Books and My Turbulent Relationship with Books!

By: Casey Lam

“Students, you are not allowed to read books such as Geronimo Stilton, Mr Midnight…” Whenever I heard this exact phrase in primary school, the book in my hand would suddenly weigh my heart down as my face contorted into both sadness and worry if I got caught with the book. When I was younger, I absolutely hated the idea of reading and always thought that it was a pretentious activity to make one look smarter (a.k.a my brother).

However, this all change when my brother left his book on the coffee table and its title was “The Serpent’s Shadow” by Rick Riordan. Today, many of us would have read at least one of his books, most noticeably the Percy Jackson series. It was very well received by the public, boasting a sequel and a movie franchise (which flopped) and garnered a large fanbase. Some may even consider it to be the Harry Potter of our generation to which I digress, as both are very different. When I first saw the book, it did not have a title as the first page was ripped off. This piqued my interest indefinitely and as I started reading more of the book, I felt myself being sucked into the dessert plains of the ancient Egyptian landscape. Soon after, I was completely immersed into it, becoming one with the words. This may sound extremely exaggerated but ever since I’ve read that book, I felt myself becoming more imaginative, my mind flowing with rich fantastical ideas. To me now, life before books was devoid of colour but as I turn each page, it felt like seeing new colours as each word added new shades of colour, highlights and mid tones into my mind and soon after, life didn’t feel so gray anymore, but more vibrant and in some sense, tranquil.

The Kane Chronicles, Rick Riordan


Despite this exciting discovery, I was soon struck with what every reader struggles with; reading slumps. Even though I enjoyed reading, sometimes I would feel a slight sense of annoyance to pick up a book. Some of these dry spells may last a few days, or in my record, years. However, this has not stopped my love for reading as I believe that with every interest, there comes a point when one loses interest, despite this being oxymoronic. During my secondary school days, there were years where I completely veered off the path of reading but I would always find my way back, especially during times of stress.

Eating healthy, or at least healthier, outside 📸

Written by : Charlene Ng Shi Yi (1SB6)

As an avid “tabao-er, I often find myself stuck in a dilemma between getting something cheap and delicious or something expensive yet unappetizing, just because it is “healthier”. So it made me curious if it was possible to find something cheap, delicious, and healthy.

My go-to option was, of course, economy rice (or as we affectionately call it, Cai Fan or Cai Peng). Initially, I thought that economy rice would be relatively cheaper and a healthier alternative compared to other hawker center and food court options. However, I was proven sorely wrong, with a large portion of rice with some meat and veggies on my plate, it doesn’t exactly meet our dietary recommendation or follow the idea of a balanced meal promoted by “My Healthy Plate”. While economy rice is certainly more affordable than most other options, it may not be the healthiest, especially with the healthier options like broccoli and fish being more expensive and slightly out of reach.

 Our healthy plate, Source : Healthhub

While I was scouting for other alternatives, my friends recommended me options such as Stuff’d or poke bowls. They are filled with generous amounts of veggies and lean meat making them healthy. Not only are they healthy, they are really delectable too which makes them most definitely deserving of being called a delicious healthy meal option! However, while they are undeniably amazing, they / their prices are a bit steep. With their costly price tags, I’m not exactly sure I’ll be able to have this on a regular basis.

I do recognize there is still the option of preparing my own meals which would be much cheaper and healthier. However, as a student, I struggle to make time to cook my own meals, and quite frankly, I’m not the best fan of cooking either so I will still stick with eating my meals outside. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to still eat more healthily outside.

Firstly, ordering healthier economy rice is still an option as the luxury of choice enables you to wield more control over your diet. Healthier swap ideas include swapping white rice for brown rice, having more vegetable dishes cooked in light seasoning, and less/light gravy. There is also the option of asking for “less rice”, which many people do, as most economy rice stalls tend to give too much rice.

Picture of economy rice, Source: asiaone

Secondly, when ordering other hawker dishes such as noodles or rice, it is still possible to eat healthier. Avoiding fat-laden options like char kway teow or Laska rich in calories and sodium and opting for healthier options such as sliced fish noodles/soup or mee soto can help you attain a healthier diet. When eating such meals, you can also opt for sliced fish instead of fried fish (in sliced fish noodles), more bean sprouts in mee soto, and avoid finishing the soup to eat healthier.

Picture of sliced fish noodle soup, Source : noob cook

While I doubt you would see me anytime soon, over a wok, or any cooking pans or pots really, cooking something for myself (apart from instant noodles). I’m quite sure you would still find me somewhere deciding what to get for dinner while trying to eat healthily (and living my fitspo dream). Well all i know for sure is that I’ll still be frequently eating economy rice and telling the uncle “uncle, tabao (takeaway), less rice” in Chinese and opting for a 1 meat and 1 veg cai fan

The Lens of International Conflict : Ukraine

By: Euan Loh

“Whoever tries to interfere with us should know that Russia’s response will lead you to such consequences that you have never experienced in your history,” declared Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, shortly after declaring a ‘special military operation’ to de-occupy and de-Nazify Ukraine. Such claims are ludicrous; the Ukrainian government is democratically elected, not filled with fascists as often espoused by Russian propaganda. The Nazis neither oppress Russian speakers in the Donbas, nor does the potential ascension of Ukraine to NATO pose an existential threat to Russia. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began before dawn on February 24th with volleys of cruise missiles, artillery and other weapons. Russian troops advanced on the eastern city of Kharkiv, while Russian special forces and the First Guards Tank Army, Putin’s premier fighting force, rolled towards the capital Kyiv. Russian marines advanced towards the coastal cities of Kherson, Mykolaiv, Mariupol and Odessa.

Yet if Putin was expecting the Ukrainians to accept their fate as the West watched and impose minor sanctions (as they did in 2014, shortly after Russia’s annexation of Crimea), he was gravely mistaken. The Ukrainian forces fought back with patriotic tenacity, stubbornly forcing the enemy to fight for every inch of land. Around the world, millions protest against Putin’s blatant violation of international law, all while Western nations promise Ukraine extensive military and economic aid. 

Yet, the humanitarian impact of the invasion will be felt for decades to come; over one million Ukrainians have fled the country and tens of thousands have already died. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared martial law and forbade all men aged 18-60 from leaving the country, forcing husbands, fathers and sons to say goodbye to their loved ones; perhaps never to see them again. Ukrainian men, women and children have fled in terror of Russian missiles, crowding in underground shelters and pleading with their Russian relatives to pressure their president to stop the war. Their appeal, for the most part, fell on deaf ears.

The war has since gone on for 13 months, and looks set to last at least another year. Nobody can say when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will end—or how. But months of fighting have revealed the tenacity of the Ukrainian people, having stopped dead in their tracks what was once thought to be the second most powerful army on Earth. 

Russia has more than three times the population of its neighbour and is trying hard to destroy infrastructure in Ukraine, but Vladimir Putin will struggle to train, equip and supply an army capable of continuing his increasingly senseless war. The more he presses reluctant Russians into combat, the more dead bodies he will have to account for and the more he will struggle. In contrast, Ukraine is well placed to muster committed troops and tactically shrewd officers, supplied with arms and intelligence by NATO countries. In a war of attrition, Ukraine, backed by the West (which has far greater resources than Russia), seems to have an advantage. 

Military success in Ukraine is not unthinkable; the country scored major victories against the Russian Army in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson, retaking significant swathes of territory. The Russians’ advance seems to have been stopped dead. The Russian Navy has suffered catastrophic losses by Ukrainian mines and anti-ship missiles, and Putin’s Air Force has been degraded by Ukraine’s shrewd use of Soviet-era air defences. 

