Green things and Vertical Lines in Seoul

Since my post on Green roofs in Seoul, more green things have been found! I have realized that this seems to be the same green paint that is also used everywhere on many things (other than roofs). It appears in carparks in Seoul, under bridges, on the side of highways, and notably it is also used to paint the paths for walking along rivers and canals (sometimes they use the squishy green sponges too, but other times I think it is just green paint to say “HEY LOOK ITS A GREEN FOOTPATH!”…

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Green carpark

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Green footpath along canal


Murim, one of the curators at Mullae, also suggested that the reason for favoring the green paint is because of cost considerations. That the green waterproofing paint is cheaper than other paints, hence its popularity with cost-concious developers. What do you all think? Can anyone offer up an actual price comparison between green waterproofing paint and white/gray waterproofing paint?

Another small distinction that should be made is that the green parts actually tend to be human accessible places. After staring out of the window and trying to figure out why there is only one big green roof amidst blue ones, it suddenly dawned upon me that all the blue roofs are true rooftops, the only green part that I see is at the human accessible portion of the rooftop!


On Sunday we went to see a traditional korean house, and on Monday we went to see what apartments typically to look like in Korea. We also went to the Seoul National University library (Heewoo studied at SNU) to see if there were any books on apartment block buildings in Seoul. Most of the books were in Korean but I was heartened to see so much literature and books written in Korea, some in what appeared to be very specialised topics. I’ve always thought that I could never learn a language (or have a genuine interest in learning the language) if it did not have a good body of literature and certainly Korean to me is one language that would be worth learning.

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SNU Central Library

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Books on Korean Dwellings


There were a number of books that looked interesting but were all in Korean. It seems there is very little english material on the nature of Korean apartments. One of the good books was 콘크리트 유토피아 (concrete utopia) by 박해천. It had many amazing aerial shots (which also showed many green roofs, by the way). There was also an old book from 1989 that was apparently a contest that was held for designer to come up with ideas for building apartment blocks for low-income housing. It had many pictures in it of building plans but we could not tell from looking at the book whether any of these “utopian” low-income high-density buildings were ever built in Seoul, although they did look very generic:

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Looking at apartment blocks, we also have seen many blocks with vertical line patterns on their sides. I wonder why this is so? Possibilities envisioned so far are as follows:

1. structural – to use vertical structures to improve vertical strength of side wall?
2. visual design – to use strong vertical lines to emphasize great height
3. cultural disposition for strong geometric lines on buildings?
4. preference for buildings that face north and south with no facings to east and west – resulting in two side walls without windows and a big wall on the side which needs some cheap and simple design which helps break up the monotony by not being entirely flat?

Here are a couple of apartment blocks that we have seen over the last 2 days. Take note of the vertical lines on the sides of almost all of the buildings. Note these aren’t low-income housing, some of these are probably quite large on the inside:

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Green Roofs in Seoul

Yesterday morning I got to Seoul. As we had a rather interesting lunch at Shinsegae, we looked out into a view like this where I noticed that most of the visible roofs were painted green…

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Green roof (view from Shinsegae) (신세계)

From every high point that we went to, we also seemed to see more and more green roofs.

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Small house with green roof.

When I went back, I also googled for green roofs and found this picture on flickr:

Painted green roofs in Gangnam

Painted Green roofs in Gangnam
By Kaizer Rangwala ( Seoul, October 10 2011)

Googling for it didn’t turn up many relevant hits because “green roof” is also a term for a roof that has plants on top of it to help make it more energy efficient. But this green roof is not green with plants, the roofs here simply appear to have been neatly painted with green waterproof paint.

Speaking of roofs, Heewoo also brought me to see the area around which the President of South Korea resides. It was flanked by a beautiful mountain behind it.

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Cheongwadae (청와대)

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Better picture of the Cheongwadae with more accurate colour.
By toughkidcst (Byoung Wook – Toughkid Kim 김병욱) on May 13, 2007.

