Monthly Archives: October 2015

St Albans

My 16-25 rail card arrived on Friday. (Kick: 1/3 off the price for rail trips) So I booked a ticket to St Albans the next day. Wow I sound so adventurous but the truth is that it’s only 30 minutes away from London by train. I sound like a loser now.

I got lured into Poundworld and the 99p shop where I spent half my time in St Albans, but also took a while to walk through the city centre (and all its street shopping), walk through the St Albans Cathedral (which was really pretty, it’s been very well-maintained all these years), and walk around the St Albans Clocktower, incidentally chancing upon a public performance.

Street view:

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(look at that flower basket in her hands, so adorable haha)

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Their street shopping (with what I was attracted to). I had to buy a book anyway because it was so cheap, so I ended up going home with one book. Held myself back from eating all that food though although they smelt really good 😦

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A shot of the clocktower from across the road (and the free performance by Magician’s Nephew), which were a few young boys aged not older than 12 singing with so much confidence and playing the guitar to the beats of familiar music (I say this because I have no clue what songs they were playing- but I’ve probably heard them somewhere). Hell talented.

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The cathedral. There were many tourists, but all of them were really considerate, taking pictures and leaving quickly so that others could get clear shots with no heads in the way. I also stopped an elderly couple holding hands (LOL) to capture a shot of me with the cathedral in the background, and they were really warm about it, taking photos in all sorts of angles to capture the best one. Dogs were running all around, (with shitloads of dog poo on the grass) and I thought that was a really relaxing scene to see.

I left in the early evening after walking rounds and rounds around the small, quaint little town (with most of my time in the city centre of course), but I really appreciated the short respite from the busy London city life. The place offered a sense of tranquility that I haven’t felt for a very long time (last: Busan) and reminded me once again how lucky I was then and to be there. I nearly forgot this exhilarating feeling of travelling alone- glad for that once again.

University life has been good. Whenever people ask me how’s life over here, I reply them with “Great. Loving what I learn.” or something along the lines of that. No matter how unpopular Geography is as a course, it never ceases to make me amazed at how they draw links to phenomena in society that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise (here’s a tinge of sociology). To both physical and human geography.

In fact over here, I’m starting to appreciate physical geography so much more. My choice to take on BA was probably due to my (imperfect information) about BSc because of the narrow scope of learning in Singapore, and I might possibly swap to the latter because I actually appreciate it more now.

So goodbye, as I catch a new drama! Happy to have done readings and caught up with class finally, it always feels good to have an edge 🙂

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I’m starting to miss home

I’ve got quite a bit of alone time here, a tad too much, that I’ve been kept thinking so much everyday.

I remember how I looked upon seniors with envy on every occasion I saw photos of them studying abroad- their travels, group photos of people packed in layers of warm clothing, lectures with an international audience or simply the view from their room when they wake up in the morning. I thought to myself how privileged they were to be receiving a different education, and how much I yearned to be in their position when I got older. Seeing my seniors study abroad has been one of the biggest push factors in motivating me to study harder to hopefully, obtain that opportunity as well.

People often ask what I seek for in an overseas education. I used to say that I sought for “a different learning environment”, “more personalised tutorials” from top universities, “being thrown out of my comfort zone”, or more specifically, a better learning environment because Singapore lacks the exploration for Physical Geography, which is a big pity because it leads to students under-appreciating the natural phenomena. Tossing those thoughts aside, 2 weeks in and I’m realising a lot of things about myself that I never did. What I’ve truly learnt so far barely touches on the academia, but instead the individual growth that has frankly astounded me. I wasn’t exactly born with a silver spoon, but from young I never had to worry about financial problems in my household, never had to do household chores because being the youngest kid in the family I was the least expected to perform them, and never had to worry about paying bills, fees, or any money by a stipulated deadline.

Expectedly things over here things are so different, and staying alone truly forces you to grow up quickly. To cut my spending, I’m forced to make weekly schedules to do my laundry, I’m forced to calculate exactly when I’m cooking meat/vegetables or eating bread/fruit so that my food does not go past its expiry date (and end up being wasted, my heart almost broke when I threw away my rotten apples), I’m forced to vacuum my floor, make my bed, do my laundry, wash my dishes! I’ve picked up quite a bit of that through my time in the military but over here is the true growing process- because I am now alone. I no longer have Han Juan who teaches me how to dry clothes quicker during BMT, I no longer have my book outs to toss all my dirty clothes at home to see them repackaged in my bag ready for book in. Not forgetting, to keep track on when I’m supposed to pay my bills and accommodation fees especially as financial statements become all paperless, I nearly had to incur a 25 pounds late charge just because I did not pay my residences fees in time.

