A list of things.

One.
I don’t know when or why this happened and I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but these days I’ve had to work so hard on harnessing my skill of swatting fruit flies. Why, are there, so many, fruit flies, in my kitchen. Where are they coming from?!!!

Two.
It’s a Saturday night and I’m making a study guide for my communications exam. It’s like 10 pages long, and I take many breaks in between. Most of them were spent googling McDonalds menus around the world. Some McDonalds have salmon burgers. Some McDonalds have rice! Singapore’s McDonalds seems 10/10—they had a rendang burger once

Three.
I took sporadic 10-minute breaks from studying to watch Hamilton’s America bit by bit. It’s such a good documentary and really makes me want to watch the play… though I’m not entirely sure if that’s possible given that even the cheapest tickets for possible dates are like ~$150. It makes me wish I got to see Lin-Manuel Miranda at commencement last May.

Four.
It has been a few years since I stopped watching Parks and Rec. I used to watch it back before I came to Penn, but when I started college and school picked up, I dropped pretty much all my TV shows. I have watched some episodes here and there on flights but I properly hopped back on that bandwagon these past few weeks and a few days ago, I watched the episode where Ann and Chris leave Pawnee for good and just flat out bawled. I wonder what it’ll be like to leave all my friends here at Penn in May.

Five.
One of the most annoying things about my readings is that a lot of them are scanned books in the form of PDFs, which means I can’t really highlight them on Preview and it looks bad, and sometimes it’s crooked and just, ahhhh. It’s 2016!!!! Let’s please all digitalise these articles already.

Six.
I learned that Conde Nast owns/owned Reddit. What?!

Seven.
Sometimes when I don’t eat on time, I get so queasy later in the day that by evening, I have to leave a cup by my bedside table to spit in. (Also, why do we get a lot of saliva when we feel queasy?) This was probably too much information for you but now you know.

Eight.
Some of the fiercest internal battles that go on in my head happen when I’m in bed doing work and a strong craving subtly emerges from the depths of my mind and taunts me. This weekend, it was popcorn. God, I really wanted popcorn. It was such a battle not to just throw on some clothes and run to the Rave to get a huge bucket of popcorn. I wish I lived further from the cinema sometimes.

Nine.
You can’t celebrate everything. Every so often (and trust me, it happens quite often), I’m like, ooooh, I should get myself some bubble tea today to celebrate being done with this exam! Or, maybe I’ll get myself some ice cream because it’s the end of the week. Like, no. No, dude. No. That’s kinda disgusting. It’s like, that is business as usual. You have an exam/assignment due every week. You have an end of the week every week. That’s just your life. Rewarding doing things you have to do makes it seem like an extraordinarily big deal. It’s not. It’s a baseline expectation. Carry on.

Ten.
Sometimes I think people at Penn are too… nice? I don’t know if that’s the word. Like in some classes, people will say stuff and it will make no sense and it has one point but it goes on for two minutes, and the teacher will say, “Okay! Yeah, that’s valid!” I get that we should encourage people to think and participate but not everything makes sense. Sometimes this whole “everyone gets a gold star” culture is just straight up annoying. Tell it like it is.

Eleven.
This past week I learned that sea salt is so good in lattes. Changed my life.

Twelve.
I googled Soylent the other day out of curiosity and since then, I’ve been seeing Soylent ads on a lot of sites I’ve been on. I get that digital marketing is supposed to more efficiently target people and stuff, but like, I really don’t want it. Imagine if you walk into a store just to browse for fun and then the salesperson followed you around the mall for the rest of the day. It’s a bit… much.

Thirteen.
I really don’t wanna do my laundry right now but I’m out of gym clothes to wear.

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Five

One.

Sometimes life slows down for you for a quick second and you just feel content. Lying in bed on a Friday night with Cristina, cup of mint tea in hand, watching Rent for the first time together. I felt the buzz in my head take it down a notch. I’m trying to get better at soaking in those quiet, restful moments. I feel like I’ve been saying that for 3 years and I almost feel irritated but I let it go. It feels nice.

Two.

I’m on an aeroplane. It’s Wednesday. I am staring at the in-flight entertainment screen in front of my face—some lady on Vice is explaining how to make kombucha. I am not entertained. I am sipping Diet Coke. I’m listening to NPR’s How I Built This. Sara Blakely is talking about how she founded Spanx.

I think, I am not meant for more, not meant for less, just meant for different.

Three.

