Week 14: My Brain and My Bones, My Family and My Home

I am so thankful for Thanksgiving break, because it has been 7 weeks since we’ve had any sort of holiday. The past few days were pretty rough–churning out papers, marathon-studying for exams… but I soldiered on and made it through with lots of support from friends and a solid intake of caffeine.

Thanksgiving weekend also means I got to spend time with a lot of my wonderful friends over amazing food. After a week of a constant stream of horrible news in the media, it is empowering to continue with life normally and treat acts of normalcy as triumphs. I am so thankful to have such a good network of friends here who are always looking out for each other and ready to support one another. I grew up being very close to my sisters and cousins, and even though this isn’t quite the same thing, it comes rather close. In fact, it’s more than I ever dared to hope for when I first stepped onto Penn’s campus over 2 years ago.

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Girls’ Night dinner at Sofia’s earlier this week. People started to slip into carb attacks from her wonderful spread which included: rice, lentil curry, bread sticks, mashed sweet potato, mashed normal potato and vanilla cake 😀

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Malaysians at Penn/Club Singapore potluck. It was really good to hear accents and dialects familiar to my ears and to hang out with this brilliant, hilarious bunch of people.

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Hui Jie and I matched: blue/white sweaters, gummy smiles.

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Coconut cupcakes baked by May May and I, frosting by Hui Jie for the MAP-ClubSG potluck (although to be honest, most of the credit goes to them, I just offered my kitchen/oven and did the cleaning after hehe).

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MSA Thanksgiving Dinner. I made people take a “family portrait” because photos are so integral to our raya/other celebratory gatherings back home that I just felt the night would be incomplete without it.

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It felt like a real family thing because people were just chilling and doing their own thing, and because there were 2 sets of siblings present. It really reminded me of being with my cousins.

I’m also looking forward to a lot of down time on my own this break. Sure, my Friday is probably going to be taken up by review sheets and pages and pages of political science readings… but I’m also burning through Mindy Kaling’s new book which is a really fun read.

I’ve also gotten the chance to re-watch some of my all time favourite movies. If anyone knows me, they’d know that I have a long list of movies but always just end up re-watching Princess Diaries, Big Hero 6, High School Musical, the first/last Harry Potter movies, Kung Fu Panda 2, Pitch Perfect and sometimes also Enchanted and Hairspray. I know, basically just musicals and children’s movies. What can I say? I like what I like.

Anyway, so, I was watching Princess Diaries last night and it’s amazing how I can still draw inspiration from it even though it came out over 14 years ago. It’s also amazing how Anne Hathaway hasn’t seemed to age very much.

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This scene where she’s talking to her grandma about how she doesn’t think she can be a princess used to be whatever to me when I was 8 but now that I’ve grown up, it always makes me cry. Like, ugly-sobbing, straight up bawling type cry. It is just such a relatable feeling–thinking that I am not qualified, that I am not the right person for something, that I don’t have what it takes despite having people believing in me. And then she starts packing to run away… but this being a movie and all, she just happens to find her father’s letter as she’s preparing to leave. And that letter just makes me disintegrate into tears:

“Amelia, courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all. From now on, you will be travelling the road between who you think you are and who you can be–the key is to allow yourself to make the journey.”

SO GOOD, RIGHT? I can’t believe this loaded piece of wisdom has been getting past me for the past 14 years.

It makes me so happy to be continuously able to derive strength and inspiration from everything I have around me: my family and friends, my classes and assignments, even my childhood movies.

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Ahsen and Adel have this whiteboard up in their living room and it was so heart-warming.

My week really reminds me that I have so much to be thankful for. Just like the whiteboard says, I still have my brain and my bones, and I’ll always have my families and my homes.

To my American friends, happy thanksgiving weekend; I hope you have a good meaningful one. To everyone else, I miss you guys and I’m always thinking of you and wishing you all good things.

P.S. Also very thankful for Adele’s new album.

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Week 13: Writing to Procrastinate Writing

Something interesting I realised about blogging is that I feel like I’m actually talking to someone through this thing, and when I take a longer gap between two posts, I feel like I haven’t spoken to this person in a while and I miss him/her. So, hi! It’s nice to speak to you again. I hope you’re well 🙂

I don’t have much to say this week because I haven’t done much other than stress out about my “analysis” of India and Nigeria… I mean, seriously, I haven’t even done the actual analysis. All I have done is just stress out about it. I know it’s kinda silly, but writing critical essays is a huge fear I need to get over. The two things that pose the greatest deterrent for me to take a class are: having to write a paper for it and it being held in DRL.

