Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas, Poems (or so I think), Random Stuff

That Didn’t Feel Like 9 Months

It was a blink of an eye, an endless eternity

It was an journey that stretched infinitely into the horizon

It was more life lived in nine months than in nineteen years

And bipolar weather bringing ghastly winds

It was cornfields and soybeans

Peppered with concrete, mortar, reused paper and wooden swords

It was the musty smell of running women

And grunting men pulling their weight in iron

It was 5km in 35 minutes for the first time in a lifetime

It was finding out that three hours of sleep sufficed

And that 3D modeling meant more than a bath

It was AMIRA and Gaussian and Otsu and thresholds

And that there is so, so much more left to learn

It was the sheer excitement at imagining a machine poop cement

Coupled with the “Oh my God, maybe I’d get to make it”

It was starting off on stumbling feet

–  Ah, dammit, I am still stumbling –

Most of all it was, is, and always will be

The freedom, the liberation, and the bittersweet sensation

Of knowing that you are where you’re supposed to be

9,250 miles away from where you left your heart.

 

Posted in Learning Curve, Random Stuff

Prove the following equation: Lillian = Malaysian

The story begins with an agonizingly slow day at the bookstore. The only thing there was to do at the cashier was nothing, so my friend and I decided that talking might be better than staring dolefully at the entrance, praying that some Good Samaritan might waltz in and buy something – anything – so that we’d have something to do.

“Are you celebrating Chinese New Year?” I asked her. The season was upon us at the time, and I was gleefully anticipating the excuse to overeat at a fancy dinner.

“Not really.” I was a little surprised, because she’s from China, but apparently the celebration isn’t a big thing in her family. “Are you?”

And that began my 15-minute-long soliloquy on all celebrations Chinese, including a brief description of my favorite mooncake flavor, durian.

It was her turn to be surprised. “You celebrate all that?” she asked. “But you’re Malaysian.”

Whoa, okay.

And that wasn’t the last time, either. I sat down about a week ago, when my RA approached me to discuss social identities as part of her duty to get to know all the people on our floor. She asked for my ethnicity. I told her I was Chinese.

“But aren’t you Malaysian?”

Akak, banyak cantiklah lu. Ini Cina punya orang mata sepet boleh nampak hidung penyek pun ada, pelat semua lengkap ada, rojak punya bahasa pun ada, lu mahu apa lagi.

Namun demikian, beginilah persepsi masyarakat Amerika terhadap diriku yang OCBC (orang Cina bukan Cina).

So back to the topic at hand. It seems that people were under the impression that ‘Malaysian’ was an ethnicity. And I won’t deny that I felt a slight twinge of pride when they first identified me as Malaysian. But that brings me to my next topic.

She asked me, “What do you identify most as?”

I gave it a couple of seconds’ thought. “Malaysian-Chinese, I guess.”

“Why?”

That was when my neurons started firing. I had never given it much thought before, but I had somehow always identified myself as Malaysian-Chinese. What else was there? The first time I’d gone to the US, I told people I was Malaysian, because the Chinese part seemed obvious. Besides, ‘Chinese’ is a pretty broad term, like calling a German ‘Caucasian’. I always wanted to reinforce that I was Malaysian, though.

BUT WHY LAH.

“Probably because I feel like I have to constantly prove that I’m Malaysian,” I replied.

I learnt that my ancestors immigrated to Tanah Melayu all those years ago for some reason now lost to the annals of history. Don’t remember when, don’t remember how. Later on I discovered that I had different rights from some of my friends, because I was ‘Non-Bumiputra’. That term didn’t make much sense to me back then. All I knew was that ‘putra’ meant prince, and non-bumiputra probably meant that I wasn’t royalty or something. And sometimes I’d read articles in which A would tell B to ‘balik (insert country here)’, ensuing chaos and another unproductive debate on the state of racial and social justice in our country. But it all didn’t mean much to me until something like this conversation happened:

Friend: I hope things don’t get too bad in our country.

Me: Yeah, afterwards we all go down the drain weih.

Friend: Ah, you don’t have to worry. You can go back to China anytime.

She probably meant well, and didn’t know the impact of her words, but at the time my brain was struggling to juggle the sudden deluge of indignation, frustration, and sadness. All I could manage in the end was a nervous, “Hahah, even if I go back they also don’t want me lah.”

