Mother Tounge

Summer is slowly seeping into Sydney, chasing away the last vestiges of Spring with its humid rainstorms. The heat and humidity is a slight reminder of Singapore’s weather, and with it a slight feeling of home. Over the last couple of days the humidity has been building up, threatening a drenching shower but always retreating at the last moment. The storm clouds – Nature’s humidifier – sits above the Sydney skyline and bide its time.

Finally, the clouds release its contents and the temperature cools ever so slightly.

It had been like this for the past two weeks or so. A couple of sunny, humid days alternating with a day or two of rain, a little summer dance playing out across the city.

Yet the humidity has decided that it like it here and that is how I ended up half naked on Skype talking to my parents. Top naked.

Last Sunday, the weather was mild and perfect. The sun was out in full strength and although the humidity continued to hover around the city, there was a light breeze to ease the discomfort. Apart from my daily grocery trips and a coffee chat with a close friend on Thursday (something concerning my future), I had spent almost the entire week cooped up in a stuffy house. So I decided to head out to Glebe Point Road for brunch at Well Connected Cafe.

After a quick brunch of bacon and egg wraps, with ice mocha to wash it down (never a serious proponent of the java, a blasphemy considering that I come from a country of heavy coffee drinkers), I headed over to Sydney Uni to continue reading Geert Mak’s fascinating travelogue/historical/journalistic account of Europe, aptly titled In Europe: travels through the twentieth century.

I went to one of my favourite spots in university: a square patch of garden, with the BBQ pits, picnic tables and bicycle racks forming a neat line under the large foliage that formed a protective wall along the back perimeter. In the middle of the garden was a lone tree, dedicated to a person that I can never remember. In the distance, I could see Fisher Library and its towering Stack, quiet and imposing. The tiny stretch of Eastern Avenue visible to me was empty, not a single soul on its granite path.

The campus is still.

A person with normal hearing may be able to hear the quiet chirping and tweeting of the birds, the noisy buzz of the insects, or perhaps even the cacophony of the empire of dirt underneath their feet. But I am not a person of normal hearing, even with my hearing aids. The only sounds I heard is the low roar of traffic that sped along Paramatta Road. Yet that sound comforted me and soon it became a white noise buzzing in the background.

I continued reading Mak’s account of the Eastern Front during World War II where it saw the highest amount of casualties and devastation during the entire war. I read about how waves after waves of Soviet citizens pounded against the Wehrmacht, which was slowly decimated by fierce fighting and the harsh Russian winter. One word caught my attention: “Groupthink”.

Groupthink: “decisions made by small group of policymakers who see themselves as all-powerful, and who dismiss all problems by refusing to admit any undesirable information from outside” (Mak 437).

Groupthink, it had a rather Orwellian tinge to it. But it vividly described the policy decisions of Hitler and his inner cabal.

As I continued my reading, this time about Stalin’s rise to power, I heard garbled voices drifting into the garden. Looking up, I saw a group of tourists crowding on the road in front of the garden. Their necks craned, they stared at the sandstone buildings surrounding the garden, stoic and stately. The group consisted of men and women of East Asian origin, with ages ranging from late middle-age to the golden years. Despite the relatively warm weather, the majority of them were wearing windbreakers. Some of them were wearing caps and a few of them had cameras slung around their necks. As I was about to return to my reading, two men spotted me and broke away from their group.

They turned up at my table and smiled. So I smiled back. One of the men peered through his silver-rimmed glasses. With his black hair neatly parted to one side over his pale face, he had the benign air of a schoolteacher, or perhaps, an accountant. He reminded me of some of my teachers back in Singapore.

The other was a stark contrast. He was much older. His worn out cap sat on his thinning, silvered hair that framed his deeply tanned face, filled with deep valleys and crags, as if molded and sculpt into shape by years of harsh weather and hard work. When he smiled, there was a flash of silver fillings. He looked like the old men that I frequently see in Singapore coffee shops, often alone and brooding over a steaming cup of kopi-o, sometimes with boisterous friends over numerous bottles of Tiger Beer.

