Thursday, September 3, 2015

Home Away

Whoever said that leaving would be easier the second time around was so wrong. Talked to CJ today about it and told her: it's not that I'm not happy about being here; I'm just not super happy not being back home anymore.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Yellow Flowers

At yesterday's Bersih rally, I was milling around Jalan Tun Perak when a lovely Chinese aunty stopped me and gave me a yellow rose to carry around. I actually loved having that flower to hold (I generally think that flowers are nice symbols of peace at protests), so I brought it around with me for quite a few hours. But then later on in the day, a lovely Malay makcik randomly smiled at me near the National Mosque, so I decided to give the rose to her instead. I had no clue whether she was a Bersih supporter or not - but in any case, it made her happy, so that was enough for me.

Nice menyentuh hati kind of story yes? 

... Maybe. But also maybe not. It depends.

While I love the way in which rallies like Bersih have brought Malaysians together time and time again, I'm slightly wary of over-romanticizing one-off encounters of 'unity' or 'perpaduan' and casting them as the norm, the present all-encompassing reality. Sure, I might have given a rose to a super cute makcik yesterday (because it's easier to do this sort of thing when you're supercharged with national-unity spirit on a cheery Bersih weekend) - but will I faithfully continue to perform acts of goodwill towards other makciks in the coming days/weeks/months? Yes, I stopped to befriend three warung operators selling drinks at their roadside stall yesterday - but would I do the same on a non-Bersih day? I walked in loud, celebratory solidarity with people from walks of life vastly different from my own yesterday; will I continue to walk with them on quieter, more ordinary days, even when our respective paths diverge and become increasingly difficult to navigate?

While I absolutely do NOT intend to detract from the wonder and joy that comes from all our collective Bersih stories, I'd also like to suggest that this should only be the beginning - and not the end! - for us. All the rallying and protesting and unifying things we've done on the streets would ultimately be futile if, after this Merdeka weekend, we just return to our regular lives: NATO armchair criticisms of the government, having friends of only our own race + socioeconomic class, disparaging racial stereotypes, considering our own interests before the interests of others, endless spirals of despair. Yet conversely, Bersih would be well worth our efforts if all the good things about it - unity, acceptance, love, friendship, courage - became long-term lifestyles rather than just a one-off event.

Therefore: if yesterday was the first and last time I'd ever give a yellow flower to a makcik (whether literally or figuratively speaking), then no, this would categorically be a hypocritical, insincere and super-not-menyentuh-hati kind of Bersih story. But the opposite is also true: if only we'd all give out metaphorical yellow flowers every day of our lives, I think that would make an entirely different  - and more worthwhile - story altogether.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tanah Air

One year on, and the prospect of leaving home still sucks. This past summer has been rocky - not so much for me personally, but for the country - and as strange as this might sound, I hate the thought of moving thousands of kilometers away from all the political and economic madness here. 

It's not as if I like what's happening to Malaysia at the moment (who does?). But being back home, being in the thick of things, waking up to a new ridiculous statement by yet another politician every single morning - all of this reminds me of my own Malaysian-ness, as well as all the things I've been hoping for, praying for, fighting for. And amidst all of the chaos, I'm constantly reminded that I've never been alone in this struggle: thousands people have gone before me, and thousands of people will come after me. I'm just a tiny little (yellow!) dot in a great sea of people who care for justice and mercy and brighter future. Yet I'm there, part of the sea of yellow, all the same. 

But it's much harder to remember my part in the larger struggle whenever I'm thousands of kilometers away from it. It's so easy to just get enveloped in what is the hectic east coast college life: to drown in extracurriculars, classes, deadlines...

