Kuching, Sarawak

The greatest irony about hari raya/eid is that we go back to Kuching and we visit a lot of people to try to spend time with as many people as possible but I always leave feeling like I’ve spent time with absolutely no one and yet I’m so tired. Plus, this year, because I was fresh off the plane from the US and super-jet lagged, I really didn’t spend much time with anyone, so it’s nice that I got to be back in Kuching for another few days last week. Most of it was spent at my grandparents’ house—the house my mum grew up in!—eating, hanging out with my cousins and playing Bananagrams and other word games (by now you should know that this constitutes 90% of what I do when I’m back/on holiday).

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My grid from the one time I played alone!

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There’s this Reader’s Digest puzzle book at my grandparents’ house that we love going through

I have so many memories in that house, which, according to my nenek, is now like ~45 years old. That’s like twice my age. I remember when I was like 9 or 10, I spent quite a bit of my school holidays there. I even went on my first flight alone to Kuching! I remember playing with my cousins in the garden, running around pretending to be teachers or mothers or witches. I remember the house before it was renovated about 15 years ago, and everything was still wooden and the toilet bowl was, what one of my aunties described as a “throne” because once you entered the bathroom, you had to walk up a few steps to get to the toilet bowl haha. The shower was basically a tap that was above your head! The house is so different now but still sometimes as I walk through it, I almost expect to see all of those old things. So yeah, it’s always good to be back, despite the lack of wifi and airconditioning.

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Part of the garden, as seen from the front of the house

Ok, anyway, first thing’s first, let’s do a cheeky little run down of all the places I went to eat in Kuching. See, the other thing about only going to Kuching during raya is that everything is closed the whole time I’m there. Like, all the shops I want to go to are closed for the whole week or something so I only get to eat it when someone brings some back to KL. But not this time!

We first went to Swee Kang for jagung susu, which is exactly what the name implies. Milk and corn with shaved ice. I have only ever eaten it with the ice all melted because once it reaches me in KL, it’s typically many hours after it was prepared. We also had some rojak buah and cha kueh there, which were so good.

Then we went to Mita, which is the go-to bakery in Kuching. I literally remember going there when I was little and getting the same loaf of… I don’t know what it’s called… butter cake, I guess? It just smells amazing. I got some egg tarts and buttermilk buns and they were perfect for snacking.

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We also made a quick pit stop at Black Bean Coffee near the riverfront which is actually a super touristy place but I had heard from my mum that the coffee’s good there and I just really wanted to try it. I got some iced coffee and it was so satisfying, though I think it’s partly because I just haven’t had good strong coffee in ages, since school ended.

The next day, we went to Rumah Hijau, which is another thing that is almost exactly as the name implies. It really is a house that’s green which was made into a restaurant. My sisters and I wanted to go there to have nasi goreng bunga kantan, which is something I had never ever had and it was amazing!! I loved how aromatic the fried rice was. It was nothing like I had ever tasted before. The next time I visit though, I think I’m going to try their nasi kukus. My Mak Long had it and it tasted pretty good.

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We got some ice cream at Sunny Hill, which is just this small ice cream stall next to a school on Jalan Cahaya (hence, the name). I have to say the ice cream itself is nothing extraordinary; it’s the really soft and melty kind which isn’t my favourite, but even if it was, I’ve definitely had better ones. But (!) the ice cream is topped with these crushed salted peanuts which makes for this perfect balance of tastes and adds some texture to the otherwise overly liquidy ice cream. 10/10 would go again.

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I think our last food stop was Mom’s Laksa for a good ol’ bowl of laksa sarawak, probably my favourite variety of all the laksas in Malaysia (if you’re wondering, though they’ll all really good, I’d easily rank it Sarawak, Johor, Penang/Kedah). Laksa was amazing for breakfast, though it’s really not that much better than what my mum makes at home. It’s just less effort, I guess haha.

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So yeah, other than that, we mostly just stayed and ate at home. My grandma made some amazing dhal which we ate with rice or roti bom. On the last day, she made nasi daging with air asam which was amazing. In true grandma fashion, she even made some extra for us to bring home to eat the next day.

