by Terese Teoh
Mirror Maze, Jewel@Changi
“Lurid lights!” I shriek and cover my eyes the moment the staff yanks open the curtain, as if he had unleashed a weapon to blind me. He scowls at me through his mask and I quickly divert my eyes away. As I shuffle into the maze, the words enunciate themselves again because something inside me needs to hear it one more time. “Lurid lights.”
I’m mildly pleased that I remember the new word I learned last week, but also disturbed every time I need to use it. Lurid neon colours flash in lines that formed triangles that formed pentagons that formed a reticulated network of shapes on the ground. A technicolour fantasy; a child’s cotton candy world. The background music drones to a tune of cheerful bells punctuated with the toot of a horn. Though it doesn’t blast too loud, too garishly like those flashing lights, the monochromatic refrain that repeats for no end irritates me greatly.
This is supposed to be a happy place. I am supposed to be enjoying myself.
We are each given a cylinder-shaped styrofoam stick to beat around our surroundings, so that we don’t accidentally crash into the mirrors. Around me my parents and siblings seem to be enjoying themselves, and trying to nudge me into the jovial atmosphere too.
But I find the entire affair, of beating around walls, staring at a million copies of you, and scrutinising yourself in the mirror closest to you, thoroughly meaningless. So is it supplemented by meaningless conversations around me, like wow, I can see thousands of you!, which feels strange considering all of us present are basically adults.
I don’t have the heart to say that this gaudy place is exhausting to be in, or that the conversation is utterly meaningless, so I lumber over to the solo plant, which, although plastic, is a comforting, still forest green that sets it apart from the garish stripes dancing on the floor. It looks like an amputated garden trellis, ripped right out of a page from a book of fairytales. The orchids are a triumphant fuchsia, displaying themselves pompously in capital letters, whilst white and yellow flowers idle around in the background.
Feeling its plastic weight in my hands, listening to the rumble of the music that is now of waves crashing against the shore, I think about how much of this place is plastic, how much of this place is an attempt of humankind boldly proclaiming they can be just as good as nature by mimicking it. We lost the forest? Just get some electricity, speakers and plastic, we can bring it back for you. I shudder.
There is really nothing in the mirror maze other than what you can guess from its name. But I know my parents have paid for my ticket here and not wanting to sound ungrateful, I try to engage and copy what everyone else is doing: look at my reflection in the mirror. Piece myself together from different angles. So that’s how I look from behind. From the side. From the front. In the midst of my absent-mindedness, a new thought strikes me: how many hundreds of mirrors were used in the construction of this maze, how much silica from sand was used, which Southeast Asian country did that sand come from, which ecosystem has been sacrificed. For this meaningless entertainment in the rich world.
Most mirrors are made up of aluminium and glass. Aluminium is extracted from refining bauxite (aluminium ore), while glass is made from silica, which is mined from sand. Sand is a non-renewable resource; often the sale of sand is a zero-sum game. One country’s gain is another country’s loss. To prevent foreign plundering of the environment, this was why in 2018, Cambodia banned exports of sand to Singapore.
But the environmental and social impact of mirrors hardly stops at its mining stage. Later, silica sand is transported to a glass-making factory where the processes of melting in furnaces (which runs for 24 hours, like an incineration plant), acid polishing, cutting and forming of crystal glass are astounding emitters of CO2, NOx and SO2 pollutants . At the end-of-life, mirrors cannot be recycled either, due to chemical treatments of the glass.
Altogether, the exorbitant impact of mirrors on the environment is nothing short of terrifying.
My intestines twist uncomfortably as the chatter and banter around me resumes. When we finally head towards the exit, there is a last motion-sensor light show, where a touch of your hands on the wall has a King-Midas effect of sparking off a million rainbow-coloured diamonds. My family find this fascinating, but I can’t help being disturbed by the show’s wasteful use of electricity for an unreserved appeal to the human desire for power and riches. Yeuch.
Excessive and resource-intensive displays are characteristic of so many of Singapore’s attractions. If our goal is cleaner, climate-friendly cities that treasure social equality around the globe, then I’m sorry, please save the space for something else. Pointless installations for pointless entertainment have to go.
- Pulselli, R.M., Ridolfi, R., Rugani, B. et al. Application of life cycle assessment to the production of man-made crystal glass. Int J Life Cycle Assess 14, 490–501 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-009-0085-5
Terese Teoh is the Editor of Let’s Talk Climate at Plastic-Lite Singapore. She is an undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University, majoring in Environmental Earth Systems Science and Public Policy. You can read more of her articles on her personal website: trashnottrash.wixsite.com/website.