Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ice cream

I had ice-cream alone yesterday.


Ice-cream is a social food. Social foods are usually relatively expensive in comparison to its nutritional content or benefits, unhealthy and extravagant. That's why it takes the high-inducing company of others to put one's good sense at bay -- long enough to make a usually-considered-irrational decision to go for ice-cream, potato chips, popcorn, nachos, pao pao cha, chocolate, cakes, and other desserts/snacky food.

I had ice-cream alone yesterday because a new gelato shop in Novena Square caught my eye. I am a sucker for good gelato, and I have been disappointed with the gelato I have been getting in Singapore ever since my favourite shop in Bugis closed down. (Oh, Scoopz is not too a substitute.) So I had to try this new shop out.

The gelato shop attendant was a young boy of about 16. Very boyish, very cute smile.

I wondered how long this shop had been in Novena Square since I had never seen it before. As the obviously older woman in this setting, I did the aunty thing, pointed to the shop sign and asked the young lad, "How long have you been here?"

He looked stunned, took a moment, then replied, "Oh. I've only been here for a week." Then he grinned at me with his boyish eyes, boyband hair, and charming smile.

Die. I was flushed with embarrassment as I realised that the young lad had thought I was asking him about how long he had been working here.

The boy then mustered up whatever little pubescent muscle he had to scoop up a ball of my Ferrero Rocher gelato. (Tip: Good gelato shouldn't be that hard to scoop.)

Meanwhile, I pondered about how I could salvage the embarrassing situation and emerge with my dignity unscathed.

"Wah, this is hard work. No wonder they need a boy at this shop." I mentally remarked aloud.

Darn. I really need to stop my mouth sometimes.

Neh-mind. I just continued playing my Aunty role.

"You want cup or cone?" he blinked at me.

"Hm.. cone lah. Cup cannot eat, cone can eat right?" I auntily replied.

After a full agonising minute-and-a-half of digging and scooping, he handed me my gelato on a cone. I passed him a ten-dollar note and he returned my change with that same I'm-going-to-melt-you smile.

I held my head high and calmly walked away, but mentally, I was scurrying off as fast as I could respectably do so.

Nice boy, I thought. But it was the most inauthentic gelato by the way.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I'm Home

I'm home!!!

I thought I'd be afraid to return, that I would have problems reintergrating after being in the "bigger" world. But no, home will always be home. (=

I'm happy.

The 20-hour plane journey back was arduous though. I was sandwiched right in the middle of the plane between two families of four, and had a bad bout of watery and bubbly diarrhoea. The poor parents on both sides of me were so exhausted from caring for their young ones but I had to interrupt their sleep every half an hour to get out of my seat.

My surge of blissful happiness began when I boarded the SIA plane. The Straits' Times Sunday Times greeted me at the entrance of the plane. Oh... to see my local paper again.... There was a pro-family article featuring Dr Vivian Balakrishnan -- my favourite minister (he's a sensitive new age guy, very diplomatic and principled, good-looking too). I don't care if the Singapore government is perceived as paternalistic and propagandanistic -- all governments are for goodness' sake (just less visably than ours) -- but at least they promote good social values. I love my government and my country despite their flaws.

I had a great team stewards/stewardesses on my flight. It was so nice listening to them bantering with each other in their thick Singaporean accents. They spoke clearly without any pretentious attempt to fake another accent. They weren't the best looking of the SIA crew, but they had a genuine warmness about them that I've never experienced on any flight before.

My first meal in Singapore at 3AM on the night I returned -- prawned flavoured Maggi Mee with an egg.

My first drink: Milo.
The Milo I got in Berkeley was made in China and it's got a thin consistency unlike the Australian-made one that we can get in Singapore. Shiok!

My family, especially my sister, made sure everything was perfect for my return. The usually cluttered boot of the car was cleared for my luggage that weighed as much as its owner. My sister cleaned the house and changed my bedsheets. My Mum bought me a new bulky pillow. I had a wonderful sleep on my firm mattress with my solid pillow and shiokalicious bolster!

Right now, I'm still having extremely strong adverse reactions towards memories of my experiences between March and mid-May. My body reacts adversely and I get nauseous when seafood, rich food, restaurant food, American food is mentioned or brought before my eyes, or when I smell something that reminds me of International House or cooked oil.

