Writing on a balcony | Summer 2016

You should see this view.

I’m sitting on the balcony at work while I write this because the office is freezing and I have a bit of a cold. Ok, a lot of a cold. But it’s so nice and warm out here. There’s natural light and I can play music out loud on my laptop.

It’s Friday and I’m done with my third week of this year’s internship! Although, honestly, because they were a little… disorganised, this felt more like my first week. I haven’t been doing that much but at least I finally feel like I’m learning. Most importantly, I’m learning about being more assertive. If I don’t know how to do something, I know I can approach someone and ask them. If I disagree with something, I’m practicing raising my hand and kindly pushing back. I like feeling like I’m growing a backbone.

I haven’t done too much other than go to work and come back, but as you might have seen from my 100 Happy Days post, yesterday was Ayden’s birthday! Ayden is my cousin’s son, and currently the only member of the next generation in our family so he gets a lot of attention. We were all at my cousin’s house yesterday to celebrate his turning 2 🙂 he’s obsessed with Toy Story right now I think, so there were Toy Story-themed decorations. And he got his own little car as a surprise present! I wish you would have seen his reaction when his parents revealed the present. He was so clearly moved. I would’ve thought most children would just run towards the car screaming, but Ayden had to kinda like take a moment to process it and he walked towards the toy car slowly, but beaming, with his hands on his mouth. It was the cutest thing!

There are so many people I want to meet now that I’m home but since I’m working for the bulk of the time I’m back, it’s actually quite difficult because I find myself just wanting to spend time with my parents and sisters at night. Going out for buka puasa is kinda leceh (troublesome) and to be honest, I’m quite malas (lazy) to do that. And I always like to sleep early on week nights so going out after Isya’ is also a meh for me. So I’m a little overwhelmed because I do want to see my friends but plans to meet up tend to come all at once and I don’t know how to spread them out. I feel bad but obvs my family is priority plus I also want to maintain a certain rhythm and normalcy to being home. That is, feeling like I’m just home as opposed to home for a while. I don’t know if that makes sense.

This past week has been turbulent, hasn’t it? I don’t want to talk about it too much because I know we’re all saturated with bad news, but I just want to remind people to have faith in each other. Reach out to people you think may be affected by the news. This means muslims, people of colour, the LGBTQ community. Someone recently said to me that it’s scary to be a muslim in America, but the truth is it’s scary to be a lot of things in America and all over the world. Even here in Malaysia, it can be scary to be so many things. So if you see something, say something. If you see someone speaking with hatred against someone else because of their identity, you could say something. And it’s not just speech. Sometimes people don’t realise they discriminate against others. We can all find ways to be gentle and informed while pushing back against things like that because it really is a form of oppression.

Anyway… thanks for reading, as usual! If there are other blogs you read and really like OR if you write a blog yourself, please send me links to them! I’m really enjoying reading other people’s stuff because it inspires me to keep on writing so I’d love it if you shared some of your favourites with me 🙂  see you next week!

(By the way, since I started writing, it has gotten gloomy, started raining and I’ve had to move inside. Typical Malaysian weather.)

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“Americanah” | Summer 2016

Hi, friends!

I went to Melaka last weekend with my parents and it was pretty fun! We were there for such a short amount of time, just over 24 hours, I think. But visiting Jonker Street is always fun, there’s just so much to see at once. Getting my Pak Putra fix is also always worth the 1.5-hour drive. I literally forgot to take any pictures because I was so preoccupied with taking videos the whole time. But! If you are interested in some ~visuals~ here you go:

I’ve been playing with iMovie a lot, because I just realised how much fun it is. I’ll be going on quite a few more trips before the end of summer actually, so I’m hoping to do one for every trip and see how much better I get 😀

I also did something (trivial) this past week which I felt I absolutely had to write about because it was so quintessentially me; so comical and nostalgic all at once.

