1st anniversary @ Bukit Tinggi (2010)

Have you ever dreamt a dream so bad that you were bummed out the entire morning? In your dream, a parent has died, or you relive a break-up, or it’s the morning of your pre-u chemistry test and you’re running late.

Last night, I dreamt a real doozy. In the dream, hubby broke off our engagement because I had lied to him about something, and before I could bring myself to believe that our relationship of five years was over, he found someone else.

It was horrible. Everything moved in slow motion. I couldn’t believe that a lie had caused this; it wasn’t even a big one. I remember going over our entire relationship in my head, picking out all the Hubbies in happy moments, and kind moments, and loving moments, and comparing them to the Hubby who had just broken up with me. How could a person change overnight?

How can someone just stop loving you?

I sought closure — Hubby wouldn’t give it to me. I sought forgiveness — Hubby told me that trust, once lost, could never be recovered. Anyway, he was with someone else now and really shouldn’t be talking to me.

I obsessed over the past. Memories of our courtship, our meals, our trips, and our days in the Christian Fellowship all marched past my mind’s eye, and because this was a dream taking place in the past, memories of what could have been followed suit. I watched as our wedding day, and honeymoon, and family dinners, and moving into the new house — every precious, mundane moment — shimmer out of existence, ghosts of futures past.

I woke up devastated.

It took me a few minutes to realise that it was just a dream.

I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, thinking about all the ways my life would be different if hubby and I had, at any point in our five-and-a-half year courtship, decided to break up. It wasn’t the big, surface things that came to mind, like “I probably wouldn’t be in the U.S. now”.  The first thing I thought about was the fact that if we had broken up, I wouldn’t have the exclusive family pass I have to [insert Hubby’s last name] family gatherings.

I wouldn’t have gotten to hold my little niece on her first day in this world, or watch her learn to use a fork (she’s a genius). I wouldn’t have gotten to know my sister-in-law better, or be there for important family announcements of engagements, promotions, new jobs.

I got up and looked for Hubby, who was in the living room, and made him hug me for a really long time.

About a month ago, I had dinner with a few people I had just met. Upon discovering that I was recently married, one unmarried guy asked me how married life was different from when we were just boyfriend and girlfriend.

I rummaged through my head for an answer, and the best I could come up with was that I could have my best friend around all the time.

So cliché lah Jenna.

Ya, I know.

It’s bothered me that I didn’t give him a better answer. I felt that I did a poor job advertising marriage, because it struck me as the words were coming out of my mouth that if you have a live-in partner, then my answer sucked.

Unmarried guy, I wish I had told you this instead:

I think your married life can only differ significantly from your pre-marriage life if you don’t believe in the concept of divorce. If you keep the option of divorce on some back shelf in the storeroom of your mind, then your married life won’t really be different from when you moved in with your partner.

Knowing that Hubby promised to take me to be his wife,

to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.

and knowing that he meant it — there’s no room for divorce in the marriage vow — gives me a security and a feeling of being loved that nothing before marriage could have given me.

When we were dating, there were a few times when things were hard, and I toyed with the idea of breaking up. It didn’t happen very often, but sometimes I would imagine an alternate reality, where I was single and could try out that Tinder thing all my friends were talking about.

The option of breaking up gave me a sense of relief when things were bad, because I knew I had an exit, but it also meant that Hubby had an exit as well. What if he decided that one of his colleagues/church-mates/schoolmates/Facebook friends was a better fit for him?

What if he meets someone who’s prettier/skinnier/more ambitious or — God forbid — smarter than me?

He has, but he’s stuck with me.

And that’s the beauty of marriage.

Soundtrack moments are rare, but this morning’s awakening could have been perfectly accompanied by this song, which I share with you because how often does a song perfectly describe a moment you’re living in?

Lean back, close your eyes, open your eyes to click the play button, then close your eyes again and prepare to fully identify with the feelings I had this morning:

If this makes you emo, remember —

There’s ARFI.


