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!!

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Freshman + Sophomore year highlights

I was thinking recently about what a shame it is that I only started this blog in my junior year because I genuinely do like scrolling through my own posts and looking back on all the things I know I would’ve otherwise forgotten. I think it’s also such a shame because I feel like I had so much more fun those first two years even though I would probably tell you I enjoyed it less. Like, yeah, I was a lot more homesick and a lot less adept at coping with Penn but I also had more time and less responsibility. I also did very poorly in school Sophomore year, so I mean… maybe that’s why it was memorable.

Then last week while I was procrastinating doing my laundry, I went through my external hard disk (or is it a hard drive?! ugh I never remember this) and compiled some of my favourite old pictures. I know a lot of these pictures are so overdue and probably won’t matter to you but these are insanely precious to me and I don’t have much else to do right now so I’m going to tell you about them!

Freshman Year

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A PICTURE OF ME AT KLIA LEAVING FOR PHILADELPHIA FOR THE FIRST TIME!!! That suitcase on the right was bought just for me to go to the US with and I loved it so much, but unfortunately on my way to Philly last August one of the corners broke and when my sister took this bag back last week, another corner broke as well, which is sad.

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During orientation, one of the best events was honestly Comedy Night. We had Hasan Minaj right before he became really huge. It was the first time I saw a comedy show and I had so, so, so much fun. I can’t remember what this particularly bit was about but he called up Anshu who was my next door neighbour in the dorms freshman year! How insanely lucky is that?!

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I had an app that lets me look at realtime CCTV footage from our house and occasionally I would catch my family doing day to day things. Here’s my dad coming home from the mosque, lol!

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Strictly speaking, not a picture from my camera roll but I must’ve saved it from Facebook—it’s a picture from my very first MSA GBM. I remember we played Taboo and got Kiwi after. Hanna was the first person I met here! One funny thing I remember about this event was I remember meeting Dahlia (who is in the front row with short curly hair) and the first thing I said to her was “wow you’re really pretty” LOL.

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I can’t believe this dorm pizza parties used to be a thing in my life. Every week or so we’d get an email from one of the faculty members who live in the house saying they’re hosting a pizza thing and we’d all go down and get some food. It looks fun, but trust me, these things were always awkward—very many painful small talks were had here.

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My Freshman year room!! I absolutely loved this room and I loved being in a single. That blanket on my bed has been sent home to Malaysia, that microwave is in my kitchen right now, that coat hanger is literally next to me as I type this and that black mug by the sink is what I used to drink coffee yesterday at iftar!

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I learned to crochet for like 2 mins once. I soaked up the sense of accomplishment and never went back.

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I feel like this is the first time May May, Sha and I got brunch together. It was the first time I went to Green Line and it was the morning before we went to King of Prussia for the first time to get all our fall clothes after an impromptu sleepover which we spent mostly talking about admissions essays, haha.

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These were my freshman year hallmates! I almost forgot that our RA, Cat, actually put these pictures up on the walls. We weren’t really that close but I am still friends with Clare and I do see some of the others from time to time.

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This was from Raya Haji / Eid al Adha 2013 and the boys (or should I say, the Halalapella) performed a song. BUT can we just talk about how the Syrian flag is literally taped upside down here for a second?!?!

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There was this one night May May texted me to tell me she was coming by and she was in a rush but wanted to drop something off and she gave me this!!! She just came back from Chinatown and bought me a small bottle of my favourite chili sauce from back home and I was so touched.

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I used to spend Friday afternoons volunteering with Write On!, a group based at the Kelly Writers’ House which teaches creative writing to kids from Lea Elementary. We had this activity once where we had to make poems out of a word bank and this was mine.

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I can already feel the joy I used to get when Sha and I would have this for lunch once a week! There used to be this Indonesian lady on Spruce Street who would sell halal satay on… I forget, it was either Tuesday or Thursday. Shahirah and I would get it for lunch together after Arabic class and it’s not even that good but it meant the world to us at the time.

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OMG look at how young we look! This is me, Clare and Charlotte at the only football game I ever, ever, ever went to. We didn’t even stay the whole time. I didn’t even understand a single thing.

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These flowers were from my family for my birthday in freshman year!! I’m having such a good laugh right now because I’m remembering what a fail the surprise was. Shahirah was supposed to order them and give them to me. We were at a dining hall one day and she was scrolling through her phone and she randomly asked me something about colours like “pink or orange?” (I hate orange, btw) and I was like “what???” but she didn’t tell me why. Then one day, not long after, we were doing homework or maybe just lazing around in her room when she gets a call and leaves me there and she comes back with the most NONCHALANT expression, with flowers and again, I was so confused because she said they were for me but her face was so expressionless it was like I was supposed to already know what they were for or who they were from. HAHAHA. I think she didn’t expect that I was going to be with her when she got them delivered but, oh well. Makes for such a good story.

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Another birthday surprise!!! This was at a Malaysians@Penn event and I’m pretty sure Marcus baked this cake! I remember that I took my birthday off Facebook but somehow a bunch of the Malaysians knew to wish me anyway and now I wonder if that had anything to do with this surprise.

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MY FIRST EVER SNOW! My family and I went to PPO to shop that day and when we came out, the parking lot was all covered in snow!!!

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Me and Sha at either London Heathrow or JFK, sad about going back to Penn after our first ever break. Aww, such kiddies.

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She actually asked me to take this picture of her to send to her friend Farah. I don’t know why.

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Quite possibly the best picture of Sha I’ve taken.

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Throwback to when I was still amazed by snow.

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People in the UK would sometimes say “oh you’re so lucky you get snow!” and I’d always have the mental image of this gunk in my head and think…. “no.”

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I used to pilfer eggs from the dining halls for snacks. Are you even surprised? You shouldn’t be. I LOVE EGGS.

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Chinese New Year packets from my RA, Cat!! Any holiday was bound to make me feel homesick and I remember feeling so happy to see this.

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I was in an intercultural fellowship program called FBIC in the spring of my Freshman year and it was so much fun, I learned so much about being a good ally to other communities. This was from our retreat where we all camped out in this house and played mafia.

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This was from an MSA treasure hunt of some sort where one of the tasks we had to do was take a picture of our group members making the letters MSA lol. I love how Irtiqa is basically just making a heart shape.

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When you’re so sleepy you could just take a nap on your friend’s backpack and your friend is clearly not pleased…..

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Hahahaha I was studying for finals and felt cold but I was only wearing slippers because I was in this study lounge in the dorms so I stuck my feet into…. my backpack.

