Wednesday, October 24, 2012


The itch has come again, and I must scratch - I cannot sleep until I get this out of my head.

I feel this imperative again to write, for whoever wishes to read, but mostly for a selfish reason, for the future me to remember what it feels like to be in college and not to have only the sentimental gumbo of cliched recollections to hold onto when I recall my early days, but for a bit of that passion and nowness to be pinned it down with my words. I will do the best I can.

The college experience is like a pitcher, filling up with droplets of days, that flow into weeks, into semesters, into solid years broken up in between with summers both languid and professional (early years and later years). People tend to describe college with the taste they remember when it outflows from the pitcher - a mix of the bitter and the sweet, the common and the extraordinary, the personal and the group, whichever they chose to identify with. But what's important to remember is that that's not really how it happened - there wasn't a narrative to begin with, or a story I set out meaning to tell - every day has a routine, but it also held the promise of something mind-blowing to be learned, or a conversation to bloom into a friendship. It holds the prospect of spontaneous decisions to go to an event in the evening or eat with this friend and not another or spend all night in the library.

The memories that flow from the pitcher are smooth, well-mixed, in equilibrium, the sweet balancing out the bitter and all glossed over with the numbing taste of nostalgia. But my days are not all moderately sunny, they are sometimes blindingly bright and sometimes gloomy, some days I don't remember at all because I was too sleepy to pay attention, some days I conquer the world, some days I have no idea. And many, many days I fluctuate between those extremes. Sometimes the enormity of it all, contrasted with my small, small brain, brings me to tears - like now. Even a semester is too long a timespan to describe my emotional/mental state and growth, there are constant switchbacks and setbacks and spurts of understanding. A linear narrative of progress and growth may be appealing. It works on applications, it works to create a pretty package for evaluation. But in my experience, it is untrue.

So then...what is this time that I have been through? What is my last word, having rejected the generic smoothie-like 'best of times worst of times' version of the college story?

The truth is...I don't know. I feel dimly even as I go through my day and check off lists that don't matter a week from now (and I have kept a day calendar for every year I have been here, it's necessary) that the people I meet and things I read and listen to are planting seeds in me that may take years to show fruit. It's coalescing somewhere deep and unconscious and someday it's going to sprout in totally unexpected ways. And some things are just fun and I enjoy them intensely at this moment but will forget them very soon. Some things are not fun, and I forget them as soon as I can (this includes several of my classes, honestly).

But most of all I want to remember the people, people who have touched my life in these past three years in so many ways - teachers, peers, bosses, co-workers and those random people you meet and have a great conversation with for a while. I want to remember them crystal clear as the people they were and the hopes and dreams they had, and honestly I hope I remember the good more than the bad because life is too short to be uncharitable. But more than that, I hope to see them as more than still figures captured in photos - I hope to keep meeting them throughout my life, speaking with them, following these lives that have touched mine and see how their college pitchers overflow into the lives they are leading now - and how it hasn't.

I have hope that this may actually come true (as so many of my more lofty goals have not) precisely because we (those fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend four years of live free of adult responsibilities in a ridiculously privileged and sheltered environment) enshrine college as that sacred moment in our lives, something fond to be remembered. I harbor hopes that these people I meet will actually want to keep in touch with me as well. My paths,even the ones I rejected due to time or expediency or laziness, continue to pulse, and they will be possibilities in some form or another till the day I die. College as a defined period of my life will soon be over, but college as a shared state of mind, a collective pitcher memory that bonds those far separated by passing years and interests, is something I can access for the rest of my life. And that's what college means to me.

My S side needs to remember concrete facts about senior year

Experiences I want to remember about senior year so far (chronological order):

1) I-place Orientation for a week (Gangnam Style! Party on the last night. New friends from all the colleges. Deep conversations. Eating in the village. Being the most experienced class of students - a strange feeling indeed.)

2) Sara/Mandy/Joanie's birthday (Shopping at the 99 cents store. Kool-aid vodka drinks.)

3) Going to the LA County Fair with Ji Su, Daisy and Ei.

4) Nocturnal Wonderland. Above and Beyond. Feeling limitless and utterly content, lying on the grass/carpet outside a tent with Rachit.

5) Halona with ISMP. Lying on the street at 3am, watching the night sky, nearly getting run over by a car whose headlights we saw coming just in time.

6) J visiting for a weekend ++. Santa Monica, movies, good times.

