Dear Past Self | USAPPS

Dear past self,

At this point, you are petrified but so eager to learn. If what I remember about you is correct, you’re excited to soak up knowledge and run with it, but you’re also just scared that you don’t have what it takes. Well, I have to say that I’m you, three years later, and I’m still incompetent in Excel, still unsure about how to give a good presentation, still unsure of how the stock market works and still clueless about Plato. I’m sorry. But here’s what you will get from Penn…

It will hit you straight away that everyone around you is smart and driven. During orientation, all freshmen will be asked to write about an assigned reading and some people around you will raise their hands and ask for more paper. You will end up awkwardly making stuff up in your best efforts to make up a modest paragraph. That will be the first of many times you feel you fall short. I don’t want to scare you but there will be more. Professors and TAs will ask questions in class and your classmates’ hands will dart up confidently, even though you feel like you didn’t even understand the question. Some people will take six classes and you will be hustling with your four. Trust me though, you will steadily learn that sure, everyone around you is insanely brilliant, hardworking and even accomplished, but each and every one of you took a different road to get there. I know that you’re scared you won’t measure up, but you don’t always have to. You will learn that your starting line is your own and your experiences are incomparable.

The truth is, your finish line might be days, months or years behind someone else’s starting line and so college will be a hustle on most days. You will be assigned six-paged essays and people will tell you, “that’s totally fine” and that you “can definitely do it” and you will stare back, mouth agape in disbelief and confusion. You will be expected to turn in MATLAB codes for classes despite having never used the program before. You will spend days writing your first cover letter and resume. You will sit in bed at night and worry that what is expected of you is always leaps and bounds ahead of what you can do. You will worry that you are an impostor. But somehow, either through copious amounts of caffeine or sheer divine intervention (though, most likely both) you will hand in the paper, the code, the cover letter. You will make it through semester after semester, exhausted but unscathed. There will be so many oh-shit-what-the-hell-have-I-gotten-myself-into situations, and you will learn that you somehow always make your way out of them. You will learn that you always learn to find a way.

Because you have the capacity to learn, you will slowly start taking risks. You don’t have to do everything—6 classes, 5 clubs, go to the gym and fall asleep by midnight—perfectly right away, but eventually you will raise your hand in class and eventually you will manage a board of 7 people, eventually you will raise thousands of dollars for events and charities. If it seems far away from where you are now, well, good. Because you will learn to take pleasure in having a long way to go.

You won’t do it all alone, though. You will inevitably worry your way through the chaos and hurry of New Student Orientation. People will exchange phone numbers with each other and with you absent-mindedly, and people will haphazardly add each other on Facebook for a while… but that will all slow down and if you keep going out there, keep saying “hi, I’m Dayana” then by the end of all that chaos you will find yourself with friendships more rewarding than you’ve ever known. This is a college cliché—as cliché as lying down on green grass doing work on a Macbook—but luckily for you it will be true. It will be difficult to make friends initially, and you will compare it to making friends in school where you were all chucked into the same classroom and so friendships were always more effortless and convenient… but you will learn that your best relationships are ahead of you and they involve ordering pizza at 2 a.m., making snow angels on a snow day, eating burgers on the rooftop of Fresh Grocer, having a shoulder to cry on when you get your first C and feeling endlessly supported and inspired and grateful.

Yeah I guess it kinda sucks that I still have no idea what “VLOOKUP” is on Excel but you can Google that when you have to use it. The things you will learn are skills beyond what a textbook can teach you. The things you will learn are a lifetime’s endeavour. You’re learning how to learn. I know you’re eager to learn things you can use at work, things you can put on your resume, and I also know you’re scared. I’m here to say that your thirst for knowledge, your capacity for information will never be fulfilled and you will find at every corner that there will always be more you could have learned. But you will be better at feeling scared, you will feel more comfortable with not knowing everything and you will be more equipped to figure things out as you go.

I’m so excited for you.

Sincerely,
Future Dayana


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This post was originally posted on the USAPPS blog. I wrote this post for USAPPS, an organisation run by Malaysians studying in the United States, which aims to provide help to other Malaysian students applying to U.S. colleges.