Which is why I'm glad my flight to NY is two days after what is going to be a very special Merdeka. I'm glad I'm not going to miss this round of celebrations. I remember the tears I shed for the country the last time I went to the streets (half-induced by tear gas, half-induced by the incredible sight of fellow countrymen coming together in solidarity). It was there that I felt the gravity of the term tanah air for the first time in my life: tanah air, land and water; tanah tumpahnya air mataku

I know that this round of protests has its own share of detractors; and I can see why this would be the case. Because frankly, nothing much (besides scaring the powers-that-be with our potentially large turnout) is likely to change as a direct result of this act of civil disobedience. Our beloved PM is likely to remain in office. The MYR is likely to remain at 4:1 to the USD, and perhaps even worsen over time. Electoral processes are likely to remain fraught with inconsistencies. Yet I will still go, even if going will prove futile - if only to serve as a reminder that Malaysians still care. And that Malaysians still hope. And that no matter what the crazies running our Parliament may say, Indians, Malays, Bidayuhs, Ibans, Penans, Kayans, Kelabits, Seranis, Chinese - Malaysians, really - are still capable of coming together and loving one another.

And dammit, at least trying is better than doing nothing at all.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Over Eggs Benedict and Avocado Toast

Met up with a good friend today, and was hit by the realization: I'm going to start the new school year without one particular fantastic, sincere, kind, thoughtful, and extremely smart human being. Basically a Columbian unicorn. Also the only Malaysian I ever hung out with properly (complete with way-too-long makan seshes and political jokes and deep conversations). 

Will miss you more than you know JL! Shine bright wherever you go :)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What I Wish I Knew When I was Applying to College

Last weekend, I attended USAPPS as a facilitator. It made me recall my own college application journey; and more than ever, it made me think about the things I wish I knew when I was applying to the States. So here you go: a blog post about the things I wish I knew when I was applying to the States. So imaginative I know!

Disclaimer I: these are obviously drawn from my own obviously biased experiences, so they may/may not apply to you. Take with a pinch (or actually a whole 500gm bag) of sodium chloride. My journey does not represent everyone else's.

1. The black hole of EA/ED

People used to tell me, "Apply EA/ED if you can send in a strong application by the deadline. It gives you a better shot at admission!" 

I guess I'd also give similar advice to applicants today. Looking beyond the supposedly "higher chances of admission" (which in reality may not necessarily be the case, given the traditionally stronger EA/ED candidate pool) - at the very least, even if you don't get in, you'd be done with inane/time-consuming CommonApp requirements by November. And then you can spend all of December focusing on the truly soul-sucking activities, i.e. essay-writing. 

But there is also, I believe, a flip side to EA/ED that's far more psychological than it is technical. Chances are - especially if you've gone to USAPPS and heard the wonderful "chase your dreams" spiel - you either: have heard about dream schools / are currently researching for one / already have one warmly tucked deep down in the recesses of your heart. And chances are, you're going to apply EA/ED to it. 

That's totally fine. But I would, at this point, insert a reality check: just because you have a dream school, that doesn't mean that you're going to get into it. Some people do get in, I'm sure. You've probably heard all of their stories by now. But by and large, I think that there are far more people, whose stories are rarely told, who don't get in to their dream schools. Stories of people like me, who were so fixated on the notion of one particular "dream school" (to the point of devoting all resources to it / neglecting other college apps) but eventually didn't get in. And who consequently had to cobble together multiple RD apps in a matter of days. Yeah don't do that. It's kind of comical now, but less so when it was actually happening.

So I've said a lot, but my point here is this: go ahead and apply EA/ED if you will, but remember to simultaneously work on your RD apps! Loving one school to the complete exclusion of all others isn't the particularly smartest move one can make.

2. College research ≠ College experience

This bit is less about the application process than it is about what happens after that.

For the most part, after having done hours and hours' worth of college research, it may be tempting to believe that you know exactly what college life will be like. If you get into your dream college, you know that you're going to take x class, join y club, live in z residential hall. And similarly, if you don't get into your dream college, it may be equally tempting to write off your entire future college experience immediately.

I definitely did that myself: upon committing to Columbia (which was hardly my dream school FYI), I "knew" that I would flounder in the stress culture, that I would utterly dislike NY, that I would struggle to find community in a super cutthroat place. And I also knew that I would join the political science society, a SEA culture club, and would also do what seemed to be a super amazing jazz studies concentration.


