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…



I am very ashamed to admit that I had not properly looked at the lyrics for most of their songs other than their hit songs such as 突然好想你,后来的我们, and 如果我们不曾相遇. I conclude that songs about heartbreak usually get to the crowd most, because these are the songs that everyone can sing along to and drown themselves into when they are down in the doldrums, myself included. The concert today however allowed me to pay attention to other album tracks and I must say many of their self-composed lyrics (partly 阿信’s singing ability too) really spoke to my heart. I never knew that their songs were so personalised to their life experiences and so well-written for the same reason. I shall just post excerpts of the verses that I love the most.

1. 干杯
成熟就是 幻想幻灭 一场磨练
为什么 只有梦想 越磨越小 小到不见

天空不断 黑了又亮 亮了又黑
那光阴 沧海桑田 远走高飞 再没力气追

现在就是 那个未来 那个世界
为什么 你的身边 我的身边 不是同一边
友情曾像 诺亚方舟 坚强誓言
只是我 望着海面 等著永远 模糊了视线

2. 成名在望
那黑的终点可有光 那夜的尽头可会亮
那成名在望 会有希望
或者是 无知的狂妄
那又会怎么样 那又会怎么样

3. 顽固
你當時相信 的那些事情 會在如今 變成美麗風景
每當我遲疑 從不曾忘記 活在我心深處 那頑固的自己

4. 转眼
有沒有人 也笑憶過往 跌跌撞撞 當時的蠢樣
最平凡日子 最卑微夢想 何時才發現 最值得珍藏

有沒有人 告訴我真相 時間就是 最巨大的謊
以為的日常 原來是無常 生命的具象 原來只是幻象

5. 任意门
平凡的我們 也將回到 平凡的世界
生活中充滿 孩子哭聲 柴米和油鹽
曾和你走過 麥迪遜花園 任意門外繞一大圈
答案是「你身邊」 只要是你身邊

Their seniority in the entertainment industry (21 years!) probably played a part in how well they managed to engage with the audience, given how I was nearly moved to tears for some songs that were clearly upbeat. I also appreciated the fact that they highlighted how they, were like all of us, human, and that concert venues in Paris and London were no more than a dream for them when they started out young. They remained modest despite their relatively senior position compared to many other celebrities, and I found them really relatable for that reason. They humbly expressed that it was a great honour for them to share the large venue with many other more famous artistes (Lady Gaga and Sam Smith as a few examples that I saw). They went on to highlight how thankful they are for having moved to a larger venue (The O2) having performed at Wembley the last time they were here in 2014., yet still managing to fill the venue. The concert turnout signified to them that on the other end of the world, we are all still connected to and with the same music – the word 旋律 was used, which might be more appropriate here.

It was a beautiful night, and I hope I will see them again in the future. 也许会有一天 世界真的有终点 也要和你举起回忆酿的甜 和你再干一杯.


These few days have made me more nostalgic than anything else. Dinner with Aloysius, Beatriz and Youjing at Galvin at Windows (London Hilton) stirred up some memories of mine that I thought I had forgotten. But I remember my past well, and it did not take me much effort to start recalling what was once upon a time.

I still agree that everyone and everything appears and occurs in our lives for a reason. I learnt a lot about what I never wanted to be, also learnt a lot about myself. I remember telling myself that I will never allow myself to be so emotionally dependent on someone else, and constantly having to remind myself then that I was more than capable of being independent. I think it took irrational me a while to grasp what I was trying to tell myself, and despite how I would (still) perceive the ‘me in the past’ to be immature and indecisive, I am glad I could handle my 쏟아지는 feelings maturely.

I also hope that everyone I have already left behind in my past are happy wherever they are, because I may never get to talk to some of these people ever again. I am especially sorry to those I left behind for other people. I suppose we all make our own destinies, and right now I cannot imagine having a different life.

CNY 2018

I am currently seated on the plane on my way back to London and will be for the next 14 hours, 旁边坐着一位体臭很重的英国人, realising that there could be worse things than scoring a middle seat or sitting beside someone plump. 他真的很臭, 好像那种体育课结束了却一整天没有冲凉的臭. 又酸又臭, 真是反胃.

