Humans of Tembusu (HOT)

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For me, having the chance to go on a student exchange programme to Germany was great. I got the chance to travel to many places around Europe, and be able to relax my mind. But it all went wrong in Spain, where my phone and bag were stolen in two separate theft incidents. It wasn't easy talking about it, but it has to be said, not just to enable me to have closure, but to let others know how to avoid ending up in such a situation, and if they unfortunately do, what to do next.

Ryan Quek, Year 3, Gaja

Read Ryan's story on Treehouse:
I’m approaching two decades of living, which means I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly 20 years. I was born to two vegetarian parents, and thus naturally raised as one. Over time, my body had become unaccustomed to eating meat, so much so that my system outright rejects it. Once in Taiwan, I unknowingly purchased and ate an entire meat bun, cause I couldn't decipher the ingredients on the packaging - I’m just bad at reading chinese, what to do? I’m also blur and had zero awareness that I was consuming meat for the first time. So that’s how I spent my first night in Taiwan with explosive diarrhea.
I feel like there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what vegetarians or vegans are like. Some people think that we are salad-eating preachy hipsters. I think many such stereotypes arise because we are fragile in conversations that present to us worldviews different from what we are used to. It will always be important and meaningful for us to have civil conversations about difficult topics - not just about vegetarianism, but about any parts of our identity that make up who we are.

Ling Xuan, Year 1, Gaja
Despite having relocated four times since Primary 5, I have always felt Singaporean. Upon returning for NS, I managed to pull off that I studied locally on the first day - I had maintained my Singaporean accent and Singlish, probably thanks to frequent trips back home. I’d thought that I’d be using NS to re-assimilate, but it turned out I was already more-or-less assimilated.
Staying in touch with our ‘Singaporean-ness’ took various, sometimes interesting, forms. Possibly being the only Singaporean family in Bonn (Germany) made us all the more homesick. We relied on a healthy dose of Singaporean TV serials, pre-packed laksa and chicken rice. The pre-packed meals were similar to those found in vending machines at UTown, but at that time, anything from Singapore was heavenly.
In Hong Kong by contrast, a lot of my friends at my international school were previously from Singapore International School (SIS). They had a good idea of Singaporean culture and knew the national anthem better than I did since they sang it daily. Together, we visited SIS’ Singapore Day Fair - it was meant for locals to experience Singaporean culture, but I went to pay astronomical prices for that little taste of home in the form of a bowl of carrot cake.
Wee Liang, Year 1, Shan
What I love most about living in Tembusu is the sense of community that seems to be core to the college. Even as an exchange student, I feel well integrated into residential life. Whether through the inter-college competitions, the common dining experiences or the close-knit houses (shout-out to Ponya!), the students really do look out for one another. I think that the level of security within Singapore helps foster trust amongst the students (and citizens in general), which creates a more connected community. For example, back home I would have never dreamed of leaving the door of my room unlocked, yet that is the norm here. Also, walking alone at night is not recommended in most cities, but in Singapore I feel completely at ease walking at any hour of the day. Even though Singapore is very dense, I have never felt so safe in my life. Big cities have a lot to learn from Singapore - a higher level of security leads to more trust which in turn translates to a more bonded community. I hope to take some of these communal values back home to carry a piece of my Tembusu experience with me.
- Laurence, Year 3, Ponya
On exchange from HEC Montreal, Canada
I (not so) secretly want to be Hannah Montana, to live a double life as a classical musician and a bit of a pop star. People think I only listen to classical music because it's what I study at the Conservatory. Some tell me I should focus solely on it, that anything else is just a ‘hobby’. But being a 21st century musician really isn’t about being good at just one thing, but rather about achieving a certain amount of versatility. The beauty of music lies in its vastness and there are so many different facets just waiting to be explored. Classical music is a “dying” art form only because people still present it through lenses of our previous generation, and like all culture that evolves, this needs to evolve too. That’s why I write my own songs as KEAT, try out making music videos (I’ve one coming up soon!) and explore electronic music on top of the singing and acting I do in school. So here I am, just striving to do my own THANG. At least If I fail, no one can say I didn’t try, just… do drop some dollar coins if you ever see me busking in an underpass 😉
- Jingjie, Y2, Shan
When I was about 10 years old my family went camping in Hong Kong, where we lived at the time. We brought all the necessary camping equipment: a tent, sleeping bags, blankets, food. It was really fun, and a fairly typical camping experience until nightfall.

In the middle of the night we were suddenly woken up by a low "Ooooo" sound followed by low, heavy footsteps. My sister and I were terrified, it seemed like the actualisation of a classic horror story: girl goes camping in winter and never comes back. Our father went out to see what was going on and we waited in the tent, our imaginations running wild. Much to our surprise he soon called for us to join him outside. So we stepped out tentatively, to find that there were no ghosts, no zombies… just cows.