We continued smiling until the older man broke the silence.

But what he broke it with, I do not know. It sounded like Mandarin, or what my rudimentary knowledge of the language thought it sounded. It was his accent that gave a hint, voluminous, with an almost musical quality. The older man continued with his questions that I did not understand and could not answer.

I thought about playing the Japanese card, but then I remembered about the tense relations between China and Japan over a small, rocky island, so I quashed that option. The younger man joined in the questionings. Although his accent was lighter, I had no idea what he was trying to say.

I was in a quagmire, I knew enough Mandarin to get by, but not to converse. If I said “I cannot speak Mandarin”, in Mandarin, the men will know that I can speak Mandarin and will then attempt to carry out a conversation with me. I was caught in a paradoxical situation. How could I convey the message to the men that I could not understand their questions without betraying my infantile command of Mandarin?

The solution was right in front of me. Slowly, I dropped my gaze to my opened book. I paused for a few seconds before raising it to the men faces. The men stared at me, wondering why this young Chinese male was so impertinent to his elders. I repeated the procedure again, and this time they followed my gaze towards the book on the picnic table.

The younger man got the hint and very slowly, he asked, “Do you speak Mandarin?” Well, he got part of the hint.

It is a rather odd phenomenon that tourists who travel to other countries expect the native population to speak their language. To be fair, I am not an Australian, and I do the same thing in foreign countries sometimes: “Do. You. Understand. ENGLISH?”, and always in English. And here, on the ground of Sydney University, I was experiencing this odd phenomenon – this time on the receiving end – a man asking if I speak Mandarin, in Mandarin.

In the end, I admitted that yes, I speak Mandarin.

The two men were delighted. A floodgate opened and a torrent of questions rolled and rumbled towards me, mostly from the older man. I could only answer the older man with blank stares. The younger man somehow understood that although I speak Mandarin, I was not fluent in it.

By then, the rest of the group had gathered around the table, seeking sanctuary from the blazing sun, but mostly curious about the non-conversation taking place between the two men and I.

Standing opposite me, a woman with a hint of makeup on her lined face topped with buoyant curly hair, waved her right hand in a downward motion at the older man to stop his incessant questioning.

She tsked, “He doesn’t understand you”. Turning to me, she spoke slowly in a relatively flat accent, “Are you Malaysian?”

“No, I’m Singaporean.”

“Ah, Singaporean!” She turned to the rest of the group, “He’s Singaporean!”



The group was intrigued with me, a Singaporean male so far away from home, alone reading an English book on university grounds. The woman, now the de facto spokesperson of the group, asked if I am of Chinese heritage*. I replied in the affirmative. She walked around the table and stood beside me. Glancing at my book, she asked me another question.

“Huh?” I had no idea what she said.

She repeated her question slowly, “Are you a student?”

“Oh, er, yes. Yes.”

“So,” she gestured around her, “you study here?”

I no longer study at Sydney University, I am a graduand. But I do not know that Mandarin word for graduand. So I gave a simple answer, “Yes, I do.” The woman conveyed my answer to the group and they all nodded approvingly.

“Which year are you in? First year, second year, third year?” She raised her right fingers that corresponded to the number she said.

I pointed at her three upright fingers, “Third year.”

“What do you study?”

I did not know how to say the word literature, much less the word for politics. So I simply replied, “English. I study English.”

The woman nodded and mentioned something about university and English. I assumed that she was asking if I studied English at university level, so I just replied in the affirmative again. We had a pleasant conversation. I told her, in very halting Mandarin, about my brother studying in the U.S., and my sister studying the U.K. (something the whole group found amusing. One said, “You are all over the world!”). And I told her that yes, my parents can speak Mandarin. My problem with Mandarin was not so much the understanding, rather it was the difficulty in speaking it. The woman chuckled and said that I was not the only one, the American-born Chinese that she encountered during her holidays in the States had the same problem. Even then, she said, my command of Mandarin was fairly good.