Mr Putin could resort to chemical or nuclear weapons – though even that would not guarantee a Russian victory. Of course, he knows that China could soon offer him military and economic aid, perhaps in return for discounted natural resources – which Russia has in abundance. Or perhaps Russia, with its vast advantages in manpower, can simply bleed Ukraine out. One cannot discount the West getting tired of supporting Ukraine, especially if isolationist leaders soon get elected (Donald Trump, for example). Vladimir Putin is aware that anything is possible in war, and hopes to use this to his advantage. But he must also acknowledge that the tide is against him.

Hobbies, do you have them? If not, here’s how

By: Samuel Lee


Do you remember the first few days of orientation? Well, I still do, and I absolutely miss those dear times of slacking off, early dismissals, and having little to no work to do. Like most other people, it would be in my best interest to try to make the most of it in this little time we have before the end comes. So I would try to initiate conversations.

“Hey, [quirky nickname]”, “What’s the combi?”, “Suffering from post-ori lectures already?” Notice the common theme among all these prompts? They are all extraordinarily surface level. Good for making acquaintances, not good for making friends who do stuff together. Now, I am not complaining about this situation – this is definitely better than having no one. However, it could be much more better, so naturally I would take any opportunity to ensure I get something good out of this month-long post orientation class. 

With much luck, I have found my people not shortly after the beginning. Someone who had an interest that overlapped one of mine. After much discussion, it was decided, I hung out with them way more than the rest. However, I still tried to find more, but as with the Law of Diminishing Returns, no luck. Of course, after knowing them for a while, I tried to use the secret formula of “So, what do you do in your free time?” to spark that vibe moment. Unfortunately, many of them had the same one-word answer. Nothing. I would not press further on the subject, and instead change it to a more present one.

However, I still wonder about it sometimes during those little pockets of time between activities. Nothing? How so? Don’t you want to do something you like? Though, I could give my thoughts on the potential reasons for this to even occur.

The ‘grind culture’ is real. We have always heard from most of our friends participating in competitions, tuitions, and CCA commitments. We have heard many stories of top scorers from almost every teacher we meet. However, have you heard of any teacher promoting their hobbies outside of the mandatory life discussion session? The majority would say ‘no’. After all, Singapore has placed education as the highest priority, such that other non related topics are sometimes forgotten. This is especially so for the STEM sectors. Students our age had to go through so many important life changing examinations. PSLE, N/O levels. Studying was definitely something we all have ingrained in us, at least for those of us who made it here (ACJC). We all have some good amount work ethic. Now consider this, what happens when a number of like-minded people with good work ethics come together? You guessed it, an echo chamber of the same belief that studying is the most prioritised activity. This may seem like a good thing at first glance, a group of scholars, achievers, and leaders of the future. However, like all echo chambers, it lacks exposure to the other perspective. To summarise, the rigorous education system has built us an environment that lacks perspectives from those whose strengths lie outside of studies, and perhaps that includes those who can share their perspective as well as the joys of their hobbies. In other words, it would be harder to find an activity you would be passionate about since you were drowning in studies since day 1, and that’s the reality of many others.

Well, to remedy this, I suggest you to start finding out what you want to do. With the Student Initiated learning (SIL) program that is compulsory for J1s beginning soon, I have 3 words to say to them “Use it wisely”. I mean, I can testify that having a hobby really does wonders, from stress relief to having some aim in both short and long term. Try it. And really put in the effort to do it.

Phones, having many applications for all sorts of purposes, Credits: The Guardian

How old were you when you received your first phone? I got mine when I was primary 4, as with most of my other classmates. You can do so much with the little rectangle in our pockets. From gaming to social media, you’d have to agree that most of these activities are at the very least engaging. What use are other non-phone activities in my free time when i could visually stimulate myself with this? The constant consuming of digital content makes us less motivated to do outside of what is absolutely necessary, and unfortunately, hobbies are considered by most, not.

All I have to say is, hobbies are like academics. Time invested into them will bring out many advantages and benefits. You just have to find the right hobby that you would say in economics terms, “has a greater marginal benefit than marginal cost”, or in layman terms, feels worth it. There will definitely something of use in that hobby in there somewhere, and that just may make the hobby a high priority on your to do list.

Now, I am unable to continue the formula of raising the third and final reason and solution to complete the rule of 3 as I do not have any more reasons I can conjure up. However, I do have some words of advice to those currently in their quest to discover their true passion and thus hobby. Do what you want to do. Be impulsive. Just do them as long as it seems within the bound of ethics. We sometimes get random ideas to start on something, and I suggest you act on them. Now that was why I kickstarted my current hobby, drawing. Yes, drawing. For the next few paragraphs, I would be rambling on and on about my turbulent relationship with hobbies, just read the final paragraph if you wish to skip it.

It was a rather rough patch during Year 3 of my secondary school life. Lost friends and was going through that infamous “emo phase” of realising that you are living. I buried myself in studies and which got me that L1R5 of 6 in that year’s prelim. However, that is not the point, I knew I would not be content going through life without something to spice it up. During that year’s June holidays, i set out to find the hobby that i could picture myself doing. Coding. Writing. And even Guitar.

The never ending, monotonous cycle of daily life was crushing even before the prelims arrived. Ever since that final Biology examination was concluded, I was honestly directionless. Nothing to bury my head into to pass the time. Just mindless distractions to fill the emptiness of the day. And racing thoughts to fill the night. You get the gist of it.

Many attempts were made to break out of it, picking up my old hobbies, obviously with not much progress made in them nor in my own self fulfilment. However, one of these attempts was not like the others. I wandered into my brother’s room and rummaged through his belongings without his consent. Don’t worry, he was already working overseas and I’m sure he would allow it nevertheless. Anyway, there I found it, his old drawings. It was inspirational… in the sense that I wanted to beat him. Yes competitiveness was my initial motivation to take up drawing, but over time it changed to a more intrinsic motivation. It was just so satisfying to just create without any objective in mind. Well not totally without any, but the planning was so flexible such that I have left countless drawings unfinished due to lack of interest. It may sound like horrible self discipline, but this hobby has held on longer any other and still is up till today. It was a great way to destress and do whatever that brings you joy which is especially needed now that the pressure of daily life is building. Though there are now more time constraints than ever, I would still dedicate some pockets of time towards this, and I honestly do not regret this decision.

All in all, I believe the search for a compatible hobby will be a conundrum for many, but the efforts invested will not be in vain. It may seem fruitless at first, but as cliche as it sounds, patience is key. If you truly believe you do not need one, I’m fine with that, as long as an attempt at it has been made and there are other areas where you find joy in. Otherwise, keep on searching!

Advice for my fellow juniors

By: Divyesh

People love to complain that JC is extremely difficult and it is. It really is. However, there are ways to make it just a bit easier and in this blog, I am going to share some tips I have.

Before that, let me introduce myself to you. Hello, my name is Divyesh. I went to JC melancholic because of my results. Throughout secondary school, I was performing relatively well and it was to my horror that my O-level results were anything but that. I saw students leaping in joy as they scored their first A1 ever but for me, it was the first time not scoring that A1. I still remember one of my classmates saying word-for-word “Huh? What happened to Divyesh? I thought he was smart!” after finding out my O-level scores.  Therefore, I went to JC with quite a low self-esteem in my academics. 

Now that you got to me a little better, I shall now share my words of wisdom to you.

