Iceland


I have to start blogging on the plane does before I forget most of the things that I saw and felt on this trip. At the start of this academic year I felt that I wouldn’t be able to travel much this year, and I remembered I had to make the choice between Finland and Morocco because I was going back home for two extended holidays – Christmas and CNY. Even though this is my final year, going back twice honestly has been my intention for a very long time, given that my 21st birthday and CNY would coincide with both the holidays from the school. These were reflected on my Instagram post when I once expressed that it would hopefully be my first and last CNY away from home last year. First CNY, because my family members were over with me in my first year to celebrate it with me. I always wonder whether I am wasting the limited time I have here, because my time is honestly running out. I do wish that I would not be returning back to London for graduate school because it means I have fallen short of my first two choices, and if these wishes work out it means that I barely have 4 months left in this city. But I really want to go home for CNY. I think there is this inexplicable feeling when you return home for the family celebrations you have always held close to heart since young. It is increasingly of importance to me because my brother would probably be getting married and moving out in the next few years or so, while my cousins are also starting to move into the next stages of their lives slowly.

Therefore when I was offered the chance to join Dilys and her housemates on her trip to Iceland it was really attractive. It was a choice right smack in the middle of rushing for dissertation but I am glad I went. In the few days leading up to the trip I had looked at my dissertation every single day and it was starting to make me feel so tired of whatever I was doing. It was so repetitive – repeating data analysis because I had to reorder my locations, repeating all the R analysis, repeating the transferring of information into Excel, repeating the production of graphs from MATLAB for every single small mistake I found. It was honestly so irritating, and if everyone has faced a moment when they regretted their dissertation topics that was mine. I knew I would get through it eventually but it felt like I had been working on my data for three months already, and I was still stuck at the earliest stages.

The trip was a short-term respite from all of that, and I think there is no better place than Iceland to relish in the beauty of nature. I remember reading about Iceland being a land of ice and fire when I was doing my personal statement 3 to 4 years ago, and realising that Europeans had an added advantage simply because of their proximity to all these geological zones. What I saw in front of me was newly formed rocks from recent volcanic eruptions. Volcanic beaches composed entirely of black sand formed from lava (and I brought home a bit hehe). The giant waterfalls pouring at the mouth of long meandering rivers, and the icy path we had to trod in to get an upclose view of it. If you close your eyes, all you would hear is the loud sound of the pouring waterfall, but yet sounds from nature will never irritate you like urban noise pollution does. The geysers spurting out water every few minutes when they reach their boiling points causing cycles and cycles of tourists to be awed. We unfortunately did not manage to catch the northern lights because of the weather but it was amazing to get out of the bus to see an entire patch of snow and stars that were only partly covered by the clouds. And to be served hot chocolate to keep yourself warm and comfortable while we were waiting for the elusive appearance of the aurora. I think that at that moment you cannot help but be in awe of whatever you have around you, and I felt so happy to be alive. Mother Nature is so beautiful.

In the past I could only write about the beautiful landforms I saw at the Blue Mountains to get my way into UCL. Honestly I do not even remember whether they were that amazing, I probably created an alternative imagination of the place from Googling. But these few years have made me very very well traveled. I even brag to some that I am a seasoned traveller now, that I do not get stopped at long waiting lines for security clearance anymore because of how much I have gotten familiar with the security checks. This academic year in particular I have also seen the Sahara Desert in Morocco with a sky full of stars, and the orange hue reflecting off the sand because of the sunlight. And now Iceland. And of course not forgetting Norway and Switzerland two years ago now. These are probably my favourite trips, for these where were my textbook came alive, and these were landscapes that I would never be able to imagine beyond what a 2D photo will capture online.

I hope I will remember how these places look forever, and I hope that I would be able to bring my family members and HT to these places to experience it for themselves one day.



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Snow


Can you see the snowfall by the small opening in the window? The lack of contrast to the rest of the background here (white concrete walls, white cloudy sky) does not allow the full extent of the snow to be seen.

It is a Sunday afternoon and I wanted to go to the library in the morning initially. I knew by experience that the library does not open before 11am having been stuck hovering outside in the cold because I was a little bit too early this one Sunday. After being fully prepared to leave the house at 11.45am (i.e. applied sunblock, filled my tumbler with coffee, filled my water bottle, packed my organiser and turned off my laptop), I got stopped because it started snowing heavily. I was initially irritated (lol off-topic but I accidentally typo-ed “irrigated”), but felt quite bad after a while because I realised snowfall was something that not everyone has the privilege and chance of seeing. It is one thing to see snow on ski slopes and in mountainous regions, but seeing snowfall is a pretty rare occurrence for people who do not often go to high latitudinal/altitudinal regions. Of course, even rarer in a city like London, where the urban heat island effect should hit so strongly that it does not even allow snow to form in its descent from the upper atmosphere.

One good example would be HT’s mom, when he sent pictures of hand-built snowmen and the snowfall in Hokkaido to his family. His mom excitedly responded to his texts with snowman and snowflake emojis on WhatsApp and expressed in Chinese that she would love to have the chance to visit a country with snow one day. Snowfall in London is almost always welcomed because it is a rare occurrence, without the inconvenience brought about by snow because of its relatively high temperatures for its latitudes….. due to the effect of the warm Gulf stream… LOL. London does not experience snowstorms, flight delays and all that associated nightmare, and there is no need to hire workers to clear and salt the roads and add friction-inducing pebbles just to make daily life a bit easier. Snow is just a prettier version of rain. Or so I think, having excitedly been out and about on a snowy day about a month ago.

Also London mostly started snowing heavily this year because before this year it was only slight and short snowing events. I have thankfully never missed any of these heavy snowy days. I don’t think it was supposed to snow that heavily today. In spite of the fact that this is wet snow (no large patches of snow are forming) and that it has stopped me once again from having a more productive day, seeing the snow fall right in front of me as I type this post is very very beautiful. It mostly reminds me how lucky I am to be studying in this truly liveable city, yet being surrounded by neighbouring picturesque regions like the Lake District that show me how beautiful nature truly is.

