A letter to my past self

Sun Jan 24 2021

Dear past self,

Congratulations on getting the offer from Oxford! The interview went better than you think (I asked Sergi and Bassel when I was there).

Should you go to Oxford? You're holding a place at NUS Law but you'll soon give that up. You'll meet Philip Yeo who will tell you that arts are shit and STEM is great and so you'll apply to NTU Renaissance Engineering instead. In 2017 you'll apply to all the scholarships you can find on BrightSparks and get unceremoniously rejected by most of them save one.

At this point two questions weigh heavy in your mind.

The first is Oxford: should I go to Oxford if I can't get a scholarship? And should I go to Oxford even if I do get a scholarship? Is it worth the bond? And the second is more personal, fundamental, and scary even to ask: do people like you or do they put up with you? do girls like you? and--more importantly-- do they like you enough to sleep with you?

Should you go to Oxford? It's impossible to know the counterfactual, but I'll say that you will have the happiest moments of your life in Oxford, an absolutely idyllic three years, many firsts (and a First, too). You'll come away from the experience much enriched and immensely grateful for the friends and mentors you've had the good fortune to meet.

Do people like you? You have done and will do a lot of cringey shit that occasionally keeps me up at night (I forgive you). But eventually you'll mellow out (maturity that comes with age? or just through painful trial-and-error), make less mistakes in talking to people, and find people who like you for who you are. And the proof of the pudding is in the eating, I suppose; several attractive girls will be kind enough to sleep with you, which goes a long way to assuage those doubts.

It's difficult to internalise:

My friends (both male and female) were always telling me that that I was attractive enough

I realised that a lot of what i was doing in the past was driven by my desire to be desired by women everything is about femoids It was a deep insecurity of "do people like you or do they put up with you?" and "do girls like you?" and "do girls like you enough to fuck you?" ergo am i attractive

I think for me it was always a deep insecurity from 1) being an autist and 2) not having any female attention (esp since I was in hwach) i knew i was doing well academically / career wise —- or at least I was confident in my ability to succeed if i just worked hard but if you're talking about attractiveness it felt like it was impossible to change not just impossible to change it also feels out of your hands How can you control if a girl likes you That was a lack of agency and i felt powerless Cos afterwards was NS and then 2 years of enforced celibabcy basically i think what i was doing is conflating my lack of any female attention with my qualities when in reality it was just that i wasn't in the right environment to find any female attention it didn't help that i tried (very abortive attempt) tinder in NS and only matched with whales but in hindsight that was because 1) i was fat 2) had bad face pics 3) tinder is very biased against males and it was only during uni that after i was able to successfully have sex with multiple girls that i was able to internalise that ok maybe i am reasonably attractive or attractive enough at any rate it was an irrational thing does that make sense And the reason for this is not just because i slimmed down but again also the function of the environment Lots of girls my age around in various stages of inebriation and a conducive environment

The first time you try to cook you'll set off the smoke detector in North Lodge and the porter will come and tear you a new one. Thankfully that never happens again and you'll become quite a decent cook (if I may say so myself).

You'll get a lot of practice: cooking almost every day with Martin and for OXCAR, cooking hundreds of portions of food with Jing Long, doing ramen with En May, cooking for Bassel, his wife, the Warden, and so on.

Something you hear a lot online is that university wasn't that useful; they didn't learn much from their professors and/or they could have learned just the same from reading textbooks/watching videos on their own. For me personally this couldn't be further from the truth. I learned a lot from my tutors.

Sergi would give me essay-length feedback on my essay. My essays were ~2,000 words and Sergi would easily write 500, 600, 800 word feedback on my essay. And he did that with all his students. That was an enormous time commitment

Bassel would also give me very detailed feedback on my work but he routinely went above and beyond that. I remember he invited me into his garden one time to talk about my thesis idea for hours. Absolutely nothing to do with economics, our lessons, or anything --- he just wanted to help me out.

I had several meetings with my thesis supervisor Andy Eggers and his comments were very helpful as well.

Not all of my tutors were so exemplary, of course, some were just phoning it in (the DPhil students were often guilty of this)

merton has two different kinds of bottles glass bottles black cap is still green cap is sparkling then i didnt know so i took the sparkling and poured myself a glass imagine my surprise

Is this what happens when a kampong boy goes to Oxford?

When you have formal for the first time and you sit all in a row, On one side is the bread, and on the other is the glass, bread — glass — bread —- glass — bread — glass, but which bread and which glass is yours? Someone tells you the "b-d" trick where you make two "OK" signs with your fingers: the left hand forms a "b" (for bread), the right a "d" (for drink).

In first year you have many late nights with Tak Huen and Filip. As usual it seems like the only thing you can think and talk about is girls. Filip and Tak Huen both tell you not to worry -- you'll find someone soon -- but you find it impossible to believe them.

and Oskar and Rayhan.

