Talking about exchange

The people here at the Earth Observatory, who are responsible for the undergraduate education in the Asian School of the Environment, would like to start a regular exchange of students. This week we continued our discussions and I explained a bit more about our university structure, the academic year, course credits, and the different courses that are available within our section of Earth and Environmental Sciences (web page unfortunately only in Swedish). And of course I mentioned the field stations in Tarfala, Askö and Navarino, where some of our field courses are given and which would be really exotic places for Singapore students.

This week I will also meet undergraduate students and will tell them about the different departments, which form part of Earth and Environmental Sciences at SU, about our BSc and MSc courses and our education system, and what it might be like to be an exchange student in Stockholm. And next week I will tell a similar story to the people here at the Earth Observatory and the Asian School of the Environment, however this time with a focus on the science that is carried out at our departments in Stockholm and at the Bolin Centre for Climate Research.

Maybe in the future we will be able to exchange students, and maybe some researchers will find common interests. For sure, among the overarching themes of natural hazards, climate change, and pollution, several topics of joint interest may be found.

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Grey versus black hair

When in Asia I always feel really really old. Why? Because there is almost no one with grey hair, except maybe some really really old people. I am often basically the only one who has (pretty many) streaks of grey hair and yet some of the people with completely black hair must be so much older than I am.

The other day, when I walked around in several huge shopping centers I encountered maybe two or three persons with grey hair. Yet I must have passed hundreds of people, children, women, men, young, middle-aged and old. And today I saw an interview with a 86 year old man on TV and even he had black hair (although the tint was slightly towards reddish).

How do all the millions of people here manage to keep their black hair? Is it the healthy food and/or the good living conditions? Or, is the secret behind all the black hair maybe hidden in the tons of black hair color that are sold everywhere? Pretty likely it is the hair color, why otherwise would a 86 year old have black (reddish) hair?

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Hokkaido cup cake making

Campus Recreation and Wellness (CReW) here at NTU regularly organizes events and activities for staff members and their families, in the new Club House. Unfortunately several of the courses had already started when I arrived and it was thus not possible to join these. But I found one, a two-hour course on Hokkaido Cup Cake Making, which sounded exotic enough, and which still had space.

Having never ever attended a cooking or baking class, this was an absolute premier for me. About 30 people (mainly women) were at the short two-hour workshop. The teacher had already prepared everything, and on each table were the instructions, bowls and spoons, a balance, the exact amount of sugar and flour in small plastic bags, and plastic aprons. She then started to go through the process of cup cake making in very great detail, from how to whip egg white and cream, to how to mix the dough and how to place the dough into small cup cakes. I don’t think she forgot the slightest detail. Although I felt a bit impatient by her 30 min lecture and wanted to get started, I actually did learn quite a bit!

My fellow cup cake bakers, three women, thought that I was pretty clumsy and were watching me carefully when I tried to separate the egg white from the egg yolk. This made me pretty nervous and of course I dropped some of the yolk into the egg white! Not good at all! “You messed it up”! Although I managed to get the yolk out again, my clumsiness showed them that I really was a beginner here. From now on they watched every step I made, and told me what and how I should do. Being a fairly independent person, this was tough!

But in the very end the cup cake dough ended up in the cup cake forms, was placed on a tray in line with a certain number (under the eyes of my fellow cup cake makers to make sure that I don’t mess up the numbers), and was baked in the oven. The result was fine for me and I was happy to see that the dough had lifted at all, but “not good” said the teacher, when she saw my cup cakes, “you were not gentle enough and not quick enough when you stirred the dough”. Chinese are right to the point and absolutely not afraid of criticizing!

Cup cake making was not only a lesson in cup cake making (without baking powder, only super fresh eggs!), but also an interesting cultural meeting!

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Compact living

It always strikes me how extremely densely populated parts of SE Asia are and how many millions of people live here. Bangkok’s population is for example estimated at 8.5 million people and all of Thailand has 67 million inhabitants. The city state of Singapore has 5.5 million people, which is about half of Sweden’s population (Sweden’s whole population is 9.6 million people). But Singapore’s size of 720 km² is tiny compared to the size of Sweden (449,964 km²)!

Singapore’s size may be compared to some of Sweden’s smallest provinces, but even these have an area that doubles the size of Singapore. Gotland has a size of 3,183 km², Blekinge of 3,055 km², and little Öland with 1,342 km² is double the size of Singapore.

If one would place everyone, who is living in Sweden, on the island of Öland, then we would approach compact living as in Singapore. Of course one would need to build a few high rises to accommodate everyone since one third of Öland would still need to be made up of green spaces with parks and gardens, as it is in Singapore. So, my conclusion is that there is loads of space in the whole of Sweden to be filled until it approaches compact living as here in Singapore.

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Picture courtesy: Wikipedia
Uploaded by chensiyuan, February 2012.

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Hammock and palm tree?

My four-year old grandson thought being in the tropics would mean lying in a hammock under a palm tree. Singapore is in the tropics, and there are palm trees, but so far I have not seen a single hammock.

