A Night of Pizza and Stars

The week started off nicely. I voluntarily attended Pollack’s lecture in the morning, did some reading, had lunch with Kimmy and then went to the gym in the afternoon. Kim and I took Creative Writing together last Fall and she’s just my favourite little freshman because of how sharp she is. I wish I was half as clever and confident as she is when I was a freshman. She swiped me into a dining hall and it felt surreal to have lunch at Commons and think about how I used to go there all the time. It made me reckon with how long its been since I first got here in 2013.

Freshman enthusiastic about dining hall ice cream.

Later that evening, Hui Jie and I trekked to DRL (this crappy math building on the edge of campus) because, as part of an Astronomy class we’re taking, we had to complete this activity about observing the moon and that’s where the telescopes are. It was pretty cool! I am quite sure that was my first time using a telescope and seeing the moon up close was just breathtaking.

After we did our moon observation, we went to Dock St for my favourite pizza place in West Philly. Hui Jie had never been there before and I was so excited for her to try the pear and brie pizza. We used to have a tradition of getting spinach + mushroom + ricotta pizza delivered, so I proposed going to Dock St for a little bit of an ~upgrade~ haha.

Hence, the title of this blog post, which she coined, by the way:

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How regrettable that there’s proof of me typing “uve”—how lazy must I be?!

Other than that, this week has been rather uneventful. Just the usuals: gym, class, read, eat, sleep. But still, here are 5 of my highlights from the week in unnecessarily rambly paragraphs.

First, I haven’t gotten sore from the gym in the past 2-3 weeks even though I’ve been consistently doing the same things. I literally thought this day would never come. I guess that means I should start doing a little bit more. Hmm. Honestly, that’s what I love most about working out. It really gives you an appreciation for how your mind quits before your body does. Anyone who knows me knows that I am 100% in support of ~listening to yourself~ because that’ll tell you what’s “too much”, but I also think there’s a value in being able to tell that inner voice to just. shut. up.

Obviously, that’s not without boundaries lah kan—I’m not going to be running on the treadmill for at top speed for 2 hours straight in my current state but still, I think it’s such a valuable skill to be able to responsibly set a reasonable target for yourself and then ignore the crap out of the whiny voice tempting you to quit. I was thinking about that yesterday at the gym. Like, when I’m struggling to follow the instructor in a class, I realise I kind of “switch modes” into a “my feelings don’t matter” mental state. It’s just really interesting though, because a) I’m always uncertain about whether or not I’m setting appropriate goals and b) you really have to be cautious/responsible, I think, about sliding in and out of that feeling-less state.

Second highlight is a short one: I told Jamie about some songs on my “at the mo” playlist, which is my condensed playlist of whatever songs I’m currently listening to (and it’s on the sidebar of this site) and she has been playing it non-stop and I love it!!! I love it when people actually like my recommendations.

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She has literally been listening to it the entire time I’ve been writing this post ❤

Third, I have found two new favourite blogs to read right now. One of them is my friend Nate’s, please read it here. Nate is a recent Penn graduate, and I know him because we were in the same Psychology class last Spring. (In fact, I’ve mentioned him on here before, in a post from that semester!) He’s currently a Fulbright scholar in Kampung Gajah, Perak of all places! I absolutely love reading about his day to day life in Malaysia, and getting glimpses of what it’s like to experience my home country as an outsider, particularly because he’s living in a more rural area—something I don’t really have experience with. In one post, he wrote about trying “Maryland chicken” because he’s from Maryland and was curious about it—it cracked me up so much. In another post, he wrote about this whole episode he had with a pothole in some jalan belakang, and his attempt to file a police report about it. I thought it was so funny how well I could relate to all the confusion and frustration he felt despite having never filed a police report myself. He has also repeatedly mentions “Malaysian hospitality” and that really intrigued me because I never really thought about that growing up in Malaysia and part of me wonders what he’s getting at and whether it’s just a product of him being enthralled by a foreign place/culture. Also, Nate is just a fantastic writer; his narration is consistently introspective and entertaining and I’m always looking forward to his next posts.

