nippon banzai (a language immersion story)

all opinions in this article are my own. pictures are mine unless otherwise stated.

I travelled to Japan to study in Waseda University as part of a language immersion programme under NTU, from 17th June – 26th July 2019. (That was almost a year back because I forgot about this post, but better late than never.) It was the final phase of my transformation into full-fledged weeb. As a model student ready to champion NTU at all times, I hereby report my experiences for my fans.

じゃあ、始めましょう (well, let’s begin)!

Brief background (ripped from Wikipedia): Waseda University is a private research university with its main campus in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Established in 1882, it is consistently ranked as one of the best universities in the country. Undergraduate enrolment numbers stood at 42,000 in 2018 – about 1.8 times the number that NTU has. It also seems exceptionally popular as an exchange destination for students from overseas. Its list of alumni include seven Prime Ministers of Japan, as well as every bibliophile’s wet dream, Haruki Murakami. (Now you know why I went.)

The application period

I learnt about the programme via an email from GEM Discoverer. Yes, this is a friendly hint that you should check your email more often.

click for more details. picture taken from Waseda University

I had a ball of a time with the application process. Before applying directly with Waseda, I had to be offered placement under GEM Discoverer. Declaring my desire was simple enough, involving filling up one electronic form on the iNTU portal. Considering what was to come with Waseda University’s application, I am obligated to applaud the efficiency of the NTU registration system. In fairness, I will also mention that I was offered placement two days before Waseda’s application deadline.

Upon obtaining NTU’s approval, I was directed to the Waseda University administration, where a separate application was required on that end. For the summer course I was applying for, four levels were available: (1) lower beginner, (2) upper beginner, (3) intermediate, and (4) advanced. Note: being able to read and write hiragana and katakana is expected even for lower beginners. On top of the intensive Japanese programme (3 or 6 weeks), applicants could also opt for a “skill-based programme” held in the morning – it was 3 weeks long and held concurrently with the intensive programme. Each focused on a specific skill e.g. conversation. A peer, despite studying at one level lower than mine, handled restaurant situations better than all of us by the end of the programme because he did a skill-based course related to dining out. As for me – well, I spent my mornings in bed.

good morning, or should i say, good sleep.

The real party was the enrolment procedure, though. Not sure if this implies something about the Japanese bureaucratic practices even today, but part of the process involved physically mailing a series of printed, hand-signed hardcopy documents. Bonus misadventures when I wanted to submit my N5 certificate as supplementary proof, but I couldn’t find it, and it wasn’t available online, so I had to contact JLPT directly to ask for it, and then they had to send me the copies by international mail, and then I had to scan the physical copies, but hey, at least I paid nothing for it aside from my time and sanity. The final round of acceptance documents were, similarly, addressed to me via physical mail. As with all overseas exchange procedures, my advice is to begin early, because the application of certain documents (esp. your academic transcript) takes time to process and collect. Thankfully, despite the tedium of the enrolment process, what was to come made up for my misery many times over.

Adventures in wonderland

Ah, yes, the trip, the main course. Japan gave me the freedom to do so, so much. Here are some of the places I visited, or activities I did:

  • Watched three firework shows

The Japanese take pride in everything, and you best believe their firework festivals are overkill. The largest one I attended was the Adachi Fireworks Festival, which according to this source lasted an hour, included 13,500 fireworks, and was attended by over 600,000 people. And that’s merely the tip of the fireberg. Fun observation at the event: there was extensive choping behaviour. Groups of people came in advance (probably the day before) to lay out their picnic mats to demarcate the zones where they would sit on the grass. Some of them even had family names pasted in scotch tape over them. What was most fascinating was how those choped spots were thoroughly respected, even if the occupiers did not turn up. So in the middle of a packed area you would have a group of people huddling real close to each other on a small mat while an empty large mat that was not theirs lay right beside them. The event was free, but key areas and view spots were reserved and could be purchased in advance. There was even a package to sail down the river and have a lovely dinner below the fireworks.

  • Visited temples and shrines
even got a fortune slip at one. it says my luck will be OK. LOL
  • Screamed for my life at extreme theme park, Fuji-Q Highland (4 world records)
move over, USS.

My friends and I left Fuji-Q trembling. Every adrenaline junkie’s dream. On one rollercoaster, I did not hear my seat partner make any sound because he was frozen in pure terror. Another one launched into silent prayer at some point. It was hilarious. The muscle aches the next day were worth it.

  • Celebrated at izakayas – you know it.
horse sashimi

I tasted basashi, or horse sashimi, for the first time at an izakaya. Horse meat is also known as sakuraniku (cherry blossom meat) because of its appearance and history. It looks like tuna, tastes like lamb but less gamey, and is very chewy. Later on, I chose basashi as my topic when we were asked to present on unique foods in Japan.

