Helllloooo there! Oh it was real alright (and cold) So there I was at one of the world's top ranking Universities. According to QS,...

The University of Oxford

Helllloooo there! Oh it was real alright (and cold)

So there I was at one of the world's top ranking Universities. According to QS, 6th in the world. According to the Times Higher Education, 2nd in the world.

And what the hell was I doing there??! Well, to proudly present my final year thesis, "Away from Ayah". I mentioned in my previous blog post, my team was invited to showcase our documentary because previously, we had submitted it to another festival called, the Freedom Film Festival, which was in conjunction with this conference at Oxford. So really.. it was a chance invitation that I'd never have imagined to go to. Since I was the only one available in our team to make it there, I made it there solo.

Took Malaysian airlines and after a 2 hour transit at KL and a 13 hour flight to Heathrow Airport, I arrived in the UK and was promptly whisked to my aunt's apartment in London. To save money, I had to stay at her house, otherwise staying at Oxford would cost me 200 pounds for three nights. And that's a whopping SGD $400 for just three nights. I ain't got that amount to spare oh deary me. The next day, I got a 7-day pass to get to Oxford for the subsequent three days with return, which was cheaper.

Why did they have to make me look like a god damn criminal.

And there I was, ready to make my way to Oxford the next day.

Early morning at 6am

Paddington railway station

Railway trains - always has its ways with me.

It took me 2 hours+ just to get to the University every day. And then another 2 to get back. I had to take the Underground tube for an hour then transfer to the railway. Sounds daunting? Neh, I used to do this every day from Pasir Ris to Ulu NTU, so I never thought this was tough. Besides, the London tube service is so easy to use and navigate considering the fact that Singapore's MRT is so similar. I find the London tube easier to use in fact! So I thoroughly enjoyed it very much.

Before I knew it, there I was.

I'd been here 6 years ago while in a tour group. Never would I have imagined I'd come back here again for a particular purpose. An academic purpose.

The conference lasted for three days. My presentation was on the third and final day. All three days were panels showcasing their papers - most of them doctoral papers. I hadn't known this.. I never really put in much thought about what conferences were. Only after attending this conference did I realise they were presentation of papers mostly written by students doing their PhD. Otherwise, they were findings by researchers and academics. A lot of them were also lecturers so it's kinda like connecting the dots, oh so THIS is what my lecturer in NTU actually does. THIS is how they get tenured. THIS is the kinda stuff they have to do outside of their teaching jobs. Gees, and all this time they were misunderstood creatures hahaha because they always seem distant. My respect went up for them. At the same time though, I now see my lecturers as human beings because I spoke to a lot of other people at the conference and I talk to them like they're my mates in school but there's a disconnect coz I'm at most of their students' age. So... it's kinda strange and slightly perverse lol.

So yeah, I was a lot younger than most of them. Everyone's doing their PhD and I'm like, hey yeah, I just did my Bachelor's what's up hahaha. But I was there to learn from their findings, which was quite interesting. Some, quite boring.

One of those presentations on ASEAN
I've always been interested in Southeast Asia so topics about ASEAN, I was drawn to.. But, it can get really boring with all the stats and all. And I thought the presentations on ASEAN weren't very amazing.

Another topic that I was drawn to was Women's issues. Women Leadership, Women economic development in Southeast Asia. The Women's forum was actually one of the highlights of the conference, which I hadn't known till I attended the conference. I attended the sessions and a workshop and gained quite a lot of useful insights. I think one of the debates that struck me most and hadn't occurred to me was that, hiring female domestic workers could be a form of perpetuation of discrimination of women BY women. This is especially so in Singapore, I mean nowadays almost every household has a maid and as a middle-class society, by doing so, we're perpetuating this stereotype of women being used as a "commodity" from low income societies. That was quite mind-blowing coz I never thought of it that way. The rebuttal was that, that's assuming the workers are not treated well. What if they are treated well, like part of the family? Then they're in other words, giving economic empowerment to these women and their families no? I believe those who were in favour of this argument feel a slight guilt because they have a helper in their own families so they need to defend their own doing.

