China and its rigid financial systems

I want to write down how frustrated I am right now, and how confused I am about the technology here. I do not have extra money, having brought only 15000 RMB over to tide me over at the start, thinking that I could remit money from DBS to my Chinese bank account if I needed extra in a few months time. Oh how wrong I was.

I tried to pay for my accommodation and bedding articles (which totals up to 8315 RMB payable right now).

BUT:

1. DBS only allows me to remit money to a 中国人’s bank account (the recipient needs a 18-digit Chinese ID number).

OMG

2. The school’s bank account is a business account. It does not have a Chinese ID number.

OMG

3. I decided to suck it up, pay the extra transaction fees and withdraw money from the ATM. A total withdrawal of 9000 RMB set me back by 500 RMB extra in transaction and forex fees (about SGD$100). That’s 50 meals at the school canteen………….. and a Rainie Yang concert 😦

In this day and age by the way, China is adopting so much mobile technology. I do not even need to bring my wallet, I just need the QR code from my phone to pay for everything at the mall (99% of purchases can be done with WeChat and Alipay). The 1% is when I NEED TO PAY ALL MY TUITION AND MISCELLANEOUS FEES IN CASH!!!!!!! They do not accept MasterCard, VISA, whatever foreign card that does not say UnionPay (wait I think I couldn’t even pay with A CARD), only bank transfers from a Chinese bank account. But as I said above, I cannot remit money to my Chinese bank account because I am not local…..

OMG

Well, I could have brought shitload of cash here… but who the hell would bring so much cash in their luggage???????? Wait, who even pays such huge sums in cash?????????

OMG

4. In spite of that, I still have to worry about my tuition fees that are not paid yet.

OMG

Today, I am utterly confused by China and their financial technology. I know it is probably to prevent money laundering into their huge economy, but they cannot simply ignore poor folks like me who are struggling to get money in…

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Golden Week

The Golden Week is an annual 7-day National Day holiday for the Chinese citizens, where people and companies arrange to work on the weekends before and after this holiday so as to have a 7-day interrupted long holiday. This wonderful weekend comes right after the long weekend from the Mid-Autumn Festival when Friday was also an off day, which meant that the school staff were on ORD mood long ago, as experienced by situation with the delay of tuition fees payment.

To be honest, after 3 years of non-stop travelling around Europe and its surrounding destinations, I dread the process of travelling a bit. Most of the time, travelling exhausts me because of all the packing and unpacking, the subconscious pressure to explore as many places as I can because I might not get another chance, budgeting to ensure that I keep within my spending limits. Furthermore, I constantly live in the fear that I would miss a train or a flight, and even though this issue can easily be resolved with ~money~, I hate the thought of being tardy and wasteful. Yet I recall to myself that the reason I am here is to live China and understand the lifestyle, culture and customs a little better, and hence I forced myself out of my dormitory room and out of Haining. I intended to be alone, for almost the entire week.

Hangzhou

I tagged along with Heekang to Hangzhou early in the morning so that I could share the cost of a taxi, which actually gave me some travelling blues because I was packing late into the night until 12am and had to get up as early as 6am (yeah, lousy excuse of a soldier). Thankfully, all travelling blues dissipated when I happened to sit opposite an eloquent Chinese man, who sheepishly asked to borrow my portable charger; indeed, you can survive in China without cash on hand, but you cannot do without sufficient phone battery. By a stroke of luck, he happened to work in the Suzhou Industrial Park, a place (and case study) that I gained interest in after having read the autobiography of Philip Yeo. He has been living and working in the area for decades, and supposedly witnessed the growth of the industrial park from when it was nothing to its glory days now. He knew certain things that were sensitive to the Singaporean context: I shared how the Suzhou Industrial Park partnership with Singapore has been cited on local news as an example of a business deal that did not go according to plan, and he readily agreed that sometimes, subsequent actions taken by the beneficiary could be seen as insincere or even dishonest, after having accepted all the perks of the partnership. Regardless of that, to him (and I guess the local government), the SIP was regarded as a benchmark for foreign partnerships. A glorious, successful project that contributed to the stunning night skyline of the Suzhou he knew. I enjoyed the conversation with him lasting the entirety of my hour-long train journey, and he ended it by offering me a tour around the Suzhou Industrial Park, bent to revise my pre-conceived impressions of his workplace that he held immense admiration and gratitude for. I agreed, and thereafter I cancelled my return train tickets from Shanghai to book a train on the weekend heading to Suzhou instead. 三人行必有我师.