I guessed six years of Singapore education system and eight years of tuition classes helped.

“So how are you university?”

“What?” It was back to the subject of university again.

“How are your grades? Are they good? Improving?” The woman raised her hands to demonstrate a plane, or a bird, taking off.

“Oh, er, yes, they’re good.”

She nodded in satisfaction. “You’re a hardworking student. You come out here and study, not like those people over there.” She gestured towards a group of young Australians barely a few steps away from us.

During the course of our halting conversation, a group of young Caucasian males, all dressed in shorts and pastel coloured t-shirts, had set up a small playing court and began playing a rather leisurely game of croquet. I glanced over at the Australians, wondering if any of them overheard what the woman said, and if any of them understood her.

She turned back to me and gave me a thumbs-up, “Good student.”

I smiled, “Yes.”

With our limited conversational subjects drying up, the woman went to talk to the other members of the group. The older man continue to engage me in conversation. As much as I tried to understand him, it was futile. Trying to understand him was the equivalent of trying to understand an elderly Scottish Highlander speaking English. If he had flattened his accent like what the woman did, perhaps I could understand him. Finally, the older man smiled his wrinkled, silvered smile and went to speak with the other group members.

My concentration was interrupted and instead of returning to my book, I watched the group of Australians at their leisured playing of croquet. There seemed to be no competition, just a gathering of friends hitting a plastic ball through hoops with a mallet. Around me, the Chinese tourists continued their chatter and soon their sounds drifted into the background like the traffic on Parmatta Road. It was one of those serene days, calm, quiet, with just a hint of seclusion that protected one from the hustle of city life. A while later, the Chinese tourists, energetic and refreshed, ambled off the garden and towards Eastern Avenue. The Australians continued their aimless putting. I am left alone, pondering.

My brief interaction with the Chinese tourists raised an old question: Am I Chinese? I know I am of Chinese heritage because my ancestors were from China. But does this makes me as Chinese as the Mainland Chinese because of my facial structure? If so, then does that means it makes that group of Caucasian Australians as English, or as Irish, or as Scottish as the people from the United Kingdom? What about the Americans who have direct ancestry from Ireland, Germany, or the Scandinavian countries? Over the years I have been told by strangers from China, and even by Chinese friends, that I am Chinese, I am part of them. They see me as part of the large Chinese diaspora around the world that ultimately belongs with the Mainland Chinese.

This ‘Chineseness’ also extends to language. During our conversation, the woman mentioned to me that because I am Chinese, I must speak Mandarin, and since I speak Mandarin, I must be Chinese. A circular argument that I constantly hear when speaking to Chinese people. I am Chinese, therefore I must speak the language. I have been chided for not being Chinese enough due to my unremarkable command of Mandarin.

The link to ethnicity and language is pervasive, especially in Singapore. When I was in Singapore, we learned two languages: English for everyone and our respective mother tongue. The term mother tongue is a bit of misnomer for me. Strictly defined, mother tongue means native language. In that case, English would be my mother tongue. But in Singapore, mother tongue refers to the language of an ethnic group. So during my time in the Singapore education system, I learned two language: English and Mandarin.

You are Chinese, so you must speak Mandarin.

Even so, within the Chinese language there are so many internal divisions or ‘dialects’ to the point that most of mutually unintelligible to one another and can be considered languages in their own right. I can speak what is known as Standardized Chinese, but I cannot speak my parents’ dialects at all. So does that makes me less Chinese?

On the flip side, I am, what most of my friends say, ‘Westernized’. Some of the observations stem from the fact that I am more attuned to cultural imports from countries such as the U.K.and the U.S. But in today’s age of globalization, who isn’t? However the majority is due to the fact of my strong command of the English language. I think, speak and dream in English. My entire worldview is processed through the English language. And as such, I am ‘Westernized’.

I do not deny my ethnicity. Yet I do not consider myself fully Chinese no matter what how the Mainland Chinese try to convince me. As a matter of fact, I have an Indonesian friend who is more ‘Chinese’ than I am. He has a much better command of Mandarin and .he frequently follows Chinese pop culture and is a fan of the pop group S.H.E. He is not of Chinese ethnicity but he is in a sense much more ‘Chinese’ than I am.