Firstly, please do not be like me and let your O-level results define you. Your O-level scores are not the best predictors of your academic standards in JC. I have seen 10 rank pointers score more than 85 RP in promotional exams and 8 rank pointers being advanced. 

Secondly, apply for opportunities to specialise in things you are interested in, even if you think you do not have a shot. For example, if you like any academic discipline, you can always apply for olympiads, research opportunities and scholarships. Obviously, I understand that some of these things are hard to come by. I was rejected for almost everything I applied for in JC1. I am not going to list out all the things I was rejected from as it is a little embarrassing but let’s just say a lot of my emails started with “We regret to inform you…”. However, in the end, I am taking a H3 at NTU and have a computing scholarship from CSIT which has been great. I remember seeing that the computing scholarship I wanted demanded that I had achieved “excellent O-level grades”. That put me off just a little but I still went ahead and applied. And in the end, I got it. Do not be afraid to apply for things even if you think that you do not have a shot. There is a high chance you may be rejected, but not applying means an automatic zero chance of getting it.

Thirdly, be aware that you cannot do everything in JC so please do not be one of those people who join 3 or more CCAs and activities and either burn out or are not able to give it your all in each task. I know this might seem obvious but many students are caught in this. Please remember that JC is not supposed to be so stressful to the point that you are always burnt out.

There is, of course, more general advice like keeping up with your school work, eating well and sleeping well but these are ubiquitous so I shall not elaborate on them.

All the best for your JC endeavours my fellow ACsians!

Interstellar 

By: Girija

Interstellar is a movie that I vividly remember watching when I was younger wondering what was going on throughout. But, after watching the movie again, I truly was able to appreciate its insights and it was such a fascinating plot (even though honestly, I still might be bewildered).

To illustrate the movie in a very unadorned manner; it expresses that the Earth’s future has been riddled by disasters, famines, and droughts. There is only one way to ensure mankind’s survival: Interstellar travel. A newly discovered wormhole in the far reaches of our solar system allows a team of astronauts to go where no man has gone before, a planet that may have the right environment to sustain human life. Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth’s population to a new home via a wormhole. But first, Brand must send former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and a team of researchers through the wormhole and across the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind’s new home.

Image of NASA pilot; Cooper

One of my most-liked parts of the film would be the theme music which gained popularity amongst many musicians and even amateurs who started to learn how to play such a masterpiece on musical instruments like the piano. Personally, listening to the theme soundtrack in a dark room with my headphones on, really calms my mind and gives me clarity on my unwavering thoughts.

A major theme in Interstellar is that of isolation and loneliness, and how they test our ability to think rationally and operate from an ethical standpoint as opposed to a mere survivalist one.

One crucial lesson the movie has taught me would be endurance. The Earth in Interstellar is dying; crops are becoming extinct and food supplies are running short. These elements test the ability of each character to endure and survive. Cooper must endure the heartbreak of leaving his family to go into space; Murph has to endure the anger she feels towards her father for leaving and still believe that he will come back; the people of the world must endure the dust storms and find a way to make food.

It’s no coincidence that the space station that carries the heroes into the cosmos to search for new habitable worlds is called the Endurance. The station is a symbol of perseverance, of surviving impossible odds with the hope that tomorrow will bring clearer skies. Professor Brand often reads the poem, “Do Not Go Gentle,” as narration over scenes of the Endurance’s perilous journey through space. The poem itself is an anthem of endurance, of raging against death, one that ties perfectly into the station’s purpose and the larger goal of the astronauts on board.

An aspect of Interstellar that makes the movie infinitely re-watchable is the incredible aesthetic of the whole thing. Beyond the story and science of it all, the visual and auditory experience of watching Interstellar is unparalleled. The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is able to perfectly capture the grandiosity of space while still maintaining the emotional core and personal touch of the film’s characters. Even though the plot of the movie could seem slightly confusing; rewatching it could provide a better understanding. 

Here’s the full more expressive plot of the movie:  (spoiler alert) 

A worldwide hunger in 2067 led humanity to give up on scientific endeavours like space travel. Joseph Cooper, a former NASA pilot, is compelled to work as a farmer. One day, Cooper notices a gravitational “anomaly” in the bedroom of his daughter Murph. He comes to a top-secret NASA facility run by Professor Brand after deducing that it is a pattern of GPS coordinates. Cooper is informed by Brand that they are on a covert mission to find an exoplanet that can sustain life and that they are developing a gravity equation. In order to pilot an exploration spaceship with three other scientists, Romilly, Doyle, and Brand’s daughter Amelia, he enlists Cooper’s assistance. On board the Endurance, the crew passes through a wormhole to reach another galaxy. Their goal is to investigate three planets, orbiting a supermassive black hole called Gargantua, each of which was previously explored by a NASA scientist-explorer.

More adventures are then explored on the first planet (aqua) second planet. (Watch the movie to find out more!) 

The end: Cooper survives and finds himself inside a five-dimensional tesseract, out of view from beyond the event horizon. From inside he can see moments in time from inside Murph’s childhood bedroom. He finds her returning to look for clues to the gravity-equation, and he contacts her by manipulating items in the room with gravity to communicate through Morse code. Deducting that this construct has been created by future humans with the ability to time-travel, Cooper imparts to her the information she needs. With his mission completed, he is ejected by the future beings, who return him to the Solar System. He is reunited with a now elderly Murph, who he learns has used the gravity-equation to lead humanity’s exodus from Earth. She advises him to seek out Amelia, and he sets off. Meanwhile, on the mission’s final planet, Amelia is setting up a new colony for future humans to inhabit. 

Image credits: Pinterest

Skin and Other Stories: A Review of The Witty and The Serious of Roald Dahl

Written by: Syed Nabil (2AD2)

Roald Dahl has long been reputed as a captivating writer, incorporating magical and imaginative – yet also terrifying – elements into his writing that never fails to capture the interest of readers of all ages. Being especially famous for his revolutionary take on children’s literature, it could be eye-opening to realise that his writing entails many instances of dark humor regardless of the target audience: Veruca Salt being thrown into a pit that leads to an incinerator, Ms. Trunchbull’s infamous “Chokey” device, perhaps even George Kranky’s plot to feed his bothersome grandmother a beyond poisonous taste of her own medicine. It seems that Dahl leverages such shocking and terrifying constructions not only as a means for comedic gratification but perhaps also to give the readers an interesting view of human nature and the world we live in. Of course, these become even more violent as he explores writing for a more mature audience. In this article, in particular, I will be writing a review of this fascinating style in his twisted short stories collection for teens and young adults, Skin & Other Stories.

[Cover of my copy of ROALD DAHL, Skin & Other Stories.]

Lamb to the Slaughter

Among the 11 mind-twisting and shocking tales in this collection, a classic that many readers of Dahl, perhaps even students of English and Literature worldwide, would know is Lamb to the Slaughter.

Lamb to the Slaughter tells the story of Mary Maloney seeking revenge against her authoritative husband by murdering him with a frozen leg of lamb, thereafter discarding the murder weapon to the detectives who came to her house by having them feast on it afterward. Sounds disturbing enough? Well, what’s more disturbing (though to some, it may come off as wickedly witty) is Mary’s lack of remorse and emotion after having killed her husband:

‘All right’, she told herself. ‘So I’ve killed him.’ It was extraordinary, now, how clear her mind became all of a sudden. She began thinking very fast. As the wife of a detective, she knew quite well what the penalty would be. That was fine. It made no difference to her. In fact, it would be a relief. On the other hand, what about the child? What were the laws about murderers with unborn children? Did they kill them both – mother and child? Or did they wait until the tenth month? What did they do?

