Young, Growing, Glowing

I’m writing this at the tail end of what has been the. best. week. ever.

Like, how do I even tell you? Ok I guess I’ll start by saying that we had a 4-day weekend for Thanksgiving break. Work-wise, that meant the past couple of weeks were rough—we only worked 3 days this past week and I kinda only had 2 proper days of work the week prior because I did the bootcamp program thing. And that’s pretty much why I didn’t blog last week: I was just so groggy and tired. I wish I could say I was exaggerating, but one night, I came home at about 11 pm. Meals were skipped. Sleep was sacrificed.

I think that’s something I didn’t expect from the job but makes total sense… that is, no matter what, an episode comes out on Monday and all the work that goes into putting out an episode has to be done by Monday, regardless of what’s going on. Obviously all this “cramming” can be avoided with planning ahead but you can only do so much planning when your work also relies on other people, etc.

So yeah, that meant this 4-day weekend came at a REALLY good time and it turned out amazingly well. I spent it in Philly, which was just such a good decision on my part. On Thursday morning, before I left for Union Station, I did kinda feel a little lazy to travel… I felt like maybe I should’ve just vegged out at home. But I am beyond glad I went. It was just like a “balik kampung” feeling.

First of all, it was just surreal to be back in Philadelphia. Honestly, part of me felt like I never left. To top it all off, I stayed at my friend Oliver’s place while he was out of town for the holiday and he lives literally across the hall from my old apartment. So walking into that building, pressing the elevator button and trekking down the hall just felt so natural and automated. It was a bizarre feeling, to say the least. And walking through campus was just overwhelming. As I walked up Walnut Street, it just sent flashes of memories through my mind like a bunch of scenes from a long film spliced together. I don’t know how else to explain this other than to say it was magical. It felt like home. Really, it felt the same way as when I go back to KL for summers. It was intoxicating and confusing. I especially appreciated this because the feelings weren’t purely saccharine; they were complex and tinged with the bitterness I felt every time I landed at the Philly airport. As I rode through campus, I couldn’t help remembering all the times I’ve gone down that same street at the beginning of the semester, feeling groggy and annoyed that I had to be back on campus and now those memories of resentment just make me chuckle a little. It’s funny.

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LOCUST WALK!!!!

And of course, it was amazing to see my friends again. Ken and Vera both came to Philly for the holiday, and our friend Selina is still at Penn so we all hung out together. It made me really miss Shahirah, May May and Hui Jie though. On Thursday night, we got dinner at Banana Leaf (and had kangkung belacan!!!!) in lieu of a “proper” Thanksgiving dinner (we all didn’t have kitchens so like, can you blame us). That night, we decided to go to the Philadelphia Premium Outlet mall thing for Black Friday shopping—something I’ve never done but have always wanted to try for the sake of it. PPO is only like ~30-40 minutes away from Penn but my goodness, the traffic!! We were stuck in the car for 2.5 hours! I have to say though, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it because it felt like we were on a real road trip and I appreciated the length of the drive since it meant we almost went through Taylor Swift’s entire discography.

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MayMay wasn’t there but Ken and I got to talk to her for like 2 hours, which was nice ❤

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Shopping was kinda fun and I’d say it was worth it because I got some insane deals for things I actually needed, so I’m not complaining. It was pretty cold though and by the time we left PPO it was like… 5 am or something. We got back at 6 and by that point it had been like 24 hours since I woke up the morning before. I slept ASAP but if you’ve ever fallen asleep as the sun is rising (and if you’re a normal college student, I know you probably have…) you’d know that it’s not that easy. Like, your body is trained to get up with the sun… so by 8.30 I was having trouble staying asleep. I fought it for a bit but eventually I decided to go get Federal Donuts. Because here’s the other thing about my trip to Philly: I had a mission. And that was to cross off all the items on my craving list. I kid you not, last week, I even called all the restaurants I wanted to go to during my trip and checked what their holiday schedule was like. So yeah, I had fed nuts for breakfast, and then I had brunch at Beijing (where I was reunited with my all time fav, walnut shrimp) lol.

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And then soon after, I had to get ready to leave because we were heading out of town to Wissahickon Valley Park for some hiking. I gotta say, I was a teensy bit nervous about it because I am not athletic but it was like…….. not even a hike. It was just us walking for 2+ hours. The view. was. beautiful. It was nice to be in nature after spending 5 hours participating in senseless consumerism the night before, you know? Plus, I had been yapping to Ken about wanting to see golden trees, so I was super happy when I got what I wanted. The park had the lingering autumn leaves in all its glorious colours and we had so many laughs going through the trail, taking pictures, telling stories. It was serene, the weather was absolutely ideal for hiking and the company was perfect. It’s one of those things I know I’ll remember for a very, very long time.

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Then, for dinner, we had Korean food and I had some reeeeaaaal good dukbokki. We talked at dinner for hours and it felt just like college again. I loved that the conversations weren’t about like… “so where do you work? What do you do?” and it’s not because they already necessarily know what I do at work, but it’s because they know me, and they have more to talk about with me than jobs and what it’s like living in DC, etc. Over dinner, we talked about some of the things we were grateful for throughout our time at Penn and it made me realize again what I already knew: we had a good thing going. As much as I didn’t like school, I loved my friends and I loved that we had a community. I’ve said it a few times on here already, but that’s what I so sorely miss now that I’ve left school. It really is so easy when you have a group of people who feel like family and for that brief day, it felt like I had it again.

