Butterscotch Blondies, Bootcamp and… Being Bad at Blogging

I love me a good alliteration, y’know?

I just made some black pepper tofu stir fry thing and am now just chilling while Pitch Perfect 2 is on (you know how much I love movies with songs and coordinated dances!!). Work was pretty chill this week so I’m trying to use the downtime to kinda frontload stuff and get ahead.

This morning, I brought my butterscotch blondies to work because they were so good and I know if I didn’t share them, I would’ve end up eating it all myself… and that would’ve been so bad. I think people liked them but they weren’t as amazing as they were yesterday. I was FaceTiming May May yesterday while the blondies were in the oven and when I took them out she witnessed my sheer surprise when I tasted them for the first time. I liked that May May was at least “there” for that because I definitely miss baking stuff and just texting my friends saying like “hey guys, I made this, come over to try some if you’re free”. So it was at least nice to share it with people at work.

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 21.57.02.png

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 22.01.07.png

Got a chance to try out this snazzy new toy I just got ON SALE AT TARGET!! I’ve ALWAYS wanted a Kitchen Aid.

Also, this week, I’m hoping to hear back about whether or not I got into this audio production bootcamp program thing that NPR has for interns. It’s this 2.5-day program where we get like a crash course in audio production from some senior editors and at the end of it we get paired with a mentor from the newsroom or something like that. Everyone who was interested had to take this test of audio proficiency last and out of the 20 or so people who took it, only 8 people will get in. I’m kind of not a fan of the competitiveness it adds but it is what it is, I guess and if I get it, cool, and if not, it won’t make or break anything.

We (we as in the How I Built This team) also just announced that we’re putting on a couple more live shows this year, which is exciting! The next one is on 30th Nov in DC. Guy will be interviewing Robert L. Johnson, who founded BET and I’m so excited that it’s local because I’ll get to go!!

In other recent updates, Ken came to visit again! We went to Thip Khao, which was that Laotian place I took Jamie when she came a couple of weeks ago, and it did not disappoint. The fried catfish and tofu laab were just amazing. Before dinner though, I took Ken to NPR to see the studio and my office and he seemed to really enjoy it, which made me really happy! I loved getting to share my “new world” to an old(er) friend.

IMG_6521.JPG

After NPR, we came back to my neighbourhood to get dinner and the wait for the restaurant was like an HOUR. It was raining so we couldn’t just walk around and there weren’t any restaurants in the area that were nearly as good so we just went to this random place nearby to wait. At first, Ken suggested we go to Five Guys to split some fries but then I was like no lah, and suggested we go to this place called Z Burger??? because a sign said they had milkshakes and I had been craving milkshakes. But we walked in and I got distracted by onion rings!!!! Hahahaha. So we ended up getting onion rings and… fries. It was good though! I grilled the guy at the cashier over what kind of onion rings they had (breadcrumbs? floury? big? small? how many do you get? etc) and he seemed very amused by my indecision haha. But he gave us “Z sauce” which was thousand island + cajun and was just amazing with onion rings….. and….. this paragraph has evolved into a paragraph about food and isn’t about Ken anymore but um… basically it was a fun weekend. Here’s a picture of me and my preferred ring that Ken took:

FullSizeRender 5.jpg

Anyway, I think that’ll be all for this week, haha. I’m going to febreeze the hell out of this apartment to tone down the black pepper smell lol byeeee!

Advertisements

Anthony Bourdain in Sarawak, and then some thoughts on work

It’s Friday night and my roommate is out of town so I have the TV to myself. I was scrolling through Netflix for something to watch and after giving up on a crappy Jennifer Aniston, I found Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series. I initially was looking for the episode on Tehran because I was told by people at work that it’s really good. Then, I saw there was an episode about Borneo… so like, there was no competition. I had to watch that one. I thought it was going to be something about the Indonesia part of it but was so pleasantly surprised that it was actually about the Malaysian side of Borneo. Sarawak in particular. He even started out the episode in KL… with a plate of char kuey teow! And then he went off to Kuching, for some Laksa Sarawak, which just left me in fetal position on the couch.

