Friday, 11 May 2018

Light at the End of the Tunnel

disclaimer: unrefined thoughts

Months ago, I was preparing my research paper for my honors thesis, and I compiled a list of sources that I sorted through and summarized. After switching to a MacBook, I lost all of my work because I wasn't familiar with the system. It was traumatizing -- I legit teared up.

But I still managed to finish the paper and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I suddenly became interested in Asian American identity and got the opportunity to chat with 10 friends who self-identify as Asian American/Canadian. I wrote an 18-pager even though I was only supposed to write 8-12 pages. I completed my presentation to the department and my class. And today, I just found out that I won $100 in the Gender Studies Writing Contest in Calvin College. Almost teared up too. JK I was about to throw a dance party but that would be inappropriate at a senior sendoff event.

***

When I was first forced (lol) into Annex Voices leadership, I was pretty terrified at the prospect of leading without any jazz background and knowledge. The first month of the spring semester proved to be especially challenging as we couldn't recruit enough members, with previous members dropping out throughout the first few weeks. 

While we used to have around 15 members, 10 remained this year. It was a struggle to lead with such a diverse group of personalities working together. We struggled early on with the pieces, and even had a tough time looking for an accompanist. Nevertheless, we pulled through and performed at Dance Marathon, Thorneapple Jazz Festival, and our Spring Concert - where we sang without music for the first time. I screwed up my solo piece and started over again, which is fine and dandy (no it isn't). Yet, the kind audience, tiny but mighty, blessed us with a standing ovation. My first ever standing ovation and I legit almost cried (if there's any takeaway from this, it is that I am an almost-cry baby).

***

Back in Fall semester, I found out that they weren't going to offer the one class I needed to graduate. My advisor offered me an alternative that I did not want to hear: to take the advanced production class (which I didn't have the pre-requisite for). I signed up to be a film studies student, not a film production student, for a reason, which is why I was upset going into the spring semester.

As production began, so began the long, tiring hours of filming. It was taxing, but I had a cool crew that made it fun and easier. As the months went by, I began to be increasingly excited with our project. Then, last week, we were hit with some seriously terrible news. We weren't able to showcase our movie at the media showcase. I was so bummed. All of our hard work for nothing?

We worked to come up with a solution, and we were offered to have a private screening of the movie instead. I, unfortunately, missed it because I am an idiot and overcommitted myself. Nevertheless, I heard from the rest of my team that the screening was packed and received amazing feedback. 

I legit... smiled like a gigantic idiot. 
  
***

It's crazy how the things I dreaded 4 months ago turned out to be some of the most rewarding experiences I am having today. Perseverance is a tough habit to develop. Some days you might wait for 4 months to reap the reward, other days it might be well over 50 years, and still some days there are dead ends. But how sweet the reward tastes when it comes out of something I once thought to be bitter, especially after a long wait. My perspective in life is being expanded day after day, and that is such a blessing. 

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

An Exercise in Gratitude

Over the past year, I've started keeping a daily gratitude list -- writing down one thing I am thankful for in each day. I'll admit that during some days, it could be difficult to jot down an entry because it can be too routine for me to notice anything extraordinary. Other days, I simply forget about writing about my mundane day. I've always waited for something spectacular to happen so that I could add that to my list and, to be honest, I've always been one to chase after life's highs.

***

Image may contain: 2 people, including Jen-Lyn Sin, people smiling, people standing
Freshman Lemuel lol
"I'm so uncertain if I'll make it through 4 years of college, let along graduate with honors! So many foreign classes, will I make it? Can I ever be involved outside of class? I really want to join choir and Chimes. Serve in church or Bible Study but I'm. Too. Shy." -Lemuel, 2014.

That was part of the letter to myself that we had to write during Quest in Freshman year.
The letter was filled with many sentences that began with "I hope..." because I came in extremely fearful and nervous despite working my butt off the past few years just to get an opportunity to pursue my studies abroad.

I'm certain that Freshman year me will be proud of what I have accomplished. I am actually surprised I managed to achieve anything at all in my 4 years here because I've always viewed myself as a shy and reserved person. But somehow I found myself accomplishing these things that I've only once dreamt of.

***

As I recount my years in Calvin, I remember all of the highs I have experienced here. But these only account for a fraction of my time here. The 4 years in Calvin are filled more by the daily routines of classes, eating in the dining hall, hanging out in my dorm/apartment, and constantly complaining about how bored I was.

Life isn't all highs, and my gratitude list forced me to look at the little things I took for granted. I sometimes overlook the very fact that being here is a great blessing.