I've been ill since the two days before my departure and am still a little under the weather, but the homely air and love is aiding my recuperation from my upset stomach and the psychological and emotional trauma of the last few months. There were so many times while I was in Berkeley when things were so awful I felt I couldn't live another day. I was on the verge of insanity and clung on desperately, tightly to anything that gave me motivation to survive even till the next day. I almost thought I'd never make it home.

But God has been good.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Photos! Happy Times While on my Exchange Programme..

Hey dear friends and faithful readers.
I know I've been moody for way too long. Here's something more cheerful. Nice bright pictures of happy smiley people and pretty things.
I promise no more angsty, moody stuff for a while.


My very first ride on the "F" bus to San Francisco. Hair was short, eyes were wider, much more clueless.
Photo taken by Andy - talented achitecture graduate student and photographer. (You'll find a picture of him a few photos down this entry.)


Berwine my dear friend whom I grew up with since my green-uniform-donning days at Tanjong Katong Girls' dropped a visit at Berkeley during Chinese New Year. She's from NUS and on an exchange programme too, but in UC Santa Barbara, a 7 hour drive south of Berkeley.


Here's Grace and Aunty Grace (I call my church friends' mum Aunty my-friend's-name) when I met up with them in San Francisco. We rendezvous-ed at Union Square.

Look what I found in San Francisco! A Banana Republic t-shirt made in one of those third world countries.


We 4 girls in our hotel room after a "wild" evening spent on a touristy boat with music and dance.

The beach in Acapulco. Honestly, I don't see how different beaches can get across the world and how exceptional the same universal sun can be in a tourist beach... but well. Here's a nice shot of Sara, a sweet girl from China, and me.

Lionel and me! We went on a water motorbike (I can't recall the proper term for that vehicle now). Too bad no one tooked any photos of that! Lionel's one hell of a speedster. Hahaha.. I was clinging onto him for dear life, but it was fun going at such high speeds in water for a change.

There are more photos of Mexico, but I was not thinkingly selective enough and chose the people shots rather than the place shots. Here's a very happy Lionel and Ivan, our Mexican/American (well, he's got dual citizenship) tour guide and companion, at the Daly City airport having a fantastic meal of meat while in transit from Mexico back to San Francisco.. glorious pork ribs. Boy does Lionel love meat.. ;p We Singaporeans (sans Lionel from Stanford) met Ivan from our interactions at the International House (where we pay US$1300 per month in rent each for a small double room). He offered to bring us to his home country. (= I'm glad we had him there. We wouldn't have survived without his help in the almost completely Spanish-speaking country.

Here's Andy, my I House neighbour, who has been very much a big brother to me. He's a nice young married man from New Zealand/China (the people in I House seem to have confusing international roots) with a wife and baby back home. While we were holidaying in Mexico during the Spring Break, he was in New Orleans for an Achitecture rebuilding project. That's the state of the Hurricane-Katrina-stricken city.

This photo was taken in Febuary (by Andy too) in my favourite (and only) pair of flies-eyes sunglasses.

Taken in at the end of March - Check out how my chin has disappeared from my over consumption of American food.
Anyway, here's Grace, Matt, Lionel and I.
I still think I look best in those cooool shades! ;p

We wanted to have a BBQ at Point Reyes, another nice beach. But alas, it was windier than expected. We survived for about 5 minutes to take a quick shot since Lionel had driven us all the way there already, and dashed back to the shelter and warmth of the car.

We scooted off to a less windy park and still had our BBQ. (=

PITTSBURGH - Lionel and I pontanged (skipped) two days of classes to fly across the North American continent to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That was where Lionel did his undergraduate degree in Carnegie Mellon. He was visiting some old friends -- I simply tagged happily when he offered to take me with him.

It was the annual Spring Festival. Carnegie Mellon celebrates it with students building booths. It is more or less a 6 month project for the various fraternities/sororities/kaypoh student groups -- from the conceptualising to the construction of the entire display structure which is solid enough for families to bring their kids into.

Lionel and his gang seems to love BBQs. I have no complaints. BBQs in this cool and non-humid weather is enjoyable. And of course, having the guys take charge as usual, makes it even sweeter. (=

We had brunch at a chichi social club. This was the Pittsbirgh Athletic Association. The elderly couple are from the church Lionel attended at Pittsburgh. They "took care" of him while he was in Carnegie Mellon.