IT WAS TORTUROUS. I did not expect that at all, but man, I was writhing in pain. I don’t think about home that much anymore… I don’t spend a lot of time fantasizing about the food or places as much. I wasn’t sure if I just loved it less or if I just got better at being present wherever I was. I guess it’s really hard to tease those two apart. But I really felt it in my gut when I saw vignettes of home: everything from the penambangs to the twin towers. It’s like the US is on my skin, but home is deep in my bones.

But umm, since I’ve started writing this… Bourdain has gone to visit his orang asli friends deep in the Sarawak forests and they’re now celebrating Gawai with pork and tattoos and alcohol and I can’t relate to it anymore HAHA so let’s change the subject!

Work was good this week. Another featurette squared away in 4 days! Monday was off and honestly, I’m not such a fan of public holidays anymore just ’cause no matter how many days we work, an episode comes out every Monday morning so a day off doesn’t mean less work, it just means less time.

Ok now here’s the thing about me and working on these featurettes. I thought I’d feel a bit better at it because it’s my second time helping to produce a segment of the show but the story was a little different this week and I quickly realized that even though to a listener, most of the How I Built This stories sound the same… to a producer, especially a severely inexperienced one, it’s a slightly different challenge everytime. So it wasn’t a lot easier. It actually wasn’t any easier at all. And I think that’s annoying just because I desperately want to get better… of course, part of it was wanting to get better for myself, but a huge part of it, I’m not gonna lie, was just about wanting to get better so that I can stop taking so much of other people’s time!

I know everyone says it’s not a burden when I ask for help… and I believe them. Truly, I do. But the objective fact is also that I’m doing something they could do in half the time—maybe even less than that. And I just, ugh, that just annoys me y’know? Working with my editor is getting a bit more painful not because she’s gotten more strict or garang or whatever… she’s as nice as ever but I think in my head it’s like “ok, it’s been a month and I still haven’t totally got this.” So, every criticism is a bit more annoying not because it’s harsher, but rather, because I have quickly-rising expectations for myself.

If you know me at all, you’ll know that my high expectations for myself have always both been a hindrance and a propeller. I don’t like doing things I don’t do well. That sometimes means I go all out with the things I do. But that also sometimes means I don’t try. My editor told me to take a stab at the first draft of our featurette this past week and my first impulse was to shy away from the chance. I agreed to do it of course, because I hate being a coward and because I knew it was good for me… but I have to acknowledge that I felt a strong urge to decline responsibility. I think she noticed my reluctance and she was very understanding. She gave a nod to how intimidating the task seems but encouraged me to try. At that very moment, I almost laughed out loud, because I remembered the time I got into the car for a driving lesson and the instructor told me to switch seats with him and drive the car and I was like “no, thanks”—because everyone knows the best way to learn to drive is by watching from a passenger seat, right? LOL.

This week, only 1 or 2 lines of the draft I wrote actually made it into the final edit. Only a few of the clips I chose survived my editor’s scrutiny. I don’t take it personally and I respect her every decision and I see her reasoning. But when I continue to miss the mark, it can feel like I’m not learning. I know the truth is that I’m probably just not learning as fast as I want to, but that I am still learning. I guess sometimes it doesn’t feel like that.

I want to be good, you know? I want to be really good. I know these things don’t come quickly. I know I should be patient but the fast pace at which things move at makes it difficult to tolerate inefficiency. I find myself wishing I could learn new things now the way I learned new things back in school. And I don’t mean Penn school. I mean like… Form 1 school. You learned everything part by part. I remember being asked to do countless fraction problems, and on a separate part of the exercise book, there were just factorisation problems or whatever. And then on yet another part of the exercise book, they’d give me a word problem and in trying to solve it I’d realise, OH, the solution involves both factorisation and fractions, that’s why they drilled us on the basics first. It’s kind of like how in Karate Kid, Jackie Chan made Jaden Smith take his jacket off and on constantly. It felt so pointless, and then when he got into a fight, he realised he had really gotten down all the tools he needed.

