Summer Reading

My morning temper, which I had kept repressed since college, has reared its ugly head again. I thought I had put it to rest. The weather doesn’t help. We get some rain here and there in Shanghai and after each storm, for a brief few hours, the air is clean and crisp. Mostly, it’s been getting hotter, more stifling. It’s only mid-July; the worst is yet to come.

After finishing The World According to Garp, I felt haunted by the Under Toad. When I crossed the street, I imagined speeding cars and drivers with their diverted attention. When I rode taxis, I imagined turns taken too sharply and the steering wheel spinning out of control. Following Garp with A Dance with Dragons hasn’t helped; I dream of fire and ashes.

Unexpectedly, it was my morning temper that chased away the Under Toad. This morning as I rode the elevator, instead of envisioning some imminent calamity, I saw myself growing sharper teeth and claws, growling at the passenger beside me. Since then, I’ve felt surprisingly safe. Impatient and irritated, but safe.

I haven’t written much so far this year outside of school and work, but I have read plenty. Out of the ones I’ve read, here are my top 5:

I also really enjoyed This Is How Your Lose Her by Junot Diaz and and The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I’d recommend any of these for your summer reading. I wouldn’t call any of them “light”, but I think each of these has something great to offer.

I haven’t been writing lately. Not writing because I haven’t found the time and not writing because the words aren’t coming to me are quite different. The latter is much more alarming. I plan on reading through the summer then taking a short break early fall to gather my thoughts. I suspect once I start writing again, my morning temper will be gone. Looking forward to that, and feeling like myself again.

Nanjing Continued

I slept in this morning; it’s a luxury these days. When I pulled the curtains aside, I was surprised to find the courtyard flooded with golden sunlight. Spring had arrived over night. Winter, with its bone-chilling days, was over. February, with its unfulfilled promises of romance, had gone. There was only Spring, bathing my room in the warmth of its glow.

As I passed the courtyard on my way to the West building, it dawned on me that I’m a Master’s Candidate. This program was the dream and now here I am, living  it. The realization rooted me to the ground and I stood there waiting, allowing exuberance to shiver through my body.

Day Three of living in the present tense. No longer filled with frustration by the possibilities now outside of my reach, I am happier. Until I walk out of the library and am suddenly enshrouded in melancholy. You must be back in Nanjing; your presence is felt as keenly as your absence.

All Is Bright

Sometime in the early afternoon, I found myself staring out the window and cheerfully humming “Silent Night”. The drab of the scene outside hit me like I was only seeing it for the first time: the grass sparse and yellowing in the courtyard, the pond never as clear as it should be, Thomas the cat dragging his languid, portly self to the nearest tree, the concrete, worn-down eyesore masquerading as an office building across the street…

Still, I hummed my little tune happily.

Last night, when I arrived at the Center, I saw that the halls had been decorated with decals of snowmen. Against the rigid structure of daily life and the oppressive weight of finals looming just around the corner, the decorations seemed a half-assed, juvenile attempt at spreading some cheer. Nevertheless, they worked. My spirit was immediately lifted upon seeing them and remembering that amidst papers and presentations, there was Christmas.

I was thinking about Christmas last night in the cab ride over from the train station. Specifically, I was thinking about presents. While my driver and I flew through emptied streets of Nanjing, I mulled over how many presents I should prepare this year. And while I hummed “Silent Night” and stared at the grey outside, the matter returned again to my mind. And so my train of thoughts continued until I felt overwhelmed with love and gratitude. I reached for the Christmas cards on my bookshelf and began addressing them, each one more emotional than the last.

I wonder if I’ll still be here in Nanjing next Christmas, sending cards west. I quite like that image.

26 and More

Loneliness

All four of my grandparents are still alive. In this respect, I’m very lucky. A keen benefit of living in Shanghai is being able to spend time with them. Loneliness is never as visible as in the facial expressions of the elderly, whether it’s displayed by joy, hope, or disappointment.

During two periods of my life, I was often asked if I were lonely: while I was living alone in Emeryville and while I was backpacking solo in Southeast Asia. Being alone is not the same as feeling lonely. I’ve often felt lonely in the middle of a crowded room and certainly have felt lonely in a relationship.

Loneliness is like the monster under your bed. The more you avoid it, the more afraid you are, the more power it has over you. Until one day, you gather up the courage to look and you find nothing there besides dust. After that, long nights are much easier to endure though you still check to make sure nothing can fit under your bed before buying a bed frame.

Birthdays

I turned 26 on Tuesday. What do you get the woman who has everything? I certainly feel like her.

From my family and friends, I have all the love I can hold and more. I’ve never been fixated on material goods and so never felt a lack of them. And this year, I feel especially rich due to all the experiences I’ve had. Even as my bank account dwindles, my wealth grows.

Now when I look in the mirror, there’s a full-grown woman looking back at me. It startles me sometimes.

And Many More

In observing my grandparents, I’ve unlocked the key to living longer happier.

Use It or Lose It: whether it’s your body or your mind, a lack of use will surely lead to deterioration. The only way to keep your mind sharp is to continuously challenge yourself intellectually. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, anything stimulating will do. The same applies to your body.

Temperament Determines Everything: your health will not depend solely on what you eat and how often you exercise, it’ll largely depend on how you feel. Laugh as often as you can. Never hold onto anger. Try to remember that everything is transient.

And while I’m at it, the Chinese have a saying about money: 生不带来,死不带去 (you don’t bring it with you when you’re born and you can’t take it with you when you die).

