mf in Oxford

It was 7 October 2010. I wanted something warm to go out in the lovely fall weather. I took up my OUMSSA sweater and gave it a sniff, and I was brought back to my first little room in Oxford! Cos it was so small, laundry smell lingered...

I have mentioned Oxford many times before. I feel it deserves its own entry. In fact, its own page :) I realise I'm going to make things difficult for myself. I'm going to put four years of my life on one page.

(Well, not exactly. See mf’s travels for what I did during my long vacation breaks...)

First posted 30 Nov 2011.


It took a few rounds of yes-no-yes-no before I decided on going to Oxford. I had a huge push factor (I wanted to get away from the family) and there was a very attractive pull factor (independence!!). And of course there were too many what-ifs if I didn't take it up.

And it was the best choice of my life! (Before marrying Sito, that is...)

At the pre-departure OBS course 27 Jul-16 Aug 1999, I met a bunch of great people, some of whom I’m still in contact with today. Um, that includes Sito…

That was followed by a NACLI thing, which was rather forgettable except for the sneak out to HV and nights of basketball games where nicknames were coined...

We had an UK Outward Bound event at some club. And a chalet with the "mf-gate-story".. And somewhere along the way, I attended an Oxford event and met some seniors and fellow freshers.

Then it was off to (then) the biggest adventure of my life! I mean, before that, I’d never been on a plane!

First year / 1999-2000

SX, LS, Jon and I arranged to take the same flight. I still remember that I was recovering from a cold and had to take my medicine on the flight. And when Jon and I played puzzle fighter on my laptop, a flight attendant was quite excited by it!

We left Sunday 3 Oct 1999 and arrived the next morning at Heathrow. How fun it was to breathe out and see your own breath!

And I was on my own! The feeling was amazing.

But I had to have some mishaps. First of all, I dropped my X-ray film in the plane and went back for it. Then in Oxford, I dropped it along High St! The best part was that I never realised I lost it. I thought I misplaced it. But actually a porter at Queen’s College picked it up and sent it back to Sg, and Mother didn’t tell me until a few years later!

Anyway, we took the X70 to Oxford from Heathrow. We agreed to “check in” and meet at a certain hour. The three of them were at Teddy Hall so I went ahead to Brasenose on my own, down the same street.

Somehow, I managed to get my keys and dragged my two big bags to find my staircase.. Two kind middle-aged men helped me with my bags but they sent me to the wrong staircase! So they carried the bags down again and then found my staircase – St Mary’s Staircase – and my very own room!

It was such a tiny room at the top of the staircase! Yes, I did ask for a small room to save on rent. So this was the beginning of my shoebox days.. The green thing was my duvet and next to the bed was a tiny window and the sink. My suitcases were below the desk I was sitting at and I kept most of my clothes there cos the wardrobe (behind me) was tiny!

Kind of chubby at the end of the first year :)

We soon met along High St to go shopping for essentials. Still remember that we were looking for Argos when we chanced upon this little square, Bonn Square, and asked a passerby to snap a photo of us – first shot of us in Oxford! And when we turned around, we saw it – Argos, right behind the square. I didn’t manage to get the bedsheets and duvet I wanted so that night I slept in my jacket on an uncovered bed – yucks!

That first day, we had our first bite in Oxford at Harvey’s – I still remember I had a Cornish pasty which was so huge I ate half of it and kept the rest for dinner. But my appetite gradually grew as I recovered from the cold and then it grew beyond my imagination..

Oh, before I forget, I must mention the scouts - they are a godsend! My scout that year was Beth or Betsy or something with a B. She just returned from battling breast cancer but was otherwise a jolly old lady who was working for the sake of doing something. She would come in every day for the rubbish bin and clean the wash basin. Once a week, she would hoover the room. If I left the bin outside the door, she would take it that I was sleeping and wouldn't knock. Nice, right? :)

University life

Memories of that first week are pretty fuzzy now, but I remember taking a nap and waking up late for a freshers’ dinner one day. I ended up sitting at the high table but it was all students that day.

Matriculation was Saturday, 16 Oct 1999. We dressed up in sub-fusc – white top and black bottoms for girls plus black ribbon for girls and suit with white bow tie for guys – and our brand new commoner’s gowns.

