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.

New Milestones

First of all, I want to say thank you so much for all the love I got after last week’s post. Thank you in particular for those of you who have encouraged me to keep writing, whether by explicitly telling me to, by reprimanding me when a post is late (hi Hui Jie) or by just letting me know that you never miss a post. I have been tempted to “give up” several times because quite often, it feels like my writing is so frivolous, but you’ve all reminded me how our writing has created a community I am really grateful for. When I told my friend Hui Jie that I might not write after graduation because I don’t think my life will be as interesting after Penn, she was quick to refute that claim; there will be your first job, moving cities, moving out, first house, settling down, and so many more, she reminded me. It’s good to remember that life is dynamic—there will always be new things to discover and always new things to write about. With that, I’m going to take this little opportunity to say that to all of you who’ve said to me “I wish I could write like you”: you absolutely can.

Anyway, like Hui Jie said, there will always be new things in my life to write about. So here’s a little bit about my first week as a ~college graduate~ (oh my god, it still has not sunk in).

1. Shahirah moved out of our apartment

My roommate of 3 years moved out of our apartment on Wednesday. Shahirah and I are opposites. She’s so phlegmatic and just so chill, which means she rarely ever wants to decide where we go to eat or what movie to watch or if there should be a system in the kitchen or bathroom whatever, you know? On the other hand, I… have a lot of opinions about these things. Toothpaste droppings shouldn’t be left in the sink, don’t boil more water than you need, the stove should be wiped down after cooking anything messy, blablabla. So really, although she is one of my absolute best friends, us living together was not always the easiest thing for the both of us.

Still, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Of course, that’s easy for me to say now in hindsight, right? There definitely have been times over the 3 years where I was like… “ok, maybe this wasn’t the best idea” but I maintain that it was good for me because I learned what it was like to live with someone who grew up with a different lifestyle than I did. I think I have grown a lot from that experience. In fact, in some ways it reminds me of the ways my parents have learned to tolerate their differences. I never told her this (though she’ll probably read it now…) but even though some days we just kind of stay out of each other’s spaces and not talk, when she’s not here, I kind of miss her. It’s always weird when she goes out of town and I know I won’t hear the creak of the doors when she comes in late at night. Even though it wakes me up, I am always touched because I know she’s trying to be as quiet as possible for me, and looking back I think some small quiet part of me was comforted to know that she was home.

On Tuesday afternoon, Shahirah and I had lunch with my sister, Majid, and his brother Mansoor. After lunch, she had some errands to run and I just trailed along all day because I was very emotional and clingy. We went to SPARC and PWC and even took my very first picture at the Love Statue together. Later that evening, as Shahirah packed up the last things in her room, Hanna, Fahmida and I hung out on her bed just talking and that was really one of those moments I could feel my heart clinging on to. I’m always humbled by the idea of memory: we rarely ever decide which memories eventually fade into the distance and which ones get to be returned to for years and years on. But days like that, I hope I get to keep forever.

I know I won’t remember what we talked about and stuff but I want to remember how I felt. It reminds me of that oft-repeated Maya Angelou quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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Saying goodbye to Steve at SPARC.

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Chilling on Shahirah’s bed (excuse how sloppy I look, Sha just quickly told us to cover our heads and we grabbed whatever was nearest, lol)

The next morning, as she was preparing to roll her bags out of the door, I was impressed (but not surprised) by her nonchalance. On top of being more neurotic than she is, I am also a lot more emotional. So, I said something along the lines of: “wow I can’t believe you’ll never ever walk through these doors ever again” or something like that. And she said “wow great, thanks Dayana, for making me feel sad about leaving” (oops). So she went back in and took one last look. We took some selfies and I called her an Uber and off she was.

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Sha taking one last lap around the apartment as I documented everything. Classic.

She left me with a cute card, her umbrella for me to use and (unintentionally,) some leftover Chipotle. Always taking care of me, even after she’s left the country. I don’t know that I’ll ever have another experience living with someone like that again, but I’m glad we did it together because she’s honestly like a sister to me and I personally think my relationship with her—though not always the most outwardly peachy one—is so unique and special and I will always be thankful for it.

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Eating Sha’s last Chipotle. She hardly ate ANY of it!!!!!

 

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On my bus ride home the next day, I passed by Trader Joes on a rainy evening and I remembered the time Sha and I got trapped there in the rain and I had to download the Lyft app so that we could get a ride back.

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I pointed out to her that this picture has our door number inverted and she said she didn’t even realize!! How classic. And we’re matching in this like good old times. Also classic.

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Bye 😦 see you in Malaysia!!!!

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And guess what?! Now she’s home hanging out with MY PARENTS!!! ❤

Sha, if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll miss hearing me laugh or belt out Disney tunes over the thin walls!!! Now when I sing I’m like “oh, phew, I’m not disturbing her” but then I’m also like “she left” 😦

2. Sleepover with Saffa

Saffa came over on Thursday for a couple of nights and stayed with me, which was so much fun. She was a senior when I was a freshman. I remember meeting her at the very first MSA GBM and after, she showed me and Shahirah the RAC (does that even stand for anything? I don’t even know anymore. Oh my god, it’s happening, I’m forgetting!!!) where we used to go to pray and we walked down Locust together. We probably only really bonded later over our similar tastes and the fact that we share the same birthday. And this past weekend, I learned she’s also a left hander like me.