  • Observed a live tuna auction at Toyosu Fish Market (and had some after)
  • Reached paradise at Oedo Onsen Monogatari, a hot springs theme park. (Really though, a hot springs theme park. #Believe.)
beautiful ladies ready to conquer
  • Visited a cat cafe
meow
  • Visited a maid cafe, where the theme was futuristic cat maids. (Don’t ask me. Also, no pictures, unless you pay. I didn’t pay.)
  • Feasted on sinful foods at random festivals
i had candied apple for the first time. yumz
  • Trekked to see the view from Kannonzaki Lighthouse in Yokosuka, a city notable for its navy and American influences.
  • Entered a Japanese battleship, Mikasa (converted into a museum)
  • Watched an arm-wrestling competition. It is an a r t
the boys were going wild over this ship
  • Donated money to the local arcade centres, damn their claw machines
  • Hiked Mount Takao (it was great, but the onsen at the foot of the mountain was better)
perhaps it’s inaccurate to say trekked considering we took an elevator halfway up.
  • Spent hours in bookstores! SO MANY BOOKS!!!
  • Honorary mention: completed the campaign mode on the original Bishibashi – located in a baseball park. Hit a few hard balls while I was at it, too.
hmu for challenge anytime sis

It’s hard to overstate the impact of the trip on me. It was an escapist fantasy, except very real. Even my health improved – the number of steps I took soared to 9,200 and 12,500 in June and July respectively. It may not seem like much to the typical athlete, except my average in May before I took off was 5,000. I guess this is called relative improvement. My skin cleared (y’all have NO idea. I did not go for any facial treatments in Japan but my face condition was A for Amazing). I lost weight (the first thing a bunch of people would say upon seeing me was “what the hell, you slimmed down!” ??? I’m sure I’ve gained it back, though). I was productive (my final report for URECA was submitted mid-way through the programme, AND I completed another long blog post). Most of all, I was happy. Then again, it’s hard not to be ecstatic everyday when you’re studying what you love, and spending time with people with common interests.

But halt the thought that I was there only to play: sister here was there to work hard. To strive and to achieve. I had opted for the 6-week course. Lessons were from 1pm-4:30pm, Mondays to Fridays, for approximately 90 hours in total (excluding break times). For reference, one 3AU module in NTU counts for 39 hours. This means I completed the equivalent of more than a year’s worth of Japanese in NTU within that six weeks I was there. Correspondingly, I will receive 6 AUs under my UEs. We burned through a 300-page textbook. On average, we had two quizzes per week and one test fortnightly. On top of that, we had to deliver two presentations. And you know mugging is an evolved instinct for us NTU students – it was common to hear “ah sorry, tonight cannot go out cuz I need to go back and prepare” LMAO.

Teaching is learning

The above phrase is taken from one of my favourite lecturers in Waseda. When I first arrived, I was overwhelmed. I could barely speak a word, despite having studied Japanese for three years in Ngee Ann Polytechnic (trivia: I graduated with a Diploma Plus in Japanese. Another reason to go to Poly, kids). But I had not practiced it for so long – since I began university – so I struggled. I recall this incident at a liquor store, around the first week of my studies. As I entered furtively, the elderly shop owner hobbled towards me with his arms curled proudly behind his back.

Owner: [In Japanese] Are you looking for anything? (I inferred this from the context)

Me: Ah… I…. sumimasen.

gwyneth embarrasses herself, part 1/infinite

I wanted to say I can’t speak Japanese, but I couldn’t even say that (at that point)! Absolutely appalling. Amidst my chagrin, he tilted his head and said 大丈夫 (daijyoubu, “it’s okay”) in the driest tone ever. I still have no idea what to make of it, frankly, but he intimidated me enough for me to buy two drinks from that place. Help.

As the lessons progressed, my standard improved by leaps and bounds. I was still having trouble understanding my surroundings most of the time, but there was one moment that stands out in my memory. Later in the trip, I was drawn into a tea shop, where I was offered some sample red tea by a smiling attendant. I sipped it, and was surprised to taste something distinctively gassy and sweet. So I asked her, in Japanese, how to make it (easy enough – point to the cup and use the verb “make”). Where it all came together was when she replied. As she enthusiastically explained that I had to steep 2 of those tea bags overnight in a particular Japanese soda brand bottle, I realised I understood what she was saying! I was shookt. It’s harder than it sounds because the Japanese sentence structure is diametrically opposed to that of English, plus they speak so quickly. (Have I ever mentioned that the speakers in listening comprehension exercises sound like they’re on steroids to me?)

natural loser

The lecturers at Waseda University were wonderful. My class had four lecturers, allocated to specific days of the week. Each had their own quirks and teaching styles, but all were kind and accommodating. All adhered to the predefined syllabus introduced at the beginning of the course. It was specific down to the exact chapters and points that would be covered on any given day – if you missed a class, it was easy to catch up. During class, there were a lot of interactive activities and conversational practice. I believe that’s what made the learning experience stand out – the social element of it. You can study grammar at home, but only in class do you get to rehearse with peers of your standard.

