Goodbye, 2016

As we march into the new year, I’m recounting some of my favourite 2016 bits. I hate doing this just because I haven’t made a conscious effort to keep track of it all year, and I, as a psychology major, know that looking back at the year on its last day just has strong recency bias—we tend to remember more vividly the things that most recently happened. But I’ll try. And I’ll start with something somewhat quantifiable: music!

I love that Spotify gives me a list of my top 2016 songs because by December, I always forget what I was crazy about in like March, even. They did however give me 100 songs, which is way too many, some of which I don’t really care too much about… so I narrowed them down and these were my favourite songs of the year, roughly in order.

Another huge 2016 thing for me was podcasts. Ugh, I love them so much. Start Up, Millennial, 2 Dope Queens, Reply All, On the Media, Freakonomics Radio, Planet Money, More Perfect, How I Built This, Invisibilia, Homecoming, Heavyweight, Code Switch, Open for Business are only some of my favourites. They are so informative!!! I feel like I’ve learned so much about race, politics, popular cultures, economics, psychology and general storytelling while being entertained at the same time. I love being affirmed of the power of storytelling and sharing information and I think podcasts are so amazing for that particular reason.

I also looked back on the year and realised I managed to read 14 books this year. Isn’t that amazing?! That’s so many more than I thought I did; it’s 1.167 books a month, haha! Granted, most of them were read over the summer, during which I read 3 a month. I really hope I’ll be able to keep this up as I… you know… *whispers* graduate.

Which means, this year also marked my last full year at Penn. I was thinking about how much I’ll miss all the opportunities being in college gives me. For example, in 2016 alone, I got to see all these people speak at Penn: actress Anna Kendrick, author Michael Lewis, journalist Shaun King, actor Omi Vaidya and freakin’ former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke.

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I also had wonderful—like beyond wonderful—professors at Penn this past year. Delphine Dahan was so kind and gracious to me as I’ve worked at her Psycholinguistics lab. Mark Pollack put together an amazing course on International Political Economy and has been a great resource for me as I sought recommendations on extra readings. Felicity Paxton and her class on pop culture gave me so much to think about how we navigate media. Jamie-Lee Josselyn, my creative writing professor, was a fantastic person to be around beyond being a fantastically supportive teacher.

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Jamie-Lee ❤

I think one of the ways I’ve grown most at Penn has been by embracing my creative side. It was such an honour, honestly, to have my writing encouraged, workshopped and commented on by people I respected and whose writing I admired. Taking the creative writing class was a huge leap on my end because I had been so put off by sharing writing that I actually tried hard on and I’m really glad I did it because now I have some semblance of an idea as to what to improve on. I also started participating in my school newspaper’s podcast, Quite Frankly which has been interesting. It’s cool to see the process of putting together an informative story for the public.

Outside of school, I’ve been lucky enough to travel. This year, I was home in Malaysia twice! I was home in January, and then again later in May, when I surprised my parents (which was definitely a huge highlight). That makes a total of about 4-ish months there which was of course, nice (simply put). I also saw Singapore, Hong Kong, Copenhagen and London, not to forget good old Port Dickson, Kuching, Penang and Melaka. It’s a privilege to be able to see that much of the world, even if it doesn’t always seem like much and I should never forget that.

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Lastly, I am reminded of the friendships that defined the year. I want to always remember that Hui Jie sat with me all night at the ER in May, that Shahirah is reliably there for me to share my ridiculous stories and thoughts (and is also a fantastic supplier of hilarious memes and tweets), May May has always picked up the phone when I freak out about anything, Jamie came by with a hug the morning after a terrible interview and Kimberly is definitely one of the best people I’ve met all year. I cannot thank them enough for being part of my life this past year.

