Thursday, 22 November 2007

NUS Hall-Life - A Layman's Ethnography

This is a replacement for the post about my NUS stayover that got deleted by accident.

During the study break, I decided to head down to NUS and bunk in with Khairul on the pretext of studying for my finals. Of course, that I did, though I must say there were many other things I did that made it a lot less productive than I'd thought, but it's okay. So far, it's all been hearsay pertaining to this whole thing about hall-life and school culture and what SMU ain't got amongst other things, so I decided - to hell with the speculation; let's do this.

So I lugged my heavier-than-usual bag to that continent of a school (yes NUS and NTU seriously are continents on the map of Singapore) and was welcomed by the rain. There was quite a bit of hassle before I finally met Khairul up and settled in, but I shan't elaborate on that.

Firstly, over the course of days there, a clear distinction must be made between an NUS hall student and an NUS non-hall student. They're really very different people and if any SMU student wishes to say that NUS is more happening than SMU, well becareful which comparison is being made.

Hall-life is, of course, very happening. We're talking about a culture that exists on a few grounds. There is a tradition that is at least rich enough for this to be self-sustaining, unlike SMU I suppose.

When we talk about SMU's culture and tradition and lack thereof, I think it can be likened to Benedict Anderson's concept of nations being merely imagined communities; socially constructed and ultimately imagined and thus easily dissolved. SMU still has some way to go.

Also, the people in hall already want to partake in the activities offered. Either way, they're either genuinely enthusiastic or have no choice and thus want to make the most out of it. So there'll always be a demand for things to do and a supply of things to do.

There is a very high degree of social capital amongst those who stay in hall, not least because they almost see each other everyday. Staying in blocks and playing for blocks leads to a lot of bonding opportunities and hence everyone is very close-knit. When I was at Clementi with Sab, I found that she was always buying stuff back even though it entailed taking initiative and calling many people just to take their orders, and SMSing and then waiting for the replies if they couldn't be reached. Sab explained that this is a somewhat obligatory practice as it is commonplace to bring food back if you make a trip out of campus.

But even before hall-life even really kicks in, the notoriously raunchy NUS hall orientation camps have a huge part to play. It is no surprise when you realise that these camps are sponsored by SDU - to quite an extent, these activities are intended the way they are in spite of the numerous complaints from students and parents of students, etc alike.

Digressively, there are a couple of reasons for this. To curb the ageing population of Singapore, I guess this is about attacking the problem at the root - the academic elites who will eventually be career-minded people who will slacken off in the family-building area. Also, perhaps there's some degree of eugenics involved as they (whoever they are) wish for these academic elites to come together.

Anyway, in the end, any degree of awkwardness or insensitivity is eliminated as you'll find that there's nothing to feel bad about doing anything with anybody since you've already done whatever with whoever during orientation camp in the craziest of ways possible. So another 1-up for cohesion here.

I didn't really get to experience the vibrance of hall-life in full force as I bunked in with Khairul during the study break when everyone's more or less mugging. The difference is that most people mug in their rooms, so you don't get that shitty feeling of seeing so many people around in school studying their asses off like in SMU. But really, that doesn't mean that it's any less muggerish in NUS - the reverse could seriously be true (that SMU ain't as bad as NUS), especially when you start to factor in the non-hall NUS students.

You lose sense of time staying in hall. I seriously had no idea if I was eating lunch or dinner during my stay at NUS, as everyone wakes up as and when they like and do things irregardless of time. Supper is a really common activity and there are many cases to cater to this need of students. I met Jiamao at the Sheares Hall canteen during one such supper.

Everyone dresses in PJs and slacks so there's an abundance of girls in FBT shorts haha. Sab says all you have to do is put on a pair of proper shorts and people will start asking, "eh, going out ah?" I felt somewhat out of place with my berms and slippers even; fashion in hall was understandably that much unimportant and non-existent (which I honestly like. In SMU, fashion is a major part of culture).

I'm not sure if I left out any other facets of observation during my stay at NUS, but on the whole, while there were many expected things, there were also interesting things to learn and it was fascinating seeing the differences between a hall kind of university vis-a-vis SMU. I think it'd be really swell to bunk in during a more bustling part of the term, though I'm not factoring in the awkwardness of being a stranger in a place of extremely high social capital.

If there's really one thing I'd pinpoint about everything, it'd be that there is a lot more happiness to gain from having a good social life than getting good grades. SMU students falter in their attempts to be content because their pursuits inherently do not causate with happiness. To achieve that, we're all better off making time to form genuine social bonds.

If it weren't for marriage, men and women would have to fight with total strangers.

Today's Listenables:
Fall Out Boy - The Carpal Tunnel Of Love


[22/7/2010 0147h caveat]

Given my awareness that a sizeable number of people happen to read this post, I think it is necessary for me to state that my view on hall life or communal hostel living isn't as rosy now as it was back then.

Actually, that's mincing my words regarding how opposed my present views are in relation to those here.

However, the thoughts of this post were true to me at the time of writing, and I will not alter them.

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