To begin with, I discovered that yes, Columbia was as stressful as stressful gets, but that a lot of this (good and largely self-induced) stress came from awesome classes that made me want to do more than what was required. I discovered that - while I still don't love the chaos that is NYC - I love the opportunities it has afforded me to serve the homeless community in the heart of the city. I discovered that people on campus (at least, the ones I hang out with) are incredibly caring and supportive, and never once have I felt regarded more as competition than as a friend. 

I joined the political science society's listserv, but never went for a single meeting. I joined the board of a SEA club for a few weeks, and then dropped it permanently. Instead, I joined an a cappella group (which was something I'd never imagined I'd do, because I actually don't love singing) - and have experienced so much joy there ever since. I took a Jazz History class, gushed about my first lesson, and fell asleep the rest of the semester. Needless to say, I've since dropped the idea of a Jazz Studies concentration.

So my point is this: college research is important - but it will never tell you the whole story. It can never tell you your story - at least, not until you step on campus. So if you get into your dream school, congratulations, be excited! - but also be realistic with your expectations (the drop off the Reality Cliff can be pretty sheer, especially if you don't make an effort to plant your feet firmly on the ground). More cheerful news for you if you don't get into your dream college: your four-year narrative has not been written by the scores of school newspapers, college blogs, U.S. News & World Report rankings that you've pored over the past few months. No, your college narrative has yet to be written - and the fun part is that it may not turn out to be what you expected it to be. 

3. College is more than a name

At USAPPS, I mentioned that "it's not so much where you go to college; it's more about what you do wherever you go".

Okay I'm not going to lie to you and say that all schools are equally endowed with resources, opportunities, super cray alumni networks, etc. Columbia, for instance, would likely have far more resources available than, say, a the average state-funded college. 

But what I will say, though, is that it's entirely possible to attend a super well-known, super high-ranking, super elite college - and yet not get the best education you can possibly receive. You can sit around and do the minimum required to graduate, and no one will push to do any more than that. Or to put it another way: it's entirely possible to go to a famous/fancy place and not explore your academic interests, not take advantage of professors' office hours, not turn up at classes (haha so guilty), not do extracurriculars, not delve into stimulating research, not apply for grants, not study abroad, not use career services, not use the writing center, not use all the freaking resources your college shoves down your throat in weekly listserv emails, etc etc etc; and you will still get to wear the robe and funny square hat at the end of your four years. 

Conversely, I think that it's entirely possible for someone to attend a much less famous/fancy college, but to still have incredibly rich experiences by proactively pushing for resources and by grabbing/creating opportunities.

Here, I'm not necessarily saying that people need to use every single resource available to them at any given college; rather, my point is that getting into college is just the first step. Getting the most out of it is the second (and IMHO, the more important + difficult) step. 


That was long. But really - in the madness, chaos and stress of college apps, it can be hard to see anything other than dream schools and rankings. So hopefully my hindsight was slightly (if at all) helpful in gaining some balanced perspective.

tl;dr: Expectations ≠ Reality, and that's not always a bad thing.

Penyeruh Maréng 4

Akeu' tupat suai lagu Penan haha.

Ka'au lah jah
Dalem urip ké'
Ka'au ku' pika'
Dalem kenin ké'
Na péh akeu' jah kelunan lemoo'
Ko' Tuhan ngamit ojoo' ké'
Ngan akeu' keloo' kivu ko'
Putung dau, putung merem

Ku' seva', ku' seva' ko' Amam Tamen ké'
Mena' urip ké' ngan ke'
Hun iteu' akeu bara'
Ko' Tuhan ké'

Friday, July 31, 2015

Penyeruh Maréng 3

Akeu' purung jah ayat lem Rengah Jian ri': Jian ke' murung padéé ko' pekua' ko' murung usah ko' tengéé'. Mu'un néh, akeu' seruh - ah, akeu' omok kivu sohoo' Tuhan iteu'. Bé' pelapah susah kan?

