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!

“Ready or Not”

Last week, I put out my very first attempt at “narrative audio journalism” (if you can call it that) called “Ready or Not”. If you missed it in last week’s post, you can still listen to it on Soundcloud! Actually, please do, because it’s so close to 100 plays!! Haha.

To be very frank, I wasn’t too happy with how it turned out. It was only after publishing it that I realized I had accidentally cut out a part of Hanna’s interview. The music probably wasn’t at the right volume and honestly, I don’t think it even appeared at appropriate times. I don’t even think each audio clip was at the same volume. I was recording my narrations at 1 a.m.—because I didn’t have a studio, I needed to wait for the traffic outside to slow down before I could record. This meant having to use my croaky voice. I felt like I didn’t give it all the attention it deserved. I started working on this in early February but kind of stalled working on it during the school year because I was busy and then later rushed it after commencement because I didn’t want to “miss the moment” or whatever and I’m kind of annoyed at myself for that.

Still, I was so encouraged by and thankful for the support from everyone who listened. I recall that I have mentioned this project on here a couple of times and said I would explain more when I have the time, so I’m going to take you through what I did and why I decided to even do this in the first place. Fair warning, this a pretty lengthy one.

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Some of you might know that most of my junior and senior years in college have been fraught with the search for a job. I did the whole consulting thing for a while and that… didn’t turn out so well. I failed to get a consulting internship the summer after junior year and failed again to get a full time job in my senior year. I really wanted it and for a while, I really thought that was the track I was going to take. Both times, I came so close and I didn’t get it. It sucked. But I got over it. Still, that meant I had to find something to do.

If you remember, last summer I would mention quite often in my posts that I had discovered this and that podcast (my two first favs were Millennial and Start Up!!) and I would rave about it endlessly both in my posts and to my friends. I was so enamoured by the medium and it was one of those things that was like… “this is amazing and I actually think I could do this.” But I never thought of myself as brave, risk-taking or creative so the idea of going out and running my own podcast was just an interesting thought to be kept for future reference… for when I somehow become gutsier and smarter (and have saved more money from working very hard at some other cutthroat job first).

But when the consulting job route didn’t pan out, there was nothing else I wanted to or thought I could do. Nothing. Everything I considered would’ve been a job just for the sake of having a job and that made me so repulsed? depressed? I don’t know. I remember talking to my parents once and they were like, “just search for jobs in whatever, like HR or sales or something” and in my mind, I was like “SALES???????” It’s not like anything was wrong with a job in sales per se, I think it just made me feel like college and my years of prep didn’t matter. Because I spent four hard years getting a liberal arts education, and the idea that really stuck with me in my time here is that we should work with a firm purpose, do something that means something and be of service to society (and no, the irony was not lost on me that I wanted a consulting job, but to be fair, that was to “gain skills” and “save money” so that I could do what I really wanted—such a typical Penn student trope!). But the picture I had of a sales job (admittedly a misguided one) was someone standing in a mall handing out flyers and you might see why I didn’t want that.

Yeah, it is a very millennial story line. I knew objectively that many people don’t start out at the best job they can get, but instead, patiently and diligently work their way through. Regardless, I fell prey to the “I worked so hard for… this?” line of thought. At this point I think I had already decided I would apply for internships in the radio and podcasting industry. I didn’t think I would get anything though, given my utter lack of experience. In other words, that was more of a “I will give it my best shot and put this first but think about other things also” plan. Still, eager to get my hands dirty and to overcome the inertia of inexperience, I decided I had to make something.

At this point, I was sad and anxious and maybe even a little angry. I had these burning questions: What was it all even for? And what do I do now that it’s almost over? I knew my friends and I had been having a lot of conversations about these things. In particular, I remember Shahirah and I talking in her room one night and she told me that even though she already had a job from the outset because of her scholarship situation, didn’t have to pick a major and didn’t feel pressured to get good internships over the summer—things that often made me feel anxious—she still felt lost because college is such a good time to figure out what you love doing and when she’s done serving her bond to her employer, she won’t have that same college environment to help her figure out what she wants to do. Around the same time, I spoke to Professor Pollack (while sipping a chai latte in futile efforts to stop myself from tearing up) about not knowing what to do next and feeling like all my hard work was pointless because I felt like I wouldn’t ever do anything meaningful with my life. Then, we talked about how you never know where one thing is going to lead you, how there is often only one spot at the top job but that doesn’t mean everyone else is doomed and there is always something to be learned wherever you end up.