A cheer broke out among the group of Australians. Apparently someone scored or whatever it was in croquet. The majority of them were sitting on the grass, more content to watch than to play. During my reverie, the sky had became overcast. The sun disappeared behind a flotilla of rainclouds that threatened to unleashed its torrent on the city at any moment. I packed up and headed towards the Victoria Park, leaving behind the Australians chatting among themselves in the quiet garden. It was time to go home.

One can wonder, after all, whether there is any sense at all to the discussion concerning ‘European identity’, whether it is not in fact diametrically opposed to the entire history of the ‘European concept’. For if anything serves as the true hallmark of European civilisation it is diversity, and not a single identity. (Mak 486)

Perhaps the same can be said of a ‘Chinese identity’.

* The term ‘Chinese’ here refers to the Han ethnicity.

Singapore National Day 2012

Today is Singapore’s 47th National Day. It marks the day Singapore was asked to leave the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, the day we became completely independent. Apparently Singapore is the only country to become independent against our will.

Tonight, I’m going to a National Day event organized by the Singapore Students Society (SSS) in USYD. It’s not a big event, more of a casual event where Singaporean students gather around to talk cock, comprain, and makan, and watch the live telecast of the National Day Parade in Singapore. I wonder what sort of military hardware the Singapore Armed Forces is going to showcase. This reminds me, I need to apply for a new Exit Permit from the military.*

Although I’ve joined SSS only this year (yes, I know I was adamant to join the society in the beginning), I’ve been going for their National Day event every year since I’ve came to Sydney (except in 2009 because I decided to be a hermit).

As an overseas Singaporean, going for a National Day event provides some sort of link to my home country. I’m not a Singaporean that runs around waving the Singaporean flag while screaming “MAJULAH SINGAPURA”. But it’s nice to be reminded of home every now and then, especially since I’ve not step foot into Singapore for a year.

I even took the effort to wear the national colours today. Teehee.

Close enough.


So Happy National Day to the Singaporeans back home and to the overseas Singaporeans around the world. The Overseas Singapore Unit is watching you.** For the males, the military still want you back.***


* Yep, all Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (a fancy way of saying reservists) are required to apply for an Exit Permit if they are leaving Singapore for more than one year. Really leichei one.

** Joking only lah. You don’t have to sign up with the Overseas Singaporean Unit. But ever since I joined SSS this year, I’ve been receiving emails from them. Why liddat one?! Tonight I go comprain to the President of SSS.

*** The SAF really wants you back. Liddat one lor. Tulan or not, SAF loves you.

This ‘President Emeritus’ Says: “Visit this website”

I have just read the news update on the City Harvest case that another church leader, Serina Wee, the former finance chief of City Harvest Church, was charged with 10 criminal charges. I have a feeling that the dragnet will increase in size and that more people will be implicated in this case.

However, what really caught my attention was that Kong Hee is represented by ruling party PAP Member of Parliament Edwin Tong. MP Tong is also a partner at the law firm Allen & Gledhill. For those not in the known, a MP is considered a part-time job in Singapore. Majority of the Singaporean MPs are not really involved in policy-making and usually stick to the party line (read: PAP). Policy-making is usually left to the political bigwigs (Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, and the permanent secretaries). Hence, the reason why MP Tong can take the time to represent Kong Hee in the City Harvest case.

The other five church leaders have employed Senior Counsels. As Straits Times succinctly states, “A Senior Counsel is a lawyer considered as an elite among the profession”. So the other five are not doing too badly on the legal front either. But I wonder why Kong Hee gets the best of the best: a legal bigwig and a politician.

That being said, this is going to be a very interesting case, especially with a team of legal heavyweights representing Kong Hee and the other five church leaders. I wonder who the prosecutor for this case is. That poor shmuck.