We went white-water rafting! I didn't dare tell my mum before I went. The Singaporeans here went skydiving and one of our friends told his mum only after the whole thing was over, "so that she wouldn't worry". Thoughtful right? I thought I'd do the same.
It wasn't that dangerous afterall. We did the Grade 3-4 rapids. (They have up to 7-8). We went in a group of boy scouts. A couple of the pocket-size prepubescent 12-year-olds got thrown overboard. One of them got washed up a big rock, but he seemed to be having fun.

I got myself involved in this volunteer tutoring programme called OASES. It stands for the Oakland Asian Students Educational Services. It's a huge association where most of the volunteers come from the Berkeley student body.
I'm not quite allowed to put up photos of the children, but here's one taken by my "tutee" (that's what they call them at OASES) at the playground during their recess. They spend a couple of hours with a different day-of-the-week tutor every afternoon. I was a Thursday tutor for a couple of fourth graders (9-year-olds).


Lionel brought me to Monterey Bay. It's a couple of hours drive south of Berkeley. This is coincidentally the place where one could go whale-watching. Amazing huh? The things those ang mohs do.. I've never heard of whale-watching. I'd like to try it some day -- to see those sea giants migrate and have my Pinnochio scene of the whale that housed his father Gepetto come to life.
Anyway, we were supposed to go kayaking but apparently, the sea was so rough that day that 9 kayaks overturned with one huge wave. They were not going to take any more risk by sending out more people to sea.

Well, we caught the sunset at the beach. I have watched hundreds of sunsets, but I've never actually sat to wait upon a sunset. That's what you get to do a lot here in California and big countries in general with many nature spots and not much contrived entertainment. Lots of space, lots of time.
Oh, that's the shadow of my hand on Lionel's face.

Well, here's one of the tens of photos I took of the sunset. Sunset photos aren't exactly interesting if they aren't outstanding. I chose this one because it best shows a rocket's exhaust tail. We saw that fella slowly moving vertically up the stratosphere as the sun set. It must have departed from the NASA campus in California, pretty near from where we were.
Update: Lionel says that according to the NASA website, no rockets were due to launch during that time. So it could be some military stuff... or some secret mission... or both..

Here are a couple of photos to show the trees experiencing the seasonal change from winter to spring... Not the best comparitive photos, but yes, it's of the same place. Notice the green gate in both pictures. That's Sather gate.

Taken in January.

Taken in May.

And finally, I had one of the most pleasant meals here with nice people. Grace, Matt and Lionel again. We had dinner at Palo Alto. We had dinner a couple of nights ago at a New-Orleans-style restaurant. I wanted to take a picture of the food, but forgot. So here's us happily contented with the food in our bellies. Thereafter, we had gelato (Italian ice-cream) which was gooood.. Lionel really drives us far, just for food. Thanks Lionel!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Just scared. Afraid of everything.

I really want to go home, but I'm afraid of going home too.

I want to escape from this place of confusion. Social dynamics are so weird here. To me at least. In fact, because it seems weird only to me that it is alll sooo weird...

I feel so uncomfortable. I don't know what to expect of people, I don't know what people mean. I don't know what they interpret from my words or actions. I can't understand people's responses anymore. I don't know what is expected of me. I can't seem to use the understanding of my own social patterns and norms here. I'm not sure if the intelligent academics here are just plain weird -- high IQ and low EQ -- or whether I am really a social oddball.

I feel like I'm living in a different plain of reality altogether. It's as if the law of social physics are totally different. I feel out of this world -- literally.

People are at times so warm, and the next instant so cold I wonder if I've said something wrong. Sometimes they are overfriendly, and I wonder if they thought I was flirting with them.

I seem to be interacting with machines here. Very good-looking, impressive and intellectually capable machines. However, most of them seem to have a bug in their programme that makes them socially incoherent and inconsistent.

This is how I feel, of course. I'm not saying that they really behave like machines. It's just that nothing seems to be making coherent sense to me here.

I was just looking through some old photos, particularly of Ly. In a way, I suddenly wish I could feel all that feelings of familiarity and warmth all over again. The thing is, even though I can remember how I was truly truly happy then, I can't see myself in those photos. Maybe I've put on so much weight now that I can't identify that girl in the picture as me. But somehow, she feels like someone so foreign.

