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By falseconscious

I technically began writing my last blog post as I was finishing my last philosophy essay - there was something about looking inwards while writing the essay that forced me to think about my last blog post. I pondered what would be my defining last words on this small space I was honoured to contribute to. I wondered whether I should give a summary of my stay here - but I realised I was not capable of summarising an entire magical wonderful semester into one post. I also realised I should do justice to the emotions I feel as I leave GWU, my home for the past few months. And so, inspired by St. Augustine, the Christian philosopher who I was reviewing for the past final month, here are my humble confessions.

In the name of God, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful.

I begin with expressing highest of gratitude to Him who gave me the strength and health and who aligned my life such that I was destined to visit The George Washington University, located in the capital of the most powerful nation in the material world.

I would also like to express the highest of gratitude to my parents who are the premise of my existence and my education both at home and here in D.C.

I would extend further gratitude to The George Washington University, specifically the Office of Study Abroad, for selecting me among many to be part of this exchange programme.

The best of gratitude and heartfelt regards to the friends I have made here who made me feel at home - my colonial brothers and sisters. I am ultimately grateful for every single cupcake trip, every study session in the library, every moment we shared. It was hard saying goodbye to all you wonderful beings.

I regret to say that I find myself unable to adequately fulfil the intention of my exchange visit. I am unable to say that I have learned everything there is to learn here. There is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that could not have been imparted on me even with the amount of time I had here.

What I am able to say is that I have learned was I was destined to have learned.

I learned from the Americans the culture of greeting each other: sometimes it is just a "Hey, how are you doing?", and other times it involved talking about our families and their state of health and being. It is something I will bring back to my home, a place so efficient that greetings rob us of precious time, resulting in opportunities lost. No, GWU and America in general has opened my eyes to the humanity of existence which I shall attempt to impart on my fellow countrymen when I return.

I learned from GWU the theories and philosophies relevant to my studies. I learned US Foreign Policy in the very place that will produce policy makers. I also learned the problems or race and ethnicity in education, in the very place where history was made with the Civil Rights Movement. I ascended up Mt. Vernon to learn the philosophy of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca and Saint Augustine - to name a few - separate from the main campus and the world in general, in a space where I was able to look upwards into the world of Forms and inwards into the internal subjective experiences. Out of an amazing university, in just a semester, I have developed myself academically and intellectually, challenged by bright minds of students from American and from all over the world. The culture of speaking up and loud here disciplined myself to think fast, speak clearly and analyse arguments with a sharp and critical mind faster.

I learned from the memorials and museums, the depth of Western and human (in general) history. I learned the emotional and physical costs of war and its repercussions, even if we attempt to be as just as possible.

I learned from my fellow exchange students the meaning of friendship, even if just for a small moment in our lives.

How do I say goodbye to something that is still part of me? It remains a mystery to me. I will always look back at my blog posts and my photos - posted and un-posted. There is an Arabic jahili poem which gives me a clue to the sorrow I feel leaving D.C.

أَمُـرُّ عَلَـى الدِّيَـارِ دِيَـارِ لَيْلَــى أُقَبِّــلُ ذَا الجـِدَارَا وَذَا الجــِدَارَا

وَمَـا حُـبُّ الدِّيَـارِ شَغَفْـنَ قَلْبِـي ولَكِـنْ حُـبُّ مَنْ سَكَـنَ الدِّيَـارَا

Its meaning:

I passed the house of Layla and I kissed the walls
But it is not the love of the walls that enrapture my heart, It is but the love of the one that stays in those walls

I do not miss the walls of the Gelman library, I do not miss the statues and monuments, I do not miss my lecture theatres and my books. What I miss are the people who were part of my life here, the school, my lecturers and friends:







































During my last "party" in D.C., I played "secret santa" and exchanged gifts with friends from all over the world. I am very grateful for the gift I received and the whole experience of the farewell party. I can only be hopeful that we will see each other again. Those who share the same academic interests as me will definitely keep in touch with me to continue or discussions and debates. Those who don't, we will still keep in touch, out of the value and meaning of our friendship.

















I wish all of you all the best in your future endeavours. Goodbye D.C.and GWU, may we meet again.








Written while catching a flight home!

By falseconscious

New Dynasty

Thanks to a little trouble with my phone's memory device and a frustrating day of terrible wifi connection, this photo is all I can salvage.

The New Dynasty Chinese Restaurant is at 2020 P Street, NW and is a small, cozy Chinese restaurant that doesn't just sell "Chinese" food; it also has a range of Southeast Asian "hawker" dishes such as Pad Thai and Indonesian Beef Fried Rice. It is an 18 minute walk away and a personal weekly destination, usually with Reza or Shiying or both. Students with a valid Student  ID, such as our GWorld card, will be able to get a discount and a free drink or soup of the day. Reza prefers the Chicken Corn Soup while Shiying and I favor the Hot and Sour Soup.