I probably have mentioned on my blog several times that although it was a difficult choice to make to come back twice for both holidays, I came back anyway. I am glad because I really, really enjoyed my Chinese New Year. I was only back for 6 days but these 6 days were filled with love, great conversations with my family and extended family, great food of course, and all the festive mood that I missed a lot in my past two years abroad. I am going to write this post in detail just like I did for my blog posts in the past because this festive nugget of CNY will become very very valuable in the future, when I probably will start to have my weekends and public holidays bitterly taken away from me one by one.

Eve of CNY

I arrived at the airport at 0730hrs and made it out before 0800hrs just in case I would be late for the Chinese New Year celebration in RV, and ended up arriving early at school! I did not eat at all through the 12 hours on the plane, and to say I was starving then is probably an understatement. My stomach was starting to feel really empty… so I settled for one random meal at Boon Lay Market: a random bak chor mee from a random stall. I am very sad that I wasted one meal, and ended up so full I could not eat something else for lunch.

I visited RV with Edina and Wei Xuan, and a stray boyfriend whom I sneaked in to wait for me… Although we narrowly missed the conclusion of the Chinese New Year celebrations, we were still early enough to meet all of our JC teachers (陈老师, Mr Huang, Ms Loh, Ms Lim, Mr Lawrence, Mr Ng, Mr Tan, Mr Dass, Mr Sng, Mr Lim). They have not changed much, but I am pretty sure that was how they felt about us as well. Celebrating CNY in RVHS honestly felt very far back in the past because our lives have changed so much since then; I have grown so much that I am far from that person the teachers met in school. It came as a surprise to most of them that Weixuan and I would be graduating within this year (“when did you guys graduate?!”), and I guess it is true that time really stands still when you start working. Many teachers were also more candid with their conversations given that we have graduated and are really grown adults now, especially Mr Lim and Mr Sng, and it just goes to show how quickly time has passed. I feel a bit sad that I was initially disoriented when I first entered the school, although I quickly familiarised with the place where I spent the better 5 years of my youth at.

We did not get a picture together with any teacher because it would be weird as heck to ask one and not ask the others, but here’s a photo of me being sad that I missed my personal phototaking with my own photo on the wall because it probably got removed lately. I went back too late for my own ego, so all I have is an unclear photo from my dearest friends LOL…

More miscellaneous things I did on this day: forcing HT to send me home to shower because I was perspiring too much for my own good since I was not yet acclimatised to the heat and humidity of Singapore, forcing him to enter the game shop at Clementi to look at how expensive the Nintendo Switch is, and forcing him to go home to set up the game console because I was excited to know what he thought about it. Also I would like to remember that although he proudly proclaims himself to be a gamer, he hardly knew what a Nintendo Switch was. “You bought me a Nintendo Stitch?” …..

We had our CNY eve reunion dinner at Ah Poh downstairs, where we always ate zicha whenever we had nothing to eat. HAHAHA. The 鱼生 was honestly very good though!

CNY Day 1

As usual, my family visits my 大伯’s place on Day 1 of Chinese New Year. It was a relatively quiet affair this year compared to the years when Ah Ma was still around. There were a lot of conversations going about because it had been 3 years since the last time I met them together, and lives have changed a lot since then. Most importantly, I was introduced to the game Fibbage! It was such a family-friendly game, and such a good idea because it allowed everyone to be integrated. It was especially interesting because we did not know the knowledge of one another so deeply, and it was difficult to guess what the correct answer was most of the time. Afterwards they gambled a bit, and I was a little disinterested in Blackjack so I sat out.

At night, we continued our yearly midnight movie affair and watched Jack Neo’s CNY movie 梁xi妹. It really sucked, to the point that my sister Googled the movie duration because it was getting so draggy and we were getting so restless. I even took a nap within the theatre. It was really low-budget, and because of this I think the box office would likely rake in profits anyway.