Mary Maloney, Lamb to the Slaughter (by Roald Dahl)

Mary’s ‘giggle’ at the end of the story, in response to the dramatic irony established by the detective’s comment that the evidence was ‘Probably right under [their] very noses’, further paints Mary’s humorously wicked character. Perhaps her nonchalance could be her response to the unfair, power-imbalanced relationship with her husband, or perhaps she was still in shock from the adrenaline of doing something so wicked. Nevertheless, such a dynamic marital relationship and iconic plotline could signify Dahl’s exploration of the burdensome existence of women in a society of male dominance, likely even how the society’s gendered norms are an innate influence of the lack of reciprocity and sympathy in a marriage. Mary’s act could be a representation of the rebellion of women against the oppressive traditional lifestyles – an issue we see very openly discussed in today’s society – which could evoke a sense of empowerment, though the effect in itself carries a very controversial take on the more ethical and moral plane.

Needless to say, this was one of the stories that strikingly captured my attention when I was reading the collection.

An African Story

Another story that made me go ‘Oh my!’ in the collection is the revengeful, countryside story An African Story. The title of the story itself is significant and ties in well with the main plot: African stories are ‘anonymous, timeless story circulated orally among African people and meant to hand down knowledge and wisdom from parent to child’ (Williams, Peter). Before the main plot begins, the narrator reveals to the readers that the “African story” is a recollection of what an old man shared with a dead pilot who landed in the Nairobi highlands, to which the dead pilot rewrites in a manuscript which we eventually read.

In the main plot of An African Story, an old man walks into his (likely) helper, Judson, violently injuring the old man’s dog – which eventually dies – with a reason that could potentially reveal something more about Judson’s mental state:

‘He wouldn’t stop licking that old place on his paw. I couldn’t stand the noise it made. You know I can’t stand noises like that, licking, licking, licking. I told him to stop. He looked up and wagged his tail; but then he went on licking. I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I beat him.’

Judson, An African Story (by Roald Dahl)

Eventually, the old man plots a revenge strategy on Judson by making him snipe a ‘Kikuyu boy’ that has likely been stealing the milk from their cow (spoiler alert: it was actually a black Mamba, and Judson eventually gets killed by it). Dahl seems to write this in a very comical way as well, addingto his typical dark humor. On a deeper level, we can guess that this act by itself is very questionable in many ways; did Judson really deserve to get killed, or is there a better way to act on Judson’s cruelty towards animals? Was it also a loss for the old man, assuming Judson was likely the only helper to him? Could we say that the old man used the black Mamba as a proxy to keep his hands clean – and if so, would the old man’s character be equally as bad as Judson’s? Or were Judson’s actions still more far-fetched? The list goes on. Very interestingly, the debate is a never-ending one where many may find themselves subconsciously resorting to circular reasoning.

Clearly, what I personally enjoyed about this story is how disputable the personalities of the two main characters are. From whichever perspective and principle in which you hold while reading the story, you may find yourself pondering whether either of the characters’ actions was even defensible. It is an interesting self-debate of revenge and morality, posing an even larger, over-arching question: could cruelty ever be justified? If there is a possibility that Judson struggles with a mental condition, to what extent could the actions of the mentally ill be rationalized? And if there is a possibility that the old man eventually carries a slight sense of guilt and regret for his actions, is the satisfaction gained from revenge a true feeling of fulfillment or simply a robe of adrenaline that the revenger’s mind wears having carried out something that could be equally as inhumane?

If you would like to have a more thoughtful and insightful discussion of the story, check out this review by the Sitting Bee!

Galloping Foxley

If there’s one story that I would say is the darkest of the darkest in this short story collection, it has to be Galloping Foxley, a typical story that discusses themes of childhood bullying. Fun fact, this story has been adapted into a film, featured in an episode of Tales of the Unexpected, though the ending shown in the episode completely differs from the original narrative.

In this short story, William Perkins slowly recounts his miserable experience of being bullied by his schoolmate, Bruce Foxley – or ‘Galloping Foxley’ as many call him for his signature movements -, when Perkins seems to recognise Foxley in a train. Throughout the course of the story, Perkins shares with the readers his troubled past with Foxley, who does many horrible things to Perkins – namely humiliating him, beating him up with a cane, and calling him names. One horrid account is reflected below:

…in the distance, but echoing loud among the basins and the tiles, I would hear the noise of his shoes on the stone floor as he started galloping forward, and through my legs I would see him leaping up the two steps into the changing-room and come bounding towards me with his face thrust forward and the cane held high in the air. This was the moment when I shut my eyes and waited for the crack and told myself that whatever happened I must not straighten up. Anyone who has been properly beaten will tell you that the real pain does not come until about eight or ten seconds after the stroke. The stroke itself is merely a loud crack and a sort of blunt thud…numbing you completely.

William Perkins, Galloping Foxley (by Roald Dahl)

Dahl also presents viciously the power conflict between Foxley and the other schoolmates who also greatly fear him. At the end of the story, Perkins musters up the courage to publicly expose Foxley on the train by reintroducing himself (with the hopes that Foxley recognises Perkins’ name and is put in an awkward position where he is forced to confess in the open). However, the man thought to be Foxley introduces himself as ‘Jocelyn Fortescue’. A sense of ambiguity is established as readers wonder whether the man was telling the truth, though the film adaptation’s interpretation of the ending makes it particularly clear that the man was indeed Foxley trying to confuse Perkins.

All in all, it seems that the intended interpretation that Dahl goes for would be the former, perhaps to tie the narrative back to his style of comedic relief. However, we cannot argue the disturbing and traumatic actions of Foxley that the man reminds Perkins of. This tale does more than just simply explore a typical theme of childhood bullying because the violently descriptive narration brings into light the darker reality of bullying acts – that it is more than verbal abuse or nonsensical play that many might associate the word ‘bullying’ with. The human mind and body are capable of many ghastly things, and there ought to be more seriousness in dealing with their vast capacity. Perkins’ courage in wanting to publicly shame Foxley (especially in the film adaptation, where he goes on to the extent of creating a scene and spilling what Foxley has done rather than simply waiting for Foxley to admit his misdeeds in the short story) is a clear act of standing up for oneself and spotlighting the urgency for the revitalization of human morality and ethicality. The plotline’s purposeful eventual embarrassment of Perkins, while humorous on the surface, could potentially signify the laxity or detached empathy for the efforts in combating for the good of society.

There are many other stories in this collection that are worth discussing, though these 3 are probably my favorites. Dahl’s stories, as with many other authors, clearly do more than provide a source of mere entertainment to his readers. Whenever we engage ourselves with a comedic read, we might also want to consider if it entails any questionable discussions about the world that is worth pondering.

Things school won’t teach you but this block game will

By: Edmund Wong

‘Minecraft’ is probably the best-selling game of all time. This game, premised on collecting resources, building, and survival in a sandbox voxel world has captured the hearts and imaginations of many a child. That includes me, of course. Since I bought the game 4 years ago, I have clocked thousands of hours slaving away at this game with no bearing on my actual life. However, I dare say that what I’ve learned from it has been extremely valuable and shapes much of who I am today.

The Hypixel main lobby.