Looking back, the highs definitely mean a lot to me, but they mean a lot to me because they weaved into the fabric of my daily life of highs, lows, and everything in between, helping me learn things about myself that I've never realized and see things in a different light.

These experiences made me realize how much I love Malaysia and what being a Malaysian means to me. Being away from home for a long time made me realize what I missed most about Malaysia. Being in the United States and being surrounded by people from a variety of backgrounds taught me to cherish where I came from. From my love for food and travels to constantly blabbing about my experiences in conversations and even in my papers, I've learned to love Malaysia by seeing how much others have shown interest in my culture and background. 

My time in Calvin has especially been formative in the way I think about thinking. I've learned to spend time thinking about why I think the way I do, especially in down times of boredom which allowed me time to contemplate. While this has certainly presented moments of doubts, challenges, and struggles that persist till today, it has also made me slow to speak and quick to understand and enriched my life with a diversity of perspectives that the people I cross paths with have graciously shared with me. It has been a truly eye-opening and humbling experience to have my world expanded through the people I've met.

The experiences I've gained from Calvin have also shaped the way I view creativity, and it has sparked a newfound satisfaction in me whenever I create. Through classes and conversations, I've learned to think about what creativity and art mean, and the many creative souls and artists that walk among us in Calvin have continuously inspired me to explore the possibilities of my imagination.

***

Nothing could be further from the truth if I were to say that all four years were smooth-sailing. I've never been one to share my heartaches, struggles, and worries. When my parents called me to update me about the struggles some of my family members were going through and told me that they were glad that they didn't have to worry about me since I've always taken good care of myself, I was a little disappointed in myself that I wouldn't share my struggles with my family, no matter how simple they were. I hated that I didn't tell them how I was stressing out about my projects or how much I missed home because I didn't want them to worry about me.

And so, I often found solace in this folder that I keep the many cards, notes, and letters that I've received from friends and family. The letter I wrote to myself four years ago is also in this folder.

"All these hopes and dreams may be a heavy burden, but I hope through this you can, once again, see God's hand in our lives and draw closer to Him." -Lemuel, 2014

I've come to realize that life is better beyond the comfortable, and I have been truly blessed in my life through the people I've been able to meet and befriend here. Suffice to say, I will leave Calvin with a heavy heart because I've had a wonderful 4 years here of ups, downs, and everything in between.

And so, I made this little video (which is 15 minutes long lol) to compile all the random videos I've had as a way to remember my 4 years here and the people who made them worthwhile.


Special thanks to The Bread, BERSAMA Fellowship, L.E.M., uKnighted, Annex Voices, Rhetoric Center, Rangeela, York 2016, Timmer 2016-17, Margaritas, Moviepass Club, Christmas Miracle, Aliens Crew, What the Hill Productions, Theta 20 boys, Spring Break 2015, Spring Break 2016, Spring Break 2017, Spring Break 2018 crews, and many others for making Grand Rapids my 2nd home :)

Saturday, 24 September 2016

The Forgotten Joys

I love to write.
But when faced with 5 papers due next week, I can barely find an ounce of motivation within me to get started.

I love being creative.
But when demanded to come up with 3 original short film ideas for the semester, I complain at every opportunity I can about having to write scripts.

Is there something about college that sucks the joy out of everything I love doing?
Maybe it is the deadlines and time crunch. Maybe it's because I am graded for them.
Maybe it's their fault.

Or maybe it's mine. Maybe I have forgotten how much I enjoyed doing these things because I only see them as a means to an end.
Getting that degree. That piece of paper. That 4.0 GPA.
That honor. That pride. That satisfaction.

Not that they aren't good or legitimate goals, but why should they turn me into a bitter, resentful student?

I had once longed, so very deeply, for the opportunity to study abroad - to be challenged and to be exposed to differences.
To have the opportunity to learn. And here I am.
But, slowly, I have allowed my desires to be perfect cloud my ability to see how blessed I am in the present. I have shifted my perspectives from seeing opportunities as burdens; gifts as curses.

I have forgotten the joys of being present. May I never forget.
But if I ever do, there's this blog post for me to refer to, over and over again.

Friday, 3 June 2016

England

"How was England?"
I can offer simple answers:

Amazing. Fun. Exciting. Enriching. Dream come true. Challenging. Eye-opening. Confusing. Lovely. Breath-taking. Awesome. Life-changing.

But I'll eventually run out of adjectives, and yet not a single description is sufficient to capture what I feel about the past semester.

The thing is, it is impossible for me to put to words all of the beautiful things that I have experienced, or maybe I just don't quite know how to describe it. I use the above adjectives because I'm lazy like that. But I'll try my best to convey my experience here.