I attended USAPPS myself when I was applying and learned about writing my Common App essay, applying for financial aid and most importantly, got to speak to Malaysian students from all the colleges I wanted to go to. Their 2-day workshop is coming this weekend, you can register for it on their website usapps.org or their Facebook page.

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A bird pooped on my head in Penang | Summer 2016

I spent all of last weekend in one of my favourite Malaysian states. I suppose that’s not saying much, since there are only 14 but it’s one of my favourites nevertheless. We only spent 2 nights there, but I had so much fun on that trip. Penang just has so much character, you know? And food. Of course.

I arrived in Penang in the evening. My parents and sisters had gone earlier because I had work that day, so they picked me up in our rented car. We straight headed to eat kuey teow, one of my favourite foods ever in the whole wide world. I mean, just see one of my Facebook cover photos. It was raining so we didn’t actually get to go to Gurney for kuey teow, muah chee and pai tee like we usually would. But this kuey teow place was pretty good! I don’t remember what it’s called but it’s supposedly famous. If you want to know, ask my mum haha.

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We didn’t do much else that night, I think we just went back to the hotel after dinner because it was raining. But the hotel we stayed at was beautiful. I mean, it wasn’t extravagant. And I don’t even know if you’d call it a hotel per se. It’s called Muntri Mews and there are only 9 rooms in the entire place. It’s made to look like a traditional house and it’s done up really well. I really loved it because it was small, intimate and has so much charm. Service was also really good and I just can’t like a place if it doesn’t have good customer service.

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On Saturday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel. I had scrambled salmon and eggs with toast and apart from kuey teow, those are also two of my great loves. Spoiler: I will have the exact same thing for breakfast the next day.

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After breakfast, we headed out on foot to trek around Georgetown. Armed with umbrellas, sunglasses and foldable fans, we did that typical touristy mural tour. We didn’t find that many, but it was nice to see the shops and different lanes, areas and buildings along the way.

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Saturday was also the day I got pooped on by a bird for the first time in my life. It REALLY HURT. We were walking around, and my dad was right behind me holding his umbrella. Suddenly I feel a hit on my head and I thought my dad had accidentally hit me with an umbrella but when I turn around with my “WHAT?!” face, he goes “oh no…..” and then my sisters gasp and say “oh no…” and then it hit me. I’ve just been shat on. My sister Aida quickly gets a bunch of wet wipes from my mum’s bag (good thing mothers always carry around such big bags full of random things, isn’t it?) and starts wiping. Everyone knows that if there is feces around, you better get rid of it before I see it or else I will start gagging and puking. Anyway, it is a good thing I pakai tudung because I just went into a shop to buy another one and then carried on as usual.

We had nasi padang for lunch at Transfer Road that day. Apparently my parents and sisters love it, and so do lots of other people because it was packed. I’m not the biggest fan, but it was good.

After lunch, we went back to the hotel to wipe some of that sweat off of our backs and chill for an hour or so before we drove out on those uphill winding roads to Batu Ferringhi. We used to stay at Ferringhi whenever we were in Penang so it was really nostalgic to drive past Parkroyal and Hard Rock Hotel. We saw the beach from the car as we were driving up and that’s the closest I got to a body of water the entire trip. Have I ever mentioned I’m kind of a city girl? Because I am.

Anyway, we visited this batik factory in the area. It wasn’t much, I guess. It could be a lot better, but it was still cool to see how people hand-made the batik designs. It reminds me of kelas seni in school. I think we did batik both in sekolah rendah and sekolah menengah.

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Then, we stopped by at the Teluk Bahang fishing village. It was really exciting to see this area, specifically the jetty and the pasar nelayan. Last year at my internship, I spent almost 2 months reading about the fishing industry in Malaysia, the types of fish, the supply chain, the nets, the boats, the fishing licenses… gosh, it sounds odd to recall the fact that I was so immersed in reading about all of it, but I was. I really wanted to visit one while I was working but I never got to, so seeing a fishing village and the infrastructures I read about last year in real life was really cool. It’s kinda like seeing the movie of a book you’ve read (???) but different. Almost.

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We had time to kill between visiting the fishing village and dinner. So what do we do while waiting to eat? We ate. We stopped by Hard Rock Cafe for some snacks and chilled there for a while before driving back down to Georgetown. Later that night, we had dinner at Woodlands, which is this vegetarian Indian restaurant. It was so good! I had paneer briyani and some palak paneer. If you don’t know, paneer is cheese and I love cheese. Yes, go ahead, add that to the already-long list of food I love. Indian food is just so good. We walked around Little India a bit but it rained again that night so we didn’t do or see much.