I loved having conversations like these and on those days I remember wishing I could write about them on my blog or share them with more people or just mobilize them in some way. So, that got me thinking about talking to other people and recording it into a podcast type thing. For a long time, I told people that it would be about “graduation anxieties” and how we navigate them.

I had a strong gut feeling that it was a good idea but I had no clue what I was doing. Last summer, I spent some nights taking an online class on using audio for storytelling by Alex Blumberg (the founder of the podcast production company Gimlet Media and former host of Start Up and Planet Money—who, you might recall, I was ecstatic to meet last January!!!!). I watched YouTube videos and read lots of articles on Transom about equipment and writing an outline and doing interviews but you know, reading about how to drive isn’t going to help you actually learn to drive, right? So then I kind of took the plunge, I guess.

First, deciding who to interview was partly easy because I knew I wanted Shahirah and Ken, two of my really good friends who had these different life trajectories. I knew I wanted a couple of people who didn’t know what they were doing yet and luckily Clare and Rashad were both willing to be my subjects. I knew I wanted someone who had been through it all, and that was my friend Hanna. I had known that I would interview Professor Pollack since that day in his office, but I needed something more. It didn’t feel complete. This was like mid-late February. Around that time, Penn Perspectives (a lecture series for seniors that I was participating in) invited the University Chaplain, Chaz Howard to come speak to us.

At that lecture, Chaz talked about how it’s funny how when you’re in college you have all these titles like President of this and that organisation and you have all these underclassmen who know your name and you wear your club sweatshirt or varsity jacket and it means something on this campus. But if you come back to Penn after you graduate, you know almost no one, and all those titles you used to have now mean nothing, and then who are you? Who are you, stripped from your job and your identity as a student? He also talked about finding comfort in mystery, trusting the “interruptions” in our lives that are divine interventions leading us to where we really need to go, and how the fruits of our success should help other things grow. By the end of it, so many of us in the crowd were bawling. We were so moved. The next morning, I emailed him asking if I could interview him and it was such a great decision. I think he really added a lot of heart to the story.

I absolutely loved interviewing Chaz because on top of being wise, he is such a natural at speaking in front of a mic! I loved our entire conversation, which made picking sound bites from his interview so difficult. I didn’t end up including this but in that interview, we also discussed the parallels between moving from high school to college and moving from college to work. In both cases, you make new friends and readjust to new environments. You tweak/rebuild your identity. He had this great metaphor about seeing college freshmen slowly stop wearing their high school athlete clothes and how we will learn to do that again when we go into the workplace. It made me realise that even though I dreaded the anxiety of leaving college, I’ve kind of… done it before. We all have. I couldn’t fit that part into the piece but it’s one of my favourite bits of tape I ended up excluding.

[Slight digression: after I interviewed Chaz, he told his friend Jennifer Lynn, a radio host on Philadelphia’s local radio station, about me. She later gave me a phone call and offered me advice on making audio pieces. We later sat down together, Jennifer, Chaz and me, and chatted about my project. I completely forgot about this, but that conversation was recorded and was featured on WHYY a few weeks ago along with a blog post featuring an excerpt from my interview with Chaz. It was pretty cool. Listen to it here!]

Anyway, the problem with using what Chaz and Professor Pollack said as an ending though, was that it was very… “I was confused but then I learned this cliche thing and everything became ok” and that just didn’t sit well with me. It begged the question: so why do we do this? Why do we feel this way? The week after Chaz spoke at Penn Perspectives, we had a lecture by Adam Grant. It was early March. He mentioned how he anticipates that by September, like most Septembers, his inbox will get filled with emails from fresh grads in Finance careers asking if he thinks it’s reasonable for them to hang on in these jobs until January just so they can say 2017-2018 on their resumes. He talked about how even though we know what will and won’t make us happy or fulfilled, we tend to ignore what we know and do something else. I thought it fit perfectly into the tentative narrative I had cooking in the back of my mind.

