Category Archives: Uni

The Independence

A tribute to my 7-term in Waterloo that ended with a 7-course struggle. 

“Merdeka!” exactly the phrase Malaysians love to call it when we are freed from our responsibilities. You can hear me introducing the notion of “achieving independence” to people in Waterloo after their midterms, or better still, the finals.

But for me, the notion of independence has a deeper meaning: it symbolizes my “breaking away” from Waterloo after being stuck for 7 terms (a.k.a. 2 years and 4 months in a row). It also marks my experimentation into an industry internship (though still doing a research in some kind) after staying faithful to academia for two internship terms.

Part 1: “Like a New Beginning”

(Reusing my first personal portrait)

It’s a new start. A new life. A new academic career. The undergraduate journey. There I went, trying to adapt the academic competitiveness in Computer Science and Mathematics, the ruthless winter that I would never imagine during my days in Malaysia, and the poignant homesick feeling that keep disturbing me intermittently. As the end of first year drew near, however, we were scheduled to start our first internship at various places, prompting me to be prepared to embark on yet another new adventure. The difficulty on finding the first internship added another layer on uncertainty on my next step: whether to stay in Waterloo for another study term, or be ready to accept whichever job that I would land on? In the end, I was awarded the research position on graph theory in the Waterloo’s Computer Science department itself, and I was beyond delight to begin another local adventure on this field.

The research term was a spring/summer term, so I got to enjoy the Waterloo neighbourhood under the climate that’s somewhat-like-home. Experimenting around the Waterloo park and taking a brief jog around the Waterloo-Kitchener area opened my eye on the somewhat rustic side of the Waterloo neighbourhood that shifts away from the academic intensity of the campus. Maybe that’s also the reason why I could focus on my research–it’s in my ‘home’ city, eh?

Part 2: Continuation

Fall 2017 came. Heart rooted deeply into academia, I decided to apply for the Combinatorics and Optimization research in December due to the perceived prestige this research program it gave me (and yes, I do agree that it’s prestigious even after my completion of this program). Learning that I was paired with Prof. David Jao whose research interest resonates with mine, I swiftly accepted.

Wait…this means another consecutive terms at Waterloo, isn’t it? Regardless, I was glad that this research offer spared me from the toil of job search, allowing me to focus on my academics (particularly the time-consuming Objected-Oriented programming course).

Come May 1, I happily hopped onboard to research about the post-quantum cryptography. I began my subconscious hailing around the corridor of the mathematical building as I was thinking about the solutions to my current problem I was working on, or simply giving myself some interval for digesting the arcane mathematical fundamentals I needed to succeed in this research project. Being a part of this domestic mathematical environment made me proud of what I was working on. Surrounded by friends around the Waterloo area with activities together (especially cooking) enhanced my summer experience even further.

But the demure voice of prompting me to leave Waterloo for my next co-op intensified as I kept listening about people’s experiences regarding a out-of-Loo co-op. The attractions. The entertainment district. The eateries. Am I supposed to be carried away by the thoughts?

Part 3: The Change

I decided that it was time for me to experiment something new for the next co-op: a new city, a new field. This somehow explained my penchant for developing technical side projects like the C++ Big Integer, and for attending two hackathons in the beginning of the Fall 2018 term despite the extreme workload ahead.

As the recruitment season started on WaterlooWorks, I went resolute on my desire to change, and filtered out almost all job postings that were located in Waterloo. This left me with about half of the mix in Toronto with the rest in the States. Subsequently, interviews from these applications came tide by tide, sometimes at the magnitude that’s capable of engulfing a human. But thankfully (and finally) I was getting these interviews.  Eventually on the Ranking Day (a.k.a. Results Day), “pop!”, 3 offers blinked in front of me. Mans going to Toronto, finally. 

2 months left in Waterloo, and that was really the grand finale of my consecutive streak in this university town. A temporary farewell–to the university, and the school life. “It’s going to be over soon”, I told myself as I was faced with the ongoing battle with the assignments and the exam preparation for the 7 courses. I am glad that I performed the very last bar of this grand finale well–the final exam.

“Merdeka!!!” I can’t stop screaming to my family and close friends after my last paper.

Screen Shot 2018-12-20 at 2.07.55 PM
The “independence” influence I like to spread among my friends


It’s official. I’ve moved in to Toronto now, and got to taste the first bite on the life in this new city. While fascinated by the dynamic lifestyle of the people here, I sometimes cringe as I think of the convoluted geographical distributions of the entertainment spots and eateries that I have always longed for all the while. Making things even more challenging was the initial challenge in locating a suitable residence during my internship, and the process of moving to a new city.

