We must part now

UTown Colonade


“I would like to forget myself,” I wrote in my personal essay to Tembusu College, and with that odd declaration I was accepted into the new building reminiscent of a newly built executive condominium. That was in 2011, and now in 2014, I realise that I have failed to forget myself but instead discovered more of myself and the world..

Let’s start from what has changed. It is only after twelve years of formal education and another four of voluntary studying, that I’ve begun to appreciate what I had been doing all this time. This realisation came fast and furious this semester, especially when I discovered that business, my major, was just a study of capitalism at its finest, and the networking opportunities it provided meant that I had to mould myself towards this capitalist ideal. I had been becoming the woman in the bowler hat, more transparent than a window pane.


Realising that my degree was largely tied to an ideology that could change overnight if people simply stopped believing or participating in it, there came also a period of extreme ‘biographical work’ where I reflected on my identity and its evolution. Keeping a simple blog, I started writing more seriously with the hope that one day, my words could be read by someone-In understanding what responsibilities shackled me as a student, as well as the ideologies and theories that we commonly subscribe to for the world to function through reading words of my own and many far wiser than I am, I no longer found my mind in submission but liberated.

I find it interesting how the room is small, and sometimes, claustrophobic, yet the space that Tembusu College offers serves to liberate and connect rather than to separate and divide. It represents a metaphysical space of ‘belonging’ to a certain community for a part of your life.

Possession of this space also gives you the privilege to belong and interact with some of the most intelligent people you may meet in your life – your peers, and also other unexpected guests!

It was just another day in college. I woke up late for breakfast and had to hurry down in a tired, grey shirt and floppy shorts. My tray laden with food and coffee, I scurried back to a quiet seat, hoping no one would notice my sleep addled eyes, only to nearly crash into a short and stout man in a suit.

“Who wears suits in the morning?” I thought, as I looked up at the suit-wearer.

It was our sixth president, SR Nathan on a visit. Needless to say, I did not need as much coffee to gather my senses that morning.

The author with Prof. Tommy Koh (our Rector) and ​​Prof. Kishore Mahbubani (our guest​)​ when she was more prepared​.


I used to think interaction was a mindless buzzword signifying meandering and pointless small talk that tires one out before one even gets to the point. I’ve since learnt that adventures are always unexpected, and it’s worth the time for this ‘interaction’ to take place in the form of a quick catch up over dinner, or an extended, lazy afternoon at the café. It’s what you choose to get out of it that matters more than the act of interaction or the presence of the opportunity to do so.

Some Thursdays, we have wine and reading nights. A group of us gather in a lounge, and with a slight numbing daze of red wine (depending on how well you drink), we listen to each other’s voices read out strange prose or moving poetry, and then proceed to give our comments with heartfelt sobriety, or drunken remarks with hilarious seriousness. The next morning, it is back to school and lectures and tutorials, but like alcohol in one’s body, nights like this pile up into a prolonged and abstract, but lovely memory.


I’ll admit, we don’t always get to learn practical life skills. For example, no one buys groceries or cooks on a daily basis here as breakfast and dinner are always provided.

However, partitioning my college life into this personal and private shoebox offered me the privilege of knowing myself intimately. Of course I’m me, but as an elephant may not be aware of its trunk or its tusks, sometimes I am unaware of who I am. My room offers me a place at the heart of a college student’s knowledge and thoughts and mindlessness. You could be engaging in intense study and before you know it, it is 2am. Time for a late night supper get together, and you wait for the ping of the lift to take you to another level where you chat and laugh with other similarly frazzled souls and have fries.

In your own space, no work ethic is objectively good or bad, but it is just you against your own time, a microcosm of your procrastination, your untidiness and your values, where no one can judge you for it and you can see for yourself who you really are. On some days, I leave my freshly laundered clothes on my bed in a little messy pile, just because I can.

Scenes from Tembusu: Morning till night


“I would like to live life with the knowledge that there are many things greater than myself. I have come to appreciate the value and quality of life as how much I can offer the world, rather than how much the world can offer me.” On top of the 18 year old me trying to forget myself, I wanted to pursue this goal through gratitude and appreciation.

Ironically, at the end of this whole journey to forget myself, and live in the light but not ignorance, I have become even more aware of myself and my roles. I graduate not just to the prospect of work, but to living my life with the awareness of the relationship between the meaning of my existence and the world. With this knowledge, I think I can live more meaningfully and thoughtfully.

This journey had not elevated me to the selfless nirvana that I started out seeking, but instead allowed me to develop self-identity and a mind that can interact in a meaningful and intellectual manner with the world. While I have become just another graduate-to-be of this large machine that churns out new employable candidates each year, I view this discovery of a latent self-identity an important part of the Tembusu experience.

“May I appoint you as my shrink?” I asked Dr. Connor. “I find this whole self-discovery really interesting.” Now that I’m at the end of my Tembusu journey, it seems so much of a pity to let it all stop.

“Yes,” he said with a measured pause, “but I regret to inform you that charges apply.”

I am glad to have belonged. And I know I will be back.

And waving part, and waving drop from sight.


Photos from Pearl’s personal collection.
Author : Pearl Lee
Editor: Jensen Goh