When Minecraft is mentioned, those in the loop usually think of singleplayer worlds, survival multiplayer (SMP) games with friends, or even pure, chaotic fun in the unrestrictive, aptly named Creative Mode, where one can choose to blow up everything in sight with unlimited TNT. For 99% of players, these are the preferred and typical modes of play. Most of my playtime, however, was recorded on a public Minecraft server named Hypixel. To put it into perspective, this server could be joined by any player in the world, but they usually have a much smaller concurrent player count of ~70000 people at once. More specifically, this server offers a variety of custom game modes, powered by custom-programmed plug-ins and smart implementations within the game’s limits. The most popular among them is SkyBlock, a typical Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game archetype. This is a type of video game that allows thousands of players to interact with each other in a persistent virtual world. In a MMO, players can create their own characters, customise their appearance and skills, and explore the game world with other players. They can also engage in various activities such as quests, combat, crafting, trading, and socialising.

One of the first things I learned about playing games like these is not just the sheer value of hard work and dedication, but also how other factors are important in the quest for success. Top players in these games – with all their skill levels maxed out, in possession of the most valuable items and near-unlimited in-game currency are really glorified and idolised by the community. They have close connections with game developers, get to become beta testers, and often gain clout easily, becoming popular Internet celebrities by showcasing their in-game wealth on YouTube. Surprisingly though, they have relatively low hours logged on the game compared to other not-as-well-to-do players. So, what are their secrets to success?

For one, rather than spending ungodly amounts of time playing the game and trying to accrue more resources, some of them take advantage of the ‘new update rush’, or what is known in economic terms as the ‘first mover’s advantage’. During new updates, players rush to obtain the newest equipment, defeat the newest enemies and bosses, as well as complete the storyline and content. The new items introduced in these updates are usually highly coveted due to novelty. There is also a certain fear of missing out – if the items turn out to be highly useful or powerful, and are also rare, their prices will increase even more in the future when more people pick up on their value, creating a speculative demand – people want to obtain them as early as possible. Thus, those astute players often go to extreme ends, such as playing the game in the wee hours of dawn to be the first people to obtain these new items, selling them off to the highest bidder. 

This ‘hard work’ pays off, though – the ‘hourly rate’ for the work put in is vastly superior to the regular rate from other activities that accrue in-game currency. This applies in real life too – there will be certain limited opportunities that can pay off massively, such as a leadership camp, CCA competitions or even, in the workplace, certain trends and projects that seem novel and risky. Those bold venture capitalists who invested in large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT are now laughing all the way to the bank with their newfound earnings. It is in the ability to see and act on these valuable opportunities, and in becoming the first mover, where we can achieve even more.

Perhaps I sound like an overzealous, optimistic believer in the American Dream. But there are still other ways in which MMO players achieve ‘financial independence’. In all MMOs, trading is an essential part of the in-game economy. It’s how those players I mentioned earlier are able to sell off their items for obscene amounts of in-game currency. In Hypixel SkyBlock specifically, there is a specialised trading system for commodities, such as potatoes, gold or even fish, called the Bazaar. This functions similarly to a stock exchange – players place buy orders and sell orders for large quantities of an item, and more impatient players can choose to fulfil those orders immediately for a higher relative price. Some players catch on to the price difference, subsisting on creating buy orders, waiting for them to be filled, then flipping them to sell orders to be sold for a higher price. This strategy is known as ‘bazaar flipping’, which is suspiciously similar to something that happens on stock trading platforms today. However, this is horribly inefficient, as many players are unwilling to pay higher prices since they could do other things while waiting for their orders to be filled.

Another strategy players employ in these games, using the Bazaar, is timing the market. During new updates or certain seasonal events, specific commodities become extremely useful and valuable. For example, during player-voted Fishing Events, the yield from fishing increases a lot, making it more profitable and beneficial compared to other activities. There are also limited-time items that can be obtained and special creatures that can be fished up. Due to this, there is an increase in demand for specialised fishing gear, such as fishing rods and fishing armour. A major crafting component for this equipment is sponges. (Don’t ask me how that works, it’s a video game.) Thus, during these events, the price of sponges increases exponentially. Smart players will then choose to hoard large quantities of sponges, having bought them at a time when their demand, and thus price, is a lot lower, then selling them off when demand and price is high. This strategy broadly applies to many of the events in the game. Of course, however, it’s not always possible to predict what commodities will be needed in the future. Some players have ‘struck the gold mine’ – having purchased a lot of seemingly useless commodities, only for them to suddenly be in shortage after a key update. That also goes to show how much of a factor luck plays in success. Most of the time, these weird and wacky investments don’t work out, but for the select few they do. Of course, trying your luck in dubious investments is way better in a low-stakes environment like a video game than in real life.

The Bazaar, a centralized hub for trading commodities

Apart from all the rhetoric about achieving success, a common occurrence in MMO games are scams. Ranging from the typical ‘doubling money’ scam to the unthinkable ‘third-party modification that steals your login information’ scam, players go to great lengths to obtain what does not belong to them. For example, scammers often advertise ‘co-op scams’, in which they masquerade as capable players, asking to be given shared access to another player’s shared profile. By playing off the human desire to make friends, these scammers are able to steal the player’s valuable items for their own profit. It’s really appalling and telling of human nature how people are willing to stoop so low just for some digital goods that have no meaning in the real world. 

There is also a darker side to MMOs like Hypixel SkyBlock – the black market for in-game currency. While under Minecraft’s End User Licence Agreement (EULA), the sale of in-game items by third parties is forbidden, many users skirt regulations to post listings online, selling their accounts and items for real money. These illegal activities have already become highly systematic, with vendors using automated computer programs to play the game for them and using cheat modifications to obtain resources at a much faster rate than usual. For example, they might modify the game to break multiple blocks at once, automatically kill monsters or even automate game activities using machine learning programs like Baritone. Often, these so-called ‘in-real-life’ (IRL) traders make tens of thousands of dollars a month running multiple bot programs on their computers a la crypto mining. Other traders with less access to the expensive hardware needed to do so instead choose to find duplication exploits to make copies of high-value items that can be sold both in-game and in real life. 

Apart from being against regulations, though, these severely impede the economy of a game. Bots generating large amounts of in-game currency only leads to severe inflation, and duplication of rare items and commodities causes them to be devalued. Thus, game developers take a very governmental approach – they create programs that monitor for abuse and enforce the rules. For Hypixel SkyBlock, these programs track player input and monitor trade receipts between players to ensure there is no foul play. Action is also taken against offending players, with account restrictions and Internet Protocol address bans. In a digital world where a new identity is created in minutes, though, these policies have proved to be effective only for the small-scale exploiter, and not for the commercial operations that run hundreds of bot accounts.

However, this is exactly why I think more people should try playing MMOs like Hypixel SkyBlock for themselves. With a faux economy and simulation of society, these MMOs serve as a low-stakes training ground to learn about the wider world. I learned how to identify scams by evaluating what sounds too good to be true and training my hunch for suspiciousness. Even if I end up falling prey to a scammer, it’s okay too – I’m not really losing something valuable anyway, and it teaches me a lesson I’m not going to forget anytime soon. Acknowledging how a black market can exist and the factors that drive it, as well as seeing how authority figures try to regulate them through various policies – it’s like seeing the real world reflected through a cartoonish lens. These kinds of experiences show how games really do imitate life. For me, I could even translate the working principles of the Bazaar into actual, academic economic analysis.