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703 Harnwell was home to so many of us in the MSA. I think it was Ahmed, Arman, Majid and Habeeb who lived there. The door was always unlocked and people always came in and out. This particular night I was hanging out with just Fayaaz and Doc here—neither of whom actually lived in that room! This room was so useful to so many people that at the end of that year, there was actually an event for everyone to come and help clean 703. It will always be an iconic part of my freshman year for sure.

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Going out to dinner during reading days. Definitely our most iconic match. Always unintentional. This was after we had already spent the entire day guiltily watching a K Drama, mere days before finals.

Sophomore Year

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The first few days after we came back to Philly, Sha and I went to the city and got frozen yogurt. And right off the bat that August I knew I already felt better to be here than I did the year before. We sat at Rittenhouse Square just chilling and talking and it was such a nice evening. For the record, I was not grumpy. That’s just my face.

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Ken and I took ECON 101 together Sophomore fall! I always did homework with him. Honestly, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through any of my economics classes without his help.

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Petra, Shahirah and I walked to South Street together once and had brunch during Fall Break. Fun fact: we were taking pictures at this really pretty row of houses when I bump into Professor Block who taught me Math the year before. Guess what I said to him? I was like, “oh what are you doing here?” and he just said… “I live here.” LOL.

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Aww, throwback to when Sha and I shared a room (ok, not so aww, because sharing a room is tough) and we had our desks outside in the living room which is what later became my bedroom. My bed is now where the table on the left is—and it’s also where I’m sitting at the exact moment I’m typing this. Most of this furniture has now been sold and you just know there is going to be a post about my apartment once I fully move out of here.

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We threw a housewarming party and to this day, I cannot believe what a successful party that turned out to be. Like, really. Farah brought Trader Joes pumpkin tarts. We ran out of pizza. People just kept coming. We successfully played some sort of game that involved everyone‘s full cooperation (it might have been that whispering chain thing). A bunch of people stayed late and played Cards Against Humanity. It was so, so, so much fun. I would definitely say this is one of my absolute favourite nights in all my time in college.

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Another one, just because Busra and Shahirah are so cute here.

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I’m posting this because I remember that what song we were listening to while I took this picture! It was MisterWives’ cover of Vance Joy’s Riptide.

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I think we were playing games in our apartment and…. that’s Habeeb’s feet. We got several texts from our old neighbour Shirley that night to tell us to keep it down, oops lol.

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To commemorate the time my laptop broke down and I lived on May May’s iPad for like a week.

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The best way to describe my ECON 101 experience is to tell you that this picture was taken at 3:58am at Van Pelt library. We did this pretty much every week that semester. Homework was due at the start of class at 9 am and sometimes we’d go, turn it in and leave to go home and sleep.

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I’m posting this because I have no recollection whatsoever about this night. Why was Ahsen on our apartment floor sewing?????? Ok wait, come to think of it, I think I remember Ahsen and Sha getting into some argument about feminism but I do not remember sewing being part of that night at all.

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One of the most memorable moments in all of my college career. I was so severely underprepared for my MATH114 exam. Like I would do question after question after question and just not be getting the crux of the concept down. I think I came to SPARC to get help from Fayaaz. I bumped into Doc there and I cried so much and he told me he was also struggling with a class and was thinking about withdrawing from it. Then Fayaaz and Ali helped me with some of these while I sobbed and someone made me tea. And I say this was one of the most memorable moments only because this was the first of many, many more times where my friends really got me through.

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There isn’t a lot of story behind this other than the Write On! kids writing about fantastical creatures and drawing them on the blackboard. It was a really fun day.

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I don’t remember what I was upset about but Shahirah bought me flowers!!!

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Peter and Ken at my “surprise birthday party” in 2014!! This was a hilarious surprise because I was doing Econ homework and I texted Ken wanting to get his help and I was like ok I’ll meet you wherever you are. He said he had to go to Chestnut Hall (which is where May May, Sha and I all lived at the time, though May May was in a different room down the hall) to get a package from May May. So I followed him there, not knowing of course, that it was his job to only bring me to my room at the right time. While he got the package from May May, I was like “ok since we’re here I’ll just go to my room for a bit” and I walk in….. and there are flowers and snacks and balloons and….. NO ONE WAS THERE. Then Cristina came out of the kitchen and was like “NOOOOO!!!!” Hahahaha.

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Birthday dinner that same year at Vientiane, my fav restaurant in West Philly. Hanna made me this card which somehow got passed around the table and was signed by everyone at the table without my knowledge. Very impressive. Though I do remember Zohair acting pretty sketchy at dinner. The drawing is of a Taylor Swift Hello Kitty, of course. She is holding a pen and my name is written on a line as an homage to “Blank Space”.

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This is what our cabinet looked like most of Sophomore year, lol.

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I think this was a Malaysians@Penn meeting where we ate wayyyy too much of Ken’s precious snacks and he didn’t stop us because he was too kind. Sorry, Ken.

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Restaurant Week dinner at Buddakan with Hanna and Shahirah (and a bunch of other people). We got sent a bunch of extra dessert that night for some reason which was really cool because the doughnuts were amazing.

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This was one of those nice cosy nights just chilling. I remember it snowed that night and it was one of those times where we wasted too much time not being able to decide what movie to watch that we ended up not watching anything.

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I think Keyan or Ahmed sent out a text in the GroupMe about how it was going to be the “last nice day” of the year before winter fully kicked in so we all went to Old City to get Franklin Fountain ice cream. This night was also so much fun. We took an insane amount of pictures, especially Ahsen and me, lol. On the train ride back, we had an empty cart and we did pull ups on the rails. When we were approaching like 15th St on the train, a bunch of us were like, let’s get down and go to Rittenhouse but most people were unsure and then we got to 15th St station and the doors open and everyone had to make a split decision to get out or not and in the end only me, Keyan and Uzair got off. It was such a funny night.

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I actually can’t remember whether I drew that smiley face because I’m usually against the long eyes, but I know for sure Sha took this picture.

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When May May lived down the hall from us, we would sometimes just hang out in our pyjamas and talk and I loved those nights. This is her in her favourite pusheen PJs.

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One of the most memorable things about Sophomore year was my anthropology class where we basically had to document all these like scraps of household things like ceramics and glass and rocks that have been dug up. The class was at the very edge of campus and it was a 3-hour block on Friday nights and we had to walk there in the bitter cold (actually, one time, Ahmed and I Uber-ed back lol) but I took it because it was one of those easy A things and it was pretty fun because I had Ahmed Yousaf and Doc with me. We had a  groupchat called “Professor Schuyler Rocks” and in class we would just chat with each other while drawing and weighing objects. The homeworks were also really interesting, he would show us these really obscure old objects and we would have to turn in write ups on basically as much information we could find on them as possible and we always found out the most random things about beer companies or glass companies established in the 1800s or whatever and just… it was the most random class I ever took.

