Pulau “Funtasy”: The Maritime Dispute between Singapore and Indonesia that Wasn’t

Perhaps this is old-hat news to all folks with their ears pressed to the ground here, but of late I haven’t kept up with the news and I’ve only just heard of the story of Funtasy Island and its curious case of cartographic confusion which happened a few months back in June 2016.

A little sleuthing (actually just some common sense in extrapolating the possible file name of the previous map) resulted in this find:

Hold on to your flags, it’s not a land grab, it’s just a problematically coloured map produced by a marketing team!

So this was the map that started the misunderstanding…

“Funtasy Island” is described on its website as “328 hectares of pristine tropical islands” which “will be home to a limited number of villas carefully designed to sit harmoniously with the unspoiled natural environment”. Formerly known as Pulau Manis, the Singapore-based developer, Funtasy Island Development (FID), had renamed it as as “Funtasy Island” when it recently unveiled its resort map to the world in June earlier this year. Located 16km from Singapore, its “artist impressions”/promotional pictures also depict a very visible Singapore Skyline in the distance and it is advertised as soon to be having a direct ferry service from Singapore.

Funtasy Island developers thought they were highlighting its proximity to Singapore by producing a map for marketing purposes which depicted the cluster of islands coloured in the same blue colour as Singapore, but the image went viral after first being covered in the Jakarta Post and the colouring was immediately interpreted by Indonesians as being Singapore’s attempt to claim the island as Singapore territory, resulting in a knee-jerk reaction from Indonesian media and amongst Indonesian politicians.

Indonesian Army Personnel from Kodim (Dandim) 0316/Batam were even being dispatched to go down to plant the Indonesian flag on the islands, and a ‘deeply puzzled’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Singapore issued a statement:

Red. The Colour of the Indonesian Flag.
Now totally no one is going to mistake it for Singapore, that little red d- oh wait…

Certainly this belies the many sensitivities between Singapore and Indonesia and its other close neighbours, bubbling just beneath the surface. Perhaps for some it might have brought to mind the prolonged Ligitan and Sipadan dispute – when Indonesia and Malaysia had a territorial dispute over the Indonesia-Malaysia maritime boundary and the two islands – which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) later determined to be Malaysia territory. Or the case of Nipah Island, which has been one of the agreed basepoint for Indonesia’s maritime border with Singapore – over the years millions of cubic metres of sand were dredged and sold to Singapore for its own reclamation works, eventually triggering Indonesia concerns about Nipah Island becoming submerged below sea level during high tide, prompting extensive reclamation work on the island in order to preserve it as the agreed basepoint for Indonesia’s maritime border with Singapore.

The Treaty between the Republic of Indonesia and the Republic of Singapore Relating to the Delimitation of the Territorial Seas of the Two Countries in the Eastern Part of the Strait of Singapore was signed again for the second time in 2014 – extending the part of the line that has been previously agreed upon – but so far only some portions of the maritime border between Singapore and Indonesia has been defined and agreed on. Apparently some of the remaining parts yet to be determined may also require Malaysia’s involvement – since at some point Singapore’s waters do meet with both Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s!

Despite its technical trickiness, surely the only outcome desired by both Singapore and Indonesia would be a peaceful agreement that would be in the mutual interest of both countries. So people, be careful with how and what you map! For as it has been proven, it’s not all fun and fantasy, these maps wield power…

Image Source: Funtasyisland.com

Tilemill – Conditional Label Placement, Pseudo 3D Building Effects, and Polygon Patterns

Tilemill is an excellent tool for map design and development, which really provides ease of use through CartoCSS. For me, I think it is very accessible for designers/artists who might not have a clue about arc/gis but just want to design a map decently. Today I’m finalising the maps for my Paris Postdated project so I sat down to figure out a few things…

Conditional Label Placements

Microsoft Excel

I read a guide suggesting this method, which works. The funny thing is that I have not gotten it to properly “not overlap” in the past, and by setting it to “text-allow-overlap:false;” this usually results in NO LABELS at all. And in the end, sometimes I just want ONE or TWO labels to be done in another direction.


Solution: Created a new column called dir, and when dir = 1 it will be aligned to NW instead of NE.

Pseudo 3D Effects


Pseudo 3D effects can be gotten for buildings as well. If my data had building heights (which sadly it does not) then I could multiply my height value by the actual height of the building! In other words, instead of this:

#building { building-height:5; }

you could actually have this (where “height” is the field in for your building height):

#building { building-height:[height]*5; }

Basically, values drawn onto the maps can be derived directly from attributes in one’s data source. So there is some room to be inventive in how you map out the values. Seems to work for a number of fields such as marker-width and marker-height and building-height. Probably works for directions/orientation of labels if your data has that…

Polygon Patterns

Another way in which to add texture to the maps is overlaying a pattern file over polygons. You can make your own, or alternatively Subtle Patterns has a whole bunch of useful patterns which are very suitable for overlaying onto your maps.