Pop culture time. My favourite albums of the semester so far have been BADLANDS by Halsey and The Altar by Banks. I resumed watching Parks and Rec after stopping just about 3 years ago. I forgot how much I love Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari’s characters. My favourite podcasts currently are NPR’s Code Switch (about race in America), Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson’s 2 Dope Queens (stand up comedy) and Gimlet Media’s Reply All (a “show about the internet”). Current favourite app is Couch to 5K because it’s helping me pick up running without feeling like throwing a tantrum about shin splints. My class on Critical Approach to Pop Culture is a strong contender for Top 5 Classes I’ve Taken at Penn and I’m thankful for Dr. Felicity Paxton’s presence in my life.


Four.

Perspective is powerful.

Five.

A lot of people have the success story that goes something like “I had no idea what I was doing but I believed in this idea and I just went for it.” That has always scared me. I could not picture doing something without having the correct, necessary set of skills for it. I could not picture leading something without detailed plans. The idea of figuring it out as I go and just. making it. work. terrified me. I always had so many questions for people like that. For example: um, how?

And then suddenly none of it mattered anymore. Have you ever felt so convicted by an idea or a project that you will do whatever it takes to see it to fruition? Miru calls it invigorating. I guess… yeah, I guess it is. It makes you feel like there could be no other option for you but to be brave, to be persistent and to be patient. I like the feeling—your tired muscles stop complaining, the finish line almost stops mattering, and you just like running.



(Ashley Ford, writer and wonderful tweeter, used to do this thing where she writes about 5 Things every Sunday on her Tumblr so I thought I’d try it today.)

Fall not-quite-Break

Hello! We’re at week 7 now!

I’ve just finished Fall Break which was Thurs-Sun, but if I’m honest, it really didn’t feel like a break at all. Three of the four days, I had a 9 a.m. start to my day. Friday, particularly was packed with gym class, career services appointment, office hours, working at the lab… it felt like just any other weekday. And because I had SO MUCH homework, the break felt even busier than some weekends.

Recently, I’ve been really enjoying working at the Psycholinguistics lab. First of all, it’s in the new Neurobehavioural Sciences building on campus so the facilities are like, top notch and it’s super clean and pretty. The lab I’m working in isn’t a lab you’d normally think of: no chemicals or frogs or rat or anything like that. I’m currently analysing speech and coding for certain dimensions of conversations. It’s funny to take something I do everyday (converse) and dissect it into snippets and label it etc. But yeah, the room the lab is in is really nice. It’s so nice that I’ve been spending a lot of time there because there’s a lot of privacy and a reclining chair (I was too cheap to spend an extra $20 on a reclining chair for my own room two years ago, sigh).

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I did manage to have some fun during break, though. On Saturday, I went to brunch with Lanee and Shahirah at Sabrina’s. I hadn’t been there since like the spring of my Sophomore year so I was very excited to go back. Lanee and I went half-half with a savoury dish and a sweet one and I was so thankful because I love love love eggs but really wanted some of the maple-syrup-coated stuffed french toast. Back home with my family, I’d usually get one of my sisters to split two things with me, but I try my best to refrain from asking anyone else to do that with me. However! That day, Lanee was the one who brought it up and that just made my day, haha.

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Oh! I have to say, my favourite part of fall break was binge-reading The Girl on the Train on Wednesday. I was really tired because on Wednesday night, I had just submitted my 2nd paper within one week (that’s about 4500 words combined, which is a feat for me; I hate academic writing) but I had been so excited to start reading the book that I just went for it anyway. It was so good. I’m not about to do a whole book review here, but Hawkins made it so easy to look at each character complexly and see the story through multiple lenses which is what I absolutely loved about it. I read the book in preparation for watching the movie on Saturday night and I almost maybe kinda wish I hadn’t? Because the movie version never compares to the book version. I left the theatre wishing I could see it fresh. But with that said, the movie was still good although definitely not for the faint-hearted. Clare and I watched it on Saturday night and we had a great time 🙂

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Anyway, in general, things are going ok. I know I haven’t really been writing about my regular weeks and what’s been going on, but that’s because I feel like nothing super interesting has happened? I haven’t gone out to do anything fun, I see the same 5 people always and on average I have like 200 pages of compulsory reading every week so I spend most of my time on my laptop doing that…

I guess there have been some fun things. Yuna came to campus for  a little forum slash discussion thing but I only took one picture with her and no one told me my shirt was super wrinkled so I’m not posting that LOL. Hubbub also hosted a little Gilmore Girls promo thing last Wednesday and I queued for an hour to get a cup of coffee in the Gilmore Girls promo cup with the Luke’s Diner sleeve hahaha.

