Category Archives: School

China and its rigid financial systems

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

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

BUT:

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

OMG

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

OMG

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

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

OMG

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

OMG

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

OMG

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

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Pre-Studies Life

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

So I have been spending some time with myself.

1. Hangzhou

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

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

2. Intime City (银泰城)

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

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

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

3. Campus life

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

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

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

MCS Welcome Ceremonies

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



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


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

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

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

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

How I ended up in Zhejiang University

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

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

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

Application

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

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

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


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

Post-admission

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

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

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

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

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

I am leaving (left) London for good


Over the past few days I have been to places that I occasionally go to and consciously thought to myself that it would be my last time here, like the Waterloo rail station when I travel to New Malden, or some other cities. But when the time is ticking to the final few hours in London, it struck me that I am also counting the lasts for all the places I frequented very much, such as Oxford Circus, Soho (mainly Wardour and Dean Street), and even UCL since my student card is now of expired status. In fact, my student ID will no longer need a place in my wallet. I will henceforth no longer belong to the categories that I proudly proclaim to others: “Londoner”, “a student at UCL”, or simply “I study overseas.” These were elements of myself that I enjoyed telling others all these years, sometimes in a toned-down Singaporean accent at the British immigration counters.

I loved London more with each passing year. My opinions and emotions were very conflicted in the first year. I felt like a tourist in this city, and I could not belong. I did not understand why Sundays were so quiet and dead, that it felt mildly depressing waking up to a weekend morning in the winter. In a beautiful, bustling and bright city, I felt lonely in the nights. Why does Sainsbury close at 6pm? Why does it turn dark so quickly in the winter, as early as 3-4pm? Why is it cold all the freaking time? I hardly got used to the flat culture here as well, although admittedly living with that nightmarish flatmate next to me was more fun and exciting (moaning sounds) that I could overlook the horror of her not washing dishes for weeks. It was still a mild annoyance at the back of my head, that I was in a shared space of people I do not know very well, and vice versa – this meant that I could not even express my annoyance to anyone, not even when her dishes started to take up the entire sink, and when her pan obviously stank from a week-old carbonara. No one was willing to wash it because this had happened way too much, and me, I was just a stranger with a name to my flatmates. All the hopes of having great conversations with new people just dissolved into nothingness, when I found myself hoping that the kitchen and bathrooms were empty each time I came back home. I could not get along easily with my flatmates. It took great effort to listen intently on their accents and I am sure they felt the same as they probably felt bad having me repeat what I wanted to express. The conversations never flowed smoothly, they were all mere variations of “you alright?” and “how’s your day”, and I hoped for familiarity so much. I looked upon Instagram posts of fellow schoolmates enjoying hall life and orientation camps in their various new institutions with envy. My friends seemed to all be fitting well in university hall life and made many more friends, which made me rethink my considerations for coming here. I wanted good conversations into late night too, and I wished we could enjoy jokes over bubble tea instead of cheap alcohol too. Lectures and assignments were also very different from what I had been used to, to the extent that it was difficult to adapt. I often started on my essays earlier than my British counterparts, but I just could not do well (i.e. falling short of a First). I struggled to make friends outside of the international student body despite trying; in my weekly lectures when I expected to not have Weixuan with me, I intentionally turned up to lectures later just so I would not be the lonely one standing awkwardly outside the lecture hall in the crowd of noise and laughter.

