Stopping To Exchange Notes

I think so few days are as special as yesterday was. I took a train out to Ipoh on such a nice Sunday morning to visit my friend Nate, who’s spending the year in Kampung Gajah, Perak as a Fulbright ETA.

It’s so rare to have someone understand the particularities of having a foot in both Penn culture and Malaysian culture. No doubt, it’s easy to find people who personally understand the experience in broad strokes. So many of my Malaysian friends have studied abroad, even in America. But I think it’s different when you explain something subtle and specific and then get a “YES” or an “oh my god, me too!” in return because you both know both of those places to some extent and I feel like in terms of personality or like the way we think and some of the things we went through, there were a lot of similarities as well (to name a few: we both didn’t love Penn for most of our time there, we both felt very meh about majoring in Psychology, we both did Penn Monologues and we both mix sambal into the rice before eating nasi lemak).

Plus, I think what makes this whole thing even more amazing for me is that I don’t know anyone else from America who knows what it’s like to live here. All my other Penn friends who negotiate the same physical and cultural distance as me do that coming from the same side of the world as I do, so I was beyond curious to know and to hear firsthand what it’s like to be on the opposite side of that (if that makes sense?).  I’ve been a huge fan of his blog about his experience in Malaysia from day one for this very reason. On my train ride home yesterday, I was thinking about how it’s kind of like two people on different journeys crossing the same path at the same time but going in different directions, looking at the same things but from different perspectives, stopping to exchange notes… which is kind of cool.

We spent almost the whole day together effortfully navigating our way around Ipoh by foot and car. And because this is Malaysia and I haven’t been to Ipoh in at least 5 years, we. ate. so. much. That’s kind of my fault because that’s kind of all I wanted to do, but the truth is, the food took a backseat on this trip because I really came to just catch up with Nate.

I think I might’ve mentioned in earlier posts that we both met in a small Cultural Psychology class in the spring of my junior year, though Nate was a senior then. It was during that semester that he found out he was going to spend a year in Malaysia and I think on some level, I’ve been waiting to have this conversation with him since I found out he got into the program. That might partly be because of selfish reasons, like a sense of pride for a culture that I’ve never really gotten to share with my friends abroad even though I’ve always wanted to or tried to in small ways. But I think my excitement also stems from this profound curiosity.

There were so many things I wanted to ask him and talk about and I feel like we covered so much ground. We talked about difficulties trying to adjust moving to and from Malaysia, the different ways in which we stick out, learning and participating in a new culture and where we think we’re headed in the next few years, etc. (At this point I feel like I should also say that my American accent immediately resurfaced and I’m sure everyone around me was probably glancing at me like… “that girl is Malay, why is she talking like that?” but I was too preoccupied to think about it really, lol.)

I honestly felt like I learned so much which isn’t at all surprising with someone as curious and introspective as Nate is. I left feeling somewhat… rejuvenated (?) but also felt like there were so many more things I wanted to talk about but didn’t get the chance to and obviously I can’t speak for him, but I imagine he might’ve felt the same.

I know I’ve only just written about how much I looked forward to asking Nate all my questions and how I feel now that I have gotten to catch up with him and nothing really about what we talked about but that’s in part because of our privacy and because I could never fully get everything right and I don’t want to risk getting anything wrong. And since there’s no way I could write about everything, I’ll just say that spending time with Nate really reminded me of how small we are and how much of the world we have to learn from. This is so cheesy but I am so inspired by his bravery and sensitivity—the fact that he literally moved to a kampung in Malaysia where he stands out like a coconut tree in a paddy field and does not speak the language, I mean, I don’t think that’s something I could do, and he does it with so much genuine care and respect for the people around him and that’s just something I really look up to him for.

I think it was special because there’s this huge part of my life that I know most of my American friends know about on the surface level. But to have someone from that… other world of mine come see for themselves what it’s like makes me feel understood in a way that I haven’t before. Maybe I feel seen and heard better. Maybe it’s like… having one foot on both sides of the world is difficult because it attempts to rip you down the middle, and this closes that gap just a little bit more than I ever could on my own and I’m really thankful for that.

Advertisements

What I’ve Been Up To, In List Form (ii)

I’ve been saying lately that all I’ve been doing is eating because it’s kind of true. A lot of life in Malaysia is centered on food. It’s not really a thing to say let’s go for a walk or whatever to catch up. So, just as a short foreword: there’s a lot of food on this list! Haha.

Qamarina

I got dinner with my friend Qamarina, who goes by QM for short (I actually have never asked her why…) last week. She’s working in London and was back for Raya for 2 weeks-ish. I don’t see her often at all so it was so nice to just catch up and talk about everything since I saw her last in December. It’s so crazy to think I have no idea when I’ll see her next but hopefully it won’t be 3 years again, which was the longest we went without catching up.

IMG_4581.JPG

QM & my unintentionally patriotic selfie.

FullSizeRender 4.jpg

(My parking was a lot better that day!)

Corporate open house!

My sisters and I followed our dad to a corporate open house and the food was so good. We had durian, otak otak (my favourite, and this was such a wonderful surprise because they’re quite hard to find!) and laksa. My dad even “made” dodol—ok not really make, just stirred for a bit. This was pretty much my only real open house this year, and I didn’t even wear baju kurung for it! Like I said, it was such a quiet raya.

