JC 1 – A fulfilling year of ups and downs

It feels weird how another academic year just ended so swiftly. JC 1 wasn’t my most smooth sailing year – it was tough but also nice becoming an average student again – but I’ve had some amazing experiences, and I learnt a lot along the way.

There were times where I questioned my decision to DSA to Hwach at the start of the year, but I can confidently say I’m glad to be where I am now. I didn’t start off in Hwach as well as I did in BP – it took me much longer to find a group of friends I was really comfortable with. I adopted a quiet and shy personality in my orientation group, and I didn’t particularly enjoy orientation. It was better when we switched to orientation with our classes but there was still some awkwardness holding me back. The first day I met my classmates, there were already cliques as most of the guys already knew each other from high school. I was lucky to make my first close friend in the scholars orientation, and we found ourselves having the same sentiments about the school. Looking back, I’ve came a long way. I’m absolutely comfortable with most of my classmates – Megan, Vicky, Benjy, Snailz – and sometimes I look forward to school because of them. 15S6E reminds me of 2A8 at times – not the best class, but a class of fun-filled people, with a few football kakis and a couple of really smart people. Really grateful for these people.

I busied myself with activities throughout the year, from Dramafeste at the start of the year, to tchoukball trials and trainings, and then APYLS which turned out to be my highlight of the year. I will be embarking on an overseas community-involvement programme (OCIP) to Vietnam in a couple of weeks, and am certainly looking forward to it. There were battles whether to join science research or a sports CCA or faccomm, but I don’t regret the decisions I made. I certainly didn’t expect myself to become tchoukball captain (it’s a pretty cool sport – go check it out!) and then came the responsibility to lead the team. It’s hard and tiring constantly having to try to bond the team and balancing between pushing my team but not making them too tired or unhappy. There were (are) admin matters to settle, but thankfully the guys’ captain helped out. Even though it may be tiring to deal with the guys at times, I’m glad for the joy and laughter they bring and am learning to enjoy my teammates more.

Asia Pacific Young Leaders Summit (APYLS) was an amazing experience. I complained and grumbled a lot during the preparation for the summit, but I’m glad I was pushed beyond my boundaries. I had no choice but to learn video editing and animation and I’m proud with what I’ve achieved. It took me almost one month to finish the launch animation for the opening ceremony, but it was all worth it. I was tasked to manage the official email account for about 3-4 weeks when Ming Xuan was away for OCIP and I was astounded when I realized it took up quite a lot of my time. (Hats off to MX for handling the account so well and for being such a caring facil during the summit.) I was a little taken-aback initially as I had to correspond with deans/vice-principals of the other schools. It used to seem intimidating to me to send a formal email but I’m finally comfortable with doing so. The summit itself was amazing. Even though there were mistakes made, we managed to meet the high expectations (I think). I’m honoured to have the opportunity to work with my fellow facils (who were mostly high achievers), made friends with people all over the world, and I really learnt so much during the summit. I was especially heartened by the effort put in by the Japanese and Chinese delegates for the student dialogues and the sacrifice of some of my fellow facils. Despite my severe lack of sleep, I was motivated to put in my very best. I’m really proud of what the media team achieved – shout out to Edmund and Wei Shin for being such wonderful teammates.

Due to the well-rounded facils, AP also made me realize that it wasn’t impossible to do well academically in JC. Before entering JC, I only heard about how tough it is to pass and promote. I hoped someone told me it was possible scoring As and Bs and perhaps I would have worked harder, instead of being contented with the Cs or Ds I had. (Juniors, if you’re reading this, there are loads of people scoring As and Bs in JC1 okay.) I did surprisingly well for the Block Tests in June, but was a little disappointed with my Promos results. Despite my slightly disappointing results, I wouldn’t say I regret what I’ve done this year.  Yes, I could have worked harder (though I worked harder for promos than BTs), but I learnt that I’m someone who doesn’t believe that academics is everything – I’m always searching for other things to learn, things beyond what is taught in the classroom. I’m confident that when I look back at my JC1 life next time, I’ll think it was a really fulfilling one.

JC2 will be a more hectic year, with preparation for A divisions and A levels, but I’m going to choose to look forward to it. I hope I’ll continue to enjoy learning, continue to push myself forward and along the way, continue to learn more about myself.

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Competition

“Hey, thanks for beating the top in level!” One of my juniors congratulated me. I was a little taken aback.

It never occurred to me that I managed to “win” someone who is, undoubtedly smarter than me. Knowing that didn’t make me any happier or more accomplished. Achieving better results in one exam doesn’t change the fact that he is indeed smarter than me either.