To most of you, this restaurant would probably not be significant enough for a blog post. However, New Dynasty is a very significant part of my DC experience.

To start off, the food is good for Southeast Asian standards. We don't fuss about how amazing the food may be. We're hungry, the food is edible, it satisfies our taste, the quality and quantity is consistent and it is cheap. Coming from the food-heaven-island of Singapore, I'll give it a 7.5. Some of you will give it a lower rating because we come from different backgrounds.

The first time I wanted to visit New Dynasty, I was with my dad. We were new to DC so we didn't venture enough to have visited this place. We usually ate at Mehran's which was clearly halal. New Dynasty is Halal, but the reviews on Zabihah were not updated and did not reflect a solid Halal vibe. My dad was suspicious. Also, he had to leave and we didn't have time.

I finally visited New Dynasty the week after orientation after Friday prayers at the Islamic Center, before we discovered alternative venues for Friday prayers much closer to Ivory Tower. I was with Reza at that time. We did not order the student meal because we were not aware of the deal. It was still an affordable $7, and it was the first time we had non-fish protein. Reza had kung pao chicken and I had beef with broccoli.

I remember how I was so thankful for the meal; almost close to tears. I was still new to DC and we had a hard time with getting Halal food. A week ago with my dad, sometimes we only had bread and bananas. This was way before we had any Muslim friends to chauffeur us to Halal eating places. (Even if we did, it wouldn't be as cheap as this). I was on a budget. This was good food. In addition, the food reminded me of home.

Ever since that first visit, we have been bringing friends to this place. Some became regulars, like Shiying. Some follow us occasionally like my roommates and the other Singaporeans. It's not "great" food, so it doesn't appeal to everyone. We often visit after a trip to Safeway or Dupont Circle.

Each visit, the dining area will have guests from Malaysia or Indonesia - diplomats, military personnel, officials, people from the embassy. Each time, we will be introduced to new guests (we are the most frequent customers now). I would smoothly speak Bahasa to the Indonesians, and a formal version of Malay to the Malaysians. Sometimes I will sneak some Arabic into conversations with the waiter who speaks Arabic. Other times, I will just listen and try to understand what Arabic-speakers (from all over the world) using different dialects say. There are rare times where I even hear Italian, a language I picked up here in DC after a simple conversation with the barber I managed to sustain for 5 seconds, with words I learned from a game, perked my interest. Other than the Exchange Student Orientation, this is the most "international" place I have been to as a participant-observant - partly because it is so near the embassies.

It's not a pretty place. It's not a 5 star restaurant. Yet, it resonates with me. It's my favourite place to eat because I see myself in the ambiance. I am not "from here", I am simple and appreciate simplicity and, like the owner of New Dynasty, I like to speak to people using their respective native languages even if I am terrible at it.

Do visit, if you have the time. You might like it. They deliver as well.

At the moment, emotionally, it is hardly comfortable to miss home and have exams and papers due. It occupies my mind. To add, I am anticipating missing DC and my friends here as well. I am torn between wanting to go home and yearning to stay just a bit longer. I see the wisdom of only needing to pass my classes. I'm really grateful to only have a few final exams at the moment.

By falseconscious

Ask Singaporeans what is so great about Singapore, and you'll get various attempts to describe the abundance of food. I used to think it was a cliche - and if I was in a slightly more Marxist mood, I would say it shows how the state has brilliantly distracted our minds into thinking that food matters so much. I don't think food matters so much just to Singaporeans. I think good food is good food; it fills us up, you talk at the table, if there's dessert, you'll talk more and enjoy more. I will make Socrates and Aristotle turn in their graves and assert: good food makes us happy.

I don't have to put up a list for anyone to find out what are the best food options in DC. We can all spend an afternoon perusing Google and Yelp for that.

I will however kindly point out two must-try simple options for students, local and exchange. In both options, it's not just about the food - which may even be terrible - but also what you can do with your time.

Maine Avenue Fish Market

Maine Avenue Fish Market
Maine Avenue Fish Market

Less than 15 minutes away on the Blue Line Metro or a 40 minute walk from campus is an open air seafood market in Southwest DC. You can search Google using the above subtitle and you should be directed to the same seafood market I am talking about. I joined Reza and Andreas, my two roommates, on the Metro, choosing the quicker option considering my impatience when I'm hungry.

2 Fishes and Crabs
3 More

You'll find fishes, crabs, shrimps, scallops - whatever comes to mind when you think of seafood. They are cheaper here compared to those you find in groceries and because the seafood here is fresh, it tastes way better as well.

4 Cook for you

Some shops will offer to cook the fish/crab you purchased for you. We chose a shop just behind for the deals and combos they offered.