Known as the Cheongwadae, which is literally “the platform with azure-tiled roof”, this building isn’t known as the blue house because it is blue, but because it has a blue colored roof. Googling for blue roof turns up many more hits, and from the internet it says that the blue roofs were popular because they once denoted royalty, so today many people favor painting or tiling their roofs in the same blue colour. Another thing is the New Community Movement” in which poorer agricultural villages were provided with cement to make new roofs. Blue was encouraged as it was one of the “traditional korean colours of obang-seak”.

Finally, I went back to Google Satellite and this is what the roofs look like.

Screen shot 2012-07-30 at AM 10

Location: ‪30 Mullaedong 1(il)-ga, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, South Korea‬

To be honest, the only really green one is the one that I can see from my window. The rest (many of which I cannot see from my window actually look blue to me. I don’t really know why.

But after thinking about it, my new conjecture is that the blue-green distinction is another one of those things that Koreans don’t distinguish between (blue-green are the same colour, there is perhaps no distinction between the blues and the brighter blue-greens shades that we might describe as “green”).

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Chinese character for blue/green.


Like the letters k and g, or the letters l and r. For example, we went to a place called 신세계 which by right ought to be Sin-Se-Gae yet it is pronounced as Shin-se-gae. Or how the word “kimchi” sometimes sounds more like “gimchi” to me. Could the blue/green be simply a matter of how they define colours, and that this is more a phenomena of things being blue-green on top? Can any korean people or Seoul dwelling people shed some more light on this?

Jalan Besar Traffic Light Button

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It seems as if road redevelopment along Jalan Besar has resulted in new lows. After raising all the pedestrian and vehicular roads by a significant amount, here is my housemate pressing the traffic button as it now stands, ridiculously below knee level. This is the crossing I use almost every single day at the intersection of Rowell Road and Jalan Besar. Mind you, I will still press it each and every time even though it has now slipped to knee-height or lower, because I still believe that pressing the button makes a difference in the traffic light timing. Or gives one something to do while waiting.

House: Singapore Psychogeographical Society Talk (22 July 2012)

On Sunday I gave a talk at HOUSE PARTY 3, organized by Yuta Nakayama and kindly hosted by Antonio & Alicia at the very amazing roof of a shophouse along Jalan Besar Road. I presented on the various archives of the Singapore Psychogeographical Society.

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Photos by Yuta

This is a short 45 minute overview on various archival projects by the “Singapore Psychogeographical Society”.

About the Singapore Psychogeographical Society

Since 2010, the Singapore Psychogeographical Society has been devoted to promoting a better understanding of the world through ludic adventures, independent research, digital documentation, and archival activism.

Through “psychogeoforensics”, it encourages people to construct/reconstruct their own narratives around the various physical traces, histories, and archives that may be overlooked or neglected in a fast-developing urban city like Singapore.

You can view the presentation material here on Prezi:


I was also told that the roof was also home to a farm of telecoms signal towers and boxes belonging to Starhub and Singtel! I have always wondered where the telephone towers are located in a city but now I realize the towers are on top of even the private buildings! Looks like I need to read up more about them…

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Sub-Mullae 2012 In-Progress Presentation – Jeong Heewoo & Debbie Ding

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Last Thursday we had an in-progress presentation at The Substation Random Room, where I somehow only managed to take one photo, and another photo that I took of our door sign was when it had become lopsided at the end of the show. Oops.

Thanks to all who came down to see the work, or who also stopped by. There were other excellent going-ons in the Substation on that night – in the Theatre there was Buds Theatre‘s great performance of The Coffin is Still Too Big For the Hole (based on Kuo Pao Kun’s play), and in the gallery there was pang + kanako‘s Departing for the Departed – a beautiful exhibition of over 6000 meticulously made porcelain flowers.

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Presented Works:

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Jeong HeeWoo – Trip of the neighborhood of Rowell Road

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Jeong HeeWoo – Armenian Street (Detail)

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Jeong HeeWoo – Armenian Street (Detail)

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Debbie Ding – Aerial Study of Rowell Road (Detail)

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Debbie Ding – Wifi Networks around Armenian Street

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Debbie Ding – Wifi Networks around Rowell Road


To answer some commonly asked questions:

Q: Whose glasses are those?
A: They are my glasses. It’s an old pair I have with one leg missing, which coicidentally facilitated Heewoo’s shoot as she decided to shoot through my glasses as we went on a long walk around Jalan Besar and Rowell Road area.