7) Yosemite for fall break. Great people, and majestic scenery. Realization of unfitness as proven by sore legs day after.

And all this, in the first 9 weeks of term. And with my future (almost) set in terms of where I'll be for the next two years, this year is looking up.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Here and Now

I realize that I am addicted to the present, the here and now. It explains why my three favorite things are bodily sensations or states of being: sunshine, showers and sleep. On one hand, I derive so much pleasure from commonplace things, everyday beauty, sparkling conversations with friends new and old, music that makes me want to move, good food. And I keep seeking new pleasures and things to experience. On the other hand, it makes unpleasant moments almost intolerable. Drudgery at the office is one example, I can't just sit and do something monotonous for eight hours. I do wish I could either ignore my boredom or not be affected by it, or find a way to make even that experience pleasurable and interesting. Perhaps everyone is like this, but I doubt so. Some people seem just so...bland. How can I engage my here and nowness in a productive way, and not wear it down to survive?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Today was not half bad

So interesting (and frustrating) how my emotions fluctuate wildly day to day even when there seems to be no real reason for it. I wonder if I'm going through a second adolescence, since my first one was relatively calm -- I was neither very rebellious, did not experiment with substances or illegality in any way, and generally did not indulge excessively in angst or have to deal with too many periods of social anxiety. Since leaving home though, life has become more complicated and I wonder how some people in my position can be so settled, so SURE of what they want to do in life or even where they want to be for the next few years. I'm muddling it out, for sure, and I take comfort that the crooked paths are the more interesting -- but it does create some anxiety and restlessness, a push-pull, mental and almost physical tension that is simultaneously drawn to new endeavors and novelty and 'breaking away', whatever that may mean, and also yearns for certainty, stability and assurance that everything and everyone will be ok. If as some claim as in songs that life is a dance, it is a very strange one indeed.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Long day today...

But somewhat productive for me doing things that aren't exactly what I ought to be doing at work but need to be done anyway...things like replying to emails for school responsibilities, planning trips, sending letters to insurance, and so on. I realize social contact is so necessary and yet so frustrating at times. Validation is such an important part of whatever endeavor one is part of, and at work you don't get it as much since you're paid to do things and expected to do them well. Hence the reward is in social validation and camaraderie...which I suppose sometimes takes a while to build. I realize I'm not the best socializer in the world, I gel well with a few people but am quite awkward with people whom I have no interests in common. Oh wells, little steps...and always worth remembering that it doesn't matter what someone else thinks of you, its what you do (and how you respond to these slights) that matters.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Life is short.

It just dawned on me, once again bright and clear like a single lightbulb hanging from a ceiling in an empty room just like the movies, how short life is and how little of it we will each remember. And how fleeting our thoughts are, coded only as neuron flashes through a heavy flesh-brain water-body. So (to keep this post short, as I have a tendency to ramble) I would like to try an write a post, as long or short as it wants to be, every day. I'm not sure how long this can last, but any words I can commit to a more reliable guardian, safe from unreliable memory, I shall. A good runner looks only forward, not back at the steps she runs. But my life is not a race, it's more of a ramble, and maybe I can leave some markers on the path for the next one who comes this way.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Responsibility of Elites

My uncle (who moved to Canada as a young man and is back for a visit), my parents, and I went for dinner with my great-uncle and his wife. At first, I wasn't very interested in talking. Conversation with adult relatives is pretty boring. But as we went on, I gradually started feeling uncomfortable for another reason -- I realized that my relatives were pretty different from us (meaning my parents and by extension, me). Different in terms of education levels, financial position and all those tangibles and intangibles that make up social class. My great-uncle is a small businessman, who commutes to Singapore (10 hours drive each way) to sell the ornamental fish he raises. Apparently he's dabbled in many jobs, from selling used cars to stockbroker-ing. Wide-ranging interests? Not really. Just trying to survive. What struck me was how uncomfortable I felt interacting with my relatives. Social class is an issue that we don't bring up among friends and family. And even within the bleeding-heart burning-passion overseas-educated crowd I know, most of us hang with others who are similar to us. It is a challenge to find common ground with everybody -- from the rojak seller across the road to the corporate lawyer in his mansion. For me I think I still feel ashamed of this unearned privilege, when so many others work so hard with less to show for it. And maybe deep down many comfortable middle-class, earned-their-way-up folk feel the same way. And that's why we don't like to talk to others who are different from us. Every phase of life comes with its own challenge, that seems formidable at the time but once it's over, you wonder why you ever worried. It used to be getting through standardized exams, then getting into good colleges, then getting into university...but life beyond school doesn't have set phases and there are so many ways to succeed. You are both the student and the scorekeeper. And I suppose most people change the scoring metric as they go along so that they never have to see themselves as failures. Having real relationships with people who lead radically different lives from you shows you that there are different scorecards, and yours isn't necessarily better. But beyond the generalized walk-in-someone-else's-shoes message, there is another important point I think you can gain from really trying to get out of one's friendship comfort zone. The elite (particularly academics and politicians) like to think they know best for the hoi polloi, when in truth they know them only from graphs and statistics, and have no idea about their daily concerns, dreams, fears or household budgets. It's more than deigning to talk with the rubbish collector or chat with one's maid condescendingly -- it's willingly opening up one's life and treating the other as an equal. Rudyard Kipling's "If" says it quite well. If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, ' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch... That is a huge if indeed. And that is the challenge of the next however many years of my life, not to forget that beyond my close circle of friends and family who have roughly the same cultural experiences and options that I do, a whole world of people exists.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Everyone gets a little weird at night

