Hurrah, Hurrah

(Fair warning: this is a long one)

I pray I never forget that all of this was once a distant dream.

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I don’t want to go too far back with this post, but I’ll start by saying I remember snippets of 2013. Photos of Stanford were my wallpapers and cover photos, and I spent every single day toiling over application essays. I remember the day all the decisions came in, and I was in Malaysia so it was in the middle of the night and I woke up just to check my emails and the Penn decision was the last one I opened after a stream of rejections and a song came on but it still hadn’t occurred to me what that meant because I was still scanning for a “sorry” or an “unfortunately” as I successfully found in the previous letters. Oddly enough, I don’t remember what happened next or who I told first or what we did to celebrate. But I remember feeling apprehensive. I remember tearing up at the mere thought of leaving the country, leaving the people and places I knew, the people and places that made me, me.

And before I knew it, I was thrown into the Penn current. One of my clearest, probably most defining moments at Penn was early in the Fall semester of my Freshman year when Shahirah and I walked out of Huntsman after Malaysians@Penn Elections. The upperclassmen were talking about their other time commitments this semester and it was the first time I saw that students here were really involved, and involved in so many different cool things I could never imagine myself doing. Shahirah and I left the elections and I panicked. I felt like I was absolutely in over my head at this school. I saw so vividly the gap between where I was and where I was expected to be and it scared me. We sat down on a random bench on Locust, just past the Tampons (to non-Penn readers: it’s a structure on campus and Tampons is just the shorthand, though idk what it’s really called) and she and I just talked it out.

A friend once told me, you never want to be the smartest person in the room. Well, that was never a problem here because I think the freshman year panic attack was the beginning of four years of being on the bottom ranks of every single room I was in. It was a huge, long, drawn out lesson in humility. Repeatedly, I was tested with the temptation of comparison. Everyone else seemed to be doing so much more, so much better. I learned to tell myself to keep my head down and all my time here has been a piecemeal process towards internalising the belief that my trajectory cannot be compared with anyone else’s because we didn’t all come from the same place—and that doesn’t mean victimising myself or whatever, just… acknowledging the fact that we’ve had vastly different experiences, and any comparison is meaningless. I don’t think I’ve completely bought this idea yet, but I am a lot better at it now than I used to be.

Besides that, I think graduating college is difficult because I don’t know for sure how else I am different than I used to be. Not being able to answer that question, I’ve once said before, is like leaving the petrol station after filling up your tank without a gas indicator; you don’t know whether you’ve really gotten enough out of it. I think I find it difficult to list the ways in which I’ve grown. It’s not really reflected in my grades. I didn’t learn Excel like I thought I would. I still read primary documents very slowly. I still write with a lot of planner’s paralysis. So even though I’ve had a tumultuous love-hate relationship with Penn, I feel like I leave with a heavy heart, like I fell short, like I wasted my time.

And it’s not just the unpreparedness that weighs on me, it’s also that my grief really blindsided me. I struggled to make a home out of this place (case in point) and I revolted at the notorious work hard play hard never ever stop pre-professional pretend-everything-is-ok-even-when-its-not culture of the campus. I didn’t like it. I’ve attended college application workshops in Malaysia unofficially representing Penn and applicants would come up to me with wide-eye wonder and I’d be expected to talk up my school and I wouldn’t know what to say because I didn’t like it. I cried my eyes out like something was being yanked from inside me every time I had to leave KL because I didn’t like it. I left right after every final and arrived right before every semester’s first class because I didn’t like it (exhibit A, exhibit B). I told people I wouldn’t miss it because I didn’t like it. You get the picture! So, part of me is so upset that I didn’t see this coming. I knew I would miss my friends and learning, but I didn’t expect to feel so sad to say goodbye to all the things I feel like I didn’t enjoy. People tell me that I’m very self-aware and introspective, and even earlier in this essay, I said that I think I’ve grown most in self-discernment. So the fact that all of this caught me off guard has been really disconcerting. Do I actually so severely lack astuteness? Was I just too stubborn?

A few days after commencement, I texted my friend Hanna like “is this what labour feels like? It’s the most painful thing ever and then you give birth and see your baby and you’re like I LOVE THIS and you just do it again and again” because maybe that’s what this was. Maybe I could have never seen it coming, and maybe I should be less hard on myself (another lesson I grappled with throughout my time at Penn, and one that I think will continue for years). But I leave curious when this shift happened. When did I start to love this place? When did it start to feel like home? (side note: it made me think of that song in Beauty and the Beast where they’re having a snowball fight and they sing “there may be something there that wasn’t there before” because that’s when they noticed they were falling in love and I wish in life things could be as clear as they are in Disney films)

I wrote about this in January, but maybe I just underestimated the extent to which my feelings towards this place were changing:

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 didn’t just happen. I earned this. We earn the places we call home.

Anyway. I guess I still have a long way to go with regards to getting better at reflecting, etc. Funnily enough, I recall several remarks being made at commencement this year about how knowing yourself is important. Jennifer Egan, the College of Arts and Science commencement speaker spoke about how writing helped “organise her reality” and urged us to “look inward” and “spend time with ourselves”. I believe in these things to be true in my life as well, but have yet to learn why that’s so because I think in all my time at Penn, I’ve felt that these were not things that were valued as much—they don’t clearly lead to bottom line results. So, I suppose I’m a) grateful that the things I valued in my journey through Penn were validated in these speeches and b) looking forward to seeing how/when it will be important.

On the note of looking ahead, I’ve mentioned before that I am worried about losing my work ethic, no longer being able to read broadly across so many different fields, failing to think critically without the push of a classroom environment. I don’t know where life will take me. It’s so unnerving to lose the reliable structure of neatly compartmentalised time blocks: 4 months in the spring semester, 4 months at home for summer and 4 months in the fall for 4 years, only to walk into a mush of time and uncertainty where I have a lot more free reign over how long I spend where. I worry that without this structure I’ve grown with, I will flail around more than I’d like.

