Meeting my Lin Yan-mei 蔺燕梅 Part I: High school orientation songs

It was the first week of the new school year in a new school, when 16/17 year olds fresh from the too short December holidays arrive in the JC/junior college/senior high school of their choice. The first few weeks for freshmen in JC is an interesting and truly colourful time – you get to meet people from different secondary schools still wearing their old uniforms in all kinds of styles and colours (official posting to the JCs of your ranked choices still hinges on the release of the official O-level results, which used to be later in Feb I remember, so freshmen will continue to wear their old uniforms until then).

And especially for boys who had been institutionalized for four long years in monkish all-boys secondary schools, moving onto JC and the nirvana-like prospect of having female classmates…let’s just say we had been looking forward to it. And the first week of JC for freshmen was truly Fun Time, totally free from classes, being Orientation Week and filled with fun and games, your OG (orientation group) mates, OGLs (second-year seniors who act as your OG leaders, usually student councilors), all the different sports teams, clubs and societies with their carnivals, stands and demos to try and get you to join their clubs; and of course, Orientation Songs.

[But I remember my first week in the school of my choice, the affiliated RJC, was tinged with some doubts. While doing math/science in RJC was what I put down as my first choice, I was still holding onto the application forms for the Humanities Scholarship Programme, which I thought of pursuing at Hwa Chong Junior College. Truth be told, I was more than a little tired of the R-family schools, and relished the idea of making the ‘sacrilegious’ switch to our biggest rival school; and perhaps entertaining the thought of going one better than the old man – what better way than to go to his old alma mater and gunning for his old Top Student award there.
But while my English and Literature teachers were fully supportive and said I still had a chance to make the switch from math/science to take up the HSP within the first few months of JC, part of me was also loathe to give up the opportunity to continue with my SRP project. And the ‘piad training classes were always interesting.

In the end, I stuck with the devil I knew…sigh.

Orientation Week. It was GREAT. I don’t remember what the pudgy principal said during his welcome speech, but I remember everything else: our orientation groups divided into two camps based on the rather hackneyed but still fun Greeks vs Romans theme, with each OG named after either a Greek or Roman city (my OG was Pompeii); coming up with an OG mascot and totem pole, customized OG dressage we had to wear throughout the week while visiting all the different game stations; coming up with OG cheers we had to perform every 10 minutes, at every station or when we bump into an opposing Greek OG (to the beat of an imperious trumpeting herald or rather the Scooby Doo Puppy Power! cry: Pom-po-po-po-po-POOOOO!!! POMPEII POWER! … groan, was that the best we could come up with?!); our OG leader, a lanky netball senior with her name ANNI emblazoned across her black OGL cap; clubs and societies day, when all the different clubs laid out their wares and attractions, and where for the first time, I saw there were guys with much bigger and better physiques than the ruggers/rugby players and who moved with a quiet confidence and discipline very unlike the other swaggering jocks and lettermen and made me want to find out more about the canoeists/dragon boaters; the camp and campfire on the last night of O-week where the Greeks and the Romans finally came together to make peace and we sang our orientation songs and danced the orientation dance we had been practicing all week; and definitely not in the least, ahem…what else, the freshmen girls, in their dazzling myriad uniforms in various forms and hues…

And in the midst of all the hustle and bustle and rushing about from one activity to another throughout the week, the school hall was turned into the meeting and resting ground for all the OGs, divided into half between the Greeks and Romans like an ancient battleground, with each fighting tribe/city/OG having its own campgrounds where we piled our bags and stuff, and where we would retreat to for rests. And playing constantly over the speakers in the hall were our more than half a dozen orientation songs, chosen and prepared for us by the seniors in the Orientation Committee, which we were supposed to learn and sing by the end of the week.

One of the songs I will never forget for the rest of my life. It was playing over the speakers when I was taking a rest with my OG mates in the hall, the song If I Could by the band 1927. As I was slumped there, listening to the song, I suddenly caught sight of her, entering the hall, wearing her all-blue pinafore over a PE shirt, her long hair billowing and caught in the wind at the hall entrance and cascading over her face. I shot up straight and was instantly smitten. And that moment has been forever imprinted in my mind – her long hair flowing across her lovely face, the song and lyrics resounding in my head, my pounding heart and that strange fluttering in the stomach…

I have just met my Lin Yan-mei 蔺燕梅 for the first time.