Tapi hun mah akeu' seruh tong kekat-kekat éh jadi tong tana' Malaysia iteu', akeu' duah kenin. Uban Yésus lepah bara, kekat kelunan tong tana' iteu' semu'un néh padéé lu'. Tapi kineu akeu omok murung pengeja'au-pengeja'au sa'at éh nekau ligit rakyat? Kineu akeu omok murung réh éh modoo' rakyat malai lem lamin tutup? Kineu' akeu omok murung kelunan barei' okoo' Najib, Rosmah, Zahid, ngan lain-lain kepéh? Susah mu'un. 

Tapi adang Yésus kelo lu' murung réh nyavuu' padéé' lu' tengéé'. Tekep lu' seruh: "... uban lem lu' pu'un maneu' penyala' keto, inah Kristus matai ngeliwah uleu'" (Rum 5:8). Na péh akeu' merek ngan kuraa'-kuraa' penganeu réh éh sa'at mu'un, akeu' jam Tuhan tebai ké murung réh. Uban akeu' péh jah kelunan éh maneu' pinaa'-pinaa' pesala' lem pengurip ké.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Today Tasa messaged me, saying: "Puun amam siteu... amam kirim tabik ngn ko..." (Dad is here... he sends his greetings to you). So I got to talk to amam a bit through Tasa.

Then at one point in time, he asked me when I was heading to the States. I told him September. Then Tasa dropped a bombshell: "blan oktober amam rawah er er... Puun tai KL..." (In October, mom and dad are coming to KL). WHAT EVEN. I miss my adopted family so, so much. I... don't want to go to college anymore.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Crow's Feet 2

A couple of years back, I rather impulsively wrote a short blog post entitled "Crow's Feet". At that point in time, I had - out of the blue - begun to miss one particular weh from Long Lamai, that was Aunty Uyang, and so I'd decided to write about her to temper my melancholy a little. However, thinking back, it was slightly odd that I should have missed her at all. For during my previous trips to Long Lamai, I'd spent the bulk of my time with the village kids, a little time with the men (who'd occasionally do nice things like bring us out on river picnics and such), and hardly any time with the women. So I'd barely scratched the surface of knowing Aunty Uyang - yet I loved her enough to miss her nine months on. So I posted in my blog:
"She was one of those people who radiated joy. When I talk about joy, I don't mean the smiling-all-the-time kind of joy (although Aunty Uyang did smile a lot of the time). I mean the kind of deep, delicious, indescribable joy that bubbles up from within; the kind of joy that gives you crow's feet at the edges of your eyes although life has given you more than your fair share of wrinkles and frown lines."
Fast forward two years ahead. 


I step into the familiar green-walled church the morning after my team's nine-hour journey to the village. I see many faces: many are new, some I vaguely recognize, and others I greet with exuberant familiarity. Then I see Aunty Uyang. We exchange our salam; we touch our hearts. Nothing much has changed about her, and in the best way possible - she is still kind, she still radiates joy. She still has her crow's feet.


The ladies help to cook our meals each day, and today it is Aunty Uyang's and Diana's turn. So they turn up at our house bearing armfuls of leafy, freshly-harvested sayur. At this time of the evening, I usually perch myself on the wooden bench at our verandah, waiting for the sky to explode into a palette of flaming sunset hues. But today, I sit on a tiny handmade stool in the dimly-lit kitchen. I'm too shy to start a real conversation with Aunty Uyang, so I distract myself and play silly games with Nadia instead.


Heacalis and Maureen get married, a celebration of the start of a new family. After the simple service, the whole village merrily troops over to the balai under the starlight to share a community meal. Families are expected to sit together in groups while smoky chunks of barbecued wild boar are doled out from storage boxes. I wonder where I am to sit: Aunty Uyang beckons for me to come next to her and Pr Sammy. I sidle over and stay there for the rest of the night. I tease her about her overuse of "itu-itu"; she threatens to stroke my hair with the hands she just ate her chicken wings with. Sayang, sayang, she tells me. 