28 and Counting

I turned 28 last Saturday, and this is how I spent it:

Hubby and I toast my birthday with glasses of Mike’s Hard Lemonade

I open the package that’s been sitting on the living room floor for the past few days. What can it be? What can it be?! It’s … every housewife’s dream dutch oven, the KitchenAid of dutch ovens, Julia Child’s dutch oven, the dutch oven you see in stock photos of dutch ovens (the way the KA Artisan is the stock photo stand mixer)…yes, yes, you guessed it! Hubby gave me the green light to get…


THE LE CREUSET DUTCH OVEN! Isn’t it bee-yew-tiful? Oh, Le Creuset, I am not worthy to use you in the kitchen, but I’ll try to be. I could go on and on about the Le Creuset, but suffice it to say that there have been anecdotes about siblings arguing over who would inherit their mother’s LC. My children won’t have that problem; I’m taking mine to the grave. Better still (I don’t want to take up so much land),  I’ll ask hubby to cremate me and store my ashes in it.

My hubby spoils me. I like it.


I wash the Le Creuset. I dry the Le Creuset. I place it lovingly on its throne upon my stove. I kiss it good night.


Hubby and I set up house, him assembling our IKEA dining table, and I washing and putting away our stacks of IKEA dishes and cutlery.


Exhausted, we fall asleep.


We wake up, go down to the lobby, and watch the Olympics badminton men’s singles match. You know how that went. You felt what I felt. And, like me, you still think Lee Chong Wei is a hero. Malaysia boleh!


We had lunch at Shake Shack, and because it was my birthday I got a milkshake and a ShakeStack (“Cheeseburger and a ’Shroom Burger topped with lettuce, tomato, ShackSauce™”). On ordinary days the budget doesn’t allow for a milkshake, and I have to choose between a cheeseburger and a ‘shroom burger.


Hubby had planned to bring me to a museum, but a nap sounded even better. So we napped. When it’s your birthday you get to decide what to do, so we ended up having a really lovely nap.


Refreshed, we went out for dinner at Tria Cafe, which serves absolutely scrumptious food. We had

  • chicken liver mousse
  • apple tree goat cheese with basil pesto
  • claudio mozzarella sandwich
  • flourless chocolate torta


Finally, we walked over to the Kimmel Center to watch Nick Offerman and Megan Mullaly’s live comedy show, “Summer of 69: No Apostrophe”. It was funny in parts, too vulgar in parts, draggy in parts. I give it a 6/10.



We caught Pokemon on the way home, then spent the last two hours of my birthday surfing the net on our phones.


The end.

By the way…

Thanks for checking in on me! It’s nice to see views from all over the world, and be able to pinpoint some of you. I’d like to shout out to Elena in Japan, Jason in Germany (am I right, is that you Jason?), Kuharnesh and Kenneth in the UK, and all my friends back home.

You guys are the best, you make me feel loved.



Surprisingly Inspirational

As the writer’s residency approached, I was filled with anxiety. The shock of actually being accepted into a writer’s program had not worn off, and the thought of meeting other writers and having them go over my work was terrifying.

Would they discover what an amateur I really am? After all, my undergrad was in pharmacy, of all things, and I didn’t have a single writing workshop under my belt. My application fictional story took a month of banging my head against the writer’s granite block, writing and deleting and writing and deleting and asking my husband repeatedly, “Are you sure I should do this? What if I don’t get in?”

To which he invariably replied, “Fake it till you make it.”

I faked it. I made it. Was I about to be exposed for a fraud?

The Writing Workshop

A workshop run by Zach Vickers, author of “Congratulations on Your Martyrdom!”

The week-long residency consisted of daily writing workshops. A workshop is a group of writers who review each other’s work and offer constructive criticism. The biblical imagery of iron sharpening iron comes to mind, sparks, grating, everything.

I expected it to be a painful process. I imagined my classmates going over my short stories as they ate their breakfasts, scribbling furiously in red ink.

“How did she get in?” they’d ask themselves.

“What a terrible story!” they’d say.

The writing workshop was nothing like that. As it turns out, fellow writers understand what it’s like to write a story and think it’s crap, or to write a story and think you’re crap. They’re also great at analysing your story and giving you helpful feedback, because they’re voracious readers. As a result, the feedback you receive at workshops is tactfully delivered — bitter pills covered in jam to make the swallowing easier. As in life, the bitter pills are often better for you than the jam.