As humans, we tend to compete and compare with people around us. I used to find joy in beating someone who would usually do better than me. But as I grew, I realised that winning others didn’t matter as much as beating myself. I learnt throughout the years that winning my competitors didn’t bring me as much joy as pushing myself to do better than I usually would.

The bell curve creates this mindset among many students that exams are like competitions. While the bell curve may be a good gauge on how well we do compared to our peers, the strong desire to excel in exams causes us to hope that others do not do as well as we do, sometimes without us realising it. When we hope we do well, we are also in a sense hoping others do not do as well, to put us at the right end of the bell curve. It was so common to hear my friends say “I hope other students do badly so that I can get a distinction. May the bell curve save me.”

Are we then sowing a selfish mindset among students, unknowingly, when they hope they do well, but others poorly, since the society still places such strong emphasis on academic results?

Well, competition among humans is unavoidable. While unhealthy competition has the tendency to sow negative values among people, healthy competition often pushes me to work harder.

As the Chinese saying goes, 一山还有一山高, meaning, there is always a mountain that is higher. After entering one of the top Junior Colleges, I realised what a small fish I am in a super big pond. In a place where scoring full distinctions is the norm, my results that may seem stellar in BP do not mean anything in HC. There are many other IP students who are winning Olympiads, participating in international forums, or are national athletes.

Joining a school with so many high achievers allowed me to fully understand that there is no point competing aggressively with everyone else. After winning one particular person, there will be another one better than you. The cycle is just endless. It is hard to be contented if we only want to be the best, because there is always someone out there who is better than us. (Unless, well, you’re an Olympic gold medalist or something equivalent to that.)

After growing comfortable with my achievements in BP, joining HC is indeed a humbling experience. Instead of comparing myself with my schoolmates and feeling inferior, I thought it would be better if I use them as a motivation. I saw the need to step out of my comfort zone again, and challenge my limits – maybe take up more leadership roles, join a sports co-curricular activity (I was always afraid of doing so due to the hectic training schedule), or be involved in more activities.

This post also acts as a good reminder for myself not to feel pressured by my schoolmates who seem to do better than me. Don’t feel disheartened by how inferior you may seem, but be encouraged that if others can achieve something, there is no reason why you cannot do it too. Take competition to a whole new level: instead of only aiming to emerge as a winner, aim to learn something from it.

New Year’s Resolutions

Every New Year, people come up with New Year’s resolutions, throw parties, and get super hyped up about the New Year. I used to look forward to the start of a new year, but this year, there was no excitement for the brand new year. No thoughts like ‘I’m going to do this and do that to improve myself just because it’s a new year!’ In fact, stepping from 2014 into 2015 did not seem to make a major impact on my life. Well, I grow one year older this year, but age and years are just numbers, right?

As people start posting about their New Year’s resolutions and how they would most likely fail, I began to wonder why people write their New Year’s resolutions. I understand how the New Year can be a very hopeful occasion as it signifies a brand new beginning. The mistakes made in the past year seem to vanish as the year changes. But if it is so, why can’t we start anew every month or every week? Why wait until a new year?

If New Year’s resolutions seem so hard to achieve, then why bother making them? We can always create our own resolutions, whenever we like, when we are ready and determined to achieve them. Maybe we should stop creating New Year’s resolutions for the sake of creating one, because everyone else is doing so. I believe resolutions will then serve their purpose better. As we do not change along with the year, New Year’s resolutions are most of the time, sadly, futile.

A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.

– Colin Powell

Resolutions are like dreams – dreams that we want to achieve; dreams that take sweat, determination and hard work to achieve. We need to have determination first, before creating resolutions, or else they are very likely to end up in vain.

Well, if having determination is part of your New Year’s resolution and your New Year’s resolution work for a few days, then we can start making New Day’s Resolutions instead.

Adventures in Korea

My trip to Korea started off with a foggy day, causing my first flight from my hometown to KLIA 2 to be delayed. It wasn’t the best experience worrying about catching the next flight. There was nothing much to do but to read my book and pray that I will be able to catch my flight from KL to Singapore.

You can never imagine the relief I felt after I managed to get on the plane from KUL to SIN just in time. Lesson learnt to never schedule connecting flights too close to each other, especially when travelling on budget airlines.

I was really really excited for this trip as it was my first time travelling with friends, what more in a country where the language is foreign to me. We landed safely in Incheon Airport, successfully bought bus tickets to Young Sun’s house with our limited Korean, and managed to alight at the correct stop. I thought it was a pretty amazing feat.

Autumn was just so beautiful. I loved the orange-brown leaves, the cool weather and almost everything else about it. After leaving our luggages in Young Sun’s house, we left for Ihwa mural village using the Seoul Metropolitan Subway. The carriages were wider than those in Singapore, with more reserved seats for the elderly. Food and drinks are also allowed in trains and stations, which left me in awe at the cleanliness of the trains. I couldn’t help but wonder if the MRTs in Singapore would be as clean as it is now, if food and drinks were allowed.