The first morning we were there, my friend Lisa came over to visit! It was really funny. She came at like 9 AM, when we were all still kinda groggy. In fact, my sisters were still sprawled out on their mats on the living room floor where they’d slept the night before. So Lisa came and saw us all in our pyjamas, hahaha, it was quite a sight. Lisa is currently a Fulbright ETA in Serian, a couple of hours outside of Kuching, where she’s teaching English at a secondary school. We had some paratha and kari for breakfast together as we caught up and listened to my grandparents’ stories. I think she really enjoyed listening to my grandparents’ stories, seeing as they were both teachers/worked in education for a very long time.

This was actually the first time I ever heard that my atuk actually spent 4 months in Hawaii training some people in the American Peace Corps. He was in the US when JFK was shot, apparently. I literally never knew this. We also heard stories about his experience in Birmingham where he spent 2 academic years studying. He was telling us about how difficult it was to call home back then. I kinda can’t imagine just going abroad for so long when you already have a family and all of that, in a time when travel and communication wasn’t as easy or cheap.

Anyway, so yeah, we had a really nice morning at the dining table. I never would’ve thought that someone I met randomly at PAACH one day would someday be having breakfast with me at my grandparents’ house!! I’m so proud of Lisa and I’ve mentioned it before but I’m so amazed by her dedication to her students and her persistence in trying to keep students engaged despite language and cultural barriers. I honestly don’t think I would fare as well as her if I were to live in Serian but she seems to be enjoying it and has expanded her food palate way beyond mine (no tempoyak for me, thanks). I’m so glad we got to meet again and I honestly can’t wait to see what she goes on to do next.

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Me and Lisa before she got on the bus back to Serian

I also really enjoyed spending time with my cousins, aunts and uncles, and my grandparents because I don’t get to see them a lot, since they’re a whole flight away. As we stood outside in my atuk’s garden, looking at all his plants (mangoes, grapes, pineapples, chilis…) I thought about how I have a lot of hopes and dreams and things I want to achieve and places I want to see. But what do grandparents want? They just want to tell stories to make us laugh and feed us so we’re healthy and happy and just be able to spend time with us as much as possible. I hope we got to make them a bit happier with our visit.

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Atuk showing us his plants

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Waving goodbye before we headed off to the airport

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I can’t even remember the last time I was this relaxed for so long

Hello! I’m happy to report another blissful and leisurely week at home, alhamdulillah.

The week started out really strong on Monday (I know some people insist that the week starts on Sunday but I see it as starting on Monday and this is my blog, so y’know, roll with it) with an early breakfast at Chong Kok, all the way in Klang. I want to say that’s my favourite kopitiam but the truth is, I don’t go to a lot of other kopitiams ever, so I guess this is just my favourite by default. First of all, I love the atmosphere there. I love that you see Malay, Chinese and Indians having breakfast in the same place. I love that it’s super no-frills and casual with a lot of character—I think the place has been around since the 1940s. But honestly, the best part is that we always have breakfast there with my aunty and cousins. Food’s really good too!! I still remember the first time I had roti steam there, it was so fluffy and soft and warm, ugh, so so so good and it goes so brilliantly well with butter and kaya. A moment of silence please for people in other parts of the world without the gift of pandan! Ok, thanks.

After breakfast last Monday, we went back to my aunty’s house to see Amelia for a bit. It’s hard to resist just sitting around watching her bob around with her toys even if it’s just for half an hour. She’s just such a cutie. I tried to get a selfie with her but she just keeps trying to grab my phone so I guess she’s not ready for it yet. I’ll wait.

The rest of the week was super relaxing. I can’t even remember what I did for most of Tuesday and Wednesday, but my camera roll reminds me that I ate an insanely good murtabak cheese and played some Bananagrams with my mum and sister.

