Picture of otters, taken from ricemedia.co

My Travel Diary (Virtual tour to Brunei)

Virtual FACT programme for ‘Science for a Sustainable World @ Universiti Brunei Darussalam (SSWxUBD)’ , 26 – 28 Jul 2021

Signing up for the FACT virtual programme ‘to’ Brunei, I started off with an indignant heart because of how the pandemic has stolen the opportunity of a real-life experience to meet those from Brunei and to interact with the wildlife and plants there first hand. However, when we interacted with the Brunei students in breakout rooms over Zoom, I realised how it did not break the experience of connecting with them out of the picture. Instead, we still connected over stories, some epic, some actually scary, and this experience was instead a heartfelt one, where we got to make friends who came from different backgrounds which gave us a unique view of how animals in various countries behave.

(video above is from our Brunei friend, Q, who takes care of 14 cats in her home!)

On the first day, everyone was still warming up to the online interactions, with both the new friends from Brunei and also to the new sightings in Brunei on the wildlife and the plants there. I felt quite awkward at the start, to be very honest, when we had to turn on our camera to show that we were engaged in the process. A reason could be that I did not know the majority of people there, or maybe that I always felt it was strange talking to someone virtually because the experience would not be as authentic as in-person. Not only could you not see their facial expressions, but you also can’t maintain real eye contact. That said, I turned on my camera, as they always said “eyes are the windows to your soul”, and one can judge how someone is feeling in the conversation through the emotions in their eyes.

When the Brunei professors and researchers went through topics related to Biodiversity in their country, it was eye-opening to see how there is so much of wildlife and nature they get to interact with everyday! In our ‘Science for a Sustainable World’ module in term 2, we touched on the topic of Biodiversity. Through the zoom tour of the wildlife and plants in Brunei, it has brought us deeper into the topic on species endangerment due to human activity such as poaching. With this concern coupled with the reminder on the beauty of nature as we saw colorful wildlife such as the helmet bird and some interesting plants, this has solidified how important conservation of wildlife and nature is. I believe that this program has encouraged all of us to actively engage in treasuring the flora and fauna we coexist with by raising awareness on the threats they face and the beauty they could offer to the world.

Taken from FACT 21 IG page (Q and I)
Group 3 in the FACT program (SUTD and UBD students)

However, it was only on the second day of the FACT program where I opened up to the idea that maybe this virtual experience does not pale in comparison to a potentially in-person one, if we did not live in a time of pandemic. My group had the task of preparing for a presentation on “living with animals in our country” and it was when we presented on the topic and answered questions as a team that gave us something to connect on! Other than getting to know those in my group better, we also had the chance to get to hear the Brunei students perspective on living with animals. I found it so interesting how their school was located in the middle of the forest. We had a good time sharing stories about odd animal encounters, such as an otter battle in Singapore where there is a Marina Bay gang and a Bishan gang of otters who fought over the marina bay floating platform territory, where the Bishan gang won and kicked out the Marina gang. Another story was on monkey disturbances during a recycling program where they randomized the ordered categories of recycled materials just because they were bored…

Image taken from straits times

On day 3, we learnt about fuel consumption and waste management in different countries and I asked the question on the shared responsibility of the government and individual on managing waste and usage of resources that contributes to global warming. Dr Eng Shi, the SUTD leading faculty of this joint virtual FACT program, as well as Dr Rosnah from UBD, discussed about how they believe our countries could strive to create a greener culture in handling rubbish and waste, when we shared about our common experience of how excellent the recycling efforts are in Japan. What I found interesting was how both countries, Singapore and Brunei, has faced the environmental threat of an overwhelming amount of landfill waste. In Brunei’s case, the Sungai Paku Engineered Landfill is estimated to be fully filled in approximately 10 years, so the question comes as to whether or not another landfill should be built? Or should the waste be incinerated? Should it be discarded into the sea? How best should we process the waste such that we could minimize the negative impact of rubbish on the environment? Those were some of the questions that we touched on day 3. Because of how real and how close to home the problems were, I believe that the topics discussed on today raised awareness amongst the SUTD and UBD students on how important it is to do our part to minimise wastage, and even how we process rubbish.

Writing this post on day 3, the last day of the virtual FACT program, I would like to end off with my thoughts on how this collaboration between SUTD and UBD from Brunei gave me the chance to step out of my own perspectives to relate to those from other backgrounds such as that of the Brunei students. Sharing about our lives and thoughts on topics such as animals, the pros and cons do-exiting with them on the same land is such an eye opening experience even though it was held online! Being in the breakout rooms over zoom did not break out the connection we could form even on a virtual platform such as zoom. Nonetheless, there is still so much to learn, and I really hope to visit Brunei personally when the pandemic dies down, hopefully in the near future!


Claudia Lai 🥰

Batch of 2024

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