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.

 

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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 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, 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 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 Random Stuff, Shorts

Dead Man On My Chest (Part I)

There was a dead man sitting on his chest.

Roughly two hours and eight cans of Bud Light ago, Jann passed out on his couch. Then, halfway through an unusually comforting dream of three well-endowed strippers giving him free lapdances in turn, he was rudely awakened by a sudden application of uneven pressure right below his sternum accompanied by a stench of rotting meat.

Initially, he thought that he was finally dying of a heart attack. He patiently waited for the white light to appear (or burning flames, whichever), but as the brunette with the lacy stockings continued gyrating in his face, he figured that it was probably the meatloaf in his underwear drawer reaching its final throes of freshness.

Slightly disappointed that his body had not yet given up, Jann reluctantly opened his eyes and –

‘WHAT THE – ‘

‘Shhhh….man, you’ll wake the baby next door.’

The thing sitting on his chest was probably once a man with roasted-coffee complexion, dreadlocks, and a hippie rainbow shirt that said ‘WAR IS A WHORE’. However, the creature that Jann saw had a hole in head where its right eyeball should have been, black fingernails, and gums that had shrunk back so far Jann could nearly see the roots of its teeth. Jann choked back a scream.

It gave him a lopsided smile. ‘Hey, man. I’m – ‘

At this point, Jann’s resolve broke and he opened his mouth to scream. Before the ‘agh’ could turn into an all-out ‘AAAAYEEEEEEEEEEEE’, the creature tightened its strangely sinewy legs around his chest and all Jann managed was a small ‘eeek’.

‘Can’t alert anyone, man,’ the creature said, shaking its head.

As its head turned from side to side, Jann felt small objects falling onto his week-old polo shirt. He gulped. Whatever it was that was falling onto his chest, Jann did not want to see it. He decided that the best course of action would be to close his eyes and pray that this thing would disappear soon. Unfortunately, he could not spare his olfactory nerves.

‘Yo, man. Sorry ’bout this whole sitting-on-chest thing, but I figured I’d better else you’d run.’

Nope, Jann thought, this is all a bad dream.

‘I’m Declan, by the way, but you can call me Dede. That’s what everyone calls me.’

Strippers. Three strippers. At a strip club.

‘Well, damn, man. I thought you’d be friendlier. You could at least look at someone when they’re talking.’

Jann felt something push up against his eyelids. He fought it, pressing his eyes shut. The force intensified.

Nope, nope, nope nope, absolutely – 

All of a sudden, the force tripled in magnitude and Jann felt his eyelids fly open.

He found  one cataract-afflicted eye staring at him. He whimpered.

‘What…what are you?’

The thing’s grin widened.

‘Who, man. Who. I’m your – ‘

He felt something cold and wet flop down onto his chest.

‘Unghh ugghhyy.’

The creature reached down and picked up a limp, grey thing. It examined it for a while, as if wondering how to fit it back in where it belonged. Then it nonchalantly put it into its mouth and pressed lightly downwards.

It smacked its lips and cleared its throat.

‘Sorry ’bout that. Been dead too long, man. Things start falling apart. What was I saying?’

Jann stared in horror.

‘You sure don’t talk much. Well,  I’m your guardian angel.’

 

 

 

 

 

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.