Thanks for All the Fish!

20 months ago, something important happened. I was kidnapped and transported to the UK, and forced to walk to school every day, at nearly just-above-zero temperatures. Somehow I was expected to survive with just a bank account, 40kg of meticulously packed luggage and a warm room located 10 minutes from school.

On my first day of forced imprisonment, I found out I had bigger problems. I had to walk for minutes between classes. Classrooms were not made of gold-plated steel or ivory. We were expected to study. The school did not provide chefs from Italy. The school did not provide food at all. There were no massage sessions. The indoor swimming pool was non-existant.

I was appalled.

But something miraculous happened.

I enjoyed myself while I was there.

And 18 months after I began, I managed to survive! In fact, I thrived in the UK. To me, those months in Cambridge doing A-Levels were exhilaratingly fun and interesting. So I’d like to say my thanks to some people:

To the teachers of Abbey College, you are the greatest set of teachers I have ever had the pleasure of sitting down and learning from. Whereas when some teachers teach the information goes straight from the board to the notebook without ever passing through either brain*, when you guys teach I always understand and memorise things until the day before the exam. To Helen, Tanya, Chris, Darren, Heather, Stuart, Ross, Boz, Richard and Sue in particular, thank you for bearing with me for the many hours I was in your class, making sure I don’t fall asleep in class (well, usually), teaching beyond the syllabus, marking tons of exam papers and for being caring, concerned teachers. I couldn’t have done it without you. :)

To Andrew, thanks for introducing me to Doctor Who. And board games. Oh, and making sure I was never able to ever think I was good at maths.

To Julian, thank you for… um… doing whatever it is you do. And board games also, I guess.

To my brother, thank you for doing the laundry sometimes.

To my sister, thanks…?

Penultimately but not least, to all my friends, thank you very, very much. There’s so many of you and I don’t want to single anyone out (and if I listed all of you I’d definitely miss one out), so to all my friends I am grateful for the stupid things we did together; the homework and notes we suffered through; the silly nights spent together; the odd conversations held at staircases; the times we ran to classes; the many, many “Good luck”s exchanged; the cooking nights at Jiann Lee’s my house; the milkshakes; the informal LAN’s; the let’s-chat-while-unlocking-our-bicycle-and-standing-awkwardly-in-the-cold chats; the May Ball; the charity event; the long walks; the short walks; the food shopping trips; Nando’s; NANDO’s; the terrible games of pool; playing Shadow Hunters, Settler’s of Catan, and the many other board games; that night when you pumped me full of alcohol; for letting me sleep on your couch and leech your internet; and for being generally the best friends one could ask for.

Last but still not least, to my parents, thank you for caring! You’re always there (even if you’re not wanted :p) to make sure I’m doing well. Thank you for working hard to make sure I have the best in education and life, and for making sure I grew up to be a responsible, smart, excellent, hardworking, humble, caring, interesting, handsome, amazi- (ok I’ll stop now) young man. You’re the best parents a boy could ever ask for. I love you two! :D **


Those were 18 months not easily forgotten.


* Ok, I stole this from the Cambridge Study Guide.

** You’re welcome.

Malaysian Night

The event: Malaysian Night at the University of Cambridge. What is it? As far as I know, Malaysian Night is a great excuse to produce a play which reflects (and makes fun of) Malaysian culture. Also, its a good way to find how many Malaysians like to watch plays.

This past Saturday started like most Saturdays: wake up at 11 am, stare drowsily at my iPhone and hit snooze. Go back to sleep but don’t actually sleep; instead, think about the meaning of life, the purpose of existence, a new Sentry-heavy Protoss build against Terran, food, how much time I’m wasting thinking about things in bed, and the universe in general. Also customary is the willingness to skip breakfast to enjoy a better blunch (if brunch is between breakfast and lunch, then blunch is between brunch and lunch).

I spent the rest of the afternoon finishing all my economics homework so I wouldn’t have to rush it on Sunday night playing Starcraft 2.

