Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mustahil

when everything - the world, circumstances, people
- push you towards something,
and perhaps, even a little part of yourself
pushes too -
yet when you know
no, you remember
that you should pull away:
this is the place where
you stand;
uncertain,
dragged in one direction
and then the other
yet you move nowhere.
you stand
thirsty for the future
wary of the past
and you continue
presently
standing
stock still.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Work

Just going to quickly throw together a bunch of unstructured thoughts...

I think it's incredibly astute how some people say that half the battle is won once you identify your pain points. You don't necessarily have to even come close to alleviating them - it's just that finally knowing what exactly is screwing you over, putting a name to it, not having that nagging feeling at the back of your mind... can be surprisingly helpful.

I know it's a bit too early in the semester to be making judgments about my classes - yet this week's classes have helped me to recognize certain things about myself that I wasn't necessarily aware of before. And it's certainly made me feel better, get a better grip on why last semester wasn't entirely fulfilling (not grade-wise, but learning-wise), and how the coming semester can be an improvement of that. For one, the fall semester saw me attributing my stress levels to the sheer volume of readings and written work that I had to do. Yet what I've realized this week is that it isn't the volume of work that typically causes me the most stress; it's disinterest in my work that does. 

I came to this understanding after impulsively (and audaciously) registering for a 4000-level politics class requiring an inhuman number of readings and a 25-page research paper. Yet - unlike the case of my largely painful (and uncompleted) history readings last semester - I've found myself actually immersed in the course material. Two days straight, and I'm still nowhere close to finishing them... but I don't mind. I'm learning. I'm engaged. I'm interested. And this encourages me, because it tells me that hey, I still have a huge capacity to love learning - something that didn't really happen for me last semester.

That said, it's not as if the world is all rainbows and unicorns and I'm going to enjoy every single hour of my academic life (I mean, I do have UWriting this semester haha) - but at the very least, I'm hoping that this semester will be in some ways intellectually rewarding. But I guess that remains to be seen. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lihatlah

apa yang engkau lihat?

aku melihat pokok berharga
engkau melihat balak yang mahal.
aku melihat tanah kaya dengan rahsia alam
engkau melihat konsesi lumayan.
aku melihat sungai, saluran darah Bumi
engkau melihat empangan, saluran kewangan kocekmu.

sampai bila akan engkau terus 
melihat tanpa menganggap,
mendengar tanpa mengerti?
sampai bila akan engkau terus
puas dengan kebutaan?
sampai bila akan engkau terus
enggan melihat?

kita terdesak. namun
kita terus melihat
meneliti
memandang
engkau.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Money Logging - Review and Reflections

I've spent the past week of my winter break buried in a book (and an excellent piece of investigative journalism) entitled 'Money Logging' by Lukas Straumann. When I first received delivery of this book, I eyed with skepticism what I thought was a rather sensationalist blurb on the front cover - "Read this book and weep. But then get angry." But now, having thoroughly gone through the entire book, I can truthfully tell you this: for me, at least, that blurb was far from sensationalist. I did read it, and I did get incredibly angry, and as much as I hate to admit it (my friends will attest to the fact that I ordinarily have tear glands of stone) - I did weep.


In this book, Straumann - a historian and the executive director of the Bruno Manser Fund - provides an account of deforestation in Borneo's forests as orchestrated by Taib Mahmud (former chief minister of Sarawak), as well as its resulting threat to the indigenous Penan tribe. Here, I must add that up to this point, I'd only known that Taib was an inordinately powerful politician who'd somehow managed to sink his fingers into many different pies in the country (most notably, in the timber industry). But this book helped me shed further light on three main things: that is, i) the extent of his power; ii) the way in which he has and continues to consolidate power; and ii) the impact of his abuses of power.

i) Extent of power

What surprised me most about the extent of Taib's power was how far-reaching it really is. In the first chapter of this book, Straumann exposes the numerous multimillion-dollar companies controlled by Taib and his family members all over the globe: Sakti International Group (San Francisco), Wallysons Inc. (Seattle), Sakto Group (Ottawa), City Gate International Corporation (Ottawa), Ridgeford Properties (London), Sitehost PTY (Adelaide), and of course, the Taib family holdings in Malaysia. And in yet another chapter, he details the key buyers that create unsustainable demand for Sarawak's tropical hardwood: Japan, Taiwan, South Korea. According to Straumann, these three export markets alone "absorbed nearly 90% of the timber exports from Sarawak" (p. 109), presumably with lucrative kickbacks to the Taib family. (And while we're at it, here's a bonus article about how Japanese demand for timber - this time from the 2020 Olympics - drives the destructive industry back home.)

