Graduation: One Year On

Sunday, October 24, 2021


My earliest memory of the concepts of "graduation" and "university" was my mother telling me - back when I could barely even understand - that she'd do whatever it takes to make sure I graduated from one, even it if meant selling away our house. Trading my bedroom for the opportunity to study didn't make sense at all to me, but it sure drove home the message that this was something important to her, her life goal almost.  

Thankfully, many years later, we still have a roof over our heads, and I've achieved what she set out to do when she had my brother and I: producing two first generation graduates in the family. 

Interestingly enough, I genuinely never saw graduating to be a momentous occasion, or something that even required celebrating. As best as I can put this across without sounding presumptuous, it wasn't a difficult journey, at least not the actual "university" bit. Sure, I've faced little bumps along the road throughout my academic life, but those can mostly be attributed to the sky-high expectations set by being amongst some of the most academically inclined youth in my growing up years. I'm fortunate that getting into a local university was never a question of 'whether', but 'which course', and I daresay completing the required modules for graduating was smoother than preparing for A Levels, save for a couple of insane weeks due to overcommitting to too many things at once - but I'd always knew I'd get through those. 

To me, this relative ease was all thanks to these two people here. 

If I could say so myself, they aren't the most involved parents ever during my university days, but it wasn't what they did then, but rather what they did leading up to it that helped set me up for success, which I'll always be immensely grateful for. 

Foundations are one of the most critical pieces of a kid's developmental process, and my parents spared no expense in that regard. No, it wasn't expensive tuition or enrichment classes, though to be fair I did get piano lessons and art classes at the nearby community centre. But it was the pure sacrifice of time and effort ensuring we did well in our early years. Weekly library visits were a must, which helped me cultivate that insatiable love for reading and writing, and developing a curiosity for topics outside what my parents even had knowledge about (compared to if my parents were the ones picking and curating the books we read). 

Mummy quit her job to make sure she had the time to learn the names of our favourite Sesame Street characters (she only knew Big Bird as a kid), which progressed to learning the school curriculum alongside us so she could play the role of our 24/7 always-on tutor, at least up till Primary 6. While not all memories were positive - lots of crying due to the pressure of not being able to write the right Chinese characters when she went through my 听写 with me - I'll always remember the sight of her reading out words from my English spelling list as she multi-tasked and mopped the kitchen floor of our Serangoon North home, while I stood outside and spelled them aloud. 

While we weren't the most financially-secure family, my parents made sure that we didn't have to worry about anything else apart from doing our "job" as students. We were not showered with frivolous wants, but had everything we needed to grow up comfortably. It was only when I grew older did I realize how much of a toll it probably took on them, especially sending us to independent schools, rather than the subsidised government ones. I'll never forget how Papa had to go to the financial aid office in my school to submit a form to ask for financial help because his daughter was too embarrassed to do it herself. 

So this one's for my parents. Thanks Papa and Mummy for all that you've done for me to achieve this milestone, and for coming down for both my commencement ceremonies. I'm really glad NUS pulled through to hold these physical graduations despite it being more than a year late, because I know how much it means to you to see me walk across a physical stage, rather than the slideshow we had a couple months ago. 

Oh, and thanks mum for sneaking Mr Ducky Wacky and Ah Mun (my favourite childhood chou chous) into the University Cultural Centre to watch me graduate - other than my parents, these are my two biggest supporters who've seen me through all the good, the bad and the (very) ugly times. I've probably used them multiple times in place of tissue paper to clean away tears, thus explaining their faded and dirty appearances. 

Symbolism aside, I did actually enjoy having the physical ceremonies too, despite flippantly writing them off initially as 'something-I'm-going-for-only-for-my-parents'. It was a nice pause amidst the usual hustle and bustle of working life to reflect and take stock of the four years that flew by. 

Admittedly, in the past 1.5 years since I graduated, I never gave NUS any credit for shaping who I am as a person. Perhaps this stems from my own insecurity, as I never saw this place as a brand-name institution, at least compared to so many of my friends who've gone on to study at top-tier universities abroad. This feeling was exacerbated because my selected courses of study (Communications & New Media; and Business Administration) did not fall into the widely accepted buckets of law and medicine. To me, attaining a Bachelor's Degree (or two) was merely a rite of passage I had to go through which wasn't going to change me dramatically, at least not as much as I had grown during my pre-university days due to this flawed mindset that I was amongst the best then - and not anymore. Oh, how ridiculous and wrong I am, projecting my insecurities onto others. 

Meeting and catching up with the friends I've made during my time at NUS during the recent commencement ceremonies was such a poignant reminder that I've met some of the best people here, with whom I formed some of the best memories of my life here. Here are a couple of them I managed to catch (pity I didn't meet everyone); 

With Beverly - my CNM & BBA & Straits Times buddy! You're someone so special to me, considering the circumstances by which we met, struggling through our journalism internship together, and then going on to work on case competitions and countless modules together. Undoubtedly one of the most humble yet talented people I've gotten to know. 

With Priya, one of the OGs whom I've gotten through eight years of formal education with! Always grateful to have you by my side, going through similar experiences, right from OBS in secondary three, to an honestly traumatic NUS Business School Camp in year one, and now graduation. So many dips and turns along the way, but you're so inspiring and I can't wait to see how many more lives you'll touch.

With the three girls I've gotten to spend majority of my university life with, at first by circumstance due to our double degree combinations but afterwards by choice! Thank you all for being there right from Orientation Week. You three kept me sane during the Business School modules we had to go through in Year 1 and 2, and though our paths diverged throughout the years, especially when Huiting and I changed home faculties to FASS together, I'm always thankful to have this solid support system to rely on. 

