Real talk

Today marks the 14th month (and some odd days) that I’ve lived in Sri Lanka. My second trip back was a conscious decision to bid adieu to my Canadian friends, family and home comforts for a 2-bedroom apartment in the southern coastal city of Galle. My roommate is gecko. I pay the rent – he just poops everywhere.

Galle is a place where, unlike the metropolis of Colombo that I had lived in before, the day starts at 6:30am with the familiar, yet oddly out of tune, loudspeaker rendition of Beethoven’s Fur Elise blasting out of a bread-and-pastry hybrid tuk tuk. My days usually end at 6:12pm, give or take the extra minutes, when the sun sets. The early sunsets remind me of Canadian winters – minus the snow, sub-zero degrees, and moist socks.

Stay warm friends.

Days in Galle were initially hard to adjust to. They were, and still are, wildly different to the flexibility I had when I was living in Waterloo or the social buzz I felt in Colombo. And, if you let yogi Sarah speak for a moment, I wasn’t satisfied being back to Sri Lanka because I was either relishing in past memories or scurrying to meet my future plans; I wasn’t living in the ~present~, so everything went whack (see definition #1).

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Definition #1. Maybe #3.


Lost, confused, uninspired and frantic all at the same time (and honestly for quite some time) in a place where days started with a Fur Elise remix and ended at 6:12 pm.

For awhile, my closest friend was my tuk tuk driver, my longest conversation averaged 2 minutes between broken English/Sinhala, and an evening run would turn into a marriage proposal. You know how they say that stepping out of your comfort zone makes you grow? Well, my friend, its probably best if you just ABORT MISSION.

A visual representation of me not aborting the mission.

I depended too much on some, confused expectations for reality, said the wrong things and made a few mistakes – all of which would later on drop me in a deeper hole than I expected.

Fast forward, it’s taken some time to get to the place where I am now (but there’s still a long way to go); a place where I feel at home, am satisfied with my routine, and feel accomplished. It was a painstaking journey to learn to be with and by myself again, to juggle between insecurities and uncertainties, and to start #adulting without having my support network beside me. Major s/o to the true homies in Canada, new buddies in SL and my Asian sista in Nepal for keeping my head on straight. Still learning, but accepting the process.

Month #15 was supposed to be homecoming. To go back to Canada, see (and meet) my beautiful nieces, and guilt trip everyone into getting me a Christmas present because I would only be a few days late for Christmas. But as life would have it, new opportunities came up so I’ll be here a little longer.

So see you in a few more months my little beautiful lil’ nuggets. Auntie’s got a few more things to do before she comes home.

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Meet Madeline and Selah, aka Nugget 2.0 and OG Nuggie (Still working on nicknames for them, open to suggestions).


Uncomfortably comfortable in Jaffna

We are driving from Jaffna back to Colombo along the A9 highway.

Around us the land is dry. Too dry for the thick vegetation, tea plantations and rolling hills we saw in Kandy but strong enough to host a scatter of shrubs and bushes. Our van takes us over Elephant Pass, a strip of newly paved road. Across the way is a humanitarian mine relief van – a reminder of a different time just 7 years ago. The old buildings are sparse, rooted in the earth, murmuring tales of a history come and gone. Newer buildings, still in construction, stand alongside their elders. Waiting to live out their time along the Elephant Pass. Both blend into the scene of Jaffna: simple, lonely, but still standing.

The Elephant Pass was a long contested piece of land between the Sri Lankan army and the separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) because it was the gateway to the Jaffna Peninsula.  In 2013, the Sri Lankan and Chinese government invested Rs. 19,125 million to renovate the road and allow for ease of travel. After all, by land, A9 is one of the few ways in and out of the North.

The empty, abandoned and half standing houses contradict the story that the tarmac tries to tell. The tarmac conceals a history that the houses still bear, scarred with bullet wounds and bloody with rot. But the smooth tarmac road is nice to drive on. It’s not bumpy like the roads in Delft Island or winding like the road from Kandy to Colombo. It feels comfortable driving on this road. Easy, smooth, relaxing. I could sleep. But I fight to keep my eyes awake, stare out the window, and imagine a life much different than the one I’m enjoying in this air conditioned van. I am uncomfortable.