Then, in remarkable detail, Straumann goes on to give account after account of the rampant cronyism and bribery that binds this web of illicit wealth together. To summarize the entire book in a paragraph would be quite a feat - so to put it more succinctly: "The conditions for timber exporters were clear; without kickbacks to [a Taib family company], there would be no export permit" (p. 108). Or, to paint an even more scandalous picture of the corruption and nepotism that routinely takes place in the Malaysian timber industry, allow me to digress a little and revive what was once a viral video: Inside Malaysia's Shadow State, by Global Witness. Chances are, you've already watched it (especially if you're a Malaysian) - but even if you have, I'd urge you to watch it again. The public furore may have quieted down, the video might have left circulation on our newsfeeds, our attention may have been diverted to other issues - yet whether we're conscious of it or not, these transactions still continue from day to day, and it's good to be reminded that they still exist.

ii) Consolidation of power

Moving on, this book gets even more interesting when Straumann begins to dissect the models that the Taib dynasty has perfected for staying in power and generating more wealth. And through my readings of Straumann's work, I've identified what I think are two of the most key ones. The first has to do with Taib's and his cronies' consolidation of power in the domestic arena:
"The principle is as simple as it is criminal. Politicians in government hand out logging concessions to their favorites and, in return, pocket bribes, which they use to finance their electoral campaigns - as well as for private purposes. Given that there are virtually no other sources of funding for the political parties - and that electoral campaigns are extremely costly in the remote rural regions of Borneo - those in office have a decisive advantage over challengers. In Sarawak, whoever managed to gain control of the logging concessions was in a position to harvest enormous sums of money and win every electoral campaign by a wide margin, making it virtually impossible to force them from office." (p. 98)
And then Straumann presents yet another model, this time of how Taib's companies consolidate power internationally:
"Twenty years after their international expansion, the timber corporations from Sarawak are still playing an important role in the worldwide tropical timber business, which is far from becoming sustainable. ... One thing they all have in common is that they have thrived thanks to a political climate rife with corruption and to an extremely lax application of the forestry laws, making it possible to flout rules more or less at will. As a result of the high profit margins in tropical timber, they subsequently moved into new fields of business, such as hotels, real estate, media, shipping, and palm oil production." (p. 224)
As a whole, both models work on different levels, but have one common feature that results in near-guaranteed success every time: they each form a positive feedback loop - a vicious cycle - that continuously amplifies and has some sort of a multiplier effect upon the original misdeeds of these companies. And this has resulted in the Taib dynasty growing increasingly wealthy, and also increasingly difficult to uproot, as the years go by.

iii) Impact of abuses of power

Straumann paints a frightening picture of the consequences of the Taib family's actions upon the natural environment and indigenous people in Sarawak. Digressing a little, it's possible to view and analyze these impacts through the Bruno Manser Fund's Sarawak Geoportal. This portal has a collection of customizable maps and satellite images that allow users to view and compare various aspects of Sarawak's development (ranging from indigenous culture, to land encroachment, to politics, etc). Needless to say, these maps are of inestimable importance both in tracking environmental degradation, and in supporting land rights claims by indigenous groups. 

In terms of the former, Sarawak - one of the world's most biodiverse regions - has been stripped down to a mere 5% of its original virgin forests. I've pulled a couple of screenshots from the geoportal to give you a better idea of what this massive deforestation looks like -


Land cover in the 1960s


Land cover in 2010

And here's the deal: while the loss of our ancient tropical rainforests and rich biodiversity is a tragedy in itself, it lends itself to an even further tragedy - that of the destruction of orang asli lives and livelihoods. Straumann narrates accounts of Penans who can no longer hunt and forage with ease in the forest, who are forced out of their ancestral homes by oil palm plantations, who are uprooted and displaced in favor of hydroelectric megadam projects. He tells the story of Along Sega, who died without seeing the earnest dreams of his adopted lakei Penan, Bruno Manser, ever coming to pass. He recounts the courage of the Penan people, who - though by nature gentle and non-confrontational - put up blockades of wood against timber magnates. He narrates both the triumphs and the struggles (though far more of the latter, unfortunately) of a beautiful people in a beautiful land that has been scarred by corruption and cronyism.