5 Eat by river

You can choose to eat in a container-makeshift-eating-area (someone invent a word for this please!) by the river with birds looking very curiously at your catch of the day. Andreas couldn't wait and stole a few fries as Reza and I made the decision that the makeshift eating area - although exclusively reserved - may be too messy.

6 Eat by Boats_Fotor
7 Picnic By Boats

Or, you can walk a little towards the pier and eat by the boats. We figured the birds would be a nuisance and decided to have a picnic by the boats. After a hearty meal and reflecting over the times we spent as trusty roommates-without-roommate-agreements, we thought of fish we can buy and cook at home - which is the whole point of coming here. You get a great view of murky water and seagulls, you can have cheap but awesome seafood with your pals, and you can shop for fish to cook during dinners for the rest of the week. Reza bought a red snapper, Andreas got a brick of tuna, and I got myself some trusty tilapia.

Exchange Room Dinners

I must qualify that I haven't been to many of these but I must say there is something good about eating with exchange students (myself not included). Think about it, depending on who you visit, you'll get to know people from different countries and eat all sorts of food. Why bother going to Malaysia Kopitiam when you can have a ten times cheaper but a million times better experience visiting a Singaporean or Malaysian - if he/she/they can cook.

8 Singapore Food

The Chinese Singaporeans held a surprise, private dinner at one of their rooms showcasing some of the food you will get if you visited our home - including chicken rice.

9 More Food

I must say, it was an educational experience for myself as I have never tasted halal-versions of food they will usually eat back home. Shiying made popiah, Shu Hui cooked chicken in all kinds of broth, there were shrimp fritters and Ma Po Tofu by Mark.

10 Sit and Chat

Reza and I guiltily bought brownies and cake for dessert to contribute. We all had a great chat about our plans once we were done with exams and finals. Some of us are leaving early to travel while others are planning to go straight home for Christmas.

I'm heading home straight with a stop-over at London by myself. It's only a few weeks away and I'm already sick with the flu, maybe because of heightened anticipation.

Have a happy and awesome Thanksgiving everyone!

By falseconscious

Weekends are very useful to recharge and reinvigorate the body and soul; once the Monday morning sun pokes you in the eyes, you get up not regretting the two free days you had. Here’s what I did over the weekend that cost nothing at all.

Cupcake Mornings

If you might have noticed, I have made Saturday morning cupcakes a ritual. To be honest, I’m not that big a fan and have often ditched cupcake trips for the allure of sleep. However, it is good to start a day with friends who you miss during weekdays being busy with classes and assignments. The caffeine buzz and sugar rush from a cup of coffee and a caramel fudge cupcake gave me the energy to do more for the rest of the day.

As usual, myself, Reza, Shiying, and Boyeong went to Georgetown Cupcakes upon their reveal of the “super secret” free cupcake of the day on their Twitter account. Usually, there would be a queue outside. That morning, the universe aligned (yes, I watched Thor 2) and we strolled in and ordered cupcakes and coffee.

1 Georgetown Cupcakes
2 Georgetown Cupcakes
Our favorite place to consume the cupcakes is not in the store itself, but across the road and further downhill where there will be a red bridge over a drain waterway. Sometimes we will go further down by the Potomac and look at rowers, ducks and people struggling to steer their kayaks.

3 Waterway

We had to walk back to Foggy Bottom Metro to take the train up to the zoo, which was a mistake as we could’ve just walk to Dupont Circle and save the trouble of transferring lines which is a hassle during weekends thanks to scheduled maintenance.

The National Zoological Park

4 National Zoo

We did not choose the option to go to the zoo during the orientation week and it was about time we went there before any further changes to the weather. It was a pleasant day and I may have acclimatized to the “cold” because anything above 10 degrees (Celsius!) feels warm now.

5 Good Weather

6 Good Weather (1)

This zoo is part of the Smithsonian Institution and does not have admission fees. It charges $2.00 for a map – but you won’t need it because there are information boards with the map on it showing the different trails and the locations of the different animals.

7 Sleeping Leopard

Some of the animals aren’t from this side of the world. This leopard from Southeast Asia is resting in the cold. There are heated areas in each enclosure for the animals to get warm and they can choose to stay in indoor spaces as well. Rest assured, these animals are taken care of quite well. Here are some of them:

8 Playful Otters
9 Lonely Elephant
10 Philosophy Panda2

I discussed the feasibility of Socrates’ Kallipolis with a panda.
11 Panda in a bucket

He preferred Aristotle’s conception of a just city.

12 Meerkat2
13 Posing Lions2

I refuse to take pictures of the gorillas and the orangutans because they have human-like features and behavior  I stood and questioned the gaze I had looking at them behind glass windows as they were waiting for food. Someone outside said: “I don’t mind looking at cats, lions and zebras, but these monkeys look like humans and I don’t feel comfortable”. I agreed because I know, humans used to treat other humans in the same way – like how Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman was treated. In some other parts of the world, some females are forced into prostitution and put into “fish tanks”. Some people still look at others as inferior versions of humans as well.