It’s hard to find personal accounts of the war online but more and more, people are documenting their memories and locking them in between two binds. Rohini Mohan’s In the Seasons of Trouble and Frances Harrison’s Still Counting the Dead are two creative accounts of the war- telling stories from the perspective of civilians mothers, sons, fighters, teachers and priests. Stories from humans, alike. 

A memorial stands proudly after the Elephant Pass. A giant cement wall with a bullet pierced in the interior sits in the middle of a lush, green park. Quite the contradiction compared to the dry, arid landscape of Kilinochchi. There are no cars parked nearby, no tourists flashing their cameras. The memorial seems to have an interesting tale to tell: perhaps one that is apologetic of the war or perhaps one that boasts its victory over terrorism. The man dressed in an elaborate military uniform decorated with medals and badges, surrounded by common men sweeping in the park, suggests that the latter. The plaque in front of the monument confirms it. It was erected by the government to praise the Sri Lanka army’s “gallant operation to annihilate savage and brutal terrorism”. If the propaganda wasn’t strong enough, it was erected a little less than a year after the war ended. In the middle of a Tamil-majority town.  On land that belonged to top Tiger, Thamil Chevlam. On land that was also a children’s park. I am uncomfortable.

The plaque by the memorial reads: “The victory memorial is a tribute to the glorious forces and to the state leadership by His Excellencey the President and the Commander in Chief of the armed forces Mahinda Rajapaksa who was born for the grace of the nation with the guidance and coordination of the Secretary Defence Honourable Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the greatest victory achieved capturing the town of Kilinochchi on 2 January 2009 through a humanitarian operation which paved the way to eradicate terrorism entirely from our motherland and restoring her territorial integrity and the noble peace. The monument was erected in the town of Kilinochchi which was held as the terrorist stronghold in memory of the magnificent victory achieved by 57 division supported by 58 division with taskforce 2 and 3 of the Sri Lanka arm ably supported by rest of the security forces in the gallant operation to annihilate savage and brutal terrorism which has terrified this land over 20 years is masked by a cuboid and the projectile, which is penetrated this cuboid symbolizing the sturdiness of invincible Sri Lanka arm to blossom forth in a lotus of peace enwrapped in the fluttering national flag that programs the resplendent majesty of the nation’s glory.”

It’s Independence Day here in Sri Lanka. Unlike the rest of the country, there are little to no flags flying in Kilinochchi, less in Vavuniya and virtually none in Jaffna. If there are, we don’t see them. My time in the North felt ambivalent. Contradictory. Like two stories were struggling to have their voice heard.

I am uncomfortable.

Do yourself a favour: be a camp counselor


To be honest, it’s hard to remember why I work at Camp Trillium. There’s those moments that will break you. When the days get long and hot, when the water search alarm starts to blare and you have to run into the lake, when the kids in your cabin are intentionally trying to get on your last nerve, when there’s a dead rat in the staff lounge, when you have to bring your cabin around for a whole afternoon on theme day, when the only thing you want to do is sleep for days – but you know you have to get up in 10 minutes.

But then there’s those moments that remind you why you do what you do and makes you realize how much camp has helped you grow. Seeing a smile, that lights up the world, on my camper’s face because of something I’ve done for them makes me feel like the richest woman on the face of the earth. I feel love when we hold each other during the goodnight song and sing silly songs about Princess Pat. I feel hope when I share  intimate moments with my family or special friend – when they open up their lives, make themselves vulnerable, and share their pain and their trials with me. These are the most precious moments at camp; when they can trust you enough to share their story without fear of judgment.

There’s something magical about Camp Trillium.  Camp Trillium is my second home – at the very least. Formally, it’s a camp that provides a normalizing experience for kids and families who have experienced childhood cancer: a childhood cancer support centre, if you will. It’s a place that shapes a person; it builds character, personality and confidence. A place where children, parents and counselors alike can stand on their own and be their own. It’s a place that celebrates life, no matter how old or how young you are.

Camp has never been and will never be just another “day job”. It’s an opportunity to be part of a community that will stretch your mental, physical and emotional limits into a better person. In hindsight, I don’t think I go back to CTRL so I can “help” families and have fun with the kids. No, I go because they have made me a stronger and better person.