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The next morning, after breakfast, we left pretty early to go to Penang Hill, or Bukit Bendera. I have no idea why it’s called two different things in English and Malay?! But anyway, it was my first time there because the last time we tried to go, it was closed. I mean, there isn’t much to do there other than take the tram ride up the hill and then take pictures with the view, I guess. But I love going to lookout points! It was a little cloudy so I couldn’t really see much of the Penang bridges, but the view was still amazing and the weather up there was pretty chilly too. We walked around for a bit. There was like a garden kind of thing, and lots of people cycling and hiking. My dad said he wants to come back here to hike up. Everyone else just laughed. After about maybe half an hour or so, we took the tram ride back down and went back to the hotel to pack. 😦

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We didn’t really have a plan for lunch on Sunday, so we kinda drove around a little. So many shops were closed on Sunday, or at least opened only in the evening around 4. Where do people eat on Sundays?! We ended up eating at this roadside hawker place. I got another plate of kuey teow because, well, kuey teow. After lunch, we went to this Peranakan Mansion. I really love visiting heritage sites like these. The last time we came to Penang, we visited the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion and I actually have a picture I took there hanging above my desk in Philly.

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Anyway, the place was really cool! If I recall correctly, this traditional Baba Nyonya house was built in 1884 and later restored. Admission came with a complimentary tour. Our tour guide was actually a Thai guy, and he was really friendly and informative. We learned quite a bit about the house and Peranakan culture, like what clothes they would wear for what occasion and why certain furniture in the house were arranged in a particular way or designs in a specific way.

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The house also adjoins this chinese temple. There was a life-size bronze statue of the first owner of the house there! The first owner of the house was Chung Keng Kooi, who, according to the poster in the temple, was born in 1821 and came from the Zengcheng district in China. He reportedly had 4 wives and 16 children. They were a rich family; so rich that they were one of the first few families in Penang to own a car. Their Rolls Royce had a license plate number  P 4.

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We spent quite a bit of time looking at their clothing and jewellery gallery. It’s so interesting how much you can learn about culture through looking at clothing. We learned what kind of dresses girls would wear at home, what they would wear on Cap Goh Mei, what the families would wear for (the 3 years of) a mourning period.

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The house was really beautiful. I don’t know about my family, but I really enjoyed learning about local cultures and histories. I wish more museums in Malaysia were done up nicely like that, with good tour guides who can tell wonderfully informative stories.

After visiting the mansion, I pestered my family to go to Restoran Kapitan because I really wanted to try this thing called ayam milani. It sounds Italian, doesn’t it? I have no idea what it’s made of, honestly. Maybe some kari, some butter, some… cheese?! I don’t know and quite frankly, I don’t care!!! It was amazing. It was bahagian peha though, so I didn’t eat it. I eat chicken breast, strictly sebab tak reti makan benda lain. But I had the naan that came with the chicken and the sauce and it was the best thing I had on that trip. I still dream about it. If you’re in Penang, definitely go try it! Thanks to my friend Izura for recommending it to me. 🙂

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We still had some time to kill before going to the airport so I suggested we go on a drive to see the new Penang bridge. I… kinda regretted it. Because it was so long! We literally just crossed the bridge only to come right back, haha. One thing is for sure: I’m glad we flew instead of driving up to Penang. Because even that half an hour or so we spent on the bridge was boring. We didn’t even have any road trip snacks! Hehe.

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By about 6-ish (?) we were already at the airport. We had McDonalds for dinner that day. I had a McChicken because they didn’t have a Big ‘n Tasty. At first, we thought it was just a Penang thing. But little did we know, it was foreshadowing a grave discovery.