I guess in an exercise-book version of learning to do my job, I’d be asked to first do nothing but practice cutting tape in a way that “preserves natural breaths” for a whole day. Then the next day, I’d spend the whole day learning how to balance sound levels. Then the next day, aligning music. The next day, adjusting the gaps between sound bites/making sure the pace sounds right. And the next day another thing, and so on. I think I grew up learning by drilling in the basics until it became so painfully tedious, and now part of me still clings on to that system. Maybe because when I was a kid, I tended to be a bit “ahead” in my classes; I got so used to not moving on from one concept until I got totally bored of it. So in college, and now at work, being thrown into new things at such a rapid pace and expecting to learn and improvise on the go kinda puts me out of my comfort zone. It’s a little embarrassing that I’ve been out of school—high school—for years now and I still get so insecure about trying new things and not being perfect… but there’s no point denying it.

But here’s what I know I have picked up from my schooling years (all my life, basically). I know I have a feel for how to work with people: update the people I’m accountable to on where I am with my work, give them a sense of what to expect from me in the coming days or weeks or whatever so we’re on the same page, make sure I’m clear about what I can and can’t do. I also know I’m able to plan ahead and manage my timelines. I always ask myself “have I taken the fish out of the freezer?” and I don’t mean it literally. When I first started learning how to cook, I kept making the mistake of forgetting to defrost my fish and come home excited to cook/eat dinner… only to remember my salmon is still frozen. It’s such a good metaphor I think, for how sometimes you have to do something now so that you can do the thing you have to do next week. And I’m definitely not great at that, but at least it’s something I’m quite aware of. So far, at work, there have been a couple of times at least where I’ve been glad I was looking ahead and avoided getting stuck.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense, honestly haha. It makes sense in my head, I swear. So yeah. That’s my thoughts on the week. I don’t know how long I can keep this up honestly, because the things I’m doing are quite repetitive and this first month, I’ve always had new things to say about the job because of this steep learning curve but as things progress, I’m curious to see what I’ll have to say (or if I’ll still have things to say).

Ok, I was planning to write more about some stuff I did outside of work this past week but this is getting a bit lengthy as it is so I’ll get to that next time. Until then, thanks for reading!

My First Featurette!

Guess what came out yesterday! A How I Built This episode with a featurette that I helped produce! I actually had a hand in editing a small part of this episode, for the very first time and I just can’t get over it!!!!! (Listen to it here)

So, the show, as I think I’ve mentioned, is all about entrepreneurs and the story of how they got to where they are. At the end of the show, there’s a ~4 minute featurette about a product/company that one of our listeners is building. They write in to us (at build.npr.org in case anyone wants to submit something!) about what they’re building, how long they’ve been doing it, some ups and downs they’ve been through… and I sift through all those responses for ones that stand out.

CBC7C912-A3CD-462C-A738-CD561735AE81.jpeg

Very generally, how it works is I usually call a potential guest up, chat with them for about 10 minutes, get a sense of the story and then take it to my editor, who decides what we should feature. Once we’ve got our pick, I do a test run with our guest (who we always interview remotely through an app and our studio and like… technology) and take care of other logistics like booking a studio booth in the office to record in, etc. I had to learn how to operate this small switcher thing so that my editor, our guest and I get to all be on this call at the same time and have it be recorded right into this software we use to manage audio files. The interview lasts about an hour, and then I get the audio file, listen to it, pick the best sound bites and try to carve out a narrative (which is harder than you might think, because in an hour long interview, the parts you use for a FOUR minute piece tends to be all over the place). As I pick clips, I’m also trying to write a rough draft of a script which will tie all the sound bites together…

…a draft which always gets pretty much entirely rewritten by my editor LOL. I feel like in the past I might’ve been totally crushed by this but, I don’t know, I don’t even mind. She’s such a kind and brilliant person that I just totally respect all her advice. I am constantly amazed by all the things she points out and thinks of so I’m always perfectly happy reworking things for her.