Peace out, A-town, down,




I wrote this during my second summer working at Camp Trillium in 2013. If you’re in Canada this summer and you’re wondering how you should spend your summer, I highly recommend applying for a position at Camp Trillium. Guaranteed one of the best choices I’ve ever made.


But…where are you really from?

“Miss, where are you from?”
Blank stare. Puzzled look.
Their eyes scream “Liar. Where are you really from?” Other times, they just use their mouths.

My response, if I don’t curtly tell them I’m from Malaysia to cut the conversation short, is something like this:

“I was born and raised in Canada. My family is from Hong Kong but my parents left in 1992 since Hong Kong was going back to China.”

Confusion ensues.

For the two and a half months I’ve been in Sri Lanka, I found it mildly annoying that I had to justify my nationality because I don’t look “Canadian”. Granted, I get that it’s normal to wonder where people are from but it’s another thing when they don’t believe me.

Recently, however, I had an epiphany that changed the way I framed the question about where I’m from:

I am proud to be Canadian and proud to be a daughter of  Hong Kong immigrants who packed their life in boxes and suitcases for a country that was anything but home. Reciting that blurb does not justify my nationality or my parent’s journey so this post is to pay homage to my #1 homies (my Mami and Baba).

Corinna and Kenny. Mom and Dad. Mami and Baba. Mommy and Daddy.

They didn’t just “leave Hong Kong”. They put their lives on hold for their kids, left their loved ones, the comfort of their own language, and the familiar streets they call home for a cold, new country. But I guess that’s the definition of compassion and my parents radiate compassion like the Sri Lanakan sun does heat.

I can’t imagine what life must have been for them but I assume there was a mix of fear, excitement and anxiety for a few years.

But somehow they persevered.

Baba worked in a factory before landing a job in Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto then transferred to Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga as the Pain Management Coordinator. Mami stayed at home to take care of us until I, the baby of the family, was old enough. Even then, she worked night shifts at the nursing home so she could spend more time with us during the day and work while we slept. Now I’m proud to say she’s risen the ranks to become the assistant director of the nursing home.

Because they worked hard for everything, nothing was ever wasted (they’re also hoarders – sorry I had to expose you guys). Since there were 4 little Tams, we were each only allowed to have 3 birthday parties growing up. Christmas presents were never lavish. Celebrations were always humble. I never understood why we couldn’t buy what we wanted, even if it was something small. Little did I know, they were saving that money to invest in our education.

Josh is moving to Australia in January for medical school, Ben recently got married to the beautiful Louisa and is building his career as a doctor and Anna, who got married last year to the ever-so-patient Dave, is a teacher, role model, and mentor to her students and friends (including me). Mami and Baba navigated across the country and fought against the tide to give us the life we have today.


In my mind, my parents are incomparable beyond belief and they should be celebrated. Yes I am proud to be Canadian but I am also grateful to have parents who sacrificed so much for their family.

Though oceans away, the next time someone asks me where I’m from, I’ll be thinking of you, Mami and Baba.


Confessions of a Chinese-Canadian girl living in Sri Lanka

“Do they like Asians there?”, I asked.
“No, not really”, she bluntly replied.

That was 6 weeks ago and I distinctly remember thinking that I could handle the stares, the stereotypes, and the judgement in Sri Lanka. I passed the “Chinois! Chinois!” test twice with flying colours in Morocco and beat the “Jambo….Mzungu!” level in Uganda. The big boss, Sri Lanka, would be a walk in the park.

What I got right was that the racial challenge in Sri Lanka was going to be the big boss. What I got wrong was the fact that it was going to be a marathon.

When I walk down the streets in Sri Lanka, I can feel eyes on me like a hawk (though nothing will beat the stares I got in the Mumbai airport). Half of me wants to wither away and the other half of me wants to yell at them and say “YES I’M NOT WHITE MOVE ON”. 100% of the time, though, I try to ignore the stares and, in turn, stare at anything else but them. I’ve come to learn that ignoring something is my speciality.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m going to be here for 7.5 months instead of the month I had spent at a time in Uganda and Morocco. Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t have as strong of a local support network that I had on my Global trips. Or maybe it’s the pressure to be perfect working for my first international NGO. Or maybe it’s just my brain weaving tales of self-doubt.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all the time that I feel like an outcast as a Chinese-Canadian girl. Working in an office that advocates for gender and ethnic equality makes me feel secure, hanging out with the staff makes me feel valued, and making new friends is exciting. It almost makes me feel like…a white girl…?