At the end of the programme, my class made a card for each of our lecturers to thank them for their time and service. I remember their surprised and glowing expressions; it’s the little things that make the memories.

Culture, food, and everything else

The day-to-day experience is not easy. Everything is in Japanese. You are expected to be able to communicate in Japanese, and there is no contingency plan if you can’t. It was most difficult at the beginning, where I often fell into situations that required help. For example, when I first arrived, I lost my way in the metro and did not know which train to take. I tried to ask a conductor for help, but he could not speak English. We could only gesture wildly to each other to no avail. Then, I bought the wrong ticket, and I couldn’t change the fare or the destination. In exasperation, the two conductors simply confiscated my ticket and pushed me out back into where I began without a refund.

The intense environment is not without its perks – you learn to adapt and all that brute practice pays off. Another encounter, when I wanted to top-up my Pasmo card (their ez-link) at the Family Mart:

Me: [In English] Hi, is it possible to top-up my Pasmo card?

Attendant: Uh – ah – (doesn’t understand)

Me: (Oh no he doesn’t understand Eigo)

Me: [In Japanese] Ka – do …. cha – ji….

Attendant: [In Japanese] Ah, you want to charge your card? Sure, please tap here.

?????? All I did was pronounce “card charge” in Japanese

There is a foreigner ‘charge’ of sorts. My friends and I went to a classy sushi restaurant in the last week of the programme. By that time, our skills had been honed enough to read the Japanese menu (armed with an electronic dictionary and a lot of back-and-forth). This also meant that we were able to comprehend the waitress when she explained in Japanese that the English menu charged more for the same dishes. At least they’re honest. Considering the English menu consisted of only set meals and did not offer nigiri sushi (which is the prime reason one visits a sushi restaurant!), all that decoding paid off. That and the surprised gasp of the guy receiving us at the counter when he realised, “you guys can speak Japanese!” – exclaimed in English of course.

That didn’t stop the chef standing at the counter a few steps away from silently judging us whenever we read the name of a dish out loud in a stilted accent, LOL.

Friend [reciting out loud]: Kuruma ebi? What is that? (lit. ‘car prawn’ = Japanese tiger prawn)

(chef flinches in the distance)

Here are some of my favourite classic foods:

sashimi assortment. with alcohol. HEE
negitoro don (mashed tuna over rice). i like to top it off with raw egg.
chazuke topped with tuna. you pour broth from the teapot into a bowl of rice.
raw wagyu beef over rice. thanks cheryl
no japan food selection is complete without the author declaring they ate ichiran ramen.

As you can tell, I had a lot of raw meat/fish, raw eggs, and rice. Want health? #GoRaw

Friendship is magic

I went into the programme not knowing anyone. Naturally, I was filled with a Deep Existential Fear that I would have to be alone for six weeks. Thankfully, the others from NTU were accepting and welcoming, and soon my worries were assuaged. We’d go out almost everyday after class together, feasting on delicacies, visiting new places, and sharing our hobbies. I have them solely to thank for all the things that I managed to do.

judgement-free zone.

I got to meet people from all walks of life via the programme, too. In my class alone, there were students who hailed from the US, Britain, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, and Taiwan. I had thought that we would be of similar age too, but no! Not only were there university students, there were working adults and even retirees in the pool. While we might have varying motivations, all of us were brought together by our passion for the language and culture of Japan.

with friends from taiwan.

All in all, I’m deeply grateful to have had this opportunity. Without NTU, I wouldn’t have known about this programme. It also led me to discover a circle of friends with whom I can unabashedly be my weird self around (because they’re weird too). It was the best of both worlds: a time to relax and lose myself, while simultaneously learning new skills and being productive. It is, indubitably, a highlight of my university experience. I learnt a lot and had an insane amount of fun. I’d recommend this programme for anyone who is genuinely interested in advancing their language skills, or who derive joy from learning. P/S: I suspect they don’t bell curve, L O L

my classmates and my other favourite sensei.

Quick summary (tl;dr)

  • Under GEM Discoverer, apply at iNTU
  • Language Immersion Programme
  • 3 weeks or 6 weeks (3/6AUs respectively)
  • Subsidies are available
  • Legitimately beneficial for language skills
  • Amazing environment to practice
  • No bell curve?
  • Lots of admin work (at the beginning)
  • Lots of freedom
  • Culture shock is real
  • Fun and friendship is very real
  • Reality seems unreal
  • Definitely a highlight of uni life
bonus content!

weekly jam, #9

slchld – she likes spring, i prefer winter

What you’ve been dying to see
Would you be that flower for me
I prefer marigold
But its the lily from the valley that you want

Jasmine, marigold, winter soul yeah
Whichever blooms first I might call you by that
Whatever you’d like
Daffodil or tulips cause I really don’t mind
If that makes you happy then I’ll be happy too

Girl give it up, give it up, give it up, it’s here
Don’t let it hurt, let it hurt, let it hurt, nothing left to fear
Winter or spring it don’t matter to me, as long as you’re here
I can keep you warm till spring comes (x)

virgin crisis

“But virgin girls are the best, right?”

good, better, and best – who determines the rest?

