2018 wrapped

New Year resolutions set at the end of 2018:

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.

1. Accomplished, still a parking hazard. I am so happy I managed to obtain it before summer – it meant that I could drive in Jeju, and convert the UK license to a Singapore driving license. I failed the test once in March, and it scared me because I would potentially have to drag the retest dates further and further into summer. Eventually, if I had no luck with passing before the end of my time in the UK, I would have to give up and head back to Singapore to redo all the theory and practical courses again. Thank god this was not necessary because I managed to pass on my second try in April.

I have once talked about how much I hated driving lessons, and these opinions still stick. I remember heading home defeated after every driving lesson, legs too heavy to jaywalk like a typical Londoner in the day. I would stare in a daze at the zebra crossing after being so tired out from two hours of road concentration, with all my silly mistakes, instructors’ scoldings and dangerous road scenarios replaying in my head as I inch home with heavy footsteps. The horrid thing about mistakes is that they amplify – you make one, you get annoyed thinking about it, you get distracted and you make another one. My rigorous instructor would speak of each of those mistakes as if I truly knocked into a bus, and the lessons would often end with me feeling like I will never obtain a driving license. So I am thankful I made it. Thank you to the stubborn prideful me who would never give up on such pursuits halfway. You made it eventually.

2. Accomplished!!!!! Why did this mean so much to me? It probably encapsulated a lot of elements related to my pride. A first class result was the only answer I hoped for to the feelings of academic inadequacy, the only result that would be a satisfactory answer to those early morning steps to the nearest Starbucks or the Science Library. I did not need to be the top student because I had never been labelled that throughout my entire life, but I had to be somewhere. I had to be at least ‘above average’ on my own terms, to be deserving of all these privileges that others would look upon with envy. I needed a set of results that would possibly convince me that I was worthy of being labelled a ‘scholar’ along with the many outstanding governmental scholarship recipients schooling in the same country as I was. I needed to do well enough for myself to eliminate emotional baggage when informing the scholarship department of my academic achievements. It was the degree classification that could convince me that I am not as lousy as the rejections and badly performed coursework assignments made me out to be. It would be the answer to those tears of inferiority and sinking feelings of inadequacy walking home from poor grades and tutorial sessions on some afternoons. Even though my degree classification would hardly cause any impact on my further education given that I had gotten my unconditional Master’s offer before then, I wanted to prove to myself once again that I could seek out to achieve anything as long as I put in the effort to.

And so, thank god it was what I wanted. I remember my heart pacing up and down this whole day, and I made HT meet me that night after UGPMET lectures because I could not stop thinking about my results. I thought I had possibly even failed my dissertation because other people had already received their degree classifications from their confessions on UCLove; it signalled how little confidence I had in myself after three years of being in the shadows of the brightest people in UCL. After pacing around aimlessly we finally sat down in front of the ice rink in JCube eventually, and I refreshed my email for 30 minutes until this strange looking email popped up about our results. That was it. I knew that was the email I was waiting for for the whole day. I hardly had the courage to open it, and possibly waited for three whole minutes before I mustered the courage to accept the various scenarios that could play out. Thank you to the combined forces of my luck and effort in producing this wonderful outcome.

I penned this on the day I received those results but I thought not to publicly publish it on social media, I guess now is a good time to revisit those feelings of relief. “I spent my entire undergraduate degree feeling less than others, the ‘others’ who often spoke about how certain modules were easy to score, how certain lecturers were lenient, and how much easier it was to get good grades on coursework. I could never relate because I did not adapt well. I struggled, spent afternoons in the library reading books and books but ultimately struggling to put across my ideas eloquently. I was less than the average UCL Singaporean who strolled into UCL with an excellent academic record throughout their life, and surrounded by RI and HCI students all around London whose median result never dropped lower than a first. So today while this does not mean much to most people, it reflects the pain and loneliness of some nights I had in Years 1 and 2 flipping through worst case scenarios in my head, that I may have to return back for good someday justifying to the scholarship and personnel department why I fell short of the average overseas scholar, and that I may have to give up even the chance for a Scheme C interview (“scholar track”). These are stacked on top of the fact that I was the only scholar who struggled getting her COC, and it tore me apart so badly. It seemed that I was the only one struggling with failures both in school and work, and general unhappiness at work. Some nights I cry receiving a 2:2 grade, and some nights I feel so shitty being out and about. Academic performance has defined me for the largest part of my life, and at this stage, it sadly continues to shape the perception of myself by others. I am happy today because it reflects my tenacity despite the countless times I received unsatisfactory grades, and I hope that for the rest of my life, I stop working to the standards of others and what is expected of me, and to live life properly on my own terms.”

3. Somewhat accomplished. I continued attending lessons in SOAS for another term, and even enrolled in Sejong upon touching down in Singapore to force myself at Korean for the entire summer. Amazingly, it has been 3 years since I started learning. I remember when I first started off learning, I watched videos of Korean learners on YouTube who reached an amazingly fluent standard by the time it came to 2 years. I envied them, because I could not even understand what they were saying until I added subtitles to the videos. I am far from conversationally fluent because that is what I would classify myself for Mandarin, but I have reached a point whereby I understand most simple dialogues around me. I am happy with my progress and I strive to continue working harder at this pursuit.

2018, by far, has been one of the best years of my life. I would put it alongside years between 2011 and 2014 to be one of the most memorable years of my life. I have moved so much, seen so much, heard so much, and achieved so much. Like many others of my age, it was a year of milestones and noteworthy events. Just like all the years before this when I fight deadlines at the start of the year, I am choosing to write this conclusion to 2018 over a 5000-word paper that is due in 3 days. Little has changed in that sense, but my living spirit has been physically whizzed through so many experiences this whole year that I am probably not quite the same as I was at the start of the year.

January

I rang off the New Year in Shibuya with HT, and woke up to the dead town of Tokyo on New Year’s Day. I watched Jay Chou’s concert in Singapore for the second time with HT. On the day of her job offer, WX treated me to dim sum at Yauatcha and dessert at the pretty cake place that we often could only walk by on a usual day en route back to Collingwood House. Dilys, WX and I went to the We Bare Bears event along the Thames and had Maze Grill that same night. I think we walked to the Royal Hospital place. We had another Gordon Ramsay meal the next weekend with Chen Xi at Limehouse. I also went to Iceland this month with Dilys and her house, and it was an amazing trip with beautiful sights, really fun entertainment (got introduced to Black Mirror and we binged on it every night), and amazing food. It was a memorable month of travelling, food, food and food.






February

The annual long-awaited Chinese New Year month because we seem to upscale our celebrations away from home. WX and I hosted a steamboat at our place for our batchmates – Dilys, Chenxi, Wern, Sze Min who came from Warwick. It was fun hanging out with Sze Min, whom I dragged to the UCL Korean classes with me and the Korean Society events subsequently, and ate Big Easy and Honest Burgers with. The annual RV gathering also took place this month at Gold Mine. WX, Dilys, Chen Xi and I also went KPop clubbing this month for the first time, and my god, I loved that shit. It was sooooo fun dancing along to KPop for the first time, with a like-minded crowd who knew the dances to the hit songs of Twice, Big Bang and Red Velvet. Skipping out EXO and BTS here because I knew none of their songs, maybe except Ko Ko Bop and Fire. I spent Valentines’ Day in this month making my way to King’s Cross in the morning to take the train to Gatwick for my flight back to Singapore. By then, Euston Road and London felt increasingly familiar to me and I constantly took landscape shots of the walking route I took to the station. I knew I would miss all these sights when I left.




I celebrated the whole CNY holiday at home since the reading week holiday happened to coincide this time. Wei Xuan, Edina and I went back to RV on CNY Eve and we were very surprised that most teachers still remembered us; the very same teachers were also surprised that WX and I were graduating that same year. I got introduced to fibbage, the perfect get-together game. My brother was also legally married this month. I got back to a snowy London in late February, and also shamelessly went to LSE to get a free lunch from Dilys. Aloysius, You Jing, Beatriz and I had a dinner at Galvin at Windows near the end of this month.

