Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas, UofI

How to Malaysian at the UofI #5: Things They Don’t Tell You

If you’ve come to look for the panacea to homesickness, you won’t find it here. This one isn’t about hunky-dory things. This one has been brought on by a few questions the facilitators got asked at the USAPPS workshop last week, and most of which I’d like to address here. Here goes nothing.

There’s a common myth that university is supposed to be this orgy of socializing and reinventing yourself – a myth that I’d like to dispel. In university, especially in one as big as the UofI, lectures often involve more than 200 students. I found myself sitting next to one person during Chem 102, then scribbling notes between empty seats in Math 231, eating alone during lunch, meeting up with committee members in the evening, and spending most of the night studying by myself, or occasionally with a friend. University life wasn’t what I had expected it to be. Instead of making a huge bunch of friends that I regularly went out with, I learned to be comfortable by myself.

It sounds depressing, sure, but honestly, university is a lot of learning about how to deal with things on your own. And along the way you make friends. It’s interesting to note, though, that many of the USAPPS participants asked whether it is difficult to make ‘American friends’. Well, no doubt we come from different countries. We have different accents, beliefs, cultural quirks, and to just sweep all these things under the carpet would be a mistake. Of course these things make finding commonalities harder. But they also make great conversation starters. At the end of the day, we’re all clueless college students. Some of us merely happen to be playing the four-year game on home court.

I often get asked questions like, ‘Is there discrimination?’ and ‘Will they look down on you?’, which is normal. And while I’d like to con-fort you and say ‘No worries! Murica got your back!’, the reality is that discrimination is as much as a fact of life as the fact that Fred Weasley died. Honestly, we Malaysians have this in-built reaction to Western culture in which we irrationally admire everything they do, and as long as we give off the impression that we are less than them, that’s how long the cultural barriers will remain. Show yourself and your culture the respect that you show others’, before expecting any in return.

So yes, to my Malaysian friends making the journey overseas, racism is real. Discrimination happens. You will feel isolated, lonely, and constantly pine for the sound of Hokkien (or maybe that’s just me). The feeling of cultural vertigo never quite goes away. You will wonder why your life isn’t nearly as interesting as your friend living in California, or why your Instagram story isn’t nearly as full of international friends and live performances. You may start to regret your decision to study two oceans away. You may need to cry in the middle of the night, wondering when your international-student life will turn into the exciting joyride that every blog, Facebook and Instagram post says it’s supposed to be.

College life is stressful. You will worry about your GPA. You will lament your choice of taking a class that you were not required to take, but still did because hubris. You will miss home, and the familiar smell of belacan cooking in the kitchen. You will worry about money and rent, and whether there will be enough to travel at the end of the semester. And for international students, you will wonder if you will ever fit in, if America will ever feel like home.

I cannot give you any answers. But, personally, I just stopped caring too much and did whatever I felt I wanted to (except for booze, drugs and sex – because aku anak Malaysia yang ingin membanggakan negara). You only have four years in the US, maybe less.

Make it count.

Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas, UofI

How to Malaysian at the UofI #4: Not Food

So I get that food is uber-important to us Malaysians, but going overseas requires a little more preparation aside from the small grocery shop that we will be carrying in our luggage. I mentioned that I’d expand a little more on medication, so I’ll be doing that plus listing a couple of other things that helped me acclimatize during my first few months at the UofI.

I had two medicine bags – one in my carry-on, and another in my checked luggage. Here’s what went into both:

Carry-on MedPack

I had with me chewable vitamins, because immunity drops when you’re 30,000 feet in the air. Plus, you’ll be exposed to so many varieties of pathogens you’d probably not want to get onto the plane if you stop to think about it. I also packed a strip of Panadol (just in case I fell sick), Eno, lozenges, and Vick’s inhaler nasal stick for blocked noses.

Image result for vicks menthol stick

While chewing gum is not medicine, I threw it in my pack, because my ears get blocked pretty badly while flying, and I’m not really a fan of the cotton-in-my-ear sensation.