As my fans and haters are well-aware, Gwyneth is a feminist (and the whole world must know). That’s a loaded label that can mean a lot of different things depending on who you are and what you believe. Not everyone can relate to my definition of it, i.e. equality of the sexes. In fact, there exists a notable group of people who sincerely believe that men and women have achieved equality in society (and by extension, that the ladies don’t know their place by asking for more). Evidently, they have never taken a class in sociology, but then again I’ve never taken a class in men’s rights.

Yet because I am equipped with debilitating self-awareness, I recognise that I can’t criticise others for being keyboard warriors without being hypocritical. I’m the liberal here, and liberals are only good for getting triggered :-). So I’ll save you the trouble and call myself out first. The difference between me and the rats out there is that I hope to impart a lesson through this piece, rather than merely inconveniencing others. If I am a keyboard warrior, at least let me be an enlightened one.

baby g in her natural habitat.

Disclaimer before we proceed: this piece is written in opposition to a specific subtype of man. Certainly, it would be unfair to generalise the beliefs and behaviours of a select few to the entire population, so I would like to clarify in advance that I am in no way saying “all men are trash”. If you’re reading this and it hits too close to home, know that I frame your opinions as a manifestation of social evil. That is to say, I may have personal vendettas against you (as you may have with me), but for the purposes of this essay, I am discussing the problem at a group level. For stylistic and venting purposes, I will also be pulling ad hominems – because I can and I want to. To sum up, the entire argument to follow is grounded on three cornerstone assumptions.

  1. Gender inequality exists.
  2. Men as a group, vis-à-vis women, occupy a superior position in the existing social hierarchy.
  3. Regardless whether individual males are aware of, or acknowledge this imbalance of power, they are beneficiaries of a structure that systematically privileges them on most grounds.

I understand that the above may be contradictory. If you are confused or simply disagree, feel free to defend yourself by hashtagging #notallmen. It’s the quickest way out and you don’t even have to expend any mental energy. This is also not to say that the lives that males have by virtue of their existence is a path of rainbows and flowers. But overall, they do get away with a lot more. If I had to elaborate further I would require the space of another blog post, but why expend the effort when we have Wikipedia and Google Scholar?

Well then, if you’re still here, let the proselytising begin.

THE LEGACY OF SEXUAL DISEMPOWERMENT

Where do I begin my journey of triggeredness? All it took was a single statement, really. Virgin girls = best girls. But as we will learn, nothing is ever that simple. A single statement can reveal a lot about one’s underlying perspectives and values.

Slut-shaming has existed for eons, though it emerged in popular discourse more recently. In short: it’s the act of denigrating women as long as they are perceived to fall outside acceptable standards of (sexual) behaviour. To simplify my explanations, I will let the pictures do the talking. They range from subtle to blatant. And, sadly, it can be perpetrated by women too.

absolutely. It’s also usually young women who get slut-shamed.
i lost it at penis punching bag

Slut-shaming encompasses a wide range of aspects – anything from dress to the number of sexual partners. Sound familiar?

VIRGIN GIRLS ARE THE BEST

A picture says a thousand words. So do statements, especially when they come with a ton of Bigotry Baggage. Here, together, let us break down what “virgin girls are the best!” really means, irrespective of the identity of the person who advanced it.

  • Virgins = good.
  • Non-virgins = not so good.

Let’s spice up the above by assuming that the person is speaking of virginal status before marriage. It flows logically: without it, the speaker would merely be reduced to someone with a fetish for virgins, plus they would be attacking everyone around them who is not a virgin, including their parents. Perfectly valid, except rather strange. Now, the implications rise.

  • Unmarried virgins = good
  • Unmarried non-virgins = not so good
  • Based on the above, losing your virginity before marriage somehow degrades you or makes you less desirable as a female (girl).
  • Sound familiar?

In the following section, I express my reservations with the above logic, or should I say plainly, slut-shaming mentality. They come in two forms. First, the emotional “effeminate” argument, where I just get mad and yell because women are apparently more emotional creatures. Second, to counteract the previous statement, we have the logical “masculine” argument. But don’t worry – there isn’t much substance in the latter either because, well, there’s not much you can put against irrationality, ha ha.

r/menwritingwomen

The ad hominem, emotional, feminine argument, where I attack the person behind the argument instead of targeting its content because I’m triggered. Think of all this repressed anger as the inevitable culmination of a whole lifetime of misguided individuals attempting to instruct me what I should or should not do with my body.