Because of all these I missed home, I missed home so so so much. I missed the comfort of home that allowed me to always wake up to someone, I missed my familiarity of places, and less awkward social interactions with people. “Meeting new people”, “getting out of my Singaporean bubble”, my foot. None of that shit happened, other than becoming more independent for sure. Many weeks I also painfully saw people meeting up over drinks and meals that I obviously could not be a part of. I missed many birthday parties, and I missed my family holidays. I do not remember crying over homesickness, but it did once get quite bad to the point that I had to delete all social media accounts for a few days when it came to RV’s 60th anniversary and the 74th MIDS commissioning parade. “I wish I could be there” continually occurred to me whenever my group of friends met up. I do not think anyone would ever feel this way if they never have been away from home for a prolonged period of time, the “cons” of migration I learnt in H2 Geography about cultural misfit and the lack of assimilation into the local community were strongly felt by me. I started communicating to people that an overseas education is far more glamorised than it should be, but I often found it difficult to put these thoughts across because I have had this overseas experience that most people within my social circle never underwent. I started becoming more withdrawn and kept these thoughts to myself, for the fear of coming off as unaware and insensitive. I knew that whenever I said something along the lines of “I know, my position is enviable, but…”, these would easily get dismissed. How could I have any rights to complain, when the world was at my feet, when I was being paid to study, and when it was a conscious decision to leave home? How am I supposed to convince people that overseas institutions are not degree mills, when it seemed that we were always travelling and enjoying ourselves? I travelled the most in my first year, but I missed home in each of those travels. Honestly, I wish I could go back in time to negate these thoughts.

Overall, Year 1 was the year I struggled to grapple with the idea of London being my second home, and having to constantly seek familiarity in unfamiliarity. I think everyone has faced these struggles, struggling to find a group of friends that we can connect emotionally with, and to find a footing in our lonely city. But I suppose your attitudes towards these things shift when they occur to you one too many, and your emotional mechanism just deals with it better gradually. Every phase in your life presents its own challenges, and I gradually dealt with those. I had no close British friends yes, but I found Korean, and I found the piano. On a usual school-going day, classes would likely conclude by noon, and on my most hardworking days I would do readings until evening, after which I would dedicate an hour to the piano, and two hours to Korean subsequently. I learnt a lot in those slow and lonely months. It was a coping mechanism through those lonely nights, that now instead of listening to old songs and feeling bitterly nostalgic, I could listen to Korean songs and learn. Week by week, I saved a lot of money by not having friends and not enjoying drinks. In no time it was the examinations and in no time I was headed home. It passed extremely quickly without me doing much, especially since my mobile phone had died on me and I had deemed it too troublesome to get a new one since my WhatsApp number was associated to my old phone.

A return to London to begin Year 2 was filled with dread and worry. I remember returning on a gloomy Sunday morning, seeing the unopened Goodge Street food stall, the familiar underground staff, and feeling so extremely lonely. These feelings quickly dissipated however, as I started changing my lifestyle habits in Years 2 and 3 with the savings I had from the year earlier. I loved my lifestyle in Years 2 and 3. I have associated my pace of life in London as what has mostly defined my London student experience, and due to what we associate with student life I think it could only be memorable. In the midst of the busy and stressful seasons, I still could always find time to grab a meal at Soho, and I could always find time to watch dramas mindlessly without feeling guilty in the late nights. I continued to busy myself with Korean language because I was a terribly slow learner, which meant that I spent many days and hours studying the language. I had my Wednesdays and Friday evenings filled in Years 2 and 3, Saturday mornings filled in Year 3 when I started attending classes in SOAS. Other than that, I found myself mostly in the Science Library catching up on what I deemed unsatisfactory grades, looking forward to going home that night to watch more cheesy Korean dramas or listen to trashy Korean songs as part of my intended exposure to listening and reading Korean. Listening to Chinese music at night on headphones also no longer made it painfully nostalgic like it did in Year 1, instead it made me feel more relaxed and at peace.