---

As a whole, I believe that Straumann has done an admirable (and not to mention, very brave) job of unearthing and exposing some of the most corrupt acts that Malaysia - and perhaps even the world - has seen. Even if just half of the things written in this book were true, it would be cause enough for the environment and Sarawak's indigenous tribes to suffer remarkable devastation - and by virtue of this, should also be cause enough for us to sit up and take notice and actually do something. (And an additional note here that I actually do view Straumann and the Bruno Manser Fund as highly reliable sources!)

But what can be done? Most of us aren't in the position to take on the timber barons of Sarawak; neither are we in the position to write yet another Straumann-esque exposé. So here are a few small but entirely practical things that we can do that might make a little difference:

- Read the book. Thank the heavens that it's not banned in Malaysia. It's an incredibly important text, whether you're interested in the environment, indigenous rights, Malaysia, history, politics, economics, finance and investment, sustainable development, corruption, or even psychological warfare. And it's really absorbing too; you're not likely to get bored.
- As far as possible, avoid patronizing banks that do business with companies associated with illegal and unsustainable deforestation. Among the financial institutions singled out by Straumann are: HSBC, Deutsche Bank, UBC, Goldman Sachs. There are probably more.
- Watch an awesome documentary called Sunset Over Selungo. In just a bit less than 30 minutes, you'll get a pretty comprehensive (and beautiful!) overview of the culture of the Penan Selungo, as well as the complex issues that they currently face. 
- Support the Penan Peace Park! It's a plan drawn up by Penan people themselves, aimed at "uniting forest protection with socio-economic development". The park covers 163,000 hectares of land, of which 60% is still intact primary rainforest. There's a tab for donations on the website if you're up for it.


Penan Peace Park region is within the (rather faint) green lines

And of course, given the opportunity, make friends with orang asli folks. They're some of the best people around. This one's to all my Penan friends at Long Lamai and beyond!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Food Wars

Today I posted a status update on Facebook about some laksa-related incident that I happened to witness at a Malaysian restaurant, and that post alone received a flood of responses.

"In the southern states they call curry mee, laksa. Weird but true"
"Laksa is definitely worth fighting for!"
"I WANT LAKSA PLZ."
"I wish I had access to laksa."
"Later they start debating about whether it should be called curry laksa or curry mee"

Malaysians take their food seriously. On the international front, we take it as an affront that our southern neighbors, our duri dalam daging, claim to have good street food (because face it, ours is the real deal). But interestingly, on the domestic front, in-fighting tends to flare up as well: the northern and southern states are often at odds over their respective hawker fare.

For one - as I already brought up earlier - laksa often finds itself at the center of food conflicts in Malaysia. The northern states (which I am partial to, despite the fact that I'm technically a southerner) generally insist that 'laksa' refers to assam laksa, a spicy and sour fish-based noodle soup. In contrast, the south claims that laksa is what the north recognizes as curry mee (basically noodles in a curry-based broth).

But who is right?

Answers are difficult to come by.

The conflict then takes a different turn with a different dish, and goes on to broach more philosophical ground. What is hokkien mee? What does it truly comprise of? Who can rightfully stake a claim to its name? Can multiple variants of it exist simultaneously? (The answer to the last question, by the way, is a resounding no. There is no room for relativism in these profound gastronomical questions of life.)

The north, of course, testifies to the greatness of a spicy prawn-based noodle soup graced by slivers of pork, thin slices of hard boiled eggs with perfect golden yolks, and Jibby's affordable kangkung. The south, on the other hand, throws pearls to pigs by bequeathing the divine title of 'hokkien mee' upon a thick black mass of worms.


But I'm biased. And regardless of my opinions, the great Malaysian food debate will continue till kingdom come. So perhaps, the only way we can resolve it with any finality is to bring it to court.

Yes, to court. The food court. Let's eat.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Howard Shore. HOWARD SHORE. Such excite.

Howard Shore is a musical genius. I deign to say this in a casual yeah, I think he's great kind of way - no, I actually mean every syllable of that two-word phrase. Musical genius. And why so? 

Primarily, his work never fails to take my breath away because it's not just a collection of pretty tunes; rather, the music he composes is literature. Much like the way in which celebrated works of literature have motifs interwoven and recurring throughout the text, Shore interweaves leitmotifs throughout his magnum opus. For instance, there's the Concerning Hobbits leitmotif (the light, tin-whistly one you always hear at the Shire), the dark and warlike Isengard theme, the ethereal Rivendell one, and a whole lot more.