Some boys (not real men, since we’re playing the game of “constructing arbitrary differences within groups”) really be out there saying bullshit like this before they, in the same breath and without a trace of irony, ask me why I detest the male enterprise. For the benefit of all then, I have to explicate my distaste by overtly referencing dumb quotes that I can’t believe I’ve heard sometimes.

What’s worse than a chauvinist? A chauvinist who acts as if he is a proponent of gender equality, while acting to limit the freedoms of women. Kudos for creating an artificial distinction between women on the basis of their private affairs that has nothing to do with you in the first place. You’re not the one sticking your dick into them anyway, so why is it any of your business? But then again, it’s not as if we haven’t had centuries of experience of men sticking their noses (and dicks) into places where they don’t belong (see: abortion), because ~women are weaklings that need to be protected by their morally and intellectually superior counterparts~.

It’s okay, you can simply write me off as a dumb female going on a rant about imaginary oppression that doesn’t even exist. There’s so many other more meaningful things that one can focus on – like sieving out the virgin females to chase. Not that you’re getting any either way.

The logical, rational, masculine argument, where I attempt to present a coherent argument against this virginal rubbish, though I shouldn’t have to because any decent person who respects others would realise that this line of reasoning is problematic in the first place. Whoops, ad hominem!

I decided to rephrase my argument in a way that appears logical, since well, ladies are too emotional and need to be more rational. Side-track: yes, I was informed by a kind man recently that inherent biological differences between men and women mean that the latter are predisposed to be more emotional creatures. Of course I had to deconstruct his argument thoroughly by repeatedly asking questions to clarify, because no smart man, virgin or not, will explicitly acknowledge that he actually holds such beliefs without some prodding. Because of how broad this statement is, let’s delve in a little deeper to investigate: what emotions are we talking about? To what extent do they differ, and why do they differ? Consider the following from a psychological study on gender differences in emotion. The frequency and intensity of emotions experienced by men and women from two samples (Australian/International) was measured. Effect size refers to the “practical magnitude” of the phenomenon in question.

[In the Australian group], there are significant gender differences for the frequency of Affection, Joy, Pride, Fear, Anger, and Sadness. The effect sizes for Affection, Fear and Sadness are small, and those for Joy, Pride and Anger are extremely small. In terms of intensity, significant differences are only found for Affection, Pride, and Sadness. The effect sizes for Affection and Pride are extremely small, and that for Sadness is a small effect. The means for Pride are in the opposite direction from the other positive emotions with males scoring higher than females.

In the international group, there are gender differences for the frequency of Affection, Joy, Contentment, Fear, Anger and Sadness, with females scoring higher in all cases. The effect size for Anger is extremely small and none of the others is more than small with 0.30 for Affection being the largest. The results for intensity in the international group differ from the Australian. Significant gender differences, with females scoring higher, are found for all emotions except Pride. Apart from the extremely small effect for Guilt, the other effect sizes fall within the range of small effects.

From these results it is apparent that there are significant gender differences in the reported frequency and intensity of some emotions, particularly in the international group. But the differences are uniformly small or extremely small. Any stereotyping of females as more emotional than males for these emotions is, therefore, based on small differences between the genders. […] This interpretation lends support to views like Brody’s (1997) that the perception of gender differences in emotional expression are exaggerated by stereotyping, and are acquired during the process of socialization rather than being physiological or neurophysiological or genetic in nature, Buss (1999).

Gender and Emotions, Brebner (2003) – emphases mine

(You know, some research has found that men tend to be angrier than women. But you can probably tell from this post alone that I am chronically angry too. LOOOOL.)

With that addressed, let us revert to the point. On what basis is a virgin “better”? We’ll leave the scripture part out of this, because otherwise there would be no need for a “rational” segment of this piece. Actually, that doesn’t leave much to address, but I’ll do my best.

THE PERILS OF MARRIAGE

Why is marriage in particular so revered as a milestone? Sure, it is a rite of passage signifying commitment and usually stands as a celebration of love. But does being unmarried dilute the love that two people (or more, if you like) share? Radical concept in our society for now, perhaps, but there is a rising trend of unmarried parents in the world today. These people possess all the characteristics that a married couple would have – cohabitation, children, long-term commitment – everything sans the legal binding. Are they less “good”, just because they decided to have pre-marital sex?

And not even marriage is a guaranteed. There were 7,344 divorces and annulments in 2018. What if two people (both abstinent prior to marriage) wed and then have spectacular coitus, but decide to divorce later on? Since they are now technically single but no longer virgins, what category do they fall under? Are they inferior beings until they remarry? Surely it is apparent by now that determining the worth of a person via such arbitrary standards makes for sticky situations.