Anyway, after we’ve got a script, we take it to the host, Guy Raz, who “tracks” the whole thing. What that means is he listens to the soundbites and records his narration for the story as per the script we prepare for him (which he sometimes modifies a bit as he sees fit). And when he records stuff, he always does multiple takes on sentences and I have to pick the best one. Sometimes that means picking the first part of the second take and the second part of the first take, etc and editing it so that it sounds seamless. I’m not very good at this yet so I’m relying very heavily on help from all the other people on my team.

It was so much fun getting to edit my first featurette! Even though I still suck, it’s cool to see how much thought and care goes into crafting even a 4-minute post-script of an episode. I’m being pushed to think about things like, is it capturing the whole story? Are we leaving out anything important? Am I including anything superfluous? How do you make the story catchy while staying fair to the guest? and all of that stuff. Plus, I absolutely love how much attention is paid to detail: the words, the pace, even the breaths… everything needs to sound natural. The featurette (and the show) has lots of cuts for brevity, cuts to take out awkward umms and uhhhs but it’s edited so that it doesn’t sound like you’re just jumping from one part of the tape to another, if that makes sense. It’s kind of like how people try to avoid jump cuts in video.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling of hearing my own work on a podcast—an NPR podcast, no less!—for the first time. It is certainly bizarre and was by far the highlight of my week.

Anyway, I’m sorry this is late! First, I wanted to wait until Friday so I could write about the process from start to finish. But then on Friday I was just too tired and on Saturday morning I headed out to New York City for a nice lil trip for the long weekend. As I type, I’m eating a slice of cake from Magnolia (SO GOOD!) while watching The Lizzie McGuire movie, haha. I got back last night and am pretty tired so I’m just taking it easy tonight—I even passed up my ticket to see a Rupi Kaur reading this evening.

I hope you enjoyed this and that it wasn’t too boring. I know I’m probably just nerding out over this on my own. I’ll write about the trip in a few days but for now, I’m going to just…. take a shower and go to bed. Byeee!

Mental Leg Days

I joked to my friend May May recently that the learning curve has been so steep at this new place that it’s like mental leg day everyday…

…which is probably a good thing!

So, if you’re not familiar with the show I’m attached to, (why aren’t you though? Check it out here) it’s hosted by Guy Raz. I had lunch with him last Friday and during lunch, he talked about how we usually suck when we start something new (except he said it more eloquently than that). I think that should have comforted me, but like do you even know me? Of course it didn’t LOL. I hate sucking at things (!), especially the things I like doing and I really like this job.

At this point, my job has primarily consisted of writing promos for the show to go on the social media sites and preparing a write-up on the guests that Guy will interview… which means like a two-page thing about their life story and as many questions as I can think of (these write-ups are called passoffs). I’ve written two passoffs so far. I prepare them and then the show’s editor looks over them and gives me feedback and from that, I can tell that my second one was better than my first but that they’re still not good. And here’s the frustrating thing: I know it’s not good and my editor (bless her BRILLIANT soul) tries her very best to give me constructive feedback but she and I both know that it’s the kind of thing you just get better at with experience. So as eager and impatient as I am, I just have to keep doing more of them until I get better.

Everyone on the team has been asking me how everything is going and whether or not I feel like I’m “sipping from a firehose” and on the first week, not so much. In retrospect, that was probably because half the team was away doing a live show in Seattle. But now that everyone’s back, I’m starting to get a feel for the regular swing of things and I’m feeling the uphill climb on the learning curve as they give me more and more responsibility. In some ways, it’s about learning to do the tasks correctly but the other, equally challenging thing is learning to juggle different tasks that belong to different projects and have different timelines.

I came home from work the other day and was like… ok this is the homework I’m going to give to myself in order to try to get better quickly and I kinda laughed about it a little because I was weirdly glad that my anxiety-powered intensity is back in action. It’s been what, 5 months since my last exam? So yeah, I haven’t felt this anxious drive in so long and it was just like “lol ok hi, intense Dayana is back (after the chillest summer of her life)”.

