my first funeral






the title isn’t exactly true, because i do remember my great-grandfather’s funeral, on my mother’s side, and i do remember this thought i had from many years ago: i’ve never seen her (my mum) cry like that, in the position of a (grand)child versus a mother

there are other things i’ve learned too, from this funeral, such as: crying is contagious

and: the different salt composition of different-tears (e.g. tears from onions, tears from grief, tears from rage) is a real thing, because in these five days of many tears, none of our eyes were swollen

the days are felt through a daze, because we wear the same white shirts and do the same things

because time has stopped

we wake early to be at the wake, and we leave late, leaving only so that we can wake early again to return

because i meet b at night, for prata and consolation, i sleep even lesser than i should

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my grandfather was.

having lived under the same roof, under his wing, for all of my years in Singapore, and having had twenty-three years to do so, it wasn’t easy to understand that my grandfather no longer is.

i woke up unnaturally early on the morning of 8 August, confused by the missed calls notifications on my phone that blossomed on the screen, after i turned Airplane Mode off (not even for battery saving or to unplug, but for radiation reasons).

in the fumbling first seconds of the morning, i didn’t even suspect it was a family emergency that directed these long-distance calls: from Melbourne, from home.

after i opened WhatsApp, i read long paragraphs from my mum (“There’s been no blood pressure since 1.45am.  So they want us to be mentally prepared”: 2.51am Singapore time, 4.51am Sydney time).

and then, from 4.57am, there was this single sentence: Grandpa has gone to heaven.

everybody dies, and everything that lives shall some day die.

my grandpa knew this clearly and well, without fanfare and unafraid, even before he was admitted into hospital just three days prior to his passing.

less than three weeks before he died, my grandpa had asked my youngest sister and myself along for a lunch+marketing day out — we took the train, we ate together, and we carried the chicken, vegetables, flowers, and fish that he picked out.

the shock had formed a hard armor of air around me and i booked plane tickets that would leave Sydney in less than four hours.

then i got out of my room, retrieved my bike from the street across (the only time i ever parked my bike on the other side), packed my bags, grabbed strawberries and kiwi from the fridge, shut the windows, and brushed my teeth (but replaced the toothbrush in its holder).

after one last look at Google Maps on my laptop, after a halfway-abandoned upload of my school work to Google Drive, i turned it off (or at least i thought i did, but i actually didn’t) and left with my red backpack and my free-for-subscribers New Yorker tote bag.



my address is a 5.5km drive to the airport, or a 30min train ride (i’m 350m away from the train station, but the line for the airport (south of me) intersects mine three stops north).

i take the bus, not wanting to arrive at the airport so easily or quickly.

i have to walk “a little” from where the second bus transfer drops me, and it turns out “a little” is a lot.

so the Google Maps end destination is not where i actually want or need to go, but the distance estimate is close enough to the actual 4km i will be brisk walking as the only pedestrian on my entire 40min journey.


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the three weekend days before i fly home


this was a morning in which i had woken up early and so decided to have breakfast outside to jolt myself into less wasting of time (e.g. lounging in bed, alternating between reading and squishing my face into the blankets)

i don’t have classes today but i need to go to school to settle my enrollment business, and so i stand in line for over an hour to hear that sometimes the system just needs a few extra days

(this is the short story long: i apply for special permission for two classes through the online system, i then ask my degree coordinator directly since he’s my lecturer for Network Society, i get his written approval, he tells me to print out the email and show it to Student Services, before i get to do so, i get just one email saying that Narrative Journalism has been approved; worried that the system is going to reject Publishing Design—because i submitted both requests to the system at the same time—i head down to the office to do my least favorite thing: talking to people about admin/doing admin)

so everything is fine and great, and i bike off to Haymarket to get groceries and get lunch at 4pm




above is the harrowing bike ride during rush hour; no matter the time of day, it’s always harrowing to bike in Sydney, a city not built for bikes because of its accelerator-happy drivers, its hills, its shameful potholes, and its general lack of bike lanes

except here! where a nice white line serves









it’s Saturday and i’m making use of my non-mountain bike tyres to ride 24km around Iron Cove

it’s just a name right now, i don’t know anything else about Iron Cove

there are many pretty names like Double Bay, Neutral Bay, Hen and Chicken Bay, Castle Cove, Middle Harbour, Sugarloaf Bay





this is Rozelle, which i’d heard of before finally arriving in it

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two climbs one play


i’m taking four classes (you need to apply for special permission if you want to do five, and then you have to pay extra if you want to “overload”), and two of them are “creative” classes: Publishing Design and Narrative Journalism