Q: Why Armenian Street and Rowell Road
A: HeeWoo and me selected one location each. Her selection was Armenian Street as that was the location of the Substation, and my selection was Rowell Road because I live/work at a studio at Rowell Road.

Q: How did you map the wifi patterns?
A: I used iStumbler to get all the wifi networks, signal strength, channels and used that to estimate the wifi zones. Yes, I walked around the perimeter of both buildings with my 15″ macbook pro in hand, dousing for wifi.

Traditional Chinese and Korean Cartography – texuality, early world maps

I went to the library to look up a guide or directive on surveying. I found it at q526.909, but right next to it, there was a massive volume on the “History of Cartography”. This particular volume of it (“Vol 2, Book 2: Cartography in the Traditional East and Southeast Asian Societies”) was focused on East Asia Cartography, including huge sections on Chinese Cartography, Korean Cartography, Japanese Cartography, and an assortment of maps from “Southeast Asia” (but most of them seemed to be from Burma). This book seemed even more comprehensive than the “History of Asian Cartography” that I already have at home (and two times as thick!)… so out of curiosity I ended up reading the chapters on China and Korea.

Two things were of particular interest for me: the textuality of Chinese maps, and the story of the Kangnido which is arguably the earliest surviving world map to originate from East Asia (1402).

The Textuality of Chinese Maps

“The mapmaker saw art – poetry, calligraphy, and painting – as essential to the task. To such a practitioner, a map is a fusion of image and text, of the denotative and the expressive, of the useful and the beautiful. In the twentieth century, modern mathematical cartography displaced traditional techniques and put an end to this idea of maps. Whether this was progress remains an open question.”
– Cordell Yee

It is normal to find traditional Chinese maps with a disproportionate amount of text, or have more textual accompaniment that is much longer than the maps themselves. Maps such as the 古今形胜之图 (Gujin xingsheng zhitu) (Sometimes translated as “Map of advantageous terrain past and present” – although I personally would directly translate it to ANCIENT-MODERN MAP OF THE SHAPE OF WINNING!) have no real scale or square gridding/scalar indications (which western cartographers might find “immature and back-wards” or “less worthy of scholarship and research due to lack of mathematical accuracy” – but to say so about this map would be missing the point completely. The map is heavily annotated with information regarding minute changes in toponyms and administrative statuses, and together with such a title like MAP OF THE SHAPE OF WINNING, its clear its point is not to tell someone the distances between places but for historical scholarship about a place. And I like this kind of maps more actually. So in effect, chinese maps are about literature and history.

古今形胜之图

Ancient-Modern Map of the Shape of Winning

wanfang data:《古今形胜之图》,明代喻时绘制,原图纵横115厘米×100厘米,木刻墨印着色.根据中国古代地图着色的传统习惯,黄河涂成黄色,长江涂蓝色.图的左下角刻有”嘉靖乙卯孟冬金沙书院重刻”十三字,说明此图是明嘉靖三十四年(1555年)十月福建省龙溪县金沙书院重刻本.

My rough translation: Ancient-Modern map of the shape of winning. traditional woodcut, original aspect of 115cm X 110cm, painted mostly yellow, yangtze painted blue, lower left corner has engraving of 13 words “嘉靖乙卯孟冬金沙书院重刻” that dates it to roughly 1555 [嘉靖乙卯孟冬/JiaJing Period 34 years/1555] from a re-edition issued by the “Fujian Province Golden Sands College”.

The particular interest in creating maps that consisted mostly of text can be explained through the metaphorical nature of the Chinese language. The role of the map was not only as a mathematical interpretation of the earth, but it was also rhetoric. Its role was also in political persuasion, and in evoking emotive or “transcendental” states. Some maps were said to have had the measurements separately attached to the maps in small slips, because the focus was the text, and the measurement was not necessarily the standard of truth.