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We went to KLCC on Thursday to go to Kinokuniya where I got some books. I absolutely love driving into KL and I know I only say that because I’m never the one actually driving; what I mean is I love sitting in a car being driven into KL. I love watching the highway break into the small KL roads and the view change from trees and houses to flyovers and skyscrapers.

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I’ve had 3 more personal training sessions (and one run!) since I last wrote on here and I think I’m getting a little better at it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still sit down anxiously in my room before every workout session hoping my trainer doesn’t literally kill me… but I’ve found that I’m so much less sore after exercising these days and I really enjoy the feeling of buckling down, silencing the nagging quitting-inclined voice in my head and focusing on hitting the number of reps the trainer sets for me. By the end of it, I’m always as red as a tomato and dripping in sweat, plus my heart seems to migrate into my ears because I can almost hear its pounding but it always feels so bloody good to see myself, quite frankly, just survive. We also had one kickboxing session with some pad work and I enjoyed that so I’m hoping to do that again a couple more times.

The best part of working out though, is actually how I feel when I eat after that! Haha. On Friday, we went to Chili’s for dinner after working out and it kinda felt more satisfying because it’s as if I deserved it more. Only as if.

After dinner last Friday, I went to see Ken, Peter and Shahirah at Artisan for dessert. Ken was leaving for the US that Sunday so we just wanted to hang out one last time this summer with the four of us together. We had Last Polka ice cream, and I had my absolute favourite flavour: salted gula melaka. We talked about everything from work grievances to toxic shock syndrome. Ken drove me all the way home from PJ again even though he had to be up at 5 the next morning because he’s just an insanely nice person. I’m going to really miss seeing these people regularly!!

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Look at Ken!!!! HOW CUTE!

Anyway, that’s all from me today! I’ll probably write again tomorrow about my family’s weekend trip to Ipoh but until then, thank you for reading as always, byeeeee!

Stopping To Exchange Notes

I think so few days are as special as yesterday was. I took a train out to Ipoh on such a nice Sunday morning to visit my friend Nate, who’s spending the year in Kampung Gajah, Perak as a Fulbright ETA.

It’s so rare to have someone understand the particularities of having a foot in both Penn culture and Malaysian culture. No doubt, it’s easy to find people who personally understand the experience in broad strokes. So many of my Malaysian friends have studied abroad, even in America. But I think it’s different when you explain something subtle and specific and then get a “YES” or an “oh my god, me too!” in return because you both know both of those places to some extent and I feel like in terms of personality or like the way we think and some of the things we went through, there were a lot of similarities as well (to name a few: we both didn’t love Penn for most of our time there, we both felt very meh about majoring in Psychology, we both did Penn Monologues and we both mix sambal into the rice before eating nasi lemak).

Plus, I think what makes this whole thing even more amazing for me is that I don’t know anyone else from America who knows what it’s like to live here. All my other Penn friends who negotiate the same physical and cultural distance as me do that coming from the same side of the world as I do, so I was beyond curious to know and to hear firsthand what it’s like to be on the opposite side of that (if that makes sense?).  I’ve been a huge fan of his blog about his experience in Malaysia from day one for this very reason. On my train ride home yesterday, I was thinking about how it’s kind of like two people on different journeys crossing the same path at the same time but going in different directions, looking at the same things but from different perspectives, stopping to exchange notes… which is kind of cool.

We spent almost the whole day together effortfully navigating our way around Ipoh by foot and car. And because this is Malaysia and I haven’t been to Ipoh in at least 5 years, we. ate. so. much. That’s kind of my fault because that’s kind of all I wanted to do, but the truth is, the food took a backseat on this trip because I really came to just catch up with Nate.

I think I might’ve mentioned in earlier posts that we both met in a small Cultural Psychology class in the spring of my junior year, though Nate was a senior then. It was during that semester that he found out he was going to spend a year in Malaysia and I think on some level, I’ve been waiting to have this conversation with him since I found out he got into the program. That might partly be because of selfish reasons, like a sense of pride for a culture that I’ve never really gotten to share with my friends abroad even though I’ve always wanted to or tried to in small ways. But I think my excitement also stems from this profound curiosity.