PS: We coincidentally met each other at 灵隐寺 again when I was touring the attraction, and he got all excited inviting me to Suzhou once again. Of course, what a coincidence, that I once again met this person who taught me so much in an hour. At this point of writing I have not met up with him the third time yet, but writing as a female, here is a reminder to myself to stay cautious in a foreign country.

1. 灵隐寺


灵隐寺 was the first place I went to after heading to my hostel and dropping off my belongings. There have been sentiments that in Hangzhou, there are two essential places to go: 西湖 and 灵隐寺. I have been to the former briefly, and so I wanted to check out what the latter was about.

Because I was travelling alone, I thought a lot about my surroundings. I remember what my professor on Chinese Civilisation said about religious syncretism in the ancient Chinese society. The Guan Yin, for example, represents syncretism of three different religions: Buddhism (by the lotus), Taoism (by the limitless depiction of gender implying its immortal status), and Confucianism (with some depictions being flanked by children, although this is more a school of thought than a religion). The 灵隐寺 was where many of these elements came together, despite its construction on the basis of Buddhism teachings. Although the country is now regarded as atheist, partly a consequence of the brutal Cultural Revolution, the syncretism in the past could explain the situation of why revolts (or rebellions as they term it) were never conducted on the basis of religious lines.

2. 西湖,雷峰塔



I went to the 雷峰塔, otherwise known as the Leifeng Pagoda, on the first official public holiday of the Golden Week and truly felt the squeeze. It was truly National Day in a different country – street vendors were selling hand-held national flags, children had temporary tattoos of national flags on their faces, banners and billboards were plastered everywhere wishing 祝贺中华人民共和国69周年, WeChat moments were constantly being updated by people swelling with national pride with pictures from the National Day proceedings on campus, and Weibo was constantly giving me notifications of celebrities that were wishing 祖国生日快乐. Streets were crazily crowded with tourists from all over China, and I cannot imagine how it must be like in Beijing. Crowd control officials were everywhere – on the metro, there were officials that would push the doors closed, and there were also officials squeezing with the crowd who continuously repeated to watch out for your feet, to let passengers alight first, and to watch out for your belongings. On to the roadside, the length of a usual bus stop could allow for 3 buses to stop for passengers to alight simultaneously, and beside the entrance doors of each of these 3 buses there was each a crowd control official that would direct the crowd away quickly. It was extremely chaotic, but extremely ordered at the same time.

The papers briefly summarised that “她(China)曾积贫积弱,如今重焕生机。六十九截,汗水与泪水,光荣与梦想。中国未来的成就于辉煌,有你,我,他共同创造。“ This sentence succinctly encapsulates the status of China today, on their path of revival after having gone through a devastating past of lacking leadership. If I were a Chinese citizen enjoying my holiday at that point in time, I would have been extremely thankful for the gift of family time from the government policies. Although naysayers argue that the economic standstill during the week is too damaging to the economy, the long-run intention to encourage nationalism from domestic tourism is clearly seen, and arguably highly effective to instil desired societal values that would move their country forward.

I ended my trip quickly after this, heading back to Haining early in the morning as I could not sleep well in the 4-bed hostel with loud snoring and children screaming and playing around early in the morning. It was also filled with insects, and I had to kill a moth right above my head before sleeping. I felt uncomfortable and irritated from the poor hygiene management on my floor. I had lots of complaints when I woke up at 2am and 4am in the morning, but these were quickly forgotten when I embarked home back into campus. I guess I am starting to become a comfort zone person.

Shanghai

I arrived in this city after an early morning train ride from Haining and was extremely blessed to have met Qianxuan, who accompanied me through the entire day. Shanghai was not spared from the tourist crowds arriving from everywhere, but what amazed me was the confluence of all international brands within this same city. It was as if I moved into another country – Haining, even at the heart of the city or railway station, had low-rise buildings, streets flanked by shophouses and quiet roads with people giving way on crossings. Shanghai 南京西路, at where I met Qianxuan, had several global brands within the same area. Tons of Starbucks outlets, as well as the biggest one in China (or the world?) where the Starbucks outlet was treated more like an exhibition, Zara, H&M, Uniqlo, 许留山, Genki Sushi, Etude House, Innisfree, Olive&Young, all the brands which I only saw overseas, or in the heart of Orchard Road. One would only feel the difference when there is change, and indeed, I felt the difference in purpose of these two cities immediately. I could see the draw of Shanghai to a foreign expatriate or even the global tourist audience like myself. How relatable and familiar it was, and how much I missed the draw of a big and ordered city.