Living in China

Just when temperatures in Shanghai dropped to absolutely perfect, I moved to Nanjing. Nanjing is what Shanghai was 20 years ago: a construction site. Alongside development, there’s a lot of history and culture to explore. It’s hard to love another city after living in Shanghai, but I’ll try.

I’m finding it much easier to adjust to living in China this time around. When I arrived in Shanghai last year, I expected to continue living as I had. I didn’t understand why I kept running into walls till I realized instead of fighting against the city, it’d be much easier to bend for it.

I’m also more committed to living here this time. I no longer feel like I have a foot here, a foot in California. It helps to have a concrete plan and an expected return date. For the next nine months, I’m here, my heart is here.

In Flight

Less than 4 weeks till I leave California for Shanghai, briefly, then Nanjing.

I strung up the lights from my old apartment in Emeryville today. Those and the leather chaise made me feel like I was back in my apartment. I’ll never know how I found the strength to uproot my life a year ago and move to Shanghai, with no real plan in mind. I had a good life in the Bay: a steady job, friends who made me laugh, and a place to call my own. A life I had spent more than two years building.

Nor will I know what gave me the courage to leave the comfort of my home for the Bay Area 3.5 years ago, to spend 6 months on an air mattress in my friend’s living room before I was able to afford my own place.

Time moves forward. We can choose to move with it or stay still and watch it pass us by.

I think about all the things I gave away in the weeks before I left Emeryville: my ironing board, my kitchen knife set, the green watering can I used to keep the plants in my patio alive. All trivial objects yet the sentimentalist in me wonders how I gave them all away. It must have seemed easy then compared to leaving the Bay.

Then I think about how I began this entire journey, the life I had given up 4.5 years ago. It would’ve been a good life I’m sure, a happy life. I just wanted more.

From the comfort of my home it all seems so impossible, how I lived the past few years and what’s ahead of me now. Yet I know as soon as I get on the plane, nothing will feel more natural.

My heart is wild. And I want everything this life has to offer.

The Writing Process

I’ve been lost for days trying to write about light. I can’t remember when the idea came to me but it’s been there for a while, brewing in my head. I catch words and phrases, I keep waiting for it to reveal more of itself to me, but it’s just smoke and shadows.

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I see greatness though. I see greatness in a lot of things much too early. I see the potential for greatness and that comes with pressure. I feel as if the story is relying on me to make it great and I don’t know if I can meet its expectations.

A tormented process, writing is. All the time, words are coming to me, half-developed, asking me to set them free. I mull over them, like an overprotective mother, wanting to keep them contained until they’re more ready. When will that be? How much more ready? Then I can feel the words slipping out of my mind and that scares me. There’s a brief window between “getting there” and “gone” and my timing is never perfect.

How much do I love it though, the writing, the words, the process. More than anything else in the world, it sets me free, it enables me to breathe. In that moment of frantically catching the words as they reach their peak and feeling like the Muses themselves are smiling at me, I am whole.

So I shall keep writing, for as long as the words will have me.

Between Practical and Interesting

Political Science is not the most practical major you can pick in college.  Neither is Sociology, Psychology, Religious Studies, Philosophy, Literature, or any other Arts & Humanities major.  Yet I find all those subjects fascinating.  I could’ve picked any one of those but I felt a special connection with PoliSci.

I had taken PS 1 as one of the requirements for my intended major at the time, Business Administration.  They say you can tell if you’re interested in a major by how much you like the intro classes.  I liked PS 1, I loved PS 2, and there was no turning back after that.

Political Science might not have pointed me to a clear career path and it certainly didn’t bring all the recruiters to the table, but I got to study a subject I felt passionate about and that meant so much more to me.

In my Political Theory class, we analyzed the texts of Aristotle and Plato, which helped to satisfy my interest in philosophy and literature.  My knowledge of Singapore’s history and culture from taking “The Politics of Southeast Asia” came into play recently when I visited the country for the first time.

My maths skills might have deteriorated since Calculus BC, but I have no fear of timed writing and reading comprehension is my strongest section on the LSAT.  I am analytical, argumentative, and make it a habit to look at a problem from all possible angles.  Those are the skills you can gain from an impractical major like Political Science.

When I finally decided on PoliSci as my major, I was fully aware of how useful it would be once I graduated, which is why I decided to pick a second, more practical major: Mass Communications (a.k.a. Media Studies).  MassComm would bring home the bacon while PoliSci spent all day volunteering at the shelters.

Truthfully, I don’t give MassComm enough credit, sometimes I even forget I double majored.  But till this day, I cannot look at the Skyy Vodka ads without scowling at the way they use the female body as a sexual object and I will never accept vampires, the symbol of sexual deviance, to be portrayed as pale humans that sparkle under the sun.  Attending lectures for MassComm also forced me to get out of sweats once in a while and put on some makeup.  The stereotype is true, that major is full of sorority girls and they bring their A game to class; whoever said there are no hot girls at Berkeley has never taken MassComm 10.

I’ll admit I did not pick the most practical majors in college nor did I have a specific career in mind when I arrived at Berkeley at 18.  But my college education was an invaluable investment, one that I am extremely proud of.  I have never regretted picking the majors I did, though for a brief moment yesterday, I thought, “hmm, maybe I would’ve enjoyed majoring in Literature more.”

At least I didn’t major in Music…but don’t think it didn’t cross my mind.