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In my Sophomore year, I did APALI, which is the Asian Pacific American Leadership Initiative and it was this really cool program where we got to learn about culture and diversity and we got to really bond with the other people in our APALI class. Here’s me with some of them at dinner! At the end of our program we all had to write letters to each other and initially I wanted to post a picture of those letters because I still keep them and revisit them from time to time but they’re too personal so here’s this instead to commemorate one of my favourite programs at Penn.

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THE YEAR I GOT MAY MAY’S BIRTHDAY WRONG. I thought it was the day after it actually was her birthday and it was so embarrassing…. Peter was like “her birthday was yesterday” and Peter is a joker you know? So I was like “hahahaha no it’s not” but then he started laughing and was like “uh… yeah it is” and I was like crap.

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When me and Julia ditched fling and stayed in and napped and read instead. Then later in the evening we decided to dress up and go out to….. Wawa and Trader Joe’s. LOL.

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At Spring Fling, there’s always this stall that sells deep fried oreos which are really as sinful as they sound. I never ever ever go to fling in the Quad even though I actually lived there freshman year (I camped out at Sha’s room that year). I hate the crowds of people. But sophomore year, I wanted to try these things so Ahsen literally accompanied me in and bought them for me. I tasted one and was like “ok you can have the rest” and left, hahaha.

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Clare and I also ditched fling to have dinner in the city at V Street that year!

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Marcus eating the beignets that Tim made for us and Ken. They were so so so good.

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The Malaysians in my year always have a picnic the Sunday after fling. Sophomore year, Peter decided to take my phone and take like 62 selfies with it haha. This was also the year he….. accidentally hit someone with a football.

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My wisdom tooth extraction!!!!!!!! This was such a headache, honestly. Getting an appointment at the Dental School was so unnecessarily complicated. I was so nervous about this that I decided to go alone (I don’t like being with people for big events like this which is why I checked my exam results and college acceptances alone lol) and I had to walk myself back after the surgery. I remember they told me not to spit or swallow all my saliva but rather to let it drool????? And I was like??? HOW DO I DO THAT??? WHILE WALKING HOME???

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Probably the first time Hanna and I ever hung out together just the two of us! We got Honest Tom’s, which is what I’m going to have tonight hehe.

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I submitted that picture I took in Thailand in 2013 of the Floating Market for a charity photo auction thing and I was very flattered when my friend Giovanni was arguing with someone over wanting to buy it, haha.

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The very very very first time Hui Jie and I hung out together! I remember thinking we were fine and I had a nice time but we didn’t get along spectacularly or anything like that and thinking that ok, maybe I wouldn’t try to become closer friends with her… but throughout junior year she kind of persisted her way into my life and I AM SO GLAD because if you follow my blog you probably know that she is a key pillar of my support system and I would have it no other way.

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This is Fayaaz! He was such a good friend to me. He was two years ahead of me so he graduated the year I was a sophomore. This was taken on his birthday I think, when Habeeb and I met him in front of his place and took him into the city to surprise him at Aki, which is this buffet sushi place. We ate so much that night. Everyone was just passed out at the table by the end of it. And for whatever reason, we decided to go to a classroom in DRL to hang out after that, haha. GOOD TIMEZ.

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Sha’s parents visited us at the tail end of Sophomore year and we all stayed up until Commencement and her mom cooked the most amazing feast at our apartment. It was intense. There was so much smoke from all the cooking that it was the only time our smoke detector ever went off. You would get off the lift at our floor and you’d be able to smell the food right away even though our room was all the way down the hall. And the food was probably the most delicious thing ever prepared in our kitchen.

OMG. Ok. That’s all the pictures! That ended up being more words than I thought there would be but I hope you found these mildly entertaining, haha. I just wanted to have a mark of my first 2 years of college on here somehow before I fully close the ~college~ chapter. Expect one more post about my apartment after I move out and then I promise I will stop writing about Penn and Philadelphia, haha.

Until then, thank you for reading! 🙂

Hurrah, Hurrah

(Fair warning: this is a long one)

I pray I never forget that all of this was once a distant dream.

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I don’t want to go too far back with this post, but I’ll start by saying I remember snippets of 2013. Photos of Stanford were my wallpapers and cover photos, and I spent every single day toiling over application essays. I remember the day all the decisions came in, and I was in Malaysia so it was in the middle of the night and I woke up just to check my emails and the Penn decision was the last one I opened after a stream of rejections and a song came on but it still hadn’t occurred to me what that meant because I was still scanning for a “sorry” or an “unfortunately” as I successfully found in the previous letters. Oddly enough, I don’t remember what happened next or who I told first or what we did to celebrate. But I remember feeling apprehensive. I remember tearing up at the mere thought of leaving the country, leaving the people and places I knew, the people and places that made me, me.

And before I knew it, I was thrown into the Penn current. One of my clearest, probably most defining moments at Penn was early in the Fall semester of my Freshman year when Shahirah and I walked out of Huntsman after Malaysians@Penn Elections. The upperclassmen were talking about their other time commitments this semester and it was the first time I saw that students here were really involved, and involved in so many different cool things I could never imagine myself doing. Shahirah and I left the elections and I panicked. I felt like I was absolutely in over my head at this school. I saw so vividly the gap between where I was and where I was expected to be and it scared me. We sat down on a random bench on Locust, just past the Tampons (to non-Penn readers: it’s a structure on campus and Tampons is just the shorthand, though idk what it’s really called) and she and I just talked it out.

A friend once told me, you never want to be the smartest person in the room. Well, that was never a problem here because I think the freshman year panic attack was the beginning of four years of being on the bottom ranks of every single room I was in. It was a huge, long, drawn out lesson in humility. Repeatedly, I was tested with the temptation of comparison. Everyone else seemed to be doing so much more, so much better. I learned to tell myself to keep my head down and all my time here has been a piecemeal process towards internalising the belief that my trajectory cannot be compared with anyone else’s because we didn’t all come from the same place—and that doesn’t mean victimising myself or whatever, just… acknowledging the fact that we’ve had vastly different experiences, and any comparison is meaningless. I don’t think I’ve completely bought this idea yet, but I am a lot better at it now than I used to be.