Was I not Malaysian enough? Was I still so “Chinese” Chinese that I cold hop on a plane, lickety-split, land in China, locate my hypothetical long-lost relatives of the Liu clan, buy a small apartment in the middle of a polluted Beijing, learn to speak Mandarin overnight, and settle down like my great-great-great-great-and-then-some-grandparents never migrated? How much roti canai and nasi lemak and sirap bandung did I have to consume to qualify as Malaysian? How many ulas of durian – scratch that – how many biji durian do I have to inhale every season to prove that my ‘home’ home is in Subang, and not some little village in China? How many karangan do I have to write? How many peribahasa do I have to learn? How much must I score in BM? How well must I do in PLKN? How Malaysian is Malaysian enough?

But there is a strange beauty in all of this. There is a constant struggle to balance the urge to assimilate, as well as to maintain the uniqueness of one’s culture and heritage. And that, I believe, has given rise to diversity (and probably my inability to speak Mandarin). I don’t think I would’ve appreciated being Malaysian as much if I didn’t have to think about all this. I have moments where I wonder what life would have been like if my ancestors had chosen to stay in China. But the apple fell 3,512km from the tree, grew roots and proceeded to allow more apples to grow and fall where the progenitor landed. So I will never know, and that’s okay. If I can be mistaken as Malaysian in a foreign land, that’s good enough for me.

On a side note, I finished three exams in one day, and have the bad feeling that the engineering life has only just begun.

Posted in Learning Curve, Random Stuff

Yay 2017(?)

I spent the 365th day of 2016 at my seniors’ house, playing card games and discovered the following things:

  1. I am terrible at Egyptian and Heart Attack. Or maybe that could have been the combined effects of sleep deprivation and half a bottle of margarita. (Mummy, if you’re reading this, it was only 5% alcohol and a small bottle at that and no I didn’t get drunk – though I felt unusually sprightly after downing half the bottle).
  2. I am decent at games like Cho Tai Ti, but my strategic planning skills are a work in progress.
  3. I have a very effective poker face suited for sabotage games.
  4. The start of 2017 felt a lot like the start of 2016.

Given, I celebrated the beginning of 2016 at home with my family. Celebrations began when the clock struck 12am and ended roughly fifteen minutes later with sleepy greetings of ‘Happy New Year, Ma’ and ‘Happy New Year, Pa’. It strikes me as strange as to how much has changed in my life since then. I finished ADFP, experienced a whole lot of firsts – first time taking a long-haul flight alone, first time travelling with friends, first time celebrating Christmas away from my family, first time actually celebrating New Year’s Day.

I’m also slightly surprised at myself. I’ve become a little more gung-ho about things, though I’m not sure if that is something to celebrate. I’ve taken to doing things if I want to, and to trying things simply because. Well, bar drugs and alcohol and *ahem*. If I’m gonna be impulsive about something, I’m gonna be productive while being impulsive, thank you very much. The gym has also become a regular haunt for me, though my abs do not seem to be getting any tighter. Probably because I enjoy Sun Chips too much. And I feel a little more sure about myself, which is a feeling I need to savor now because it’s probably going to fade off in a bit and I’ll be back to contemplating the meaning of life in this plane of existence.

While things are going pretty okay in the personal development area, the world –

Cue the crackling of flames and the crashing of skyscrapers in the distance. Large figures that look a lot like a broken teacup, the goddess Isis crying because something besmirched her name, and small, spray-tanned hands loom from above. Someone is sobbing quietly in the corner, muttering a mantra that sounds strangely like ‘Bowie, Ali, Fisher, Rickman, Glenn, Wilder…’.

Yeah…it hasn’t been a great year for the world, to put it simply. And don’t get me started on Malaysia.

However, it is heartening to know that human psychology conditions us to think that things are always getting worse. It’s a survival mechanism that primes us to prepare for any possibility. But then, an article in The Times Magazine also notes that the world today looks suspiciously a lot like what it did right before World War I broke out.

These days, you just don’t know what to think anymore.

Well, here’s to people realizing that something has to be done right now. Happy New Year!

 

Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas, Random Stuff

ただいま

Yes, hiragana. Because my kanji is worse than a two-year-old’s. But I have been making some progress in the negative-past-tense verb sections, which is a plus.