Seoul Metropolitan Subway

Ihwa Mural Village

Ihwa Mural Village

Angel wings

Angel wings

We walked all the way from Hyehwa station to Dongdaemun History and Culture Park station to visit Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). Although the journey was quite long, I did not feel exhausted. I think it was partly due to my adrenaline rush and also partly due to the lovely weather. There was no hint of me sweating at all. The architecture of DDP stood our from the rest of the buildings from afar, and we were glad we managed to catch the last free guided tour around the place. Sad to say, the tour was in Korean, but fortunately for us, there was Young Sun as our translator. The architecture of the building is truly one of a kind.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

We were lucky enough to visit the stunning flower garden in DDP, which has 20,000 LED-lit flowers.

The interior of the building is just as spectacular as the exterior. It is definitely a place worth visiting.

We headed to Garosugil (meaning tree-lined street) in Sinsadong the next day. It seemed to me as an up-and-coming shopping district, with lots of cafes and fashion shops.

Sinsadong Garosugil

5-storey Forever 21

5-storey Forever 21

I was delighted when we were treated to lunch at Cafe Mamas. I loved the potato(-cheese) soup and the salad. It was also nice tasting panini for the first time.

Potato soup

Tomato Mozzarella Panini

We went to Hongik University Street (Hongdae) next, for shopping and to visit the Cat Cafe and Dog Cafe. Well, I thought cats were nicer beings compared to dogs, but I was proven wrong that night. The cats were more aggressive than the dogs, and were constantly looking for more food to eat. While I was shocked when I first entered the Dog Cafe as all the dogs started barking at us, the dogs were nicer to play with compared to the cats.

Cat Cafe

Cat Cafe drinks

D800E-51

On the third day, we went to Everland. I got dragged up the T-Express and I’m really glad I took the challenge. The 77-degree vertical drop of the T-Express was pretty scary, but after that horrifying drop, the rest of the ride seemed more tolerable. I would certainly take the ride another time.

T-Express - A Wooden Rollercoaster

T-Express – A Wooden Rollercoaster

I also took the Rolling X-train, with two 360-degree rotations. It was not as scary as I imagined. Due to the speed of the roller coasted, I didn’t feel like I was hanging upside down in mid-air at all. I think the ticket price to Everland is really reasonable compared to other theme parks due to its size and the number of interesting or exciting rides. There is even a zoo in the theme park and I enjoyed the Safari World ride. It was a pity we didn’t have time for the Amazon Express and the Lost Valley. Other rides that I enjoyed include the Rotating House and the Championship Rodeo. If you are a thrill-seeker, you may want to try the Double Rock Spin and the Let’s Twist. They seemed too scary that I couldn’t muster up the courage to try them. I would definitely want to visit Everland again. Or maybe Lotte World, since I didn’t go there this trip.

Romantic Illunination at Everland

Romantic Illunination at Everland

We spent the next day at the Jimjilbang because I wasn’t feeling very well. We had a wonderful dinner eating samgyeopsal (barbecued pork). On day 5, we went ice-skating at an ice hockey stadium. I took a couple of falls but I can finally say that I know how to ice skate a little now. We went to Myeongdong later that day, a shopping district famous for it’s beauty products.

The following day, we headed to Ewha Woman’s University Street (Edae). I found Edae pretty similar to Hongdae, except that there is a bigger variety of products in Edae. We went to Express Bus Terminal Station next to visit the underground shopping mall. The things there were really cheap, but they were a little old-fashioned and were better suited for the older generation (imo).

I managed to catch the first snow and was really hyped up when I saw snow falling for the first time. Sad to say, snow wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. The temperature dropped drastically, hitting negative numbers every day. The strong wind made it even colder. Well, I still had fun building snowmen, having snow ball fights and playing in the snow, but it was really really cold. I couldn’t stand it and bought a better pair of gloves and a mask, which solved my problem. The night we went up Namsan Tower was really cold and windy, causing the cable car service to come to a halt. The climb up Namsan Tower was really cold and everyone there was screaming or shouting due to the unbearable cold. I managed to snap a few photographs before rushing indoors for warmth.

Namsan Tower

Namsan Tower

View from the top

View from Namsan Tower

Even though it was cold, we went to Korean Folk Village on Day 8. The village was almost empty except for us, the staff and a few other tourists. The place was well preserved and I would have stayed longer if it wasn’t so cold. It became really cold after around 4pm and we decided not to stay any longer.