Check-in MedPack

This was my personal Chinese sinseh and Guardian Pharmacy all rolled into one. I take a lot of Chinese traditional medicine, so I had herbal pills for everything from cough and indigestion to fever and period cramps. If you’re old-school like me, traditional medicine is definitely allowed, so it’s fine to take along any kacip fatimah or ginseng extract pills, but please make sure to label them with their functions. I included prescription anti-inflammatory pills for sore throat, flu medicine from my family doctor, charcoal pills (in case American food did not agree with me), more Eno, plasters, muscle-ache patches, extra vitamins, an entire box of Panadol, and more lozenges (because I have overactive tonsils). In general, bring along whatever you think you need (especially things like inhalers or respirators), but LABEL THEM with their ingredients (if possible) and, more importantly, their purpose.

Oh yes, musn’t forget good ol’ Tiger Balm and Vicks Vaporub.

A set of winter clothes

I’ve had some friends ask me if it would be better if they waited and bought their cold-weather clothes in the US. While winter clothes are significantly cheaper here, it would also be wise to invest in at least one set of winter clothes (coat, long johns, scarf, gloves, woolen socks) before flying, as you never know when you’d be able to make a trip to the store once you arrive. Come prepared.


Spare glasses, contact lenses, retainers, shoes. At least, that’s what came along with me. Spectacles (or glasses, as they call it in the US) are pretty expensive, and so are contacts. Retainers (and any dental care in general) isn’t covered by the university insurance. So if you want to save a few future bucks, invest in spares before you leave.

Comfort items

I brought my teddy bear with me. I am not ashamed of myself. Things that help remind you of home may ease homesickness a little, and help you cope with your new environment. It’s also like having a bit of your family and friends with you. Bring along anything that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, be it a old blanket, a squishy pillow, a beloved book, or a smelly doll – whatever works. No one judged me – or at least, I think so.

Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas, UofI

How to Malaysian at the UofI #3: Food for Thought

Okay, so I’ve had a couple of friends ask me what kind of food they should/should not bring to the US, so here’s a list of common items we Malaysians typically cannot live without, and whether or not US Customs would suddenly decide they need a bottle of belacan.

1. Milo and Nescafe

JUST BRING. LIKE TWO PACKETS. I used up two large packets of Milo 3-in-1 in one semester (but that’s just me lah). Also, if you’re a hardcore Milo fan, invest in a couple of kg’s and take some along because a small tin of Milo can cost up to $7 in the US, depending on the region. If you’re a Nescafe enthusiast , don’t hesitate to invest in one or two packages. The United States simply does not have the variety of pre-mixed coffee that Malaysia does.

2. Maggi

While IndoMee and cup ramen can be found in abundance in the Land of the Mee – I mean Free – there is simply nothing like a good, hot bowl of Maggi Kari to warm you up on an abysmal winter day. Also, you cannot find Maggi Kari here, so do bring your own personal supply along. Mind the chicken-flavored one, though. The rules are pretty blurry on this one, but if the Customs officer had a stressful day, he/she might just confiscate your Maggi Perisa Ayam.

3. Malaysian Spices and Condiments

Image result for babas spices

I would strongly advise bringing a small supply of your own spices and curry powder (Babas, usually) until you can figure out where to buy decent Asian spices on the University campus. While there are at least three Asian marts selling a generous variety of powders and spices, a small stash may help you while you’re figuring out where to buy everything you need to make your Tok Ma’s rendang kambing. Besides that, things like kicap (soy sauce) and oyster sauce are totally fine, as long as you don’t bring along five bottles of each (that looks plain suspicious). Also make sure to wrap all glass bottles securely to prevent any breakage, because your luggage bag is going to be thrown about. ALSO BRING CHILLI SAUCE.

4. Belacan

I have not yet entered an Asian mart on campus that sells belacan. That being said, the admissibility of belacan into the United States is pretty ambiguous. Sometimes it passes right through Customs with no problem, other times it gets confiscated. My opinion? Just bring it along. If it survives Border Protection, you can look forward to a nice plate of nasi lemak. On a side note, shrimp is also okay, as long as it’s dried, and does not come in insanely large quantities.

5. Medicine

I will expand more on this later on, but for starters, make sure you have Panadol, prescription flu pills, Eno, and vitamin C chewables. The change in time zone and weather can affect some people pretty badly, so painkillers and vitamins will definitely help to ease any discomfort that you might be feeling.