So I just got back from my little adventure to New York (yes, it qualifies as an adventure after all the scares we had), and I found myself plagued by all manner of strange thoughts on the journey back home, like: does overall cost of living affect the type of community, or does the type of community affect the overall cost of living? and life is like a journey; some parts you travels with friends, others you travel alone.

Blerrrghhhhh.

It’s probably the stale airplane air and the endless hours sitting and waiting for the Peoria Express bus to arrive. Truly, an idle mind is a danger to oneself.

Hohoho. Sounded mature for a bit there.

To sum everything up, I spent a week in New York and Niagara Falls with a couple of friends and was sufficiently blown away. First by the sheer number of people that manage to cram themselves in Times Square, and then by the myriad of languages being spoken in New York, and then by the eagerness of people to get a glimpse of the dancing lights at Saks Fifth Avenue, and then by New York’s sheer personality (which I will get into in a bit), and then by Niagara Falls (which I will enthuse about in my next post, because describing the thing in one paragraph simply does not cut it).

New York is a city with a personality. It gives off a very  distinct ‘Dont-f***-with-me’ vibe. New York is every misfit kid with personality issues – the kind that broods on about how no one truly understands them, and how people just won’t stop making bad songs out of their names. New York is not a place for the fainthearted and the homebodies. It’s not a place you’d like if you’re not willing to work for its approval.

But.

But if you go and pass the test (mine was that awful night spent at the AirBnb), you’ll find that New York is actually a pretty darn good place to be. The architecture of the buildings are beautiful, and the whole city is a museum in itself. There is history in its subways, roads, ghettos, and, heck, even its potholes. Its a place where people who yearn to prove themselves to the world gravitate to. Its a place you go to if you want to see humanity in all its beauty and ugliness. It never ceases to amaze you. To quote Aladdin (a very mature source, I know); ‘Every turn a surprise’.

If you didn’t sing that phrase in your head, go watch more Disney.

So now I’m back in quiet Urbana-Champaign, tapping away at my keyboard and hoping that someone will read this and tell me how to improve my writing. That’s a not-so-subtle hint to you, reader.

Here’s to more adventures to come.

 

Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas

The NY Adventure

So our flight was delayed for four hours. And then the crew didn’t turn up until 30 minutes after they were supposed to arrive. We boarded the flight at close to 12am and arrived at an eerily deserted LaGuardia at 2.30am. As if things couldn’t get any worse, we soon found out that the apartment we booked on AirBnb wasn’t what it’s proprietor claimed it was.

We arrived at a dubious neighborhood at 3am. And my heart sank.

The whole place looked like a potential murder site. I kid you not. The rusted emergency stairs, the flying plastic bags – it looked like a scene straight out of Law and Order. Anees and I were suitably spooked.

The apartment didn’t do much to assuage our fears. The ancient elevator wasn’t working, the building was poorly lit, and had fewer occupants than light sources. To make things worse, our host seemed reluctant to answer our questions about who else rented the apartments here.

So me and Anees decided, in her words, that we sorely needed to ‘belah’ in the morning.

We burned the money used to book the place, and are currently applying for a refund from AirBnb; it doesn’t really matter to us if we get it or not, we’re just relieved to be out of that place.

So we booked a hotel in the middle of Manhattan at 4am, and cabut first thing in the morning. Arriving at the city hotel felt like we had been rescued off a shipwreck.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, with obligatory trips to Times Square and Carlos’ Bakery, but this is one experience I will remember and live to tell my cucu cicit about.

‘Your Amah was an adventurer,’ I’d tell them. ‘She survived a dangerous jungle known as 10th Avenue Manhattan’. Then they would clap in amazement and wonder and tell all their friends and AI companions what a cool Amah they had.

I’d be a great grandmother.

Honestly though, we should’ve planned better. And maybe not have been so kedekut.

Priority list for other travels:

1. Safety

Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas, Random Stuff

Nikagetsu

I’ve been itching to write this for weeks. I’m just about done with my Calculus homework, so I’ll reward myself with a little time off – just me and you, blog.

Things have been gradually getting better. I sometimes forget that I’m in a different country entirely. The temperature’s been dropping steadily, and today it hit an all-time low of 6 degrees Celcius. But when I told my friend it was six degrees out she turned and stared at me with a look that said “Whaaaaaaaaaat?”