It was all a blur as we followed fellow freshers in our respective colleges to the Sheldonian for the matriculation ceremony, where I think the freshers went to the front in groups, called by college. We took individual shots after the matriculation – and I bought some really ugly photos of me *.* – and the four of us gathered for a group photo, after debating whether or not to wear the mortar board :) I also bought the group photo of the freshers in my college that year. It’s got yellow dots on the frame already.. After all, it’s been more than 10 years....

There was also some club fair at some point. I wasn’t too adventurous and joined only cultural clubs, so there was OUMSSA, then Chinese Cultural Society, then Japan Society and later Carrom Club.

I play carrom and I was quite good! :p

And so I started on my university life, with about 12 hours of classes each week, mostly lectures with only one tutorial and one class. The tutorial was right next door! That room must be at least three times mine *.* It was at 8.30 am in the morning. Once my tutmate Larry had to knock and wake me cos I overslept! Lectures were in the University Museum. We would wait in the general museum area for the previous lecture to end, and it was fun because there was always a lot to see in this natural history museum.

There were such things as “collections” at the beginning of each term. They were simply tests on the previous term. Not our favourite thing on earth but we survived Hillary term and then Trinity term. And Trinity term! It was such a fun time with punting, strawberries and Pimms! But it was also the term for mods – short for moderations, our maths exams at the end of the first year.

There was a heat wave that term. I studied in my room with a second-hand heater/fan and a deflated inflatable sofa cos it lao hong! But I had to go for all the social events that term – details later. So much more fun than memorising the 50 odd theorems and lemmas AND their proofs!

But I did manage to study and get my first class honours because my laptop crashed! Everything was gone overnight! So there was nothing to do but study most of the time.

Checking emails and researching for my summer trip to Scandinavia with G had to be done in the computer room, where I once encountered an amazing incident with a fellow fresher. It must have been earlier in the year when I hadn’t had my cable set up. She couldn’t log in her email. After a few exchanges, I found that she had changed her default password but continued to log in using that! Gaaar!

My food, my downfall

I led a pretty regulated life. Well, at least in the first Michaelmas term! I woke at 7.45 am (don’t ask me how I still remember that!) for breakfast in the college hall, ordered dinner on the machine in the lodge, went for class and returned to lunch in the college hall, studied or relaxed in the afternoon, and went for dinner in the college hall.

My college food was quite good. Breakfast was usually toast with beans or sausages or something, cafeteria style, with free-flow coffee and tea at the table. Once, I had a lot of toast cos I wouldn't have time for lunch or something and was teased by the butler *.* Lunch would be chips or boiled rice with some meat and/or dessert – I had just a bowl of chips and dessert before: 65p!* My £2.17 dinner ticket admitted me to the hall in the evening. I usually went for the informal sitting at 6.30 pm where the dinner – starter, main and dessert – was served person to person, with the side dishes given out in a big dish for each table to share. I went for the formal sitting once a week at 7.15 pm, after Tuesday’s evening class with the other four mathematicians^ - the difference with the former was that we had to throw on our commoner’s gowns and someone would say grace – in Latin!

* Sito saw me that summer and commented that food in Oxford was cheap *.* He married me 10 years later! Hoho!

^ There were eight of us but three were maths and computing or philosophy so they didn’t need to attend that class which was on mechanics etc..

But there were times when I didn’t eat in the hall. Somehow I fell in love with Sainbury’s economy bread – oh I did! – covered in margarine. I didn’t know margarine was worse than butter then.. I even sprinkled sugar on the margarine! But it was oh so good... Sometimes I would heat up a can of baked beans in sink of hot tap water and pour them over bread. Ya, pretty gross now that I think of it but I loved it then. And hot chocolate. I would pour whipped cream over my hot chocolate, finish it but not the hot chocolate, and add more whipped cream :)

But my favourite had to be kebabs! I loved going to Ahmed’s on High St and Hassan’s on Broad St. At Ahmed’s, I would have kebab meat and chips. At Hassan’s, I would have chicken, chips and cheese with chilli. I preferred Hassan’s even though I had to take a detour to get to the van due to some construction that wasn’t completed until later – when I had more kebabs!

This was taken in my fourth year, with Ahmed!

After that first term, I had Mother send over a box of stuff, including a hotpot so I started cooking in my room – illegally! No cooking was allowed in my college except in this microwave in some staircase that I never found. I still remember bunking in with LS during Easter break after a ski trip to Livigno in Italy – and leaving a pot mark on her carpet with my hotpot!! So paiseh... I didn’t let up on the kababs so I just had less college food. My college buddy saw me going back with a kabab in my hands on two consecutive evenings – “You really like kebabs hur?” Oops :p

All the fun things!

