An infinite set of Russian nesting dolls | Summer 2016

If you follow this space closely (and I don’t know how many actually do, but if lah kan) you would know that I’ve been writing short posts everyday for the past month, about something that makes me happy on each day. It has been an interesting experiment/challenge so far because first and foremost, it is a level up for my discipline muscles—sometimes I’ll be half asleep and remember I haven’t written anything and then I scramble for my phone in the dark to (admittedly, hastily) publish 100 words or so.

Second, it makes me realise that I need public exposure to remain accountable… which I don’t really like about myself. I want to be able to do things I say I will do just because I say I will do them. I know if I told myself to write in my journal once a day, I wouldn’t be as good at keeping it up as I have been on this site because I know no one will see it other than me. Then again, maybe I should be easier on myself and think of this as training wheels, and perhaps I should phrase my earlier statement differently: I have learnt that making things public helps me maintain accountability, as opposed to it being something I depend on. Wah, look at that positive spin. Proud of myself. Tepuk tangan. Hair flip. Ok, enough.

Third is something I’ve realised over the past year since I started this blog: I have been writing in my personal journal less and less because I write so much here and that’s a little annoying because I write so much more personally and honestly in private. But on the flip side, I linger over each word and sentence much less (if at all) when I write in private, which means I don’t confront my writing as much as I do when I write on my blog. Each post on here takes me up to 2 hours to write because I fuss over things and re-read and abuse the “edit” button and re-write until I’m happy. I guess those are just the expected pros and cons, but attempting to balance writing in public and in private has been an interesting thing to work on and I enjoy feeling as though I’m developing myself in a very personal capacity as opposed to only at school/work.

Fourth, doing the 100 Happy Days challenge really has pushed me to see more of the upsides in things which isn’t always easy because our brains tend to bend towards whining and sighing. A girl who reads my blog, Lu (hey, am I saying your name correctly? let me know hehe) told me she heard that completing the 100 Happy Days challenge makes you a happier person and I guess I can see how it helps. It consistently and patiently lays a new brick for building good habits bit by bit everyday. I make a conscious effort to take more pictures of little happy things throughout the day to help me document and remember.

Fifth, it has forced me to confront the fact that I love writing for pleasure and could do it everyday. I previously didn’t really like saying that because I personally feel like writing comes with a responsibility to write well and… well, that’s pressure and who likes pressure? But writing everyday means that these days, I’m always “writing” on some level—most times in my head. I’m always scribbling one liners and stand-alone paragraphs which read out like they were plucked out from a longer piece in my head waiting to be birthed.

Which brings me to what I think I want to say, which is… lately (and when I say lately, I mean for the past 8 months or so) I have this constant craving for creating content. I feel like there is a book in my head, a talk show in my mouth, I feel like I see photographs waiting to be taken whenever I look around. I don’t want to sound like Kanye West on a Twitter spree claiming he’s a genius who Mark Zuckerberg should start investing in; God knows I do not share his hubris. I just can’t help but to marvel at everything: every story, every conversation, every view, every person and then feel compelled to reach for a pen, a camera and turn it into something….

…And right there’s my problem. I want to turn the things I see into something else except, what is that something? And how do I do it? How do you live in the suffocating space between feeling so inspired and so unskilled? And more importantly… why do I feel like I should/could do something, anything? Like, who do I think I am anyway, right? But then again, why not me? Isn’t that the beauty of it all; that anyone can do it? Questions reveal themselves like an infinite set of Russian nesting dolls.

For now, all I can say is that I crave creating things pretty much the same way I crave buttercream frosting on cake when I’m on a diet and the same way I pine for a cold bowl of cendol on a hot sunny Philadelphia day. I think about it when I wake up and sometimes it keeps me up at night because it feels like a sum of all the times I’m thinking of a word that’s at the tip of my tongue but can’t quite put my finger on it. To somewhat satisfy my cravings, I’ve been scouring the internet for blogs, photo essays, vlogs. It helps keep me inspired, I think. It makes me so happy to see other people creating things, materialising ideas and making (what I consider) art*. Accessible, relevant, meaningful art.

