Two Ends Of The Same Decade

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I think this whole “end of the decade” thing is quite silly because in a way, time is arbitrary. Who decided that January has to be the start of the year? And you can pick any two dates ten years apart and call it a decade. And you can make resolutions for the next 365 days any day you want! But as it turns out, my brain is very good at partitioning the part of my mind that thinks all of this is ridiculous from the part of my mind that has been absolutely fixated on how overwhelming it feels to close out these 10 years in particular.

I suppose part of this stems from the realisation that I am not the same person I was at the start of it. Granted, this was also true the last time we wrapped up a socially-agreed-upon definition of a decade. I was most certainly very different at six and 16. But I think that’s why this has been on my mind. Because at 16, I didn’t really have a lot of memories of what my life was like in the ten years prior. I couldn’t compare the way I saw the world in Form 4 with the way I did when I was in kindergarten. I didn’t have a comprehensive body of knowledge of cringe-worthy things I said or funny things I did when I was six. Six-year-old and 16-year-old me felt like completely distinct people in that regard.

But I do actually remember what it was like to be 16. I mean, I still think about that year from time to time. And when I do, it doesn’t even feel like that long ago.

And so at 26, I have just realised I am suddenly a person with… I suppose you can say a person with a past. I know that sounds like dark and mysterious or whatever, but I don’t mean it in that way. I guess it just dawned on me that I’m now a person who actually has a consciousness of the prior iterations of myself, which I can always refer to and compare my present self with. I’m now a person who has made consequential, deliberate choices for myself. A person who can say I have memories that have stuck with me for over 10 years.

***

I don’t think many people stay the same in their twenties as they were in their teens because the years in between are often monumental. I’m no exception. Yet, I find the difference to be exceptionally salient and sobering.

The thing is, 10 years ago, the same bedroom I live in now was lavender and covered with notes on chemical equations and physics formulas and labelled drawings of organs that I was really proud of. I had just turned 16, and was about to enter the most important year of schooling for Malaysians. I was going to take the seemingly-life-defining SPM. Things felt clear cut: it seemed as though I just needed to ace the national exam, get a scholarship, get into a good university… and that would be it. It felt to me at the time like all I needed was to just steer my ship right, and I would be off on the right course for life.

The SPM exam was done and dusted with more As than I had hoped for. The scholarship was generous. Then I spent half the decade halfway around the world, where the good university gave me a very good degree.

But just over a year ago, I returned to where the decade began for me.

So 2019 was my first full year living back in Malaysia. And not just in Malaysia, but in the same neighbourhood, in the very same bedroom I grew up in. The walls are different now. I made sure of that. The school girl notes have been scrapped and the super girly lavender painted over in … I don’t even know what this whiteish greyish blueish colour is called.

But because I had vacated this place for so many years, when I came back, it took a really long time for me to be able see it as it really is in the present, since I didn’t really have a current, active life here. Everything I saw, I felt was tinted by the lens of my adolescence. Because that made up some of the last working memories I had of this place — some of the best memories I had of living here before I left. And in the years I was away, my mental images of this place became stuck in time.

In this way, I felt like I’ve been forced to get reacquainted with the old version me ever since I came back. I catch myself not only thinking about my life as a 16-year-old at the start of the decade but also, on occasion, even occupying her headspace. Think of it like returning to a room for the first time in a long time, and recognizing a lingering scent — but instead of taking in an old smell, I got a whiff of an old frame of mind.

I think wistfully from time to time about who I might have been had I never left this town. If you knew me back then, you might know I never really dreamt of living abroad and had more than half a mind to stay close to home and study at UM. I also picture what my life might’ve looked like if I had gotten married to a nice Malay guy with a super respectable profession, like 16-year-old me imagined I would’ve been by now (I used to think I would meet my significant other the same way and time my parents did, which is in university, married by 24).

And what gets me is not just the comparison with who I thought I’d be by now… it’s also this sort of longing I have to reconnect with parts of that self which I miss. I try to draw from 16-year-old me’s sense of connection to a community. I scour for the openness and generosity to give and receive warmth to others less discriminately, which I feel like I had and lost. I try to remember my sense of hopefulness (I wanted to “help the country” and all that good stuff), as well as feeling of accomplishment (an A+ for add maths for example, felt so tangible, so enviable, so promising).

But the decade had a lot in store for me which I hadn’t and simply couldn’t have anticipated. I wonder what I would’ve said if someone told me at 16 that this is who I’d end up being in 10 years. Maybe old me would be proud of current me since I went to an ~ivy league~ school or whatever (I don’t think I even knew what those were in 2009) and worked abroad and travelled to lots of different places and met people from all over the world. But I also think maybe that’s just because the me at 16 just thought that less was possible to accomplish.