The other blog I really like is Amal’s. Read it here! I don’t know Amal personally and we’ve never even met—she’s a friend of my friend Nadia and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I came across her blog in the first place but I’m so glad I did. On my blog, I always get caught up writing about whatever I did during the week and whatnot, without ever really putting in the time and effort to focus on one specific thing I’m thinking about or doing and just expand on it, which is what I’d like to do more of. But Amal does that and she does it really well. Her most recent post was all about her nose bleeds and it sounds weird but it was actually really entertaining to read, for some reason. She’s also a lot more open and honest with her posts which makes them so meaningful to me, especially since she is studying in Canada (which has a similar education system to the US) and, based on her posts, is still kind of figuring out what to do with her future (like me) and is trying to navigate where she fits in between the two cultures (also like me). Anyway, here are some of my favourites from her blog: Potonglah Bawang Sikit, about the way us girls are socialised; Pride and Opinions, in which she uses her hatred for mermaid skirts (which I proudly share) to talk about strong opinions in general; and Displaced in Space, where she talks about fitting in, or rather, not fitting in anywhere.

Fourth, it snowed today so Astronomy got cancelled this morning!!! For some reason I haven’t been getting good sleep all week, but this morning, oh god, this morning was bliss. Hui Jie and I usually have lunch together (with Ken, of course!) after Astro but today we went to the Quad to take some pictures. We weren’t even there for very long and yet, she still managed to turn the trip into a snow fight. Granted, I threw the first snowball but I swear, it was only because I could see her putting on her coat, overtly eyeing the pile of snow, haha.

Fifth, I really loved the most recent episodes of The Truth podcast! Their whole thing is that they make “movies for your ears” and I promise you they live up to that lofty promise. The other day, I recommended “Dark End of the Mall”. Today, I’m imploring you to listen to Mirror Lake (it’s the second part of the episode) and to A Drop of the Ocean. I can’t say much without giving it away so just trust me, okay? Listen to it. They blew my mind.

So yeah, like I said, the week was kind of uneventful. 3/5 of my highlights are… on the internet LOL. Anyway, hopefully I’ll have more interesting things to write about next week. Until then, thanks for reading. ❤

On writing

As I run the tail end of my college career, I’ve been spending so much of my time mulling over my relationship with writing. How much I love it, how much it stresses me out, how much it helps me relax, how I don’t feel like I’m good at it or have what it takes to be good at it, how much I absolutely hate it when I know people are reading what I write but also how much I love it when people tell me they relate to something I say. I am not trying to sound like a moody tormented artist here because I’m so not the type but I do genuinely love writing for pleasure in a way I don’t love anything or anyone else because nothing else is as “mine” as writing is to me.

I was talking to my friend Clare on Friday and at one point of the conversation, we talked about Marina Keegan’s posthumously published book, The Opposite of Loneliness (we’re both a huge fan of the book—I highly recommend it). As we spoke, I realise a lot of what makes a good writer lies outside of the act of writing itself, and more in thinking and observations of daily life.

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Joan Didion

This brings me to Joan Didion. I’ve read a couple of Didion’s pieces for my non-fiction writing class and I’m quite enamoured by her. Most recently, I read her piece, On Keeping a Notebook and she talks about something I absolutely love doing: taking notes about random thoughts and observations. I have always asked myself why I do that, because what usually happens is I think of something and I say “oh that’s a good one” and I quickly type it into my Notes app but rarely ever do I go back to my notes and compile them and turn them into anything. They don’t amount to anything, they don’t get read by me or anyone else, and I almost just write them down just to keep them. But why? Why do I do that? In her aforementioned piece, Didion kind of weighs in on that:

Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.

Basically, she’s also saying that she isn’t quite sure why she does it and that it’s an explicable compulsion she has. Then a few paragraphs later, she says:

We are brought up in the ethic that others, any others, all others, are by definition more interesting than ourselves; taught to be diffident, just this side of self-effacing. […] The rest of us are expected, rightly, to affect absorption in other people’s favorite dresses, other people’s trout. And so we do. But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful [reflections]; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.

I know our generation is probably a lot more narcissistic than Didion’s probably was. We are now taught to believe we’re unique and important. But still, I think, there’s a sense that our public lives aren’t meant to feel interesting and special but in private writing, it really can be. And all these random scribbles don’t need to amount to something huge, they don’t need to be a means to an end but an end in itself.