I’m sorry this post was so boring. I’m just thinking out loud and didn’t even know this post would end up here… I didn’t really think it through. Actually, I’m not sorry. Why should I be sorry? This is my site, I can do whatever I want. Wait no, actually, I am sorry, I took on the responsibility to make this site something I and other people will find meaningful and I don’t think I’m living up to that.. and now I’m doubly sorry for over-thinking out loud and for being annoying. Or maybe I’m not sorry, because everyone goes back and forth like this too and maybe you relate? I DON’T KNOW. BYE.

(I’m okay, I promise. Haha.)


*A side note: I think it’s possible that everyone creates “art” in one form or another and you may disagree, but I urge you to realise the complexity that lies in everything we externalise: from professional portraits to Instagram selfies, from poetry to Facebook statuses. I mean, let’s not get too philosophical here, but whether you realise it or not, each of those things and everything in between comprises of like a gazillion choices made either consciously or subconsciously. I am always so amazed by how a bunch of ideas and choices (lighting, composition, word choice, tone, length, size etc) make up a whole greater than a sum of its parts.

Oscillating | Summer 2016

I don’t really know what to write about this week, honestly! I’ve been doing the 100 Happy Days challenge, writing about one thing a day, and I feel like it’s now a little more challenging to find things to write about but I guess that makes things a little more interesting.

I’m at the office as I’m writing this because I think I have like a free hour or so… (although chances are, I probably have more than that). I just experienced something insanely odd. Okay, maybe not that odd but it felt really weird still. All of last week, I was working on a slide deck for someone here and I thought it was crap. I would literally hover over my laptop so that no one would see just what crap I was up to. Like, no joke, my back hurts. But today, I went over my work with her and she told me it was “excellent” and that I had “flare” and trusttttt me, I was so confused. I am half expecting her to come back to me changing her mind, and half hoping she doesn’t.

This is such a classic impostor syndrome situation, which I wrote about in length last week… feeling like you’re doing an awful job but you have to conceal it because if anyone finds out, you’ll be outed as a fraud. It’s also annoying, I guess. I really don’t like feeling like I’m not assessing myself accurately and being unsure about whether or not that is true.

But I’m working on it, right. Learning to just take it all in stride. I’m learning that nothing SO BAD can happen to me here at work or in school by doing a “crappy job.” And like all of us, I’m definitely also learning about myself, about playing by my strengths and managing my weaknesses. Yeah, cheesy stuff, I know. Whatever. This might be common knowledge but for example, I’ve learned that I can really only work with people once I’ve established a connection with them on some level… whether it’s by asking them about their weekend, or cracking a joke, I kinda need to feel like they’re my friend before I can really feel comfortable working with them. Some people are easier to get on with than others, but I think, or I want to believe, there’s always a way to like make things work with anyone.

It’s kinda funny to think about how stark the difference in my tone is between this week and the last but I wouldn’t be doing myself justice if I didn’t showcase how my emotional state oscillates all the time. In part, I’m feeling a little bit more on the up side of the curve because I’ve spent a lot of  time on my recent commutes reading #Girlboss, by Sophia Amoruso. It’s been in like all the MPHs I’ve been to this summer. Then, I came across a quote by her on Forbes. I also stumbled upon her podcast because she interviewed Grace Helbig (who I also love and have been a fan of for a few years!). She was everywhere and I felt like the ~universe~ was bugging me to read it, so I bought it despite being severely unamused by the hashtag in the title. Not only has it been a super easy read, it’s a really fun one too. She talks a lot about how she built up NastyGal.com by playing to her strengths and (cue some very Disney background music) believing in herself. It’s trite. Sure, I’ll give you that. But it was still really helpful and more importantly, assuring. And I know it’s a good book when I furiously reach for my journal to scribble down some of my favourite excerpts.

“I often wondered, Was this a choice? Because it sure as hell doesn’t always feel like it. But I did choose it—even if growing a huge business was never my singular goal, every small choice that I made along the way was something that contributed to where I am now. Every time I got up in the morning instead of saying “screw it” and sleeping in, every time I spent a few extra minutes on a product description to make it perfect, I was choosing my fate and sowing the seeds of my future.”