We were also given writing exercises, which were usually to be completed in five minutes. Folks, five minutes is hardly any time at all, yet my classmates came up with fantastic stuff.

Because one of the things I learnt at the residency is to allow yourself to be vulnerable, I’m going to share my hastily-scribbled scene below, verbatim. Zach, one of the facilitators, would say that there’s no such thing as a bad story, so keep that in mind as you read it.

Write a scene in which two people are talking while doing something bizarre/interesting.

“Are you working this weekend?” William asked. “His Highness said all the footmen were to,”

George heaved another mattress on top of the pile.

“The kitchens are all to be fully staffed as well,” he called down. “Here, steady the ladder, won’t you? It’s a bit wobbly.”

William adjusted the ladder, and passed another mattress up the human chain.

“We’re supposed to work too, but I’m going to try and see if I can sneak away to the pub in the evening. Join me, George?”

George accepted the mattress from Cecil and shoved into place before replying. He tried not to look down, because their task was nearly done and he had always hated heights.

“I wish I could, but Cook will be on the lookout, she always is when one them so-called princesses come to visit. With the last one I was kept shelling peas all evening. What a waste of time that was!Speaking of peas,- “ and he looked at William.

“Oh crap,” said William. The silence that followed was broken by a chorus of curses.

I emerged from the residency feeling less like a fraud. Fran Daulerio, the visiting poet, said that he went through a hundred drafts per poem. My professor, Joshua Isard, published his first novel, “Conquistador of the Useless” ten years after completing his MFA. And it’s a well-known fact that J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was rejected by twelve publishers before being picked up by Bloomsbury.

I guess we’re all faking it till we make it. In Rowling’s words, “We just shoot for ‘writing better than yesterday’.” And in this little bird‘s words,

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 11.53.48 PM


Kitchen Capers

Produce aisle, here I come!

The past week of silence is due to the fact that I was at my first residency — I’m officially a grad student now! It was a dense experience, so I’ll save that for another post. But let me just point out that I used an em dash in that first sentence, not a hyphen. I’ve been doing it wrong all my life, so hey! I’m improving already. (Technically I shouldn’t be using bold for emphasis, and that exclamation mark was probably unnecessary, but this is a blog called “always room for ice cream”, so you know I’m not taking this too seriously.)


Today’s post is just me rejoicing over the fact that now the residency’s over and I have more free time, I can finally get down to equipping my kitchen. Aww yesss. In a week we won’t be eating microwave meals and hamburgers and American-ised Asian food, in a week we’ll be able to sit down to a home-cooked Chinese meal, complete with fluffy rice straight out of the rice cooker and vegetables drizzled over with soy sauce. To celebrate, I’m going to use one of my few precious packets of bak kut teh herbs, and I’ll probably also go to that Thai stall I saw in Reading Terminal Market and stock up on some tom yum ingredients. I can’t wait. I’ve got a much more Western tummy than hubby, but even I am starting to feel rice deprivation.

After some light research — thank God for review sites like The Sweethome and cooking guides like The Kitchn and Epicurious — and with an eye always on my budget, here’s a list of my must-haves when setting up kitchen in a small apartment.

Unlike when I was back home, I’m equipping this kitchen with an emphasis on home cooking rather than baking (which I love). Which is why you’re not going to see a KitchenAid stand mixer on this list, though believe me I’m crying inside.

Jenna’s 10 Kitchen Essentials

  1. Chef’s knife
  2. Paring knife
  3. Serrated knife
  4. Wooden chopping blocks (1 for meat, one for produce)
  5. Cast iron Dutch oven
  6. Set of stainless steel pots and pans
  7. Food processor
  8. Baking sheet x 2
  9. Rice cooker
  10. Coffeemaker

If you want to see which ones I picked out, you can check out my Amazon Philly list here. None of the choices were made lightly. Having a budget makes you really consider the value-for-money of the items you’re buying. Every item was chosen after visiting a couple of different review sites as well as a quick read- through of the Amazon customer reviews.

