Berkeley, CA

I got lost yesterday on my way to Berkeley Espresso. I left the apartment believing I knew exactly how to get there; I didn’t even bother to look at the streets. After a few blocks it dawned on me that I had no idea where I was headed. Ironic how losing my way is almost always preceded by certainty rather than uncertainty.

Sometimes I won’t turn around when I realize I’ve gone the wrong way. Sometimes I refuse to accept defeat. I insist on going forward, charting a new path with my misdirection. Each year these instances happen less frequently — stubbornly continuing in the wrong direction, I mean, not getting lost, I get lost just as often as I always have. I’m learning to accept my errors. And also to not give in to every inclination of my ego.

Instead of Berkeley Espresso, I ended up at People’s Cafe. A rather fortunate turn of events really, I have very fond memories of this place. See the parrot on the wall? There’s a drawing of it in my notebook, a quite uncanny duplication if I may say so myself. And the table in the back with the bench against the wall, there we sat when I realized you were my happy place.


I’ve been missing Berkeley these days, missing summers on Telegraph Ave when blocks would be closed off to cars to make room for the tents lining both sides of the street selling hand-made jewelry, tie-dyed shirts, ceramic bowls, and special pastries, missing those four-day weekends when I’d spend an entire day leisurely cruising through all the shops on College Ave, always pausing inside the pet store to contemplate buying a pair of birds to bring some chirp to my apartment.

An entire album of travel photos can’t compete with a single photo depicting my previous life in Berkeley. If I could travel back in time and relive one of those days again, any old Sunday, waking up with you beside me, running errands all day, and ending with a dinner among friends. Just one of those days.

LAX to PVG

Cause I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again…

I’ve been up since 5, since before the sun lit up the sky. And I only slept for 2 hrs last night. So I am more than ready for this trans-Pacific flight from LAX to PVG, Shanghai.

About two months ago, I had lasik eye surgery. After the cut on my right eye, the doctor moved to my left side. Before proceeding, he warned that I’ll feel a bit more pressure on my left eye because of the anticipation. I didn’t believe him. Shouldn’t knowing what’s coming help me to be better prepared? Then he made the cut, and he was right.

So this time as I prepare to leave California for Shanghai yet again, I feel a stronger sense of loss. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt a bit unwilling. Even though this is what I want and I am so grateful for this opportunity, like a child clutching her security blanket, I just want to hold on a bit longer to the comfort of San Diego.

I know I will miss the space. I’m already missing it as the woman sitting next to me pushes her elbow into my arm. I will miss the quiet. About two weeks in, I will start craving steak, In-N-Out, Top Dog, and brownies. I will miss the beach, Pandora, and probably Facebook, at least until I have VPN access.

It’s okay. I’ll be back soon enough. This is nothing compared to how hard it’ll be leaving Shanghai for California in a year. I know, I’m just so impossible to please.

Shanghai, Nanjing, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Nepal are on my list for the next 12 months. Stay tuned!

I’m A Stranger in My Own City

On my first day back, I took BART into the city. I stood inside Montgomery station and stared with my mouth open, trying to discern if anything had changed. I walked briskly, not wanting to run into anyone but doing so anyway.

Someone had turned the Financial District upside down, shook out everything that didn’t hold, and re-packed it. I remembered it as a playground of fine men in suits, but I only saw fine suits on men. Though the city has no shortage of beautiful women. The beautiful women here are the nicest. They have brown wavy hair and smile at you as you walk by. They have tattoos down their arms and ride their bikes to farmers’ markets on the weekends. They take their lunch breaks in the park, laying down a blanket on the grass before opening their bodies to the sun.

I watched the young professionals as they rushed to work and wondered if they knew where they were headed. I meandered through the intricate grid of the Financial District and saw the streets of Shanghai laid atop San Francisco. Maybe I should put down some roots, somewhere. It’d be nice. Living out of a suitcase is beginning to lose its allure. I could stay here and let the city slowly suck the life out of me. No, I better keep moving, from city to city, staying long enough to know the streets but not so long that leaving becomes impossible. Just so the question of “where are you from” becomes impossible to answer.

Ask me where I’m going instead, that I can tell you.

Two Steps Closer

Work and studying, it was my life for so long.  Work, LSAT class, work, LSAT class, then suddenly it’s all over.  I find myself on the other side of the finished line and truthfully, it doesn’t feel as great as I thought it would.  I have to wait 2 more weeks to find out my LSAT score, I’ve already waited a week.

I should be more relaxed, I’m now more than a week into my year-long vacation.  I should be excited, Shanghai is only a month away.  But mostly I worry and I stress.  I’m so used to being stressed, maybe I’ve forgotten how to relax.  It feels strange to not have all these responsibilities weighing down on my shoulders;  I don’t know what to do with myself.