March

Dilys kindly invited me to lunch/dinner at Cheng’s house near LSE where they celebrated Chinese New Year again. I remember the wonder of having wagyu beef and durians in London, thank you very much for extending the generosity to me. Built a snowman because London’s weather went erratic and snowed once again. Sze Min came once again and we had Flat Iron together. Dilys, WX and I went all the way to Liverpool Street to try some exotic food for lunch. WX and I went to the Mayday concert this month!!! (very noteworthy). I enjoyed the Mayday concert, to the point it triggered me to write a blog post then. I remember 阿信’s singing pushing me to the point of nostalgia and tears, at the same time when my eyes darted to read the English subtitles of the songs I only just got to know. I was hardly a fan before the concert, but I knew most of their music and I enjoyed every moment during the concert. Post-concert, I found myself replaying the concert videos that I took, and listening to their music on Spotify over and over again. To the point that Mayday became my Spotify #1 most-played artist of the year. It had been long since I had such strong concert withdrawals, so the Mayday concert was exceptionally memorable for me.




As with every year, IPPT training started this month. There was also the crazy rush for dissertation submission, and the month when one would almost seal their fate for the degree results. I ate out a lot this month because of the £1 Wuntu wonder: Las Iguanas, Bella Italia, and Cafe Rogue with Dilys all within a matter of days. Dilys, WX and I went for Mexican food at a place along Neal’s Yard. As mentioned, I failed my driving test this month too. Ate On The Bab with Weixuan for the first time (can’t believe I had been missing out for so long), and lobster noodles with Bowei this month. Also attended the UCL Easter Ball with Beatriz, You Jing and WX.


I went to Lesvos for my field trip, and I remember feeling so thankful sitting in that restaurant at the end of the trip when Chronis stood up and told us to always keep in contact – they would always want to know about us and how we are doing. That many years down, although we would have forgotten everything we learnt from the trip, they hoped that we still remembered them, and to remember how to “read the landscape”. I laughed. I loved it. I was apprehensive about the trip plastered within the Easter break initially, but I am glad I went for the trip eventually.

April

Started the month off by going to Budapest with Beatriz, You Jing and WX. The plane ride via WizzAir there was too unforgettable, I remember feeling so airsick and eyeing the vomit bag very closely. I was so thankful when it landed after all that turbulence, and really respected the air crew who had to clean up the dripping bags of vomit left on seats by inconsiderate passengers. I remember the accommodation in Budapest was beautiful, and the location was amazing. With the relative strength of the pound, we spared no cash in eating lots of chimney cakes, lots of salmon on bread, and did lots of cafe hopping. We also went caving and soaked in the overcrowded Budapest thermal bath where I stayed at the corner to soothe my funky tummy.


I arrived back in London to obtain a pass on my driving test. So thankful. We celebrated Aloysius’s birthday that weekend, and I enjoyed the green tea cake made by Jallene. I remember it being so amazing that I asked for the recipe, Aloysius is such a lucky man. I made my way alone to Soho (Wardour Street) to enjoy the Free Cone Day by Ben&Jerry’s after having missed it the year before, and enjoyed two cups of Strawberry Cheesecake and Caramel by myself. I found the wonder of the £5 Monday Patty and Bun which was a gem during the examination period. There was lots of takeout sourdough pizzas for this month from Franco Manca and Santa Maria which newly opened along New Cavendish Street, so near to my place that it was still piping hot when I got home, and the wolfing down of the pizza was usually accompanied with Hyori’s Bed and Breakfast programme. Lots of Deliveroo poke bowls and takeaway lunches from Wing Wing at Bedford Way too. I spent the most of this month hiding in the library revising for my 4 examinations, only emerging when the sun was out to take a quick walk around Regent’s Park. Occasionally I ended it off at Yolkin, where I would sit alone by the window and watch people pass. London looked more and more beautiful each day I inched nearer to my departure. WX and I also went to Nam Taehyun’s concert (ex-Winner member) in South Club this month, near Camden Town.





May

It was the month of lasts. Examinations started and ended in this month, funnily at the ExCel venue which created lots of memes on UCLove. Examination season is always memorable because it pushes you to a crazy extent of revision that you would never expect from yourself. After the conclusion of a morning paper, I would take a nap at home, and then head to the Science Library to continue memorising for the next paper. It was crazy, but so memorable for it showed how much I could do in a single day. The food continued this month: ate dinner in London with Dilys and WX for the last time at Kingly Court, lots and lots of poke bowls, Japanese dinner and green tea mille crepe with Tz-Ching and WX for the last time. Participated in Ban’s birthday surprise along with many others who sincerely wished him the best even though they had papers the next day. In this month, it was also my last trip to Dilys’s place for malaxiangguo, which sadly spilled all over my Nike drawstring bag (thrown away for the same reason) because I stupidly did not wrap it up with a plastic bag. It lasted me three meals. I loved it. I also had my last meal with Bowei at The Riding Horse Cafe, incidentally the first place I ate at when moving into Collingwood House in 2016. I also took a picture of my last time walking out of the UCL Science Library. I could walk it over and over again in the future, but it will never be as an undergraduate student, and it will never be for the same purposes of examination revision anymore.




Examinations ended on the 18th and I jetted off to Korea for my summer graduation trip with WX, who kindly planned everything when it was still examination season for me! It was nice to meet and have meals with Edina on the trip. I had the privilege of hearing IU live, watching Twice’s concert, going for Korea University’s festival where I watched Blackpink, Psy and Momoland live among many other artistes. I hiked at the Seoraksan National Park and went paragliding in Sokcho. WX and I also went to Jeju where I knocked into an orange pole. The Jeju sights were beautiful. I ate and saw a lot.

June

I went back to London to spend time with HT. We ate at all the places I would miss for the last time: Big Easy, Dishoom, the matcha ice-cream from Japan Centre, Gold Mine, Granger and Co, ASSA, Flat Iron, Shackfuyu, and of course Gaza. We also ate at the mala hotpot place with PN and Nicole for the first time, ate at the beautiful pods in Coppa Club, and enjoyed a One Michelin-Star dinner at Twywn where we were based in Snowdonia. The drive to Snowdonia was expensive, but beautiful and absolutely worth it – we hiked Mount Snowdon, we went white water rafting, we drove to the coast and ate fish and chips accompanied by noisy seagulls competing for the loudness of their chirps. My only regret in Snowdonia was that we did not manage to do the zipline because we did not have time, but I am sure we will be able to do it another time in the future. We also went to Thorpe Park and won a charmander through a carnival game, and we spent the next few days slowly packing my life in London up together. It was saddening to put things bit my bit into the box, permanently ridding it of its use in my accommodation. On our last few days, we also managed to catch Kinky Boots on £20 stall seats by getting there early enough in the morning to queue. HT and I then went to celebrate Joey’s birthday at Zuma, and noisily drank to our last night in London together. For the first time in ages, we were headed back to Singapore together.





UGPMET started this month after lots of eating with siblings and HT. I also enrolled in Korean lessons. It was the month I received my degree classification when we walked around together in our No.4s. We spent our Saturdays at Marina Barrage playing Pokken Tournament on the switch, waiting for the flypasts and watching the fireworks on our aluminium picnic mats. After the fireworks display, we would head for a filling dinner after. I loved all these simple weekend date nights, because I could lay on the picnic mat and stare at the beautiful orange hues of the sky guilt-free. I usually had nothing to be concerned about the following week, other than the deadlines for the UGPMET assignments. Academic stress was healthy stress for me, more desirable than workplace stress in so many ways. I also hosted the Delta people for a dinner at my house one of the weekends in this month.



July

Compared to the previous year, July this year was much less eventful in a good way. My family celebrated my mother’s birthday, and I had a lot of meals with HT (steamboat at Chinatown, I’m Kim Korean BBQ, En Sushi) before I sent HT off for his MSTD sailing on our anniversary date. We actually went clubbing at fClub the night before he left, although I was admittedly dozing off because HT and I did not have drinks. On one of the weekends, HT, my sister, her boyfriend and I also went to Holland Village to join and feel the atmosphere of people cheering for the World Cup, where I made my first $20 soccer bet on Croatia and lost it. I met with the 4G girls for a zicha dinner during this month too. I am happy for this uneventfulness.