There is an inexplicable magic in snow that makes me more thankful to be living today, and in this depressing winter season I hope it makes everyone that little bit happier.

Place is space with meaning

It always feels interesting to arrive in London again after an extended break back in Singapore. I revisit the feelings of having a double life, most notably the strange feelings of familiarity in a foreign place when I see Warren Street and King’s Cross again.

Leaving home was less painful this time with the knowledge that I would be heading back in one month’s time – to celebrate CNY and to attend my brother’s ROM, although I am already dreading the back-breaking flight. These flights are really taking a toll on my body each time and I increasingly respect air stewardesses more and more. I also want to thank HT for being there for me each time I depart and arrive, even though you had work commitments and it might have been awkward for you to leave early. Also for always being the giving party in our relationship. Meeting and having you in my life is a true blessing.

2017 in a nutshell

New Year resolutions set at the end of 2016

1. Learn at least 3 more full songs on the piano (the first being 以后别做朋友).
2. Advance far in Korean to attend the advanced language classes by the Korean Society next year, and to understand most drama dialogue by the end of the year.
*3. Obtain my driving license.

1. My piano unfortunately became a dust collector, or maybe a resting area for my clothes when they are still wet. Let’s just say having a teacher and having piano lessons are extremely important for undisciplined people like me when it comes to music.

2. I have not gone that far in Korean yet, but I am currently registered under Upper Intermediate Class 2 for next term – this is unfortunately a bullshit label, I can barely speak a proper sentence. I still cannot attend the Advanced classes because they engage in debates about politics when I can barely mouth out a grammatically correct sentence, but through this process I have realised that it is difficult to track the progress of language learning. I am definitely way more comfortable with listening to simple Korean dialogue though, and am also able to write sentences with relatively intermediate grammatical structures. I improved the most when I decided to sign myself up for Korean classes after summer, as it forced me to listen to my teacher speakƒjune quickly especially as she gave all her instructions in Korean. I also continued attending lessons by the Korean society, and at a point it seemed like I was putting in more effort in Korean than my academic pursuits (not true ok…)

3. Driving is a nightmare!!! I registered for my license in early 2017, and started lessons proper in mid-February. I drove until mid-April when I stopped to study for my examinations, and continued once again at the end of October until mid-December. Now that I have written it out, it doesn’t seem as if I went for many driving lessons afterall… but I disliked every single lesson and I really have Monday blues for this reason. I am sad to admit that I do not have an innate talent for driving or a born affinity with a manual car. I get afraid when I see a car slowing down in front, because I am afraid of stalling when shifting gears downwards. After so long, my clutch control is still pretty atrocious. I get afraid when I see a whole line of cars parked on the left because my left spatial awareness is really bad, and on many occasions my instructor has adjusted my steering wheel when I am on the drive because I am getting too near parked cars or too near the kerb. I am still a nervous idiot when approaching roundabouts. How will I ever get my license at this rate?! I don’t ever see my family members nervous when they drive, so why the heck am I so nervous… I should however, get my license by summer because my instructor told me to go ahead in booking my test, which I have not done because I do not think I ever will be ready. I hope they, as instructors, know best, and I hope her intuitions are accurate.

January

I paid for and attended the New Year Eve’s countdown north of the river with Weixuan and my batchboys. It was fun, and was not a nightmare getting home as I expected. I went on the UCLSS Ski Trip for the first time, and probably the last time in my life. I am sad to admit that I did not enjoy skiing as much as I thought I would, probably because I spent half the time being worried about getting injured. The muscle aches and blisters on my foot also served as a huge deterrence to enjoying the overall experience, and I was also for the most part of it down with a cold. My body clearly objected to the experience on these many grounds, and it also meant that I was unable to complete my GEOG2002 coursework leading me to achieve 55 marks on that. I guess we cannot regret these experiences though, because it was something I really wanted to go for at that point in time given that many seniors have already gone before me, and any older I would probably collapse on the slopes with injuries all over my body.

I spent the rest of January meeting up with people in the crazily cold temperatures, and attending Korean lessons in my thickest black coat when London hit temperatures of 0 degrees. I will remember these nights. I also remember attending HCI’s Chinese New Year carnival.

February

Academically, I enjoyed this month because there were no submissions and we were doing interesting things like a fieldtrip to the Men’s Bathing Ponds at Hampstead Heath and practical sessions on ostracods and diatoms. I had a meal at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant (Maze Grill) with Weixuan, Dilys and Xinmei. I had a blast with the Chinese New Year celebrations in London. There was Gold Mine and hotpot at Warwick with the RVUK people, there was another hotpot with the SAF seniors, there was a dinner at Beatriz’s house with Aloysius Beatriz and Youjing, there was another CNY dinner with the 74th people in London, there was a meal with Joey, Rachel and Lavender where I played CNY songs over Joey’s TV and there was the meal at Wern’s place where we had great hotpot. Near the end of the month there was also the gathering with the Intermediate class teachers and students that I enjoyed very much. HT secretly left Valentines’ Day presents for me through Chee Zheng through Weixuan, which was pretty interesting. Dilys, Weixuan and I spent Valentines’ Day at Chiswick Gardens looking at the Chinese New Year lanterns, which was quite a journey from our place after eating Shackfuyu (coincidentally after a disastrous driving lesson). I visited Xinci at Durham and watched Fifty Shades Darker, they did not even check my ID!

I also watched This Week, My Wife Is Having An Affair in this month and it remains one of the most thought-provoking dramas I have watched.