By about 5pm a bunch of us (10? or thereabouts) were at Yippee Noodle Bar ordering noodles (and the odd rice) to eat. Yippee noodles are delicious, give them a try. Then we went to Christ’s College for the play. All we were told when we got in was to follow the white signs to the theatre; our large group of brilliant future minds got lost twice. At last we found the theatre and sat down…

All of us. Some are hiding :/ Picture by Stephanie Cheng.


While waiting for the show to start I was also wondering what the CUMaS meant. Cambridge University Malaysia Society? Then why bother putting a lower case ‘a’ in the acrony- oh. I see.

Seeing as the website, facebook page, ticket and programme book all had zero information on the play’s story, the only thing which allowed me to guess the story was the title, “What Are Friends For”. I had some ideas:

  • A touching story about how friendship connects people. The value of friendship in our lives.
  • Dramatic comedy about friends in Malaysia.
  • Explosions and aliens.

I was pretty sure that the first idea would be the actual play, but that most of the male population would enjoy the third option.

Anyways, the play happened to be about four friends from high school who went their separate ways for college. It starts off with them reuniting during their summer holidays in Malaysia. Then inject drama, relationships, and comedy into the story.

And the result is a surprisingly good story about these friends and their lives. The writers managed to interweave four storylines (the friendship, and three of the main characters families) together without making people confused. At the same time, the story is surprisingly realisticly told, and it truly made me feel that the events could have (and definitely does) happen in real life. Parents controlling their kids’ lives, trust among friends, broken families, troubled childhoods; it’s all there and I enjoyed every moment of the story.

Some highlights (paraphrased from memory):

  • Mrs. Lim: “That boy ah, studying at that university with an animal inside ah- what’s it called? Cowford ah?”
    Sue Ann: “…”
    Sue Ann: “He’s studying in Oxford.”
    Crowd: *uproarious laughter*
    Sue Ann: “It’s almost as good as Cambridge. *pinches fingers in the air* Almost.
  • Any scene which involved Ashvin and Sue Ann alone. This will single-handedly raise girls’ expectations on how guys should compliment them.
  • The hilarious breaking-the-fourth-wall Facebook monologue which was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant writing which is impossible to replicate here.
  • The final conflict scene where the main characters meet and end up screaming, shouting and accusing each other. Great scene.
  • Cute, young boy on stage who couldn’t stop laughing and made everyone’s hearts go “AWWWWWWWwwwwwwwwww sho cuuuutte” for the three minutes he was on.

After the show (which sadly, will never be shown again :[ ), we stood outside for a while taking pictures (blegh). Then we began the slow, long walk back to my house. Over the course of the 40-minute walk (which should have taken 20 minutes), we rejected Pizza Hut, were slurred by a drunken hobo, a relationship was revealed (taking the number of relationships in our group from 3.5 to 4. :p ) and most sane people went back to their houses. But about 11 of the 25 actually made it to the house. We played football (on the PS3), played poker (without actual money) and played a drinking/confession game (without any alcohol).


But in the end, after knowing a little more of each other and knowing a few new magic tricks, everyone left by 2am. I went to sleep happily after enjoying the awesome day and the charming parting smile :)

[blackbirdpie url=”!/jiannmeng/status/46766994795663360″]

Cambridge Offer: A Simple Analysis

Here are the exact conditions of my offer to Trinity College, University of Cambridge.

  • A*AA in A-levels, excluding Economics.
  • Grade S in both STEP Paper 2 and Paper 3.

Let’s analyse:

For A-levels, I already have an A* in Mathematics so that’s in the bag. For Further Maths, I must score an average of 80% in 6 papers (called modules) out of 9 that I’m taking. (Not exactly; I already have a 97% in Further Pure 1, so the average I need for the remaining papers is slightly lower, plus I can rearrange my Mechanics 1 or 2 paper into the Further Maths grade instead of Maths if needed.)

For Physics, I currently have 295/300, or 98.33%. To get an A (80%), I need another 185/300 in A2, or 61.67%. This should not be difficult.

For Economics, I could fail it and it wouldn’t matter in terms of my offer. I’d lose all my pride though.