That night, I came back to Oliver’s place and I. just. crashed. I mean, at that point, I had gone shopping and hiking on very minimal sleep so really, it was inevitable that I fell asleep at 9 pm. I woke up almost 12 hours later and I just felt utterly renewed. It was beautiful.

On Saturday morning, our last day there, Selina hosted a cute little brunch thing at her lovely apartment. She had a cheese board and grapes, which I always appreciate, and she served us old town white coffee + kaya toast. It doesn’t really get any better than that. At brunch, I also got to see my dear Kimmy, who’s now a sophomore!! Recall that I met her in a creative writing seminar when she was a freshman and we became fast friends. I was so excited to see her again and I spent pretty much the rest of the day with her. We played air hockey and ping pong on Selina’s roof top for a while, which was insanely fun (Kim and I won air hockey!!) but I was still on my quest to cross things off my craving list, so after brunch, Kim and I went to Han Dynasty for some good ol’ veggie dan dan noodles. We caught up, talked about everything under sun… and then we went back to the Ludlow house to take a nap hahaha.

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I just want to take a moment to say that I love the Ludlow house. It started off a couple of years ago as Shaun, Lian Han and Ken’s scrappy lil home. Later, May May moved in when Shaun graduated and Hui Jie moved in when Lian Han graduated the semester after. So that house just became more and more so a home base for me and my friends. I love that the “legacy” of the house is kinda still being continued now that Kim and a few other Malaysian/Singaporeans are living there. It just makes me feel so happy. When Ken, Selina and I talked about the house with Vera the other day, Vera pointed out that if this was a novel, the house would really be like a character in and of itself… and she’s right. And that’s really cool.

But anyway, I loved that I got to hang out there again. The place looks and feels really different, but still the same in some ways. It’s cleaner and nicer and more packed but still really homey. I took a nap in Kim’s room which was nice because it’s the kind of hang out you’d have with someone if you had an abundance of time… even though we didn’t.

Then, for dinner, just before my bus, I saw Jamie at Zavino’s. At first I thought I wasn’t going to get to see her since she usually visits family for break but she got back in time for me to catch her and I loved that we got to split some ricotta + rosemary flatbread together because that meal and that restaurant is just super special to me and I have many fond memories of being there with Jamie. She’s a senior now and it’s such a strange feeling seeing her go through some of the things I went through just a year ago… it’s funny how much things can change in a year.

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But yeah, then I had to head out to catch my bus at 6.45 and head back to DC. It was a pleasant ride back and I’m thankful I didn’t get motion sickness either on my way to or from Philly—that’s usually a big problem for me.

Today was mostly just recuperating and relaxing, enjoying the last of the weekend before I head back to the grind tomorrow morning. I would’ve loved to spend a bit more time in Philly but a) Ken had left anyway and b) the last time I returned to DC on a Sunday evening, I felt like shit the rest of the week so I’m definitely glad I came back on Saturday night.

I had the loveliest day today, though. I got copious amounts of sleep. I did my laundry. I went to the National Gallery of Art on the National Mall, which was really nice because even though I’ve been in DC for a couple of months now, I haven’t been back there since I first visited DC with Shahirah over 3 years ago. I watched people ice skate at the sculpture garden, and it made me really excited for winter holidays with my family again. I saw the sunset as I walked back up town. I got groceries at Trader Joe’s. I came back and made the. most. delicious. loaf of banana and chocolate chip bread while watching X Factor UK with my roommate. And now I’m just winding down preparing to sleep and writing this.

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I really am so thankful for this weekend and for where I am in life right now. Weekend trips with 3-hour bus rides, karaoke drives with friends, shopping til 5 am, fitting 10 people in a tiny little living room, taking long walks alone in the city without having to answer to anyone… it’s the kinds of things you can only really do when you’re young. That confusing feeling of not having a “home” anymore? That’s what it’s like when you’re young and rootless and growing. And sometimes it’s scary or just flat out annoying but there are moments that just feel like pure gold—like your heart is glowing.

What I’m about to say is so cheesy, but a few weeks ago, I was on my commute home from work and I was changing lines on the Metro at Gallery Place when I thought about how insanely lucky I am that things worked out the way they did. A year ago I felt kinda lost. Graduating felt like jumping off a cliff and freefalling. But I realized that day that you only fear falling if you don’t know you can fly. (Told you it was cheesy.) But it’s true. I still am rootless and a little bit aimless but I’ve figured it out before and I can figure it out again, and again, and again. This weekend really felt like everything will always turn out ok and even if it doesn’t, there will be moments of pure gold in the midst of everything. That’s just what it feels like to be young and growing.

 

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Thank you, Philadelphia.

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My first ever Instagram post from Philadelphia (2013)

I just walked home from Centre City. It’s almost 10.30 PM and I’m sweating. It’s getting very balmy here in Philadelphia. Earlier, on my way out, I stood at the corner of 39th and Chestnut waiting for the 21 bus into the city as I always do. The warm wind was blowing and I could feel the humidity weighing down oh so gently on my face. I couldn’t help feeling like I was home, though I wasn’t sure what that meant. The feeling came almost without description, if that makes sense. I was not sure whether I felt that way because of the warm, heavy, summer air—really, as I stood by the side the road waiting for the bus, I could’ve closed my eyes and lied to myself and pretended I was somewhere in KL—or whether it was because I have come to know this road, this view and this routine so well. I couldn’t say for certain. But have you ever tried to close a door or lock two things together and then you think you’ve shut it or fit it together properly, then later you hear a click and you’re like “Oh! Ok, yeah, now it’s definitely shut”? I know that’s a somewhat specific feeling and perhaps it’s an odd comparison to make, but that’s how I felt on my walk back. I thought I already felt at home here and then, out of nowhere, there was a click. Somewhere between Market and Chestnut on 20th street, I felt that way. And I was sure.

