The Lens of International Conflict : Ukraine

By: Euan Loh

“Whoever tries to interfere with us should know that Russia’s response will lead you to such consequences that you have never experienced in your history,” declared Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, shortly after declaring a ‘special military operation’ to de-occupy and de-Nazify Ukraine. Such claims are ludicrous; the Ukrainian government is democratically elected, not filled with fascists as often espoused by Russian propaganda. The Nazis neither oppress Russian speakers in the Donbas, nor does the potential ascension of Ukraine to NATO pose an existential threat to Russia. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began before dawn on February 24th with volleys of cruise missiles, artillery and other weapons. Russian troops advanced on the eastern city of Kharkiv, while Russian special forces and the First Guards Tank Army, Putin’s premier fighting force, rolled towards the capital Kyiv. Russian marines advanced towards the coastal cities of Kherson, Mykolaiv, Mariupol and Odessa.

Yet if Putin was expecting the Ukrainians to accept their fate as the West watched and impose minor sanctions (as they did in 2014, shortly after Russia’s annexation of Crimea), he was gravely mistaken. The Ukrainian forces fought back with patriotic tenacity, stubbornly forcing the enemy to fight for every inch of land. Around the world, millions protest against Putin’s blatant violation of international law, all while Western nations promise Ukraine extensive military and economic aid. 

Yet, the humanitarian impact of the invasion will be felt for decades to come; over one million Ukrainians have fled the country and tens of thousands have already died. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared martial law and forbade all men aged 18-60 from leaving the country, forcing husbands, fathers and sons to say goodbye to their loved ones; perhaps never to see them again. Ukrainian men, women and children have fled in terror of Russian missiles, crowding in underground shelters and pleading with their Russian relatives to pressure their president to stop the war. Their appeal, for the most part, fell on deaf ears.

The war has since gone on for 13 months, and looks set to last at least another year. Nobody can say when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will end—or how. But months of fighting have revealed the tenacity of the Ukrainian people, having stopped dead in their tracks what was once thought to be the second most powerful army on Earth. 

Russia has more than three times the population of its neighbour and is trying hard to destroy infrastructure in Ukraine, but Vladimir Putin will struggle to train, equip and supply an army capable of continuing his increasingly senseless war. The more he presses reluctant Russians into combat, the more dead bodies he will have to account for and the more he will struggle. In contrast, Ukraine is well placed to muster committed troops and tactically shrewd officers, supplied with arms and intelligence by NATO countries. In a war of attrition, Ukraine, backed by the West (which has far greater resources than Russia), seems to have an advantage. 

Military success in Ukraine is not unthinkable; the country scored major victories against the Russian Army in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson, retaking significant swathes of territory. The Russians’ advance seems to have been stopped dead. The Russian Navy has suffered catastrophic losses by Ukrainian mines and anti-ship missiles, and Putin’s Air Force has been degraded by Ukraine’s shrewd use of Soviet-era air defences. 

Mr Putin could resort to chemical or nuclear weapons – though even that would not guarantee a Russian victory. Of course, he knows that China could soon offer him military and economic aid, perhaps in return for discounted natural resources – which Russia has in abundance. Or perhaps Russia, with its vast advantages in manpower, can simply bleed Ukraine out. One cannot discount the West getting tired of supporting Ukraine, especially if isolationist leaders soon get elected (Donald Trump, for example). Vladimir Putin is aware that anything is possible in war, and hopes to use this to his advantage. But he must also acknowledge that the tide is against him.

The Lamentations and Trivialities of a Cat (Chapter 1)

Written by: Euan Loh

I AM AN idealist, a pragmatist, a minimalist, a hedonist, a conservative hardliner, a liberal dove. I am pliable, flexible, eager to please, indifferent to opinion, energetic, apathetic. Sometimes I give in to my pride by thinking that I am something more and that all the descriptions mentioned above are accurate. Yet I always succeed in reminding myself that obscuring the truth so brazenly would be of little benefit to anyone. I state this baldly because it’s good for me to be aware of it. I am neither a paranormal shapeshifter nor a bare-faced opportunist. I can shift from one feeling to the next with such deftness that people are left unable to discern my true intentions. My face is a blank canvas on which any identifiable emotion can be painted.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I am a cat. Yes, I know! Few creatures are as talented as cats; we are masters of impersonation, able to hide our genuine emotions on a whim. Very few animals – and I state this with the most imperceptible hint of pleasure – can make humans feel sorrier for them than the domestic cat. Something about our chubby, innocent faces, coated with fur and whiskers, elicits the most tender feelings from the human heart. But don’t be mistaken and think that this ability of ours makes us sluggish or unsuspecting. Cats still view the outside world as hazardous; the day you see people as more kind than dangerous is the day you let your guard down and when dangers first appear.