I know I’m making this all seem so terribly depressing, but I think I just have a good memory for a lot of these things so I tend to wallow in all of it and you know, it’s both a blessing and a curse to remember so much. At the end of every semester, people are always quick to quip that time just flies, and I never really relate to that. Shahirah thinks it’s because I retain so much memory that my perception of time is a little different. And as everyone makes those same remarks again at graduation, I genuinely empathise but stop short of saying it felt like it was all just yesterday. I empathise because I realise now I will miss it, and it feels like it might have passed quickly because part of me wants it back. But I refuse to say it was just yesterday because although I cannot name the ways in which I have grown, I also don’t feel like the person I was in 2013. Is that paradoxical? She just seems so distant from who I am today. I don’t dress like that, or listen to the same music anymore. I stop short of saying it feels like just yesterday because it reduces the amount of time and energy that I clearly remember it taking to get here.

I predict that I will look back at this campus like it’s a childhood playground where I had once ran, fell and scraped my knees over and over again; a place both risky and safe all at once. I hope I never forget the late nights spent agonising over one more page of the textbook, the times I sat outside the exam hall trying to flip through my study guides just once more as quickly as possible, the stress of running from meeting to meeting feeling like there is never any time in between for anything else, tripping over the manhole on the way to class, crying on Locust over my first C. I want to remember. I want to remember everything. I want to remember where we kept all the pots and pans and glassware in our apartment, I want to remember the view from my bedroom and lab, I want to remember where the nearest bathroom is from my favourite place in Van Pelt, where the onions are at FroGro, where all my friends used to live (shout out to 4002 Ludlow I love you guys so much), which department belonged in which building, who taught me what and when, what my go-to order is at Sweetgreen I JUST WANT TO REMEMBER IT ALL. Because it was difficult to make a home out of this place and all these little things is what made it happen and I feel like if I forget, it will make everything less real.

It was real. It was real when Ken, Hui Jie and I took a spontaneous trip to Chinatown for bubble tea, when May May spent the afternoon assembling furniture with me and Shahirah, when Sha and I seemed to dress the exact same way for a whole year, when Jamie used to come down to my room just to taste some of my food, when Busra let me use her single room in Rodin as refuge because I needed a place to be alone, when Sofia drew cartoons of dogs on the blackboard when we were supposed to be solving math equations, when Cristina helped me move out of the Quad, when Rashad saw me crying on Walnut that one crappy day and walked me home, when Hanna made me pesto sandwiches, when Peter first told me the story of how he used to work at Pandora, when Clare and I watched documentaries on Bill Cunningham and Banksy like the nerds we are, when Julia and I dressed to the nines to go to Trader Joe’s during fling, when Selina got really tipsy and started walking down Locust with locked knees, when Claire and I pulled an all nighter to the soundtrack of Frozen, when Zohair, Keyan and I sang Taylor Swift tunes at the corner of the street while waiting for Penn Ride to pick us up for ice skating, when Adel finished that crossword puzzle with me, when I walked out of Rodin at 7 am to go home to sleep and Irtiqa was walking in to Rodin to go home to sleep and we laughed about it together, when Iman called the dentist demanding on my behalf that I get some pain killers after my tooth surgery, when Adam gave me crap for not following him back on Instagram, when Fayaaz took me to South Street for the first time,  when Habeeb, Doc, Yusra and I were on MSA Social Committee together, when Ahsen presented me with a tiara for my birthday, when Ahmed and I Uber-ed back from our night class at the museum, when Petra took me out to lunch as a lost little freshman, when my freshman year RA Cat gave me advice about making friends. It was all real. And I want to remember it all.

Really, it has been my friends. My friends were the ones who made this all bearable, who made this all worth it. I was talking to Professor Pollack last week, who told me about how he felt that he “had found his people” when he went to Harvard for grad school. Though I did not love the school per se, I had that same sneaking suspicion about my new friends when I came to Penn. In October, Shahirah, May May and I had a spontaneous sleepover and in the morning, decided to go to King of Prussia to shop. On the bus to the mall, I was stuck with the My Little Pony song, Friendship Is Magic and they were probably like what is wrong with this girl, but I don’t think I told them that the reason I even thought of that song in the first place was the line “I used to wonder what friendship would be, until you all shared its magic with me.” To all my friends at Penn (and I’m sorry if I didn’t mention your name here, it was inevitable that I’d miss someone), I knew when I met each one of you that I had been waiting my whole life to meet you. I think that’s the kind of feeling people describe when they talk about meeting their soulmates, so how lucky was I to have felt that with so many of you? I respect you all so much, and I will look up to you for the rest of my life. I am grateful to have met you and I will miss you all. I am 100% the type of person who gets random flashbacks of memories all the time and usually when I do, I make a mental note to mention it the next time I see that person but because I don’t know when I will see most of you next, be totally prepared for me to text you all random “omg do you remember that time when…” texts, just because that’s the kind of thing I do. And I hope to see you again soon.

So I guess, this is it. It’s over. I don’t really know what else to say, I didn’t have a nice sweet ending planned with a bow on top or whatever. But thank you, I guess. I think I will spend years of my life belatedly uncovering the gems Penn has given me that I currently don’t yet see. But for now, I will try to let it sink in that this was all once a dream, and despite everything I’ve gone through here, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else. Penn and everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting here, you are now the people and place that makes me, me.


P.S. For the few months leading up to graduation, I interviewed some of my friends about our plans or lack thereof and recorded all of those conversations. I then transcribed them and edited them into a little audio thing, and if you’re curious, have 40 minutes to spare or would just like to hear my rambly voice, you can listen to it here.

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CHICAGO, IL.

I get why they call it the Windy City now. I’ve said on multiple occasions now that I’m quite proud of myself for being so much better at braving the cold, since I’ve spent 4 winters in Philadelphia. Yet, the cold of Chicago was different because of the wind. Even though it was about 10-13 degrees C most of the time (that’s 50-55 degrees F, to my American friends—I googled that for you), my fingers were freezing and I kinda wished I wore gloves. Regardless, I had so much fun with Hui Jie in that beautiful city.

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We flew out of Trenton Mercer on Saturday. I think it was the smallest most desolate airport I have ever been to—smaller than even the Bandung Airport, which, if I recall correctly, closed for the day after we flew back to KL. Anyway, I realise that just means I’ve been really spoilt/lucky. But I digress. So yeah, we flew Frontier to O’Hare and when we landed, Hui Jie turned to me and said “I want McDonald’s.” So that’s what we did; the McDonald’s was literally just one gate away from the gate we arrived at, haha.