With Vanessa, my roomie for life! Honestly I still can't quite figure out how or why we even decided to embark on the Hong Kong journey together without even knowing each other well, but I'm so glad I decided to experience that with you and wouldn't have it any other way. Thank you for being such a dependable and supportive friend, always.

With Gerard and Ping, my first proper FASS friends, whom I only got to know in my final semester. But as they say, better late than never! I'll always be counting my blessings that you guys decided to talk to me on the NUS bus from UTown after our Political Communications module, and provided much-needed entertainment and insights.

With Christal, one of my favourite juniors - though I see her as a friend, the senior-junior status from JC somehow is still ingrained. I'm always in awe of the amount of kindness and care you show to the people around you, and while it was surprising to me that you ended up in the exact same university courses as me, you've managed to chart out an entirely different and more amazing path for yourself, and I'm so proud of you. 

And of course, how can I forget the best takeaway from university? ♥ Thank you for inviting me to a ramen "catch-up" (to which I showed up in spectacles and pyjama pants), and for taking a chance on me even though I was a journalism-crazy, most non-Business girl you could've ever met. 

After my second commencement ceremony, JX and I decided to take a walk around NUS to relive some memories, take photographs and pay a visit to the spaces and people that made the place so meaningful to us. We spent a slow afternoon people-watching at Starbucks, a luxury that we never got to do as students, since we would be constantly rushing around from tutorial to tutorial, and getting caffeine was done not for enjoyment but to keep ourselves awake. My "fondest" memory of the University Town Bux was spending an all-nighter rushing out slides for a case competition - where my team placed third. This kickstarted my journey competing in case competitions for NUS, which honestly shaped me immensely (reflected about it here).  

Later in the afternoon, we took the NUS bus to Business School, and visited my favourite Milo bro at the snack stall! 

Sustenance like no other, especially when rushing from Biz to FASS. 

"Iced milo?" he would never fail to ask, with the brightest smile, whenever he saw me appear at the counter. It wasn't that I was special, as he could literally remember the orders of most of the students from Business/ Computing/ Kent Ridge, but that made him even more special to all of us. And even when I stopped drinking iced milo as regularly in Year 3 and 4, he would ask me how I was instead, especially when I headed back on the weekends to train for case competitions. His reaction when he spotted me again this week after 1.5 years was amazing, and I only wish for the best for him. 

With the richest and most "gao" iced milo in hand, JX and I hopped back on the bus, back to University Town to sit by Town Green to reminisce about our time in NUS, and of snap a couple more pictures before the sun set. 

A very nice stranger took this lovely photo of us. 

And I took this very nice photo of JX. 

As it started getting dark, JX and I decided to make one last stop, to the rooftop of ERC, where we used to hang out quite a lot studying together. NUS is honestly breathtaking at night, and as I stared out into the infinity pool (which I never got a chance to use), my heart was filled with immense gratitude of my time here, especially when I think back on all the people I've gotten to meet and the experiences I've gained. 

We ended our day at Star Vista, heading back to the ramen shop which we went to for our first "date" (although he still insists it was a 'catch-up') for dinner. Alas, the original shop has since been replaced by another ramen shop under another name - though we suspect it's the same management. However, as we slurped our noodles, it felt just as comforting as it was the first time, in his company. A poignant reminder that even as material things and spaces change, the memories and people wouldn't. Heart has never felt more full in a long, long time. I'm thankful for this closure which I didn't even know I needed. 

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Singapore, 2020-2021 (On Film)

Sunday, May 16, 2021

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It's been a while, it really has been. And now Singapore is on the brink of an impending lockdown again, a year from our previous one. I had this post sitting in 'drafts' for more than a month now, and I had initially written a paragraph detailing how grateful I was that my mental health and wellbeing is in a much better place, which was attributed to Singapore's progress heading towards some semblance of normalcy again - being able to meet up with friends, getting to explore the nooks and crannies of this island, and going back to the office.

Alas, that was short-lived. While I acknowledge my incredibly privileged position, it's challenging to keep spirits up when it seems like the whole world (or at least the human species + the systems we've created) is on the verge of collapsing. So here's Singapore, as seen through the lens of a Kodak single-use disposable film camera from late 2020 through to early 2021, especially since it may be illegal soon to head outside for "non-essential" activities. Even if there aren't any official restrictions in place, I'll be staying home as much as I can.

Bras Basah Complex

Second hand books galore

Christmas high tea at the Intercontinental - love the vibes, wasn't a fan of the food

Woke up at 5.30am to chase the sunrise around the Civic District - by far one of my favourite, favourite mornings in a long while

Never knew there were swings overlooking the Central Business District

Old school biscuit factory transformed into a quaint cafe

Happy birthday, best friend

Piet Mondrian vibes

Monochrome against the striking colours of the sunset

Carrying blooms to admire the blooms at Gardens by the Bay

From Mount Faber

Singapore is beautiful. Yet, she is also in a dire need for some healing, and not solely from the pandemic. The virus has exposed some of the existing cracks prevalent within our society, such as racism and xenophobia, and these conversations are long overdue. As a Chinese-Singaporean, the baseline is for me to educate myself on these issues and to actively become anti-racist - not simply sitting on the sidelines as a "neutral" party who doesn't transgress because that's not enough.

I'm not even going to mince my words. These two covid-filled years have been an absolute shitshow but I can't even begin to imagine how it must've been for so many others out there. Take care folks.
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