What I’ve Been Up To, In List Form

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

Aisha and Fahmida ❤

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

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Majid and Mansoor

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

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Iftar at Aunty Lina’s

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

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

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

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Baknafeh

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

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

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Hanna’s mum’s knafeh

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

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

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Seeing Adam

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

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

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Last goodbyes

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

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NEW MUSIC (!)

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

GRE

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

Netflix’s The Standups

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

Seeing my high school friends

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

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Driving after ~11 months!

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

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

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

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Clearly, I need a bit more practice.

Not being in one place for very long

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

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

Thank you, Philadelphia.

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My first ever Instagram post from Philadelphia (2013)

I just walked home from Centre City. It’s almost 10.30 PM and I’m sweating. It’s getting very balmy here in Philadelphia. Earlier, on my way out, I stood at the corner of 39th and Chestnut waiting for the 21 bus into the city as I always do. The warm wind was blowing and I could feel the humidity weighing down oh so gently on my face. I couldn’t help feeling like I was home, though I wasn’t sure what that meant. The feeling came almost without description, if that makes sense. I was not sure whether I felt that way because of the warm, heavy, summer air—really, as I stood by the side the road waiting for the bus, I could’ve closed my eyes and lied to myself and pretended I was somewhere in KL—or whether it was because I have come to know this road, this view and this routine so well. I couldn’t say for certain. But have you ever tried to close a door or lock two things together and then you think you’ve shut it or fit it together properly, then later you hear a click and you’re like “Oh! Ok, yeah, now it’s definitely shut”? I know that’s a somewhat specific feeling and perhaps it’s an odd comparison to make, but that’s how I felt on my walk back. I thought I already felt at home here and then, out of nowhere, there was a click. Somewhere between Market and Chestnut on 20th street, I felt that way. And I was sure.

It’s strange to know that there are most probably fewer walks like that ahead of me than there are behind me. I walked home on Walnut with a silly smile spread across my face the whole way. My mind was playing a highlight reel of all the things I’ve seen on my many walks towards West Philly along that road.

On 22nd St, Hui Jie, Shahirah and I once laughed about the fact that we chose the morning after snowstorm Jonas to go grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. Along the bridge, just before the presidential election, I walked past a man waving a Hillary Clinton flag and he smiled at me and I felt like that meant something, and the next day we lost, and it rained, and I thought about him that morning as I lay in bed and I wondered whether he had a daughter and what he told her, if he did. On 30th St, on a sunny spring day, Fayaaz and I once saw glass shattered all over the road and news reporters at the scene, the aftermath of what we supposed was an accident. At that same spot, on the left, Penn Park, where Shahirah and I took a walk to once in freshman year after we got back from London and I remember I wore my Gap jumper, purple sweatpants and orange Adidas shoes which I had just recently thrown away. Just after that, World Cafe Live, where Habeeb, Dania, Osama, Ben and I saw someone propose to his girlfriend in front of a whole crowd, with a rap song. Then, the ice skating rink, which is where every year, I go to the MSA midnight ice skating event (except for that one year where I had to write a PSCI paper on India and Nigeria) and maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many pictures of myself at these events but I can tell you exactly what wore to that event each year. Further ahead, I passed by the Nanotech building on my right where I once sat with Hui Jie after Astronomy, eating grape leaves from Magic Carpet, listening to a Planet Money episode about trade adjustment assistance. On the left after crossing 33rd St, (which has a traffic light that always stays on green in this direction for a long time; I never think I’m going to make it but I always do) I passed some engineering building I can’t name on the left, where I had to walk to in the cold, with slippers, twice, to get Shahirah’s keys from her because I had an awful tendency to lock myself out.

Somewhere in my diary, I keep a list of reasons why it is humbling to be human and one of the reasons is that I don’t understand the reason we keep and seek happy memories. My mind sometimes reminds me of art museums. There all these things I store in different sections of my brain… things I take mental strolls to look at, things that make me pause, tilt my head to the side and think or smile or cry or laugh about. And just like how people value art more the more intricate it is (or at least, I think they do), I cling on more tightly to the more the granular memories. When I say “I remember what I wore that day” or “I remember what song I was listening to on my way there”, I feel like it is comparable to the way people talk about textures and brush strokes. Maybe you’re more cultured than I am and you know why we have art museums and like visiting them but I don’t, other than the fact that I like looking at paintings because they’re aesthetically pleasing and sometimes make me feel things. I think people say art enriches our souls or something like that but no one has ever explained to me what purpose museums really serve even though we protect and preserve them… and that’s kinda how I feel about the galleries of memories I curate in my head. There are all these things, and I don’t know what they’re for, but they’re mine, and I like them. I like them a lot.

So, also on that list of why it’s humbling to be human is that we have so little control over what we forget. I enjoy remembering and sitting down and memorising lists because I know that if I put in the effort, I’ll retain the information. There is an efficacy associated with remembering. But I don’t think you can say the same about forgetting. How crazy is that? Really, think about it. It amazes me every single time I try. Someday, and I don’t know when, but the details will blur and I will be left with a glimmer of something that happened at some point in some place.

I feel so, so, so taken by all of this if you can’t already tell. I feel taken by it more than I know how to say… which brings me to the last thing I have on that list, and that is we are confined to the words we know how to use. I can only express to you how I feel to the extent that I can say so. I am so frustrated that the depth of both my grief and gratitude cannot be matched by the shallowness of the sentences I know how to construct. But if I had to try to tell you how I felt on my walk home today, I would say this: I don’t know what all these memories are for. I don’t know why I keep them like paintings in a museum. I don’t know why I replay them over and over in my head like a chart-topping pop song on the radio. I think I’ve never said this before—or if I have, you could count the number of times with a single hand—but to the humble portion of Philadelphia that I’ve come to know and call home, I love you, I love you, I love you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all these memories. They’re mine and I like them a lot. I like you a lot.