First Two Weeks in Swansea

New horizons: part of Gower Peninsular, Wales (25 Sep 2016)

New horizons: part of Gower Peninsular, Wales (25 Sep 2016)

I arrived in Swansea safe and sound on 23 September, after leaving Singapore on 22 September. I know I had promised to post updates sooner. However, settling down has taken longer than anticipated, plus I’ve had to proofread the layout of four upcoming books (more about them in a later post) during whatever other time I had.

At last, some free headspace to process the past two weeks.

Departure/Flight/Heathrow/Swansea

On the evening of Thu 22/9, my sister sent me to Changi Airport early. Apart from my sister, my friend DT was also present to see me off. Being in possession of a free voucher, I said my goodbyes to both of them early so as to try out an executive lounge at Terminal 3. Comfortable and the free food was okay, though not exceptional.

The flight was smooth, though being in a middle seat is never my cup of tea. Finally watched Zootopia on board and got a sense what kids have been raving about.

The flight landed on time, just before 6 am, 23 Sep. Going through immigration was easier than I thought it would be. Asked the man behind the counter, “So what are you doing your Ph.D. in?

I replied, “Creative Writing. I’m going to write my first novel.”

“What? You write a novel and you get a degree for it?”

“Yup.”

“Cor…”

After picking up my luggage, it took me about 20+ minutes to trolley my stuff from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 (distances are long at Heathrow) where I found the Swansea University (SU) welcome party (for I had signed up for the Meet & Greet Service for first-time international students) at around 7.20 am.  At 8 am, the first coach that SU hired arrived. It took some time for the first batch of students and their luggage to be packed on the bus. Finally, the coach left Heathrow circa 8.30 am.

Because my computer bag could not fit into the overhead space on the coach, it was lodged at my feet since a young man from China sat next to me and the coach was almost full. The 4+ hours to Swansea University was most uncomfortable as a result.

The first stop was Swansea University’s Bay Campus to offload Science and Engineering students. Then at last Singleton Campus. What a madhouse trying to turn into Singleton Campus that Friday as it was the first day when students staying in halls were allowed to move in — jams everywhere. I chose to stay at Beck House, the solely postgraduate hall that is some distance away from Singleton in a district called Uplands. The welcome committee took some time to arrange for a taxi to bring people and their luggage to Beck Hall. It was around 2 pm when I entered my room.

I did some preliminary unpacking. Because there was still time before 5 pm, I decided that I would walk to campus and complete my enrolment procedures. Getting directions and a photocopied map from the hall warden, I made my way to campus (about 10-15 minutes walk), did the official business at Fulton House (the main admin/focal point of Singleton Campus) and then met SL and her husband.

SL, my good friend and longtime playwriting associate, is also here at Swansea University pursuing her MA in Creative Writing at the same time.) SL and her husband had arrived one week to settle their son in university before coming to Swansea. He had helped SL move into her room in an on-campus hall that afternoon. Because he had hired a car, he drove SL and I to the giant 24-hour Tesco in town where we stocked up on necessities. Then he drove us to Beck House where SL and he helped me unload my purchases (plus the duvet, pillow and bedding they had bought earlier on my behalf) into my room. Then we walked to the shops at Uplands and had Vietnamese pho for dinner. Many thanks to both SL and hubby for making that first night in Swansea easier.

Warm Welcome for International Students

Swansea University does go the extra mile to make sure that their international students feel welcome. In the months and weeks before arriving in Swansea, I had received various emails, offers of online chat sessions, and even attempted phone calls to check on how my efforts were going to complete the various admin/visa application procedures and to offer help if necessary (even though the online information on the university website is already quite comprehensive). Apart from the Meet and Greet service, two other activities stood out for me that were held on Sun 25/9:

  1. Day trips were organised for people who signed up to either Cardiff or the Gower Peninsular. I went on the Gower trip. Beautiful. Windy. Cold. My brain froze, and of course, because I was still trying to figure out how to dress right for this weather I had brought the wrong coats for this trip. So I had  to improvise with the scarf that I had with me and looked ridiculous with it tied haphazardly around my head. But at least my head was warmer.

    Verena Tay at Arthur's Rock, Gower Peninsular, Wales (25 Sep 2016)

    Verena Tay at Arthur’s Rock, Gower Peninsular, Wales (25 Sep 2016)

  2. After the day trip, a dinner was organised at Fulton House for the international students. The dinner began with a treat: a Welsh folk group demonstrated folk dances and then encouraged us to try two dances. Then the city Mayor and the university Vice  Chancellor gave speeches before the Indian buffet dinner began. What struck me the most were the speeches — they were simple, but sincere. I’ve never heard of such personages giving speeches to foreign students at uni events in Singapore, much less speeches that were meaningful.