March

I watched The Kite Runner with Weixuan in the early part of the month, and sneaked to Dilys’ school for a free lunch at LSE. I attended the Korean BBQ outing organised by the UCL Korean Society, which was rather awkward because the intermediate class students were little represented. I remember rushing to finish quite a number of courseworks in this month- for Reconstructing Past Environments, Statistics and the dissertation proposal, assignments that I honestly enjoyed very much. The parcel that I forced HT to send from Singapore arrived, and I was happily living off Bee Cheng Hiang and some chocolates from Singapore. I started running in preparation for IPPT again, and had a lot more good meals with people (Honest Burgers, Patty and Bun, Herman Ze German). I met up with my batchboys, including Kenn Hong and Timothy Kok when they happened to come to London. I got rid of my hair because I dropped too much of it, unfortunately it was cut a bit too short and it tickled my neck. I watched The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time with Dilys and Weixuan. Gordon came to London in this month and put up at my place for a few days.

In this month, I went to Italy with my siblings! I nearly did not wake up on the train to Gatwick Airport, and cannot express how thankful I am when I got out of the train immediately upon waking up and realising that the doors closed immediately to head to the next station. The trip was something that I had anticipated for a very long time, as I had not seen my siblings in a very long time. We went to Milan, Rome, Florence, Venice and Verona together, and created some very funny and beautiful memories there. We bought microwave-able food to share at the Airbnb, and got lost in Venice trying to navigate up and down the stairs with huge luggages. I enjoyed all our jokes and laughter. Surprisingly I was not that sad when I had to leave my siblings at the end of a week, as I knew I was due to see them in a matter of 1.5 months.

April

I went to Amsterdam with Weixuan and Dilys to meet Jiayan and Kaiyun! I actually find this trip very memorable because it was very well-planned by people who knew the place most (not me oops), I enjoyed Jacketz, the pork ribs at Satellite Sports Cafe, I enjoyed the pancakes, the tulips, and learning a lot more about the red light district scene after watching the peep show. I remember feeling very strongly about these prostitutes, yet sadly realising that prostitution may actually be an attractive pathway for people who value a lavish lifestyle more importantly than their body.

Flipping through my organiser, it seems as if I worked very hard in the rest of this month in preparation for the examinations. I see quotes like “23 days to first paper!!!” and “*3 essay outlines a day!” plastered through the whole organiser page. I honestly do not remember working that hard because I was struggling to stay productive at home with the Forest app. I also thankfully managed to get IPPT Gold in this month, much to my surprise because I have been a potato year-round.

May

The start and end of examinations. More significantly I remember that I was frightened from my sub-par academic performance throughout the year and in most coursework submissions. It led me to develop a sense of anxiety for my papers because I was overly concerned that I would do badly: for the GEOG2020 Hydrology paper, I realised I forgot to bring my Casio watch when I left the house, something that was extremely significant to me in every examination as I would look at the timer run to pace my essay writing. I ran home to get it, and while making my way back to the examination venue my heart would not stop pounding. I wish I could say I am exaggerating, but I remember how scared I was about doing badly like the previous paper (GEOG2007). I thought about how I might not be able to pick out a single question that I could attempt with my learnt knowledge once again. I was trembling in the 5 minutes before the start of the paper when the venue remains silent while everyone waits for the clock to strike 2pm, and I hated that exam anxiety so so so much. Thankfully that paper went better than I expected.

I ended my last paper on a good note at Camden Town, and went to have lunch at Sushi Waka with Darren and Weixuan. We then went to Lanka for some green tea cake. I felt GREAT!!! The sense of liberation was exceptionally great this year. I also watched Weightlifting Fairy, which was a nice drama. I went to watch Wicked with Dilys, and went to Seven Sisters with Weixuan and Dilys. It was also the month I went home, and I saw HT after a long 6 months of being lovesick. He looked shorter than before, and his voice was more high-pitched than I remembered previously. I also attended Edina’s birthday party, the first 21st birthday party for me in the year after having missed many in the first half of the year.

June

I attended my second 21st birthday party – Kenn Hong’s party! I also went out with HT a lot in this month and of course spent a lot of money – bowling, KTV, suppers, ice-skating, and a lot more. I was busy relishing in the joy of returning home and unfortunately did not do much academically nor militarily, much to my bitter regret when I started school again this academic year. I also unfortunately started VA on RSS Freedom in this month, and it was really a scary experience to be posted to ship all alone by myself this time compared to the last. By then, I had no batchboys left on the wharf to guide me, and I no longer had a familiar ship crew to call my own. I was all by myself, and it was admittedly difficult in my first few days. I am thankful that I met some very kind people who taught me the ropes and familiarised me into the ship environment quite smoothly, and these are faces and names that I will definitely remember for life. It got more difficult after an unfortunate incident, and if I were to choose again I would rather not relive those days as it was extremely to drag myself to work with an extremely low morale.

July

Our anniversary dinner was good, but I could not enjoy it properly because I did not feel well. They even gave us a cheesecake on the house. I ended up waking up at 4am and vomiting into the toilet bowl. I fell very sick in this month with stomach flu, with 2 visits to the polyclinic and A&E on Saturday when no clinics were open. I honestly never felt this terrible before. I remember taking a cab to base to hand over the laptops and slides for sailing, and holding a plastic bag all the way because I got so queasy. I vomited everything that went in and had almost no appetite throughout the course of a week. I had a craving for frog porridge one day and made HT drive down to fetch me for it, and I sadly only ate one scoop of the porridge because I wanted to throw up with every bite.

I recovered in the same month, and also attended Dilys’s birthday party. It was a difficult month and lots of tears shed, which I would like to forget very much. In my journey ahead, I vow never to become like the senior officers that have shown little support, only hurling disparaging comments to young training officers. I know exactly what I found unpleasant and demoralising, and this post will immortalise my words to shape my actions in the future.

August

My mental health faced the most challenges in this month. I celebrated HT’s birthday with him and he was off for his 6 weeks sailing a few days later. It meant that in the many days when I felt beaten and worn out in this month, comfort was not at arm’s length. My mood was greatly affected evident in the many arguments with my family members and my morale was at an all-time low, because I saw no purpose for so many things I was doing.