I entered one of the Starbucks outlets on one occasion, and I must have looked like a tourist from my dressing and mannerisms. I stared at the menu entirely written in Chinese other than the standard Cappucino, Latte and Espresso, and probably looked quite lost. I also wore shorts throughout the two days when I was in Shanghai even after it got colder, and it must have been distinct from the dressing of the locals because the staff at the Starbucks outlet got all excited, whispering to one another in Chinese about guessing where I was from – “她是哪里来的呀“ ”我不知道!“ ”她好像是…“ and started speaking to me in English for my order. Even though they obviously made a mistake in judgement over there, I suppose they are currently going through the 嫌土爱洋 phase that Singapore once went through, the admiration (and maybe adoration) of the Westerner, and the preference for English over that of their native language.



南京东路 with Qianxuan!

I learnt a lot from Qianxuan that day, who has been in China longer than I have been in London, which would have made her extremely familiar with this city and country. I verified myths about the 高考, that it is indeed not truly based off meritocracy because of the abundant resources and better education people in larger cities get compared to interior regions of the country. In fact, the ministry does recognise this issue by trying to boost the scores artificially of those in the inner cities, but that might not even be enough to lift the unseen ones out of poverty. I also learnt that in a country with more than a billion people, people are constantly underemployed, and that roles in the civil service are often highly sought after and viewed by other people with immense respect (including the military career). The pool to hire people from is extremely narrow, given that family members are expected to have a certain social standing, yet the absolute numbers remain extremely large because this place is huge.

I have heard this countless of times from other people, that while China is still in its developing stages, it is improving really quickly. Qianxuan would attribute this to their political system. It looks and feels nothing like it did 8 years ago, the last time I was here. She keeps learning from her mistakes.

Suzhou

I was brought to an area overseeing the Suzhou Industrial Park, and the guy, thankfully was an honest man. I was brought to the above symbol of a tael (representing 外圆内方), that supposedly signified the commemoration of the ties between Singapore and China. He showed me Chinese books written on the Suzhou Industrial Park and its timeline to completion and ascension; let’s just say the tone and attitude towards the project varied very very much from what I had read in Singapore-published books. He also recommended two places for me to go: 观前街 and 山塘街, which were really beautiful. I walked alone in the dark of the night through the streets, listening to street performances of Chinese songs I knew with 40 sticks of roasted duck intestines in one hand and brown sugar bubble tea in the other. I loved the lived experience, and I will constantly remind myself to relish in this for the following 9 months.


山塘街 by day.

Quotable quotes that I want to remember:
1. 你不能用道德来衡量一个人是否是一名好的领袖(领袖跟领导有很大的差异)。
2. 双方都聪明(中美),往往都是坚定地维护自己国家的利益而行,这样才可以打个平坐。就算没有今天的冲击,也必定会有明日的,也会有别的。

Miscellaneous thoughts

China is a huge and vast country, that many locals have not even been to other parts of the country themselves. These are more prominent for pretty inaccessible destinations like Tibet, or cities within the Xinjiang Province. I tried searching them up myself, but they necessitate many changes in transport modes, which may challenge even the most seasoned traveller. Across these regions, it is understandable that customs and cultures differ greatly, it is akin to stepping into another country but using the same official language. I have been around the coastal regions and arguably wealthy cities, namely Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Shanghai; actually, even Haining probably has a fair share of the pie from the prosperity of its neighbours. I intend to go north to look a little more into Chinese history with Huimin during the winter break, namely Beijing, Xi’an and if I have time, Luoyang. Hopefully when summer arrives, I would have a chance to go further west into the interior land-locked regions that provide another dimension to my current understanding of China. My university education here has all been very exciting, and everyday on my walk back to my dorm passing by the beautiful clocktower and the lake within the school, I am thankful that I persisted with this choice that I once thought could have been fake. My sharings are often limited by thoughts that people would question my intentions, but I hope this blog remains a safe space for me, especially as I am blogging in a language independent of the environment I am currently in.

Amid the class and privilege debate, I am aware that while I have not been blessed with the best of learning opportunities in my childhood, I am presently living the dreams of many. The same man I spoke to, who had already paid off his housing loans, had only travelled outside to China to South Korea his whole life because of his lack of proficiency in the English language and hence the inability to get around foreign countries by himself. Thank you for teaching me some valuable life lessons in that one hour.

Pre-Studies Life

I have had a couple of lectures here and there now, but my schedule is still rather lacking. China has an interesting system of lectures, I say this because I am not used to it. In London, I had lectures every week for the entire term for a single module, but in China, these lectures are extended to 3 hour lectures lasting over a number of weeks depending on how many credits they are. This system means that the modules taken are effectively spread out throughout the whole term, allowing you to intensively focus on one for a few weeks and move on to another after. The internationals, like myself, are still getting used to this system, but this also means I have a lot of time at the start of the term (now) because most of my modules come in towards the end of the term.