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But here’s where my favourite thing that day happened: we saw a pony. At the airport. This woman and her pony walked past us and I was like, “is that a—?” and before I could finish my sentence, this other woman in front of me turned around and said “YEP!” and her daughter turned around and told me “we just took a picture with it!” For the rest of the day, I could not stop thinking about how amazing it was that I saw a pony at the airport.

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Awful picture quality but I was too excited to think about the picture.

After we got to the Airbnb, we quite quickly headed back out for the rest of the evening. We spent most of the evening at the Navy Pier, which was really cold but very pretty. We got a nice view of the skyline, and the atmosphere was really nice because it was like a funfair type thing except there was probably like a huge prom going on because there were so many people in dresses (who all, by the way, I feel like look older and way more sophisticated than me). It was a very chill day, we just went to dinner and then a speakeasy in town later that night. I mostly just loved the vibe of the city. Hui Jie said it felt like a cleaner New York.

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These shrimp tacos and that parmesan pepper calamari were amazinggg.

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The Rock n Roll McDonalds next to Hard Rock

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Us at the Speakeasy

The next day we walked along the river and then down Magnificent Mile, which is like their shopping area thing. It was absolutely beautiful, and I think there must’ve been a french bulldog show or something going on because we saw so many of them along our river walk.

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For lunch, we had this amazing cod sandwich, which is probably like the best fish sandwich I have ever had—it was so perfectly battered, oh my god. And because our next planned thing was not until much later in the evening, we spent a lot of the afternoon at Uniqlo. Specifically, the Starbucks at Uniqlo LOL. We got frappuccinos (which I usually never order) because they were half off for happy hour, so it was only like $2 and I couldn’t resist a good deal, hahaha.

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Then, we went to Second City to watch a comedy show called the Fantastic Super Great Nation Numero Uno. A lot of it was about American culture/politics. It was so funny and entertaining. It really reminded me of why comedy is considered a very effective tool for storytelling and commentary. I also really loved the cast, they were so talented and I genuinely hope for amazing things for them in the future. My favourite part of the night was probably their improv section where they ask the crowd for suggestions for words and start acting out a scene based on that word. I highly recommend going for one of their shows if you’re in Chicago! Hui Jie and I had so many good laughs that night.

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The next day (sorry, I just keep saying next day and the next day because I really have lost track of the days but I’m now talking about Monday, I think) was our most touristy day. We spent the whole morning at the Chicago Art Institute. It was one of the most beautiful art museums I’ve ever been to, though it did not beat Louisiana in Copenhagen. The modern art section was my favourite, but I also really liked seeing the Asian and Islamic art sections. Looking at batik designs and artefacts with Islamic motifs made me feel just a teeny bit closer to home.

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For lunch, we went to the Revival Food Hall which is essentially a food court, but it was an amazing food court. I got an amazing egg sandwich and fries. Then Hui Jie got coffee and for the second day in a row, we just sat there chilling with our coffees for a long time before getting back out. I even got to charge my phone back up to 100% at that coffee place.

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Eventually, we did get back up and we headed to see some shops before heading to Millennium Park, which was the one thing I knew Chicago had before ever going there. I must say, it was cool to see the bean/Cloud Gate in real life because I mean, obviously it’s like a very famous landmark… but it was also kinda dirty and underwhelming, hahaha. Still, we got plenty of good pictures and I think the park itself was a really nice one—probably one I’d like to go to if I lived there.

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After Cloud Gate, we went back to Revival for dinner (!!!) because we thought it’d be too late to eat dinner after going to Willis Tower. Plus, we had initially wanted to get poke bowls from there for lunch but they were out of salmon so we got something else and came back for dinner. It was totally worth waiting for, by the way. So good.

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Then, on a full tummy, we went to Willis Tower, which is where everyone goes to see the view of Chicago and take a picture on that glass floor thing. I am not the best with heights so I was pretty nervous about going on that ledge thing but I managed to do it by not looking down at all. Plus, there was a long line of people waiting to take pictures so there was really no time to look at the view.

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On our last day, we spent the morning near Wicker Park. We got coffee at Intelligentsia, and took a lot of pictures, haha. Then we walked around and looked at the shops around there, which was a really nice area. My favourite shop was this one called Secret Agent Supply Co. They sell a lot of books that are compilations of writings by public school students in this creative writing program called 826 operating in cities all over, like Seattle, LA, New York, Chicago, Detroit and DC. All the proceeds go back to supporting these programs, so I bought this one book consisting of cute and moving letters written by kids addressed to Michelle Obama.

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We also got some really good takeout from En Hakkore in that area so that we’d have something to eat on the flight. It was so good and it’s another thing I also highly recommend if you are in Chicago. The sushi burrito thing was honestly amazing. But then it was time to head back to Philly and we took the train to the airport. Only after I got on the platform did I feel like I needed a bathroom and I swear, it was the longest 45 minutes of my life. When the train announcer person thing said “we are experiencing delays” I really had to remind myself that the pants I was wearing were new in order to help me through. But we got to O’Hare with my pants dry and clean and I have never felt so happy to see a stinky airport bathroom ever before.

I’ve been back in Philly for 2 days now, and it’s been nice to just hang out with my friends without anything really weighing on me other than the fact that there’s this huge goodbye looming over us. But I guess that’s also why I’m glad I got to take this trip with Hui Jie before we go our “separate ways”. She’s been one of the most important people in my life these past few years and I’m glad we got to close out college with this Chicago trip.

Just Like That

I always knew it would happen, but having it all actually happen felt both very emotional and anti-climactic at the same time. Two Mondays ago (because I owe you a blog post from that week) I went for my last Barre class at Pottruck (our gym) with the instructor, Diane. As we were about to leave, I said my goodbyes and almost teared up and lost my words but thankfully for the power of social norms/conventions, I didn’t. I did my usual thing where I asked for a picture and she obliged and just like that, I don’t know when I’ll ever see her again.

The entire week was full of lasts. I had my last class on Tuesday, it was Astronomy. Look, I know I’ve not had the best relationship with this class—in fact, when he posted a poll about how we felt about the class, this is how I answered.

