Boulder city of lights.

I figure I better start updating my own blog despite the fact I’ve been writing. It’s been a very exciting three weeks into my monthlong (and little bit more) adventure into Europe. Covered Fontainebleau, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stuttgart, Munich so far – currently in Prague chilling in the hostel and not running about at night cause exhaustion from lack of sleep (overnight bus) and early morning day before I left Munich.

I’ve been writing as well though, and it’s nice to get away from technology once in a while to focus on myself, jot down thoughts, hilarity that ensues and the fun adventures and/or mishaps that happen on my European tour. Fun stuff all the way – and the days where there are lack of showers (ick).

Right after the last day of lessons and official teaching weeks, I barely had time to breathe and pack before running off on my European adventure.

Let’s start with Fontainebleau, France, where with the UoE climbing club we drove down to Dover in the UK to take the ferry to Calais in France, before driving down to Fontainebleau. Turned out to be a culture shock for me especially when I realise we drive on the “wrong” side of the road (a.k.a. the left side when Europe drives on the right). It took a while to get used to but I count myself lucky I don’t die when I cross the roads here. But before the ferry ride happened, I ended up staying at one of the member’s parents’ house along with his girlfriend (shout-out to Tom and Lucy you guys are awesome) but that’s when my parental anxiety acted up. I am, however, immensely grateful for their kind hospitality – from feeding to allowing me to sleep in a spare comfy bed (the alarm really jerked me awake). Got my first taste of British/Austrian and parental hospitality but more onto that in another post.

Fun bit: We even drove by the Stonehenge on the way to Tom’s place… Well, don’t need to go there and see that anymore.

And so we arrive at Fontainebleau, where I finally got a real good taste of natural boulders and slabs (loathe/love relationship). Didn’t really manage to bring up my grading above a 4c+ / 5a but topping out (i.e. getting your body on top of the boulder to finish the route) is a remarkably scary experience – you really need to trust your footwork and fingers (of which… I can’t cause slippery and sweaty palms), yet I’m still thankful for the opportunity to get some good bouldering in anyway despite the first few days/half-days of shit, rainy weather (is my French showing?).

12512248_10153549624429856_7647831957324133046_n The campsite – where I woke up every night because it was just too cold for me. Tent overhead, checked.

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L’Elephant – one of the many bouldering areas with loads of different climbing grades. Failed to do a 5+ here cause far too reachy for me. But otherwise, got a few other climbs in.

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When you try to split like Ashima, but fail spectacularly (still too reachy for me to complete).

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That aside, Fontainebleau was super fun. Climbs in the daytime, campfires in the nighttime (unless it’s raining then everyone heads to town or their tents). Somehow I managed to survive on sandwiches throughout my entire Font trip despite sharing cooking equipment and a tent with three other guys (nothing happened. We’re all bros, yo). Too much trouble, might as well enjoy what I have on hand.

And then the week flew by, and it was time for them to depart and head back to the UK and me on my happy Europe adventures. It was terrifying at first for me because I really was afraid of going everywhere on my own for the first time. The usual questions go through my head: Will I be able to get a ticket to Paris? What happens if I’m alone? What if my CS host bails on me? What are my backup plans? The last of which, I didn’t have many of… but Paris worked out in my favour. My very gracious host took amazing care of me, him being my first legit Couchsurfing experience and I am honoured to say it has been a privilege to stay with him.

We went on a 10-hour walking tour of Paris, where my feet were absolutely sore and blistered by the end, but I am terribly happy and satisfied with the city (minus the Louvre that we didn’t explore, otherwise I’d never leave). Just incredibly thankful for his sincere hospitality and willingness to show me and share with me his city and stories. Prepare for picspam with little textual nibbles (as always):

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First stop: Arc de Triomphe

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When in France, eat French.

These macaroons are not as expensive as the brand Laduree, but it was equally as good according to my host. Sure enough – the pistachio almost made me cry because it was so fresh and decadent. No kidding.

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Apparently, one of the most overrated European attractions. It still left me in awe how huge it was though.

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Idyllic streets, Parisans and tourists alike enjoying the wonderful weather dining outside in cafes. The architecture of the city blew me away.

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You’re waiting for a train.