1927 – If I Could:

If I could paint
I’d paint a portrait of you
The sunlight in your eyes a masterpiece of truth
And a single tear like a silent prayer
That’s shining so much brighter than a diamond ever dared
If I could do anything at all, I’d do it for you

If I could write
I’d write a book for you
A tale of hidden treasures with an I.O.U
And a million words couldn’t say a thing
That won’t be said in three words
Where love’s the central theme
If I could do anything at all, I’d do it for you

Darling can’t you see
What you mean to me
Anything that I can do I’ll do it for you
And darling don’t you know
Just how far I’d go
Anything that I can do, I’d do it for you

Sometimes I feel so second-rate
Seems loving you was my greatest mistake
I know I’m insecure
And love don’t keep score
But I wish I could give you more

If I could play
I’d play up a storm for you
A raging sea of passion that you never knew
Every whispered sound would touch your heart
And maybe for a moment I could be your favourite star
If I could do anything at all
If I could, I’d give you more
If I could do anything at all…..I’d do it for you

I would paint, write and play up a storm for her, I swore to myself…
Ahh, the passions of our youth.

The original MV of the song, If I Could:

The other big song on the orientation songlist:

Our orientation dance, to be performed to Martika’s I Feel The Earth Move:


兩條平行線總會有交會的一天 Parallel lines shall have a chance to meet someday

Be careful what you think of, wish for, or even blog about. It can mysteriously come true.
The day started ordinarily enough, a typical wet and cold January morning thoroughly rained through from the tail end of the late north-east monsoon. Little did I know that behind the sleeting rain and gray skies, Chance was hiding its sly grin and already has its capricious hand upon me, directing me to our eventual Wislawa Szymborska-ian like encounter… Parallel lines do meet someday after all:

They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.
Rainy days, umbrellas, parallel lines, round and round revolving carousel horses and meeting her again after all these years…

Parallel lines shall have a chance to meet someday
迴旋木馬的終端 At the End of the Revolving Carousel Horses:

兩條平行線總會有交會的一天 Parallel lines shall have a chance to meet someday:

兩個人的幸運 Luck and Chance between Two:

Odyssey-ing about town on a rainy and gray Saturday…

The day started ordinarily enough, a typical wet and cold January morning thoroughly rained through from the tail end of the late north-east monsoon. [aside: hope to see waterspouts over the seas off the east coast this year; a usual occurrence during the end of the NE monsoon in Jan/Feb from the extra rain and changing winds; but sadly last year I didn’t catch any].

Little did I know that behind the sleeting rain and gray skies, Chance was hiding its sly grin and already has its capricious hand upon me, directing me to my eventual Wislawa Szymborska-ian like encounter… Parallel lines do meet someday after all…

I had arranged to meet some people for a late weekend lunch, so despite the rain I still gamely stepped out in the wet and cold, taking my white umbrella along with me.
The late lunch at Rendezvous Hotel extended into tea-time at The Courtyard, but even by the time it finished, the rain had not let up. I said my goodbyes and decided to take a walk in the rain with my sleek umbrella in the surrounding always-pleasing cultural civic district, with its museums, monuments, and in recent years, rather funkily-designed art schools and business schools.

I made my way past the still-new SOTA (School of the Arts) building with its interesting textured facade cladding and decks, steps and domino slopes. The rain got heavier and I ducked into the transformed Cathay building to take shelter. Have not been here in a while, looks like it finally livened up after the slow start with its reopening some years back, with an almost full offering of stores now besides the bespoke cinema theaters. The Gramophone music store on the ground floor is still there…reminds me of the original old Gramophone store tucked away in the basement of Specialist’s Shopping Center in the late 90’s with its very avant-garde offerings of alternative music and its own in-house DJ and music guide who would talk with you and recommend music (very much like in John Cusack’s High Fidelity), and which then was known only to a handful of die-hard alternative music fans who guarded our music haven jealously, but that’s another story…

Gramophone seems to have regressed over the years, ever since it had the main bulk of its business hijacked by its come-lately but more glamorous ‘brother’ store, of a certain this or THAT CD shop, proving once again that blood may be thicker than water, but it can also stab you hard in the back.
Anyway, the store looks a little dated and tired now, more like a warehouse having a perpetual fire-sale of old dusty music CDs and last season’s Hollywood blockbusters, an anachronism in today’s world of digital online music stores and mobile accessibility…perfect for an anachronistic misfit like me. I headed straight for the ALT MUSIC section. Pitiful selection. I even found a Chemical Brothers album lumped in together there. Sigh. I did find some old Hotel Costes and Stéphane Pompougnac albums, was tempted for a moment to grab it all, just for old times sake, but…nah.