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Adam Grant giving his lecture

That same night, he also gave us some advice about making the most out of the last few months in college. He said to email the professors you want to connect with and to do it before you graduate because professors feel more obliged to help a current student and that privilege quickly wanes once you graduate. So I emailed him. I told him I liked his talk and I wanted to include what he said in my project and he replied asking me to schedule a time for a phone call! Adam Grant is one of my favourite authors, so that moment was probably one of the highlights of my senior year. Of course, because he was busy, that conversation couldn’t happen until 3 weeks later. When we spoke, he asked me for my notes from the talk, he told me my project sounds great, that I shouldn’t worry about misquoting him and he even offered to help me make connections with people in radio. Yeah, it was definitely one of the highlights of my senior year.

Anyway, back to interviews. Scheduling was difficult but I managed to get seven interviews done within a couple of weeks. I think interviewing people was kind of easy because I knew the people I had selected were naturally introspective and I knew what perspective they would add to the story. It was just a matter of asking them in the right way for the conversation to sound organic and not rigid. I was kinda worried about interviewing people and then realising I couldn’t use something because I didn’t ask the right follow up question or whatever but honestly, I had so much tape that whenever something absolutely didn’t work, I just tossed it. In the end, the hardest part about interviewing people was to not interject them when they speak and chime in with an “I know, right!” or something like that, haha.

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Kim’s creepshot of me from outside the studio

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Interviewing Clare!!

As for equipment, I knew the Penn library had these simple audio recorders I could borrow for 3 days at a time and I knew that the Kelly Writers House had a recording studio I could book to use for interviews. I ended up using a mix of both just because scheduling was tricky. The thing about the recorders from the library was that they come in these bright bulky yellow boxes and I’d sometimes take two out just in case I couldn’t figure out how to use one of the two and I would carry them around with me through campus. Sometimes I’d also be lugging a tripod and ugh, my shoulders were not happy with me all of those days. Even so, the project made me really grateful to be at a place like Penn where resources were never a problem.

The next step was to transcribe my interviews. I knew that was the “industry standard” or whatever and I also felt it was the most intuitive thing to do because then I could treat writing the outline and my eventual narration as writing a paper and treat the transcriptions as “sources”. Transcribing took so long though. I had about 200 minutes of recordings. Two hundred! And if you’ve ever tried typing out something word for word as you listened, you’ll know it’s not that easy. Every minute of audio ended up taking like 5-7 minutes to transcribe so you know, do the math. Plus, this was during the school year! I finished getting all my interviews early March and ended up only finishing transcriptions in early April. It amounted to about 23,000 words!

At this point, I told several people whose insight and/or writing I trusted about what I was working on. One of those people was my friend Kimberly Siew. Kim and I took a Creative Writing class together last Fall and became fast friends—our classmates found it difficult to believe that we didn’t know each other before that class. She’s an excellent writer and better yet, she’s great at workshopping pieces and giving feedback. So one night, after I baked some (delicious) pecan cupcakes, we sat on my couch and I kind of bounced ideas off of her. I never really understood that phrase, too bounce ideas off of? What does that even mean? But this felt truly collaborative. I would tell her my issues with the tape that I had and how I wasn’t sure how to fill the gaps, we’d throw out some options and exchange comments and I really think our conversation that night became the backbone of the existing structure of my piece.

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From that night in my apartment

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Just for the record, these were the aforementioned cupcakes.

Another person I spoke to was Jamie-Lee Josselyn, who actually taught the class Kim and I took together. She helped me think about how to go about deciding what to include and omit so as to hone in on what I want to get across. Basically, I needed to trust my instincts and be very aware of when I get bored listening. I also spoke to Caroline Connolly, whose Intro to Psychology class I TA-ed for this past year. I brought it up before class once because I had also taken a Developmental Psychology seminar with her called Modern Young Adulthood, which was all about the psychological processes related to the transition into adulthood so I felt it was relevant. We ended up getting coffee after her lecture one of the days and just spent like 3 hours talking.

It was in that conversation with Connolly that she mentioned the cliff metaphor which you hear in the piece: a lot of people treat graduation like it’s final, like you’re jumping off a cliff. I told her that day that I know it’s silly and that even though I feel that way too, I know I shouldn’t. But she told me that it’s normal because in a way it is final for so many of us. It’s the last time of our lives we’ll dedicate solely to pursuing knowledge formally. What that subtly implies is that we should be prepared because we’re “done learning”. Obviously that’s not exactly true, but it helped me see why we are so prone to thinking that way. A lot of my conversations with both Jamie-Lee and Professor Connolly did end up informing the way I thought about writing my outlines.

