427 Chestnut Hall

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

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

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

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We had to use a small bedside lamp for lights

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

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My half of the bedroom once we cleared the mess up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My little room!!

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:’)

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

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This is the view from my window in winter

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This is the view from bed in the spring

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And sometimes I did work on the couch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last look at the hallway!!

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

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

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

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

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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! 🙂

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.

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.

Graduation Goggles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A string of good days

I’ve had a good, pretty fun first week back. First of all, my classes seem pretty chill this semester compared to what I had last semester. Or at least, they seem that way for now. I have my Psychology Independent Research, which is a continuation of last semester’s work at a psycholinguistics research lab. I also have a Judgement and Decisions lecture; I was adamant about not taking another psychology seminar this semester. For anyone who isn’t familiar: lectures are huge classes and you don’t participate very much, but seminars tend to be about 10-15 people and the whole thing is discussion based. Seminars last semester were just too much work—like 100 pages of readings per class per week—and I never had time to do anything else if I wanted to get those done and get them done well. Apparently the professor for the lecture I’m in now is super chill; he lets us take open book exams and I’m all for a relaxed final semester academically so YES.

I also have to spend 3 hours a week in an intro Psychology lecture because I’m TA-ing for the class. It’s now my third semester sitting in PSYC 001 lectures! It’s particularly interesting this semester though, because this Spring, it’s being taught by Professor Connolly, who I took intro with in my first semester at Penn so there’s a nice little “comes full circle” thing going on.

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Apart from Psychology courses, I’m also taking an intro Astronomy class which is like…. fine, whatever, I just need to take one science class to graduate so I’ll do it. I also have a creative writing class that I’m taking for fun that didn’t seem particularly fun last week so I might not stick with it but that’s yet to be determined. Hmm. I do want to practice my writing, but how much of that has to be done in a class setting? Especially if the class kind of… annoys me.

I am particularly excited about Penn Perspectives, though. It’s a lecture series for seniors, and in our applications, we stated who our favourite professors were (mine was Professor Pollack, obviously) and which professors we’ve always wanted to take classes with but never got to. Based on that, they invited a different professor to give us a lecture each week—no homework or anything, just attending lectures for the sake of learning. Our first lecture was by an accomplished psych professor, Paul Rozin. Interestingly, I’ve had one lecture by him each year at Penn haha.

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First lecture with Dr Rozin feat. guy blocking my view.

But anyway, this week was so nice for, *deep breaths* so. many. reasons. Primarily, my beloved Hui Jie is back from Copenhagen!!! She doesn’t live across the hall from me anymore but better two blocks over than across the freakin’ Atlantic. We had our favourite takeout together on Wednesday night, class + lunch together on Thursday and she came over today to hang out with me. I got to give her the birthday present I got for her in London and we shared pictures from our trips while we sat on my living room couch and it was just really nice to see her again. The last time I saw her was in July when I visited her in Singapore, which was just too long ago.

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HJ and me with our matching gummy smiles, striped shirts and fried rice ❤

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She’s back to sleeping on me.

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Unwrapping her present 😀

In general, I just really liked seeing all my friends again this week. May May and I made a trip to Trader Joe’s together and caught up on our winter breaks. I cooked dinner for Kim on Monday. Jamie and I had ice cream together late night on her bedroom floor. Shi Yi gave me amazing hot chocolate and hung out at my place playing Rubik’s cubes with me and Shahirah. Oliver got me biscottis from Flour Bakery in Boston on his birthday. Excuse me for being cheesy, but I will never take for granted the love I feel just having these people around me.

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I made sweet sour fish and stir fried vegetables for dinner, which Kim and Jamie loved (or at least, said they loved lol)—it made me so happy.

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Continuing with my kale chips obsession. I’ve gotten Jamie and Kim onto this kale chips bandwagon with me. Kim got me my GTL from Starbucks!

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Kim, Shiyi and Jamie ❤

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It’s also a really exciting time at the cinemas right now, isn’t it?! In the past week, I watched La La Land with Shahirah and Hidden Figures with Ken and Selina. I loved them both so much for very different reasons.

La La Land was beautiful. I was so taken by the cinematography and the creative uses of sound, if that makes sense? The composition of each shot, the colours, the outfits… Every single scene was truly a sight to behold. I also just love a good I-want-to-follow-my-dreams story, so when you toss in the fact that it’s a musical with large dance numbers and a somewhat complex love story, it’s basically a formula for Dayana’s Perfect Movie. It just lifts your spirits. My sister Julia and I have pretty much been hooked on the soundtrack for days. I think the main reason I loved it though, was… hm, how do I say this without spoiling the movie? I think it represents the way my memory works, and the way I think about things in my own past. Yeah. That’s it.

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La La Land was only showing at Ritz East and a trip to Old City is not complete without a quick stop at Franklin Fountain. This parmesan ice cream was amazing.

Hidden Figures was also fantastic, I highly recommend it. I think Hidden Figures is probably more appealing to a wider audience than La La Land was because I can imagine how some people would watch the latter and just be like “that’s it?” but the former is more exciting plot wise. It’s definitely my favourite ~space movie~ (let’s not talk about Interstellar, gah, I hate that one). I mean, it obviously wasn’t just about space. It deals with the deep intersections of race, class and gender in the workplace, within our families and in our greater societies. The events of the film take place during the segregation and I remember thinking, I thought I knew how segregation was bad but every time you see it being played out you gain a deeper appreciation for how atrocious it really was and for me, it affirmed my faith in art as a means for building empathy while also entertaining. Even though Hidden Figures revolved around a huge things like space mission and racism, it still manages this lightheartedness because it makes you laugh and I greatly appreciated the balance of seriousness/lightness.