In some ways I envy that old version of myself. It was easier to feel good or like I was ahead of the curve in measurable ways: by looking at what number I placed in class, how many extracurriculars I did, how many people said they had crushes on me. It’s more difficult for me to say whether 2009 me would be proud of me today because I didn’t really have a particular ambition. Many of my friends back then wanted to be doctors or lawyers or accountants. And they can now look back, pat themselves on the back and say, I’m a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant.

But me, I can’t really draw a line between where I was at the start and the end of the decade. For better or for worse. Not only in terms of ambition but also my sense of self and the world around me. The only thing that seems to help tie the two ends of the decade is this room, this town, this place.

***

Just a few weeks ago, I was rummaging through my old things. I’ve always liked to keep little memorabilia like ticket stubs, letters, photos, filter paper from my high school laboratory, chipped pieces of wood from floors of past apartments and hardened rubber bands from I don’t even know what. But this also applies to remnants of my life online.

Hidden among MySpace and MSN messenger screenshots and old photos and poems in .txt files was, to my surprise, a folder of nearly 50 minutes of voice recordings which I completely forgot I even had from 10 years ago. I listened to all the excerpts of conversations with people I don’t speak to anymore. They were the most inane, innocent conversations. (Why are penguins’ bellies white? What phrase of Malay would you teach to a foreigner?) But I was rapt.

I think a lot of times when we remember our old memories, we really only remember fragments. Our brain’s strong desire to form coherent narratives automatically fills in the blanks. So when I see photos of myself from 2009, or think back to my own memories from 10 years ago, I recognise with a tinge of regret that I’ll never know how true to life my images from those times were.

And yet when I listened to those old conversation recordings, I was startled when I discovered that at several points, I coincidentally thought of some of the same responses I said out loud in the voice note. It was like anticipating the responses of a friend you know really well. I even laughed at many of the same moments I did on the phone call. The same laugh at the same times.

That voice — my own voice! — felt like the most unfiltered account of who I was back then. And there I was in 2019, laughing in cross-decade unison.

With a deep ache in my belly, I missed 16-year-old me and the simplicity of the life I was living. I miss that version of me like you might miss an old friend you had lost touch with but often think fondly of. But I was comforted at least by the fact that there was still a tiny part of me from 2009 that persisted through the decade, and will probably always be embedded in me.

It fit like a glove.

My 11 months in Washington, D.C. was nothing short of magical.

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I love the rows of houses in this city.

It started in September. Hanna picked me up in Philadelphia bright and early with a trunk full of the boxes I stored at her house over the summer. I had that first-day-of-school feeling. I kept joking that it felt like she was dropping me off at sleep away camp. I didn’t have a lot of things and I pretty much finished unpacking by the time she arrived back in Philly. 

I didn’t start working until a week after I got there so that first week was mostly me watching Netflix in bed and eating maggi. I was too jet lagged to do anything most of the time. But I had google mapped 14th St long before I got to D.C., and was itching to see it for real so one morning, I decided to get out of the apartment and walk 10 mins down to Trader Joe’s to start stocking up my empty kitchen cabinets. There’s something about using the keys to your own apartment for the first time that feels like staking a claim. And there’s something special about walking down your street for the first time that feels like a ribbon cutting ceremony in the privacy your own mind. It was hot, but not too. It was a moment. I had a bit of a strut in my step. I felt good. Instantly. 

It was never like that in Philly. There, I took many timid steps and tentative trips for years. I resisted making it feel like home somehow. But in my senior year, I don’t know, something changed. I think I’ve said that on here before. I just felt like whatever anchor I was dragging for a long time was cut loose. I regretted not loving it there more, or not trying harder to love it. When I was just about to graduate college, I desperately felt like I wanted a bit more time. A bit of a do-over.

And that was partly why I could jump in so wholeheartedly into life in D.C. It was like my second chance. Even back in October I had gotten that sense… it was like I came back to the U.S. after spending the summer after senior year in Malaysia with a voice in my head that said “okay, go again, and love it this time.” And I did.

And nothing has ever fit like a glove the way Washington, D.C. did.

I learned which route on the Metro I liked taking best. I frequented old and new favourite coffee shops around this new city (to me, it was a sign of Mercy that La Colombe—a Philly fav of mine—on Florida Ave was only a 5 min walk from my apartment). I started going to restaurants and ice cream shops with the wonderful people in my intern class. I went through the annoying process of getting health insurance on the D.C. exchange and paying for it myself every month. I learned the roads, the rivers, the suburbs. There was always a wholesome activity to do, whether it was the museums or walking in Rock Creek Park, kayaking on the Potomac, watching movies with MoviePass, or watching The Moth or a comedy show. With the help of my former NPR colleagues, I advocated for myself for a job at D.C.’s NPR member station, WAMU, when my NPR internship ended.