FullSizeRender.jpg

IMG_4365.JPG

Otak otak and a good ol’ bowl of laksa Johor!!

FullSizeRender 9.jpg

Making dodol, haha

WISDOM TOOTH EXTRACTION

This was a big one last week. I removed my wisdom tooth from the top left side!!!! I did it, guys!! So here’s the thing, my bottom left wisdom tooth was giving me a hard time a couple of years ago because it was a little impacted. I had it removed at Penn in 2015, just a week or so before finals! I couldn’t eat solids for 6 days and was sore for such a long time… I remember having such a bad experience last time so I just totally dreaded going through it again.

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 00.29.50.png

My xray from 2015!! lol

In hindsight, I probably should’ve had both removed at the same time so that I wouldn’t have to recover twice. I definitely had the option to, but I knew it would be cheaper to wait and get it done in Malaysia so I just did what I absolutely had to do while I was in the US. Summer after summer passed and I kept putting it off… but my dad put his foot down and was like yeah, you definitely need to do it now. I even made him call the dentist to make the appointment because I refused haha.

FullSizeRender 7.jpg

This extraction went a lot better than the last I think. And this time I got to keep the tooth! The first day, I could at least eat KFC’s mashed potatoes (which is pretty much liquid, let’s be honest) while binge-watching Stranger Things with my sisters. The toughest parts were when I had to go out in the rain to buy more gauze from the pharmacy and when I had to swallow painkillers with that whole gauze situation in my mouth.

Thankfully, I was able eat solid-ish foods within 1.5 days and in 3 days, I was back to normal although was still avoiding chewing hard things on the left side. I am so scared of the dentist, my heart starts pounding just at the thought of going for a regular scaling appointment. So yeah, very glad this is done with!

Baby sitting Amelia

Last week, my sisters and I got to babysit our cousin’s baby, Amelia. She’s a year old now, which means she’s just so full of energy. Even when she’s yawning and sleepy, she just runs around and giggles non stop. It’s kind of cute, but definitely tiring for us. The fun parts were playing with bouncy balls and carrying her around in a slow run while my mum pretended to chase us and “scare” her; she really enjoyed this. The not-so-fun part was watching her take apart and put together the same toys again, and again, and again. Children are cute, tiring, sometimes even boring but always fascinating.

FullSizeRender 8.jpg

It was so hard to even take a picture of her because she kept moving around!!

Chik’s open house

My aunty had an open house for her group of police wives last weekend but invited the whole family over as well. The funny part was that we were supposed to arrive after her guests had eaten. We even came a little later just to be super sure we wouldn’t be caught in the middle of her entertaining the whole lot of them and whatnot but when we arrived, they arrived at the same time right behind us! It turns out they were all late, hahaha. So we did end up getting caught right in the middle of it all.

I missed out on the roti jala (!!!) but I had lemang with kuah kacang and laksa. It was in the evening, too. Like, 4-ish p.m. and we had already eaten lunch at 1, had dessert after, and also had a cheese tart around 2.30… I really just… couldn’t believe how much I ate that day.

Banana leaf rice

We had banana leaf rice on Monday! We took Faizol there because he had never been before. I had some sotong goreng and tosai, which is always good. I wish Kanna Curry House still used actual banana leaves but their food would taste amazing on cardboard so I won’t really complain. And that’s all I have to say about that—I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

IMG_4413.JPG

IMG_4408.JPG

SOTONG GORENG, MY LOVE.

Seeing Shahirah at work!

I just cannot stress how proud I was to see Sha all legit with her work lanyard and access card and all of that when I visited her at work to have lunch a few days ago. I’ve heard her talk about working there for 4 years, dreading it and preparing for it. And now it’s finally there!!!!! Her work sounds really interesting and I’m beyond excited to see how she grows there.

We got dim sum for lunch and I gave her a birthday present, Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit. Charawi and I have been asking her to read that book for like, a year now. Every time I see it, I snap it and send it to her and she keeps saying it “haunts” her and it became a funny thing between us so as soon as she could tell that my present was a book, she was like “OH MY GODDDDD, I KNOW WHAT IT IS” hahaha. It was priceless.

FullSizeRender 2.jpg

Kickboxing

My sisters, my mum and I had a personal trainer come over last week for a private kickboxing class. Ugh. It was insane. I am still sore from it. My mom has been doing this for a while, and honestly I don’t know how she does it because it’s just not fun??? Yesterday though, we had the same trainers come over and we did more of a strength training thing with mats and I enjoyed that so much more. I am going out of town tomorrow though, so I’m a little worried that I’m going to be so sore the whole time but I’ll let you know how that goes! Anyway, with all the eating I’ve been doing here… I shouldn’t be complaining about the pain. I kinda don’t have a choice. I have to be doing some exercise to make up for all the calories.

[31 hours passed since I wrote that last sentence, just so you know lol]

Chair.

I was on the train back from KL on Tuesday, and as I was approaching the Asia Jaya station, I suddenly remembered that on my commutes back from KLCC in early 2013, I would always look at this office chair on a balcony of this random building between Taman Jaya and Asia Jaya. I would always wonder why it was there. And as I passed that same spot last Tuesday, my heart had this small leap of joy when I saw that two chairs were there. I know it might not have been the same chair but there was just something about it that made me feel really happy.

