Monday, January 5, 2009


After 146 days away, it's time to go home. And I am glad to be home, especially after moving around so much the past 18 days. More so also because of the long flight home due to flight delays, one after another. It took me 44 hours to get from Raleigh to Singapore. But finally, I'm home.

My time of rest is over and it's time to move on to a new season of serving again :)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Goodbye Raleigh and NC State

It's been 6 days since I left Raleigh and NC State. Exams ended on 15 Dec and I left 16 Dec in the evening. I felt that I had left to hurriedly. I didn't have enough time to pack my stuff properly. I didn't have enough time to say goodbye to everyone. If not for Jen and Kelvin who helped me with packing, and Liz who drove me to the airport, I think I would have missed my flight which would have been very bad. In the end the flight was delayed though, cos it was snowing in Toronto.

The last week of classes before exam week (1-5 Dec) was a week of many lasts. Besides the last classes, there was also the last AO Bible study, last Campus Crusade Homeless Outreach, last Campus Crusade Prime time meeting and last Habitat for Humanity. At that time I really didn't want to leave Raleigh and NC State. I had been used to the lifestyle and feel comfortable there. Then during the exam week I was finalising plans for my post-exam travel, I was pretty excited about it, even though that meant my time in Raleigh and NC State is up.

My post-exam travel plans keep changing. At one point Jen and I planned to go San Francisco and Los Angeles together and I was so looking forward to it. But in the end I am not going to California after all, because I couldn't get an air ticket again, and Jen couldn't get her air ticket too. I guess for some reason God doesn't want me to go, and I'm ok with it now, because the desire to go there is not as strong anymore. I would rather spend the New Year with friends then alone in San Francisco. So the plan now is that Jen will come to New York City for New Year, and some other seniors from AO will be there as well. I will also visit Philadelphia, which is where I intended to visit in the very original plan. In any case, my 17 days of travel will be packed and happening! I think that after these 17 days of moving around, I would feel like going home already.

My last Sunday in RCCC (14 Dec) was one of the best days in my time here. The church had a Christmas service. I sang in the English choir with other college students, and two of my friends came to church for the first time. I was so happy they came. Yet it was also my last day at RCCC and I said so many goodbyes that day. These are people that have been part of my life the past 4 months. Students from AO fellowship, aunties and uncles who have been so hospitable to me, people in the Chinese NCSU Student fellowship, Aunty Cindy who taught Sunday School, and many more. I may never get to see them again, until we meet in heaven.

The choir group

So from Toronto on Tues night, I met Chia Ying and we took the train to Montreal on Wed morning. Stayed for 2 nights, then took the train to Quebec City on Fri afternoon. Stayed in Quebec City for 2 nights too, and I'm back in Montreal tonight before heading down to New York City tomorrow. It's really the first time in my life seeing snow everywhere on the streets. From Toronto to Montreal to Quebec City, there was snow everywhere outdoors. The view from the train was nice, maybe cos it's my first time in my life seeing so much snow. Walking in snow is fun for the experience, but I'm sure I would get quite tired of it if I were to live here. Trying to drag my luggage on the roads covered with snow was quite a challenge but I'm sure it was good exercise for my arms and legs.

In Quebec City.

Tomorrow I will say bye to Canada, forever. Hopefully all goes well at the customs. New York City here i come!

Monday, December 1, 2008

15 days left in Raleigh

I can't believe that December is here already. Looks like I've only blogged once in November. So picking up from the previous post, after I came back from Charlottesville on Nov 2, my next trip was to Chicago from Nov 21-23. Those 19 nights in Raleigh were actually the longest time I've stayed in my hall consecutively. I've been travelling a lot since mid-September and the whole of October and seen much fall foilage elsewhere. It's really nice to be enjoying the fall foilage in Raleigh in November, and I'll prob get to see them for another week or two.

I feel that I'm adapting to the cold here very well. Especially after Chicago, which was about 30 degrees the first day I was there. I mean 30 degrees Fahrenheit, not Celsius haha. It's about minus 1 degrees Celsius. The next 2 days were warmer though, and after I came back to Raleigh, Raleigh didn't feel that cold anymore. When temperatures first dropped to about 16 degrees Celsius, I started to wear 3 layers but I am still wearing 3 layers now even though it's about 8 degrees.

Honestly, I'm enjoying my time here so much that I'm really sad I have to leave. Before I came there were times when I couldn't believe that I'm actually coming to the US and it was so surreal for me. Now, I can't believe it's time to leave already.

I will miss the freedom I have.

I will miss the fall foilage, the mountains and the sunsets.

I will miss the RCCC and AO family.