At the end of the trail, we figured out a “walk” to Columbia Heights Metro station was shorter than the walk back to the station we came from. We were right about the distance and the trek there was awesome. Coming from a tropical island, the sight of falling orange and yellow leaves was breath-taking.  What also took my breath away was the hike up Columbia Heights. My lungs obviously haven’t been used for exercise in a long time.

14 Walk to Columbia Heights

I ended the day with a trip to the Lincoln Memorial. The Washington Monument is no longer illuminated at night, which I assume is because of a pause in construction. I already expounded the no-cost beauty of going to the memorials at night in my previous posts.
15 Night Memorialing

Georgetown Soccer

Apparently the artificial turf in Georgetown University is open for use for free as well. I did smirk at the Hoya Saxa on the way up – oh what has GW made of me.

16 Gtown Soccer

It is a beautiful pitch on a hill with airplanes flying over once every few minutes or so. I bet it looks pretty during the day. Being on a hill also meant we were exposed to whatever nature gave us – thankfully it was just ball-trajectory-altering winds that night. Reza and me played with a group of Kazakhs who were either graduate students at GW or working around the area.

17 Kazak Team

Soccer catharticaly relieved me of pent up frustrations, energy, passion and emotions. My team lost 10 to 8, but it was a close match and we had a lot of fun. A few of the Kazakhs studied in Malaysia and could speak some Malay. One of them said “Nasi Ayam Goreng satu” which meant “one plate of fried chicken rice” I was instantly overwhelmed with memories of food from home. I exclaimed in pleasure that I missed fried chicken rice.

The Secret Cinema

Immediately after washing up, I went to this secret cinema, which I will reveal only if you ask me personally. In this secret cinema, the secret seats helped me rest my severely aching muscles. (I got hit in the face with a ball, but the force was so hard it wasn’t my neck that hurt, but my arm, which I suspect dislocated slightly as my body, less the arm, jerked backwards from the impact). We watched Thor 2 that night. I would love to reveal why this cinema is so special to those interested. I wanted to post a picture showing why it’s so special but it will reveal why the cinema has to remain a secret.

By falseconscious

Last week, the GW Men's Basketball team started their 100th season with a game against Radford at the Charles E. Smith Center. It was an opportunity once again to have a taste of American sports and culture. I began my evening with free food and drinks at the tailgate party where the entire 22nd St outside the Charles E. Smith Center was closed off.

1 Tailgate Band

Tailgating is a social event that originated from the United States where there will be consumption of alcoholic beverages and grilled food on and around the open "tailgate" of a vehicle. This social event, which can be organized without any vehicles with tailgates, may occur before a sports event - football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer - and may also be held during weddings and barbecues.

2 Tailgate Meat
3 Tailgate Band
4 Tailgate Meat

The tailgate pre-game that night started in the late afternoon, and assuming there will be a crescendo of participation peaking nearest to the game, I went down the street to the Center much later and queued up with my roommate James who was very eager to get a grilled burger. On such a cold night, being near a flaming grill provided much comfort as I observed hungry young Americans committed to the barely moving queue, some staying longer at the tables to sneak a hot dog as well, to the dismay of those far behind in the queue. There was a band playing songs familiar to most who were present, contributing to the overall American ambiance.

7 RaiseHigh

The game was more exciting than watching people eat. I sat behind the "Colonial Army", which I assume is similar to the Kop or Forza Milan, but less "Ultras" and more happy-students-just-having-fun. Thank god the words to the GW Fight Song or "Hail to the Buff and Blue" were displayed on the big screen. A guy wearing a yellow colonial hat at the front said something along the lines of: "This is the Colonial Army... you have to be loud otherwise you have to sit somewhere else". Owing to a terrible experience in the past when I wore a Liverpool jersey to a local Arsenal Fan Club hangout, I gave a worried look to James and memorized the song in one seating. It didn't really matter and no one was kicking me out for just sitting and clapping, but it was nice to participate in whatever quantity of school spirit that possessed the crowd. It certainly was more fun than when I watched a pre-season game between Miami Heat and Washington Wizards.

8 MiamiHeat

Here is a video of one of the songs that we sang along with to cheer the team on and have fun ourselves. We "woah-oh"-ed to the "chorus" - if you can call it that - of Kernkraft 400:

After the resounding victory and a satisfying late dinner, we went back to our room and every once in a while, one of us would have this song in our head and start humming it and we'll hum it together for a minute.

I had fun and hope to see the team for another victory this Tuesday.