Speaking of intensity, I was reminded today of all my bad habits from college. For example, eating while doing work is like the #1 thing that comes to mind. If it wasn’t for my team asking me out to eat, I realised that my basic urge is to just microwave my packed lunch and eat it at my desk because that’s kinda how I’ve been doing it most of the time for the past few years… which is bad, right? I remember sitting down to eat and being like “oh, my eyes aren’t really needed for eating so I could probably do my readings now” (admittedly, sometimes it was Netflix instead of readings, but you know…) and I think that “I should always be working” thing is actually pretty hard to shake off. Like, I’d come home at night and the other day I caught myself looking for my usual to-do list. It’s so weird. But anyway! New life stages come with adjustments lah kan.

In other, funner news:

Us interns still have training going on. It’s a bit more sporadic now but we still have a few here and there. Last week, my favourite training session was one on the Marantz. It’s a mobile audio recorder and we basically had like 1.5 hours on how to use it, which I thought was pretty comprehensive. It isn’t directly related to what I do on the job, but I absolutely loved it because remember earlier this year when I was working on that piece about graduation? I was using a Zoom H4N which is similar to the Marantz but less sophisticated. And I had all these questions, which I’d just look for answers to on Google and whatnot but this training was great because it let me know what I was doing right and wrong and gave me answers to all my unresolved issues. So yeah, that was really cool!

IMG_5681.JPG

Unrelated to work: I went to see Ed Sheeran in concert last Wednesday! I went alone and it. was. so. much. fun. I bought the tickets ages ago that I had kinda forgotten all about it. And I got like the cheapest possible ones so I was on the highest possible tier but still, even though the show is basically just Ed and his loop pedal + a guitar, his voice/energy really filled the room and I just had the time of my life because I knew all the words to all the songs. Plus, I’ve heard all of his records over the years and I can remember like listening to Multiply on repeat while I was on a 7-hour layover at Heathrow and listening to Divide while I was in LA last March. So hearing everything live was definitely an experience.

IMG_5724.JPG

I wore an Ed Sheeran tshirt to work the next day and my editor asked me about it and asked me about the concert and she asked me whether there were a lot of screaming girls and bored parents and I said yeah but conveniently left out that I was, 100%, one of the screaming girls. It was a miracle that I still had my voice the next morning lol.

That’s all from me this week 🙂 I’m off to try to finish watching 30 Rock before it goes off of Netflix next weekend, haha. Bye!

FIRST WEEK AT NPR!

Ok, I’m sorry this is late. I can feel the watchful eyes of Hui Jie and my dad, wondering why I flaked last week.

The truth is, I’ve just been at a loss for words, and I mean that in the best way possible. I honestly am so grateful for this past week that I don’t even know how to write about it in a balanced way. I feel like I usually write about being at least a bit busy and tired even on my best weeks, so I just wasn’t sure how to open up a blank page and be like “everything is great!!!”

But everything has been… pretty damn great.

I had quite a bit of trouble falling asleep the night before last Monday. I guess I was a bit more nervous that I realised? But the morning finally came and I wore the clothes I laid out for myself the night before, just like I used to do when I was like, seven or something.

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 22.26.50.png

My first week at NPR started off with a day of orientation. I walked in for the first time grinning so hard like someone had stuffed a hanger in my mouth. Coincidentally, the very first person I met was another Penn grad in my year. I recognised her because I saw her perform at a stand-up comedy show last spring. There are about 50+ interns this semester and that meant a lot of introductions and so very much small talk. Pros: meeting so many new people from all over the country. Cons: I never know if I’m being weird or awkward or saying something that doesn’t make sense.

We went on a tour around the building and I was like, awestruck the whole time. During our tour, we passed by NPR Politics host Scott Detrow in the hallway, I saw Code Switch co-host Gene Demby’s desk and got to see all the studios they record in. Needless to say, it felt like one of the best days of my life. Also, we had free pizza for lunch that first day. Having just graduated from college, I expected that basic boxed pizza we used to get from Allegro’s or Axis but wow did they exceed my expectations (note to self: ask HR about where that pizza came from).

The rest of the day was mostly boring first-day stuff like handling paperwork, hearing from a senior exec, learning about workplace conduct and all of that good stuff. Not gonna lie, I zoned out a few times that day, but always because I just couldn’t believe where I was.