So I have been spending some time with myself.

1. Hangzhou

It was an impromptu trip planned early in the morning on Tuesday, when we incidentally figured that staying on campus over the entire week was not a good idea because we hardly had any lectures (less Survival Chinese, which I obviously do not need). It was an eventful day starting from the train rides. Our train was delayed without a definite time given, and we decided we had to change our tickets to get another train for the same destination. There was lots of screaming and shouting at the refund/exchange counter because everyone intended to do the same thing, the train was about to leave, and so some people were not queuing up. Here my command of Chinese surprisingly came in useful, to argue with people and ask them to keep in line. Also with my years of experience of arguing with my parents and siblings at home….

We made it to 西湖, had lunch there, and walked around the entire place until it was time to catch our train back to Haining. Interesting encounters: Heekang losing his wallet at Starbucks and surprisingly managing to get it back, meeting a 20 year old girl and Heekang getting her WeChat ID, and squeezing through the carriage at peak hours along with the train conductors/crew moving up and down with food carts. After a week in Haining, I have nearly forgotten that China has a serious overpopulation problem, clearly seen in its transportation services. I stood throughout my ride on both trips to and fro.

2. Intime City (银泰城)

My campus is far away from everything, to the point that we often take a cab out into the largest shopping mall that is 6 to 7 kilometres away. The ride is quite affordable when split amongst 4 people, approximating only about 20 RMB and hence 5 RMB each (SGD $1). That being said, it is definitely much cheaper to take the city bus, which would only set you back by 1 RMB if you have a citizen’s card. Of course, it is just less convenient.

I also encouraged my friends to try hotpot, which was really good. I really missed 麻辣香锅 and 麻辣火锅 so much, I found it really ironical that I came over to China only to eat less of those foods. I am glad they indulged in it with me, and they liked it! They liked it to the point that they dipped their meats mostly in the spicy side, and drank less of the other non-spicy soup. We also got a welcome plate of fruits on the house, and were treated to the exclusive room for free because we were foreigners. 海底捞 has a way of making you feel like king, and I suppose they carried it over successfully to Singapore as well. Overall, the bill costed 352 RMB in total, which is only about SGD$70, which is cheap by Singapore’s standards. HT said this overall sum is even cheaper than the usual bill between us.

Later that night we headed to U9 bar for drinks over some live music, and I loved the live music. I really never enjoyed night life because of all the pop/rock music that I never recognised, but they sang mostly Chinese songs here. I love listening to Chinese songs because they make me feel a certain way that English songs are unable to, which explains why I was shouting so loud to 后来.

3. Campus life

In my free time, I have been watching 延禧攻略, because there is no better place to feel and live this drama than this country. When I was in London, I used to watch shows on my laptop at night after returning home from the library and showering. I loved enjoying these cold nights with an entire whole pizza and a fruit juice, often a Naked green or blue machine from my £3 meal deals. Habits are slightly different here obviously, and I have found a new substitute for this. Now I enjoy watching my shows with a spicy bowl of cup noodles and a cold bottled drink from the supermarket in my school. Maybe with the air-conditioning on. These little (and unhealthy) things are probably the reasons why I have coped with study/overseas stress pretty well all this time while abroad. Everyone has their outlet for winding down, and this is mine.

Here’s also a random picture of my school cafeteria during the peak lunch hour when everyone ends their lessons at about the same time. I was surprised this one day, because I have never seen so many people on campus. Although I am supposedly in an overpopulated country, I am starting to get used to seeing less people on the streets of Haining, in my residential college and in my life, and in no time these sights will be what I seek comfort in.

I am currently enjoying my life in China and if I dare say, I have settled in very well. These two weeks I have not felt feelings of homesickness or loneliness at all. Even if I do miss home in a few months time, I have booked my 2-week flight home during the Chinese New Year season, the only season that was painful to miss all these years while abroad. Furthermore, after having been through really engaging lectures studying about things that I used to read up on Wikipedia on my personal capacity, I am certain this would be an enjoyable academic year. I hope to keep up my blogging tempo at that!

MCS Welcome Ceremonies

I had the MCS Welcome Ceremony yesterday in the International Campus and the International Students Welcome Ceremony today at the main campus of Zhejiang University. China is so big that these two campuses from the same school can be one city away (1.5 hours by shuttle bus).



The MCS Welcome Ceremony at the campus hotel yesterday. It might sound a bit ridiculous but I was so inspired by all the speeches by the Chinese professors yesterday that were delivered in really excellent English. I think something I think we can really learn from, is how the Chinese people from many different professions exude so much love for their country. So much that they personally wanted to create and promote this programme primarily to share about Chinese culture, society and civilisation.