By falseconscious

Our consciousness of the world we live in is influenced by many factors. Censuses, maps and museums, for instance may chisel and affect our imagination of our “nationality”. In another instance, the news, new media and social media may frame our worldview. As an exchange student I am ripped apart from a reality I used to be comfortable in and I now witness the world within a different context and experience a different consciousness.

National Museum of Natural History

Museum 1
Museum 2
Museum 3
Museum 4

I went to the National Museum of Natural History recently, hoping to exploit this temporary “separation from reality” feeling I was having. Honestly, I expected to be mildly educated in things I can just find out about on Wikipedia in my spare time. That expectation was surely exceeded by the vast amount of information presented to me. I went through a journey of time, passing by fossils and crystals and looking at dinosaurs and more familiar ocean and land animals.

Everything was categorized and put in place, providing a narrative of sorts.

So I was shocked, when I passed by the Neanderthals in the Ice Age section and into a section called African Cultures.

Neanderthal-African Voices divide

I found the immediate shift rather distasteful. I had the gaze of a human looking at animals and pre-humans and I was somewhat forced to carry that gaze through this section. I consciously knew this was an exhibit of culture. Yet, to me it didn’t seem to fit into the scheme of things. I realize I had a different view of things. As a student of social science, and coming from a region where colonial powers once looked at us and toyed with us as if we were animals, I was being overly sensitive. I seem to be the only one bothered with the placement of the exhibit.

Peace, not Prejudice

Among the activities of the GWU Muslim Students Association include a weeklong program called “Peace Not Prejudice Week 2013”.

Peace not Prejudice

I had the opportunity to taste apple cider for the first time in my life on Wednesday. It was heavenly and it cheered me up for the rest of my day of classes.

Among the more informative activities included the talk about Jerusalem and the Syrian Relief Benefit Concert; the latter activity included a sharing session by a lobbyist and a member from an NGO.

Syrian Relief 1
Syrian Relief 2
Burma’s Rohingya


I also attended an exhibit by the United States Holocaust Museum named “Our Walls Bear Witness: The Plight of Burma’s Rohingya”.

1 Cycle

After my classes, I cycled down to the Museum located along the Mall. It was really cold and my face was frozen by the time I got there. I’m happy the bicycle has served me well so far. I have lent it to friends as well.

2 Panel

The panel of discussion included Dr. Holly Atkinson from Physicians for Human Rights, the photographer Greg Constantine and Maung Tun Khin who was born and raised in Arakan State, Burma. Tun Khin is a leader in the Rohingya exile community and the grandson of a Parliamentary Secretary during Burma’s postcolonial democratic period.

3 Greg

What followed were stories and explanations of genocide committed towards the Rohingyas who are currently stateless and defenseless. The photos that were flashed only burnt sad images of brutal injustice onto my retina as my ears were fed with words such as “forced labour” and “children burnt alive”.

4 Projection

We were then led out to see the rest of the photos, projected onto the exterior wall of the Museum.

I Witness

I witnessed a lot in a week, including stories from home, where there is a peaceful movement to allow the hijab to be worn by female professionals. Under Singapore’s constitution, Articles 152 and 153, the Malay-Muslim minority has a constitutional basis for this movement. In other parts of the world, the hijab is often misunderstood as a sign of oppression. In Singapore, the movement to allow the hijab to be worn presents itself as a movement of freedom and civil liberty. Professional Muslim women around the world, including in the US, Canada, Britain, Sweden and Thailand have already been allowed to wear the hijab. Muslim nurses and other Muslim women in the uniformed services in Singapore face a steep challenge paved with discrimination, racism, misunderstanding, male chauvinism, a semi-authoritarian government and fear. I could only sign an online petition, which was eventually taken down after reaching more than 12,000 signatures. Currently, the issue is slowly and barely allowed to be discussed in the press. Not many non-Muslims are sympathetic towards this cause. The Malays have after all always been an "underclass". I wish the movement the best of luck and hope their objectives are just and legal and that the Malay community present the value of neighborly peacefulness and co-operation that has always been doubly emphasized by culture and religion.

Living as a resident alien in the US, the beacon of democracy and freedom, I also hope that those who pursue justice, liberty, freedom and equality everywhere else in the world eventually find themselves victorious.

The past week was a week of layers of discovery. I only wish that, in the weeks to come, I would have fewer assignments to do so that I can leave my desk more often.

By falseconscious

Amidst the calm of the storm of papers and midterms in installments of pages and pages of 12pt, double spaced, Times New Roman regurgitation of information, I decided to head down up to Philadelphia to try and learn a little more history. What we got instead was a really pleasant weekend and an opportunity to test out our "winter" clothes so that we may return them if they don’t insulate us sufficiently.

