Friday, February 29, 2008

Good Friday Trip to Pekanbaru

Tentatively, if I manage to get my ass off the ground and contact the AVA people, the logistics for trip to pekanbaru over good friday weekend is as follows:

20 March (Thursday)

- skip Bahasa Indo class
- take 8am boat to Batam
- transfer boat to Pekanbaru and pray we don't get lost
- check into guest house

21 March (Friday)

- visit Pekanbaru farm

22 March (Saturday)
- go Bukit Tinggi?

23 March (Sunday)
Option #1
- 3pm AirAsia PKU to JKT (5.25pm arr)
- 630pm AirAsia JKT to Johor (9pm arr)
- 9pm crawl our way home from Johor
Price: Approx 150-200SGD
Pros: Cheaper
Cons: Burn the whole day and might miss flight
Option #2
- 5pm Garuda PKU to SIN (7pm arr)
price: $239 SGD (incl tax and zuji svc)
Pros: more time
cons: burn money
Option #3
- 8am take slow boat back to Singapore
Pros: cheaper and take same amount of time as AirAsia

Optimistic Total budget for the trip, including lodgings = SGD$400

Why is my honors thesis interesting?

I got an email today from my prof, asking me to write why my honors thesis is interesting. This is because he wants to "sell me" to the faculty newsletter who are looking for interesting student research to feature.

Ok, that totally stumped me. I needed objective opinions! Thank goodness Ria came online and gave me a few points which I managed to spin into the following points:

- offers a multi-dimensional perspective of a landmark event in nature conservation in Singapore

- a holistic understanding of events from insiders' perspective, previously unpublished

- a dissection and analysis of environmental NGO strategies in conservation campaigns

- tracing the historical evolution in NGOs form, structure and organization in Singapore

- topical and current, of ongoing interest to conservation groups interested in emulating the success at Chek Jawa

Sounds impressive enough. *grin*

Thought I should keep a record of this in case people ask me again why my thesis is interesting and I get totally stumped. Like, wtf!

Tips for NUS fund application

I realize after quite a multitude of administrative work within the faculty and university that there are a few things needed, especially when money is involved.

1) Travel expenses must include justifications for every single thing - airfare must include proof of where you got the quotation from, even if it's the document provided by the university.

2) If there are different exchange rates involve, include a print out of the calculation, the rate, the source which you got your calculation from.

3) Always have an updated CV ready.

Research Assistant

Recently I took up on trial a research assistant position for the head of department. Her RA is going away for her PhD in UK soon and was looking for a part time replacement. As such, I expressed my interest and now we're trying it out to see if I wish to continue.

I just had my first piece of transcribing work 2 days ago. It's a 1 hour 40 minute interview and I took 12 hours to transcribe it!

Transcribing is really hard work. Mostly because I've to keep going back and forth between the text and audio file. And sitting in front of the computer continuously is tiring too. I couldn't hear a lot of things because I didn't have headphones which the RA suggested.

Anywho, I think I'll try it once more. If I really think I can't take it I'll probably "resign". The standard amount of time taken for a 1 hour interview is about 4-5 hours. A 1 hour 40 minute interview in this case should take about 7.5 hours max to transcribe! I took almost double the time. Understandably the RA mentioned most people under report their time taken. Sigh.

We'll see. My prof did say that I must make sure I don't take on too much work and overstretched myself. I am somewhat behind others in my own research.

The rate is pretty good. It's $15/hours plus CPF contributions. Unfortunately I can only work 4 hours per week during term time and 10 hours per week during holidays. Miserable. On the plus side, it's excellent for the resume to say I was a RA for the head of department!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Academic Resumé

Seems like almost every piece of application I submit these days require a 1-page academic Curriculum Vitae. Thus I've created an overly simplified one and published it on google documents.
Monkey's Curriculum Vitae

Proposed ISM Outline v 0.1

Singapore and its Transnational Agricultural Hinterlands:
Mere economic linkages or an encroaching ecological footprint?

  1. Introduction of Singapore’s transnational agricultural hinterlands
  2. Concept of transnational hinterlands
  3. Literature review of Singapore and its hinterlands
  4. Bioregion perspective
  5. Historical perspective
  6. Economic geography perspective
  7. Resource politics perspective
  8. Transnational Rural-Urban discourse
  9. Ecological footprint perspective
  10. Positing an integrated approach
Alternate Titles:
Singapore and its Transnational Agricultural Hinterlands:
preconditions of a city-state or an encroaching ecological footprint?

Singapore and its Transnational Agricultural Hinterlands:
agrarian capitalism or an encroaching consumption footprint?

Working towards publication in Asia Pacific Viewpoint (August issue) and presentation at ARI Graduate Forum (July).

No longer than 8000 words;

Manuscripts should be typed on one side of the paper, double-spaced, with ample margins and bear the title of the contribution, name(s) of the author(s) and the address where the work was carried out. The title and full postal address of the author who will check proofs and receive correspondence must be included. An email address is essential unless impossible to provide.

Contributors should include on a separate sheet an abstract of 200 words or less. Please note that abstracts should be an informative summary of the content and conclusions of the text of the article. It should be self-contained and intelligible by itself. Please reproduce the title on this sheet, but do not include author details.