I constantly faced challenges in getting COC opportunities, and the fact that no senior officers on my ship (lol) wanted to help me crushed me again and again. I remember HT calling me in the midst of his sailing after a few uncontactable days telling me that he had already gotten his COC on his new platform, but he withheld this information from me for a while because he did not want me to be sad upon knowledge of it (“I am not sure if I should tell you this”). I walked to the quarterdeck after ending the call and bawled my eyes out uncontrollably. This was of such significance for me that it was starting to affect the people around me, and I had no idea what to do because so many circumstances were beyond my control. I was even jealous of HT, an officer way more senior than me, because his fellow officers cared enough to even pick out his mistakes and teach him how to improve. I hated starting a new day because it meant I was running out of time. I hated losing out to unfairness when other luckier officers had their seniors fighting for them because they prioritised their growth on ship. I hated feeling like I had to beg people. Perhaps what was most difficult was the fact that I was supposed to be a happy and cheerful person, and I tried to keep this persona even in my interactions with people. Maybe I was, for most parts of the day, when I might be laughing in stupid conversations. But I would walk alone to the female changing room at night on duty days and cry for such a long time because that was the only thing I honestly could do to make myself feel better, to the point that other YOs would start messaging and calling me to ask me whether anything happened to me after realising that I disappeared for quite a while. No lah siao, don’t curse me hor! Nothing happened. I was just slacking in the changing room. I will do the rounds with you later, I would say. I would then quickly return back to ship after making sure that my eyes no longer appeared swollen.

I extended my VA once again. I thankfully gained some opportunities from other ships when I stayed later and, really, begged their appointment holders for it – but I faced even more obstacles when I tried going through the initial stages of assessments with other ships because of different ship cultures and therefore differing expectations as to what “you should be”. Thinking back, I wanted it so much I was so thick-skinned and asked to chip in for every fire drill opportunity and COC assessment. It paid off in the end, but only with help and assistance from the people I was once acquainted with in other ships, and of course I realise that I have to be very very very grateful for the trust entrusted in me and help out of their own goodwill. I ended VA on the last day of this month. I remember enjoying a lunch with my ship crew, and for the first time I actually remember feeling happy to be around the crew. I am thankful I left on a good rather than bad note for the fact that I got my COC, and I actually voiced this statement to my CO who told me that this required a lot of trust on their part. I am once again thankful, and I will not take this for granted in the depths of my heart.

September

My hair went back to brown to signify being a full-time civilian! I met up with a lot more people in this month and started chasing dragonflies in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, thankfully with HT who spent a lot more time with me after returning from sailing. I swam a lot this month at Temasek Club, because I realised the blessing of a 50m empty pool on weekdays. I also panicked and started preparing for Master’s applications (and am still panicking now), in the midst of my dragonfly data collection. I also drank LiHo too excessively in this month, as evident in my photo albums. I attended Szemin’s 21st birthday party too, much to my delight because I pushed returning back to London one week later.

October

Back in London. Started Korean lessons, that I very much enjoyed even though there was quite a bit of homework each week. Ate a lot within the span of a week – Breakfast Club, Eat Tokyo, Franco Manca, Burger and Lobster, KBBQ at New Malden, ASSA, all in my first week back. Bank bled a lot but I was very happy to be spending time with people I love, possibly in my last year in this city. I took a lot more photos on the move this month because I would walk past places and think to myself “this might be my last few times walking on this road”, and therefore my phone memory has lots of random photos of UCL, Oxford Street and the Trafalgar Square area. I went to Richmond Park with Dilys and Weixuan to go deer-spotting, and got some very nice photos from the day because it reached a high of 18 degrees if I remember correctly. Had more food – Lobster noodles, £5 ramen, more ASSA, Big Easy, Roti King, some dim sum place in chinatown, more Seoul Bakery, Banana Tree, in-store Franco Manca, Gold Mine, Muffin Man, Honest Burgers, …. ok wtf now I know where all my money went. I also watched Phantom of the Opera for the 3rd time and enjoyed it all the same! Love love love the dramatic effects and music, listening to the soundtrack never gets tiring.

November

Worked a lot harder academically this month because of the need for weekly blog posts. I actually recall most of my days being spent in the library after school, and drinking a lot more coffee in this month because I have started to grow dependent on it. I had a lot more driving lessons, a lot more paid Korean lessons, and a lot more informal lessons by the UCL Korean Society. Caved in to temptation and bought my second branded purchase – a card holder (surprise surprise, before this they were all gifts or hand-me-downs HAHAHA). My favourite dim sum place in London has got to be Yauatcha at Soho when I ate it with Dilys before watching The Mousetrap, which was an interesting mystery play! Never thought that these concepts could be turned into plays.

Reading week was spent in Toulouse and Carcasonne with Tzching and Weixuan, at which one postcard to my family never did arrive. 😦 The experience in France changed my impression of French people very much from my initial impressions in Paris though, in a good way. They were such welcoming people, and it was honestly strange to travel around feeling so safe in a European city for the first time. For that, it was an enjoyable experience.

December

I found out something about my ship early in this month, and it shocked me how heartless I was when I showed no sympathy or pity to a senior I was once acquainted with. I think that I am a person who is usually empathetic, but this incident showed me how cruel my heart can be and it scared me mildly. Mostly continued doing work in this month, and worked quite hard for my dissertation this month by going to the library really really frequently. I also went to a KPop Club for the first time and I loved it!!!!!! Now I know why I hate clubs so much – the music sucks (to me) because I never get a thing. KPop club was amazing because I was finally bopping to some music I knew for the first time in my life. I also went to Winter Wonderland, and if everything works out well this may be the last visit in my life 😦 I also had some pre-Christmas meet ups with Darren and the Secret Santa was fun and really memorable – Darren is really an extremely good host and I will remember this. I remember being very thankful to Anson and Jan in this month because of all the help they provided with my Master’s application, and I will not take these for granted.