There were so many things I wanted to ask him and talk about and I feel like we covered so much ground. We talked about difficulties trying to adjust moving to and from Malaysia, the different ways in which we stick out, learning and participating in a new culture and where we think we’re headed in the next few years, etc. (At this point I feel like I should also say that my American accent immediately resurfaced and I’m sure everyone around me was probably glancing at me like… “that girl is Malay, why is she talking like that?” but I was too preoccupied to think about it really, lol.)

I honestly felt like I learned so much which isn’t at all surprising with someone as curious and introspective as Nate is. I left feeling somewhat… rejuvenated (?) but also felt like there were so many more things I wanted to talk about but didn’t get the chance to and obviously I can’t speak for him, but I imagine he might’ve felt the same.

I know I’ve only just written about how much I looked forward to asking Nate all my questions and how I feel now that I have gotten to catch up with him and nothing really about what we talked about but that’s in part because of our privacy and because I could never fully get everything right and I don’t want to risk getting anything wrong. And since there’s no way I could write about everything, I’ll just say that spending time with Nate really reminded me of how small we are and how much of the world we have to learn from. This is so cheesy but I am so inspired by his bravery and sensitivity—the fact that he literally moved to a kampung in Malaysia where he stands out like a coconut tree in a paddy field and does not speak the language, I mean, I don’t think that’s something I could do, and he does it with so much genuine care and respect for the people around him and that’s just something I really look up to him for.

I think it was special because there’s this huge part of my life that I know most of my American friends know about on the surface level. But to have someone from that… other world of mine come see for themselves what it’s like makes me feel understood in a way that I haven’t before. Maybe I feel seen and heard better. Maybe it’s like… having one foot on both sides of the world is difficult because it attempts to rip you down the middle, and this closes that gap just a little bit more than I ever could on my own and I’m really thankful for that.

What I’ve Been Up To, In List Form (ii)

I’ve been saying lately that all I’ve been doing is eating because it’s kind of true. A lot of life in Malaysia is centered on food. It’s not really a thing to say let’s go for a walk or whatever to catch up. So, just as a short foreword: there’s a lot of food on this list! Haha.

Qamarina

I got dinner with my friend Qamarina, who goes by QM for short (I actually have never asked her why…) last week. She’s working in London and was back for Raya for 2 weeks-ish. I don’t see her often at all so it was so nice to just catch up and talk about everything since I saw her last in December. It’s so crazy to think I have no idea when I’ll see her next but hopefully it won’t be 3 years again, which was the longest we went without catching up.

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QM & my unintentionally patriotic selfie.

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(My parking was a lot better that day!)

Corporate open house!

My sisters and I followed our dad to a corporate open house and the food was so good. We had durian, otak otak (my favourite, and this was such a wonderful surprise because they’re quite hard to find!) and laksa. My dad even “made” dodol—ok not really make, just stirred for a bit. This was pretty much my only real open house this year, and I didn’t even wear baju kurung for it! Like I said, it was such a quiet raya.

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Otak otak and a good ol’ bowl of laksa Johor!!

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Making dodol, haha

WISDOM TOOTH EXTRACTION

This was a big one last week. I removed my wisdom tooth from the top left side!!!! I did it, guys!! So here’s the thing, my bottom left wisdom tooth was giving me a hard time a couple of years ago because it was a little impacted. I had it removed at Penn in 2015, just a week or so before finals! I couldn’t eat solids for 6 days and was sore for such a long time… I remember having such a bad experience last time so I just totally dreaded going through it again.

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My xray from 2015!! lol

In hindsight, I probably should’ve had both removed at the same time so that I wouldn’t have to recover twice. I definitely had the option to, but I knew it would be cheaper to wait and get it done in Malaysia so I just did what I absolutely had to do while I was in the US. Summer after summer passed and I kept putting it off… but my dad put his foot down and was like yeah, you definitely need to do it now. I even made him call the dentist to make the appointment because I refused haha.

