Category Archives: School

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

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.

Dissertation Adventures

I am currently sitting in the library at 5.45pm, unfortunately a tad too early for my intended printing adventures. I arrived in the library shortly after 10.30pm last night and even then, I had to wait for a couple more hours before the library was empty enough to mess around with the printers and pull the paper trays in and out to the annoyance of everyone seated near the huge laser printers. I have read thestudentroom enough these days to know that our dissertation is nothing more than a piece of assignment that we look back on one year into the future and feel embarrassed about, but to me the dissertation brought together all I have learnt in these three years about independent learning. The entire piece of assignment originated from our own research interests, and the directions towards which our research methods flowed were all decisions that we had the autonomy to make. After more than a year from my initial intentions to work on this topic, I am finally printing my dissertation. Similar to how I would always remember H1 Project Work to be a part of my life, I think the dissertation journey would be immensely rewarding to look back on.

How I chose my topic

After having obtained 54/55 for my Methods in Physical Geography course last year, I started getting afraid about my initial decisions to do Physical Geography. I do not aspire to be the top of my course, but 54/55 is clearly a shitty mark. Singaporean scholar? No way. I started beating myself up over my academic choices. Do I actually understand the point of fieldwork? Did I even learn anything on the trip to Mallorca? Am I bad at analysing field samples? Why did I choose the more Science-y track when I am not gifted in this at all? These questions made me fear the choice of my dissertation topic, because I feared putting so much effort into something that would not reap rewards (i.e. higher than the 68s and 69s that I have been getting…). We were encouraged to attend a dissertation workshop, which of course I did attend, and where most of the seniors cited how important it was to “enjoy what you were doing” and “choose a topic that interests you”. Ben Page once gave me some advice on choosing a topic, that it was important to think about what made you special, and areas in which you would have an advantage in. I started having a lot of ideas for a Human Geography topic mostly arising from my personal interests in Korea and China, but those were not helping because I was no longer on the Human Geography track. I still had absolutely no idea what I could do pertaining to Physical Geography, especially since I thought that originality counted for a lot. I thought about doing something related to hydrology because that was one of the most interesting (and practicable) field areas today, but it was so over-done, there were students working on that same topic every year in a different locality with a different software and different climate change projections. I also could not imagine having to sit down in front of the computer even as a form of ‘fieldwork’, because data collection involved getting figures on precipitation inputs and evapotranspiration for example. It was honestly difficult as well, and I was not confident of coming up with outputs that could parallel the amazing work by seniors who got published. I was thinking of doing on something on ecology too, but I was not well-acquainted with native and invasive species in Singapore.

Approximately 2-3 weeks before the deadline of the dissertation outline form, I chanced upon a Mothership article on Facebook, and this caught my interest. I had honestly not known of the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio river restoration programme prior to this, and river restoration was something that I was quite drawn to, because I had learnt it since JC. The initial misleading article published by Today also showed the inadequacy in geographical knowledge by many Singaporeans because we were living in an urban heartland, as it had noted that the floodwaters “swelled the banks”. River-floodplain systems perform this very purpose, to hold floodwaters rather than the artificial quick channelisation of stormwaters downstream to an area where it is designated for flood control, and I found this interesting. I consulted some papers and decided on looking at water chemistry and ecological impacts, and for this field area I consulted my Ecology professor Dr. Jan A. He suggested the use of bioindicators such as dragonflies and mayflies to look at ecological conditions, on top of collecting water chemistry parameters. I was initially apprehensive because of the fact that I was afraid of insects, but I approached that research topic keenly because it sounded plausible, and I liked how the fieldwork could be completely conducted by myself.