A great many people have given me many names. Whether I like any of them is another matter. I’m not a domesticated animal but a creature of the great outdoors, accepting of life’s infinite possibilities. I live off the streets, occasionally accepting treats from humans gullible enough to feel sorry for me. I mean, really. They have an innate sense of duty that compels them to assist those in need, and apparently, stray cats fall under that category. I certainly don’t need help from anyone – I’m perfectly capable of getting my own food – but if humans want to waste their own time and energy laying out sustenance for me, who am I to refuse?

Our story begins in a public housing estate. The estate was located in a little town called Lengkok Bahru. A strange name, I will contend, and if I were the human in charge of coming up with the names for all the towns in the world, I would have given this one a title worthy of its rich history. As for what the name means, I have no idea. Perhaps it was a name belonging to a great wartime hero, an adventurer, or a successful venture capitalist. Unlike most cats born in Lengkok Bahru, my background was one of privilege. My parents were one of the wealthier cats in the neighbourhood – while most cats had to sleep under silver vans or motorcycles, my family had long been the proud occupants of a singular staircase right beside a well-regarded Cantonese restaurant. The staircase was hardly clean, but we never complained. It sheltered us from the elements, relative comfort and privacy, and cleanliness is hardly a prerequisite for most self-respecting cats.

My family, like so many others in the town, paid obeisance to the ruling elite of Lengkok Bahru. These were cats with a military background. Years of fighting with strays from the other towns – Redhill and Bukit Merah – had given them countless scars. They were experienced, battle-hardened and formidable, and we gave them the deference to which they were entitled. At the apex of this hierarchy was the Commander, a thin, domineering cat of excellent posture and formidable intellect. He was the only stray to live indoors; he lived in a flat that had been vacant for as long as anybody could remember. The word on the street was that the previous owners had come into a significant inheritance and moved out, but never bothered selling or renting out their former residence. It was only fitting that the Commander resided in this valuable piece of real estate; it was a place where he could rule over our little community in peace. My father was chief adjutant to the Commander and his most reliable aide. He accompanied the Commander wherever he went, filling him in on all the comings-and-goings of the town, parsing through dispatches. They would breakfast together, inspect ongoing projects, and whenever the Commander had an order he wished to dispatch, my father would call over the relevant personnel and pass it on. Whenever there was a dispute that needed to be settled, my father would inform the Commander of the relevant facts and he would decide accordingly. And sometimes, when the Commander was tired – which became increasingly common as he got older – he would give my father the authority to make decisions on his behalf.

The Commander had five or six children and three occupied senior positions in the government. The eldest, Mina, had the power to seize any trinkets, leftover food or knick-knacks that the government deemed necessary to collect. The second-eldest, Annam, was ambassador to Redhill, our long-standing rival. As far as I knew, the position had no real influence over state affairs, but it entitled Annam to an opulent, luxurious life in the embassy – where he ate, drank and frolicked himself away. The younger cats were not of age, and spent their time being tutored by a governess who came by the flat every Sunday.

This is a monthly installation series. A new chapter will be published every 15th day of the month.

The Night is More Beautiful Than the Day: ACJC Arts Night by Euan Loh

ACJC Arts Night had its first physical performance since 2019, and it kicked it off with flair and pomp worthy of a standing ovation. It consisted of a plethora of different musical songs and instrumental performances that were as well chosen as they were well performed.  The ACJC Arts Council pulled the event off masterfully, bringing in many talented singers, musicians and dancers that blended together to make the performance all the more commendable, with captivating visuals and enticing music. 

The songs chosen were some of my favourites; Until I Found You, Somebody to You and Love is an Open Door were only some of the fantastic choices. The excitement I felt as the performers sang their heart out was incredible. Judging by the enthusiastic roar of the audience (they rose from their seats and sang along on a number of occasions, screaming the names of their friends on stage), they felt exactly the same as I did. 

So alas, whenever the lights began to dim and darkness overtook the theatre hall, the crowd burst into cheers and provided the warmest applause for the performers. With each rise of the curtain came a new, yet equally impressive, performance; song after song never failed to disappoint, as the singers ravished the audience with their incredible voices, smooth pose and skill with the guitar or drums. 