I kinda wanted to answer the first option but the poll wasn’t anonymous, hahaha. So anyway, yeah, I didn’t love it but it was good for me. I learned so much. The seasons are not caused by varying distances from the sun. Spacetime was not a thing invented by Hollywood. We only ever see one side of the moon. I walked out of DRL that day and was like, wow I’m done. But at the same time… I didn’t quite have the time to feel that way because immediately, I was thrown into finals season. So honestly, it did not feel like anything major. It was more like… just another semester.

The thing that made me most feel sad was having my last post-Astronomy lunch with Ken and Hui Jie. I made us play some Sporcle geography quizzes at lunch just to make it extra special too, hehe. But the rest of the week was just back to work. I had a poster presentation thing with the Psychology department where you have to present what you’ve been doing research on, and all the faculty will come talk to you and ask you questions. I have to admit, my poster printing was a pretty last minute situation… so much so that I was kinda working on it at other events and stuff right up to the very minute I had to print it. But it all turned out okay. I stood in front of my poster for 2 hours. Ken and Hui Jie turned up to support me!

Thinking back now, that day was so annoyingly hectic. I had to meet my research advisor to just go over what to put on my poster again, but I could only stay 20 mins because I had to go to Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg’s Authors@Wharton event, which I ended up being a little late to and having to leave early because I wanted to attend the Pan Asian American Community House (PAACH) end of year celebration… which I also had to leave early because it would’ve ended at 8-ish and I had to book my poster printing appointment with the printer at 7. It really annoys me whenever I know I’m not really being present at any one place, and that’s one thing I’m glad to move on from right now.

Besides the rushing around though, it was a good day. Sheryl Sandberg’s talk thing was so good. Seriously. I cried almost throughout the entire thing. She was talking about her new book with Wharton professor Adam Grant, which is all about grief and how we deal with it. She lost her husband two years ago and this book was born out of that experience.

Sandberg talked about how we tend to not ask how people are doing anymore if it’s not the first time we’ve seen them since a traumatic/heartbreaking incident happened because we are afraid we will “remind them” of it. She made a very good point, which is that we can’t remind anyone they lost their husband. They already know that, and are probably thinking about it constantly. She also talked about how it’s more useful for us to say “there’s this thing I can do to help you” when we’re trying to support someone as opposed to “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” because the latter puts the onus on the person who is hurting to figure things out. I thought that was really powerful.

She also pointed out links between grief and confidence: when she got back to work after losing her husband, she felt like she was not at her best at all. And it made her feel like “great, I lost my husband now I’m going to lose my job too”. According to her, what helps during this time is pointing out little things that the person who’s hurting usually doesn’t need complimenting on in order to build back their confidence. I just really related to all of that so much and I think it was all such useful advice. I’m very excited to read Option B this summer.

Then, Thursday and Friday (and the rest of the weekend) were reading days, which are essentially days off for you to study before finals but people end up using them to have farewell events etc. I had two that weekend, one with Malaysians at Penn and the other with the Muslim Students Association.

The MAP senior sendoff was fun because it was really yummy Malaysian food at this place called Sate Kampar in South Philly. The MSA one was also really fun because we were such a huge group and it was nice to see all the MSA seniors together. They gave us superlatives (I got “most likely to go viral” LOL) and sweet little cards at the end of the night and I was so moved. Honestly, these two communities have been a huge part of making me feel at home at Penn and I’m sad to “leave” it but I know they were always part of the process of supporting us as we go on to bigger and better things.

Fun fact: MSA senior send off was initially supposed to be at this Indian restaurant called Sitar which made me so excited because at the time I found out, I had been craving it for ages. I think I was almost going to go to Sitar on the day they told me about the dinner but when they said it would be held there I decided to wait. PLOT TWIST. The afternoon before the event, they changed the location to Manakeesh. I went to Sitar for lunch immediately.

The rest of the weekend was dedicated to poring over the Astronomy textbook. I hadn’t been doing a good job of keeping up with the material so it really was like binge-watching a tv show except, it was binge-reading a textbook. I was actually quite nervous about how much I didn’t know so those few days were intense. I did little else other than eat sleep and read that textbook. The exam on Tuesday actually turned out pretty well considering how (not) prepared I was! I was very happy with how I did and was glad to be done with the class. So there. This blog can say goodbye to me complaining about that class now.

I spent the rest of the evening after the exam hardcore chilling. Professor Connolly took all her TAs out to thank us for the semester so that was fun—I have loved getting to know her over the past year more as a person, beyond the classroom. Then Cristina came over to my place and we made broccoli and cheddar soup for dinner. I have to say, it was pretty good. I spent the rest of the night catching up on the past season of The Big Bang Theory (oops, guess I wasn’t really done with Astronomy then).

The rest of my finals were relatively chill. I had to write a paper about my research (which I had already written half of) and take an exam for my Psychology class (which was based on only the last few weeks of material and was open book). I took my Psychology final on Thursday evening (though I ended up forgetting the book!) then came back to write the rest of that research paper thing.

The next morning—let me warn you, this story is about to take a turn but I promise I’ll bring it back—I woke up, watched a YouTube video about how to make the best grilled cheese sandwich and got out of bed to go make it. I switched the light on and I saw something spread out on the kitchen counter. I wondered, “huh, what did I spill?!” before I realised, to my utter heartbreak and terror, that my bread had been chewed through from the side, through the plastic by a RAT!!!!!!!!!!! I mean I didn’t actually see it but what else could it be?!

I was so scared I couldn’t go back in there. I told Shahirah about it then texted my family about the scene I had just witnessed. My sister laughed about the fact that I called it a “scene” so in order to justify my word choice, I marched back into the kitchen to take a picture. AND I SAW IT, GUYS!!! I SAW THE LITTLE CREATURE. I screamed sooooooo louddddd and just start shaking and burst into spontaenous tears.

Naturally, I just packed up my stuff and left to go to Starbucks. Hey, don’t judge. I had a paper to write still (told you I’d bring it back to the paper). So yeah, I spent the rest of my morning terrified but powering through, proof reading my paper and editing last bits. It was due at 5. By about 2, I was really done and was just staring at it. That was it. It was over. I still had to print it out and submit it to the department but… I was done. I’m now a “graduate”, even though I feel no different at all.

