Graduation Goggles?

I had coffee recently with an alum named Alex, who asked me how it feels to be so close to the end of my college career. I think about this a lot—like, I can actually confidently say I think about it everyday—but I never really know what to say when someone asks.

In a way, I like it. I like that it’s coming to an end because I’m so tired. I’m not saying that the “real world” is easier than school because I know that you’re responsible for so much more once you start working etc (or at least, so I’ve been told), but the thing about being in college is that you are doing your job 24/7. I wake up in the morning even on weekends and I try to get to work as soon as possible. I am tempted to get into bed at 11.30 p.m. on a weekday and my mind sends out an internal alert that’s basically saying, “um, are you sure you can afford that?”. Working hours are so fluid, so boundaryless. If you’re writing an essay or studying for an exam, there’s always another sentence you can edit or another chapter you could go over again. There’s just no limit to how much you can work, especially when you LIVE on a campus and almost everywhere you look, people are working. Imagine living in your office with all your colleagues?! Anyway. I’m eager to get away from this pressure cooker of a place.

I also like the feeling of being almost done. It’s this silly thing that our human brains do where like, we see things differently the closer we are to it being finished. You know what I mean: graduation goggles. I now have all this premature nostalgia and it’s so interesting because it’s one thing to have nostalgia about a phase of your life that’s behind you, but it’s a whole other thing to feel nostalgic about something that hasn’t ended, because it’s this brief window of time when you get to live it and almost miss it at the same time. When Alex asked me how I felt, I told her it feels strange—there were all these things I had always known I should feel grateful for but still used to whine about, and now I’m suddenly talking about them like “Wow isn’t this great? This is amazing. Look at this bitter cold, it’s wonderful. I have a midterm next week, how exciting!”

Okay, obviously that was a slight exaggeration. But yeah, I walk down Walnut on my way to class every day and in my mind I’m like, “thanks, Philly; thanks for hosting me these past few years”. Most (if not all) of my freshman-year wide-eyed wonder dissipated without notice a long time ago. I no longer walk through any corner of campus feeling the need to look around, no more “what building is this?”, no more “oh, that’s where that road leads to”. All that freshness has gone, only to be replaced by a sense of familiarity and comfort. But this premature nostalgia, these “graduation goggles” have resurrected my freshman-year eyesight to some extent. For the first time in a long time, I’m seeing Van Pelt library as a brilliant resource instead of just referring to it as a place that smells like socks and feels like fatigue. For the first time in a long time, I’m trying to go to as many events as I can instead of mindlessly skimming through Facebook event invites. It’s nice.

But of course, I can’t ignore the undercurrent of impending grief that powers my nostalgia. I have said this repeatedly, but soon, I won’t live within a 1-mile radius of all my friends. My friends are not going to come over at a moment’s notice at midnight to hang out with me until we can no longer hold up our eyelids. Soon, I won’t be handed dense readings about everything from economics to pop culture and be pushed to read and discuss them. I won’t be invited to hear people like Joe Biden and Malcolm Gladwell speak anymore. That… sucks.

It especially sucks because even though I know I’ve gotten a lot out of Penn—events, speakers, classes, leadership roles, mentors—I don’t see how I’m any better because of it. So, part of me just isn’t ready to leave. It’s like going to the petrol station with a malfunctioning gas indicator and feeling like you can’t leave yet even though you have to because you don’t think your tank is full yet. Does that make sense? Do you know what I mean? I don’t think I’ve gotten enough skills yet, or become smart enough yet. I could still become so much sharper, so much more polished.

Seriously though, I know I’ve mentioned this before but my fear of stagnation runs so deep. I worry that I’ve laboured over all these college courses—without quite knowing how they will someday benefit me—only to settle in a crappy office job where I don’t feel like I’m learning and growing. I am fully aware that I risk sounding like the typical whining millennial but say what you want, I genuinely worry that I’ve worked so hard only for it to not matter, for it to not amount to anything more than to act as a bit of glimmer on an otherwise-dull resume.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, and I think part of what’s driving this specific feeling is the fact that I’m probably not heading to some high-paying, prestigious job. I feel like the culture at Penn is such that a significant fraction of my graduating class will head to finance and consulting jobs so having other jobs can make you feel like you’re “underachieving”, even if going to Wall Street is the last thing you want. But there is a certain rigor, or at least, a perception of an intellectual rigor that is associated with finance and consulting jobs that I feel like I will be missing out on. I mean, I have to stress that I don’t think other jobs are easy, but the culture at large definitely treats it that way; whether or not you believe it yourself, the belief slowly seeps through your skin and gets to you.