Instead I am sitting in a very nice office with air condition (sometimes it is freezing cold) and am discussing exchange possibilities for undergraduate students between the Asian School of the Environment and Earth and Environmental Sciences at Stockholm University. The idea is to facilitate the exchange of students (and researchers) by providing clear guidelines as to which courses can be taken, which of the courses are in English, and how much credits each of the courses corresponds to. And of course having a contact person at each university, who can help and guide the students.

Spending some time here in Singapore would be a fantastic experience for our students, who could join excursions to for example Bali or Sumatra, who would learn much more about the geology and environmental changes in this part of the world and who could do small project works related to a variety of subjects. And Stockholm University, and Sweden as a whole would be a great experience for Singapore students, who have never seen snow and ice, or done fieldwork in a country that far north. Taking the students to Utö or a bit farther away to places where we currently have excursions to (Iceland, Islay, Greece) would certainly be a life experience!

Next week we will go on with our discussion and given the enthusiastic director of the Asian School of the Environment, Charles Rubin, I am sure that we will get a fruitful exchange going!

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NTU Campus for foodies

Before I came to NTU, I thought I would cook my own food in the evenings and when I had arrived I was a bit disappointed to not find a real stove in the kitchen, but just a heating plate, a toaster and a microwave oven. Nothing really to cook the food I had had in mind, and the small store on campus did not either have the choice of produce that I had hoped to find. But then I soon realized that it is no point to cook food when it is so much easier to pass by one of the many food stalls and get a delicious Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean or Malay take away! So now my greatest difficulties are to decide what to choose: Do I want some delicious Malay beef today, shall I go for the Indian vegetarian dishes or the mutton curry, choose a Korean bibimbap, or take some Chinese dumplings?

The food in the university canteen’s is surprisingly cheap. A big lunch may cost around 4-6 Singapore Dollars, which translates into not more than 24-36 SEK. It would be extremely difficult to find lunch for such a price and such a quality on Stockholm University’s campus! Maybe Stockholm University should open up an area with food stalls and invite a variety of small restaurants to serve Indian, Chinese, Lebanese, Japanese, Italian, ……. dishes? What a difference this would make compared to the boring and often tasteless choices that are around?

The lunch places in the canteens open around 10 am and serve food until around 6 or 7 pm. For dinner there are other options in a student/staff canteen and if one wants to eat in a more posh style, there is the university club house. I prefer the canteen, which is always full of students and families, who sit and eat there, sharing the many dishes they have on the table, while the small children watch movies on an Ipad. The choices in the evening canteen are not as wide as for lunch, but the many Malay, Korean and Chinese dishes all look and taste delicious.

Today and yesterday I had Indian food for lunch, and Chicken curry and Chinese dumplings for dinner. What will be my choices for tomorrow? Maybe Malay or Vietnamese food, or some Chinese duck? Certainly one never goes hungry here on campus!

NTU for foodies

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Forest fires – dangerous haze and carbon dioxide

During the last two days PSI* readings were really high, reaching the unhealthy to very unhealthy range. But today conditions were much better and I could for the first time see patches of blue sky. When conditions are very hazy the sky is grey and the distant high rises are are only barely visible.

Being here in Singapore is however nothing compared to Kalimantan, where forest fires have been burning for several months and where the air is thick with hazardous haze. Kalimantan has huge peatland areas (see article for describing the problems) and of these 78% are actually owned by private companies. Since large parts of the peatlands have been drained, they are dry and fires easily spread. A total of 1.7 million hectares are now burning and there does not seem an end to the fires. This year’s fires have already released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the whole of Germany in one year. Fires are also burning all over Sumatra and it is mainly the smoke from these fires, which reaches Singapore.

The Washington Post writes that the 2015 Indonesian fire season has so far featured a stunning 94,192 fires. Those emissions are more than large enough to have global consequences. Indeed, according to recent calculations by Guido van der Werf, a researcher at VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands who keeps a database that tracks the global emissions from wildfires, this year’s Indonesian fires had given off an estimated 995 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions as of Oct. 14.That’s just shy of a billion metric tons, or a gigaton. The number is an estimate, of course, and subject to “substantial uncertainties” — but it’s also based on a well-developed methodology for estimating wildfire emissions to the atmosphere based upon satellite images of the fires themselves and the vegetation they consume. “Fire emissions are already higher than Germany’s total CO2 emissions, and the fire season is not over yet,” says van der Werf.

Forest fires occur each year in Indonesia, but this year’s fires are the most extensive producing long-lasting haze. I experienced forest fires in spring this year in northern Thailand. But these fires were small and localized, and controlled by fire walls, so that they would not spread. Still the smoke was so thick that airplanes could no longer start and land and breathing was really difficult. Just imagine how it must feel for all the people living on Sumatra and Kalimantan who are enveloped in this smoke full of dangerous substances!

*The Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) reflects a total of six pollutants – sulphur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM10) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and ozone (O3).

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