This reminded me of Marina Keegan. Marina was a very recent Yale graduate at the time of her death in 2012. She was poised for a job at The New Yorker. She was and always will be an amazing writer. When she died, I think her parents and one of her professors (I might be wrong about this) got together to compile some of her best pieces which is what became The Opposite of Loneliness, titled after the very popular last piece she wrote for the Yale Daily News (read it here). Anne Fadiman, her first-person writing professor wrote the introduction to her book and in it, Fadiman says Marina applied to her class with this:

About three years ago, I started a list. It began in a marbled notebook but has since evolved inside the walls of my word processor. Interesting stuff. That’s what I call it. I’ll admit it’s become a bit of an addiction. I add to it in class, in the library, before bed, and on trains. It has everything from descriptions of a waiter’s hand gestures, to my cab driver’s eyes, to strange things that happen to me or a way to phrase something. I have 32 single-spaced pages of interesting stuff in my life.

It just comforts me so much to think that I sorta kinda share something with these very established writers. I mean, obviously, I’m no where near there but it’s nice to know that even though I sometimes don’t feel good enough, I have an intention and an inclination that is good and reflective and creative. Of course, I think writers don’t become great writers because they just have talent or creativity. I totally believe the creative life involves as much discipline as anything else does—it also means sitting down at your desk with your laptop or your paper day in, day out—but that much I feel have control over.


More Joan Didion: Here’s What Joan Didion Can Teach You About LifeJoan Didion on Keeping a Notebook.

More Marina Keegan: Remembering Marina KeeganThe Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan.

My Reading List | Summer 2016

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Okay, with a leap of faith, I will risk turning into a listicle blogger with this post… but here goes nothing. I really made it a point to read this holiday because I used to be such an avid reader as a child all the way through sekolah menengah but then college and iPhones happened, and before long I realised I just wasn’t reading anymore. I always had a to-read list, and I even read a book or two throughout college (apart from assigned texts!) but I felt like I had lost that mojo, so to speak and I really wanted it back. And if you know me, you’d know that if I really want something I will go get it. So this summer, I did. All in all, I’ve read 9 books so far which isn’t amazing but I’m happy with it (in comparison, I only read 4 last summer*).

Anyway, here are my 9 books in the order I read them:

Originals, by Adam Grant

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Adam Grant is one of the highest rated professors at Penn. I’ve had the privilege of attending his talks before and it’s not hard to see why—he’s very engaging. That trait of his also comes through in his writing, I think, because I found the book quite hard to put down. Much like Malcolm Gladwell, he writes for the lay man so the book was really easy to read through. That’s saying a lot because reading non-fiction can be quite boring for me.

Originals is about creativity and non-conformity. He talks about how being atypical can be an advantage and also how anyone has what it takes to be creative. I really recommend it because it’s a great book which employs psychological findings to make up well-written essays. Plus, I personally felt quite inspired by it because Originals convinced me that creativity is accessible and not exclusive to inherently talented individuals.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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This is probably one of my favourite books of all time. Americanah is written so beautifully. Maybe I just don’t read enough, but I’ve never read a story that sounds so much like it’s an elaborate poem until I read this one. I wrote about Americanah just after I read it a couple of months ago, and this was the author’s description of the book which I included in that post:

Americanah is about a young woman, Ifemelu, who leaves Nigeria when she’s a teenager, comes to the U.S., spends 13 years and then goes back to Nigeria. And in those 13 years, many things happen. And it’s also about Obinze, who’s her childhood love, who leaves Nigeria to go to the U.K. and who then returns to Nigeria. So for me, it’s a novel about leaving home as much as it is about going back home, and really about what “home” means, and if you can go back home.” (Source: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

If you’ve ever lived away from home or felt like a foreigner, I think there’s so much of this book you can relate to!

Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely

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Ok, I’m gonna be totally honest and say this one was a bit of a pain to go through. It was an insightful book, no doubt, but at that point in time, I had just recently read Originals and… well, Dan Ariely’s writing kind of pales in comparison to Adam Grant’s. It took me quite a while to get through this book, but I did it eventually so it wasn’t that bad. And to be even more honest, part of the reason I found it difficult to read could have even been the fact that the font was so small! So I’m just saying, if you want to read a popular psychology book, this might not be where you want to start.