Keywords: The abstract should contain key words and phrases that could be used to index the article. These keywords should be listed below the abstract.

Quotations: Please use single quotes and double quotes within singles.

Scheduling Writing

Duck sent me this link about how to schedule dissertation writing. it's quite standard advise that i've gotten from seniors and professors alike. Dedicate a few hours each day for undulated writing. In fact, this is how I manage to work for the last week and got quite a bit accomplished.

Unfortunately while others spend the early part of their day working, I prefer to work after dinner. *grin* not very healthy but after which I will spend the weekend crashing and totally slacking off.

As such, the latest update stands at:

1) Got accepted for SEAGA conference
2) Submitted conference funding application
3) Submitted GRSS application
4) Submitted IRB application
5) Submitted Los Baños dissertation workshop application

Thursday, February 21, 2008

SEAGA acceptance

I finally got accepted for the SEAGA conference. It's not a big nor prestigious conference but it's my first where I'll be presenting in front of academics so it's frightfully exciting for me.
Your proposed presentations are included in the panel Nature, Markets and States: Issues in Environmental Conservation in Asia and Beyond. The panel includes the following titles and authors:

Constrained by Conservation, Liberated by Capitalism? Conservation induced livelihood change in Northern Thailand by Robin Roth

Social Capital and Networks in Nature Conservation in Singapore by November Tan

The Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary in Sabah: Simulacra of pristine nature, stronghold of biodiversity... by Jean-François Bissonnette

USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program: Environmental and Socio-Economic Implications by Mahesh Rao
All the presentations seems to be critical of conservation projects while I am going to talk about strategies for conservation. I feel like the only lamb amongst the lions. Eek! My dad already told me I better not offend anybody with my "environmental" sentiments. Geez!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Brief Biography

Got accepted for the SEAGA conference. Am filling up the confirmation of attendance then realized that I need to have a brief biography! I have written so many "about me" recently but how come suddenly I cannot find a single relevant one? Thus, decided to keep a reference here.
"A Master candidate and research scholar in the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore. Her research interest lies mainly in environmental geography, environmental behaviour, civil society, conservation and development interactions." - SEAGA

"A research scholar with the National University of Singapore doing a Masters in Geography specializing in environmental geography, this monkey has been known to be a freelance writer and passionate rambler for heritage, nature and all things Singapore." - Leafmonkey Blog

"The author is currently a research scholar in the Department of Geography, NUS and author of the Midnight Monkey Monitor blog (" - Elements, Issue 3, 2007

"November Tan is a research scholar in the NUS Department of Geography as well as an active nature volunteer and author of the Midnight Monkey Monitor blog ( She currently coordinates nature workshops under the initiative known as The Leafmonkey Workshop." - Nature Watch, 2008

"November Tan is a graduate student in the Department of Geography. She is also a volunteer nature guide and author of various nature-related blogs. Her current research is on the regional environmental impacts of Singapore’s vegetable import." - Geosphere, 2008
An expanded version would be:
"A Master candidate and research scholar in the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore. Her research interest lies mainly in environmental geography, environmental behaviour, civil society, conservation and development interactions. She is also actively involved with environmental NGOs in Singapore and is the author of Pulau Ubin Stories ( and Midnight Monkey Monitor (" - director's cut
My other wide and varied research interests include:
"use of new media in environmental advocacy, geographies of cyberspace, sociology and landscape of japanese animation

southeast asia, gender and migration, indigenous knowledge and resource management, heritage conservation and discourse, alternative currencies, nature science and religion

environmental NGO and community conservation strategies, environmental history of singapore, social capital in conservation, environmental policy and management

sustainable consumption and production, sustainable agriculture, regional ecological footprint, consumption and conservation, environmental perception"

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Relevant Journals

Agricultural Systems
Food Policy
Pesticide Science
Environment and Behaviour
Journal of Rural Studies

- List in progress -

Farmer Environmental Behaviour
Agribusiness decision making
Transnational hinterlands

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Plantation Investment Asia 2008

Today my prof sent me an email about a series of conferences in Singapore called Agribusiness Asia 2008. It was a tad disturbing because I thought I might autocombust in the presence of plantation, papermill and logging companies who is there to learn how to make more money, using a green tagline.

Finally I thought I would go and guess how much it would cost for a local conference? $2500 - $4500 per person. Holy shit.

Anywho, I thought it be good to keep this event company, Sound Initiative, in close contact as they seem to do a lot of environmental events although mostly targetted towards making money.

They have one upcoming called Horticulture Asia 2008 which may be more relevant. This is also the company that did the UNEP Champions of the Earth and UNEP Global Business Summit for the Environment. Very interesting indeed.

Objectives of Fieldwork

In order to justify why I deserve to get $3000 to do my fieldwork, I had to outline my objectives of doing fieldwork. I tried to be succinct but that's pretty impossible.

The agricultural hinterlands of Singapore are largely identified as Malaysia and Riau Province in Indonesia. Most of overseas fieldwork will be in Malaysia because it has been an established (over 60 years) long-term major supplier (50%) of Singapore’s fresh vegetables.