That's why I am afraid of going home too. I can run from this place where I feel so unstable and in a way.. abstract... like I'm subliming -- in between solid and gas states, yet not liquid. I can run home. But when I run home, and if I still feel so out of place, I don't know of any other place to run to where I can find some sense of familiarity and comfort once again.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Things are better now

Mum is out of the hospital.

I have decided to remove myself from an oppressive narrow-minded social group that made me feel so deviant just by being me. I don't hate them; I'm not angry with them either because I was once like that myself. And in many others ways, I probably still am close-minded. It's not a crime being blind, but it's a sad thing to be, and even sadder thing not to realise it.

I've realised the cause of my instability and volatility during the last few months..

Durkheim saw man as Homoduplex -- as an individual and a socialised personality sharing the same body. Man only becomes fully human in and through society. Hence, true moral action lies in the sacrifice of certain individual desires for the service of groups and society.

I have never realised how large my social being was in relation to my self-self. Being away from home, my stable society, and living here where I live in multiple social realities that are so different from what I have been accustomed to, shifted my centre of gravity me so greatly. I mistakenly kept tuning myself and hence compromising things I've always held fast to, to the little societies I got myself involved in here. Against my own grain, I tried hard to integrate, to assimilate my ways of thought and behaviour to each group. And it happened that the social groups I lived in here not only contradicted each other, but also the society I grew up in. I found myself oscillating from one extreme to the other because I had unwittingly placed too much value and trust in what others espoused and expressed. Not surprisingly, I thus never found my place, never found my balance. I was beginning to lose myself in all this.

The same events are still happening, but now I'm in control of how I feel, because I know the self within me is the most constant amidst these external variables with regard to my own life. And this self is regaining its position in my homoduplex body and regulating the effects this dynamic and unstable external environment has on me.

Biology students call this homeostasis. ;)

I am still a very social being and I will never deny that. Social control can at times be oppressive and unkind. However, just as much as I hate it, I am very much, too, a part of it. People and relationships still matter a lot to me, and this will remain the case for me, even if it means subjecting myself to the possibility of being stifled, or being hurt. The right people and relationships in my life will bring out the essence of my human spirit in the most joyous way. (=

To those who have faithfully kept up with my life through my blog even while I am so far away and out of constant contact with you, thanks.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Need to grow up

My Mum has just gotten admitted into a hospital in Singapore for the same unknown symptom that leaves her with painful stomach spasms and stiffens her body.
I don't know what's going on. I don't know how bad the situation is. I don't know whether the situation will demand my premature return to Singapore. It's scary.
I can't seem to contact anyone at home, perhaps because it's past midnight in Singapore now.

I'm stuck in a loveless place here at Berkeley where I am judged and toyed with, where I've learnt to regret trusting people.
I've got no more boyfriend who will love me foolishly and unconditionally. I don't blame him. If there's anything I am guilty of, it's him. I can't expect him to be my crutch anymore when I know I can't love him the way he loves me. It's pure cruelty.

I'm flying off to Pittsburgh in 9 hours time.
I thought it'd be a respite from the mess I am in here at Berkeley, but I just realised I'm entering another danger zone.

I've got myself in so much mess here in Berkeley it's unspeakable. My heart's a mess, my mind's incoherent. I can't trust myself anymore.

I've got no one to turn to now.
No one to trust.
Relationships are so fleeting, so unpredictable right now.

I'm neither here nor there.
Not American enough, no longer completely Asian.
Neither side can understand me, neither side can accept me.

My only relief is in tears.
I want to sleep. I want to get high. I want to vacate my mind.
I know it'd all be over soon, God's in all of this, but as of now, it's excruciating just living day by day.

I don't know who I'm pouring this out to.
I don't know if I'd regret publicising my life in a moment of impulsive disorientation.
It suddenly seeems so much easier to talk to strangers than people I think, I thought I could trust, and people I expect love and understanding would come from. These expectations just murder me, they kill me in the most painful way.

I just can't think anymore. Forgive me, and love me if you can.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

After 3 months.. I'm ready to go home now..

America degrades the tenderness of the human soul in the way sex is portrayed. The crude and indiscriminate way it is talked about here and portrayed pictorially make me uncomfortable. It twists my understanding of physical intimacy and sex in a way most unnatural to me. It robs the sanctity of lovemaking and what I have known all my life about human intimacy in physical exchanges.