FullSizeRender 10.jpg

Making my parents try quinoa

I kinda already wrote about this on Instagram so apologies for the repetition, but here it goes again. My parents used to always perli me when I ate quinoa because it’s “hipster food” or whatever but I brought some back from Trader Joe’s and cooked it at home. I just mixed some cooked quinoa with pesto, baked carrots + broccolis and lots of chopped red onions. I would’ve liked some dried cherry tomatoes and/or mushrooms in it but I was on a bit of a time crunch and had to just work with what was in the fridge. I think it turned out really well and my parents seemed to like it so it was a win for both me and quinoa that day.

FullSizeRender 5.jpg

HomePro (haha)

I went to HomePro for the first time this past week because my dad wanted my sisters, my mum and me to go check out some wallpapers for our living room. We probably did that for like 10 minutes and then spent the rest of the time wandering around that huge shop… and we got the most stuck at the baking section. I ended up buying this really cute apron and a small muffin pan for our oven (which is relatively small) and I just really enjoyed looking at all the cute and different types of spatulas and whisks and pans!!!!!! AHHHH. Ok that’s all about HomePro. It’s not that interesting… I just felt like I had to include it because I was so excited there.

IMG_4580.JPG

llao llao

One of the things I was sad about when I left Philly was leaving Yogorino. It’s this frozen yogurt place that serves one of my all-time favourite desserts and I actually dare say that llao llao is better than that!! It has the same tart taste but is milkier and like… fattier than Yogorino’s “thinner” frozen yogurt and I love it. I literally kept thinking about it during my last personal training session in order to help get me through. Right after the workout, my sisters and I took a shower, had quick dinner and headed to Aeon to get some llao llao. I wanted it so much I even volunteered to drive, which says a lot!

FullSizeRender 6.jpg

I like my frozen yogurt with as little toppings as possible and I think the Lotus biscuit crumbs might be the best one.

Shahirah’s surprise party

Shahirah’s mum organised a surprise party for her on Saturday and it was so nice! Sha was told that her mum was organising a makan makan thing for her friends (her mum’s friends, not Shahirah’s friends… I realize this is all a bit confusing…) and Sha had to help clean the house and prepare the table and all of that for supposedly 20 of her mum’s friends. She was so shocked when she saw her own friends turn up at the gate haha. Apparently she said that at first, she thought “what are they doing here?? My mum’s friends are coming soon!” or something like that lol. But the food was so good and I got to hang out with Aish and Kai Syuen as well so it was just a really, really pleasant Saturday evening.

FullSizeRender 3.jpg

A very poor picture of Sha cutting the cake because I didn’t want to leave my seat to get a better shot.

IMG_4545.JPG

In case you haven’t heard, Shahirah’s mum is a home chef extraordinaire. 

Dunkirk

I watched Dunkirk last night and it was really interesting. I think I enjoyed it, if “enjoyed” is the right word for it. That is, I deeply appreciated it as a film. The sound effects and cinematography were amazing and I was just revelling in that the whole time. I loved how, conceptually, it felt more like an immersive experience than a typical movie. The plot doesn’t play a huge role in the film and I read this Slate review that described it as being a movie without “military higher-ups debating strategy over maps”, which I thought was really cool. But other than that, the movie leaves you with quite a bit of heartbreak, which means it’s effective as a film but not necessarily “enjoyable”. Plus, there were literally 2 women in the whole film and only 1 person of colour in a non-speaking role, so like, meh. I get that it is a historical thing so they were just portraying what was going on but looking at 400,000 white men can only be so interesting.

We also snuck in so much food from Carls Jr which was hilarious! I felt really bad when we opened the box of chili cheese fries in the cinema but we were pretty hungry so it finished really quickly and I hope no one was too bothered by it! It was so good though, heh.

2017-07-22-PHOTO-00171031.jpg

Blurry picture of my dad holding the cheese fries, popcorn and on the right, those are 2 more bags with jalapeño poppers and chicken tenders in them! Haha

So that’s all for this week! I’ve got a really nice week lined up ahead of me and I’m so excited to be able to write about that next. Until then, as always always always, thanks for reading!

PHUKET, THAILAND

I think it’s amazing when you stay at the same resort a fourth time and you still enjoy it as much as you did the first time. I don’t think my family goes back to the same hotel in the same city very often, but we have stayed at Phuket’s JW Marriott four times in the past 10 years because it is one of the best places to just have a nice chill week. This resort is the best place for that just because of the amenities.

The health club is probably my favourite part. It’s physically a gym, but it’s also the center that organises lots of group activities like yoga on the patio by the pool, “cooking” classes, facial lessons, etc. They also have bicycles, books and DVDs for you to borrow so we usually make the most of that. We didn’t do any island hopping or shopping because we had already done those things on previous visits, plus my dad was under the weather for the first few days and we all just wanted to hang out and do relaxing activities.

Somehow, on that holiday, we started a routine of watching one movie a day. Over the 6 nights we were all there, we watched Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Kubo and the Two Strings, Jurassic World, Sing, Moneyball and Hugo. Julia and I left one night early because of a booking snafu haha, but Aida and my parents watched Life on the last night. We watched a lot of animated movies because my mom particularly loves them. I think my favourite movie was Moneyball but without a doubt, our collective favourite in terms of viewing experience was Jurassic World—not because we really loved the movie but because we just ripped it apart.