I’m trying to remind myself that there are ways to learn beyond school, even if it means a loss of a structure I’ve gotten so used to. I’m trying to remind myself that meaningful, honest work is never ever beneath me, even if I can calculate in dollar terms what my opportunity cost is. I’m trying to remind myself I am not sealing my fate, that my future isn’t irreversible; it cannot be cemented by donning a cap and gown and walking across the stage. But it’ll take some time.

So, with 11 weeks to go… that’s where I’m at.

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When Your Neighbour Lends You Her Muffin Pan

Every now and then, I’ll think of something I want to make but realise I don’t have one thing to do it. One of the things that one thing tends to be is a muffin pan. Well, this one week, (I’ve been putting this post off for so long I don’t even remember what week it was) I managed to get my hands on a muffin pan.

The first thing I made were these egg breakfast muffins. They were so good. I mean, it combines everything I love in a breakfast: some salmon slices, a bit of vegetables (tomatoes, mushrooms and spinach), cheese and of course, eggs.

All I did was sauté the vegetables a little bit with some garlic and olive oil, then add them into a bowl of beaten eggs. Toss in some mozzarella. Salt and pepper. Butter the pan. Pour them in. Bake at 350 deg F/180 deg C for about 20 mins. It’s that easy! I like baking because I can take a shower or whatever while it’s in there and I don’t really have to do anything other than wait.

I brought these muffins to Astronomy that week (again, no idea what week this was). Ken and Hui Jie ate some in class and they didn’t throw up so I guess there’s that!

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I promise they taste better than they look!

I also really wanted to make muffin pan potato gratins because I’ve been obsessed with this Youtube channel called Everyday Food—they make every recipe look so simple and so good that it literally inspires me to keep trying new things.

Anyway, so the potato gratin recipe was probably the simplest one. It’s probably one of the simplest things in the world to make, ok so listen up: preheat your oven to 400 deg F/200 deg C, slice some potatoes up thinly (I only used one), season them with salt and pepper generously and stack the slices up on the muffin pan. Then, pour some good old heavy cream over each stack of potato slices. The recipe recommends about 1 tablespoon for each stack but I just did whatever I wanted because I hate measurements.

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You might remember this picture right on top of this paragraph from Jamie’s instagram post which I posted a screenshot of on my #TeamGratitude post a few weeks ago 😉  she really liked it, which made me happy!

Okay, so the last thing I made with my borrowed muffin pan was banana muffins! Bananas are not my favourite fruit because of their mushy, fibrous (?) texture. I only buy them because they’re super low-maintenance. Like, when I want one, I don’t need to slice it or anything like I’d need to with peaches or apples. (Yes I have to slice apples because I feel like I have weak teeth)

The thing about buying groceries in general though, is that sometimes I don’t know what I’ll need/want to eat. So I bought some bananas and ended up not eating them quickly enough. I had three browning bananas sitting on my counter and I decided to turn them into muffins. I know my mom makes banana pancakes, but I just can’t say I’m a huge fan of banana pancakes because I feel like it makes pancakes less fluffy (?) so I thought I’d try muffins instead.

All you need to do is mash 3 bananas, add some sugar (according to this recipe—which I’m not entirely sure is the one I used LOL—3/4 cups), an egg and some melted butter. Then add the flour, baking powder and salt and bake! I was actually surprised that the recipe was enough for 12 whole muffins.

This was super easy, like I literally whipped them up just as I was about to go out to see Cristina that Sunday. They also seem to keep for a few days. I brought them to Astronomy on Tuesday for Ken and Hui Jie to eat as well and again, they didn’t throw up so there’s that! Haha.

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Cristi with my muffins ❤

Anyway, I encourage you to try some of these because they make your kitchen/living room smell sooo nice!! Also, I have a long list of other recipes I wanted to post about but never got around to doing so maybe I’ll do that this week or the next 🙂 until then, have a good weekend!