I have been able to do great things and I cannot deny that I have been on a very enjoyable semester. I count my blessings for every second that I am there - truly, I am very grateful for this experience and it has been an absolutely humbling experience to have my eyes and heart be opened to new experiences. It has also been such a pleasure and joy to be able to befriend new friends that I have been able to meet here, all of whom have offered me friendship, kindness, laughter, wisdom, and just a whole lot of fun. And the 30 other people that make up the Calvin family in York made this experience all the more sweeter and memorable.


And it is because of all the great things that I have experienced that whenever I speak of York, I am reminiscent and nostalgic. *cue sentimental background music*

Oh York, I will miss walking the walls that surround this beautiful city. The quaintness and charm always make me stop in my tracks and remind me of how blessed I am. I will miss the smell of chocolate in the air, even though I may despise the very wind that carry the scent on a cold winter's day. I will miss being able to look at the Minster from almost every corner of the city. I love the abundance of chocolate, tea, scones, and everything that comes with York's cute little coffee shops - it truly knows how to spoil a foodie. It left much to be desired when I left, blessing me with beautiful weather and amazing time of exploration during my final week here. 

But for everything that I have experienced without, I have learned tremendously and changed within. I'd like to think that I grew in independence and learned to enjoy being alone. I learned the value of openness and thoughtfulness. The past semester has been a journey of self-discovery as I try to figure out who I am as a person. This semester hasn't been academically demanding, which helped me slow down after coming out from a hectic and busy Fall semester - helping me look at what I value in life and enjoying the beauty of everything around me. It allowed me time to ponder, reflect, and write.

As I met up with old friends and watch many of my peers prepare for graduation, it did hit me that I was turning 23 - I started to wonder if I have ever changed to become the person I have always wanted to be. I wondered about my future and what I would make of it. As I interact with others and became known collectively as "The Americans", I wondered about my Malaysian-ness. I wondered about what home means to me. I wondered about my faith. I wondered about my expectations of this trip prior to coming and if I had met them. I wondered how much this experience would change me. I wondered the more I wandered.

I cherish this semester and the experiences it brought because it has been the time in my life when I felt most loved: w
hen I left my home, I experienced how much my friends and family love me because they miss me and I miss them so very much; when I got to meet up with old friends and remember all the good times in the past, but also created new memories together; when I got to meet new Calvin friends to journey alongside with in this wonderful experience, who offered their companionship, kindness, and love; when I met new friends from York, who welcomed me with their friendship, time, and effort - who showed me how to be a friend; and as I prepared to return, friends offering simple words of welcome that were deeply impressed upon my heart.

For everything that this York semester has offered me, I am immensely grateful and reminded of how blessed I am. I do not deserve any of this, but I cherish every single bit of this experience. It has been a whirlwind of an adventure, and I am still in disbelief that I got to fulfill many of my dreams. 

It wasn't perfect - I certainly had my fair share of challenges. But to be quite honest, I tend to forget the difficult (mostly awkward) times. lol. 

So many things happen in my life that I do not understand why or how, and I live day by day not knowing what to expect tomorrow. Life is a series of surprises, and I await the next surprise.   

Till next time.
Cheers!

If these words weren't enough to convey what I felt about my experience in York, maybe the video below will help.



Sunday, 8 May 2016

Spring Break In A Nutshell

Here's my roundup of the highlights during my Spring Break. 

Making a list because I'm too lazy to write everything out in detail, but I still want to remember as much as I can. Also, I like lists. Sometimes. 