After putting it off enough, I went to print and submit it. Then I just sat in the lobby of the psychology building for a bit…. feeling… I really don’t know what I was feeling. It felt like I was suspended in air. Floating. Cut loose from gravity or whatever. It was just me in a chair, awkwardly looking around. No confetti, no smarter than I was the day before. It was strange.

Because I didn’t want to linger and that feeling of weirdness, I got bubble tea and went to Ken and Hui Jie’s to hang out. We spent hours…. I can’t even remember what we were doing but I know it ended with us playing Sporcle for a few hours. I love those two, and I love Sporcle. So. Much. In that moment, I really just wanted to pause time and soak up the feeling. It’ll never really be like that again, just spontaneously hanging out at someone’s place for 7 hours, ending up playing geography quizzes. I loved it. But then that ended too, because we were all heading out on little holidays in the morning but as of midnight that night, had not even started packing.

Hui Jie and I are in Chicago right now (she’s asleep next to me as I type this all out on my phone because I didn’t want to bring my laptop). Ken, May May, Peter and Selina are in Tennessee. Shahirah is with Fahmida in Seattle. We’ll all be back for commencement ceremonies and all of that soon but, just like that, ~college~ is over.

PLACEHOLDER POST

HI!

I didn’t post last week and I’m so sorry but my mind is too scattered this week to be sitting down to write. Between farewell dinners and studying for finals (I’m almost done with Astronomy, you guys!) I have just… I mean, I have time, I just feel like my emotional resources are somewhat depleted.

But I’ll make up for it later this week once I’m done with my final finals. As I’m sure you know, exciting things are coming.

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Signing off from Hubbub, drinking copious amounts of coffee to stay alive.

FLING WEEKEND

OH MY GOD. I am NOT at my best today. Let’s just say, in a fight between me and my laziness, today I was badly defeated and it’s a good thing that no one has seen my room. I’m sitting at my desk next to a dirty plate and a couple of used cups. There is a t-shirt and some pants on my unmade bed. My shoes are not arranged and my socks are not in the shoes. And I don’t know. It all just feels gross, but today was my rest-and-don’t-talk-to-anyone day because this past weekend has been a lot.

It has been fling weekend!

It started off on Friday, for me. I don’t usually do fling—but it’s my last year and Zedd was our performer this year (!) so I decided to go. I’m so glad I did because it was so much fun. I absolutely loved his set. Michael Jackson’s Thriller, MAGIC!’s Rude, Chainsmokers’ Closer, Queen’s We Will Rock You and of course, all of his own hits. Man, listening to StayBreak Free or Clarity will never be the same again.

Of course, part of the fun was also just having fun with my friends, Hui Jie, Ken and Selina (plus a couple of Selina’s roommates, Tanya and Mounika). I am probably such a dorky dancer but my friends were also dancing however they hell they wanted, so when we weren’t jumping with the crowd, I was so glad I could easily have fun dorky dancing without feeling alone. I think it’s fun to enjoy music at a concert the same way you enjoy the same songs when you’re alone in your room.

It rained on us that night and literally all my makeup was washed away in the rain. And I don’t mean it like drizzled on us. No. It poured. We were absolutely soaked. To the point where we could squeeze our clothes and like a tonne of water would drip from it. But it was one of those things where you just laugh about it and keep dancing, and I don’t think I’ve felt that way since I was 7? 8? playing in the rain with my sisters.

Saturday was much more chill, though I got up early because I wanted to bake a cake! Karlie Kloss posted a video of her baking St Louis Gooey Butter Cake and it looked so, so, so easy that I just had to try it. And it really was super easy! Probably one of the best recipes in terms of effort-to-payoff ratio. It was so delicious, especially when it had just come out of the oven and it made my room smell absolutely amazing for the whole day. Such a nice change from the typical stubborn smell of onion which is literally the bane of my existence. (My “room” is set up in a cordoned off space in the living room with just some screens and curtains so like, you can imagine.)

I brought that cake to our “picnic” later. My friends and I usually picnic on Sunday after fling, but Hui Jie had plans so we bumped it up to Saturday and as our luck would have it, it rained!!!! I was pretty miffed that we didn’t get a senior picnic picture because I’ve instagrammed one every year and was planning to compile them but oh well. We still had fun. We ordered take out and played card games and later all took a nap, haha.

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Here’s a story: we played “heart attack” which is this game where like, once one person in your group has collected all the cards of the same number, they put their hands down in the center of the table and everyone else has to pile all their hands on. Then, the person who “won” gets to try to “slap” everyone’s hands—so you have to try to pull your hands away before they do it. When Hui Jie won a round yesterday, she slapped my hand and for some reason, like a little 5 year-old kid who ruins the big kids’ games, I just started crying from the sting. Like really crying. But also while hysterically laughing at the same time. You could tell even I was very confused by what was happening, lol. But we’re all good and I think it’s something we’re going to laugh about for a long time.

Then, later that evening, May May and I went to watch a show by a student theatre group. They put on The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee which has won a Tony Award for Best Book. It was a fun show! As always, I was blown away by the talent in the cast. They were all such amazing actors and singers. I wish there were more ensemble pieces, songs where the whole cast is singing, because I love those. Last year, I saw the same… group? company? club? (what do you call them?) put on All Shook Up and I ended up listening to the original cast’s recording of the soundtrack for the rest of the semester. This one didn’t have quite as many catchy tunes but I still loved the charming storyline and the fact that the show involved audience participation.

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I was quite sad that that was probably the last Penn student performance I’ll get to watch! And I was fully aware that it was the last performance for some of the seniors in the show/board so watching them all sing The Last Goodbye as they exited the stage was so emotional because it was also a goodbye to their Penn acting careers, to Iron Gate Theatre and all of that. Ahhh. After that, May May and I stopped by Sitar on our way home to get a cup of chai and that was a sweet way to end the night, too. No pun intended because there was definitely no sugar in my drink.

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Drinking chai from my Radiolab mug which I got this week!!

So yeah, today was mostly me chilling in my room (with the exception of a quick trip to the library to return stuff and probably a short walk to get some food later). I also watched Netflix’s Girlboss today, which is based on Sophia Amoruso’s book of the same title and her building of Nasty Gal. You might know that I thoroughly enjoyed her book last summer so I was quite interested in the show—I found that it was somewhat annoying but enjoyable enough to watch in one sitting. I liked the book better but to be fair, I actually shouldn’t make this comparison. The Netflix version does come clean about the fact that it is only a very loose adaptation. However, there are also things in the Netflix version that I liked which weren’t in the book: visuals obviously, but I also appreciated the fact that the show more than passes the Bechdel test (do two women speak to each other about something other than a man?) and that the protagonist is flawed and multi-dimensional.