After all, Waterloo isn’t as ‘terrible’. I would still be proud of this city that produces the top performers in the ACM-ICPC programming competition and the Putnam competition every year. Perhaps, I just need a break from the university town and from studies, and I would be happy to embrace Waterloo, again. 🙂

Merry Christmas and “Happy Independence”! (as how I joked to friends) — taken at Eaton Centre, Toronto

The Sophomore Struggle

It’s the time of the year again
Walking to 8:30am classes in the rain
In the same lecture room we remain
Hoping to survive the assignment pain

It’s the time of the year again
Cali-or-bust dominated our brains
Resumes roasting hard to avoid being disdained
Just for the question: “Can I get a job in the Main”?

It’s the time of the year again
Midterms stacking with our energy drained
Cramming into late night, hoping we don’t go insane
Leading us to wonder: can our schedule maintain?

It’s the time of the year again
Interviews coming along, questions too arcane
New job announcements on Facebook, “congrats” comments we can’t refrain
A minute voice shivers, “continuous round it’s me again”

It’s the time of the year again
Finals blending into the snowy terrain
Library seats search ending in vain
Mr. Goose prayer sent, hoping the curves don’t wane

It’s the time of the year again
“Exams are over!” The freedom we regained
Vacations and holidays flowing into our domain
Coz we deserve them: how long can we abstain!

Ps 1: My first time crafting a poem on WordPress; much apologies if it’s lame.
Ps 2: Technically I was half-lying because I wasn’t on WaterlooWorks this term, but I would nevertheless dedicate this to all people around me who slogged through the term together with me. Thanks for giving me the strength to survive yet another tedious study term.

Obsession: does it matter?

(A different version of my previous post, so that this post will be more faithful to my writing style on this site)

April 29. Almost a year from the date I wrote about the process of college admissions, decisions, and my decisions. Perhaps a question to ask would be: is Waterloo a right choice for me? Yes, as it turns out. Great peers, rigor of courses (sometimes too overwhelming like CS 145 and CS 146), and the abounding opportunities (co-op and Hackathon, in particular) and are the main factors I am satisfied with the choice I made.

The real question, though, is have I made the right decisions and dealt with it in the right way? I didn’t see myself slugging through the whole academic challenges for this term. I didn’t envision myself using coffee to sustain myself throughout the afternoon–to the extent that I once purchased an XL size coffee and my heart pounding quickly until the night. I didn’t expect heavy-duty assignment questions in CS and English piled-up concurrently come mid-March, until I had to give up one compiler question to give way to my report writing. More important, I didn’t anticipate myself checking WaterlooWorks every night to hunt for jobs during continuous rounds, sometimes even getting up early in the morning to edit cover letters.

Self-questioning comes amid the struggle: why am I doing all this? Why do I choose CS 146 instead of the ‘easier’ CS 136? Why do I choose not to drop MTHEL 131 despite knowing that it wouldn’t be required eventually (I decided not to major in Actuarial Science in the middle of the term.)? Why do I try so hard for my job search despite knowing that forfeiting one work term is never a great deal (or a deal, at all). The answer is simple: my internal egotism that tries hard to prevent myself from showing any sign of weakness. I don’t want to call myself ‘coward’ just because I give up the challenge of CS 146; I don’t want to a ‘WD‘ on MTHEL 131 to tarnish my undergraduate record; I don’t want to contribute myself to the unemployed statistics–when the expectations by my friends on me is rather high. As a result of my self-defense against showing the weakness, wounds started to appear when my grades started to bleed on LEARN (and on Quest, maybe?)

I once told myself that it’s okay if my average drops by 5% this term (in justifying my choice of taking an extra course), and that “I don’t want to care anymore” when people are counting down for the Grades Day on April 26. I even told myself it’s okay if I couldn’t get a job, since the other alternative (converting into a study term) is equally good too. But in reality, I am still obsessed with these numbers. Comparing those numbers with the seemingly better past, or the better peers gives a painful twitch to my heart (even for a very short while). Making these worse was the jittery on when I still didn’t get a job by early April: I didn’t know what’s my next step, and the sense of inadequacy and insecurity arose as I looked at my friends getting their jobs one-by-one (although the interviews with Citadel suggests me against it). Long story short, internal vulnerability kicks in.