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And (messy I know – I cleaned up afterwards) my host’s bedroom that he let me sleep in because he had to get up early for work the next day and didn’t want to bother me. How sweet of him! Had an amazing rest that night, especially after a weeklong of disturbed and freezing cold sleep in a sleeping bag and tent.

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And the breakfast he prepared for me – freshly baked croissants and a baguette I could take along with me for the rest of my journey. So, so kind. (: I count myself immensely fortunate.

Brussels came afterward, but because my feet were so battered I didn’t explore the city much. Also it was rather low-tourist season so I found the city lovely but boring in comparison to the rest. It was still a nice stopover though, but that was Fontainebleau and Paris for you (or rather, me).

23:25 in Prague now. Need sleep. Need to do laundry as well because holy shit I am running out of clothes and they all smell. Never have I thought my hygiene levels would plummet on this trip but something’s got to give I suppose.

Merci again, France. (:

Of city life, rock and chalk

I know. I’ve got an essay due – what am I doing here? Figured I needed to take a break and write about the fun happenings after my previous post (and my, what a while ago that was). In a nutshell, I found myself touching rock more often and encountering the bustling London life in a self-declared-fuck-everything-reading-week-break-thing after submission of my formative essays (of which I’ve come to regret ever so slightly in hindsight now), but I’m still enjoying myself tremendously here (but yeah, the weeklong in London coupled with essay-hell-rush meant a complete and utter depletion of fitness levels prior to coming here – consistency and discipline is key, of which I still have not mastered.

But that aside: Rocky crags and indoor boulder competitions, new friends made and finding/found my place within this larger place… It’s been enjoyable. It still is.

Chronologically, prepare for the visual vomit.

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Not long after my previous CNY post I came down with a bout of homesickness, to which I cured with googling for answers, talking it out with my other Singaporean flatmates and buying myself a £3.99 world map (little outdated, but it is very pretty). I figure wanderlust would solve uncomfortable and depressing feelings budding within me, and strangely enough it has. Seeing how small Europe is in relation to the rest of the world, and how small I am in the wider scope of things… I’ve got much to do and see in the upcoming days, weeks, months ahead.

Let’s begin with a rocky weekend at Sheffield.

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6b+

Not strong enough to dyno to the top of the rock, handholds too slopey/crimpy to pull myself up to a proper heel hook. I wonder if I was supposed to mantle but aside – Peak District outdoor bouldering in Sheffield. First time I’ve touched natural boulders in a cold and windy outdoors. Completed a few easy climbs, topped out (still fearful) before succumbing to the utter cold and wind. Too much for me it seems – and I was already bundled in four layers and two bottoms.

But it was beautiful nonetheless and makes me psyched for Font that’s coming up in two week’s time.

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Scaling up a traverse rote (grade 4). It’s nothing difficult to be honest, but it’s frightening when you’re up there and knowing when you fall there’s nothing below you but spotters and crash pads and proper earth (not the squishy kind you can roughly scrape from with a sprained ankle – the surface is hard enough to properly fracture something). But I took what Clarice said to heart and trusted my footwork – you sure do learn and grow a lot when there’s really nothing but you and the rock. I guess this is where commitment comes in, something I need to work on.

The Peak District trip happened over a weekend, but the night was the fun part cause the University club had its traditional climbing games. My flexibility got me far into the game but not enough for the final round. Stretch more then, and maybe I could grow just the tiniest bit in Ashima Shirashi’s full split-strength movements. Overall I enjoyed myself though, got to meet more people, open up to the others a little more and not feel so awkward with myself around them – they’re all such supportive and friendly people, and that comforts me when I keep putting myself down because of my perceived lack of ability (I’m okay, but there’s still a tremendous lot to improve still).

I need to shut up and not overthink more often.

And then, the next weekend was a beauty of a trip called London. Skipped a good few days of classes to run off to London and become a full-blown tourist. Splurged quite a bit but I’m insanely happy – I can officially tick it off my list (except I haven’t climbed there yet so… soon).

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Binky at the British Museum. I strongly believe you need at least two days to really cover this place. There’s just far too much to see, but I got to see Egyptian Mummies and so many artefacts that weren’t British at all so I think I covered quite a good bit that I’m interested in.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral on Millennium Bridge. It’s insanely lavish when you stand before it, towering over you with its intricate details and grand presence. I kept turning back to look at it because it’s just too beautiful when I was heading over to Borough Market.