A Night of Pizza and Stars

The week started off nicely. I voluntarily attended Pollack’s lecture in the morning, did some reading, had lunch with Kimmy and then went to the gym in the afternoon. Kim and I took Creative Writing together last Fall and she’s just my favourite little freshman because of how sharp she is. I wish I was half as clever and confident as she is when I was a freshman. She swiped me into a dining hall and it felt surreal to have lunch at Commons and think about how I used to go there all the time. It made me reckon with how long its been since I first got here in 2013.

Freshman enthusiastic about dining hall ice cream.

Later that evening, Hui Jie and I trekked to DRL (this crappy math building on the edge of campus) because, as part of an Astronomy class we’re taking, we had to complete this activity about observing the moon and that’s where the telescopes are. It was pretty cool! I am quite sure that was my first time using a telescope and seeing the moon up close was just breathtaking.

After we did our moon observation, we went to Dock St for my favourite pizza place in West Philly. Hui Jie had never been there before and I was so excited for her to try the pear and brie pizza. We used to have a tradition of getting spinach + mushroom + ricotta pizza delivered, so I proposed going to Dock St for a little bit of an ~upgrade~ haha.

Hence, the title of this blog post, which she coined, by the way:

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How regrettable that there’s proof of me typing “uve”—how lazy must I be?!

Other than that, this week has been rather uneventful. Just the usuals: gym, class, read, eat, sleep. But still, here are 5 of my highlights from the week in unnecessarily rambly paragraphs.

First, I haven’t gotten sore from the gym in the past 2-3 weeks even though I’ve been consistently doing the same things. I literally thought this day would never come. I guess that means I should start doing a little bit more. Hmm. Honestly, that’s what I love most about working out. It really gives you an appreciation for how your mind quits before your body does. Anyone who knows me knows that I am 100% in support of ~listening to yourself~ because that’ll tell you what’s “too much”, but I also think there’s a value in being able to tell that inner voice to just. shut. up.

Obviously, that’s not without boundaries lah kan—I’m not going to be running on the treadmill for at top speed for 2 hours straight in my current state but still, I think it’s such a valuable skill to be able to responsibly set a reasonable target for yourself and then ignore the crap out of the whiny voice tempting you to quit. I was thinking about that yesterday at the gym. Like, when I’m struggling to follow the instructor in a class, I realise I kind of “switch modes” into a “my feelings don’t matter” mental state. It’s just really interesting though, because a) I’m always uncertain about whether or not I’m setting appropriate goals and b) you really have to be cautious/responsible, I think, about sliding in and out of that feeling-less state.

Second highlight is a short one: I told Jamie about some songs on my “at the mo” playlist, which is my condensed playlist of whatever songs I’m currently listening to (and it’s on the sidebar of this site) and she has been playing it non-stop and I love it!!! I love it when people actually like my recommendations.

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She has literally been listening to it the entire time I’ve been writing this post ❤

Third, I have found two new favourite blogs to read right now. One of them is my friend Nate’s, please read it here. Nate is a recent Penn graduate, and I know him because we were in the same Psychology class last Spring. (In fact, I’ve mentioned him on here before, in a post from that semester!) He’s currently a Fulbright scholar in Kampung Gajah, Perak of all places! I absolutely love reading about his day to day life in Malaysia, and getting glimpses of what it’s like to experience my home country as an outsider, particularly because he’s living in a more rural area—something I don’t really have experience with. In one post, he wrote about trying “Maryland chicken” because he’s from Maryland and was curious about it—it cracked me up so much. In another post, he wrote about this whole episode he had with a pothole in some jalan belakang, and his attempt to file a police report about it. I thought it was so funny how well I could relate to all the confusion and frustration he felt despite having never filed a police report myself. He has also repeatedly mentions “Malaysian hospitality” and that really intrigued me because I never really thought about that growing up in Malaysia and part of me wonders what he’s getting at and whether it’s just a product of him being enthralled by a foreign place/culture. Also, Nate is just a fantastic writer; his narration is consistently introspective and entertaining and I’m always looking forward to his next posts.