Little things all make you miss home that little bit, little bit more each day. I do not need to worry about cooking dinner at home every single day (a chore of course)- because meals from the hawker centre downstairs my home are easily affordable. I never had to worry about groceries because I could easily open the refrigerator to find eggs, yogurt, fruits and everything I needed for breakfast. If I’m hungry, I could easily grab something from the snack table in my home. If I needed company I could easily grab my sister to head to JEM or Westgate to grab a cup of llao llao merely 70cents away by train. Or I could go to Clementi Mall library to borrow a book without worrying about not knowing where to go or how to approach a service staff.

At this point in time, I’m the target of many people’s envy, like how I felt about my seniors before. There are so many people in Singapore who badly want to migrate in their lifetime, and here I am with an opportunity to truly experience life in an overseas country as it is, with opportunities to return home anytime if I want to, and at the end of it all. People often express how I’m “lucky” and “rich enough” to be schooling overseas, an opportunity that many will never get in their youth. How lucky I am to be located where it is accessible to most of Europe, where I can easily take bus or rail trips out to Lyon, Nice, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels if I want to- the list is almost non-exhaustive. My Instagram feed also does well in making me look like I’m having the time of my life, travelling to my heart’s content and exposing myself to new cultures and people everyday. Waking up to see low buildings should already be a joy as it is.

Photos are obviously deceptive though, and no matter how ridiculous this may sound given that I was yearning for an overseas education before, nothing beats home. I miss seeing my friends around. I miss wearing trash to queue for llao llao, I miss all the fried finger food that my mother cooks. I even miss wearing shorts! Commanders often speak of their stories in the SAF and how they slowly find the purpose to defend this country they call home, and how proud they are to be taking it on as a career. I slowly understand why SAF tries to send young undergraduate students overseas- it throws them into a steep learning curve to truly learn, and at the same time develop a really deep appreciation for home. Why complain about the hike in public transport fares when they are still pretty affordable as a proportion of the median income- you haven’t tried one-way trips for 2.30 pounds. Why complain about 3 total train breakdowns in a month when tube stations can randomly shut down for maintenance one Sunday and everyone just walks to the next station without showing any surprise. Why complain about GST when VAT is 20% here? Why complain about speed and inefficiency endlessly when DBS takes 1 working day to process cheques, as opposed to 4 days here? Granted that there will always things or policies that we disagree with (who will ever be happy about taxes or CPF?), but you don’t truly know how much you appreciate the little things in Singapore, and how much those things that you seemingly abhor don’t matter when you’re thrown in a foreign environment with much to benchmark against.

Now’s officially the worst time to listen to the NDP 2007 soundtrack and Clementi Primary School’s 2004 theme song. I can’t wait to eat Kway Chap, drink my lotus soup, and eat my mother’s curry chicken with crazily soft potatoes already. And I’m only 2 weeks in.

Amsterdam

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Which was way too adventurous for my weak heart.

Some time in the late afternoon on 24th September I received news that you could actually enrol early and ignore your enrolment appointment because the system isn’t strictly enforced. It’s hard to anyway, the university probably doesn’t even know its total student count. Hence I rushed to enrol that evening 1 hour before the end time, which meant that I freed up time for all my days ahead. I could join my sister to Amsterdam!

There were a lot of cock ups along the way though which seriously tested my mental capacity in the “what to do WHAT TO DO???” kind of frustration.

1. Online payment

I excitedly booked my coach tickets and got to the payment page, where I quickly submitted my MasterCard details. But oh shit- I needed the One-Time-Password authorisation for payment which was sent to my Singapore number. And as per all the overseas trips I attended, I never activated data roaming.

Solution: I made an international call to my brother (6pm UK, 1am Singapore) and woke him up for his details to make the payment. Thanks for waking up my dear brother 😥

2. We missed the coach

We arrived at the Victoria Coach Station at 9.35pm, a safe timing before our bus was due to depart at 10.00pm. We waited at Gate 17 as shown on the screen, and waited, and waited, for our bus to board. By 10.02pm we were wondering where the hell our bus was- and we were told it left. First thought: FAK. We were expected to leave the gates ourselves and head to the bus bay to board- BUT THE GATE CLEARLY SAID NOT TO WAIT OUTSIDE THESE GATES???