It’s strange to know that there are most probably fewer walks like that ahead of me than there are behind me. I walked home on Walnut with a silly smile spread across my face the whole way. My mind was playing a highlight reel of all the things I’ve seen on my many walks towards West Philly along that road.

On 22nd St, Hui Jie, Shahirah and I once laughed about the fact that we chose the morning after snowstorm Jonas to go grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. Along the bridge, just before the presidential election, I walked past a man waving a Hillary Clinton flag and he smiled at me and I felt like that meant something, and the next day we lost, and it rained, and I thought about him that morning as I lay in bed and I wondered whether he had a daughter and what he told her, if he did. On 30th St, on a sunny spring day, Fayaaz and I once saw glass shattered all over the road and news reporters at the scene, the aftermath of what we supposed was an accident. At that same spot, on the left, Penn Park, where Shahirah and I took a walk to once in freshman year after we got back from London and I remember I wore my Gap jumper, purple sweatpants and orange Adidas shoes which I had just recently thrown away. Just after that, World Cafe Live, where Habeeb, Dania, Osama, Ben and I saw someone propose to his girlfriend in front of a whole crowd, with a rap song. Then, the ice skating rink, which is where every year, I go to the MSA midnight ice skating event (except for that one year where I had to write a PSCI paper on India and Nigeria) and maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many pictures of myself at these events but I can tell you exactly what wore to that event each year. Further ahead, I passed by the Nanotech building on my right where I once sat with Hui Jie after Astronomy, eating grape leaves from Magic Carpet, listening to a Planet Money episode about trade adjustment assistance. On the left after crossing 33rd St, (which has a traffic light that always stays on green in this direction for a long time; I never think I’m going to make it but I always do) I passed some engineering building I can’t name on the left, where I had to walk to in the cold, with slippers, twice, to get Shahirah’s keys from her because I had an awful tendency to lock myself out.

Somewhere in my diary, I keep a list of reasons why it is humbling to be human and one of the reasons is that I don’t understand the reason we keep and seek happy memories. My mind sometimes reminds me of art museums. There all these things I store in different sections of my brain… things I take mental strolls to look at, things that make me pause, tilt my head to the side and think or smile or cry or laugh about. And just like how people value art more the more intricate it is (or at least, I think they do), I cling on more tightly to the more the granular memories. When I say “I remember what I wore that day” or “I remember what song I was listening to on my way there”, I feel like it is comparable to the way people talk about textures and brush strokes. Maybe you’re more cultured than I am and you know why we have art museums and like visiting them but I don’t, other than the fact that I like looking at paintings because they’re aesthetically pleasing and sometimes make me feel things. I think people say art enriches our souls or something like that but no one has ever explained to me what purpose museums really serve even though we protect and preserve them… and that’s kinda how I feel about the galleries of memories I curate in my head. There are all these things, and I don’t know what they’re for, but they’re mine, and I like them. I like them a lot.

So, also on that list of why it’s humbling to be human is that we have so little control over what we forget. I enjoy remembering and sitting down and memorising lists because I know that if I put in the effort, I’ll retain the information. There is an efficacy associated with remembering. But I don’t think you can say the same about forgetting. How crazy is that? Really, think about it. It amazes me every single time I try. Someday, and I don’t know when, but the details will blur and I will be left with a glimmer of something that happened at some point in some place.

I feel so, so, so taken by all of this if you can’t already tell. I feel taken by it more than I know how to say… which brings me to the last thing I have on that list, and that is we are confined to the words we know how to use. I can only express to you how I feel to the extent that I can say so. I am so frustrated that the depth of both my grief and gratitude cannot be matched by the shallowness of the sentences I know how to construct. But if I had to try to tell you how I felt on my walk home today, I would say this: I don’t know what all these memories are for. I don’t know why I keep them like paintings in a museum. I don’t know why I replay them over and over in my head like a chart-topping pop song on the radio. I think I’ve never said this before—or if I have, you could count the number of times with a single hand—but to the humble portion of Philadelphia that I’ve come to know and call home, I love you, I love you, I love you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all these memories. They’re mine and I like them a lot. I like you a lot.

Lack of Scarcity of Free Time

It’s my first summer without a real job and you know, for a while I kind of regretted taking on an internship the summer after my freshman year because honestly freshmen should just chill. But (!) it has been a month being done with classes now, and let me just say… this whole ~lounging around~ life doesn’t seem to be for me as much as I thought it would be. I did love those weekends I didn’t have homework to do and I loved sneaking in some free time to play Sporcle quizzes or watch Netflix. Strangely, free time isn’t as fun when you have so much of it. I literally haven’t felt like playing Sporcle since finals ended. ECON 001, everyone: scarcity!

Regardless, all this free time has meant I’ve gotten to do some of the Philly things I’ve always wanted to do. For example, I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the first time! Let me tell you why this is noteworthy for a second. First, the PMA is only about a 10-minute drive away; I have cycled and ran past it several times. Secondly, most Penn kids make it to this museum within the first few days of being here because during orientation, there’s this party Penn throws for the freshmen at the PMA—Shahirah and I just didn’t go! Third, even my family has been to the PMA almost 4 years ago now.