We got home at maybe 10.30pm and I was exhausted! I only had my (severely worn out) Cole Haan shoes with me, so my feet were not doing so great. But I had such a good night’s sleep on Sunday night because of how tired I was. I mentioned this the other day, but there are few things that feel as good as crawling into bed after a long day. Getting myself to work on Monday was a task alright. But I’m glad I got to go on a short holiday with my family and I’m really looking forward to my next 2 short trips. 😀


All high quality pictures were taken by my sister Julia. Check out her VSCO and follow her artsy fartsy Instagram. She’s the coolest among the anak-anak Mustak probs. (And if you’re wondering, Aida’s the smartest and I’m the princessiest)

Raya continued | Summer 2016

Believe it or not, I am writing right now on a train. I’m quite impressed that the ERL to KLIA has decent wifi! I have taken half a day off from work because this evening, I will be on a flight to Penang 🙂 I’m quite excited because I think I haven’t been there since late 2012. Gurney Drive awaits me eagerly, I know.

The rest of raya week was fine. We had dinner at Pak Ngah’s house on Friday night and took so many pictures. Mak Ngah made mi goreng which made me very happy because it’s not the typical raya food. The next morning, we went to town to buy kek lapis Sarawak. Then, we left Kuching that Saturday evening.

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Almost the whole family on my mom’s side.

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Aren’t “freestyle” pictures the most awkward things sometimes?!

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The one most decent picture of all the cousins I could find.

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All the girls!

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Julia, Aida, me, Amanina, Amirah, Afifah and Aina

You know, it’s nice to go back to Kuching every now and then. I mentioned this in one of my previous (shorter) posts, but I’m not 100% comfortable there, if I may be so honest. I also don’t speak the language. The other day, my aunty said her house “kenak serbu 5 igik motor” and I felt very alarmed because I directly translated it to “my house got attacked by 5 motorbikes” but what she really meant was that people came to visit her house in 5 cars all at once. We don’t have our own house, and you know what it’s like when you try to use the shower at someone else’s house—you just don’t get it. I don’t know anyone there that well… I’m always whispering to my cousins or my mom asking them whose house we are at. But they are family and as, um, disconnected as I may be, half of my ancestry has many roots there. There’s this house we refer to as Rumah Kampung…. It’s not a general term for any house in any kampung. It’s a specific house which has been in my family for like over a hundred years. My parents even got married there.

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Well, in that house, there’s a picture of lots of people standing in front of the house at what seems to be a wedding. It looks ripped out of a history text book. But those people are my family. It’s so strange to think about. Apparently it was the wedding of my great grandmother’s uncle? Or so I was told. I think it’s really cool that a picture of that moment in time exists for me see.

Anyway, when we got back that Saturday, we freshened up and went right back out to Setia City to get SUSHI (!!!!) and watch Finding Dory with my cousins. I know most people have probably seen it and we’re quite late to the party, but we were waiting until raya to watch it. It was such a cute movie! I had so much fun watching it with my sisters and cousins 😀

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May God protect me from evil and also people who dislike sushi and/or salmon

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God, trust me, it was so difficult going back to work on Monday! I completely forgot I had a job somewhere for that entire week. But I’ve finished a whole week at work since then and now I’m off again! I actually only have so few weeks before I fly back to the states and as always, it’s a scramble to make sure I meet everyone I want to. It’s kinda annoying too because sometimes it can feel more like ticking off boxes on a list of obligations than it does a real friendship and I don’t really know how to deal with that. When I was at Penn, I bemoaned this happening and now I’m surprised it’s happening at home too. And if I should be so honest, it’s also a little tiring like physically and emotionally… because I don’t drive and I usually have to depend on people to get me home or to go out so I’m always troubling someone. And because there are so many people I want to see, so many weeks of work, I feel like I’m not giving everyone the attention I should. I’m doing my best, I guess.


(Uh, disclaimer: this post was published 4 days after I wrote it because I didn’t have access to the pictures I wanted until today)

Selamat Hari Raya | Summer 2016

Hello from Kuching, Sarawak! I am in East Malaysia, spending time with my mom’s side of the family for raya (that’s what we call Eid here in Malaysia) writing on my laptop which is connected to the internet via my mom’s hotspot haha.

We spent raya morning in Klang, where my dad’s side of the family is. I had a whole plate full of nasi impit with kuah kacang and nothing else. I must stress that nasi impit or ketupat or lemang with kuah kacang is my absolute favourite raya food. I care so deeply about kuah kacang and its authenticity that whenever I am served “peanut sauce” in the US it just breaks my heart. Anyway, I don’t have any pictures of the meal because I ate it all too quickly.