Women sell their bodies here indiscriminately. There is barely any exclusivity or discretion. I walk down the street to school everyday and I am swarmed by oceans of breasts and cleavages. Breasts are no longer private. Girls here are hot; they certainly know how to play up their sexuality.
Sexuality is a very openly acknowledged and well understood thing here, and both guys and girls show their awareness in the way they dress and behave.

The Daily Californian, an independent Berkeley student tabloid-like publication even has a column called "Sex on Tuesdays". The following three images are taken from this daily newspaper.

(Click on the images to enlarge them to readable size)

The thing about all this awareness is that there is no turning back. It's innocence lost. Perhaps there is a way out, but I don't see at this point how the exclusivity, the sacredness of sex can return to this modern American society.

I believe in exclusivity when it comes to physical intimacy. But I guess I cannot be so imposing as to assume the same value should apply to everyone.

Perhaps I am close-minded, having come from a relatively conservative Asian society and even more conservative Christian society. One may argue that sex, virginity and the works are overrated. Humans were made creative and freedom is essential to allowing one's humanness to emerge. And that the church is the main body responsible for reigning people's minds and making them feel guilty about doing what is only absolutely natural. Social control runs against the natural grain of man. As a student of Sociology, I cannot disagree with how the church and conservative society controls the individual. In fact, I agree with that, and at times, I too, find it an oppressive tool.

But why is social control bad? Because it goes against the freedom of the individual?
Is pure individual freedom really all that great?

When social regulations break down, the controlling influence of society on individual propensities is no longer effective and individuals are left to their own devices. The sociologist, Emile Durkheim calls this state of affairs anomie, a term that refers to a condition of relative normlessness in society. It is a condition in which individual desires are no longer regulated by common norms and where, as a consequence, individuals are left without moral guidance in the pursuit of their goals.

I love social control. I am a proponent of social control. I thrive under conditions of control. Liberty and freedom? That, to me, is what I call overrated. It's a nice excuse not to be accountable to anyone. It's a great way not to feel guilty about anything. It discharges people from ever having to consider others -- afterall, we're all individuals in our own right, you live your life and I live mine, why should you allow me to affect you? This, to me, is the artificial construct that denies the bonds, the inter-connectedness between and among humans. It's selfish.

I don't think I have argued my case thoroughly or even logically. This is perhaps the most politically incorrect piece I have put up on my blog. Yes, apparently, I do feel strongly about this. Perhaps I'll update this entry again when I think of more coherent and elaborative points.

Or perhaps I'll leave it this way. Take me as I am, or leave me. I have rights to my opinion and to be naive. I can be self-righteous and egocentric because I'm my individual and I'm not infringing on another's freedom.. or so they don't say.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

After 2 Months..

Home - The International House

Hi dear friends,

I'm better. I should not have left the previous post on for so long. I don't quite know what to say nowadays as the novelty of being away ebbs. There are still many things I learn each day, but more often these days, they reinforce my existing thoughts rather than challenge old ones.

And lately, I have been distracted. My mind's all over the place and I can't focus, so much so I can't even blog.

Nevertheless, I am more or less fine. On the weekends, I have a nice dose of bubble tea (what they call milk tea with "tapioca". The word "tapioca" just removes all the fun from "bubble tea"). I attend church, but am increasingly removed from the doctrines because I have so little Christian affirmation and reinforcements while I live here, and I am not exactly taking an active approach to seek it either.

Oh, some interesting things I just thought of..

I've experienced two earthquakes here! Both were jolts that lasted less than a couple of seconds. The first one had me running out of my room in panic and the second one was experienced while watching "Letters from Iwo Jima" (which is a lousy Hollywood attempt anyway). The movie theatre was pretty grand with 500 seats in it and initially, I didn't realise it was the quake because of that movie-effect of engrossing all your senses. I absent-mindedly thought it was part of the surround sound, surround everything effect, until I realised theatres aren't that advanced.

That was pretty cool. Well, at least for the naive Singaporean who lives in a quake free zone. Anyway, quakes are pretty common here. Many buildings have signs on the outside that carries a disclaimer stating that the building isn't quake ready enter-at-your-own-risk kind of tone. One of these signs can be found at the entrance of the International House where I live. (=

My friend got punched in front of the I House last Sunday at 9.30PM. Three males randomly came up to him, asked him whether they could ride his bike, and before he knew it, his glasses were off his face. There were still people around, so perhaps that why his bike was not stolen nor was he beaten any further. The guys just ran off when he screamed, hm.. shouted.. (scream doesn't sound like the genderly-correct word here).