I lived day by day with a routine that could not get any simpler especially through the holidays when there were zero contact hours. Most of my weekday and weekend nights were also free after 7pm, the time when I generally would call it a day at the library or when my Korean language lessons end on Wednesdays and Fridays. I would take this time to have meals with my friends, and often walk through Dean Street hurriedly to meet a friend at Leicester Square, or somewhere close by (or what we Singaporeans term as Chinatown). Walking through Wardour Street with Peng Ning and Nicole made me realise that I have unwittingly tried the food in so many outlets along that food street. I also frequented Gaza Cafe at Soho, where I would often head for dessert with the company of KPop MVs. On a few occasions when I am feeling it, I would leave the library earlier than 7pm and walk alone through the streets of Oxford Circus and Covent Garden as well. I would buy a fried chicken breast from Good Friend (a spin-off of Shihlin in Singapore), bubble tea usually from Happylemon unless the queues were too long, and some bread from Chinatown for breakfast the next morning. My Asian eating habits never left me. I would walk in circles and circles for hours around the entire West End area until I felt like going home. I did this pretty often, sometimes in response to a trigger that my time in London was running out. I enjoyed being among the crowd, the crowd of tourists taking pictures in every angle with the grand entrance pillars. Seeing families and couples go by me no longer made me homesick or nostalgic, but it made me happy seeing people travel together. It made me feel extremely lucky to be living this city, a stark contrast from the feelings of loneliness felt whenever I saw crowds in my earlier years.

After the massive travelling in Year 1, I also found that travelling excessively to more places did not necessarily bring me as much happiness as staying in a single place for a longer number of days, and enjoying the sights slowly. In all honesty, I also got lazier to plan itineraries and make travel plans — if I were to be self-entitled here, there were so many elements of travel: flight tickets that are usually difficult to purchase immediately at the initial stages of planning, accommodation plans that would usually require a rough itinerary to deem the best place to stay, and the itinerary. These would get quite tiring after a bit of repetition, and quite a bit of trouble for the 3-day to 4-day travels that most of us were only permitted due to our timetables. Coursework also started to become more intense and it meant that our holidays became busier with time, which could not make travelling worry-free. Over the years, I hence travelled less by choice, but it made my time in each city more memorable.

Now that I am home in Singapore, I feel at odds with myself. In the future I am unlikely to continue having any affiliations with this city, as I will never marry into an English family, nor will I ever seek employment in this country. I am undoubtedly happy to be back in my comfort zone, being able to take buses without checking the GPS every 3 minutes to check my location, being able to walk to the train station without even an inch of thought about locating it, being able to order food or buy things with my accent, very comfortably. Yet my overall detachment from the city of London as a whole makes me feel really sad, that I no longer belong to London, and now that I am here it seems as if the ‘me’ there and then had never even existed in the first place. Global cities like London are just a transient piece of land for the many who create associations and move on somewhere after a number of years, being rooted fundamentally in a different place. I am just one of the many who had the honour of calling London his or her home once upon a time. Even today, looking at Instagram stories of people travelling in London makes me feel slightly odd, and seeing pictures of the many corners of the UCL campus I once frequented washes an extremely strange sense of nostalgia over me. I struggle to put a word to this feeling, that the entire overseas experience felt little more than a dream, my piece of the London dream that has now concluded for good.

Despite the differing feelings felt through my time in London, I thank these 3 years for letting me see so much, think so much, and most importantly, grow so much. Thank you for allowing me to realise my dream of studying and living abroad. I think London has changed me in ways that I am unable to put a finger to myself, be it through the sights and sounds, the academic components, or even through the wild thoughts that were triggered in the long and quiet winter nights. For the rest of my life, my undergraduate years will be a huge part of how I define myself.

2200hrs in the library

Tomorrow I have my second exam at 2.30pm.

I do not feel too confident about it, mainly because I know I am not prepared and I will never be…..

Exam stress has been getting to me. But today I will like to think of it as: today I have 3 papers left, after tomorrow I will only have 2 left, and by the weekend I only have one exam left to prepare for.

It only gets easier from now on. Let’s go!

Lesvos, Greece

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An excerpt from a book I read recently about Lesvos, which I will not title just in case it redirects people to my blog. It was just a coincidental mention in the book I was reading a few days ago, because previously I do not think I had ever heard of Lesvos as an island.