CNY Day 2

In the morning, we visited my Mom’s side (娘家). My mother said that as a married woman, you have to go to your husband’s side on the first day, and you can only visit your marital home after the first day. I am not sure how much this stands true until today, but I think I will be very sad in the future when I no longer visit who I currently perceive to be my own relatives on the first day regardless of whoever I marry. Actually, I will be sadder if I am sailing. Can’t be too greedy in life…

We first went to my Ah Ma’s house in Toa Payoh, then made the trip down to Tiong Bahru again to visit my Mom’s cousin who hosts the visit every year. Tiong Bahru is where most of my extended family is based because that was where my parents met anyway. I enjoyed the visit because I have not eaten the good home-cooked chicken curry in such a long time! The pig stomach soup was also excellent. These generation of parents seem to be extremely great cooks, and I wonder if these home-made recipes will be lost with the times. Unlike my father’s side, there were many more relatives whom I could not recognise. Many more of them were also married compared to the last time I visited, and this meant that there were significantly more red packets received this year.

The visit concluded quickly because we were only there for 2 hours. After that, I followed HT to 拜年 at his parent’s home! I also forced him to buy the Fibbage party pack for $15 hahaha and played it with his siblings. Exploding kittens too, although I died first each time… really quite suay. Forced HT to come to my house afterwards to continue playing Mahjong and Fibbage, and also forced my sister’s boyfriend to come to fill in the numbers. HAHAHA. We played till 2am on this day, although my siblings and I had trouble sleeping until 3am 4am because we were having so much fun gossiping about others. My brother only managed to sleep at 5am 6am, and he kept coming into my bedroom to disturb my sister and I when we were sleeping !@#$%

CNY Day 3

We got up early and scooted our way to 品食 at Yishun SAFRA to celebrate my Dad’s 60th birthday in advance, because I will not be in Singapore during my sister’s and my father’s birthday in early March. It was a good albeit expensive meal, especially since we had to bear some of the costs since we were helping him to celebrate LOL. I guess the time has finally come for us children to chip into family expenses. We also played some arcade basketball, where my Dad lost quite hilariously, and table soccer, that I sucked a lot at.

After that we ran my brother’s errands to Bukit Panjang and Woodlands to collect the decorations for his ROM ceremony the next day in the hot sun because HT’s aircon was spoilt LOL. I also played a round of mahjong with my parents before they left for the casino, won quite a bit to my surprise. HT and I also went out again to finally eat my treasured 麻辣香锅 after sunset, because it was sadly not open on CNY eve. Subsequently excitedly went out with HT, and ended up at Hort Park to take a shit because I was suddenly very toilet urgent after eating that intestine-triggering 麻辣香锅. We ended up heading up the hike to find the bamboo that we once mischievously carved on 1.5 years ago. I am glad we are still together, especially since we were only 2 months in then and I was still undecided over our shaky future.

Also, the random dog that I put right beside my chair to bring me good luck for my mahjong game. LOL.

CNY Day 4

I was awakened a bit between 5.45am and 6am when my brother was having trouble finding this one T-shirt that he wanted to wear, much to my amusement. Once again, my sister and I were slaves and we had to get up early to head to SPGG to help my brother do up the decorations. Thankful for HT who had to wake up even earlier to come to my place to help us carry the things to the venue. We had a good 2 hours to decorate everything, although I was mildly annoyed by the staff because they were extremely lazy that morning. We set up a guestbook table with polaroid films and a polaroid prepared, we set up the ceremonial table with a flower arrangement, pots of flowers and the two doraemon toys that HT and I caught in Japan and purchased two days prior respectively. Honestly, it was quite a simple and beautiful set up to me, and I quite liked how it looked. I wonder if my brother and sister-in-law truly likes it hehe.

It was not my first time witnessing a ROM but it felt very strange because it was my brother getting married. I remember the time my brother came home to tell me that he had a girlfriend, on the day she agreed to be his girlfriend. It was quite surprising at that time because it was not long ago that my brother told me he was genuinely interested in getting to know her, and even more so when my brother was single for a very long time. People were starting to ask him CNY after CNY whether he had a girlfriend especially as he was turning 24, 25 and 26, and still seemed to remain very satisfied with his singlehood. He got lucky, because this girl turned out to be the one after dating exclusively for nearly 6 years, and became my sister-in-law two days ago. I am really happy for them, and I wish them all the best for their incoming future.