This is merely a conjecture on my part, but it almost seems as if the desirability of a virgin to the believers of premarital-virgin supremacy lies in the [female] virgin’s propensity to be deflowered. So that you belong solely to the one who marks you, as if you’re territory to be conquered by dick. The pinnacle of objectification. Sorry but that only works in young adult erotica, which is the furthest thing removed from reality possible. (People in there neither need lubricant nor have refractory periods at all. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Lastly, if you’re having sex only for the purpose of procreation, I can only say I feel sorry for you. Not a valid argument, but really. Really.

CRITICAL COMMENTARY: IT’S YOUR CHOICE

I have no qualms against virgins, male or female. Prude-shaming is as toxic as slut-shaming. It is fair game if one has a sexual preference for virgins or non-virgins. That’s fine. That’s like having a preference for males or females, or even neither. Or like, BDSM play (shame me more, daddy!). What is not fine is attempting to impose your standards on others regarding what is considered good, bad, pure, impure, right, and wrong on matters relating to their bodies. The issue is compounded when it disadvantages certain groups over others.

It makes me most sad when I see women themselves slut-shame each other, or subscribe to these outdated ideologies. Imagine learning to hate your natural propensity for pleasure – very much a part of you, and your body – because you were told that your desirability as a person somehow stems from suppressing your sexuality.

damn liberals be coRRuptiNg thE sOciAL orDeR

My main goal of writing this piece was, surprisingly, not to let my anti-feminist counterparts know how misguided they are (still, if the shoe fits, you are welcome to wear it). Change comes from within, rather than outside. This was targeted at my readers who are ambivalent about this issue or who find themselves taking a middle-ground on such matters. Slut-shaming hurts both men and women. It is a tool of control. Remember that the next time you’re reading an article and find yourself exacting certain standards that may not be fair to all parties involved. Remember that when you hear your friends making a demeaning comment disparaging someone because they “stepped out of line” on some arbitrary standard of sexual behaviour. If they want to have sex with 30 people because they can, and it doesn’t hurt anyone, you don’t have any right to lecture them. You’re not superior because you didn’t have sex or had less.

Consider this a declaration of intent. Every time someone says something dumb like “virgin girls are the best”, I’m going to call it out for its bullshit. The era of sexism, well-intentioned or malicious, is passé. Talk shit and get hit. You’re going to learn that your words and actions have consequences even if you like to coop yourself up in your little bubble. You can say it again; I will simply call you out for it once more. The age of laughing it off as a joke, or as the oversensitivity of a fragile woman, is long over. If you suddenly feel prosecuted because you have a penis, perhaps you will finally understand how it feels like be someone with a vagina who is constantly told that they should feel guilty for embracing the basic instinct that is sex, original sin or not. If my ladies want to keep their virginity until marriage, fine. I cannot stop them from celebrating orthodoxy when it comes to matters of their own body (although neither should they be allowed to infringe on the rights of other women). But god forbid it be men who get to do so.

The good news is that with the passing of time the younger generation (our age) is starting to become more comfortable with their sexuality, even in our socially conservative climate. (But don’t take my word for it – I use markedly biased samples such as NTU Confessions and NUS Whispers LOL). Sometimes I see posts that imply people are stressed over their virginal status instead. Hopefully this is a sign that certain regressive mindsets are slowly being swept away. Either way, let’s continue work hard at making the social world a better place for all. And do yourself a favour: after this circuit-breaker, go out and indulge in the sex that you deserve. Unless you don’t want to.

on commitment

To me, commitment is about being willing to be vulnerable. It’s something that’s difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve once given. Like throwing a rock at a pond — it dances across the surface uninhibited, unaware of what’s to come, before the depths inevitably swallow it whole. The ideal of a clean cut is a fantasy; all it takes is a shared glance to topple it. And with this vulnerability comes a lot of pain. It hurts, it hurts often, and it hurts like hell. Is it supposed to be this way? Even with my previous relationships, I don’t have a clear answer, but it might be yes. At some point I started to imagine romantic love as two people (as I’ve been conditioned to understand it) tightly locked in an paradoxical embrace. The shared warmth is so intoxicating you believe you could stay forever, yet at other times this urge to pull away overwhelms. But eventually one side gets tired, because it is so powerful it becomes suffocating, and they let go first.

carte blanche

Ask my friends what my greatest desire is and they’d likely say money – lots and lots of it. Not that I would deny it. Yet money is but a means to an end. What I really want in this world is absolute freedom.

my time at mcgill: a mid-term review

Eight weeks have elapsed since my first class at McGill University. Some things have changed. I have gained new memories, like that of the biting agony felt in my fingers under -20ºC weather, courtesy of Quebec City. I bruised my chin from being stabbed in the face with a pole during a fall while skiing. I started playing MapleStory again out of nostalgia (what? Hmu losers). Other things remain unchanged: being late for back-to-back classes, and burning the midnight oil to chiong assignments. Anyhow, I am the least interesting part of this article. Instead, let me share some observations I have made in my time at McGill. Get ready for a ride – as my time here has been.

no post of mine is complete without a reference to luigi, apparently.

