Name: Andrew Loh Zhu An
Date of Birth: 2nd June 1987
Nationality: Malaysian


SMK Damansara Jaya 2004

Swarthmore College 2010

From the Andrew's Heritage Dictionary:

Andrew (AND-roo)

1. noun. common name.

2. adjective. smart, dumb, intelligent, retarded, clever, stupid, bright, dull, witty, tounge-tied, shrewd, stuttering, slow, quick-witted, moronic, autistic, lively, outspoken, eloquent, dense, daft, idiotic, foolish, thick, spirited, sharp, vigourous, rude, arrogant, pompous, bloated, ostentatious, boastful, inflated, direct, brave, cowardly, gullible, free, free-spirited, burdened, depressed, optimistic, pessimistic, defensive, creative, innovative, irritating, annoying, impossible, infuriating, shy, loud, displeasing, norm-challenging, harassive, irksome, troublesome, vexatious, worrisome, provocative, impatient, pleasant, diplomatic, unreserved, trouble-making, short, defiant, fickle, shallow, timid, audacious, brainless, indoctrinated, indoctrinatory, proud, exploitative, zesty, humourous, anal-retentive, rebellious, lame, innocuous, dangerous, explosive, spontaneous, adaptable, stubborn, pig-headed, nervous, offensive, pestering, useless, ironic, paradoxical.

Usage: You're so Andrew! [Interchange with any of the above definitions]

And yes, I did look at the thesaurus.



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This is a personal blog and should be taken as such. So don't sue me if what I write pisses you off. Or if I write lies. Or if I give maladvice. Or if you fail to read through my sarcasm. Et cetera.

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Is it in bad taste to quote one's self?

"The greatest of debaters are not only the most eloquent -- they are the most bruised, the most resilient, the strongest of heart." -- Andrew Loh

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"How many times have you chickened out?" - Qu Hsueh Ming

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." - Albert Einstein

"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile - hoping it will eat him last." - Sir Winston Churchill

"Affirmative action is something the good don't need and the bad don't deserve" - A wise man

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"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." - John Calvin Coolidge

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"I sense a learning: that much dumber people than you end up in charge. Look at the way things are. I'm no fucken genius or anything, but these spazzos are in charge of my every twitch. What I'm starting to think is maybe only the dumb are safe in this world, the ones who roam with the herd, without thinking about every little thing. But see me? I have to think about every little fucken thing." - Vernon God Little, Act II

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Saturday, September 13, 2008
College Application Essays

My mom nagged on gchat today: "ei when will u be free to send some good to read stuff to [my brother] so he can prepare his essays?"

Very kacau.

But I went through my college application essays and smiled :)

And excluding the bullshit ones, I publish some now because they're a part of my history, and I don't want to forget this (lol-ish) part of me just because my computer and backup disks die. Must preserve 18-year-old voice.

Long live google cache!

"I'm not a machine. I feel and believe. I have opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you'd let me, talk and talk.... "

From Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Amherst Class of 1985, Roy Edward Disney Professor in Creative Writing, Pomona College

My caption in the school yearbook was this: "Teachers pray to God whenever he opens his mouth," – a mischievous pseudo-testament to my outspokenness from my classmates.


I didn't always have this courage. Young Andrew was just another product of the rigid Malaysian education system: I didn't question; only obeyed. I was afraid of saying the wrong things, afraid of sounding like a fool, afraid of offending others. On one extreme, I remember not asking why I was being caned in school, for fear of earning more strokes for talking back! Life was simple: if I shut up, I was safe.


My first brush with liberal education occurred when my father was transferred to work in Arizona for a year. For the first time in my life, I was important. Teachers were actually interested in me and what I had to say. I mattered. My views mattered. My opinions, my dislikes, my ideas – they all mattered. Initially, I was reluctant to fully embrace this new-found freedom, but with the gentle encouragement of my teachers, I gradually stepped out of my husk of silence, like Chief Bromden coming out of his protective fog. I spoke out, and I felt good. I felt liberated. I felt that I finally existed. There was no turning back.