The event ended at about 4pm and I went with HT to fix his car’s air-con, after sweating like a cow in his car for the previous few days hahahaha. The car workshops must be earning a lot of money on a daily basis, for them to have the ability to stop work for an entire week without having much repercussions on their income. After that I visited my Uncle’s house with HT, which was a very good decision because they were able to converse so well. I think most people, like me, should be extremely thankful when your partner gels well with the adults, because most are really critical of the partners that their children bring home. In fact, the conversations that we could have were even longer because my Uncle and Auntie could take the time to meet and get to know someone new. They were also excitedly showing him all my cute baby photos, things that they would not have done if I went over alone on a usual day.

For the first time, my Uncle also brought up the day when I went home after staying with them for 1.5 years from when I was born. He mentioned how I was terribly sick that day, and asked if I remembered. I was apparently down with a fever, terrible sore throat and flu. They sent me to the doctor that day intending to send me back to my parents after that. He said I was crying non-stop and refused to go home, crying to my parents that I wanted to stay with them. I suppose these things stick because until today I am still very tearful with departures. Are these the reasons why? I wonder why my parents do not really understand how I feel each time, and I suppose this is something that truly depends on an individual. My Uncle also mentioned that he could not sleep that night because he felt so empty without me sharing their bed, neither was I sleeping on the makeshift hammock that they constructed in their room 😦 He then showed HT the hook where the hammock used to be hanging about 20 years ago, and said how he had not removed it even until today.

I was also actually really sad to hear this, and I was actually trying very hard to fight back my tears because I realised how disadvantaged my Uncle and Auntie were in this game of parenting, because I would not remember their contributions to my childhood at all unless they reminded me. Honestly, they probably shaped my childhood behaviour and habits in some ways that I will never remember too. Some of the habits that they enforced might even be eroded when I return to my own parents who had absolutely different lifestyle habits. How was I to remember what happened when I was one year old? I remember that I found it very odd that I was going over to their place so regularly when I was younger to my Uncle’s invitation, because I found myself displaced when these were parents I did not live and sleep with in the same house. I even felt burdened at some points of my childhood because I did not know what kind of conversations I was to be having, especially when I got very busy with CCA and studying in my later secondary school years. I am thankful I realised, and I hope I will have many more years in the future to repay them as an adult. I am truly lucky to have two sets of parents in this lifetime 😦

After that I went home to play another round of Mahjong with my parents and my brother, and lost terribly! But it is okay to lose money to family, because family income is pretty circular anyway HAHAHA.

CNY Day 5

My last day in Singapore! I woke up at 1130hrs very miserably because I realised I was going to regret it when I get on the plane full of energy because I had such a good night’s sleep. I had a sudden craving for some Japanese food so I made my brother eat Sushi Express with me, and walked around Clementi a bit. Went home and came back to Clementi Mall again for the 328 huat LiHo – if you say “LiHo, How Are You” at 3.28pm, you will get a free drink. It was honestly quite funny la, although Guan Yin milk tea is better and Koi’s milk tea is definitely also better too.

Slacked around, regretted not downloading some dramas, and had to speed out of my house at 6pm because my father and brother could drop me conveniently at the airport on their way to the East. Thankfully managed to meet with HT before I fly off once again because he left work early to send me off at the airport. We had our very full dinner at Terminal 3 as usual, with our usual orders of 板面, 福建面 and oyster omelette. Departure will be 4 months long, and it is really quite a long stretch for us this time, the second longest duration we have ever been separated. Let’s hope he does not find a new girlfriend and forget me in this period 😦

On this note, I would like to thank HT very much, who allowed me to take for granted the fact that I would reliably have a chauffeur in all my days here, ferrying me to Boon Lay, Woodlands, Bukit Panjang, SPGG, to all my 拜年 locations…wherever, even though you stayed at one of the most obscure locations in Singapore. It was a great feeling looking through your windscreen whenever you were on the drive, seeing all my Tsums stacked nicely on the dashboard of your car, and realising that I am lucky to have you. I would probably have been very impatient as a boyfriend if I were a guy, probably also blaming my imaginary girlfriend for not being able to drive, and in those thoughts I am thankful to have found such a patient you. I am also thankful that you were not afraid at all about meeting my extended family and all the parents who have showered love on me ever since I was born. I have to miss you again for the next 109 days. You have to miss me too!

