. Lawrence was openly environmentally and socially conscious in his spirit and clearly willing to be inventive. He felt business has a responsibility to care for the environment and for its employees. He was strongly against companies that have highly paid CEOs receiving outrageous buy-outs—saying he refuses to invest in US companies for this reason.
He did say that one negative of life in Singapore is the decreased ability to speak out freely and to be heard. We discussed many areas of life—healthcare, retirement, development and more. Lawrence leaves me wishing our US population were more like him—educated, thoughtful, broad in perspective. I remember reading Thomas Jefferson’s statement that the greatest safeguard of our society and government is an educated citizenry.
The six hours to Tokyo went more quickly than expected—and pleasantly as well.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Last Day--Botanical Gardens & U.S. Embassy

We Closed out our adventures with a trip to the botanical gardens where we saw a patch of rainforest-likehabitat that is the only rainforest most Singaporeans ever experience. The trees ore representativebut the atmosphere, dripping humidity and diversity of plants and animals is far from the real rainforest we experienced (and we saw the area dedicated to recreation and not the wild, more untouched area of rainforest in Malaysia).
The botanical gardens are apparently present in all the areas of British colonization--one of the first amenities they established and now a legacy they have left behind. The Singapore Bot. Gardens are beautiful and pleasant. Some wildlife freely resides in the large open space--as seen above.
After the gardens , we visited the US Embassy where we received a briefing from Ms. Elizabeth Crosson and Mr. Paul Horowitz presenting the official US view of Singapore--a strong and significant partner with the US. They presented Sg as consistently looking for sustainability and self-sufficiency (which we have observed thru our trip). U. S. investment in Singapore is 60.4 billion compared to 22.2 in China and 91.8 in Japan. Ten million tourists visit yearly staying an average of 2-3 days. When asked what one thing of Singapore he'd want to take home to America, Mr. Horowitz said the running comment/joke is that "we wish we could take the P.A.P. (governing political party in Sg) to Washington"--meaning a non-corrupt group of educated leaders with a long view of needs who take action and get things done. (my interpretation).