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The London Eye. Well, to be honest I think the Singapore Flyer kind of spoiled this one for me. I can’t seem to remove that image from my mind, but it’s still amazing to see it with my own eyes – the real life inspiration for my home city, sans the cooling weather. Still beautiful.

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The beauty in itself. I think I subconsciously came to London just for this one landmark alone – Big Ben, which isn’t so big in all honesty, but big enough symbolically to represent “all” that is London. I was in awe staring at it because I really didn’t think I’d ever see something like this with my own eyes, when all this was just colour printed on glossy paper. But here you are, staring up at the splendid structure so utterly famous it was crowded with tourists left, right, centre.

I’m reminded of V for Vendetta – what it would have been if it did explode before your eyes but that’s only confined to green screens and visual effects.

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Walking down busy streets: I pretty much walked everywhere and all day really, to save fares on my Oyster card. Also it helped that I planned my itinerary geographically and everywhere in Central London is relatively nearby to each other (about half and hour to an hour’s walk, but hey more to see).

London sure is bustling, nothing new from Singapore but still so different. The weather, the sights/scenery, the people, the food, the atmosphere. You’d get caught up in the whirlwind of enjoying life, if you’re lucky really.

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I bit the bullet and walked the streets at night as well. Though I wouldn’t really recommend it, I just had to (but was wary and cautious the whole way). London sure is different at night at differing parts of the city. In the daytime Oxford Street is a shopper’s paradise, but at night it’s all glowing advertisements and empty streets. While peaceful, the element of danger is still present but lucky me nothing happened. I was prepared to run, on the safe side.

But that aside…

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This place. I adore this place. The Natural History Museum of London, brimming with so many exhibits of animals, plants, rocks/stones, fossils, earth, people and different time periods. I spent a good four hours here but still couldn’t cover everything I wanted but was immensely satisfied with dinosaur exhibits, taxidermised animals and fossils of prehistoric creatures. I’d live here if I could, no kidding.

I spent most of my time in London alone (since no one came with me) but where’s the fun in that? Through Couchsurfing I managed to meet up with some people (I wonder why they were all guys, but that didn’t really bother me) and they are truly interesting and genuine characters who were so nice as to spare me their time and conversations, and offer me cups of coffee as well. It was lovely meeting up with them and talking about anything and everything really, recounting our lives, the fun things we did, the adventures we had – really hope to meet with them again.

But I need to get my shit together first.

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The triple M squad, from left to right: Marco, me and Mark, who I didn’t really plan on meeting together but things happened to fall into place and we all met up for dinner and had fine chats about work, life, and all the fun bits in between.

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Initially we were supposed to grab Mexican food, recommended by le foodie Marco, but the place was closed for a party but we headed down the street to this pizza place that was PACKED. But somehow because we were three people (three’s a crowd they say), we got our table before couples (who were waiting around for their private tables). Fantastic luck and fantastic food as well – this whole pizza (bigger and wider than my fat head) only cost me £7 (SGD$14) and it was so good – fresh out of the oven with melted cheese and melt-in-your-mouth ham and tomato sauce… Ugh.

Yeah I got fat after London. I’m not gonna lie. I conceded my fitness levels have indeed fallen and I’ve gained weight / lost muscle, but I still retain my strength so… I guess this is the tradeoff?

It was a great night though (: Really nice to have company and make new friends (who are interested in the one thing you are in too: FOOD). I wonder what gastronomical delights the next few weeks will bring :9

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One of the days in London. Trying to walk off the pounds, but sadly weight isn’t lost as easily as the financial currency. I was surprised how sunny London was when I was there, except for the last few days before I left where it poured. Well, I’d like to think I’ve grown accustomed to England weather and come to love the grey skies.

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Outside King’s Cross Station where I checked out Platform 9 3/4 – far too touristy and too many people queueing up for a shot with the trolley going into Hogwarts for me, so skipped it and just wandered around the area instead.

These are things I can happily avoid.