On Tuesday, I finally got to meet my team!! I don’t think I’ve ever actually said on here what I’m doing at NPR, but I’m the intern for NPR’s How I Built This, which is a podcast about entrepreneurs, and I’ve been listening to it since it’s early days… and by early days I mean last September. Which brings me to the highlight of my first “real” day on the job: ice cream! The first day I met my team was coincidentally also the one year anniversary of the show and we had some really good ice cream to celebrate.

IMG_5566

Hastily-taken picture, meant to just be Whatsapp-ed to my family groupchat. Ice cream served by Guy and tastes way better than it looks. Also, I love me some caramel and whipped cream.

I remember the first time I listened to HIBT. I was on a flight back from Boston after a crappy job interview, fighting the temptation to feel like the biggest failure ever. I remember listening to their episodes on Vice and Spanx, and feeling instantly inspired… like I will be okay, and that I can still make something out of myself. I came back to Philly and I wrote a blog post titled Five, in which I write that “I am not meant for more, not meant for less, just meant for different” and that “perspective is powerful”. I got that by listening to this show. So HIBT is really, really special to me and I am so honoured to be a part of it.

Everyone on the team has been so kind and welcoming, which has just made this whole new beginning so much more (forgive me for being this cheesy!) magical. It was kinda wild to hear Guy Raz speaking directly to me, because I have been listening to his voice on podcasts for so long. It was also a little bizarre to be introduced to people when you’ve actually already memorised their full names from listening to them being said on the credits of the show so many times, haha.

They’ve all been so helpful to me as I learn the ropes. I’m helping run the show’s social media accounts and prep the show’s host for interviews and stuff. Soon, I’ll also be getting more hands-on production experience by helping to produce a 3-5 minute featurette at the end of every episode but we haven’t gotten to that point yet. Still, I constantly find myself needing to run over to people for small questions and they’ve all just been so patient, which I obviously really appreciate.

FullSizeRender.jpg

My desk, decorated with some Malaysia postcards.

Apart from my duties with the team, all the interns have been having a series of seminar-style training sessions from all over the company. We got to hear from Nell Greenfieldboyce about journalism fundamentals, from Lori Todd about social media management, from Mark Memmott about ethics, from so many others about how to find our way around the building, book the studios, borrow equipment and use the internal software. I really like that there’s this sense of structure to the program, plus it gives all the interns a chance to get together a few times a week and get to know each other.

The highlight of last week for me however, was, not gonna lie, meeting Paramore. They were such an integral part of my music interests back in secondary school… I remember listening to “brand new eyes” during form 5 while studying for SPM and like wow, 16-17 year old me would NOT believe this could’ve been possible. They were there to perform a Tiny Desk concert, which is a signature series that comes out of NPR Music. Artists usually play acoustic versions of 3 of their songs. John Legend, Adele, Yusuf Islam, Chvrches, Hozier and SO many more have performed there. The set is decorated by all sorts of relics left behind by some of these artists. Anyway. Paramore played Hard Times26 and Fake Happy. Hayley Williams was so sweet and so good live and I still can’t believe any of that happened.

IMG_5551.JPG

The Tiny Desk

IMG_5587.JPG

Paramore performing

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 22.30.15.png

Me with the band!!

Outside of work, I’ve been meeting a lot of friends. I’m quite glad there are a good number of people I kinda-sorta-know here because it’s like making new friends but not entirely. There are some people I know because of Penn, some people I know from home and some people I made friends with almost purely by virtue of also being Malaysian. So that’s nice. It gives me a chance to have some form of social life without being overwhelmed at all. My new roommate is also amazing, and so is the apartment I’m staying in. So yeah, things are on the up.

IMG_5662.JPG

I haven’t been taking a lot of pictures with people because they’re “new” friends, but this is me with Taylor and Angie who also graduated from Penn this past May 🙂

IMG_5635.JPG

My fav corner of the apartment

Again, like I said, I’m just so thankful for the chance to be here. 🙂 I’ll write more soon when I fully settle into this new life. For now, the dryer is done and I have (sigh) a lot of laundry to fold.

P.S. I just want to leave this here, from 11 months ago:

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 22.38.01Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 22.37.43