Unfortunately, very few maps survive from before the Song Dynasty (960-1279), perhaps because of warfare and the destruction of archives, but also perhaps because maps were used as reference materials in the writing of histories, but in order to write one history (not to reconstruct a narrative in a documentary form) was also to edit and select information from these sources and then discard them. Once the information was integrated into an official dynastic history, the map would be discarded as it was apparently regarded as dispensable once “documented” because the visual appearance could apparently be deduced from its description. It is unfortunate then the the practice of traditional Chinese historiography facilitates the creation as well as destruction of the artifacts.

The Kangnido

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混一疆理歷代國都之圖
Map of Integrated Lands and Regions of Historical Countries and Capitals

The story goes that the huge map known as the Honil Gangni Yeokdae Gukdo Ji Do (Map of Integrated Lands and Regions of Historical Countries and Capitals) was created in Korea in 1402, although the only copies of the map exist in Japan. Some version of map have a preface that says that it was based on four other maps – a world map by a Chinese cartographer named Li Zemin, another historical map of China, and two other unnamed maps of Korea and Japan. It depicts the “Old World”, from Africa and Europe in the West, to the Middle East, to China, Korea, and Japan in the east.

The Korean mapmakers were civil servants – and Yi Hoe else took over the job of putting together all the maps, correcting where the Li Zemin’s map had drawn Korea wrongly. Just as Chinese mapmakers were concerned with locality, they intentionally depicted Korea as being enlarged compared to the rest of the world. In the book I was reading, the writer of this section also hilariously described the map’s depiction of India and China as an alarmingly “monstrous mass”. Distorsions occur, but this is still a world map that attempts to show all the world at once. The description of the map-makers themselves make them sound like lovely, meticulous armchair cartographers. In the translated words of the Ryukoku copy of this map:

“The world is very wide. We do not know how many tens of millions of li there are from China in the center to the four seas at the outer limits, but in compressing and mapping it on a folio sheet several feet in size, it is indeed difficult to achieve precision; that is why [the result of] the mapmakers have generally been either too diffuse or too abbreviated. But the Shengjiao guannbei tu of Li Zemin of Wumen is both detailed and comprehensive, while for the succession of emperors and kings and of countries and capitals across time, the Hunyu jiangli tu by the Tiantai monk Qingjun is thorough and complete. Left Minister Kim (Sahyong) of Sangju and Right Minister Yi (Mu) of Tanyang, during moments of rest from their government duties, made a comparative study of these mpas and ordered Yi Hoe, an orderly, to carefully collate them and combine them into a single map. Insofar as the area east of the Liao River and our own country’s territory were concerned, Zemin’s map had many gaps and ommissions, so Yi Hoe supplemented and expanded the map of our country and added a map of Japan, making it a new map entirely, nicely organised and well worth admiration. One can indeed know the world wihtout going out of his door! By looing at maps one can known terrestrial distances and get help in the world of government. The care and concern expended on this map by our two gentlemen can be grasped just by the greatness of its scale and dimension.”

But both Kim and Yi Mu were said to have gone to China on a diplomatic trip during their careers and this is when they were believed to have obtained the chinese maps mentioned. They were also doing land surveys in Korea prior to that. (As an aside, Yi Mu fell afoul of the Emperor and was later executed for an alleged role in a political plot)

What gives me goosebumps is the missing map by Li Zemin that was used as the reference for the map, who does not exist in any form except the most faintest of literary references. Yet the information about Africa and the rest of Europe indicates a certain rough knowledge of the world situation of the early 14th century.

However, despite the Chinese references, and the ostensible connection between Chinese civilization and Korea culture, the korean maps did make somewhat different maps compared to the chinese. Possessing both cartographic materials from Islamic world and western world and their own maps, both China and Korea reacted quite differently. China went on to produce a map of the “Great Ming”, while Korea produced a world map by adding itself and japan. And despite receiving lots of imports and copies of western maps (and the making of western copies), early korean mapmakers also continued making korean maps as if nothing had happened. The Korean cartographer Kim Chong-jo had printed a hemispherical western map, copied right down to the smallest detail, yet he continued to make traditional korean maps unaffected by these western calculations or coordinates.