What I also found in this block game is that among the suffocating darkness, there are always penetrating rays of light. Sounds cheesy, but a game’s community is what drives it to success. With their own unique flavour of Internet slang, the SkyBlock community can be very welcoming and friendly. They are often found in Discord servers and the game’s forums, offering helpful advice for beginners. Some even donate to help others that have been scammed. Usually, these players also organise common initiatives. Events like movie and game nights, common community goals within the game itself and ‘newbie aid programs’ are quite common. Despite some members of the community being elitist and toxic, most others are just ordinary players looking to have a fun time. In fact, members of this game community often band together to support each other in their in-game endeavours.

The Hypixel forums have many threads teaching players how to identify and avoid scams.

One notable example is the election campaign of Barry. Within the game, there is an electoral system for mayors, which are fictional non-player characters who take office over the entire game world for a few days. During their term, they will bestow upon players different bonuses, and some even come with their own special events. Barry was one unpopular mayor – he had never been voted in before due to his weaker and insignificant perks. Because of this, a player-started initiative ‘#VoteBarry’ began, partly as an ironic reaction and partly for fun. An influx of Barry-related memes and posts started popping up on the community forums. Many content creators also hopped on the bandwagon, supporting Barry in sections of their videos, and creating a Discord server to coordinate efforts. In the end, Barry won with a landslide victory. Player attention and feedback also caused the game developers to improve Barry’s perks to make him a more viable choice. From this, I learnt that the power of a united community is not to be underestimated. Even in insignificant things like video games, communities can create change and cultivate helpful discourse.

For all its flaws, balance issues, and risks to one’s sanity, I still think MMOs like Skyblock are worth playing to gain an insightful glimpse of a miniaturised version of society. Perhaps we can also learn more about the mechanisms and structures of our own world, and how they present themselves in a virtual one. Video games are not just a hobby or a pastime; they are a powerful form of expression and communication that can shape our cultures and our future.

Having a Hard Time in JC? Here’s a Survival Guide

By: Raye

“The hardest two years of my life” — is exactly how I would respond if someone were to ask me about my experience in junior college (JC). As appalling of an answer as that might sound, I believe it is a statement that some JC students may resonate with. 

Rest assured, this article is not going to be reduced to a mere rant session from my end. I am almost halfway into my second (and final) year of JC, and I have definitely come a long way from where I was as a naive J1, fresh out of secondary school. Having gone through some of the toughest days and periods during my JC life, I have found ways of coping and learned valuable lessons. Some of these coping mechanisms did in fact prove to be effective, while others fell short. We’ll be looking at just what these mechanisms are in-depth, with some personal anecdotes as examples, and briefly discuss any takeaways. Through this, I hope fellow students who are reading will be able to resonate with the issues addressed, and not have to suffer unnecessarily as I did.

Before we get into the mechanisms and lessons learned, it is important to first know the root cause of the problems. So, let us take it all the way back to the first day of school.

What happened, and what was the impact?

Admittedly, I had quite an idealised perception of what JC life was going to be like. I held the same expectations of my academic performance in secondary school, despite knowing that the subjects I would eventually take were of a far higher caliber. I was often told by seniors that failing was ‘normal’, and should not be too big of a concern. So, I took their words to heart and was not very hard on myself when I flunked my first few papers. However, as the months went by, I noticed I was still failing a few subjects, quite terribly at that. Around this time, the ‘smarter’ people also started making names for themselves — whenever we’d think of a specific subject, there would be a classmate in mind who excels in it. In the same vein, I thought it would be nice to be ‘known’ for doing well in English Literature or General Paper (GP), as I had confidence in my linguistic skills. Yet, with the D and E grades I would usually see, it became clear to me that that was impossible, and a ridiculous pipe dream. 

A student who failed her test. Credits: iStock

Time was slipping through my hands. The promotional examinations began to approach. And there I was, still failing the same subjects. The straight As I was used to seeing in secondary school were now replaced and cemented with U, S and E grades. It was around this time that it finally hit me, the possibility that I may have overestimated myself. I became paranoid about never being able to excel as some of my friends did, being left behind at the bottom of the class while everyone progresses. It felt alienating and somewhat terrifying. As a result, the stress began to find its way into my life. I soon became an insomniac, getting little to no sleep almost every school night as thoughts about my academics (or just about anything else in life, really) kept me up. I was in a rather self-destructive state, and it really took a toll on my own self-perception and mental health. Fortunately enough, I managed to pull myself together by the time the promotional examinations came around. Although I did not do exceptionally well and still ended up failing the subjects I usually did, I performed well enough to promote to my second year. In fact, I am doing incrementally better now in my second year. Even though I had a rather rough experience as a J1, there were many valuable lessons and other things that I learned from surviving it – including coping mechanisms.

So, what went wrong?

Coping mechanisms can come in all forms, varying from person to person depending on their character. However, I believe one of my favorite psychologists/theorists of all time, Sigmund Freud, categorised them rather succinctly. Therefore, I’ll be referring to some of the terms, should they apply to the following mechanisms I am about to discuss below – the ones that were unsustainable and failed me.

Sigmund Freud’s theory on the 12 defense mechanisms. Credits: Kevin Everett FitzMaurice
  1. Denial

This was very likely the first mistake I made – refusing to acknowledge that I was in an entirely different educational institution and that of course, things were not going to be the same, or as smooth sailing as secondary school. I knew the sheer rigor of JC, but I somehow believed that if I just stuck to whatever brought me the grades previously, nothing bad would happen. After all, why fix something that is not broken?

Well, after getting back those first few test papers I mentioned earlier, I realised the vowels I had on my report card did not include ‘A’, but ‘E’ and ‘U’ instead. Still, I kept telling myself that it was no big deal since the seniors did say that failing tests are completely normal. And so, I chucked my papers aside, not even checking through the scripts or making an effort to understand what went wrong.

Why you shouldn’t do this: By principle, denial already connotes a refusal to acknowledge that something has happened, usually something negative. This is innately harmful, as you are not even processing what has physically occurred in your life. If you do not accept your shortcomings in the present, or prepare yourself for the fact that not everything stays the same (in this context), you obviously cannot progress into the future. Denial will only stunt your personal growth.

2. Rationalisation

This is somewhat related to my point on denial above. After doing rather terribly on my first batch of tests and sitting on the problem over the weekend, I began to really theorise about what could have gone wrong. Certainly, the feeling of flunking an examination while your classmates celebrate their first taste of success is not the greatest. Therefore, I chose to encourage myself with rather dismissive affirmations, such as the following:

  • “It was your first test, you were probably just getting used to it! It’s no big deal, you’ll know what to do the next time around.”
  • “Don’t worry, you just have to read the notes again for clarity.”

In hindsight, I was essentially grabbing at straws and coming up with whatever conclusions I could for my failures, instead of actually reflecting on practical factors like my methods of studying or whether I really understood what was going on. I simply could not put my ego aside, that I would no longer be the most ‘academic’ person in JC like I was in secondary school.

Why you shouldn’t do this: Downplaying an unpleasant situation is not always effective, especially if there is something you can do to improve your predicament. Although you still should not be too hard on yourself, it does not mean you should give up on understanding what went wrong altogether, either. Once again, that would lead to no actual progress.

Alright then…so what worked?

Although the mechanisms I discussed above were innately unsustainable and unhealthy, I have managed to cut myself free from them and instead, adopted ones that were sustainable and have truly helped me. Some of them may not necessarily be directly related to my academics, but they definitely played a part in improving my mental health.

*Note that a few of the following mechanisms may not strictly fall under Freud’s categories, hence I will simply name the mechanism as it is.