One time you celebrate Oskar's birthday in Richard's room and about 10 friends have arrived...

meeting Judy

You make a promise to yourself not to let money get in the way of your relationships.


You spend several days and weeks thi and penning a post

You silently reaffirm your promise not to let money get in the way of your relationships and experiences.

Hilary Term of second year is very exciting. You slack off in your Theopol and Macro classes and do very little work. It's quite a busy term, though. At the OUCS Chinese New Year ball you run from rehearsal to 卤肉饭 booth to performance. Venla invites you and Julianna to her family home in Finland. You remember your promise and say yes without even looking at the price of the plane ticket. (It's only a few hundred pounds in any case.)

Finland is by far the most beautiful place you've ever visited.

Trinity Term is even less work (only QE). You start thinking hard about your thesis. You talk to Tak Huen and Jarel and Sergi and Bassel and Filip. Sergi tells you -- to your great sorrow -- that he will be leaving for Glasgow and he won't be able to supervise your thesis.

A poem comes to your mind:


After a concert you all congregate in a friend's room. There is pizza and wine and it's all good fun.

The night finally comes to an end. It's late: around two in the morning. You offer to walk one of the girls back home. "Why don't you come and sleep over at my place tonight?" she asks on the way back. "Sure, but I only sleep naked," you banter.

"That's fine."

Huh??? You can't believe your ears. You can't believe your eyes either: after reaching her room she takes off her clothes, slips into bed, and asks "Do you want to join me?" You don't go back to your room that night.

This gradually becomes a regular arrangement. She's afraid of sleeping alone so you visit her several times at her college, but you don't sleep well at hers so she ends up visiting you instead. Both of you are very clear that a relationship would be impossible, so neither of you entertains the thought. There's something pure and nice about it all: two lonely people enjoying each other's company, without any other expectations.

You spend many nights together and get to know each other better. Together you discuss your plans, your fears, your secrets. One night you reveal one of yours: "What is love, really?" She gives you an answer but you are too lost in your thoughts. When she leaves Oxford she gifts you a little red notebook. In it she has written a lovely farewell message:

"Hope you figure out what love is... All I know is you deserve one."

Meeting Celine

In 2020 a global pandemic will upend the entire world and life won't ever be the same. Like a thunderstorm brewing on the horizon, Covid-19 will slowly spread in China and Asia while you're safely ensconced in the UK. Then all of a sudden the dam will break and there'll be pandemonium. Merton will send all its undergraduates home with no warning (you never get to say goodbye to many of your coursemates). Mom and Dad and Toh's mom and Mrs Hauw and IMDA are messaging and calling you to come back. Celine is crying every day because if you go home who knows when you'll see one another again? You decide to stay, and thank God you do.

There are a lot of rumours about alternative exam arrangements. No one is in any mood to revise. Extended time? 24 hour open book papers? Judged on the basis of tutorials? In a move very unlike you you draft an open letter and send it to the Proctors.

I think this is completely unprecedented. Oxford has never run open-book examinations, ever. And I'm pretty sure the last time exams were cancelled was WWII. So we're literally living history --- living in truly unprecedented times, in the wake of a virus that has brought the world to its knees.

Celine is wanting me to go to bed now. But as of writing this I suddenly realise how strange it is to be living in such crazy whirlwind times, yet how normal and humdrum it all feels. It seems like we should be worrying about things much bigger than Finals --- but yet here we are ...

You've never been very good at keeping up motivation to study, (yes---you still have this problem five years from now) and it's Celine's daily presence that enforces a modicum of productivity and routine. You'll repurpose your A-level spreadsheet (last modified Nov 2014) to try and stick to a revision routine. Both of you will write your daily and weekly revision schedules on the whiteboard: she'll have no problem sticking to them, while you'll miss them by a mile. You had originally planned to finish your politics and Behavioural Econ theses by the end of Michaelmas: it's week 8 of Hilary and you're still not done with either. Things are not looking great and you regret doing your thesis. The two weeks you allocated to PolSoc becomes two days.

The porters catch you in fragrante delicto (and by that I mean explaining to Celine how the total utility changes when you allow goods to be transferred). Having guests is (very) verboten due to the pandemic and all that, and Celine is unceremoniously kicked out of the house. Sally sends you a very angry email. You make a habit of going to Liddell instead, where the porters are not nearly as anal-retentive.

TTW1 (exam week) finally arrives --- far too soon, because you haven't revised Theopol, Game Theory or PolSoc. The Core Econ papers come first. Macro is OK, you bomb Micro (at least that's what you think) and QE is balls-hard.

You take four days to read Theopol after Core Micro. You revise Game Theory (GT) in the three days after Theopol, and PolSoc in the two days after GT.

Please try and fix your sleep schedule, and treat your loved ones with kindness.

With much love,

You from the future