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Honest Burgers. Last meal before heading back to Exeter. SO GOOD. Although the caramelized onions was a little too overpowering for my inexperienced palate, the meat was so tender and juicy, and the fries were generous and crispy – down to the last piece when I practically devoured my plate. I didn’t get to try Shake Shack or Five Guys cause… you know I still try to maintain my figure and my stomach has a capacity after delicious and filling market eats. But they’ll be things I’d definitely go back for, as the people ^^

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Back in James Owen Court. I don’t know if this was meant to be an artistic shot or I lost it for a second, but something about this sight captured my attention and I had to grab it. Maybe it’s knowing that things never really changed much even though I left for almost a week.

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Going for a run in the countryside. Though my stamina is considerably weaker, Exeter is flat and such a beaut to run through.

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This was a long time ago, but visited a farm with Mandy. It was beautiful, knowing that the countryside is just a 20 minute drive from the University – and it is glorious.

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Then came the bouldering competitions, the ones I went for even though I didn’t train AT ALL for them because I ran off to London. One was pre-planned, I asked if I could join that competition (and I was asked by the Boulder Sec before if I could compete for the University) so I knew that was coming. It was at Sheffield’s TCA and it was good fun. Unlimited tries, but just trying to score as many points as possible in the 20 so routes they provided.

I found that pretty all right – within my ability range sans the few that were really out of my zone. Overall it was still fun, but then Thursday night came and I was asked if I would like to replace someone who dropped out of an upcoming competition last Saturday. Unprepared, but sure why not. Nobody told me it was the LUBE or London Universities Bouldering Event, which was pretty prestigious in my eyes. These routes were more challenging but still immensely fun.

I surprised myself quite a bit during these competitions. I think bodily I’ve grown more aware of my capabilities and limitations – like there were routes I knew I could do, just required different betas and multiple attempts to get that a certain move when I wasn’t slipping or falling off the wall. Flashed a V5 which surprised me because I’m normally within a V2-V3 range, but that one was interesting and didn’t feel very hard at all.

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This is cool. Why can’t Singapore have this?

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Overhanging lead wall. Also cool, and super colourful.

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Attempting barefoot and being all action for my Instagram shot hahah, but really I’m hopeless without my chalk and my shoes. Chronic perspiration will be my downfall.

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Poser.

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But now the storm brews and I really need to focus on academia rather than stave off and think about climbing, Europe… I’ve got one last essay to complete and exams to study for (I know, I know, who studies while on exchange? Well I realised I’m not happy with minimal effort and borderline-pass-shitty results so I STUDY).

Sadly. Not my best effort as I will put in back in NTU, but it’s enough for me here.

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And of course, more food hahah. Salmon is considerably cheap here compared to Singapore so… spam the fatty fish!

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And a lovely dinner made for us by Quyhnnhu – vermicelli, fried Vietnamese spring rolls and fresh veggies. Her friends and her also shared with us some traditional folk dances in the UK which was eye-opening. Culture sure can be colourful and interesting, and it makes me wonder should I join dance in my final year hahah

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset And so, my adventure ends. Only for now. One last essay to complete, but even that has to wait cause this weekend I’m technically packed with a 10K mud race in a few hours’ time and a flatmate dinner on Sunday. Then after that, need to plan accommodation and what to see in Europe (transportation all planned, and I realise I only have 1-3 days for each city).

What have I gotten myself into? No idea – time to run. Allez.

Of homesickness, horror and humour

Firstly, Happy Chinese New Year! *explosions and firecrackers* :D Even though I’m far from home (well, here is starting to be a home too, and my room sells of fragrant oranges just purchased from Tesco), the Singaporean exchange students still found a way of celebrating this festive together on 6 Feb (eve of the CNY eve), even inviting our flatmates and sharing our culture with them via food.

My Ah Ma would be so proud we kept them well-fed, cause initially we didn’t know exact numbers so we made enough food for 20 bellies, but that proved to be too much for 14… oh well – LEFTOVERS!

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The NTU-SMU Singaporean chefs, all happy, merry, eager to eat and donning red, as per our lovely tradition.

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Steamed white Jasmine rice (the real Royal Umbrella deal from Thailand), CNY treats Nicholas’ mom speed delivered over, Vietnamese spring rolls made by QuynhNhu (pictured below cause she wasn’t in the group photo with us), curry chicken with white bread, mapo tofu and stir-fried vegetarian noodles.

