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  • Writer's pictureRiver Valley Student Editorial Club

A Tale of 3 Cities: HSSLA OELP 2023! (Part 2)

Chua Wen Zhe (23J20)

From 23rd May to 2nd June, blessed with the easing of COVID restrictions, the Humanities and Social Sciences Leaders Academy (HSSLA) resumed our yearly Overseas Expedition Learning Programme (OELP). This year, twelve HSSLA members had the wondrous opportunity to venture to Belfast, Dublin, and London.

📍At Changi Airport, Departing for Belfast!

The 10-day trip was packed to the brim with visits to various significant locations, with lots of learning and takeaways. With the care of Mr William Wee, Ms Candida Ho and our tour manager, Mr Ayoub, we explored the political scene of Northern Ireland, went down to Dublin, and ended our trip at the great economic hub, London.

Here are the 10 great takeaways from our 10-day trip!

Head to our previous article for the first 5 takeaways!

6. Watching Les Misérables at London’s West End!

Setting off to catch Les Misérables at the Sondheim Theatre in London!

Les Misérables is one of the most famous and commercially successful musicals of all time, and we had the opportunity to experience the choreography of a live orchestra with stage actors while in London! The stage set-up was spectacular, with ingenious props design and the actors were more than amazing, especially when we spotted Singaporean theatre actress Nathania Ong playing Eponine. We managed to get a good view of the entire stage from our seats.

Exemplified by Zhang Huixin’s (23J17) great awe and enthusiasm after the performance ended (which I, unfortunately, could not capture because the strict ticketing staff sternly reminded me to keep my camera, or rather, the school’s camera, in my bag), we all were left breathless and hyped (and I admit, in tears) by curtain call. It was an incredibly memorable experience, and I hope RVians can seize the opportunity to catch Les Misérables if and when it comes to town!

7. Loopholes in local architecture??

Look closely! What do you see?

From time to time, loopholes are found in regulations and people will exploit them to their benefit. And there is one notable one that is plastered, quite literally, in the UK and Ireland.

As we toured around Dublin and London, I could not help but notice that there were many bricked-up windows. I was very much puzzled. My queries were answered when our tour guide explained that it was due to the 1696 Window Tax imposed by King William III. Essentially, this tax intended to impose tax relative to the prosperity of the taxpayer, as a wealthier person would have a larger house, and hence more windows – glass was astonishingly expensive at that time.

To avoid paying the tax which was charged when one house had more than 10 windows, homeowners simply decided to brick up their windows, which was rather smart, but aesthetically weird.

Did you know that it is widely believed that the phrase ‘daylight robbery’ originated from that historical precedent? This was because the King’s law made people brick up their walls, thus robbing the daylight from their homes!

8. Tasting delectable cuisines!

Whilst not a local delight, look at how big this Snickers bar is!

Of course, when visiting other countries, we have definitely got to try and enjoy the local cuisine! Every morning at the hotel, we had an English-style buffet, consisting of our choice of eggs, bread, fried tomato, bacon, sausages, and mushrooms. While I enjoyed it very much, Ting Ze Zhi, Isaac (22J08) did not seem to agree with me, and the chef in him really wanted to enter the kitchen to whip up some local Singaporean fare 😂.

Not a professional chef and hence the bad plating :p 

!I do love the English breakfast

Some of the notable food we got to try out was their local fish and chips, paired with the usual tartar sauce and the local way of enjoying the meal - with vinegar and salt (which I for sure enjoyed). Also, while the bagels looked simple and unassuming, the taste was spectacular. The beef was tender and well-seasoned, and the sharpness of the mustard was intense. I loved it!

The Fish and Chips! Yum

The unassuming yet delicious bagels. The perfect example of don't judge a book by its cover!

Also, the food at London’s Borough Market was good too! I took Mr Wee’s recommendation and got a burger and fries set at one of the burger shops, which was really very good. Others tried some rather interesting food. Vanessa got a kidney pie (which she did not enjoy and hence she made Isaac finish it up) and Ms Ho got a pigsty pie which she shared around – it was a small and really dense meat and vegetable pie!

I really love this burger! 

Kidney Pie, would you like to try it?

Singaporean food spotted @ Borough Market!

Whilst at King’s Cross Station to visit Platform 9 ¾, Mr Wee brought us to try the Cornish Pasty, which in Singaporean terms, is a VERY huge curry puff, with a filling of beef, potatoes, and swede, a large, round yellow-fleshed root which is actually a yellow turnip

Whilst a long time ago it was more for the upper class, in the 17th and 18th centuries it became a staple for the working class due to its ease of consumption and how filling it is, which I experienced firsthand when eating it! It is now a famous traditional English pastry.

