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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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 (!)
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:
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!!
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 sleepyfrom 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.
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.
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.
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.
By Thursday, it was really totally empty. I would hear echoes in the room, which was so strange.
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.
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.
I just walked home from Centre City. It’s almost 10.30 PM and I’m sweating. It’s getting very balmy here in Philadelphia. Earlier, on my way out, I stood at the corner of 39th and Chestnut waiting for the 21 bus into the city as I always do. The warm wind was blowing and I could feel the humidity weighing down oh so gently on my face. I couldn’t help feeling like I was home, though I wasn’t sure what that meant. The feeling came almost without description, if that makes sense. I was not sure whether I felt that way because of the warm, heavy, summer air—really, as I stood by the side the road waiting for the bus, I could’ve closed my eyes and lied to myself and pretended I was somewhere in KL—or whether it was because I have come to know this road, this view and this routine so well. I couldn’t say for certain. But have you ever tried to close a door or lock two things together and then you think you’ve shut it or fit it together properly, then later you hear a click and you’re like “Oh! Ok, yeah, now it’s definitely shut”? I know that’s a somewhat specific feeling and perhaps it’s an odd comparison to make, but that’s how I felt on my walk back. I thought I already felt at home here and then, out of nowhere, there was a click. Somewhere between Market and Chestnut on 20th street, I felt that way. And I was sure.
It’s strange to know that there are most probably fewer walks like that ahead of me than there are behind me. I walked home on Walnut with a silly smile spread across my face the whole way. My mind was playing a highlight reel of all the things I’ve seen on my many walks towards West Philly along that road.
On 22nd St, Hui Jie, Shahirah and I once laughed about the fact that we chose the morning after snowstorm Jonas to go grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. Along the bridge, just before the presidential election, I walked past a man waving a Hillary Clinton flag and he smiled at me and I felt like that meant something, and the next day we lost, and it rained, and I thought about him that morning as I lay in bed and I wondered whether he had a daughter and what he told her, if he did. On 30th St, on a sunny spring day, Fayaaz and I once saw glass shattered all over the road and news reporters at the scene, the aftermath of what we supposed was an accident. At that same spot, on the left, Penn Park, where Shahirah and I took a walk to once in freshman year after we got back from London and I remember I wore my Gap jumper, purple sweatpants and orange Adidas shoes which I had just recently thrown away. Just after that, World Cafe Live, where Habeeb, Dania, Osama, Ben and I saw someone propose to his girlfriend in front of a whole crowd, with a rap song. Then, the ice skating rink, which is where every year, I go to the MSA midnight ice skating event (except for that one year where I had to write a PSCI paper on India and Nigeria) and maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many pictures of myself at these events but I can tell you exactly what wore to that event each year. Further ahead, I passed by the Nanotech building on my right where I once sat with Hui Jie after Astronomy, eating grape leaves from Magic Carpet, listening to a Planet Money episode about trade adjustment assistance. On the left after crossing 33rd St, (which has a traffic light that always stays on green in this direction for a long time; I never think I’m going to make it but I always do) I passed some engineering building I can’t name on the left, where I had to walk to in the cold, with slippers, twice, to get Shahirah’s keys from her because I had an awful tendency to lock myself out.
Somewhere in my diary, I keep a list of reasons why it is humbling to be human and one of the reasons is that I don’t understand the reason we keep and seek happy memories. My mind sometimes reminds me of art museums. There all these things I store in different sections of my brain… things I take mental strolls to look at, things that make me pause, tilt my head to the side and think or smile or cry or laugh about. And just like how people value art more the more intricate it is (or at least, I think they do), I cling on more tightly to the more the granular memories. When I say “I remember what I wore that day” or “I remember what song I was listening to on my way there”, I feel like it is comparable to the way people talk about textures and brush strokes. Maybe you’re more cultured than I am and you know why we have art museums and like visiting them but I don’t, other than the fact that I like looking at paintings because they’re aesthetically pleasing and sometimes make me feel things. I think people say art enriches our souls or something like that but no one has ever explained to me what purpose museums really serve even though we protect and preserve them… and that’s kinda how I feel about the galleries of memories I curate in my head. There are all these things, and I don’t know what they’re for, but they’re mine, and I like them. I like them a lot.
So, also on that list of why it’s humbling to be human is that we have so little control over what we forget. I enjoy remembering and sitting down and memorising lists because I know that if I put in the effort, I’ll retain the information. There is an efficacy associated with remembering. But I don’t think you can say the same about forgetting. How crazy is that? Really, think about it. It amazes me every single time I try. Someday, and I don’t know when, but the details will blur and I will be left with a glimmer of something that happened at some point in some place.
I feel so, so, so taken by all of this if you can’t already tell. I feel taken by it more than I know how to say… which brings me to the last thing I have on that list, and that is we are confined to the words we know how to use. I can only express to you how I feel to the extent that I can say so. I am so frustrated that the depth of both my grief and gratitude cannot be matched by the shallowness of the sentences I know how to construct. But if I had to try to tell you how I felt on my walk home today, I would say this: I don’t know what all these memories are for. I don’t know why I keep them like paintings in a museum. I don’t know why I replay them over and over in my head like a chart-topping pop song on the radio. I think I’ve never said this before—or if I have, you could count the number of times with a single hand—but to the humble portion of Philadelphia that I’ve come to know and call home, I love you, I love you, I love you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all these memories. They’re mine and I like them a lot. I like you a lot.
I’ve never been much of a cook, really. Up until college, I probably only ever fried eggs, helped my mom stir whatever was cooking in a pot, and take the chicken out of the freezer. But after I got off the dining plan in freshman year, I kind of started experimenting and I actually realized I really liked cooking for myself. I emphasize “for myself” because I’ve never cooked for more than 3 people and because I don’t like cooking what other people want me to cook, I just like cooking what I want to eat whenever I want (hahaha).
So yeah, throughout my time in college I became increasingly curious about what I could make and in senior year especially, I became so hooked on watching Martha Stewart videos on YouTube (yes, I’m one of those people) so I really got a lot of cooking ideas. I was going through my photos recently and decided to round up a bunch of my favourite cooking experiments from this past semester.
My number one favourite is probably ricotta pancakes. These were the softest, fluffiest, most indulgent pancakes I have ever had. If you know me, you know I don’t talk myself up very much but I actually think the best pancakes I’ve ever had were these ones, made by me. This was the recipe I used: you need ricotta cheese, flour, milk, eggs, baking powder, salt and butter.