The best thing that happened to me this week happened on Monday. I was feeling rather upset about something I can’t even remember now after a meeting in Harrison. As I was making my way out to go home, I saw Adam studying in the mezzanine. I sat with him for a while and he told me the Harrison cafe was giving free coffee so I got a cup. And then Adel came by so he sat with us and we all did some work. Well, they did some work. I did a sudoku puzzle in the newspaper. It was really relaxing and yet also challenging at the same time. Then, I started taking on the crossword puzzle below it just for fun. When I started it, I had no serious intention of completing it because I had never done one before, but it was so much fun to get one or two answers here and there. A few minutes into the crossword puzzle, Adel somehow started solving it with me. Together, we finished the whole thing!!! And right as we finished, someone offered us free cookies!

I don’t think anyone understands how happy I was at that moment. First, the crossword puzzle was so much fun to solve! I was so happy every time I remembered some obscure fact or made a guess which happened to fit perfectly into those tiny boxes. It also always feels good to finish something I start without the slightest idea as to how I will make it to the end and chip away at it slowly. Plus, it also felt nice to have someone sit there with me quietly solving problems; not really conversing but just accompanying me. It also kind of reminded me of my sisters and I playing word puzzles at our kitchen table at home on my mom’s iPad.

It made me feel so happy that I asked Adel to take a picture of me with my free cookie, solved puzzles and free coffee. He laughed because he doesn’t understand just how much I appreciated him working through the puzzle with me, but he took this dorky picture of me anyway because he’s nice.

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Real smiles cause double chins. Sue me.

When I got home, I placed the newspaper on my desk (yeah, I kept it) and got a pleasant surprise.

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🙂

Just like this crossword puzzle, somehow I’ll make it through writing this paper. I will figure out how. I always do.


DRL is the David Rittenhouse Library, it is the math building all the way on the opposite side of campus. I never have any other classes near that area and so walking there always involves a lot of speed walking and panting.

Harrison is one of the college houses on campus. A lot of my meetings are held here somehow. A lot of my friends also live here.

Week 12: Time Passes, Tables Turn

I have 2 full weeks and 2 half weeks of classes left, you guys. Can you believe it? BECAUSE I CAN. I AM EXCITED.

It’s been a great semester, though. I was so weary of everything, I was trying to make sure I don’t “slip” and mess up, lose control of my workload… but I’m grateful that so far, it has not happened and I think it’s safe to say I don’t foresee it happening soon. Granted, I have the easiest workload I’ve had in like 2 years, and that’s probably 90% of the reason why. I’m enjoying it either way. College has never been more fun.

Last weekend, for example, was excellent. I got to watch a play in Philadelphia for the first time on Friday night. I watched Disgraced, written by Ayad Akhtar who won a Pulitzer Prize for it. It’s about a Pakistani American lawyer navigating his Muslim heritage in the post 9/11 world. I don’t know much about theatre, but I really enjoyed it and I’m glad my friend Adriel invited me to watch it.

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PAACH, the Pan Asian American Community House, celebrated its 15th year anniversary on Saturday. It was a really great celebration and I’m glad I was invited to attend! I got to hear Amy Gutmann (the Penn president) speak, meet some alums who came back from homecoming weekend and listen to a great keynote speech by Vijal Patel. Vijal is a Penn alum, class of ’98. He studied finance and engineering but then went into a career in comedy writing. His speech was so funny. If (or when) I get my hands on a recording, I will be sure to send it to everyone I know. He talked about how important it is to have safe spaces on campus so that students have the freedom and confidence to explore their abilities in new and interesting ways. He also talked about how he took a huge risk, declining a huge Wall Street job offer to drive across the country and move to L.A. to pursue a career in entertainment. Sigh, I wish I could tell you more but my memory of it is super spotty so just trust me, it was hilarrrrious and inspiring. I got to meet him after, and he was really nice! (You can read a little about him here!)

The PAACH anniversary celebration in Huntsman Hall.

The PAACH anniversary celebration in Huntsman Hall.

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He took this with his phone and texted it to me. WHAT.

Homecoming weekend was also really great because I got to see Amanda again. She was a senior last year, and one of the first few Malaysians I met from Penn. It’s always really nice to talk to people who’ve been through the whole Penn journey and know what it’s like to make it out on the other side, but it’s a bonus to talk to someone who understands the path I’m on and part of where I come from. It really means so much to me to have such supportive and understanding people in my life.

Early Sunday morning with Amanda <3

Sunday morning with Amanda ❤

This past week, I’ve also started watching The Office and, well, I don’t know why I put off watching it for so many years because it’s an amazing show and I kinda squeezed in time to watch it whenever I could. For example:

Watching it while having breakfast in bed.

Watching it while having breakfast in bed (and yeah, that’s Nestum).

Watching it while doing laundry.

Watching it while doing laundry (I am also watching it while I type this).