Many threads of thought going on in this forum, like whether it is actually the MEN instead of women who need to be educated to achieve women's rights and equality.

What was also quite amazing about the conference was how leading academics and leaders were present.

Opening speech by Jose Ramos-Horta
I've never heard about this man and I know little about his country Timor-Leste. The smallest I believe, and one of the least known countries in Southeast Asia. His speech got me interested in going there. And also, interested in him, since he won a Nobel Peace Prize just like Aung San Suu Kyi.

When there was a Q&A session, a Burmese lady asked what it is that Myanmar can learn from Timor-Leste because they draw similarities from the time that they rose up and established a new nation. Apparently ethnic clashes was a similar problem that they went through and Myanmar is experiencing now. Jose Ramos-Horta replied, "Don't learn from us. Learn from Singapore. Employ one civil servant from Singapore and your country will be better." He was addressing the rampant issue of corruption that he believes Singapore has eliminated, which he even thinks his own country still has a problem with.

That was interesting. Interesting to know how other countries hold high regard of Singapore.

And that was the first day of the conference - full of panel discussions and meeting like-minded intellects.

The highlight of the second day had to be this,

Enroute to Somersville College

Gala Dinner
Yeap, quite a lavish setting for a gala dinner.
It looks small here because I couldn't capture the entire room in a picture. It was huge! It's like what you see in the Harry Potter movies. Long tables, candles, portraits. So typical. The ROOM smells of history.

Elizabeth Pisani
She was quite an entertaining speaker, though I was quite zoned out in the middle when I realised it was never gonna end hahaha.

But yes, I thought it was quite a lavish affair indeed. In a very historical building. I guess that's what you get when you're in the UK.

I can't really seem to put a finger to my experience with the dinner. It's something I'd never experienced before. It just seems kinda surreal and casual at the same time. Even though I thought it was lavish, a part of me thinks that it's quite a normal thing in the UK. I'm still trying to make sense of it.

Dinner ended at 9:30pm and the thing with academics is that, they're not the sort who'd stay and mingle. Everybody just got up and left the moment she ended her speech lol. Like literally stand up from their chairs the moment she finished and goodbye out the door. That was kinda good as well so that I didn't feel like I was missing out because I had to rush to catch my train otherwise I'd have no more trains running in London to go home to.


Then came Day 3. The day of my presentation. 

I'd done this a number of times. A few overseas film festivals. Filament - the annual school showcase as well. So before coming to Oxford, I was like nyeh, this is gonna be peasy. But when the day came, I was nervous as hell. I dunno why, but I was just like dayum, I'm facing a crowd of intellects. Questions are going to be tough.

After showcasing a Singapore film about people implicated and imprisoned by the Internal Security Act (i know.. real heavy stuff), it was "Away from Ayah"'s turn to show on screen. Mind you, I was so nervous watching my team's film. My heart was beating real fast. Even though the audience was quite small, with roughly 25 people, I was still nervous.

But as I continued watching the film, hearing Ipin's voice (the boy that I see every week), my nerves started to soothe and calm. It was a familiar voice. A voice I heard every week. And I kept telling myself, do this for him. Let's do this for Ipin!

After the film ended, I went in front to receive questions.

Ooh, a bundle of nerves under that facade!

Boy, some of them were difficult indeed. This was the toughest one:

"Having done this project on the justice system in Singapore, I'm interested to find out your take on the persistence of the justice system in Singapore."

It was a crowd largely made up of Singaporeans studying in Oxford and they were quite young too. This one was asked by a Singaporean gentleman.

When he asked that, my mind went quite blank because.. what the hell was that supposed to mean? Lucky he elaborated and saved me from embarrassment, "In a sense that, for drug abusers, they are constantly put back into jail after recurring offences. Do you think this is a good system in treating drug abusers as a form of punishment or not? Instead of maybe rehabilitation." Something along those lines, but I'm sure the way he put it was far more intellectual hahaha.