The thing about this recipe is that I usually avoid recipes that involve separating eggs and beating the whites separately but for this one, I decided to do it and honestly… there’s no going back. Because I don’t have a mixer, my arm got so sore after beating the egg whites to get stiff peaks (I used the Kitchn’s visual guide to beating egg whites—super super helpful!) but I swear, it was worth it. I think folding in beaten egg whites separately really makes all the difference. Although, naive me thought I’d really get to taste the ricotta cheese in the pancake but it’s really more about giving the pancake a more moist and indulgent feel, which was not what I expected, but still so good. I also tossed in some lemon zest just because I like lemon zest.
After I cooked it, I ate it with butter and honey just because I wasn’t going to buy maple syrup for this one batch of pancakes. Ahhh, I genuinely can’t say enough good things about it because this was probably one of the best things I’ve ever made and I highly recommend you try to make it.
Lemon Sugar Cookies
When I first came to the US, the idea of sugar cookies were so foreign to me. But I think they’re just cookies with like… sugar on top? Anyway. My friend Petra posted a picture of lemon cookies ages ago and I loved the idea so much so I tried it myself. My sister Aida and I made it together last year once and I remember reallyliking it because of the lemon sugar on top so my friend Jamie and I made it again a few months ago with this recipe for the cookie and this is the recipe for the lemon sugar (basically sugar and lemon zest) which is what you roll the cookie dough in just before you bake it.
They had just the right amounts of of chewiness and crunchiness and I love both the sweetness and sourness in a cookie. In fact, I’m starting to think it’s the perfect thing for summer and maybe I’ll make it again soon.
If you’ve seen Princess Diaries a quarter as many times as I have, you’ll remember that in the state dinner scene, (where she gets a brain freeze) they serve this green soup that has a G on it. I obviously don’t know what soup that is, but I’ve always thought it was spinach soup and I’ve always wanted to have spinach soup. At home, we’ve made mushroom soup a few times before so I thought I knew the basic concept and it couldn’t be that much different (I was actually kinda wrong, I think mushroom soup is slightly easier). Plus, I love spinach—palak paneer is probably one of my all time favourite indian foods—so I really wanted to try this recipe, especially after I watched Thomas Joseph’s Kitchen Conundrums video on it.
Let’s go on a tangent for a little bit: I really don’t know how many of you ever click on any of the links I include but I cannot recommend Kitchen Conundrums highly enough when it comes to cooking videos. I just love how much I learn about the techniques behind cooking every dish they feature. Like for this one, Thomas Joseph explains the difference between using a bechamel and a veloute as a base for creamy soups and he tells us that whenever you’re cooking with flour or some sort of starch you have to bring it up to a boil and then let it simmer and those things are always very useful to know!
Ok, now back to the soup. You start with a roux, which is butter with onions and then flour. Then you add chicken stock to the mix, boil it all and let it simmer. And then it starts to get a little complicated once you start to work on the spinach. You first have to blanch the spinach, which basically means putting it in boiled salted water for a while to cook it a little and give it flavour but then you have to quickly take it out and put it into an iced bath to stop it from cooking too much.
Then, you blend the veloute and the spinach (which you should obviously dry first) in a blender. After that, you put it back in the pot for a bit and add some cream and honestly, spinach never tasted so good. Yeah, it is kind of annoying because there are quite a lot of steps but it’s not difficult, you know? And to me, it’s so worth it.
I love potatoes. Did you know that? Next to eggs and cheese, potatoes are in my upper echelon of favourite foods. Slightly below it is salmon and noodles and rice, but let’s not get into my whole food ranking right now. Last winter break, I was in London and the night before my flight back to Philadelphia, I went to Poundland to look for a microwave food cover thing and ended up getting distracted and coming out with a silicone spatula, ceramic dish and a grater. It was at that Poundland that I decided I’d make rosti with that grater when I got back to Philly.
I can’t remember what recipe I followed to make my rosti because the thing is, what I usually do is read like 5 different recipes, watch a couple of YouTube videos on it and then set off to just do it myself once I feel like I got the basic concept down. I can’t even remember exactly what I did, which isn’t helpful to you, I know, but I think there was some parboiling and an iced bath involved as well. But I think you don’t have to do all of that, you can probably get away with just peeling the potatoes, boiling them, grating them (this unsurprisingly turned out to be the most tedious part) and then mixing them with whatever you want to cook it with. I put salt, pepper, some paprika and scallions.
I think some people cook it all at once in a large pan but I wasn’t really a fan of that and I just think making lots of smaller ones just made more sense to me for whatever reason. So what you do is just take a bit of this mix at a time and fry it! It’s pretty simple. Like the spinach soup, it’s totally not difficult but probably more tedious than you’d like. The payoff though, was so worth it.
I ate it with smoked salmon, sour cream and dill and it was probably the best savoury breakfast I’ve made for myself this entire year.
I first made spaghetti squash with Cristina last fall, and I really just marvelled at the fact that spaghetti squash is a thing in this world that exists. I don’t remember feeling as awestruck about produce like that ever before and I don’t think I have since. But basically, it’s squash which turns into these spaghetti-like strings if you carik them after you bake it. I don’t know how to say carik in English—pull apart into bits?!
So yeah, we made it once last fall and it was so delicious. I wanted to make it again but I think it was out of season so I could never find it. Then, one miraculous day, I was at Frogro with Jamie just accompanying her when I saw one lonely spaghetti squash just sitting there in the produce section. I couldn’t believe it, there was only one!!! So I took no chances and bought it immediately. I’m so glad I did because I don’t recall seeing it there again.
First, you have to poke a few holes along the line in the centre where you’ll cut it, and then microwave it for like 20 seconds. We tried cutting it without microwaving it that one time and my god was it difficult to cut. After microwaving it, it was so easy even I could do it (I’m not very strong, lol). Then you remove the seeds, put some olive oil, salt and pepper and bake it skin up at 400 deg F/200 deg C for 30 minutes ish? Until the squash is done, basically.
While it’s baking, cut up some vegetables to put inside. Once it’s done, use a fork to like “tear” the flesh into shreds (i.e. the simple Malay word, carik) and then put in the vegetables you want, put some cheese on top and bake it for another, I don’t know, 10-15 minutes, until the cheese melts.
This recipe is really easy but truth be told, I think I mostly like it because it’s still so new to me and so it’s just so much fun to rip the squash into spaghettis, haha.