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I’m actually at Hubbub again right now as I’m writing this, waiting for my meeting with my research advisor to start while tidying up my History notes because I have my first exam in that class next week! I have something major due/an exam every week starting from week 3 to week 13 before I get a one and a half week “break” and then it’s finals. So I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t get a break these past few days?? So that I don’t risk losing momentum?? Haha I don’t know. Pray I don’t burnout guys THANKS. Byeeeeee.

My Most Unlikely Love

I remember walking out of my bedroom before going to school. It was 2009 and I was in Form 4. It was a Monday in March and it must have been about 7 AM in the morning. My house smelled newly strange but I knew exactly what it was. I walked slowly down the stairs in my blue and white school baju kurung and at the bottom of the stairs in a metal cage, I see a black furry cat staring at me. I remember thinking “Oh my god, this is not what I wanted. What have I gotten myself into?

***

I have been afraid of cats for as long as I can remember. When I was really young, my sisters and I would stay at my grandparents’ house in Klang every weekend. One weekend, a cat wandered into the Klang house, leading me to quickly run onto and climb the dark blue worn-out leather couches. Nothing has really changed since. When I was 14, my family and I went to Kuantan for a beach holiday. We were eating lunch at a small kedai tepi jalan—the kind always host to stray cats. When one stopped next to my seat, I climbed the table, quickly but careful not to step on any plates of food. My fear of cats (and dogs, and rabbits, and hamsters, etc…) have since encouraged me to embarrass myself on countless more occasions. All my friends have seen me not-so-subtly move over to the side when I am about to cross paths with someone walking their dog on the streets.

Naturally, they always find it surprising when they eventually figure out I lived with a cat at home. “Well,” I always try to explain as briefly as possible, “I thought getting a kitten would help me get over my fear but Katy was already quite big when we got him so that never happened and I just learned to live with my fears.”

That, I really did. My bedroom door is always closed so Katy, our cat, could never come in. (I made the mistake of leaving it open once in the early days and when Katy glued himself to the floor beneath my bed, I could not step into my room for the entire day.) I sit cross-legged at the dining table so his fur never touches my legs. I examine the staircase from the top floor before I go down it so I never encounter him by surprise as I’m walking. My dad or one of my sisters usually holds him down if he’s in my way so that he doesn’t come at me. That was just my life since 2009.

It’s strange to think it will never be like that ever again.

***

It was late Saturday night, or if you want to be technical, really early Sunday morning. I was about to go to sleep but I was hungry. I pick up my phone and send my sisters a picture on Snapchat with a grouchy face. The caption was: tfw you’re hungry but you’re not supposed to eat because it’s so late—or something along those lines. I sit down on my bed a couple of minutes later, when I get a FaceTime Audio call from my sister Julia at 12.44 AM. It was unprecedented and alarming. I pick up, unsure of what to expect. “Julia?!” I say as I answer the phone. But I don’t hear anything and she hangs up.

I switch my lights back on, wracking my brain for a perfectly pleasant explanation. For a second, I think, maybe I’ll just go to sleep and she can tell me whatever it was she wanted to tell me in a text and I’ll read it in the morning. I want to believe her reason for calling me was as dismissable as a butt dial. But I sit up straight, frozen still, knowing on some level that there was no way I could have gone to sleep and that I would be crazy for ignoring my phone. I open WhatsApp immediately to see if I had missed something… because maybe she just wanted to ask me something and I hadn’t replied quickly enough.

And after what seems to be the single longest minute of my life, she calls back. “JULIA?” I answer again, implicitly demanding to know if everything is alright. “Uh, Che,” she begins, and she almost sounds like she is going to ask me what cereal it was I bought at Jaya Grocer the last time we went. “Katy passed away.

I ask her a series of questions and she answers me as best as she can. She doesn’t know why. No, he didn’t get hit. Yes, only just. No, she doesn’t know what to do. Yes, she was alone at home.