I also watched The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks!!! Please, please, please watch it when you get the chance! It’s based on a non-fiction book in the same name by Rebecca Skloot. Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951, but her cancer cells were taken and ended up becoming the first cell to “stay alive” and be “grown” outside of a human body. But her identity was secret for a long time; her cells were called HeLa cells and had even been thought to come from a woman named Helen Lane (a white-sounding name, though Henrietta was black). HeLa cells ended up being crucial to the discovery of the Polio vaccine and the development of in vitro fertilisation. It was also important for cancer research. It was even sent to space to study what would happen to humans out there. Patient consent wasn’t required at the time so her family never even knew of Henrietta’s contribution to science, much less were compensated for it or even educated about any of it at all, although a lot of people obviously gained fame and recognition from it. Henrietta’s youngest daughter suffered from anxiety and schizophrenia and a stroke because of all of her worries and confusion and longing for/about her mother.

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Oh, but don’t worry—you learn all of that in like the first 2 minutes or so of the movie so I definitely didn’t give anything away. (Though, if you are interested in the science of this story, I strongly recommend this Radiolab episode about Henrietta Lacks; it’s amazing and includes real life audio from the family and the author, which you don’t get from the movie). The movie was less about the science of her cells, but was more about the humanity of the story. It was a moving story about this family and how they endured this legacy of suffering, and you learn it all along with Rebecca Skloot who’s trying to write a book about Henrietta Lacks. It’s a heartbreaking film about race, ethics in medicine/research and journalism. Plus, Oprah Winfrey’s performance of Deborah Lacks was just amazing. You forget that she’s, you know, Oprah. I really want to read the book now but yeah I’ve definitely said enough about it—just go watch it somehow. If you’re in the US, get a HBO Now free trial! Yes, I want you to watch it that badly! If you’re not convinced, watch Katie Couric interview Rebecca Skloot and Rose Byrne (who plays Skloot in the film). Don’t you just love how I went to an amazing concert this weekend but end up writing the most about a movie?! Haha. Well, I do.

Anyway. I’m gonna go figure out my dinner because I’m getting pretty hungry. I hope you had a wonderful weekend and thanks for reading!

P.S. Hui Jie wanted me to add to last week’s post: she chose the tudung/headscarf that I wore for Sunday’s reading on Penn Monologues. Or rather, more accurately, she (lovingly?) forced me to wear that one because she “missed” it.

My (very short) Penn bucket list

I’m finally drinking a latte again!

In an interview shortly after La La Land was released, Emma Stone said that she refrained from dairy while filming because it was bad for her voice/throat or something like that. So, as the Penn Monologues show weekend drew closer, I thought about that and decided I do the same, hahaha. As if I’m belting out some solos or something… Anyway, I love lattes and I missed it so much this past week. So, I had to get one on my way back from the last show, lol.

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Langston, Savannah, me, Frances, Emily, Dionysia, Jackie, Dalton, Claire and James

Penn Monologues is basically a show where about 10 students write a personal essay, submit it to the group and get chosen to perform it (or, in the case of 2 people this year, write an essay and have someone else perform it for them). I thought it was a cool idea because I love memoir, personal essays and stories… like I love going to open mic nights and speakeasies. At Penn specifically, it’s a cool way to learn a tiny little bit more about the experiences of people I probably bump into on Locust Walk on a regular basis.

I wrote about moving away from home and “growing up” kind of, other people wrote about being an immigrant, going to music festivals, their relationship with their grandparents, having a family member with autism, dealing with eating disorders and etc. I liked that the essays were diverse in subject matter and tone. Some were sad, some were happier, others were funny or a bit of both.

Honestly, I was so humbled to be among these people, and I know that sounds dramatic… it sounds like the kind of thing Oscar winners say about their fellow nominees, but honestly, I was in awe of everyone’s writing from the start. Emily’s essay was called The Space Between Us and there a couple of lines in her piece that I just absolutely loved. When describing her relationship with a friend she grew up with, she said “she invited me to her birthday party, even though I didn’t invite her to mine” and then at a later point in the piece, described how they had grown apart to the point where they walked past each other like strangers, she said “she was wearing a sweater that once sat in my closet”. OH MY GOD. SO GOOD. That’s the kind of writing I like. Simple, clever ways to aptly characterise feelings and dynamics. (And it wasn’t just Emily’s—everyone’s pieces had great lines like that, this was just one I can remember at the top of my head.)

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I literally just got this picture 2 minutes ago from my creative writing professor (in whose class I wrote the piece I performed) and she told me she was proud of me and I had all the ~feelz~

All the readings were recorded but I think it’ll take a while for it to come into my hands (or, I guess, more accurately—my inbox). So, in the meantime, if you want to see what some of the performances were like, watch some from last year’s show, like Langston’s Yogurt or Aubrey’s American Insulation.

My motivation to do this was to check off one of my very few Penn bucket list things (ok, to be honest, it might have been my one bucket list thing): to perform on a stage. I used to kind of like performing. I mean, I did very amateur cheer and some traditional dance/aerobics stuff (lol) in Form 1 & 2. I think in sekolah rendah I used to try out for storytelling and perform here and there for things like teachers’ day or whatever. But that was ages ago now. Whatever spark of inspiration I had ever gotten from all the people who have told me that I should dance or act has long since dissipated. But I knew I still had that impulse and I wanted to do just one because it seemed more daunting here at Penn than anywhere else I had ever been before. Penn Monologues seemed pretty low key (i.e. no long hours of rehearsals and no singing or choreography whatsoever) so I decided to submit a piece.