As a primer, here are the modules I am taking:

  • Human Motivation (P)
  • Advanced Topics in Social Psychology (P)
  • Development and Underdevelopment (S)
  • Sociology of Science (S)

Where P = Psychology, S = Sociology (I’m taking a 2nd Major in Sociology). But this subject discrimination is less important here, for reasons I will later explicate.

Institutions & Structures

McGill is a left-winger/social liberal’s wet dream (suffice it to say that the module on societal [under]development has vastly expanded my repertoire of political terms). I’m not sure if it gets better than this. It is apparently one of the most diverse universities in North America, with ~30% of all undergraduates being international students. I am unable to find corresponding statistics for NTU, because 1) our website is clunky and 2) if Google can’t find it, it’s not worth finding.

Here, student care and empowerment is a big deal; campus protests are common and normalised; you catch glimpses of Bernie supporters at the library; student-run newspapers write scathing satirical pieces on both administrative and student hypocrisy; there is a Marxist coalition named “Socialist Fightback Club” registered as a student society. The members are dead serious about it, and attempted to charge me $4 CAD for a copy of The Communist Manifesto that they printed. The school’s humble “Shag Shop” distributes free condoms and sells experimental sex toys.

One can actually engage in productive discourse on matters of copulation here, without the risk of retaliation from concerned conservatives. In particular, sexual assault at least seems to be taken seriously here – can you imagine? (No, we couldn’t.) This is not to say that McGill is any less susceptible to the inertia of bureaucracy, but it does have a dramatically different outlook on the surface. Social inequality and the repercussions of a colonial past on indigenous peoples are readily acknowledged, though I cannot comment on the extent to which rectifying measures are effective.

On the note of liberty, professors are allotted more freedom in structuring their classes here. Rules appear to be readily revisable at lecturers’ wills. One module I’m taking (Human Motivation) provides an automatic option for students to reduce the weightage of the mid-term exam to 10%, such that the final exam accounts for 90%. (That’s hot.) I can envision that such a policy would be ravenously popular in NTU – not that it would ever be approved. In contrast, NTU appears to have a restricted range on the proportion that the final exam can account for (40-60%). This comparatively laissez-faire regulation runs in line with McGill’s institutional structure.

Classes & Lessons

Right off the bat, classes are more interdisciplinary here – both in content and student composition. That module on development that I jumped into on the sheer fact that it “looked interesting” turned out to be a composite of economics, political science, anthropology, and geography. The last time I took a geography test, I got 6/20. Imagine my terror when I came face-to-face with papers like The Political Economy of Import-Substituting Industrialization in Latin America from the Quarterly Journal of Economics after the add-drop period had passed. It’s halfway through the semester and I’m still not sure what a market economy is. The good news is I’m doing okay, but I might not do this to myself again. (Who am I kidding – I know I would.)

I have a classmate in my social psychology module whose major is Gender, Sexuality, Feminist, and Social Justice Studies (GSFS for short). If you thought I was a radical feminist, you have yet to see the world, my friends. The lady is a hurricane. She wrote a 1,738-word response to a reading on attitudes and beliefs in social cognition where she made the following points: the potential inapplicability of the research to diverse populations, ableism in research, and the problematic assumption that sexual identity is a binary construct. The recommended number of words for each response is 300. I probably wrote my response under 15 minutes. Another student pursuing a branch of neuroscience enjoys relating findings to physical (e.g. fMRI) measurements of the brain, as well her personal difficulties with mental health. The perspective that each student brings to the table is coloured by their unique education and identity, and it makes for a fascinating exchange of ideas.

Class participation is played up more at McGill. Another module that I’m taking (sociology of science – excellent content) is designed with student interaction at its core. In the 1.5 hours of each session, our lecturer spends the first 20-30 minutes enumerating the key concepts of the assigned reading(s) for that day. The class then splits up for the next hour to mull over a set of questions that extrapolate from the reading. And they’re not basic questions limited to “what did the author mean?”; these questions demand engagement and connections across readings, and there are often no clear-cut answers. We upload the content of our discussion in a Word document and are collectively graded for the quality of thought shown (25% of total grade, collated across all responses). Peer evaluation is also taken seriously here – each member anonymously rates the performance of their groupmates, and one’s score is adjusted based on their relative contribution. It’s something NTU should definitely consider implementing as a default, because god knows how many people don’t know how to pull their weight in projects.

Individually, we are also expected to craft and submit discussion questions (another 25%). Outstanding submissions are included as part of the group discussion worksheet, and automatically receive full marks. The system works such that if there are 6 questions on the worksheet that day, there could be anywhere from 2-6 student submissions. Including 10% for simply doing your readings on time, here it can be seen that the participation aspect already accounts for more than half (60%) of the final grade.