I will miss the friends I've got to know here.

and many more things...

Earlier just now I was settling admin stuff for my departure. I've never dreaded doing admin stuff so much, not when it's brings you a step closer to leaving this place.

But I have to face reality and accept the seasons God has placed in my life. This season is coming to an end. There are things I haven't accomplished. Much in fact. So the next 15 days will be very precious.

Meanwhile, I'll enjoy whatever is left of the fall foilage, which is still quite a lot here. I was told that this year's colours in Raleigh are one of the best compared to previous years.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fall in Raleigh

I haven’t been blogging for two weeks! So this post will be long…

Finally, the trees in Raleigh have begun to change colours after I came back from Charlottesville the first weekend of Nov. Before this, it seems that everytime I travel out I see nice fall foilage, only to see green trees again when I return to Raleigh. Not so anymore. Almost all the trees here have changed colours in the past 2 weeks and leaves have been falling everywhere. Now it feels like fall has really arrived in Raleigh, with the fall foliage and the weather as what I would have expected it to be like during this season.

The view from the corridor of my dorm in level 3 has changed from this

on 21st Oct, where the first fall colours are spotted on campus

To this

on 6th Nov (I love these bright red colours!)

And this

on 14th Nov, with the leaves falling all over the ground.

The weather in Raleigh has gone through many changes since mid-September. The week after I came back from Grand Rapids, it rained for a few days and the temperature suddenly dropped to about mid-10 degrees, which took me by surprise and I fell sick for a few days. I thought I wouldn’t be able to go out and read in the park or play sports anymore. Then about 2 weeks later, it became warmer; high-20s in the afternoon and I was able to go out in t-shirt and jeans again, and sit on the swing in the park to read. Then another 2 weeks later, it rained and became cooler again. It seems that it has always been raining on the weekends. Well I actually escaped the rainy weekends in Raleigh when I went to the Great Smoky Mountains and Seattle on those 2 weekends, but it was bright and sunny wherever I went. God really gave me very good weather when I travel. In Charlottesville it was such an excellent weather for hiking that I didn’t even need a jacket. However, after coming back from Charlottesville it rained for a few days and the weather has been pretty cold since then, so I haven’t been able to read in the park anymore. The past Saturday was an exception, when the weather went up to 21 degrees in the afternoon after it rained the whole of Friday. I wonder how long more I can still go to the gym to run in my t-shirt and shorts. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do that since mid-Oct but so far it’s still ok getting from my hall to the gym (which is like 1-min in the open) in my t-shirt and shorts in 10-15 degrees. Quite shiok actually, though I wouldn’t have thought I would do something like that.

And so, after travelling for 4 consecutive weekends, I have been in Raleigh for the past 2 weekends, but they have been just as packed and happening. Was supposed to go up to the mountains nearby with some friends on one of the Saturdays, but because the weather forecast says it’ll rain, we cancelled the trip. Here’s some of the stuff that has been happening over the past 2 weeks (other than the usual weekly Bible studies/homeless outreach/Crusade prime time):

Tue, Nov 4 – US Election Day

Well, I didn’t do anything special except to watch the presidential election results with the others from hall at the basement. Apparently, after President-elect was announced, there were students running, shouting and screaming along the streets. (I won’t have gone to check it out were I not in t-shirts and berms then, plus I had a test the next day.) I didn’t get to hear Obama speak in person both times he was in Raleigh. First time cos I didn’t get ticket and second time cos I had class. Not that I really wanted to go either but it would have been pretty interesting.

Thu, Nov 6 – Flu Shot

I actually got a flu vaccination at the Student Health Center cos it’s free for students under the health insurance which is compulsory for us to get (and this health insurance is “free” for me too).

Fri, Nov 7 – AO fellowship

AO fellowship gathering was at NC State instead of UNC (which is a 30-min drive away) so I naturally chose this over going for the Chinese student fellowship. The last time I went for AO was actually on Sept 12! I was really glad that I managed to invite two friends to go as well 

Post-AO activities were attending a Christian hip-hop music event where one of the guys was playing in and then guys/girls lock-in (which is basically a stay-over somewhere for guys and girls separately). I didn’t intend to go for the lock-in cos their plan was to return to campus at 10am the next day but I needed to be on campus at 8am. However, one of the girls was driving back that night so I decided to go hang out with them too and ride back with her. The girls had the lock-in at one of the girls’ house. It was a fun time of eating and chatting. Before we headed back to campus we stopped by church to pick up someone who went to the guys lock-in (which was at church) and ended up staying there for almost an hour before heading back. That day was the latest time I reached campus!

Sat, Nov 8 – (guess what this is?)

