Thank you, Philadelphia.

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My first ever Instagram post from Philadelphia (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

#TeamGratitude

Errr, yeah. I just used a hashtag in my title. I have always made a conscious decision not to do that up to this point, but let me explain. My friend Jamie wrote earlier this year on Facebook that she is committing to “using gratitude as her internal compass” and I just absolutely loved that. Ever since then, we’ve been referring to our duo was Team Gratitude, often using it in hashtags like #teamgratitudegoesbaking for that one time we made lemon sugar cookies.

Anyway. What I really wanted to write about is how much I appreciate my friends, Jamie being one of them. Let me first start by saying that if you don’t follow Jamie on Instagram, I think you should. Her pictures are always pretty but it’s the captions that really get me. She posts pictures of walks to classes, trips to New York, restaurant visits… but laced in all of those pictures is always a narrative of discovery, reflection and gratitude. For example, she wrote the following caption here:

“in the moments of stillness and solitude today—including on my walk home on locust—I thought about the deep level of gratitude I have for the people I am fortunate to surround myself with: the ones who are effusive with their appreciation and approval, generous with their time and company, and magnanimous in their acceptance of my shortcomings and flaws.”

I’ve also been lucky enough to be the subject of her posts a couple of times and I guess what I want to say here is that I feel so grateful to have a friend who so freely expresses her gratitude and appreciation of the effort I put into our relationship. It’s something I realised doesn’t come as a given at all, something I absolutely cannot take for granted.

Jamie and I were hanging out in my room last night after she so nicely agreed to come over and help me eat some of my tiny potato gratins. She loved it so much she literally took a picture of it and wanted to post it on Instagram. A little later, I posted something on Facebook and I see that she gets notifications for whenever I publish something. I don’t even know how to fully express how taken aback I was?? I mean, Jamie’s great—she always listens to me without judgement and I think we’re so similar in a lot of ways so I like how easy it is for us to relate to each other but beyond that… I never really pay much thought to being appreciated by anyone (unless it gets to the point where I feel so unappreciated) so seeing her being that interested in me and what I do/say felt really nice. I’ve been seeing her every day for the past few days and honestly, it just makes me so happy every single time.

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Another person I really want to give a huge shoutout to is Clare, who stands as one of the first friends I made at Penn because we were freshman year hallmates. That in and of itself is already a huge thing for me to be grateful for because there’s nothing more comforting to a lost and lonely freshman on a Friday night than another lost and lonely freshman to commiserate with. Apart from that, I would’ve never had the guts to take the creative writing class I took last semester (which ended up being one my favourite experiences/classes at Penn) and never would have heard about the Penn Perspectives lecture series if it wasn’t for her. So there’s also that!

But Clare and I had brunch yesterday morning at South Street and I just, oh my god, it just made me so much more grateful that we were put on the same hall in the Quad over 3 years ago. Clare is an English major and she’s writing her thesis on aspiring journalists who grew up watching Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, which is really cool to hear about. Also, she’s into screenwriting and wants to go into film as a career and I just get really excited every time she talks about what she’s working on and what she wants to do, just like she gets excited listening to me talk about my projects and ideas. She was talking to me yesterday about how she’s trying to internalise the idea that we need to give ourselves more permission instead of barriers to make the things we want to make. I know she said that with the full knowledge that I, like her, often sell myself short. It’s just so invigorating to have a friend who’s ambitious and always growing but who is, at the same time, tugging me along.

Oh, it also is worth noting that I’m deeply thankful for Clare who shares both my sadness over Vine closing down and my enthusiasm for highly-relatable Tumblr quotes.

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Clare, at brunch yesterday looking as cute as ever.
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CLARE AND ME AT A HALL BRUNCH THING IN 2014!!!!!!

This week gave me a lot to be grateful for, truthfully. I’ve been thinking about how it’s not just my friends at Penn who’ve shaped my experiences—I am genuinely grateful to every person who has, even in the littlest ways. Like, on Thursday, after a long 3-hour class, my friends and I took a Lyft over to Center City to go see the Mask and Wig spring show. They’re a musical comedy troupe and their shows are so good. This is the third time I’ve seen one of their shows and it just never disappoints. The script was hilarious, the songs were catchy and the story was heart warming and riveting. The whole time I was watching, I couldn’t help thinking about how these guys are also taking a full course load, looking for jobs and managing all the other extracurriculars they have. I’ve said this before but the amount of talent I’ve seen at Penn will just never fail to blow me away. Sometimes you (or, at least, I) forget what a vibrant campus you’re a part of because you’re so buried in your own workload. Ken, Hui Jie, May May and I had a lot of fun at the show that night and we’re thankful for these experiences.

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This isn’t to say that only my Penn friends deserve praise. I spent a good amount of time on Friday night talking to my friend Nadia on WhatsApp. I’ve been so curious about her job at Nelissa Hilman and I totally respect her decision to not go down the more typical corporate life route despite studying business and being pressured to by her parents. It was so cool to hear her talk about her experience working there and her dreams for the future. I think this is true for most people, but I find it very difficult to not be interested and excited listening to someone who is excited about something they really care about. She was also super supportive of me and my current state of exploration job-wise and it was so heart-warming to see her be so excited to listen to my plans/hopes for my future. It’s just one of those moments when you’re like, this is what we need more of!!! Girls supporting girls and their dreams!!! I. am. all. for. it.

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Ok just look at what a wholesome conversation snippet this is (lol)

Nadia and I have only met like a handful of times really (twice, I think?)—we know each other primarily through Twitter and Instagram over the years I guess, so I have to say, I really appreciate how a virtual relationship can sometimes carry over into a real life one and all the effort it takes from both people for that to happen. Also, Nadia, if you’re reading this, (and I know you are, because you are just the most supportive and just best freakin’ blog reader anyone could ever have in their life lol) I promise I didn’t just write this because you wrote a similar thing on your blog!!! Hahaha. I saw what you wrote and I was like “oh well, guess she beat me to it”.

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The last time I met Nadia in London, over A YEAR ago.

Ok anyway. This is now at least 20 minutes late because it’s already Monday of the next week so I’m sorry and I’ll cut short my sappiness. I know it’s cheesy as hell and probably not that interesting for you to read if you weren’t mentioned here, haha, but over the years I’ve come to realise that some of the things I value highly in relationships don’t always come easy with every person I meet and when I see them in the friendships I do have, I just revel in it.