I submitted my dissertation outline form, with the title “Assessing the ecological impacts of river restoration: case study of Kallang River in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park (Singapore)”, and requested for Jan as my dissertation supervisor. I intended to conduct dragonfly surveys in both an unrestored and a restored section of the Kallang River, as well as a natural area to see how similar or different dragonfly populations are in these 3 areas. I got lucky, and I got my first choice supervisor! The subsequent submission of the dissertation proposal had me emailing a lot of people to make fieldwork a little easier for me when I eventually went home to conduct fieldwork, such as representatives from PUB and NParks, and professional odonatologists in Singapore. The UCL Geography department also allowed me to bring the fieldwork equipment home together with Fumi, and for that I was very very thankful. Most people were very helpful in this entire process, although it was quite a hassle to apply for research permits because of the bureaucracy within the statutory boards. I remember Jan mentioned during one of the meetings that he was very shocked that Singapore was so strict on their research permits, and I was too, especially how I would perceive for the application process to be earlier for a local. I had to submit proposals after proposals, risk assessments after risk assessments, and I also had to mail the original signed documents to the office. I guess it may be a good thing, that it only goes to show how well-managed and maintained our nature reserves are? Also because I was not too familiar with the ecology language, I got 68 (omfg again?) for my dissertation proposal. But I was thankful for corrections and mistakes made earlier in the dissertation proposal, because it helped me narrow my field research a lot more.

Fieldwork in Singapore

I forgot how immensely exhausting fieldwork was, especially in the hot sunny Singapore where we had to cope with sweltering under the hot sun. OBike was a saviour during this period, because I could cycle for free up and down the length of the Kallang River to do fieldwork on both the unrestored and restored section. For a few consecutive days, I took the hour-long ride to Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park to collect water samples, and carry out my dragonfly surveys alone. In the nature reserves (and Coney Island), there were also a lot of mosquito bites to deal with while hunting for those elusive dragonflies, and these made me extremely irritable during the whole fieldwork process. Furthermore, although dragonfly abundance counts were high in the parks, they were shockingly lacking within the nature reserves, and these were research findings that definitely could not contribute to my analyses. HT was in Life Sciences back when he was in NUS, and he too agreed that these findings were not going to be helpful to my dissertation. I started fearing for the choice of my dissertation topic again, because the data I would be able to collect would not be enough. I tried heading to different parts of the nature reserve, but I never managed to find a water body that was teeming with dragonflies as I would have expected in nature reserves. With insufficient data from insufficient homework done prior to the fieldwork process, I decided that there was nothing I could do to make the dragonflies appear miraculously, and I would head back to UK to seek for more advice. Moreover, I overestimated my ability to conduct fieldwork in Singapore because I was held back from my desire to obtain COC by the end of my second VA. Since I struggled to get my COC throughout July and August as frequently documented, I extended my VA slightly and that meant even less time for my fieldwork when I was already running out of time. It also meant that I could not submit my dissertation progress report on time. I was not able to conduct the monthly visits to the parks as agreed in the contract with my dissertation supervisor, and that meant I could not do checks on the vegetation growth and monthly species surveys to see if anything changed. I was left with a short 2 weeks for fieldwork, and during then I was also rushing my Master’s application for the Schwarzman programme (which I got bitterly rejected from late last year).

During this period, I would like to thank Yujie who helped me calibrate my pH meter, Aloysius who lent me his camera, and Bowei for coming along for one of my field surveys. I would most importantly like to thank HT who ferried me from venue to venue, who drove me to Temasek Club on very smelly sunny days with tons of mosquito bites to take a comforting cold shower, and most of all, for having had similar research interests back when he was at school. He seemed to be more interested than I was at times, excitedly videoing spiders spinning their preys when we were at an area for a dragonfly lookout.

Booting down to 1.0 unit and back to 1.5 unit

I headed back to UK and rushed to submit my dissertation progress report that was already handed in late relative to the rest of the cohort. I was very lost at this point in time with the direction of my dissertation, because I clearly knew that my data was insufficient especially with regard to the protected areas, yet I did not know what to do. In my first meeting with my supervisor after summer, he recommended that I drop to the 1.0 unit dissertation because he was worried that my data would disallow me from reaching a depth of analysis to reach the word count of 12,000 words, and I have to admit, I was very very very upset. To provide some context, all students are registered under the 1.5 unit dissertation (a weighting of 3 out of 8 modules), and are expected to tailor their research plans for that. Usually, only students who have extenuating circumstances are allowed to drop to the 1.0 unit dissertation, because it may have been challenging to conduct fieldwork during summer for some people. I now belonged to that category, maybe because of my summer commitments, but mostly because of having done insufficient homework on the difficulty of conducting species surveys in Singapore. I knew that my data was lacking, I knew that he meant well for me, and I knew that this was a good move for my grades, but I could not help but feel extremely beaten and upset. True enough, all that effort beforehand had culminated in a regret for my dissertation topic, because the fieldwork was unpractical. I started wondering why I did not embark on other topics, the topics that I initially shunned because the data collection process only involves sitting in front of the computer, because fieldwork clearly proved too difficult for me.