Turns out there were wild cows that would come to the camp site to graze at night! What started out as a terrifying experience turned out to be pretty amazing. We had a good laugh and returned to our sleeping bags, lulled to sleep by the gentle ‘moos’ of the cows.
.- Mertice, Year 1, Ponya
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“I/ want to write you a poem that lingers/on your breath like cigarettes, stings/ your eyes like salt, a finger pointing/ unflinchingly: this is what you are” – What you are, Tania de Rozario
This is a quote from one of my favourite poems by a Singaporean writer. It describes what I want my poetry to be – unflinchingly honest. .
Poetry is an outlet for me to express myself and make sense of the world around me. For my Theatre A Levels examination, I created a devised movement piece, (one.), which explores the dysfunctional relationship of Girl and a personified Self-Harm. I made use of contemporary dance and spoken poetry – mediums which I believe best showcase and expose the human condition.
(one.) was inspired by my own battle with self-harm, and the process was undeniably difficult. I had to repeatedly re-open (metaphorical) wounds and learn to be vulnerable in front of an audience, while maintaining a distance between myself and ‘Girl’ so I could retain full control of my emotions and movements. After all, it was a performance and not a diary entry. As I worked through the performance, I began to better understand myself, the people around me, and the power of words. It has been my dream ever since to marry poetry, dance and theatre to create a visceral artistic experience for the audience.
- Ella, Year 1, Shan
I was in debate through secondary school and JC, and have been coaching local school teams since graduating from JC. But this year in February I started coaching the Vietnamese national debate team. We had about five months to prepare them for the World Schools’ Debating Championships (WSDCs) in August. It was the first time these kids had ever experienced debate, and the first time Vietnam had ever been represented.
In Singapore we take CCAs for granted, but in Vietnam the concept of CCAs is very foreign. They have some sports activities and the like but there isn’t a culture of serious, structured extra-curricular activities. So these kids’ attitudes towards debate are very different, because the chance to learn a skill beyond their classroom curriculum is a real treat. They really enjoy debate for what it is, especially as there’s no intense competitiveness like in Singapore. 
It’s been refreshing, and a fulfilling experience. The kids haven’t just been learning to debate, their grades have been improving and some of their parents have thanked us for helping them with confidence in public speaking. I’ve continued to coach them since uni started, by going down on weekends. It’s tough to juggle this and a law school workload, but I’ll manage somehow – it’s worth it.
- Samuel, Year 1, Ponya
We all get labelled, be it by clubs, groups or just things we associate with. Some nicknames that have stuck with me over the years include theatre kid, BBC and (the classic!) Team Mom. Labels aren't always bad. They celebrate friendships between people with common interests, as much as they strengthen our identities.
But I get worried sometimes. What if I haven't seen enough productions to be an aficionado about the best scripts? What if I can't list 5 Oscar Wilde plays off the top of my head, or identify any Les Mis song that isn't ‘I Dreamed A Dream’? And what if I confess that I've no clue what the Suzuki method is?
There are other times that I know it's okay - I'm not doing a ‘label’ injustice just because there are things I don't know. It’s natural to have wide-ranging interests, but we all have limited time. Just today I’ve found myself torn between two of my interests: do I go for dance, or watch Fun Home? Until physicists find a way to split me between two locations simultaneously, I'll make do with an uncertain identity: a kind-of drama kid, a sort-of history geek, a podcast lover who raves about certain series while non-fictional talk shows elude her. There will be tons I don't know, and may never know, but I'll keep learning about all these things I love along the way. 
- Cheryl, Tancho, Year 3
I think youths of today, especially in Singapore, are too cynical. We think it’s beyond our reach to change what we really want to change, to make an impact. We think, ‘That’s way too big, there’s no way we’re gonna do that.' So we end up focusing on things that seem to have more immediate relevance to our lives, like money, love, family. We think we have a better chance of achieving some sense of happiness this way, rather than by pursuing some “outlandish” dream. But I think we end up being heavily bogged down by reality. Yes, it’s important to keep in touch with reality, but we should keep our heads in the clouds even as our feet are planted on the ground. 
I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve recently decided to move to the States to pursue my dream of music, either during the course of my degree or after I finish my studies here. It wasn’t financially possible for me to go overseas to a music college because my parents weren’t supportive of the idea. But I’ve made up my mind about this - I’ll find a way, somehow. Ultimately, whether this succeeds or not won’t matter because I’ll know that I gave it a shot. What happens, happens.

Shaun, Year 1, Tancho
My mum wanted a daughter really badly after having three boys. She had the choice to conceive another baby naturally, but she had read about China’s lost generation and girls being abandoned because of the One Child Policy. As she's always been a social activist, she decided she would rather adopt a girl from China. My parents didn’t realise it would be a two year process — the Chinese authorities would ask a lot of personal, intrusive questions. After a long time of not hearing anything back, my parents thought it wasn't going to happen. But finally, one day they received a letter from China. They opened it and there was a picture of my sister! 
My mum prepared us for her arrival and always made sure she was included in the family. My mum told my sister she was adopted from the very beginning. Nonetheless I’ve always seen her as my sister and I’ve never called her anything else. The sad thing, though, is that she’s not very interested in Chinese culture, which is why I've picked up Chinese. Hopefully I can teach her the language to interest her in the culture! 
- Sebastian, Shan, on exchange from Australia (University of Adelaide)
The koi pond in my JC had always been the home base for us students. I had many heartfelt conversations and pseudo-intellectual chats about feathers there. The pond was also the common watering hole for absurd birthday rituals - the guys would throw the birthday boy into the pond and traumatise the fishes. (That was probably why so many of them died in my year.) It got so bad that the school had to ban ponding and put a barricade of potted plants around the pond.
My personal addition to the pond was a table from the lecture theatre (the table was already detached when I found it). My friends and I tried to be scientific and put it in the pond to record how fast moss would grow, but we kind of forgot about it and now the table is fully assimilated into the pond environment. I guess you could say I’ve left my mark.
- Nasyrah, Year 1, Ora