I left Cathay and wandered down towards Orchard Road, passing by the old and now new again Plaza Singapura with the attached Atrium glasshouse where our swf managers roll and play dice, oops I mean judiciously manage, our reserves and re-hypothecated assets of our national assets and pension funds. Walked on past the Istana and into the Orchard Rd shopping district proper, now filled with many new malls and buildings whose names I have a hard time remembering and distinguishing. Did I just walk past 313@Orchard or was it Somerset Central? The Hereen’s all boarded up with hoardings, must be a major renovation. Memories of browsing at the huge HMV music store there, having drinks at the little cafes on the top floor, and interviews higher up still in the office tower with one of the largest independent oil traders in the world. Ha.

Got tired walking in the rain and getting my shoes splashed on by the jostling and seemingly largely foreign crowds. Ended up in one of the now considered older shopping mall on the strip, Ngee Ann City, or what my architecture professor and feng shui consultant, Dr Evelyn Lip, called The Grave Mound and Tombstone building, complete with the joss-sticks/flag-poles out front, and even the two strangely located at the sides escalator access structures leading to the basement levels and underpasses serving as the 后土 slabs of traditional chinese graves.

And naturally found myself in the Kino bookstore. Browsed through some interesting titles. A new large coffee-table pictorial on Geoffrey Bawa, one of my favourite and one of the most renowned Asian architects who came into the field as a late second career (some thoughts there). A compilation of the complete axioms of Frege, whose work I used a long time ago to teach myself propositional logic for an ‘extra-curricular’ math class, before I was told he was not mainstream and so, unusable. A new translation and commentary on Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks; Gramsci is always interesting and frightfully seductive.

But the day was getting late and I had been out for too long. And I needed a drink. I needed my reduced sugar fresh soy milk with 20g of protein in each carton. And I just couldn’t find it in Ngee Ann City. Decided to cross over to Paragon and try the basement supermarket there. They were closing but I managed to find my soy milk and get into one of the two parallel lines behind the only two checkout counters still open. Made a quick game theoretic calculation and decision to skip the express line for the other line. Good decision. The shopping baskets ahead of me cleared a lot quicker than the longer express line of people holding single items. Two customers ahead of me a lady had just finished her purchase, picked up her bagged groceries and turned around. Surprise. Recognition. On both our faces.

I have just met my Lin Yan-mei 蔺燕梅 from high school.

《诗经·郑风·子衿》Book of Odes-Zheng Feng-Lapel

Very very old song from ancient lines written from beyond the mists of China’s prehistory. From the 《诗经·郑风·子衿》 Book of Odes, Chapter of Zheng Feng, the Lapel verses. English translation within the video.

Talk about 虚字/助词/exclamations and 兮…兮…兮…xi…xi…xi…

《诗经·郑风·子衿》Book of Odes-Zheng Feng-Lapel:


This is just one small section of the magical collection of verses that make up the 诗经 Book of Odes. Not the best too, in my opinion.

The ancients are truly amazing. No wonder old man confucius kept wanting to ‘rectify’ and correct us back to the ancient ways and order, even 2500 years ago.

未央歌 Unended Song

[This post should really come after my other drafted posts on 民歌/校園民歌 Taiwanese folk songs/campus folk songs of the 60s and 70s; but since I just got reminded of late 80s/early 90s Mandarin songs of a certain ‘scholarly’ type, I thought of and went to enjoy one of my favourite songs of this type from that time.

By the end of the 1980’s, the era of Taiwanese 校園民歌 campus folk songs was decidedly over. But that doesn’t mean that it’s spirit didn’t live on and continued to influence songwriters and musicians through to the 90s. In fact, the late 80s and early 90s saw a number of singers who expressed themselves in a style most reminiscent of the 校園民歌 campus folk songs period, that of the 书生/书香 scholarly cultured style.

And one of the singer/songwriter who cultivated this scholarly style, at least early on in his career (before he turned so 油-overly smooth and slick), was 黃舒駿 Huang Shu-jun. Whatever he turned into later, at least I really like his early songs, especially his 未央歌/Unended Song, which he wrote after being inspired by the famous 1945 chinese novel of the same name 《未央歌》, written by the chinese scholar and Fullbright Fellow 鹿桥 Lu Qiao.

The story of the novel 《未央歌》 is essentially a coming of age tale revolving around the lives of 4 young college students and their hopes, fears and loves, set in the picturesque landscapes of Kunming in southwest China and within the backdrop of the war and resistance against the Japanese invaders marching relentlessly south and westwards toward the remaining bastions of the retreating Nationalist government and military.

