After almost two years of forcing my brother to come up to New York City, I finally got the chance to make the trip in the other direction and visit Washington DC this past weekend. While I was hoping to finally check off the cherry blossoms from my bucket list, the never ending winter foiled those plans. Luckily, thanks to some especially fortuitous timing and a last minute scramble, a few of my college friends from Penn (and one straggler from Princeton, ahem) managed to all convene in DC for a spontaneous reunion! As much as I love my new post-grad life in New York (I think I'm one of the only people that prefers "real life" to college...), seeing everybody in one place reminded me of what I truly value from my college experience. Yes, I had wonderful professors and a pretty great education, but most importantly, I was surrounded by an incredibly diverse group of people who were all high-achievers in vastly different fields. When I first got to Penn, I shunned the word "feminist", had no idea what racist microaggresions were, wouldn't have recognized privilege even if it slapped me in the face, and all around just knew so little about society! The diverse ethnic, cultural, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds of this group here as well as so many more of my friends at Penn totally transformed my viewpoints on life, society, education, and culture. Even though we didn't realize how diverse our little reunion actually was, looking at these photographs now brings so much joy to my heart. Beauty truly has no bounds - just look at these people! Beyond the lofty thoughts, though, of course the whole weekend was just an all around great time. I got to explore more of the city, meet my brother's friends, experience some epic brunches (shoutout to Tonic for their ridiculous breakfast tots and Busboys & Poets for their very unique Iraqi corned beef hash!), experience one of the weirdest shows I'll probably ever see, eat a gigantic passion fruit macaron from Bakers & Baristas (although it wasn't a "real" macaron in my humble opinion #ladureesnob), check out the incredible Newseum (the Pulitzer Prize photo exhibit brought tears to my eyes multiple times), re-live my study abroad semester with a friend at Nando's, and of course force everybody to pose for portraits and more portraits. Can't wait to travel more!
And finally, finally (a casual 6 months later...) Malaysia! I suppose it's fitting because in this case, I really did save the best for last. Malaysia was by far my favorite country in my entire post-grad trip for a multitude of reasons. The obvious reason being my heritage. My father was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur with one older brother and nine sisters in between. Can you even imagine growing up in that large of a family? Due to the distance, the last and only time I went to Malaysia was when I was one years old. Since then, I've been able to see my various aunts and cousins who live in the US and Australia, but never the ones in Malaysia. As I've gotten older, I've begun relying even less on my dad to get in contact with family. Two years ago, I reconnected with Christine who is Australian but living in London (and actually a London blogger herself!), who then coordinated a series of meet ups with my amazing cousin, Benita, and then I met the rest of her family at Thanksgiving! Getting reconnected with so many members of my family served as a main motivator in planning my entire post-grad trip. I realized how many other relatives I had out there and how little I knew about my Chinese-Malaysian background. I was fortunate in that Madeline/Mallika/Amy were all willing to plan our trip to include Malaysia and spend time meeting my family with me for the first time. Our trip from Ho Chi Minh to Kuala Lumpur was rough to say the least. Long story short, never ever take Air Asia. Hypothetically speaking, they might change your flight time to one hour earlier without notifying you and then ask you to wait 12 hours at the airport and then let your plane free fall for a good 10 seconds while you're in the air. Was pretty convinced I was going to die... Once we finally got there, though, we got settled and explored the next day on our own. Malaysia is an Islamic country and I was absolutely blown away by the way Islamic art influenced the architecture in the country. The Petronas Towers were absolutely mindblowing at night.
We also took the opportunity to go to the Islamic Arts Museum which was stunningly curated and the perfect balance of beauty and education. They had an entire exhibit on textiles, and I thought it was fascinating to learn that cardboard can be used to create the raised surface on embroidery.
I loved this quote in the museum about the way geometry is used in art:
"The repetition, symmetry and the continuous generation of geometric patterns thus became the sacred language in Islamic art, affirming and reflecting the unfolding of God's creation."
I've always been really fascinated with different forms of expressing worship even if I share different religious beliefs. I wrote about Losang Samtem's mandala and how he viewed his art as an active conversation with God since not everybody is able to sit in stillness and meditate.
The first cousin I met was Tony and his amazing wife, Jian. Tony somehow has all of Kuala Lumpur's history stored in his brain and gave us a historical tour around the city. Fun fact, Kuala Lumpur's name means the "mouth of the muddy town." The history of the city is interesting since it was created during the British colonization. The river that runs through literally separated the British side (which literally had a Commons) and Malaysian side (which was a mix of Malays, Chinese, and Indians). The three Asian cultures are still present in the Malaysian population today, but I didn't realize how vast the divide was between them in terms of laws, incorporating businesses, educational opportunities, etc. For the longest time, I never understood why my dad would distinguish his background by saying "I'm Chinese, not Malay," when he was a third generation Malaysian, but now the cultural identification makes a little more sense contextually.
Tony helped organize a family reunion of sorts for me! I got to meet my other cousins Joyce and Emily along with Emily's adorable daughters and four of my Aunties! It was such a blessing to meet them in person.
Before we left Kuala Lumpur, we went on the MM Adventure's tour to see the Batu caves, fireflies, and monkey sanctuary. We weren't sure it was worth the cost, but again, it was an excellent decision that I highly recommend!
Finally, we left Kuala Lumpur for our last stop in Penang. It was a short 24 hour trip, but filled with good food and...a freak storm. We had some very specific recommendations from our friend Nicole and made sure to hit up the Gurney Drive hawker stalls.
Unfortunately, after we finished satiating ourselves, the wind starts to pick up. Next thing I know, I look up and see a giant metal tin roof hurting 40 feet up in the air above the other stands heading straight toward our section. Fortunately we were all able to duck or hide in nooks and crannies until the storm passed. Trees collapsed on top of cars left and right, and as freaked out as we were, we thought maybe this was a standard tropical storm in South East Asia. Once we got in a taxi though, our taxi driver was visibly shaken and told us he hadn't seen anything like it in years. What luck!
The next day we wrapped up our morning with a visit to Batu Ferringhi beach and found our way to two must-visits: a roti canai restaurant (my favorite Malaysian food!) and a famous Cendol stand (which may or may not have made Mallika and I very sick...)
It was finally time to begin our 30 hour journey back to the United States, and though I had some err medical hiccups on the way back, the entire three week journey was possibly the most amazing trip of my life. Now that I've been working for so a while, I'm more grateful than ever that I had the opportunity to travel extensively in between graduation and New York.