Now, this day has got to be one of the highlights of my exchange experience. I did volunteer work but it was a kind which I could have never ever done in Singapore (unless our land area increases by thousand times). Singaporeans spend hundreds of dollars to buy an air ticket to be involved in this kind of work in neighbouring countries. But I could just do it here and they actually have this every week. However, it rained that morning so we had to do a different kind of work but it’s equally interesting and it’s something that Singaporeans will probably never get to do on the overseas trips that they go for. So, guess what this is? (I’m sure most of you know this organization. If you think you know the answer you can send me an email before I reveal this activity in another blog post and maybe you will be rewarded with something if you have the correct answer).

Alexander Hall Winter Formal Dinner and Dance

Quite weird to call it Winter Formal when it’s still fall season but anyway it was a good time with the other hall people eating and taking pictures.

Sun, Nov 9

Church as usual, though I haven’t attended RCCC for the past 3 weeks. Had my first choir practice in the afternoon for the Christmas musical on Dec 14 which is gonna be my last service in RCCC. It’s pretty exciting 

Wed, Nov 12

Had my last test during the semester before final exams! So now I’m only left with a mini-project and a paper before the finals. Time for a breather first!

Thu, Nov 13

AO people “jio-ed” me to watch James Bond movie which premiers at 12 am. Didn’t really like the movie cos there was so much shooting and fighting and there was no plot or story.

Fri, Nov 14

It was a difficult choice to make between going for AO or the Chinese fellowship. I haven’t been to the Chinese side for quite some time already but this will be the last AO I can attend. In the end I went AO cos they were gonna practice for Christmas musical. As usual there was post-AO activity, and this time it’s another midnight movie! Watched Dark Knight at UNC for free! Each UNC students gets to bring in a guest for their movies and it’s free for everyone. Had to queue up early though. Enjoyed this movie much more than the James Bond one cos it has quite good themes.

I will really miss AO and everyone there. This bunch of people has been a significant part of my life here in the US. The fellowship group is very similar to SMU CCC and youth cell back home. The people, the ministry, and the things they do all remind me of SMU CCC and youth cell, not to mention it’s on a Friday night as well.

I actually got an AIM account so that I can keep in touch with them since most don’t use MSN. So now I have 5 IMs!

Sat, Nov 15 – same volunteer activity as the previous week

Also, I went with a group of Chinese/Korean/Japanese friends to k-box.

Sun, Nov 16

It was combined worship service at church, as the second session was used to vote for the deacons for 2009-2010, like the LCEC. Reached church half an hour late and had to sit in the overflow room, not to mention I missed the whole praise and worship. :( Combined services here at RCCC are really similar to the ones at KY. The one we had in Oct was mainly in Mandarin with English translation. This one was in English with Mandarin translation. I almost felt like I was back in Singapore cos Pastor Po-Wing is a Singaporean and still speaks with the Singaporean accent while the Mandarin translation sounded Singaporean too, or at least there wasn't any strong accent. After service went out with the AO people for lunch (the first time on a Sunday cos I usually eat lunch at church with the Chinese congregation people), then choir practice again.

Alexander Hall International Desserts Night

Held in the evening, where we had desserts made by people from all over the world. This is probably less than a fifth of all the food we had.


Time flies so quickly. In exactly one month, I will have to leave NC State!

The past two weeks have also seen many changes in my plans for thanksgiving and post-exam. It has been pretty complicating and frustrating for me and being the indecisive person that I am, I spent a lot of time thinking what the best arrangement is. To cut the long story short, my initial plan was to visit San Francisco during thanksgiving break and my return ticket to Singapore is on 29th Dec. Both are unrelated events, but because of certain constraints I kept changing my plans and they affected one another. My final plan is to stay at Jen’s house during the thanksgiving break, and we might go up to the mountains for a hiking trip, stuff ourselves with food on thanksgiving day and go shopping on black Friday where they have huge sales! I guess I should take some time off to reflect on my time in the US too and start to prepare myself for going back. Also, I have changed my return ticket to 3rd Jan and go to San Francisco the last few days, hence I will touch down in Singapore on 4th Jan, hopefully with enough time to rest before the new term starts on 6th Jan.

Friday, October 31, 2008

This Week

There's so much I want to blog about that I don't know where to start. A lot has happened this past week. It seems that once into the second half of my time here, time flies and it's 2 months left before I touch home ground.