Then I recalled that Americans use Fahrenheit. Ah, well.

I am also developing a strange fetish for Malaysian smells and sounds. Just a couple of days ago I found myself watching a short documentary on Penang culture because I wanted to listen to all the Hokkien sounds. On Tuesday, I stopped for a moment in Armory on the way to class to breathe in a scent that smelled like Malaysian fancy Chinese restaurant. Then last weekend, I nearly cheered when Anees opened up a bottle of sambal petai. We had makeshift nasi lemak for breakfast that morning.

I miss a lot of things back home. I miss getting stressed out driving in Taipan. I miss grocery and underwear shopping in Giant. I miss being able to freely use lah and mah and BAPAK ENGKAU. I miss having to get down from the car to order char siew-siew bak rice at Mei Sek. I miss being able to play the piano badly – because at home there’s no one to judge me. I miss my maroon blanket that my grandma gave me. I miss going to my Amah’s house at 6.30am in the morning. I miss picking my cousins and brother up from school. I miss being able to take cultural celebrations for granted. I miss wearing my ATUSA lanyard around my neck. I miss the blocked toilet and decaying pipes of Akasia. I miss…a lot of things.

But I am learning to love things here. I love bagels. I love how I can see the leaves slowly turn red. I love how the sun here makes the cold more bearable. I love my shinai and my kendogi and my hakama. I love bagels. I love cranberries with oats, pecans, and brown sugar. I love being able to switch between accents, and to accidentally slip back into Malaysian-aunty-mode. I love walking around PAR’s dining hall and coming up with the weirdest combinations of food. I love how the Illini Union is nice and quiet at 9am in the morning. I love hot, bitter coffee on chilly days. I love bumping into Malaysians because there’s nothing quite like hearing someone else use the same accent as you do.  Did I mention that I love bagels?

今日、米国で私の 2 番目の月を開始します.

Kyou, beikoku de watashi no nibanme no tsuki wo kaishi shimasu.

And I’m learning to love it.

 

Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas, Random Stuff

IKKAGETSU

SO I HAVE BEEN OFFICIALLY FULLY INDEPENDENT FOR A WHOLE MONTH.

The moon has waxed and waned, and I have been more than 14900 km away from home for 31 days.

In that relatively short span of time, I have felt like crap, seen religious fiascos on campus, gay-pride flags being hung from church windows, found out that FermiLab is collaborating with CERN, spoken to PWC, gotten rejected by PWC, walked alone, jogged 5.7km for the first time, learnt to play volleyball, procured a shinai, bought a phone (and a phone plan!) for the first time, paid for the phone plan, spoken to multiple students from China, failed to speak in Mandarin to multiple students from China, built a water transport system, read about bio-modified asphalt binders, learned to read maps, bought a bicycle, forced myself through feeling like crap, and somehow survived up to today.

It feels wonderful to know that I am capable of not wallowing in sorrow when I most want to. Granted, the first two weeks were bloody awful. For a time, anything remotely related to Malaysia (food, videos, Facebook pictures – heck, even rice) would set me off. My brain would proceed to tell my tear ducts to start working out and – WALLA – I’d be silently sweating out of my eyes.

I’m better now. I just melancholic about Malaysia and rice and predictably hot weather and being able to use ‘lah’ without people going “What’s that mean?” And also slightly ridiculous about Zainal Abidin’s Hijau because I swear that’s the best Malay song ever. But America seems to gradually be getting better. I am slowly getting accustomed to the food and the fact that I have to draw out my A’s into AEEEEEEE’s when I speak. I regularly check the weather app to see if long sleeves are necessary. I carry around an umbrella because I tell you Fall is not a good time to forget emergency shelter. I remind myself less that ‘rubbish bin’ is ‘trash can’ and ‘toilet’ is ‘washroom’.

And of course, I have to say this – I’m learning to brace myself because WINTER IS COMING.

There. I said it. You have to admit that I had a legitimate reason for doing so.

 

Posted in Learning Curve, Random Stuff

NoobGamer Day#2

Me: OKAY IMMA ROCK THIS WHAT DO I DO

Game: Press ONE to use special power.