On the whole, this year… I don’t know? It seemed to be like any other year. Maybe that’s a result of age? I was thinking earlier that I feel as if I’ve reached a point where I’m unaware of time: I frequently forget what age I am. It’s hard to say whether it was a good year or a bad year… I almost don’t believe it can be either. We have good moments and bad moments every day. There was that week I was sick, busy and lost my keys—it sucked. But there was also the time I aced all my exams even though I binge-watched Jane the Virgin for 2 days straight, I loved that! There were also all those moments in between that make us who we are, even though they leave us with nothing to remember.

I suppose I’ll admit it didn’t feel easy, but I don’t think it quite matters whether it was a “good” or “bad” year. We’re tested regardless, and we—I like to think—grow regardless of good or bad days and years. And I did grow in 2016, in ways I both expected and did not expect to. That’s for sure. So here’s to more of that.

Happy new year, everyone.

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COPENHAGEN

I went to Copenhagen with my sister Aida and my cousin Alesya last week and it was so much fun. I said this on Instagram but Denmark is really one of those places I’ve never really thought of going to because it seems cold and stuff but ugh I loved it and it really reminded me how much I’ve missed seeing new places.

I made a poorly-edited video of Copenhagen vignettes and here it is, if you’d like to see it!

Quizmas & London

SO ME RN.

I’m in London again, and it’s nice. 10-degree weather. Crossword puzzles. Harry Potter movies. Sporcle flags-of-the-world quiz. Watching The Chaser on TV. Cycling the relatively-empty streets at night. Doing the dishes while watching Narcos. Sleeping in until 10.30 am. Finishing book after book. Journaling before bed.

Between the World and Me ❤

Life feels slow. It feels easy. I had a nice day today. We went for a stroll along River Thames, came back to the apartment, watched some TV and then my sisters and I cooked dinner.

There were a bunch of things I had seen recipes of and have been wanting to try, so I decided we make stuffed mushrooms, mashed cauliflower and creamy tomato pasta. Cooking with my sisters is always so much fun because somehow or rather, we always end up laughing hysterically about something. You know the kind where you laugh so much you don’t make anymore sound? Yeah, like that. Today, for example, we couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the dishwasher—it started overflowing bubbles and for some reason that was just hilarious to us. Anyway! I think dinner turned out well, or at least, I was really happy with it and it actually wasn’t too difficult at all. I’m definitely going to try to make mashed cauliflower again when I go back to Penn.

The best part of being on holiday is probably family; playing Sporcle quizzes (which, if you know me, you know I just love) with other people is always 10x more fun. Julia and I played this Harry Potter logic quiz which is kind of like a Sudoku-style logic game and oh my god, we were hooked. We legit spent like 2 hours playing 3 of them (this one was our favourite!) and then we played the flags of the world quiz which for some reason is just always so satisfying. My sisters and I also have been toying around with this crossword puzzle book my mom bought recently but it’s so hard. I’ve only ever done one crossword puzzle in my life and that was Monday’s + with a help of a really smart friend (and, admittedly, a bit of googling). But yeah somehow we still really enjoyed playing them and as I described it yesterday, it “feels like I’m trying to save the universe by cracking some code” (except I was failing which was kinda stressful).

When you’re a visual thinker and you can’t write on your Sporcle screen…

I’m starting to see a puzzle/game-related trend with the stuff we’ve been doing on this holiday which is actually pretty funny although not entirely surprising because I do love a good puzzle game. We’ve also been watching The Chase which is a trivia-ish game show that’s been playing on TV a lot today (the TV says it’s for Quizmas, haha I love it). I don’t quite know how to describe the show but I think trivia is always fun to watch because it’s crazy the sorts of various little things people know!!!

But ok we haven’t just been doing puzzley things. My cousins and I also went cycling around London yesterday night which was a little scary but pretty nice because a lot of the roads were quite empty. We got to see little nooks and crannies of London I had never seen before because we took little back alleys and stuff (some creepy, some pretty). And of course, it’s always always always a good time with my cousins.