So, I was at Petronas to withdraw money, because for some reason the petrol station is the only place I can withdraw money in my neighbourhood. The line was super long, and as I was queueing up, my eyes started lingering around the shop and I saw so many things I wanted. Surely enough, I came out with a bag of butterscotch Gardenia bread, a Crunchie bar, Twisties, Chipster, Honey Stars and SUPER RING!! I was SO happy, you guys. You have no idea. I had not intended to spend >RM20 at the Petronas shop but now you know why the Maybank ATM is there and why there’s only one of them. So that you have you wait in a long line and then come out with 6 things when you intended to buy none. Obviously I’m not very proud of that but like, you should consider that I restrained myself from: a bilis bun, a jagung bun, F&N grape, Crunch ice cream, and a Gardenia breakfast waffle so I THINK I DID JUST FINE.

Nevertheless, my parents and sister saw me walking out of the shop, all mouths agape, half shocked and half amused.

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Nostalgia has this warm fuzzy feeling to it but when seeing food makes you feel nostalgic? It’s so much better. You can literally taste it. Anyway. I told you it was trivial. That was it, that was the story.

Speaking of nostalgia though, this past few days, I finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It really is a wonderful book. It is long, and I’ve managed to get to the 100-page mark several times before, but always ended up having to put readings for classes first. According to Adichie (from this interview), “Americanah is about a young woman, Ifemelu, who leaves Nigeria when she’s a teenager, comes to the U.S., spends 13 years and then goes back to Nigeria. And in those 13 years, many things happen. And it’s also about Obinze, who’s her childhood love, who leaves Nigeria to go to the U.K. and who then returns to Nigeria. So for me, it’s a novel about leaving home as much as it is about going back home, and really about what “home” means, and if you can go back home.”

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I think if you’ve spent a substantial amount of time living abroad, adjusting, especially as a minority, this book will really clutch onto you. Adichie says it’s not totally based on her life because her life was “not as interesting” but the general feeling of it however, is:

“I was in the U.S. for 4 years before I could afford to go back home and even then, just four years later, I had this feeling that Nigeria had left me behind. […] You leave home and then you create home in your mind, and then you go back and it’s not what you built up in your mind and then there’s a sense of loss. Because things happened and you weren’t there.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

And the writing, oh my god. Poetic. The words flow so smoothly and describe emotions with so much precision. Also noteworthy is that I found it refreshing to read a novel not centered around… white people. Adichie sporadically throws in Nigerian words/phrases with no translation or glossary and she talks about Lagos and Abuja which would never get airtime on mainstream TV/film, and so you just kind of dive in and learn about it in all its normalcy.. and I feel comforted to know the world is so much more than America and Europe, more than what pop culture sometimes makes out the world to be. So yes, I 10/10 would recommend.

I’ve just moved on to the next book yesterday, which is Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, and it’s one of those “pop psychology” books. My reading speed has taken a hit because that’s usually what happens when you start a new book and you haven’t gotten into the meaty parts, especially if I’m moving from a fiction to a non-fiction book. My reading list for these few months is pretty long! I am hoping to at least finish 5, and I’m already done with 2 (the other book I read was Originals by Adam Grant, really good as well!) but I start my internship next month so we’ll see how that goes.

EEP. That means the next time I write I’d have already started my first day at work. I can’t wait to know what that’ll be like.  😮

I’m home | Summer 2016

I think most people know by now, but in any case, I’m home! I’ve been back for about 2 weeks now actually, and I’ve just been spending time at home and chilling with my family because I start my internship the week after next.

It was so much fun, surprising my family by coming home earlier. I was only supposed to be back last Wednesday and stay in Philly a little longer to relax and attend the commencement ceremony, but because my summer job was going to start on the 30th, I thought I’d like some extra time back at home. So, I skipped some meals and forked out a couple hundred dollars to change my flight details. And it was so worth it!