Me: *Presses W and dashes right into the arms of not-so-loving enemy gods*

Game: Head back to base to regain energy.

Me: Okay I got this. I can r –

Game: Anubis has one God Kill. Respawn in ten seconds.

Me: *stares at screen*……What just happened?

Posted in Learning Curve, Random Stuff

And It Hit Me In The Face

I am an adult.

It just hit me. Here I am, sitting at my desk (yes, I have nothing better to do), nearly through my fourth week of internship, eighteen years seven months and twenty-one days old, and it just hit me.

Dayumm, Lillian.

I sure as heck don’t feel like an adult. I didn’t wake up in May with the sudden urge to buy a house, drink beer, make aunty jokes at weddings and perm my hair. I still read kids’ fantasy. I still roll about the living room, flopped on the floor, watching any random cartoon that isn’t Rocket Monkeys or Kick Buttowski or, God forbid, NUMB CHUCKS. I haven’t gotten over Percy Jackson like my dad predicted, and I have not any burgeoning desire to read Khaled Hosseini or Haruki Murakami.

It also just hit me with the fact that many people my age have already:

a) built houses in Africa

b) programmed groundbreaking apps

c) built their own cars

d) learnt to speak 27 different languages

e) saved the world from annihilation

Okay, that last one isn’t true. But sometimes it makes me wonder what exactly I’m doing with my life. These kids have already accomplished so much, and here I am, trying to type out a personal statement without sounding unintelligent or confused while still being myself.

*throws hands up in the air*

AND I’M NOT ALLOWED TO BE SARCASTIC – because I am a mature, forward-thinking adult.

But I am an adult. I may still mess up the room I share with my sisters, accidentally scrape other cars while squeezing through lanes, get scolded by my mother, play the piano horribly, but I am an adult. I most certainly don’t feel like an adult, and I’m not sure I’m mentally prepared to be one. Some days I just want to curl up and hope that I turn into my six-year-old self again. I probably wouldn’t even mind that I would be overweight.

But I am an adult. And I will continue becoming an adult, although I need to keep reminding myself of that fact. One day, I’m sure I will remind myself of that fact so often that it will disappear altogether. I think that will be the day I become an adult.

And while I will continue becoming an adult, I will also continue getting older. One day, I will die. And then people will have a function all for my sake and I won’t be there to enjoy it. Oh, the irony. But maybe I won’t even have a funeral. Maybe by then the world and the environment will be so degraded humans will be dropping down like flies and death becomes a norm and no one will bother with funerals any more.

Now there’s a depressing thought.

But right now I have to get back to writing an intelligent and coherent personal statement.

I am an adult, I am an adult, I am an adult, I am –

 

Posted in INTEC, Learning Curve, Poems (or so I think)

An Inadequate Age At Which To Write A Self-Portrait

This is a response to a poem by David Berman – Self-Portrait At 28 – a poem bout the mediocrity of one individual and the sheer vastness of the world and thought. I’m gonna do my best to do it justice in this response, but here’s my apologies in advance. Here goes nothing.

i don’t remember when i was born

but mom tells me that it was the sixth of may

pa sometimes thinks it was the fifth but anyway

one does not simply ignore the details on that piece of paper

i am probably too young to be writing

a self-portrait poem

but i guess you have to start somewhere?

i have never

saved the earth

built a homeless shelter

run for presidency

made it to the track team

which makes me wonder what to put in this piece

there is more to say of what i did not do

than what i actually did

childhood was a mess of

barney and toys and fighting

and the ground groaning and shaking and moaning from the passing of the train next to our old bungalow

and the moment i realized that i was just another probability in space

and that others were thinking the same thing i was at the same time

and that i was nothing special

adolescence was a horror story and –

dammit i have no fancy words to put in this thing

which makes me wonder

is my life too so unadorned?

but mostly i comfort myself with thinking,

“at least you’re not a weed junkie or a murderer”

maybe i could be proud of that, at the very least

but i am only eighteen so it gives me hope that

maybe special is not meant for me, not yet

maybe this self portrait is yet to be completed

maybe it is a construction site with the sign

WORK IN PROGRESS

emblazoned across the rusted metal entrance

i can read and write and do ‘rithmetic

maybe one day i’ll learn to do more

maybe i will

but for now

dinner