Growing up as a Chinese girl in the classic Canadian suburb meant that I grew up identifying myself more as a white Canadian girl than a Chinese-Canadian girl. I grew up abandoning my race, culture, and values because I was embarrassed to be identified as one. In time, living in Canada was easy because I found a way to identify as both, as a Chinese-Canadian, who has a knack for living a “white life” – and I’m okay with it.

But the reality is this. Though I am a Westerner, I am not white. I am a Chinese-Canadian girl, who is, on the surface-level, very different. I have stereotypes attached to the colour of my skin, jokes cracked about the shape of my eyes, and a preconceived notion that I should be good at math, be a business woman, and, potentially, lie and cheat my way for money. I am not white, and I will never be able to know the benefits or drawbacks of being one.

Here in Sri Lanka, women are second-class to men. Foreigners, especially female foreigners, are at a disadvantage because of our “loose morals” and tendency towards prostitution. And race can, unfortunately, put a damper on things

I will feel the consequences of my race but I will try my best to chip away at the stereotypes.

After chatting with my roommate, she reminds me that we should be in it to win it for all of the ladies in Sri Lanka (and beyond) who don’t have a voice to fight against patriarchy. Despite my skin colour, her skin colour, or anyone else’s for that matter, we are all human. The things our eyes have seen, the stories our ears have heard, and, even more, the stories that we are writing for ourselves have so much more value than the colour of our skin or the shape of our eyes.

Yes, it has, at times, been hard in Sri Lanka and I’m sorry to report to you that it’s not all unicorns, rainbows and fairies. Regardless, at the end of the day, I’m grateful for the people I’ve met so far, this beautiful country, and my supportive friends and family.

If you’re following my journey in Sri Lanka, do be reassured about this:

It will be hard and tough as balls (do people say that?). But if you think I’m only going to put 50% because I’m a Chinese-Canadian in Sri Lanka, you are hella wrong. I will find my way and I will put in 100%. And then 50% more.

That’s 150%.

See, I am good at math.

Personal mandate: Prove the stereotype wrong.


For the love of food: cultural appropriation edition

Preparing Chinese food is a lengthy process that takes patience and impeccable skill. It takes a lot of gung fu, hard work and skill, to conjure up the richness of the flavours and teach them to dance. But somewhere along the way, the art of Chinese food has been discounted to “a genuine, authentic, Asian cuisine experience for $6.99 at your nearest Manchu Wok!!”

It’s only authentic Chinese food if it comes in a box like this

I’m sure many Canadian immigrants can relate to the “staple dish syndrome”: Pad Thai from Thailand, pho from Vietnam, curry from India, spaghetti from Italy, and dim sum – with all the glory of fung zhao (chicken feet) and ngau pat yip (yes, you guessed correctly: tripe, aka a cow’s stomach chamber) – from China.

A recent article from The Washington Post by Ruth Tam looks at the cultural appropriation of food. What happens when the same dish that immigrant families were mocked for is sought after?

That’s exactly what Ruth asks: “How do you feel when white people shame your culture’s food – and then make it trendy?’ More than a last name, Ruth and I share similar musings as our cultural dishes shifted from “weird, smelly, and disgusting” to “authentic, genuine, and exotic”. Growing up in a predominantly Caucasian neighbourhood, I had my fair share of friends who would comment on the way I smell after

The best meals are more than the sum of their ingredients; their flavors tell the stories of the rich cultures that created them. When the same respect is afforded to immigrant food as traditional “American” food, eating it will sate us in more ways than one.

I urge you, travelers and foodies alike, to embrace the fullness of different cultures but don’t let it be defined by an “authentic experience”,  a “genuine temple”, or an” exotic food”. A lesson I will indefinitely carry in the next 8 months.

For the love of food: Sri Lankan edition

Earlier today, one of my friends posted a blog about the top 5 Vietnamese dishes she wants to try on her 8 months academic placement. Naturally, we both share the love of food (more specifically, the dumplings at Grace & Healthy Dumplings in Waterloo) so I decided to create a Sri Lankan edition.