I’ve also been doing a lot of cooking experimentations which is really fun! I always enjoy cooking because I feel like it’s a creative, healthy way to practice taking care of yourself. This past week, I’ve mostly experimented with breakfast foods. I just am such a huge fan of brunch that I always find myself tempted to make those kinds of foods. I cut open a ripe avocado for the first time this past week and I’ve been enjoying having avocado with my eggs for breakfast. I also made smoothies and rosti which were so good. I’ll probably detail all of that in a separate post because this is already getting pretty lengthy, haha.

Until then, thanks for reading 🙂

Almost There…

I missed a week of posting, but you’ll forgive me, yes? And I will have to learn to forgive myself as well, because this past week was brutal. I don’t like being lenient on myself, but this week was so rough that I just can’t consider missing a blog post as being lenient. I had a 5-page paper due on Monday, a 7-page paper due on Tuesday, a 10-page paper due on Thursday morning and an exam on Thursday afternoon… on top of regular classes, meetings, readings and homework.

As I write this, I have only one day left of class, only one exam left to take and am just a few days away from my holiday. And as always, when it gets to this point in the semester and classes are wrapping up, everyone seems to talk about how quickly time passed by… but I really don’t feel like it did. I’m not saying that it was such an awful semester that time moved so slowly for me—it was challenging as always, but definitely still a good one—but as my friend Hui Jie reminds me, you’re not the same person as you were when the semester started. Which is to say that if I observe myself closely and keep track of the things I pull myself through, I personally have found that my life doesn’t fly by me, but rather, passes at the right pace. So it’s hard to look at who I was when I started and how much less experienced I was at the time and feel like time just flew because I think we really go through so much more than we remember. I don’t know, I could be wrong, but I tend to think saying “time flew by” means you’re not giving yourself enough credit.

I think we quietly grow in the moments we make little decisions. This semester, I’ve been rejected by a company I wanted to work for, lost my cat and spent a lot fewer hours in bed than I wanted to, but can I just say, nothing was as sobering as my most recent birthday. The clock struck midnight on 3rd December and I was propped up in bed with a slight headache and menstrual pain, working on my laptop making a study guide for my Communications exam. I wanted to go out and have fun and celebrate or at least just sleep in but I knew I couldn’t and I didn’t. I’m not saying that growing up means giving up merriment or not caring about my wants and feelings, I just think it means being able to say “yes, that’s how I feel, but I can’t give in to that right now—maybe another time” and then actually remembering to attend to it some other time. It’s small, but I don’t know that I would have been able to really do that 1-2 years ago.

With that said though, it’s not like I miraculously turned into a super mature adult overnight. At some point this week, I was so tired and couldn’t bring myself to go out to get food and I hadn’t had time to do groceries so my fridge was empty and had to just resort to making maggi for lunch. When I opened my packet, it bursted open and lots of tiny pieces flew across the kitchen counter. Have you ever felt like you were going to burst into tears but were just too tired to express any emotion? That’s exactly how I felt. I stared at the mess for like a solid 10 seconds, took this picture, then curled up on my couch, and fell into a 20 minute nap. It sucked. But I mean, progress isn’t always linear, right? Haha.

I’m having so much trouble concentrating while typing right now because I’m having difficulties breathing through my awfully stuffy nose and I’m coughing like mad. I can’t believe I’m sick around finals again, for the second semester in a row, but I also can’t say I’m surprised. I don’t want to glorify working hard at the expense of our health and stuff but this week was such a whirlwind that I just totally failed to be good to myself. I have never been one to skip meals, but even though I could feel myself getting sick (my body was quietly revolting against how much I was pushing it) some days I just forgot to eat. I haven’t exercised in over two weeks. Up until this morning, I was in the same outfit for 3 days straight because I needed to do laundry but had no time. Now, I feel so gross and I’m so sick I can’t properly hear myself speak, I’m having difficulty sleeping through the night and my body aches.

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Yes, I carried around that whole box of tissues in my bag all day.

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I just can’t help realising the culture I am complicit in creating that we criticise so often at Penn. I love that everyone here works really hard—I love that—but we also normalise such an awful lifestyle. It’s so common for people to pull all-nighters, to be sick but refuse to go to see a doctor because they “don’t have time” and to lie in bed unable to fall asleep because they feel guilty for not doing work. It’s exactly the thing about Penn that I kind of can’t wait to get a break from, really. This is going to sound super pretentious, but I think when you lump a bunch of high-achievers together in this little academic village and, in a sense, pit them against each other, you really send them into overdrive. Or at least, that’s how it feels sometimes. Which is why I’m so so so looking forward to break right now oh my god.

Honestly, it feels a little weird saying I’m looking forward to break because when I come back it will be my final—FINAL—semester here and I feel like I should be soaking everything in and relishing it because as crazy as things get, this life is a pretty darn good one and I don’t want to lose sight of that. There are a lot of things about here and now to miss when it’s over. Like, this week alone, I got two free books—because, you know, education!!! The English department has a Winter Reading Project program where they give out free books before winter break and have a discussion about it in January. This year, they gave out Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me about America’s racial history and I’m so excited to read it. I also got to attend another Authors@Wharton event today. They invited Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, The Blind Side and The Big Short for a talk moderated by the wonderful Adam Grant (another brilliant author himself). They gave out copies of Lewis’ most recent book, The Undoing Project about two psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky whose behavioural economics research has kind of catapulted the field to where it is today, I feel like.

So, yes, life is good and I’m grateful for everything this semester has brought (but I think I will still need that break before I can take on the final semester).