Even with all that inspiration, it took some time to write my outline. I didn’t know what the overarching narrative would be. Kim and I had kind of come up with several takeaways for the ending, and I already knew what the starting point was (me crying like a dramatic millennial about how nothing matters lol) but I had no idea how to use the hours of recordings I had gathered to get from point A to point B. I was very intimidated by the amount tape I had (200 minutes!!! 23,000 words!!!). I felt like so much of it was insightful and I wasn’t sure how to get it down to 40 minutes. And not just any 40 minutes but an impactful and coherent 40 minutes.

I sat down with printed versions of the transcripts, highlighted my favourite parts and labelled them to find common threads. The problem was, it was very difficult to write for audio and I found that I couldn’t quite treat it the same way I approached writing papers for classes because with a written thing you could more easily just pluck out short quotes and use these bracket things […] lol. Plus, for classes, the topic is usually more critical and well-defined (at least, in my experience) so arguments tend to be more logical. This was kind of an audio diary. I felt like it could more easily fall down the slippery slope of being rambly and whiny or overly emotional. So, I “zoomed out” and really looked at things at the base level to try to focus on the most barebone outline.

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Then I wrote it. I think by mid-April, I had a rough draft. I sat down with my friend Clare first to discuss the outline because she’s a great writer and spent 3 years at Penn as a writing tutor and because I had been talking to her about it all semester. I knew she understood the core idea of it. We made some adjustments and I spent another couple of days tweaking it. Then, I gave it to Shahirah, Ken and Hui Jie for comments. It was helpful for me that they pointed out where I wasn’t clear enough and things like that.

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The first time anyone read my draft. I was SO nervous.

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Ken and his notes on my draft!!!! Ahhhh I already miss these post-Astronomy lunches with him and Hui Jie.

At this point, Hui Jie mentioned something that I had already kind of been thinking about but tried to ignore… and it was that I introduced one person and then the next and then the next whereas a lot of podcasts splice the interviews to clump the issues together. She pointed out that it made the piece seem a little repetitive because of there are kind of repeated problem-resolution sequences instead of a more concerted structure: all the different problems lumped in the beginning and then an overarching resolution in the end. I agreed with her and wanted to take some more time to think about it but I never ended up making the time because by that point we were getting close to finals and the typical end of semester/year craze.

So yeah, then it kind of got pushed to the side until all the cacophony of commencement died down. By then, I decided I just needed to do it. So, I literally dragged a chair into my closet, hung my bathrobe behind me and placed my phone amongst my clothes to minimise echo as much as possible. (Side note: this is a Ted Talk about audio storytelling that features journalists recording in all sorts of funny arrangements) Safe to say, I was sweating by the end of it. Then, I spent the next day or so editing it on Hindenburg, which I chose to use solely because during World Radio Day last February, this $95 software was on sale for $1.90!

After editing it, I gave it a listen and I just knew it still needed a touch of music. Just a little bit, nothing too dramatic. I tried tinkering with GarageBand but for the life of me, I just could not figure it out. Luckily, over a year ago when I hung out with my friend Osama, we got to talking about his experience making music with GarageBand and Logic Pro. So I just sent him a text asking for help and thank god he was still on campus. He was so kind to let me (poorly) hum to him what I wanted and he improvised and made it a lot cooler. Honestly, it amazes me what my friends can do. We ended up spending a couple of hours catching up too, which was really nice. I was seriously so glad he was around to help me with that final touch.

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Osama helping me with music!

And after layering the music tracks over the audio, I finally put it out there! My project! I was carrying it with me for months. I remember transcribing while eating sweet potato fries at Hip City Veg, while waiting for my flight at LAX and at my table at night after I finished my homework. I remember sheepishly asking my friends if I could interview them and carrying all that equipment around. I know I said I wasn’t absolutely happy with the end result but I’m glad I did it because it felt like a culmination of my Penn career; something to show for that I actually made. Something I hope to continue to do for a long time.

So I guess now’s probably the best time to say what I’ve been actively withholding from saying on here for months. That is, I’m going to be interning at NPR in Washington, DC this coming Fall inshaAllah. After so long, it felt like everything made sense and I’m so, so, so grateful because it feels like a dream. It might not have been the path I initially thought of taking but I feel really good about it.

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Submitting my NPR apps at LAX at the start of spring break.

Anyway. This has been my longest post ever (I really didn’t think I’d write such a long one so soon after the commencement one!) and I’m sorry if I went into greater detail than anyone needed or wanted haha but thanks for reading anyway and if you listened to my audio piece, thank you so much!!!