At first, I was really worried it wouldn’t work out because the flight was going to be so longggg and I knew for sure that my parents would be really curious if I wasn’t replying their texts for hours. I mean, so much planning went into this. I even called Qatar Airways to ask if the specific flight I was going to be on would have wifi even though I knew it would cost like $30 (the answer was no). I told my sister Aida about it when she visited me earlier this semester because she’d be in London and wouldn’t really be surprised by my coming home early, and we talked about how she’s going to help cover for me.

My parents did eventually pick up on the fact that I wasn’t replying texts of course, and they even texted my friend Shahirah about it. Sha naturally freaked out, but luckily she kept her cool and didn’t blow my cover. My friend Abrar kindly agreed to pick me up from the airport and I feel so grateful because he had to drive all the way to Sepang from work but it was so nice to see a familiar face and not have to get a taxi when I’m back in my own country. So thankful for the help of these two, really!!

Then, when I was close to my house, I called my sister Julia to get her to open the door for me—she was really confused and shocked. I wish I could’ve properly surprised her too but I didn’t have a house key and I had the idea of surprising my parents in their room for months, and I wasn’t ready to let it go. Also, it was a pretty good idea because she got to film their reaction.

Seriously, when my parents were pissed at me for being AWOL on whatsapp, I was so nearly ready to give up and go like “lol i’m in Doha see u later” but I really really didn’t want to let go of that vision I had. And people ask me, “what if they weren’t home?” or “what if they weren’t in their room?” and to that I say, I don’t know, I just knew they would be. Haha. They were so surprised, it took them at least a good 2 seconds to process it. It was AMAZING. I’m so proud of it. I want to put it on my resume.

But yeah, we just spent the rest of that night chilling. And oh my god, I actually did not experience any jet lag this time around which was great! I was so tired and slept so little throughout the journey that I guess when I got back, I just slept through the night normally because I was so tired. I had to stay in my sister’s room for the whole of last week though because I wasn’t supposed to be home and the plumbers were fixing my room and it was really dirty. I’ve just only moved back into my room and fully unpacked yesterday. I actually haven’t done much or gone out a lot, just mostly goyang kaki as they say, at home.

As I’m writing this, I am really supposed to be asleep because we’re going to Melaka bright and early tomorrow. In fact, I think, so early that it won’t even be bright yet. But I took a precariously long nap this afternoon for some reason and so obviously I’m wide awake. I’m hoping to make a Melaka video tomorrow like the Philadelphia one I made a few weeks back (link here if you wanna see it!) and I’m really excited because I feel like it’s my new hobby… or it could be, I guess, because I’m not quite good at it yet. But that’s all for now! Until next week maybe???? (I don’t know. Not being on a school schedule makes me so unaware of the time.)

Week 1: 3 Airports and 34 Hours

The sight I love in May and hate in August.

In 2009, my family went on a vacation to London. It was the first time we were going to make that trip since I could remember. My sisters and I were so excited that we started packing weeks and weeks before we left. We were counting down to it like crazy: “next month we can say we’re going next month!”

I was laughing about that on the way here because somehow at some point between then and now, suitcases and airports have since become a sight for sore eyes. I pack mere hours before my flights these days and I am always walking through airports with a characteristic muka monyok. I’m waiting for my flight from London to Philadelphia as I type this. I saw a red double decker bus earlier and I can imagine being on it with my cousins, giggling about god knows what we always find so funny. It still feels a little weird being here without my family. Even weirder to think that I have been in the same city as my sister for the past 10 hours and have not gotten to see her. Weirder still to realize that I’ve now been here alone more than I have with my parents. The airports that used to remind me of my family vacation group of 10 lugging many large suitcases  now reminds me of just… me and what song I was listening to on Spotify the last time I was here.

Leaving home hasn’t gotten much easier. Although, to be honest, I don’t think I can say I wish it would. I think I might find it sadder if I was leaving behind the country I grew up in and feel like I was leaving nothing behind.