Unfortunately, I am not able to keep up to date with the case as my laptop is being repaired. So my only means of accessing the Internet will be through my very small Blackberry screen (which makes it hard for me to browse comfortably) or through the computers at university (where most labs are not open 24/7). However, I will try my best to update my blog on the City Harvest case.

You must, by now, be wondering about that weird title I have for this post. All in good time, all in good time.

Throughout the past 2 years or so, I have mentioned Unimates a couple of times in this blog (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). Unimates is the international student society at University of Sydney. Basically, Unimates assist International students in settling down while organizing events and trips around Sydney, and sometimes outside the New South Wales state. Unimates also aim to foster closer multicultural ties between International and local students. After all, Unimates do get a lot of nationalities from all over the world.

I was formerly the President of Unimates.

Before I left my position at the end of May this year, I overhauled the entire Unimates constitution. In the process, I added a new position called President Emeritus (or Emerita for a female). The title of President Emeritus/Emerita is conferred upon the Immediate Past President of Unimates and allows perks such as discounts, chauffeured cars, housing allowance, wining and dining allowance, and heavily discounted flight tickets (Singapore Airlines, economy class).

Pretty sweet, eh? Unfortunately the benefits are not true. If I really put that in the Constitution, the Clubs and Societies Office, and the University of Sydney Union (USU) board will have my head.

The President Emeritus/Emerita does get one benefit though. Waived membership fee. That’s all. And to get the title of President Emeritus/Emerita, one must serve out their full term. And the title is only applicable to the Immediate Past President.

The President Emeritus/Emerita is purely a ceremonial and adviserial role. So basically, I do jackshit. When I included this role into the Constitution, one of my friends told me I should name it President Mentor, modelled after Lee Kuan Yew’s former Minster Mentor role, so that I can retain vast powers within the Unimates Committee.

“Nah,” I said, “not going to do that.”

I mean, it’s fun to be President. But a lot of people seem to forget that with great powers come great responsibilities. I was burned out after a while. So it was a relief for me to finish my term and hand over all Presidential powers to Patrick. My ‘job’ now is to just give out some advice when needed and just basically let the new Committee do their job. So basically, I went from the driver’s seat to the back of the bus. I’m just in for the ride. Heh.

I was talking to a friend last night at the university’s Sydney Welcome Party (organized by the International Student Lounge, Unimates’ close partner in crime). He asked me how I felt, now that I was no longer President.

“Happy,” I said.


“Yeah, it was a lot of work being President. There was a lot of stuff to do. Now I’m just going to take it easy for my last semester and prepare myself for the working world.”

Even my ceremonial role as President Emeritus is not established, hence the quotation marks around them in the title. The Clubs and Societies Office have approved the new Constitution, so that’s one hurdle cleared. But the USU Board will only ratify the Constitution in a month’s time. So nothing’s official yet.

That being said, the new Committee is doing a fantastic job, thanks to the boundless enthusiasm of the new President, Patrick, and from the other committee members. In the past (and during my term), Unimates’ website operated from a WordPress blog. However, the current IT Officer, Kevin, has  recently created a new Unimates website at Go take a look at the new website, send an email to Unimates if you have any suggestion for improvement, and if you are coming to Sydney Uni as an International Student or Exchange Student, you know which society to join.

Saying goodbye to Unimates in style

I mentioned in one of my previous post that I’ve stepped down as the President of Unimates at the end of last month. If you’re wondering what Unimates is, we’re basically a student society for International and Exchange students in USYD. Unimates organizes weekly events and trips to help International and Exchange students to settle down in Sydney and USYD.

If you’re curious, go to the society’s blog to find out more. If you’re coming to USYD for the first time, do join us. We’re open to everyone, International or local student. (Yes, I’ve just sneaked in an advertisement for Unimates).

I’ve actually mentioned Unimates six times in my blog (here, here, here, here, here, and here). Seven, if you include this post. But this is the first time when I’ve explicitly spoke about Unimates. It’s not that I’m ashamed or embarrassed, far from it. Basically, at that time, Unimates was becoming the focal point in my life and I just needed a little private space where I didn’t have to talk about Unimates every single time. So subconsciously, I semi-banned Unimates from this blog.