Mid-December hit pretty quickly, and I went off to Morocco. Missed a flight, had another large expense, but all was okay as we returned safe and sound. I did not end up missing my flight to Singapore. I will always remember the long flight back from London to Singapore because it was incredibly expensive, with one transit in Dubai and one stopover in Colombo which worked out to be the cheapest combination of flights. I was also fortunately seated in the first row of economy (exit seats), where I actually talked to the people in my row – an Emirates cabin crew member who was going home for the holidays, and an expatriate who happened to work in Dubai with 5 years in Singapore previously. I must say it was the more memorable and enjoyable leg. Because I was situated on the exit seats, I also happened to strike conversations with the air stewardess when it came to landing and take-off on the 2 occasions (initial take off + stopover landing + stopover take off + final landing), and got to know her a lot more as well as Emirates’s cabin crew policy. I really enjoyed the flight, which was something I would never have expected because I hate flights so much (no food because I cannot stand the smell of the plane + extremely restless + travel insomnia).

I enjoyed my time a lot at home! We finally managed to continue playing Secret Santa which we have never done after I went off to London. I celebrated my 21st birthday much to my delight, and scooted off (lol) to Japan, namely Tokyo and Hokkaido with HT. I enjoyed the trip even though the flight tickets were extremely expensive.

Overall, it has been a very, very, very good year in spite of all the academic challenges and roadblocks during VA. I have felt more loved than ever, more accomplished than ever having obtained my COC and a better academic performance, and luckier than ever for having all the spending power for holidays and great meals with people I love. I faced difficult months in summer but these were eventually overcome when I worked harder than ever, and I guess these moments were also comparable to the difficult times I experienced in MIDS 2 years ago. My family and friends were mostly healthy, and my sister has also fully recovered from her kidney infection that kept her grounded at home for a few weeks. I am thankful to everyone who has been in my life through the course of this year, and in the near future I will always remember that my 21st year was one that was extremely good to me.

I will stop being greedy about my New Year resolutions because they never come true, so here are some simple ones –

1. Obtain my driving license in London this year. I better do, if not it is just a proven fact that I am a disaster on roads and should not be causing danger to other people’s lives.
2. Get first-class honours! Ok this isn’t that simple to me actually 😦
3. Continue learning Korean.

I am honestly sad about my impending graduation because it means that this enjoyable higher education journey might come to an end soon. Studying hard for examinations is probably all I have ever known since I was 7, and I am not quite ready to leave this comfort zone. Nonetheless I guess it comes at us eventually, and with that I welcome 2018 with open arms.

21st birthday


11 August 2007 (an early one)


2 March 2013


and now, 25 December 2017.

It was never disputed that I would be celebrating my 21st birthday. My brother celebrated his, my sister celebrated hers, and of course I would be celebrating mine too. It forms the bulk of the reason why I paid for a £1038 air ticket to go home during Christmas, or perhaps the whole reason. Many people refrain from holding such celebrations because first and foremost it is a waste of money, and second many people dislike large parties because they have to entertain large groups of guests with little personal touch. I did not think so much. I just wanted to hold a party because my siblings have done so before me, and also because I believe this would be one of the last celebrations I plan for myself. In fact probably the last large birthday celebration I would ever have within the next few decades. I also held the celebration on my actual birthday (Christmas Day) because I did not want to inconvenience the bulk of my relatives and friends who would have Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve. I am glad I made that choice, as it turns out most of my friends were free on Christmas Day itself, other than a couple of friends who had already headed for exchange.

It was not difficult to decide on a venue either. From the start I knew where I would be holding it – Singapore Polytechnic Graduates’ Guild. It was walking distance from my home which meant that I could walk home after the party, and it was also pretty affordable given that the free use of the function room came with the buffet. Most importantly, the swimming pool within SPGG was where I imagined/conceptualised many (then) future happenings in my life for which I would work hard for, and where I decided on several important life choices which brought me to where I am today. I have enjoyed many of my weekly night swims there, for the purposes of burning off calories from large dinners and to de-stress when I was struggling with my academic performance at some points in JC and before the start of every major examination. It therefore felt appropriate to hold my 21st there, a place I have always been thankful for as it allowed me to find myself in times of confusion. I booked the venue as early as July, and made payment.

I had troubled HT long ago to help me do up the decorations and my brother to help me order the cake. I honestly did not know what else there was to be done for my party, to the point I did not know how to reply people when they asked about my party preparations. Of course, I gradually realise that there were still things to be done one day before the party. Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday and I remained stuck in my London lifestyle when the tube would not even be working after office hours on Christmas Eve. I continually asked my brother “will this be open?” “will that be open?” when he recommended certain places I could go to to settle the party decorations. This is Singapore, everything is open! Thankfully, it meant that we could do tons of last-minute decoration preparation, especially as I started to realise that nothing had been done other than sending out invitations… My family and HT helped immensely during this whole time – my brother was rushing from place to place collecting the cake and buying decorations for me at Bugis together with HT, while my family gave out red packets to all the staff working at SPGG that day for them to share the joy with me (and to bribe them to make sure everything goes smoothly HAHAHA). My sister and my mother went to settle the lucky draw prizes as planned, while HT chauffeured me from place to place to prepare for my birthday celebration. I thankfully owned a HDMI cable at home. I felt so loved in those few days and enjoyed every bit of returning home.

Of course I enjoyed my birthday party. A birthday party brings together people you love from several phases of your life, and their importance to you fits into different corners of your heart. The special celebration allows you to realise how much you are actually loved by your family and friends, unlike birthday celebrations in your teenhood or childhood when you may not have been adequately mature enough to realise the significance. I have missed enough events when I was studying in London to understand that people are absent not by choice, and I am extremely happy to be remembered and loved by all my friends in London as well. I am happy seeing all the loud laughters and smiles during the party, especially during the course of the quiz which was inspired by Dilys’ party.

The people who made everything run smoothly:


Nothing beats coming home to boisterous laughters and loud conversations at 12am. The noise I have always grown up in and been used to. I guess I cannot and should not put a price tag on the quality time spent with my family, and this whole time was definitely worth the plane ride home.