Well do they really matter? According to a post I wrote last year, marks do and don’t matter at the same time. Here’s some other quotes on how my classmates (and good friends) counteract this:

marks dont matter
Credits to Kevin. Another friend even claimed stronger: “Lives don’t matter.”
real profs have curves
Credits to Josh (who inspired me to create another meme on this)

If all the mental shackles of outcomes (i.e. grades, and whether we eventually secure a job) are removed, this semester is actually a rewarding one for me. Admittedly, my course combination is weird (refer to my previous post), but this also equips me with a fairly diverse knowledge: ranging from the intricate architecture of computers to the art of conveying technical information in a plain language. The primary reason I chose a college in North America was its diverse curriculum as compared to those in UK, and this course selection is one way I could stay loyal to my initial intention and goals. Meanwhile, experiences on selling yourself loud and counteracting various interview questions aside, the arduous job search serves primarily to let us know how big the world is with competitors abound, and to better suit ourselves to the expectation of the world.

Sometimes we couldn’t help but to think: if only marks don’t matter the slightest, or the courses are marked on pass/fail basis! “Choices have consequences” (once my sister’s Instagram status), indeed. Marks do matter for practical reasons, such as making ourselves more competitive when it comes to job search and graduate school applications. But other than that it was purely our narcissism that longs for some superiority as compared to our peers. As quoted from a friend, marks don’t matter “but they can still hurt my (her) pride a bit”, and I couldn’t agree more. The exact same thing goes to the job search, where we just want to feel good for being able to show off: what else can explain our status update on Facebook when each of us eventually got a job? Not surprisingly, I literally turned my room into a Wonderland and lost the mood to study for the finals for a whole night when I finally got an offer as a research assistant on April 12.

The struggles are now over. And I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone who were on my side during all these difficult moments (and we do have fun moments together, don’t we?)

An example of fun moment: trip to Niagara Falls!

To all my comrades who went through the same process as me, hope that you feel the same way too. (Try to find the exact phrase in the song! It’s on the top of my Spotify playlist btw 😛 )

Green, red, and white

Green. September. The interchanging between summer and fall. Sun scorched the lush green plants, the grass field and us students during the orientation week. The grilling 27C and vigorous running immersed my shirt in the horrendous sweat and drained me into lethargy.

Orientation week!
Orientation week!

Orientation week provided us the great platform to extend our friend circles by virtue of “hi, nice to meet you” and joining them for crazy physical activities inside the Waterloo park under the scorching sun. The first month of university also saw me exploring all interests, passion and aptitude: having fun in the ACM selection (both the North American Qualifier and the Waterloo local contest) and Hackerrank coding contests. Complementing my adventure and explorations were the finding the inter-building connection via bridges and tunnels, searching for fit in the clubs and societies day, and pampering my taste buds with awesome Chinese food.

Never mind that the contest attempts weren’t successful, or that the act of exploration took me time and energy. I felt myself having the vitality to go around for my interest and examine my passion, unfettered by failures: just like the grass and the trees during the green days.

Red, October-Mid November. How great it would be to stay under the tree, surrounded by red and yellow fallen leaves. How breathtaking it was to stay outdoors, enjoy myself in the soothing breeze at 15C, and look at maple trees decorated by red and yellow leaves: the national symbol of Canada.

Leaves turning red
Leaves turning red
Frost covering the grass
Frost covering the grass

Midterms. Assignments. Presentations. All those came concurrently like the successive punches on the arm wrestling stage. As we wanted to relax ourselves during the 5-day Thanksgiving break, all undone tasks and revisions dissuaded us to do so; the mind-bending nature of CS 145 assignments successfully averted me from my eager in Codeforces or Hackerrank coding leisure, and made me another frequent visitor of CS tutorial centre.

Just like how the leaves returned to the soil after having its well-spent adventure of gathering sunlight, I gradually returned (or rather, restricted) my attention to my schoolwork. (Luckily Jay Ching and I still had the luxury to visit Toronto as a post midterm getaway.)

U of T residence
U of T residence

White, mid-November to present. Words could never describe my ecstasy upon seeing snow for the first time on November 19, but soon the cold drove me to the fear of going out from my cozy warm little room. Till now, the prospects of being able to see a snowman, to look at the picturesque snowfield, and to learn that sky darkens at 5pm are still surreal for me–after staying in a tropical country for 20 years.