    Welsh folk dancing at welcome dinner for international students @ Swansea University (25 Sep 2016)

    Welsh folk dancing at welcome dinner for international students @ Swansea University (25 Sep 2016)

Room D02/01, Beck House

Some people know this story since I’ve told them, but here is the story if you haven’t already heard. One of the reasons why I chose to come to Swansea is because I get the chance to attend my mother’s alma mater. After WWII, she was awarded a British Military Administration scholarship to study Social Work in Britain. During 1949/50, she studied for 1 year at SU’s predecessor, before transferring to complete the next two years of study for her diploma in Liverpool. During her stay in Swansea, she stayed at what was then known as Beck Hall.

Lim Poh Luan, circa 1949/50, Beck Hall, Swansea

Hence my choice to stay at Beck House. 🙂

Verena Tay (2 Oct 2016)

Verena Tay, Beck House, Swansea (2 Oct 2016)

When making arrangements to stay at Beck House in late June/early July,  I was originally offered a medium-sized room in B Block, but that offer was retracted when the SU Accommodation Services said that leases for B Block would last 47 weeks instead of the full 51 weeks, as they needed to do some maintenance work during the summer of 2017. Instead, they offered me my second choice of a small-sized room in D Block. I said yes.

Interior of Room D02/01, Beck House, Swansea (23 Sep 2016)

Interior of Room D02/01, Beck House, Swansea (23 Sep 2016)

Not knowing HOW SMALL D02/01 turned out to be. About 1/3 the size of my room at home, squeezing within an ensuite bathroom, plus closet (albeit a deep one). The only saving grace is that I have access to a balcony that I share with Room D02/ 02. This balcony is extremely useful for extra ventilation (for the insulation of my room can make it stuffy on warm days) as well as space to air/sun/dry my washing (more about this below).

I wondered how I would make do, especially to store the three boxes of books and documents that I had shipped and 1 box of miscellaneous things I had mailed to myself, plus room for clothes and other necessities (a few days ago, I bought myself a printer-cum-scanner that, when not stored under my desk, literally takes up half of my allocated desk space), plus do yoga in the mornings. With some creative shifting of furniture and storing away of stuff, I have been able to lay down my yoga mat by the bed and do some form of yoga and basic fitness exercises in the mornings. Just don’t open my closet door — you’d be surprised how many boxes and my luggage (not to mention my clothes) I’ve crammed into that small space, knowing that I need to keep those boxes for August/September 2017 when I have to move out of Beck House.

It has taken me two weeks to finally feel settled in my room, having worked out what extras I need to get to make life livable, plus where and how things should be stored. Perhaps it is karma that I am now living in such a compact space. Over the last few years, I’ve avidly watched the home and deco channels and programmes on cable and was particularly intrigued with shows like Tiny House Nation in which the hosts build tiny dream homes of a few hundred square feet for featured clients of the week. Now I get my own experience of tiny house living… Hmmm…

The last two weeks have included adventures in learning how to use the washing machine and dryer, plus cooking hobs, on Level 2 of D Block. The washing machine works fine. The headache is the temperamental dryer, whose tank must be emptied and the filter cleared, whenever it beeps in complaint, otherwise it will stop working all together and you are stuck with wet washing. I spent one traumatic night with dripping laundry hanging all over my minuscule room before I found out the next day how to work the dryer with some help from the hall warden plus a lot of trial and error. One consequence was several trips to town to visit Wilco in search of over-door hanging pegs, radiator drying rack and foldable drying rack to ease future drying of damp laundry.

Working the cooker hobs in the kitchen of D Block, Level 2, has given new meaning to the slow food movement. Cooking rice and steamed omelette in the small rice cooker that I mailed myself from Singapore can be faster than bringing water to boil in a small pan. Thank goodness for the thermal jar (courtesy of friend MC) that I also brought along with me (good for creating boiled eggs overnight and making oats for lunch) and for the slow cooker that I bought the other day from Argos (which I used for the first time last night) — at least I have other options in modes of cooking.

About the Weather

Since this is already a very long post, I will just say a few words about the weather that I have experienced here in Swansea thus far so that friends and family will have an overall sense of my well-being and leave other matters to be covered in another post.

Swansea, overall, has been warmer than I thought it would be. I am not saying that I’ve been able to go about on the streets in shorts and t-shirts and sandals like I’ve seen some locals do, particularly on warmer days, but I’ve not had to put on as many layers as yet and have subsisted on lighter coats. There was a particularly wet spell last week which made me go buy a long raincoat (as my winter coat of that length would have been too thick). And as mentioned above, my room in Beck Hall and university tutorial rooms can get stuffy on warmer days since buildings here generally are not fitted with air-conditioning.

In the mornings and sometimes when the wind blows, it can be quite chilly. When it is raining a lot or when the weather is cloudy, Swansea can be very bleak. The rain showers can come quite suddenly and heavily and then stop just as suddenly since the winds here can be quite variable.

However, for quite a few days over the past two weeks, the sun has been out and the weather has been quite, quite pleasant, even cheery. On bright afternoons, my D02/01 room (the windows of which face west) can actually get quite hot as the sun shines through the glass in a kind of glasshouse-effect — which is actually fine by me as it warms up the room for the night and helps to dry wet laundry.

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