My mom couldn’t stop making remarks about how Jessica Chastain wore high heels throughout the whole thing, and my sister made comments about how the kids’ hairs still looked good even after they jumped down a waterfall. The most insane part in the entire movie, in my humble opinion, had nothing to do with dinosaurs but was when one of the boys could still use the matches in his bag even after it had been in the water. And when Chris Pratt and Jessica Chastain kissed towards the end of the movie, we were all really annoyed, like “OH, COME ON!!!” because it was such typical Hollywood nonsense, hahaha. Anyway, I went off on a tangent, lol.

We did do some fun stuff that we couldn’t have done at home as well, we didn’t just watch movies the whole time, haha. We had a thai language class which was really cool, a short class about how to do a face massage at the spa, played Pétanque, did yoga, went to the beach and visited the hotel’s small turtle conservatory.

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 22.09.04.png

My parents at the thai language class

IMG_4255.JPG

Facial massage class at the spa

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 22.09.45.png

Playing Pétanque (or trying to play Pétanque)

IMG_4212.JPG

IMG_4215.JPG

The first time I ever climbed a tree!

IMG_4203.JPG

IMG_4194.JPG

IMG_4226.JPG

IMG_4217.JPG

Our only family picture from the trip haha

IMG_4238.JPG

My parents taking a selfie; it was too cloudy to watch a nice sunset but I still love a good lie on the beach

IMG_4249.JPG

We visited the conservatory (which helps treat disabled turtles!) during feeding time. We didn’t get to feed them anything because all the little kids were so eager we figured we’d just leave it to them, haha.

My favourite activity we did at the hotel though was definitely the one where we learned to make mango sticky rice. Because we’re so used to using santan straight from the box we get at the supermarket, we’ve never actually had to scrape the isi from the actual coconut, but that day, we got to have that experience. Of course, my parents were all like “yeah, you know girls, this is how we had to do it when we were little when there were no machines… etc etc” haha.

IMG_4428.JPG

IMG_4287.JPG

When we were done scraping the flesh into little shredded bits, we poured water into it and squeezed the coconut milk out. This was my favourite part because I love the smell of santan and it also made my hands feel super smooth. But with that said, I’m definitely going to stick to buying santan from the box. It’s just not worth the time and effort.

IMG_4290.JPG

Then, we had to cook it, sweeten it and add salt etc to thicken the milk. Honestly, the smell at this point is just intoxicating. And since the sticky rice—or as we call it, pulut—was already cooked for us, all that was left was to do was peel/cut the mangoes, which is probably one of my favourite fruits, if not my absolute favourite.

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 22.26.06.png

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 22.36.02.png

Julia, my mum and me with our Health Club aprons, hehe

It was so good and so much fun! Not only did we get to make it, we got to eat a lot of it as well.

The only day we actually ventured into Phuket town was Tuesday, and it was only for half a day. In all honesty, we primarily just wanted to go into town to visit this restaurant we went to 2 years ago called Pantai because the food was amazing and also to buy more groceries for the rest of our stay. Basically, we went out to eat food and buy more food.

IMG_4271.JPG

IMG_4260.JPG

(Part of) what we ordered for dinner. That green curry was so good!!

IMG_4424.JPG

FullSizeRender 4.jpg

We went to get groceries and saw some huge durians, which I LOVE.

On the last night, I really really wanted pad thai and tom kha but room service is too expensive and we all didn’t want to go out so we texted the driver who took us around Phuket a couple of years ago and (shamelessly but kindly!) asked him if he knew anyone in our area who could bring us food from outside, hahaha. We ended up being connected to someone else who got someone else still to get it for us, and I’m so thankful it worked out because the food was amazing.

We each had pad thai and we also ordered some kangkung, tom yam, tom kha and I had to get my thai iced tea of course.

IMG_4307 2.JPG

IMG_4420.JPG

Sipping my thai tea while watching our movie of the day

IMG_4308.PNG

This is a screenshot of a boomerang of my tom kha, which is probably my favourite thai food (though many others come close).

I just love Thai food so much, and I think it’s because it’s really just adjacent to Malaysian food??? We didn’t eat that much Thai food despite being in Phuket for a whole week though because again, we didn’t want to leave the resort that much or spend a lot of money on food so we literally packed some groceries from home and cooked in the room. (#AsianParents? or no? Do other people do this too?)

Speaking of saving money on food, I should also tell you that the bakery at the hotel has this thing where its baked goods are half off after 9 p.m. (!!!) so on two nights, we actually paused our movie, left the room at like 8.45 in our pyjamas just to linger around the bakery up until the discount time and bought a lot of snacks!

Other than that, most of our time was spent doing crossword puzzles and playing Bananagrams together, two things that are so relaxing and so, so, so insanely exciting at the same time. I think those are probably our favourite family word games!

Hehe can you tell I didn’t take that many pictures? All of these are just saved from Snapchat/Instagram story.

So yeah, that’s pretty much it! We had such a good relaxing week there just chillin’ and spending time with each other without distractions. I’ll miss this beautiful resort until we come back the next time, inshaallah.

IMG_4314.JPG

FullSizeRender 2.jpg

IMG_4182.JPG

IMG_4179.JPG

FullSizeRender 3.jpg

(Belated) Selamat Hari Raya!

I just came back from an open house at my aunty’s place today, so I want to argue that it’s not too late to write a nice short post about hari raya. To my non-Malaysian friends, hari raya—or raya for short—is what we call Eid here (though, directly translated, hari just means day and raya kinda means general celebration).