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Look at that concentration. The rolls were so clean, flavourful and delicious. Nothing can beat authentic Asian cuisine, really. Spice and soy sauce is where the fun is at.

Thank you Asian foodmarts and nice Aunties who advised us on quantity of food purchased and how to cook them. Also big shoutout to premixes cause that’s the closest shit you’ll ever get to home/hawker centre cooking.

That aside, it truly was a great night where everyone got together to talk, laugh, enjoy each other’s company and find out more about each other. QuynhNhu asked us all one thing we were proud of last year and what we wanted to do this year – really deep questions but overall all of us were eager to travel around this year. One thing I was proud of last year was completing my first marathon with minimal training, and this year is to travel around and really figure out myself and what I want to do…

Which leads to the blaring truth that hit me today, after that night ended and the days went by in between then and now. During CNY period (over the weekend) I woke up to social media and Whatsapp spams of photos of family members back home, CNY #OOTDs, a massive collage of foods my Ah Ma prepared for CNY (always the same stuff, but you can never tire of it – it’s an annual feast one must not waste nor be shy/picky about when eating), even of my cousins/brother getting together and playing card games.

Effectively it made me miss home even more. And it finally boiled down to today when I woke up feeling so irritable and angry at everything, at everyone, at friends who Whatsapp’d/Facebook messaged me. My self-esteem felt shattered, I felt so left out of their life, and (shamefully) in that emotional rage I hated them, and this dissolved into disarray and tears. I ended up crying in my room somewhere after being nagged by my mom over Skype (her way of sending love but is simultaneously annoying) and watching a video of friends gathering at a usual haunt. I didn’t understand it until another dear friend (ah Lynn ah) caught up with me as well and we chatted over Skype and Whatsapp.

At the same time I was confiding in Charlotte (praise the Lord for her), not knowing why I felt this way. But she always offers that listening ear and a soothing source of comfort and rational wisdom, and I felt better. Lynn diagnosed me with homesickness and culture shock, something she and I both learnt from one of my old NTU mods (Coping with Cultural Transition) – The part in the U-curve where I start missing home and feeling isolated since I’m here and they’re there.

Yet everyone experiences culture shock differently. I’ve been away from home before and I never really did feel the biting effects of homesickness, probably because life here and life back home doesn’t feel that much different since I’ve been accustomed to hall life. I read up more from Google and other study abroad articles and I think my version of this “culture shock” phase is that I feel left out in the sense I’m missing out on important events, places, celebrations because I’m all the way over here, and they are back there continuing normal life where mine has (so-called) been disrupted.

Thank God for very, very close friends ♥ ♥ ♥

Perhaps that would explain why I got so easily upset – I’m too focused on missing out of this utopian image I have of life back home, to the point it starts to encroach to the reality I have here. This epiphany helped me realise I’m still being ungrateful, and well, I’m here, away from a place I wanted to run from – so what gives? Well, I think I finally know what I’ve always taken for granted. As well as I’ve been moping around too much to think about actual change and progression in my life as of now. I’ve stopped appreciating that I am here, that I am now.

Coupled with the fact I’ve got 6 days to submit two essays and I barely started on either – ah the stress. Definitely what amplified my feelings of “culture shock”, but this is where you work hard to overcome them, adapt and adjust, then thrive and enjoy. To think I took that NTU mod just to clear my GERPE requirements, but it ended up helping me in more ways than one. Full circle.

Playing Cards Against Humanity UK Version with flatmates also helped with the isolation. Social battery got recharged and I think I’m alright now – just need to climb, train and do essays, but I find my mind wandering to explore other parts of the UK. Another thing to train here – discipline.

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I long to go back to Oxford. Pretty streets, an air of mysteriousness, charm and intellect…

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And hory shet dinosaurs. I wanna go back just for this museum cause look at that! Apparently this T-Rex’s skeleton name is Stan. LOLOLOL

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In the meantime, just keep smiling and being happy. And keep toes pointed during L-sits that are hard to see in this shot. Meh.