I've seen policemen making arrests with handcuffs here. Once at the lobby of the I House and another on school grounds.

My Singaporean friend who got sent to the hospital for about 5 hours after she had heart palpitations during yoga class had a US$1400 medical bill sent to her. And if I am not wrong, that doesn't include the fees for the ambulance and fire engine. According to her, it's US$200 each. These two vehicles come in pairs when 911 is dialed, even if the distress call is for someone with heart palpitations.

People actually like the Singaporean accent. A Korean and two Americans have told me that. I'm beginning to like it a lot too. It's an inescapable sound that allows all from Singapore and Malaysia to identify one another the instance an "ah" is sounded from his mouth. It's nice to randomly bump into similar sounding people here at Berkeley. And for the first time, we Singaporeans get really friendly talking to others who would otherwise be considered strangers in our home country setting.

OK, something visual for your pleasure.

The girls' gym/swimming pool shower area

Yes, there are no doors. In the entire shower area, there are 4 miserable curtained cubicles, which I believe they created to cater to more reserved Asians like moi, and which I appreciated. But alas, to my horror, there were no hooks within those cubicles for my towel. The nearest hook was a 2 metre walk. So I waterproofed my clothes and towel in a big plastic bag, tied it up and kept one hand up in the air, holding the bag away from the direct blast of the shower as I had the chlorine washed off my body.

Part of the huge girls' locker room.

People usually change here. Yes, full monty; they go commando; the birthday suit -- whichever phrase you understand better. Young ones, pretty ones, slim ones, fat ones, old ones, gravitationally-challenged ones.. International nipples of all colours, shapes and sizes. I generally try to do in Rome what the Romans do -- that's the best way to experience a culture in most aspects, I believe. However, the most I've gone so far is having at least 2 garments (a combination of inner and outer) on me at any one point. I shall challenge myself further to go American in the locker room. I shall conquer my inhibitions within the next 3 months! Muahahahhahaha!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Not on top of the world..

I'm feeling blue on a sad rainy Saturday night.

Maybe the first pangs of unpleasant feelings of being away from home are beginning to set in after a month here.

I usually love the rain back in Singapore, but it just seems so miserable when it rains here. The rainy season has come; we've had rain for the last 3 days consecutive. Can't-leave-home-without-an-umbrella kind of rain.

The food here never seem satisfying enough. They are no-kick foods.. Too oily, too tasteless, too salty, too American.. And American price too for really poor quality food. I don't like beef and that's what they seem to have in abundance here too.

I walked in to the International House cafetaria (all residents have to subscribe to the meal plan here). I had a look at the food and my stomach decided that not one of those earthy toned food could go down. It was the first time I couldn't eat. They had burritos from lunch today, mash potatoes from dinner yesterday, beef in tomatoey sauce, cold rice.. I don't know. Just not my day for food I guess. I don't usually complain.


Someone drop me a nice word from home? That can fill my stomach too.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Pictures pictures!

The maple trees in Berkeley stood out to me immediately as I started walking down the streets. The trees are all in different stages of shading, which make them so beautiful. Some are in the shade of red, some bare, and some maple crowns have gradient hues from red to yellow.

The white building with the dome on top is International House. This is where I am currently residing and paying about US$1000/month for. It's a lovely place in terms of its social culture. There are 600 students from all over the world here.

Our dining plan is compulsory to get the residents to sit down with each other. Everyone complains about the food, that it is awful, not authentic and always the same. But I love the international fare I get for the three meals a day here and appreciate the effort that has gone in to include food from so many countries. They even have chok (they call it 'juk' here) at breakfast every morning, condiments like tau you (soya sauce) and sweet and sour pork. People think I'm weird and naive for being so in loved with the food. They tell me it gets worst as the semester goes on. It was through this food issue that I found out that Singaporeans weren't the only ones who loved complaining. There are some human traits that cross all borders.

There are many free and subsidised activities organised for us. For example, there are free coffee hours on Wednesdays from 9-10pm where people just hang out and meet new people, free salsa classes on Mondays, free Yoga classes on Mondays and Wednesdays and many others that I can't list out from the top of my head now.