In my view, learning at McGill entails more negotiation and subjective interpretation, while NTU adopts a more definitive-instructive approach. This style of learning intrigued me, because I’m more of a lone wolf-type – the environment at home favours this approach. The general sequence of my tutorials in NTU is this: lecturer/tutor rambles > asks if students have any questions > receives no response > class ends. That doesn’t mean you can’t attempt to participate, but active participation is simply not built into its blueprint.

Either way, the merits of this collaborative learning approach at McGill are clear enough: listening to multiple perspectives on an issue widens one’s scope of thought. The downsides are that conversations veer off-topic rapidly, and clarity is sacrificed for variety. It also doesn’t always mean that the quality of thought is better. Silence appears to be an uncomfortable concept here, to the point that fluffed up nonsense is better than nothing. I disagree. Nonetheless, it surely contributes to a livelier classroom that can be simultaneously stimulating and overwhelming. It’s an important reminder that what works at home does not always work elsewhere, and the world out there is much greater than my tiny safe-space bubble. You know what that means: ~character development~! Catch me back in NTU more eloquent, outgoing, and assertive than ever before! /s

Montreal’s Quirks & People

McGill’s medium of instruction is English, but everyone I’ve met there is effectively bilingual. Still, natives seem more comfortable in French, which is reflected in the ubiquity of the language in Montreal’s physical infrastructure. As a whole, French dominates in the Quebec region. Montreal has a particularly curious history of Franco-Anglophone relations.

Part of the reason why I picked Canada (and McGill) as my exchange destination was because my gut said I wouldn’t experience racism as much here than if I were to go elsewhere, like Australia or the US. I think I was right. My friends at other places have shared instances where they’ve faced aggression and outright discrimination (e.g. UK). I toured New York and Boston before entering Canada in December 2019. Even with four of us, I never felt safe. There was always an undercurrent of chaotic instability that I couldn’t shake off. A man seated barely two metres away from me at the metro suddenly punched the air in an uppercut motion, and I was so terrified my knees nearly gave way. And there was this one exchange with a phone operator when I was purchasing tickets for Chicago on Broadway:

Operator: … and your country of residence?

Me: Singapore.

Operator: Oh, so you’re from China! That’s fine, you could have said so from the beginning.

Me: [sigh] … No, that’s not in China.

Operator: No? Japan then?

welp.

Especially with the coronavirus, it’s not a great year for the Chinese. The upside is that Canada remains fairly unafflicted, and the panic hasn’t set in. A man did give me the side eye and scooted away from me when I coughed on the train once, but I can understand that, LOL.

In Canada, at least in downtown Montreal, it’s different. If there is racism, they mask it superbly. The people here are more assertive than we are, but they are not rude (which is a fine line the Americans often transgress imo). Crucially, I feel that I can breathe here. It’s merely a feeling, not grounded in any good science, but it’s a powerful contrast. Then again, it should be noted that most people I interact with are from the same group – basically, liberals with heightened political sensitivities. (Not everyone is the same, y’know, like one of my [Singaporean male] followers who made it a point to declare to me via DMs that Bernie and his supporters were hypocritical for being “anti-big corp”. God, I get so wet when boys take on the Mantle of Responsibility to let me know I’m misguided because they know so much better. Hit me harder with that Big Knowledge, daddy!)

Final Thoughts

Learning is more intrinsically enjoyable without the omnipresent pressure of having to outdo your peers. Here, the only target to outdo is myself. I go to classes because I want to learn (fine – to be accurate, the kiasu mentality of not wanting to lose out on what I could be potentially learning kicks in, but that’s just semantics). I push myself equally hard for my assignments, though I will admit I give myself leeway on smaller matters. Of course, I still want the A, but it is a bonus byproduct rather than the motivating force.

Things aren’t transformed simply because you’re overseas. In fact, you realise that some phenomena are indeed universal, like social loafing (à la groupmates slacking off). The boys from NTU with me are still tanking the group projects for their modules, because their perfectionist mentality persists. I was lucky enough to have zero modules with group projects – I’d be damned if I had to deal with that BS even on exchange.

This is by no means a campaign against grades – I continue to endorse that people should be rewarded in proportion to the effort and quality of work they put in (wow, meritocratic ideal siol, indoctrinated Sinkie). The point is that we don’t have to, and in fact shouldn’t, take the existing standards of our education system for granted. They are not set in stone, and can always be changed for the better. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I wouldn’t say my experience at McGill has been life-changing. I’m still very much in a comfortable space, with my beliefs and values unchallenged. In fact, McGill might even suit my ideology better. What I’ve seen is only the tip of the iceberg. However, I believe acknowledging this fact opens the door to a new beginning. I’ve seen glimpses of how things can be different, but still work well. The next step is to get out there with this (marginally) broadened perspective and use it. Baby steps, small steps, progress all the same. Maybe it’s not the goal, but how we get there that matters.