Anyway, Predictably Irrational is interesting because it challenges a lot of the assumptions of rationality commonly hold. For example, I learned that we tend to overreact to things that are free, that sometimes being paid to do something takes the joy out of it and that we arbitrarily overvalue the things we own just because we own them. Ariely uses psychological experiments and findings to demonstrate these propositions and as a psychology major, it was both cool and boring to read about just because they were really interesting findings but I had already been reading a lot about these kinds of things in class. So make of my review what you will.

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#Girlboss, by Sophia Amoruso

This is another book I also have written about a while ago. Sophia Amoruso is a classic rags to riches kind of story and while that’s certainly not representative of everyone’s journey, her can-do spirit is very contagious and I loved that. She espouses the relatively-cliché mantra, which is: experiment, find something you love to do and work very very very hard at it. I’ve heard it so many times before, but I loved it anyway because she talks a lot about how she was a misfit, how she was under-qualified, how she felt like a fraud, but also how she worked her way through that. And she became successful because of the internet and eBay, things we all have access to. It just really made me feel like the digital age has opened up so much more space for people to be successful with so much less.

Some takeaways I remember are: the ability to persist through something you hate at least for a while and to learn something from that is a skill; your possessions are just “emblems” of hard work which transcends the objects themselves; you need both an idea and the ability/willingness to execute it; take care of the littlest things you do and treat them as “promises to your own future” and have unshakeable confidence. K now go get the book.

Bossypants, by Tina Fey

I’m not really a huge fan of Tina Fey (I’ve never watched 30 Rock or Saturday Night Live), but I do love women who have successful creative careers and can write about it well. I’ve read Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, Mindy Kaling’s two books and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and loved them all, so I thought, why not try this one as well. It’s safe to say that I think Bossypants is the funniest one of all the books in this category, by far. Tina Fey had me laughing alone in restaurants and trains and kept me company many mornings on the commutes to work. It’s not as beautifully written as Lena Dunham’s book and it’s not as inspiring as Sophia Amoruso’s, but it is hilarious.

Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami

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About 3 years ago, I read Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and I’ve been meaning to read another ever since. I finally did this summer when I bought Norwegian Wood. Obviously, I don’t remember much of Kafka on the Shore at this point, but I remember liking that one more. I think Murakami is probably better at the fantastical and mystical. Norwegian Wood was, in contrast to a lot of his other work, more true to real life. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, I just wasn’t in love with it. If anything, I liked how the tone of the book was true to the main character, Toru Watanabe’s, loneliness; it seemed like everything around him was moving so quickly and he wasn’t… he wasn’t really doing anything, and it was like the supporting characters had a lot more agency over him and he was just going through the motions. Or at least that’s how I felt (what do I know?).

Lullabies, by Lang Leav

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In an Instagram post recently, I wrote about how I really wanted to love Lang Leav’s poems. I have seen some of her stuff here and there on Tumblr and etc. so I was really curious, but I was ultimately let down when I realised that her poetry was adorned by this romanticisation of heartbreak and loss. I think that’s a totally valid thing to feel, and I can understand where that comes from but it was hard to read through all of that and feel what she felt. Which could be a good thing for her, because it’s, at least, impressive that how she feels is made so clear through her words.

Yasmin How You Know?, compiled by friends and family of Yasmin Ahmad

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I loved this book. I really did. I’ve been meaning to read it for years now, since my friend Jian Wei recommended it over social media. The book is a compilation of “Yasminisms” as recollected by her friends, family and coworkers. It is made of stories, speeches, quotes, pictures, poems and lots of insight and laughter. She was clearly unique, and yet I related to her quirkiness—like her, with my close friends and family, I also speak in tongues and say weird things. The book reveals how she truly believed her work was just a medium and that all her inspiration came from God. She was humble, giving, bold and just really funny. The book is printed in a “yet to be finished” form. The grey thingy is just a sleeve that encapsulated a very bare book, and I loved that the publishers did it as an homage to her life which ended too soon.