Pecan Pie Muffins
I really had a huge baking obsession this past semester. I must say though, that the pecan muffins I made were probably tied with the gooey butter cake for Best Thing I’ve Ever Baked. I don’t know how to describe to you how perfect the texture of these muffins were but imagine this nice crunchy top and once you bite through that crisp, the inside is soft and chewy and nutty and just brilliant. Sigh. Thank you, Martha Stewart for this gem.
It’s a pretty basic recipe: flour, salt, baking powder in one bowl. Brown sugar, eggs, melted butter, milk in another bowl. Then, combine them and fold into it some toasted chopped pecans and that’s pretty much it, you’re ready to scoop it into the tray!
You could really really really just eat them like this and I promise you they’ll already be really good, but I’m extra, so I added cream cheese frosting because I miss those walnut cakes with cream cheese frosting we used to get from Marks & Spencer. I borrowed a mixer from Ken’s house just to make this frosting and (I’ve been saying this a lot in this post, but) it was so worth it.
Gooey Butter Cake
I’ve actually written about these before, but if I’m going to write about the best recipes I’ve tried this past year, it would just be flat out wrong not to include gooey butter cake. Apparently this is a St Louis thing? Again, I found out about it from a Karlie Kloss video and decided to make it because the recipe is incredibly easy. It’s like her aunt’s recipe, it has only 6 core ingredients and it’s so easy you don’t even have to try to memorise it.
First, you need a melted stick of butter, a box of cake mix and an egg. Mix all of that together. It becomes this like cakey mixture which will be the base crust thing, and you press it onti the bottom of your tray (9 x 11″-ish). Then you’ll mix 8 oz cream cheese (which is like one box I think), 2 eggs and about 3-4 cups of baking sugar. This becomes the thing that’s really nice and gooey. Once it’s mixed, just pour this second mix on top of the base. I just added blueberries on top and let them sink into the gooey mixture at this point but I think the classic recipe doesn’t have any fruit in it and I can imagine it’d be really good like that too. Then just bake it at 350 deg F for 30-40 minutes, you really have to wait and see. Once it’s done, let it cool for a bit so that the top will form this crust-like thing. Then, sprinkle some icing sugar on top and you’re done!
So yeah, those were probably my most noteworthy cooking endeavours this past year. It literally makes me so happy to even just look back on all of these pictures and remember how much fun I had making them and how elated I was when I got the first taste of each one of these things. I hope you’ll make some of these!! The last time I posted some recipes, a few people actually sent me pictures of their attempts at baked eggs and pancakes and some other stuff and it just made me really happy so if you do make any of these, please send me pictures and tell me if you figure out any improvements or whatever. Also, if you think there’s a recipe I’d like, please send it to me, I absolutely love it when people send me recipe recommendations 🙂
It’s my first summer without a real job and you know, for a while I kind of regretted taking on an internship the summer after my freshman year because honestly freshmen should just chill. But (!) it has been a month being done with classes now, and let me just say… this whole ~lounging around~ life doesn’t seem to be for me as much as I thought it would be. I did love those weekends I didn’t have homework to do and I loved sneaking in some free time to play Sporcle quizzes or watch Netflix. Strangely, free time isn’t as fun when you have so much of it. I literally haven’t felt like playing Sporcle since finals ended. ECON 001, everyone: scarcity!
Regardless, all this free time has meant I’ve gotten to do some of the Philly things I’ve alwayswanted to do. For example, I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the first time! Let me tell you why this is noteworthy for a second. First, the PMA is only about a 10-minute drive away; I have cycled and ran past it several times. Secondly, most Penn kids make it to this museum within the first few days of being here because during orientation, there’s this party Penn throws for the freshmen at the PMA—Shahirah and I just didn’t go! Third, even my family has been to the PMA almost 4 years ago now.
So yeah, I went to the museum! It was cool, but also somewhat… underwhelming, to be honest. To be fair, (and this is going to sound so verybougie) in the past six months, I’ve gotten to visit The Met, The British Museum, LACMA, The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, The Chicago Institute of Art and The Barnes Foundation… so the PMA kinda paled in comparison. Still, I really enjoyed going to museums. I don’t get to do these kinds of things when I’m back in Malaysia because there just aren’t good museums around (fun fact: I used to think I wanted to go into museum curation for a hot second) so I just appreciate being able to take a short ride to see such a legit collection.
The only downer was the fact that the Rocky statue was like closed off for construction! But oh well, I will live. And for those of you who may not know, the Philly Art Museum is home to the “Rocky Steps”. I haven’t even seen the Rocky films, so, whatever.
I also got to go to the Barnes last Sunday and I preferred that a lot more. I had been wanting to visit The Barnes Foundation for almost a year now. Last Fall, I took a Communications class called Critical Approach to Pop Culture and it was the first time I learned about The Barnes’ history. I mean, I don’t want to bore you too much but basically, Barnes was this rich guy who collected a lot of art and it used to all be held in this mansion in the suburbs of Philadelphia. It was a really unique place because while most museums organised artwork by period or style or both, Barnes didn’t. He was more interested in pushing visitors to seek more transcendent connections between the artworks. The paintings at The Barnes don’t have printed-out labels on the walls next to them, just the name of the painting’s artist on its frame. And the fact that it’s a foundation and not a museum was a testament to how Barnes thought art should be accessible and teachable to everyone. He intended for it to all be kept in the old mansion. Then he died, and there was this huge scandal about moving the foundation to the super touristy part of Philadelphia. The debate was complex: it was about honouring a person’s will, whether or not it would be better for public education, protests from the old location’s neighbours because there were so many tourists in their housing area and of course, political and financial interests.
So that whole long rambly paragraph was just to say that I’ve been really curious about The Barnes because I knew what an interesting history it had. (I’ve said enough about it and I don’t know if anyone ever clicks on the links I include, but I highly recommend these two articles: The Barnes Foundations’ Disastrous New Home and Moving Pictures) The place itself was beautiful, although, as these articles note, it’s not what Barnes himself intended: it’s too “nice” to the visitor, when the intended experience was for you to be thrown into art “like diving into the deep end of the pool”.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but I was very amazed at how they attempted to recreate the interiors of the mansion, down to the wallpaper and lighting. I was also very curious and wish I could have learned more about why the artworks were arranged the way they were; there was definitely a lot of symmetry and intentional juxtaposition but honestly, apart from how much I liked the way they look, I couldn’t think too much about it. My recent visit to both The Barnes and PMA did, however, send me back to my notes and readings from my Modernist Literature class two years ago. I’m happy to say that I appreciated reading Gertrude Stein’s writings about Cézanne and Picasso so much more now that I’m not as much of the loser I was in Sophomore year.