The most obvious learning journey was visiting the liberty bell and the Independence hall. Philadelphia was pretty quiet that Saturday morning, and pretty cold and windy but we managed to walk around without getting on the Metro, passing by these famous attractions. However, the city surprised us with even more tidbits of significant American history as we coincidentally – unplanned – passed by many other elements of American history and culture such as the First Bank of the United States, the Academy of Natural Sciences and City Hall which was constructed in 1871 but remained the tallest building in the city until 1987.

1 Liberty Bell
Compulsory tourist photo-op with the bell, a symbol of freedom for many, even those not from America.

Architecturally, Philadelphia had a different feel from Washington DC and passing through the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, we had a glimpse of a different look at what a college in America might look like. My travel-mates marveled a little at how much (slightly) grander things look and at the stadium lights in the distant. I very much prefer GW, and for a moment I was GW-homesick but it was quickly remedied with a halal Philly Cheese Steak and a good cheap haircut at a local barber.

2 Panorama Rocky Steps

3 Rocky
A travel mate quipped, “Is this based on a true story?” Sometimes, we reify fiction until it becomes real.

4 Art Museum
We were literally in 16:9 Widescreen because the buildings spread out; which also meant hours of walking.

5 Philly Cheese Steak
Arguably, the cheese steak was probably not “authentic”, but it was really good. A night of toilet terror left me weak on Sunday but it was worth it.

Embarrassingly, we enjoyed our time the most eating, staring at the mechanical dinosaur for 10 minutes waiting for it to move and running up the Rocky Steps.


By falseconscious

Eid al Adha, loosely translated as the "festival of sacrifice", is the second of two main religious "holidays" for Muslims. This day has multiple levels of meaningfulness. For us, this day honors the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), peace be upon him, to sacrifice his young first born son, Ismail (Ishmael), as an act of submission to Allah's command, as well as Ismail's willingness to be sacrificed by his father. Allah stopped Ibrahim and gave him a sheep to sacrifice instead. Muslims who can afford to will sacrifice a sheep and the meat would be distributed in 3 equal portions: 1 portion for the family of the person who performed the sacrifice, 1 portion for friends/relatives and 1 portion for the poor.

Muslims would go for Eid prayers in the morning at a mosque or a designated area. We will also recite the Takbir - loosely equivalent to "praises". Halfway across the world, those on Hajj - or pilgrimage - would be doing the same, finishing a crescendo of the main bulk of Hajj physically and mentally demanding, but spiritually rejuvenating rituals they have been performing over the course of a week, rendering those whose pilgrimage was accepted as sincere, sinless, like a newborn baby.

I too joined in the celebrations that morning at the Islamic Center in Washington D.C., with mixed feelings. Sombre and full of repent over the weakness of my 23 year old soul. Yet, the day was purposeful as those who managed to fast the day (or days) before were promised great "rewards".

Photo1 (1)
I walked to the Islamic Center with my roommate Reza. The mosque is along New Hampshire Ave, next to the Turkish Embassy.

Photo3 (1)
The mosque is just beautifully decorated and the smell of musk and sweet Arab incense and the East-African architecture made me feel like I was in Fez, Morocco. Okay, maybe because there were many East Africans here. I struggled in conversations with what little Arabic I knew but the experience reminded me of my small pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. Everyone sat together, I was next to some Indonesian politicians; a secretary struggled to get his photo - I hope I was in the same frame. After a few short conversations with foreign service officers from different countries and a joke about how my Arabic sounded like I read from a children's story book, Reza and I went out to eat an African rice dish given out for free to mosque visitors, Muslims as well as non-Muslims. We then walked down to Dupont Circle for some cake.


Eid al Adha is a day that holds deep meaning for Muslims who seek a relationship with their creator. Below is a video of the Takbir we recited:




By falseconscious

I feel I would be leaving out a large portion of my exchange experience if I do not share my reflections of it, even if it means I am not posting pictures and exciting videos of my "adventures".

What am I doing here? I don't mean this in a bad way.

What do I stand to gain from a SGD$12, 000 debt-incurring (exaggeration) bomb of a trip around the world? What does this proletariat hope to achieve? What do I bring home? How do I find a way to rationalize this?

Some of you have an idea. Some of you are here for a year, and can apply for an internship. Some of you are not here for a year and will be staying for a spring internship. You would gain work experience and a professional network.

What about someone like me who is only here for a semester?

At this moment, some of you will be asking why did I apply for exchange if I do not know what I am applying for. I do know what I applied for. I had to write an essay about why I applied and what I hoped to learn.

My application basically read, in summary, that I am a seeker of knowledge on a journey of learning. I begged for a chance to know why people were so crazy about exchange trips when they came back. I wondered why exchanges are "life-changing" and why people miss being away from their exchange universities.

This blog post during my midterms is the halfway point of my semester-long participant observation. Like an essay half-written, surely, by now, I must have gathered some tidbits of lessons. Surely, by now, I must have some idea of what an exchange is about.