Some interesting stuff over the past week or so... Last Thu went for the North Carolina State Fair, an annual event that takes place in Raleigh. Went with the AO group (church college group) so it was pretty fun. It the usual kind of fun fair, with food, games, rides and also some exhibits of farm animals and farm produce of North Carolina, quite interesting. Tried quite a lot of different food, like funnel cake, candy apple, pecan pie etc. There was fireworks too for like 15 minutes, it goes off every night. Took the ferris wheel which was kinda too fast and it was cold but had a nice view of the whole fair.

Decided not to sleep on Thu night cos I had a flight to catch at 6am on Fri morning. It was really good to see the crusaders on webcam and talk to them on skype, and even book a GSR for them, so amusing!

Yeah I flew to Seattle with Andrea on Fri morning, and also took the Greyhound up to Vancouver on Fri afternoon and spent the night at Lijing's place in UBC. Went back to Seattle on Sat night then took the overnight flight back to Raleigh on Monday night.

Thank God that my test today is postponed to next Wed, and I had time to go for the usual stuff on Tue, Wed and Thu which I missed all last week. AO Bible study, Campus Crusade Homeless Outreach and Campus Crusade Prime Time.

Honestly, I'm a bit tired from all the travelling and then having to rush work during the weekdays. The marginial utility for each trip I take is decreasing and I just hope it doesn't go into negative. Leaving for Charlottesville in 3.5 hours' time. Will be going up to the mountains again :)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Half-way Mark

Yesterday was the half-way mark of my time in the US. I realised that my time away from Singapore will be exactly 20 weeks short of a few hours. I left on 13 Aug 7.15 am and will return on 30 Dec 11.50 pm.

So, 10 weeks has passed since I arrived in the US, and these 10 weeks were nothing short of exciting and a great eye-opener. I still remember my first night here without my luggage! It was quite sad but I guess it's a chance to learn survival skills and how to adapt too. I've learnt more about myself, what I really value and enjoy. I've seen the beauty of God's creation in the mountains, lakes, streams, waterfalls, rivers and much more.

I've seen in real life what I learnt in Geography during my secondary school days - plains with meandering rivers from the plane before landing in St. Louis, the most beautiful skyline of the sunset on the 50-min flight from Chicago to Grand Rapids, great volumes of water flowing down the rapids and waterfalls at the Niagara Falls, the beautiful fall colours and spectacular view of the mountains at the Great Smoky Mountains.

I've visited museums and learnt about historical people and events that have impacted the world. The Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids was an unforgettable visit that gave an inspiration to all to live our lives for God and trusting God and His purposes. The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC gave a more elaborate account than what I had learnt in History in secondary school. What my history textbook didn't mention was how some people in different parts of Europe from different walks of life and positions attempted to protect the Jews by hiding them or assisted their escape, and it was really touching to read the stories. And the nation of Israel was created indirectly as a result of the Holocaust, showing God's sovereignty in all situations.

I've the opportunity to live in a temperate country, seeing the beautiful colours of fall. Although the erratic weather can be quite frustrating at times, in addition to still not knowing how much to wear at what temperature, it has been a good experience to live in this autumn season for the first time in my life.

I've got to know many people from different parts of the world, the other exchange students, as well as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It's encouraging to see how God is at work in the lives of people and how people are on fire for God.

I could go on and on about the good experiences I had these past 10 weeks. God's blessings overflow, what more can I ask for? He has given me more than what I have asked for, and beyond what I imagined, even things I didn't ask for. May I not forget His goodness in my life!

Looking forward to more adventures ahead in the next 10 weeks! :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Great Smoky Mountains (18 - 20 Oct)

This mountains trip was simply so great that I have to blog about this first even though it breaks the chronological order. It was such a last-minute opportunity that I’m still amazed by how it all happened.

Initially, I had many different plans for this weekend. The very original plan was to go Virginia to visit Shuang Ning, then the trip to the mountains with my other exchange friends was postponed from 2 weeks ago to this week, but we postponed it another 2 weeks cos the trees still haven’t changed colours. Then there was the option to go Washington DC again with UNC people for urban missions, but I would have to miss 2 days of class, including a test on Fri. There was also the football game on Thu and the special talk on Fri at the NCSU student fellowship. So I thought, I’ll just stay in Raleigh this weekend to study for my International Finance test, go to Southpoint Mall with Christina to buy some summer clothes that are on sale, spend some time clearing my table and reflecting. However, it seems that God had something else planned for me :)

After the NCSU student fellowship on Fri night, Luyan told me that she can’t give me a ride to church on Sunday cos some of them from the student fellowship were going to the Great Smoky Mountains. When she sent me home that night I asked her about the trip again. It’s just something that the few of them planned, to see fall colours in the mountains. Then she said actually I could go too. I had like 5 minutes to decide cos it only takes 5 minutes to reach my hall and they were leaving at 5.30am the next day. She called to confirm that there’s still space in the car for me to go then it was set that I am going to Great Smoky Mountains with the Chinese fellowship people. It’s indeed a God-given opportunity!