Okay, I truly don’t know much about art so I’m going to stop talking about museums now. My highlight of the week has been getting to spend time with my friends (as always). It was my friend Hanna’s birthday last Friday but I only got to celebrate it with her on Monday. We went out for iftar together, with Fahmida, Menvekeh, my sister Julia and Hanna’s friend from med school, Omar. We ate at this really good Afghan restaurant I had never been to and I’m sad that I don’t know when I’ll ever get to go back there.
It was super nice to see a bunch of my friends and for some reason everything seemed so funny to me that night. I can’t remember too much about why I kept laughing, but this was definitely the most unforgettable moment from that dinner: I was telling Omar about how my sister is studying medicine in London, and how that means I have someone I can always send weird pictures of my throat or whatever to ask about whether I’m okay. The thing is, I had sent the same picture of my throat to Hanna the night before and unbeknownst to me, Hanna had also sent that picture to Omar to discuss it for whatever reason. So, when I told him that I sent those kinds of pictures to my sister, Omar said “oh, so you’re the throat picture!” I wanted to burst out laughing but I also kind of couldn’t believe that here was this guy I was meeting for the first time……. and he has literally already seen my uvula. I just turned to Hanna and said “we need to talk.” LOL.
Apart from other hanging out with people who’re here for the summer, I also got to see my friend Hui Jie yesterday. She was coming back to Philly for a night after a cruise in the caribbean and she flew off to Singapore earlier this morning. We got our usual pizza for one last time except last night, we had to sit on the floor of my apartment since I had already, to her dismay, sold my couch (which she has a particularly good relationship with). I’m glad I got to see her and I’m hoping I’ll see her again in KL over the summer before she goes off to the Netherlands for grad school. I’m reallyyyyy going to miss hanging out with her all. the. damn. time. and getting to know the most granular details of her day to day life—the kind you only get to know about people when you see them almost everyday.
So yeah, my days have been pretty chill. I’ve been doing a lot of reading (currently reading The Road to Character by David Brooks) and catching up on my favourite podcasts; it is truly a first world problem of mine that I am unable to read and listen to podcasts at the same time, sigh. I’ve been listening to a lot of Radiolab recently, and if you’re new to podcasts then take this as me firmly grabbing you by the shoulders, looking at you squarely in the eyes and telling you: listen to Radiolab. I think they’re formally a podcast about science but in reality, it’s really about curiosity and exploring interesting questions through the lens of a dynamic character. They’re so amazing at sound design and storytelling that you always feel gripped by each episode and if you don’t know where to start, here are some of my favs:
From Tree to Shining Tree taught me about the marvels of the networks of tree roots (yes, they can even make a good story out of tree roots, believe me)
23 Weeks and 6 Days followed a couple through their pregnancy to get at the deeper question of pinpointing “vitality” in an unborn child
On the Edge is one of my all time favs (and one I wrote my Radiolab application about!) looking at the career of Surya Bonaly to question our understanding of what makes a good figure skater and whether/how racism/injustice comes into play in sports
Lose Lose covers a couple of Badminton matches in the Olympics where both teams were clearly trying to lose and it might also be one of my favs because it’s about a sport many Americans consider obscure but Malaysians love watching
Playing God was about doctors struggling with having to choose who to save during Hurricane Katrina
I tried to list like 2 of my favourite Radiolab episodes but I just couldn’t, haha. Apart from Radiolab, I started listening to Tape and Longform—both are shows that feature interviews with writers, journalists and editors I look up to like Ira Glass, Charles Duhigg, Alex Blumberg, Malcolm Gladwell, Anna Sale, Lulu Miller, Stephen Dubner and so many more. I can’t even tell you how happy and inspired I get whenever I hear people talk about a) whatever they love doing plus how they got there and b) the thinking and overall process behind producing their craft. Ugh. I also caught up on other favourites like Reply All and Planet Money, which really bring me so much joy. I just have such a deep love for podcasts because they use compelling storytelling to help you think and ask questions and they’re just so, so, so informative. I rarely ever finish listening to a podcast without feeling like I just became a teeny little bit more of an informed citizen of the world. Anyway, clearly, if you ever want to talk about your favourite podcasts or if you want recommendations, just don’t even think twice about reaching out to me. I can probably talk for hours about this stuff.
I know I started out saying I don’t know if this whole chill life is really for me, but I’m glad I’ve kind of found a way to keep it interesting for myself. Saffa (and honestly, so many other people) have reminded me to try to really rest and enjoy what I’ve got because the truth is, I don’t know if I’ll ever get the time to be this relaxed ever again. I’ve been thinking about that a lot: this stark transition from being really busy to having so much to rest and I might say more about that once I’ve more fully wrapped my head around how I’m taking it (or I might not, lol). But after probably failing to relish the joy of being in college as much as I should have, I think I’m going to try to take her advice on this one and savour all this free time.
Last week, I put out my very first attempt at “narrative audio journalism” (if you can call it that) called “Ready or Not”. If you missed it in last week’s post, you can still listen to it on Soundcloud! Actually, please do, because it’s so close to 100 plays!! Haha.
To be very frank, I wasn’t too happy with how it turned out. It was only after publishing it that I realized I had accidentally cut out a part of Hanna’s interview. The music probably wasn’t at the right volume and honestly, I don’t think it even appeared at appropriate times. I don’t even think each audio clip was at the same volume. I was recording my narrations at 1 a.m.—because I didn’t have a studio, I needed to wait for the traffic outside to slow down before I could record. This meant having to use my croaky voice. I felt like I didn’t give it all the attention it deserved. I started working on this in early February but kind of stalled working on it during the school year because I was busy and then later rushed it after commencement because I didn’t want to “miss the moment” or whatever and I’m kind of annoyed at myself for that.
Still, I was so encouraged by and thankful for the support from everyone who listened. I recall that I have mentioned this project on here a couple of times and said I would explain more when I have the time, so I’m going to take you through what I did and why I decided to even do this in the first place. Fair warning, this a pretty lengthy one.