Korean Folk Village

Korean Folk Village

D800E-75

We decided to visit some places again the following day and buy whatever things we wanted to buy before we headed home. We wanted to go to Nami Island and Petite France initially, but they were located in Gangwon-do, which is quite a distance away from where we stayed. Other than that, we managed to cover all the other places we planned to visit. As we had 10 days in Korea, we had loads of time to slowly enjoy each place. It was a luxury we had as we stayed over at a friend’s place. I doubt spending 10 days touring Seoul, and Seoul only would be a great idea if you have to pay for lodging.

On another note, I was pretty surprised when we walked way more than we usually would in Singapore as I thought Singaporeans do a lot of walking every day. Buses in Korea were also shakier and had less seats than those in Singapore. Perhaps that’s why people walk when they can. It’s also quite amusing how pedestrians increase their pace of walking in winter, compared to that in autumn, where most people just stroll. (An idea for Physical Education teachers, maybe?)

Staying over at a friend’s place allowed me to gain better understanding on the Korean way of life. I was really impressed with the recycling efforts in Korea, where households actually sort out their waste – mainly plastic, paper and food waste – before throwing them away. Recycling bins in Malaysia and Singapore are most of the time purposeless, and I hope one day, our talks about recycling will actually make an impact and turn into reality. I’m really thankful to Young Sun and her mom for being such wonderful hosts and for their superb hospitality. And of course, kudos to Young Sun for being our translator throughout the trip. After spending 10 days in Korea, I guess my Korean improved a teeny weeny bit. I’ve became quite good at saying “goodbye” (안녕히 계세요: an nyeong hi gae se yo) and “I don’t know Korean.”(저는 한국말 몰라요 cho nun han guk mal mo la yo)

All in all, I really enjoyed myself this trip and it was a truly different experience compared to travelling with my family. It somehow feels more independent planning your own itinerary and travelling around yourself without any adults. Having said that, I would still love to go to Korea again with my family. (hints to mom and dad)

God’s grace

My grand juniors came in last week. Seeing them reminded me of how I felt when I first landed here – the uncertainty of what lies ahead, the nervousness of being on my own, the excitement of being able to make my own decisions. I was really lost when I first came, as there were no seniors or teachers to welcome me, (West Malaysians are supposed to report to their hostels or boarding schools on their own), nobody to tell me how things worked in the hostel. I had to ask for directions to the Dining Hall when it was right in front of my eyes. (In my defence, it is labelled as the Function Hall and how would I know the Function Hall doubles up as a Dining Hall.) It was a pretty scary experience, entering a foreign place all on my own, without any help. I’m glad my juniors and grand juniors had people to welcome them when they came and were spared that daunting experience I had.

Looking back, it is amazing to see how much I’ve grown to become comfortable in this place right now. Well, I don’t know many boarders, but I’m contented and happy with the number of people I know. The boarding school has become my home in Singapore, and home has always been a place away from disturbance, a place to enjoy peace and tranquillity. I very rarely go out of my comfort zone to befriend others, so I mainly mingle with my schoolmates in the boarding school. I cannot help but wonder what hostel life will be like when my batch mates leave next year. I’m going to miss the basketball and badminton matches, monopoly games, hour-long meals, birthday celebrations (we got a duck as a cake once) and the random chats together.

 

Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.

Matthew 19:26 (NLT)

As I was reading my daily devotion this morning, I was reminded how limitless God is. I am certain I would not have come this far without His grace. I remember those nights crying for His help when I first came, and the peace and assurance He gave me as I was constantly reminded of His love. It is His grace that allowed me to continue to excel in Singapore, His grace that helped me DSA into a Junior College (JC) I wanted to, His grace that made all seemingly impossible things become possible.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Mark 11:24 (NIV)

During the O Level Examinations, Mark 11:24 gave me peace. Even though a whole load of burden and stress vanished after I managed to DSA into a JC I wanted to go to, there was still pressure to meet the expectations of the JC I got into. And then there was just the desire to do well. But this verse gave me assurance that I will be fine, and it took away most of the worries I had. (Well, I still need to learn to trust God more as I got so stressed out studying for Geography, which got my parents worried, and was pretty nervous for my language papers. I guess that happens when I try to take control.)

I think Speechless by Israel Houghton portrays God’s grace well. I love the lines:

Grace, Lord your grace
Oh I need it, I receive it
I’m amazed, so amazed
When I see it, I am speechless
You take my breath away
You take my breath away
Oh-woah-oh

And You breathe life into me
I’m nothing without You
Without grace, where would I be
Nowhere without You

I am really thankful for such a beautiful name my parents have given me. Sometimes, when I am down, I am reminded of who I am when people call my name. I guess I slowly learn to really understand the meaning of it – God’s grace – and experience it. God has really been so gracious to me all my life, and even though I don’t deserve it, He is still so gracious and will always be such a merciful God.