Dream: Of Erosion and Shipwrecks

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Recently I had a dream in which I was going for a job interview at a Japanese mineral mining company. It was located at the 44th story of a large skyscraper overlooking the sea. The unit or room number that I was supposed to go to was “04-04”. I could not be sure if 4 was an inauspicious number for the Japanese like it is for the Chinese, so I didn’t think it was a bad or good sign, but just a curious oddity – I presumed that perhaps they had consciously chosen it for some fengshui or luck purposes.

Besides knowing that this company had made a fortune from finding, mining, and extracting/purifying rare or useful rocks and minerals for other uses, I actually hadn’t done much research into the company before going in for this interview and in my head I began to realize that I did not know why I was applying for a new full-time job when I already had so many projects to finish. Nonetheless I began to rationalize in my head that it would still be great to work in such a job because there was much more to be learnt from seeking a new job in a new industry.

While waiting for the interview, a case person was assigned to me. It was a middle aged, thin asian man with spectacles. He said that before the interview, they would show me around the building and the activities of the workers at their fine mineral mining company, such as the company’s leisure facilities.

Instead of having smoke breaks, workers were encouraged to take scuba diving breaks instead. I was shown to the ground/basement exit which had an unexpected path leading out to the sea. A few older japanese men in scuba diving suits could be seen in the distance, waddling back with flippers and snorkels still on their head.

On the coast there was a ship stacked on top of another ship. They were both massive and seemed to have been meticulously shipwrecked, if meticulous could actually be a word applied to shipwrecks. They were flanked by two stacks of soil with trees on top of them. It seemed to suggest that the sea had eroded so much of the land away such that the tree roots had been the only things keeping these two pillars upright while the beach just eroded and washed away in the waves. The sea was great and vast beyond and the sky was cloudy and white. The roar of the waves was terrific.

So would anyone like to hazard a guess as to what all this means?

Temporary Food Centres

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The other day I realised that from the top of the National Library, I could actually see the empty site of the four faced buddha food centre that used to be on Victoria Street. Nick-named because of the large four faced buddha statue that stood in front of it, I thought it was a pity when the parcel on which it was situated on was acquired back by the state, as it had been a very central place for people to congregate and its removal meant that cheap food was going to be further and further from the museum area and The Substation.

Looking deeper into the records, it was apparently always going to be nothing more than a temporary food centre, so its removal was inevitable although we hadn’t known it was only there temporarily. At the time, it seemed reasonable to assume it was permanent, because “it had always been there”, and why would one question if places should all be temporary? Until one day when it was suddenly not there.

I don’t know why one would have a temporary food centre without a plan for a more permanent one. Or where did all the stalls go to? I couldn’t seem to find information on whether it had been relocated or simply evaporated one day when the lease was up. But searching for “four faced buddha” on my flickr threw up these old photos that I had taken in the last few years….

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Renovations/repainting the four-faced buddha in 2006/2007

four face buddha panorama

September 23, 2010

four face buddha

December 18, 2010

So what happened to the temporary food centre then? Searching for “Temporary Market at Victoria Street” is rather confusing, on google it throws up mentions of other temporary food markets in the area such as the Albert Court Temporary Market that apparently recently moved back to Queen Street. Is that related to the Victoria Street Temporary Food Centre then? Or was there some other temporary market nearby that I forgot about, that also just moved back into Albert Street? SINGAPORE! WHY ARE THERE SO MANY TEMPORARY FOOD CENTRES?

I was also reading up about the fate of the Victoria Street Wholesale Market, which until recently was also along Victoria Street until it was relocated.

On their website, they write the following:

“The history of VSWC dates back to 1891 when vendors of dried seafood products gathered together in a marketplace in Tew Chew Street by the Singapore River (now the site of Merchant Court Swissotel) to do their business. Tew Chew Street then came to be known as a marketplace with the widest variety of reasonably priced dried groceries. However a fire broke out in 1968 and burnt down the market. In 1978, a modern three-storey wholesale centre was built at the same location to house the original tenants. This became the Ellenborough Market. When plans for the construction of the MRT Northeast Line were announced, the wholesale centre was affected and had to relocate to its current premises at Victoria Street on a temporary lease agreement, ending 2003. HDB then agreed to extend the lease of Victoria Street Wholesale Centre for another three years until December 2006. After much campaigning by the members of Victoria Street Wholesale Centre Merchants’ Association, HDB has once again extended our lease till September 2009.”