I am thankful for getting to spend raya back home in Malaysia. Raya fell on a Sunday and I was in Philly until Friday morning (and didn’t even buy my tickets until the Monday before that), which meant I arrived literally the night before raya. Though, I guess you could say I arrived just as hari raya started, since the month of Syawal actually starts at sundown but we’re getting a bit too technical here. I stayed in the US solely because I was waiting for my work authorisation to be approved before I could leave and alhamdulillah, by the grace of God, it got approved just in time. I was told it would get approved at the latest by July 12th, and considering how late in the process I applied, it wouldn’t be unusual at all for it to have taken the full processing time so I was already prepared to have to spend raya in the states for the first time. But then I got it approved about 3 weeks early! I am very confident that this was only possible because of how hard everyone was praying for me to come home for raya and I am so overcome by God’s mercy.

IMG_4400.JPG

Me at KLIA just after I arrived with puffy eyes from passing out on my flight from Doha. I sometimes use Snapchat to chronicle my 25-hour journey back home and this year, it was with an abnormal amount of newfound Penn pride, apparently.

So yeah, I arrived on Saturday night (and, if you follow me on Instagram, know that I did my usual stop-by-at-McDonalds-on-the-way-home thing!!). On Sunday, we spent the first raya morning in Klang with my dad’s family, as usual, because they’re nearest to where we live. We also had a small 1st birthday celebration for my “niece” (inverted commas because she’s actually my cousin’s baby so not really my niece I guess?), Amelia. Food was good, family time was good, and it was just an all round really good day.

Oh, and I should mention that no one outside of my immediate family knew I was coming home for raya! That made it extra exciting for me, although no one was particularly amused when they saw me that day because I already surprised everyone by coming home early for summer last year so they kinda expected it, lol. Still, I enjoy the look of happy surprise on everyone’s faces, and it was totally worth blocking all my cousins and other family members on Snapchat/Instagram for a couple of days, haha. One of my aunties was a little annoyed because I think she wished I would’ve spared her all the times she spent feeling down about the fact that I wasn’t going to taste her prawn briyani (which she knows I love). Hehe, oops. In my defense, it was totally my dad’s idea.

19238090_10155450976775747_2660860792731555092_o.jpg

My family

IMG_4398.JPG

My sisters and me, wearing my baju kurung from 4 years ago because I didn’t even have a new one for this year!

IMG_4115 2.JPG

Me with some of my cousins

19417407_10155450976690747_3287676344240013870_o.jpg

Almost the whole family on my dad’s side

IMG_4109 2.JPG

FullSizeRender.jpg

My friends Ken and May May, and Ken’s parents came to my aunty’s house for raya as well, which was so much fun!

In the evening on the first day, we usually fly off to Kuching (which is on East Malaysia, unreachable via land from the Peninsula, where I live (lol it’s funny explaining all of these things I take for granted, but you know, I never know who’s reading)) where my mum’s side of the family lives. My grandparents were especially happy to see me, which of course made me happy. The only thing was, I was kinda jet lagged. I thankfully slept through the previous night, but it was only because I was tired from travelling. I fell asleep at about 9-ish that night? I could still hear the sound of guests chatting and I hadn’t even changed out of my baju kurung, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. That happened again the next night, though a little bit later in the night… and honestly, that was kind of the extent of my jet lag, which is kind of impressive!

IMG_0005.JPG

Some of the parents and my grandparents on my mum’s side

IMG_0008.JPG

Almost all my cousins and my grandparents on my mum’s side

IMG_4140.JPG

My family waving us goodbye as we head out to the airport on the third day of raya

I usually go to Kuching once a year, so when we’re there we do some visiting, though significantly less so these days. We also try to squeeze in some time to buy kek lapis (layered cakes!) and mi kolok, which are the local goodies, since we’re not there very often. But this year, I’m not interning or anything in the summer so my sisters and I are making another visit in August, which should be fun! I haven’t made a trip to Kuching during non-raya season in a while and I’m excited to go to all the (food) places that are closed during raya.

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 23.40.28.png

Other than that, this year’s raya has been relatively quiet, I think. I haven’t really gone to any open houses other than my family’s. If you’re not Malaysian, open houses are… I don’t know how to explain… these things where people just cook a lot of food and invite a lot of people over for the occasion and people do it throughout the entire month of Syawal—the month in the Islamic calendar when Eid takes place—so that they get to celebrate raya with as many people as possible I guess? We did dress up until day 4 though, which is pretty standard for us but some people really go all out with it.

IMG_4402.JPG

I got inventive and re-wore the top I wore to commencement with my sister’s baju kurung skirt

And that’s about it! To all my Muslim friends, belated-ish Eid Mubarak, I hope you all had a lovely one. I genuinely love seeing pictures of all my friends’ raya celebrations—the food, the dresses, the family pictures—it’s literally my favourite time of year to be on Instagram and Snapchat, haha. Also, in Malaysia, we ask for forgiveness during hari raya, so maaf zahir dan batin! Until next time ❤

What I’ve Been Up To, In List Form

Usually when I’m going about my week, I take little notes of things I might want to write about in my blog later. But I’ve been doing a lot of these super sentimental, nostalgic posts lately that I haven’t written much about my day-to-day so here’s my attempt to clear my backlog with a non-chronological list.