Hell, I didn’t even follow Unimates on Twitter until twenty-four hours ago. Not that I was very active on Twitter in the first place. But you get the idea.

But now that I’m no longer actively involved, I’ll lift the semi-ban on Unimates.

About two weeks ago, I wrote a farewell message and posted it onto the Society’s blog. Considering the two years stretch I’ve spend in Unimates – as long as my National Service – there was certainly a lot to write in my farewell message.

One thing I like about farewell messages is that they are the simplest, yet at the same time, most complicated messages to write. To me, a farewell message is a four-in-one message:

  1. Short preview of your history and achievements with the organization/place
  2. Thanking everyone and the very important people during your time there
  3. Distributing “good lucks” and “best wishes” to the people left behind
  4. Actually saying goodbye.

And let’s not forget about the tone of your message.

I like writing farewell messages. The longer I know someone, or the longer I’ve been in an organization, society, et cetera, I try to compose a creatively crafted and well-written farewell message. The main problem was trying to keep my farewell message short and sweet. I struggled for a day or two before I came across a simple solution: just tell a story.

So for the farewell message, I told a story (somewhat).

Note: The original was posted on the Unimates’ blog. The farewell message reproduced here is a word-for-word copy. The only minor edit I made was to adjust the layout.



I’m no longer President! Bye-bye everyone! And screw you pelicans!



In case you have been hiding under a rock, holed up in your home, or plain unaware of what was going on, I’m no longer President of Unimates.

Effective on 1st June 2012 (last Friday), Patrick Ward is now President of Unimates.

Yeah, I was just as shocked when I received my retrenchment letter.



Here’s me about to bitch-slap Patrick:

Heeeelllllll no


I’m kidding.

No firing or bitch-slapping ever took place. What actually took place was that Patrick was elected as President at the Unimates AGM on 14th May 2012. I wrote about it here. On 31st May 2012, my term officially ended and all Presidential superpower was transferred to Patrick. As for that photo above? I was just asking Patrick to say a few words during dinner at Unimates Night. No bitch-slap ever took place! Honest!

If you’re thinking, “Wow, this guy has such a short term. Only 6 months as President.” That’s because I was supposed to finished my 1 year term as Vice-President. But due to circumstantial situations, I was elected as President and took over last year November.

Anyway, now that I reflect and look back, I’m pretty amazed about how far I’ve came. I can say that I spent close to two-thirds of my university life with Unimates. Sure, I joined various other clubs and societies over the course of my university career, but Unimates always remained the focal point.

But, it wasn’t always this way.

When I first came to USYD as a fresh-eyed undergraduate in July 2009, I joined Unimates and only turned up for the Welcome BBQ. My reaction to Unimates back then was:


I wasn’t too impressed with Unimates (“For Fantastic Fun and Friendship”? Come on. That’s kitschy). This went on for my entire first semester. It wasn’t until the next semester, in the beginning of 2010, that I decided to give Unimates a try. I wanted to put their motto to test.

It turned out that Unimates wasn’t too bad. The events allowed me to explore of  Australian culture while at the same time widening up my social circle. It’s an understatement to to just say that Unimates has many people from different cultural backgrounds. Unimates is so diverse that at any event, I can always count on meeting someone from a new country. It that sense, my attitude to Unimates changed.

So at the end of Semester 1 2010, when Unimates held the Annual General Meeting (AGM), I decided to run for 4 committee positions and spectacularly failed to get elected at all.

Yu Heng, the outgoing President at that time, told me I could still be a General Committee member. So I thought, why not? It’ll offer me a good chance to learn the ropes.

Even then, I didn’t got off a good start. At my first official event, the City Tour, I lost my entire group and got shitted on by a pelican at Fish Market.



Yes, that’s me two years ago. Now stop gawking.

Bloody pelican.