And the four main characters in the novel:-

蔺燕梅: 就读外语系,出生富有家庭却能平等待人,个性天真、单纯,擅长舞蹈、歌唱。缺点是不太谦虚。曾在全校面前扮演修女,歌唱《玫瑰三愿》,在校园极具超人气。
童孝贤: 就读生物系,诚恳活泼,很喜欢动物,总是能带给大家欢乐。
伍宝笙: 就读生物系,温文尔雅,冷静、有脑筋,以姊姊的姿态守护蔺燕梅。
余孟勤: 就读哲学系,正直刚毅,表现天行健的精神。是众人中公认最适合蔺燕梅的人选。

Lin Yan-mei: Student of foreign languages, born in a wealthy family yet is able to treat others as equals, naive personality, pure; excel at dancing and singing. Weak point is not very humble. Once acted as a nun in a school play, sang ‘The Three Wishes of Roses’, immensely popular on campus, the proverbial 校花/rose of the school/school belle.

Tong Hsiao-hsien: Student of biology, earnest and lively, loves animals, always able to bring joy to everyone.

Wu Bao-sheng: Student of biology, quiet and elegant, calm, sharp of mind, always protecting Lin Yan-mei in the role of an older sister.

Yu Meng-qin: Student of philosophy, upright and strong-willed, displaying a princely magnanimous all-encompassing spirit and determination. Viewed by most to be the most suitable match for Lin Yan-mei.

[A note and exclamation here on the very fine and elegant names the author had chosen and put together for the above characters, especially the exotic surname of the female lead, 蔺 Lin. Not that common Lin/林 of many chinese.
Almost feel like I am within the multitudinous and ethereal-named cast of 紅樓夢/A Dream of Red Chambers or worse, 巴金/Ba Jin’s 家/The Family !

未央歌 Unended Song:


作詞:黃舒駿 作曲:黃舒駿 演唱:黃舒駿

當大余吻上寶笙的唇邊 我總算了了一樁心願
只是不知道小童的那個秘密 是否就是藺燕梅
在未央歌的催眠聲中 多少人為它魂縈夢牽
在寂寞苦悶的十七歲 經營一點小小的甜美

我的朋友我的同學 在不同時候流下同樣的眼淚
心中想著朋友和書中人物間 究竟是誰比較像誰
那朵校園中的玫瑰 是否可能種在我眼前
在平凡無奇的人世間 給我一點溫柔和喜悅

你知道你在尋找你的藺燕梅 你知道你在尋找你的童孝賢
你知道你在 你知道你在 你知道你在尋找一種永遠

經過這幾年的歲月 我幾乎忘了曾有這樣的甜美
突然聽說小童在台灣的消息 我想起從前的一切
為何現在同樣的詩篇 已無法觸動我的心弦
也許那位永恆的女子 永遠不會出現在我面前

我的弟弟我的妹妹 你們又再度流下同樣的眼淚
喔!多麼美好的感覺 告訴我你心愛的人是誰
多麼盼望你們有一天 真的見到你的藺燕梅 伍寶笙和童孝賢

When Big Yu kissed Bao-sheng on the lips, I finally at least had a little wish answered
Its just I wonder if that secret of Little Tong’s, is really Lin Yan-mei
Within the hypnotic chords of the Unended Song, how many have had their souls entranced and dreams led
At that lonely and miserable age of seventeen, treasuring this little bit of sweetness

My friends and my classmates, had at different times cried similar tears
In my heart I wonder between my friends and characters in the book, just who resembles who more
That rose on the school grounds (school belle), could it be planted right before my eyes
In this ordinary and unexciting world, give me a little tenderness and joy

You know you are looking for your Lin Yan-mei
You know you are looking for your Tong Hsiao-hsien
You know you are, you know you are
You know you are looking for a kind of everlasting

After all these years and time, I have almost forgotten there once was such sweet tenderness
Suddenly hearing news of Little Tong’s return to Taiwan, I remembered everything about the past
Why is it that those same verses, can’t seem to pluck at my heartstrings now
Perhaps that everlasting lady, shall never appear before me

My younger brothers and sisters, once again you are crying the same tears
Oh! Such wonderful feelings, tell me who is the love of your heart
I wish so much that one day, you may really see your Lin Yan-mei Wu Bao-sheng and Tong Hsiao-hsien
And finish singing this unended heart’s desire for me

Sigh, lovely song. Brings back many tender and wistful memories of friends and our furtive school-time crushes…

And yes, that is 林隆璇 Lin Long-hsuan doing a cameo and playing the piano at the start of the video, one of the singers/musician I really like at that time, with his very clean vocals and truly 书生 scholarly look.