According to a CNA report this year (2012):

“The Victoria Street Wholesale Centre will be relocating to Kallang Road on April 1 this year. The new building, which costs S$30 million to build, was completed in December last year. The eight-storey centre will be able to accommodate 60 shop units, 50 percent more shops than before. However, more than 10 wholesalers have decided not to move to the new building. This is partly because at 600 square feet per unit, the shop space is 30 percent smaller than before. Rent is also three or four times more expensive, at about S$4000 to S$5000 a month.

A shopkeeper said: “The rent is higher and it’s less convenient. It’s very convenient here. Over there, you’ll have to walk quite a bit.” Another said: “I’m old, my children don’t intend to take over my business, so I’m not moving….”

Interestingly, in another article:

“Despite the move, the association said the wholesale centre will continue to keep its name.”

This retention of the original road name is also something that is mirrored in the names of hawker centre food stalls, which are also equally transient in nature yet often oddly retaining some “road name” or geographical reference – like the Johore Road Porridge Stall on Veerasamy Road, or the Katong Laksa in Holland Village. There must be hundreds of other examples of hawker stalls keeping the name of their original location, despite moving over and over again. But if all the things that we remember on Victoria Street are no longer in Victoria Street, then where or what is the meaning of associating oneself with Victoria Street, now that everything that was once there is replaced by something other?

A Meeting with a Land Surveyor

This weekend I was very fortunate to meet Mr KL Loh, a land surveyor who has been working for over 40 years in land surveying (and an avid collector of Killifish and moss expert!). He was very kind to invite me over to his house, and to tell me more about his work as a land surveyor, and we also looked through the symbols I’ve been collecting for the last few years. (Many thanks to Mr Loh and his family for having me over – and Caleb for introducing us in the first place!)

It was really really amazing to finally speak with a real land surveyor and to hear it directly from someone who makes official, practical marks which are being used in actual architectural and civil engineering projects in Singapore and we had many many urban stories or anecdotes to share and talk about. I will slowly process it all and write more about it in time to come.

It appears that most of what I have been collecting is not always “survey markers” but also a lot of informal civil engineering markers. True survey markers always have a plate and a reference number. The number is stored inside a big database known as the Integrated Land Information Service and anyone can retrieve information from this service (such as property titles, boundary plans, cadastral maps, control points) for a small fee.

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This is the cover plate for what would be a real control point made by a land surveyor.

On INLIS, this is a list of information that is provided:

a. Property Title Information comprising title, ownership, encumbrances, last transaction information and Land Encroachment Details
b. Property Ownership Information
c. Property Title Information – Estate and Land Description
d. Property Title Information – Encumbrances Information
e. Property Title Information with Cadastral Map
f. Historical Information which lists instruments and caveats lodged against a title or unregistered land after it has been computerised
g. Caveat Index Information which lists caveats lodged and still affecting an unregistered land
h. Land Information – Lot Particulars
i. Land Information – Lot History
j. Encroachment Boundary Plan
k. Certified Plan
l. Strata Certified Plan
m. Registrar of Title Plan
n. Road Line Plan
o. Horizontal Control Point & Vertical Control Point
p. Image of HDB Leases
q. Image of HDB Instruments
r. Image of Private Property Instruments
s. Image of Index to Land Book
t. Image of Index to Caveat Book
u. Image of Private Property Deeds

Available Graphical Information (as listed on INLIS):

• Cadastral Map
• Property Title Information with Cadastral Map
• Road Line Plan
• Horizontal Control Point & Vertical Control Point

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Trimble CU Controller

Some of the interesting things I learnt were that (1) the control points are also sometimes on turf and i have only collected ones on pavements but surveyed points sometimes aren’t always on concrete pavements or roads, and (2) the control points have the potential to go missing – KL said that many control points were made much more quickly in modern times, and as a result some of them would disappear after a few years. So when surveyors returned to look for them after many years (or when looking for other control points listed on INLIS) these points might have disappeared (soil movement might also cause their position to shift!). Apparently in the old days some of the control points were marked out with granite blocks and they were laid into the turf/ground with more time and care; a few still exist in older places such as Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and possibly Bukit Brown.

