Sunday, September 22, 2013


"Why are you so nice?"

"What do you mean?"

I turn around, carefully peeling off the price tag to a gift I had just bought. Two friends had just turned 18 and earlier during the day I had stopped by the bookstore to get them each a small gift.

"Well, it's not like you have to do this."

I pause, finger nails still futilely scratching at the Great Gatsby soundtrack CD case. I'm not exactly the best with compliments or positive comments of the sort. I grew up in a culture where the default response would have been to vehemently deny such a statement in a perhaps superficial sense of humility.

"Well.. They say generosity is a form of power." I deflect the statement.


I wave goodbye as I twist the doorknob and leave the suite. I thought I had been terribly clever to quote Frank Underwood from the HBO series House of Cards. But as I delivered the presents, wished the recipients a happy birthday and returned to an empty suite, I pondered. I felt oddly happy despite having spent quite a bit of money.

The next day one of my suite mates had an intramural ping-pong match. I had missed the previous match and I had promised myself that I would make time to go and see him play. So despite the fact that I had a paper due in a few days (or maybe because of the fact, since I'm such a procrastinator, haha!) I went ahead and watched the match. It was a close fought, intense battle of stamina, strategy and plain old sweat. In the end my suite mate didn't win, and was pretty upset about it. He had initially been 7 points in the lead for the final set, so he was understandably rather disappointed in himself.

In the wee hours in the morning when he was sound asleep, I wrote some encouraging words on a few Post-It notes and included some Latin quotes since he was very much into ancient civilizations and languages. I distinctly remember going to sleep with a huge smile on my face.

Why bother? Why expend the effort?

I've been thinking about it a lot these past few days. And I think perhaps I know why. All of us here are leaving our homes, our families, coming to a new, exciting and unfamiliar place. I am 9387 miles away from my home, my family, my countrymen. I have never been to America before this, and now voila, here I am, this clueless guy from Malaysia whose conception of America is a hodgepodge construction of headline news and Hollywood movies.

Perhaps then, in the process of trying to find familiarity and comfort in this country, I have also come to grips with certain ideas. The other day as I was talking to someone, I told them I was going to back home to get a rest. The reply was "Oh you're flying back?"

It was then that it dawned upon me, so obvious yet so easy to miss. L-Dub suite C31 is my home. Ben, Miguel, David are my brothers. The people in Berkeley are my extended family, and heck all Yalies are some weird distant cousins or something. It sounds cheesy, but as I come to the realization that this is where I will spend the next 4 years of my life, it cannot be truer.

I'm sure in the course of the year, I will find people I don't like. I'll probably have an argument or two with my suite mates. We will all have our pet peeves with each other and at times we will not want to talk to each other. But that's what being family is about. That's why I will make time for my suite mates. That's why whatever the case is, if someone needs a shoulder to lean on, someone to lend an ear, I will try my utter best to be there.

I've made mistakes with my real family. Being apathetic, throwing tantrums, being inconsiderate and self-centered. I'd like to think being thrust into this whole new environment is a chance for me to make it up, to become a better family member and better human being.

Generosity has power. But perhaps not the kind of power imagined by Frank Underwood. It has the power to make bonds of friendship, to brighten a person's life, to lift somebody up when they are down.

Generosity has the power to create family.

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