Slavoj Žižek: Ecology is the new opiate of the masses

While tapping out the previous Malthusian post, I had a quote about the current overbearing orthodoxy of ‘religious environmentalism’ right at the tip of my tongue, but I just couldn’t remember it. It came to me suddenly just now, while doing rep number 76 of my one hundred pullups workout at my ‘hood fitness park and pullup bar (Yeah, I’m a lean mean street gymnast and regular ‘thug’… Go Zef! No kipping).

From the sometimes annoying but always interesting philosopher and provocateur/agitator, Slavoj Žižek with his twist of the famous paraphrase of Marx, “Religion is the opium of the people”:

Ecology is the the new opiate of the masses

-Slavoj Žižek

Here is an interesting interview with Slavoj Žižek, on ‘touchy-feely environmentalism’:

Slavoj Žižek: Wake up and smell the apocalypse
Is touchy-feely environmentalism a new opiate of the people? Why are we paying rent to Bill Gates? Is reality incomplete? Marxist cultural commentator Slavoj Žižek, the most dangerous philosopher in the west, unravels it all for Liz Else.


Your new book, Living in the End Times, is about the demise of global capitalism. What is science’s place in all this?

Science is completely entangled with capital and capitalism. It is simultaneously the source of some threats (such as the ecological consequences of our industries or the uncontrolled use of genetic engineering), and our best hope of understanding those threats and finding a way to cope with them.


Does that mean the way that we think about such threats is wrong?

Yes. One reason is to do with how certain environmentalists delight in proving that every catastrophe – even natural ones – is man-made, that we are all guilty, we exploited too much, we weren’t feminine enough. All this bullshit. Why? Because it makes the situation “safer”. If it is us who are the bad guys, all we have to do is change our behaviour. But in fact Mother Nature is not good – it’s a crazy bitch.

So what should we do instead?

The fear is that this bad ecology will become a new opiate of the people. And I’m against the ecologists’ anti-technology stance, the one that says, “we are alienated by manipulating nature, we should rediscover ourselves as natural beings”. I think we should alienate ourselves more from nature so we become aware of the utter contingency, the fragility of our natural being.

We should alienate ourselves more from nature to be aware of our fragility


Should philosophers be helping scientists?

Yes. For the last few decades, at least in the humanities, big ontological questions – What is reality? What is the nature of the universe? – were considered too naive. It was meaningless to ask for objective truth. This prohibition on asking the big questions partly accounts for the explosion of popular science books. You read Stephen Hawking’s books as a way to ask these fundamental, metaphysical questions. I think that era of relativism, where science was just another product of knowledge, is ending. We philosophers should join scientists asking those big metaphysical questions about quantum physics, about reality.

And what is your take on reality?

There is an old philosophical idea about God being stupid and crazy, not finishing his creation. The idea is that God (but the point is to think about this without invoking God), when he created the world, made a crucial mistake by saying, “Humans are too stupid to progress beyond the atom, so I will not specify both the position and the velocity of the atom.” What if reality itself is rather like a computer game where what goes on inside houses has not been programmed because it was not needed in the game? What if it is, in some sense, incomplete?

All these complex ideas… how do we come up with them?

I like Stephen Jay Gould here: intelligence, language and so on are exaptations, by-products of something which failed. Say I am using my cellphone – I become fully aware of it only when something goes wrong. We ask the big metaphysical questions even though we cannot solve them, and as a by-product we come up with wonderful, solid knowledge.

Slavoj Zizek in Examined Life:

One of the elementary ideological mechanisms I claim is, what I call, The Temptation of Meaning. When something horrible happens, our spontaneous tendencies to search for a meaning, it must mean something… Even if we interpret a catastrophe as a punishment, it makes it easier in a way, because we [then] know its not just some terrifying blind force, it has a meaning. Its better, when you are in the middle of a catastrophe, its better to feel that God punished you, than to feel that it just happened. If God punished you, its still a universe of meaning. And I think that’s where ecology as ideology enters.