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You’re welcome Santander, for the advertising labour.

On the whole though, it doesn’t really feel like vacation. It feels like an alternate version of everyday life where everything is easy and good… or is that what vacations were meant to feel like? I like that for once, my to-do list consists of: read 2 chapters of book of choice, edit pictures on VSCO, wash hair, moisturise/lotion, buy presents. No meetings. No frantically getting from one place to another. No beating myself up for not getting something right. No waking up in the morning to 20 emails (in fact, I got NO emails today, it was beautiful).

I really like it.

Identity is a practice.

And so it goes, I’m done with my second last semester of college.

I really dove in, you know? I did. I pulled all the stops. I think I really managed my time well; I did my readings on time, exercised somewhat regularly, didn’t have too many late nights… and this is going to sound a little weird but I almost don’t want to go on a break even though I’m exhausted because I don’t want to lose that rhythm. I would hate to lose this work ethic because I think a large part of a sense of accomplishment really comes from the work ethic, more so than the work itself. Like, the only reason I’m anxiously awaiting my grades is because I’m hoping to see that work ethic validated and reflected in something. Jamie and I were talking a few days ago about what we’re proudest of this semester and for me, it’s really my discipline.

Part of me is worried about losing that after I leave college, when my life no longer is revolved around it so directly. I want to continue reading hundreds of pages of interesting scholarly work and beautiful literature every week, continue pushing the boundaries of what I can do with my time and energy and be held accountable for it. I am so fearful that I won’t.

“What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age.”

— Sylvia Plath

I’ve been having dreams lately of me, sitting alone in an busy, nondescript workplace cafeteria, with a nondescript plate of food, taking notes from a book I’m reading and it makes me happy. That’s kind of always been who I am. I remember being 15 in school, sitting in the library reading during recess. I carried that through to A-Levels, and even here at Penn. Good work ethic and hunger for learning, for doing better, being better… I’m worried I will lose that part of who I am in the 9-to-5 life. At that thought, part of me wonders how anyone can “lose who they are” but part of me also knows identity is a practice and not a static condition. And so that’s what I want for my life, what I want to commit to. I want to never stop learning voraciously. I want that to forevermore be who I am, as a practice. This semester made that clearer for me.

May May and I were talking a few days ago about this. It sounds silly to say, but we want to be renaissance women. We want to read broadly and think deeply and be well-spoken. We talked about how we can feel this anxiety about drifting into mediocrity and how we can feel ourselves defending against it. We make lists of books to read and documentaries to watch and sometimes it gets tiring but it’s always good.

Some days when I’m stressed, I stop myself and stare at my desk with my pages of notes and books and I think about how almost all my life, it’s been my job to just, learn. And I am deeply struck by the realisation that this is my life, and it’s a freakin’ good one.

Almost There…

I missed a week of posting, but you’ll forgive me, yes? And I will have to learn to forgive myself as well, because this past week was brutal. I don’t like being lenient on myself, but this week was so rough that I just can’t consider missing a blog post as being lenient. I had a 5-page paper due on Monday, a 7-page paper due on Tuesday, a 10-page paper due on Thursday morning and an exam on Thursday afternoon… on top of regular classes, meetings, readings and homework.

As I write this, I have only one day left of class, only one exam left to take and am just a few days away from my holiday. And as always, when it gets to this point in the semester and classes are wrapping up, everyone seems to talk about how quickly time passed by… but I really don’t feel like it did. I’m not saying that it was such an awful semester that time moved so slowly for me—it was challenging as always, but definitely still a good one—but as my friend Hui Jie reminds me, you’re not the same person as you were when the semester started. Which is to say that if I observe myself closely and keep track of the things I pull myself through, I personally have found that my life doesn’t fly by me, but rather, passes at the right pace. So it’s hard to look at who I was when I started and how much less experienced I was at the time and feel like time just flew because I think we really go through so much more than we remember. I don’t know, I could be wrong, but I tend to think saying “time flew by” means you’re not giving yourself enough credit.