Anyway, one more semester rolled by and Unimates held a General Meeting because some of the committee members were leaving. Joyce (who was to be Treasurer later) and I got elected as Coffee and Cakes Officers. Or as the Constitution now states: Coffee and Cakes Coordinators.

So as Coffee and Cakes Coordinators, Joyce and I were essentially controlling the backbone event of Unimates. We had to power to make or break Unimates. Furthermore, I realized that this was my chance to capture power in Unimates!

Joyce and I scheming


Dave Ball approves


So I planned, schemed and began laying out my course of action. Soon, I realized that having one ally was not enough. I needed one more ally to complete the trinity of power that will dominate the Committee and steamroll any opposition.
Hmm…. who shall it be? Turned out the answer was sitting right beside me:

Thea laughs while I brood over her future


So another semester passed by, and Unimates held the next AGM. Joyce was elected as Treasurer, Thea elected as Secretary and I was elected as Vice-President. Once I became Vice-President, I realized I need a makeover if I wanted people to take me seriously. No more looking like a hobo. Gone was the fedora, gone was the shaggy hair, gone was the facial hair. I got a haircut, shaved and started dressing more appropriately:

I laugh as someone confronts my evil plans


And the rest was history. After six months as VP, I took over as President and from the Iron Throne, ruled with an iron first and iron heart. Forever shall my name be spoken in fear and awe.

Bow before me, pelicans


So there you have, the history of my rise to power*

Aside from that, I had the one of the best times of my university life with Unimates. I would like to thank the outgoing committee members for all their hard work and effort. Without their dedication, Unimates would never been where it is today. I would also like to thank everyone from the previous Committees for letting me have a chance to develop personally, and for providing one of the strongest bonds of friendship I ever had. You people were truly awesome.

I would also like to thank Ben Yan, Danny Wang, and George Hwang for mentoring me when I first became Vice-President. Without their patient tutelage, I would probably cause a colossal fuck-up.

I would like to thank the two Presidents of SUAMS (Sydney University Association of Malaysian Students) for working so closely with Unimates during the past year. Thanks, Andrew and Wei Ming, for Sharing the Malaysian Love, especially after my fellow Singaporeans called me a traitor (okay, okay, I should have joined the Singaporean Society). But seriously, you guys are top blokes.

Fist bumping Andrew


BFF Wei Ming


And I would also like to thank Sarah from TCA (USYD Teochew Association). If she didn’t inform me about the Masked Murder on the Dancefloor Cruise Party (quite a mouthful), Unimates would not have taken part in this awesome, awesome event. So many thanks to her! From one Teochew nang to another: jiatbẹung (Sorry, that’s the only phrase I know).

And many thanks to both Joyce and Thea for being the rock and the hard place. With their firm support, their complete dedication and their tireless efforts, I probably wouldn’t be able to achieve anything. I was basically standing on the shoulder of giants.

Once again, thanks everyone, for the great memories and the great friendships. Especially you, the Unimates member. Thank you for your support! And thanks for reading my ramblings during this semester.

I wish everyone the best for the exams. Without further ado, I bid you good night, and good luck:

To all Singaporean naysayers!


Zareth Lim
VP S2 2011/ President S1 2012
For Fun, For Friendship, Forever
*60% of the story is fictional. The author takes no responsibility. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Roof and Rats

I’m currently on STUVAC. Pronounced as stoo-vak, it’s a shortened form for study vacation in USYD. It’s basically one week of cramming and caffeinating for the exams.

Some of my friends take the first part of the oxymoron seriously. They camp outside the library one hour before it’s open to secure the best possible spot, far away from prying eyes and distracting noise. With their trolley bags packed with a carton of energy drinks, baggies of caffeine pills obtained from underground baristas (the pills are later crushed up and snorted), and neatly handwritten, underlined, italicized, bolded, and highlighted notes weighing 20kg for each subject (the poor trees), these people mean business. Vacation? That’s for the weak.

They are also the same people who are dragged out from the library screaming and hyperventilating five minutes after closing time.