We ended the reception late that night and missed the dining hall hours, so we decided to head outside campus for a quick dinner. Walked through several traffic lights before we finally arrived at a street with family-run restaurants, with kids running about and eating portions of what the owners cooked for us. I found that sight really beautiful. Haining is a tiny city, and the impression that easily comes off is that it is much less developed than the other cities like Hangzhou because of all the grasslands all around our campus. The buildings were also mostly built low, with many unopened shops that seem to indicate nonchalance about profit loss. Or perhaps, people owning these shophouses could easily do with opportunity cost because it probably isn’t much given the lack of traffic in the area. In fact, I now understand why they often proclaim China to be a land abundant with opportunities; anyone could easily look at Haining and think about building something here, such as the recent plans to join this place to Hangzhou, and creating an extension of Shanghai/Hangzhou. Buildings also shoot up really quickly, I find it really amazing that my campus was constructed and opened for students within 3 years of putting it up for construction companies to tender. The taxi driver on my 滴滴 was just telling me that he has personally never been inside the campus even though he lives really nearby, and was excited about taking us there to tour around by himself a little. I would not be surprised if all those construction sites outside my school become buildings by the time I am gone in a matter of 9 to 10 months.

But today, we finally stepped out of our Haining bubble which is tiny, to Hangzhou where we finally saw some crowds. We stopped by a tea house to enjoy some tea too, as photographed nicely by Sergio below. The Zijingang (Main) Campus is so much more beautiful than ours, with lots of people and a huge canteen. It felt like an actual university campus as opposed to mine which looks like a well-renovated chalet, and it made me really jealous. I wished I had the opportunity to apply for classes on the other campus; unfortunately the course administration is presently not flexible enough for us to do that. We could apply for these extra classes, but they would not be counted into our credits. To be honest, who would overload themselves?

I enjoyed the opening ceremony welcoming all international students. I really appreciate all these ceremonies because they are events that make you feel that you belong, and that you are not in the school to merely contribute to their academic directory. I truly felt honoured to be a Zhejiang student yesterday and today, that it was indeed a rare opportunity that did not come by easily for many people. I also happened to meet a Singaporean who gave a speech, and I am about to find out who he is. I have met a few these few days, including Lydia, and I am really starting to miss my familiar Singaporean bubble. The orientation activities are actually tiring me out quite a bit because they pack our immersion schedules so tightly, with activities ongoing at every point of the day. In fact, I am looking forward to lessons starting soon so that I can settle into a daily routine for myself. In the coming months, I hope I learn more about myself too.

I also would probably blog a lot more in the coming months because the VPN makes everything else really laggy, and WordPress is probably one of the only social media platforms that has not been blocked by the Great Wall…

How I ended up in Zhejiang University

I cannot exactly recall when I started harbouring this desire to head to China for my Master’s, but I remember this one day in Year 1. I was in the library on a Sunday evening, at the Psychology section to be specific, just innocently doing my assigned readings when I realised that….. university was so uninspiring. I was not doing exceptionally well, and the school operated in such a way that you had to save yourself. Little supervision and guidance, essay comments that spanned only 10 words and did little justice to the effort I put in… There was so much independent studying and self-correction that it felt as if I was not in a school, and I missed my Asian education roots. I missed having many classes, the massive loading of information in lessons, and forced revision after classes through continual assessments to ensure that the information is retained. Although I obviously do not feel the same way anymore, that quiet evening in the library started leading me to many thoughts for my further education: should I entertain the thought of a transfer to an Asian university, where I would fit better?

I just do not remember how I eventually decided on China for Master’s, and China only. The problem is I only had a year to make this Master’s programme happen, and it was difficult to find a year-long programme in most Asian universities. I would say I was very discouraged in the process of applying because I knew that my results were less than desirable for the best schools: Tsinghua University and Beijing University. Both of them had these great year-long programmes, the caveat was that these were fully-sponsored programmes which meant that I was competing with a whole other bunch of great people who wished to have their whole run in China sponsored, even though I technically did not need to. I got my rejection for these programmes in October 2017 and April 2018 respectively.

I suppose when we speak about Master’s programmes, we think of them as Reach, Match and Safety schools. Reach schools are schools where your academic/non-academic qualifications fall below the average student in the school, match schools are when these match, and safety schools are when you should safely obtain a place with your academic results. After I got my first rejection, I became a bit scared as I thought that I would have to close these doors to China. Since Tsinghua rejected me, I thought it was likely that Beida would reject me as well. These were both my reach schools, as both the programmes were equally prestigious and enrolled students had impressive portfolios as displayed on the school’s website. For sure, more impressive than mine, which did not speak about leadership achievements and positions throughout the whole course of undergraduate studies at all. I ended up searching endlessly for other Chinese universities, and I remember spending an entire weekend on it, searching over and over again in Chinese for one-year long programmes specifically based in China. I found two: University of Nottingham (Ningbo), and of course, Zhejiang University, where I am based now.