Since I intend to bring most of the items home, I was trying to balance quality with price. So the items on the list aren’t the cheapest ones out there, but neither are they the most expensive ones on the market.

Talk to me:

  1. Did I leave anything out of my kitchen essentials list? Is there a product you think is better than the one I picked?
  2. French Press vs Coffeemaker: Thoughts?

Tell me what you think in the comments section!

Have a great weekend, and remember — there’s ARFI.


Mainly Concerned w/ Eats

An evening walk to Fountain Porter
Friday night was date night with hubby, so we decided to take a walk to Fountain Porter, a bar we’d discovered to have amazing cheeseburgers on a previous trip to Philly. What better evidence of great weather can there be, than that us couch potatoes decided to walk the 1.8 miles (that’s American for 3 kilometers) to the bar? Turns out going for an evening walk is a great date activity, especially when you’re in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Mobile phones stay in pockets, there’s lots to see, and you work up an appetite for dinner. We walked along the Boulevard of the Arts, which is lined with theatres and houses the University of the Arts. Maybe we’ll catch a show there some day.

Children at play among the water jets outside City Hall; also, a bridal shoot!
Saturday marked my first time on the trolley (American for an underground KTM, not to be confused with a shopping cart). We took it two stops away to get to City Hall, and my brief experience of the trolley’s sights and smells has me thinking that  I’ll be doing a lot of walking here. Hubby doesn’t think it too bad, so maybe I’m being too much of a princess. It’s been a long time since I’ve used public transport.

Reading Terminal Market
We had lunch at Reading Terminal Market, a must-see for anyone visiting Philly. The Market is a sprawling indoor market filled with fresh meat, produce and gourmet cheese vendors, as well as a smorgasbord of food stalls. There’s Peking duck, Thai cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisine, Cajun food, oysters…the list goes on and on. There were two stores with extremely long lines which I plan to check out on a weekday when there will hopefully be less of a crowd. One was Bassetts Ice Cream, which is apparently America’s oldest ice cream company, and the other was Beiler’s Donuts and Salads. Ice cream and donuts – my two favourite things!

For this trip, we had gumbo and fried mac and cheese at Beck’s Cajun Cafe, followed by oysters at Pearl’s Oyster Bar. The gumbo was good, while the fried m. & c.tasted like TGIF’s i.e. nice, but nothing special. The oysters were alright, but pricey at 3$ a pop. I know it’s a bit early for me to be making food recommendations, but if you’re ever here (and I hope you are, and if I know you I hope we meet up), Stateside in South Philly has delicious 1$ oysters during happy hour (5-7pm).

I got a couple of cookies from Famous 4th St. Cookie Co. (I’m a sucker for places with the word ‘Famous’ in their names), but I probably won’t again.

We wrapped up with a take-away 9.50$ chicken pot pie from Molly Malloy‘s, which they very helpfully prepared for heating up in the oven by separating the crust from the filling. It was delicious – creamy sauce, tender meat, and crispy crust – and enough for the two of us, so I think I’ll be buying a few to keep in the freezer for lazy days. The chef cut a smiley face into the crust for us, which was a nice touch.

The pot pie was a great way to end a day of exploration. Look how happy hubby is.

A nightlight-lit dinner on our nifty Amazon dining table
That’s all for now, folks. Have a great week, and remember,

There’s ARFI!



I’ve Been Capped!

With a couple of free days on my hands till classes start next week, I was prepared to spend lots of time in Downton Abbey (courtesy of Amazon Prime Video), comfortably sprawled out on the only piece of furniture we currently own – the bed.

The best laid plans

Alas, it was not to be. I was barely past the intro of Season 2’s first episode when the unthinkable happened – I ran out of data. Watching videos doesn’t eat up my quota, but once I’ve used 6GB browsing and Skyping (Skype was the main culprit here – I completely overlooked the fact that Skype eats data, I used it like I was using the phone), my Internet speed is capped and becomes too sluggish to stream videos.