But it’s painful. Every subsequent kilometre travelled is like letting someone have another tug on a loose thread on my favourite sweater, and me just sitting there watching it unravel. I am literally rolling my eyes at anyone who thinks I’m being dramatic. Stop reading. You don’t understand and you’re clearly not trying. Because think this imagery is absolutely fitting; I always feel like I arrive in Philadelphia in rags–battered and beaten. Yeah, I guess that’s a little intense but that’s just how I feel.

I think this will all seem different to me when I look back on it though. In fact, I’m sure it will. I can already feel it change a little. As I entered this terminal, I felt nostalgic about how Uncle Asaraf sent me here the first time I left for Penn. I remembered the couple other times I’ve travelled through here alone and I know I’ll miss this when it’s over.

I mean, I already don’t want to leave Heathrow. Or maybe that’s just because I don’t want to sit on another plane for 8 more hours… but I have to go to my gate now and I’ll finish this later!


Update: I arrived in Philadelphia last night and as I made my way out of the plane, towards immigration, I saw the gates A15 and A17. Those are the gates Shahirah and I usually go to when we fly out of Philly. Looking at those gates made me so excited to go home again… I’m already missing the warmth, the constant fine layer of sweat we wear everyday, the stillness of my house’s living room in the afternoons–feet cold against the marble floor, the sound of cars passing by.

But as I shuffled my way with the crowd, I also felt nostalgic for all the times I’ve waited there to board my flight back. It’s always weird to realise I have so many memories away from home now.

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Throwback: going home the summer after freshman year.

I’m now writing after my first day of class. My PSCI 152 (International Political Economy) class this morning was great and I’m very excited to stick with Professor Pollack for the rest of the semester–hopefully I stay motivated enough to roll out of bed for my 9 a.m. class in the cold. Then I had ECON 243 (Monetary and Fiscal Policy) which, quite frankly, was scary. We jumped straight into some of the math that’ll be required for the course and I know I’m super rusty with those right now. I’ll also need to learn MATLAB and stuff for it. It’s overwhelming, but I think it’ll be good to learn.

I think I am still a little lightheaded from all the travelling. I don’t feel too great right now… a little nauseous, a little sleepy but I can’t vomit and I can’t sleep. Since I can’t rest, I’m going to start crafting my plans for the semester. Talk to you soon. ❤

Once All The Dust Has Cleared / The Whole Is Greater Than All Of Its Parts

One of my goals last Fall was to keep this blog running throughout the 16 weeks of the semester, and I’m so glad I did it. I think those 16 weeks were better because every week I forced myself to regroup and take a step back from it all to tell you about it. It helped me gained distance and perspective quicker and at the same time keep track of my progress. I am writing now at the tail end of winter break because I kind of want to have closure on the last semester now that it has disappeared in my rearview mirror.

I think we all get so caught up in the semester that it can be tough to realise what’s going on until it’s all kind of settled, or like one of the Political Science TAs said, it’s hard to appreciate what we’ve learned until all the dust has cleared.

Now that I’ve gotten all my grades, had a chance to talk to family and friends about my semester and go over my past 16 posts, I’m starting to see how junior fall has been the best semester I’ve had at Penn. I’m not sure why. It could be that this was the easiest course load I’ve had since freshman fall, that I’ve made some of the best friendships of my life, that I love my off-campus living arrangement this year, that I’ve gotten more used to being at Penn… but most likely it is some combination of all of the above.

At the start of the semester I wrote about what a struggle it can be to feel comfortable and at home at Penn. Yet, here I am, on a warm afternoon in my house in Malaysia, basking in the irony of the fact that I am living out of a suitcase (3 suitcases actually, haha). This will always be home to me, but finding my closet empty and not having my own set of house keys forces me to appreciate the fact that this in-limbo period of my life is one of the braver things I’ve done. Sure, that will be hard to remember when I’m on the 20-hour journey to Philadelphia, eyes swollen from tears and arid from cabin air, but I know I have the resilience to continue doing things that scare me.