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Anyam/mengisi ketupat the day before raya

Now on to my favourite part of hari raya which is honestly the family pictures! I consider it a tradition cemented into the celebration of hari raya.

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My family 🙂 Aida and I have awfully crumpled bajus haha.

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My ‘rents!

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With Paps! Look at his toe, though. Haha.

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Us 3 with mother!

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Hashtag: Princess.

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My cousins and I ❤

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Ayden and Shameer

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My Chik slash second mum and Ayahchik slash resident joker

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The relatively-new-ly weds and their newborn. First raya together!

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Aida, Shasha, Julia, me and Azlina. Childhood sleepover crew.

We didn’t take many pictures here in Kuching because we arrived at night on the first day, and everyone was already tired and selekeh. Raya here is quite a different feel from raya in KL. We only started regularly going back to Kuching for raya in, maybe, 2013? So I’m still not totally used to it. I grew up beraya in KL, going to only 3 houses for raya in baju kurung and then on the second day switching back to ~jeans~ or whatever and chilling. Here in Kuching, it’s a lot more happening, as they say. People go to house after house and eat cakes and drink fizzy drinks. And we kind of wear baju kurungs until the 3rd/4th day! Also, my mom’s family is huge so there are so many people to see and houses to visit. Yesterday, we went to 4 houses in about 4 hours. We used to go to more but my grandparents are getting older and they just tak larat to go berjalan so much anymore.

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My grandparents eating lunch at my Mak Long’s house.

At one house, my sister was taking a picture outside the house when I saw a chicken behind her. I know it’s not a big deal to many people, but neither Klang nor Kuching is really a kampung so this was a shock to me, a budak bandar through and through. Case in point:

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Me, when I saw the chicken behind my sister. This is embarrassing, but hilarious.

It just occurred to me that this is the very last time I will visit Kuching before I graduate, insya Allah. Oh my god. That means raya next year will be different, in one way or another. I might have to apply for leave? Or if I somehow work abroad, I may not even be here for raya (not that this is the plan, by any means).

Also, now that I am older and my cousins have gotten married, I am forced to consider how things will change if I or any one of my siblings were to get married. I hate thinking about how things would be different… would one of us not balik Kuching? Someone would have to raya somewhere else?! Where would we stay if we do balik sini? How would we all fit into Nenek’s house? Ugh, I hate thinking about it. But most likely, there are fewer rayas like the one I’m used to ahead of me than there are behind me. (Before anyone asks, no, I am not about to get married, I am not seeing anyone, not even close. My cousins growing up and having adult lives just freak me out.)

I guess my point is that seeing my cousins and even some of my friends work, get married and have kids is making me appreciate things the way they are now. They take turns going to each other’s side of the family, have babies to think about when they travel, have to go back to work so soon after raya… I’m still in school and raya is during the summer which means I can come home for it. I can spend time in both Klang and Kuching very easily, and I spend the entirety of Syawal with my parents, my sisters and my extended family and I LOVE IT THIS WAY.

Anyway, I hope your raya has been great, filled with time spent with loved ones and lots of good food. Thanks for stopping by to read this during the festivities. Until next week! 🙂

An emotional ride | Summer 2016

Okay, I know I said I’ll write once a week, but I wrote another one because I couldn’t figure out how to transition from the tone of my previous post to suit what I have to tell you now:

This week, the new LRT stations on the Kelana Jaya line officially begin service and starting yesterday, my new default stop is Glenmarie. This is good news for thousands of people, me included. With 13 new stations extending all the way to Putra Heights, so many people now have easier access to public transport. I mean, there still isn’t a stop right next to my house, but I should be happy about not having to go all the way to KJ because I am now spared from braving the LDP. Plus, it’s about time; the Kelana Jaya line has not been extended since it began operation 18 years ago. When it first opened, my parents picked me up early from Rainbow School (my kindergarten) to go on a ride. So like I said, this is really good news! Yay, improvement!

And yet…

(I am half laughing as I tell you this but) I was so sulky about this change! I would add more exclamation points at the end of that last sentence but I don’t like how that would look just aesthetically so I am adding verbal emphasis with this extra sentence. Seriously, ask my family, I talked about it almost everyday since I found out. I just didn’t see it coming so soon, you know? I wasn’t ready!