김종현에게 마지막 편지

I quite remember the exact moment I found out. I entered the hotel room in Dar Hassan situated near Merzouga Desert, connected to the Wi-Fi successfully and Telegram messages started flooding. I received one of the worst messages ever:


The message came about 20 minutes after the death was confirmed. In the horribly slow speed of the Wi-Fi I continually tried to load Google.com and repeatedly searched “SHINee passed away”, because I did not know who it was. And my worst fears were confirmed when I saw articles by Soompi, Allkpop, and Koreaboo writing “BREAKING: SHINee’s Jonghyun found dead in his apartment” or “BREAKING: SHINee’s Jonghyun committed suicide” or “BREAKING: SHINee’s Jonghyun collapsed and sent to hospital”.

I could not focus on my holiday. I would sit in the car, and like what Chenxi said, imagine Jonghyun bringing the coal briquettes and oil to the apartment and lighting it up. Collapsing on the floor, and choking on breathlessness all alone by himself. What if he actually wanted to live in his last few seconds? What did he see in his last moments – did happy thoughts of his time with the other SHINee members flood his mind, or was he increasingly happy in that struggle with choking because he realised his battle with depression was ending soon?

I felt a bit lost. I did not know how to feel. It was after all a long time since I thought of him to be my ideal boyfriend, a long time since I got angry at the special stage with KARA when he sang and got so close to 규리, when I spent every waking day downloading SHINee videos from SHINee Forums International, and when I spent long nights watching reality shows and music show stages with him inside. It was nearly a decade since I was heavily involved in the forums and activities of SHINee World Singapore, and called myself embarrassing terms like Mrs. Jonghyun. I do not quite remember the intense feelings I had for Jonghyun, namely the feelings I blogged about getting all excited upon touching down in Korea because it meant we would be breathing the same air. The feelings of emptiness and sadness when they were off to Taiwan between 24 and 26 December that year because it meant I would have three days less breathing the same air as the group.

My sister would remember me blocking the TV when the MV of their debut song Replay came on often on MTV China in 2008, because I was not immediately fond of the song. But I fell in love with them after Love Like Oxygen. I remember that very moment when I turned behind on my chair in the study room and I saw Jonghyun in the yellow T-shirt with a shiny golden blazer on TV. The song did not gain as much popularity as their debut song, but I loved it. I repeated the song everyday. I memorised the lyrics by their romanisation syllables because I wanted to sing along to their MV, it was extremely difficult because I did not learn or know Hangul at all. Back when iTunes was still a thing, you would see the song replaying in my MSN Personal Message bar every single day. It went up to a thousand plays and was obviously in my Top 25 Most Played Tracks over several years. I started following SHINee and liking them so much because of Jonghyun. I loved them, even.

Love at first sight sounds like an extremely far-fetched concept, not less when you are talking about Korean pop stars who are separated from you by time, place, culture, language, family backgrounds, whatever. But I idolised him, and honestly probably did so because of his looks. I would laugh harder when he cracked jokes on 연하남 compared to the other members, and enjoyed it more when he disturbed the other members on Hello Baby. I would particularly enjoy his parts of the songs more when he takes the centre positions. I would repeat the high notes in Amigo, when he screams “Oh Baby Juliet” in Juliette, and when he covered DBSK’s Mirotic and covered Changmin’s high note with a shriek. Many girls in school were getting involved with the popular guys in lower secondary. I saw no need, because I secretly had a very very strong romantic crush on Jonghyun. How could anyone be anymore perfect than him? He was handsome, he was at a good height (advertised as 173cm) which was ideal because I was short, he was great at singing, his dancing had improved a lot since his days in his school band when he held a bass guitar and rocked around, and he was so humorous! I dreamt that one day I would be invited to a similar reality show with the SHINee members, and I would pick Jonghyun. In fact I really dreamt of him at night in the past.

From those memories, I have grown up and am increasingly detached from SHINee and their activities especially with the focus on solo activities and promotions in Japan as of late. It has been 5 years since I went to their last concert, although I honestly would have gone to the concert in Singapore on 24 Nov if I were in Singapore given my financial independence now. I remember telling someone that one of my biggest KPop regrets is not having enough money to go for SHINee World in 2010, because I would not have been able to afford it myself and my mother probably would not have sponsored nor allowed me. The distance from Jonghyun since then therefore left me feeling that my sad reactions were rather invalid, but the harder I thought about his death, the more I felt empty, and the more I realised I had every reason to feel sad. It felt like I was losing my first love, and if anything that had really hurt. His voice woke me up on many mornings in 2009 and 2010 when I watched and listened to Amigo, Jojo, Ring Ding Dong and Hello in preparation and on my way to school. I remember working hard and writing my weekly 保障报道 on the cab so that I would be able to chase SHINee around without worrying about homework when they got to Singapore. He was an idol of inspiration, that if we worked hard enough for what we wanted to do, we could achieve success in the same right as he did. He had made an indelible impact in my life especially in my younger teen years, and for that I deserve every right to mourn the loss of this guy, whom I would have loved to communicate my gratefulness for simply existing.

Sadly, I realise that all these thoughts about him being shrouded in only perfection had slowly pushed him closer to the edge, and if anything it only made me feel like a terrible, terrible fan. Jonghyun ah, I am so sorry. I am not a true fan. A true fan would realise that you are only human, and would not expect you to live up to every single one of her expectations. A true fan would not be shocked when she discovers that you started smoking. A true fan would not comment that your increasing number of tattoos were ugly, instead a true fan should have understood what drove your desires to ink those words of permanence on your body. They should have held some meaning to you, and probably should have been avenues to express yourself or to remind yourself to stay strong. I regrettably harboured thoughts that SHINee was one of the only SM Entertainment groups whose members stuck around together till the very end, and gleefully thought that I would be able to attend SHINee’s 10th anniversary concert in Korea next summer after examinations. I selfishly only thought about my own joy derived from these events all this time and how attending these concerts made me overwhelmingly happy, without a thought about how much the SHINee members are sacrificing for the purposes of providing us entertainment to cry and scream over. I remember Jonghyun crying after singing 혜야 at the Singapore show in 2012 and I only thought to myself “again”, as Jonghyun you were known to have these extreme emotions at the end of every concert or when you achieved any award and it no longer surprised the crowd. I am sorry I started trivialising your outburst of emotions when the tears shed represented every inch of your soul and thoughts.