Lastly, I wrote this because I know someday I’m going to forget all the hard work it took me to learn even the most basic things even though they had once seemed like insurmountable challenges. This will remind future me that if you take it step by step, you’ll find a way. And if you’re reading this and there’s something you’ve always wanted to work on but don’t know how, I hope this shows you that sometimes people don’t start out with all the talent. Sometimes people succeed at doing the things they initially didn’t know how to. You persist by taking things one step at a time and slowly, things start to come together. And even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly, the feeling of proving your own self wrong and reaching beyond what you thought was your limit is so, so sweet.

FLING WEEKEND

OH MY GOD. I am NOT at my best today. Let’s just say, in a fight between me and my laziness, today I was badly defeated and it’s a good thing that no one has seen my room. I’m sitting at my desk next to a dirty plate and a couple of used cups. There is a t-shirt and some pants on my unmade bed. My shoes are not arranged and my socks are not in the shoes. And I don’t know. It all just feels gross, but today was my rest-and-don’t-talk-to-anyone day because this past weekend has been a lot.

It has been fling weekend!

It started off on Friday, for me. I don’t usually do fling—but it’s my last year and Zedd was our performer this year (!) so I decided to go. I’m so glad I did because it was so much fun. I absolutely loved his set. Michael Jackson’s Thriller, MAGIC!’s Rude, Chainsmokers’ Closer, Queen’s We Will Rock You and of course, all of his own hits. Man, listening to StayBreak Free or Clarity will never be the same again.

Of course, part of the fun was also just having fun with my friends, Hui Jie, Ken and Selina (plus a couple of Selina’s roommates, Tanya and Mounika). I am probably such a dorky dancer but my friends were also dancing however they hell they wanted, so when we weren’t jumping with the crowd, I was so glad I could easily have fun dorky dancing without feeling alone. I think it’s fun to enjoy music at a concert the same way you enjoy the same songs when you’re alone in your room.

It rained on us that night and literally all my makeup was washed away in the rain. And I don’t mean it like drizzled on us. No. It poured. We were absolutely soaked. To the point where we could squeeze our clothes and like a tonne of water would drip from it. But it was one of those things where you just laugh about it and keep dancing, and I don’t think I’ve felt that way since I was 7? 8? playing in the rain with my sisters.

Saturday was much more chill, though I got up early because I wanted to bake a cake! Karlie Kloss posted a video of her baking St Louis Gooey Butter Cake and it looked so, so, so easy that I just had to try it. And it really was super easy! Probably one of the best recipes in terms of effort-to-payoff ratio. It was so delicious, especially when it had just come out of the oven and it made my room smell absolutely amazing for the whole day. Such a nice change from the typical stubborn smell of onion which is literally the bane of my existence. (My “room” is set up in a cordoned off space in the living room with just some screens and curtains so like, you can imagine.)

I brought that cake to our “picnic” later. My friends and I usually picnic on Sunday after fling, but Hui Jie had plans so we bumped it up to Saturday and as our luck would have it, it rained!!!! I was pretty miffed that we didn’t get a senior picnic picture because I’ve instagrammed one every year and was planning to compile them but oh well. We still had fun. We ordered take out and played card games and later all took a nap, haha.

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Here’s a story: we played “heart attack” which is this game where like, once one person in your group has collected all the cards of the same number, they put their hands down in the center of the table and everyone else has to pile all their hands on. Then, the person who “won” gets to try to “slap” everyone’s hands—so you have to try to pull your hands away before they do it. When Hui Jie won a round yesterday, she slapped my hand and for some reason, like a little 5 year-old kid who ruins the big kids’ games, I just started crying from the sting. Like really crying. But also while hysterically laughing at the same time. You could tell even I was very confused by what was happening, lol. But we’re all good and I think it’s something we’re going to laugh about for a long time.

Then, later that evening, May May and I went to watch a show by a student theatre group. They put on The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee which has won a Tony Award for Best Book. It was a fun show! As always, I was blown away by the talent in the cast. They were all such amazing actors and singers. I wish there were more ensemble pieces, songs where the whole cast is singing, because I love those. Last year, I saw the same… group? company? club? (what do you call them?) put on All Shook Up and I ended up listening to the original cast’s recording of the soundtrack for the rest of the semester. This one didn’t have quite as many catchy tunes but I still loved the charming storyline and the fact that the show involved audience participation.