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 8.06.00 PM.png

There is a list of Compositing Operations (comp-op) available, including plus, minus, color-dodge, color-burn, invert, etc. You can use this to composite the pattern layer over the original colours selected, so the colours can be still fine-tuned live, along the way….

Map {

In addition to that, there is also polygon-gamma (which you can set to around 0.5-1 and which will help make polygons sit together more seamlessly) and polygon-pattern-alignment, which can be local or global. Local means its just for that polygon, global mean its aligned to the overall metatile instead of each of the individual polygons. Here is an example of Singapore with some patterns…

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 8.11.04 PM.png

Well that was bit tiny. Also, these are only very simple, design-related operations. I’m having more difficulties figuring out how to use PostgreSQL and PostGIS to clean up some stuff, but I thought I’d at least document the easy parts first!…

Dream Syntax: The Book – PREORDER IT NOW!


After days of intensive work, I’m glad to announce that Dream Syntax the Book is almost complete and ready for preorder! NOW WITH 102 MAPS FOR EACH OF THE DREAMS – the most time consuming part of this project ever. And I’ve even made a mockup of what it might look up above there, in case you can’t imagine how the book will look like. Yes, I was so excited about it that I even photoshopped an image of what I imagined the book should look like.

Dream Syntax is the first book by Debbie Ding, containing maps and stories of Debbie’s dreams, 102 of them, from the last 6 years. It is written, illustrated, designed, and self-published by Debbie. I’m only doing a small limited edition of 500, which will be individually hand-numbered, and it should arrive on 5 Sept 2013, just in time for my solo exhibiton on the 6th at Galerie Steph (MORE ABOUT THAT COMING SOON).

If you’re in Singapore, you can even place a preorder for the book now at http://dreamsyntax.bigcartel.com/. You can self-collect or add a little bit more for local postage within Singapore. I should be figuring out the postage rates for International postage in the next few days, so stay tuned. Please support Debbie’s first book!

Here’s a peek at the wet proof from my printer (First Printers):






So how did this book come about? Well, 6 years ago I began collecting my dreams in map form, over various notebooks and papers. Eventually I realised this could take the form of a book. The book became a never-ending project. Eventually, a line had to be drawn! I decided to arbitarily stop at 100 entries for this book. But in the course of working on the book I had two more dreams. So I added them in. And then there were 102 dreams in the book. So that was the final cap for this book. But of course, the dreaming still goes on and on and on…

This is what the first notebook looked like from 2008:


Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 8.14.38 PM.png


Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 8.15.24 PM.png


Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 7.55.02 PM.png

When I was hard at work laying out the entire book at breakneck speed, I had another peculiar dream about numbers. Obviously, it did not make the date cut-off for this book, but I think its still worth a mention:

Now, I’ve had many dreams about words and letters, but never any dreams about numbers. But after spending hours wrestling with page numbers and entry numbers, I had a dream that was basically all about numbers. In my dream, I was at the computer, writing out another dream in which there was a character called “3” and I was known as “1”. My father came into my room and saw me typing out the story, and asked me “Why do you always have to play character 1? 1 is the smallest number! Why don’t you play a bigger number?” And I said, “Don’t be silly, 1 is also the most important!” I also knew that “1” was merely a role, a kind of stock character that many actors might play at a certain point in the course of one’s acting career, like Hamlet or King Lear. At that point I decided to go outside to buy an unagi eel for my supper (this must be because that day at dinner, Kent had been going on about how his favourite food at a certain Japanese restaurant was UNAGI fried rice). Stepping out of the house, I walked down the street and past a room full of girls who were all 7s, past a middle-aged 26 sleeping inside a clear perspex box. The person at the 7-11 was a 47. I realised everyone was actually just a number, but I just hadn’t properly noticed it before because I was not looking at it in the right way. I got back to my computer and started drafting out a map of these numbers I had seen. Over the internet, I also told George this strange revelation, “people are all just numbers!” When I told him this, he asked me what number he was. But then, I realised that I did not know what number he was…

Anyway. For more dream stories like this…





First Published September 2013
ISBN: 978-981-07-7491-2
Designed by Debbie Ding
Written by Debbie Ding