The other blog I really like is Amal’s. Read it here! I don’t know Amal personally and we’ve never even met—she’s a friend of my friend Nadia and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I came across her blog in the first place but I’m so glad I did. On my blog, I always get caught up writing about whatever I did during the week and whatnot, without ever really putting in the time and effort to focus on one specific thing I’m thinking about or doing and just expand on it, which is what I’d like to do more of. But Amal does that and she does it really well. Her most recent post was all about her nose bleeds and it sounds weird but it was actually really entertaining to read, for some reason. She’s also a lot more open and honest with her posts which makes them so meaningful to me, especially since she is studying in Canada (which has a similar education system to the US) and, based on her posts, is still kind of figuring out what to do with her future (like me) and is trying to navigate where she fits in between the two cultures (also like me). Anyway, here are some of my favourites from her blog: Potonglah Bawang Sikit, about the way us girls are socialised; Pride and Opinions, in which she uses her hatred for mermaid skirts (which I proudly share) to talk about strong opinions in general; and Displaced in Space, where she talks about fitting in, or rather, not fitting in anywhere.

Fourth, it snowed today so Astronomy got cancelled this morning!!! For some reason I haven’t been getting good sleep all week, but this morning, oh god, this morning was bliss. Hui Jie and I usually have lunch together (with Ken, of course!) after Astro but today we went to the Quad to take some pictures. We weren’t even there for very long and yet, she still managed to turn the trip into a snow fight. Granted, I threw the first snowball but I swear, it was only because I could see her putting on her coat, overtly eyeing the pile of snow, haha.

Fifth, I really loved the most recent episodes of The Truth podcast! Their whole thing is that they make “movies for your ears” and I promise you they live up to that lofty promise. The other day, I recommended “Dark End of the Mall”. Today, I’m imploring you to listen to Mirror Lake (it’s the second part of the episode) and to A Drop of the Ocean. I can’t say much without giving it away so just trust me, okay? Listen to it. They blew my mind.

So yeah, like I said, the week was kind of uneventful. 3/5 of my highlights are… on the internet LOL. Anyway, hopefully I’ll have more interesting things to write about next week. Until then, thanks for reading. ❤

#TeamGratitude

Errr, yeah. I just used a hashtag in my title. I have always made a conscious decision not to do that up to this point, but let me explain. My friend Jamie wrote earlier this year on Facebook that she is committing to “using gratitude as her internal compass” and I just absolutely loved that. Ever since then, we’ve been referring to our duo was Team Gratitude, often using it in hashtags like #teamgratitudegoesbaking for that one time we made lemon sugar cookies.

Anyway. What I really wanted to write about is how much I appreciate my friends, Jamie being one of them. Let me first start by saying that if you don’t follow Jamie on Instagram, I think you should. Her pictures are always pretty but it’s the captions that really get me. She posts pictures of walks to classes, trips to New York, restaurant visits… but laced in all of those pictures is always a narrative of discovery, reflection and gratitude. For example, she wrote the following caption here:

“in the moments of stillness and solitude today—including on my walk home on locust—I thought about the deep level of gratitude I have for the people I am fortunate to surround myself with: the ones who are effusive with their appreciation and approval, generous with their time and company, and magnanimous in their acceptance of my shortcomings and flaws.”

I’ve also been lucky enough to be the subject of her posts a couple of times and I guess what I want to say here is that I feel so grateful to have a friend who so freely expresses her gratitude and appreciation of the effort I put into our relationship. It’s something I realised doesn’t come as a given at all, something I absolutely cannot take for granted.

Jamie and I were hanging out in my room last night after she so nicely agreed to come over and help me eat some of my tiny potato gratins. She loved it so much she literally took a picture of it and wanted to post it on Instagram. A little later, I posted something on Facebook and I see that she gets notifications for whenever I publish something. I don’t even know how to fully express how taken aback I was?? I mean, Jamie’s great—she always listens to me without judgement and I think we’re so similar in a lot of ways so I like how easy it is for us to relate to each other but beyond that… I never really pay much thought to being appreciated by anyone (unless it gets to the point where I feel so unappreciated) so seeing her being that interested in me and what I do/say felt really nice. I’ve been seeing her every day for the past few days and honestly, it just makes me so happy every single time.