I decided to chin up and work hard anyway, and started to accept that I would have to be happy with a Second Upper Class degree because the dissertation was a great chance to boost my grades, and I had currently just aborted that opportunity. Until one day I happened to chance upon the ‘Dragonflies of Singapore’ Facebook group, and I realised how this presented a golden opportunity for data collection similar to what we have learnt about OpenSource information. I would later learn that the proper term for this is called ‘Citizen Science’, where voluntary information from enthusiasts are merged with knowledge from professionals and experts. I collated species sightings from the group, and ended up with a species list much longer than what I had initially gotten. It also presented an opportunity to collect data from many other parks and water bodies all across Singapore, and I realised this was something I could capitalise on. After a week of gathering data and information, I spoke to my supervisor, who was shocked at the unending list of species. One session later, I saw the potential of a more critical analysis to my data, and sheepishly asked for permission to do the 1.5 unit dissertation. I was putting way too much effort into something that was only worth the weight of two modules! He initially said that it might not be possible given how we were expected to confirm modules earlier this academic year, but advised me to speak to the departmental tutor. And so I did.

I think this whole process showed me how much you can ‘make things happen’ as long as you wish to, a phrase that was often used back when I was in MIDS Wing. The most ridiculous requests, like securing early, the cancellation of bunk checks, are truly all possible as long as you dare to seek and ask. I arranged a session with the departmental tutor, and ended up waiting outside his office in queue. Thank god he was an amazing guy, and all he said was ‘as long as you are willing, of course we are more than happy to support you, the dissertation is all about you!’, or something along the lines of that. I emailed Geog Office after that, and was quickly booted up to the 1.5 unit dissertation. Here, I would like to document the email exchanges between my professors and I.

The first email I sent to the departmental tutor to ask whether it was possible, but the email went ignored. Carl is an amazing professor and therefore I believe that he probably missed my email accidentally amidst the mass of emails that get to him everyday. He must have been very busy. I refused to abort my idea even though my dissertation supervisor said that it might not be possible at this (late) stage, especially as UCL responded to students’ feedback to release the examination timetables earlier which necessitated us to confirm our modules quite early in the academic year. I decided to drop in during his office hours then.

and these were all the e-mail exchanges that followed in chronological order. I was extremely surprised at the efficiency of the Geog Office this time, and was also extremely thankful for the prompt email responses by Jan even though he must receive many many many e-mails every single day.

All the work after that

Since November, and the approval of my upgrade to a 1.5 unit module, I have been doing work non-stop on my dissertation. In November and December I led a relatively disciplined lifestyle with regard to academic work: I would do work for my GEOG3057 blog every Monday, work for my GEOG3038 every Thursday, and dissertation on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Saturday I would work on my Master’s applications, although this fell short most of the time because I always felt a psychological need to ‘reward’ myself from all the earlier days of work. I enjoyed those days in the library because I never felt like I was dragging myself to do work – the March deadline meant that I was doing work at my own pace. I allowed myself to do things very very slowly as long as there were improvements and advancements day-to-day, and this allowed me to enjoy the dissertation process very much.