This is my regular double room (the cheapest available at I House) and that is my Korean roommate, Sylvia (or rather, Eun Ha). In I House, almost all double rooms hold members of different nationalities. One thing I did notice is that the room allocation stuff seem to put Asians together. I guess this is to help minimise culture shock, but even then there are still new things to learn about the other Asian... Perhaps I'll have another entry on the roommates themselves.

I sleep on the top bunk simply because I moved in later than my roommate. She got to choose the lower bunk, all the top shelves and drawers, the table lamp that isn't spoilt and the chair that doesn't rock. The first couple of nights sleeping 2 metres above ground level was frightful, but I'm pretty used to it now.

Here's my bagged lunch! I pack this during breakfast. I scan my meal card for a bagged lunch and they give me that brown paper bag where I put in a sandwich. It's a bit like Subway where you can choose your meat, cheese, veggie toppings, sauce etc. Then I am entitled to a fruit (banana, apple or pear), a small carton of milk and even a cookie!!! The cookie was yummie. I took this picture in the middle of my lunch today.. The cookie should have come after my sandwich, but I couldn't wait.

Check out the funky trees. The white gate in the centre is Sather Gate, more or less the central area of UC Berkeley where all the major events take place, I believe. I walk this route everyday. Those trees are specially pruned to give them those stumps with no leaves. The guy in sunglasses facing the group is a member of the student council who was bringing us foreign students on a tour. He is a Singaporean who has sold his Singapore accent for the American slang.. Quite a put off, considering that he has only been here for a couple of years. He didn't even switch codes when he was talking to us Singaporeans alone. One of the West-worshippers, I guess.

This is a photo of the same area, but during term time. It's bustling with activity. All the CCA booths are out and there are mini protests going on too.. something about saving the oaks and seeking justice for a staff hired to help handicapped students who recently had been fired.

A couple of police officers lurk near the area too (front, left).

This is the Harry Potter-like main library. Pardon the poor lighting. You can click on any of these photos for a blown up version.

I went for an I House residents' retreat at a creek. It got close to zero celcius at night. They actually have a functioning fire place! These guys were huddled around the fire place roasting marshmellows and s'mores after our night session.

There really are Washington apples!

Yes, I know I'll never make it to become a troupe member of Crazy Horse, but these leggings that I wear under my jeans really hold those fats in place. Hahaha... It gets quite cold here at Berkeley and most of the Singaporeans here (5 of us + 2 China Chinese students from NUS) are quite ill prepared for the cold. I bought this pair in desperation on my way back from my second day of school.

Ah.. those funky trees against the setting sun.

It's not quite safe to walk alone at night. Berkeley actually has a "Bearwalk" (I don't know where the Bear fits into Berkeley, but it's part of the brand name of Berkeley. The university websites are called bearfacts, telebears, calbears etc.)service where you call a number to get some uniformed volunteer with the local police to walk you home from wherever you are within a 5 mile radius of the campus after dark.

It's finally the weekend. I'll be heading to San Francisco city tomorrow (Saturday), less than an hour away. Till the next time I start bursting with things to comment on!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Greetings from UC Berkeley!

I'm having a really good meal now of ang moh poh piah -- a burrito. I don't know what's inside, but even if it's dog meat, it tastes real good because I'm eating it HOT and in my own space. I can gobble and make all sorts of digestive noises I want. It is about two in the afternoon now and this is a rare time that I get my own personal space in this room at International House which I share with a Korean roommate. I have class at 4pm but I thought it was worth the hike back up slope to savour some peace with my dear left-behind self.

I apologise for not updating everyone earlier. It's my second week here at the University of California, Berkeley, and have not had much time to myself. Lessons just started this week too.

My mind is in a flurry right now so forgive my incoherence.

I am beginning to feel very overwhelmed. Although I technically don't have much on for my day activities besides going for classes, I am kept on my feet all the time as I feel my way around. I have to concentrate so hard in everything I do that I am exhausted when night falls. I feel like an infant all over again in this strange foreign system. That may sound cliche and may not help you understand my plight here so allow me to elaborate.

I am so outspoken back in Singapore. I can be loud and outstanding, or just weird. But over here, I am a mouse. The students here really speak out in class. They ask questions all the time. There is no fear of that loss of face thing we have back in our Asian society.