So yeah, I went to the museum! It was cool, but also somewhat… underwhelming, to be honest. To be fair, (and this is going to sound so very bougie) in the past six months, I’ve gotten to visit The Met, The British Museum, LACMA, The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, The Chicago Institute of Art and The Barnes Foundation… so the PMA kinda paled in comparison. Still, I really enjoyed going to museums. I don’t get to do these kinds of things when I’m back in Malaysia because there just aren’t good museums around (fun fact: I used to think I wanted to go into museum curation for a hot second) so I just appreciate being able to take a short ride to see such a legit collection.

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The view of City Hall and Ben Franklin parkway from the top of the steps

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The only downer was the fact that the Rocky statue was like closed off for construction! But oh well, I will live. And for those of you who may not know, the Philly Art Museum is home to the “Rocky Steps”. I haven’t even seen the Rocky films, so, whatever.

I also got to go to the Barnes last Sunday and I preferred that a lot more. I had been wanting to visit The Barnes Foundation for almost a year now. Last Fall, I took a Communications class called Critical Approach to Pop Culture and it was the first time I learned about The Barnes’ history. I mean, I don’t want to bore you too much but basically, Barnes was this rich guy who collected a lot of art and it used to all be held in this mansion in the suburbs of Philadelphia. It was a really unique place because while most museums organised artwork by period or style or both, Barnes didn’t. He was more interested in pushing visitors to seek more transcendent connections between the artworks. The paintings at The Barnes don’t have printed-out labels on the walls next to them, just the name of the painting’s artist on its frame. And the fact that it’s a foundation and not a museum was a testament to how Barnes thought art should be accessible and teachable to everyone. He intended for it to all be kept in the old mansion. Then he died, and there was this huge scandal about moving the foundation to the super touristy part of Philadelphia. The debate was complex: it was about honouring a person’s will, whether or not it would be better for public education, protests from the old location’s neighbours because there were so many tourists in their housing area and of course, political and financial interests.

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So that whole long rambly paragraph was just to say that I’ve been really curious about The Barnes because I knew what an interesting history it had. (I’ve said enough about it and I don’t know if anyone ever clicks on the links I include, but I highly recommend these two articles: The Barnes Foundations’ Disastrous New Home and Moving Pictures) The place itself was beautiful, although, as these articles note, it’s not what Barnes himself intended: it’s too “nice” to the visitor, when the intended experience was for you to be thrown into art “like diving into the deep end of the pool”.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but I was very amazed at how they attempted to recreate the interiors of the mansion, down to the wallpaper and lighting. I was also very curious and wish I could have learned more about why the artworks were arranged the way they were; there was definitely a lot of symmetry and intentional juxtaposition but honestly, apart from how much I liked the way they look, I couldn’t think too much about it. My recent visit to both The Barnes and PMA did, however, send me back to my notes and readings from my Modernist Literature class two years ago. I’m happy to say that I appreciated reading Gertrude Stein’s writings about Cézanne and Picasso so much more now that I’m not as much of the loser I was in Sophomore year.

Okay, I truly don’t know much about art so I’m going to stop talking about museums now. My highlight of the week has been getting to spend time with my friends (as always). It was my friend Hanna’s birthday last Friday but I only got to celebrate it with her on Monday. We went out for iftar together, with Fahmida, Menvekeh, my sister Julia and Hanna’s friend from med school, Omar. We ate at this really good Afghan restaurant I had never been to and I’m sad that I don’t know when I’ll ever get to go back there.

It was super nice to see a bunch of my friends and for some reason everything seemed so funny to me that night. I can’t remember too much about why I kept laughing, but this was definitely the most unforgettable moment from that dinner: I was telling Omar about how my sister is studying medicine in London, and how that means I have someone I can always send weird pictures of my throat or whatever to ask about whether I’m okay. The thing is, I had sent the same picture of my throat to Hanna the night before and unbeknownst to me, Hanna had also sent that picture to Omar to discuss it for whatever reason. So, when I told him that I sent those kinds of pictures to my sister, Omar said “oh, so you’re the throat picture!” I wanted to burst out laughing but I also kind of couldn’t believe that here was this guy I was meeting for the first time……. and he has literally already seen my uvula. I just turned to Hanna and said “we need to talk.” LOL.

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Apart from other hanging out with people who’re here for the summer, I also got to see my friend Hui Jie yesterday. She was coming back to Philly for a night after a cruise in the caribbean and she flew off to Singapore earlier this morning. We got our usual pizza for one last time except last night, we had to sit on the floor of my apartment since I had already, to her dismay, sold my couch (which she has a particularly good relationship with). I’m glad I got to see her and I’m hoping I’ll see her again in KL over the summer before she goes off to the Netherlands for grad school. I’m reallyyyyy going to miss hanging out with her all. the. damn. time. and getting to know the most granular details of her day to day life—the kind you only get to know about people when you see them almost everyday.