For all the fieldwork that I did not necessarily enjoy (eg. coring with my feet sinking in the mud), jumping around sleepily from site to site because I was mostly asleep in the vehicles, and being made to identify rocks and vegetation that I had absolutely no clue about while the rest of my coursemates earnestly answered to – I actually really enjoyed the field trip.


The comparison is often made with Mallorca, the second year Physical Geography trip, where I chose to undertake a bathymetry project in the lake. While I undoubtedly learnt much from that trip, with amazing breakfast and dinner buffets every single day, I was mostly confined to one place for the entire duration of the fieldwork, which was S’Albufereta Nature Reserve. Fieldwork in Mallorca was actually much more intense, with daily fieldwork till early evening in this place, and continuation in the lab till 10pm after our dinner buffet. It was an extremely focused trip working on one research project, and for that reason the lazy and selfish natures of people were exposed a lot. I think it possibly arises from the fact that the graded component was a 90% coursework that would have little to do with your participation in the groupwork or presentation at the end of the trip, and many made use of this to cut corners in the joint efforts. I went away from the trip unhappy with quite a few people.

Lesvos was slightly different through, as the number of people who were interested in the trip contracted even more in range (from 20+ to 14 this trip). From the North where our hotel was, we set out to the central and eastern parts on certain days, and to the west on other days, to “read the landscape” by studying vegetation distribution, rainfall distribution, and how the faulting systems present on the island had shaped the terrain and the species distribution to be what they were. I can remember way more beautiful sights in my head compared to the ones in Mallorca – driving (and eventually climbing) through the mountain that was only lined with rows and rows of Pinus brutia and Pinus nigra for tree coring, stopping in the middle of Megali Limni coring with a professor who published many papers on Lesvos Island, being beaten by hailstones yet reassured that “we will go back” for the fieldwork, and actually having fun brushing and cleaning the rocks at the museum visit.


The only complaints I have about the trip are probably quite trivial, the lack of sleep (I went away with <7 hours on most days given how tiring the days were) and the food that obviously could not compare to Mallorca. I could say with certainty now that I do not think I would appreciate Greek food. But in all other unnamed aspects I preferred the trip of Lesvos so much more.

Chronis and Mark were also excellent people to go on the trip with, professors I was always very scared of in GEOG1002 and GEOG1005 in Year 1. I remember setting out from house for class early “because it was Mark Maslin”, as he would chase out people who arrived in the class later than 5 minutes past the start of the lesson. I also remember being afraid to use my laptop in GEOG1005, because the module already had printed notes that we may use, yet I was (quite) obsessed with organising my notes neatly for all modules to ease easily into examination preparation. I would never expect him to be happily siding the rest of us students, when he commented that he thought Chronis was going to stop midway to get food before driving all the way back to the hotel near midnight (he was hungry like us!). Nor responding to James by saying "I could not have said it better!" when he mentioned that we should quickly get to the ash layer in Megali Limni so we could "fuck off" from the site. It was funny to watch the banter between the both of them.

Chronis was also extremely nice, far for the cranky professor I thought he was back in Year 1. He listened to a few wilful (or maybe one…) students who were unhappy with the others, paid more attention to us after that, and continually tried to initiate conversations with us, even though it was admittedly difficult to get over the awkwardness for me. He gave a speech on the last day of the trip at the restaurant where the professors paid for our meals, and mentioned that this would be our last taught module of our undergraduate years. I am thankful that my last memory of a lecture was and would be on a beautiful island that people would not ordinarily travel to, because we had to change planes at Athens as there are no direct flights through to Mytilini. Lastly, he also went along with us to the Pirates pub after dinner where the two professors ended up dancing together with students, that I was happy to experience even though the choice of music was so terrible. It served as a good conclusion to the trip that had composed of a near all-nighter (slept at 5.15am and woke up at 8.15am), late nights on 5 other nights, terrible eating habits and daily motion sickness on the vehicles.


I look like shit here regrettably, but this picture is to mark this post: I will always remember these faces.