I have underestimated the value of a 平淡生活 for the longest time now. The previous July was extremely emotionally challenging and I could not be more thankful to be dragging my feet to NTU in the morning, listening to interesting lectures on military security and participating actively in tutorials on my own accord. There was a lot of craze over Maple Story M during this period too, which was amusing. I remember the entire lecture theatre holding their mobile phone horizontally with their eyes peeled to it – everyone was playing Netts’ Pyramid and the Elite Dungeons together during all the breaks and even the lectures, which drew the ire of several officers in charge of administering the course. It was an extremely uninspiring July although I learnt a lot with respect to military studies, and I appreciated the dullness of it very much.

August

The month started off with a buffet with my MSC batch and the officers from NRC. I attended a National Day dinner with my family at the Bukit Batok CC, where I drove my family for the first time. I voluntarily participated in the Dunman High programme in Changi Naval Base, and reminded myself of how I used to look just four years ago. I spent National Day with Joey, and also met up with Fumi and Beatriz the day before for dinner. I remember this too: the 4G girls arranged to meet the weekday after National Day for lunch, but I would not make it because work resumed after the public holiday. I turned up at work that day to find out that all of us were given a half-day off by NOD, and we could go off early that day as early as 10am if we wanted to. Most people were not in office from the very morning. I relished in this opportunity, rushed home to shower and met my friends at Chinatown for a fish buffet. We also made plans for our next clubbing outing, where we met together with everyone’s boyfriends and enjoyed a night out together. I was so thankful, because these were circumstances that never would have happened if I were on my previous 2 VAs. “I wanted to seek something other than a 9-5 job for my future” would be a common and politically correct interview answer to “Why did you decide to join the Navy?”, but as early as 4 years in, my opinions have started to shake a little. I found beauty in the monotony and predictability of a 9-5 schedule, where you could make definitive plans for your loved ones and to attend events that matter to you. I know that I have yet to experience most of the adventure that comes with the flexibility of the future work schedule, but I suppose I begin to see how our priorities and demands for life change as we take on different postures in life.



In the same month, I also made plans with the Delta group, where we drank at Holland Village and carelessly made jokes of one another throughout the night. I laughed a lot, even though we were reusing the jokes and repetitively throwing the same snark remarks at one another. HT came back this month, even though we missed his birthday. We spent one entire week together because he went on leave. We went to JB for a night, with my sister and her boyfriend tagging along. I also had an international buffet with Bowei just before I went back to London.


September

September was an extremely happening month, where I moved across several cities so quickly. My family and I headed to London to attend my graduation. I was happy to see London again even though I had left only 2.5 months earlier – we spent a lot of time in the Airbnb, we visited the Hippodrome casino, we went to Wembley Park and the factory outlets, we went to Brick Lane, we went to the Columbia Road Flower Market, and of course we went for my graduation and subsequent shopping along Oxford Street. We also went to Athens, where we visited the Parthenon and old Olympic Stadium (I remember watching Amazing Race and thinking that I had to go there one day), stuffed ourselves on lots of Greek salad because Greek food just did not cut it for our appetites, and doing lots of supermarket shopping at the huge supermarket near the coast which stretched across three floors. It was a set of very beautiful travel memories with my family, especially since most of us went on the trip completely stress-free.

Graduation was painfully expensive and I can still remember that I spent the most money wrapping up my life in London – tickets were £45 for each family member, the gown rental was £44 (I would have loved to buy it for future photoshoots – it was a few hundred pounds for the purchase though), and what more my whole family flew in for the ceremony. But a milestone is a milestone, and for the first time in my life I am happy that I had my whole family witness arguably one of the most important achievements in my life, the scene where I would walk across the stage to obtain my degree from a reputed overseas university. It was the dream sold to me since I was young, where the “two years later” scenes in TVB dramas would involve the main leads throwing their mortarboards in the air after taking a break from their careers by studying abroad. I did not know that it would eventually be UCL, but I continue to brim with pride when people ask where I did my undergraduate studies. I lived the dream I dreamt, and I am happy that my family could witness the birth and curtain-drawing of this coveted dream.


Not humble-bragging, but because of my above-average academic performance I always had friends around me with extremely strong parental support. It correlates for sure, because good academic performance does not always come by luck. Throughout primary school, I was one of the only few students whose parents never attended the parent-teacher meeting sessions. In the PSLE year, possibly one of the most important years, my form teacher made the three of us stand, the only three of us out of 43 whose parents did not wish to attend the session. She asked us why. I do not know why, perhaps my parents just did not think it was necessary to turn up? Despite being relatively rebellious at that age, I could not mouth anything to my teacher except that I will ask them again. I felt punished and humiliated for the lack of care by my parents, that I was driven to tears on the spot. I remember the classroom scene of this happening even until today. Even in what I would consider a neighbourhood primary school, my upbringing and emphasis on education by my parents seemed outdated and too hands-off. Today, I realise that I was subconsciously caught up in this ‘class debate’ when I was young, where I actually stood on the side of disadvantage once upon a time because my parents’ attitudes towards my education from the previous era seemed too incorrect for the then-contemporary educators. No, my parents did not turn up eventually. They never saw the need to keep up on my academic progress, because they successfully made their way through life without the strong support networks of today anyway. These attitudes continued on to secondary school, where I volunteered for such parent-teacher meeting sessions that my parents did not bother turning up to.

In the later years, my retired parents would turn up for the HQ events (NCCDP, COC), and I would remember these for life because of how proud I was of my achievements in NCC. Given that my parents never turned up to a single event in my entire education, these meant a lot to me, that they were taking time out to simply look at what I had been doing in my schooling life all this while. Sadly these were short-lived because unlike most other parents with proper working schedules, both of my parents could never turn up at the same time for important milestones later: BMT POP and SMS award ceremony. For these reasons, I would never take for granted my overseas graduation ceremony, the only time my family was brought together to witness myself obtaining an academic achievement, and probably the most important academic milestone ever.

After I got back from Athens, I hurriedly unpacked and once again packed to depart for Shanghai the next afternoon, where I prepared for uncertainty upon arrival. I had not planned for a single thing: I had not planned how to get to campus (thank god for shuttle bus arrangements by the school), I had not planned on the basics to piece up my life together (SIM cards, campus registration, adjusting to China, bank accounts). I had done nothing at all, and I had little knowledge of how my life in China was going to pen out. There was little information available in English online, and I did not know how my first few weeks of school were going to go, and I had absolutely no idea who I could seek if things turned ugly. The only thing I did was to book my flight to Shanghai where I hoped life would piece itself together miraculously. I was excited of course, to embark on a life so different from the one I had been used to for so many years. It would be different from London. It would be different from Singapore. It would be a life that people have endlessly criticised yet marvelled at. It was the country of “low standards” and “ungracious people”. I remember moving into my supposedly cleaned dorm room to dirty sheets and dusty floors, and scrubbed the rest of the night away to KPop tunes (flatmate asked “you like IU?”). I was so happy looking out of my room window that night, awed at my choice to pick a path so less travelled, and so excited about what was to come. I made several friends that orientation week who would become my daily canteen friends and hotpot buddies. I took part in the Alibaba Computing Conference in the Cloud Town, took part in the Mid-Autumn festival games on campus, and discovered the magic that is Taobao.


October

The month started off with Golden Week, China’s national holiday. I went to Hangzhou, Shanghai and Suzhou. I discovered the wonder of the swimming pool on campus, and swam almost every night for 3 weeks after lessons were concluded in the night. We went to KTV this month, met a new friend (Teashop guy!) and got drunk on soju several weekend nights. I bought my bike that would subsequently change my China life – I could now get to everywhere I wanted to easily. I visited new places in Haining: the Korean food street, and the vegetarian buffet restaurant at Nanguanxiang. We met with Teashop guy once again for a free BBQ dinner, where I stared in amusement at the military movie that was playing in the background. Sergio, Marcianna and I also celebrated Halloween twice with all that make-up: once at the empty-ass bar in Rosemary’s, and once more in U9 when more of the campus was involved since it was more heavily-publicised. It was my first time going all out for Halloween since I was hanging out among Westerners for the first time – in this Chinese society, I was closer to the Westerners as the ‘Other’ who would group together to seek familiarity.




