Current Issues / Philosophy / Psychology

NUS and the end of the world

In the past 3 months, we’ve read and listened to news on earthquakes and floods that happened in Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan. Now, residents who have yet to moved out of Fukushima are trapped in stressful situations ready to snap at the possibility of a nuclear meltdown. Then, looking westward, there’s the whole thing with Libya and Bahrain.

People or Ants?

Business as usual. Image by boliston via Flickr

But, here in NUS, everything is business-as-usual. We still walk the same paths to our classes. We still eat, drink, laugh, date, and have fun. The canteens are bustling and crowded like usual. The Central Library has a new book exhibition on travelling, showcasing Lonely Planet’s books from Korea to Africa. The NUS Arts Festival is happening now with thought-provoking theatrical and dance productions as well as other cheerful artistic ventures. I hear the same complaints by students on their final year project, assignments, and exams.

There are no events whatsoever to commemorate anything about these world disasters. No moments of silence. No charity collections for people in these circumstances. Nothing different at all.

To be fair, I know that the world will not and cannot stop just because of disasters looming around in the West and the East. And as one of the guilty parties myself, I can understand the inaction that is inflicting the student community (at least the ones in the Faculty of Engineering). It is difficult to incorporate these world events to play substantial roles in our personal lives. As a student, what matters to most of us are our assessments, assignments and ambition. Compared to faraway world events, these three items give us immediate feedback, making them feel real and more significant (when they are actually not). It is so easy to lose our bearings living under the artificial ‘safe’ bubble the university has created for us.

While thinking of this, Skeeter Davis comes to my mind. She once sang a very miserable song, ‘The End of the World’. A song that I appreciated during my darker days, and a song that I find very appropriate to this situation.

The End of the World

Why does the sun go on shining
Why does the sea rush to shore
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
‘Cause you don’t love me any more

Why do the birds go on singing
Why do the stars glow above
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
It ended when I lost your love

I wake up in the morning and I wonder
Why everything’s the same as it was
I can’t understand, no, I can’t understand
How life goes on the way it does

Why does my heart go on beating
Why do these eyes of mine cry
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
It ended when you said goodbye

Why does my heart go on beating
Why do these eyes of mine cry
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
It ended when you said goodbye

Another thing that came to my mind was a quote by Dr. Brian Palmer, a social anthropologist whom I met during my stint in organizing TEDxMälaren. He was one of our speakers and he talked about being an idealist in a realist’s world. Why did his presentation popped out? Partly because he moved me and the audience to tears that day, but more so because of his use of Voltaire’s words.

‘Lisbon lies in ruins,’ Voltaire wrote, ‘and here in Paris we dance’.

– Dr. Brian Palmer

Voltaire said that after the Lisbon earthquake in 1755. More than 250 years later, I think that the motivation behind that quote still lives on.

“Japan and the Middle East lie in ruins. And, here in NUS, we dance”.


Brian Palmer – Living as an Idealist in an Unforgiving World


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