London 
  • Adele
  • Sprinkles
  • St Paul's Cathedral
  • Harry Potter Studios
  • Chinatown aka second home in London
  • Okonomiyaki
  • Bubble tea/Boba
  • Markets + Constant food coma 
  • Witnessing Julie eat roast duck for the first time
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
  • The Lion King Musical
  • View from The Shard + rain
  • Don't go with the combo #1
  • Bumping into Christina outside of M&M World
  • Malaysian Hall
  • Laundry struggles
  • Chipotle #Americanizing
Krakow 
  • Flamingo Hostel (pls avoid)
  • Seeing Maria after forever (and her search for a salon)
  • Pierogi
  • Not knowing we were there on Easter weekend aka freaking out about everything closing
  • Instead we were rewarded with easter markets
  • That bread pizza thingy
  • 50p gelato (the beginnings of a Spring Break tradition)
  • Chocolate coated fruits and Maria's sad pear
  • Splurging on food + that awkward moment when they decided not to make the dessert of the day on that day
  • When only 1 out of the 3 of us made it into the viewpoint mound
  • That SERIOUSLY hidden Grandma Raspberry restaurant (recommended by a random American dude)
  • Auschwitz
  • Harry Potter musical box (and my indecisiveness)
Prague 
  • Overnight train + train conductor getting mad at us
  • #occupyCosta
  • Trdelnik
  • When the Chinese president made your climb up the hill a waste
  • Climbed a park on a hill, twice #doitfortheview
Innsbruck
  • Most tiring train ride ever + most confusing conversation
  • Dat view of the alps outside our hotel room
  • Being over 7000ft off the ground
  • Maria attacking my golden area
  • Strudel Cafe + being part of a tour
  • Maria and Christina picking on my obsession with fries
Munich
  • Don't go with the combo #2
  • Showing up to the tour tipsy (I can explain)
  • Walking tour led by a hilarious American
  • Not speaking German #struggleisreal
Barcelona
  • La Sagrada Familia
  • Kaif's obsession with the dancing Spongebob toy
  • Park Guell
  • Paella
  • Cronuts
  • Montserrat - monastery on the hill
  • Churros - the breakfast of champions
  • Biking around Barcelona + meeting a group of corgis
  • Tapas
Paris
  • Info desk worker who didn't provide any info #rude 
  • Louvre and other free museums
  • Climbing up Arc de Triomphe, twice #doitfortheview
  • Pierre Herme macarons
  • Versailles
Copenhagen
  • Best hostel ever (Generator Hostel)
  • Walking tour + that Tibetan guy who bought me a pastry 
  • Danish pastries
  • Christiania - hippie town
  • Torvehallerne Food Market
  • Copenhagen Street Food 
  • Being a kid in Tivoli - the world's second oldest amusement park
Oslo
  • When the Airbnb be sketchy (Divinity for Beginners should've given it away)
  • Finding refuge in McDonald's
  • Pasta all day everyday
  • Almost dying on that sightseeing cruise #thankGodforhotchocolate
  • Ice Bar
  • Sculpture park on a hill because #doitfortheview + lying / rolling on grass
  • Brownie. In a skillet.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Worry-ship?

4 post-it notes are placed orderly on my table, one after the other, just like they would've been in my dorm room back in Calvin College. There's a stack of Post-it notes sitting right by my bed too and the top one is filled with a list of 7 things I need to do by the end of this week. 

So far, two items are crossed off the list, and I may just add more things later.
Copies of these Post-it notes sit in the Notes app on my phone; I open and check it at least three times a day to see if I managed to accomplish anything today or if I need to add anything else to these lists. 

These lists consists of things I have to do immediately (from assignments to buying mobile phone top-up vouchers to laundry to planning for spring break) and things I anticipate (from summer internships to buying flight tickets back to the States to cancelling my Amazon prime subscription).

2 schedules are pinned on my board - one of a general timeline of my semester in York, and another of the itinerary of our trip to London. I'd glance at the schedules and Post-it notes from time to time, roll my eyes up, and wonder what I will spend the rest of my day doing.
 
Suffice to say, I'm having quite a busy week. Between assignments and activities to preparing for spring break, I am rather stretched out. I would much rather toss everything aside and take a nice, long nap.

Or do I?

Sometimes, I wonder if, at the back of my head, I am secretly worshiping the idol of busyness. That somehow, in a perverse fashion, I am deriving pleasure from being busy - so as to make myself feel valued. As if the worry made me worthy. As if I am important because I have so many "important" things to do, but in fact, most of the time, I put things on the list just so that I could have the joy of crossing them off.  

One thing down, infinity to go!
As I cross one item, two more items take its place. When will I ever run out of things? When will I ever run out of lists? When will I rest?

"Maybe I'm just too forgetful," I reason with myself.
These lists are just helpful tools to aid my forgetfulness; I'm not obsessed with them. 

While I'd like to think that I put all of these up because they help my forgetful mind remember things better, somehow, I also feel like these things are the cause of my forgetfulness. Perhaps, I've learned the "art" of forgetfulness by being too reliant on these lists.

Maybe it's just the situation and conditions that I am in that force me to be busy. Perhaps. But should I go as far as to take the slightest delight in being busy? Or let it rule my every thought throughout the day? Or let it fill my lips that I should constantly complain about my busyness? 

And then, the stress rolls in and I wonder why this happens. Why do I get stressed so easily?
Funny, because I know darn well that I am the one stressing myself out, and I choose to do nothing about it. Because stressing out about things keeps me on my toes, makes me responsible to keeping my tasks, and fills the void of my time and, unfortunately, my purpose.