There is this uncanny craze about "Buzzfeed" amongst students. I know because I see all of you on it when I'm trying to pay attention being the only one writing down notes on paper. Here are 3 lessons I have so far:

3. You only know you love something when you miss being away from it.

I have 101 things about Singapore I would like to change. However, I want to go back and change it myself (and this could be me feeding off the spirit of change-making in GWU).

Among the things I miss about Singapore include a world class medical and healthcare system that is affordable and accessible. I got stung by a bee a few weeks ago and I panicked and searched for coverage in my insurance network and opened a new tab on Google chrome to look at WebMD which seems to always tell me I have 2 weeks to live. Now I have a list of 101 things I love about Singapore.

This is probably an unintended effect of being on exchange. I seriously do not mean to say DC is less than any city in the world. I really love it here, government shutdown and all (sorry for those without jobs or pay at the moment).

This moment of separation is like a $12, 000 timeout. It's an investment I am making to be someone who would function better once I return to my society. The desire to return is not just a longing for familiarity. It is a desire to go back home and make concrete actions. For instance, I miss my family and therefore I want to go home and spend time with them.

I broke away from the monotony of island life to come up with an endless list of things to do back home for my personal development, for the betterment of my relationships with my loved ones, for my future career and so on. Missing home is emotional, but it is also a cognitive function that allows one to focus on what matters most and build up a determination to accomplish more.

Let D be determination/homesickness measured by the number of months and C be the number things to change and T be things you want to do when you get back. Let P be the measure of positive effect on an exchange student.

P = D x (C + T)

D and C are always positive integers. Therefore there will always be a positive effect on you. C and T might be zero. If it is, think of something.

2. Happiness

The second lesson I got was about searching for happiness.

Let's face it, you're away from the things you take for granted. You can't download movies on the snail paced wifi. You don't have your local favorite food or drink. You're away from the people you love. You're away from friends.

This isolation begs you to search for a new happiness. The happiness of an exchange student. And the methodology involved in your personal search for it tells a story.

Who do you first think of when you want to call home? That person will give you happiness. Provided you're not calling home for only for money. In that case, you seek happiness in greenbacks. If you're happy with money and you're rich, you'll be fine. If you're not rich, or do not have the potential to be, you'll have to search it somewhere else.

What do you need the most in the dorm? How about in the fridge? What do you like about your roommates? What kind of company do you find precious? What do you think of when you're alone? What do you reach out for, metaphorically?

The best drink is just plain water. The best food, honey, is the vomit of bees. The best perfume or smell, musk, is the secretion of a deer. And sex, is putting excretory parts of 2 bodies together. Even "nature" is telling you, sometimes, happiness can be found in simplicity or even in disgusting places.

Sometimes happiness is a frozen pizza while writing take home papers for midterms. Sometimes happiness is waking up on time for midterms. Sometimes happiness is not having midterms. It's about appreciating what you have. All that, just from midterms.

Personally, when I go home, I'm getting up earlier to do more things that I have made habits here that I don't do in Singapore, like taking a morning walk to get a free cupcake and eat it by the river. Having breakfast with my family or with friends in school would be an equivalent. Increasing my P quotient here (refer to lesson 3). Happiness also takes effort. A smile requires some muscles to move. That means you have to get off your bed and go to class you lazy bum. Carpe as much happiness that Diem offers.

1. Continue to go on "Journeys"

By journey, I mean exploring life.

In a class I had on Mount Vernon, we read Plato's Apology, an account of the trial of Socrates in which the latter proclaims "the life which is unexamined is not worth living". This statement read aloud in a room of fellow goofy wannabe philosophers struck a chord with me.

Look what reflecting in this blog has done so far. That's 2 lessons right there not including this one.

To learn, you have to seek. To live, you have to examine. Otherwise, you're just waiting to die.

My biggest lesson about exchange so far is that I observe and as life continues, I continue to observe and there's always something to learn.

It could be that you learn about the limits of your body. Like how I'll never be able to cycle up Columbia heights in my current shape.

It could be that you learn about your academic life: what kind of lessons are most conducive to learning, what are the qualities of a good student or professor, how different your home college is for better or worse, what are your strategies for success or your plans to just enjoy life as a student.

I guess it's my lesson for you too, and for any prospective exchange student.

This is an investment for you to open your eyes in a situation where very few things are familiar. Observing and examining life is like recalibrating your smart phone compass in a figure-8 movement. Just do it, otherwise you can't see what's on your life map thanks to the annoying notice.

You don't have to be on exchange to examine.  You don't have to be on exchange to be happy. You don't have to be on exchange to miss and love things or to make to do lists.

But while you're on exchange, you better start examining exchange life and finding things to do or learn.

By falseconscious

It’s not classy to take pot shots at one’s own country now that one is thousands of miles away. However, I feel, the following has been and will be a significant part of my exchange experience.