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I was quite sad that that was probably the last Penn student performance I’ll get to watch! And I was fully aware that it was the last performance for some of the seniors in the show/board so watching them all sing The Last Goodbye as they exited the stage was so emotional because it was also a goodbye to their Penn acting careers, to Iron Gate Theatre and all of that. Ahhh. After that, May May and I stopped by Sitar on our way home to get a cup of chai and that was a sweet way to end the night, too. No pun intended because there was definitely no sugar in my drink.

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Drinking chai from my Radiolab mug which I got this week!!

So yeah, today was mostly me chilling in my room (with the exception of a quick trip to the library to return stuff and probably a short walk to get some food later). I also watched Netflix’s Girlboss today, which is based on Sophia Amoruso’s book of the same title and her building of Nasty Gal. You might know that I thoroughly enjoyed her book last summer so I was quite interested in the show—I found that it was somewhat annoying but enjoyable enough to watch in one sitting. I liked the book better but to be fair, I actually shouldn’t make this comparison. The Netflix version does come clean about the fact that it is only a very loose adaptation. However, there are also things in the Netflix version that I liked which weren’t in the book: visuals obviously, but I also appreciated the fact that the show more than passes the Bechdel test (do two women speak to each other about something other than a man?) and that the protagonist is flawed and multi-dimensional.

I also watched The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks!!! Please, please, please watch it when you get the chance! It’s based on a non-fiction book in the same name by Rebecca Skloot. Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951, but her cancer cells were taken and ended up becoming the first cell to “stay alive” and be “grown” outside of a human body. But her identity was secret for a long time; her cells were called HeLa cells and had even been thought to come from a woman named Helen Lane (a white-sounding name, though Henrietta was black). HeLa cells ended up being crucial to the discovery of the Polio vaccine and the development of in vitro fertilisation. It was also important for cancer research. It was even sent to space to study what would happen to humans out there. Patient consent wasn’t required at the time so her family never even knew of Henrietta’s contribution to science, much less were compensated for it or even educated about any of it at all, although a lot of people obviously gained fame and recognition from it. Henrietta’s youngest daughter suffered from anxiety and schizophrenia and a stroke because of all of her worries and confusion and longing for/about her mother.

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Oh, but don’t worry—you learn all of that in like the first 2 minutes or so of the movie so I definitely didn’t give anything away. (Though, if you are interested in the science of this story, I strongly recommend this Radiolab episode about Henrietta Lacks; it’s amazing and includes real life audio from the family and the author, which you don’t get from the movie). The movie was less about the science of her cells, but was more about the humanity of the story. It was a moving story about this family and how they endured this legacy of suffering, and you learn it all along with Rebecca Skloot who’s trying to write a book about Henrietta Lacks. It’s a heartbreaking film about race, ethics in medicine/research and journalism. Plus, Oprah Winfrey’s performance of Deborah Lacks was just amazing. You forget that she’s, you know, Oprah. I really want to read the book now but yeah I’ve definitely said enough about it—just go watch it somehow. If you’re in the US, get a HBO Now free trial! Yes, I want you to watch it that badly! If you’re not convinced, watch Katie Couric interview Rebecca Skloot and Rose Byrne (who plays Skloot in the film). Don’t you just love how I went to an amazing concert this weekend but end up writing the most about a movie?! Haha. Well, I do.

Anyway. I’m gonna go figure out my dinner because I’m getting pretty hungry. I hope you had a wonderful weekend and thanks for reading!

P.S. Hui Jie wanted me to add to last week’s post: she chose the tudung/headscarf that I wore for Sunday’s reading on Penn Monologues. Or rather, more accurately, she (lovingly?) forced me to wear that one because she “missed” it.

When your week starts out strong…

I usually wait until the end of the week to blog but when your week starts out so strong, sometimes you just can’t resist pulling up that blank page on a Monday night.

Ken, Hui Jie and I are in Astronomy together which is kinda fun and kinda not. It’s not fun because I find phases of the moon super difficult to visualise and understand. It’s fun because I get to go through it with my friends—classes are always more fun with friends. Ken got a basketball, some chopsticks and a lamp to act as a makeshift solar system model (basketball was the earth, chopsticks were the earth’s axis and the lamp was the sun). We did our homework. It wasn’t easy. We had to explain why the U.S. experiences winter when Australia is going through summer and had to resist the temptation to say “BECAUSE IT JUST IS?!?!?”. It’s funny how you sometimes can’t explain the things you’ve taken for granted.