Zizek – Ecology: The New Opiate of the Masses (1 of 7)

Malthusian nightmare or Mayan collapse? Neither, its about Population Homeostasis

Just read this article which provides a rare divergent chord struggling to be heard among the deafening chorus of Chicken Littles loudly squawking on about our impending doom from the unstoppable population explosion and resulting global resources over-exploitation and scarcity. The Malthusian nightmare is probably the biggest Meme circulating around the world right now, together with that other global canard, ‘religious’ Environmentalism.

So, quite refreshing to read an article which takes the opposing view, that of global population topping out at about 9 billion around 2070 and dropping steadily thereafter (which is no big secret: probably based on UN population statistics which have been published for about 3 years now; in fact, I remember reading other reports which pegged an earlier date for the turnaround – 2050), and examining the economic and social consequences resulting from a global population decline.
[Joseph Stiglitz had written in more detail about this before.
Am a bit more reluctant to mention another pundit, the defense intelligence and strategic analyst, and slick self-promoter, George Friedman; but he did had an interesting section in one of his books regarding global population decline, and applied to his forecast on economic and military dynamics on a possible future conflict between a diminishing US and a strengthening and resurgent (ie. back to pre-1848 levels) Mexico.

So, while not exactly predicting a Mayan or Easter Island-like population collapse and civilizational decline, this article does take the opposing view from that common idea that currently has the world in its grip, that we are heading towards a Malthusian catastrophe.
[But perhaps both opposing views (or at least at their extremes) are missing their marks…there may be a middle ground between them]

The article:

About That Overpopulation Problem
Research suggests we may actually face a declining world population in the coming years.


The world’s seemingly relentless march toward overpopulation achieved a notable milestone in 2012: Somewhere on the planet, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the 7 billionth living person came into existence.

Lucky No. 7,000,000,000 probably celebrated his or her birthday sometime in March and added to a population that’s already stressing the planet’s limited supplies of food, energy, and clean water. Should this trend continue, as the Los Angeles Times noted in a five-part series marking the occasion, by midcentury, “living conditions are likely to be bleak for much of humanity.”

A somewhat more arcane milestone, meanwhile, generated no media coverage at all: It took humankind 13 years to add its 7 billionth. That’s longer than the 12 years it took to add the 6 billionth—the first time in human history that interval had grown. (The 2 billionth, 3 billionth, 4 billionth, and 5 billionth took 123, 33, 14, and 13 years, respectively.) In other words, the rate of global population growth has slowed. And it’s expected to keep slowing. Indeed, according to experts’ best estimates, the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today.

And then it will fall.

This is a counterintuitive notion in the United States, where we’ve heard often and loudly that world population growth is a perilous and perhaps unavoidable threat to our future as a species. But population decline is a very familiar concept in the rest of the developed world, where fertility has long since fallen far below the 2.1 live births per woman required to maintain population equilibrium. In Germany, the birthrate has sunk to just 1.36, worse even than its low-fertility neighbors Spain (1.48) and Italy (1.4). The way things are going, Western Europe as a whole will most likely shrink from 460 million to just 350 million by the end of the century. That’s not so bad compared with Russia and China, each of whose populations could fall by half. As you may not be surprised to learn, the Germans have coined a polysyllabic word for this quandary: Schrumpf-Gessellschaft, or “shrinking society.”


Moreover, the poor, highly fertile countries that once churned out immigrants by the boatload are now experiencing birthrate declines of their own. From 1960 to 2009, Mexico’s fertility rate tumbled from 7.3 live births per woman to 2.4, India’s dropped from six to 2.5, and Brazil’s fell from 6.15 to 1.9. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, where the average birthrate remains a relatively blistering 4.66, fertility is projected to fall below replacement level by the 2070s. This change in developing countries will affect not only the U.S. population, of course, but eventually the world’s.

Why is this happening? Scientists who study population dynamics point to a phenomenon called “demographic transition.”

“For hundreds of thousands of years,” explains Warren Sanderson, a professor of economics at Stony Brook University, “in order for humanity to survive things like epidemics and wars and famine, birthrates had to be very high.” Eventually, thanks to technology, death rates started to fall in Europe and in North America, and the population size soared. In time, though, birthrates fell as well, and the population leveled out. The same pattern has repeated in countries around the world. Demographic transition, Sanderson says, “is a shift between two very different long-run states: from high death rates and high birthrates to low death rates and low birthrates.” Not only is the pattern well-documented, it’s well under way: Already, more than half the world’s population is reproducing at below the replacement rate.