November

In the start of this month, Sergio, Marcianna and I went to Hangzhou together, shopped around in the day and hanged around in the campus bar at night. We caught the 2.30am train back to Haining, and my body was hardly alive on the train. I was so afraid that I would miss the Haining stop, I set an alarm to wake myself. I discovered a mala pot and conveyer belt place in Haining which I love. My poor bike met with some accidents during this period, being knocked down by a car when it was parked along the side. I watched The Nutcracker with Sergio’s friend, Sergio and Marcianna at the nearest mall. I went to Taiwan and met Jiawen and Tz-Ching where I travelled on foot and public transport through most of Taipei, went to Seoul for IU’s concert where I met Bowei and Sara and had nights of Korean BBQ and fried chicken, and went to Bangkok where I met HT for more affordable shopping and food. It was a month of crazy travelling on my long weekends, interspersed with intensive weekdays of rushing for assignment deadlines which made the month go by very quickly.




IU’s concert was very memorable, because of all the nostalgic feelings it brought to me. IU’s music was special to me at different parts of my life – the random female solo music that came in between the preferred KPop tracks in my young Koreaboo years, the hit songs I listened through my first and now slightly amusing heartbreak, the music I repeated when trying to memorise Korean words by heart for the first time, and the music that I felt embarrassed about when it played in the kitchen of Schafer House in the presence of my flatmates. I am more lucky than Bowei in the sense that I heard her growing up through my teenage years, and grew along with her into adulthood.

December

Marcianna’s birthday celebration took place at the start of this month. There was a lot more rush for assignment deadlines before I travelled. I also travelled through the cold and dreary rain on my bike to finally enjoy Korean food with Heekang and Sergio, and I remember ordering three additional plates of pork between us. The group of us then had 海底捞 again together with Emil that weekend. I attended the Singapore Christmas Carnival, which was in the most isolated place in Shanghai possible – it was snowing in Shanghai that day which made it so inconvenient and expensive to travel. It was all worth it however, when I walked in and started hearing Singlish from the very entrance doors of the Christmas event. I remember the plate of Hainanese Chicken Rice that I bought when starving, it shot me right back to home. I am still angry that I lost the entire roll of pandan cake (35 yuan) in the refrigerator to the stupid thief who definitely did not deserve my effort bringing the cake back from Shanghai to Haining. Sergio, Marcianna and I also went to Shanghai one weekend to look around in the German Christmas markets and explore Shanghai together for the first time. I went on the volunteering activity, which I blogged about just one post earlier.






I then went on to my year-end Yunnan trip with HT, where I fell terribly ill with stomach flu and vomited for 3 days and had diarrhoea for 7 days straight. I thank HT for taking care of me during this period, taking on extra load during the hike when I was not feeling right, tolerating all my toxic farts and the toilet after a nasty toilet session. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip where we overdosed on 麻辣火锅, laughed at how our parents would easily fit into elements of traditional Chinese culture, spoilt ourselves by indulging in all the didi rides, celebrated my 22nd birthday together with a surprise for both of us by the hotel, visited so many ancient cities and slowly hiked the arduous Tiger Leaping Gorge together because I was vomiting throughout the first day of the hike. I was happy to introduce to HT so many elements of the China life that I was fascinated with, the magic of WeChat Pay, the affordability with the strength of the SGD currency even though China has developed so much, and the beauty of the landscapes in China where travels are often underrated because of our negative impressions towards China. It was the longest trip we have had being away from anything remotely a home this time – during our long trips, we used to always have London as a base where we would park our luggages and then scoot around for short trips.



I have taken the entire day to write and recall this, with the help of images from my phone and scribblings in my Cath Kidston 2018 diary. I have evidently seen and done so much in this one year, and lived through many unforgettable experiences which would definitely become stories in my later life. I am more blessed than many for the capacity to even shell out money – I claim to scrimp and save by taking money-saving options (eg. the 1 yuan bus instead of a 20 yuan didi ride home), but these are borne out of the ability to even set aside money for travels, a privilege that may not come to many. 2018 has been an unforgettable year of milestones and unique experiences, and I hope through writing these travelogues and feelings I immortalise the feelings of awe and novelty in this youth to be relived over and over again.

I will continue to work hard to better myself, and at the conclusion of 2019 I hope to realise that the year is another fulfilling one. Here are three simple New Year resolutions:

1. Continue learning Korean.
2. Strive to work on a Chinese-language dissertation (I wonder what my response to this would be next year).
3. Hold a nice celebration for HT’s 30th birthday, in reciprocation for all the love that I have only received.

2019 will be even better!

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敬老院 A day with the elderly

I initially had qualms about signing up for the Volunteering Committee under the International Student Committee in school, because I was not sure about the level of commitment required. Am I going to have lots of long pointless meetings? Am I going to end up doing undesirable paperwork? I signed up anyway, fighting against all these negative voices in my head that dissuaded me from taking on extra activities outside of academic work. I am very happy to say that my worries have been unfounded – I have found the individuals around me really inspiring, and engaging in the volunteering activities have truly filled my heart. I started to feel extremely guilty for those initial doubts, because it showed how selfishly I guarded my time, even against activities clearly for a good cause.

The volunteer group were very happy to see us making the trip, because the 敬老院 that we visited was far away from the city, and situated in what they termed the countryside (农村). It was a bumpy ride in with huge expanses of agricultural land and run-down factories around us, which also showed me how much effort most of the other volunteers were putting in by coming from the city. It was organised this way: the Haining Volunteer Group (海宁义工团体) would split up the 敬老院 in Haining into 4 parts – North, South, East and West. Every Sunday of the month they would go to a different part, visiting two different 敬老院 in the morning and afternoon. Carrying out the activities on weekends meant that they were sacrificing their personal family time to partake in these activities to make the old folks happier, and I found this so moving. I participated in the afternoon session this time, and quickly got to know what to expect: they would cut and wash the hair of the old folks, and for the more experienced volunteers they would cut their nails. It sounds simple, but the old folks often have very hardened nails that would require warm water to soak for a bit, before using special tools to snip them off.

We started off visiting the folks on the first floor, slowly progressing to the seventh floor. There were old folks that were less physically able after having sustained a fall, and they were extremely happy to see and talk to us from their bed frames that they have been stuck on for ages. Sadly, the communication between us was often brought to a halt after asking 你几岁,你冷吗,你开心吗, because we could not understand the Haining dialect. It was extremely touching to see them smiling so wide with their silver/golden teeth, and saying in their limited 普通话 that they were extremely happy to see foreigners. They were glad that people made the effort to visit them, because they often spent the rest of the week lonely. The volunteer group was telling us that many of these old folks did not have children, and even if they did, their children were often situated in another city working, and probably did not have time and resources to visit them often. It actually pained me to learn this reality of life in a huge country like China, where many people migrate internally in search for better jobs in larger cities. Yet these old folks would never complain about their current state of life, because according to the volunteer leader, “在共产党的领导下他们看见了中国人民从饥饿跨入饱足”.

Somewhere along those conversations, I found myself holding back tears. One of the 奶奶s told me (through an interpreter because of the dialect) that her grandson speaks 普通话 too, and our presence reminds them of their grandchildren staying in the cities for better education. It represented exactly the relations I had with my grandparents, who could only speak 闽南语 to me while I struggled to respond to the questions they had about my well-being. The language barrier represented the division in thoughts between generations – my grandparents lived and thought 闽南语, my parents presently live and think 普通话 (华语), while I am clearly most eloquent in English, a language that still seems foreign to the generations before me. State structures change and alter family dynamics over time, and I unfortunately happened to be the generation caught between all the change.