With that said, I’d like to add that it’s advisable to label all food items clearly and concisely. I wrapped my medicines and any food products that might cause any confusion for the Customs officers in clear plastic bags, then labelled them with their names. For medicines, I added their purpose. For food, I listed their main ingredients.

The basic rule is just to bring along whatever you feel is necessary to help you acclimatize in a new environment. Don’t be too afraid of what may or may not get taken out of your luggage bag because honestly, it very much depends on your luck. And just in case you still have any doubts, head over here for more information of the US Customs and Border Protection website to find out!

Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas, UofI

How to Malaysian at the UofI #2: Dealing with SAD

Oh, I remember the (literal) dark days: fourteen hours of night, sub-zero temperatures, and consuming an entire bag of Cracker Jack on the dorm linoleum floor while sobbing piteously at the visual masterpiece that is Kimi no Na Wa. Every day I’d trudge to work at the bookstore in the morning, visit the gym for a little, cook tomorrow’s dinner after my bath, then watch some Netflix or Hulu. On the weekends, I’d go over to my friends’ place and cook a little more, maybe watch a movie. I seemed to be running on fine – or was I?

A heaviness seemed to have taken up residence in the recesses of my chest. I felt disinterested and disillusioned most of the time. I began wondering what my purpose in life was. I questioned the reason for my existence and started having some pretty dark thoughts (that I won’t disclose here for reasons that I won’t disclose here). Back then I didn’t realize I was suffering from a mild case of winter depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD (very aptly named, by the way) is a psychological condition that affects people who exhibit normal mental behavior throughout most of the year. Scientists at the NHS have drawn hypotheses that suggest that the lower levels of sunlight during winter disrupt the production levels of melatonin and serotonin, leading to lethargy and a general feeling of discontent and frustration. The longer nighttime hours may also cause the body’s circadian rhythm to go out of whack. Other symptoms include:

  • Craving carbohydrates
  • A persistent low mood
  • Low self-esteem
  • A loss of interest/pleasure in daily activities
  • Difficulty in waking up/falling asleep
  • Gaining weight

Out of the six symptoms I listed above, five happened to me. There are ways to deal with it though. Human-to-human interaction helps greatly, as working at the bookstore raised my morale during the day. Working out also does a great deal for your serotonin levels. If you’re not a gym sort of person, find some time to bundle up and take a lunchtime walk. Sunlight does wonders. Try to keep to a healthy balanced diet, and use cooking as an excuse to occupy your time.

For my fellow Malaysian students (and international students), the university campus typically gets very quiet during the winter break, so find opportunities to work part-time, or plan a trip out-of-state with friends, or take up winter courses. If you aren’t able to do that, stay over with your friends on campus, and spend more time with them. Call up your family and friends when you need someone to talk to. Try to avoid looking at Instagram pictures of your other friends enjoying themselves in sunnier states. If that is not humanly possible (blame the ubiquitous nature of social media), by all means look, but do your best not to fall into despair comparing your winter break with others’. Distract yourself with reading, or cooking, or apartment redecorating.

It gets pretty rough for people used to tropical climates here in Illinois, especially first-timers. Educate yourself and prepare for the possibility of winter depression. It’s real yo.

Bloody hell. What kind of ending is that? Anyways, you can find more on the symptoms and treatment for SAD on the NHS website.

Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas, UofI

How to Malaysian at the UofI #1: Prepping for the ice-pocalypse

This one is specially dedicated to my friends bound for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign this coming Fall, or anyone in particular looking to learn how to survive subzero temperatures four months a year. It’s gonna be sort of a mini-series, so I’ll be starting off with learning how to avoid death by freeze-nap.

So, I don’t know about you guys, but before coming to the UofI, I had this picturesque image of the Main Quad in my head that kinda looked like this:

Image result for uiuc main quad

But the university websites forgot to mention a couple of itsy bitsy things like:

Image result for uiuc rain
Image result for uiuc snow day


Image result for illinois strong winds

And hence this little PSA. So here are a few things that helped me (your friendly neighborhood Equatorial-country native) survive my first Winter (and late Fall).

Woolen inner wear

These include long johns, socks, and leggings. They essentially function like a second skin, and can be very comfortable if you buy the right one. Woolen ones are harder to come by in Malaysia, but synthetic ones work just the same. Synthetic material also tends to be more water resistant, which is something you’d want for your socks (especially during Fall of the Perpetual Rain). However, you’d have to wash synthetic inner wear more often than woolen ones, because they tend to develop an iffy smell if you don’t clean them for more than a week.