these two classes ask for a sort of spongy time investment since there will never be an end to the amount of edits you can do

these two classes are also NOT in my degree program (more on why i didn’t know this until very very late), but my degree coordinator approved my request to have them as my Special Electives

anyway: because i wasn’t even enrolled until the first week of classes (because my visa came in SUPER late), and because i couldn’t see what classes i could choose (because i wasn’t enrolled), i only found out what classes were available to me, after i had set my heart on this current four

actually i set my heart on five, before realizing you “could” only do four

the other two are Social Marketing (which is not social media marketing) and Network Society

anyway, this whole chunk was to explain Why I Am Borrowing Magazines Like Frankie and Computer Arts





student special lunch above

and special minyi dinner below

it’s a (nasty) pudding mixture of yogurt, chopped spinach (that’s the green thing submerged in the yogurt), sautéed mushrooms and garlic………….

this is the odd mess that happens when you cook for yourself and accelerate the digestive process by mixing everything into solid mush even before it reaches your stomach, much less your mouth



above: this is all the counter space we have to cook, and this is my chicken drumsticks marinated in a ton of spices

i forgot to remove the skin

and make slices into the meat

which is why, later in the day when i cook these chickens, it takes way too long for the raw insides to turn a juicy white


St Peters Indoor Climbing Gym is 1.8km from my home, and, as M my new climbing partner says, i could “practically walk” (he lives far far away in Epping)

but i don’t walk, and instead i ride down potholed roads and narrow curves, taking 7 minutes from door to door

this gym is currently the largest in the Southern Hemisphere

and miraculously, the bouldering routes change pretty often, so coming alone on weekday mornings isn’t as boring as what could’ve been, if the routes were the same after ten days


useful waterproof rain/ski gear (Eddie Bauer closing down sale, Downtown Crossing station in Boston); coincidentally, that bike sticker on the campus bike stand is advertising for RECYCLES SYDNEY, where i bought my Fischer from

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climbing at barrenjoey



tell me if you don’t think the sunlight is spectacular here

and tell me if you don’t agree that my bike looks “ehhhh”, because i think the upward-slanting frame and the black-purple paint colours are not really…cool

but i still love my bike; its outward appearance does not make me treasure/appreciate/value it any less

i got a heavy OnGuard lock because (1) i feel paranoid in the city/in Sydney, (2) the lock i had for my mongoose (oh baby where are you now (with D, whom i sold it to)) was also an OnGuard U-Lock, albeit a bigger one — but it seems like many cyclists in Sydney use a chain/combination lock

i also got a bell (mandatory) a back light and a USB-rechargeable front light (also mandatory)

my helmet is from R (my other housemate, not the mom but her daughter): it’s not a “good” one, but i don’t need a proper one with chin straps that stay put

because i don’t believe that a helmet will make much of a difference when your wheels fly out of your frame when you’re speeding downhill and you crash sideways into a hard, sharp curb


and yes, i frequently imagine how accidents can occur, in the hopes that i will react fast if one of the endless possibilities picks itself to materialize


Requiem for a Dream was very hard to read and i actually returned it without finishing it

movie was great though



C met me at Anaconda, which is near Moore Park (above): i was trying to get a pair of hiking shoes, since I left my old, trusty Timberlands in Boston

it is appalling at how much more expensive items in Sydney can be compared to American cities; what is doubly appalling is that the value doesn’t increase in proportion to the increased prices here — it even feels like i’m overpaying

that’s why i didn’t get any hiking shoes at this massive outdoor/hardware/gear store, that sold everything from kayaks to ski poles, blundstone boots (the pair i bought online and would not fit….) to wet shoes


a bike map from City of Sydney Cycleways that i requested online and received in my mailbox: but i didn’t have to make Mr. Postman and all the invisible actors behind a local postage system send this map, because (as i would later see) certain public libraries stock several copies of this Bicycle Route map

maps are fun things to have around, but when street signs are absent, or twisted in the strong winds, you just keep going in the cardinal direction of your choosing



in terms of baked goods: i notice that there is a difference in cafe-pastries in Sydney and in Boston (at least, not about to make sweeping country-wide generalizations here)

i will head to more cafes and make more conscious notes; the only time i note this is when (1) i am looking for something to nibble on (versus eat, versus merely drink) at an establishment (2) i am not finding what i actually want, like a great sweet scone or a non-overpriced cookie

my early impression of sydney was that you pay a lot more money (even after you do currency conversions) for things of lesser quality



i live 120 meters from Enmore Theater, a theater that hosts gigs like Pentatonix, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, Yellowcard, Simple Plan, Boyce Avenue, TLC..