Here are some of the notable things that look extremely simple but required a lot of effort on my part:

1. Learning all the R Studio vegan, ape and betapair packages. I cannot believe I actually created a phylogenetic tree by myself. I remember telling Jan that I was intending to use the phylogenetic alpha-diversity indices, and how he said he was worried about that because I did not have taxonomic information. I told him I did, and I had already created a taxonomic tree in R. He was extremely surprised, in a good way, and I will remember this meeting to be one of great motivational boost to me.
2. Relearning MATLAB from my nightmare in Year 2 and producing all the box plots and bar graphs for my dissertation. For one simple-looking box plot, I had up to 100 commands, to specifically adjust the colours, width, borders, error bars, tick marks, axes labels, and subplot positioning.
3. Relearning CANOCO from Year 2 (not that much of a nightmare) and struggling to edit the diagrams each time. I had to move the labels one by one to ensure that they did not overlap each other and confuse. It was also a challenge to interpret the diagrams because there were much more elements compared to what I had learnt in the previous academic year, and I thank Anson for lending me his personal copy on a book for these statistical analyses.
4. Struggling to understand the taxonomic mathematical formulas published in papers. I have to thank Bowei for this, because the literal loss in contact with Maths meant that I no longer understood any mathematical notations, with one being double summation.
5. Spending days after days after days poring over the same Excel sheet with all the species data. Compilation of data was difficult because it was important to tailor them to the format required by the specific software required. At this stage I have forgotten quite a lot of the problems I met along the way, but it was most difficult feeding data into R Studio as the functions never seemed to work (Error: Error: Error: Error:). I also realised I messed up on one occasion when I indicated one location wrongly as an urban park instead of a nature park. I had to redo every single analysis, and I had to do this again when my professor advised me to re-order my sites for more order.

After all that analysis, came the writing. I had an entire month dedicated to writing, re-reading most of the papers I had once glanced over in my dissertation proposal. I think I felt happiest when I finished the final sub-section of my Discussion and the Conclusion section on the same day. By that stage, I thought I was more or less done with the ‘difficult’ parts, and now all that was left was proper referencing, formatting, and correction of the mistakes that I had inadvertently made in my unfiltered writing. I made it in time for my first draft, and by then, I knew that not many changes could be made anymore. I no longer had the time for an additional data analysis, I no longer had the freedom of time to re-order analyses and come up with any stray ideas.


The year has passed very fast with the frequent library visits, and today, I am here waiting to print out my dissertation. Because of the shift in focus, my dissertation topic has been changed to ‘Using Odonata to assess the impacts of river restoration in Singpaore’s Kallang River’. My research goals and objectives have deviated very much from the original submission of my proposal, but this was what we were told to be prepared for, and I am glad that my research has headed in this direction. I have put in a lot of effort in this compared to the rest of all my modules, and I do hope for a good outcome, especially after all the cumbersome administrative trouble that I had to go through, and that I had to make others go through. I know I will be upset eventually if I do not get a First Class mark for this assignment and thereafter this blog post will never come, therefore I would like to document the dissertation journey first. At this point, I think I enjoyed this whole process, and I cannot wait to submit it after the library clears out enough for me to print my dissertation in full tonight.

Here, I would like to express my gratitude most to Jan. He has been readily responding to my emails, even though at the start it might appear that I was an unmotivated individual who could not care less about carrying out academic work over summer. He has been keeping up with me more than I have kept up with him, constantly asking for weekly and at most fortnightly meetings to check on my progress, and I know I have to be very thankful for his approach because it has forced me to constantly make progress on my work before seeing him every week. Most of all, I am extremely appreciative of how he constantly reaffirms my intentions, and for constantly giving me that motivation boost that I was making good progress, because it motivated me to continue working harder. In the future, I think I will look back at my final year and remember the dissertation process as something that was extremely rewarding and enjoyable. I also count my blessings that I had the privilege to be stressed and worried over academic work, because that meant that I had no other pressing worries like financial inability, illness or serious personal issues. I would therefore hope for this blog post to serve as a memory to always look back and laugh on.

The dragonfly that gets featured on my dissertation title page, the Neurothemis fluctuans, the most common dragonfly in Singapore, and also the first dragonfly I sighted at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park on the first day of fieldwork. Taken with Aloysius’s camera.

Edit (14/03/18):

And finally, it is in 🙂

I thought it was going to be crowded at the library for printing and Map Room for binding from Friday, which would not be ideal especially since I wanted to use my own 100gsm paper to enhance the appearance of coloured figures on my dissertation. I had to remove all the 80gsm paper from the 5 paper trays, load my own and in this process hold everyone up, and so I decided to act two days earlier. Even so I had to wait until late night (as seen) to make sure that no one accidentally printed on my paper. In the end Nick says I am the first one to submit… truly kiasu.