While remaining relatively silent, I possessed one of the attitudes that killed you. I was another addition to the societal expectations of you, that you should have been perfect. You were not like many others who could shake it off, as you voiced out that comments made about you sometimes were extremely unfair. I wish, like many others, that I could turn back time and make sure that hateful comments never got to you. For all the effort that you put into producing, singing and training, you deserved more than baseless accusations about who you were not. I wish you had made friends that truly understood you intimately, rather than having to bottle all your thoughts up and only indirectly revealing some of your thoughts through songs, often clouded by powerful melodies. I wish netizens, like me in the past, would not have reacted so strongly to your dating scandals because it meant you could chase your own forms of happiness. Your life was perfectly orchestrated, manipulated and shaped to please the masses of us, and perhaps at the end of it all you realised that there was no meaning in continuing to live for others. You never got to make any decisions: when other people travel overseas, we unwind from our busy schedules and relax. Your body continued to be shuttled from place to place like a machine for the purposes of belting out songs for screaming crowds, made worse by the occasional few who supposedly loved you the most, who would possibly follow you all the way to your hotel to disturb your privacy and alone time.

If I could turn back time, I would tell you that you were enough for us. Enough for me. If only all of us remembered to remind you again and again that you were enough, and you deserved every right to live your life normally. If only these words could make you stay strong longer through to military service, when you could possibly have one of the longest breaks from stardom, when you no longer have to deal with hordes of fangirls screaming for you. If only you held on a little longer till the management contract expired and you were free to dictate your life as your please away from the spotlight that was too cruel and unforgiving. If only all of us who claimed to love you knew the exact words you needed to push you through your darkest days. You spent your whole life living for us and making fans happy, but we could not do anything for you when you were broken and hurting.



Thank you Beatrice for leaving flowers and a message on my behalf, for him, at the memorial held in Singapore.

이번생엔 다른 사람들을 위해 살기 때문에 오빠가 진심으로 행복하게 살수 없었어요. 그동안 많이 수고하셨고 고생하셨고 오빠를 정말 존경해요. 외로운 느낌이 있었으면서 도와주지 않고 정말 미안해요. 오빠 떠나서도 오빠의 음악와 목소리를 통해 마음을 영원히 기억하겠어요. 이제 고민과 슬픔없이 편히 쉬세요. 다시 태어난다면 다음생엔 평법한 김종현으로 평법하고 행복한 삶을 보내야 한다. 18/12/17, 이 날짜가 영원히 잊어버리지 않아요.

My Maids

It has always been difficult to talk about my maid. My maids. My siblings and I have always had conversations about whether we will hire maids in the future with our own families. Their answers were always yes, because it would save you a lot of time not having to do all the household chores. It is mostly a transaction for them, that the money you spend on hiring a maid could be earned back with the income that you can make with the extra time. They think that hiring a maid is actually more valuable than buying a car. I adamantly said no, I will not hire a maid. Not because I think it is expensive. I actually do agree with my siblings that the cost of hiring a maid is affordable if you earn as much as the median income household in Singapore.

I will never hire a maid because I will never want my children to go through the same stabbing pain I feel when the maid leaves eventually. In fact writing this sentence sends me straight into tears.

My first ever maid left permanently on 27 Oct 08. I think it says a lot when I remember the exact date of her departure nearly one decade later. She was there the first 12 years of my life, she was probably the one feeding me when I cried when I was hungry, the one who held me to walk, the one who taught me how to ride a bike, the one who brought me downstairs to interact with other kids at the playground. She shared a bed with me and my soft toys when I was little because I did not want to sleep alone. She was the one face I would be expecting when I step into the Parent’s Corner after dismissal. The one face I expected when I alight from the school bus and left the doors of my kindergarten and nursery every single afternoon. The one who helped me with my Art homework. The one who brought me to Clementi Community Centre during special occasions like Mid Autumn Festival to play with my other friends. The reason why I grew up in a Chinese-speaking family yet my English was way superior to my Chinese – I interacted with her in English throughout my childhood days. I do not remember much of my parents being there in my childhood, except my mother scolding me for getting 48/50 because “I played too much computer”. I cried a lot at home and my maid was the only one comforting me and telling me that I did well. My mother could make those insensitive remarks without a flinch only because she never knew how much I prided myself to do well academically since young, but my maid knew.

She probably drew a pay less than $500 at that point in time, but she set aside money and bought me birthday presents every year. She brought me out on Sundays to Lucky Plaza to meet her other friends, and she treated me to Filipino food there all the time. She made all my wardrobe choices and organised all my big birthday celebrations every Christmas. She collected empty boxes and wrapped them up to put them under the Christmas tree to add to the Christmas atmosphere for my birthday, and played Christmas music every single day in December. There was no bias, as she did the same for Chinese New Year too – hanging red stuff and pink flowers all over the house and playing Chinese New Year Music. which is why I can sing by heart most of the Chinese New Year songs today. She played a role much bigger than what she was paid for, and for that I loved her so much as part of my family.