Recently I got asked what types of food I’ll be seeing in Sri Lanka. My response? The most stereotypical (and potentially wrong) answer: “Oh you know, curry and stuff”.

It’s time for me to right my wrongs and do a little bit of research. I present to you 9 staple dishes and drinks of Sri Lanka that I am very, very excited to try.

1. Sri Lankan samosas


I love samosas. I can’t wait to try Sri Lankan samosas. I’m so excited.

2. Appam


Appam (egg hopper) is an iconic Sri Lankan breakfast or dinner food made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk. I’m pretty sure my taste buds haven’t experienced anything of this nature so I’m excited to have my first bite!

3. (Egg/Cheese/Vegetarian/Meat) Kottu

egg kottu
Egg kottu

Kottu is a popular Sri Lankan stir fry dish with shredded pieces of godamba roti (oily fried piece of thin dough), spices,  and your choice of egg, cheese, vegetables, or meat. According to Sri Lankan foodies, kottu roti is comparable to the hamburger – it’s tasty, impossible to resist, and always available. (I think I might have to limit myself to only 1 kottu a week).

Check out this video and get ready to be hungry!

4.  Kukal mas curry 

kukal mas curry

I believe that I’ve perfected the rice-to-sauce ratio so I can have a delicious bite every time. With that said, I’m excited to try to kukal mas curry, Sri Lankan chicken curry! Fun fact: they say no chicken curry will taste the same throughout the country because of the different recipes passed down so it’s a dish

5. Wood apple juice

wood apple juice

Up until today, I’ve never heard of wood apple. It’s hard exterior is similar to a coconut and the interior looks something like a giant raisin. One blogger describes it as this: “the outer shell smells a bit like rotting blue cheese mixed with dirty socks. The inside of the fruit looks a bit like diarrhea, but tastes similar to a tamarind”. Check out more here.

6. King coconut


What better way to cool down from the Sri Lankan sun and humidity than with a king coconut? At the Kitchener/Waterloo Multicultural festival, I ended up paying a whopping $12 for fresh coconut. A little steep in my opinion. In Sri Lanka, these bad boys cost 30-40 LKR ($0.30-$0.40 CAD).

7. String hoppers


String hoppers are rice-flour noodles that are formed to make a “noodle pancake”. Toss in some coconut curry gravy and it’s ready to go!

8. Shrimp fitters


I grew up eating some interesting (and often times, questionable) Chinese dishes so seeing these shrimps together in a fritter isn’t disgusting – it looks delicious!

9. Coconut arrack and ginger beer


Coconut arrack and ginger beer: I imagine it to be delicious. What is arrack? Arrack is a Sri Lankan spirit, distilled from naturally-fermented nectar of coconut flowers. People say that it’s a must try with Elephant Ginger Beer…so I must try!


I hope to try new things when I move to Sri Lanka for 8 months in September. As long as there isn’t cilantro, sheep eyeballs (that’s another story), dogs/cats, or gizzards, it’s fair game.  Know of any good places to eat in Sri Lanka? Comment below!

For all the women in my life, this is for you:

“I want to apologize to all the women

I have called pretty

Before I’ve called them intelligent or brave

I am sorry I made it sound as though

Something as simple as what you’re born with

Is the most you have to be proud of when your

Spirit has crushed mountains

From now on I will say things like

You are resilient or you are extraordinary

Not because I don’t think you’re pretty

But because you are so much more than that”

Rupi Kaur 


This is part of a larger collection of beautifully honest poems in her first book, Milk  and Honey. It is her recollection as a modern woman as she experiences love, loss, pain, and healing throughout her life. It’s an incredible set of poems on strength and survival. Her words will wrap around you and give you a warm hug in times of need. If you’re in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, pick up your copy at Truth Beauty Company in Uptown Waterloo. It’ll be worth it! 