This Chinese New Year was made even more enjoyable because it is the first time I am not really taking this holiday for granted. The fact that I am now a working adult also made the festival much more meaningful because I was no longer concerned about the money I received. To provide some context, I used to count and recount my red packets to the dollar, because this pool of savings was often used to fund all the excessive expenses throughout the entire year when I was unable to save enough (eg. expensive birthday presents for my family, Korean concerts). I also cherish this holiday more because I am afraid that I may no longer get this opportunity to celebrate for such an extended period of time anymore, having been aware that Resilience sailed on two consecutive Chinese New Years (Day 1 and 2), having been aware that Freedom took a duty day on Christmas and a sailing on New Year’s Day. I also saw my public holidays going away one by one, namely National Day and Deepavali, even when I was in Singapore. My time overseas has trained me well to feel less heartache when I have to miss important events, but I know no amount of mental preparation would be sufficient given my emotional attachment to festive occasions. I hope I will be okay in the future.

Reasons why this post is extremely long: because I am extremely bored on the plane. 14 hours is no joke… after taking a quick nap at take off, typing, daydreaming and enduring the terrible smell for so long, I am only 4 hours into my flight…………….. I shall try to sleep now, and probably do some work for my seminar tomorrow. School work is frightening me because it feels as if I have been away from university for such a long time, and I hope I can find the groove to get back into work soon.


I have to start blogging on the plane does before I forget most of the things that I saw and felt on this trip. At the start of this academic year I felt that I wouldn’t be able to travel much this year, and I remembered I had to make the choice between Finland and Morocco because I was going back home for two extended holidays – Christmas and CNY. Even though this is my final year, going back twice honestly has been my intention for a very long time, given that my 21st birthday and CNY would coincide with both the holidays from the school. These were reflected on my Instagram post when I once expressed that it would hopefully be my first and last CNY away from home last year. First CNY, because my family members were over with me in my first year to celebrate it with me. I always wonder whether I am wasting the limited time I have here, because my time is honestly running out. I do wish that I would not be returning back to London for graduate school because it means I have fallen short of my first two choices, and if these wishes work out it means that I barely have 4 months left in this city. But I really want to go home for CNY. I think there is this inexplicable feeling when you return home for the family celebrations you have always held close to heart since young. It is increasingly of importance to me because my brother would probably be getting married and moving out in the next few years or so, while my cousins are also starting to move into the next stages of their lives slowly.

Therefore when I was offered the chance to join Dilys and her housemates on her trip to Iceland it was really attractive. It was a choice right smack in the middle of rushing for dissertation but I am glad I went. In the few days leading up to the trip I had looked at my dissertation every single day and it was starting to make me feel so tired of whatever I was doing. It was so repetitive – repeating data analysis because I had to reorder my locations, repeating all the R analysis, repeating the transferring of information into Excel, repeating the production of graphs from MATLAB for every single small mistake I found. It was honestly so irritating, and if everyone has faced a moment when they regretted their dissertation topics that was mine. I knew I would get through it eventually but it felt like I had been working on my data for three months already, and I was still stuck at the earliest stages.

The trip was a short-term respite from all of that, and I think there is no better place than Iceland to relish in the beauty of nature. I remember reading about Iceland being a land of ice and fire when I was doing my personal statement 3 to 4 years ago, and realising that Europeans had an added advantage simply because of their proximity to all these geological zones. What I saw in front of me was newly formed rocks from recent volcanic eruptions. Volcanic beaches composed entirely of black sand formed from lava (and I brought home a bit hehe). The giant waterfalls pouring at the mouth of long meandering rivers, and the icy path we had to trod in to get an upclose view of it. If you close your eyes, all you would hear is the loud sound of the pouring waterfall, but yet sounds from nature will never irritate you like urban noise pollution does. The geysers spurting out water every few minutes when they reach their boiling points causing cycles and cycles of tourists to be awed. We unfortunately did not manage to catch the northern lights because of the weather but it was amazing to get out of the bus to see an entire patch of snow and stars that were only partly covered by the clouds. And to be served hot chocolate to keep yourself warm and comfortable while we were waiting for the elusive appearance of the aurora. I think that at that moment you cannot help but be in awe of whatever you have around you, and I felt so happy to be alive. Mother Nature is so beautiful.