The day ended off with a sharing session by everyone. Some of the volunteers mentioned about how this may be a selfish thought, but we would eventually become old one day, so it would do us good to service the old now. I was taken aback when told to share, so I shared what occurred to me at that very moment: “谢谢你们给予我们这个机会感受到大家的热情,年长人的热情。我也希望以后能够传达(做义工的意义)给我未来的孩子们。” It was an extremely heartwarming afternoon, and I will remember how the old folks nodded and laughed so heartily simply because people specially came to see them on this one Sunday of the month. They happily shared everything in their lives – the wedding photo of a couple retaken at 80 years old, or even how they chose to live in the home because they were scared of their daughter-in-law. At the later stages of life, our needs become so simple, that there is a return to the first stages of life as an unaware toddler once again. I found this childlike innocence so precious. Undeniably, there are benefits to volunteering for these people (earlier retirement if I did not hear wrong), but I am sure all of them truly meant well for the elderly from the bottom of their hearts. You certainly would not sacrifice entire Sundays just for the sake of receiving your pension earlier.


A group picture with the afternoon volunteering group at the 敬老院 in the countryside.

These bring up my thoughts about voluntourism once again. The topic has always been of huge controversy because of research studies on how we do not ever help the children/buildings in the long run anyway. The constant short-term attachment of the children is also said to be harmful for their psychological development, because they develop perceptions that interpersonal relations are short-lived. These opinion articles or videos often end off with a “Before you travel to xxxxx, think about whether you are truly helping… Why not sponsor a child instead…” I beg to differ. It may sound extremely selfish, but voluntourism to me was always a two-way affair, especially if you tag along on a reputed organisation that only means well in the true name of volunteering. The children and the people are extremely happy to simply have people specially arriving from a foreign land to visit them, something that Mr Huang constantly emphasised to us. You heighten the awareness of their world by bringing a foreign culture to them, and I am sure that interaction with foreigners eventually solidifies in their memory as a unique experience. Most importantly, many of us only wish to give our genuine affection that they might not receive frequently for their (often) marginalised positions in society. For the volunteers like myself, we learn so much from these children, and we become so much more aware of our shortcomings and irrational demands on our own lives. Each and every volunteering opportunity only motivates me to do more each time, and I am sure I speak the same for many others. The Cambodia trip in 2012 still weighs on my mind as one of the most impactful experiences in my life; I still remember the children laughters, the children running up to us innocently to ask for a piggyback ride, enthusiastically singing along in class with us. I washed up everyday using a bucket of grey water filled with mozzies and a frog in the corner of the well. I felt silly for all my complaints about “why am I studying” prior to the trip, and truly counted my blessings the whole time.

There are indeed reasonable criticisms about how we attempt to enforce activities like English language lessons on them – this reinforces that particular cultures are more superior than theirs, but the spread of English as the lingua franca of the world is a reality that many cultures have accepted, and frankly not an issue that should be attributed to volunteering activities in overseas communities. Opinions will always be divided, but I am all for the spirit of doing more, be it in local or overseas communities. We have no shortage of love to give to the rest of the world, and as long as we have genuine intentions, I do not see why we should be discouraged in any way from taking part in meaningful interactions with society at large.

I have learnt a lot today and my heart feels extremely full. I hope to be able to continue with the volunteering activities every single weekend.

My Mister (나의 아저씨) Thoughts

I finally finished this 16-episode drama that I actually started watching in October, to the recommendations of Bowei, Weixuan and Chenxi. Part of the reason why I took so long was that work started catching up with me from my excessive weekend travels, but also cause the dorm internet never permits me to load anything on the Internet past 11pm. I struggle to even load my email documents at this timing when everyone returns from the library to their rooms to hog up the bandwidth, let’s not even talk about streaming a video. Not even at 360p. So at 11.45pm when the campus Wi-Fi does not even allow me to listen to Spotify, I will continue to write my opinions to remember how I felt at the completion of this drama, so the rest of the blog post is going to be incomprehensible for non-Koreaboos.

I have always liked Lee Sun-kyun (the same dude who acted in This Week, My Wife is Having an Affair) because of his ability to portray reality so accurately. There were quite a few plot similarities between these two dramas, but what made this drama different was the excellent and thought-provoking dialogues that transpired between the main leads and supporting characters. I will not bother reflecting in Korean because chances are I will have too much inertia reading the blog post in the near future when I lose my tiny bit of literacy in the language, so here they are translated in English, although some of the nuances and expressions are bound to be lost in translation.

1. “Dong Hoon: One of my friends was a really smart guy. I thought we’d have a really successful guy come out of the neighbourhood, but not long after that guy graduated college he shaved his head and became a monk. At the time his parents were bedridden and sick, and the entire neighbourhood was in shock. And there was something he said as he left. He said he wanted to try becoming a person who had nothing. Everyone struggles in their lives trying to have things, so they live their entire lives trying to prove themselves to everyone, but nobody truly knows what they are gaining by doing that. And even if you do end up getting what you want, if the things that made you feel safe and the things that made ‘you’ start getting fractured, it’s impossible to withstand. And when the things that you thought made up who you are and the people who you thought were pillars in your life don’t seem to provide you with any real strength, nothing is what it seems…I guess, subconsciously, I agreed with him…”

He said this to Ji An, female lead played by IU, who asked what he meant when he said she had ‘strong internal forces’ to withstand all the obstacles in her life. I think this would be the quote that I like the most in the entire drama, for the fact that it is relatable to anyone. Unbeknownst to ourselves, we are always caught up striving to obtain things that we do not have, to attach desirable labels to ourselves. It seems really silly, that many of us continue spending our whole lives chasing after the image of the person we often dream ourselves to be, often the kind of person that would make everyone envious. We strive to always be a better version of ourselves, not for ourselves but for the sake of proving to everyone else that we are better than they thought us to be.

2. Dong Hoon: No matter what I am subjected to, it does not matter as long as my family does not know. But you can’t do something like that in front of someone’s family. […] Things like this are not a big deal. If nobody knows, then it’s not a big deal.

I am not sure if this quote resonates with anyone else. It seems such an irony, that the people who care about you the most are the very people you wish to keep secrets hidden from. Dong Hoon was angry at someone for shaming his elder brother by making him kneel, which was all witnessed by his mother from a corner. Dong Hoon felt that work troubles and problems could be disastrous or even humiliating, but these instances should never be made known to their family members. I am not sure if I only speak for myself, but I feel the same way as he does. I know it would be easily to trivialise any of our concerns when we think about all the horrible things in this drama that would be unimaginable in our own lives, but I remember feeling this same way about encountering painful circumstances at school and at work. Oddly, I did not wish for my family members to be put through the torment of watching me tumble and fall through life. I did not share much, or at all, about difficult superiors and heart-wrenching moments, as I did not want to make them share any of my emotionally heavy burdens. I only wished for my family members to know of my successes and achievements at the endpoint, and wished for them to only be happy for me. It was not an extremely insightful quote, but it put together in words actions that I have unwittingly put myself through because of similar dynamics in my family.

3. Dong Hoon: I feel bad for people who look tense. It gives you an idea about their past. Kids grow up quickly when they are hurt.

The statement was used to describe Ji An who looked and behaved over her age, who looked like she experienced too much of the world. It made me think a little more about maturity and EQ. Maturity is something you learn about from books, but something you never obtain and put into practice until you go through experiences in life. In which case, the individuals who overcome the most tormenting life experiences would often emerge most sensible. All of us are products of our past decisions, mistakes, and troubles. It is then befitting that you could see through someone’s personality the kind of past he or she has had, if you took a little more time to read the person.

4. Dong Hoon: If you get to know a person, if you get to know them, nothing they do bothers you. And I know you.

I thought to myself: what we make out of people are based on values that we hold intimately to ourselves. In all our personal actions, we often never think that our actions come off as undesirable to someone else. Even if we contemplate about it, our behaviours and thoughts are always justifiable from our own points of view. On the other hand, there are elements of behaviour displayed by your closest family members and friends that are always unacceptable by your own moral standards and value systems. Dong Hoon put it quite beautifully here, and that perhaps we do not know these people enough. If we took greater effort to better know our loved ones, all of their actions would then make sense as we would then understand the moral basis from which they act upon.