Anyway, Saffa lives in Chicago but came down to DC to be with her sister who’s about to give birth. She took a couple of days to see me, Hanna and Fahmida in Philly since she’s on the east coast. On Thursday night, we stayed up and had strawberry tea and talked about college and work and moving on and it was probably the first time in a long time I felt like I had one of those high-school-ish sleepovers.

Friday was also so much fun. We were up pretty early and got breakfast with Hanna at Metropolitan (I had my fav pesto grilled cheese with portobello and an iced chai for last breakfast before Ramadhan) then we went to hang out at the med school, which is absolutely beautiful. In the afternoon, we took a walk to Penn Park, lounged in the sun for a bit and then went back to my apartment where Saffa and I watched The People vs. OJ Simpson (which is absolutely amazing!!!) and Hanna studied.

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I love these two so much.

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Then later, we went out to dinner with Fahmida. We ate at Sate Kampar, which serves the best Malaysian food I’ve ever had in the states. Fun-ish fact: we realised that all 4 of us represented a different graduating class (2014-2017) and ethnicity (Malaysian, Bengali, Egyptian, Pakistani because I know my dad will ask when he reads this). How cute is that?!

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When we went back, Saffa and I talked some more, baked some cookies while my sister and I cooked what we were going to have for sahur the next morning. It was a really nice and cosy night, and I’m really glad I got to spend so much time with her over those two days.

3. Does a Craigslist sale make me an adult?

Because it kinda feels like it. I’m moving out of this apartment next month (inshaAllah!!!) so that means I need to give myself time to get rid of all the furniture we’ve accumulated over the years. Realising this, I went on a Craigslist selling spree. It’s actually not as easy as I thought because people will say they want it and then take forever to reply and then back out. Luckily, after just attempting one sale, I got a lot better at it and I learned to be more firm. I knew to say things like I’ll hold it for you for x hours and then it goes to the next person without feeling bad because I feel like it’s only fair to everyone involved to know what to expect.

My favourite part of this whole process is probably feeling a little “busy”. In trying to keep up with all my sales, I found that I finally had a reason to make a spreadsheet again and to my own surprise, I was so happy about it. I think my mind just really likes being exercised and stretched more than I realised, haha.

I sold my Ikea KALLAX shelf this morning, and that was the first of my big items to go. I remember going to Ikea on my own that Spring day in 2015. I felt particularly accomplished (exhibit A) because getting there wasn’t so straightforward but I did it. I remember Keyan asking me if I needed him to pick me up but I was ok. I picked everything I needed by myself and I coordinated the delivery on my own and then I also assembled all of those things myself. I remember it being one of the first times I felt truly self-sufficient (save for the fact that the money I used to pay for my Ikea trip came from a certain Bank of Dad, heh). I just couldn’t help remembering that as I disassembled it today in preparation for it to be picked up by its new owners. Side note, I was happy to find out that the buyers were a couple who had just bought their first house in Philly. Here’s to growing up and new beginnings for all of us.

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4. First Ramadan away from home!

I’ve never spent bulan puasa (tr: fasting month) away from home! I never went to boarding school like my sister and I was lucky enough that puasa always coincided with summer breaks while I was at Penn so I could always spend it at home. But I guess sometimes things happen and even though you think you’ll never spend Ramadan abroad, on your last year of college, you end up doing just that.

I was quite nervous about the extra long hours (ok, it’s just like 2 extra hours but still) and the summer (turns out it’s still cooler than Malaysia) but alhamdulillah it’s really not bad at all. I usually have a terrible headache the first day but I’ve done two days now without any complaints. Sure, I feel a little lethargic but I was perfectly capable of working with all that furniture today and I actually think I’ll be able to go for a jog tomorrow if it doesn’t rain in the evening.

Yeah, I might be missing out on the family gatherings and buka puasa food, but I’m excited to be working on some service projects here and I’ve set certain goals for myself in terms of a reading list, lectures & etc. so I think it’ll still be a very good month for me and I’m so thankful that I seem to be handling it all really well.

It helps that my sister Julia is with me. She and I cooked sweet and sour fish yesterday and stir fried egg noodles today, both of which were actually delicious. We also had knafeh for dessert yesterday (in lieu of roti john and tepung pelita, my Malaysian favs) and if you know me, you’ll know how much I love knafeh. Now my sister Julia can’t stop talking about it too. I’m always glad to introduce people to cheese-related food.

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So I guess that’s about it for this week. I actually have so much more I want to write about. I want to tell you all about how I worked on that radio project, my most recent trip to New York, about commencement day itself (if it isn’t too late) but I think this will be all for now. To all my Muslim friends, I hope your Ramadan is off to a wonderful start and to everyone else I hope you’ve had a wonderful week, whatever you’re doing.

Until next time! ❤


P.S. for nothing more than your pure amusement, here are some of the times Sha and I have matched clothes. None of these were intentional, I promise.

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