My identity, being a Malay and Muslim, does not really stand out here in the diversity of students in GWU. Yet, somehow, I feel who I am matters in the sense of the nuances that it brings to my perspective of life in DC.

Academic Performance

I am reminded again here, like in my freshman year, of the desire to do well. It has something to do with being new to the environment, having to revisit my identity and express it.

I must first give some form of context for you to follow. Firstly, being Malay in Singapore is socially interpreted as being Muslim to the same extent that Koreans, Taiwanese and Chinese are just perceived as a monolithic “Asian”. Secondly, the academic “underperformance” of Malays as and our “general socio-economic well being” behind the other major ethnic groups are among the most discussed social issues in Singapore. A local equivalent – although really much different – is probably a mixture of the African-American and Native American social issues the American society may be concerned with.

So – and some of you may already guess my tone while trying to be politically correct here – that it stands as an “achievement” that a Malay is here in GWU and doing well in school.

What more if he scores full marks for an essay, topped his class, and claimed a free cupcake from Sprinkles.

For most students here, doing well in college is just a product of effort and an expression of academic desire and is part and parcel of college life. Some people get As. Just a fact of college life.

For me though, having been through an education experience that included various extents of racial ideas and emotions, doing well is proving a point.

Sometimes “doing well” is disproving the idea that my culture and religion is in any way inferior to the nauseating overtures of Confucianism stuffed down our throats in an attempt to somehow demonstrate Asian values. Also – and this is rare and some of you may find it strange that such ideas still persist – “doing well” shows that I am biologically and genetically equal with my fellow Chinese Singaporeans. Not to mention that a good “academic performance” in seeking knowledge, is not merely “Asian” in the state-defined Confucian sense, but is also part of my identity as well.

“Race” is a messy and complicated issue that would hardly fit on this blog post even if I talked about it in all my posts.

Just to keep things simple for now: even though my grades don’t count and I just need to get a pass, getting an A in GWU meant something to me, no matter how small the assignment or test, because it has always meant something to me throughout my life as a Malay and a Muslim. I am not overly competitive. It just means that aside from being grateful, I have a small emotional dynamic to the psychological process of grading that would lead me to say something like:

“I am happy to be a Malay-Muslim doing well in my short time in GWU”.

Religious and Secular

My imagination of life for a Muslim here would be one that is much more difficult than life in Singapore. After more than a month here, a simple comparison tells a different story.

Food is something I take for granted in Singapore. Two words: abundance and cheap.

Therefore, I can safely put aside that variable, despite my Halal dietary requirements, because any Singaporean would argue that the food here is more expensive, or that certain ingredients are hard to find.


Enjoying a hearty but relatively “cheaper” meal in Mehran’s, a Halal Indian food outlet in the area.

The expression of the “religious” and “secular” presents itself as the independent variable.

As in Singapore, there are mosques here in DC, which are accessible by private and public transportation. There are even similar niche religious-activities I would usually go for.

What is different though is where religion expresses itself in public areas, especially schools, which would usually be reserved as “secular” in Singapore. A heated and sensitive issue is the wearing of hijabs for those in uniforms such as students or nurses.



Sitting amongst locals and foreigners in an Islamic center sharing stories after a session of the remembrance of  “God” and the prophet (peace be upon him). I wore this in the Metro all the way to Shady Grove where this event was held in an attempt at participant observation. Hardly an eyebrow was raised throughout the journey.


The issue of footbaths in American colleges:

A weaving of religious into the secular goes for all religions here. There are churches among buildings here in the Campus.

The most commonly heard “reprimanding”-statement used by politicians and community leaders alike in Singapore when we ask for more “space” for us to practice, is that if space is given to one, space must be given to all; something along the lines of: “if we allow you to pray in school, then we must also built temples for the Buddhists and churches for the Christians”.

A footbath here is a huge blessing, let alone an entire room. In Singapore, prayer areas for Muslims are unofficial and technically illegal (sometimes it is a hidden staircase) and ablution (that’s washing parts of our body before we pray) is a messy process.

Being a Muslim undergraduate in Singapore is an enriching and lively experience. The experience here in GWU is similar, if not better in many ways.


Again, it’s not classy to take “pot shots”, and I did not intend to at all throughout this post. I am merely highlighting some of the key differences in student life.

Despite my own qualms with education in Singapore, I am somewhat proud to be its product.

In proud defense, my home university is ranked 29th in the world by “Times Higher Education”, 22nd in “World Reputation” by the same evaluator, 24th by QS World University Rankings, 17th in the world for the Faculty of Arts and Social Science, 2nd in Asia.

For god’s sakes we’re not in China, we speak English and certainly, we’re among the best schools in the world – and I have a free cupcake from Sprinkles for my A-graded essay to prove it.

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