on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

documenting everyday moments because they will become precious

A few months ago someone popped up on the Singapore reddit and started posting photos of old Singapore from the 1950s-1970s. He is the grandson of Ivan Polunin, a medical doctor who fell in love with Singapore and documented his experience with his camera:

photo of Singapore in the 1970s by Ivan Polunin
credit: Ivan Polunin Archives

Looking through the instagram account, it was incredible to see pieces of Singapore I have not seen before. I can’t imagine what it is like to be of my parents’ generation to live through such a period of accelerated progress from the 1960s to the 1980s.

The thing with human beings: we are very short-term oriented, so we hardly stop to consider that this very mundane moment we are in now, a moment that seems so plentiful because it happens as part of our daily life, will become a precious piece of history one day.

Some people ridicule photo-taking, because they think it is important to “be present in the experience”. But I think they might have overestimated the brain’s capacity to hold these experiences. I don’t remember so much of my undocumented life that it is as though all those years didn’t happen and I didn’t exist before my 30s, which was when I started documenting my life.

There is a park near where I live. Through the roughly five years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen the park go through numerous changes. This is what it means to live in Singapore, a land-scarce country. Every inch of space cannot be taken for granted. If we see a patch of unexpected green we must prepare for the eventual heartbreak that it may soon be gone, in exchange for development. When we first moved here I enjoyed running through an area where there are large tall trees (they are rare here) at the opposite water bank:

photo of punggol waterway with large tall trees at the opposite bank

The tall trees are mostly gone, replaced by concrete and a highway. In place of the awe I used to feel when I jog past the area, I now feel a tinge of knowing I’ve lost something beautiful forever.

Suddenly, the photo of an everyday place has lost its mundaneness. It is now a precious memory – something would be fuzzy, vague and potentially irretrievable without documentation.

Once while making a food delivery I glanced out of the parapet and again I was astounded by this vast patch of green:

photo of a patch of green at Punggol, Singapore

Again, it lasted a few years before it turned into this:

photo of the same patch of green at Punggol, Singapore with a newly constructed road

We don’t need fifty, eighty years to feel the nostalgic loss. Singapore is a country that takes that leap every half a decade. The next time you pass by a beautiful spot, perhaps consider taking a picture of it.

I guess I have been living with this sort of hyper-awareness for a while now. A few days ago this instagram photo surfaced while I was reviewing my journal:

a lot of beauty in life is free, and just right there. we’ll just have to be aware of it, pull up a chair, and have the courage to immerse in it instead of running back into the safety of busyness. enjoy it we should and must right now, before blue skies, fresh air and green surroundings we take so much for granted — become things we can only remember in dreams and fantasise about in books.

2019-08-23 10:39   from instagram

This was in august 2019 at melbourne, and I had zero idea of what was to come when the sentiments I felt in that moment propelled me to write the caption. I wouldn’t have known that in a few months time the idea of travelling freely and safely would literally be something I would fantasise about or looked back upon nostalgically in my journals, I wouldn’t have known that I’ll be reading devastating news of war, record high temperatures and forest fires in the years to come. Apart from the ongoing threat of the virus, Singapore is relatively sheltered from war and disasters for now. But I cannot help but feel the fragility of this peace.

Sometimes it is not just about the unexpected changes in the environment. I forget what a miracle it is for my body to be in a state of homeostasis. So many biological processes must take place in harmony in order for us to breathe, eat, poop, sleep. There is this area at the park where I frequently take pictures of the sun rising during my morning walks, rides or jogs. It is not very accessible by public transport so the only way to get there is by foot or with a bicycle. There I saw the sun rise so frequently that half the time I didn’t bother to stop to take pictures regardless of how beautiful that moment was.

Even with the hyper-awareness that sweeps over me occasionally I too, take seemingly mundane moments for granted. But because of The Virus it would take me more than 3 months to return to that spot again. Something I thought was so accessible became a challenge for me once my health was compromised. It meant to much to be able to see this once again:

photo of the sun rising near pulau ubin, singapore

How boring it is to take a photo of the sunrise at the same spot everyday! But it is never the same:

photo of another sunrise near pulau ubin, singapore

Sometimes I wonder if the photos I’m taking now will one day be as cherished as Ivan Polunin’s archives. Some moments are probably in their last throes now.

photo of an old school ice cream cart at orchard road, singapore

Hopefully I’ll get better at recognising these moments as they pass me by.

Last night, I hopped excitedly to my partner because I remembered those late nights when I had to let go of her hand because we lived in separate places, that time I quarantined from her because of The Virus, and the knowing that one day hopefully only in the very distant future I will come to deeply miss these mundane moments when she is just a turn-of-body away from me.

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