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And that was other thing. Both of my jobs were a huge part of why D.C. was so special. Back in April, when I found out I got a summer internship with How I Built This, I realised there was a little bit of a wrinkle in my plan. I knew I would have to apply for a post-college work visa. I didn’t realise when I applied that it wouldn’t come through in time for the internship (if it came through at all). So I had to call my would-be supervisor, Jeff, to tell him about my sticky little situation. He had every right to just revoke the opportunity from me, or tell me to reapply. But instead, he deferred me to the Fall internship, which ended up working better for me because I was then able to spend raya at home—it was going to be my sister Aida’s last raya at home in Malaysia for a while, so that was a big deal. In the end if the visa situation wasn’t an issue and I didn’t get deferred, I would’ve had to go 17 months without going back to Malaysia. I would’ve had to spend raya in D.C. before I really got to form any roots. I wouldn’t have gotten to work with Benjamin, who has been one of the biggest joys from the past year. In hindsight, it feels like a pure act of divine intervention. A miracle.

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When my stint at NPR was coming to an end in January, I was mired with quite a bit of apprehension about being unemployed. On my visa, you’re not allowed to be unemployed for a certain amount of time and I really didn’t want to eat into that time. And it’s kinda hard to get a job in radio/media. I wasn’t restricting myself to that necessarily, but it was definitely difficult to find a job at all. My time at NPR was ending on the 26th of January. I was introduced to someone at WAMU just one or two weeks before that and just happened to have someone on their team leaving on the 26th. The timing worked perfectly. It was for a job on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, a daily talk-show about local goings-on—in politics, health, culture, transportation, the schools, the environment. It was very intimidating because everything about it was both difficult and unfamiliar for me. I didn’t know D.C. very well (other than where my favourite restaurants and spots were) and I had no experience producing a daily show that was live.

It took me quite some time to settle into a rhythm there but once I did, it just made me love the city 50 times more. When I started learning about the graduation rates, new healthcare policies, elections and the history of the city for the job, I just felt so much more acquainted with it and so much more connected to where I lived. I could walk around with an awareness of what was going on in the neighbourhoods and spheres that I had no personal stake in. I felt integrated and involved, like a real adult who lived in this real city. I loved getting into a Lyft in D.C. and hearing people listen to WAMU—once I even got in and someone was listening to a show I produced! And because Kojo is a local show, people have a much stronger connection to it. I was proud and happy that I was helping people get their stories told and I got a deeper appreciation for local journalism that I had never really thought about before.

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Our studio at WAMU.

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Me ~on the job~

So, living in D.C. wasn’t just fun because it was fun. It was fun because I felt like I grew up here. I was invested. I had to swim or I might’ve sunk.

But that isn’t to say that living in D.C. wasn’t fun. It was so, so, so much fun. It’s a great place to be in your early 20s. I loved where I lived. The apartment was so lovely. It’s a little intimidating to move into an apartment with someone you found on Craigslist and only spoke to over Google Hangouts for like 15 minutes. But I really enjoyed living with my roommate so much—a bonus was that she was pescatarian (!) and didn’t eat meat so I never had to worry about bacon/pork/sharing pots etc, haha.

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Me and my roommate, Sally.

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My fav corner of the apartment.

Plus, I loved the friends I made. They are some of the most amazing people I know. A lot of people move to a new city and have trouble growing roots but coming into D.C. with an intern class of 50-60 people was so much fun. Having a group of Malaysians in D.C. to have home-cooked dinner with every few weeks really made me feel comforted. And when my friend Clare who I knew from Penn moved to D.C., it just kept getting better. It was also nice to have people who I could say to people in D.C., “I knew them from before.” (I also liked that in D.C., I had a “before.” I came from somewhere in the U.S., and I had a history.) Plus, people were always visiting D.C. and I loved getting to see my friends like Busra, Jamie and Cristina as they passed through town.

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Most of the Tania dinner club crew.

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Nadia & Jin getting the shot for the ‘gram at Tania’s.

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Swee Ee’s tong yuen + bananagrams.

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And the neighbourhoods are so wonderful. I can’t even fully say how much. D.C. is so small and so dense but it is built of so many distinct neighbourhoods. With a 30 min walk within D.C., you can feel like you’re in a whole other city because each area is so different. And the neighbourhoods all push against each other and they’re always changing and growing. Something is always happening. There is always something to discover and rediscover.

