March was a busy month with many different activities. There were mid-term examinations to sit for, decisions to make, mundane things to settle, deadlines to meet and friends to have fun with. This semester literally flew by, I only have 2 more weeks of classes and while for the past few semesters, I could not wait for the semester to end, this semester felt different. Perhaps it could be because I do not regard anyone as “best friends” now so I am more open to new friendships instead of dismissing these new friends as mere acquaintances. Despite the crazy workload that I have this semester, including 3 2500 words reports that I have to submit each fortnight, I feel that it has been a good semester with good friends, nice memories and a lot of fun. 🙂 Anyhow, I still find the Singapore education system quite stressful in the sense that I always feel that “I am good but not good enough” in NUS. The only way to start enjoying this learning experience is to stop comparing myself with my peers and to keep telling myself that “I am good and good enough.” It is a skill that I am still mastering, I want to graduate as a self-confident person.
1. Cycling + mahjong
I went with Debby, a Taiwanese exchange student, and Yukito to the East Coast Park to cycle one Saturday. It was a nice feeling to have lunch at KFC for many hours comparing the different festivals and customs that our countries have. Debby learned Japanese a few years ago in Taiwan so Yukito kept testing her on her Japanese while Debby and I tested Yukito on his Chinese. We then cycled for 4 hours along the coast while we chatted and we turned back when we reached the Bedok beach. I remember we stopped by the Bedok jetty, one of those few places in Singapore where people could legally do fishing, and had a long chat about Singapore and water sports. I love the sea and the sea breeze, I feel so relaxed looking at it, I could stand and stare all day.
After cycling, we made our way back to Utown and played mahjong – this time round we picked the Taiwanese style mahjong. Taiwanese mahjong is very different from Singaporean/ Japanese/ Hongkong-styled mahjong. The Singaporean/ Japanese/ Hongkong-styled mahjong begins with 3 player having 13 tiles and the dealer having 14 tiles. A player wins by drawing 1 winning tile and so the game will end with one player (the winner) having 14 tiles (3+3+3+3+2). On the other hand, the Taiwanese mahjong begins with each player having 16 tiles and a player wins by drawing 1 winning tile and discarding 1 tile. So the game will end with each player having 16 tiles (3+3+3+3+2+2). It took me a while to get accustomed to the new rules and the style and I even won 1 game without knowing that I did because it felt very different from what I am used to. It is quite interesting how different places play mahjong differently so when we say that we want to play mahjong, we are actually expecting different things in our minds.
2. Making Malay videos
We were made to come up with a 2-3 minutes long video on either “my good friend” or “my school” for the Malay language course. Originally, I asked a friend to help me but when our first filming failed, I felt bad to ask her to find time to help me with my video. In the end, I went back to my family and asked my mother, my good friend, to act in my video and my brother to film. She was sporty and it was a nice family bonding activity on a Sunday afternoon. It was stressful while we were at it though because we wanted to make the video in one take and I was afraid that I would forget my lines. I also came back to Utown on the subsequent Sunday with Corina to help Darryl and Kennedy with their videos. That was when I realized my Malay pronunication is not too good and I often tripped over words that I do not usually articulate in class. The guys were nice to us as they treated us to Starbucks coffee and even drove us home to thank us for helping them. I am sure we will look back one day and have a good laugh at ourselves for trying so hard to converse in Malay.:)
Kennedy’s video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UCbH43Lg_Y&feature=player_embedded
3. Final year project (FYP)
Amidst all these random fun activities that I had in March, I started thinking seriously about my FYP. For NUS Chemistry, we have to do a final year research project under a professor just like a graduate student and we will have to write a thesis, do oral defence and have poster presentations for the project. I previously have done an undergraduate research project on the synthesis and characterization of CdZnS quantum dots so I do not really want to work in a material science laboratory for my FYP. It is not because I do not like quantum dots but more of I want to try something new to challenge myself rather than settle for something I am already relatively comfortable with. I am considering working in the chemical biology field and I already spoke to two professors. One of them work on cell membrane proteins in bacteria while the other works on developing octahedral complexes which are precursors to cisplatin. As of now, I would love to work with either one of them because they both seem really enthusiastic professors who are serious about mentoring students in their labs. I will think more about it and decide after the examinations.
Speaking of laboratory, I am actually doing two lab courses this semester: Advanced Experiments in Organic and Inorganic Chemistry in the synthesis lab and Advanced Experiments in Physical and Analytical Chemistry in the physical and analytical labs. I am officially done with the latter last Saturday when I sat for the written test and did the practical test. This semester has been very busy because of them because I had to write 15 ~2500 words reports in one semester (yes that is why I have 3 2500 words reports to do every fortnight) and I had to spend about 10 hours in lab every week. I never really like lab so I imagined this semester to be painful and disastrous but it turned out a lot better than I expected. In fact,I actually somewhat miss lab and my lab friends now that the weekly lab sessions have ended.
The Physical and Analytical Chemistry lab sessions were relaxing because we were doing our experiments as a group (in pairs or in threes) so we could always have small talks and laughed as we prepared our solutions and performed the experiments. The synthesis lab, on the other hand, was a much more intense experience. We were doing the experiments individually and we had to do everything on our own from synthesizing the product to purifying it and characterizing it. It was quite fun because we could talk and laugh while waiting for the reaction to happen. We also made our own unofficial “team” consisting of Amanda, Beiyu, Jasmine and me and it was actually quite some fun to help each other and it made the experience a lot more relaxing because you know you always have people who will help you when you fail. 🙂 Amanda and I figured a new way to crush ice and felt so happy that we left a legacy in the synthesis lab. We also divided chores when we did the IR characterization of our product and it was an activity that always brought laughter; we fetched apparatus for one another so it reduced the walking in the lab and that made the experience less tiring. Not to mention the TA was a very nice guy who always reassured us that everything was going fine even though the colour of our reaction mixtures differed. I actually felt somewhat sad when I was washing the apparatus and cleaning up my fumehood because it was unexpectedly a really nice experience.
Speaking of lab friends, Beiyu is also doing 2 labs like me so we see each other a lot. Funny how we never got to know each other in the past 3 years in NUS and in HK (we were both there at the same time just different universities) and we recently learnt that she has always been sitting behind me for lectures and she was in the group who was behind me for the exchange program interview. We probably walked past each other 100 times, life is hard to fathom.
5. Chingming festival.
Chingming festival is the time traditionally for Chinese people to gather and visit the graves of deceased loved ones, pray, burn offerings to them. I actually like this festival because while other festivals become occasions for people to flaunt their wealth to others in Singapore and hence lose their essence (Chinese New Year, Christmas etc.), Chingming festival is still widely celebrated here even though it is not a public holiday because people want to remember their deceased loved ones. This is touching to a certain extent because Singapore is really hot and hence it is not comfortable to be under the sun or squeezing with many people and burning offerings. But many people still do that here, it reminds me of the old saying 百善孝为先 and it makes me feel quite proud to be a Chinese. I really hope that this tradition can continue.
March was a really hot month in Singapore, I am glad that the infinity pool at Utown opened at the start of March so I could always go for a dip and a swim after my classes and sometimes in between classes. It is quite funny to observe that while the Westerners lie on their own towels at the side of the pool and enjoy the sun, the Asians swim in the small pool. Whoever they are, everyone, even those who can’t swim, enjoys standing by the edge of the pool and looking at the people walking on and around the Utown green.