Why? Kelana Jaya, the LRT stop I’ve used the most, is the terminating station for its line (hence, the name). This means, no matter what time of day I get on the train, it will always be empty because everyone on it would have gotten down by then. This means I always get a seat on the train. And the seats will always fill up at this first station during rush hours. So if you are boarding the train at any station other than KJ, you have very slim chances of getting a seat.

People who board the train regularly at Kelana Jaya are well aware of this special perk and make the most of it. I know this for a fact because we obediently queue up to enter the train coaches, and sometimes, if we are at the back of the line and see that the seats are all taken up by the time we are about to enter, many of us may opt to not get on and just wait for the next train instead because we have that privilege. However, now that there are 13 (THIRTEEN!!!) new stations before Kelana Jaya………. all that I have…… will be……. lost……… forever.

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An actual snap I sent to my sisters last Monday, commemorating the original route with Kelana Jaya at the end of the line. Very dramatic, I know.

Why is this important? It’s not. If I’m going somewhere between Bangsar-KLCC, it’s only about a 30 minute ride. I can stand for that long just fine. I am a very young person with very healthy knees, thank you very much!

So why am I upset? Good question. I don’t really know. Perhaps it is because I liken the feeling to when a kid who has been the only child for years suddenly learns they have been dethroned by the arrival of a new sibling. And because that was my experience when my sister was born 21 years ago, perhaps this just… you know… opens old wounds. Except instead of getting one new sibling like I did in ’95 and ’97 each, this is like getting 13 new “siblings” all at once! *Cue purposely exaggerated gasp and sigh* Alternatively, perhaps I feel this way just because we are all naturally resistant to change. You know, inertia and what not. But more likely, it is really because I am super mengada.

All of last week, I would get on the train at Kelana Jaya and look around at the platform, (comically) exclaiming in my head: “GUYS, DON’T YOU KNOW??? THIS IS ALL GOING TO BE OVER! We’re not going to be special anymore!!! Everyone, please freak out accordingly!!!”

Another thing I just realised is that I’ve gotten used to seeing the same faces at the Kelana Jaya station everyday. A more-or-less usual set of people in the morning and another in the evening rush hours. And like, I didn’t get to say goodbye to them?! Will I ever see them again?!! Because I mean, I feel like we had a bond??? And it’s so weird that we didn’t have a farewell makan-makan kinda thing??? How will they know I will miss them??!

And oh my god, what about the kakak jual kuih across the station??? *Cue the wailing* Thank god I bought a last round of karipap and popiah goreng on Wednesday evening. Thanks for everything, kak. 😢

Yesterday, when I took the train to Glenmarie for the first time, I was really in for an emotional ride. Pun intended. The Glenmarie station is 3 stops past Kelana Jaya. As my train was approaching KJ, I could feel my heart start to beat faster. Was I ready for this? Ultimately, no. There was no way I could have been ready. But you know how it is. Sometimes people push you into the deep end before you learn how to swim. Life, am I right?

As we pulled up at Kelana Jaya, it felt so odd not to be getting up and fumbling for my Touch n Go card. So instead, I just stared on longingly and took pictures.

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Jasamu sentiasa dikenang!!!!!!

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Me, taking sulky selfies (sulfies, as they shall now be known) with the new list of stops.

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Me, expressing to my family how emotional this experience was.

To the untrained eye, this may all sound ridiculous. I totally understand. I see it too, and so do my loved ones. They give me facepalms or just say “lol” while shaking their heads. In fact, I often get dismissed because everything I say sounds really funny and unbelievable. “Dramatic la you ni” they say. Ha! Well, tell me, who would be your source of humour if I were any less dramatic?

At the end of the day though, everyone has to accept that I just am a dramatically sentimental human being to the point of sheer comedy. But even though it’s funny, it doesn’t mean my feelings aren’t real. I genuinely feel these things, you know. I just have so many feelings. I feel all the things.

Anyway, I guess I just need time to get used to the “new norm” as my dad calls it. So don’t worry, I will be okay (eventually lol). In any case, on a very level-headed note, I am pleased about this change and I hope the government consistently continues improving the public transportation system by gradually adding new stops…

…so that I don’t have to deal with this rampant emotional upheaval again in 20 years.