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Hui Jie & Yong Xin all tanned

So yeah, my days have been pretty chill. I’ve been doing a lot of reading (currently reading The Road to Character by David Brooks) and catching up on my favourite podcasts; it is truly a first world problem of mine that I am unable to read and listen to podcasts at the same time, sigh. I’ve been listening to a lot of Radiolab recently, and if you’re new to podcasts then take this as me firmly grabbing you by the shoulders, looking at you squarely in the eyes and telling you: listen to Radiolab. I think they’re formally a podcast about science but in reality, it’s really about curiosity and exploring interesting questions through the lens of a dynamic character. They’re so amazing at sound design and storytelling that you always feel gripped by each episode and if you don’t know where to start, here are some of my favs:

  • The Buried Bodies Case was about drawing the line between your duties as a good attorney and a good person
  • From Tree to Shining Tree taught me about the marvels of the networks of tree roots (yes, they can even make a good story out of tree roots, believe me)
  • 23 Weeks and 6 Days followed a couple through their pregnancy to get at the deeper question of pinpointing “vitality” in an unborn child
  • On the Edge is one of my all time favs (and one I wrote my Radiolab application about!) looking at the career of Surya Bonaly to question our understanding of what makes a good figure skater and whether/how racism/injustice comes into play in sports
  • Lose Lose covers a couple of Badminton matches in the Olympics where both teams were clearly trying to lose and it might also be one of my favs because it’s about a sport many Americans consider obscure but Malaysians love watching
  • Playing God was about doctors struggling with having to choose who to save during Hurricane Katrina

I tried to list like 2 of my favourite Radiolab episodes but I just couldn’t, haha. Apart from Radiolab, I started listening to Tape and Longform—both are shows that feature interviews with writers, journalists and editors I look up to like Ira Glass, Charles Duhigg, Alex Blumberg, Malcolm Gladwell, Anna Sale, Lulu Miller, Stephen Dubner and so many more. I can’t even tell you how happy and inspired I get whenever I hear people talk about a) whatever they love doing plus how they got there and b) the thinking and overall process behind producing their craft. Ugh. I also caught up on other favourites like Reply All and Planet Money, which really bring me so much joy. I just have such a deep love for podcasts because they use compelling storytelling to help you think and ask questions and they’re just so, so, so informative. I rarely ever finish listening to a podcast without feeling like I just became a teeny little bit more of an informed citizen of the world. Anyway, clearly, if you ever want to talk about your favourite podcasts or if you want recommendations, just don’t even think twice about reaching out to me. I can probably talk for hours about this stuff.

I know I started out saying I don’t know if this whole chill life is really for me, but I’m glad I’ve kind of found a way to keep it interesting for myself. Saffa (and honestly, so many other people) have reminded me to try to really rest and enjoy what I’ve got because the truth is, I don’t know if I’ll ever get the time to be this relaxed ever again. I’ve been thinking about that a lot: this stark transition from being really busy to having so much to rest and I might say more about that once I’ve more fully wrapped my head around how I’m taking it (or I might not, lol). But after probably failing to relish the joy of being in college as much as I should have, I think I’m going to try to take her advice on this one and savour all this free time.

Until next week, thank you for reading!

You Just Had To Be There

I usually write about my whole week but I’ve just ended it on a particularly high note so let me just tell you about today.

It was a Sunday like any other Sunday. I had proposed to Hui Jie, Ken, Shahirah and May May earlier in the week that we all get dinner at Vientiane this weekend and it just worked out that Sunday dinner fit best in everyone’s schedule. Thankfully, I happened to realize earlier today that Vientiane is closed on Sundays! It’s like on 47th and Baltimore which is quite a walk so I’m glad we didn’t go all the way only to find out it was closed the whole time.

Shahirah and Hui Jie then suggested we stick to somewhere on campus because they have meetings before dinner, but because May May wasn’t feeling well we all just got take out and ate at their house. We had a really nice time! I mean, I talk about these people so often—by now you should know I just love spending time with them so very much. Dinner ended with them fruitlessly trying to suggest boys for me to ~consider~ hahaha. That is, until we all decided we wanted bubble tea. And friends, here is where the night gets interesting.

First, Ken decided to go to Winterfell (which is like right next to their house) to get bubble tea/shaved ice but it was 10.15 and Winterfell had just closed. So he decided to join Hui Jie and me to go to Ochatto, several blocks down. It’s not that much of a walk but I usually have to be particularly motivated to go. As we turned out of their street, I asked Hui Jie, “Are you going to get hot or cold?” “Hot!” “Me too!” “Large?” “Of course!” and it was so funny, it was so quick/rhythmic, like we were so in sync. It was just very… cute.

Anyway, so we get to Ochatto and, you probably guessed it but… it was closed! I saw that the “Open” sign wasn’t lit and my heart just sank. We were so sad, we just stood in front of the store for a while laughing. Hui Jie was like “I can almost taste it!!!” and I understood. I could too. I was already imagining us sipping our identical orders of hot jasmine milk tea :/ we were so in denial.

Laughing in denial

We felt like we had to get something. We considered Kiwi, which is this froyo place next to Ochatto but honestly, it’s just not good and I have made a conscious decision to not go back there since the fall semester of my Sophomore year. We thought about Capogiro for gelato but we just weren’t feeling it (and in fact, I just googled their hours and it was closed by 10 anyway). Insistent that we get bubble tea, I half-jokingly suggested we go to Tea Do in Chinatown.

Tea Do is on 10th St. We were on 36th.