I am not sure at what point I started crying but my lungs felt like they were going to burst. I am not sure if Julia had been crying from the beginning but we sobbed collectively for a moment, two sisters on opposite ends of the world. We hung up at some point and feeling more lost than I ever have in all my years away from home, I walk to Shahirah’s room as she was just about to fall asleep but I wake her up and she sat with me as I cried for an hour straight, just saying everything that was on my mind. I can’t imagine how my family feels. Julia was all alone. How will Aida find out when she wakes up? I feel so helpless because I can’t be there. I just can’t believe he’s gone. He’s just gone. I hope he was happy. I hope he felt loved. And I repeat each one of those over and over and she nods and offers me tissues and water. I eventually tell her I will go to sleep and that she can too, but I just wanted to be alone.

No one had said anything about it yet on our family group text. I didn’t know what was going on so I had to be the first to break the silence. I say I’m sorry I can’t be there. I say I wish I was home. I tell them to “stay strong” like a generic tweet from a stranger because that’s all I can offer and then I excuse myself virtually, saying I need to try to sleep.

I turn off my phone and I don’t sleep. I lie in my bed in the living room of my college apartment, staring at the clock on the oven in the kitchen. I have cried myself to sleep plenty in my life but even I was impressed with myself this time. It must have been about half past three the last time I glimpsed at the time.

***

In about three hours, I wake up and for a brief moment I almost forget. But then I break the news to myself and I curl up in bed, reeling. My sisters and I are still texting about what happened. Did he walk onto the patio to die? I guess he knew he was going to die. I hope he was happy, what with having to live with 3 legs and all. He came home to our house when he lost his leg, he must think of our home as his home too. This was the last snap I took of Katy. Do you think he was there long before you found him? Did you see him earlier in the morning? I wonder if he purposely chose that spot, or if that’s as far as he managed to go. How did you carry him? Where did you bury him?

Then, as time difference mandates, my family back home goes to sleep just a few hours after I wake up. My parents don’t say anything about it as they say their goodnights over text, but I know we’re all thinking about him. And suddenly, I feel like he is slipping away. I sit up immediately, and I grab my laptop. I open my Notes app and furiously type out everything I can remember about him.

I named him Katy after Katy Perry. We thought he was a girl but then we were told he was a he. The name stuck. We had nicknames for him like Kates, Kay Kay, Taty, The Black Guy. He was jet black but turned more brown as he got older. Very furry. Grey-ish at his belly. He used to wear a pink collar but he hated it. He hated being carried. He never really liked toys. Hardly ever meowed. I used to take videos of him with my Nokia 3500. I used to throw sticks from inside a room to distract him by making him get it if he was waiting in front of the door I wanted to get out of. He peed on plastic a lot; we could never leave plastic lying around the house. He liked Calci-Yum yogurt. One time, he was lost for a few days but he came back and we always wondered where he went but we’ll never know. One time, we thought he was lost for a few days but he was just stuck in Julia’s old room! He would get into fights with the other cats in the area and my dad would worry endlessly about how much hair Katy was losing. He was never allowed in any of our bedrooms and I hope he wasn’t always too bored at night. He liked the red chair in the living room downstairs, the area near the elliptical upstairs, and sometimes the rug near the kitchen sink. He was the reason I’d jump a little whenever I saw a black bag or something on the floor. I wonder if he would have been saved had we kept him at the vet longer. We kept the vase in the living room downstairs because he drank water from there even though the little bamboo plant we used to have in it died a long time ago.

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***

I feel bad. I’ve left home for Penn six times now and I’ve never really said goodbye to him. We never really interacted because of how scared I always was. There have been times I don’t think of him for weeks while I’m away. I’ve even said there were times I forgot we had a cat. I partly feel like I don’t have a right to be so sad. And yet I felt numb—so inexplicably and painfully numb—in ways I honestly didn’t even when both my grandfather and grandmother died; Atuk had already been sick for a very long time and I was so young when nenek left us. I cried then too, but I was with my parents and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles and we sat in circles and said prayers and held each other. But that phone call was exactly the kind of thing I have always dreaded since I left home for the first time over three years ago. And I know it will hit me in ways I can’t fully anticipate when I go back home in just under 8 months: no more sitting cross legged at the dining table, never hearing anyone pour cat food, no litter box at the back of the kitchen, no occasional meows from the living room.

Being so far away, I can almost tell myself all is well at home. That he’s lying on his back with his feet in the air on Mama’s old red computer chair upstairs in front of the TV. That he still chases after my dad when he walks up the stairs. But he’s not. He’s just not.

He was part of our family, and I hope he was happy to be. I hope he felt loved. Thank you for 8 years, Katy. You were my most unlikely love.

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