If you’re Malaysian, I strongly recommend this book because it has such a Malaysian spirit and tone to it which I find difficult to put my finger on, but it’s what will keep me returning to this book for a piece of home when I’m away.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

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After seeing this book everywhere in shops and online, I decided to get it last week. Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the famous Eat, Pray, Love but this time, she’s written more of a “self-help” book.

Big Magic is all about overcoming the fear to work with your inspiration and to live creatively. I think a lot of times people get inspired to do things or create things, but we’re paralysed by worries that it won’t work out as well as we want to or we won’t get recognised/paid for it, etc. Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing in Big Magic is like the friend who sits you down and dismantles each and every one of those fears, one at a time, steadily and gently.

In it, Gilbert talks about how she kept her day job because she never expected her creative work to support her financially because it might “burden” her. She also talked about how creative work is as much about discipline as it is about inspiration because inspiration (which she in this book refers to as a magical entity—hence, the title) favours people who are committed to it. As a person who is considering dabbling into the ~creative life~ so to speak, I found this very encouraging and assuring. The things you want to make don’t have to be earth-shaking and groundbreaking, they don’t need to change people’s lives and they don’t even need to be perfect; you just have to keep doing your best at the things you enjoy making.

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And that marks the end of my list!!! Gosh, that was long, it took me 1.5 hours to write this haha. I hope I did at least a decent job at describing the books. I definitely do them no justice at all. I’m like sat here on my bedroom floor flipping through these books trying to remember what they’re all about because some of these I read almost 3 months ago, lol.

My reading list is still pretty long though! In the next few months (hopefully by the end of the semester, if that’s possible) I want to read The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. All three of these books were recommended to me over and over again so I can’t wait to read them and I’m hoping the semester (which, as of now, is already looking hectic) permits me to.


*Last summer, I read Give and Take by Adam Grant, David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, Quiet by Susan Cain and 1984 by George Orwell. I wanted to blog about it but I was like “I’m not gonna create a blog just to write about these 4 books” haha.

Week 13: I Really Like Using Italics

As I write this, I’m taking a break from doing work at Hubbub, my favourite cafe on campus. At the corner of my eye, I can see that the girl sitting at the table next to me is watching a really good episode of The Office and I just wanna slide over and cozy up next to this random stranger and laugh about it with her (like a creep) but luckily for me, I have proper socialisation and know to buckle myself down and keep my eyes on my own laptop screen.

How was your week? I was kind of sick last weekend so I didn’t do much except go to Trader Joe’s and Uniqlo. Their new collection of pants is so awesome (!!!!) but I reigned in my self-control and got only 2 pairs. I had a midterm yesterday which I feel I kind of blew and I was a tad bummed but I was like okay about it. This morning, I thought, maybe I’ll just go see my TA to talk about how I’m doing in the class in general and whether that grade would seriously hurt me. I walk into her office, she asks me “hey, what’s up?” and I just choked. It took me a while to start talking not because I was so upset (I honestly did not feel upset walking into the room, just out of breath from all the stairs leading to her office) but because I was seriously puzzled about why I was at the very brink of tears. Seriously, the whole time, I was like WHAT is going on??????? I have gotten Bs and Cs, my transcript is basically a melange of alphabets and I have always shrugged my shoulders and carried on. Yet, here I was, tearing up about the prospect of getting an A-. You can probably tell I’m still bewildered. But anyway, after a few deep breaths, we talked about my grade. The class won’t be curved so I will have to pull myself up if this goes badly but she doesn’t think it will be too bad.

I am pretty much at the tail end of the semester so the focus is very much on the last few hurdles. Nothing too exciting has happened so I will leave you with some ~pop culture~ recommendations.

  • “Blue Neighbourhood” by Troye Sivan—my favourite tracks are “EASE” and “BLUE”
  • “Binge” by Tyler Oakley—a book you can get as an audiobook for free on Audible.com like I did! It’s so entertaining
  • “Room”—an Oscar-nominated movie, for which Brie Larson won best actress and it’s so riveting
  • Season 28 of The Amazing Race—I know TAR is so like 10 years ago or whatever but I think we all just forgot how fun it is to watch
  • The Commanding Heights—I had to watch this 3-part documentary for a class and it’s super informative and interesting, for anyone interested in economic history (I guess this one is not really pop culture but it is still fun)

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Byeeeeeeee.