In particular, I found AC Guitar’s part to be especially moving. The songs they sang reminded me of the Jazz Age in the 1920s, bringing to mind images of the Roaring Twenties. But I digress; perhaps my inner literature student is coming out, having read too much of the Great Gatsby in recent weeks. AC Choir’s rendition of Until I Found You was truly beautiful and heartwarming; the female singer’s voice was simply incredible, and I stood in awe of it for many minutes afterwards. 

Indeed, by the end of the performance, I felt like I had watched something that should not have been free. As we sang along with the performers for a final song (Taylor Swift’s Love Story), I could not help but feel disappointment that it was coming to an end. When the performance finally ended and the lights came back on, I found myself clapping harder than I have in a long time that night. 

Chloe Lau En Qi: An Insightful Inspiration

By: Euan Loh 2AD2

Easygoing, good-natured and filled with humour, Chloe is an academically gifted, musically talented student who has proven her competence time and time again. As the Top Arts Student in ACJC for the 2022 A Levels, she has shown her fortitude, resilience and capacity for learning by attaining stellar academic grades while managing her other duties as a member of Symphonic Band and a member of the Singapore Youth Orchestra. In this article, AC Press explores Chloe as a person, how she managed to attain such success and what she plans to do in the future. 

Image: Mr Mark Ng
  1. What’s the first thing you felt upon completing the A levels?

    I guess happiness, because there’s finally a break after quite a long period of studying. I was excited to finally be able to do other stuff that I enjoy. I was able to spend more time with friends or family. I took two months to relax and enjoy myself, and started several internships with a law firm (CNP Law), Little Marvels Therapy, and Our Music Studio, where they teach music to very young children. I have an interest in hanging out with young kids, and after that I’ll be going to Manila in the Philippines with my friend to teach English. I used the holidays to catch up on my reading, friends and relatives, strengthening the friendships that I made in ACJC and beyond. I also went to a music conservatory linked with NUS. I look forward to applying my musical skills in a way that can translate into something beautiful. I find music such an inspiring subject and I enjoy it dearly.
  2. How did you deal with subjects that you found difficult?

    I took literature, music, ELL, and mathematics, and I also pursued H3 music.
    Funnily enough, I didn’t find any of the subjects too challenging…I believe it is very important to like the subject you’re doing, because if I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, I didn’t have any motivation to study. So I found satisfaction from being able to improve, and secondly relying on my friends for support. It’s a very nice community in ACJC where people can help each other, whether it is in CCA, or classmates.

My H3 thesis for music was called What Is Life and What is Death: Mahler’s Exploration of Mortality through Music. I’m rather philosophical and like to think about life and death, so I decided to focus on the composer Gustav Mahler and his Resurrection Symphony. His whole life was quite troubled. Death basically followed him throughout his whole life, and this was evident through his music, which I analysed extensively. It was a lot of work and got quite tiring at times, but I managed to pull through thanks to the support of my teachers and classmates.

  1. Who was a teacher that you found inspiring?

    My maths teacher, Mr Kayden Lim. He was really encouraging and patient with me. As an art student taking H2 maths, I was often confused at times, and at times I considered dropping the subject to a H1. Before I received my results, I ended up thinking my maths was going to be very bad. He was really nice. During the last lesson we had with him, he reassured us that he had full confidence in us, and gave us a talk on what was really important in life.

    We also handed in his work very late, but he was very nice about it. He also didn’t mind that we were late to every lesson!
  2. If you could sum up the ACJC experience in one word, what would it be?

    Supportive. People-wise, interest-wise, if you have an interest in something, the staff and people here will support you. The people here are really nice, and will help you every step of the way – so don’t be afraid to ask for assistance!
  3. Is there anything you regret about the ACJC experience? Anything you would do differently?

    Personally for me, I don’t really regret anything. I believe that everything in my life happens for a reason. When I look back to my whole life, it feels that everything fell into place and was just perfect. It’s definitely not a coincidence that it all happened like that, even for situations that were uncomfortable or undesirable, I feel like I grew from that. In the end, I feel like they were good for me and helped me to grow as a person.
  4. What is your favourite part of the school?

    My favourite place is the Hub. It can be used for many purposes. My CCA, symphonic band, would have practices here if the band room was not available. The reason why I chose the Hub is because towards the end of A levels, a lot of my classmates were in the Hub. The fact that we could all study together was inspiring; it was just a very nice environment where different classmates just gathered to support each other. I also had a lot of consults with my teachers here, but I mostly enjoyed hanging out with my friends.
  5. What is your favourite food stall in ACJC? 

I loved trying different things every meal and out of convenience. I chose the one with the shortest queue. But I always found the noodle stall incredibly delicious. The instant noodles with fried chicken were especially delightful!