The STEP papers are something else. Whereas all the above are achievable (I would even dare call it… “easy”), STEP papers are… difficult. An example is in order:

STEP Paper 2 2009 Question 1

Two curves have equations x4 + y4 = u and xy = v , where u and v are positive constants. State the equations of the lines of symmetry of each curve.
The curves intersect at the distinct points A, B, C and D (taken anticlockwise from A). The coordinates of A are (α,β), where α > β > 0. Write down, in terms of α and β, the coordinates of B, C and D.
Show that the quadrilateral ABCD is a rectangle and find its area in terms of u and v only. Verify that, for the case u = 81 and v = 4, the area is 14.

There are 13 questions for each paper. 8 are pure mathematics (like the one above), 2 are probability and statistics questions, and 3 are mechanics questions. They will mark your best 6 answers to any questions, with up to 20 marks per question. In general, to get an S, I will need to answer five questions fully and a sixth partially in STEP 2, and four questions fully in STEP 3. To give you an idea of how difficult this is, the above question (and the whole of STEP 2) can be answered using only knowledge from the Mathematics A-Level subject, whereas STEP 3 requires Further Mathematics knowledge. Technically, if you’ve done your SPM Further Maths, you have enough knowledge to answer the question above. Good luck.

My entire focus for the next six months is to study sufficiently to achieve an A* in all subjects, and spending the rest of my studying time on STEP. It should be pretty fun.

Fun Fact: The full name of Trinity College is: The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

Without Internet: 27/10

Thursday, 27/11/10

11.20pm: I’m in the hotel. My dad hasn’t slept since 3am. He’s lying on the bed now, but a minute ago, he suddenly woke up, looked at me, told me to “look at the business aspect of the house”, mumbled a bit, then explained that it was for “making sure… minimum wage”. Then he fell back asleep. I am still quite puzzled by his advice, but I will never forget his words of wisdom.

11.22pm: I have no internet. This is a diary I shall be typing, hopefully regularly, and then uploading to my blog whenever I am fortunate enough to get internet access.

11.29pm: Always be prepared. No internet for 15 days? No worries. Just be prepared. Make sure to prepare everything you need using everything you have. For me, that means a lot of things can be done to waste the boring hours away:

  • iPhone. Download apps. Tons of apps. I have 131 apps. 71 of them are games. Many, many hours can be spent here. One important app is VLC player.
  • Laptop (Macbook). Have lots of stuff. Games: Plenty of offline, single-player games which I haven’t touched yet. Worse case scenario: Civilisation IV. That should net me a couple of hundred of hours of wasted time. Also, videos. I have Dexter, Firefly and Mad Men, Seasons 1,1 and 1, to watch. Transfer them to VLC Player on the iPhone, and I can watch them anywhere. There’s another 20-30 hours.
  • Photos. Have lots of photos, and be quite OCD about arranging them. I have nice big folder called “Unsorted” with lots of holiday photos. Generally, I perform the following process on my photos: Look through every photo. Delete any non-unique photo or boring photo.  Adjust contrast and brightness (only) of every remaining photo. Save photo set at full resolution and compress the set. Copy set over to hard drive. Take photo set and reduce size to a maximum of 1500×1000 pixels for each photo. Save resized photos to iPhoto. Repeat for remaining photos. As of now: I have 5 gigs of photos to “process”. About 4-5 hours down the drain.
  • Homework. … Actually nevermind, this won’t take up much time at all.
  • New house. I have at least 6-7 cardboard boxes worth of stuff to move and arrange soon. This will probably never finish and I will still be unpacking things 3 months from now.
  • Books. Yet to read: Revolutionary Road, To Kill A Mockingbird, Catch-22. To re-read (in case of Cambridge interview): A Very Short Introduction to Mathematics, The Pleasure of Counting.

There’s actually plenty more stuff, but it’s 11.45pm and I need to wake up at around 6am. Adios.

11.59pm: Ok, I was going to sleep. my dad woke up again, asked me what time it was, then lectured me about the importance of efficiency in business, used an analogy by comparing it to finding out about a movie (make sure there’s a good writer, etc.) then talking about how you must research a store). Then he closed his eyes and I asked him if he wasted to bathe. He said, “No,” and I said, “Good, Go to sleep.”