5. Gyeomdeok: One sees the things that one sees within oneself in the outside world. […] If your heart is good, then you will not see a single thing that you hate in this world.

Lastly, this quote narrated an important element of the drama: being a good person. As long as you were a good person, you would find peace with yourself, even if it took you longer to arrive at happiness (Dong Hoon), and even if you were seen as pitiful because you always chose morals over temptations. You would naturally be blessed with the most important treasures in your life because these would be of greatest importance to you – for Dong Hoon, the ‘pillars’ that held him up, his family members and the neighbourhood he held close to. I will continue to work on being and becoming a good person. Thank you LSK for playing out so many of these brilliant dialogues. I will always keep them in my thoughts.

November Travels

I have been so busy having fun with three 4-day to 5-day weekend trips just this month alone, at the same time on Tuesdays to Thursdays rushing out all my assignments that were due the end of this month. Travelling has been tiring but really really fun.

Taipei (8 to 12 Nov)

What I remember: So freaking rainy. I was permanently either in that raincoat or under an umbrella throughout my entire holiday. It was so rainy I almost did not want to light the 天灯 at 十分老街 because the rain was smudging all the ink from other lanterns and extinguishing the fires even before they managed to make their way up into the sky. But I did it anyway, since I have never done it before. Forced Jiawen to do it too HAHAHAHA

I was thinking so hard what to write on the 天灯 because I realised I had no genuine wishes. At this stage of my life I am lucky enough to not have desperate unfulfilled needs in my life. So I decided to write something that started to mean something to me in recent years: 一路平安,平居安乐。Most importantly I also wanted to write 平淡生活,but I could not fit it into the same page as the rest so I dropped it. I am thankful to my parents for giving me this name that have started to encompass many things I wish for myself in the present and the future. Rather than thinking of 平淡生活 as having a boring life, I would like to think of it as reaching a state of emotional maturity, with little care for striving further than where I am designated in society. “当我们的生活没有那么多的明争暗斗,没有那些追名逐利的时候,剩下的就是和谐而平淡的生活了。”

We managed to luckily do it with a shop who got all the camera angles right when helping us film this. He even managed to film and capture this epic shot of us laughing at us releasing our lanterns while smiling and looking at the camera… so posey, but it was actually so funny.

We also walked to the 十分瀑布 in the rain, where the rapids were much faster probably because of the rain.

There was so much transportation HAHAHA it must have been a headache planning all this thanks Jiawen. After 十分 we made our way to 九分 because Jiawen says it is a beautiful old market town on a relatively high altitude. Indeed it was, made more beautiful by the fact that I could finally buy slippers to change into after squishing around in my soaked shoes the whole day.

The next day Jiawen brought me to many 台北好吃的地方! In this shop we randomly walked in and ordered a bacon toast, which turned out really nice as well. I ate so much those few days, and drank at least a cup of milk tea everyday (Tiger Sugar, Chatime, 幸福茶).

After that we set off to 野柳地质公园, where the sky all appeared sunny and clear. We actually got shots of really nice photos, but as we queued up to take a picture with this 女王头 it started pouring again. Pouring so hard you can actually see the raindrops in the photo omg.

Thank god the sky cleared up as we took public transport to 台北最北富贵角灯塔, where we had to trudge through the sand and unseen coral green reefs. The sunset was actually really nice, and we actually took an even nicer photo sitting on a log, unfortunately photobombed by a couple who was taking selfies HAHAHA. By the time they moved off, it was already too late to capture the golden sunset in the frame beside the lighthouse 😦 After this, we made our way to 淡水 to have dinner in the form of light snacks (I particularly enjoyed this 红糖 meat) and headed to 西门町 for a walk after. It was so much travelling and sights in a single day, but I guess that made it super memorable. I will definitely remember skirting around the north circumference of Taipei in a single day LOL. Thanks Jiawen for planning this whole thing, it must have been a nightmare trying to get all the appropriate train and bus timings and squeezing them into a single weekend.

The next day I met up with Tzching and Debbie for lunch, unfortunately there were no photos taken 😦 Tzching also kindly brought me to 猫空 via a cable car, that I actually felt so bad about because she must have done it a lot of times whenever people visited her in Taiwan. We walked the entire stretch of road coming down from the cable car and decided to stop by at this place for tea, and waited for 30 minutes for them to actually serve us before we realised that we had to prepare the tea sets ourselves HAHAHA. So that day, I learnt how to 用茶具泡茶.

She also kindly brought me to 南机场夜市, a night market that she personally had not been to herself but was highly recommended by her friends in Taipei as the most authentic night market. A search on Baidu would also say that this place has the least tourists – indeed, I felt the same. I really enjoyed that dinner with lots of organs, I think it was my most memorable meal in Taipei – the ambience, the price (!!!), the feeling of having discovered a gem in a foreign country. The night market culture in Taipei is actually so beautiful.

I left the next afternoon, after making another trip to 西门町 for the last time. Transportation links to and fro the airport, actually basically anywhere in Taipei, are so established. Transport was smooth all the way from my arrival to my departure, the only thing that threw me off slightly was the fact that I nearly could not make it to the 海宁 coach station on time to catch the shuttle bus to the airport because there were no drivers picking up my 滴滴 order. Thank god the security guard from the North gate hailed down someone and told him to send me to the coach station. I am thankful, I only regret not giving him more cash to show him my appreciation for saving me from a crisis 😦

Seoul (16 to 19 Nov)

Seoul was actually the first trip that was booked out of the three, simply because a few months back I actually impulsively bought IU’s fanclub membership together with Bowei to get priority purchase on her concert tickets. Although we still got seats that were less than desirable, I was pretty near to Seoul anyway, and I guess I did not mind attending IU’s concert since I listened to her songs throughout my teenage years. I was a very early K-Pop international fan, and I was actually present during her earlier years promoting Boo and Marshmallow on Music Bank and Music Core. I also repeated Good Day, You and I and Red Shoes a lot throughout my emotionally turbulent teenage years, and later these were also the first songs I translated word by word to pick up Korean during my undergraduate years. For the fact that these songs meant something to me in my growing up years, I was willing to make the trip to hear them live once in my lifetime.

We got there shortly after noon to queue up for all the phototaking opportunities with the marshmallows and the concert banners, queue up for free banners printed and given out by fan support groups, and just to ~feel~ the atmosphere before the concert started. The pre-concert moments of participating in the fanclub initiatives were actually as memorable as the concert itself, indeed a magical feeling that international K-Pop concerts cannot compete with Korea with. Bowei must have felt the same way.

Bowei would be very pleased to hear this: I actually really enjoyed the concert. IU really had excellent stage presence, and owned the solo stage that she stood on. For the fact that IU and I were around the same age range, for the fact that she struggled in the entertainment industry at the same time all of us struggled to find our place in this world, the songs and the interjections within the concert were actually meaningful. I also respect her for sticking through the horrible world of Korean netizens despite her multiple unanticipated scandals in her career, gradually developing her image as a petite yet hugely successful woman. I am luckier than most in the concert for the very fact that I actually grew up listening to her music (following her hit songs everytime they were released), and would definitely support her in her future decades.

After the concert ended at 10pm we headed to a Korean barbecue eatery near our guesthouse. Bowei also happily ordered 참이술 in support of his noona but unfortunately he did not like it. Fake fan. I will remember this night, when we were aimless apart from having to attend IU’s concert and seek for a Korean barbecue place that opens until late at night. Conversations seem so much better over sizzling meat and the warming effect of soju. I remember the crisp air and winds hitting us as we walked through Hongdae to get back to our guesthouse too, and this feeling was repeated the next day when we had Korean fried chicken after his attendance of the second night’s concert. I cannot believe we actually ate fried chicken and drank soju at 1am. But before this I took this time to meet Sara who happened to be doing a semester in Korea!