In the past I could only write about the beautiful landforms I saw at the Blue Mountains to get my way into UCL. Honestly I do not even remember whether they were that amazing, I probably created an alternative imagination of the place from Googling. But these few years have made me very very well traveled. I even brag to some that I am a seasoned traveller now, that I do not get stopped at long waiting lines for security clearance anymore because of how much I have gotten familiar with the security checks. This academic year in particular I have also seen the Sahara Desert in Morocco with a sky full of stars, and the orange hue reflecting off the sand because of the sunlight. And now Iceland. And of course not forgetting Norway and Switzerland two years ago now. These are probably my favourite trips, for these where were my textbook came alive, and these were landscapes that I would never be able to imagine beyond what a 2D photo will capture online.

I hope I will remember how these places look forever, and I hope that I would be able to bring my family members and HT to these places to experience it for themselves one day.


Can you see the snowfall by the small opening in the window? The lack of contrast to the rest of the background here (white concrete walls, white cloudy sky) does not allow the full extent of the snow to be seen.

It is a Sunday afternoon and I wanted to go to the library in the morning initially. I knew by experience that the library does not open before 11am having been stuck hovering outside in the cold because I was a little bit too early this one Sunday. After being fully prepared to leave the house at 11.45am (i.e. applied sunblock, filled my tumbler with coffee, filled my water bottle, packed my organiser and turned off my laptop), I got stopped because it started snowing heavily. I was initially irritated (lol off-topic but I accidentally typo-ed “irrigated”), but felt quite bad after a while because I realised snowfall was something that not everyone has the privilege and chance of seeing. It is one thing to see snow on ski slopes and in mountainous regions, but seeing snowfall is a pretty rare occurrence for people who do not often go to high latitudinal/altitudinal regions. Of course, even rarer in a city like London, where the urban heat island effect should hit so strongly that it does not even allow snow to form in its descent from the upper atmosphere.

One good example would be HT’s mom, when he sent pictures of hand-built snowmen and the snowfall in Hokkaido to his family. His mom excitedly responded to his texts with snowman and snowflake emojis on WhatsApp and expressed in Chinese that she would love to have the chance to visit a country with snow one day. Snowfall in London is almost always welcomed because it is a rare occurrence, without the inconvenience brought about by snow because of its relatively high temperatures for its latitudes….. due to the effect of the warm Gulf stream… LOL. London does not experience snowstorms, flight delays and all that associated nightmare, and there is no need to hire workers to clear and salt the roads and add friction-inducing pebbles just to make daily life a bit easier. Snow is just a prettier version of rain. Or so I think, having excitedly been out and about on a snowy day about a month ago.

Also London mostly started snowing heavily this year because before this year it was only slight and short snowing events. I have thankfully never missed any of these heavy snowy days. I don’t think it was supposed to snow that heavily today. In spite of the fact that this is wet snow (no large patches of snow are forming) and that it has stopped me once again from having a more productive day, seeing the snow fall right in front of me as I type this post is very very beautiful. It mostly reminds me how lucky I am to be studying in this truly liveable city, yet being surrounded by neighbouring picturesque regions like the Lake District that show me how beautiful nature truly is.

There is an inexplicable magic in snow that makes me more thankful to be living today, and in this depressing winter season I hope it makes everyone that little bit happier.

Place is space with meaning

It always feels interesting to arrive in London again after an extended break back in Singapore. I revisit the feelings of having a double life, most notably the strange feelings of familiarity in a foreign place when I see Warren Street and King’s Cross again.

Leaving home was less painful this time with the knowledge that I would be heading back in one month’s time – to celebrate CNY and to attend my brother’s ROM, although I am already dreading the back-breaking flight. These flights are really taking a toll on my body each time and I increasingly respect air stewardesses more and more. I also want to thank HT for being there for me each time I depart and arrive, even though you had work commitments and it might have been awkward for you to leave early. Also for always being the giving party in our relationship. Meeting and having you in my life is a true blessing.