Besides that, I think graduating college is difficult because I don’t know for sure how else I am different than I used to be. Not being able to answer that question, I’ve once said before, is like leaving the petrol station after filling up your tank without a gas indicator; you don’t know whether you’ve really gotten enough out of it. I think I find it difficult to list the ways in which I’ve grown. It’s not really reflected in my grades. I didn’t learn Excel like I thought I would. I still read primary documents very slowly. I still write with a lot of planner’s paralysis. So even though I’ve had a tumultuous love-hate relationship with Penn, I feel like I leave with a heavy heart, like I fell short, like I wasted my time.

And it’s not just the unpreparedness that weighs on me, it’s also that my grief really blindsided me. I struggled to make a home out of this place (case in point) and I revolted at the notorious work hard play hard never ever stop pre-professional pretend-everything-is-ok-even-when-its-not culture of the campus. I didn’t like it. I’ve attended college application workshops in Malaysia unofficially representing Penn and applicants would come up to me with wide-eye wonder and I’d be expected to talk up my school and I wouldn’t know what to say because I didn’t like it. I cried my eyes out like something was being yanked from inside me every time I had to leave KL because I didn’t like it. I left right after every final and arrived right before every semester’s first class because I didn’t like it (exhibit A, exhibit B). I told people I wouldn’t miss it because I didn’t like it. You get the picture! So, part of me is so upset that I didn’t see this coming. I knew I would miss my friends and learning, but I didn’t expect to feel so sad to say goodbye to all the things I feel like I didn’t enjoy. People tell me that I’m very self-aware and introspective, and even earlier in this essay, I said that I think I’ve grown most in self-discernment. So the fact that all of this caught me off guard has been really disconcerting. Do I actually so severely lack astuteness? Was I just too stubborn?

A few days after commencement, I texted my friend Hanna like “is this what labour feels like? It’s the most painful thing ever and then you give birth and see your baby and you’re like I LOVE THIS and you just do it again and again” because maybe that’s what this was. Maybe I could have never seen it coming, and maybe I should be less hard on myself (another lesson I grappled with throughout my time at Penn, and one that I think will continue for years). But I leave curious when this shift happened. When did I start to love this place? When did it start to feel like home? (side note: it made me think of that song in Beauty and the Beast where they’re having a snowball fight and they sing “there may be something there that wasn’t there before” because that’s when they noticed they were falling in love and I wish in life things could be as clear as they are in Disney films)

I wrote about this in January, but maybe I just underestimated the extent to which my feelings towards this place were changing:

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 didn’t just happen. I earned this. We earn the places we call home.

Anyway. I guess I still have a long way to go with regards to getting better at reflecting, etc. Funnily enough, I recall several remarks being made at commencement this year about how knowing yourself is important. Jennifer Egan, the College of Arts and Science commencement speaker spoke about how writing helped “organise her reality” and urged us to “look inward” and “spend time with ourselves”. I believe in these things to be true in my life as well, but have yet to learn why that’s so because I think in all my time at Penn, I’ve felt that these were not things that were valued as much—they don’t clearly lead to bottom line results. So, I suppose I’m a) grateful that the things I valued in my journey through Penn were validated in these speeches and b) looking forward to seeing how/when it will be important.

On the note of looking ahead, I’ve mentioned before that I am worried about losing my work ethic, no longer being able to read broadly across so many different fields, failing to think critically without the push of a classroom environment. I don’t know where life will take me. It’s so unnerving to lose the reliable structure of neatly compartmentalised time blocks: 4 months in the spring semester, 4 months at home for summer and 4 months in the fall for 4 years, only to walk into a mush of time and uncertainty where I have a lot more free reign over how long I spend where. I worry that without this structure I’ve grown with, I will flail around more than I’d like.

I know I’m making this all seem so terribly depressing, but I think I just have a good memory for a lot of these things so I tend to wallow in all of it and you know, it’s both a blessing and a curse to remember so much. At the end of every semester, people are always quick to quip that time just flies, and I never really relate to that. Shahirah thinks it’s because I retain so much memory that my perception of time is a little different. And as everyone makes those same remarks again at graduation, I genuinely empathise but stop short of saying it felt like it was all just yesterday. I empathise because I realise now I will miss it, and it feels like it might have passed quickly because part of me wants it back. But I refuse to say it was just yesterday because although I cannot name the ways in which I have grown, I also don’t feel like the person I was in 2013. Is that paradoxical? She just seems so distant from who I am today. I don’t dress like that, or listen to the same music anymore. I stop short of saying it feels like just yesterday because it reduces the amount of time and energy that I clearly remember it taking to get here.

I predict that I will look back at this campus like it’s a childhood playground where I had once ran, fell and scraped my knees over and over again; a place both risky and safe all at once. I hope I never forget the late nights spent agonising over one more page of the textbook, the times I sat outside the exam hall trying to flip through my study guides just once more as quickly as possible, the stress of running from meeting to meeting feeling like there is never any time in between for anything else, tripping over the manhole on the way to class, crying on Locust over my first C. I want to remember. I want to remember everything. I want to remember where we kept all the pots and pans and glassware in our apartment, I want to remember the view from my bedroom and lab, I want to remember where the nearest bathroom is from my favourite place in Van Pelt, where the onions are at FroGro, where all my friends used to live (shout out to 4002 Ludlow I love you guys so much), which department belonged in which building, who taught me what and when, what my go-to order is at Sweetgreen I JUST WANT TO REMEMBER IT ALL. Because it was difficult to make a home out of this place and all these little things is what made it happen and I feel like if I forget, it will make everything less real.

It was real. It was real when Ken, Hui Jie and I took a spontaneous trip to Chinatown for bubble tea, when May May spent the afternoon assembling furniture with me and Shahirah, when Sha and I seemed to dress the exact same way for a whole year, when Jamie used to come down to my room just to taste some of my food, when Busra let me use her single room in Rodin as refuge because I needed a place to be alone, when Sofia drew cartoons of dogs on the blackboard when we were supposed to be solving math equations, when Cristina helped me move out of the Quad, when Rashad saw me crying on Walnut that one crappy day and walked me home, when Hanna made me pesto sandwiches, when Peter first told me the story of how he used to work at Pandora, when Clare and I watched documentaries on Bill Cunningham and Banksy like the nerds we are, when Julia and I dressed to the nines to go to Trader Joe’s during fling, when Selina got really tipsy and started walking down Locust with locked knees, when Claire and I pulled an all nighter to the soundtrack of Frozen, when Zohair, Keyan and I sang Taylor Swift tunes at the corner of the street while waiting for Penn Ride to pick us up for ice skating, when Adel finished that crossword puzzle with me, when I walked out of Rodin at 7 am to go home to sleep and Irtiqa was walking in to Rodin to go home to sleep and we laughed about it together, when Iman called the dentist demanding on my behalf that I get some pain killers after my tooth surgery, when Adam gave me crap for not following him back on Instagram, when Fayaaz took me to South Street for the first time,  when Habeeb, Doc, Yusra and I were on MSA Social Committee together, when Ahsen presented me with a tiara for my birthday, when Ahmed and I Uber-ed back from our night class at the museum, when Petra took me out to lunch as a lost little freshman, when my freshman year RA Cat gave me advice about making friends. It was all real. And I want to remember it all.