If the Germany of today is the rest of the world tomorrow, then the future is going to look a lot different than we thought. Instead of skyrocketing toward uncountable Malthusian multitudes, researchers at Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis foresee the global population maxing out at 9 billion some time around 2070. On the bright side, the long-dreaded resource shortage may turn out not to be a problem at all. On the not-so-bright side, the demographic shift toward more retirees and fewer workers could throw the rest of the world into the kind of interminable economic stagnation that Japan is experiencing right now.

And in the long term—on the order of centuries—we could be looking at the literal extinction of humanity.
[This is where the author swings to the other extreme and starts raising the spectre of a Mayan-like population collapse and extinction]

That might sound like an outrageous claim, but it comes down to simple math. According to a 2008 IIASA report, if the world stabilizes at a total fertility rate of 1.5—where Europe is today—then by 2200 the global population will fall to half of what it is today. By 2300, it’ll barely scratch 1 billion. (The authors of the report tell me that in the years since the initial publication, some details have changed—Europe’s population is falling faster than was previously anticipated, while Africa’s birthrate is declining more slowly—but the overall outlook is the same.) Extend the trend line, and within a few dozen generations you’re talking about a global population small enough to fit in a nursing home.


We know how to dampen excessive population growth—just educate girls. The other problem has proved much more intractable: No one’s figured out how to boost fertility in countries where it has imploded. Singapore has been encouraging parenthood for nearly 30 years, with cash incentives of up to $18,000 per child. Its birthrate? A gasping-for-air 1.2. When Sweden started offering parents generous support, the birthrate soared but then fell back again, and after years of fluctuating, it now stands at 1.9—very high for Europe but still below replacement level.


If humanity is going to sustain itself, then the number of couples deciding to have three or four kids will consistently have to exceed the number opting to raise one or zero. The 2.0 that my wife and I have settled for is a decent effort, but we’re not quite pulling our weight. Are we being selfish? Or merely rational? Our decision is one that I’m sure future generations will judge us on. Assuming there are any.

The reply or eventual middle ground between the Malthusian nightmare and Mayan collapse, is Population Homeostasis.

The reason why researchers seem to be either Malthusian overpopulation alarmists or gloomy Mayan collapse prophets, is probably because in this grand ecosystem of ‘Humans on the planet Earth’, we have yet to reach the point where total human population is pushing at the boundaries of what the earth can support, even at our current 7 billion. A rather sacrilegious statement to make, I know, in view of the current ‘orthodox religion’ of the politically correct Green Movement and Environmentalism; but I believe that Gaia has not really start pushing back at humans…yet.

So, in this current Game of Life simulation run, at the global ecosystem scale of things, at 7 billion we have only just reached the first rising inflection point of our population growth curve where the second derivative changes sign (or where the curvature or concavity changes sign from plus to minus, ie. global population growth is slowing for the first time ever), and where the local maxima (or the point where the global population will top out) is still ahead of us, not to mention the eventual falling inflection point and ultimately, the homeostasis or stable attractor state which the global population will settle into.

We are still rather far off from the end-game of this particular run and the human race has not experienced a homeostasis state on a global or continental or even regional cross-national geographic scale, which is probably why the opposing camps, while straining to peer into their murky crystal balls, take the expedient options of simply calling out their respective extreme apocalyptic scenarios.

But whether Gaia will have a serious fit and start pushing back vehemently against humans before the projected demographic maxima of 9 billion by 2070…now that is a more interesting question to ponder upon.

Secret gardens, magic Faraway trees, Turkish delights, and stewed impoverished Irish children

Taichiseal’s book recommendation, by author Frances Hodgson Burnett.

And his prior post on another F. H. Burnett book, her more famous The Secret Garden, which whirled me away on a flitting journey over some of my most memorable Victorian-Edwardian English literature reading from a much earlier and much less blemished rose-tinted age.

The magical passages from The Secret Garden quoted by TS:

“It was the lock of the door which had been closed ten years and she put her hand in her pocket, drew out the key and found it fitted the keyhole. She put the key in and turned it. It took two hands to do it, but it did turn.

And then she took a long breath and looked behind her up the long walk to see if any one was coming. No one was coming. No one ever did come, it seemed, and she took another long breath, because she could not help it, and she held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed back the door which opened slowly–slowly.

Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her back against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with excitement, and wonder, and delight.

She was standing inside the secret garden.”

“One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun–which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one’s eyes.”

And my embarrassingly childish response:

Don C said…


The magic of “The Secret Garden” was one of the ingredients that made Victorian-Edwardian English literature and culture so fascinating when I was a kid:
The magical transformations and whirled-away journeys to a secret world which is yours and yours only to delight in.