I know there are still a lot of mistakes and slight improvements to be made, as with any assignment, but this will be the cut off point for myself. Now to get over the coursework inertia to start on others…

Cute professor :(

Today I had a great seminar for the Global Environmental Change module. It was basically about microplastics, macroplastics, the scale of the problem, how we can assess the scale of the problem, and the best solutions to overcome these problems… that was the general gist of the seminar. The professor, let’s refer to him as NR, made a drawing of beaches, rivers, sewage treatment works… it was quite nicely done which would have meant that he put quite a lot of thought into it – the drawing was effectively a mind map summarising all the possible inputs and outputs of plastic waste. He handed these around for us to scribble on it – our notes and our ideas. At the end of the seminar it seemed that no one intended to keep these drawings anyway, so one girl went around collecting all of them. I thought she was going to pass it back to him for the next seminar, and was thinking to myself how kind she was for preparing the class for the next seminar. No, on the way out, she folded it and… THREW IT AWAY IN FRONT OF HIM.


How is NR going to feel when he realises that his field drawings/notes simply become garbage? How did he feel at that point in time when he saw her throwing it away? I felt so so so so bad for my professor who led the seminar at that point in time. He was patiently trying to make this whole topic of plastics more engaging and interesting to a bunch of young adults in their 20s who cannot care less about the world, yet this is what happens to his hard work. It becomes waste immediately after the seminar?! I felt so terrible at that point in time, I should have been the one collecting them, and I should at least pass it back to him so that it can be reused as teaching material.

Time to study, had to get this off my chest because I felt so bad. 😦

Start of dissertation process

So I just want to quickly document how lucky I got today before I go to sleep!!! I have had met a few logistical issues with my dissertation process without even starting the process proper. Basically my dissertation title is “Assessing the ecological benefits of river restoration: case study of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park in Singapore”, and in this project I will document dragonfly diversity and population in the park itself as well as collect water samples. You can message me privately if you are keen about what I am actually doing, but in this blog entry I will write about issues I faced that I had not anticipated ahead of time, what a disgrace.

1. Insect net

I easily wrote it into my dissertation proposal to use an “insect net” to catch insects if they are too far to be identified by close-focus binoculars, and to identify them before releasing them into the park. The problem is, I never knew what a proper insect net was. Until I met Jiawei for her insect collection day, when she had a 1m deep insect net that was provided to her by the NUS lab. Mine was probably 15cm deep, the kind you use to catch fishes in the aquarium. To make it clearer as to why I was holding such a loser net, it was $2 from Daiso…

So I tried looking online for commercial sources. I emailed her lab technician to ask if there are spares that I may buy directly from the lab (too much to ask to borrow it since I was not a NUS student), but I was turned away and instead redirected to a link where the lab bought the net for the students enrolled in the Entomology module.

A month delivery from USA? I would be in London by then…

So I DIY-ed my own net as seen in the picture… joining together two collecting nets that I too, obtained from Daiso for $2. I honestly am not going to know how useful this is until I use it tomorrow, but it definitely is much longer and more effective in theory, follows through my hand movements well and let’s hope the dragonflies won’t escape as easily as they did when I did my first site visit about 4 days ago!

2. Camera

I wrote to photograph the dragonflies for identification after returning from the field, because honestly I am no expert at identification. My digital camera failed so badly when I tried to zoom in on the insects which were perched on the leaves.

Aloysius is the saviour of the day. Thanks for lending me your DSLR, and I will make sure to wipe it well every single day after fieldwork.

3. Dragonfly identification

How? Seriously, how am I going to look at a dragonfly and tell that this is a Gynacantha basiguttata? Or a Raphismia bispina?

I could not find the reference books that were used in Singapore dragonfly studies, particularly Dragonflies of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore by Orr (2005). I tried requesting for the book online via Sciencedirect but I had gotten a reply directly from the author that it was no longer in print, and that they are looking to publish a newer version. Now how do I get around to these dragonfly references?