Really, it has been my friends. My friends were the ones who made this all bearable, who made this all worth it. I was talking to Professor Pollack last week, who told me about how he felt that he “had found his people” when he went to Harvard for grad school. Though I did not love the school per se, I had that same sneaking suspicion about my new friends when I came to Penn. In October, Shahirah, May May and I had a spontaneous sleepover and in the morning, decided to go to King of Prussia to shop. On the bus to the mall, I was stuck with the My Little Pony song, Friendship Is Magic and they were probably like what is wrong with this girl, but I don’t think I told them that the reason I even thought of that song in the first place was the line “I used to wonder what friendship would be, until you all shared its magic with me.” To all my friends at Penn (and I’m sorry if I didn’t mention your name here, it was inevitable that I’d miss someone), I knew when I met each one of you that I had been waiting my whole life to meet you. I think that’s the kind of feeling people describe when they talk about meeting their soulmates, so how lucky was I to have felt that with so many of you? I respect you all so much, and I will look up to you for the rest of my life. I am grateful to have met you and I will miss you all. I am 100% the type of person who gets random flashbacks of memories all the time and usually when I do, I make a mental note to mention it the next time I see that person but because I don’t know when I will see most of you next, be totally prepared for me to text you all random “omg do you remember that time when…” texts, just because that’s the kind of thing I do. And I hope to see you again soon.

So I guess, this is it. It’s over. I don’t really know what else to say, I didn’t have a nice sweet ending planned with a bow on top or whatever. But thank you, I guess. I think I will spend years of my life belatedly uncovering the gems Penn has given me that I currently don’t yet see. But for now, I will try to let it sink in that this was all once a dream, and despite everything I’ve gone through here, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else. Penn and everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting here, you are now the people and place that makes me, me.


P.S. For the few months leading up to graduation, I interviewed some of my friends about our plans or lack thereof and recorded all of those conversations. I then transcribed them and edited them into a little audio thing, and if you’re curious, have 40 minutes to spare or would just like to hear my rambly voice, you can listen to it here.

My (very short) Penn bucket list

I’m finally drinking a latte again!

In an interview shortly after La La Land was released, Emma Stone said that she refrained from dairy while filming because it was bad for her voice/throat or something like that. So, as the Penn Monologues show weekend drew closer, I thought about that and decided I do the same, hahaha. As if I’m belting out some solos or something… Anyway, I love lattes and I missed it so much this past week. So, I had to get one on my way back from the last show, lol.

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Langston, Savannah, me, Frances, Emily, Dionysia, Jackie, Dalton, Claire and James

Penn Monologues is basically a show where about 10 students write a personal essay, submit it to the group and get chosen to perform it (or, in the case of 2 people this year, write an essay and have someone else perform it for them). I thought it was a cool idea because I love memoir, personal essays and stories… like I love going to open mic nights and speakeasies. At Penn specifically, it’s a cool way to learn a tiny little bit more about the experiences of people I probably bump into on Locust Walk on a regular basis.

I wrote about moving away from home and “growing up” kind of, other people wrote about being an immigrant, going to music festivals, their relationship with their grandparents, having a family member with autism, dealing with eating disorders and etc. I liked that the essays were diverse in subject matter and tone. Some were sad, some were happier, others were funny or a bit of both.

Honestly, I was so humbled to be among these people, and I know that sounds dramatic… it sounds like the kind of thing Oscar winners say about their fellow nominees, but honestly, I was in awe of everyone’s writing from the start. Emily’s essay was called The Space Between Us and there a couple of lines in her piece that I just absolutely loved. When describing her relationship with a friend she grew up with, she said “she invited me to her birthday party, even though I didn’t invite her to mine” and then at a later point in the piece, described how they had grown apart to the point where they walked past each other like strangers, she said “she was wearing a sweater that once sat in my closet”. OH MY GOD. SO GOOD. That’s the kind of writing I like. Simple, clever ways to aptly characterise feelings and dynamics. (And it wasn’t just Emily’s—everyone’s pieces had great lines like that, this was just one I can remember at the top of my head.)

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I literally just got this picture 2 minutes ago from my creative writing professor (in whose class I wrote the piece I performed) and she told me she was proud of me and I had all the ~feelz~

All the readings were recorded but I think it’ll take a while for it to come into my hands (or, I guess, more accurately—my inbox). So, in the meantime, if you want to see what some of the performances were like, watch some from last year’s show, like Langston’s Yogurt or Aubrey’s American Insulation.

My motivation to do this was to check off one of my very few Penn bucket list things (ok, to be honest, it might have been my one bucket list thing): to perform on a stage. I used to kind of like performing. I mean, I did very amateur cheer and some traditional dance/aerobics stuff (lol) in Form 1 & 2. I think in sekolah rendah I used to try out for storytelling and perform here and there for things like teachers’ day or whatever. But that was ages ago now. Whatever spark of inspiration I had ever gotten from all the people who have told me that I should dance or act has long since dissipated. But I knew I still had that impulse and I wanted to do just one because it seemed more daunting here at Penn than anywhere else I had ever been before. Penn Monologues seemed pretty low key (i.e. no long hours of rehearsals and no singing or choreography whatsoever) so I decided to submit a piece.

And I’m really glad I did. A few other people in that cast also had no real prior experience performing so I didn’t feel alone. Plus, I just genuinely liked everyone in the group. My favourite thing about it—and I totally didn’t expect to feel this way—was that it has been the experience most comparable to the feeling you get around hari sukan parades and stuff back in school… like, everyone working together to put on this thing and getting nervous about it right before going on. I’ve organised quite a few events at Penn, but I think none of those other events made me (and everyone else in the group) nervous enough, nor was the event fun and entertaining enough (that is, they were always more serious stuff) that it brought the whole group together quite rapidly. And it might just be me, but I appreciated the subtle moments of camaraderie I had with the other cast members backstage and how quickly we can form inside jokes when we’re putting on a show, etc. So yeah, I’m glad I did it.