A few things on my mind:

1) I'm playing Humans vs Zombies, a role-play game played in campuses all over the US, for the first time in Claremont this year. Perhaps that, along with reading the Hunger Games Trilogy, has caused the themes of seiges, war, danger, competition to often prey (got it?) on my mind. I'm super aware of people around me now, constantly scanning the horizon for threats. I think games reveal so much about you, things you maybe subconsciously knew but can confirm for sure. For instance, my default strategy is to go unnoticed as long as possible, and avoid direct confrontation. Considering my less-than-stellar reflexes, this is a smart move; however it also applies to my life and how I conduct my relationships in general. I suppose I am more of a cohesive person that I sometimes think.

2) It's late here, around 1 in the morning, and I slept for 5 hours prior to this. Yesterday I got about 5-6 hours of sleep, definitely not enough for me. My point in recounting all these mundane trivialities is to notice that when your sleep schedule gets a little awry, you feel rather disconnected to the world. Right now, for instance. I feel like I could be anywhere, I don't have a sense of myself or what I need to do tomorrow or in two months and all these topics that have been occupying the DO side of my mind for weeks, months now. I am just here, now. Strangely enough I feel closely linked to the female protagonist in The Mousetrap, the play by Agatha Christie. It's a creepy, psychologically disturbing murder mystery that Agatha Christie is so good at writing (to the point of being formulaic). That feeling, of being stranded in the midst of people, of having all connection to the wider world cut off, of a pervasive sense of danger -- don't we sometimes all feel that? When your car breaks down in a lonely spot on the road?

In those cases I understand why one would feel that way, as there actually is a threat -- but I'm not sure why I do right now. It's like children being afraid of the dark. In our urbanized, technologically-advanced world we have done our best to steamroll uncertainty, to control our environment, to stem our fears with busyness. And that works most of the time. It's only in moments like these - late at night, or perhaps in a movie where one is transported into another time, another lens, or by reading a book or listening to a song (all forms of consumption, a one-way street) that we truly look into the abyss.

3) This is connected to 1 and 2 maybe...I think I am less certain of who I am than I was three years ago. I've gotten better at hiding it, justifying my choices, charting a reasonable plan and constructing a straightforward narrative that makes my current state inevitable -- but I'm less certain of who I am. Not that I knew for sure what my mission in life was three years ago, but I knew I believed in God and I wanted to do something in public-private partnerships in Malaysia. Wow, actually that doesn't sound very different from now. That's somewhat reassuring. Even in the chaos I have now about the small things, the short-term decisions (ok, perhaps some pretty long-term ones in terms of where I want to be for the next few years), some fundamental things haven't changed.

It's getting late, I'm going to stop being weird and get some rest.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

3 Nights of Dancing

This has been a very fun few nights, and in fact did not appear that it would be that way a few nights ago when T and I went down to CMC for TNC and found ourselves rejected because we did not have a guest pass. While I had foreseen this problem, I hadn't thought there might be guards vigilantly checking each id card. It took us a while, but we managed to get passes and a pen from one person (it felt like a drug deal, doing it right under the nose of the guards), and the newly-elected president of CMC's student body escorted us in (another requirement). Slightly awkward, as I only know him from my leadership program and didn't expect him to identify me but he did. Anyways, the dancing wasn't that fun.