The sudden loss of a modern housewife’s best friend had me getting out of bed, taking a shower, and loading the washing machine. With nothing left to do, I put on my Converse shoes, grabbed my sunglasses and shoulder bag, and went for a walk…

…to T-Mobile. Where I learnt there was nothing I could do get my high-speed Internet back except wait till the next billing cycle.

So I decided to really go for walk. It was a lovely afternoon, and there were lots of people strolling along the streets, shopping and eating and talking on their phones. People don’t really jay-walk here, but then drivers respect zebra crossings.

After wandering around aimlessly for a while, I decided to conclude my walk with a visit to Trader Joe’s. It’s a good thing we’re currently only capable of microwaving food, because there were lots of ingredients pleading with me to buy them. I told them that their time would come, and headed over to microwave meals. Trader Joe’s has an amazing Asian microwave meals section. According to one of the TJ workers, who came up to me when he saw me scrutinising a packet of Trader Ming’s Chinese Style Pork Buns (3.99$ for 4), the Asian section is their most popular section.

“Do you need help?”

“Oh no, thanks…I’m just amazed that you have these!”

“Let me see, I don’t actually know what these are. How do you cook them?”

“Huh? Um well at home we steam them…”

“Oh so they’re like dumplings!”

“Uh. Yeah.”

I put the packet of char siew baos in my cart, next to the bibimbap and wan tan soup, and rolled away.

I’m back at the apartment. I’ve put the groceries away and folded the clothes.

I’ve blogged.

I’m going to go down to the lobby and see if their wifi can handle Downton Abbey.

If not, well, I guess I could read a book and have some Ben & Jerry’s. I’ve had some leftover pizza, but, well –

There’s ARFI.



Mental Math

First Grocery Haul @ Trader Joe’s

The first few days in Philly went by in a whirl of errands – setting up our bank accounts, selecting the best mobile plans, buying a mattress. The weather on the day we arrived was sunny (though the next four days of drizzling rain showed that it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia), and the low humidity makes walking a breeze.

The people here are pretty friendly, and getting smiles and greetings of ‘How are you doing today?’  from everyone from the doorman to the cashier takes some getting used to.

Unfortunately, tipping also takes some getting used to. Confession: I didn’t tip the mattress delivery guys from Mattress Factory; sorry mattress guys! I wasn’t thinking. Hubby told me to wrap my mind around the idea that everything we buy has the hidden cost of a tip. I’m too Chinese to give tips without a pang and not Chinese enough to not feel bad about not giving any. Give me service tax any day.

I’m too Chinese to give tips without a pang and not Chinese enough to not feel bad about not giving any

Shopping here has me doing a lot of mental math. With the exchange rate being what it is (1 USD = 4.04 MYR), buying a 80$ top that’s 60% off has me running this calculation through my head: [80$ – (8×6)] x 4 = RM128. A day of clothes shopping and grocery store browsing (hello, Trader Joe’s) has me forming the general conclusion that clothes cost about the same as they do at home, while produce and prepackaged food cost maybe RM2-3 cheaper per item.

Eating out here is expensive. Restaurants which are supposed to be on the cheaper end here still have you forking out about 12$/meal, which gives you some insight into why microwave meals and fast food has so much appeal here. Hubby and I had a happy rummage in TJ’s 4$ microwave meal (for 2 pax!) section.

I can’t wait for my kitchen to equipped. Our apartment is unfurnished, so I’ve been having a great time shopping for cookware on Amazon. Until the cookware arrives, it’s going to be eating out and microwave meals for us (ka-ching ka-ching!).

Cost-calculating aside, I really like it here. I thought I’d be dealing with homesickness for at least a month, but instead I’ve found a bunch of things that had me saying ‘I love America!’:

  1. Amazon Prime Free Two-Day/Same Day Shipping
  2. 2 pints of Ben & Jerry’s cost 6$
  3. The Apple Store gave me a brand new phone when they couldn’t fix the screen of my old one
  4. Everyone speaks English
  5. T-Mobile’s ‘Binge On’ offering that lets you stream unlimited Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, etc. without taking a byte of your data

Have a great day, guys! And remember:

There’s ARFI.