I think we quietly grow in the moments we make little decisions. This semester, I’ve been rejected by a company I wanted to work for, lost my cat and spent a lot fewer hours in bed than I wanted to, but can I just say, nothing was as sobering as my most recent birthday. The clock struck midnight on 3rd December and I was propped up in bed with a slight headache and menstrual pain, working on my laptop making a study guide for my Communications exam. I wanted to go out and have fun and celebrate or at least just sleep in but I knew I couldn’t and I didn’t. I’m not saying that growing up means giving up merriment or not caring about my wants and feelings, I just think it means being able to say “yes, that’s how I feel, but I can’t give in to that right now—maybe another time” and then actually remembering to attend to it some other time. It’s small, but I don’t know that I would have been able to really do that 1-2 years ago.

With that said though, it’s not like I miraculously turned into a super mature adult overnight. At some point this week, I was so tired and couldn’t bring myself to go out to get food and I hadn’t had time to do groceries so my fridge was empty and had to just resort to making maggi for lunch. When I opened my packet, it bursted open and lots of tiny pieces flew across the kitchen counter. Have you ever felt like you were going to burst into tears but were just too tired to express any emotion? That’s exactly how I felt. I stared at the mess for like a solid 10 seconds, took this picture, then curled up on my couch, and fell into a 20 minute nap. It sucked. But I mean, progress isn’t always linear, right? Haha.

I’m having so much trouble concentrating while typing right now because I’m having difficulties breathing through my awfully stuffy nose and I’m coughing like mad. I can’t believe I’m sick around finals again, for the second semester in a row, but I also can’t say I’m surprised. I don’t want to glorify working hard at the expense of our health and stuff but this week was such a whirlwind that I just totally failed to be good to myself. I have never been one to skip meals, but even though I could feel myself getting sick (my body was quietly revolting against how much I was pushing it) some days I just forgot to eat. I haven’t exercised in over two weeks. Up until this morning, I was in the same outfit for 3 days straight because I needed to do laundry but had no time. Now, I feel so gross and I’m so sick I can’t properly hear myself speak, I’m having difficulty sleeping through the night and my body aches.

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Yes, I carried around that whole box of tissues in my bag all day.

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I just can’t help realising the culture I am complicit in creating that we criticise so often at Penn. I love that everyone here works really hard—I love that—but we also normalise such an awful lifestyle. It’s so common for people to pull all-nighters, to be sick but refuse to go to see a doctor because they “don’t have time” and to lie in bed unable to fall asleep because they feel guilty for not doing work. It’s exactly the thing about Penn that I kind of can’t wait to get a break from, really. This is going to sound super pretentious, but I think when you lump a bunch of high-achievers together in this little academic village and, in a sense, pit them against each other, you really send them into overdrive. Or at least, that’s how it feels sometimes. Which is why I’m so so so looking forward to break right now oh my god.

Honestly, it feels a little weird saying I’m looking forward to break because when I come back it will be my final—FINAL—semester here and I feel like I should be soaking everything in and relishing it because as crazy as things get, this life is a pretty darn good one and I don’t want to lose sight of that. There are a lot of things about here and now to miss when it’s over. Like, this week alone, I got two free books—because, you know, education!!! The English department has a Winter Reading Project program where they give out free books before winter break and have a discussion about it in January. This year, they gave out Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me about America’s racial history and I’m so excited to read it. I also got to attend another Authors@Wharton event today. They invited Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, The Blind Side and The Big Short for a talk moderated by the wonderful Adam Grant (another brilliant author himself). They gave out copies of Lewis’ most recent book, The Undoing Project about two psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky whose behavioural economics research has kind of catapulted the field to where it is today, I feel like.

So, yes, life is good and I’m grateful for everything this semester has brought (but I think I will still need that break before I can take on the final semester).