Her departure came in advance, but no matter how early the notice came, it was extremely abrupt for me. At Primary 6, at a time when my parents finally granted me a bit of freedom, I chose to stay home every day for a few weeks because I remembered how afraid I was of running out of time with her. I remember holding her hands to sleep every night then, and refusing to fall asleep the last night she was here. I remember going with her to the airport with my family, with me playing on my Nintendo DS on the car all the way. I knew that if my thoughts ran wild to imagine how my life would be without her, I would start bawling my eyes out. I remember that very moment when she turned away from my family and walked into the departure gate. I remember that moment even until today. I will never forget it, how she started tearing and quickly turned around, how that scene triggered me but I held back my tears so badly. It was the start of months of pretending to be happy when I came home to a different maid, to a different person greeting me when I rang the doorbell. When I got home from the airport, I remember her text saying that she loves me, and asking me to “tk cre” of myself. Telling me that she will always keep my photo in her wallet. I will never forget how much my heart died that day, and how much I wished I could hide somewhere so that I could cry until I dissolved into nothing. I realised from that point on that I dealt with departures really badly, and I hated them so so much. You would see evidence of these thoughts in my 2008 posts, although I struggle to read those posts properly because of the cringe-worthy style as a 12-year-old kid.

Years later she would call home, say hello to us in a thickened Filipino accent and ask how we are. But it is all different now, we are no longer the same people. She was no longer the confidante and rock that she was in my childhood. How do I explain to her everything that has happened? How do I explain to her that I have now gotten into a good secondary school, joined NCC, met many more friends and grew a lot? How do I relate my life to her over the phone? The phone call would then end awkwardly with us trying to make small jokes (eg. “I am prettier than Shihui”), and I guess we knew and understood that whatever we shared was now only something situated in the past.


After 12 years of spending every single waking day together, our conversations are reduced to this one decade later. She added me on Facebook one or two years ago as she found my account by luck, but we could barely say anything to each other. Doesn’t it hurt when this is all you can say to the parental figure who took part in shaping your life all the way until you turned a teenager?



She also sent me messages on the special occasions, and on one of these occasions sent me these pictures that she took of me when I was young. The first picture spies a peach blossom flower pot with hanging red packets. These practices stopped after she went home, as no one else in the family saw the need to decorate the home for these occasions anymore. I couldn’t help crying when I saw these pictures for the first time. They were not in my childhood photo albums, presumably because she had taken them home for her personal collection of her 14 years of stay in Singapore. She was the biggest character of my childhood, and I knew she loved me with all her heart. It was as if we were forced apart by circumstance.

Sometimes I wish I did not have such vivid visual memories. I can remember all of these above-mentioned scenes: the exact setting, the lighting, and what people were doing. The ability to re-position myself in the exact scene in my head brings me back to how I felt then, and it stabs my heart sharply. How do you explain this void in your heart? These maids that you clearly regarded as family, leaving us permanently for their first families. Is it any different from an abrupt departure of a family member, since you will never get to see them again? I never received any form of contact from her from that text message until a few years later, when she finally called us. One day ago we cried leaving each other as she held my hand in hers to sleep, and for a few entire years after that not a single word was shared between us. How do we reconcile these feelings? I have been crying on and off as I write this post for the past hour, and I guess it is clear that I still am not able to deal with these feelings.

My third, and current maid has been with me since 2011. I remember her first day with us when we first met at my parent’s shop, when we realised that her English was terrible. She did not know how to tell us that she wanted a drink. When my sister wanted her to go downstairs to buy some food for dinner, she left the house gate and stood outside waiting for my sister, lost in translation. She got scolded several times for keeping the leftovers from our meals because it was what she was used to back at home – my mother thinks that eating leftovers are unhealthy and unhygienic. My brother uses a towel every time he showers, which means that he uses a towel up to four times in a day. It must have been difficult for her to adapt to our wasteful lifestyle habits initially. It took her several months of notes and mistakes, scoldings from my many-a-time unreasonable mother, and familiarisation around the neighbourhood to get acquainted with us. I remember her first few weeks when she would stand by the window and look out into the buildings in the background for hours after she was done with work. She did not have a mobile phone at that point in time as my mother did not allow her one, and she was cut off of all connection from her family. My heart ached for her. She wasn’t doing so well at the start.

6 years later she has become family. She speaks out about unwelcome guests to our house who mess up the order that she has put in place, she knows our wardrobes inside out, she can find anything you lose, and she is more well-acquainted with our schedule than anyone else. She knows when I want to go swimming, she knows when I have to go to base, she knows what time I have to wake up. She has been progressing with me in my life – through my NCC days when she helped me iron my uniform late at night, to my JC days when she cooked for me when I arrived home late from studying, to my BMT and OCS days when she helped me magically pack and unpack my book-in bag, to my overseas days when she packed my luggage for me. She was more of a friend than a parent, she proudly talked to me about her daughter going to university and training to become a teacher. She talked to me about my brother’s girlfriend, my sister’s boyfriend and of course when I brought my boyfriend home for the first time. She was there during what I would call my formative years, when most of my character was developed and moulded into who I am today. She helped me throughout and made my life so much easier to cope with in those busy school years. When I left I remember reserving my last polaroid picture for her, because I was afraid that she will no longer be there when I eventually return from my undergraduate studies.

These were also the reasons why I could not bring myself to watch Ilo Ilo even with the critical acclaim of the film. I know what it is about, and I know how much it will kill me if I sat through the entire film. And that’s why it also hurts my heart so much when I see news articles on Facebook with people mistreating maids. Restricting them of their food, withholding their pay even though they are clearly financially capable. I hate it when employers exercise authority over them just because they feel like they can. That’s why I get into heated arguments with my mother when she scolds my maid and deprive her from going out on her off day. Why do people always not put themselves in their shoes? Why would you do that to family, why would you do that to people who love you and whom you ought to love? Maids are not simply workers you pay, they are family who live with you and grow accustomed to your living habits.

I have dealt with these permanent departures by my maids twice, but I do not think I will do well the third time it happens. I remember telling my maid that I will be coming back this Christmas to celebrate my 21st birthday. She told me that she would wait for me to come back to celebrate my birthday with me before she leaves for good. Hearing that sentence from her killed me, because I once again realise her impermanence in my life. I hate people leaving me, and I hate how emotionally reactive I am to it. She will probably be the last maid that I would spend so much time with, because within the next 6 years I might no longer be living in the same house as my parents. I hope she will be the last painful departure in the best years of my life, before I deal with much harsher realities when I become middle-aged.