On the rollercoaster


Now that I am flying off on Saturday, I suddenly have just a small window of free time to actually write about what happened with regards to doing a language at UC. Most people I talk to regularly already know what’s been going on, so this is more of a… “diary” of sorts.

I went into UC because I wanted to do a nursing degree. However, I have also wanted to do Japanese for the last couple of years now, in an “official” sort of setting. I am not sure how to describe to you how my mind works, but let’s just say private lessons don’t work out well for me. I need a proper “institution setting”, so to speak. So, when I got into UC for nursing, I decided to do Japanese as well.

However, I don’t actually have a death wish. I had some RPL which meant that most of my degree is part time (due to structuring), which, in turn, meant that I already fulfilled some credits of my degree. The degree itself had no free credit space for me to turn around in, but physically speaking, I had “spare time”. So, I added Japanese into my cart and figured that if no one picked on it, then I should be fine. I am over the “limits” of credits, I didn’t think it had be much of an issue though.

When UC killed their language department, UC came to a joint agreement with ANU without really consulting anyone. Furthermore, the entire agreement was so rushed, the winter semester was literally in about week 3 – with the Japanese language course running. At that time, I was even telling a friend, nah, I don’t think they will push us to go right now. Probably at the start of next year. I was so complacent in that thought that I figured I might drop Japanese officially next year, and just go back to self studying.

I also had a few dilemmas, starting with “should I bother”. I know next year nursing will be busy. ANU covers about 9 hours worth of contact time in a week for Japanese. somewhere in semester 2 next year, I will be carrying a full load for nursing, while Japanese in ANU is 2 subjects worth – totalling to a 6 subject semester. There’s a fine line between challenging yourself and over-stretching/reaching, and I felt I would toe that line if I come to that. I don’t want to just manage my courses. I want to do well.

However, before I could relax, UC officially closed the language courses and there was a flurry of emails left and right that we have to sign up for placement tests if we intend to continue our various language courses. All told, according to the media, there’s 300 of us displaced students stretched across 3 language courses and we are competing for places in another university that already has quite a number of students in their own language courses. Despite my dilemma, I decided to give the placement test a shot anyway, partly from not wanting to let go of Japanese (it was my “fun” course outside of nursing), partly from wondering where I stand academically speaking.

It was here that my dramas with uni began. Firstly, they decided to do this when ANU was about to start their semester 2 in less than 2 weeks. So all the departments were damn busy. Our paperworks sometimes didn’t go through, or it went through and nobody knew who did what with it. Some students were not notified on whether their placement tests were booked in, while others were told to just turn up. It was an administrative nightmare to which I, still calm and collected, called on the Friday before the test (which was Monday) to see where I would be going to for my placement test.

They weren’t sure what happened to my paperwork, offered to call back in 10 mins. And when they did, they suddenly discovered I am a nursing student. This is after me sending through some paperwork that openly said I am a nursing student. They tried to dissuade me from studying Japanese any further, because I am over my credit limit, at which point I pointed out that I had been over it since the moment I started this Japanese course.

The woman on the phone cajoled and harangued me. and eventually, in an exasperated tone, she told me “But you could be stealing away a HECs position from another student!!!!”

“but, I am not on HECs, I am paying my own fees!” I was completely blindsided by her comment, hurt and stumped. When I was an international student, they milked the fuck out of me. Even though I am a domestic student now, I am still paying upfront while other students are contributing to the billion dollars worth of HECs debt that is unlikely to be recovered.

She stopped haranguing me as much thereafter, just the whole “I am tired of this shit” tone of finality. I was told to go for the placement test anyway and then see what happened. They had already informed my nursing convenor (the arts convenor knew this and approved of me going ahead to go for the placement test anyway, but it turns out she has no authority over this according to the phone call), and was waiting for her approval. However, nursing convenor won’t be in till tuesday – wednesday at that time.

By this time, I was partly hoping I had fail the placement test so at least I can blame it on my stupidity. Still, I studied for the placement test a little. The structure of the placement test was that each test covered each YEAR’s worth of work, so if I get about 40-50% I am pretty much good for the semester I had studied. If I pass the whole thing (about 80%?), then I am beyond the scope of that. I know I won’t get 80%, but how would I fare?

I passed it. And was told by my convenor, no, you can’t go do Japanese. Go study a few more semesters, and I will reconsider.