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I also love that most tourists come for the weekend and they don’t see much other than the Mall and the monuments. And maybe they go downtown. Or they venture to U Street. But not everyone knows the amazing scrappy little restaurants in Columbia Heights or Petworth. Or the more sterile Tenleytown. Or historic Shaw. It’s like there’s D.C. the government city, the capital. And then there’s a little Narnia cupboard that you walk through if you live here and it’s D.C., a real, vibrant city.

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My life in D.C. is hard to walk away from. I wouldn’t have made that choice had I had a choice. It’s funny how something can fit easily like a glove but can difficult to remove.

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As I write this, I’m at the Doha airport and I don’t know how many more of these 24-hour journeys are ahead of me, but by the time you read this, I would probably have braved the entirety of my day-long journey. I will probably be home in my childhood bedroom, with its lavender walls, zoo-animal-themed ceiling light and finger-painted bathroom door. I have absolutely no idea what’s ahead of me, and I know I must resist the urge to keep looking back. But the one thing I know for sure at this point is that that when I do glance backwards, the image in the rear view mirror will be full of magic.

Nostalgia lives in our bodies

I don’t know if anyone else gets this thing where they’ll get a line stuck in their head, almost like it belongs to a poem or a song and you just have to finish it. I get that a lot. Lately, I’ve been thinking that nostalgia lives in our bodies.

I took a walk around my neighbourhood a few weeks ago and as I passed my secondary school, I could almost hear the school bell and I could almost feel the heat from the brick pavement through my chalk-white school shoes. I don’t miss school much if at all, but in that moment I felt like I could go back, like I was back.

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I still open doors in my house slowly and only a little bit at first before opening them all the way because I used to be scared that our cat was waiting outside for his time to bolt in. Katy has been gone for almost a year now.

My mum and I walked around Sunway Pyramid—a mall I used to know so well because I went there all the time—and was surprised by how disoriented I was. We played the guessing game of What Shop Used To Be Here Before This One as we walked through.

I smelled mosquito repellent being sprayed in my kitchen yesterday and instantly, images of Winnie the Pooh vocabulary books and the sounds chants my cousins and I used to sing before bed to stop us from wetting the bed (don’t kencing, don’t kencing, don’t kencing, while being held upside down) all came to my mind.

Nostalgia is shops and basketball courts and Ridsect and bedtime rituals. Nostalgia lives in our bodies, in our muscles and eyes and ears.

Freshman + Sophomore year highlights

I was thinking recently about what a shame it is that I only started this blog in my junior year because I genuinely do like scrolling through my own posts and looking back on all the things I know I would’ve otherwise forgotten. I think it’s also such a shame because I feel like I had so much more fun those first two years even though I would probably tell you I enjoyed it less. Like, yeah, I was a lot more homesick and a lot less adept at coping with Penn but I also had more time and less responsibility. I also did very poorly in school Sophomore year, so I mean… maybe that’s why it was memorable.

Then last week while I was procrastinating doing my laundry, I went through my external hard disk (or is it a hard drive?! ugh I never remember this) and compiled some of my favourite old pictures. I know a lot of these pictures are so overdue and probably won’t matter to you but these are insanely precious to me and I don’t have much else to do right now so I’m going to tell you about them!

Freshman Year

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A PICTURE OF ME AT KLIA LEAVING FOR PHILADELPHIA FOR THE FIRST TIME!!! That suitcase on the right was bought just for me to go to the US with and I loved it so much, but unfortunately on my way to Philly last August one of the corners broke and when my sister took this bag back last week, another corner broke as well, which is sad.

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During orientation, one of the best events was honestly Comedy Night. We had Hasan Minaj right before he became really huge. It was the first time I saw a comedy show and I had so, so, so much fun. I can’t remember what this particularly bit was about but he called up Anshu who was my next door neighbour in the dorms freshman year! How insanely lucky is that?!

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I had an app that lets me look at realtime CCTV footage from our house and occasionally I would catch my family doing day to day things. Here’s my dad coming home from the mosque, lol!

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Strictly speaking, not a picture from my camera roll but I must’ve saved it from Facebook—it’s a picture from my very first MSA GBM. I remember we played Taboo and got Kiwi after. Hanna was the first person I met here! One funny thing I remember about this event was I remember meeting Dahlia (who is in the front row with short curly hair) and the first thing I said to her was “wow you’re really pretty” LOL.

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I can’t believe this dorm pizza parties used to be a thing in my life. Every week or so we’d get an email from one of the faculty members who live in the house saying they’re hosting a pizza thing and we’d all go down and get some food. It looks fun, but trust me, these things were always awkward—very many painful small talks were had here.