If I learned one thing this semester, it is that some of the scariest things I dare to undertake are the most rewarding. I wage wars in my head between feeling incapable and worrying that I am wasting whatever potential I have. The ability and the will to break down the things that scare me and go at them one piece at a time is the peace-deal that I feel assuages and reconciles both sides. This semester my little pieces have appeared in the form of one midterm in a 16-week course, one cover letter in a series of job applications, one box in a crossword puzzle, one push-up at the gym and so many more. Yeah, I know, it’s insanely cheesy but all of these daily life things just now seem so rewarding… and it’s not because I get the grade or the position or the job or whatever the “prize” is at the end (because God knows a lot of times I don’t win) but it’s rewarding to know that I have what it takes to push through.

Spring ’16 is going to be tougher, but I’m going to start a new semester all over again one day and one week at a time–thinking about the course load, goals and responsibilities I have ahead of me makes me chuckle a little in sheer nervousness because I honestly can’t wait to see how I make it through this one and, if you still want to listen, tell you about all the little pieces on the way.

Week 14: My Brain and My Bones, My Family and My Home

I am so thankful for Thanksgiving break, because it has been 7 weeks since we’ve had any sort of holiday. The past few days were pretty rough–churning out papers, marathon-studying for exams… but I soldiered on and made it through with lots of support from friends and a solid intake of caffeine.

Thanksgiving weekend also means I got to spend time with a lot of my wonderful friends over amazing food. After a week of a constant stream of horrible news in the media, it is empowering to continue with life normally and treat acts of normalcy as triumphs. I am so thankful to have such a good network of friends here who are always looking out for each other and ready to support one another. I grew up being very close to my sisters and cousins, and even though this isn’t quite the same thing, it comes rather close. In fact, it’s more than I ever dared to hope for when I first stepped onto Penn’s campus over 2 years ago.

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Girls’ Night dinner at Sofia’s earlier this week. People started to slip into carb attacks from her wonderful spread which included: rice, lentil curry, bread sticks, mashed sweet potato, mashed normal potato and vanilla cake 😀
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Malaysians at Penn/Club Singapore potluck. It was really good to hear accents and dialects familiar to my ears and to hang out with this brilliant, hilarious bunch of people.
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Hui Jie and I matched: blue/white sweaters, gummy smiles.
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Coconut cupcakes baked by May May and I, frosting by Hui Jie for the MAP-ClubSG potluck (although to be honest, most of the credit goes to them, I just offered my kitchen/oven and did the cleaning after hehe).
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MSA Thanksgiving Dinner. I made people take a “family portrait” because photos are so integral to our raya/other celebratory gatherings back home that I just felt the night would be incomplete without it.
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It felt like a real family thing because people were just chilling and doing their own thing, and because there were 2 sets of siblings present. It really reminded me of being with my cousins.

I’m also looking forward to a lot of down time on my own this break. Sure, my Friday is probably going to be taken up by review sheets and pages and pages of political science readings… but I’m also burning through Mindy Kaling’s new book which is a really fun read.

I’ve also gotten the chance to re-watch some of my all time favourite movies. If anyone knows me, they’d know that I have a long list of movies but always just end up re-watching Princess Diaries, Big Hero 6, High School Musical, the first/last Harry Potter movies, Kung Fu Panda 2, Pitch Perfect and sometimes also Enchanted and Hairspray. I know, basically just musicals and children’s movies. What can I say? I like what I like.

Anyway, so, I was watching Princess Diaries last night and it’s amazing how I can still draw inspiration from it even though it came out over 14 years ago. It’s also amazing how Anne Hathaway hasn’t seemed to age very much.

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This scene where she’s talking to her grandma about how she doesn’t think she can be a princess used to be whatever to me when I was 8 but now that I’ve grown up, it always makes me cry. Like, ugly-sobbing, straight up bawling type cry. It is just such a relatable feeling–thinking that I am not qualified, that I am not the right person for something, that I don’t have what it takes despite having people believing in me. And then she starts packing to run away… but this being a movie and all, she just happens to find her father’s letter as she’s preparing to leave. And that letter just makes me disintegrate into tears:

“Amelia, courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all. From now on, you will be travelling the road between who you think you are and who you can be–the key is to allow yourself to make the journey.”