Friday, i felt like crying. Monday, I was terribly happy. Tuesday, I was in tears again. Wednesday, despite how I felt initially (down and shit), I emailed all around the department and called up ANU administration – about late admission into their diploma of languages program, and was given plenty of happiness and hope in mankind when their collective kindness allowed me to apply for a diploma in languages late! Until I saw the forms and it required UC to give me permission.

However, since this was a rush rush thing, it was closed to end of business day. I asked if I could just hand it in with a scan of my Uni ID as a proof that I am a uni student instead of permission, the person in ANU admin said sure, no probs.

And then, I was told late the next day (their office closes at 3pm) that I need approval. Popped down to UC to ask for an approval – and then was told no.

Despite the fact that a Diploma meant that I am paying for everything, AGAIN, (since they were offering displaced students some compensation in the form of bus fares and free textbooks) and I am on my own merit as a student in ANU, they won’t let me do it since my convenor already said now.

At which point, stressed, without sleep for about 32 hours by then, I flipped. I stopped being nice and started yelling at them. The new assistant manage decided to call for permissions – but she was on her own as no one would pick up their phones. As such, on her own decision, she gave me the permissions.

If I wasn’t bipolar before this, I was starting to feel like I am about to become one.

There were a few other red tapes that I had to go through before being officially a student that is enrolled in Japanese – but that’s the end of my ordeal for now and I hope never to go through that again.

I must admit that, despite feeling like I shouldn’t pursue this before, each step of the way there was a helping hand, an encouraging word, a collective of kindness that made me want to continue to pursue this. To just do this. By the end of it, I was not only finding ways around it to LEARN japanese, I was actively pushing it.

It is now pretty much end of week 5. I have been an ANU Japanese language student for 5 weeks, while still being a Nursing student (week 2). My sleep debt has accumulated beyond recognition; I have never felt more useless and retarded some days in my Japanese class; there were many moments, due to exhaustion, i wondered how to say something in Japanese to the next person I see (e.g. the bus driver) out of sheer paranoia that they might not be able to understand my broken japanese; I have fallen asleep standing up while at work (read: falling on to your knees hurt) because i was studying for about 8 hours of the 10 hours shift.

I have also never been happier, academically speaking, to be where I am right now.

There will come days, yet again, when I feel like giving up, feel like shit academically and just don’t want to see another textbook. However, this feeling of being able to empower myself, no one is ever going to take that away from me.

Current Mood: (tired) tired

Learning a language

When I first bought this I just presumed its more of a kiddy dictionary or just for more commonly used words. Turns out they have got nearly every anatomy words I have thrown at it so far! Just needs furigana -.- so awesome though!

Being Singaporean wasn’t easy sometimes. We grew up having to learn both our mother tongue and English. I started off being stronger in mandarin and shittier in English – my parents were both, to the best of descriptions, chinese educated. I had tutors from age 4 to help with my English, a library of books at roughly the same age that were in varying levels of English that I struggled through on my own half the time with sometimes awkward results. I still remember that while I wrote fantastic stories, I couldn’t pronounce the words I used: Is-land instead of I-land (which resulted in a shouting teacher and a group of laughing classmates).

So I grew up determined to be best at my English, but my mandarin was sadly neglected because, in my opinion, it was hardly useful.

About a decade ago, I wanted to learn German. I learnt about 2 semesters worth of it but I was terrible at the grammar and stopped as it was stressing me too much. At the same time, I discovered anime… and it sparked an interest in the Japanese language itself. Since then, I was learning Japanese by myself on and off. I am not good at it, but at least I can ask for directions. HAHAHA! However, I decided to do it more seriously this year.

Everyone learns things differently, and language is no different a subject to learn. One thing for sure though – it is not something you just learn by reading. There is a few things that works for me:

Yay... Got more manga on the pretext of improving my Japanese (because, we use rasengan and talk to shinigamis in real life)! Thanks Kinokuniya!

a) Total immersion: I am completely swamped by it. It doesn’t matter how much I understand, it is that it is around me. Ages ago, when I had to pass my mandarin exams, I spent weeks listening to 93.3fm (hahaha!!!), watching chinese news and trying to read chinese news.

In the case of Japanese, it was far easier that I actually like anime. So I watch anime, buy japanese manga and light novels (and attempt to read + translate them) and read out aloud my comprehension passages.