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My Freshman year room!! I absolutely loved this room and I loved being in a single. That blanket on my bed has been sent home to Malaysia, that microwave is in my kitchen right now, that coat hanger is literally next to me as I type this and that black mug by the sink is what I used to drink coffee yesterday at iftar!

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I learned to crochet for like 2 mins once. I soaked up the sense of accomplishment and never went back.

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I feel like this is the first time May May, Sha and I got brunch together. It was the first time I went to Green Line and it was the morning before we went to King of Prussia for the first time to get all our fall clothes after an impromptu sleepover which we spent mostly talking about admissions essays, haha.

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These were my freshman year hallmates! I almost forgot that our RA, Cat, actually put these pictures up on the walls. We weren’t really that close but I am still friends with Clare and I do see some of the others from time to time.

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This was from Raya Haji / Eid al Adha 2013 and the boys (or should I say, the Halalapella) performed a song. BUT can we just talk about how the Syrian flag is literally taped upside down here for a second?!?!

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There was this one night May May texted me to tell me she was coming by and she was in a rush but wanted to drop something off and she gave me this!!! She just came back from Chinatown and bought me a small bottle of my favourite chili sauce from back home and I was so touched.

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I used to spend Friday afternoons volunteering with Write On!, a group based at the Kelly Writers’ House which teaches creative writing to kids from Lea Elementary. We had this activity once where we had to make poems out of a word bank and this was mine.

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I can already feel the joy I used to get when Sha and I would have this for lunch once a week! There used to be this Indonesian lady on Spruce Street who would sell halal satay on… I forget, it was either Tuesday or Thursday. Shahirah and I would get it for lunch together after Arabic class and it’s not even that good but it meant the world to us at the time.

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OMG look at how young we look! This is me, Clare and Charlotte at the only football game I ever, ever, ever went to. We didn’t even stay the whole time. I didn’t even understand a single thing.

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These flowers were from my family for my birthday in freshman year!! I’m having such a good laugh right now because I’m remembering what a fail the surprise was. Shahirah was supposed to order them and give them to me. We were at a dining hall one day and she was scrolling through her phone and she randomly asked me something about colours like “pink or orange?” (I hate orange, btw) and I was like “what???” but she didn’t tell me why. Then one day, not long after, we were doing homework or maybe just lazing around in her room when she gets a call and leaves me there and she comes back with the most NONCHALANT expression, with flowers and again, I was so confused because she said they were for me but her face was so expressionless it was like I was supposed to already know what they were for or who they were from. HAHAHA. I think she didn’t expect that I was going to be with her when she got them delivered but, oh well. Makes for such a good story.

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Another birthday surprise!!! This was at a Malaysians@Penn event and I’m pretty sure Marcus baked this cake! I remember that I took my birthday off Facebook but somehow a bunch of the Malaysians knew to wish me anyway and now I wonder if that had anything to do with this surprise.

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MY FIRST EVER SNOW! My family and I went to PPO to shop that day and when we came out, the parking lot was all covered in snow!!!

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Me and Sha at either London Heathrow or JFK, sad about going back to Penn after our first ever break. Aww, such kiddies.

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She actually asked me to take this picture of her to send to her friend Farah. I don’t know why.

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Quite possibly the best picture of Sha I’ve taken.

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Throwback to when I was still amazed by snow.

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People in the UK would sometimes say “oh you’re so lucky you get snow!” and I’d always have the mental image of this gunk in my head and think…. “no.”

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I used to pilfer eggs from the dining halls for snacks. Are you even surprised? You shouldn’t be. I LOVE EGGS.

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Chinese New Year packets from my RA, Cat!! Any holiday was bound to make me feel homesick and I remember feeling so happy to see this.

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I was in an intercultural fellowship program called FBIC in the spring of my Freshman year and it was so much fun, I learned so much about being a good ally to other communities. This was from our retreat where we all camped out in this house and played mafia.

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This was from an MSA treasure hunt of some sort where one of the tasks we had to do was take a picture of our group members making the letters MSA lol. I love how Irtiqa is basically just making a heart shape.

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When you’re so sleepy you could just take a nap on your friend’s backpack and your friend is clearly not pleased…..

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Hahahaha I was studying for finals and felt cold but I was only wearing slippers because I was in this study lounge in the dorms so I stuck my feet into…. my backpack.

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703 Harnwell was home to so many of us in the MSA. I think it was Ahmed, Arman, Majid and Habeeb who lived there. The door was always unlocked and people always came in and out. This particular night I was hanging out with just Fayaaz and Doc here—neither of whom actually lived in that room! This room was so useful to so many people that at the end of that year, there was actually an event for everyone to come and help clean 703. It will always be an iconic part of my freshman year for sure.