But the genius part of Shore's work is that his application of leitmotifs is far from simplistic - it's not just a matter of copy and pasting a Concerning Hobbits leitmotif whenever Bilbo comes trotting along in the Shire; neither is it about squeezing in a cascade of heavenly arpeggios on the harp every time Galadriel or Elrond appear onscreen. No - the wonderful thing about Shore is that he recognizes that there are deeper nuances in Tolkien's text, and he strives to reflect that in his music.

Take the track "Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe" from The Fellowship of the Ring as an example. This part of Shore's composition accompanies a rather complex, tension-filled scene in which Gandalf confronts Bilbo about the Ring. What I find most compelling about this track is that it layers three principle leitmotifs - Concerning Hobbits, The Pity of Gollum, and Mordor's Descending Third Ostinato - over each other. And the more I think about it, the more brilliance I see in this: in one fell swoop, Shore reveals (and foreshadows!) the enormous power struggle that the Ring invites. Here, the goodness of honest hobbits is juxtaposed against the dark, twisted corruption of what was once a good and honest hobbit (i.e. Gollum). And all of this is laced with ominous hints of Mordor, from whence the Ring came, and to where it is longing to return. Literary quality: check. Music: equally brilliant; check. 

Wonderfully, all of this musical brilliance is captured in a book called The Music of the Lord of the Rings by Doug Adams (Shore invited Adams to observe and document his work on all three of the LOTR films). I've read excerpts of Adams' writing before, and I've found him to be an exceptional music journalist - he has an incredible understanding of Shore's compositions, and he puts it out there in highly accessible language for readers. I might actually buy this book someday when I'm less broke. It's high up on my wishlist.

But on the subject of being broke, I'm actually broke for a very happy reason. I've bought tickets to a LOTR concert at Lincoln Center this year - to watch Shore's FOTR score being performed live to the film (!!!). I. Cannot. Wait. This is basically going to be the pinnacle of all the musical things I've ever done in my life. So there we have it. I - the usually unexcitable one in all of my friend groups - am extremely excited. And now that I'm done gushing, let me return to listening to the full soundtrack again.


Such excite!

---

End note: I would major in Tolkien and minor in Howard Shore at college if I could, but as of now, neither appears to be a viable option for me. A huge pity, especially considering that my college was home to the first Tolkien Society of America. Shame on you, Columbia. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

SpeechBubble

If you've read this blog enough, you may have noticed that it's undergone some minor cosmetic / structural changes over the past month or so. 

Late last year, the seven-year itch got the better of me (I started this blog in 2007) - and seeing other people create their own websites with awesome interfaces and such made me seriously consider purchasing my own domain. I mean I thought (and still think) that it would be pretty cool to be able to learn the in and outs of building a website of my own, and to be able to fully customize it as I pleased, and to actually have something professional-looking, as opposed to a scrappy blog with stock templates. But in the end, I could never bring myself to abandon this blog - simply because it has been such an integral part of my journey ever since I was thirteen. Talk about sentimentality. 

So there we go, SpeechBubble stays. At least for now. But the midway compromise I made with myself was that I could reconstruct and reorganize certain parts of this blog, whilst retaining most of its original integrity. So this is what I've done:

1. Header change

I've actually hated my juvenile blog header for the longest time, so when I recently discovered an amazing drawing app called Tayasui Sketches, I was pretty stoked. This app has more that I could have ever asked for: an elegant interface, extreme brushstroke responsiveness, a range of incredible drawing tools, an infinite range of colors, ridiculously classy finish. So yes, I reimagined and drew a new header (which makes me really happy!). 

2. Original illustrations

As you may / may not have noticed, I've been interspersing more illustrations in my writing than I usually do. All this, once again, is thanks to Tayasui Sketches. Seriously though, this app is incredible. Can I digress for a bit? Here are some products that emerged from a lazy morning of doodling (and I promise you, I'm no Picasso - this app just makes inept wannabe artists look good):

The entire silhouette was drawn in one stroke. Seriously. This app.

It also allowed me to basically redraw Quentin Blake's work.

AND Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's work.

It then does the impossible of making basic keyhole figures look elegant.

Okay I should stop advertising for Tayasui now. But yeah, if I'm not too lazy, there should be more images in my posts this year! Moving on -

3. Removal of embarrassing posts

... there was no shortage of them. I'm sorry, they're mostly gone now. I decided to leave the raw, honest ones untouched though, if that's any consolation.

4. Reorganization of labels

Back when I was thirteen, I had little to no idea of how labels were supposed to work, so I just labeled everything with zero consistency. I've remedied that now, though - you can check out the relevant sidebar.