Aisha and Fahmida ❤

Spending summer in Philly was so much fun only because of my friends, especially (but not exclusively) Aisha and Fahmida. I was never really close to either of them. In fact, Aisha goes to Harvard and I only met her at a Thanksgiving thing a couple of years ago because she’s my friend Habeeb’s sister and she spent the holidays in Philly that year. She’s spending the summer in Philly working and Fahmida lives in West Philly so I got to hang out with the both of them. The night before I left for KL, we went out to get cheesecake to celebrate me getting my work authorisation approved! I’m always very happy to share my love for cheesecake with other fellow cheese enthusiasts, especially these ones.

FullSizeRender 19.jpg

Majid and Mansoor

The night before I left, I also got to spend time with my friend Majid and his brother Mansoor (who I guess is my friend as well now). They came by to help me weigh my bags and say goodbye and we had a nice long chat about Ramadan and books and reflection and India and Michigan. They also helped me do some Ramadan math, that is, figuring out when I would break my fast/start fasting if I decided to fast on the flight back, which proved to be really difficult. Anyway, I just love their sense of humour; those two are absolutely hilarious together. They have that classic sibling telepathic communication thing going on which means their jokes often come across as being heavily coordinated, and it kinda reminds me of me and my sisters, which I obviously love. I would never have thought they would be the last visitors I had in my Philly apartment but I couldn’t have picked anyone better. I hope I get to see them both, together or separately, again soon.

FullSizeRender 23.jpg

Iftar at Aunty Lina’s

My mom’s friend’s sister, Aunty Lina, lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia so I’d see her every now and then. She used to bring me food or take me out sometimes and it’s always nice to see her because she’s the nicest person. If you read my last post, you might remember that she was the one who took Shahirah and me furniture shopping when we first moved in.

A few days before I left for KL, she invited me to her house for buka puasa. She made ayam percik and the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had!! It was nice to have iftar with a family. We talked about food, Philly things and bugs (her son is a biology major and biodiversity enthusiast!). Adam goes to Temple, another university in Philly and he told me that Temple kids go dumpster diving around Penn’s campus around the time people are moving out to see what Penn kids throw out because apparently one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. He also said that they refer to it as “Penn Christmas” which made me feel kinda disgusted, but, that’s Penn for you I guess.

My only low point of the night happened when Aunty Lina’s husband David opened the door of the basement and one of their cats came bolting out towards me and I screamed and almost tripped. It was quite embarrassing and gave everyone a bit of a laugh, hahaha. Otherwise, it was such a pleasant night.

IMG_4340.JPG

Baknafeh

A bunch of MSAs in Philadelphia came together during Ramadan to organise iftars for the students on campus. My friends and I went a few times for the free food and on one of the nights, they had the most delicious dessert I’ve ever had in my life. At first glance, I was already very excited because I thought it was baklava but after biting into it, I learned that it was stuffed with none other than the sweet nectar of cows: cheese. CHEESE!! That’s pretty much like biting into a kinder surprise expecting a plastic toy and finding a cheque to pay off your student loans instead. I was truly transported by this dessert, so much so that I took 2 home with me.

Fahmida dubbed it a “baknafeh” because it’s like a cross between baklava and knafeh, hahaha. Hanna said it’s a Syrian dessert and my googling skills suggest it’s called a warbat/kullaj (?) but I don’t know if that’s right. Regardless, I will spend the rest of my life dreaming about it.

IMG_3900.JPG

Hanna’s mum’s knafeh

And since we’re on the note of middle eastern desserts, I just want to give a quick but important shoutout to Hanna and her mum for the amazing knafeh with bananas which I will never forget. If I remember correctly, Hanna had her mum make it for an iftar she planned with her med school friends. Then she texted me to tell me she put some aside for me. I met her outside Houston Hall at this small walkway on the hottest day I’ve ever experienced in Philadelphia. We sat on the sidewalk for a bit to take a break from the scorching sun, which was kind of funny.

FullSizeRender 20.jpg

The picture I have of the knafeh does not do it any justice because its appearance was less than ideal after I kept it for so many days and reheated it, but it was certainly a wonderful treat that helped me get extra excited for sahur and buka puasa every day so thank you Hanna and Mrs. Elmongy!!!

IMG_3889.JPG

Seeing Adam

One of the few friends I didn’t get to see during commencement was Adam. He didn’t get to make it to our MSA seniors picture and I never got a picture with him but luckily he was staying to do summer classes as part of his Masters in Public Health so I got to catch him the day before I left.

You know how sometimes the absolute best times with your friends are just the ones you spend sitting on a random bench on a nice evening? Spending time with Adam that day was totally one of those times. We talked about everything… fasting in summer, Algeria as a “hometown”, the craze of commencement and the echo it leaves behind, the pain of sacrificing precious time with friends to focus on grades, his amazing MCAT score (for which I’m so proud of him!) and my year-long quest to bring my GPA up so that I get to minimise my student loan debt. I’m really going to miss this guy.

IMG_4030.JPG

Last goodbyes

My very last day at Penn was spent running around campus dropping off cards for professors (which I had kind of put off because I knew I was going to be around for a while, heh). Most people were not around, which I anticipated. However, I did make sure I got to say goodbye to Angela and Dale. Angela was one of my gym instructors for the past 3 years. She works at college admissions but also teaches PiYo, which was probably my favourite group class at Pottruck. We both got a little teary-eyed saying goodbye to each other while everyone at the office just watched on, haha. I also made sure I got to say goodbye to Dale, our building’s trusty maintenance guy. He was always super nice to us and always went above and beyond to make sure everything was working for us in the apartment. He even let me text him (in panic mode) whenever I saw a mouse around and came quickly to find it and set traps. I’m so, so grateful to the both of them.