And all it takes to get there, is to walk down a simple garden path, or fall back into an impossibly deep wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia), step through beyond a looking glass into a magic wonderland (Lewis Carroll), or climb up through the branches of an enchanted magic Faraway tree (The Faraway Tree series)…

I’m sure many of us dreamt of splashing around in puddles on rainy days in our Mackintosh and boots, eating treacle pudding with Golliwogs and Noddy, drinking ginger beer and trekking across misty Mystery Moors with the Famous Five, hideaway in a secret tree attic headquarters to hold meetings with the Secret Seven, and most definitely of all, to go away to boarding school with The Naughtiest Girl in School…

Then you grow up and realize its not all magic sugar and spice, and all things nice…
I discovered writers like Hector Hugh Munro@Saki and his macabre stories satirizing Edwardian society and culture; and earlier still, the high priest of social satire Jonathan Swift and his much-misjudged works: “A Modest Proposal” and “Gulliver’s Travels”.

A contrast indeed, to go from tasting sweet heavenly turkish delights (Narnia), to gobbling down stewed impoverished Irish children (Swift)…
Losing your childhood innocence and growing up into awareness and knowledge of the real world sucks.

Sigh, to return to the magical worlds of our Secret Gardens once again…

Be it anglophile or chinese chauvinist, I really miss treacle pudding and ginger beer, and especially Moon-Face with his Pop Biscuits and Google Buns:

“Come on,” said Moon-Face. “Come and eat a Google Bun and see what you think of it.” Soon they were all sitting on the broad branches outside Moon-Face’s house, eating Pop Biscuits and Google Buns. The buns were most peculiar. They each had a very large currant in the middle, and this was filled with sherbet. So when you got to the currant and bit it the sherbet frothed out and filled your mouth with fine bubbles that tasted delicious. The children got a real surprise when they bit their currants, and Moon-Face almost fell off the branch with laughing.

Here is the fantastic passage from Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, on stewed Irish children:

A Modest Proposal

For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland
From Being Aburden to Their Parents or Country, and
For Making Them Beneficial to The Public

By Jonathan Swift (1729)


”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled …”

Now I’m really itching to post a long-delayed musing on turkish delights and other such logic puzzles…

Of long-lived Methuselahs, Lazarus Long, and Hari Seldon

Just remembered I said the following a while ago regarding longevity and (time) accumulated wisdom, while responding to a quote and under the guise of one of my favourite science fiction characters, Robert Heinlein’s Lazarus Long:

Quotes of the Day, from Jeff Watson
March 30, 2011 |

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded—here and there, now and then—are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

–Robert Heinlein
Don Chu on March 30, 2011 8:28 pm

Ah, a Lazarus Long quote. Nice.

Here’s a tangential rejoinder:

If a science of history were achieved, it would, like the science of celestial mechanics, make possible the calculable prediction of the future in history. It would bring the totality of historical occurrences within a single field and reveal the unfolding future to its last end, including all the apparent choices made and to be made. It would be omniscience. The creator of it would possess the attributes ascribed by the theologians to God. The future once revealed, humanity would have nothing to do except to await its doom.

But while the above sounds very much like Hari Seldon‘s statistical predictive science of Psychohistory (or probabilistic mathematical sociology), they are not fictional words from a fictional Seldon. Rather, these solemn words were pronounced with much gravity by Charles Austin Beard, an American historian, in his address to the American Historical Association in 1933, titled “Written History as an Act of Fate”.

Alas, we do not have the benefit of a Lazarus Long/Robert Heinlein with his wisdom accumulated from a Methuselah-like thousand-year-long life, nor do we have access to Seldon’s Prime Radiant device coded with the right econometric equations to calculate the “totality of historical occurrences … and reveal the unfolding future to its last end”, and make faultless socio-economic-political predictions for judicious humankind planning and development.

To have a Prime Radiant code engine in our own blackbox algo trading model…

And here is a line from the swashbuckling Lazarus Long that inspired me a long time ago…

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Lazarus Long, Time Enough For Love

What a fantastic grifter and drifter Lazarus Long was, moving from place to place, generation to generation, over the centuries.

But Lazarus Long wasn’t my favourite character who was blessed/cursed with an almost immortal lifespan and forced to change identity and location every 50 years. No, it’s not Connor MacLeod either.

My favourite long-living, shape-shifting character will have to be John Furie Zacharias (alias “Gentle”) and his truly shape-and-gender-shifting companion, Pie’oh’pah, from Imajica