They ate some of the ricotta pancakes I made. It feels nice to have people eat the food I make. We sang along to The Last Five Years (one of my fav movies of all time) and dissected Jamie and Cathy’s relationship experiences for parts we found relatable so that was fun. It reminded me of lazy Sunday evenings in my aunty’s living room in Klang with my cousins. I guess these people are kind of like my family now.

Speaking of family, my friends Lisa and Nate are currently in Malaysia as Fulbright Scholars and they’ve both hung out with my family recently. That just makes me so happy and I can’t quite explain why? I like that Lisa and Nate are getting a little taste of my life back home just as I’ve somewhat had a feel for their lives here. I like that my friends are spending time with my parents/aunt. I just like it, it gives me good vibes all around. I hope they’re having a good time and are enjoying my homeland hehe.

This makes me so happy!!

Lisa with my Mak Long in Kuching

Anyway. I had a really good day today as well. I woke up early to go for Professor Pollack’s International Political Economy lecture. I’ve already taken IPE with him so I know it seems strange that I’m attending his classes again but I honestly don’t think I can get bored listening to him explain about Bretton Woods and the Gold Standard and the shift towards Keynesian economics. It feels like re-watching your favourite movie, you know? I can’t wait for the part where he talks about Dispute Settlement in the WTO and the Asian Financial Crisis!!!

After class, I did some reading (still reading The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr) and then Hui Jie and I went to the city for Restaurant Week. Restaurant Week is basically when restaurants offer a selected range of items from their menu for a fixed (cheaper) price so people usually go to try places they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Our birthdays are less than a month apart and since we both weren’t together for our birthdays, I liked today because this was kind like our belated pseudo-celebration. The weather was horrid today and I usually hate getting wet socks on rainy days but I had such a nice time that I didn’t mind.

Best tiramisu ever.

I just got back from Jamie’s. She was telling me about her New York trip while I did some work. I really wanna take a moment here to express how much I appreciate this girl. People always credit their friends for being good listeners but I love Jamie for coming to me to tell me about things, whether it’s the trivial stuff like finding a Chobani Cafe or a sale she’s excited about to the more serious ones that she trusts me with. It means so, so much to me.

Jamie at her desk.

It was the best Monday to have after a great weekend. I went for a morning run, cooked shakshuka, got a white chocolate peppermint drink and binge-watched series 1 of The Missing (watch the trailer!). It was so good. Zoe and Alfie (the vloggers, haha, my guiltiest pleasure) kept recommending it and when I saw that they only had 8 episodes I was like, “eh why not?” and oh my god it was so intense but so riveting. I saw a review that described it as “watching an insect slowly suffocate in a jar” though so maybe it’s not for everyone lol. But I think they say that because the shots are beautiful but the plot line is, again, intense and also emotionally taxing (it’s a show about a missing child, after all).

And while we’re on the note of pop culture/media stuff, might I recommend a few podcast episodes. On the Media, a podcast about media (like how the media covers/does not cover issues, how people react to media etc) ran a series called “Busted: The Poverty Myths” where they explore how poverty has been treated in the media, myths about poverty, and etc. It is just super informative and humanising—I highly recommend it. I also have been following The Truth for a while, but have only recently listened to their episodes. I listened to the one called “Dark End of the Mall” and it honestly blew my mind in a way I didn’t know audio shows could. They’re a fiction show, and their episodes are not serialised so you can listen to any one of them. I’ve only heard a few but I feel like “Dark End of the Mall” stood out as being above the rest. I also love Planet Money and this past week I’ve listened to “Jubilee! (?)” (Iceland “forgiving debts” of some of their citizens), “The Kansas Experiment” (aftermath of a Kansas senator dramatically lowering taxes) and “Don’t Believe the Hype” (about why people hate the Dow). I think some/all of these were reruns of old episodes but Planet Money is full of gold episodes so it’s always worth a listen.

Ok I thought I was going to write about some of the cooking recipes I’ve played with this past week but I’ve gone overboard with this post once again—maybe I should just dedicate a whole new category for weekly cooking posts lol. I just don’t think I’d be able to keep up with that! I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try it out soon.

Until next time ❤