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June 12, 2023

The Journey Begins! – Joel Yong, BFA Industrial Design 2025

by joelyongg

Greetings from Singapore!

The weather is 88°F (31°C) with a humidity of 86%. I am placing a large emphasis on the latter part, as I seemed to have forgotten in planning for my Maharam that Singapore is located right on the equator. But the flip side of the weather is Singapore is absolutely gorgeous! The abundance of greenery and diversity in wildlife is truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Some fun things I’ve observed since being here: 

  • The food here is absolutely incredible, with cuisines from all over the world finding a home in this city-state. Not to mention, it can be incredibly cheap as well – my breakfast today was ~$1.50 USD!
  • It is illegal to bring durian on public transportation! For those of you who don’t know, Durian is a Southeast Asian fruit that is notorious for its pungent smell. 
  • Speaking of public transportation, getting a car here is an incredibly expensive process. From what I understand, it costs ~$1500 USD to receive your license, ~$75K USD to receive a certification to own a car, and then added upon whatever it costs to actually buy the car itself. For reference, the average price of a mid-range sedan is ~$93K USD. Thankfully (or perhaps consequently), the public transportation here is superb. It has been fascinating to see how bus and train stations shape the city landscape, as opposed to gas stations or tire shops like I’m used to in the States. 
  • And also, the real estate environment is really interesting! I haven’t learned as much here yet, but I’ve been told the wait time to buy a house is at least five years, but usually around ten. Also, “owning” a home in Singapore typically means you have a 99-year lease on the property, rather than an everlasting asset.

Last week was my first week with Terra SG and I would love to reflect on my experience thus far! As context, Terra SG is an NGO in Singapore developing climate curricula, interactive community programs, and collaborative sustainable action plans with local schools, organizations, and governments in order to equip the community at large to come together in the face of the climate crisis.

Monday was my first day, and that day was coincidentally World Environment Day. Accordingly, Terra was up and busy! My manager let me shadow her through a series of workshops and meetings happening throughout the day. We started the morning at the Singapore Institute of Technology, a local university, on a discussion about sustainable lifestyle habits, and moved to the afternoon with the Singapore Prison Service evaluating their carbon-neutral policies and aligning their organization with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Later in the afternoon, I more properly got onboarded with the office and met my coworkers for the summer!

In the days following, I got started on the first of my projects, which is developing learning plans to teach students about Singapore’s emerging sustainability sector, following Singapore’s Ministry of Sustainability’s executive plan for sustainability to be a foundational consideration to Singapore’s economic progress. Ultimately, this curriculum hopes to help students navigate environmentally-forward career opportunities in Singapore and plan for their futures. A truly exciting task to take on, and I am learning so much about Singapore along the way. For the remainder of the week, in addition to ideating and collaborating on curriculum development, I also had the opportunity to join in on more workshops and meetings with both local organizations and international corporations, all to help different sectors of Singapore navigate a carbon-neutral future. By the end of the week, I had simultaneously begun a second project as well, which is exploring food waste in Singapore to be catalysts for biodegradable materials. Altering a recipe I was familiar with that used eggshells, I am experimenting with different materials and ratios in hopes of building the foundation for new ways Terra can teach circular design. More on this coming soon, as well!

On another note, I had been feeling quite apprehensive about making friends in Singapore, but I feel grateful that the people I’ve met in my organization have been so kind! Though I’ve only been here a week, it’s quickly becoming home to me. With each day, I’m learning more and more about the culture of Singapore, along with different organizational structures and the role of design in complex issues like climate change. I am excited to continue reporting my findings here throughout the summer!

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