Application

The application to this university was a pain. I must say that if I did not have this amount of resolve to get here, I would easily have settled for any programme in the UK because I was dealing with so much uncertainty the entire time. Firstly, the website had a lot of unclear information and incomplete hyperlinks that led to the homepage, and many grammar mistakes within the programme booklet. To put it bluntly, the presentation of the course looked unprofessional, and I casted doubts on its fully English-taught programme. After eventually deciding that I did want to apply for this, I had to adapt to this other country’s system and timeline of application that was uncommon. After submitting an online application, I had to print this same application form and submit all the required documents by snail mail. It meant that I had to obtain letters of recommendation from my professors in print, which was awkward to begin with because most US/UK schools, by now, had a website where the professors could easily upload their letters anonymously. Do I really want to uproot myself from a place where the academic circle is full of professors producing cutting-edge research and where technology is well-woven into its academic system, to a newly-established place where the system fails to catch up with the technology within the academic realm?

Furthermore, the deadline for my application was late May, which was way after that of all other US/UK colleges. People were already receiving acceptance letters for their programmes by the time it was the deadline to submit my application, and the scholarship board also worked around that schedule. There were many emails for us to respond to: emails on the decision for our Master’s Programme, for details of the school we are going to so that they can change the allowance structure, … as early as February. I obviously could not respond by all the stipulated deadlines which placed quite a bit of stress on me, and the worst was, I was not even sure if I was going to be admitted into the programme to justify all that delay. I had to continue waiting out for the school to receive my snail mail that took more than a week, for them to process my application that took weeks, for them to arrange my interview into the school and Chinese placement test which took almost a month. The interview and tests were another pain because of the timezone differences. It also happened to coincide with examination season, and after a series of back-and-forth emails I think I finally arranged my interview for the day after my first paper, at 6am in the morning (because they took it as 1pm at GMT+8).

In between all of these happenings, I got my rejection from Oxford. I was actually quite dejected because by all logical reasoning, I would definitely have chosen to go to Oxford over Zhejiang. Although I did say earlier that I wanted to go to China, the programme from Oxford and the school (of course!) are way more established than Zhejiang, I would also have escaped that insecurity that was tugging at me as I did not know what I was going to do for the next year. It meant that I could only continue going in headfirst into the application process, and pray for the best.


Finally, I received this email after months of waiting and waiting and more than 30 emails to the department trying to rush their responses. It ended a lot of uncertainty on my side, and finally I could tell people where I was going for Master’s. I could also settle all the administrative details that were hanging on the scholarship side, because I was likely one of the last to inform them about plans for the following year.

Post-admission

The uncertainty did not end there, as I had to wait another 2-3 months to obtain my admission notice and forms for my VISA application. I had to undergo everything all over again: a physical examination consisting of a chest X-ray, ECG, blood tests and vaccines, as if I was newly enlisted into BMT. I also had to apply for my VISA in the midst of VA. Thankfully the process for these were speedy and did not take longer than a week, and I was posted to NIC which gave me lots of flexibility in taking off days to settle all these things for my overseas studies.

Now that I am here, and typing in my new room in the International Campus, I feel so empowered and happy. My memories of yesterday involve taking a GrabHitch, dragging my three luggages through the airport by myself, going to the Kopitiam for Hokkien Mee and my last Koi for months, boarding the aircraft myself and trying to maintain my position in the queue in Shanghai Pudong Airport. All these by myself, which marks the beginning of an academic year completely alone, far away from the mini-Singapore I had always been used to even in London. There is obviously no more Singapore society because I seem to be the only Singaporean in the International Campus, and I am now forced to make friends out of my bubble. I am also happy to experience these mixed feelings of feeling like a majority yet not quite being one; I have never been happier to be able to communicate in Chinese so fluently with the locals, and being able to make jokes with the same type of humour I have been used to on television shows and in my family. English is the main mode of instruction throughout my life and also the language I am most comfortable with expressing myself, but speaking Mandarin still makes me feel closer to home, because they remind me of being home with my family.

Yesterday, as I was looking out of the window on the shuttle bus to the campus, I was also impressed at how much China has developed since the last few times I saw it in 2004 and 2008. Streets and highways in my memory did not used to look like this, and prices of items were also supposed to be much lower. I realised this is going to be a year of learning and re-learning new things about the Chinese culture and civilisation, and I thought to myself that I am actually quite happy that I was rejected from Oxford. If I were accepted into the course, I would probably have faced a huge dilemma in university choice, and as I said earlier, I probably would have followed all logical reasoning and headed there.