Back in Malaysia, I continued to express my views. I was berated for comparing Malaysia's education system with America's – I was told I was brainwashed overseas. I was reprimanded for arguing with teachers about examination answers and warned never to question answer schemes. But I persisted. I demanded my right to be heard. I went to see authority figures when I didn't agree with school regulations. To them, I was a maverick, a ring-leader, a bad boy who was asking for trouble. But I did not shut up – I had tasted the sweet honey of freedom! I questioned more: policies, laws, governance, systems; and I have never turned back.


Yet sometimes I wished that I did. I had my fair share of gaffes and blunders. Sometimes I would incense my teachers and friends. Sometimes I felt so humiliated and embarrassed that I wanted to press the rewind button on my life and erase whatever I had said. But from them I learnt to really think and choose my words before opening my mouth. I have since become more diplomatic and courteous, skills which were invaluable throughout my debating career. My teachers have come to respect my stands and accept me for who I am – an individual. An individual with a right to be different.


Speaking up itself means something to me. It gives me a sense that I matter, that I am important. I Am because I speak up. Oh, how I want to thank my teachers in Phoenix for granting me such a gift! It has changed my life in ways they cannot imagine. I have emerged a more resilient person from a stifling education system. I will always treasure my voice, and I am forever indebted to my American teachers. In gratitude, I will continue to speak up, to right wrongs, to be a voice for the voiceless. And this will be how I carry on my teachers' legacy: I will inspire others to speak out, just like they inspired me.

I remember it all vividly: the mounds of humanity waiting patiently, waiting silently, waiting. We had, in common, two things: a given number that was to be displayed at all times, and looks of nervous hope in our eyes. I stared uncertainly at everyone else, then at the ground, then at my number. And I waited.


"50245!" I stared at my number again, just to be sure. Yes. My time had come. I floated away from the masses to embrace my fate; heart pounding, palms sweating. I started singing: "Somewhere--- over the rain---bow--- screech!" This was the cue for my knees to wobble, my heart to burst, my lofty dreams of fame and fortune to come crashing down, and bring me back to cold, hard, painful reality. I had waited eight hours to earn the title of Malaysian Idol reject.


That wasn't the first time I was humiliated by my singing. Once, my voice conveniently broke during a school performance, and I was booed. (The bad acoustics didn't help either.) These slaps in my face greatly distressed me; for they declared that I was a horrible singer, something that I knew wasn't true. I knew, deep inside, that despite those flops, I could be a wonderful, talented singer, and I was going to prove it.


Undeterred, I sang even more often: in church, choir, showers. I listened more to my singing and noted aspects which I liked: my vibrato, power, tone; and some other not-so-likable aspects: throatiness, lack of control. I worked on my singing. I wanted to be good at it. I wanted to be known for it. I listened, I sang, I practiced, and slowly, but surely, I improved.


I persevered, because I love music. Music does something to me -- it is like a bridge to my heart. It inspires my soul; it is the language of emotion. Avril Lavigne fires up my spirit; Westlife soothes my senses; Josh Groban touches my heart; Wang Lee Hom makes me want to dance! Powerful crescendos intensify my feelings; delicate harmonies raise me closer to Heaven. Oh, how I want to sing like Josh Groban, like Clay Aiken, like Il Divo! I want to create something; something with which to express my Whole. That something is Music; for I believe that words, no matter how eloquent, cannot do so alone. Music is a language everyone understands.


During my student exchange program, I jumped at the chance of competing in the Solo/Ensemble competition. I immersed myself in Choir, staying back for extra lessons. The effort paid off: I was awarded a Gold Rating at State level – something to silence my critics back home! The verdict: Andrew can sing!


Retrospectively, perhaps Life was teaching me something. Before, I would take criticism very personally. But today, I can afford to look back and laugh at myself and my failures, along with the world. It pays to have a sense of humor in life. And now during karaoke sessions I proudly tell people that I am a Malaysian Idol reject; and that one fine day, I will become their Malaysian Idol.

What specific plans do you have, if any, for using the education you hope to receive?