Snowman anyone?

Stay in. Don’t go out. That’s the advice during winter. Figuratively, there’s another reason to do so: the final exam was near and that was 50% of our grades.

December 3 marked the end of my period where I could stay away from books: I took part in the Putnam contest; after the day I decided I couldn’t be productive and went for an acapella concert. Thereafter, reviews, reviews, reviews. I looked through the calculus identities, had my hands dirty on the algebra problems, and some challenging mechanics questions. But the rest of my time devoted to lambda calculus, regular languages, models of computations, and experiments on DrRacket: in attempt to remedy the wreckage from CS midterms that led me to self-questioning of whether I fit into CS 145 (or rather a more practical question: CS 146 of CS 136?)

Soon, four papers were completed: December 17 marked the end of our struggles in polishing our transcript with great scores. Anxiety on grades aside, the O(mg)=O(W) squad decided to have a getaway in Kitchener for celebration of both the end of exam and Jay Ching’s birthday.

It snowed throughout the week following that Saturday. But now it symbolized jovial following the end of tortures (like movies featuring Christmas scene) instead of the need of staying inside your cozy dorm.

Now, time for academic respite before the university reopens in January! 😀

First uni post

First personal potrait!

August was getting to the end. I dreaded the moment of waking up every day, for I knew too well that September 1, the day on which I shall be separated from my loved ones, was getting closer and closer to me.

Getting ready

Amid my busy packing time, it came. I started my 30-hour transition from Penang to Toronto. And after this pivotal time, here I am, officially a university student.

Departing from Penang International Airport
Transitting from Vancouver to Toronto
Checked in!


I could still remember my interviewer saying”treat differences between abroad and in Malaysia as an extension of difference between your home and in Sunway” during my Princeton interview, but this has been harder than expected. Sweating hard under the hot sun during the orientation, we never knew that the temperature could drop to negatives within a month; overcoming the my subconscious mind of “people drive on left” took long than usual, and till now I had to look both ways while crossing; time managing had become more important than ever when terms looked so short (4 months), assignments and mid-terms came to close to each other, and people were kept talking about resumes and co-op work preparations. Above all, I couldn’t help but to compare from time to time how it went in Sunway and here: the convenience of having Sunway Pyramid vs having need to take buses to hang out in Conestoga Mall, and the close knit among classmates and housemates vs not even knowing each of the classmates in a class of 100.

This justifies the thoughts like “if only I’m in Malaysia,” especially when I woke up from dreaming home in my sleep. Guess what alleviates this? Chinese food near UW plaza, playlists of Olivia Ong, and Skype sessions with family and classmates in Sunway.

How could I possibly resist?
First Skype session with Sunway fams

There are some beauty that worth my appreciation, though. The quaint and natural view of houses–built without gates, the picturesque sight of lush green field “decorated” with geese near my dorm, and the red and yellow leaves of maple tree, offered me this visual entertainment. And beside the nature appreciation, the people here are whom I shall be thankful for: when a stranger offered help to open doors for me as I was carrying heavy items, their helpfulness immediately ingrained a wonderful first impression on me.

Leaves turning red!

Fingers crossed, that time could enable me to relish more fully in the life here, and explore the beauty of the culture here.

It’s Thanksgiving today, so I shall use this opportunity to appreciate my 8 gap months in Malaysia, and the individuals who added colors to these days.

In particular, these are my family members (with whom I spent a great time hanging around the cities of Butterworth and Penang), my fellows in Toastmasters–Bagan Ajam or not (for the wonderful 10th anniversary, club contest preparation, and house warming), principal and colleagues in IOM Math Butterworth (comrades in educating children; apologies for no photo), trainers and trainees in IMO training camps, and other friends in Sunway (who came for a trip in Penang) and in Chung Ling Butterworth (for farewells). Hope you had a great time as well!


The two who have the most prominent positions in my heart
The send-off squad; can’t be more thankful
My final event in BATMC-10th anniversary (two days before my departure)
Throwback to a session with Prof. Arsmah (something to represent the IMO part haha)
Chung Ling Butterworth 5SA1/2013

To end my post, may I share a pun describing my life so well, edited from PPAP (for some time it stuck in my mind, but I tried hard to get rid of it since I had enough of this funny experience back in Sunway.

I have a pen
I have assignments
…Uhm…Deadline’s here!

I have a book
I have my mid-term
Study time!