And I’m really glad I did. A few other people in that cast also had no real prior experience performing so I didn’t feel alone. Plus, I just genuinely liked everyone in the group. My favourite thing about it—and I totally didn’t expect to feel this way—was that it has been the experience most comparable to the feeling you get around hari sukan parades and stuff back in school… like, everyone working together to put on this thing and getting nervous about it right before going on. I’ve organised quite a few events at Penn, but I think none of those other events made me (and everyone else in the group) nervous enough, nor was the event fun and entertaining enough (that is, they were always more serious stuff) that it brought the whole group together quite rapidly. And it might just be me, but I appreciated the subtle moments of camaraderie I had with the other cast members backstage and how quickly we can form inside jokes when we’re putting on a show, etc. So yeah, I’m glad I did it.

Shoutouts also to my friends who came to the show: Hui Jie, Shahirah, Ken, Oliver, Kim, Eliza, Busra, Irtiqa, Iman, Dania. Two of my professors from last semester also came to see the show, which was so nice! Admittedly, they didn’t come for me specifically but I still loved seeing Dr. Paxton and Jamie-Lee in the crowd. Special shoutout to my friend Clare (!!!) who helped me edit this essay and practice performing it. I know paying money to give up a couple of hours on a weekend is not easy. I have declined many invites to shows over the last 4 years, so I know this to be a fact and I genuinely appreciate all of these people so very much.

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My friends being super supportive. Hui Jie is pointing to my name in the program! They screamed my name when I walked on stage and I was a little startled, haha.

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My friends who could relate most to my piece ❤

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Good friend + show director 🙂

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Iman, Busra & Irtiqa ❤

Okay, so moving on from the show…

This weekend was also just generally an insanely pleasant one. The weather has been wonderful and I’ve just been having such a good time. On Friday night, after my show, Irtiqa, Iman and I headed over to West Philly for our friends Sanaa and Zahraa’s birthday dinner at Aksum. Food was really good and I just had such a good time catching up with the MSA girls. It’s one of those nights you laugh a lot and don’t remember what was so funny 2 hours later.

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I made the birthday girls pause in that position so that I could take this picture lol

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Our waitress (Casey, I think) was THE BEST. She ran after us because someone left their takeaway box on the table and she took this for us.

I also hung out with some of the other cast members from Penn Monologues that same night. We went to Dalton’s place—and he has a cat by the way!!! Thank goodness it was the most well-behaved cat ever and stayed firmly on one side of the room. Needless to say, it was the side of the room I did not venture to. Anyway, we had pizza at his place and watched Parks and Rec. I got to know Dalton, Savannah, James, Claire and Frances a little bit. Clare was also there (yes, there are two “Claires” except it’s Clare with no i and Claire with an i) and I loved getting to hang out with her more. I realised I hadn’t hung out with her in a group since probably our freshman year when our RA would have office hours for our hall to come over and eat snacks, so yeah, that was nice.

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Spot Dalton’s siamese cat behind him.

On Saturday evening, I went to Simply Chaos’ show. They’re a stand-up comedy group and I literally just found out about them this semester which makes me so sad because I would’ve loved to see all of their other shows. In fact, I only found out about them at all because this one guy who’s in the Monologue show was also doing the Simply Chaos show on the same weekend so a bunch of people were talking about that. But yeah, the show was hilarious. I went alone, and usually, when I go anywhere alone, I laugh a little less because I’m a little more self-conscious but I just couldn’t even think about that at all during their show. It was just hilarious and I had such a good time.

I also got to hang out with Hui Jie this past weekend. She came over on Friday and was whining about how hungry she was so we decided to go get some egg tarts! That quite quickly turned into an afternoon tea session where she tried to teach me how to say “my name is Dayana”, “I am from Malaysia”, “I study in the USA” and “I am hungry” in Danish over egg tarts and custard buns, hahaha. And of course, we haven’t had enough time with each other this weekend so we’re going out for dinner tonight, too!

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Anyway, that’s all for this week, I think! I might come back and edit this when I have the video from the show but until then, have a good week!! 🙂

You Just Had To Be There

I usually write about my whole week but I’ve just ended it on a particularly high note so let me just tell you about today.

It was a Sunday like any other Sunday. I had proposed to Hui Jie, Ken, Shahirah and May May earlier in the week that we all get dinner at Vientiane this weekend and it just worked out that Sunday dinner fit best in everyone’s schedule. Thankfully, I happened to realize earlier today that Vientiane is closed on Sundays! It’s like on 47th and Baltimore which is quite a walk so I’m glad we didn’t go all the way only to find out it was closed the whole time.

Shahirah and Hui Jie then suggested we stick to somewhere on campus because they have meetings before dinner, but because May May wasn’t feeling well we all just got take out and ate at their house. We had a really nice time! I mean, I talk about these people so often—by now you should know I just love spending time with them so very much. Dinner ended with them fruitlessly trying to suggest boys for me to ~consider~ hahaha. That is, until we all decided we wanted bubble tea. And friends, here is where the night gets interesting.

First, Ken decided to go to Winterfell (which is like right next to their house) to get bubble tea/shaved ice but it was 10.15 and Winterfell had just closed. So he decided to join Hui Jie and me to go to Ochatto, several blocks down. It’s not that much of a walk but I usually have to be particularly motivated to go. As we turned out of their street, I asked Hui Jie, “Are you going to get hot or cold?” “Hot!” “Me too!” “Large?” “Of course!” and it was so funny, it was so quick/rhythmic, like we were so in sync. It was just very… cute.

Anyway, so we get to Ochatto and, you probably guessed it but… it was closed! I saw that the “Open” sign wasn’t lit and my heart just sank. We were so sad, we just stood in front of the store for a while laughing. Hui Jie was like “I can almost taste it!!!” and I understood. I could too. I was already imagining us sipping our identical orders of hot jasmine milk tea :/ we were so in denial.

Laughing in denial

We felt like we had to get something. We considered Kiwi, which is this froyo place next to Ochatto but honestly, it’s just not good and I have made a conscious decision to not go back there since the fall semester of my Sophomore year. We thought about Capogiro for gelato but we just weren’t feeling it (and in fact, I just googled their hours and it was closed by 10 anyway). Insistent that we get bubble tea, I half-jokingly suggested we go to Tea Do in Chinatown.

Tea Do is on 10th St. We were on 36th.