Shoutouts also to my friends who came to the show: Hui Jie, Shahirah, Ken, Oliver, Kim, Eliza, Busra, Irtiqa, Iman, Dania. Two of my professors from last semester also came to see the show, which was so nice! Admittedly, they didn’t come for me specifically but I still loved seeing Dr. Paxton and Jamie-Lee in the crowd. Special shoutout to my friend Clare (!!!) who helped me edit this essay and practice performing it. I know paying money to give up a couple of hours on a weekend is not easy. I have declined many invites to shows over the last 4 years, so I know this to be a fact and I genuinely appreciate all of these people so very much.

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My friends being super supportive. Hui Jie is pointing to my name in the program! They screamed my name when I walked on stage and I was a little startled, haha.

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My friends who could relate most to my piece ❤

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Good friend + show director 🙂

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Iman, Busra & Irtiqa ❤

Okay, so moving on from the show…

This weekend was also just generally an insanely pleasant one. The weather has been wonderful and I’ve just been having such a good time. On Friday night, after my show, Irtiqa, Iman and I headed over to West Philly for our friends Sanaa and Zahraa’s birthday dinner at Aksum. Food was really good and I just had such a good time catching up with the MSA girls. It’s one of those nights you laugh a lot and don’t remember what was so funny 2 hours later.

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I made the birthday girls pause in that position so that I could take this picture lol

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Our waitress (Casey, I think) was THE BEST. She ran after us because someone left their takeaway box on the table and she took this for us.

I also hung out with some of the other cast members from Penn Monologues that same night. We went to Dalton’s place—and he has a cat by the way!!! Thank goodness it was the most well-behaved cat ever and stayed firmly on one side of the room. Needless to say, it was the side of the room I did not venture to. Anyway, we had pizza at his place and watched Parks and Rec. I got to know Dalton, Savannah, James, Claire and Frances a little bit. Clare was also there (yes, there are two “Claires” except it’s Clare with no i and Claire with an i) and I loved getting to hang out with her more. I realised I hadn’t hung out with her in a group since probably our freshman year when our RA would have office hours for our hall to come over and eat snacks, so yeah, that was nice.

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Spot Dalton’s siamese cat behind him.

On Saturday evening, I went to Simply Chaos’ show. They’re a stand-up comedy group and I literally just found out about them this semester which makes me so sad because I would’ve loved to see all of their other shows. In fact, I only found out about them at all because this one guy who’s in the Monologue show was also doing the Simply Chaos show on the same weekend so a bunch of people were talking about that. But yeah, the show was hilarious. I went alone, and usually, when I go anywhere alone, I laugh a little less because I’m a little more self-conscious but I just couldn’t even think about that at all during their show. It was just hilarious and I had such a good time.

I also got to hang out with Hui Jie this past weekend. She came over on Friday and was whining about how hungry she was so we decided to go get some egg tarts! That quite quickly turned into an afternoon tea session where she tried to teach me how to say “my name is Dayana”, “I am from Malaysia”, “I study in the USA” and “I am hungry” in Danish over egg tarts and custard buns, hahaha. And of course, we haven’t had enough time with each other this weekend so we’re going out for dinner tonight, too!

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Anyway, that’s all for this week, I think! I might come back and edit this when I have the video from the show but until then, have a good week!! 🙂

I want to remember this.

It’s funny. I always think it’s quite difficult to write about my week when I’m having a bad week because I don’t want to seem mopey or whiney and I just, I mean, who likes showing the world (lol as if the world reads my blog) how they screw up? But I have found that it is as hard, if not harder, to write about my week when things are going particularly well. It’s the same reason why writing a cover letter can be so difficult—tooting your own horn isn’t comfortable at all. Or at least, for me it’s not.

All of which is to say, things have been going well as of late.

I had so much fun last Tuesday in particular. First, my Astronomy homework deadline got ~extended~ one week so that was grrrreat. Tuesdays are also when movies are half off at the local cinema so Hui Jie, Jamie and I went to see Beauty and the Beast. It was so… Disney. And I loved it. I mean, objectively speaking, it’s not a great movie in the sense that I probably wouldn’t rewatch it the way I do Princess Diaries or Pitch Perfect but it was like all the feelings you get when you go to Disneyland, put into a movie. I think Be Our Guest was my favourite scene and you’ll just have to see it to know why.

A few days before we watched the movie though, Jamie tagged the two of us in this old Facebook post of a video where someone dubbed a scene from Beauty and the Beast with Singaporean slang which was really popular at the time. Anyway, so when the equivalent of that scene came on when we watched it on Tuesday, I just could NOT help laughing because I was replaying the Singaporean version in my mind!!! It was really funny but then Hui Jie got annoyed with me because it disrupted her swooning LOL.

Us, after the movie!

Hui Jie and I also went to Zavino for early dinner before the movie. We got our fav: rosemary flatbread with ricotta. The dish, I think, is meant to be a small plate appetizer type thing but we get it as mains because it’s that good. The whole time we ate, we were just like “oh my god” “oh my god this is so good” “this is amazing”. It was also between 4.30-6.30pm so some small plates are half off! Basically, last Tuesday was like… discount day.

She insisted on being in the picture, LOL

This past week, I also had the chance to sit down with Professor Caroline Connolly. I took Introduction to Psychology with her in my very first semester at Penn, then I took a seminar (10-person, discussion-based class) on Young Adulthood in Developmental Psychology last semester and now I’m one of her TAs for her current Intro class. She had heard that I’m working on this audio piece about graduation (I don’t think I’ve mentioned that on here yet, but yeah, I am, and I promise I’ll say more about that later once I have a better idea of what it’s going to look like) and she just wanted to chat about it. It was really cool because we literally sat for two and a half hours talking about graduation, the period right after it which often makes us feel like we’re “flailing” around, about whether college is “worth it”, studying abroad (she studied in Ireland!) and about building character at this age/life stage.

I also liked getting to learn a lot more about her, her background and family etc and I really liked that because there are very few professors I know beyond classroom interactions. If you know me, you’ll know I hate having very surface-level relationships and interactions (I’m always secretly dying inside when people talk about the weather) so it’s nice to just have real relationships with professors, if that makes sense. It makes them seem so much more… human and approachable. Not that she wasn’t human before, but my writing professor Jamie-Lee once said that she thinks if students see professors around campus, walking their dog or going for a run or eating the same places they do, it helps to combat the idea that college is this high-pressure, mechanical place. I get what she means, but I don’t really know how to explain.

It was also a pretty productive week, I just felt like a got a lot of work done while also managing to binge the new-ish HBO miniseries, Big Little Lies and play a ton of Sporcle quizzes, hahaha. Plus, some of what made this week a good one was just little things like hearing from my friend Aish who messaged me and Shahirah last Wednesday, having a great time with Hui Jie and Ken on our every-Tuesday-and-Thursday-after-Astronomy lunches and just putting together good breakfasts for myself.