  1. What do you plan to do in the future?

    I plan to enjoy it. I don’t really have anything in mind for now, I’m just waiting for surprises and opportunities. My career will definitely be humanities-related, like a civil servant, a musician, or a teacher. I do enjoy working with children, so I feel that path could be a potentially right one for me.
  2. What are your favourite hobbies to do outside of studies?

    I play the French horn. I’m quite involved in the music scene. During prelims, I performed in a concert which was quite risky (it was the middle of prelims) but I really had fun. Studying is not everything. I love hanging out with kids, so I like to play with babies. I like reading as well. When I was studying, sometimes I didn’t have enough time to read. I love novels that make me cry…my favourite novels were historical fiction, such as personal accounts about world wars. A recent novel that I read was the Last Hours in Paris.
  3. How did you destress during A level year?

    I found joy in what I was doing. Because I enjoy what I do, it didn’t become that stressful. I made sure I had variations in what I was doing. Study when you can, but if you really can’t, please don’t stress out over it and remember to take breaks! This will serve you well in the long run. I didn’t care about it so much…remember that your exams do not define you! I had a thirst for learning, essentially, and I remembered to enjoy my life. And also, as a Christian, I remembered to rely on God. We cannot control our whole lives, and I felt that entrusting everything to God helped me feel assured and secure, because not everything is in my whole hands. I wasn’t really expecting to do well, but God came through for me in the end.

     

Seize the Day : Botanic Gardens

When I first heard the Press Society was organising an expedition to the Botanic Gardens on the 23rd of July, I could not help but feel delighted. Having long been accustomed to the beauty of the Gardens, Singapore’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, I was more than pleased that my lobbying efforts had paid off and that the Gardens had been chosen to be the destination of our day-trip.

The concept of a ‘garden city’ was first introduced by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1967, who was ostensibly taken aback by the lush scenery of Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo, and wished to emulate this vision by transforming Singapore into a city with abundant greenery and a clean environment. This served two purposes; to make life more pleasant for the people and to advertise Singapore as a good location for tourists and foreign investments. But the history of the Botanical Gardens long precedes Lee Kuan Yew’s vision. It was established in 1859 by the Singapore Agri-Horticultural Society, and was first advertised as a pleasure park for the city’s upper classes. Its success precipitated its expansion, and by the 1940s it was the largest manmade collection of tropical plants in Southeast Asia. The Gardens endured the Japanese Occupation, thanks to the quick thinking of Professor Hidezo Tanakadate, who wished to spare this scientific goldmine from looting and pillaging. It was handed back to British control in November 1945.

After independence, the Botanical Gardens came under the control of the National Parks Board. It was revitalised with new and improved public amenities, and a 2014 bid to UNESCO was well worth it. In July 2015, the UNESCO Committee unanimously voted to recognise the Gardens as a World Heritage Site.

So naturally, I had nothing but high expectations for the trip on the 23rd. I’ve been to the Gardens many times in my youth, and suffice it to say, it never fails to disappoint. Like always, it did not disappoint this time.

One of the many fountains at the Botanic Gardens and a marvel of modern architecture.

The AC Press members first enjoyed a beautiful picnic (which consisted mainly of McDonalds and a few snacks brought from home) at the Swan Lake, aptly named for the large number of swans that patrol the area. Most of our time was spent fondly socialising and trying to avoid the occasional chicken that wandered past. Afterwards, we moved steadily towards the Orchid Garden, a relatively new part of the Botanic Gardens that was acquired only after independence. Benefitting from student subsidies, we took the time to admire the beautiful scenery. No one tree was the same; the variety of flowers was truly stunning. But alas, I soon succumbed to the scorching heat (which is part and parcel of Singapore) and was looking forward to the Orchid Dome which, I knew, had air-conditioning.

The Orchid Dome was truly the best part of the entire trip. The relief of the cool air coupled with the intrinsic beauty of the flowers was something to behold. The technology in the dome allowed cool mist to be sprayed all round, benefitting the people as much as the flowers. We took many pictures near the manmade pond and had some fun tossing coins in (my wish has still not come true). By the time we returned to the entrance, none of us wanted to leave.

Seriously, I would highly recommend a trip to the Botanic Gardens. Not only are most parts of the site free and open to the public, it’s a chance to experience nature and leave the concrete buildings that we do call home. We should take more time to enjoy the world and seize the day. I wholeheartedly look forward to the next Press expedition.

