At 19, Zhang Yueran left her home city Jinan in eastern Shandong to study computer science at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
But she got so bored that she spent a lot of time writing, she told SundayLife! recently over coffee in Beijing.
If not for her time in Singapore, Zhang, 31, said she might not have become a writer - and one may add, much less one of China's most famous young writers.
Her travels are about to come full circle as she is coming back to Singapore, this time in her capacity as an author, for the Singapore Writers Festival in November.
Zhang, whose father taught Chinese literature at university, showed literary promise as a teen.
Her stories were published in magazines from age 14. At 18, she won the prestigious New Concept youth writing contest, whose alumni includes fellow post-1980s writers Han Han and Guo Jingming.
But it was in Singapore that Zhang really blossomed as a writer, publishing two short story collections and three novels from 2003 to 2006, when she moved back to China after graduation.
In those days, the yet-to-be-famous writer could often be found in an NUS computer laboratory, toggling between java and Chinese scripts.
She toggled between China and Singapore too, writing about both from a critical distance.
She often wrote, for instance, of Changi Airport, which she viewed as the site of anomie and dislocation.
Her parents thought her first book, the short story collection Sunflower Missing In 1890, would help ease their only child's loneliness and regret about not taking the writing path. "The book was supposed to be like a farewell to writing," she said.
But readers had other ideas. They lapped up Zhang's intricate prose and musings about love and loss: Sunflower sold about 300,000 copies in China - a big deal considering that even top writers such as Yu Hua sell just 100,000 to 200,000.