Here was the campus early this morning. It was so quiet, peaceful and beautiful, all I saw were security officials on the streets and cleaners sweeping the leaves away from the empty roads. The scenery really called for a run but was bogged down by all the registration stuff. I also just found out today that there are video game rooms, table tennis rooms, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a huge track, music rooms (with pianos), and lounges that we can use as long as we book it. Although every campus certainly has this, the small strength of the International Campus means that these new facilities are readily available for us to be used anytime. It feels like a town, with a supermarket, postal services, a police post, and even a bank on campus. I do not even need to get to the city centre for anything. The huge and decorated campus is a stark contrast to what I have always been used to in the scattered UCL campus, with school buildings and lecture theatres stashed in between other irrelevant offices, seeing students in every corner and hearing noise from traffic everywhere. But I love the campus for now, and I hope I will keep loving it for the next one year that I have left of studies.

It was a busy morning for me: registering for the course officially, applying for my citizen card, student card, SIM card, clarifying the fee structures, submitting health documents for verification, setting up my school e-mail address and touring around the campus. I have upcoming social activities in the evening with both the local students and other international students. I also have a Chinese placement test tomorrow to determine which class I am going into, let’s hope I manage to emplace myself into the highest level one, if not I am truly a huge embarrassment to Singaporeans.

Final VA has ended

I took a grand total of 8 days of leave, accumulating previous year’s leave and this year’s leave because I never took leave when I was on board ship. It just means that I have ended VA early, and would have some time to myself before I fly off for graduation and the next academic year. To be honest, the summer went by really quickly because I actually enjoyed it – maybe this was a much needed morale booster compared to the painful months last two years when I was under a lot of self-induced pressure. For all the shit I said about UGPMET when I was on course, I loved it because I had fixed days and hours. There were Wednesdays off, and half days throughout the course. The distance and the long commute to NTU did not really kill me because I stayed nearby (6 MRT stops away is nearby by SAF camp standards), which meant that I was catching up on a lot of sleep every single day upon reaching home. The “work-life balance” continued even after I got posted to HQ. I could make concrete plans for the week: I could meet my friends on weekday nights, and I never had to feel too shitty about missing a single gathering because I could always make room for group arrangements in the busy weekends. I never got to feel this way last year, and I am immensely grateful for all the fun this summer has brought to me.

The weekend when VA ended was marked with lots of excitement!

  1. Clubbing

Two weeks ago the 4G girls met up for a grilled fish lunch buffet and quick dessert at Chinatown, that I thankfully had the chance to join in last minute because of a surprise half day off. We almost decided to go clubbing that night, but decided to hold that thought off because it was Day 1 of the Lunar Seventh Month, and it was a little too impromptu for most people. We decided to set a date two weeks later, when we would be able to bring our partners and invite more people along too.

And so it happened here! It was a pity that we did not manage to get any photos from that day because it was honestly really memorable. Drinking games were fun, especially when we were gulping down Asahi beer which was not as disgusting as I remembered beer to be. King’s Cup was also fun when done in a huge group of (importantly) people who knew one another. Or of that sort, since I technically have seen all of them on Instagram before.

We went to Wan to club, a club that I did not even know existed prior to this, and left quite early because Yujie said that “we are here to have a good time, not a long time” L O L. Ended up at 海底捞 where we had the cheapest share per pax ever ($14.50 each), and reached home only at 5am. It has been a long time since I stayed out so late partying, because I do not even stay out this late with HT, and it was really really memorable. I really enjoyed myself that night with a bunch of people I knew since 15 :’) I hope that these nights would keep us young and relevant, and would continue happening into my future.

2. JB Trip

It all started when HT woke up at 2pm after the night of clubbing.

Me: Hi
Me: Are we meeting
HT: Hi
HT: Yes we are
HT: I was thinking of going Malaysia
Me: Stay there?
HT: Yea
Me: Steady baby I jio my sister and her bf

And it happened!

We met at 4pm, took less than an hour to cross customs because we had, by then, avoided the peak day trip crowd in the morning, and got to JB around 5pm. We shopped around for our popcorn, bread from the bakery, and went to eat street food at Meldrum Walk.

We just walked around aimlessly, buying toothbrushes because my sister conveniently forgot to pack mine in for me, buying milk tea, ice-cream, and celebrated my sister’s boyfriend’s birthday in advance. It was interesting to walk through the bazaar at night and feel this eerie sense of wariness that was often only felt in European countries. I also had to stop HT from buying a lot of rubbish on many occasions.