Some of you might know that most of my junior and senior years in college have been fraught with the search for a job. I did the whole consulting thing for a while and that… didn’t turn out so well. I failed to get a consulting internship the summer after junior year and failed again to get a full time job in my senior year. I really wanted it and for a while, I really thought that was the track I was going to take. Both times, I came so close and I didn’t get it. It sucked. But I got over it. Still, that meant I had to find something to do.
If you remember, last summer I would mention quite often in my posts that I had discovered this and that podcast (my two first favs were Millennial and Start Up!!) and I would rave about it endlessly both in my posts and to my friends. I was so enamoured by the medium and it was one of those things that was like… “this is amazing and I actually think I could do this.” But I never thought of myself as brave, risk-taking or creative so the idea of going out and running my own podcast was just an interesting thought to be kept for future reference… for when I somehow become gutsier and smarter (and have saved more money from working very hard at some other cutthroat job first).
But when the consulting job route didn’t pan out, there was nothing else I wanted to or thought I could do. Nothing. Everything I considered would’ve been a job just for the sake of having a job and that made me so repulsed? depressed? I don’t know. I remember talking to my parents once and they were like, “just search for jobs in whatever, like HR or sales or something” and in my mind, I was like “SALES???????” It’s not like anything was wrong with a job in sales per se, I think it just made me feel like college and my years of prep didn’t matter. Because I spent four hard years getting a liberal arts education, and the idea that really stuck with me in my time here is that we should work with a firm purpose, do something that means something and be of service to society (and no, the irony was not lost on me that I wanted a consulting job, but to be fair, that was to “gain skills” and “save money” so that I could do what I really wanted—such a typical Penn student trope!). But the picture I had of a sales job (admittedly a misguided one) was someone standing in a mall handing out flyers and you might see why I didn’t want that.
Yeah, it is a very millennial story line. I knew objectively that many people don’t start out at thebest job they can get, but instead, patiently and diligently work their way through. Regardless, I fell prey to the “I worked so hard for… this?” line of thought. At this point I think I had already decided I would apply for internships in the radio and podcasting industry. I didn’t think I would get anything though, given my utter lack of experience. In other words, that was more of a “I will give it my best shot and put this first but think about other things also” plan. Still, eager to get my hands dirty and to overcome the inertia of inexperience, I decided I had to make something.
At this point, I was sad and anxious and maybe even a little angry. I had these burning questions: What was it all even for? And what do I do now that it’s almost over? I knew my friends and I had been having a lot of conversations about these things. In particular, I remember Shahirah and I talking in her room one night and she told me that even though she already had a job from the outset because of her scholarship situation, didn’t have to pick a major and didn’t feel pressured to get good internships over the summer—things that often made me feel anxious—she still felt lost because college is such a good time to figure out what you love doing and when she’s done serving her bond to her employer, she won’t have that same college environment to help her figure out what she wants to do. Around the same time, I spoke to Professor Pollack (while sipping a chai latte in futile efforts to stop myself from tearing up) about not knowing what to do next and feeling like all my hard work was pointless because I felt like I wouldn’t ever do anything meaningful with my life. Then, we talked about how you never know where one thing is going to lead you, how there is often only one spot at the top job but that doesn’t mean everyone else is doomed and there is always something to be learned wherever you end up.
I loved having conversations like these and on those days I remember wishing I could write about them on my blog or share them with more people or just mobilize them in some way. So, that got me thinking about talking to other people and recording it into a podcast type thing. For a long time, I told people that it would be about “graduation anxieties” and how we navigate them.
I had a strong gut feeling that it was a good idea but I had no clue what I was doing. Last summer, I spent some nights taking an online class on using audio for storytelling by Alex Blumberg (the founder of the podcast production company Gimlet Media and former host of Start Up and Planet Money—who, you might recall, I was ecstatic to meet last January!!!!). I watched YouTube videos and read lots of articles on Transom about equipment and writing an outline and doing interviews but you know, reading about how to drive isn’t going to help you actually learn to drive, right? So then I kind of took the plunge, I guess.
First, deciding who to interview was partly easy because I knew I wanted Shahirah and Ken, two of my really good friends who had these different life trajectories. I knew I wanted a couple of people who didn’t know what they were doing yet and luckily Clare and Rashad were both willing to be my subjects. I knew I wanted someone who had been through it all, and that was my friend Hanna. I had known that I would interview Professor Pollack since that day in his office, but I needed something more. It didn’t feel complete. This was like mid-late February. Around that time, Penn Perspectives (a lecture series for seniors that I was participating in) invited the University Chaplain, Chaz Howard to come speak to us.
At that lecture, Chaz talked about how it’s funny how when you’re in college you have all these titles like President of this and that organisation and you have all these underclassmen who know your name and you wear your club sweatshirt or varsity jacket and it means something on this campus. But if you come back to Penn after you graduate, you know almost no one, and all those titles you used to have now mean nothing, and then who are you? Who are you, stripped from your job and your identity as a student? He also talked about finding comfort in mystery, trusting the “interruptions” in our lives that are divine interventions leading us to where we really need to go, and how the fruits of our success should help other things grow. By the end of it, so many of us in the crowd were bawling. We were so moved. The next morning, I emailed him asking if I could interview him and it was such a great decision. I think he really added a lot of heart to the story.
I absolutely loved interviewing Chaz because on top of being wise, he is such a natural at speaking in front of a mic! I loved our entire conversation, which made picking sound bites from his interview so difficult. I didn’t end up including this but in that interview, we also discussed the parallels between moving from high school to college and moving from college to work. In both cases, you make new friends and readjust to new environments. You tweak/rebuild your identity. He had this great metaphor about seeing college freshmen slowly stop wearing their high school athlete clothes and how we will learn to do that again when we go into the workplace. It made me realise that even though I dreaded the anxiety of leaving college, I’ve kind of… done it before. We all have. I couldn’t fit that part into the piece but it’s one of my favourite bits of tape I ended up excluding.
[Slight digression: after I interviewed Chaz, he told his friend Jennifer Lynn, a radio host on Philadelphia’s local radio station, about me. She later gave me a phone call and offered me advice on making audio pieces. We later sat down together, Jennifer, Chaz and me, and chatted about my project. I completely forgot about this, but that conversation was recorded and was featured on WHYY a few weeks ago along with a blog post featuring an excerpt from my interview with Chaz. It was pretty cool. Listen to it here!]