I do not have a specific future occupation in mind, but I do have many specific dreams. I will come back to my country to serve. Sometimes I envision myself as a lawyer cum social activist, defending the rights of my people and bringing to justice those who dare violate them. Sometimes I envision myself as a savvy politician, exposing the weaknesses and abuses of policies, working to change the system from within, and also becoming a voice for the voiceless, a beacon of hope for the forgotten. Sometimes I envision myself as a famous artiste, working not only to promote the Arts but also to expose Malaysians to our social problems, to set an example that it is "cool" to care, to inspire the young generation to make a difference in Life. Sometimes I envision myself as the Prime Minister, implementing policies to change the mindsets of my people, bringing back local council elections and a transparent tender system to uproot corruption and graft, empowering various government and independent bodies to maintain checks and balances, liberalizing education and setting my people's minds free to think and to soar! I yearn for social justice and a chance to make a difference in my country, and I believe that [.......] will sharpen and inspire my mind, heart, and spirit; to guide me in the right direction; to prepare me well for the challenging road ahead. I am extremely excited about my future; both at [.......], and in my quest to change my country.

Cyrus wouldn't listen to me. He was noisy when I told him to keep quiet. He ran away when I told him to sit still. He pushed me away when I tried to hold him. He struggled when I tried to hug him, to control him. I was about to give up. What did I get myself into? What made me think I alone could deal with an autistic 6-year-old at Vacation Bible School anyway? Even at Bridges1 I had Dolly, who always knew what to do. In desperation, I locked ourselves in a room so we wouldn't disturb the other kids, hoping the day would end soon. I had failed.


I gave Cyrus his lunch, the only thing that I could distract this troublesome little boy with. As he ignored the vegetables and ate only the chicken I sat down next to him, silent, defeated. Suddenly, Cyrus whispered to himself, "Andrew kor-kor2 angry," and laughed. I laughed too. I finally understood. This kid was manipulating me because I wasn't firm enough. When Cyrus misbehaved next I put on a hideous, angry face; and said loudly, "Andrew angry. Cyrus naughty. Cyrus sit down!" It worked, and I tried hard not to laugh out loud!


We played inside the room. Cyrus loved to run, but he didn't know how to initiate play. He used to scratch my face as his way of communicating; but then I held his hands and showed him, "Cyrus, if you want me to chase you, say 'Andrew chase Cyrus.'" He did. I chased him, and Cyrus learnt a new phrase. He also started initiating other things. "Andrew go sleep!" Cyrus said, and lay down on the itchy carpet. Just to satisfy him, I complied, and closed my eyes. Before long, Cyrus was up, giggling, and running towards the door. That sneaky kid! I chuckled to myself as I raced towards the door before Cyrus. He looked at me, his face aglow with innocence, and pleaded again, "Andrew go sleep!" I couldn't help but smile, and we repeated this whole process until Cyrus grew bored of it.


Now that I could control him, I took Cyrus outside. He pushed me way back into a corridor and ordered, "Andrew close eyes." I obeyed. Immediately he ran off, laughing, and I pursued him and caught him and started over again. Cyrus had amazing stamina for a kid. We played for a full hour. Exhausted, I collapsed on the floor, and Cyrus came over and gave me a hug. Moments like these live in memories. As the bell rang and the horde of children rushed out I lost myself in the small but significant acknowledgement that Cyrus gave me: I was his friend.


Those eight hours with Cyrus influenced me more than two months of volunteering: before, I had refrained from being emotionally involved with special needs children, but this experience with Cyrus has given me the confidence to really connect with them. Cyrus gave me courage and meaning to do so, something I never expected, and something I will always treasure.




  1. Bridges EIP (Early Intervention Program): the special needs children center where I volunteered at for two months.
  2. kor-kor: A Cantonese term for elder brother; also used for older males.

Describe a situation where you have had to work or closely associate with someone from a culture very different from your own. What challenges did you face and how did you resolve them?