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This extraction went a lot better than the last I think. And this time I got to keep the tooth! The first day, I could at least eat KFC’s mashed potatoes (which is pretty much liquid, let’s be honest) while binge-watching Stranger Things with my sisters. The toughest parts were when I had to go out in the rain to buy more gauze from the pharmacy and when I had to swallow painkillers with that whole gauze situation in my mouth.

Thankfully, I was able eat solid-ish foods within 1.5 days and in 3 days, I was back to normal although was still avoiding chewing hard things on the left side. I am so scared of the dentist, my heart starts pounding just at the thought of going for a regular scaling appointment. So yeah, very glad this is done with!

Baby sitting Amelia

Last week, my sisters and I got to babysit our cousin’s baby, Amelia. She’s a year old now, which means she’s just so full of energy. Even when she’s yawning and sleepy, she just runs around and giggles non stop. It’s kind of cute, but definitely tiring for us. The fun parts were playing with bouncy balls and carrying her around in a slow run while my mum pretended to chase us and “scare” her; she really enjoyed this. The not-so-fun part was watching her take apart and put together the same toys again, and again, and again. Children are cute, tiring, sometimes even boring but always fascinating.

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It was so hard to even take a picture of her because she kept moving around!!

Chik’s open house

My aunty had an open house for her group of police wives last weekend but invited the whole family over as well. The funny part was that we were supposed to arrive after her guests had eaten. We even came a little later just to be super sure we wouldn’t be caught in the middle of her entertaining the whole lot of them and whatnot but when we arrived, they arrived at the same time right behind us! It turns out they were all late, hahaha. So we did end up getting caught right in the middle of it all.

I missed out on the roti jala (!!!) but I had lemang with kuah kacang and laksa. It was in the evening, too. Like, 4-ish p.m. and we had already eaten lunch at 1, had dessert after, and also had a cheese tart around 2.30… I really just… couldn’t believe how much I ate that day.

Banana leaf rice

We had banana leaf rice on Monday! We took Faizol there because he had never been before. I had some sotong goreng and tosai, which is always good. I wish Kanna Curry House still used actual banana leaves but their food would taste amazing on cardboard so I won’t really complain. And that’s all I have to say about that—I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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SOTONG GORENG, MY LOVE.

Seeing Shahirah at work!

I just cannot stress how proud I was to see Sha all legit with her work lanyard and access card and all of that when I visited her at work to have lunch a few days ago. I’ve heard her talk about working there for 4 years, dreading it and preparing for it. And now it’s finally there!!!!! Her work sounds really interesting and I’m beyond excited to see how she grows there.

We got dim sum for lunch and I gave her a birthday present, Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit. Charawi and I have been asking her to read that book for like, a year now. Every time I see it, I snap it and send it to her and she keeps saying it “haunts” her and it became a funny thing between us so as soon as she could tell that my present was a book, she was like “OH MY GODDDDD, I KNOW WHAT IT IS” hahaha. It was priceless.

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Kickboxing

My sisters, my mum and I had a personal trainer come over last week for a private kickboxing class. Ugh. It was insane. I am still sore from it. My mom has been doing this for a while, and honestly I don’t know how she does it because it’s just not fun??? Yesterday though, we had the same trainers come over and we did more of a strength training thing with mats and I enjoyed that so much more. I am going out of town tomorrow though, so I’m a little worried that I’m going to be so sore the whole time but I’ll let you know how that goes! Anyway, with all the eating I’ve been doing here… I shouldn’t be complaining about the pain. I kinda don’t have a choice. I have to be doing some exercise to make up for all the calories.

[31 hours passed since I wrote that last sentence, just so you know lol]

Chair.

I was on the train back from KL on Tuesday, and as I was approaching the Asia Jaya station, I suddenly remembered that on my commutes back from KLCC in early 2013, I would always look at this office chair on a balcony of this random building between Taman Jaya and Asia Jaya. I would always wonder why it was there. And as I passed that same spot last Tuesday, my heart had this small leap of joy when I saw that two chairs were there. I know it might not have been the same chair but there was just something about it that made me feel really happy.