My first trip to London took place within the first week, the Sunday, I think. I took a coach down and found myself some distance away from the train station where I was supposed to meet the bunch from OBS. Blur *.* I can no longer remember where we were but I remember XY making chicken rice!

There was a particularly memorable weekend, 8-9 Nov 1999, when I bunked in with SX. Or she bunked in with me. Don’t remember anymore, but that weekend, both Jon and LS were in London and SX was ill. At one point, we were carrying pillows down High Street.. And some time in the middle of the night, we decided to have Ahmed’s!

Weekdays can be fun too. One day early in the year, I got a call when I was sleeping. Turned out that a group was downstairs from my window, and when I opened the window in a dazed state, Jon started to sing! I went, huh? :p So funny to think of it now :) And it appeared that they had been throwing stones at the wrong window all this while!

Went to find Kel at Cambridge in Michaelmas term – the OUMSSA-CUMSSA soccer match was at Cambridge that year. Kel was at his thinnest then.

Celebrated my 20th birthday in London – went to a Chinese restaurant. Hence I said goodbye to my teens... But hey, more good things were on their way!

After my winter holiday in France and Italy , I spent a lot of time hanging out at 5 Circus St, cooking, singing, watching Jap dramas. The night before my mods, I was there having dinner. I don't know how I could be so brave!

Spent my first CNY away from home on 5 Feb 2000. Not too bad. We had steamboat here using rice cookers! And here are the mathematicians:

Went to London for Singnite on 26 Feb 2000. Bought a peach-coloured dress but it was too large after my alteration so I ditched it for a LBD that was a little tight but oh well, I was young :)

And on 20 May 2000, we went to Alton Towers!

Summer time is also punting time! It was 10 Jun 2000 when I did my first punt - and possibly killed some birds by the river! *.*

A week later on 17 Jun 2000, we went strawberry picking, followed by a BBQ. It was so fun! We were eating strawberries off the shrubs after pouring some water over each! What could be fresher? :)

The first year flew by all too soon. And suddenly I had to say goodbye to my little room! After some crazy packing and storing my stuff, I bunked over at St Clement - a senior's place, where we would set off for Scandinavia and eventually Sg for the summer...

Went back to Singapore to take part in Outward Bound Singapore, which was a very good experience that I may write about at some point..

Second year / 2000-2001

Michaelmas was a blur cos I loaded on too many classes *.*

But I still made it to Nottingham games!

And Birmingham to discuss Singnite 2001!

When term ended, it felt good.. G, Jon and I went to Egypt and returned to Christmas! Spent quite a bit of time hanging out with friends staying in Gloucester Green that year..

It was a very green (or brown!) Christmas.. But on 28 Dec 2011, I woke to find the red roof of the Oxford union covered in snow! This is my building taken from the grounds. I moved out of college into Frewin, also owned by my college. It's so conveniently located in the heart of the city and I had a bigger room finally!!

But still not big enough for a party. We welcomed the new year in my corridor :p

Went to the Trout for the first time on 17 Feb 2001.

And the next day, we headed for Liverpool to catch a football game of Liverpool vs. Manchester City!

It was a very busy month for me as I also had a Carrom Competition going on - this is me presenting the trophy to our champion!

A couple more trips to Birmingham and suddenly it was Singnite, 24 Feb 2001. At the last minute, I had to be on stage to help with the lucky draw - holding the fishbowl *.* I felt so fat, gaaar!

Went rock climbing with the guys on 3 Mar 2001. I remember meeting a cute little girl there - primarily cos I wasn't climbing much hoho!

After Easter break in Spain and Portugal, I had a lovely spring - played a lot of football somehow... And once, ZP and I went for the ball and collided. He stood still while I flew *.*

I don't know what I was doing with the football....

Went for May Morning on Magdalen Bridge!

And on 11 May, there was filming right outside my building - Kate Winslet was filming Iris. That same year, Jon Bon Jovi and MJ came to the Oxford Union. I didn't go for the talks but it sure made my quiet street a lot more exciting!

I think this must be the only picture I took with my tutmates. We were waiting to see the principal, nothing serious, just something we did every year or so. And that year, I was advised to change a paper cos I did so badly in my tutorials :(

I still remember the farewell BBQ for seniors on 15 Jun 2001. Some of them were graduating and some were going to the US for masters. We had such fun time together! And did random things like photographing TCH's hand (almost) upon KJ's butt!