Invest in good-quality inner wear, though. If possible, don’t be stingy about it. A  good set of long johns can mean the difference between comfort and ants in you pants.

A down coat

A down coat is (duh) a coat stuffed with down, a material typically made of goose or duck feathers, or synthetic fibers. They come in all styles, colors, sizes, and fashions, but I would personally recommend getting one of those Michelin-man ones that extend below your knees. Reason being that those coats are designed to increase surface area to trap more warm air. Also, a long coat is better at preventing the winds from riding up your gluteus  maximus. Some of them even come with an inner layer that you can zip on and off, depending on how cold the weather is. Also, get one with a large hood (preferably with synthetic feathers) to prevent the wind from getting at your face.

Mine kinda looks like this:

Image result for guess winter coat black women

It’s not fashionable, but it works amazingly well.

A sturdy scarf.

No, one of those flimsy cotton ones isn’t going to work. Neither is a soft fluffy one. Get serious, heavy-duty scarves that can stay upright on your face, even when the wind is blowing at 70km/h. Knitted woolen scarves are really good (my friend made one for me and it helped me survive November and December). But in January, when things start to get bad, you’ll want a stiffer, thicker scarf. I bought mine at Target, and it’s the green one in the picture below:

And since I’ve shown you this picture, I’ll talk about leather gloves.

I bought them at Target, too. They double as half-mittens, and have an inner synthetic lining. I wore them throughout the entire winter. They helped me stand -20C weather, piercing winds, and torrential rain. I am not exaggerating one bit. And as I am cursed with perpetually cold hands, these gloves are a $39 blessing. I’ve tried mittens, woolen gloves, touchscreen gloves – but nothing worked as well as the leather ones I now swear by.

BOOTS. Mustn’t forget boots.

 There are two kinds of boots that you will need if you’re studying at the UofI: rain boots and snow boots. The former because it rains non-stop during the later Fall months, and cold, wet feet is the last thing you want to have on a day with five consecutive classes. The latter is absolutely necessary. I have these pair:

Image result for columbia black winter boots

They are huge, chunky, and rather ugly in an endearing way, but they are also warm, waterproof, and non-slip. Do not skimp on these. I repeat: DO. NOT. SKIMP. ON. WINTER. BOOTS. You will live, miserably, to regret it when you cannot walk to class without slipping on ice at least seven times and arriving home at 5pm with damp, wrinkly feet.

Jean Valjeans

Jeans. Mankind’s savior in all weather conditions. I would advise getting a few pairs of reasonably baggy jeans for winter wear. Baggy because you’d be wearing layers of inner wear underneath it, and I would not recommend walking around like an overstuffed bratwurst. You can also survive Fall if you have a couple of good-quality pairs without any inner wear.

Flappy hats and beanies

I got a one of those flappy-eared hats for warmth, and BOY does it work well. It looks terrible, though, so I don’t wear it unless the wind is blowing and my hood will be rendered null and void. I also got a floppy beanie, and that works fine, too. The basic principle is to get something that covers your ears, because that’s where you lose a lot of heat.

Image result for floppy ear hat
Flappy ear hat, otherwise known as a woodchuck hat.


Layer your clothes. I made the mistake of buying the thickest of everything that I could get when I got here, and wasted some money. The trick isn’t to buy the thickest jacket or scarf on the market, but to wear your clothes in layers. Each layer of clothing traps a separate layer of warm air, and that’s what actually keeps you warm. So basically, more layers = more warm air = more comfy. Here’s an example of what would typically pass of as ‘warm’ for me in the winter.

  1. Camisole
  2. Long-sleeved blouse
  3. Thin inner jacket
  4. Down coat
  5. Woolen leggings
  6. Jeans
  7. Long socks
  8. Snow boots
  9. Beanie
  10. Big scarf

I get cold easily, so it might be overkill for some of you.

You can also find some things that really helped me here and here. 

There you go. That’s all I can think of for now. Whoever you are, I hope this helps you, and please feel free to ask me questions in the comments below!



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."


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.


"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


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.


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 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