I think Ken didn’t realize how serious I was so he was like “yeah, sure!” even though he has a midterm tomorrow he isn’t totally ready for. Hui Jie, the most reasonable person I know (with the exception of the occasional wild online shopping spree), took the longest to be convinced but eventually she got on board too. It turns out that for some reason, Lyfts were really expensive? It would’ve cost us $15 to get to Chinatown! That would’ve been more expensive than the bubble tea! (I joked that the rational thing to do would be to get 2 bubble teas so it’s “worth it” lol) So yeah, we start rummaging our purses and wallets for cash to take the bus, half a block away from where we were.

I get out $6.75 for the three of us and I just walk over to the bus stop holding it in my hands. Oh (!!!) and at this point I should mention… I was holding this (opened) box of sesame biscuits lovingly the whole time. I bought them on the way to their house and because I thought I was just going to get bubble tea and go back, I was fine with carrying it. Little did I know, I was going to be clutching this yellow box of biscuits with me to Chinatown and back.

Me, clutching my biscuits and the change for the bus fare and Ken… closing his eyes.

So we wait a while for the bus, still laughing from the fact that we’ve just decided to go to Chinatown when we realize that it’s like 10.45 and the bus wouldn’t arrive until 11:06 and Tea Do closes at midnight! We laughed for a good minute about going all the way to Tea Do only to have it be closed, but then we hurriedly made our way to the 34th St train station because it’s always quicker.

This, I should say, also caused a lot of laughter to ensue because Ken and Hui Jie’s house is literally one very short block away from the 40th St station but here we were,  6 blocks away, taking the train from 34th St!!!

So anyway, we make our way to the train station and I was still clutching my biscuit box and (don’t forget!) my $6.75 innocently in hand. Basically, I just looked downright silly. We got to the station and wow, look at that, they now have ticket machines that take cards…… so I stuffed my cash back in, bought tickets and went to the platform.

We get to the platform and for whatever reason, there were just 3 boxes of cereal waiting on the bench at the bottom of the staircase??? I got a good laugh out of this thinking about how funny it’d be if Ken and Hui Jie took one box each in solidarity with me carrying my box of sesame biscuits (which, by the way, we were all sporadically laughing about the entire night—especially those two, and occasionally me, when I caught my own reflection).

Mysterious cereal boxes?!

While we were waiting for the train, Hui Jie thought for a second to check if we were waiting on the right platform. Ken just bursted into laughter at the thought of taking the train to the wrong direction because we’d end up at 40th St, which is where they live….. and we just couldn’t stop laughing at the thought of coming all the way to 34th St, paying $6.75, not getting bubble tea or any sort of dessert, and ending up back where we started!!!! Hahaha. Thank god we were on the right platform.

*crying*

I don’t really remember what happened next but for whatever reason we all just could not stop laughing about what we were doing. How were we at a train station on a Sunday night? Were we really going all the way to Chinatown just because we were 15 minutes late for bubble tea at Ochatto? It just all felt so crazy… we couldn’t believe what we were doing. But then we laughed about how funny it is that this feels crazy. Like, we’re just such boring people that going to Chinatown on an unplanned excursion for bubble tea feels “crazy”! I’m sure some people at Penn have taken unplanned trips to New York or even Paris but there we were laughing our heads off about an impromptu ride to Chinatown. It was just a little bit, just a very little bit crazy, that it was hilarious.

Me laughing at myself after catching my reflection in the train windows

On the ride there, I see that Ken has crumpled his ticket in his hand and my jaw drops and I look at him and I point to the ticket and I go, “Ken, oh my god… what are you—you’re gonna need that to get out!” Because I guess I thought it’s like Oyster cards in London or Metro cards in New York or Touch n Gos in KL, right. Hui Jie and Ken look at me with the straightest faces ever and they’re like “No…” and I just very quietly said “oh….” and they laughed about that so much. In fact, later, when we were waiting on the platform of the train to go home, Ken calls my name and as I turn around, he looks at me and slowly bends his ticket in front of my face and throws it in the trash. And as I’m laughing he’s like, “now I can’t go out!” HAHA.

So anyway… we get to the 11th St station and as we walk the one block over to Chinatown, there’s a banana on the ground and for what. ever. reason. I say “hey guys! It’s a banana! You can eat it! It’s still intact!” ……. until I realize it’s a just a banana peel that happened to look like it was still whole. Again, we laugh.

We’re almost there. It’s dark and almost everything is closed and the streets smell like fish. But we are so, so, very close to Tea Do.

Then, we pass by Penang, the Malaysian restaurant across the street on our right and Ken says “oh is it open? Oh yeah it is.” and as he turns around to look at me, I’m already crossing the road to go look at the menu because I think: Ochatto will open tomorrow, but we’re only here today and we can get cendol. Ken goes in to ask if they were still open and they were. Before we knew it, we were seated.

I promise you he only looks sad in this picture because we’re so tired from laughing

That’s right, everyone. I didn’t make it to Tea Do. I was so close and I just chose not to go. I was looking forward to getting a hot cup of bubble tea and I got what is essentially shaved ice. Hui Jie, again, the reasonable one, stays focused and she gets the large hot jasmine bubble tea as planned and comes to join us at Penang while we eat our ABC and cendol. We sit there and Ken talks about how easily distracted I am and how insane it is that we’re at Penang eating ABC and cendol when we initially wanted to go to Tea Do, which happened because we initially wanted bubble tea from Ochatto.

It’s true. I guess I can be pretty easily distracted. To be honest, the fact that I even had that box of biscuits today was because when we were buying food for dinner earlier, Ken and I were talking near the cashier and I caught a glimpse of the sesame biscuits at the corner of my eye, paused mid-sentence, gasped and said “oh my god! those biscuits!” and just proceeded to pay for them. But whatever.

The rest of the night was relatively uneventful. We all calmed down from our highs. We talked about Penn, whether we reflect a lot about our lives, whether we were boring people and whether we are relatable etc and as we were talking I couldn’t help saying, “oh my god, phew, thank god our conversation has resumed to normal again.” Hahaha.

So yeah, after we finished our cold desserts, we walked back to the station (I saw that the banana peel I saw earlier on the way to the restaurant had been squashed, RIP) and took the train back to 40th St… box of sesame biscuits still clutched in my arms, stomach and cheeks sore from all the laughing.

I will remember this day for years to come. I haven’t laughed like this—especially not with anyone other than my sisters—in ages. If it wasn’t funny to you, then, well, I guess you just had to be there.