Sophia Amoruso, #Girlboss

And it’s the little (trite) things like this that chips away at my “impostor syndrome.” That is progress, however small. It’s worth mentioning that this progress can always be undone, and so many times it has been. Sometimes I take one step forward and then take three steps back, but sometimes I’d take a couple of steps back and then ten strides ahead. That’s just all part of the process, and remembering that makes the lows not feel so bad and the highs not get to my head.

Impostor | Summer 2016

There is a specific part of my Penn interview I can recall very clearly, and that is because I think about it all the time. My interviewer was a Penn alum, an American living in Malaysia. He worked at the U.S. Embassy in KL. We sat across each other by the window of Starbucks in Great Eastern Mall. I wore a yellow cardigan from Primark, and I had an iced green tea latte.

I can’t remember much. It was a decent, relaxed conversation. Nothing too exciting or stressful. I don’t know if this was usual of Penn admission interviews, but I would compare it to small talk at a family gathering. We talked about what I did in the time between completing my A Levels and getting into college. We talked about what I did for fun. We talked about why I wanted to go to Penn and what my parents do for a living.

This, I remember so clearly.

I told him my dad does corporate training and consulting–or something like that. He asked who my dad does training for. Among others, I mentioned Bank Negara. Now, looking back, I question the validity of this memory a little, but as I remember it, his expression kind of changed. He said, “Oh! The governor, Zeti Aziz, went to Wharton, didn’t she?”

And then I feel like the conversation got a lot better. It wasn’t necessarily bad before, but I just feel like it got better. So, when I found out I got into Penn, I attributed it to the fact that a) MARA was paying full tuition for me, b) I had a good interview and c) diversity.

I know this is a long-winded story, but bear with me. The thing about those facts is that I know I could get a MARA convertible loan because I have bumiputera status and I felt I had a good interview because I have an insanely loose association with Zeti Aziz, Wharton-grad and Bank Negara Governor extraordinaire. So I always felt like I got into Penn by slipping through some crack. I honestly still do, all the time. I feel like I’m an impostor. A fraud.

I think some people name drop Penn often, because it’s like spraying perfume in public, hoping everyone gets a whiff of the prestige that comes with an Ivy League institution. But while I am definitely proud of it, I feel like I don’t deserve it at all and am just free riding on the positive connotations that come with it.

Today at work, my supervisor introduced me to another guy who had spent a significant amount of time in North America, and is familiar with Penn and its reputation. My boss said, “Nur Dayana goes to UPenn” and the other guy turns immediately, saying “oh, so you’re really smart!”

Me, in my head: ughhh craaapppp.

I do not like it when people expect me to be smart because I really don’t think I am, and I haven’t thought of myself as smart in ages. I think of myself as lucky. Just extraordinarily lucky for a prolonged period of time.

I got through secondary school with good grades because the Malaysian education has an oversimplified syllabus. I made it through A Levels because my teachers spoon-fed me and held my hand through it all. I got into Penn because of all of these reasons and I mentioned the governor in my interview. I got my positions in clubs and organisations on campus because those interviews and applications are kind of a joke. I got all my internships because my dad knew someone who knew someone. Stroke after stroke of luck.

The thing about this is that I’ve spent years watching my back, hoping no one realizes I have made it this far by a little act of miracle. Don’t get me wrong: I believe that God is the best of planners and I’m not really questioning my fate, if that makes sense. I just sometimes feel I am in places far, far, far beyond where I think I deserve to be and I’m scared people will find out and be frustrated with or angry at me. What’s more, I even feel guilty for “taking” this opportunity from someone who might have deserved it more and then not making the most of my chance.

