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 Overseas, Random Stuff

One in Four

At 7am this morning my phone started going bonkers and I was woken up with a very bright, loud,

“HI LILLIAAANNNNNNNN!”

In my half-conscious state, I yanked my cellphone away from my ear and tried to hit the red button. After fumbling for about roughly three seconds, I hit it and remembered, in my stupor, that I was supposed to call my family at 6am that morning.

Thank you, Physics and Linear Algebra.

I apologized to my cousin via WhatsApp and told her that I had to go brush my teeth. Being astute, she told me that she would not be able to smell my breath across a screen.

Ah, Pei. You have not been exposed to the oral fumes of yours truly.

I brushed my teeth and sat down with my iPhone and a pair of earphones. Then in the next 30 minutes, I was enthusiastically shown around my home and reintroduced to everyone I had not seen in four months.  Amah seemed okay, albeit thinner than usual. Everyone was about the same. Jessie was notably rounder. QiQi looked slightly taller. Lucky was shivering under the chair because the fireworks scared her. Pei Li was as lanky as always, and Yean enjoyed saying hi multiple times over the phone. I wished Ji Ko gong xi fa cai through Mei Choo Jie’s handphone (it was, as she put it, a phone-ception).

The rest of the day was a flurry of photos of family, yee sang, steamboat, reunion dinners, and Rooster Year pictures courtesy of multiple friends and relatives. I looked at the food and salivated.

This is the first of four Chinese New Years that I will be missing. It only just occurred to me today how much I had taken for granted while I was back home. I also wonder if students aspiring to study overseas are aware of how much they will have to give up to fulfill their ambitions. While family and friends will be spending the New Year celebrating, I have a meeting and dance practice due tomorrow, as well as a concrete mix to make (which my grad student advisor will hopefully not reject). Sometimes, the stark contrast still catches me unawares.

So, in celebration of the 2016 Year of the Rooster, here is a picture of my favorite chicken:

lemon-chicken_13756

恭喜发财,红包拿来! Please?

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 Overseas, Random Stuff

The Aftermath (but not quite)

Technically, it’s ‘before-math’ because I’m supposed to be doing Homework 31 for my Calculus 3 (haha made a pun), but I’m gonna skimp on that tonight and write this instead. But before I begin, a disclaimer – this is merely the opinion of a simple, nineteen-year-old girl who is too young to vote in her home country, but too old to ignore the current situation.

So Trump won the American presidency, and my university campus is in a state of upheaval. My Calculus professor thanked us for actually showing up to class in light of the night’s events, and a speaker at the SWE event spoke about the importance of female leadership instead of showing us her usual recruitment PowerPoint slides. I have heard people crying in fear of friends and family at risk of deportation, I have seen small demonstrations on the Quad, heard people question the genuineness of friendship offered by their White counterparts.

Dear Americans,

Trump won fair and square – that is an indisputable fact. There are reasons to his victory, and they go beyond racism and sexism. They encompass the frustration, misunderstanding, and fear of his supporters – everything everyone who voted against him are probably feeling right now. I do not know enough to come up with the factors that led to his victory, but what is done is done. Whether he turns out to be the very man he portrayed on the campaign trail remains to be seen. Fingers crossed, he won’t be.

As a non-citizen and cool observer, I want to remind you of these few things. The fact that you are able to rise up to the streets to protest the election of a candidate you do not approve of means you have freedom of speech. The fact that you are able to hold public discussions dissecting the flaws of the party or candidate you dislike and still return to a home and not a prison cell, means you have a fighting chance. The fact minority groups can still speak out against an unjust system means you have hope. You have the right to the freedom of demonstration, the freedom of speech, the freedom of press. Your constitution does not (directly) place one demographic above another. Your presidents have term limits. These are your tools. Use them, and use them well.

To those who have achieved what they sought to accomplish, congratulations. To those fighting for an alternative, don’t give up. Not now, not ever. Work harder. Rise up, don’t give in. Fight, because you can and because you must. Now more than ever, America, the world is watching.

To my Malaysian friends, I have only this to say: remember, too, the minorities in Malaysia who live in the same apprehension American minorities feel with the election of Trump. Please. More than that, I am too afraid to say.

But then again, I am only nineteen. Take all this is a pinch of salt. Scratch that – preserve this whole essay in brine if you must.

Now, back to Calculus.

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 Overseas, Random Stuff

I Have Been Blessed

By American road puddle water. It has been consistently raining for the past few days, and I suspect that this incessant mourning of the sky is a harbinger of cooler days to come.

Oh wow, Zeus, did you just decide to turn this drizzle into a storm?

I was sitting at the bus stop, waiting for the 120E bus to Gregory and Down – you know, the usual student-with-no-car ritual. With the kind of luck I possess, a car kindly whooshed by and brought upon me the water U of I’s roads seemed to want to offer me. Does this university have an unusually crude orientation ritual for unassuming international students? Is this how to say WELCOME, PEEPS to innocent Malaysian pedestrians?

Hello to you too, America. Nice to meet you.

Posted in Overseas, Random Stuff, Uncategorized

Narita Has Cool Toilets

I recently arrived at Narita Airport en route to Chicago, and I must say that their water closets amaze me. Two of the average kind, one with enough buttons to drive Arthur Weasley insane with joy, and the flattest squatting toilet bowl I have ever seen. In fact, meh to Arthur Weasley. I am going to be potentially driven mad with happiness.

THEY SELL MANGA LIKE MAGAZINES IN THIS COUNTRY.

Japan, you are doing something right.

Besides the elation of technically visiting Japan, I’m also feeling a kind of ‘Aha-I-told-you-I’d-be-back’ thing. Don’t remember the place looking like this four years ago, but that’s probably due to the sheer size of this whole establishment. I’d take a picture of it, but unfortunately my anak OKU (read: Lenovo A516) refuses to connect with the Narita wifi.

Looking forward to Chicago, but that’s where the nervousness sets in. I have to go through American Customs. Yikes. They be strict in the Land of the Free.

The reality of my situation has not yet fully set in. I suspect that symptoms will only begin to show after a few days or so. I was sent off by my friends and family at KLIA earlier, and definitely felt the love.

On a completely random note, did you know that it rains diamonds on Neptune? That’s according to Physics-Astronomy.

Now, NARITA GIVE ME WIFI!