It has also been a great week even though it’s only Wednesday so far. There is a farmer’s market every Wednesday in front of the bookstore on campus and today I bought some good fresh bread there. Conveniently, the farmer’s market is also next to Cosi which gives free coffee on Wednesdays! So I got fresh bread and free coffee, which is, *deep breaths* wonderful.

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What I did with my bread for lunch!

What I did with my bread for lunch!

Then, today after class, I went to see Rachel who is a freshman in Write On, one of the volunteer programs I’m in at Penn. We talked about the many difficulties of freshman year and reliving them sent chills down my spine. The overwhelming feeling of lostness–physically around campus, navigating new friendships, finding an area of interest and just generally finding a enclave on campus makes you feel like you belong. It takes time, I guess, but I genuinely believe it gets better. That’s what I told Rachel.

Gratefully and certainly, it has gotten better for me. Today, for the first time, I felt the tables turning a little. I’ve had the chance to meet with 3 freshmen girls so far this semester to talk about adjusting at Penn but it just occurred to me right now that I’ve kind of transitioned into a different, um, how do I say this, position(?) here. I remember talking to my freshman hall Resident Advisor, Cat, and other upperclassmen like Petra and Hanna because they reached out to me wanting to talk to me about how I’m doing in my transition into Penn. It’s hard to believe I’m now on the other side of that conversation. It’s really weird, because 2.5 years in, I still feel like I’m transitioning into life at Penn every day so I don’t know how it’s possible that I’m giving advice or whatever. I feel that this transition is never complete and so is always ongoing but I suppose, in some sense, I can’t really say that I’m adjusting anymore because I’ve been here for a while, and no matter how much more experience I have to gain, the fact is that I have gained some experience.

A few hours ago, I was at an Asian Pacific American Heritage Week event. We invited Vidya, a YouTube star to perform at Penn. She does mashups between Hindi and American songs and she performed a bunch of them earlier. I also got to meet her earlier and speak to her a little, it was really fun.

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Vidya’s performance.

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At the meet and greet with the planning boards after the performance.

It was great to be a part of an organising group that helped make this happen. That would not have happened 2 years ago. Also, as I was at this event, I was introduced to a freshman who asked to know more about what the club I am part of does. When she left, I again found myself thinking that 2 years ago, I would’ve probably been on the other side of that conversation as well.

In fact, when I left the venue, I walked on the steps between College and Cohen halls onto Locust and recalled the time in freshman year Saffa (who was a senior at the time) walked with me there. We were walking back to our rooms after the first MSA meeting that year. She was giving me a little tour of the campus. It felt like quite a long time ago.

For the first time, it feels like I’ve actually made progress. That’s a pretty difficult thing to feel here sometimes, you know. Everyone just seems to be doing amazing things that it’s hard to see my own progress at times. But today, as I walked home, I felt proud of myself because I know I’ve progressed here as a result of my baby steps–slowly, putting myself out there and steadily putting one foot in front of the other.

I know it’s not a lot, but if I don’t start feeling a little proud of me for something, then, well I don’t know. I gotta start somewhere and this seems like a good place to start.

Week 11: Pancakes, PiYo and Puzzle Pieces

I’m done with my second round of midterms! I had exams on Monday and Tuesday this week, so even though it’s only Wednesday right now, I feel like it’s already Friday. To those of you back home who don’t know, in American colleges we have midterm exams throughout the semester. Instead of having one set of exams at the end of the semester, we’re kind of being tested by stages. I used to think I prefer to be tested this way, but it’s so tiring. I spent the whole weekend staying in and doing work. I missed out on some fun, but it’s okay because I felt really good walking out of those exams. I don’t know how I did, but it just felt nice to know I gave it everything I could.

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I clearly did nothing for “halloweekend” but wanted to use these snapchat filters anyway.

Monday was a particularly long day. Reviewing, exams, class, more class, and then office hours, review session, a meeting, reviewing more exam material and getting help from Adel. I mean yeah, that’s what we do in college I guess. But having everything going on back to back like that.. ahhhh. I was so pooped out.

Studying for my cognitive neuroscience exam. Don't worry parents, I promise I don't eat like this everyday.

Studying for my cognitive neuroscience exam. To my parents if you are reading this: don’t worry, I promise I don’t eat like this everyday.

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Monday night, when I finally got home at 11 pm.

I’m glad I managed to squeeze in some cooking over the weekend though! I made pancakes and fried rice for Hui Jie and myself. We basically spent the whole day in the apartment eating all the food slowly. I also made chicken sandwich filling the way my mom makes it, and I was so happy about it because it made me feel like home a little.

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Got up super early to make breakfast.