When I wasn’t sure if I could handle an intro level literature class in sophomore spring, I spoke to Professor Esty about it and he quickly dismissed my fears saying that if I got into Penn, I could surely handle the class… but I thought, “ok, clearly he doesn’t know that in school we read a less-than-a-hundred page version of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ with large font and pictures.” If someone compliments me for doing a good job, I sometimes think “someone could have sneezed and accidentally done a better job than I did.” When someone uses an acronym I don’t know, I take a mental note of it and Google it later instead of just coming straight out and asking them what the hell they are talking about. I try to only make phone calls in private, because I am scared that someone will notice how inarticulate and incoherent I am when I speak. I also go to the bathroom or walk past someone’s desk or office 5 times before I have the guts to go in because I am scared they’ll get annoyed that I have a question to ask. I have pretty much stopped putting myself out there and volunteering myself for tasks because I think even my offer to try would be an over-promise preceding an under-delivery. When someone complains about how badly they’re doing in a class I just sigh and go like “oh yeah I know how that feels” but in my mind, I am one-upping them going, “wow if you knew how dumb am…”

So I feel like I’m hiding so much all the time. I’ve spent way too much time with a racing heart, sweaty palms and a straight face to keep the anxiety undercover. Because I go to Penn. I’m supposed to know all of this and I’m supposed to act like it. And if I don’t, I know (I just know) they’ll be thinking “wow how did she get into Penn?”

Anyway, I’ve just been thinking about all of this lately because I’m at my third internship this summer and every year, I have to deal with this “impostor syndrome” all over again. This happens all the time. In every internship. In every class. Someone gives me instructions and I think I understand until I try to do it and realise I have no clue. So after some convincing myself, I go and ask for clarification and when they seem remotely annoyed or disappointed, I immediately retract and abort mission, thinking “Oh no. They’re onto me. They’re going to find out I’m a fraud. Run.

“[The impostor syndrome is] always waiting for the other shoe to drop. You feel as if you’ve flown under the radar, been lucky or that they just like you. If you dismiss your accomplishments and abilities, you’re left with one conclusion: That you’ve fooled them.”

Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women

Because I’ve dealt with this for so long, I have gotten so used to the impulse to run away (side note: this is one of the reasons why Princess Diaries is like, my all time favourite movie). I have gotten so used to wanting to run away from things that make me anxious that over time, I’ve stopped even approaching big things. “What’s the point?” I would think, “why try?”

I don’t know if I’ve written about this, but last December, I was at Heathrow Airport, queueing in line at immigration. If you’ve never been to Heathrow, the immigration queue is usually super long so they need a lot of immigration counters. They have so many counters that you might not be able to see which ones are free even from the front of the line. When I was there, it was fairly busy, so one lady stood at the front of the queue. Her job was to monitor the counters and direct people to the open ones. I saw her and I was like “now that’s a job I can do.”

You see, during this time, I was applying for a consulting internship and I felt super intimidated and discouraged by it. I didn’t really know how to do case interviews, I didn’t think I had what it would take. And as I so often have, I just craved to do something I already knew how to do.

Somehow, over time, I’ve begun to raise my hand less, retreating further into my comfort zone. People always ask me what I’ve gotten out of Penn and I don’t really know yet, but I think I’ve lost barrels of confidence. And it’s not just confidence. Lack of confidence was when I was in school and maybe I knew the answer but might not have wanted to say it. This is… I know that I don’t know anything. Or at least I think I know that I don’t know? I am never sure.

The other distressing thing is feeling like I’ve lost the ability to accurately assess myself and getting used to staying silent, so much so that I don’t like the sound of my voice in open spaces, the sound of my footsteps in quiet places… almost like I’m trying so hard to hide that I am aspiring to be invisible.

Recently, I took a test of the Impostor Syndrome and scored 83% which “means the respondent often has intense [Impostor Phenomenon] experiences” and I was just like “hahahaha yep pretty much.” But I myself will be the first to recognise how that is so deeply problematic. Trust me, I know, I truly know, that I can’t always just do things I already know how to do. I mean, I totally could. That’s easy. But I guess I’d never learn anything new, which I shouldn’t be and am not okay with. All of this just means I need to reconcile my fear and my ambition, and not run even when I am scared (unless there’s a cat, in which case, I will always run by all means).