i don’t listen to music so there are other bands/artistes that i don’t recognize that also play at Enmore Theater

i also live near a: Cat Protection Society, Hakiki Turkish ice cream (very popular, people sit on couch covers over milk cartons on the street outside), African hair salon, Recycles (recycling old bikes and making them run like gold; also where i got my Fischer from), a great coffee spot, an expensive Italian spot, and a fancy speakeasy-style hairdresser’s

anyway i’m grabbing a bus to go to Central Station to grab a train to go to Pennant Hills to meet J, who was meeting J and myself, to drive up to Palm Beach where Barrenjoey is

Palm Beach is also where a lighthouse is, which is what many people think of when they hear Palm Beach

but we’re not sailing, or driving seaplanes into the skies/seas, we’re climbing



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someone else’s house


cooking for yourself/myself = cheaper (but not nicer unless you can make pain au chocolat), wholesome/fibrous/nutritious (unless you’re eating pain au chocolat), and SPIRITUALLY FULFILLING

good-food (not good-as-in-tasty but good-as-in-What-Is-Good-In-Life) isn’t something you have to be a well-to-do hipster to do

this is one of my favorite articles done for tasty tufts so i’m just going to refer to it again

you can see the references to different economic means



so i don’t have the key to the mail (there’s only one, and C, the oldest among us three housemates and also the mother of one of us (not me), has it), but i saw that i had mail!

i managed to see it from the outside, but in later weeks, i would stick my phone through the slot and take a photo with flash enabled, to see if what i’m expecting has arrived

anyway, instead of waiting for C to return home, i used a wire hanger with a bit of blu-tack stuck on it, and retrieved the mail slip, fuss-free

felt pretty good about this


this is the second time i’ve lost my cat hat

the first time i lost it, i got another one

and now i’ve lost my cat hat again

i should just

not have things

anyway, i rarely wear my cat hat (except to graduation, on snowy days etc.) but some naughty unfortunate thing possessed me to wear it out to go shopping for home furnishings (the lamp below, a fruit bowl, tupperware)



who knows what possessed me to buy shoes online, but i did, and they’re 1.5 sizes too big (even after taking into account the regional differences, as well as differences between men’s and women’s sizes)

i tried to sell them on, as well as on the UniSyd Buy/Sell/Trade group

no takers

smart people don’t buy shoes online


so i lug all of this around all day long, bringing it to meet C (not the C i share a roof with) — neither of us are particularly hungry so we eat at a chocolate cafe that serves its sugar on disposable cutlery and utensils

either they don’t have enough space for an industrial dishwasher/dish-washing tap, or they don’t think that throwing away stacks of plates and fistfuls of forks every hour is a shame




we’re walking from Newtown to Redfern, or, to be more precise, the borderlands between Redfern (once-scruffy, now gentrified) and Surry Hills (posher)

that’s where C stays, in a terrace shared with an older artist, on a street where his neighbors are huge non-Australian (and non-Asian!) families

the older artist has a cat

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coffee festival/ first day of school

happy bday bbb

from an indeterminate number of miles and metres away


i take the train for what might be the first time

i love how it’s a double decker train

i love how the backrest of the chair-rows can be slid forward or backward to change the direction of your row

i don’t love how a 10-20km train ride will cost you $4.20 (a 0-10km trip costs you $3.38), or how a trip of two bustops will cost you $2.10

however! on Sundays! what the Sydney Transportation people do is to give you a cap on how much you can be charged on this Day Of Rest (and Savings)

no matter how far you go, by ferry, light-rail or long train, you will pay $2.50

we’ll talk more about opal next time

for now, this is the AROMA Festival of espresso/coffee, at ‘The Rocks’





i thought ‘The Rocks’ was like ‘The Grounds of Alexandria’ which i walked to yesterday, but The Rocks is not contained in a compound and is instead a sprawling section of a very touristy precinct

(example of touristy-ness: i walked into my first Sydney Visitor Info Centre here, and the two men at the counter were extremely casual and chill and spoke to me lazily: not irreverently, but lazily more like a “hey buddy don’t mind the half-full beer bottles on the counter”: not that there were visible beer bottles, but that was the vibe)





