I think I’ve just had the best weekend I can remember. And it’s only Friday night.
Okay, to be fair, this “weekend” of mine started on Thursday evening when I got on a Megabus to New York. I made the trip to the city because one of my favourite podcast companies, Gimlet, had an event/mixer thing for their listeners who’ve made donations (I fully believe in supporting the products etc you love, btw, which is why, when I can, I make contributions to independent content production I believe in). I had no idea who was going to be at the event, how big it was going to be or how to prepare myself but when I got the email invite, I just knew I had to go.
I coaxed my friends to come with me, of course. If you know me, you know I hate going to these “networking” type events at all, much less attending them alone. Anyway, everyone said no for various reasons but I still really wanted to go no matter what. When I got to the event space in Brooklyn, I walked in all confident as if I knew what I was doing and as soon as I put my coat away, I realised I had just put myself in a room full of chic-and-adult-looking New Yorkers, who are all talking to each other….. so I did what any normal borderline-panicked person would do: go to the bathroom to text like 3 of my friends LOL. I couldn’t stay in there for too long because I didn’t want people to think I was pooping, so eventually one social anxiety overpowered the other and I just pushed myself out that bathroom door. I made awkward eye contact with someone in a circle that didn’t seem too “tight” and just worked my way from there. Fake it ’til you make it, right?
It ended up being really great; I was still a little nervous throughout (which is why I took only one picture at the entire event), but I met some cool people. Data analyst at Spotify, web developer for advertisers, freelance graphic designer, costume-makers, and of course, lots of podcast producers/Gimlet staff. I think it was a really interesting experience because, being in college in a foreign country, I don’t meet people outside of college ever. Even though I’ve “lived” here for 3+ years, it has never really felt like I really lived here, or could live here in the future. But I realise now that it’s just because I’ve been so disconnected thanks to the “Penn bubble” or whatever, and it forced me to consider the possibility that I actually do have what it takes to create friends and networks of acquaintances wherever I go, even if that might take some time and create some anxiety.
The event was also really fun because I got to meet a lot of other podcast listeners. People were recommending their favourite shows and we were all freaking out over our favourite episodes which I appreciated so much because none of my friends really listen to any of these things so whenever I listen to something that blows my mind I just kind of keep it to myself (?) Other people there shared that sentiment too—it was pretty clear that we were all glad to finally be able to be collectively enthusiastic about something. It felt so nerdy but so good.
Oh!!!! And I won’t forget to mention that I met ALEX BLUMBERG!!!!!!!!!!!! He’s the Co-Founder of Gimlet and if you remember, I’ve mentioned that I’ve been following his story of how he built Gimlet since the summer (listen to it on the show StartUp here). I. Cannot. Belieeeeeeve it. I only got to speak to him a few minutes before he left but I spoke to his wife Nazanin (who also works at Gimlet) for quite a while and they’re just overwhelmingly nice people and because I’ve followed the development of their company through StartUp, I just felt so proud to see what they’ve built and I am so genuinely honoured to have met them. Ahhh.
Let me also just toss in the fact that at some point throughout this event, Hari Kondabolu, host of the podcast Politically Reactive and extraordinary stand-up comedian (watch one of my favs of his skits here!!!) just walks in to the room. My jaw dropped. I legitimately stuttered for a bit but ultimately managed to snag a selfie (I won’t post the selfie because I look goofy as hell but you’ll just have to take my word for it). I told him I was a big fan of his Waiting for 2042 set, that I respect how he has consistently used comedy as a means to advocate for equality for Asians, Muslims, Blacks, Natives etc. He was so nice about it even though I was tripping over myself. So trust me when I say it was an amazing night.
Anyway, so the event gave me a reason to go to New York for a night. I could have just gone back to Philly after the event but I didn’t really want to be making my way from Brooklyn all the way to the Megabus place near 12th Ave so late at night… and well, I can’t say no to a good day in New York City alone.
Ok, well, I wasn’t alone the whole time. I stayed with my friend Hannah who’s a junior at Columbia so I got to hang out with her that night. I got brunch with Angela the next morning, who is a sophomore at Columbia (I know both of these super smart people from USAPPS!). Then, I did a little bit of wandering. I did some of the touristy things I’ve only done on the surface. Like, I’ve been to The Met but only the gift store really so today I went for reals. I’ve seen Columbia from a distance but had never explored the area. I’ve passed the UN before but today I actually did the whole tour thing (which was so cool by the way, I could not contain my excitement the whole time—the tour guide appreciated me, I swear). Oh and yeah, I never go to New York without a stop at Milk Bar.
Then, later in the evening, I took the Subway to Soho to visit WNYC. My friend Sarah works there on On the Media and she is beyond kind for offering to show me around the studio. I even got to bump into the CEO of WNYC and Brian Lehrer of The Brian Lehrer Show (I tried very hard to keep my cool so as to not embarrass Sarah). She basically gave me a rundown of how things work and showed me where they record, etc. It was really cool because I actually listen to WNYC shows and to see where they’re produced was amazing. It felt like visiting a movie set, but for radio.
After showing me around, Sarah and I got dinner together in West Village. I love that area so much and I’ve been there quite a few times now so when I’m there, I have this sense of familiarity with it that I really like having (if that makes sense? I feel like that was a poorly-worded sentence). We got food at this amazing vegan place called by CHLOE. Aida and I went when she visited me last March and it was so good, I’m glad I went back. I was pretty amazed by their chipotle aioli and beet ketchup sauce. Absolutely delicious. I’m eating some of their salad as we speak (yes, I brought it back with me on the bus).
It was so nice to meet Sarah! We’ve spoken on the phone and texted here and there so I’m familiar with her but not too much. Yet, it totally didn’t feel awkward at all when we hung out. I almost forgot we’d never met before that. Or at least, that’s how I felt. Who knows, Sarah might read this and just be like “speak for yourself” lol. She was introduced to me by my friend Hanna. Sarah goes to Princeton, she and Hanna know each other because of MSA stuff. But yeah, it also was cool to know I now have friends outside of Penn who I didn’t get to know because of a Malaysian connection, you know what I mean? It feels like I’ve grown roots! And I’m super proud of that.
I am so thankful for such an eventful couple of days, even if it was slightly beyond my comfort zone. Even if it meant that I had super crappy sleep because I had to use my jacket as both my pillow and blanket last night (because Hannah told me she didn’t have spares and yet I didn’t want to carry a sleeping bag with me around the whole day). From my picture with Alex and Nazanin, visiting WNYC/meeting Sarah to just reading my book on the Subway… I know it wouldn’t have been possible as a freshman (even though when I was a freshman, I expected my life to be like this immediately). It wouldn’t have been possible if I had never come to Penn, etc etc. There is a string of infinite things to be grateful for.