I think Ken didn’t realize how serious I was so he was like “yeah, sure!” even though he has a midterm tomorrow he isn’t totally ready for. Hui Jie, the most reasonable person I know (with the exception of the occasional wild online shopping spree), took the longest to be convinced but eventually she got on board too. It turns out that for some reason, Lyfts were really expensive? It would’ve cost us $15 to get to Chinatown! That would’ve been more expensive than the bubble tea! (I joked that the rational thing to do would be to get 2 bubble teas so it’s “worth it” lol) So yeah, we start rummaging our purses and wallets for cash to take the bus, half a block away from where we were.

I get out $6.75 for the three of us and I just walk over to the bus stop holding it in my hands. Oh (!!!) and at this point I should mention… I was holding this (opened) box of sesame biscuits lovingly the whole time. I bought them on the way to their house and because I thought I was just going to get bubble tea and go back, I was fine with carrying it. Little did I know, I was going to be clutching this yellow box of biscuits with me to Chinatown and back.

Me, clutching my biscuits and the change for the bus fare and Ken… closing his eyes.

So we wait a while for the bus, still laughing from the fact that we’ve just decided to go to Chinatown when we realize that it’s like 10.45 and the bus wouldn’t arrive until 11:06 and Tea Do closes at midnight! We laughed for a good minute about going all the way to Tea Do only to have it be closed, but then we hurriedly made our way to the 34th St train station because it’s always quicker.

This, I should say, also caused a lot of laughter to ensue because Ken and Hui Jie’s house is literally one very short block away from the 40th St station but here we were,  6 blocks away, taking the train from 34th St!!!

So anyway, we make our way to the train station and I was still clutching my biscuit box and (don’t forget!) my $6.75 innocently in hand. Basically, I just looked downright silly. We got to the station and wow, look at that, they now have ticket machines that take cards…… so I stuffed my cash back in, bought tickets and went to the platform.

We get to the platform and for whatever reason, there were just 3 boxes of cereal waiting on the bench at the bottom of the staircase??? I got a good laugh out of this thinking about how funny it’d be if Ken and Hui Jie took one box each in solidarity with me carrying my box of sesame biscuits (which, by the way, we were all sporadically laughing about the entire night—especially those two, and occasionally me, when I caught my own reflection).

Mysterious cereal boxes?!

While we were waiting for the train, Hui Jie thought for a second to check if we were waiting on the right platform. Ken just bursted into laughter at the thought of taking the train to the wrong direction because we’d end up at 40th St, which is where they live….. and we just couldn’t stop laughing at the thought of coming all the way to 34th St, paying $6.75, not getting bubble tea or any sort of dessert, and ending up back where we started!!!! Hahaha. Thank god we were on the right platform.

*crying*

I don’t really remember what happened next but for whatever reason we all just could not stop laughing about what we were doing. How were we at a train station on a Sunday night? Were we really going all the way to Chinatown just because we were 15 minutes late for bubble tea at Ochatto? It just all felt so crazy… we couldn’t believe what we were doing. But then we laughed about how funny it is that this feels crazy. Like, we’re just such boring people that going to Chinatown on an unplanned excursion for bubble tea feels “crazy”! I’m sure some people at Penn have taken unplanned trips to New York or even Paris but there we were laughing our heads off about an impromptu ride to Chinatown. It was just a little bit, just a very little bit crazy, that it was hilarious.

Me laughing at myself after catching my reflection in the train windows

On the ride there, I see that Ken has crumpled his ticket in his hand and my jaw drops and I look at him and I point to the ticket and I go, “Ken, oh my god… what are you—you’re gonna need that to get out!” Because I guess I thought it’s like Oyster cards in London or Metro cards in New York or Touch n Gos in KL, right. Hui Jie and Ken look at me with the straightest faces ever and they’re like “No…” and I just very quietly said “oh….” and they laughed about that so much. In fact, later, when we were waiting on the platform of the train to go home, Ken calls my name and as I turn around, he looks at me and slowly bends his ticket in front of my face and throws it in the trash. And as I’m laughing he’s like, “now I can’t go out!” HAHA.

So anyway… we get to the 11th St station and as we walk the one block over to Chinatown, there’s a banana on the ground and for what. ever. reason. I say “hey guys! It’s a banana! You can eat it! It’s still intact!” ……. until I realize it’s a just a banana peel that happened to look like it was still whole. Again, we laugh.

We’re almost there. It’s dark and almost everything is closed and the streets smell like fish. But we are so, so, very close to Tea Do.

Then, we pass by Penang, the Malaysian restaurant across the street on our right and Ken says “oh is it open? Oh yeah it is.” and as he turns around to look at me, I’m already crossing the road to go look at the menu because I think: Ochatto will open tomorrow, but we’re only here today and we can get cendol. Ken goes in to ask if they were still open and they were. Before we knew it, we were seated.

I promise you he only looks sad in this picture because we’re so tired from laughing

That’s right, everyone. I didn’t make it to Tea Do. I was so close and I just chose not to go. I was looking forward to getting a hot cup of bubble tea and I got what is essentially shaved ice. Hui Jie, again, the reasonable one, stays focused and she gets the large hot jasmine bubble tea as planned and comes to join us at Penang while we eat our ABC and cendol. We sit there and Ken talks about how easily distracted I am and how insane it is that we’re at Penang eating ABC and cendol when we initially wanted to go to Tea Do, which happened because we initially wanted bubble tea from Ochatto.

It’s true. I guess I can be pretty easily distracted. To be honest, the fact that I even had that box of biscuits today was because when we were buying food for dinner earlier, Ken and I were talking near the cashier and I caught a glimpse of the sesame biscuits at the corner of my eye, paused mid-sentence, gasped and said “oh my god! those biscuits!” and just proceeded to pay for them. But whatever.