A day without a list of things to do is a day without purpose. It is a waste of time, and just like how I would get mad after waking up from an unnecessarily long nap, I am angry at myself for wasting my time. 

Funny, because God is never on my lists. I obscure his presence by crowding my thoughts and my room with a hundred things until I am forced to face him.

To insult God with the scraps of my time, I must be out of my right mind. 
It's time I learned to put aside my idol and be idle.

Or maybe I'm just too busy that I am procrastinating by overthinking things.
Who knows? But it's definitely worth giving it a thought.

I have a hard time deciding if I am ruled by busyness or laziness.   

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Home? Whazzat?

[Note: I know, I know. I blog about home A LOT. But I figured that since I was required to journal about it for one of my assignments, and I resonated a lot with this topic, I might as well post it here - in the hopes that someone who reads this will find comfort despite the uncertainties of life and recognize that there is indeed good that comes out of goodbye.]

I thought it'd be hard to leave both of my homes to come to England for a semester abroad, but I have been so blessed because in my journey here, I get a taste of both my homes through the wonderful Calvin students I am with and the Malaysian friends I get to meet throughout the semester. 


I thought I'd be sad, miserable, and homesick all the time, but the reality is that I am so preoccupied with discovering York, England, and beyond that I barely have time to miss home. 
(Even though I wish I was sharing this amazing moment with everyone back home.)

Speaking of home, I have been contemplating the meaning of home lately. What is it? What makes home, home?

Having only recently accepted Grand Rapids as my second home, I began to wonder why it took me so long. It certainly wasn’t the place – nothing much has changed in the one and a half years I’ve been in Calvin College. Could it be the community and friends that I have made? Maybe. But that should’ve been true for me during my freshman year too! So, why didn’t I think of Grand Rapids as my second home during my freshman year? Why did it take me so long to recognize Grand Rapids as my second home?

I think that home is the place (or environment) that you live in, leave from, and desire to return to upon leaving. It consists of the things that I found comfort in through familiarity by living in the place (being integrated into the place and community). It consists of the things I never knew I loved, cherished, and appreciated until I found out that I would leave it. It consists of the things that I reminisce and yearn to return to – my friends, my house, my favorite restaurants, my routines and so on.

The same is true for both Malaysia and Grand Rapids. When I realized that I would leave Malaysia for Calvin College, I was filled with excitement for what would come, but I quickly realized what I would soon leave behind – home. The realization of Malaysia being home made it harder to leave the second time around when I went home for summer because I came to see the true extent of what I would be leaving behind. Then, when I realized that I would be leaving for York this semester, I once again realized what I would leave behind – my second home.

Home does not become home until I leave it. The familiar isn’t familiar until I encounter the unfamiliar. I often take the present for granted – looking back in time with nostalgia, reminiscing the good old times; looking forward in time, excited for the things to come; but only going through the motions with the present. And so, home becomes truly home when it is something of the past (when I leave it) and something of the future (the desire to return).

I’m beginning to see this being true of York as well. As we venture out on our excursions on weekends, nothing beats the feeling of returning to York – the excitement and comfort that comes from knowing what we left behind in the pursuit of other places. Perhaps the greatest moment when York will truly be home is when we leave for Grand Rapids in May.

Having said that, home isn’t simply what I leave behind in the past or what I yearn to return to in the future. It is also what I carry with me in the present. It is because of my nostalgia and my desire to return that it occupies my mind in the present as I constantly compare and contrast home with the foreign land that I am in. I also find myself taking pride (and being more obnoxious) in promoting my home(s) to others. I suddenly find that I am able to bring bits and pieces of home with me when I introduce my home to others as it presents itself within me, as if I were some sort of embodiment of my home(s).

And so, I look for the good, creating memories and stories wherever I go, so that when I bid my goodbyes I will carry with me the good that came from my newfound home for the days to come.

Since the element of leaving is crucial to my understanding of home, there exists this constant tension between moving and staying put – doing one or the other as an extreme makes me uncomfortable. I guess I am starting to come to terms with the fact that change is such a natural thing in life; that no matter how hard I try to cling on to the securities of life, things (people, places, cultures etc.) will change.​ I will change. 

In a world that recognizes change as the only constant in life, this truly looks like an unstable, insecure, and insane way to live and identify home(s). It seems so uncertain, and where uncertainty rears its head, there lies anxiety. But no matter where I am and where I call home, my faithful God is there with me every step of my journey. He is my anchor in the uncertain storms of life.

Above all, I am at home where He is with me.