I have since borrowed two books from Central Public Library, because this was the only place searched online potentially holding something that was of relevance, in particular a book titled “Dragonflies of Singapore” as seen in the picture. It seems promising and I hope it helps me very much with my identification from this point, although I have not started on fieldwork proper yet. I may also have problems differentiating a female and a male…

4. Buffer solution

My pH of all my water samples reflected 6.80, 6.81, 6.81, which seemed like a major booboo to me. My tap water reflected 6.80 too. I decided that there was a huge problem with the calibration and sought to obtain buffer solutions to calibrate the pH meter. Now the problem is, where do I obtain these buffer solutions since I flew the equipment in directly from the UCL Geography lab?

I tried to seek help from RVHS, because I suppose it would have been easier to obtain favours from teachers who taught me directly. Unfortunately RVHS did not stock up on these buffer solutions (see screenshot of conversation below), and it was honestly unsurprising to me because I haven’t seen it when I was in school anyway. Regardless I was really thankful that Ms Lim actually went to find out about it for me, given that it has been 2 years since I last contacted her, maybe during graduation… or on A Levels results day.

I then desperately sought help from my NUS friends, despite getting turned away for the insect net. I asked Yu Jie and Sarah who were most likely in Science modules with lab work, but to my dismay both of them had not seen these buffer solutions before too. Until…

If you look at the time stamp, you can see how coincidental this whole thing was — in the afternoon, she had no idea what I was talking about. In the evening, she happened to have a freshwater lab, where they introduced the buffer solutions for them to measure soil pH!!! It is so crazy coincidental, it’s almost like striking lottery. I ran out of my house, took a cab down and arrived at NUS within 10 minutes. I was so so excited because it represented the one and only opportunity I might ever have to do my calibration for my pH meter. After running around the lab when the lab class was ongoing, I managed to seek permission from the lab technician who allowed me to use their buffer solutions!!!

I was so so so thankful.

Later I find out that I made a very big and stupid mistake when it came to using the pH meter, but nevertheless I got the pH calibration done and I was so so so happy. It really made my day. Please ask me privately if you want to know what embarrassing mistake I did this time. HAHAHAHA.

So tomorrow I will be commencing on Day 1 of fieldwork and I am truly not excited because of the potential cock-ups. I really hope that this will be a good project, and that I will have much to talk about in my 12000 word dissertation after this. I also hope that I will be more hardworking these few weeks and work harder on what I am seeking out to achieve, other than my dissertation. Hehe.

End of my second academic year

It is my last night in London.

I have counted down since forever to my eventual return on the 26th of May, which happens to be tomorrow. When HT and I first separated we texted each other, and one of those messages from him was “259 days more!” I cried as I read his handwritten letter and re-read that message. How unrealistic it was, I told myself. How were we going to last? How many couples have I seen breaking up? What makes the both of us think that “our love is different” compared to the many others who thought the same way when they initially parted? I was so cynical and I honestly do not think my worries were unfounded. On some nights in London I really constantly questioned myself why. It seemed easier emotionally last academic year when I was single. I am however really glad that my “emotional mechanism” is able to shut those thoughts out as soon as they are formed, and despite some reunion jitters I really cannot wait to see HT in 3D again after 6 months.

Today I wore short sleeves out having been blessed with an amazing sunny weather, temperatures reaching up to 28 degrees in the afternoon. I saw a glimpse of London in summer — the streets littered with people wearing sleeveless dresses and holding Starbucks frappucinos, green spaces filled with people with picnic mats holding their sandwich lunches and… simply the increased density of people on the streets even though it is only Thursday. I never got to experience these sights last year and I am indeed really lucky because I do not think I will ever get a chance to experience London summer in full, given that I will always be back in Singapore for VA.