The Rocks is also named as such because its original inhabitants, the Cadigal people, made their houses out of sandstone; they called this area Tallawoladah, and the European convicts who lived there named Tallawoladah ‘The Rocks’ — the dominant gang in that area declared themselves the ‘Rocks Push’


i would later learn that the Sydney Opera House was inspired by a peeled orange


above and below: look at this lovely dog being petted by happy old strangers!!!!!!!!!!!!

we are watching a sisterly group of hippies croon a harmonized acoustic ballad

don’t recall the lyrics, but everyone seems to love standing before the stage (a double-deck bus whose top is converted into a stage — very German, very Dutch)

(cue Dutch and Deutschländers protesting my oversimplification of their outdoor music festivals)

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walking in worry/sunshine

on the friday and saturday before my postgrad classes begin, i still have not found a place to sleep

searching has been a task that’s preoccupied me for many days and weeks in advance, ever since i discovered that my next 1.5 years were going to be as a masters student in uni. of sydney (actually, when you put it like that, it still sounds somewhat foreign to me; i don’t think of myself as a masters student, and when i introduce myself to fellow adults whom i meet, i say that “i’m here in sydney for the next year and a half to do a postgrad program(me)”

oh right; it might be because “all my life”, i saw masters as something that people got (i) after enriching years at their career/to network/to take a working sabbatical (ii) because they are tickled by academia and want to move on to a research PHD

for (i) — after some time during undergrad, i learnt that many people now did their masters immediately after college: to postpone their start date of real work or to garner more CV credentials

for (ii) — i learnt from prof J, that masters are not necessarily ‘high falutin’ tootin’ ivory tower academics, and that masters is meant for you to be even more equipped to contribute to solving real problems*

*major faux pas here: she asked me “are you doing masters after this?” i saw “masters? (ew no) fletcher? (ew no)” and she said “what do you mean?? i TEACH those fletcher students”. and THEN that was where i said “i’m far from an academic in academia and i’m more hands-on, work on the ground in the real world” and then she said “that’s what masters, especially fletcher masters, is about!!!”



because it’d take less logistics-research to WALK everywhere as opposed to take buses, and because i don’t mind walking if it’s not raining, i walk everywhere

i meet a girl at her 12-storey apartment unit in Glebe, a home-y district that is clearly family friendly with all its playhouses and nurseries

while waiting for the hour to reach 10 sharp (or was it 9???), i stood around her front door — her neighbor returned and asked with a smile if i was playing Pokemon


this first apartment was pretty small, not the cheapest (i think 320$ per week? that’s right, rent comes weekly here) — plus points were that the girl seems chill (she used to study at UniSydney), and that the neighborhood was so relaxed, quiet, quaint (see first photo)





initially: i had such soaring hopes for frequent-climbing-on-campus, but the tiny, amateurish top rope routes and the cramped bouldering section put me off The Ledge, where i would —not— be spending time and money on

i’ll write in a later post (to be steadfast to chronology) how i get my climbing fix in sydney

this shit is unprecedented, let me just quickly say


above: school

below: a terrible room, shown to me by a landlord/money-maker: when he realized i was from SG, he told me about his wealthy businessman-friend who owns a big bar or something in SG

i call him landlord/money-maker because shabbiness of his student accommodation clearly contributed to his wing-tip leather oxfords and his expensive tailored shirt

the house was basically a hostel without air circulation and friendly desk staff who also clean your dorm rooms (NOT THAT I NEED SOMEONE TO CLEAN AFTER ME, just saying what it is that you get when you pay for a dorm) — in fact, landlord/money-maker mentioned certain tenants who also doubled up as cleaners for cheaper rent

anyway, the room i was shown was also about $320/week

its lights weren’t working, the walls were peeling, and the musty air was a long-term tenant

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cont.: day 1 in sydney

this post is one of my first Split Up Because It’s Too Long posts: it was supposed to be the second half of looking for food with grandpa/ sydney but the word count was unacceptable


i am going to continue where we left off, with nary a recap


i am accomplishing my tasks for today by foot: attend an Orientation briefing for International Students, create a bank account before the banks close (we’re running on Australia time now), find my breakfast past lunch time

outside the Orientation, caterers are clearing away brown paper bags of food, which i ask to take

i leave Orientation halfway because it’s nothing that i cannot find online/it’s not relevant (i don’t plan to live on-campus, neither am i going to pay attention to Career Services or to the food options on-campus)

and also because i have other things to be doing like ENROLL AS A STUDENT





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