Places affect us. In the buzzing ambience of my home country Singapore, most public spaces have a drone of chatter from the coffee-shops (the orders of your “Kopi-O!” are yelled out by the waiter to the person at the counter making your coffee), a pan-zooming effect of motor vehicle, or the chimes of bells and announcements from the public transport system. Even when I am home in my apartment, my family and I are never spared from buzz. Like most average Singaporeans, we live in pricey Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, which are often stacked high and packed close to each other. You can either be entertained by the commotion of your neighbor in the next block, feel part of the percussive trance of sacred ceremonies of the hindu temple, or go to the Chinese temple next-door to watch the Chinese Opera performing for the dead (Humans are also invited). We can appreciate this necessity for closeness, due to the scarcity of land – the smallest country in the world (and also the most expensive city to live in).
The price is high. It is not just the exposure to prolonged ambient noise that can cause a heightened stress response (see Julian Treasure TED talk on how sound affects us), or the density of people that we are confronted with on a daily basis. There is also a lack of space that we can rejuvenate, replenish, and hold us quietly in a disquieting world. I hear this often with people that I work with in therapy. After exploring with them about their troubles, I ask them what do they need at that particular point. I hear them say things like, “I just need to re-charge,” “I need to go somewhere to relax,” or “I just need some peace.” Continue reading