And I don’t mean to scare anyone going abroad to study, starting a new job, trying new things or anything like that. Because I think if we know we think these things and feel this way, we can at least do something about it. It’s hard, of course. But I am a firm believer of consistently taking baby steps. With that said, I think I’ve gotten a little better at managing this feeling. And if you’ve felt this way, maybe you could tell me how you deal with it (or we could just talk about how much it sucks together) but I’ve done some of these things:

  1. I ask myself, “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” and I would sometimes go so far as to imagine that someone gets so mad at me for being so incompetent that they shout at me until I cry, and I don’t know, let’s say they’ll slap me (worst case scenario! Not that I know anyone who is actually that mean-spirited). And then maybe things will be awkward for a while. My face would hurt, I guess. But I will, ultimately, live through it, eventually gain distance from it and inevitably learn from it or laugh about it.
  2. I notice that I don’t pay much attention to other people talking on the phone, to their footsteps, or what they’re working on on their computers and I remind myself that unless I’m working directly for someone, most other people do not pay attention to anything I’m doing.
  3. I write down any thought that helps me. For example, this morning I read: “Half of getting there is having the confidence to show up and keep showing up.” It was one of those cheesy quotes on the advert page that shows up for 5 seconds when you get to Forbes.com, haha.
  4. I talk to friends about it! I usually talk about these things to friends who I know would understand how I feel and would just let me talk, listen to me without necessarily trying to meddle and fix things because that’s the kind of environment I need. Knowing what kind of support you like is good.

I mean, these are just things at the top of my head. I’m sure there are many ways to deal with it, to tackle the problem on a more fundamental level. I feel like I’ll regret talking about this so openly because I think people are not going to believe me, think I’m exaggerating (*rolls eyes*) or try to help me in ways I don’t want but I also think many other people feel this way and this could make you feel less alone, just like many other women, for example, Sheryl Sandberg and Julie Zhuo have for me. When, almost two years ago, I first heard Sheryl Sandberg talk about the impostor syndrome in her book, Lean In, I honestly could not believe I wasn’t alone. So even though there are a billion articles about this, I insist on writing another.

I don’t want to ramble on for much longer, but I want to add just one more thing to that list above. The most important thing I do for myself is to, by my own volition, recognise and celebrate small victories. It doesn’t really help when someone says “Hey look! You did that thing well!” because I find it so difficult to believe them. I have to practice spotting them myself, no matter how small.

During my first internship, I was so timid and afraid that I made minimal trips to the bathroom and never went to the pantry to even get myself a cup of water. But today, I got up, went to the pantry and made myself a cup of tea. That involves boiling water, getting a mug (this is usually nerve-wracking because I don’t want to be judged by my choice of mug, or take someone’s usual mug. It sounds crazy, but I kid you not), getting a tea bag, ripping a packet of sugar, stirring and then carry it back to my desk. Do you know how much sound that involves? For someone who kinda enjoys being invisible, I felt like this was a feat and I am so happy about it.

Consistently taking baby steps.

Week 11: Rejuvenation

If you’re reading this, I hope you’ve had a good week. 🙂

I had a great time last week. I was invited to attend Penn’s Women of Colour luncheon last Friday. It was really encouraging to see that Penn had an event like this, celebrating accomplishments of coloured women and acknowledging the efforts being made in bettering the lives of our communities.

There were speeches by Hispanic, Asian, African American and Native students. They were pretty good but I didn’t have my pen and journal with me, so I could only sneakily type brief snippets of notes on my phone. This is a tidied-up version, if you care for it:

  • There’s a Mayan saying that goes, “I am the other you” which speaks to how when you respect/love/care for me, you’re also caring about yourself and vice versa
  • It doesn’t matter where you are, there is something you can do for your community
  • Many people have created legacies of creating something from nothing
  • You can affect change in the hearts and minds of others when you feel empowered
  • Be the voice for people with a silenced history

It’s kind of cheesy I guess, and if you’re not “into” this sort of things, I can see how you think it is. But as I firmly believe, there is nothing bad about being able to see beauty in and draw inspiration from the cheesy things.