With regards to blocks that stick out on grassy turf… having read a book on LTA Guidelines recently, I have also realized that there is also much more to learn about those boxes and pipes we sometimes see on roads. I have frequently wondered why sometimes pavements have little metal boxes sticking out and it appears they are not all the same! Those little boxes or tubes serve very different purposes in monitoring different things. Here are diagrams of what some things that stick out from roads might be:

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Pneumatic Piezometer

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Inclinometer

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Water Standpipe

 

More significantly, for my work, it seems the variance in shapes and drawing depends a lot on the individual surveyor/clerk of works who is drawing it on the ground – whether for his own reference, or for his company to be able to recognise the mark. As many of these marks aren’t official survey marks, the person drawing it for their temporary reference while working on a civil engineering or road project could technically take any “artistic” liberties with it and draw almost anything so as to make the marking recognisable to himself during the duration of the project.

Sites of Construction

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63 floors up in the sky and on the rooftop of One Raffles Place is 1-Altitude. Naturally, with my love for cities, I am attracted to the view from the top of skyscrapers. Before 1-Altitude existed, the highest urban spot you could plausibly go to in Singapore (with a spectacular view) was New Asia Bar / City Space, at the top of the Swissotel at Raffles City.

It is funny because I just recalled that I first became well-acquainted with the New Asia Bar quite some years ago while, at the time, I had been going out with someone who had been attempting to work as a “Private Investigator” at the time. I say “attempting” because now when I look back on it, his choice of working as a Private Investigator seemed more to fulfill his pipe dream of being a detective rather than a sensible career move. Without any prior police background or surveillance training (he had originally been an English teacher and studied Middle English), he approached his work assignments in a desultory, do-it-yourself fashion with self-invented decoys and covers, with methods found on the internet such as newspapers with slits in them, and holes cut in bags for cameras to peek out of.

I suppose one would say that becoming a Private Investigator was a job that one would have done for passion – but yet for all the ingenuity required, I’m sad to say that it was not an extremely lucrative or financially sustainable profession for the person on the ground who was doing all the tedious legwork. The hours were long and the work was very hard. He eventually quit and went back to teaching English (in any case we are no longer in contact anymore today).

Back then, for some reason, one of his assignments at that time also necessitated him periodically taking aerial shots of a certain construction site that could be observed from New Asia’s expansive aerial view. I’d tag along in the mid-afternoon and we’d go to New Asia, have a lemonade or fruit schnapp, and look out at the open patches of construction and deep excavation sites close to the foot of the building.

While honestly I don’t feel as if this directly influenced me or my current work in any way, I do find it to be a pretty uncanny coincidence, considering that I somehow ended up developing my personal work and writings along the lines of cities being repositories of clues – of a bigger mystery to be solved. Like the “ruins in reverse” as described by Robert Smithson, I find that I look to construction sites for ghosts and phantoms of the future, of the realities not yet realised.

To extend the thought a bit more, what this means is that through my work I would rather like to create “semiotic ghosts” (William Gibson). “Semiotic ghosts” refer to things which exist in people’s minds as actual OBJECTS and THINGS that could exist and might be built one day, but at the present moment have not actually been built. In having given it a name and imagined its possible existence in the world, they exist because we can talk about it like it really exists, and we can also write about it in essays and in fiction as if it really does exist. Sometimes that is all you need in order for the thing to exist.

So it exists conceptually and on that count one cannot deny that it “exists”. Yet at the same time it also does not really exist…

Or on the flipside, maybe one would say I’m just simply trying to make the best of this modern, boring, generic construction site that is Singapore; just trying to find me some metaphorical fossils while I’m here, since I’ve got no real rocks or fossils to dig up…