Then you have the people who prefer to focus on the second part of the oxymoron. You never see them in the library. In fact, they’ll make sure that during the one week of STUVAC, under the pain of study pressure, not set foot onto the campus. Unless they have an exam scheduled on that day. Even then, some are so dedicated that they don’t even bother turning up. Rumour has it that these dedicated people book the first flight out of Sydney the moment the semester ends.

When it comes to crunch time, you see these people either staring into space, resigned to their death sentences, or begging the over-caffeinated people for a single morsel of useless answer.

The first group calls these people lazy bums, or losers who would never amount to anything. The second group will tell them to *beep* *beep* and take a chill pill. Not very good advice since the first group are already overdosed on caffeine pills. But then, maybe the first group of people will pop anything into their mouth that looks like a pill. Otherwise, how the hell do they stay still and shut up during the exams?

There is no third group. There is no in-between. Choose a side and take up your position. Embrace the yin-yang of STUVAC. Otherwise the oxymoron that is STUVAC will cease to exist and USYD will collapse like a house of cards.

Guess which side I’m on.

Talking about collapsing like a house of cards, the one week of non-stop rain in Sydney has wrecked havoc at my place. My kitchen is now a walking deathtrap.


Rainwater has been leaking through the roof and eating away at the thin cardboard masquerading as my kitchen ceiling. This is not the first time it happened. The kitchen roof has a tendency of leaking during thunderstorms. I called the landlord a couple of times to fix it, and thankfully, he swung by to patch up the roof. The last time he came over, he added a wooden beam to hold up the other end of the ceiling. But this is the worst so far. I mean, there’s a hole in my kitchen ceiling! And it looks like it’s about to split in half any moment soon.


Looks like Mr. Landlord has to come back and patch up the roof again.


So after snapping a few photos to prove that my housemates and I were not the ones who decided to take apart the kitchen ceiling just for the heck of it, I was looking through my old photos when I saw this:


I took these sometime last year. Apparently Pan and Bentley decided that sleeping perpendicular to the hammock was a very good idea. While Bentley looks comfortable, I was amazed that Pan could still sleep even though three-quarters of his body was dangling out of the hammock. But it’s normal though. Rats sleep in the most odd positions. And they looked so peaceful.

There were also a couple of other photos of Pan and Bentley. These pictures were pretty hilarious. I mean, the pictures are not hilarious themselves, but what took place was quite amusing. I’ll tell the story below (now with digital pictures!). But before I proceed with the story, I’ll need to tell you a bit of back-story to establish the context.

I was in my room when I realized I hadn’t seen Pan and Bentley. They weren’t in the cage since I let them out for a bit of playtime. Usually they were on the bed running around. But I hadn’t seen them for the past 15 minutes, which, in rat-time, is equivalent to about an hour or so.

I found that a bit odd, so I called out their names. Knowing Pan would just ignore me (as usual), I waited for Bentley to come running to me. Yet, after three seconds, even Bentley was a no-show. Hmm, that’s weird.

So I lifted up my blanket and saw this:


Pan and Bentley just had a butt-sniffing fest. Kidding. They were just sleeping. Like I said, rats sleep in odd positions.

So I was taking photos and just annoying the hell out Pan and Bentley when this happened:


Pan, in his typical “ignore Zareth” mode, just burrowed deeper into the blanket. Meanwhile, Bentley glared at me if to say:

“MAN, can’t a rat get some rest here? Seriously, cut us some slack. Be a champ and put the blanket where it originally was.”

I decided to repay Bentley for the times he jumped on my face when I was sleeping. So I continued to take more photos. Then five seconds later, this happened:


Pan dug deeper into the blanket. According to his logic, if he can’t see me, I can’t see him. And if I can’t see him, I won’t bother him. Well, he was just a few milimetres from achieving that goal. Meanwhile, frustrated with me, Bentley shot me an unhappy look as if to say:

“Screw this, I don’t need to take anymore bullshit.” Then he just upped and walked back to the cage. Where he lay perpendicular to the hammock and sulked.

I just laughed.

I miss my rats.