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Going out to dinner during reading days. Definitely our most iconic match. Always unintentional. This was after we had already spent the entire day guiltily watching a K Drama, mere days before finals.

Sophomore Year

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The first few days after we came back to Philly, Sha and I went to the city and got frozen yogurt. And right off the bat that August I knew I already felt better to be here than I did the year before. We sat at Rittenhouse Square just chilling and talking and it was such a nice evening. For the record, I was not grumpy. That’s just my face.

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Ken and I took ECON 101 together Sophomore fall! I always did homework with him. Honestly, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through any of my economics classes without his help.

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Petra, Shahirah and I walked to South Street together once and had brunch during Fall Break. Fun fact: we were taking pictures at this really pretty row of houses when I bump into Professor Block who taught me Math the year before. Guess what I said to him? I was like, “oh what are you doing here?” and he just said… “I live here.” LOL.

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Aww, throwback to when Sha and I shared a room (ok, not so aww, because sharing a room is tough) and we had our desks outside in the living room which is what later became my bedroom. My bed is now where the table on the left is—and it’s also where I’m sitting at the exact moment I’m typing this. Most of this furniture has now been sold and you just know there is going to be a post about my apartment once I fully move out of here.

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We threw a housewarming party and to this day, I cannot believe what a successful party that turned out to be. Like, really. Farah brought Trader Joes pumpkin tarts. We ran out of pizza. People just kept coming. We successfully played some sort of game that involved everyone‘s full cooperation (it might have been that whispering chain thing). A bunch of people stayed late and played Cards Against Humanity. It was so, so, so much fun. I would definitely say this is one of my absolute favourite nights in all my time in college.

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Another one, just because Busra and Shahirah are so cute here.

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I’m posting this because I remember that what song we were listening to while I took this picture! It was MisterWives’ cover of Vance Joy’s Riptide.

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I think we were playing games in our apartment and…. that’s Habeeb’s feet. We got several texts from our old neighbour Shirley that night to tell us to keep it down, oops lol.

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To commemorate the time my laptop broke down and I lived on May May’s iPad for like a week.

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The best way to describe my ECON 101 experience is to tell you that this picture was taken at 3:58am at Van Pelt library. We did this pretty much every week that semester. Homework was due at the start of class at 9 am and sometimes we’d go, turn it in and leave to go home and sleep.

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I’m posting this because I have no recollection whatsoever about this night. Why was Ahsen on our apartment floor sewing?????? Ok wait, come to think of it, I think I remember Ahsen and Sha getting into some argument about feminism but I do not remember sewing being part of that night at all.

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One of the most memorable moments in all of my college career. I was so severely underprepared for my MATH114 exam. Like I would do question after question after question and just not be getting the crux of the concept down. I think I came to SPARC to get help from Fayaaz. I bumped into Doc there and I cried so much and he told me he was also struggling with a class and was thinking about withdrawing from it. Then Fayaaz and Ali helped me with some of these while I sobbed and someone made me tea. And I say this was one of the most memorable moments only because this was the first of many, many more times where my friends really got me through.

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There isn’t a lot of story behind this other than the Write On! kids writing about fantastical creatures and drawing them on the blackboard. It was a really fun day.

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I don’t remember what I was upset about but Shahirah bought me flowers!!!

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Peter and Ken at my “surprise birthday party” in 2014!! This was a hilarious surprise because I was doing Econ homework and I texted Ken wanting to get his help and I was like ok I’ll meet you wherever you are. He said he had to go to Chestnut Hall (which is where May May, Sha and I all lived at the time, though May May was in a different room down the hall) to get a package from May May. So I followed him there, not knowing of course, that it was his job to only bring me to my room at the right time. While he got the package from May May, I was like “ok since we’re here I’ll just go to my room for a bit” and I walk in….. and there are flowers and snacks and balloons and….. NO ONE WAS THERE. Then Cristina came out of the kitchen and was like “NOOOOO!!!!” Hahahaha.

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Birthday dinner that same year at Vientiane, my fav restaurant in West Philly. Hanna made me this card which somehow got passed around the table and was signed by everyone at the table without my knowledge. Very impressive. Though I do remember Zohair acting pretty sketchy at dinner. The drawing is of a Taylor Swift Hello Kitty, of course. She is holding a pen and my name is written on a line as an homage to “Blank Space”.

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This is what our cabinet looked like most of Sophomore year, lol.