We went to The Replacement Cafe that was often seen on my Instagram feed! I must say that the desserts were pretty overpriced by Malaysian standards, but they were really nice. The Japanese Cheesecake, which was not on the menu, was great. They also happened to sing a birthday song hahahaha, and we stayed nearly till closing at 11pm.

The next day we went out early in the morning for fish head curry which we did not manage to have the previous day because it closes at 4pm. We actually still had to queue despite reaching at around 8.15am, being later than the first round of crowds. We called it an end at JB after the curry and went through customs early in the morning to make it home for an afternoon at my relative’s place.

3. Drinking at Holland Village (Special Mention)

The drinking actually took place more than a week ago (18 Aug), but it was still memorable because it might have been my first time seeing a bunch of tipsy people laughing at themselves. I never really got to partake in many of these drinking gatherings because I always had to be in a different place, without a choice. I am glad I finally came back to realise what it feels like to properly have control over my social life, and to laugh over old news with even older people. I have known these people for nearing a decade now, a future we could barely imagine when we were still angry at each other often over issues within the RVNCC culture that we could not escape from. I am happy to realise that little has changed within our group dynamics, still speaking in Mandarin most of the time and making puns/jokes in that very language, except that we laugh at one another even louder now in our tipsy states. I am also really happy to know that everyone has been doing really well in school and life in general; how beautiful these old friendships are, so golden that we can all celebrate one another’s achievements together. Envy and spite has no room amongst us, unlike the workplace that would occasionally display uncomfortable sentiments from people, even if subtly.

I hope these friendships and laughters do not ever change, as we carry on in our 20s. I am thankful to have solidified these friendships into my adult years, and I take back all word about the unfortunate inability to make new friends in a 6-year Integrated Programme: on the contrary, staying together with the same group of friends was, and still is, the biggest gift of the scheme.

Joey’s 21st birthday / last full day in London

I think I might do this in reverse chronological order.

1. On the very day my student ID expired, I went back to the UCL Science Library, in particular my favourite corner in the computer cluster. Also took a picture right outside the Portico like I did 3 years ago with Wei Xuan. How time flies. I will always remember how I strategically position myself away from the air conditioning vents because it gets really cold and uncomfortable when you stay in the same place for hours. I will also remember how I prefer the corner most seats even though they were the most stuffy, because they provided the most privacy when I am munching away on my leftover Wing Wing. I did this Wing Wing thing quite often (soy chicken + fries) when I studied alone in the library, often running to catch the lunch deal at 3.55pm, just before it ends at 4pm. Oh no I miss Wing Wing too 😦

2. Walking to South Bank just because. We sat there outside the public skating area, where I took a short nap on his shoulder because we actually got up early that morning. This was the view I saw when I woke up, when it once again hit me that it was probably my last time opening my eyes to this view of the London Eye and the vessels skirting along the Thames.

3. Joey’s 21st birthday. We were treated to a Japanese-course meal at Zuma, which was honestly the most over-the-top birthday dinner I had ever been to. I hope the present in return would abate some of the costs that he generously treated us to. It was also a memorable night because we headed to the bar next door after his birthday celebration, where we rang in midnight over drinks and sang him a very loud happy birthday song at the peak of our spirits. Laughed at how we tried to sort ourselves out earlier at the birthday dinner to get to know one another but failing so badly because conversation topics were not flowing with our new acquaintances, and laughing at how we shipped Joey and Debbie to make them feel awkward throughout the night. Laughing at how almost everyone at the table knew Mandarin but in different variations: different understandings of certain words, different pronunciations, different proficiencies of course. Sadly, it was probably the last time that I would gather with them (Joey, Darren, Tz-Ching, Debbie) at the same venue, which made that night even more special. Thank you guys for having been my new friends through university life, and allowing me to be myself.

4. Collingwood House. Need I say more? 😦 Thank you for having been the inspiration for many of my essays, for being the space that triggered many appreciative thoughts for my family and friends, for being the space where memories were shared between my friends and I. My lovely bed for all the great sleeps and naps, although you were sometimes too bright in summer mornings. I can hear all the familiar noises of the lift door opening, clicking open my own door with the double lock, the door closing, placing my bags and groceries down, …. I will forget them in due time, but I will always remember this place for holding two years of memories in my best years.

I miss London every now and then and I will continue to. Most importantly, I am thankful to be leaving London on a good note, in an emotional state much better than my first few months. I guess not everyone has it easy mentally, a situation I never expected before I arrived here and felt it for myself. Missing people or places in your past truly highlights the significance of the happiest memories you made in a place, and my last full day in London sums it up very well.