The rest of the night was relatively uneventful. We all calmed down from our highs. We talked about Penn, whether we reflect a lot about our lives, whether we were boring people and whether we are relatable etc and as we were talking I couldn’t help saying, “oh my god, phew, thank god our conversation has resumed to normal again.” Hahaha.

So yeah, after we finished our cold desserts, we walked back to the station (I saw that the banana peel I saw earlier on the way to the restaurant had been squashed, RIP) and took the train back to 40th St… box of sesame biscuits still clutched in my arms, stomach and cheeks sore from all the laughing.

I will remember this day for years to come. I haven’t laughed like this—especially not with anyone other than my sisters—in ages. If it wasn’t funny to you, then, well, I guess you just had to be there.

Week 15: Superstars

I want to start by acknowledging that I do complain about Penn a lot. It is overwhelmingly competitive, stressful, tiring and annoying. It’s like trying to take a sip from a waterfall, sometimes. But of course, waterfalls can also be wonderful. This past week was pretty great, and I am writing while looking out my window, realizing for the first time this semester that the trees are green again.

Today, I had lunch with Professor Pollack who teaches my International Political Economy class. Anyone who knows me knows that I rave about his class constantly. I have to write 5 two-page papers for his class (and again, if you know me, I utterly despise writing papers for classes) but even while I’m writing my IPE papers I’m like “OMG I love this class!!!” First, Professor Pollack is exceptionally engaging in the classroom and he’s so good that, quite ashamedly, it’s the first semester I’ve had a perfect attendance record for a 9 a.m. class.

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Pollack explaining that he searched for “Asian Tigers” on Google images and thought this was too cute not to use.

The course content is also really interesting; it covers topics like economic history, financial and sovereign debt crises, trade and multilateral agreements, monetary policy, development etc using the framework of interests and institutions. So like, what are the interests of the different groups of society when it comes to trade, for example? What are the roles of domestic and international institutions? I think the framework is also really useful to learn because I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a lot about the world, but this class truly has helped me learn to become an informed member of society… if that makes sense.

Anyway, enough nerd talk. Lunch with Professor Pollack was so much fun. I understand professors are accomplished people with busy schedules so the fact that he willingly sat down with me and my friend Christina for two and a half hours just talking about what he’s learned from being in his field, from teaching, from parenting and from life in general really meant so much to us. He talks about the colleagues he admires and calls them “superstars” but oh my god, as far as Penn professors go, he’s definitely one of my superstars. I’ve said it before, but I think people who offer their time and their insights to others so kindly are so generous and I am thankful to know people like that.

And speaking of superstars, (wow, what a smooth transition!) apparently, Penn is full of them. In the past two weeks, I’ve gotten to see 2 shows put on by Penn students. The first was Memphis, put on by the African American Arts Alliance. It’s set in the 1950s and centers around a white DJ, Huey, who plays black music on the radio, and falls in love with an African-American singer, Felicia. I went to see it because my friend Habeeb was in the band, playing the drums, and I’m so glad I decided to go because I had so much fun!

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Me smiling super wide because I was SO proud of Habeeb!!!!

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I had just met Sylvia the week to prior to this but I was so thrilled to see that she was one of the dancers in the show.

This past weekend, I saw All Shook Up, put on by the Quadramics Theatre Co. It’s a whole musical built up of Elvis’ hits and it’s some kind of a love pentagon (?) kind of story which starts off with this “roustabout” coming to town and shaking things up. My god, I, love, musicals. LOVE THEM. Seriously, I had such a great time. And considering I went to see the show alone, I really had a great time.  Like the other show, I went because my friend Clare is involved with it. We had brunch a couple of weekends ago (at the place with the best hot sauce I’ve had in America) and she told me about how she’s assistant stage manager so I wanted to go support her and again, I’m infinitely glad I did. I’m so, so proud of her! Plus, I later found out that my classmate from cultural psychology, Nate, was also one of the cast members. I was also happy to see him perform and was just amazed by his (and the other cast members’) performance.

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Brunch with Clare at Renata’s Kitchen!!

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I wish I took better pictures of the show lol

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That’s Nate in the front/left 🙂

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With Clare after the show!

Not only were the two shows spectacular, but I also really love taking a step back to just be in awe of the amount of talent I am surrounded by here on campus. Because, I mean, on a day to day basis, it gets overwhelming. I sometimes feel like I’m the only one here who isn’t doing 50 things at once. But other times I get to realize how lucky I am to be around friends and other Penn kids who are just… remarkable.

Watching All Shook Up was just one part of a great fling weekend, though. So, if you’re not from Penn, Spring Fling is what some people refer to as a “weekend of debauchery” — there is a carnival in the Quad, a huge concert on Friday night (this year we had Chance the Rapper, last year was Kesha and the year before, we had David Guetta), and, from what I gather, many many many frat parties. As you can imagine, that’s not a lot of fun for me. I don’t love the crowd and I don’t wanna fork out the money to go see a performer I won’t enjoy, so I’ve never had the “conventional” fling experience. Instead, my friends and I do what’s fun for us. On Friday, I went to Fairmount Park with Hui Jie, Jamie and Selina. We saw the quaint little Shofuso Gardens and took lots of silly pictures. Later that night, Adel and Ahsen had a bunch of MSA people over at their place and we played Mafia and ate desserts and somewhat surprised Sanaa for her birthday at midnight 🙂 On Saturday, as is tradition now for the class of ’17 Malaysians, we have a fling weekend picnic! I think part of what I like about being a junior in college, is that I now know how to navigate parts of college I don’t enjoy by doing things I do enjoy and being with people whose company I value.