Yes, suddenly, it's not just Singapore society, but Asian society as a large. It's like us black-haired short-legged creatures against those big ang mohs. In my current foreign situation, I think I am mentally rounding up all those on my side. Singaporeans whom I'd never have spoken to in Singapore have suddenly become my best companions. Even Chinese nationals, whom I have never directly interacted with in Singapore because of my chino-phobia and basic language handicap, have become a joy to be around with.

Berkeley is so truly multi-racial that it's almost like a zoo. There are so many varieties of skin, hair colour, languages, dressing, accents, proportion of facial and of other bodily features. For e.g. the ang mohs have their eyebrows so close to their eyes while I look like a goldfish with puffy upper eyelids and eyebrows 2km away from my eyeballs. The Koreans have squarish jaw lines and fierce eyes. The blacks are really distinct in their accent and how they look (I kind of like them so far though. They are like the Malays of Singapore. Very relak and fun-loving). The Scandinavians are so pale-skinned and have translucent blue-green eyes. The Australians are often Billabong poster-boy quality with their surfer dude look. The Singaporeans, well, most of us just dress badly, mainly because we come from a non-winter wear country so our winter clothes are nothing close to fashionable.

The racial groups here are barely what I would call minorities. From the back of the lecture theatre, half of the heads are black-haired (i.e. Asians from China, India, Korea, Vietnam, you name it). I don't stick out in such a group. Most people don't notice me because of how I look like the way I stick out when I, as a small minority, tour a foreign country.

The greatest culture shock so far has been, ironically, the Asians, in particular, the Americanised Asians. It's scary and throws me off balance because they look so much like me, but they are truly so so different in how they speak, think and behave. I thought I was loud and bold, but these guys make me look like a mouse next to elephants.

Back to that infant analogy, I just don't know where I stand in such a society. The adjectives I would use to describe myself or the way I value myself as an individual doesn't apply here. I would say I can sing fairly decently in Singapore, but here, I won't dare make such a claim. As I mentioned, I thought I was loud, open and outspoken, but that all changes here again. When we discussed BGR issues, our small group of Singaporeans is well aware that we should keep our volumes down less the ang mohs hear our conservative values and find it a joke.

I speak relatively well in Singapore and teach English, but I wouldn't dare publicly admit that here (even though I know that I probably write better, having been brought up in British Singapore, than most Americans. I'm not being culturally chauvinistic here, but it has been observed and proven that Singaporeans' standard of English is even higher than that of British public schools).

Basically, I don't know what I am relative to everyone else here. It's not a matter of academic competition or moral self-righteousness, but simply knowing my place, where I belong, what people see me as.

I feel comfortable, naturally, with the Asian Asians because we speak a common language and we have similar backgrounds. It's funny how, by placing people in an even more foreign situation, previously differentiated groups can come together.

There is just so much to do here. I want to get a part-time job (it pays on average about US$10-15/h) for the experience and for a little surplus cash. Yet I am intimidated that I can't handle the locals and local knowledge, and I know I have so limited time here to do many other things. For example, spend more time interacting with people at mealtimes, truly master French enough to pass (I'm doing a level 2 French module which completely swept me off my feet on the first day of class because no one seemed to mind that the entire class was conducted in French from Bonjour to Au revoir). By the way, I found out today that my French teacher is my immediate neighbour at I House (we share the same wall).

The campus is very vibrant with all the CCA booths (of course they don't call them CCA here, but I haven't found out the equivalent term yet) and all the sororities coming after me. There are free dance and yoga classes practically any day of the week. I want to go swimming (yes, in this blistering cold). I want to go for a jog. I want to venture around and outside Berkeley. I want to take more modules (the lecturers whom I have encountered so far really know their stuff and they have an different perspective of things). I want to spend more time talking to other nationalities at mealtime (I live at the International House where there are 600 residents from all over the world).

I was feeling upset somehow earlier today as I spun around Berkeley campus not knowing who I was here or what I wanted to do. But my nice burrito and even nicer experience with the Filipino shop owner who had asked me where I was from (no one outside I House had ever asked me that since they probably assume I must be an American-Born Chinese or an Asian-language-speaking, funny-accented foreign student who's hard to communicate with). Just the short exchange with that man made my day. It sure helped that he had a dashing nice smile and a nice warm hand to shake my white-with-cold hands. ;p

But really, I am beginning to feel some loneliness creeping up on me. I am trying not to pay it too much attention less it get the better of me, but drop me a nice familiar note from a friend when you come by ok?