Anyway, the problem with using what Chaz and Professor Pollack said as an ending though, was that it was very… “I was confused but then I learned this cliche thing and everything became ok” and that just didn’t sit well with me. It begged the question: so why do we do this? Why do we feel this way? The week after Chaz spoke at Penn Perspectives, we had a lecture by Adam Grant. It was early March. He mentioned how he anticipates that by September, like most Septembers, his inbox will get filled with emails from fresh grads in Finance careers asking if he thinks it’s reasonable for them to hang on in these jobs until January just so they can say 2017-2018 on their resumes. He talked about how even though we know what will and won’t make us happy or fulfilled, we tend to ignore what we know and do something else. I thought it fit perfectly into the tentative narrative I had cooking in the back of my mind.
That same night, he also gave us some advice about making the most out of the last few months in college. He said to email the professors you want to connect with and to do it before you graduate because professors feel more obliged to help a current student and that privilege quickly wanes once you graduate. So I emailed him. I told him I liked his talk and I wanted to include what he said in my project and he replied asking me to schedule a time for a phone call! Adam Grant is one of my favourite authors, so that moment was probably one of the highlights of my senior year. Of course, because he was busy, that conversation couldn’t happen until 3 weeks later. When we spoke, he asked me for my notes from the talk, he told me my project sounds great, that I shouldn’t worry about misquoting him and he even offered to help me make connections with people in radio. Yeah, it was definitely one of the highlights of my senior year.
Anyway, back to interviews. Scheduling was difficult but I managed to get seven interviews done within a couple of weeks. I think interviewing people was kind of easy because I knew the people I had selected were naturally introspective and I knew what perspective they would add to the story. It was just a matter of asking them in the right way for the conversation to sound organic and not rigid. I was kinda worried about interviewing people and then realising I couldn’t use something because I didn’t ask the right follow up question or whatever but honestly, I had so much tape that whenever something absolutely didn’t work, I just tossed it. In the end, the hardest part about interviewing people was to not interject them when they speak and chime in with an “I know, right!” or something like that, haha.
As for equipment, I knew the Penn library had these simple audio recorders I could borrow for 3 days at a time and I knew that the Kelly Writers House had a recording studio I could book to use for interviews. I ended up using a mix of both just because scheduling was tricky. The thing about the recorders from the library was that they come in these bright bulky yellow boxes and I’d sometimes take two out just in case I couldn’t figure out how to use one of the two and I would carry them around with me through campus. Sometimes I’d also be lugging a tripod and ugh, my shoulders were not happy with me all of those days. Even so, the project made me really grateful to be at a place like Penn where resources were never a problem.
The next step was to transcribe my interviews. I knew that was the “industry standard” or whatever and I also felt it was the most intuitive thing to do because then I could treat writing the outline and my eventual narration as writing a paper and treat the transcriptions as “sources”. Transcribing took so long though. I had about 200 minutes of recordings. Two hundred! And if you’ve ever tried typing out something word for word as you listened, you’ll know it’s not that easy. Every minute of audio ended up taking like 5-7 minutes to transcribe so you know, do the math. Plus, this was during the school year! I finished getting all my interviews early March and ended up only finishing transcriptions in early April. It amounted to about 23,000 words!
At this point, I told several people whose insight and/or writing I trusted about what I was working on. One of those people was my friend Kimberly Siew. Kim and I took a Creative Writing class together last Fall and became fast friends—our classmates found it difficult to believe that we didn’t know each other before that class. She’s an excellent writer and better yet, she’s great at workshopping pieces and giving feedback. So one night, after I baked some (delicious) pecan cupcakes, we sat on my couch and I kind of bounced ideas off of her. I never really understood that phrase, too bounce ideas off of? What does that even mean? But this felt truly collaborative. I would tell her my issues with the tape that I had and how I wasn’t sure how to fill the gaps, we’d throw out some options and exchange comments and I really think our conversation that night became the backbone of the existing structure of my piece.
Another person I spoke to was Jamie-Lee Josselyn, who actually taught the class Kim and I took together. She helped me think about how to go about deciding what to include and omit so as to hone in on what I want to get across. Basically, I needed to trust my instincts and be very aware of when I get bored listening. I also spoke to Caroline Connolly, whose Intro to Psychology class I TA-ed for this past year. I brought it up before class once because I had also taken a Developmental Psychology seminar with her called Modern Young Adulthood, which was all about the psychological processes related to the transition into adulthood so I felt it was relevant. We ended up getting coffee after her lecture one of the days and just spent like 3 hours talking.
It was in that conversation with Connolly that she mentioned the cliff metaphor which you hear in the piece: a lot of people treat graduation like it’s final, like you’re jumping off a cliff. I told her that day that I know it’s silly and that even though I feel that way too, I know I shouldn’t. But she told me that it’s normal because in a way it is final for so many of us. It’s the last time of our lives we’ll dedicate solely to pursuing knowledge formally. What that subtly implies is that we should be prepared because we’re “done learning”. Obviously that’s not exactly true, but it helped me see why we are so prone to thinking that way. A lot of my conversations with both Jamie-Lee and Professor Connolly did end up informing the way I thought about writing my outlines.
Even with all that inspiration, it took some time to write my outline. I didn’t know what the overarching narrative would be. Kim and I had kind of come up with several takeaways for the ending, and I already knew what the starting point was (me crying like a dramatic millennial about how nothing matters lol) but I had no idea how to use the hours of recordings I had gathered to get from point A to point B. I was very intimidated by the amount tape I had (200 minutes!!! 23,000 words!!!). I felt like so much of it was insightful and I wasn’t sure how to get it down to 40 minutes. And not just any 40 minutes but an impactful and coherent 40 minutes.
I sat down with printed versions of the transcripts, highlighted my favourite parts and labelled them to find common threads. The problem was, it was very difficult to write for audio and I found that I couldn’t quite treat it the same way I approached writing papers for classes because with a written thing you could more easily just pluck out short quotes and use these bracket things […] lol. Plus, for classes, the topic is usually more critical and well-defined (at least, in my experience) so arguments tend to be more logical. This was kind of an audio diary. I felt like it could more easily fall down the slippery slope of being rambly and whiny or overly emotional. So, I “zoomed out” and really looked at things at the base level to try to focus on the most barebone outline.
Then I wrote it. I think by mid-April, I had a rough draft. I sat down with my friend Clare first to discuss the outline because she’s a great writer and spent 3 years at Penn as a writing tutor and because I had been talking to her about it all semester. I knew she understood the core idea of it. We made some adjustments and I spent another couple of days tweaking it. Then, I gave it to Shahirah, Ken and Hui Jie for comments. It was helpful for me that they pointed out where I wasn’t clear enough and things like that.