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L-R: Jamie, me, Selina and Hui Jie

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Haha Selina ❤

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The koi came to her because they thought she had food 😦

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Jamie, Hui Jie and I at the entrance of Shofuso gardens.

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The whole gang at Adel and Ahsen’s place!

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The birthday girl surprised with red velvet cake while eating hummus with a spoon!!

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LOVE these guys.

In fact the entire last week was pretty good. On Wednesday, I got to attend a talk by, or, well, I guess it was more of a conversation with Ben Bernanke. He was the chair of the Fed during the American financial crisis and given everything I had learned in class this semester, it was super interesting to me. He talked a little bit about how he got to where he is, defended the decisions he made during the crisis and talked about his book “The Courage To Act.” It was pretty cool to be, as Professor Pollack said, “in the same room with a historic world figure.”

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Sitting on the steps outside of Annenberg because the line to see Ben Bernanke was out the door over an hour before the event.

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Apparently Bernanke lost at the word “edelweiss.”

Summer break is fast approaching and as the semester is kind of winding down, people are trying to catch up with each other. It’s quite difficult to see all the people you care about consistently throughout the semester because we have a lot of papers to write, hundreds of pages to read, exams to take, meetings to run and etc… so I appreciate it when friends like Iman understand that and give me room but also let me know they’re there for me if I need them. Iman, exactly one year ago today actually, helped take care of me when I had my wisdom tooth extraction. Even though I don’t see her a lot, I know she’d still make time for me 🙂 we had the chance to grab dinner last week at Honest Tom’s (ahhh their sweet potato tacos!!!) and it’s really nice to end a long day with a good friend.

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The most generous serving of guacamole.

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Sweet potato tacos are so good.

Shahirah and I also got to catch up with Marcus, who’s a Malaysian graduating this year!! We always say he’s kinda like an uncle because of his mannerisms but we love him, he’s so nice. I also love that he’s the first guy I’ve met who is as scared of dogs as I am. He took us to Dock Street for pizza and it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had! Maybe the best but I’m refraining from making that statement because I know I have a tendency to overuse superlatives. The pizza I chose had brie and pear on it, which was a delightful combination. The one Shahirah chose had egg on it!!! I LOVE EGGS so yeah it was 10/10.

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Waiting for the trolley that never came.

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Next week is the last week of classes!!!! I am so excited because it’s Hey Day next week, which is when the juniors march down Locust Walk and are “declared” seniors. And also because I am tired and ready for a break. Anyway, so I think this post is long enough, and I’ll leave you for now. Byeeeeee.

Week 9: I Said I Would

Since I have the week off from school, I have more time to do things I usually want to do but don’t have time for. That is primarily cooking, but it also includes hanging out with some of my friends who are also on campus over break and exercising more frequently.

I made some amazing pancakes last weekend as my search for the fluffiest pancakes continued. I used this recipe and tweaked it a little (slightly less milk, more baking powder) and here’s what I  got! It was 8/10, I have to say.

   
I also made pasta with salmon, lemon, butter and herbs with a side of broccoli. This was like, only 5/10 though to be honest. But I’m all about trial and error when it comes to cooking and it was still worth it 🙂

I also made ginger-soy marinated cod (thanks, Trader Joes) to be eaten with rice with ghee and curry leaves as well as some steamed broccoli. It was the first time I used the steamer over the rice cooker and I was very excited about that! This is probably one of my favourite home-cooked meals because it tastes incredible and takes only 15 minutes to make. 9.5/10.


I don’t usually get cereal because I don’t love milk and I don’t usually buy it, but the other day I got milk because I wanted quick breakfasts. It was a busy week and I didn’t have time to be frying eggs and washing the pan etc. in the morning. I got this vanilla and almond clusters cereal (also thanks to Trader Joes!) and ate it with some fruit. Yum. 7/10.


My favourite breakfast though, incorporates 2 of my favourite things: salmon and eggs. I don’t really know how to keep my omelettes intact despite watching the Jamie Oliver video on omelettes like 20 times, but the taste is there for me and that’s good enough.

Apart from the food, I finally managed to jog my way down to the Schuylkill! I hate running outside because I feel super self-conscious about the way I look when I run, haha. But since it’s break, campus is relatively quiet. So, I thought there would be no better time to take the first step in getting over one of my irrational fears. It ended up being so rewarding because it was a gorgeous day, plus getting over a hurdle always makes me feel good.




Besides all of that, I also have been catching up on my backlogged work and trying to get ahead. I broke down everything I need to do in the next few weeks into little chunks, sprinkled across the 9 days of break and so far it’s going well. Something very exciting is happening in the next 2 weeks which is what I’m trying to clear my schedule for. I’m having such a good time with the quiet on campus and not having to be among so many people so often these past few days. Also, I’m really happy to be doing things I said I’d do if I had more time because I didn’t want “not having time” to be just an excuse; the only way for that was to make sure that when I 
do have time, I get things done.

Week 1: 3 Airports and 34 Hours

The sight I love in May and hate in August.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Throwback: going home the summer after freshman year.

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

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