  1. (Positive) Identification

When I finally got around to seriously preparing for my promotional examinations, one thing I found difficult was maintaining the motivation to study. On some days, I would focus for hours and complete my self-assigned tasks. However, on other days, I could not bring myself to the desk and the mere thought of spending hours working on a subject I do not necessarily enjoy already tired me out. Understandably, it can be hard to feel that drive sometimes, despite those capitalistic influencers telling you ‘not to wait for motivation’. Although I think there is a degree of truth to that, I think it is more important to give yourself a long-term goal and pace yourself from there.

A picture of a signboard reminding one of their motivation/purpose. Credits: Unsplash

As JC students, it is obvious that our long-term, final goal is the A-Level examination, the one examination that everyone loses their heads over since it practically dictates our matriculation into university. Therefore, you can reframe your mindset with this. For instance, the reason why I choose to study every day, even though I may not feel like it, is because I now associate studying with the opportunity to improve my final grade at the A-Levels. This gives me a sense of power, that I am taking charge of my ultimate ‘destiny’ and doing what I can to make the day of my results collection as potentially pleasant as possible.

2. Finding a positive stimulus

‘Positive stimulus’ can refer to a wide range of things, as long as they are activities that engage with your five senses and are beyond studying. In other words, your hobbies. For example, my personal favorite forms of positive stimulus are listening to music and watching my ‘comfort’ films.

Music: Listening to music is quite an integral part of my life. In fact, you will rarely see me without my earphones in. I believe music adds so much vibrancy to the world and helps us feel a wide range of emotions that we may not even realise we are capable of feeling. In this case, though, I have actually been listening to music far more in JC, as I find it puts me in a good mood for the tiring school day ahead, and calms me down once it ends.

A photoshoot of The 1975, for their most recent album, ‘Being Funny in a Foreign Language’ (2022). Credits: The Guardian

One of my favorite bands of all time (which some of you reading this may be familiar with), is The 1975, an English pop-rock band. Although some of the lyrics in their songs make no sense and leave me scratching my head at times, I absolutely adore the instruments in just about all of them. The instrumentals usually consist of electronic synths, which can either be reminiscent of 1980s retro music or convey a dreamy, idyllic feel that is slightly more modern. As a big fan of the synthwave genre and modern alternative/pop music, The 1975 is just the perfect combination to put me in a good mood, or even get me awkwardly tapping my foot to the beat on the train. My personal favorite albums from them include A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (2018), as well as their self-titled one (2013).

Films: Besides music, I also enjoy watching movies and I find that doing so is rather effective in making me forget about the stress I experience in my daily school life. Although I watch just about any movie (as long as the plot interests me), there are specific films I can watch over and over again, purely because of the sheer happiness and comfort I feel whenever I go back to them. One such film for me is Ratatouille, a Pixar classic made in 2007.

A scene in Ratatouille (2007), showing the beautiful setting of Paris. Credits: Pixar

I remember watching it for the first time as a child and purely enjoying the film for its animation, yet not really grasping what was going on. However, watching this film again when I am older evokes a whole new range of emotions – from nostalgic childhood memories, to the warm and cozy feeling induced by the inviting Parisian setting of the film. The movie’s most iconic song, Le Festin (which translates to ‘The Feast‘ in English), never fails to calm me down with its melodic vocals and familiar guitar strums.

These are just some examples of positive stimuli – they can vary for everyone! I know of people who enjoy cooking on the side or playing chess to engage with their intellectual side of themselves. It is highly useful and beneficial to find something you enjoy doing since it ensures you have things to look forward to doing whenever studying is out of the picture.

3. Talk about it when the going gets tough

Sometimes, a problem may not always have an immediate solution. This can be because you simply are not in the right headspace to formulate one, or because you are unable to even process your own emotions. In times like those, I talk about it to close friends and family, obtaining objective second opinions to help find my way out of the problem, or simply having someone to listen to my worries.

A woman providing a listening ear for her friend. Credits: Shutterstock

By default, I am someone who prefers to solve her own problems instead of burdening other people with matters that do not even involve them. However, I soon found that bottling everything up was very unsustainable and was only destroying me internally, which made me realise that I had to voice my concerns to my loved ones. In fact, it is rather cathartic and takes a lot off your shoulders. So should you ever hit a wall, do not hesitate to talk about it to people who care about you and have your trust. Do not feel guilty for ‘burdening’ them. Put yourself in their shoes. If your friend approached you for a listening ear, you would most likely make time for them!

4. And lastly, have a good work-life balance

Finally, some practical advice to end the article. The importance of a ‘work-life balance‘ is not foreign to us, as everyone, even some of the most successful people, constantly talk about how it upkeeps our general happiness despite working hard at our jobs. Perhaps, some of us believe the constant preaching may have caused the message to lose its meaning, but I am here to reaffirm that a work-life balance is indeed, paramount to maintaining your sanity and happiness.

Let’s be honest, nobody likes to spend their entire day studying away at the desk. However, it can be hard not to get carried away in our work when we see people around us spending seven to eight hours at the library, cramming information from their notes, or doing test papers. The truth is though, the people I have seen doing just that, tend to be very unhappy once they actually get their studying done. They are just so drained from forcing themselves to sit at the same place for hours on end and resisting the fatigue that is slowly built up within them. I can verify this, as I myself was one of those people. Even though I have technically ‘studied’ for seven hours, I was barely pulling through as the words on my notes began to blur. I was not actually processing anything, and if I did end up falling asleep on the desk, I would feel guilty about it and study again later into the night. I believe this ramped up my brain activity, hindering me from falling asleep and leading me further into insomnia.

A student intending to study for long hours. Credits: WikiHow

What I think more people should recognise instead, is that if you truly cannot keep studying anymore, do not force yourself to. In theory, it is greatly counterproductive. Shake off the feeling of loss aversion – in such a case, you would be better off taking a power nap and then waking up to continue your work. Moreover, you do not need to study for seven hours a day. While you should make the effort to study as many of your subjects as you can to ensure you do not neglect any of them, I do think pacing yourself is very important. For example, my daily study routine is simply to spend 1 to 1.5 hours studying for two subjects each, bringing my total study time to 3 hours. It may not be a lot in numbers, but I find it to be effective as I am able to concentrate better for shorter periods of time and I am actually able to retain the information. Then, on days in which I simply am too drained to study, I do not touch any books and head straight to bed once I reach home and wash up. This way, I can at least recharge myself for school the next day, and not miss out on anything during lessons.

Clipart of a family spending time together. Credits: iStock

As such, studying at more spaced-out intervals grants me pockets of time in between to do what I like. This includes some of the positive stimuli I mentioned earlier but also encompasses the time I spend with my family. I would go out for lunch or dinner with my mother, or follow her on her shopping trips. Spending quality time with my family helps remind me that there is more to life beyond academics (as sad as it sounds), and many simple things in life that bring happiness and peace. Having this kind of work-life balance really helps keep me on track, and prevents me from being overly engrossed in a tunnel vision of studying.

Final notes

At the end of the day, recognise that all I have shared above are based on my own experiences. Everyone’s lives are obviously different, and what worked for me may not work for you. In saying that, I believe the lessons I learned may be helpful, and the challenges I faced resonate with some. And if those do not hold true, then I at the very least hope that this inspires other people to keep going.

Hold your head high, kid.

Physically separated, but emotionally close, an article on having childhood friends living abroad

Written by: Vera Teo Hui Zhen 1SA1

(This article is on the importance of childhood friends and how they shape our future friendships. These include my fond memories of them, how these friendships have matured, and my thoughts on making new friendships.)