#theOutside

11:17pm on 6 Feb. It’s crazy and surreal to think almost a month ago, I was excited and anxious to leave, but now I’m here a month in, in rainy, windy Exeter. Just had a huge CNY feast with flatmates a while ago – spent the whole afternoon shopping, prepping and cooking it and surprisingly the whole event turned out well. Pretty stuffed from all the food and sweet treats one of the other exchange guy’s mother sent over.

My grandmothers would be proud the whole lot of us Singaporeans kept our international guests well fed (:

But I say surreal in all of its essence. Just last week my flatmates decided to book a YOLO skip class trip to Edinburgh over the weekend, and after that Poly OMF Au’12 mates wanted to venture over to the smaller villages just outside of Oxford… So it was two literal back-to-back trips and I came back exhausted, mentally, physically but emotionally and mindfully recharged.

I see now why people are addicted to travelling, riddled with unadulterated wanderlust, a desire to fly and never settle, to change the scenery and sights. But of course, it is a luxury and a privilege many have that others do not. I count myself immensely fortunate I have the opportunity to pack and go, not worry. That comes later.

It occurred to me I hang out with locals very much, and it is a familiar comfort, that makes me more aware of homesickness that acts up in me occasionally like waves crashing into the shore, and more aware of my identity and Singaporeanness. Not that I don’t interact with others, but I find myself staying with the group of exchange people I came with, but all this comes with time I suppose. Come Easter break I really foresee myself going solo, not that it cannot be done, but it’s a fear that I am, perhaps, fearful but eager to break.

Baby steps. The fact I, of my own accord, go out to climb twice every week (as much as possible) and get to know others in the climbing club here is something I did not expect of myself. Yet, the desire to train and get better, to not waste the time here, perhaps, got me spotted(?) by one of the boulder secs here. He asked me to compete for their club, and though flattered I immediately launched into space-filled self-doubt. I hope to eradicate that – the second you think you can’t, you lose already. And I tire of that.

It would be nice if they do follow up and really go through with it cause I am curious to see how bouldering competitions are like here compared to Singapore. Gravical and LCG were fun events but missed out on them. Bummer, but as one senior told me, where I am it’s more fun – ah, someone to remind me of my fortune and my ungratefulness. Train harder then.

Something I learnt is that even though you change the scenery, the sights, the food, the people – if nothing changes inside your mind and your heart, everything more or less remains stagnant, and nothing really changes. Well, I’m not gonna lie. I still feel a little lost with myself, but I acknowledge this and somehow I know where I’m going, and all roads will lead there.

It hasn’t been easy but I think I’m adapting well so far. But for now, pictorials:

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By the Exeter quayside. So scenic and peaceful.

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By the Imperial Inn (or the Imp, as they call it). Relatively cheap and good food. Got to know more international students here during a Global Chums event. The Sunday Roast is impeccable.

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For £6 (SGD$12) I think it’s pretty worth it. Had to bring back the chicken and make it into “leftovers”pasta, cause the portion was too big and filling for me.

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Saving money! Made three meals out of this.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset Running in Exeter. It’s good to hit the road again, and the endless amount of road here that leads to the muddy countryside is but glorious. 11.42 clicks in 1:17hr – slowly getting it back, inclusive of the times I stopped to take photos and encountered this doggy on this way. This weather is spectacular to run in.

Lyme Regis (23 Jan 2016)

One weekend trip down to Lyme Regis, which Olivia wanted so badly to go to (having read The French Lieutenant’s Woman). It’s a gorgeous place with the Cobb, which is a sea wall built to break the massive waves that could destroy the coastal town where great literary writers frequented and wrote. The beach was also full of prehistoric intact fossils, which is pretty incredible when you realise you are small in a world full of being.

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Scorpion on the Cobb. Didn’t stand right at the edge since it was sloping down and was wet due to weather and waves.

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Shameless me? Standing atop a huge rock bed with fossils on it, realising my existence is but dust in the magnificent sphere of things. Humbled to be part of it though.

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And then, lunch. Seafood linguine which wasn’t that exquisite in my opinion (but still good) – I never knew shrimp/prawns were so expensive here. Save the seafood for when I return then.