Look at how big this pastry is!

We also ate fantastic Italian food and went to an African restaurant in Dublin, where the references to food in Chinua Achebe’s novels came to life with foofoo and bitter leaf being served. Unfortunately, Vanessa and I could not stomach the spicy food, and so Ms Ho kindly bought us burritos for lunch 😅.

Efo riro (spinach stew)

Foofoo (pounded yam) and egusi soup

Last but not least, we were not bereft of Singaporean flavours, as the tour agency arranged for us to have encounters with white rice and Asian dishes once in a while! For me, the most evidently stereotyped notion of what Asians eat was an attempt at ‘con-fusion’ cooking at a lovely inn in Northern Ireland, where the restaurant simply slapped some rice on their grilled chicken breast with mushroom sauce :(. Oh well, at least the sauce had mushrooms...

Let’s brighten the mood of the Asian Con-Fusion with some tasty pasta and burger we had in Dublin!

Not to mention the delectable Beef Stew we had too!

9. Exploring the cities!

Belfast is a rather small and quiet city, unlike bustling Singapore, which is something I like! The buildings are rather unique; they are mostly heritage buildings, without modern skyscrapers as construction of tall buildings is constrained by the soft soil. This is something I appreciate as Singapore’s historic buildings are being torn down and replaced by sparkling new skyscrapers.

This is the tallest building in Belfast: the Obel Tower, standing at 28 stories tall!

The Salmon of Knowledge. Kiss it to gain wisdom!

As for Dublin, it is a busier city than Belfast, with more people and the reputation of being one of the most expensive cities in the European Union. There are many people from all walks of life and a corresponding entertainment scene too. In Dublin, we visited the Viking Museum, which as Zi Tian recalls, is a place where we encountered with little knowledge and more than a few misconceptions, for we previously perceived them to just be violent pirates. However, we learned that they were actually part-time warriors, and through their scientific knowledge and engineering innovations, they contributed quite a lot to medicine and housing! 

From the interactive and detailed exhibits, as Tay Yu Ning Anna (22J19) agrees, we learnt quite a lot about Vikings and their impact on civilisations, which we would not have acquired had we not visited this museum!

At Dublinia Viking Museum!

Moving on to some cool aspects of London, as mentioned by Yu Han in her post on the Instagram account for our trip (Do check it out! It’s @hsslaoelp2023) we visited Buckingham Palace, where the J2s threw pennies into the fountain to wish for 90 rank points for their A Level examinations! We also went to Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and we viewed the iconic Tower Bridge (often mistakenly called the London Bridge). Yu Han loved the fact that even though there was a lot of classical architecture amongst modern minimalistic buildings, such contrasting styles still somehow work so well together aesthetically, which is something that I very much agree with!

Other highlights of our time in London are the Natural History Museum (where Vanessa could rock!) and the British Museum, which houses artefacts from all over the world! Anica Lo Pui Yee (22J14) featured an ancient Egyptian royal coffin on @hsslaoelp2023, which is really cool to be able to see, but was probably “stolen” by the British when they defeated the French in 1801 and subsequently many of the artefacts were captured by the British. Whilst it is not right to steal artefacts from other countries, Anica also explored other perspectives: If the artefacts were not taken, then would they be able to survive in their countries of origin? Would it be the case that some artefacts are not meant to be seen, such as a case of a coffin? Some interesting questions to ponder over!

At the Natural History Museum!

Nonetheless, the British Museum is an impressive institution which bears testimony to the might of the former British Empire that influenced (and continues to shape) the rich histories of many countries!

We travelled extensively on the London Tube!

10. Bearing a long-haul flight

For most of us, it was our very first time taking such a long flight. While the plane seats were admittedly comfortable enough, the duration which we had to endure was almost too much to bear.

On a more positive note, the ordeal of flying ignited the poet in Isaac, inspiring him to compose a poem that nicely summed up our (or rather, his) experience. Without further ado, here it is!

And that’s it for the 10 takeaways of our 10-day trip! Ultimately, there was so much more that we experienced on the trip that cannot be consolidated in an article (such as our visit to the Games of Thrones Dark Hedges, Jack the Ripper Tour etc.) So, to find out even more about our trip, head down to our trip’s Instagram page, @hsslaoelp2023, and read our individual reflections and encounters! As I quote Xuanyi, HSSLA’s Vice-President, “It’s really a treasure trove of our reflections and experiences!”

So, to the 2024 J1s currently in HSSLA or are selected to join HSSLA, do keep a lookout for 2024’s OELP Trip application which will be out soon, and best of luck!

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