Smelling your way through a city: Lush

Today, I went to Kinokuniya to find some old maps of Singapore; blithely, and without having checked the Internet if such materials actually publicly existed. Naturally, when I got there, i discovered there were no antique, vintage, or even slightly older maps. All the maps at Kinokuniya were maps of the present moment in time – 2011/2012 – and nothing else. If Singapore’s largest and most vast bookstore doesn’t have any old maps of Singapore, then where else would one access such things? I found this rather disappointing; why hasn’t anyone thought to produce something like a series of Ordnance Survey maps through the ages, but for Singapore? I just wanted to find out the route of the old canals from an old map of Singapore… Doesn’t every country treasure its old maps? Do we not have any old maps in Singapore that are celebrated or iconic?

After this abortive excursion, I was returning to Orchard MRT through the route I have always taken underground for all of my life. I was about to get to the MRT when I thought I smelled something sweet and oddly familiar while passing through Wisma Atria. I could not quite place my finger on it at first, I couldn’t recall why it was so intensely familiar and why it was attracting me. The overpowering scent seemed to come from a shop I have always avoided on principle but am nonetheless visually attracted to. This offending store was called “Typo” which sold “nerd glasses” without lenses and “campus notebooks” with old generic western map symbols all over it. It was even more ridiculous to see so many “old maps” masquerading as wrapping papers there because one could probably safely say that the entire Orchard Road shopping strip would not have a single store that sold historically meaningful maps. And there were no real places that these maps were showing us; these “old maps” were simply the accessories and wallpapers for a “designer lifestyle”.

Anyway, thankfully, the bewitching smell had not originated from this abomination of a store. Walking right through this shop, I emerged on the other side of the corridor and there it was: a… LUSH outlet. Yes, LUSH, of pungently fragrant soaps piled up like haystacks, gleefully puddling in tubs like chunky half-melting ice cream. Of intense jasmine sweetness, creamy honey swirls, and crinkly yellow paper bag goodness. I am a true sap for the sweeties and LUSH is a store that hasn’t been in Singapore for virtually a decade, having quietly slinked away from its units at Suntec after what appeared to be some tougher economic times. I was too young and too poor to afford the soaps back then, so my main encounter with LUSH was at Liverpool Street Station in London, where the soaps were not so overpriced when one was earning pounds. But the soaps still overpowered the nose and seeped into everything around it. More recently while travelling from Cornwall to London last year, I had picked up a bar of Godiva at Paddington Station (or was it Victoria?). So at Wisma Atria, I found myself gaping at a mountain of Godiva bars on the counter. The girl tending to the store seemed well familiar with this type of response, cooing: “Yes, its been a long time, hasn’t it?” Suddenly, I realised that this smell of soap has already coloured my memory of places. Like when a track happens to be playing in the background when something serious happens, and subconciously it begins to take on more significance than it expects to.

liverpool street
And now! Remixing these smells and memories! Taking the MRT, jostling with pimply singaporean teenagers, imagining the light filtering through the trees on the train right, the cold rush of wind through the Tube station, the emergency crisps! Help! And all this, because I found the exact same soap in another country with a consistency that is all too predictable.

I have to admit that I do enjoy the consistent comforts of modernity; for example, it can also be said that most of my wardrobe has consisted on generic plain tailored dresses from Muji or Uniqlo, both of which I have visited in multiple countries. The consistency of the plain “no-brand” generic is something that I find comforting despite the knowledge that it too exists and operates within that same (and slightly sinister) postmodern economy; where traces of memory and culture often appear to have been utterly erased and replaced by the same modern effects all around the world. Shopping malls look the same all around the world, void of interesting architectures and real communities – replaced instead with distorted representations of people and manipulated desires.

Similarly, I am aware that even the little “organic handmade soap” that I have been so fond of over the years could quite very well be not very much different from a mass produced, global commodity, with this bar of soap travelling vast distances to get to me no matter where I might be residing. You might imagine that a sensible response might be to seek out that which is different or unique within a sea of endless repetition. Yet perhaps by dint of having grown up here, I also feel at home at shopping malls overseas because they remind me of Singapore in particular. I wonder why it is that I feel so nostalgic for things. If I keep on buying soaps or things because I am trying to “recapture” a moment in the past, then life would be really boring or artificial I kept it up for too long. I would be stopping myself from exploring new things if I got comfortable with old, sentimental favourites. So I guess this time around I’ll allow myself to roll around in a nostalgic soap – but next time we’re going out to find new smells that we’ve never smelled before!

There are other reasons why the very word “lush” warms the cockles of my silly little heart but we’ll leave that for another story time.