I also am part of a team that organised a dialogue event last week. We talked about the experience of minorities in college and the conversation touched on quite a number of things: the process of getting into college and what factors play a part in that, opinions on affirmative action, how easy/difficult the college experience can be depending on the background you come from, etc. How it works is that usually, 2-3 people would moderate the discussion by asking open-ended questions and people chime in with their experiences and opinions. I can’t and won’t say much because I respect that space so much and would not talk so openly about what people shared with everyone in the room that day. But what I appreciate about these events is when people warmly open up to share their stories, I think they provide empathy and strength to people listening without even realising it and to me, that’s such a generous act. On the other end, when people thoughtfully listen to others, it’s a sign of respect/solidarity somewhat (?) and I think that’s just really cool.

There were over 50 people at the Pan Asian American Community House 🙂

It really warmed my heart to see the room fill up with people ready to engage by sharing their stories and listen to other people talk about their experiences. Despite being on the team that does research on the topic, comes up with the questions and has a run through of the discussion before the event, I always learn so much from everyone and I always find it a, for lack of a better word at the moment, rejuvenating experience and I am so glad to be a part of this.

Another cool thing that happened this week was I got to meet Omi Vaidya! If that name doesn’t ring a bell, he played Chatur Ramalingam “The Silencer” in Aamir Khan’s Bollywood film, 3 Idiots. He was speaking at Penn as part of the South Asian Society’s Symposium for the Awareness of South Asian Issues. He mentioned how great it was to work on 3 Idiots. He also talked about his experience being on The Office. But mostly he spoke about being South Asian in America; about coping with discrimination/bullying in a constructive way, how being Indian American meant that he felt he belonged in neither India nor America and how he navigated a discovery of his identity. He also spoke briefly about how he plans to use his craft to tell important stories about people in his community. Currently, he wants to produce a movie about Dalip Singh Saund to tell the story of the first Asian American member of the U.S. Congress. I am so grateful to have been able to meet him. He was warm and funny in person, and I just had a great time.

So yeah, this week has been pretty good for me. My sister has been in town since the weekend! We’ve just been going around campus, watching TV, baking, cooking, shopping and making short excursions in the nearby area because I have classes this week. This is the reason I had to do so much work during spring break! Because I just have done so little work this week, since I just wanna go out and enjoy myself now that my sister is here. We are heading up to New York City tomorrow and I’m really excited about that, so I’ll write all about it next week 🙂 until then!

Week 10: “Birds Don’t Just Fly, They Fall Down and Get Up”

The title quote is from a line in Shakira’s song Try Everything, which is on the soundtrack of Zootopia. This line made it into my journal because I love finding inspiration from pop songs which are usually thought of as being vapid and built on trite lyrics. I think it’s cool to find awe in little things.

It got me thinking about how we always say things and underestimate the effect it has on people. Like for example, while I was cooking lunch earlier, I found myself laughing because I suddenly remembered an old funny story told by one of my parents’ friends. Yesterday, I saw a quote in a dorm hallway that literally just said “enjoy every sunset, look forward to every sunrise” and I thought oh my god that’s beautiful because really every dark night is just an intermission between beautiful sunsets and sunrises.

I don’t think the RA who put the quote up meant for it to be so deep or to be interpreted too much, it was just a beach-themed dorm floor but he/she gave me a nice thought. I don’t think my parents’ friend (whose name I can’t even remember) thought his story would continue to occasionally make me laugh for the next 10+ years, but it really does. I don’t know what my point is here exactly… I guess, they don’t see how the little things they did would have an effect (and in this case, a good one) on someone like me, and it’s just a little reminder for me to always put good things out there in the world because you don’t know who it’ll reach and in what ways. 🙂

Anyway, moving on from my sappy life-lessony musings, today has been the first day back to classes after nine beautiful, blissful and restful days. I’ll admit my limbs felt a little heavier today getting out of bed. It didn’t help that we just started daylight savings and it was raining outside. As Professor Cole said this morning, “it’s quite a cruel combination.” Nevertheless, everything will be okay. I’ve hit the halfway mark of what seems to be a marathon of a semester, I finally secured a summer job (!!!!!) and I’m well ahead in terms of my workload.