SO GOOD, RIGHT? I can’t believe this loaded piece of wisdom has been getting past me for the past 14 years.

It makes me so happy to be continuously able to derive strength and inspiration from everything I have around me: my family and friends, my classes and assignments, even my childhood movies.

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Ahsen and Adel have this whiteboard up in their living room and it was so heart-warming.

My week really reminds me that I have so much to be thankful for. Just like the whiteboard says, I still have my brain and my bones, and I’ll always have my families and my homes.

To my American friends, happy thanksgiving weekend; I hope you have a good meaningful one. To everyone else, I miss you guys and I’m always thinking of you and wishing you all good things.

P.S. Also very thankful for Adele’s new album.

Week 1: I Travelled 9460 Miles with a Bunch of Daun Pandan in My Backpack

Once a year, I count my last this and thats, pack 100 lbs of my things into two sturdy suitcases, force myself out of my bedroom fighting the temptation of a long lingering glance backwards and head to KLIA. Once a year, I cry until I feel like my lungs are about to collapse, stain my family’s shirts with my tears and take the Elevator Of Sorrow down to the departure gates.

As I walk towards the passport scanning thing, at the back of my mind I know my heart is heavy because I have so much I am (temporarily!) leaving behind. What an amazing problem to have. Because it means I have so much. I have so much love and support back home, from family and friends I admire and respect. I have so much fun, so much security and so much comfort back home. I guess I just really want to thank you all for that.

Thank you to my parents, for parenting me the way you have, such that I always have a wonderful home and family I love coming back to. My sisters, for being the cause of most of the times I laugh. Chik, for being like a second mother to me. All my other uncles and aunties for always bringing everyone together. My cousins, for being my best friends throughout my life. In my life right now, the best thing I have is a family that looks for multiple excuses to spend time with each other and request tables for 16-20 at restaurants.

Thank you to my friends who have set aside time to spend with me and helped make my holiday a really well-spent one. Special thank yous to everyone who helped me cross off everything on my craving list and to everyone who cooks amazing food. Thank you to everyone I had the pleasure of seeing over these past few months, you’ve all helped make my break everything I needed it to be. I’m sincerely sorry for missing those I did, and if I have hurt anyone over the past few months.

I know I’m no celebrity and I am cringing at the thought of sounding like I’m receiving some award at the Grammy’s or whatever but I just really wanted to start by saying I am so grateful to God for all of you. Home will always be where my heart is but it’s time to focus my energy on learning and growing at Penn.

As I write this, I am in the process of getting settled into my apartment at Penn. Shahirah and I arrived safely on Sunday morning (Sunday night Malaysian time). Classes start on Wednesday morning, and as per usual, I have that fresh new-semester excitement and a full bar of stamina. Right now, I have to redecorate my room, stock up my fridge and catch up with the friends I haven’t seen in 3 months. 

Landing safely in Philadelphia.
Landing safely in Philadelphia.

I have to say though, it feels really weird to be back. As the taxi from the airport drove across campus, I realised how distant my last year here feels to me. It felt like ages ago, like it happened in a parallel universe. I guess I was so shocked at how unprepared I felt to come back. I’m lying down on my bed as I type this, and at the back of my mind I’m thinking about the feeling of walking barefoot on a staircase, the touch of sunshine on my skin, marble floors, the slight hint of the smell of haze in the air, the sound of a ceiling fan turning. Little things that take my mind back 9460 miles.

Going home to Malaysia felt like resting my tired head on a pillow, like taking off my high heels after a long day, like eating an old favourite childhood snack. Coming back to Penn feels like crawling into a cold hotel bed, like eating solids after a week on liquids only, like eyes squinting when suddenly exposed to sunlight.

But the bed warms up, teeth strengthen and pupils contract. I will get better. I will be just fine.