Working my way through my first light novel, again, this time with post its and dictionary. Couldn't find the meaning for some words though :(

I must admit that even though I was only in Japan for 17 days, those 17 days actually added to my vocabulary.

b) Different forms of study aids: One is never enough. I might not finish them exercise quizzes and so on, but one is never enough. Case in point: Flash cards

Learning Japanese: Flashcards

I bought MoeKana last year and really enjoyed it, then bought MoeKanji this year. Personally, I REALLY like the art that goes with it, and they make me want to bring out the cards to read often too. However, I like to test myself or get someone to help test me. These cards are single sided and doesn’t come with a katakana set, which limits me to a certain degree. I buy them though, for the extra motivation then I got White Rabbit Press’s Kana Flashcards.

Learning Japanese: Flashcards

These are not only double sided, they come with the memory aids and stroke orders plus some vocabulary. Really helpful, really like them. They also have flashcards for the kanji too, which I might consider getting them at some point later.

A variety of study aids helps break up the monotony in my opinion

c) Writing it out: finally, whether or not, I end up writing it out. Smartphones these days are awesome – but writing it out often nails it into my memory. Not only am I thinking how the word is written, I am also thinking how it is pronounced.

I really enjoy the process of learning a language though. It’s fun being “suddenly” able to understand what you are reading and hearing. There’s a huge sense of achievement :)

Not to mention, plenty of ability to find something to make fun of  in whatever language it is in your head.

Learning Japanese: Flashcards

Current Mood: (drained) drained

Almost a year…


Dear Dad,

As I prepare for my pilgrimage home for your death anniversary, I am struck by how quickly this year has passed. There were weeks where I really lost track of time and the calendar on my fridge didn’t actually change for 2 months.

It’s been a crazy year, learning to handle mum without you, sorting out Lishan’s life for her as you have asked. There were days when I can barely manage to hold myself up, and even now I still have days when I just don’t want to face the world because I don’t think I could. And yet, each day I have to plod forward because if I don’t, things don’t get done, life still goes on and bills still need to get paid.

To say I miss you would be a huge understatement. While some days felt like I have just forgotten to call you for a very long time, or one of those times when I was throwing a tantrum, other days I feel so helpless because you’re the one I usually talk to who understands me and gives me weird but somewhat deep advice – or politically incorrect ones.

I have to make the decisions you used to make, but without the wisdom that you have built up over the years – which makes me doubt myself some times and made me so scared to do some stuff.

This past year, I have done so many things and also so many “nothings”. I finally hanker down and started on my nursing degree while setting Lishan up for a diploma that I think is within her field of interest. I have organised therapies to help her get better at handling life – but, as you have said, it’s one small step for a very long (yet over due) process.

I found Lishan a job thanks to my friends, enrolled her in a bunch of things and I think she has made some new friends thanks to that. There are some days where I worry because she doesn’t say or do things the right way. Thankfully, people are incredibly forgiving and helpful towards her, so I am hopeful that in the long term, she won’t as lonely as you feared she might be.

I have also given some of your books to the local Chinese Medicine Library. I can only say, I am SO thankful you use to write and read in traditional chinese. The nice old man from the library only sends me text messages in traditional chinese and I had a hard time trying to understand his very formal, polite responses. We are still sorting out the rest and will hopefully get at least half of those out when I return in August. I am, however, holding on to your Da Yan Gong book and some of your older TCM books, as well as anything that english that at least I can read. I know your love for TCM, and you know my love for western medicine. It will take me a life time to read your books that I am more interested in spending it reading Grey’s Anatomy.

I think that would make for a fantastic life time of discussion though, should we ever meet again.

There are still more books left belonging in the other categories of your favourite topics in life, such as wushu and buddhism/taoism. I have no idea who to give those to nor who would want them. There’s too many of them in the house with virtually no one being able to read them. I know you wouldn’t want them to go to waste.

By the way, I found your very questionable collection and have thrown them away. While I have NO IDEA why you have those things, and I need no explanation, I would imagine you wouldn’t want people’s last memories of you as them.

I went home for chinese new year and for the first time, actually bothered to turn up to visit my own relatives instead of my friends on my own.

I guess, what I am trying to say in this very long and rambling mail is that we had our tough times trying to deal with our loss as a family and yet, we have started moving on. There are days when this is hard, small steps and few steps backwards at time, but we are moving forward and there’s nothing for you to worry about. I am still a long way from fulfilling my promise to you entirely – but the promise I made wasn’t some thing that’s done and dusted, it’s a long continuous process of looking after my sister, our bonds and family.

There’s a lot of repairing that needs to be done first, and I know I suck at it, but it is getting done and even I am amazed.

So thanks for everything dad, and I will come see you in August.


Current Mood: (thoughtful) thoughtful