Lesson learnt: To always ask, ask, ask. Should have asked the service staff from the very start- we would not have missed our coach then. And we wouldn’t have wasted 32 pounds damn it. That’s the cost of a 7-day unlimited travel ticket 😦

3. We could not print anything

If we waited till the next morning at 7.00am to take the next available bus to Amsterdam, we would reach there in the evening/night and waste our entire first day there. So since we already spent such an extravagant amount, might as well just take a flight, right.

So at 2.00am we decided to call our brother again (which would safely be 9.00am) for his card details, to book two flights to Amsterdam via British Airways at around 100 pounds each. That was a relatively low price for a flight. The flight was at 8am, and there was so much trouble with payment because the page didn’t seem to recognise his details and so on. In the end we managed to book the tickets using my sister’s Paypal account. We troubled our brother for nothing. At 2.30am we booked the 4.30am bus by EasyBus to Gatwick Airport.

But I forgot to read one clause before we booked both bus tickets to the airport and flight tickets.

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I’M NOT AT HOME. HOW THE HELL OR WHERE THE HELL CAN I FIND A PRINTER?!?!?!

Tried printing at Schafers’ House, but it was 3am and I could hardly get help. The printer didn’t work, I could only scan. Desperate times call for desperate measures so I tried scanning from the screen of my MacBook and obviously it didn’t work. At 3.30am we decided that we HAD to leave for the station and just pray with all our heart that our driver lets us get on board without being too anal.

4. We couldn’t find a taxi

I booked one and it would be too late before the taxi arrived- so finally I managed to hop on one and cancelled the reservation/booking of the other taxi too late. I got scolded over the phone and over message. I’m sorry for spoiling your day that early in the morning, taxi driver 😦 We were desperate and we were almost going to miss our bus/flight.

Lesson learnt: Always cancel a booking early, don’t spoil someone’s day just because yours has been spoilt.

5. There was no one at the bus stop waiting for airport transfer bus service.

I googled about EasyBus reviews and there were so many comments about how buses did not turn up AT ALL, about how buses were delayed by more than an hour, and I noticed that the bus at 4.00am did not arrive too. Firstly, we did not have our ticket print out, and secondly, THERE WAS NO ONE AT THE BUS STOP. My heart nearly stopped when I put everything together- it was likely that our bus was not going to come (who will pick up 2 passengers, and furthermore such last minute booking?!), and even if it did, we were probably not going to be allowed on board. We were going to miss our flight.

BUT THANKFULLY THE BUS CAME. THE ORANGE MINI-VAN WAS ALMOST LIKE A GLIMMER OF HOPE- the driver hopped off his seat, saw our e-ticket and FREAKING ALLOWED US ON BOARD!!! It was probably because my sister and I were the only passengers, and he was making a trip to the airport anyway. I was so damn thankful- and at that moment I thought nothing could go wrong anymore. Finally all that money wasted was worth it- and the only “money gone to nothing” was the 32 pounds we wasted because we missed the coach. How lucky could we get?

But,

6. I overbooked last-minute accommodation.

I was obviously complacent, I thought things would remain status quo from Korea- that there will be free cancellation on your dorm rooms until the day itself. So I saw that my sister’s accommodation had a free bed and quickly booked it on her phone! Without realising that mine did not offer free cancellation. FAK right, we would have to pay 100% of the price if it was a no-show or last-minute cancellation. Shit!

Thankfully we went around the rules a bit and managed to avoid paying the double charge, but that came with a lot of worry and frustration again. I could not sleep in peace because I was thinking about my wasted money all the time. 😦

Lesson learnt: Chill your balls and do not be impulsive. Check carefully before making any form of payment.

After all these drama, we finally reached Amsterdam, got the airport chop, and cleared immigration. Finally we were set on our trip to Amsterdam to get lost in the city centre and discover everything I have only watched or read about.

Highlights in Amsterdam:

1. Amsterdam is a nutella (sweet) town.

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This was churros with nutella- which was crazily guilty but obviously the least of our concerns after such a challenging night. To make this even sweeter the man who made this for us had an extremely glib tongue- “Do you girls work for the airline?” “I usually give 5, but I’ll give 6 this time just for you” “Don’t say things like you’re not pretty, it makes me sad.”