Edinburgh (29 Jan – 1 Feb 2016)

Bus’d to Bristol, shuttle’d to Bristol airport, jetset’d off to Edinburgh and had the most turbulent-ridden descent ever, violent to the point it jerked me out of slumber and I felt like I was on a roller coaster. While others were nervous I was just annoyed I was forced awake. Promptly dozed off until we landed, when I awoke and clapped we got down safe. Think I accidentally set off an applause for the captains who ensured we didn’t die that windy day when there was a hurricane just before.

And then tram’d to the city centre and set off to find our Kick Ass Hostel and explore the old town. Edinburgh is beautiful – the old English architecture, bustling with rustic and charming life and years and years of history. I will be back but for now…

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St. Giles’ Cathedral, brimming with history and religious splendour. I’ve come to appreciate quiet and silence amidst the chaos outside, inside.

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Budget English breakfast/lunch but still so filling and good. The black patty was the Scottish delicacy of Haggis (Sheep’s innards with oats and spices). Found it all right-tasting, not a big fan though. Too used to innards being warm and floating around in soups/gravies rather than on it’s own and a little cold. Still, a good experience though (:

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The view outside our hostel. Not pictured, but it’s literally right in front of Edinburgh castle, which preoccupied our second day. The third day was allocated to climbing Arthur’s Seat.

So context: We wanted to view the sunrise from the peak, so we tried to set off early but obviously we didn’t get to the foot of the mountain in time. A little anxious, we just decided to go up whatever path we could find.

Proved to be a bit of a mistake because we apparently took the steepest and more dangerous route up to the top. Mind you, it’s winter. There was snow, and a few of us weren’t adequately or appropriately clothed for the ascent so… it was another turbulent time as well, but we made it in the end.

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The gradual climb, before the full blown windy nightmare.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, in the winter there is wind (no shit). And atop the highest peak on Arthur’s Seat this was multiplied a thousandfold (Sherlock). We couldn’t stand straight without feeling the wind trying to blow us off or kill us with frostbite cold gusts. But the view at the top was worth it.

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As was the view on the way down. You cannot grasp the beauty of faraway places, seemingly within your reach, small in the distance but towers over you when you stand beneath its presence. Perhaps, we are meant to feel small yet big in the grand scheme of things.

Edinburgh did not fail to impress. People there were so nice and humorous, food was delicious and heartening, shops were quaint, architecture and history was astounding. Had one too many impulse buys when it came to books because we found a secondhand bookstore that offered 20% discounts for students (local and international) – went trigger-happy and got three shiny new books (well, new in the sense I am the new owner). I know I definitely will be back.

Oxford / Burford / Bourton-on-the-Water (1 Feb – 3 Feb 2016)

Reversed the process to get to Edinburgh and reached back to Exeter, having only one and a half hours to shower and prep for my next trip with OMF Au’12 people studying in the UK. We trained down and met up in Oxford for the night.

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Korean food. The spicy kick and kimchi pancake – things I’ve missed for far too long, but for a steep price as well. Ah well, give and take. The next morning we explored a bit of the University town.

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Shameless scorpion outside the main Oxford campus, which we didn’t go into because time and expenses, but damn Oxford is pretty. I regret not applying for it… but then again I missed the deadline and I don’t think I possess the intellectual or emotionally capability and maturity required to study in such an institution. Still, one can dream.

After checking out the colleges (that were open to public), we headed over to Burford the next morning via bus. I love the countryside – it was quieter, less crowded and charming. Loved the old cottages constructed of stone. We explored the Cotswold Wildlife Park after checking into the accommodation at Burford. Even though it’s winter, we managed to catch a glimpse of many, many species of animals – penguins, capybaras (new favourite animal cause it’s cute af), lemurs, giraffes, wolves, llamas, zebras, giant tortoises, rhinos… You realise then, human beings are not alone or the one true species on this planet, but yet we’ve claimed it as our own. Enlightening, but a little sad. I hope they treat the animals well, and that the animals are surviving well in the winter, cause I’m sure not.

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As you can tell, I love wide landscapes and dead trees. The horizontals that lead to verticals.

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And the most marvellous steak and ale (or meat…?) pie I’ve ever had. The first I’ve had since my arrival in the UK. The pie was homemade in the morning by the cooks at the Royal Inn – meat filling was generous and piping hot and fresh, pie crust thick but buttery, flaky and crunchy. So damn good. I thought it was too much but I ended up devouring the whole thing. That’s how damn good it was.