At this point, Hui Jie mentioned something that I had already kind of been thinking about but tried to ignore… and it was that I introduced one person and then the next and then the next whereas a lot of podcasts splice the interviews to clump the issues together. She pointed out that it made the piece seem a little repetitive because of there are kind of repeated problem-resolution sequences instead of a more concerted structure: all the different problems lumped in the beginning and then an overarching resolution in the end. I agreed with her and wanted to take some more time to think about it but I never ended up making the time because by that point we were getting close to finals and the typical end of semester/year craze.
So yeah, then it kind of got pushed to the side until all the cacophony of commencement died down. By then, I decided I just needed to do it. So, I literally dragged a chair into my closet, hung my bathrobe behind me and placed my phone amongst my clothes to minimise echo as much as possible. (Side note: this is a Ted Talk about audio storytelling that features journalists recording in all sorts of funny arrangements) Safe to say, I was sweating by the end of it. Then, I spent the next day or so editing it on Hindenburg, which I chose to use solely because during World Radio Day last February, this $95 software was on sale for $1.90!
After editing it, I gave it a listen and I just knew it still needed a touch of music. Just a little bit, nothing too dramatic. I tried tinkering with GarageBand but for the life of me, I just could not figure it out. Luckily, over a year ago when I hung out with my friend Osama, we got to talking about his experience making music with GarageBand and Logic Pro. So I just sent him a text asking for help and thank god he was still on campus. He was so kind to let me (poorly) hum to him what I wanted and he improvised and made it a lot cooler. Honestly, it amazes me what my friends can do. We ended up spending a couple of hours catching up too, which was really nice. I was seriously so glad he was around to help me with that final touch.
And after layering the music tracks over the audio, I finally put it out there! My project! I was carrying it with me for months. I remember transcribing while eating sweet potato fries at Hip City Veg, while waiting for my flight at LAX and at my table at night after I finished my homework. I remember sheepishly asking my friends if I could interview them and carrying all that equipment around. I know I said I wasn’t absolutely happy with the end result but I’m glad I did it because it felt like a culmination of my Penn career; something to show for that I actually made. Something I hope to continue to do for a long time.
So I guess now’s probably the best time to say what I’ve been actively withholding from saying on here for months. That is, I’m going to be interning at NPR in Washington, DC this coming Fall inshaAllah. After so long, it felt like everything made sense and I’m so, so, so grateful because it feels like a dream. It might not have been the path I initially thought of taking but I feel really good about it.
Anyway. This has been my longest post ever (I really didn’t think I’d write such a long one so soon after the commencement one!)and I’m sorry if I went into greater detail than anyone needed or wanted haha but thanks for reading anyway and if you listened to my audio piece, thank you so much!!!
Lastly, I wrote this because I know someday I’m going to forget all the hard work it took me to learn even the most basic things even though they had once seemed like insurmountable challenges. This will remind future me that if you take it step by step, you’ll find a way. And if you’re reading this and there’s something you’ve always wanted to work on but don’t know how, I hope this shows you that sometimes people don’t start out with all the talent. Sometimes people succeed at doing the things they initially didn’t know how to. You persist by taking things one step at a time and slowly, things start to come together. And even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly, the feeling of proving your own self wrong and reaching beyond what you thought was your limit is so, so sweet.
First of all, I want to say thank you so much for all the love I got after last week’s post. Thank you in particular for those of you who have encouraged me to keep writing, whether by explicitly telling me to, by reprimanding me when a post is late (hi Hui Jie) or by just letting me know that you never miss a post. I have been tempted to “give up” several times because quite often, it feels like my writing is so frivolous, but you’ve all reminded me how our writing has created a community I am really grateful for. When I told my friend Hui Jie that I might not write after graduation because I don’t think my life will be as interesting after Penn, she was quick to refute that claim; there will be your first job, moving cities, moving out, first house, settling down, and so many more, she reminded me. It’s good to remember that life is dynamic—there will always be new things to discover and always new things to write about. With that, I’m going to take this little opportunity to say that to all of you who’ve said to me “I wish I could write like you”: you absolutely can.
Anyway, like Hui Jie said, there will always be new things in my life to write about. So here’s a little bit about my first week as a ~college graduate~ (oh my god, it still has not sunk in).
1. Shahirah moved out of our apartment
My roommate of 3 years moved out of our apartment on Wednesday. Shahirah and I are opposites. She’s so phlegmatic and just so chill, which means she rarely ever wants to decide where we go to eat or what movie to watch or if there should be a system in the kitchen or bathroom whatever, you know? On the other hand, I… have a lot of opinions about these things. Toothpaste droppings shouldn’t be left in the sink, don’t boil more water than you need, the stove should be wiped down after cooking anything messy, blablabla. So really, although she is one of my absolute best friends, us living together was not always the easiest thing for the both of us.
Still, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Of course, that’s easy for me to say now in hindsight, right? There definitely have been times over the 3 years where I was like… “ok, maybe this wasn’t the best idea” but I maintain that it was good for me because I learned what it was like to live with someone who grew up with a different lifestyle than I did. I think I have grown a lot from that experience. In fact, in some ways it reminds me of the ways my parents have learned to tolerate their differences. I never told her this (though she’ll probably read it now…) but even though some days we just kind of stay out of each other’s spaces and not talk, when she’s not here, I kind of miss her. It’s always weird when she goes out of town and I know I won’t hear the creak of the doors when she comes in late at night. Even though it wakes me up, I am always touched because I know she’s trying to be as quiet as possible for me, and looking back I think some small quiet part of me was comforted to know that she was home.
On Tuesday afternoon, Shahirah and I had lunch with my sister, Majid, and his brother Mansoor. After lunch, she had some errands to run and I just trailed along all day because I was very emotional and clingy. We went to SPARC and PWC and even took my very first picture at the Love Statue together. Later that evening, as Shahirah packed up the last things in her room, Hanna, Fahmida and I hung out on her bed just talking and that was really one of those moments I could feel my heart clinging on to. I’m always humbled by the idea of memory: we rarely ever decide which memories eventually fade into the distance and which ones get to be returned to for years and years on. But days like that, I hope I get to keep forever.