Here’s 8 things I really learned in my 4 years of university (so far)

The day that someone tells you to reconsider whether or not you should really be enrolled into Advanced Functions in grade 12 is the day that you learn a little something about yourself: you defy the Asian stereotype and math is not for you. So forgive me if I don’t remember the Pythagorean Theorem (I tried Ms. Fernandes) or follow the science-based path that my siblings paved out for our family name (1 doctor, 1 to-be-med student, and a teacher!! – holy crap!). And to my first year 8:30AM psychology class in Hagey Hall: I was there – but not really.


Without further ado, here are the 8 things I really learned in my 4 years of university.

1. How to be independent & responsible for myself at 22


“Sure we can go out but I can only spend $20. I’m watching my money. Like how the adults do it.”

“I’ll do laundry when I have no more underwear.”

“Yeah, so what if I’m having pasta for the second week in a row? Food is food!”

“No, look harder. It’s not a mess of a room, it’s an *organized* mess of a room”

2. Taking a book out of the library and actually using it for something (more than a paperweight)


As of July 2015, I am proud to say that I finally learned how to do locate, check out, and use an academic book at both Waterloo’s library and Laurier’s library. So yes,  I guess you could call me a pro.

3. Survive without sleep


Sometimes it just happens because there’s not enough time in a day or days in a week. Exhibit A: I once had to write a paper that was due at 10am – the same day that I had to wake up at 5:00am to work an 8-hour long Black Friday shift in the mall. Sometimes, you just have to forgo the sleep…

6. Effectively napping


…or you develop effective napping techniques. It’s all about relaxing and letting your mind drift off, where ever you are. Even if you sleep on 2 chairs and drool on a stack of Big Boy Pajamas at The Children’s Place.

5. Find the simple pleasures in life


This was huge lesson that I learn from my Global Youth Volunteer Network family in Canada, Morocco, and Uganda. Our time together doesn’t need to be glamorous, we just need a light heart, good laughs and better company (corny, I know).

6. Hoops come in all different sizes


One of my professors passed along an analogy that was shared to her during her doctorate thesis. There are all types of hoops that we need to go through. Some are “assignment” sized hoops that last for a week, others are a bit larger – like a “thesis” sized hoop. Figure out the hoop size, give it your all and jump through it. Keep trucking along and remember, that it’s just a hoop – there will be more to come.

7. It’s okay to fail


I had my first run-in with failure in grade 5 when my wonderful mother (she really is!) decided that my youthful, summer days would be better spent inside the Royal Conservatory of Music, learning advanced music harmony, counterpoint, and analysis instead of soaking up the sun with my squad. Failing advanced music harmony (twice, in grade 5 and 6) scarred me for awhile. Needless to say, I was scared of failing and scared of disappointing other people. Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m human and I make mistakes. Learning from these mistakes and failures pointed me into the right direction and proved to be more useful to me than, for example, holding an interesting dinner conversation about musical harmony, counterpoint, and analysis.

8. Learn as much as possible from the people you meet


From their words, gestures, laughter, smile, tears and even their silences. Everyone has a wealth of stories to share, lessons they’ve learned, and things they’ve seen and I am honoured to have learned from such amazing friends, family and mentors over the years.

So maybe I didn’t have the conventional “4 year degree” but along the way, I did find a “5-year-university-experience-full-of-trial-and-error-but-it-was-and-will-be-worth-it”. 


My university experience (as told by .gifs)

I started my university career hoping to have the classic 4 year experience . One where I’d “live, love, laugh” or “eat, pray, love” or join an all-girls acapella group and dual it out with the German vocal powerhouses. In all honesty, I expected to come out of university knowing exactly what I wanted to do, to be settled down, and financially secure.


Fast forward to now and you can go ahead and add in another year of university and toss in:

large (1)
Some tears
Frantic nights
Sleepless mornings
Love lost
…and new-found love
Disgusting amounts of sushi
large (2)
New friends (and foods)
Trips to the hospital
New jobs
large (3)
Trips around the world
Phils & Duke nights
New hobbies
Rough mornings
Some light reading
and Netflix nights

I’m not sure I can remember all of the types of tress on campus (sorry ENVS 200) and please don’t ever ask me if the means of several groups equal (sorry to my stats prof). So, given my university experience, what did I really learn after spending 4 years in University? And how did I survive? (It helps that my program was mainly female as well…#nodistractions)


Well, it definitely helps with friends around…


Catch my blog post tomorrow to find out what I actually learned in University!