Now that it’s still 9.15pm and sunny I have concluded that today has been an absolutely perfect day. Today I sent off my 7 boxes early in the morning and now I face an empty room and kitchen… it looked similar to what I saw when I first arrived in this room. The rate at which time passes scares me very very much. I remember posting on what you would call a “private Instagram” (which has now disappeared) a perspective of London from Goodge Street when I first arrived for the second time and commenting how scarily unfamiliar the familiar London was. Or the scarily familiar unfamiliar London. It was 7am on a Sunday morning when I wheeled my luggage out of the tube station and saw how cloudy and gloomy the morning was. I thought back on my Sunday mornings at home and I remembered my noisy family, my irritating siblings and the sunny hot weather in Singapore. It was painful to stomach the fact that I would be here alone for 9 months again, especially when I was painfully separated from HT during what I would also call our honeymoon period. I also remember my first night here when my dining/study table was in a different position of the room, when I set off the smoke alarm from cooking instant noodles from a tiny pot (resulting in water spilling all over the induction hob), when I slept on unfamiliar sheets and when I had nothing in this new home to call my own. I managed to Skype HT when he was sailing, and despite not being able to see his face I went to sleep with great ease. It was nice that he tried doing that to help me settle down better.

Slightly more than 8 months have passed since then and I have done many many things. I have not accomplished as much academically as I would like to, and I say this only because I know I can achieve better. I have however, enjoyed myself a lot more this year. I ate a lot better, made an effort to actively seek for entertainment and did many more things that I enjoyed. I ventured to areas even off-London (eg. New Malden) just to have a legit Korean BBQ meal and good bingsu. I went to 梁静茹’s concert, although it may have been more perfect if I managed to obtain tickets for Jay Chou’s concert. Notable trips are Bristol with RV, Thursley Common for a field trip, Mallorca for a field trip, Lake District and Paris with HT, Switzerland with Weixuan and Edina, the UCLSS Ski Trip at the French Alps, Durham to meet Xinci, Italy with my siblings, Amsterdam with Dilys and Weixuan, and lastly the killer Seven Sisters hike with Dilys and Weixuan as of late. I watched Wicked and Phantom of the Opera again, I watched The Kite Runner, and I also watched The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time before their final stage in June. Wicked costed £29.50 this time because I queued in the morning for day seats which led me to a seat all the way at the front; the last time I paid £17.50 I was sitting at the last row of the musical! Seats are important in keeping me awake and stall seats really provide the best musical experience. I am increasingly of the opinion that money saving habits can only kick in successfully with familiarity, how would I have understood the concept of day seats in the past? I snuck into the UCL Korean Culture Society and attended weekly intermediate Korean lessons every Wednesday and Friday. Despite the attendance declining from the start I never dreaded the 6pm lessons when I often had to leave home the second time in the day for school, and especially enjoyed it more towards the end when the teachers started recognising us. I hope to improve enough over summer to find myself in the advanced language class next academic year.

I have lived very well this year although my bank account has certainly been bleeding more than last year. I remain thankful to the scholarship and the organisation for this financial independence. Last year I used to tell people that I did not have much friends in London, but this statement does not hold anymore. I really had an active social life, a social life that would not have been possible if my phone were to be spoilt like what happened last year. I forged stronger friendships and saw myself laughing a lot more this year. I made it a point to enjoy London for what it has to offer, the food, the sights and simply the way of life. I am liking London more and more as I approach the possible end of my three years here and it saddens me that the dream I had worked and put in everything for may come to an abrupt end soon. Although I think I Skype rather regularly I never thought it took away time from my personal life, I tried to make it a point to lead less of a virtual life especially if we were to “have a lifetime ahead”, as quoted from HT.

I am excited to leave the house for the airport 5 hours in advance tomorrow, to wheel my luggage and struggle to carry it up and down flights of stairs on the tube. It says a lot about the girl I have grown to become; I think I can say with confidence that she is a better version of myself. Other than growing to be even more independent I think I have grown to be more empathetic, kinder and more sensitive. On this note, I will continue to figure out and actively work on my character flaws. This summer I also hope to obtain my COC, because it would say a lot about my lack of attitude/aptitude if I still do not. I also want to work hard on my dissertation because an excellent dissertation project would show how much I have learnt this year from the endless coursework submissions, repeated data collection/analysis/discussion, and show the markers how capable I am of independent learning. Next academic year too, I hope to actively work on my academic weaknesses. I still believe that everything is a choice, and I hope to strive harder to make that active choice for academic excellence.

After tonight I would have no more “sleeps in London” until late September, so goodbye Collingwood House. See you after summer 🙂