Systems and Pattern Recognition

Systems and Pattern Recognition

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Selected details from a walk along Bukit Timah Road

The above images were from a walk along Bukit Timah Road on Saturday morning. We had eggs benedict at Hatched and then walked backwards on Bukit Timah Road, exploring a few drains and the construction work for the new Downtown line. Some of the electrical and plumbing boxes had been installed with rope handles. You know what I say; if they put a handle on it, it must be for us to open and look inside. So I opened them and looked inside. Not very interesting though, just a lot of soil, but can’t expect to find surprises all the time I guess. We also found a total of 3 mysterious packets of bright green grains, along one large storm drain. Could they be fertiliser, rat poison, mouldy barley, drugs, or something else? Does anyone know what this is?

The other day I did an interview with Tan Pin Pin. She had seen my Yangtze scribbler images in one of my booklets and somehow it had the honour of piquing her interest enough to shoot a 5-minute thing about it. We went down to see the location and do a bit of filming. Amazingly, they were still there exactly as I first recalled them – both the ones on the Yangtze stairwell and the new one on the back of the bus stop on Victoria Street (next to the muslim cemetery). Being at that place always feels intense, like intruding into some other world that I don’t belong to. Last year in November, I saw a very similar set of symbols on the back of a busstop on Victoria Street. Seeing the same symbols outside of the Yangtze was the thing that, for me, elevated this from “secret language from a closeted, bubble universe” to “GRAND CONSPIRACY / MYSTERY”!

Since the time me and my old colleagues first encountered it in mid 2010, the foodcourt with the western food stall at the top of Yangtze has given way to a huge KTV bar that has completely reconfigured the space. The typically R-rated Yangtze cinema is going strong once again; it is currently showing World of Geisha with a blurry flyer that has a rave review from Francois Truffaut hastily photoshopped on top of it. One would scarcely imagine that any of the people frequenting Yangtze would be familiar with Truffaut or even care about the opinion of Truffaut, but who knows? For years, these “R-rated cinemas” have always been slipping in the arthouse amidst the raunchy film titles.

Yangtze Stairwell (29 July 2010):


Yangtze Stairwell (3 Feb 2012):



Victoria Street (13 Nov 2011):


Victoria Street (3 Feb 2012):


One of the revelations I had as a result of the interview was that my fetish for collecting photos of signs and symbols might also be described as a general interest in understanding systems and finding patterns. I said there and then, that I had always thought that intelligence was just a matter of being really good at finding patterns in things, because IQ tests are usually about finding patterns. Pattern recognition is probably the most crucial skill in intelligent decision making, and even learning new skills or languages also involves being able to understand patterns, predict the next outcome, and also replicate the patterns on your own. I suppose in my own work and writing I also approach the city in a similar fashion, always desiring to find meaning or patterns in what sometimes may or may not be meaningless data.