I also had a great end to the week. On Sunday afternoon, I had my first “practice” for a show I’m going to be in, called Penn Monologues! It’s a show where about 12 students read personal essays and I guess the whole point is about demonstrating how we’re all connected through storytelling and sharing experiences. The proceeds from the show are going to be donated to a local social justice organisation. I’ve never performed in this capacity before so it should be interesting. I’m excited to work with my amazing friend Clare who is the director for the show. Yesterday, we went through my essay, talked about some edits and ways to practice on my own so, yeah… a lot of work to do on that front.

Later that night night was “Sing, City! 6” which is Club Singapore’s once-in-every-two-years (is there a word for that?) musical production. I had so much fun hearing Singlish (Singaporean English), which is very very similar to Manglish (Malaysian English) on stage at Penn. There were a lot of times throughout the show where I was like, “are the Americans here going to understand that?” and then I realise that it doesn’t matter because this show wasn’t made for them, or for them to so easily understand everything. There were “subtitles” to translate certain terms like encik but they mention things and places like A-Levels and Tanjong Pagar without any context and I just liked how cultural shows signal who the show is “for” in that way and it’s an interesting learning experience for people who aren’t from that culture. Anyway, the directors , Oliver and Rebecca live across me and Shahirah and I was so proud of them for how hard they’ve worked despite having little to no experience putting on a show. My good friend Jamie was the logistics chair, and I know how hard she worked securing venue and getting food and helping out with odd ends and I was SO PROUD of her, I screamed so loud and was tearing up like the sappy person I am when she went up on stage at the end of the show. I genuinely respect and admire their spirit (as Hui Jie calls it, the Singaporean spirit) to go all out with anything they do and to work tirelessly to make up for lack of experience.

The opening of the show. Note the (blurry) girl in SIA uniform.

Oliver and Rebecca giving their thanks at the end of the show

Anyway, I’m sorry this was late. On one hand, I couldn’t bring myself to write such a happy post, and on the other hand I also wanted to include the show which ended late night on Sunday on here so here I am writing last week’s post on Monday. Looking ahead I have… an astronomy midterm *cowers down in agony* so I really need to get back to studying for that. Until next time, I hope you enjoyed reading. These are the kinds of weeks I just really want to remember when I look back on my time at Penn.

Graduation Goggles?

I had coffee recently with an alum named Alex, who asked me how it feels to be so close to the end of my college career. I think about this a lot—like, I can actually confidently say I think about it everyday—but I never really know what to say when someone asks.

In a way, I like it. I like that it’s coming to an end because I’m so tired. I’m not saying that the “real world” is easier than school because I know that you’re responsible for so much more once you start working etc (or at least, so I’ve been told), but the thing about being in college is that you are doing your job 24/7. I wake up in the morning even on weekends and I try to get to work as soon as possible. I am tempted to get into bed at 11.30 p.m. on a weekday and my mind sends out an internal alert that’s basically saying, “um, are you sure you can afford that?”. Working hours are so fluid, so boundaryless. If you’re writing an essay or studying for an exam, there’s always another sentence you can edit or another chapter you could go over again. There’s just no limit to how much you can work, especially when you LIVE on a campus and almost everywhere you look, people are working. Imagine living in your office with all your colleagues?! Anyway. I’m eager to get away from this pressure cooker of a place.

I also like the feeling of being almost done. It’s this silly thing that our human brains do where like, we see things differently the closer we are to it being finished. You know what I mean: graduation goggles. I now have all this premature nostalgia and it’s so interesting because it’s one thing to have nostalgia about a phase of your life that’s behind you, but it’s a whole other thing to feel nostalgic about something that hasn’t ended, because it’s this brief window of time when you get to live it and almost miss it at the same time. When Alex asked me how I felt, I told her it feels strange—there were all these things I had always known I should feel grateful for but still used to whine about, and now I’m suddenly talking about them like “Wow isn’t this great? This is amazing. Look at this bitter cold, it’s wonderful. I have a midterm next week, how exciting!”

Okay, obviously that was a slight exaggeration. But yeah, I walk down Walnut on my way to class every day and in my mind I’m like, “thanks, Philly; thanks for hosting me these past few years”. Most (if not all) of my freshman-year wide-eyed wonder dissipated without notice a long time ago. I no longer walk through any corner of campus feeling the need to look around, no more “what building is this?”, no more “oh, that’s where that road leads to”. All that freshness has gone, only to be replaced by a sense of familiarity and comfort. But this premature nostalgia, these “graduation goggles” have resurrected my freshman-year eyesight to some extent. For the first time in a long time, I’m seeing Van Pelt library as a brilliant resource instead of just referring to it as a place that smells like socks and feels like fatigue. For the first time in a long time, I’m trying to go to as many events as I can instead of mindlessly skimming through Facebook event invites. It’s nice.

But of course, I can’t ignore the undercurrent of impending grief that powers my nostalgia. I have said this repeatedly, but soon, I won’t live within a 1-mile radius of all my friends. My friends are not going to come over at a moment’s notice at midnight to hang out with me until we can no longer hold up our eyelids. Soon, I won’t be handed dense readings about everything from economics to pop culture and be pushed to read and discuss them. I won’t be invited to hear people like Joe Biden and Malcolm Gladwell speak anymore. That… sucks.

It especially sucks because even though I know I’ve gotten a lot out of Penn—events, speakers, classes, leadership roles, mentors—I don’t see how I’m any better because of it. So, part of me just isn’t ready to leave. It’s like going to the petrol station with a malfunctioning gas indicator and feeling like you can’t leave yet even though you have to because you don’t think your tank is full yet. Does that make sense? Do you know what I mean? I don’t think I’ve gotten enough skills yet, or become smart enough yet. I could still become so much sharper, so much more polished.

Seriously though, I know I’ve mentioned this before but my fear of stagnation runs so deep. I worry that I’ve laboured over all these college courses—without quite knowing how they will someday benefit me—only to settle in a crappy office job where I don’t feel like I’m learning and growing. I am fully aware that I risk sounding like the typical whining millennial but say what you want, I genuinely worry that I’ve worked so hard only for it to not matter, for it to not amount to anything more than to act as a bit of glimmer on an otherwise-dull resume.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, and I think part of what’s driving this specific feeling is the fact that I’m probably not heading to some high-paying, prestigious job. I feel like the culture at Penn is such that a significant fraction of my graduating class will head to finance and consulting jobs so having other jobs can make you feel like you’re “underachieving”, even if going to Wall Street is the last thing you want. But there is a certain rigor, or at least, a perception of an intellectual rigor that is associated with finance and consulting jobs that I feel like I will be missing out on. I mean, I have to stress that I don’t think other jobs are easy, but the culture at large definitely treats it that way; whether or not you believe it yourself, the belief slowly seeps through your skin and gets to you.