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I think this was a Malaysians@Penn meeting where we ate wayyyy too much of Ken’s precious snacks and he didn’t stop us because he was too kind. Sorry, Ken.

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Restaurant Week dinner at Buddakan with Hanna and Shahirah (and a bunch of other people). We got sent a bunch of extra dessert that night for some reason which was really cool because the doughnuts were amazing.

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This was one of those nice cosy nights just chilling. I remember it snowed that night and it was one of those times where we wasted too much time not being able to decide what movie to watch that we ended up not watching anything.

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I think Keyan or Ahmed sent out a text in the GroupMe about how it was going to be the “last nice day” of the year before winter fully kicked in so we all went to Old City to get Franklin Fountain ice cream. This night was also so much fun. We took an insane amount of pictures, especially Ahsen and me, lol. On the train ride back, we had an empty cart and we did pull ups on the rails. When we were approaching like 15th St on the train, a bunch of us were like, let’s get down and go to Rittenhouse but most people were unsure and then we got to 15th St station and the doors open and everyone had to make a split decision to get out or not and in the end only me, Keyan and Uzair got off. It was such a funny night.

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I actually can’t remember whether I drew that smiley face because I’m usually against the long eyes, but I know for sure Sha took this picture.

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When May May lived down the hall from us, we would sometimes just hang out in our pyjamas and talk and I loved those nights. This is her in her favourite pusheen PJs.

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One of the most memorable things about Sophomore year was my anthropology class where we basically had to document all these like scraps of household things like ceramics and glass and rocks that have been dug up. The class was at the very edge of campus and it was a 3-hour block on Friday nights and we had to walk there in the bitter cold (actually, one time, Ahmed and I Uber-ed back lol) but I took it because it was one of those easy A things and it was pretty fun because I had Ahmed Yousaf and Doc with me. We had a  groupchat called “Professor Schuyler Rocks” and in class we would just chat with each other while drawing and weighing objects. The homeworks were also really interesting, he would show us these really obscure old objects and we would have to turn in write ups on basically as much information we could find on them as possible and we always found out the most random things about beer companies or glass companies established in the 1800s or whatever and just… it was the most random class I ever took.

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In my Sophomore year, I did APALI, which is the Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative and it was this really cool program where we got to learn about culture and diversity and we got to really bond with the other people in our APALI class. Here’s me with some of them at dinner! At the end of our program we all had to write letters to each other and initially I wanted to post a picture of those letters because I still keep them and revisit them from time to time but they’re too personal so here’s this instead to commemorate one of my favourite programs at Penn.

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THE YEAR I GOT MAY MAY’S BIRTHDAY WRONG. I thought it was the day after it actually was her birthday and it was so embarrassing…. Peter was like “her birthday was yesterday” and Peter is a joker you know? So I was like “hahahaha no it’s not” but then he started laughing and was like “uh… yeah it is” and I was like crap.

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When me and Julia ditched fling and stayed in and napped and read instead. Then later in the evening we decided to dress up and go out to….. Wawa and Trader Joe’s. LOL.

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At Spring Fling, there’s always this stall that sells deep fried oreos which are really as sinful as they sound. I never ever ever go to fling in the Quad even though I actually lived there freshman year (I camped out at Sha’s room that year). I hate the crowds of people. But sophomore year, I wanted to try these things so Ahsen literally accompanied me in and bought them for me. I tasted one and was like “ok you can have the rest” and left, hahaha.

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Clare and I also ditched fling to have dinner in the city at V Street that year!

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Marcus eating the beignets that Tim made for us and Ken. They were so so so good.

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The Malaysians in my year always have a picnic the Sunday after fling. Sophomore year, Peter decided to take my phone and take like 62 selfies with it haha. This was also the year he….. accidentally hit someone with a football.

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My wisdom tooth extraction!!!!!!!! This was such a headache, honestly. Getting an appointment at the Dental School was so unnecessarily complicated. I was so nervous about this that I decided to go alone (I don’t like being with people for big events like this which is why I checked my exam results and college acceptances alone lol) and I had to walk myself back after the surgery. I remember they told me not to spit or swallow all my saliva but rather to let it drool????? And I was like??? HOW DO I DO THAT??? WHILE WALKING HOME???

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Probably the first time Hanna and I ever hung out together just the two of us! We got Honest Tom’s, which is what I’m going to have tonight hehe.

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I submitted that picture I took in Thailand in 2013 of the Floating Market for a charity photo auction thing and I was very flattered when my friend Giovanni was arguing with someone over wanting to buy it, haha.