---

So yeah, I think that's about it. I hope to write less thoughtless / fluffy things and more substantial pieces this semester, but we all know that this is doomed to fail. Which is fine by me - because SpeechBubble was always quite the unprofessional blog with stock templates and scrappy writing. And I'm actually pretty fond of that. :)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Engraved

“See, I have engraved you on the palm of my hands.”

I don’t know about you, but every time this well-loved verse from Isaiah 49 is brought up in church, it evokes a very particular image in my mind: that of my own name written in bold, flowing script on my heavenly Father’s tender by strong hands. I view it as beautiful metaphor of God’s love for his people. I rest in its reassurance that God acknowledges my individual personhood; that he loves me as a father; that he will never, ever forget or leave me.

Yet I often get the nagging feeling that my romanticized understanding of this verse – while all in all true – still leaves more to be desired; a deeper meaning to further dig in to. For the most part, it is Isaiah’s word choice that does it for me. In depicting the branding of mankind on God’s palms, Isaiah chooses a medium far from innocuous: he doesn’t just say that we are “written”, or even “tied to” God’s hands (as for the latter, a role reversal of what the ancient Hebrews were commanded to do to remember God[1]). But rather, we are engraved.

In a short sermon entitled “Can a Mother Forget”, Tim Keller helps us to unpack this concept a little. The word “engraved”, he says, is a very specific Hebrew word that means engraved with a hammer and a chisel or a spike. So the image of our being engraved on God’s palms is far from being a fluffy, feel-good one; rather, it is one fully steeped in pain, one fully immersed in agony, one quite opposed to my imagination of flowing, inky script on skin. Keller sums it up succinctly: “It’s not a beautiful metaphor. It’s a horrible metaphor.”


However, in all of its awfulness, there is yet another deeper, terrible, but redeeming dimension to this metaphor: that is, that it speaks to the future. Here, this verse not only speaks of God the Father; it also foreshadows the way in which his Son would ransom the world hundreds of years later. For – just like the Father – the Son would also remember you and I through the scars on his hands.

Here, noting in particular that Isaiah does not write that God has “engraved your name”, but rather, that God has “engraved you” on the palm of his hands – we can understand that we were not written on his hands as a mark of glory. Rather, our entire selves, our sins, were the very spikes that pierced and engraved the Son, evidencing the deep marks of shame upon his palms.


Yet – in a fantastically absurd turn of events – although we caused him pain, and although this pain left scars, these this horrible marks are redeemed as beautiful engravings that testify of God’s enduring loving-kindness toward us. Thus, though our sins tell us that we are driven further, further, further away from God, Jesus tells us that every nail and scar is redeemed – and we are forgiven, forgiven, forgiven. And the grave of death opens to bring to us the engravings of life.





[1] Deuteronomy 6:8: Tie [God’s words] on your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

No Retreat

Today was not a great day to be homeless in New York.


Today was an okay day to be a tourist perhaps - one could trudge through a few blocks of fresh, crunchy snow, snap the obligatory Times Square picture, and then retreat to a warm coffee joint for refuge from the biting wind. But what if you had no retreat?

No retreat to the fancy deli where people warm their frostbitten hands over steaming plates of food, because you can't afford it on the quarters and occasional dollar bills that these very same hands drop in front of you.

Would you like a drink? I have juice in my bag.
Oh yes, please. I would like that.
Sure - I rummage in my backpack - apple, orange or cranber-
Eyes widen.
-oh, cranberry would be amazing.
I slide three small bottles of juice over to her.
Thank you so much, you don't know what this did for me - it would've been three dollars at the store.

No retreat from the snow - or worse, sleet - because all that stands between you and a cruel polar vortex is a bundle of old blankets and Goodwill jackets carefully accumulated over the years.

Do you have a place to stay tonight?
Yes - she points to someplace across the street - there.
Great - is it a shelter?
No, no - I'll just be sleeping outside-
-but won't it be cold?
She pauses for a moment, takes a look at her bundle of blankets, gently waves me off.
It's okay. I'm warm.

No retreat from hardship, because the world has called you from one hard place to yet another hard place.

I was a political prisoner in China. 
Wow. Rough.
Yeah. The secret police took me. They just released me... but I've missed so much of my life.
Can you tell me more about it?
I mean, man, I've missed everything from between the 1980s and now. I was young when I went to prison. I'm old now. And my family won't take me back, so I'm out here now.