Hot pies in cold weather. Yes.

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Ended the day, and headed over to Bourton-on-the-Water the next and final day – dubbed the Venice of Cotswold, of which I can see why. Scenic waterscapes, lovely stone bridges. Overall, it was just so pretty, something you imagine in books where people go for mindless relaxing strolls or lovers encounter each other on bridges or meeting in the cafe for a tea and a chat, looking out the window and watching the day and water stream by… Whimsicality and sentimentality.

But it was beautiful nonetheless, just couldn’t take the cold as the temperature later dropped in the day. Headed back to Oxford to explore the place a little more, but not enough for me when I just discovered the Pitts River Museum another friend told me about. We only had 10 minutes before closure to explore the vast exhibits of natural history – too little for me. I will revisit Oxford again, but for now I should get my shit together and do my essays due in few weeks’ time.

And that concludes my two trips. Still in a daze by the surrealism of it all. I imagined doing so much, but only so much can be done with a limited amount of time and expenses. I guess this would help me in planning for solo trippin’ (unless I can find similar companions) to Europe. (:

Incredibly, incredibly excited for what’s coming, come what may.

#theUK

It’s been a week (almost!) since I set foot into the plane(s) and travelled to a beautiful land 11,092km away from home – humid, hot and warm home – and submerged myself in a culturally rich place brimming with architecture, landscape, art, history, dreams, ghosts, fears, twice the currency, beliefs, cuisine and punctuality. Though I did not know what to expect, Exeter blew whatever breath I had away with its simplistic and minimalistic beauty from cobblestoned paths to University mountains (no different from NTU and NP really) and quaint, scenic brick residences.

I know why the British always talk about the weather – it’s a current affair worth talking about. It’s either rain or sunshine or windy or dark/cloudy or insanely sunny or even a massive combination of the lot, anytime, all the time. It’s crazy. So far I feel like I’m adapting well, except that I stick to the other Singaporeans that have come to study here as well which isn’t a bad thing but I think it takes a lot of courage to get out of your comfort zone and grow to achieve new heights. And I aspire, perhaps desperately, to get out and grow. But this should come slowly, not to push it nor shock myself out of a system.

Did a (very expensive but worth it) YOLO solo trip to London to meet with my Calisthenics coach and train with other guys of PNP (push and pull) fitness. It’s good to get back and sweat (not much in this lovely weather though!) after five days of inactivity and travel/sightseeing. I need to come up with a training regiment again otherwise I can see why people gain weight/lose muscle during exchange to cold countries.

So many times I want to steal away into a corner and hibernate. I wasn’t made for cold countries, but the sights make up for the cold (it bothers me all the time). But for now, pictorials:

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Our very sweet and nice Airbnb hosts before we moved into James Owen Court on Sunday, and they provided an abundancy of kickass, fresh healthy breakfast.

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Victorian house – super picturesque, cosy and beautiful.

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And then there’s the scenery that I cannot get over. Like a fellow exchange mate said, I can’t get over the sights. Every time you go out, it seems like you’re seeing something new.

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And then the view outside my window – reminds me too much of Hall 4. The lights from the courtyard trickle into my room. What’s missing is just the stone tables and exercise corner.

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Small road at the Exeter University campus.

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And then the YOLO trip to London, not even a week since moving to Exeter.

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Their arms are bigger than my thighs but I love how encouraging they are after every set and rep to push me. Though I lack in so many things, they still called me strong and want to see me succeed in dips and muscle-ups. Really, terribly nice and inspiring people.

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London is just so utterly, damn pretty. Not even a full day but I love it already.

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And of course – insanely fresh organic fruit juice with my coach and PNP fitness. Then a falafel for dinner that changed my life before a train ride back to Exeter. Hard to believe this was just yesterday (12 Jan, Tuesday) that this happened. It’s been a great adventure, and the next one starts really soon: Classes, semester, travelling, training etc.

Can’t wait.

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And yes, food. Lunch this afternoon made with flatmates/NTU people. Super tasty, fresh and delicious.

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And a very British cream tea, with scones, tea and a ravishing guilt. But that story is for another time.

Time to hibernate.