She brought me to jjimdak, and a bingsu place that she personally liked the most. Sara probably reads this but I really enjoy catching up with her each time. It just amazes me each time we meet, because we only meet once in many months, and each time we do we are always in a different stage of our lives. We started off in the same place with simple hopes of surviving training and striving for the same timeline of overseas studies, and then we diverged. Our tracks in life diverge, and diverge, every time we meet. Give it a few months, and both of us would probably shift our priorities once again. We have met in London, now Seoul, I wonder where we will meet next 🙂 Thanks for spending your whole day on me, Sara. Ever since I studied abroad, I understood the undue stress that the visits of friends may pose on the receiving party, because of the disruption to the existing schedule/routine in your life. I grow to realise that time is the greatest present you can give to someone, as “busy” has started to become more of a reason than an excuse in our lives.

Class Photoshoot for Diploma (21 Nov)

Random interjection of a photoshoot that we had to take for our future diplomas, if we graduate. I definitely must. So here’s photos of me keeping up the pretence that it was still summer, when I was actually freezing in that tropical looking dress without my winter coat. I am thankful to be friends with these 3 people who I can go to class with, eat meals in the dining hall with, since I am living an actual campus life now.

Bangkok (23 to 26 Nov)

A very impulsive trip decision. I initially wanted HT to come to China after he disembarked from MSTD, but I had a graded seminar on 26 Nov which meant that I would not be able to spend much time with him in preparation for it. So I told him to go off booking his own flights for his own solo trip, but the seminar on 26 Nov got shifted to 30 Nov! He says this is fate, so I shortly booked my flights to Bangkok that thankfully coincided with his time of arrival. I only had 2.5 days in Bangkok before I had to go back to Haining to attend class the next day, but it was enough. My life has actually changed so much since the last time I communicated with HT properly before my September travels with my family, and I was looking forward so much to seeing him again. Although I have to admit that when I saw him at the airport, my first reaction was “Why are you so short?! Why is your voice so high-pitch?!” I repeat these questions each time I see him again after a long period of separation…

It was a lot of walking, eating, massages, shopping and complaining about my ingrown toenail. I remember how I used to think of Bangkok as a relatively cheap haven from Singapore; after living in China for 3 months, I no longer feel the same. Somehow, China’s cost of living is so much lower in terms of food and transportation, the two main robbers of my money. I still enjoyed the food though, and the street food remained equally affordable. I enjoyed all the Pad Thais, all the Pad Siews, the random street stall near our hotel selling pork soup noodles that turned out to be my favourite food of the trip, and the authentic Thai “zi-cha” stall that we chanced upon where we had troubles ordering because the menu was completely in Thai and the service lady did not know/understand a word of English. I remember the egg fried rice and the stir-fried noodles with prawn on top (last picture).

Lastly, thanks HT for always patiently dealing with my odd requests during travels: buying a fever pack for my sprained back muscle in Hokkaido, and making the trip to 7/11 this time even after getting comfortable in the hotel just to buy a nail clipper to kill my ingrown toenail. I enjoy travelling with you so much. It is so stress-free even if we are rushing to somewhere; you would never get angry or impatient with poor travelling arrangements (you never ever have a temper with me), and you were always genuinely happy with anything I wanted to see or eat. Thank you for tolerating with me all this while.

Looking through all my photos now, what a memorable month. I am glad I blogged about it, unlike all the overseas trips I took in London that I have slowly forgotten about because I got too lazy to blog about them. I will miss all of these crazy memories and impulsive travel decisions as I grow up.

Beauty in the disorder of the trains

I remember the Yiwu trip two weekends ago. The shuttle bus from Yiwu would only get us back to the main campus of Zhejiang University at around 4pm, and that was too late for us to catch our train from the Hangzhou central station at 5pm. We decided to just forfeit our 5pm train tickets, go for a good dinner, and head slowly to the train station to catch the 7.30pm train. It all sounded perfect.

Until we got to the train booth at 7pm to find out that there are no available tickets left that day until the next morning at 6.30am. There were 10 of us, and we completely freaked out. So Jin recommended us to do this:

1. Buy the 6.30am ticket.
2. Enter the station with the 6.30am ticket, because they check the validity of your ticket at security.
3. Run for the 7.30pm train and try to sneak through the ticketing gates.

A pity we got caught out at Step 3, because the lady checking the train tickets noticed that we were trying to get on board the 7.30pm train with the wrong tickets. So there was lots of arguing in quick Chinese, lying about missing our 5pm train by a few minutes, even taking out our old 5pm tickets to show that we missed the train narrowly and that we even bought extra tickets in the morning to ‘compensate’ for our mistake….. The train inspector, looking at us bunch of foreigners seeming helpless in a foreign country, brought us into the platform and talked a little with the train conductors to ‘帮我们一群老外’. Within three sentences, he agreed to let the group of us 10 into the train carriage with tickets for the wrong timing, without charging any fee at all. Of course we were standing, but I would obviously rather stand for 50 minutes than to take the next morning’s train at 6.30am. He also reminded us to get our ticket refunds for our newly-bought 6.30am train tickets upon reaching Haining as we would no longer need it – we could do this as long as the train had not departed yet. Of course there’s a refund charge, for 2 yuan (SGD$0.40), almost negligible in my opinion.

While this was an absolute mess with lots of arguing/begging involved, I found this chaos really amazing. There would always be order in the disorder of things (to the tune of ‘organised mess’ like my room), and I found that my experience here encapsulates that very well. Yes, the traffic and parking on the Chinese roads are a mess, the train is an absolute sausage-fest where you feel the true overpopulation problem in China, and yes, there are always too many people everywhere. But the society works well in this disorder, and they have gotten used to it. If it were to be another country in the West, okay I’m just thinking UK, missing my train would simply mean missing my train. I would definitely have to buy a new ticket for the new timing, think: Megabus, National Express. No negotiations, no refunds, and perhaps that’s how the fear of missing buses/trains got instilled into me. If I were in another developed country with strongly enforced traffic rules, I would also not be able to zip around on the roads with my electric bike, ride through the pedestrian bridges and park anywhere empty where I want to. I do not get looks from locals at all when riding through pavements not meant for vehicles, because the country functions like this and everyone does the same. There is no cursing, and “WTF! The e-scooter damn dangerous! ~We~ need to ban them!” that I hear in Singapore.

A tourist would be quick to judge that the Chinese bus or train is dirty, smelly and crowded. One would easily form impressions from the cigarette butts on the floor from inconsiderate commuters, people stepping on the seats with their filthy shoes to get their luggage, and leftover food on the tables that are never thrown away on one’s accord. One would then continue to judge the culture – many people play music and watch videos out loud on their phone, and speak extremely loudly. Yet all this is normal in their society and presents another angle to look at the society. I should really take off my ethnocentric views, in thinking that people’s actions are ‘uncivilised’ or ‘uncultured’ as a few examples. I think anyone who has done a humanities degree would objectively agree that there is no superior culture in this world, and perhaps this ‘uncultured’ behaviour of theirs has indirectly given rise to a high societal tolerance for mistakes (like missing a train), high flexibility and extreme convenience in their lives (I can literally park anywhere).

I learn something new everyday.

How I would like to remember my wonderful weekend

After the two tests that have passed on Tuesday and Wednesday, the recent weekend was truly free to enjoy, unlike the previous weekend. I remember spending the whole of my Saturday in the library, and the whole of Sunday at Yiwu worrying about the fact that I would be doing less revision than everyone else who would either have been in the library or the reading rooms around campus. It made this recent weekend truly guilt-free, and I loved every moment of it.

Friday

1. I changed my Master’s programme from 1 year to 2 years.

I remember when I received the email that I was actually permitted to do up to 2 years in a non-English speaking country. I was sitting at the bus stop outside the Exit and Entry Administration Bureau after I collected my passport with my 1-year residence permit, preparing to go to Intime for dinner. Sergio and Marcianna cheered when they heard that I could possibly do 2 years “you’re staying with us now!”, and inside my heart I knew I would make that choice easily. Without thinking about all the possible implications – longer LDR, longer time away from home, delayed career starting point compared to my peers, I was beaming. After 2 months I can confidently say that I have learnt a ton stumbling around in this new world, what more 2 years. I would understand this society so much more, and my Chinese would definitely see a standard way surpassing that of today’s. I would have ample time to prepare for my thesis, I would have another VA. I was so excited at the prospect of this.