I told him, that was a tough question. And I honestly told him, "I am in a dilemma." Whether punishment should be so severe and whether it is right for a person to be constantly put back to jail every time he went back to drugs. Especially since our film showcased a child being affected whenever his parent is put into jail for drugs. An international friend once told me "Why is it that sex abusers don't get the death sentence but drug traffickers do? Does Singapore place sex abuse as less of a crime than drug trafficking?" Oh that got me thinking quite a bit. But on the other hand, drug abuse is difficult to treat. It is addictive and users are known to go to it time after time after time, even after recovery. Furthermore, there is a global network of drug trafficking. We don't want our young to be corrupted by drugs, do we? With tough measures on drug offenders, the jail system would serve as a useful deterrent. Then there comes the constant backlash that Singapore gets - We will always have an issue with human rights and whether it is debilitating on an individual when he or she is constantly put into jail.

That was the dilemma and I told him my dilemma. I couldn't give him an outright stance because as with all issues, there are layers of argument and therein lies the complexity. I gave an answer to the best of my ability and I hope it sufficed.

There were many more questions but at that point of time, all I did was focus on answering all those questions so I can't remember a lot of them now.

One was why we chose to portray our film in this manner - less fact-driven. Another was about the boy and his family background etc. They were largely concerned about his wellbeing and his family. With that, there was a question about whether there was anything we could do with our film to help this family. I thought that was a great suggestion, but as with bureaucracy, we can't. The organisation wouldn't allow that. It would be another tough round of negotiations.

Sometimes, being in the media, there is just only so much you can do. Limitations everywhere.

The Q&A session went quite well I thought. A number of people congratulated our work and I was of course glad to hear that. It made me think about my job in the media again. How impactful it was and perhaps it ain't so bad afterall...

And I think with Manpang, my Coral secondary friend in the crowd, it was a lot less intimidating!!!

Thanks Manpang for coming down!!!
A familiar face always saves the day
He's there studying at the University of Leeds. He was doing his placement aka internship in London so he came down to support me and also hang out! Still has 2 more years of Bachelors and 1 year of Masters. Jeez, no thanks to National Service ya? hahaha.

Hadn't seen him for 4 years after JC and I hadn't contacted him much at all after that eeks. This trip made up for that!

Walked around Oxford after my presentation, even went to St. Hugh's College, where Aung San Suu Kyi used to study haha I just had to. And walked around this beautiful park~

Sometimes I just think it's so damn unfair that other countries have so much land. So much greenery. So much nature. I kept exclaiming, "omg this is so beautiful" and "why can't Singapore have this too!!" I was quite jealous that their campus was so gorgeous with nice places to walk and damn, it's just not fair :(

So tempting to be a student here. But then again, can I even MAKE it to Oxford hahahaha. Jesus, it's World-freakin-Class.

And that's the thing also, I mean from a World Class University, we expect a lot. I expected a lot from the papers presented. But... you know what? After spending three days at the University of Oxford, I thought, hey, actually it isn't that different from my University in Singapore. I actually thought the academic rigour was pretty much the same as what I got in Singapore. I mean, I haven't attended classes there and it's mere judgment from three days of conference there, but after that, I don't hold Oxford as high of a regard as I used to.

I started this post with QS rankings of University of Oxford - 6th in the World. But I'm about to end this post with QS rankings of a more familiar name to me - Nanyang Technological University. At which ranking? 13th in the world. Not far behind at all. Not at all.

So yes, this University is amazing. Culture is amazing. Environment is amazing. But that doesn't mean that what I got was any lesser. I believe that I had a World-Class education too. I really do think that way. In my eyes, Singapore's standards are excellent. I would love to go Oxford to get the experience of being educated in a renowned college and the experience of living overseas. At the same time, I am contented with where I got my education. And I think we are not any lesser than these branded Universities. We should be proud : )

With that said, WHAT an experience, Oxford. What an experience. I'm glad I made it here.

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