End of Year 2

For the past few entries, I was incredibly inspired to write about my university learning experience so much so that it was always written immediately after exams and way before results were released.

This time, I waited for 4 months before typing down my thoughts for Year 2 sem 2. And the reason for that is, I felt I learned nothing much.

I took PS2249 — Politics and Government of Singapore. Honestly didn’t feel like I learned anything at all. Things like Westminster parliament, structure of Singapore’s politics, media censorship, national identity, merger and separation, policies of LKY/GCT/LHL are nothing remotely new. I guess I have myself to blame because I took this module to score well with minimal effort and with it, comes minimal learning.

Another sorely disappointing module was NM3202 — Governance of New Media. I took this again to score well because its module description was very similar to Global Governance, a module I enjoyed the previous semester. I was very disappointed for the lack of new insights — I had wanted to learn from another discipline/perspective and understand governance from a different view. I guess they are all the same. Worse still, the exam for it was a complete regurgitation of useless facts. No ‘explain’ or ‘evaluate’ but ‘list’ and ‘name’ 3 things or blah blah. It was the WORST exam I sat through and everything I hated because it tested zero knowledge or skills learned, except memory work. Even the report submitted was not given back. I really did gain nothing from this module :(

PS2241 — Public Administration of Asia. I did learn something new from this module and briefly researched more on other Asian countries like Korea, Taiwan and Japan, which was a first for me. I’ve traditionally stuck to modules on Singapore and China because I consider myself more well-versed with these 2 countries (as well as SEA countries). For my research paper, I again chose to write on China’s e-governance policies (as learned from NM module simultaneously) because I possessed more knowledge of this field/country. I guess I have myself to blame for always sticking to the comfortable choices and hence not being able to widen my knowledge base.

For the 3 modules above I chose them to do well, and this sem was my best semester indeed. But truthfully speaking I did not feel any sense of fulfilment or accomplishment at all, which explains my void of inspiration to even write anything! (Forcing myself to do so before Year 3 commences)

I can’t believe I’ve finished 1.5 years of Thai language studies. And amazingly, I’ve jumped from a B- to a B+! Still not fantastic but I am extremely, extremely happy and proud of myself. Ajarn S gave me the best compliment ever after I finished my oral examination. “Pleng, listening to you speak is like listening to a song. Do you know you have improved so much?” That to me was more than enough than seeing the actual grade… I almost melted into a pool of happiness that day and I haven’t forgotten this sentence till now. The 5–6 weeks I spent in Thailand in December and then in Feb (for thai art field trip) really helped me to improve tremendously. Language is inherent to culture, and nothing beats spending time getting to know Thai people and their culture better. I wonder when my next trip to Thailand will be. It’s not a glamorous, fanciful, luxurious travel destination to many but to me, Thailand will always be a special place.

Last but not least, the most exciting module to me was Thai Art SE3224. Exciting because I really wanted to dabble with art and painting again and with professional help too! After I came back from my Thai immersion trip, especially after viewing the popular works in Wat Rong Khun, I was extremely inspired to learn Thai art and understand their meanings. Why were all the roofs of the temples ending with a curvy tail? (I later got to know they are called ‘lai hang lai’ that it was supposed to emulate the graceful curves of an eel. Think of it as flowing gracefully in water.) I remember asking my guide Tick about the wall murals in a Mon temple in Sangkhlaburi, but he was clueless and the more I was interested to find out what they meant.

I’ve always been interested in art since young whether is it a simple primary school artwork for RHD or total defence day, batik painting, chinese flowers painting, portraits, sculpting and etc. I didn’t pursue art professionally and had little time to indulge in it after primary school. The best part to me about this module was learning history and culture TOGETHER with basic sketching and painting techniques. I’m so bad at drawing proportionate bodies and structures because somehow proportions deal with numbers and rulers which I can’t do. But I strongly believe in understanding the story behind the masterpiece so that it can bring more meaning to the artist and the art itself.

The field trip to Thailand’s most famous wall murals opened my eyes to the passion, beauty and selflessness of Thai art. These painters don’t even leave a signature (atypical of the West) to say “I DID THIS” and most of them pass away without any artist identity of sorts, simply because it was a way to do good and contribute karma. Today I complain of back aches to paint my art for a few hours but Thai artists in the old days had no fan, no easels, no nothing. They probably had to paint while high up on a ladder, with no electric bulbs or air ventilation for years. It takes decades to actually complete a temple of wall murals. (I can’t wait to see Wat Rong Khun 20 years down the road!) And I completed mine in 3 months. Yet they painted with such grace and creativity, thin beautiful strokes, and sometimes raunchy and hilarious illustrations. I love the ‘baak’ of Thai art that showcases the most ordinary moments of mankind. I have huge admiration for artists who dedicate their life to art so selflessly. It really is not easy, especially in Singapore where artists are paid peanuts.

It was amazing to hear lectures in every temple because I enjoy understanding spaces and their sacred meanings. I don’t think I will necessarily remember every detail (all the jakata of the Buddha, the colours of the demons, the height of the angels) and their supposed placements around the temple (universe at the back, goddess at the door), but I hope I will be able to be a good tour guide to others in the future and share with them my experiences and learnings.

This module is one of my favourites ever at NUS. It has taught me so much, and these learnings are so unique because many of it can’t be googled. The story of Suwannasam, the character in my painting, can’t even be found online. I know that if I visited Ayuthaya as a tourist and not an art student, I would have been oblivious to the rich history and beautiful works left behind for hundreds of years. And this module inspired me to start painting again, and I recently did a scenic forest piece that reminds me of Kanchanaburi. Painting is extremely therapeutic albeit time-consuming, and I hope I will continue to feel inspired and not drop the brush for the coming years ahead.

Overall, my semester was not THAT enriching compared to the others and despite it being my best in terms of grade, I really felt little accomplishment. This coming Y3, I am challenging myself to tough new modules that are out of my comfort zone. I no longer want to choose safe modules to score, although I am really close to a first class honours and it is tempting to choose the easier way out. I hope the next reflection will be a more much happier one to report!