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Other things I like about making chicken sandwich filling: it masks the taste of chicken (which I don’t like), it lasts a while so I only have to make it once and all the other times my meal prep is super easy, I can make a sandwich out of it or put it in a salad, and I think it’s healthy-ish?

By Sunday though, I was super lazy and just ate eggs, rice and kicap lol

By Monday though, I was super lazy and just ate eggs, rice and kicap  (soy sauce) lol. Hashtag: things I don’t put on Instagram.

By Tuesday night, I was done with exams so I slept super early because I was tired. But I had some readings to do for my political science class and had to start doing them at 6 a.m. the next morning (i.e. this morning). I felt so restless though because I hadn’t been to the gym since last Thursday and after being done with my exams I just really wanted to go so I got to make it out to a PiYo class today.

With some of the girls in the class after PiYo. Angela, the instructor, is the one on the bottom right :)

With some of the girls in the class after PiYo. Angela, the instructor, is the one on the bottom right 🙂

I was super excited about this because I used to go for PiYo classes at 7.30 a.m. every Friday (ok, most Fridays) last year. This year, it got moved to a 12 p.m. slot and it doesn’t really fit with my schedule and I spent all semester missing this class because I loved Angela, who is the instructor. Plus, the gym classes I’m doing this semester really lack cardio stuff — which I hate doing, but I mean, it’s good for me or something like that.

The group exercise studio.

The group exercise studio.

I’m not the fittest person on earth and am nowhere close, so I probably shouldn’t go around touting the merits of exercise… but honestly, it’s wonderful and we should all be doing it consistently in some way. I hated exercise before I discovered the type of exercises I liked and the setting I like doing it in. Since sophomore year, I started going to group exercise classes and it’s been so much fun.

Just like cooking, it really forces me to be present and to focus on what I’m doing. It lets me practice being intentional about every single movement I make. Also, it hurts. A lot. Everything burns: my thighs, my arms, my abs. But that’s what I love about it most–not because I love pain or discomfort, but rather, because it teaches me to keep pushing. I think I manjakan (have babied) myself a lot. I would do work and get sleepy and go, “maybe I need a break” when I don’t. So I need to remind myself that some discomfort and pain isn’t a good enough reason to stop. Just wanting to give up isn’t a good reason to stop. Feeling tired isn’t a reason to give up. Not being very good at something isn’t a reason to give up. I keep going, and that’s what will make it better. I know this sounds motivation-speechy which is like *gag* ugh, but I’m getting at something here, I promise, and that is, knowing when to give up is really not easy. There are times when I really do need to step back and let go a little, but knowing when to do what requires listening to myself and being super super honest and confrontational with myself. That, is what I love about exercise.

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So there I was today, walking out of the gym, dripping in sweat, wobbly legs and feeling very satisfied.. when I remembered that Viraj (one of the staff at PAACH) baked cookies and made a post on Facebook about it saying we should drop by if we want some. Naturally, I did. Usually, I would’ve gone home for lunch but today I decided to stray from my routine.

As I was waiting for my next class at PAACH, someone walks into the room with Jenny Yang and introduces her to everyone. Jenny is an Asian-American comedian and writer. You may have seen her on BuzzFeed, like hereThis is a cool article about her, and this is her website. I am glad to have gotten a chance to speak to her today. She was talking to a girl I know, Caroline, encouraging her to put herself out there with her photography (Caroline is amazing, check out her work here!). I kinda just joined in.. She talked to us about how we should put our names on the work we do and believe in, and fearlessly put it out there. She also talked about how everyone has a valuable story to tell, how you don’t know who you will reach/move with your work, and how it helps to be in contact with the world you want to be in because even being around the thing you love will help a lot.

Me with Jenny earlier today at PAACH <3

Me with Jenny earlier today at PAACH ❤

It was really cool to get to speak to her even though I only saw her for about 20 minutes. Interestingly, this happened at a time when I was contemplating whether or not I would want to continue blogging/writing next semester and onwards into the future. I think Jenny gave me some good things to think about, which was awesome because I didn’t even know when I woke up this morning that I was going to meet her today. And if I hadn’t gone to the gym, if Viraj hadn’t baked those cookies and made an announcement about it on Facebook, I might not have. It’s also amazing to see what resources can reach you once you open up about your hopes/dreams and the things you care about. If Caroline hadn’t been brave enough to tell Jenny, “hey, I want to show you my website” we probably wouldn’t have ventured into that conversation.

God, it’s the little moments like this that make me trust in every crooked step of my life path. Earlier this year in February, I wrote this in my journal:

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And this really feels like one of those times.

I always try, or I always want to refrain from publicly giving advice on here because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I don’t know much at all. But sometimes I learn simple things which can be so profound to me–as simple as the cliché “everything happens for a reason”–and I just feel like it would be a waste not to share, so there it is.