Ahhh, but break was so good, you guys. I didn’t even leave Philadelphia for any part of it. My break was mostly spent working out daily, cleaning the apartment and doing 1.5-weeks worth of work.

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Thanks to May May for lending me her home workout equipment so I could do Barre at home!

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Hundddddreds of pages of readings…

But, of course, the funnest part for me was experimenting in the kitchen!!!

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Ingredients for my smoothie.

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This is what you get when you save pictures from Snapchat: blurry pictures.

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Spicy tuna. Emphasis on spicy.

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My tuna salad and raspberry/blueberry smoothie.

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Cucur udang/ikan bilis 😀

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Cod marinated with lime and coriander overnight.

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Pan-frying them with onions and tomatoes.

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It doesn’t look great but it tasted pretty good!

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Buttered rice with lime and coriander.

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Coriander with tomatoes and onions. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, I was trying to use up a huge bunch of coriander because I didn’t want to waste them!)

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All together!

I also managed to spend time with some friends and walk into the city when I got restless 🙂

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Finally made a trip to Bluestone Lane.

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The interior is super homey.

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Flat whites >>

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Because the coffee cup fit my colour scheme.

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Stumbling across a playground on the walk home from the city.

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Joanna and I watched Zootopia together – it was a great movie and so much fun, go watch it!!

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Found a balcony to look over the city (outside the trash room LOL).

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Brunched with Claire. The fruit with honey and granola was so good.

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Warmer weather necessitates popsicles, and popsicles necessitate selfies.

Okay, I think that was probably the most number of pictures I’ve included in one post so far. But yeah, I’m actually quite pleased with how I spent my break. It was productive and healthy and I had fun. It makes me feel more like I am the person I want to be. But really the reason I stayed in is my sister is visiting me next week!!! That’s mostly why I needed to get work out of the way. I’m really excited to have family around and for the trip we’re going to take 🙂 5 and a half days to go!

Until then. ❤

Once All The Dust Has Cleared / The Whole Is Greater Than All Of Its Parts

One of my goals last Fall was to keep this blog running throughout the 16 weeks of the semester, and I’m so glad I did it. I think those 16 weeks were better because every week I forced myself to regroup and take a step back from it all to tell you about it. It helped me gained distance and perspective quicker and at the same time keep track of my progress. I am writing now at the tail end of winter break because I kind of want to have closure on the last semester now that it has disappeared in my rearview mirror.

I think we all get so caught up in the semester that it can be tough to realise what’s going on until it’s all kind of settled, or like one of the Political Science TAs said, it’s hard to appreciate what we’ve learned until all the dust has cleared.

Now that I’ve gotten all my grades, had a chance to talk to family and friends about my semester and go over my past 16 posts, I’m starting to see how junior fall has been the best semester I’ve had at Penn. I’m not sure why. It could be that this was the easiest course load I’ve had since freshman fall, that I’ve made some of the best friendships of my life, that I love my off-campus living arrangement this year, that I’ve gotten more used to being at Penn… but most likely it is some combination of all of the above.

At the start of the semester I wrote about what a struggle it can be to feel comfortable and at home at Penn. Yet, here I am, on a warm afternoon in my house in Malaysia, basking in the irony of the fact that I am living out of a suitcase (3 suitcases actually, haha). This will always be home to me, but finding my closet empty and not having my own set of house keys forces me to appreciate the fact that this in-limbo period of my life is one of the braver things I’ve done. Sure, that will be hard to remember when I’m on the 20-hour journey to Philadelphia, eyes swollen from tears and arid from cabin air, but I know I have the resilience to continue doing things that scare me.

