As of today it is ten years since I arrived in Singapore for my university studies. I have now resided here for more than a third of my life. A number of memories from that day ten years ago surprisingly still remain with me.
I boarded my first flight with my father on the 25th of July 2005. It was also his first flight. It was about midnight when we got on the plane from Kochi, India. The cabin lights dimmed and we took off. I found myself tired but unable to sleep in a sitting position. The lights came back on not long after and food was served a few minutes later.
I got a dish with rice and chicken curry. I was horrified by the blandness of the dish. “What if this is the kind of food that I am going to eat all the time over there?” I would learn many things over the next few years, including not to generalise from examples. I have also learned to enjoy a variety of Singaporean and Singaporeanised dishes, including the chicken curry. Airline food is another story.
I slept very uncomfortably for a couple of hours. It was a bumpy flight and the rain poured heavily outside the plane. The passengers were disturbed from whatever sleep they could muster to be asked to put on their seatbelts. I feared that I would be sick, but was not. After ten years of flying, I have not had a worse flight.
We landed in Singapore. I have no recollections of the excellent Changi Airport from that day. We boarded a taxi. I enjoyed the ride to the university with the smooth tree-lined roads, un-chaotic traffic and obvious cleanliness. We arrived at the campus of the National University of Singapore. I had applied for admission at a hall of residence, King Edward VII Hall. The taxi driver was not familiar with the name. We spent a few minutes riding around the campus asking for directions. The cab finally deposited at the hall. The rain was still pouring very heavily.
We were early. The office had not yet opened. We found ourselves some sofas and waited. Students started walking past the foyer into the dining hall for breakfast. One friendly person invited us in for breakfast. Another handed us glasses of Milo. We had our breakfasts, then went to the office as the admin staff came in and turned on the lights to the room.
I was allocated a room. One of the students was asked to show it to me. He took my suitcase and led the way. King Edward VII Hall (or KEVII, pronounced “K-E-7”, its residents being “Keviians”) is situated on a hill. Residents stayed on a number of blocks, all connected to the dining hall and foyer by covered walkways. We had quite a bit of a walk and many staircases to go up and down. Water gushed down strongly through drains as we walked past. The floor was wet and dangerously slippery. I have slipped many times In my four years at KEVII, but have never fallen.
The student who was taking me to my room pressed a button that he was carrying – a transponder. My door responded with a beep. He turned the doorknob, opened the door and handed me the device.
It was time for a new life to begin.