IMG_4029.JPG

IMG_4031.JPG

NEW MUSIC (!)

One of the things that tends to make summer good, perhaps coincidentally, has always been good music. This summer, both HAIM and Lorde, some of my absolute favourite artists released new highly-anticipated sophomore albums. “Something To Tell You” and “Melodrama” are both just… impeccable. This summer is already turning out to be a brilliant one with an equally brilliant soundtrack.

GRE

I’ve kinda decided to take the GRE and apply to grad school which is actually huge news because for years, I was very “I’m never ever going back to school!” and “I don’t want to stay in America!” ….. well, oops? To those unfamiliar with the American system, the GRE is a standardised test required for a lot of applications. I haven’t even started studying for it yet or even bought a book for it but I’ve already looked at some programs and universities I’m interested in applying to and this is just where I’m at right now.

Netflix’s The Standups

I really love watching comedy shows. I mean, I’m not one of those ardent followers of comedy but I did enjoy the Second City show in Chicago, the 2 Dope Queens podcast and I’m a fan of Hasan Minhaj, Trevor Noah and Aziz Ansari. Naturally, when Netflix put out their latest comedy special, I got really excited to watch it and I’m so glad I did because it was absolutely hilarious. I love listening to relatively new comics and I especially love it when it’s a diverse mix of people on stage. So yeah, if that’s your kind of thing, definitely check it out. It gave me many good laughs last Friday night while home alone eating kuey teow kari on my living room couch. Goooood times.

Seeing my high school friends

Last night, I got to hang out with some of my friends from high school which was really nice. I definitely had a lot of good laughs with Ili, Syaza and Amalina, talking about the things we used to do when we were like 10. It’s hard to keep track of who’s doing what while I’m away so it was very interesting to learn what people are up to after not seeing them for a year: new jobs, going back to school and engagements (!)

IMG_4335.JPG

Driving after ~11 months!

I drove a car for the first time in almost a year and it was quite a trip, let me tell you. I can’t believe how easy it is to forget how to drive! I don’t mean the actual driving—that, I don’t believe you really can forget. But it’s the little things like which side the signal thingy is on, how to turn the lights on, how softly to press on the brakes, where everything is on the dashboard, how to park…

On Friday night, I found myself alone and foodless at home so in order to get dinner I needed to go get some takeout. First of all, it took me ages to identify the car key in the key box… so that wasn’t a very good start. Then I had to very consciously look for the unlock button on the key, figure out how to adjust my seat etc. I also realised I didn’t have a system when it came to whether or not to open the automatic gate before or after I got into the car. And then when I wanted to reverse, I took some time to double check on the dashboard whether my car was really on R not D, and I couldn’t find where those letters were on the dashboard. It was all so awkward because I was just not used to everything because it had been so long!!!

The funniest part was when I tried to park my car the next day. I got into the parking spot, turned to my sister and said with a smile “oh my god, was it perfect?” because it looked so good but this is what I found:

IMG_4328.JPG

Clearly, I need a bit more practice.

Not being in one place for very long

I just got back from Phuket, Thailand a couple of days ago and I’m excited about staying put for a while. Ever since I got back from Philly, I’ve been moving around quite a bit. Arrived in KL on the 24th, left for Kuching on the 25th, got back on the 27th, left again on the 1st and then back again on the 7th. That meant I had 6 flights in 2 weeks. The week I spent in Phuket was actually the longest stretch I spent in one place since I left Philly, which is nuts. This means I still have laundry and unpacking to attend to even though I first came back to KL over two weeks ago now.

I’ll write about Phuket and raya/Kuching soon but for now, I’m going to follow my mum to Jaya Grocer so that I can buy some snacks for myself hehe and then we’re all going to watch Spiderman tonight. Until next time, thanks for reading!!

427 Chestnut Hall

It’s been a week since I came back to Malaysia (although, as I’m writing this, I’m in Thailand on holiday… but you get the picture). This means, last Friday, I had to say goodbye to my beloved little off-campus apartment in Philadelphia.

Apartment 427, Chestnut Hall was probably my favourite part about Penn. I guess technically it isn’t part of Penn, but I loved coming back everyday to this little space that felt like mine. I loved staying off-campus because I could “unplug” after a long day. I loved having some place I could just coop myself up for a whole weekend and not be bothered by the hustle and bustle of the campus. I loved that I knew where everything was kept. I loved that I kind of… “created” that space with Shahirah.

I still remember very clearly that first day in August 2014 when we moved in. I even remember that I wore my grey Gap long sleeves and my floral uniqlo pants which I love wearing on flights. Sha and I were picked up from the airport by Aunty Lina and right after dropping our bags at the apartment, we headed straight to IKEA. We were so sleepy from jet lag but we had to buy everything because the apartment came completely empty. That evening after we came back from IKEA, Sha kind of just passed out on the living room floor amidst boxes, unassembled furniture and sprawled out suitcases. I remember leaving her a note that said I was going to Sweetgreen to buy food, lol. That first night, all we did was rummage for some blankets, “unroll” our mattresses (because you know, those IKEA mattresses come in a tight roll?!) and slept among all that mess.