The objectives of fieldwork in Malaysia are to gather primary data of the variety of factors influencing the farmer’s decision-making process. This is achieved through:
  1. Interview with farmers adopting different farming practices
    Interviews would determine the history of the farm, acknowledged farming practices, motivations and influences for particular action and responses towards competitors and government regulations. Interviews are necessary in phenomenological studies such as this. Upon the end of fieldwork, the factors and hierarchy of influences on farmers will be ascertained.
  2. Field observations on farms using different practices
    In order to ascertain if the farmers’ words match their actual actions (i.e. use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, etc.), field observation is necessary. This also provides a description of landscape, which will provide an evaluation of the performance of various farming practices.
  3. Interviews with government agencies
    In addition to policy analysis, this will give the official view of regulations, benchmarks and implementation on the ground. This will provide the corresponding view of factors influencing farmers’ decision making.
  4. Interviews and observations of market exchange processes
    The vegetable industry is essentially an economic driven process and observations of inputs, transport and processing will again provide corresponding knowledge of factors influencing farmers’ decision-making process.
While this study aims at examining the environmental behaviour of Malaysian vegetable farmers, Indonesia plays an important role as a state and economic driven competitor, which has impact on the Malaysian actors. Due to the dearth of secondary literature on the region and subject, fieldwork is essential. Objectives include:
  1. Interviews with farmers and agencies involved
    Provide historical background on the nature of the industry and its relations with Singapore and impacts on Malaysia’s industry. This will provide a fuller understanding of factors influencing Malaysian farmers as well as provide primary and secondary information not available in Singapore.
  2. Field observation
    Observation in the farms will enhance evaluation of information gathered from interviews.

Research Abstract

I finally submitted my application for the graduate research support scheme which gives a maximum of $3000 for masters students to do overseas field work. It took a few edits but I finally sent it in today. I thought it'd be nice to share / record down what I wrote for the abstract and objective of field work. It's long.

Singapore and its Agricultural Hinterlands: Urban Demand Impact on the Environmental Behaviour of Malaysian Vegetable Farmers

ABSTRACT OF THESIS (200 word limit)
With the rapid growth of urban centers globally, urban consumption is proving to have a greater regional and global impact than before. Singapore being a city-state provides the perfect case study for the impact of urban demand on commercial primary production in its regional hinterlands of Malaysia and Indonesia. Previously urban-rural agricultural issues within national boundaries have now become a dialogue between global urban cities and transnational agrarian regions.

Malaysia has moved from a colonial agricultural hinterland of Singapore to currently a transnational hinterland of the city-state. Hence Malaysia’s sustainable agricultural practices now have to respond to both its national imperatives as well as “foreign” environmental benchmark. While there are physical studies done of environmental impacts from agriculture, the factors influencing farmers’ actions, decision-making and environmental behaviour remains a black box for researchers, managers and policy makers alike.

Based on Singapore’s vegetable imports, this study aims to:
  1. Examine the driving factors influencing farmer’s environmental behaviour and decision-making process that determines adoption of farming practices.
  2. Identify the hierarchy of influence that these driving factors have on vegetable farmers and in the implementation of sustainable agricultural practices.
  3. Show the interrelationship between Singapore’s vegetable consumption trends and Malaysia’s supply of its vegetables by looking at specific aspects of the vegetable trading system.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Dissertation Workshop on Agrarian Transition in SEA

I just got an email today from Harvey via Pauline that there will be a dissertation workshop on "the challenges of agrarian transition in Southeast Asia". It's held in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines from 30 May to 1 June 2008!

2 exciting points:

1) I can finally work with other veggie people and stop feeling left out amongst migration studies and hydrologists!
2) It ends 2 days before the SEAGA conference which is also held in Philippines! Kill 2 birds with 1 stone!

I emailed Harvey immediately thanking him for circulating the email since I really don't think anybody else is studying farmers. Either way, he replied saying that he previously went for the same workshop in 2006 and found it very useful! (He was studying the pig industry in Malaysia)

2 other exciting academic points:

1. I fulfill 2 set of the 6 core processes examined at this workshop!
  • Intensification of regulation, as new forms of private, state and supra-state power are developed and formalized to govern agricultural production and exchange relationships
  • Processes of environmental change that modify the relationship between society and nature to reflect new human impacts and new valuations of resources.
2. There are people I recognize by name and reputation on the list of facilitators!
  • Philip Hirsch (!!!) - I actually own the book he wrote "Seeing Forest for Trees" and I've briefly spied him in aacaan sombat office in Changrai
  • Jonathan Rigg - He worked on some tsunami studies with people in my department and I've also spied him at the last SEAGA conference at NYGH
Other facilitators include:
  • Philip Kelly (York University)
  • Michael Leaf (UBC)
  • Tania Li (University of Toronto)
  • Pham Van Cu (Hanoi University of Sciences)
  • Peter Vandergeest (York University)
  • Chusak Wittayapak (Changmai University)
  • Doracie Zoleta-Nantes (University of the Philippines)
I am excited. Can you tell? haha

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