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Another person I really want to give a huge shoutout to is Clare, who stands as one of the first friends I made at Penn because we were freshman year hallmates. That in and of itself is already a huge thing for me to be grateful for because there’s nothing more comforting to a lost and lonely freshman on a Friday night than another lost and lonely freshman to commiserate with. Apart from that, I would’ve never had the guts to take the creative writing class I took last semester (which ended up being one my favourite experiences/classes at Penn) and never would have heard about the Penn Perspectives lecture series if it wasn’t for her. So there’s also that!

But Clare and I had brunch yesterday morning at South Street and I just, oh my god, it just made me so much more grateful that we were put on the same hall in the Quad over 3 years ago. Clare is an English major and she’s writing her thesis on aspiring journalists who grew up watching Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, which is really cool to hear about. Also, she’s into screenwriting and wants to go into film as a career and I just get really excited every time she talks about what she’s working on and what she wants to do, just like she gets excited listening to me talk about my projects and ideas. She was talking to me yesterday about how she’s trying to internalise the idea that we need to give ourselves more permission instead of barriers to make the things we want to make. I know she said that with the full knowledge that I, like her, often sell myself short. It’s just so invigorating to have a friend who’s ambitious and always growing but who is, at the same time, tugging me along.

Oh, it also is worth noting that I’m deeply thankful for Clare who shares both my sadness over Vine closing down and my enthusiasm for highly-relatable Tumblr quotes.

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Clare, at brunch yesterday looking as cute as ever.

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CLARE AND ME AT A HALL BRUNCH THING IN 2014!!!!!!

This week gave me a lot to be grateful for, truthfully. I’ve been thinking about how it’s not just my friends at Penn who’ve shaped my experiences—I am genuinely grateful to every person who has, even in the littlest ways. Like, on Thursday, after a long 3-hour class, my friends and I took a Lyft over to Center City to go see the Mask and Wig spring show. They’re a musical comedy troupe and their shows are so good. This is the third time I’ve seen one of their shows and it just never disappoints. The script was hilarious, the songs were catchy and the story was heart warming and riveting. The whole time I was watching, I couldn’t help thinking about how these guys are also taking a full course load, looking for jobs and managing all the other extracurriculars they have. I’ve said this before but the amount of talent I’ve seen at Penn will just never fail to blow me away. Sometimes you (or, at least, I) forget what a vibrant campus you’re a part of because you’re so buried in your own workload. Ken, Hui Jie, May May and I had a lot of fun at the show that night and we’re thankful for these experiences.

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This isn’t to say that only my Penn friends deserve praise. I spent a good amount of time on Friday night talking to my friend Nadia on WhatsApp. I’ve been so curious about her job at Nelissa Hilman and I totally respect her decision to not go down the more typical corporate life route despite studying business and being pressured to by her parents. It was so cool to hear her talk about her experience working there and her dreams for the future. I think this is true for most people, but I find it very difficult to not be interested and excited listening to someone who is excited about something they really care about. She was also super supportive of me and my current state of exploration job-wise and it was so heart-warming to see her be so excited to listen to my plans/hopes for my future. It’s just one of those moments when you’re like, this is what we need more of!!! Girls supporting girls and their dreams!!! I. am. all. for. it.

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Ok just look at what a wholesome conversation snippet this is (lol)

Nadia and I have only met like a handful of times really (twice, I think?)—we know each other primarily through Twitter and Instagram over the years I guess, so I have to say, I really appreciate how a virtual relationship can sometimes carry over into a real life one and all the effort it takes from both people for that to happen. Also, Nadia, if you’re reading this, (and I know you are, because you are just the most supportive and just best freakin’ blog reader anyone could ever have in their life lol) I promise I didn’t just write this because you wrote a similar thing on your blog!!! Hahaha. I saw what you wrote and I was like “oh well, guess she beat me to it”.

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The last time I met Nadia in London, over A YEAR ago.

Ok anyway. This is now at least 20 minutes late because it’s already Monday of the next week so I’m sorry and I’ll cut short my sappiness. I know it’s cheesy as hell and probably not that interesting for you to read if you weren’t mentioned here, haha, but over the years I’ve come to realise that some of the things I value highly in relationships don’t always come easy with every person I meet and when I see them in the friendships I do have, I just revel in it.