A New Hope : The Miraculous Recovery of the Ozone Layer

Everywhere we look, it seems as though the problem of climate change is only growing worse and worse by the day. In spite of environmental protests spearheaded by student activists such as Greta Thunberg, or lengthy information campaigns designed to educate the average citizen on the dangers of global warming, it seems to have all been for naught.

The recent United Nations report on climate change warned that we are making steady progress towards an ‘unliveable’ world, and that in order to meet our obligations under the Paris Agreement, we would have to overhaul major industry standards and adopt technology capable of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Political Cartoon: Trump speeds out of the Paris climate agreement
A political cartoon on the United States withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Credits : The Philadelphia Inquirer

During the Trump administration, the United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement, which opened up the pathway for corporate behemoths to flout previously established industry emission rules; putting profit before responsibility.

Other world leaders have also expressed their doubts about the effects of climate change; Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has made no secret of his skepticism for the concept and has opened up vast swathes of the Amazon rainforest for logging, bringing the deforestation rates to the highest they have been in over a decade. With our ‘green lungs’ of the earth under threat, our planet’s future is looking increasingly bleak.

The Ozone Layer’s Destruction

But it’s not all bad. In fact, the main subject of my article deals with something that borders on the miraculous. It is proof that the fight against climate change is not yet lost, and that with enough effort, we can cause the restoration of a place we can all be proud to call home.

Whatever Happened to the Hole in the Ozone Layer? | Discover Magazine
A cartoon depicting the ozone layer. Credits : Discovery Magazine

The ozone layer, commonly referred to as Earth’s protective shield, is a region of the stratosphere that absorbs most of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation. It absorbs 97% to 99% of the Sun’s ultraviolet medium-frequency light, which contains radiation that could be harmful to countless lifeforms.

Put it simply, the ozone layer is the Earth’s form of health insurance; it is vitally important in blocking out UV-C radiation, which is very harmful to all living things.

From the 1970s, atmospheric research conducted by scientists from the American National Aeronautics and Spacer Administration (NASA) and the Soviet Ministry of Space Administration picked up something very disturbing.

The ozone layer was being depleted by industry chemicals, known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). This was directly linked to increased skin cancer in humans, a loss of plankton in the ocean and other ecological problems.

While most chemicals that can erode the ozone layer can be created naturally, manmade activity – which produced artificial chlorofluorocarbons / CFCs – saw the destruction of the ozone layer over 5% of the earth’s surface. Ozone levels have dropped by a worldwide average of about 4% since the late 1970s. Consequently, unabsorbed and dangerous ultraviolet radiation is able to reach the Earth’s surface at a higher intensity.

What Did We Do?

It would be easy to dismiss this as another unintended consequence of Man’s reckless industrial activity; Indeed, when it was first discovered, there was a sense of ‘inevitability’ regarding the ozone layer’s destruction. Even eco-fanatics were skeptical of whether the international community would unite over this threat.

Amazingly, we did. Even major industrial powers such as the United States, India, Russia and China, which were ordinarily loath to forgo economic development for the sake of saving the planet, instituted strict bans on CFC-containing aerosol sprays.

The first major commitment to fixing the ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol, was hailed as the single most successful international agreement in human history. It instituted a cap on CFC levels by 1986 and banned CFC production after 1995 in developed countries.

This commitment is incredible considering CFCs were used previously in nearly all forms of industrial equipment, from cars to washing machines. The Montreal Protocol is proof that we are willing to endure consumer hardship for the long-term sake of our environment.

Effects

And now, a bit of good news on the environmental front.

While we still continue to lag behind our commitments on the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Agreement, treaties which deal with deforestation, greenhouse gases and the global temperature, research by the United Nations has found that the depletion of the ozone layer slowed down significantly after the ban on CFCs. In fact, NASA noted that the ozone layer did not deplete at all in 2019.

Scientists predict that the ozone layer will begin recovering in a few years and will be fully restored by the year 2050.

That’s right! Despite allegations of governments bending the rules set out by the Protocol, the undeniable truth is that the ozone layer has been recovering due to clear political action. It is a much-needed victory over climate change, and represents something much more – when we harden our resolve and take decisive action, we can not only stop climate change but also reverse it.

So what does this mean when it comes to tackling the rest of the dangers posed to us by climate change? Rising sea levels, deforestation, the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere? We must stop beating around the bush and endure the economic hardships of transitioning to a cleaner planet.

The transition will hard, and countless lives will be affected. There is no denying that. But the right decision is very seldom the easy one. We must do what is right morally, not economically. We must lay the first building blocks to eliminating climate change entirely, instead of kicking the proverbial can down the road.

And I am certain that future generations will undoubtedly thank us for it.