Hailing from Malaysia, a tropical paradise which prides itself on multiculturalism, people would expect me to be exceptionally tolerant of other cultures. However, this was not always the case. I studied in a vernacular primary school where almost all the students were Chinese. From my textbooks, I memorized the various ethnic groups in Malaysia and their festivals, costumes, and etiquette; but that was the most exposure I had to other cultures. I was undoubtedly Sino-centric, and the Malays, Indians and other Malaysians remained to me but mysterious people with strange customs.


It was in my debate team when I really interacted with someone outside of my usual social circle. We were staying in a hotel for an out-of-town tournament, and Suraiya was the only Malay in our otherwise Chinese group. At first, I was deeply annoyed by the special allowances the team made exclusively for her. We would frequently break in between sessions so that she could pray. Instead of eating at the Chinese stalls we had to visit bland Malay restaurants to make sure the food was halal1. I had "learnt" the polite way to treat Muslims in school, but I still resented her special treatment. I knew, but I did not accept. I ate in contempt.


"Why her?" I thought. I tossed and turned in bed that night. It is amazing how the mind can be blinded by resentment, by intolerance. Weary from formulating endless complaints, my mind eventually drifted off to address the other side of the story: why not her? After all, Suraiya was my friend. Apart from having some special religious laws to follow, she was exactly the same as one of us. She debated well, shrieked out in joy when we won, and wept in disappointment when we lost. She was funny and talkative, and she was a good listener. Why was I so selfish in the first place? We didn't go to great lengths to accommodate her beliefs. No one was greatly inconvenienced. She was a friend, first and foremost, and all we were doing was just to make her feel comfortable. And what seemed to me like a great sacrifice was now but a trifling matter. I slept well that night.


Knowing and accepting cultural differences are two entirely different things. I found that without reflecting over personal experiences and challenging assumptions, I could learn all the knowledge about rituals and customs from every culture, but still remain an intolerant bigot.


The next day, we celebrated our victory at another Malay restaurant with better food, and this time, I ate in jubilation.


1) halal: clean by Islamic standards; kosher.

What is your favorite quotation, and why? (250)


"And as Aldous Huxley once wrote, 'Facts do not cease to exist just because they are ignored.' Before I end my speech, ladies and gentlemen, let me reaffirm our stand, that… "


That was my special line, my polished ending for every debate. Every time I hear Aldous Huxley's famous quotation I recall the good old days of debating; days of headaches, tears, and triumphs. I remember the two inches of research notes, the twenty hours of preparation, the little white speech cards which I used for every motion. I remember how we pushed ourselves and how we joked during preparation sessions; how we squeezed into cheap hotel rooms for our tournaments out of town. I remember my wonderful debate coach, my miracle worker; it was she who made me a Speaker; it was she who introduced me to that quote. I remember every single debate topic. And I remember my special line.


It is my favorite quotation not because of what it is by itself, but because of the memories it brings to me. Every time my teammates and I hear it we look at each other and smile. I remember our debates vividly: sometimes we crushed our opponents' points without mercy; sometimes the judges were won over by our charm and eloquence; sometimes we lost faith in our stand because the opposition was just so convincing, their arguments overwhelming. Every debate of mine was incomplete without the special line; like victories without shouts of jubilation; like defeats without tears of disappointment.


It is my favorite quotation, because it doesn't belong exclusively to Aldous Huxley anymore; it belongs to me too.

Posted at 03:34 am by andrewlza

September 14, 2008   05:20 AM PDT
Great, you sure did inspire me to speak out! that's why i didn't get any promotion lah! lol..
September 14, 2008   08:06 AM PDT
i remember cyrus. =) he gave me a peck on the cheek when he left for home one day when i was helping out at EIP. left a lasting impact in my mind too.
September 16, 2008   04:48 AM PDT
omg! awesome!!! rated: highly inspirational =P
September 22, 2008   12:47 PM PDT
Hey there, these are really good essays! I enjoyed reading them.
December 17, 2008   05:49 AM PST
hye there! nice essay! awesome. it do help me a lot. i enjoyed reading it!
August 20, 2009   01:30 AM PDT
i was thinking to write something about leehoom as well...anyway great pieces of essays:-)

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