Have a little faith — issue #27

Have a little faith — issue #27


I grew up with a staunch atheist father, but went to a Catholic school where prayer was an everyday routine.

As a teenager, it was hard for me to square the two experiences.

Today, I still describe myself as an atheist if I have to—but I also increasingly find labels unhelpful. The rationality and rigour of atheism, I admit, brings me little comfort. In my darkest moments, I often find myself in prayer, hoping for divine or cosmic intervention.

Believing is simply part of being human. It allows us to hope, provides guidance and solace, and tethers us to our pasts and histories. In Asia, faith takes all shapes and forms. It doesn't fit into neat boxes and definitions, and some are amalgamations of multiple belief systems. For example, the Tua Pek Kong Temple in Changi, Singapore, serves Taoists, Buddhists, and Hindus alike.

Beyond anything, faith is part of Asia's societal fabric. In Thailand, almost all young men spend some time as a monk. Even in hypermodern Japan, there are more shrines than there are konbini (convenience shops). It shapes our identities and our relationships. Of course, because faith defines us so, it often plays a part in conflict and disagreement.

It would be silly to think of faith as a silo, mystical and separate from daily life in Asia. After all, one cannot talk about Asia meaningfully without appreciating how faith, in all its diverse forms, runs through its very fabric. What we strive to do is celebrate it, honour its traditions, and understand how it continues to find relevance in modern life. For example, our stories have discussed how women achieve equality in their religions, or how historic sites of worship maintain community ties despite changing lifestyles.

As usual, we encourage you to share with us your story ideas. We're always open to hearing them, and we'll work with you to make it happen. Let us know at pitch@kontinentalist.com.

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an edited photo of Kaaba with Muslim devouts walking around it, and a background of a map.
Our in-depth walkthrough of the annual Hajj—Arabic for "pilgrimage"—offers rare access to the lengths Muslims from around the world go in order to perform one of the five pillars of Islam.
a photo of the Torajans of Indonesia
Instead of a full stop signalling the end of life, death can be expressed as different punctuations too: a comma (,), an em-dash (—), and even an exclamation mark (!)—as seen in people of these faith.
an illustration of people interacting with feng shui elements
Call it superstitious hocus pocus if you will, but feng shui has had great longevity and reach. Is its enduring popularity a sign of its utility, or is something less tangible at play?
a photo of Jack Zhao, with the text: Meet the Community, Jack Zhao Data visualisation specialist and co-founder of Small Multiples
In this not-to-be-missed interview, we chat with Jack Zhao, co-founder of Small Multiples studio, Australia's leading data visualization studio. He uses data viz to spotlight social injustice, celebrate Chinese heritage, and bridge cultural understanding.
an image of splice podcast
This thing that we got going—us sliding into your inboxes every month—is nice and all, but maybe it's time for the next step.

In a lo-fi intimate setting, hear our co-founder Pei Ying share our origin story, business plan, and more in Splice's
latest podcast episode
Whenever we talk about "craft", we bring up what our intentions are and how we best bring them to life. But it's high time we give credit where it's due—to the the tools we use. In the words of the Weeknd, I'd be nothing', nothing', nothing' without (the tools).

I'll be sharing about tools in my capacity as a writer who produces data stories. The latter is an important distinction, because as the story's "owner", writers get to have opinions and offer direction to the design, marketing, and development teams, too.

Tools for storyboarding/ideation: Figma(FigJam), Google Slides, Slack huddle, pencil and paper

I like to see how the entire story looks visually, even at the ideation phase. For that, I mainly use pencil and paper to get a rough structure out, then Figma (or FigJam) when I have the story sections and potential data viz. This then serves as the basis for team discussions (via Slack's huddle), in which other members of the team can quickly add in inspirations or draw in refinements to the charts. 

FigJam is a relatively new addition to my tools. The difference it makes to me as a non-designer is that I feel less burdened to fit my content into frames compared to Figma's boards. I also like the sticky note function, which is more visible than Figma's comment bubble.

I mainly use Google Slides for collaboration with external partners, into which I add in my data analysis and examples of charts we can include. I've been dipping my toes into Observable, because you can do (almost) everything in it and share it as a link, but I'm not proficient enough at it to add it to my workflow yet.

Tools for writing and structuring the story: Google Docs, pencil and paper, Telegram

Google Docs to keep track of the edits and comments—and the life-saving "see version history" function. Telegram to send myself a phrase or angle that I'd thought of outside working hours, as it's my go-to messaging app and it syncs across devices.

Tools for data exploration and visualization: Python, Flourish, Mapbox, QGIS, LibreOffice

Python for data cleaning, analysis, and quick visualizations using matplotlib. Flourish to try out different iterations of charts if the data doesn't immediately call for a specific type of chart. It also saves a lot of time, as the interactive charts adapt to different screen sizes.

Special shout-out to LibreOffice, which is basically a free version of Microsoft Excel. I used to have to import data into Google Sheets, because Numbers on Mac is simply hopeless, so this saved me a lot of time—especially in the early phases of the story, when I'm shopping around for relevant data.

From experience, people who're curious about data storytelling tend to fixate on tools. I totally get this—whenever I see a cool project, I want to know how it got made. But ultimately, if the tool gets the job done, it's a good tool for you.
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↘︎ What're the meanings behind the names and architecture of mosques in Singapore? Our multi-talented developer Aishah (@teh0prendjak) has the answers in her whimsical and informative data story project.

↘︎ Check out this video explainer from the ReligionForBreakfast Youtube channel, which used affiliation, beliefs, and activity to account for the low rates of religiosity in the least religious countries in the world. 

↘︎ Through small multiples of "holy crystals" radar charts, Arushi Singh (@arushisingh89) visualised how religiously diverse different cities in the United States are. 

↘︎ Take a look at this sprawling beast of a graphic by Alex Fink, in which he attempts to map out the merges, lineages, and splits of the world's religions. 

↘︎ Under "normal" circumstances, searching is an act of faith, in which some reward lies in waiting. For families of Mexico's disappeared people, what awaits at the other end of their search may be unspeakable horror. Take some time to read through this visual story by Global Initiative, produced by us. 

↘︎ "Each element in it represents a person who died by* suicide in the Netherlands in the year 2017".  Much of A View of Despair by Sonja Kuijpers is spent unpacking the patterns observed in suicides in the Netherlands. But in writing the piece as a survivor herself, she represents the hope that things do get better—and that we've got to hang in there to live it.