So here I am today, with my revised course duration stated to be only back for good in 2020. Casting all my petty problems and worries aside, this arrangement could not be better. This risks coming off as politically correct, but I mean it: I am truly indebted to this organisation for all the opportunities I would never have been able to achieve independently.

2. I bought my electric bike.

I was sold the moment I went pillion behind Sasitha to go to the train station, and I knew I needed to get one. Sasitha and Israel kindly brought Jin and I to the electric bike shop that they thought provided the best deals, as well as the neighbouring shops. I snagged my second-hand pink bike for 750 RMB eventually, a deal I was really pleased about because I liked the bike the moment the owner drove it out. Even as I went around to the other stores, I was still thinking about this pink bike. I am not a sucker for the speed, I have no idea about the brands, but I know that I will never lose my bike in the parking areas.

3. I had Korean food.

While waiting for our bikes to be cleaned up, charged and prepared for us, we went to have Korean food at a beautiful street. This is the beauty of the electric bike, that it can bring you to places only accessible by the road, and into small streets that the buses do not turn into. Presently, I am still super excited thinking about the places that my bike can bring me to, and I cannot wait for my friends to buy their own electric bikes soon.

4. I went to U9.

Sergio and I went to attend Linda’s party at U9, where I primarily went to listen to the live Chinese band. I actually left early that day along with most people, who had intended to wake up early the next morning to head to Hangzhou. I did not, but I left early anyway, as with any Asian party pooper.

So on this day that I got my bike, I excitedly drove it out for too long…. and I ran out of battery at a location that was a 45-minute walk away from campus… We dragged my bike towards campus laughing at how stupid we must look to others, to be dragging the bike at 1am in the morning. Thank god we found an area with citizen bikes (OFO bike equivalent) – Sergio took the bicycle, and I continued riding at a ridiculously snail speed. The bike was lighter with one person, and could push on a little further. We got back eventually with my battery nearly completely flat especially as I took the final uphill slope towards campus. There was indeed no better way to learn that I should make sure my bike is always fully charged before leaving the campus, and I learnt that by scarily feeling the acceleration weakening and weakening… until it stopped accelerating.

Saturday

1. I went for a vegetarian buffet.

Jin said that she wanted to clock some practice with her bike, so we headed to the old town where we got some supposedly really popular vegetarian buffet in Haining. She was not wrong about that, there was actually a crowd and we had to wait in queue overlooking this beautiful bridge. Not bad at all, actually. I like Jin. She was really funny in her interactions with people, and you could tell she was a strong-willed woman with a mind of her own. She was honest about things and people that irked her, and she was also happy to inform me about opinions that would have objectively been dismissed. I really enjoyed the conversation with her throughout lunch, and not at all did I feel awkward as I usually do on one-to-one conversations with people for the first time. I could relate to her on so many levels even though we were from lifestyles and cultures far apart – she was Mongolian – except that she is way more attractive than I am, and obviously has different plans for her future.

2. I went for a ride around Haining and went to downtown.

The ride through this Old Town area was beautiful, and I would definitely revisit with my camera one day. After that I went to Intime (biggest mall in Haining) with Jin, picked Sergio and Marcianna up, and went riding around Haining with my new bike.

Pictures of my attention-seeking bike and I at different places, because this would be the first vehicle I own in my life.

Sunday

1. BBQ

Let’s just say I looked forward to this the entire day. I went to Walmart in the morning, got my groceries for the week ahead, and went home to do some quick reading before it was time for our long-awaited ~BBQ~.

Previously, we went to crash Marcianna’s teashop date with a Chinese man she met on Tantan (Chinese Tinder) as seen in the photos above. I would honestly now be less quick to judge guys on dating applications, because he was really really nice, and actually really really shy when he was talking to us. He bailed out once for our next meeting, but I could tell that he truly re-arranged our meeting out of no choice because it was a huge group (8 of us), and he suddenly had to attend his friend’s award ceremony in some other city. I would say that he is a really polite and honest young man. He expressed to us that he was often lonely over the Chinese festivals because he was away from home and his old friends, and wished that we would be around during Chinese New Year. He quarrelled with his family recently apparently, and he said that he has decided to stay in Haining (away from home) the coming Chinese New Year even though he knows that his family is going to expect him home. I laughed at him – “你真小气!” and he laughed in knowing too. It is a sad family affair and maybe I should have advised him otherwise, but I think it just goes to show how much he trusted his friends that he also brought to the dinner. He seemed truly sincere in establishing friendships with us. Not for business connections, but for genuine relations, because it was clear that he was not going to get anything out of us broke students. And also bonus points to him because we did not pay a single cent for the meal, and he brushed it off by saying that he was extremely happy that all his friends could gather together in one table.

The Chinese groups hardly take group photos it seems, so I could only sheepishly get a shot of the food and beer. It was really tasty, and they could not stop opening bottles and bottles of beer. Sergio and I agreed that although we were extremely full, the wide variety of food really compelled us to continue taking more… to the point that we had to exercise self-control and stop ourselves. We learnt from others that it was only polite to leave leftovers when being treated to a meal by the Chinese, to signify to the host that you have already eaten your fill. Culture differences are so intriguing.

I am thankful for all I have seen, heard and learnt this weekend. It was a really memorable weekend, and one that I will definitely miss. I slowly find myself inching closer to becoming a person whose lifestyle habits blend in with the locals, and I hope this gradually gives me an even wider perspective to the world as I see it.

2 years

Today, on a quiet Saturday night when I decided that I will not follow my coursemates to Hangzhou for a concert, my emotions are all over the place.

Earlier in this week, I received an option that I could change my 1-year course to the 2-years programme, because of the official ironed out policy that we could now do our Master’s for up to 2 years in a non-English speaking country. I jumped at the opportunity, and asked to change my programme. The school administration agreed readily saying that this was a preferred arrangement, while the scholarship board approved this change immediately. It was an extremely good day, having also intended to buy my electric bike that day. It tore away all the worries about not having sufficient time to finish my thesis, having to possibly return back to Zhejiang University for my oral defence if my thesis raises questions to the academic committee, and the fact that I was now able to do everything that I wanted to pack in this one year: travel to other parts of China like Xinjiang and Tibet, have my family and HT visit Haining, and of course, to improve my Chinese as much as possible in this time period. I was overjoyed, my coursemates were happy that we were going to be stuck together for 2 years, and most of my Navy friends also saw this opportunity as a golden and wonderful one, that I was the only lucky one to be granted this opportunity because I happened to be in China.

I know in every aspect of this, it is a great opportunity, and one that I would have begged for when I was fretting over my Master’s choices last year. Yet I am irrationally sad today, because I was not emotionally ready for the prospect of spending two more years abroad. Because this is an additional year of missing home, and an additional year of LDR. It means that although 2 years of LDR have passed successfully, I have 2 years of LDR left; after all that time spent painfully apart, I am only halfway through our separation. It would also be another 2 years away from the most comfortable shoulder to cry on, and someone to pick me up wherever I am whenever I feel down. 2 years of coping with quiet and long nights all by myself. It would be another year of missing all the renovation updates in my brother’s home, another year away from my parents and godparents and seeing them grow older by so much by the next time I return, and 2 years away from my maid who would likely go back home for good by the time I am truly back for good.

It would be two long years away from the comfort of Singaporeans, away from the familiar accents I never used to surprisingly turn my head towards, away from the people whose taste palettes match mine. It would be another 2 years moulding myself to fit into the desired behavioural traits of the ‘international student’ here, who studies hard and plays even hard. There would be another 2 years of navigating through unfamiliarity, trying to get accustomed to the Chinese society and constructing my life in this unfamiliar society that does not speak my first language.

I feel better now.