The next day, we dressed up for Christ Church Ball. It was cold and rainy. And we must have been late cos most of the food and drinks were all gone *.* But we remained pretty :) (Yup, I reused my Singnite dress...)

And the next day - very free hur? - we went up the Magdalen Tower, courtesy of BH! Oh, that year, we also cooked a lot at his place. And watched Slam Dunk :) And once, I had a horrible tummy ache there. I still remember MC sending me back and returning with charcoal pills for me - really 雪中送炭!

Check out the big key!

This summer saw me going to Paris and then Eastern Europe before returning to Singapore for my mid-term internship, which had absolutely nothing to do with my actual work later!

Third year / 2001-2002

Still staying at Frewin but in a slightly bigger room with a spacious attached bathroom :) But I never had to clean the toilet cos the scout would do it :p I think her name was Noreen, and I got her a little soap bar on a holiday to help with her eczema.

Work was less stressful this year. Well, that was the plan, to load up in second year when I didn't have any exams - did I mention that? :) - and to ease up in the final year when I had to study for finals.

That's a pretty drunk mf at our Halloween bop :)

Had a number of cookouts at KP's place. Um, KP was then bf....

And we went to the other Browns in Oxford - the more expensive one! - for our end-of-term do!

This being finals year, I didn't go anyway for winter break. But G and I went shopping at next on Boxing Day - we started queueing at 4 am or something like that! Bought so much stuff :)

I had a really nice birthday celebration that year. I felt like a little girl :)

Oh, can you see my braces? I had them since first year Trinity. And I was almost done with them by now...

I cut my hair for CNY! And no more braces! =D

I had in my log that we biked to Woodstock on 23 February. But I seem to recall it was May and it hailed... Anyway, I was so bad at cycling I slowed down the whole group!

Somehow, I finished my finals on 12 Jun 2002 - relief! Went to Greece before coming back for my convocation on 13 Jul 2002. I invited Z and XY to attend. And when they called my name, it was.... Mei Low... Better heard as Milo *.*

G and I headed for Blenheim Palace on 19 Jul 2002, shortly before we returned to Singapore.

Fourth year / 2002-2003

In the past three years, I managed to get college accommodation and had my own room. This year, I no longer stayed in the heart of the city cos my college refused to give me accommodation!! But St Hilda's College was so nice and offered me a spare room in a flat some 30 min away. It was really nice even though it was far.

This picture of me cooking in the background gives a glimpse into what my flat was like. The kitchen was longish with lots of storage. My friends were in the dining area. My bedroom door was just facing that area and extended the length of the kitchen so it was quite big. AND, that was just the bedroom - I had a room inside the room! That was where I studied :)

I shared the flat with a nice Irish girl. I've forgotten her name :( but we used to watch Sex and the City in my room while sipping cold Irish cream! :) The thing I didn't like about living with her was that she loved frying bacon which stank up the flat, and she took a long time in the bathroom and used up all the hot water! But I really missed her after she moved back into college, when in her place, an international student who was just starting on a PhD moved in...

Now she was a really nice girl and we were often chatting in the common areas. But she was also very scary! Once, I came home to find no one in the kitchen and black ashes flying everywhere from the kitchen to the bathroom ventilation because she had left the stove on and the food was burning madly while she was on the phone with her bf! And another time, we were chatting when she lifted the pot and proceeded to put her plastic plate on the hob while pouring the food in - needless to say, we now had one less hob to use *.* I never knew when the flat might be burnt down! And one day I received a phone bill for the flat - more than £1000! And since she moved in, I just couldn't bear using our toilet anymore - um, go figure... I was just thankful I had a very nice scout!

I had so much space that it was easy to have weekend sleepovers. So Kel and Josh came over and we went to Alice's Shop for tea, which was cute :) And once, I had G, LS and Jon over when LS came to visit from NY. I remember sharing my bed with G and while the other two were saying the room was hot, I commented that my spot was hottest cos of a 37 deg body next to me hoho! Later in the year, ZP's lease was up and he bunked in with me for a week, but he was lucky cos I relegated my mattress pad to a rug by then and he got that as a mattress!

And in summer, after my trip to Germany and Switzerland, there was a crazy exchange of keys. I went to Germany with WX and left her my keys to pass to YX whom she met in Prague so that when YX got to the UK before I returned from Switzerland, he could stay at my place!