Many of my Long Lamai kids tell me that they are anak namung. Adopted kids. Yet they tell me about this in as as-a-matter-of-fact way as ever possible. There is - at least, as far as I can detect - little sense of pain or brokenness in their knowledge of this reality. I begin to learn that, perhaps, this is a natural offshoot of the communal Penan culture. Every child is everyone else's child. No child is left behind. Each child is loved: sayang, sayang. 


I experience more and more changes the longer I stay in the village. My skin browns - even padengs - and my inner being becomes ever more attuned to the sounds of the forest, to the finer nuances of Penan life, to the whisper of the One who made all things beautiful. I start to think that I may be less Chinese than I believe. Redo Penan. Not yet, but maybe soon.


Heacalis and Maureen's wedding dinner is in full swing. We tuck into wild boar, chicken, vegetables, nasi bungkus. Jolly Jengan is singing and being delightfully ridiculous up on the stage. The conversation is lighthearted. I turn to Aunty Uyang and Pr Sammy: Kamu nak ambil saya jadi anak namung tak? I mostly mean it as a joke - but a little part of me secretly, actually, really wants it to happen. 

And simultaneously - "Bolehhh." A celebration of the start of a new family.


Nepah. I learn a new word: to nepah is to drop by someone's house, to visit, to spend time with another. Something like what the Chinese do during Chinese New Year. So I begin to nepah Aunty Uyang, or "Er er" (Penan for mom), all the time. She teaches me - hopeless anak bandar that I am - to cook vegetables. We tread barefoot to the stor together and she lets me split rattan for weaving. She regales me with stories of hunting and of Siamang gibbons and of her old life at Ba' Lai. 

Along the way, she tells me: she, too, is an anak namung.


What could contain an Er er's love for her child? 

"Ah anakku, kamu ambil lah yang ini."

Perhaps a gaweng - an intricately woven rattan bag, well-worn from years of loving use in the ladang, sawah, gereja, everywhere - can. 


It is over. Perahu. Airport. Gaweng on my back. The Twin Otter arrives; it is ready not only to bring me home - but also, to tear me away from home.

Rivers of tears, running down her face.

The Twin Otter takes off, and takes me away - it soars over majestic mountains, and over riv—

Rivers of tears, running down my face.


'Til we meet again. Temeu kepéh.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Penyeruh Maréng 2

Dau iteu, Team 2 lepah moléé jin Lg Lamai (rigah mu'un owh!). Hun iteu - nyavuu' mé jin Team 1 jah laséh éh lepah - irah kio tusah kenin uban tiba-tiba peju ngan irah tong leboo'. Irah kio bahat kenin uban bé' seminga kepéh ngan anak-anak éh réh pika. Irah kio tawai mu'un kekat-kekat éh pu'un tong leboo'. Ngan bé' irah awah éh kenat; anak-anak sekulah péh kio mangaa' uban tawai mu'un abang-abang ngan kakak réh. 

Tapi na péh lu' béé'-béé' peju hun iteu, uleu tekep nesen: uleu ngelayau pemung lem Yésus. Lem sebayang, uleu pemung. Lem iman, uleu pemung. Lem Facebook, uleu péh pemung hehehe. Uleu jah usah lem Yésus, nyavuu' éh benara lem surat Paulus: "Kenat péh na' péh uleu' pinaa' usah, uleu' péh barei' jah usah awah dalem Kristus, ngan pu'un pemung pekua' barei' kekat arong éh pu'un tong usah kelunan." (Rum 12:5) Na péh lu' peju (pu'un éh mokoo' tong Lg Lamai, pu'un éh mokoo' tong KL, pu'un péh éh juk tai tong USA, ngan kekat arong tana' kepéh), uleu ngelayau padéé' lem jah usah éh ulun néh Kristus. 

Jah dau éh juk tuai, lu' juk mu'un-mu'un pemung kepéh, hun mah Tuhan tuai keruwah koléé' néh!

Pinaa'-pinaa' usah lem jah usah! :)