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Making my parents try quinoa

I kinda already wrote about this on Instagram so apologies for the repetition, but here it goes again. My parents used to always perli me when I ate quinoa because it’s “hipster food” or whatever but I brought some back from Trader Joe’s and cooked it at home. I just mixed some cooked quinoa with pesto, baked carrots + broccolis and lots of chopped red onions. I would’ve liked some dried cherry tomatoes and/or mushrooms in it but I was on a bit of a time crunch and had to just work with what was in the fridge. I think it turned out really well and my parents seemed to like it so it was a win for both me and quinoa that day.

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HomePro (haha)

I went to HomePro for the first time this past week because my dad wanted my sisters, my mum and me to go check out some wallpapers for our living room. We probably did that for like 10 minutes and then spent the rest of the time wandering around that huge shop… and we got the most stuck at the baking section. I ended up buying this really cute apron and a small muffin pan for our oven (which is relatively small) and I just really enjoyed looking at all the cute and different types of spatulas and whisks and pans!!!!!! AHHHH. Ok that’s all about HomePro. It’s not that interesting… I just felt like I had to include it because I was so excited there.

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llao llao

One of the things I was sad about when I left Philly was leaving Yogorino. It’s this frozen yogurt place that serves one of my all-time favourite desserts and I actually dare say that llao llao is better than that!! It has the same tart taste but is milkier and like… fattier than Yogorino’s “thinner” frozen yogurt and I love it. I literally kept thinking about it during my last personal training session in order to help get me through. Right after the workout, my sisters and I took a shower, had quick dinner and headed to Aeon to get some llao llao. I wanted it so much I even volunteered to drive, which says a lot!

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I like my frozen yogurt with as little toppings as possible and I think the Lotus biscuit crumbs might be the best one.

Shahirah’s surprise party

Shahirah’s mum organised a surprise party for her on Saturday and it was so nice! Sha was told that her mum was organising a makan makan thing for her friends (her mum’s friends, not Shahirah’s friends… I realize this is all a bit confusing…) and Sha had to help clean the house and prepare the table and all of that for supposedly 20 of her mum’s friends. She was so shocked when she saw her own friends turn up at the gate haha. Apparently she said that at first, she thought “what are they doing here?? My mum’s friends are coming soon!” or something like that lol. But the food was so good and I got to hang out with Aish and Kai Syuen as well so it was just a really, really pleasant Saturday evening.

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A very poor picture of Sha cutting the cake because I didn’t want to leave my seat to get a better shot.

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In case you haven’t heard, Shahirah’s mum is a home chef extraordinaire. 

Dunkirk

I watched Dunkirk last night and it was really interesting. I think I enjoyed it, if “enjoyed” is the right word for it. That is, I deeply appreciated it as a film. The sound effects and cinematography were amazing and I was just revelling in that the whole time. I loved how, conceptually, it felt more like an immersive experience than a typical movie. The plot doesn’t play a huge role in the film and I read this Slate review that described it as being a movie without “military higher-ups debating strategy over maps”, which I thought was really cool. But other than that, the movie leaves you with quite a bit of heartbreak, which means it’s effective as a film but not necessarily “enjoyable”. Plus, there were literally 2 women in the whole film and only 1 person of colour in a non-speaking role, so like, meh. I get that it is a historical thing so they were just portraying what was going on but looking at 400,000 white men can only be so interesting.

We also snuck in so much food from Carls Jr which was hilarious! I felt really bad when we opened the box of chili cheese fries in the cinema but we were pretty hungry so it finished really quickly and I hope no one was too bothered by it! It was so good though, heh.

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Blurry picture of my dad holding the cheese fries, popcorn and on the right, those are 2 more bags with jalapeño poppers and chicken tenders in them! Haha

So that’s all for this week! I’ve got a really nice week lined up ahead of me and I’m so excited to be able to write about that next. Until then, as always always always, thanks for reading!

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!!

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.

History makes homes

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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