I know I won’t remember what we talked about and stuff but I want to remember how I felt. It reminds me of that oft-repeated Maya Angelou quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The next morning, as she was preparing to roll her bags out of the door, I was impressed (but not surprised) by her nonchalance. On top of being more neurotic than she is, I am also a lot more emotional. So, I said something along the lines of: “wow I can’t believe you’ll never ever walk through these doors ever again” or something like that. And she said “wow great, thanks Dayana, for making me feel sad about leaving” (oops). So she went back in and took one last look. We took some selfies and I called her an Uber and off she was.
She left me with a cute card, her umbrella for me to use and (unintentionally,) some leftover Chipotle. Always taking care of me, even after she’s left the country. I don’t know that I’ll ever have another experience living with someone like that again, but I’m glad we did it together because she’s honestly like a sister to me and I personally think my relationship with her—though not always the most outwardly peachy one—is so unique and special and I will always be thankful for it.
Sha, if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll miss hearing me laugh or belt out Disney tunes over the thin walls!!! Now when I sing I’m like “oh, phew, I’m not disturbing her” but then I’m also like “she left” 😦
2. Sleepover with Saffa
Saffa came over on Thursday for a couple of nights and stayed with me, which was so much fun. She was a senior when I was a freshman. I remember meeting her at the very first MSA GBM and after, she showed me and Shahirah the RAC (does that even stand for anything? I don’t even know anymore. Oh my god, it’s happening, I’m forgetting!!!) where we used to go to pray and we walked down Locust together. We probably only really bonded later over our similar tastes and the fact that we share the same birthday. And this past weekend, I learned she’s also a left hander like me.
Anyway, Saffa lives in Chicago but came down to DC to be with her sister who’s about to give birth. She took a couple of days to see me, Hanna and Fahmida in Philly since she’s on the east coast. On Thursday night, we stayed up and had strawberry tea and talked about college and work and moving on and it was probably the first time in a long time I felt like I had one of those high-school-ish sleepovers.
Friday was also so much fun. We were up pretty early and got breakfast with Hanna at Metropolitan (I had my fav pesto grilled cheese with portobello and an iced chai for last breakfast before Ramadhan) then we went to hang out at the med school, which is absolutely beautiful. In the afternoon, we took a walk to Penn Park, lounged in the sun for a bit and then went back to my apartment where Saffa and I watched The People vs. OJ Simpson (which is absolutely amazing!!!) and Hanna studied.
Then later, we went out to dinner with Fahmida. We ate at Sate Kampar, which serves the best Malaysian food I’ve ever had in the states. Fun-ish fact: we realised that all 4 of us represented a different graduating class (2014-2017) and ethnicity (Malaysian, Bengali, Egyptian, Pakistani because I know my dad will ask when he reads this). How cute is that?!
When we went back, Saffa and I talked some more, baked some cookies while my sister and I cooked what we were going to have for sahur the next morning. It was a really nice and cosy night, and I’m really glad I got to spend so much time with her over those two days.
3. Does a Craigslist sale make me an adult?
Because it kinda feels like it. I’m moving out of this apartment next month (inshaAllah!!!) so that means I need to give myself time to get rid of all the furniture we’ve accumulated over the years. Realising this, I went on a Craigslist selling spree. It’s actually not as easy as I thought because people will say they want it and then take forever to reply and then back out. Luckily, after just attempting one sale, I got a lot better at it and I learned to be more firm. I knew to say things like I’ll hold it for you for x hours and then it goes to the next person without feeling bad because I feel like it’s only fair to everyone involved to know what to expect.
My favourite part of this whole process is probably feeling a little “busy”. In trying to keep up with all my sales, I found that I finally had a reason to make a spreadsheet again and to my own surprise, I was so happy about it. I think my mind just really likes being exercised and stretched more than I realised, haha.
I sold my Ikea KALLAX shelf this morning, and that was the first of my big items to go. I remember going to Ikea on my own that Spring day in 2015. I felt particularly accomplished (exhibit A) because getting there wasn’t so straightforward but I did it. I remember Keyan asking me if I needed him to pick me up but I was ok. I picked everything I needed by myself and I coordinated the delivery on my own and then I also assembled all of those things myself. I remember it being one of the first times I felt truly self-sufficient (save for the fact that the money I used to pay for my Ikea trip came from a certain Bank of Dad, heh). I just couldn’t help remembering that as I disassembled it today in preparation for it to be picked up by its new owners. Side note, I was happy to find out that the buyers were a couple who had just bought their first house in Philly. Here’s to growing up and new beginnings for all of us.
4. First Ramadan away from home!
I’ve never spent bulan puasa (tr: fasting month) away from home! I never went to boarding school like my sister and I was lucky enough that puasa always coincided with summer breaks while I was at Penn so I could always spend it at home. But I guess sometimes things happen and even though you think you’ll never spend Ramadan abroad, on your last year of college, you end up doing just that.
I was quite nervous about the extra long hours (ok, it’s just like 2 extra hours but still) and the summer (turns out it’s still cooler than Malaysia) but alhamdulillah it’s really not bad at all. I usually have a terrible headache the first day but I’ve done two days now without any complaints. Sure, I feel a little lethargic but I was perfectly capable of working with all that furniture today and I actually think I’ll be able to go for a jog tomorrow if it doesn’t rain in the evening.
Yeah, I might be missing out on the family gatherings and buka puasa food, but I’m excited to be working on some service projects here and I’ve set certain goals for myself in terms of a reading list, lectures & etc. so I think it’ll still be a very good month for me and I’m so thankful that I seem to be handling it all really well.
It helps that my sister Julia is with me. She and I cooked sweet and sour fish yesterday and stir fried egg noodles today, both of which were actually delicious. We also had knafeh for dessert yesterday (in lieu of roti john and tepung pelita, my Malaysian favs) and if you know me, you’ll know how much I love knafeh. Now my sister Julia can’t stop talking about it too. I’m always glad to introduce people to cheese-related food.
So I guess that’s about it for this week. I actually have so much more I want to write about. I want to tell you all about how I worked on that radio project, my most recent trip to New York, about commencement day itself (if it isn’t too late) but I think this will be all for now. To all my Muslim friends, I hope your Ramadan is off to a wonderful start and to everyone else I hope you’ve had a wonderful week, whatever you’re doing.
Until next time! ❤
P.S. for nothing more than your pure amusement, here are some of the times Sha and I have matched clothes. None of these were intentional, I promise.