No retreat from pain, because - like an exhibit in a freak show - people react to your mental instability with a combination of both horror and morbid interest, and scarcely any compassion. You are the sort of individual respectable people try to divert their innocent children's gazes from.

Rrftyblfuqiljlnfqybveqt. KRRRR. Sghjsfhghfet. Arr. Gfjkfhgbyirrww.
Radio radio radio rail train hehehe radio radio time coming driving radio radio hehehe.

No retreat from loneliness, because you know - though you hate to admit it - that to most, you are nothing more than a receptacle for quarters and dollar bills and pitying glances.

"They all say I stink."
Surrounding people begin to edge away, take seats further up the subway carriage.
"You see that? Did you see that? They all say I stink."

It is hardly ever a good day to be homeless in New York (or anywhere else for that matter). I write this with little authority - I cannot claim to have ever slept out in the biting windchill, nor have I ever deeply treasured cranberry juice from the JJ's chiller, nor have I ever been kept in by the government and then thrown out by family. I stay in Hotel Wallach (where even the sketchy basement would be far superior to the living conditions of most homeless folks), I unthinkingly pour myself anything I want from a mind-numbing array of beverages in my dining halls, I am constantly remembered by a loving and nurturing family.

And yet - I write this as a friend. I write this as one who has embraced and been embraced by incredible, beautiful individuals all over New York - people with colorful life stories, hopes and dreams, and a simple desire to be loved. I write this as one who would implore you - if you would be willing - to be a friend too. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 in Doodles

After a semester of churning out endless papers, I've rather run out of words to write - so instead of the obligatory year-end post, I thought I'd capture my 2014 in the form of juvenile doodles. Here goes:


IB: The Indian Candle
Ended 2 of the best years of my life with 27 of the best people I've ever met. Words cannot express how difficult it was to part with them (the monumental heap of tissue paper in B-7-3 attests to that). May the flame of the Indian candle - downward wiggle and all - shine forevermore.


RRSS: The Umbrella, a.k.a the weapon of choice
Five dear sisters with whom I deeply bonded over matters of faith, umbrella wars, love for our country, persecution and oppression, and awful English. "Who we are? Y-E-S, yes."


Columbia: Not A Place I Wanted To Be
... but today, I can't imagine myself anywhere else. It's home.


Isaiah 41: A Promise
The beginning of the academic year at Columbia was an incredibly difficult and isolating time for me. It was a season of wandering and wondering - why am I here? why does everything seem so meaningless? can anything good ever come out of this? But in the most hopeless of seasons came the most hopeful of promises -

I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
    and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
    and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert
    the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland,
    the fir and the cypress together,
so that people may see and know,
    may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

And now that a semester has come and gone, I can testify with confidence that all of this has been true for me.


Jube!: The Most Normal Group of People You'll Ever Meet
Coming into college, I'd never have imagined that I'd wind up in an a cappella group (mainly because I don't actually sing). Nonetheless, joining Jube! was probably the best decision I made this semester: I didn't just find myself amongst a bunch of singing people; I found myself in a family. A family that enjoys the most successful experimental food ever, that plays intense games of Werewolf, that knits glasses cozies, that obeys a tyrannical morning and evening star, that dances to HSM.

 IV & Life Group: Love
If I had to pick one thing that characterizes IV and life group, it would be this: unconditional love. In the arms of this group, an utterly lost freshman experienced a community of people who cared deeply, gave generously, and loved without limits. And I cannot be more grateful.


Tuesday Real Talk: Hope (pun intended)
What started out as a casual worship and jam session in Hope's room turned into some of the most life-giving moments of the semester for me. We allowed each other into our respective lives, opening up what was an incredibly non-judgmental space for sharing and struggling and sermon jams. Also, that gigantic teddy bear. Such wow. 


JJ's Swipes for the Homeless: Hunger of the Heart
Mother Teresa is quoted as saying that the "most terribly poverty is loneliness". This year, I felt led to bring light meals to homeless people and to spend time befriending and talking to them. These new friendships that I made led me to start JJ's Swipes for the Homeless, a food drive that yielded a significant amount of food for the hungry in New York. In many ways, this initiative fed my heart and filled it with love - for my three amazing friends who made this happen with me, for the Columbia community for stopping to contribute their swipes and to have conversations with us, and for the homeless - who, I hope, have found a bit of a home in our hearts.


2014 was a good year. Not necessarily the easiest, but good all the same. Hello 2015 :)