So 7 hours later, I was all set to go to the mountains! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park stretches over North Carolina State and Tennessee State, and is the largest wilderness area in the eastern US. It encompasses over 500, 000 acres of Appalachian peaks and is the most visited national park out of more than 390 parks in the USA National Park System, with over nine million visits per year! The peak season to see fall colours there is 15-31 Oct, so it was pretty crowded when we went.

There were 13 of us altogether, riding in 3 cars. I only talked to 2 of them before, so it took some time for me to warm up to get to know the rest. It takes about 6 hours to drive from Raleigh to the Great Smoky Mountains, but along the way we stopped for breakfast, toilet breaks and lunch. Along the highways, the trees are still mostly green and few have changed colours. But as we drove higher and higher up the mountains, the fall colours became more obvious. We stopped at visitor centres and scenic spots along the way to take pictures.

At one of the spots where we stopped to take pictures, one of the cars had some problems and the car company was called to bring a cooler for the car. While waiting, the rest of us went up to Clingmans Dome, the highest point of the mountains, at 6643 ft, or 2024m. We drove there and had to climb for about 20 minutes. It was a cloudy day, so there was so much mist that we couldn’t see much from the top and it was freezing cold!

When we went back to the spot where the car broke down, the view there changed because the sun came out from behind the clouds and the colours on the mountains were even more beautiful. How amazing that the car actually broke down at a place with such a nice view. Here, I fully understood the meaning of “breathtaking view” because it was indeed so! I had never seen such beauty in my life before. It was simply AWESOME! But my camera phone ran out of battery by then so I didn’t get to capture the view.

What happened next was super hilarious. It was already 6 pm plus by then so we decided that one car will go first to collect keys then check in to the bungalow house we are staying at and prepare food for steamboat. The other car will wait with the car that broke down, in case the car company didn’t come and they have to abandon the car. But there were so many cars that we were caught in the traffic for almost 2 hours, when it should have taken us just 30 minutes to get to the place to get our keys. From there we headed to our house and we got lost for a while cos the GPS gave unclear directions so we took a big round to get to the road that leads up to our house. At that time we called the people in the other car, only to realize that they were actually in front of us! They had expected us to be there much earlier and gotten everything ready for steamboat dinner when they arrived. Anyway, we set off to unload stuff and prepare food and in 45 minutes we were all ready for a great meal, of which I forgot to take pictures again!

The next morning we headed to Cades Cove, a popular area for biking, picnic and walking trails. The weather that day was excellent, clear skies and the sun was out, so it was pretty warm in the afternoon. We were caught in traffic again but the surrounding view was beautiful too. The elevation here is lower so there’s more greenery and fewer colours. We stopped for picnic lunch at an open area near the visitor center.

After lunch we walked through some of the houses of the Cherokee Indians, whose homelands were these mountains and looked at the way of life of these people. Then we went on a trail and our objective that day was to find a bear! We didn’t see any bears then but we saw some deer. And I managed to take this shot. We had to creep up quietly cos they will run away upon hearing us go towards them.

After the short trail we drove along and stopped occasionally to take pictures. And just as we were going to head back to the house, guess what? We saw four bears and quickly stopped the car to get down and take pictures. I couldn’t get any nice shots though.

That night we had steamboat dinner again cos there was so much food left over. Had a really good time that night just talking and getting to know more about them and the ministry. This trip is indeed more than what I expected! God surely made this trip very worth it!

The next morning I woke up early to catch the sunrise. However, the house is in the middle of a forest so there wasn’t a nice spot to see the sunrise. This was the best place we found.

After breakfast we checked out and went a few more scenic spots before heading back. We drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which run from North Carolina all the way up to Virginia. We stopped at so many places that we had to restrain or else we would never get back to Raleigh.

The words and pictures here are a far cry from the true beauty of the mountains. At the end of it, I really didn’t feel like leaving. But when it’s time to go back to Raleigh we all had to. Similarly, when it’s time to go back to Singapore I will have to. Also, when it’s time for us to return to our eternal home in heaven we will have to as well. So treasure the present!

The 3 days at the mountains were the best part of my time here (other than the Niagara Falls) and one of the best times of my life too. It’s certainly a very memorable trip that God has given me and I am simply in awe of God’s wonders. Besides the beauty of the mountains and fall colours, God brought me a step closer to one thing I’m seeking Him for. What a wonderful closure to the first half of my time in the US!