Not the usual blogpost.

I realise this is my 101st blogpost! And it’s my first post from all the way in gloomy England (Cambridge to be specific). (It’s not that gloomy, there’s been quite a bit of sun still)

Been here almost a week, slowly getting sorted out. Lessons proper only start on Thursday, but after that for the next 8 weeks (lectures, practicals and supervisions from Mon to Sat!!) it’s gonna be full of hard core mugging, so I doubt I’ll be blogging much.

Anyway, Reuben sent me this link for an essay competition organised by the Web of Life Foundation 2 weeks ago, and I thought I might give a go at it. Procrastinated (and had no brain wave anyway), until the past weekend, in between orientation events and what-not. I’ve not written narrative essays in at least 4 years, and was never good at it, and what with this being written in very short time (I didn’t have time nor the internet speed to proofread or check anything), so please forgive the terrible writing. Just thought I should try anyway, for the fun of it. Credits to Alex Teo for (subsequently) proofreading and correcting my grammatical mistakes!

What a Pity…

The girl stood hesitantly at the threshold of the flat. “Go on, it’s your outdoor play time, you know that Lisa,” called her mum from the kitchen, where she was chopping some vegetables that were freshly picked from their flat’s rooftop garden.

Lisa hated this part of the Programme the most, outdoor play time. What on earth were people supposed to do outdoors anyway? She knew that the 15 minutes outside were necessary for her to get her vitamin E, so that she could grow tall and healthy and strong. But it was always so hot, and she would get sweaty very quickly.

She wandered through the corridor and proceeded down the stairs, all 20 flights of them. Well, at least she wasn’t staying on the top floor, else there’d be 40 flights to deal with, Lisa thought as she quickly hopped down. The poor kid who stayed up there, she felt for him. She could not recall a time when the lifts in their estate worked – must have been years ago, when electricity was in abundance. However, ever since the nuclear blowout in peninsula Malaysia in 2063 that caused half the country to be declared out-of-bounds, Singapore did not venture near nuclear energy. Furthermore, with coal reserves running low, Singapore had few alternative energy sources to turn to. Now, more than half the electricity was derived from solar energy – but that was not enough for little luxuries like lifts.

Lisa knew all this because it was taught in Sustainability Education, as part of the Programme. They had to be taught the mistakes of the past, before they could learn, or so they were told during lessons.

Right below her block of flats was a playground; every block had one of these, as part of the Government’s “Play Outdoors, Learn More” campaign years ago. How these hard, cold objects inspired learning she had no idea. She sat on one of the swings, pushing herself idly. The playground was awfully boring, inspired by safety, designed for safety, and constructed with safety. The worse thing though, was not having anyone else to play with, save that boy on the 40th floor. There were not many kids in their area, children were very expensive, she knew. Most of their neighbours were working couples.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw an old man flipping through a thick book, mumbling to himself. He was not from around their area – all the elderly lived in the North-West of Singapore, where it was cheaper and away from the rest of the working population.

Lisa jumped off the swing and quietly approached him. “What’s that?” she asked curiously. The old man was startled by her voice, and looked up at her.

“This?” he quivered, “this is a photo album, passed down in my family for generations. It’s a collection of photographs of places long gone, way before our time. There used to be patches of wilderness around, where grasses and trees could grow freely, and birds, some even from Siberia, would come to rest. Places that have disappeared, where you see all these buildings and roads around now.

Right at this very spot, 100 years ago, there used to be a cemetery. Known as Bukit Brown, it was one of the largest Chinese cemeteries out of mainland China, and many founders of Singapore were buried here.”

Lisa listened intently, fascinated and intrigued by this piece of history that no one had ever told her about.

“But too bad, for the sake of progress and development, all these wonderful places had to be sacrificed. The Nature Reserves that we have now? Ha, doesn’t even compare. Those are essentially barren landscapes, no longer ecologically viable. Too many people visit those places, in search for wilderness and the outdoors, but honestly where can one go for that these days?

You kids have programmes designed for outdoor learning and play, but what is the Outdoors now? And all these animals and plants that you learn about – have you actually seen them, in real life?” The old man paused to draw a breath, his agitation and excitement showing clearly on his face.

Lisa shook her head, “No, I don’t even understand why we must learn about them. They’re all dead and gone anyway.”

“Yes, they are,” the old man sighed heavily. “Pity, such a great pity that all we have left are a handful of butterflies and dragonflies and little animals. We’ve done this to ourselves, deprived ourselves of the wonderful beauty of Nature.

We’re almost all vegetarians now; but can you imagine, that just a hundred years ago, people ate meat for almost every meal and every day, just because they could? There were farms with animals bred just for people to eat – not just meat, but fish too!

Look at us now, with our barren landscapes and empty seas. The people of the past were extremely selfish, living in their present, never thinking of the future. They thought everything could last forever, that nothing would ever run out. Ha! If only they could see us now, if only they were born a hundred years later, if only…!” the old man coughed and struggled for his breath.

Lisa glanced at him worriedly, unsure of how to react. All this that he had just told her, it was not news. That was what they have been told over and over in the Programme. Yet, this was the first time she really saw someone getting so worked up over it.

Still wheezing, the old man caressed his album fondly and mumbled, “Well, not like there’s anything we can do about it now. No matter how sustainable our lifestyle is now, it wasn’t a matter of choice. We were forced to in order to survive. But oh, to be able to live in the past and experience all those natural wonders. Kids these days don’t even know what they’re missing out on. Doesn’t matter how you tell them in the Programme, it’s just not the same. What a pity, what a pity…”

Slowly standing up, he gave Lisa a long, hard look and a sad smile. Shaking his head, he walked over to his bicycle in a tired manner, took one last look around the estate, and left.

Lisa stood staring at his disappearing back for a while, confused. Then, with a quick shake of her head as though to clear it, she headed to the stairs of her block. What does it matter anyway, when all that was in the past?

Read it as a Facebook note here.

Further reading on similar topics:
A Letter from 2070 shared by Joseph Chun

About Jocelyne Sze

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
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