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The very very very first time Hui Jie and I hung out together! I remember thinking we were fine and I had a nice time but we didn’t get along spectacularly or anything like that and thinking that ok, maybe I wouldn’t try to become closer friends with her… but throughout junior year she kind of persisted her way into my life and I AM SO GLAD because if you follow my blog you probably know that she is a key pillar of my support system and I would have it no other way.

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This is Fayaaz! He was such a good friend to me. He was two years ahead of me so he graduated the year I was a sophomore. This was taken on his birthday I think, when Habeeb and I met him in front of his place and took him into the city to surprise him at Aki, which is this buffet sushi place. We ate so much that night. Everyone was just passed out at the table by the end of it. And for whatever reason, we decided to go to a classroom in DRL to hang out after that, haha. GOOD TIMEZ.

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Sha’s parents visited us at the tail end of Sophomore year and we all stayed up until Commencement and her mom cooked the most amazing feast at our apartment. It was intense. There was so much smoke from all the cooking that it was the only time our smoke detector ever went off. You would get off the lift at our floor and you’d be able to smell the food right away even though our room was all the way down the hall. And the food was probably the most delicious thing ever prepared in our kitchen.

OMG. Ok. That’s all the pictures! That ended up being more words than I thought there would be but I hope you found these mildly entertaining, haha. I just wanted to have a mark of my first 2 years of college on here somehow before I fully close the ~college~ chapter. Expect one more post about my apartment after I move out and then I promise I will stop writing about Penn and Philadelphia, haha.

Until then, thank you for reading! 🙂

When Your Neighbour Lends You Her Muffin Pan

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

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

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

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

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I promise they taste better than they look!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cristi with my muffins ❤

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

History makes homes

I really like London. In London, the news comes on and I recognise the intro tune from a time I can’t remember. There’s the corner of Hyde Park where we all shared a crayfish sandwich. Even tube stations leave me with a lot to be nostalgic about: I know I’ve been to Queensway with Eugene, we used to go to Holland Park a lot when my uncle lived there, we took the stairs down the Covent Garden station by (a huge) mistake once. We’ve been to this restaurant before. Oh, and there’s Whitleys, where Natasha couldn’t finish her sour mango ice cream.

I think I like places for a past. That’s why moving to Philadelphia over three years ago was so difficult. Here was a land I had never step foot in, one I had scarcely ever heard about from the people I knew. A switch in a mailing address does not equate moving homes.

But I like Philly a bit more now. I like that I’ve had the same apartment for over two years now. I like the way I can tell it has been snowing by the way the tiles in my apartment lobby look. I like how I know whether or not I’ll make the traffic light before I actually get there. I can walk to Van Pelt on autopilot and instinctively know to avoid the steamy pot hole on the way there. The way walking past Starbucks on 39th gives me deep chills because it reminds me of pre-sunrise coffee runs. This didnt just happen. I earned this. We earn the places we call home.

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It feels surreal to be back one last time. It feels like it has been ages since I was last here, but at the same time, I feel like winter break never happened and the only evidence I ever left is the number of Sainsbury’s bags I have on my bedroom floor.

It’s bound to be an interesting semester and I’ve started it with…. a trip to the doctor’s and cups and cups of hot tea. Haha, sigh. I’m sick. Again. I must’ve gotten it from my mum and sister in London, but now I’m breathing through my mouth and don’t have an appetite and lol idk. It is what it is la huh?

I’m trying for a more relaxed semester than the one I had last Fall, which really kept me busy constantly. But I don’t know if that will happen. I was done with my president post in December, but now I’ve got my hands tied in 2 more side projects/activities. I’m taking 4 classes instead of 5, but I signed up for a weekly lecture series so it kind of adds up to 5. I’m still TA-ing for Intro Psych. So, we’ll see—it seems like busy is the only way I know how to function, haha. Considering I actually did pretty well last semester, it might not be a bad thing to keep my hands full. But I do want to spend more time with friends and enjoy the city before I leave. Hmm. Anyway, I’ll keep you updated 🙂

(shoutout to my mom for correcting 2 typos on this post lol)

Thanksgiving

It’s the last Thursday of November. The streets sound a little quieter. Earlier this morning, I made scrambled eggs for breakfast. It was a nice day—my ideal fall weather. My hair was freshly washed, my skin just-lotioned and I was in loose-fitting home clothes. I had my lychee candle and my peach candle lit. My bedroom was clean. I had a cup of tea by my side. I sat by myself, undisturbed, flipping through pages of The Liars’ Club.

I know I whine a lot about how stressed I am so often but really, if I had to do this for the rest of my life, I would not be mad. I felt so contented. My job everyday is to soak in knowledge, learn and just work on myself. I feel so lucky.

Happy thanksgiving, friends. Have a good, restful holiday.  🙂