Second night - started with drinks at the Brown Brotherhood at Pomona, with the incomparable R and met S and A there. I had more fun (and drinks) than expected, as well as good conversation. Afterwards we wanted to hit up CMC but ended up in Pomona Hall instead for some reason and joined a Pomona frat party. This frat was cool though, because it was almost all men of color which is a very unusual space. Had a lot of fun dancing with people who can dance (read: people of color generally) in a small space with REALLY good music. Maybe one downside was that I was too friendly to one person and gave my number away - that tends not to send the right message, and I don't think I'll do that again (or at least the bar has to be much much higher).

Third night/tonight - Drinks at A and T's place, served by SW the awesome bartender/economic analyst from HK, and unexpectedly meet J and M, friends of my friend C at Pitzer my freshman year. They seem to be doing pretty well, enjoying the adult life, might like to not live with parents maybe, but that will change not long from now I think. I would live with my parents too if I could get a job in Ipoh with good prospects! Anyway, meeting them was the first highlight of my night. Then I made an important decision after that party to go to Underground Blues at Dom's Lounge. Long story short...SO. MUCH. FUN. Danced with a number of people, and learnt a lot of cool moves from a guy who used to be on the Ballroom Dance Company (who also said I move well and could join tour team with some training - considering CCBDC is one of the top collegiate competitive ballroom teams. He might have just been flattering me, but he didn't have to, so I'm just going to take the compliment and be very happy about it). This is a lot different from last night though, there's a certain form even in Blues, the most lax dancestyle there is, as opposed to free dancing/grinding which really doesn't require any form at all. Then went over to the CMC party at sr apartments with the same guy, but by then the party was kind of fizzling out.

Late now, but this weekend was so great! And while I still have a lot of work to do, I did finish some already so I definitely think these few nights were worth it. After all, memories are what will last when all this academic knowledge fades away :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Narrow World We Live In

It's been a tiring few weeks. Applications, interviews, lots of highs and lows, expectations unmet, friendships struck and friendships waning...what else is going to happen?

It's 1am, I should go to sleep. I'm generally more upbeat than this.

When I think though, of the choices I have in life, it astounds me...just a few decades ago it's likely that at my age, with my background, I would be a mother. Maybe uneducated. In a low-wage job, or not having a job at all. With limited access to healthcare, to new opportunities, to travel, to achieve many of the current markers of success. Possibly lonely, if I moved away from my home to marry. Probably not having much freedom to socialize, particularly with the opposite gender.

Forget a few decades ago, women in many parts of the world still live like this today. Many women in Malaysia, too.

It is only by looking back and forth in time can I anchor myself in today and glimpse my role in it all. Women (and their families) before me have paved the road to make MY options possible, MY future as optimistic and impactful-on-a-large-scale as I dream now.

And so...maybe I need to relax a little. Just be grateful I am here, be thankful for these sisters and mothers who made it possible and are rooting for me from wherever they are.

And take up my load, willingly, and use what I have to make the way smooth for others.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

White Space


Change is unglamorous. Especially when you have to struggle really, really hard but pretend you've got it all together on the outside.

Recognizing that change is difficult, is a good first step. I'm reminding myself that while I must be my own worst critic, I have to be my own best lover and supporter too. Narcissistic as that sounds, no one else can get into your head and rub the spot where it hurts. That sounds a bit like an abusive relationship, actually -- the abuser and the comforter being one and the same. But that's how change feels like to me. All day I bang into mistakes, faux pas; get bitten by insecurities; worn down by weariness; slap myself awake again -- and at the end of the night, I let myself slow down and get angry and cry and get myself tissues and finally collapse in a puddle of placated, if not blissful, weariness. And the next morning I wake up and start over again.

When life is this open, this good, it seems almost disgusting to complain or to ever be unhappy in the slightest. But we all struggle, we struggle because there is no central cause to rally our lives around except narcissistic self-improvement. (Social justice? But how will you live on that?) In the end it circles around me, me, me. We are afraid to be our own masters. We need to be praised like children and given rewards for good behavior. FTS.

More reflections: in the developed world, we've confused what needs and wants are. We neglect needs like sleep, good nutrition, friends, family -- and satisfy unlimited wants that are often destructive. Truth be told, we need much less to live to our fullest potential, than we say we need. All the rest, it's just window dressing and higher heels.

(Note: Upon rereading, this post sounds like an angry, unfocused rant. Pardon the less-than-perfect writing. Hey, we all need to cut loose in our own way.)