I’m trying to remind myself that there are ways to learn beyond school, even if it means a loss of a structure I’ve gotten so used to. I’m trying to remind myself that meaningful, honest work is never ever beneath me, even if I can calculate in dollar terms what my opportunity cost is. I’m trying to remind myself I am not sealing my fate, that my future isn’t irreversible; it cannot be cemented by donning a cap and gown and walking across the stage. But it’ll take some time.

So, with 11 weeks to go… that’s where I’m at.

A string of good days

I’ve had a good, pretty fun first week back. First of all, my classes seem pretty chill this semester compared to what I had last semester. Or at least, they seem that way for now. I have my Psychology Independent Research, which is a continuation of last semester’s work at a psycholinguistics research lab. I also have a Judgement and Decisions lecture; I was adamant about not taking another psychology seminar this semester. For anyone who isn’t familiar: lectures are huge classes and you don’t participate very much, but seminars tend to be about 10-15 people and the whole thing is discussion based. Seminars last semester were just too much work—like 100 pages of readings per class per week—and I never had time to do anything else if I wanted to get those done and get them done well. Apparently the professor for the lecture I’m in now is super chill; he lets us take open book exams and I’m all for a relaxed final semester academically so YES.

I also have to spend 3 hours a week in an intro Psychology lecture because I’m TA-ing for the class. It’s now my third semester sitting in PSYC 001 lectures! It’s particularly interesting this semester though, because this Spring, it’s being taught by Professor Connolly, who I took intro with in my first semester at Penn so there’s a nice little “comes full circle” thing going on.

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Apart from Psychology courses, I’m also taking an intro Astronomy class which is like…. fine, whatever, I just need to take one science class to graduate so I’ll do it. I also have a creative writing class that I’m taking for fun that didn’t seem particularly fun last week so I might not stick with it but that’s yet to be determined. Hmm. I do want to practice my writing, but how much of that has to be done in a class setting? Especially if the class kind of… annoys me.

I am particularly excited about Penn Perspectives, though. It’s a lecture series for seniors, and in our applications, we stated who our favourite professors were (mine was Professor Pollack, obviously) and which professors we’ve always wanted to take classes with but never got to. Based on that, they invited a different professor to give us a lecture each week—no homework or anything, just attending lectures for the sake of learning. Our first lecture was by an accomplished psych professor, Paul Rozin. Interestingly, I’ve had one lecture by him each year at Penn haha.

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First lecture with Dr Rozin feat. guy blocking my view.

But anyway, this week was so nice for, *deep breaths* so. many. reasons. Primarily, my beloved Hui Jie is back from Copenhagen!!! She doesn’t live across the hall from me anymore but better two blocks over than across the freakin’ Atlantic. We had our favourite takeout together on Wednesday night, class + lunch together on Thursday and she came over today to hang out with me. I got to give her the birthday present I got for her in London and we shared pictures from our trips while we sat on my living room couch and it was just really nice to see her again. The last time I saw her was in July when I visited her in Singapore, which was just too long ago.

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HJ and me with our matching gummy smiles, striped shirts and fried rice ❤

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She’s back to sleeping on me.

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Unwrapping her present 😀

In general, I just really liked seeing all my friends again this week. May May and I made a trip to Trader Joe’s together and caught up on our winter breaks. I cooked dinner for Kim on Monday. Jamie and I had ice cream together late night on her bedroom floor. Shi Yi gave me amazing hot chocolate and hung out at my place playing Rubik’s cubes with me and Shahirah. Oliver got me biscottis from Flour Bakery in Boston on his birthday. Excuse me for being cheesy, but I will never take for granted the love I feel just having these people around me.

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I made sweet sour fish and stir fried vegetables for dinner, which Kim and Jamie loved (or at least, said they loved lol)—it made me so happy.

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Continuing with my kale chips obsession. I’ve gotten Jamie and Kim onto this kale chips bandwagon with me. Kim got me my GTL from Starbucks!

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Kim, Shiyi and Jamie ❤

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It’s also a really exciting time at the cinemas right now, isn’t it?! In the past week, I watched La La Land with Shahirah and Hidden Figures with Ken and Selina. I loved them both so much for very different reasons.

La La Land was beautiful. I was so taken by the cinematography and the creative uses of sound, if that makes sense? The composition of each shot, the colours, the outfits… Every single scene was truly a sight to behold. I also just love a good I-want-to-follow-my-dreams story, so when you toss in the fact that it’s a musical with large dance numbers and a somewhat complex love story, it’s basically a formula for Dayana’s Perfect Movie. It just lifts your spirits. My sister Julia and I have pretty much been hooked on the soundtrack for days. I think the main reason I loved it though, was… hm, how do I say this without spoiling the movie? I think it represents the way my memory works, and the way I think about things in my own past. Yeah. That’s it.

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La La Land was only showing at Ritz East and a trip to Old City is not complete without a quick stop at Franklin Fountain. This parmesan ice cream was amazing.

Hidden Figures was also fantastic, I highly recommend it. I think Hidden Figures is probably more appealing to a wider audience than La La Land was because I can imagine how some people would watch the latter and just be like “that’s it?” but the former is more exciting plot wise. It’s definitely my favourite ~space movie~ (let’s not talk about Interstellar, gah, I hate that one). I mean, it obviously wasn’t just about space. It deals with the deep intersections of race, class and gender in the workplace, within our families and in our greater societies. The events of the film take place during the segregation and I remember thinking, I thought I knew how segregation was bad but every time you see it being played out you gain a deeper appreciation for how atrocious it really was and for me, it affirmed my faith in art as a means for building empathy while also entertaining. Even though Hidden Figures revolved around a huge things like space mission and racism, it still manages this lightheartedness because it makes you laugh and I greatly appreciated the balance of seriousness/lightness.

I’ve also been doing a lot of cooking experimentations which is really fun! I always enjoy cooking because I feel like it’s a creative, healthy way to practice taking care of yourself. This past week, I’ve mostly experimented with breakfast foods. I just am such a huge fan of brunch that I always find myself tempted to make those kinds of foods. I cut open a ripe avocado for the first time this past week and I’ve been enjoying having avocado with my eggs for breakfast. I also made smoothies and rosti which were so good. I’ll probably detail all of that in a separate post because this is already getting pretty lengthy, haha.

Until then, thanks for reading 🙂