IMG_8706.JPG

We had to use a small bedside lamp for lights

Bv4uHsQCMAAjTk2.jpg

Sha posted this on twitter and her tweet was “guess which one is mine” lol (the one on the right, obvs)

IMG_8707IMG_8705

IMG_8718.JPG

My half of the bedroom once we cleared the mess up

We definitely had a lot of good times there. One of my favourite memories was probably our housewarming party, which I kinda talked about last week. I still can’t believe we ever pulled off something that successful.

Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 20.59.27

Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 20.59.38

How did we manage this?? Why is Hanna standing on a chair? What was she saying?!??!

Every year subsequent year, when we came back for school, I’d always say the one thing that helps me readjust is having a living arrangement which was constant. It was this one physical thing that I didn’t have to sort out every year, unlike our schedules or the storage + move-in nightmare that people who lived in dorms had to deal with every fall. It was also nice to see the place kind of… “grow” with us over time, if that makes sense.

We started out sharing the one bedroom and having a living room but later decided it was best to convert the living room into a “bedroom”, which I took and loved. It was a small space demarcated with foldable screens and then some curtains. It was modest but had everything I needed.

10835054_10152909804575747_1688316920279251585_o.jpg

Our living room in 2014 when we were still sharing the bedroom

10704364_10152909807065747_7003497392997208923_o.jpg

Our living room when it got messier during finals, also 2014

IMG_8822.JPG

My little room!!

IMG_8823

:’)

IMG_8824IMG_8827

IMG_3969.JPG

I want to remember that this is what I see when I’m tucked in bed

FullSizeRender 11

This is the view from my window in winter

FullSizeRender 12

This is the view from bed in the spring

IMG_2627.JPG

And sometimes I did work on the couch

I guess you can say I loved it here because I really came into my own here. I enjoyed taking care of my own place and deciding what goes where and what should be done when. I think the right word for it is authority. I had some authority here and it was quite liberating.

Moving out of this apartment was a long process… My roommate Shahirah had already moved out about a month before, so I was a little apprehensive about clearing everything out on my own. Slowly, I sold things on Craigslist, threw things out, and donated a lot of things that were still good for use. I want to say it was hard to let go of everything… I mean, it was a little sad and definitely very tiring (my body became so sore from all the moving and cleaning), but I was kept busy coordinating furniture pick-ups and the whole process was pretty gradual so it wasn’t too bad. Still, I miss that apartment so much. It’s strange—I’d sometimes recall a memory and see my room and kitchen so clearly in my mind but then remember that all of that doesn’t exist anymore, you know?

By the last night, all I still had was my chair, my bed frame and mattress, my curtains and a few random bits and bobs which the maintenance guy in the building said he’d help me take care of. I really tried to clear out as much as possible so as not to trouble him too much but Hanna came to help me move out on Wednesday because she has a car, and I could only donate whatever I was ready to clear out by that day.

IMG_4005.JPG

We filled her whole car with stuff to donate. Bye kitchen things 😦

By Thursday, it was really totally empty. I would hear echoes in the room, which was so strange.

FullSizeRender 13.jpg

IMG_4053.JPG

IMG_4052.JPG

I went out for breakfast that morning and came back and pressed 4 for the “last time” (not actually true, I will come back to get some things I left to store at Oliver’s in the room across from me when I come back in the fall)

FullSizeRender 17.jpg

Last look at the hallway!!

So yeah, again, I’ve had a lot of good times here. A lot of late nights studying and movie marathons and friends over and baking adventures. That room felt more like my room than my room at home does now. My room at home is lavender and has pictures of people I don’t speak to anymore and even has the Twilight books on my shelf—a far cry from what my room at Chestnut Hall was. Which means now I don’t really feel like I have a place that feels like me. I suppose that’s just what happens in your 20s; all this flux…

All I’m left with now is a lot of pictures in my phone of things I had to take one last snap of before I chucked or sent home… house slippers, Pyrex containers, baking tray, exam papers, candles, post-it notes, take-out bags (yes! take out bags!), an umbrella, photos taken down from the wall, carpets. Each and everyone has its own montage of a story attached to it and I would’ve hung on to everything if I could. I don’t know why I do that, but I guess I’m just one of those “memory box” people. You know, the kind of person who keeps little bits and bobs like ticket stubs and boarding passes and wrapping paper. When I try to think about it logically, I can’t make sense of this tendency of mine. Keeping all of these things doesn’t make the memory more real and doesn’t help me relive it. Maybe I’m scared I’ll forget if I don’t keep the physical things. Maybe I do it for the nice little burst of nostalgia I’d give my future self once she has forgotten. Maybe I don’t want to come to terms with how easy it might be to forget if I don’t keep physical reminders. I don’t know.

FullSizeRender 18.jpg

Lately though, every time I think about why I hold on to these things so much, I remember a line in a spoken word poem one of my friends, Nate, once recited: “Suddenly you are sitting 30,000 feet above an ocean, 9000 miles from home where the air is thinner but it’s curiously easier to breathe in, and in that moment you realise that the best things you brought with you are weightless.”

I will always be thankful for that little space that was mine and Sha’s. Maybe you don’t quite “exist” anymore, but you will always live in my mind, weightlessly. Goodbye, 427. Thanks for everything.