And it didn’t end there. Throughout our 3 days there, there were many people who would stop us to simply say “Where’re you from? You’re beautiful!”, “I would love to bring you around but you are leaving tonight.” and “You look really really pretty” on 4 separate occasions. I’m clearly not accepting the compliment as easily as they are offered, but I thought it was a very nice gesture how they would make the day of random strangers. Actively chat them up along the street. I was initially quite creeped out by all these, especially when I’m walking back to my hostel alone at night, but after a while I became very appreciative of how warm they were towards strangers, and didn’t think too much about it anymore. Paranoid Asian is me.

2. The first place that caught my eye- which I then found out was called the Dam Square.

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Evidently this was a very last-minute trip and I had not been able to do any preparations at all, much less check out the attractions that we should pay attention to as we made our rounds around the city centre. However, while we were walking around in the rain, this large square caught my eye and the first thought I had was: “We must come back after the rain to take a photo.”

And coincidentally it was a tourist attraction, with huge loads of pigeons flying all over our heads and making us look stupid by covering our heads midway through taking photos.

3. Canals

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This is probably the main highlight of Amsterdam: the canals. They were everywhere, running through the roads randomly. It was interesting to note that Amsterdam is a city surviving below sea level, which may explain the vast expanse of water all around.

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By night, which would clearly be 1000x more stunning than the canals in the day. The neighbouring buildings would be lit up, as well as the standing bridges across the water. Amsterdam was much more stunning in the night than in the day.

4. Amsterdam was a really green city, through all its different meanings.

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Besides the floating flower market, huge green garden right outside the IAmsterdam sign, Amsterdam was probably one of the most environmentally-friendly cities I’ve ever chanced upon. Bicycles were more likely to knock you down than any form of vehicle- be it the rail or cars. Roads were unfriendly because the terrain was horrible, and instead there were dedicated lanes to cyclists. Cycling was very much encouraged by the presence of bicycle racks all around the city starting from the exit from the Amsterdam Centraal (no not typo) rail station, and there are even “half-bridges” across the canals which were built for the purpose of creating some space for bicycle racks. It was definitely a refreshing sight given that we have always been living in cities filled with cars, cars and traffic jam.

5. Even its outskirts were breathtaking.

I dropped by Zaanse Schans on a day tour which set us back by 59 euros, but definitely all worth it because of the view.

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We took hundreds (literally) of photos here of the same scenery, but we couldn’t stop because the place really looked amazing. Many tourists were there but that didn’t spoil the charm of the place at all. No tourists traps too- souvenirs were hardly overpriced and the food (Fried Kibbeling- I remember my meal) was reasonably priced. I really enjoyed myself on this day trip.

6. Red Light District

On our second and last night in Amsterdam, my sister dropped by De Wallens, the famed red light district in Amsterdam. I read online about how this wasn’t the first place you should pop by in Amsterdam, because it would destroy all your pre-conceived impressions about the city.

Sidetracking a bit, I must say it was pretty true. It was quite a shock to walk through the streets and smell second-hand weed in every corner. I finally understood why this materialised as an example in our Economics essays, about how GDP isn’t an accurate measurement of standard of living across countries because some countries like Netherlands legalise the sale of cannabis, but countries like Singapore don’t. And given how widespread the sale was (cannabis ice-cream, the seed and plant itself), it must really form quite a substantial proportion of GDP.

Back to De Wallens: the entire street was filled with hundreds of small bedrooms (with beds) and a lady parading at the glass door, usually quite skimpily dressed. There were girls of different age ranges, different nationalities, different body shapes and different styles. It was a really open business- incoming customers would just knock on the doors of the girls’, talk for a bit presumably to discuss the price, before they will be ushered into the room and the curtains will be shut instantaneously. Interestingly, I saw this happening right before my eye. No photos though, apparently the prostitutes have private bodyguards who will really come at you if you attempt to take a shot of anything.

My sister said she was afraid, and would be really disappointed if her husband strayed to such prostitutes in her future. And I guess this will always remain a worry of every woman- needlessly thinking about those girls through the glass doors…

The 3 days in Amsterdam was a rough ride, especially the start when I questioned myself again and again on my decision to waste such a large amount of money just to get here to experience a horrible rainy day. But travelling is all part of growing up too, and I’m really glad to have had thrown myself into such unfamiliar circumstances when I was barely coping with the concept of London being my “new home”. I learn so much about myself each time, 2 weeks in and I know I’m truly growing, be it in my thoughts or actions. Perhaps not my words yet, while I learn to be more sensitive and tactful.

They say you change a lot by your first vocational attachment, and I can see why that happens. Here’s to the end of fresher’s week, and to the start of formal lessons and academic rigour. Here’s to hopefully not becoming a phantom and hiding in my room to study the entire year.