In February 2023, I took a giant leap into the unknown. It was a step that all freshmen Junior College (JC) students had to take, and it wasn’t easy, at least for me. With a new environment, new faces – along with some familiar ones – and the sudden higher set of expectations placed on us, it was a lot to take in at that time. This feeling of unfamiliarity reminded me of when I had to move from Shanghai, a place that I called home.

In 2014, My family and I moved to Shanghai, China, after my dad was transferred there for his work. Spending 6 years of my childhood there was enough to make it feel like my ‘new’ home, and I couldn’t bear to leave it – along with all the precious people I knew – behind. I’m not exactly sure when I realised that I felt at home, but I know for a fact that it was because of the many special bonds and fond memories that I had created. This was when I learned that a home is not necessarily a place, but is where we can find people that make us feel at peace.

I’ve been wanting to write about my childhood days in Shanghai and the many interesting friends I made along the way, because their friendship is something I deeply value. And of course, I miss them. On some abnormally long lonely nights, I would look through this folder I have with all the tangible memories of them; short sweet letters and seemingly random items, and I think back on all the fond memories that we’ve created together: having double sleepovers, playing the piano together, talking about video game theories, drawing small doodles on our notebooks, and in general, just having a lot of fun together. (The list could go on and on, but I wouldn’t want to bore you.)

When my parents finally told me that we were going back to Singapore at the end of 2019, I was devastated. I had expected to lose touch with my close friends, which goes to show how immature I was back then. But I’m glad that these childish thoughts did not come true, and we were able to keep in touch, with our strong willpower.

Keeping in touch with each other: 

  1. Physically

Getting the chance to meet again physically is very rare, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, I’ve gotten the chance to meet 2 of my childhood friends again.

About a year after moving back to Singapore, another Singaporean friend I made in Shanghai had to move back too. Moving back was an even harder experience for her, as she had lived in Shanghai for 12 years; more than half of her lifetime. Sharing a similar experience of moving away from ‘home’, she was able to find refuge in me and pour all her thoughts and feelings onto me. The feeling of someone wanting you to be there for them emotionally is really special to me, because it shows how much they trust you with their feelings and how they are willing to be open and show themselves in a vulnerable state. 

Another encounter just at the end of last year, 2022, I got the chance to meet one of my best friends again, after 3 long years of being separated. She had moved back to her home country, Australia, a while ago and my family had decided to go on a vacation there too. There was excitement, and there was worry too; I wasn’t sure how much we would have changed, and if we were still able to get along with each other.

During our time together, we went to an amusement park and a gaming restaurant. Fortunately, everything went really well. Maybe it was the adrenaline rush from the roller coaster rides, and the video games, but I think we took our friendship to the next level. We recollected our shared memories together, and talked about our new experiences and friends we made. It made me realise how the time we spent apart from each other made the heart grow fonder, and how genuine our friendship was. Even the passing of time couldn’t diminish the connection we had built.  

  1. Online

One obvious way of keeping in touch is through texts and calls. Technology has enabled us to communicate with people living in different countries, so we’ve been using that to chat about significant changes in life, or just to share a silly little meme to boost our spirits for the day. Even though the time gaps between each text have been getting longer as time goes on, the occasional monthly texts are enough to help me destress on busy days.

Apart from keeping in touch through texts and calls, some other friends of mine kept in touch through video games, such as Valorant, Genshin Impact, Overwatch and sometimes Apex Legends. During the holiday season, this one friend I have would always end up playing games with me. Finding the time to update them on how things are going, on the other side of the world, while relaxing and trolling in game, is possible through the platform of online gaming, and is why video games will and always have had a special place in my heart.

Overall, if I had to compare my childhood friendships from Shanghai to how friendships are now, I would say that they have changed drastically. From having the opportunity to spend every spare moment we had together in school, to the occasional 5 hour catch up sessions, it shows how we don’t have to spend every moment that we have, with that someone, to truly be friends. A true friendship is one that doesn’t drain your energy, but lifts you up instead. It is one where you feel comfortable enough to open up to each other, and one where you want to listen to each other, because this relationship matters to you. At the same time, it is one where you don’t expect anything from them in return for your acts of kindness and love towards them, but they return the acts anyway because they care about you too. With all this said, I’m proud to say that my childhood friendships have matured into true ones, after having stood the test of time and distance. 

Importance of friendship:

Having genuine friendships are super important, as they provide emotional security and joyous moments in our lives that we all need as social beings. Here are some reasons why I find long term, developed and mature friendships especially important.

Friends like these act as a ‘foundation’ in the sense that my experiences with them allow me to spot the good and bad values someone possesses. A niche sense of humour, positive attitude, honesty, responsibility and respectfulness are some of the key things I look out for in someone I meet for the first time. If anyone I meet starts to display any toxic trait that a bad childhood friend made me experience, it is easier to spot the flaws and to start staying away from that person before they cause me any trouble. This has helped me to find the right people to make friends with, and as cold as it sounds, ignore those who don’t live up to my expectations for the values of a good friend.

Understanding the significance of forming friendships, whether it be with our parents, teacher or classmates, or even a therapist, I believe, is life-changing. All humans are social beings that strive to create sincere social connections. Not only is it something we want, but it is also healthy for us to confide in someone we trust. Sometimes, our thoughts are overwhelming, and we bottle them up, like forcing air into a balloon that is about to burst, when we feel like we don’t have anyone to share our feelings with. Eventually, it can become too much for us, and the balloon bursts, hurting those that truly care about our well-being. This is a reminder to everyone who is feeling lonely right now: do remember that we don’t always have to do things on our own. That’s what the other 8 billion people in the world are for, to find ones to form meaningful relationships with, and to let us be our true selves.

How I feel about making new friendships now:

Back when I was younger, I was more carefree, because I could be. We had the benefit of being less careful in the way that we spent our free time, because of the few responsibilities that we had to take up. Not only that, but we also had much more free time than we do now. Research published in the Journal of Social Personal Relationships suggests it takes 90 hours spent together to go from “casual” friend to “friend” and more than 200 hours to become “close” friends. That probably explains why it was so much easier to form close friends (and friend problems) at that age.

Personally, I think it is also easier to form friends when we are young, as our minds are more impressionable, hence making it almost effortless for us to find similar interests, and develop them together. This is also why I think that I’m especially close to my childhood friends, as we share many similar hobbies, and it gives us the chance to share our thoughts on a topic that others may not be familiar with, or for us to get excited over a new video game character being released soon.

As we get older, it gets harder for us to form deep and meaningful friendships, because we have more responsibilities, and thus less time to spend with others. Sometimes, we get so caught up in our work, that we forget that social connections are important too. Not only that, but finding people that share a large portion of the interests as you is basically impossible at this stage and age. Everyone’s childhood stories are different, and especially for someone who did not grow up in the local context, this childhood I experienced is distinctly different from those who lived in Singapore for their whole lives. This explains why the bulk of friendships we create are from our late childhood/ early teenage years, and tend to somewhat tag along with us throughout our lives. 

Although it’s been getting even more difficult to find time to build friendships with each passing day (at least for me), with homework starting to pile up and our to do lists increasing by the second, I think that at this age, friendship making is still not impossible to do, because our late teenhood years is usually when we make our life long friends.

Right now, I feel satisfied with the social circle I have formed over the 16 years of my life, but I do think that making a few more friends couldn’t hurt. Afterall, we’re still young and there is much to learn from others. Maybe in this new environment, I’ll be able to find a kindred soul to create even more memorable memories with.