Shortly after returning from Switzerland, I moved out of the flat to another room offered by St Hilda's as they wanted to renovate the flat. It was much smaller but slightly closer to town.


I had my first surprise birthday party that year. My juniors were so nice! I didn't even know how they knew my birthday!

I met a few Taiwanese students on my subsequent wintry trip to Scotland and one of them came to visit soon after, which gave me the opportunity to take these pictures...

My college lodge where the pigeon holes are:

The Old Quad where ducks could be spotted sometimes...

The exams schools where we had our finals - I think I had my mods in the gym for some reason...

A corridor in the Oxford Union:

And Liaison where we used to go for dim sum:

And I thought that would be the last year I would have steamboat in a rice cooker! Well, we just had hotpot recently...

We had a very fun Valentine's Day that year - with mahjong!

That's not all. We played £15 worth of foosball that night!

31 May 2003 was the last day of Summer Eights, and I knew I had to go to the river! Lucky me, for Tunde and Eric wished to go too so I had company for the walk :)

Now, it wasn't all play and no work... I actually spent a lot of time in the stats department this year, be it in the library or the lab running analyses.. It was way less distracting, and I had good company who were seriously studying!

I brought lunch on most days. Usually pasta from the last dinner. There's a fridge and a microwave in the department. And it was a small department so it felt like home. I even befriended a Japanese PhD student in the kitchen while heating up lunch and one day he gave me some smoked salmon sushi to bring home :) Some days, I would go out for lunch with some classmates. They loved Edamame and so did I!

This was Jens' birthday celebration early in the summer. We were a crazy bunch! And I got his meatball recipe! Come to think of it, it's not in my recipe folder... :(

First we were nice girls...

Then we turned crazy!

And speaking of crazy, there was one night when four girls had a little drinking party. We drank a lot, took off bras (!) and fell asleep on the couch one after the other! We left the next morning and the moment I stepped into the flat, I ran into the toilet to puke *.*

But all too soon, the season for finals came. And it went :) I went to "receive" some juniors. It was usually rowdy - this one was pretty tame already. And don't ask me why I was wearing my winter coat next to someone in a t-shirt. (Obviously I was cold la!)

That was me suffering the water gun at the end of my finals *.*

But well, I had a nice Eeyore balloon! And remained relatively clean at the end of it!

This cobbled ground peppered with confetti kind of depicted my feelings at the end of it all... A mix of happiness at the end of exams and sadness at the beginning of separation...

But well, happy thoughts, happy thoughts! And that brings us to Duke of Cambridge for post-final drinks!

This was also the only year in which I spent the whole summer in Oxford cos of my dissertation. And it was so fun!

The department held a little summer party at one of the professors' home, and it was a very nice home..

Um, I don't know what we were doing, but we seemed to be having fun!

That was me playing what I think was croquet:

All too soon, the juniors had their convocation... Oh, so did Jon, who was finishing a four-year course. I had mine after I left Oxford in absentia. No point renting gowns again :p

While we were writing our dissertation, we had fun too. Eric and I brought our classmates to Liaison and introduced them to chicken feet! :p When Jens and Eric came to Singapore a few years later, we had that again hoho!

I still remember it was a Monday when we had to turn in our dissertation. Late on Sunday night, people were still hard at work in the lab! And as the print shop wasn't open on Sunday, Monday morning was a mad rush for everyone! So we sent in our dissertation at the shop, had breakfast at Brown's Cafe, collected our stacks and sent everything in, woohoo!

And of course we started doing farewells....

Amila's farewell....

Kohei's farewell...

My farewell!

The day I left Oxford was a mess. I almost couldn't make it to the bus stop if not for some help from my friends who came to see me off. I was so flustered that it didn't hit me until I got on the bus that that could be the last time I saw my friends in a very long time....

Epilogue 2011

Just a few weeks ago, I was thinking what I would have done differently if I were to go back to 1999.

I would have joined an OU sport. I would have joined the college choir. I would have studied harder. I would have made greater effort to get to know my British classmates better instead of spending so much time with the other Singaporeans - I always felt that kind of made my overseas education incomplete in some way. This was somewhat compensated for in my final year when I spent more time with the international students in my MSc course. Made me realise how much I'd missed! I would have studied harder, oops...

Looking back, I think my last year in Oxford marked a significant change in me...

Anyway, I shall end with my email signature that I found recently in my archives:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ L O W   M E I   F O O N G ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
TEL: +447715383865

Says mf in early December 2011.

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