If I learned one thing this semester, it is that some of the scariest things I dare to undertake are the most rewarding. I wage wars in my head between feeling incapable and worrying that I am wasting whatever potential I have. The ability and the will to break down the things that scare me and go at them one piece at a time is the peace-deal that I feel assuages and reconciles both sides. This semester my little pieces have appeared in the form of one midterm in a 16-week course, one cover letter in a series of job applications, one box in a crossword puzzle, one push-up at the gym and so many more. Yeah, I know, it’s insanely cheesy but all of these daily life things just now seem so rewarding… and it’s not because I get the grade or the position or the job or whatever the “prize” is at the end (because God knows a lot of times I don’t win) but it’s rewarding to know that I have what it takes to push through.

Spring ’16 is going to be tougher, but I’m going to start a new semester all over again one day and one week at a time–thinking about the course load, goals and responsibilities I have ahead of me makes me chuckle a little in sheer nervousness because I honestly can’t wait to see how I make it through this one and, if you still want to listen, tell you about all the little pieces on the way.

Week 16: Finals

I’m so thankful to be in such good health this finals season. Last semester, I had a wisdom tooth extraction around this time and it was awful. Also, last weekend, I had such a terrible cold. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to study properly for finals what with being sick and all, but I’m all good now, alhamdulillah. On Friday night, I slept for like 14 hours. It was insane, even I couldn’t believe how tired and sick I was.

But my friends were so great to me while I wasn’t feeling well!! Hui Jie got me cough drops and kept me company at home. Cristina also came by with a wonderful care package consisting of flowers, honey, lemon and camomile tea.

These were such a delight to have when I was sick.

So yeah. I can hardly believe we’re at the end of the semester! There were definitely times where the semester seemed to be endless. Yet, here we are. My last day of classes for the Fall semester was yesterday, and it’s officially finals season. We have Wednesday and Thursday off for what we call “reading days”—time to prepare for final exams—and finals start on Friday.

It’s been pretty busy, I guess. Nothing really interesting has happened. Regular end of the year stuff, like for example, a lot of the club boards are turning over during this time. The board for the dialogue group I’ve mentioned before, Sangam, just ended our “term” or whatever you call it. I decided to reapply, so I’m still going to be doing that next semester 🙂 the outgoing and incoming boards got to meet last week, and we made posters for the newbies! I’m a little sad that I’ll no longer be working with the old board. Andrew was such a good president and I think he leaves big shoes to fill. However, I’m also excited to work with the new board – they all seem really wonderful and I’m genuinely excited to get to know them better over the next year.

Also, this time of year means people are starting to look for summer internships. Eek. I needed to write a cover letter for an application this past week and it was so difficult. I had to like… talk about what I’m good at… and why they should pick me… when I honestly don’t think I’m good at anything and don’t know why they should pick me.

It’s just really frustrating to feel like I don’t have a selling point despite being at a good university. It’s also frustrating because I’m not sure if that’s the problem or if the problem is that I don’t know how to see myself in a good light. There are definitely moments when I wonder if I’ve spent my whole life pushing myself by being too harsh, to the point that I don’t even know how to objectively evaluate myself anymore.

Sitting at the coffee shop trying to write the cover letter was kinda agonising. It made me want to change my mind and not apply at all, because why bother? But then I remembered how I’ve always believed that courage is deliberate, not the default. So I decided I’m going to go ahead with it anyway because I can’t just stick to doing things I’m already comfortable doing and I need to actively be exercising bravery.

On a lighter note, however (!) I bought a new pair of ~girlfriend~ jeans during the sales on Thanksgiving weekend and they just got in a few days ago. I absolutely love them!

I wore them today to the Tea House event. Four of the cultural groups at Penn (Malaysians at Penn, Chinese Students’ Associations, Hong Kong Student Association and South Asia Society) came together to have a tea-themed “study break” where people could stop by and take a break from studying to drink tea, meet new people etc. It was really fun because I got to meet some friends I haven’t seen in a while and lots of new people. I also met two freshman girls who are actually half Malaysian! They were really sweet and I was really happy that they stopped by–I can’t believe I hadn’t met them before today.

Meerie, one of the girls I met today, making teh tarik with our makeshift teh tarik kit, haha.

So that was my week! Largely uneventful, but still a good one. Guess I have to quit procrastinating and get started studying now 😦 bye for now until next semester!