The first week of my vacation was rather uneventful.  I was sick in bed for all of it.  Less than 24 hours after the LSAT, my body gave up.  I’m certain that I had willed my body into staying healthy for those terrible weeks leading up to the test.  For two months, twice a week, I would rush to Berkeley after a full day of work for 4 more hours of class.  There wasn’t always time for dinner and there was never enough time for sleep.

Those were difficult days, but I loved them.  I loved the hustle; I loved being productive all the time.  In two weeks, I get to find out what it was all for.  No pressure.  I already felt all the pressure during the test.

In less than two weeks, I’ll be back in sunny San Diego.  There really is no cause for complaint — the weather is beautiful, the food delicious, the shopping extravagant.  But it is not the Bay Area.  I can’t express how difficult it is for me to leave the Bay.  I’ve worked so hard to build my life here and it feels like I’m throwing it all away.  I wake up every morning feeling like I just went through a breakup and two thoughts keep me going: (1) I haven’t started packing for the move and (2) Shanghai.

I think about everything I’ll miss here in the Bay Area: my apartment, the food, my friends.  Then I think about my dad in Shanghai, my grandparents, the intolerable summers and the excruciating winters, and it all seems worth it.  I’ve thought it through a thousand times, and now a thousand and one.

Still, quitting my job and taking a year off to live in Shanghai? I’m pretty crazy.

Homesick

I didn’t realize the week leading up to Chinese New Year would be so hard.  I was not prepared for this.  I knew the day of, next Monday, might be tough, having to go to work and all. But I figured work would keep me busy.  This week though is killing me and it’s only Tuesday.

Why am I not going to SoCal this weekend for Chinese New Year? That would’ve been the smart thing to do.

J. Shih called earlier to let me know he’s flying out to Taiwan tonight to see his mom.  Chris is driving down to Irvine this weekend.  Even Joy, who I randomly bumped into yesterday, is going to L.A.  to visit her mom and sister.  I’m surrounded by friends who want to share their excitement for the upcoming holiday with me; I feel like the beggar outside of a restaurant watching the patrons eat through the window.

This is such a lack of foresight on my part.  I forgot how difficult Chinese New Year is for me because last year I spent it in Shanghai with my dad, my grandparents, my cousins.

It doesn’t help that I’m still sick.  I’ve made up my mind to not take any sick days this year but this flu is really kicking my ass.  I’ve been sick for a month straight now and I’m at the end of my patience.

If I put on my red shoes and knock the heels together three times, will that take me home?

Possibilities

It’s been 12 days since my last post and I’ve been itching to write.  Many topics have crossed my mind: a review of The Invisible Man, a look at the “Mission Impossible” cars, a photo of my new coat from Tobi, my current view on relationships, and the weather.  The first sentences always come to me easily, as beginnings usually do.  I try to see the rest of the post and it just doesn’t happen.

There’s the daunting task of facing a blank page with only the slightest inclination of a direction and the fear that paragraphs of careful crafting will lead to nothing.

My coworker recently mentioned his dissatisfaction with the way Hemingway ends his short stories.  There seems to be a lack of commitment to an actual ending; the stories simply trail off ambiguously.  I can sympathize.  The endings are the hardest part! We demand so much from the end of stories, as if the climax is at the finish line, as if we’re watching a display of fireworks instead.  The ending has to wrap everything up nicely without being too trite or clichéd; there needs to be a lesson learned, a conclusion.  And if the story is really good, if the journey is truly everything we could have hoped for, then the ending inevitably brings loss and regret that it had to end at all.

There’s also a lot of pressure on the first blog of the new year.  Ideally, it should be both a wrapping up of the previous year and a looking forward to the next.  Some would say the first post sets the tone for the entire year.  Others demand a list of resolutions and goals.

How about I just write instead?

I love the open road, nothing but endless possibilities ahead.  I drove to Sacramento recently for the first time.  The crisscrossed number/letter streets and the idyllic movements of the place reminded me of D.C.  I never appreciated D.C. because it was always the place away from home, a foreign and seemingly random city.  Its beauty was completely lost to me.  I couldn’t take in the majesty of the White House and I barely remember the Capitol.  Whatever it was, it wasn’t home.

There’s a walk I take five days a week, between the hours of 12:30 to 2:30 pm, from lunch back to work.  Quite often, that walk takes me from the middle of San Francisco Chinatown to the Financial District.  It’s a sad walk, and not just because I’m going back to work.  I always pass by the park on Kearny Street, packed with elderly Chinese people playing chess, and that quintessential image never fails to make me homesick.

If not now, then when?

For the next six months, every task I accomplish will bring me a step closer to home.  Maybe I’ll go back only to realize that nostalgia has its place in the past next to the fading memories of my childhood.  Maybe I’ll discover with certainty that I don’t want to be anywhere but in the Bay Area.  Or maybe, quite unexpectedly, I’ll never want to leave Shanghai again.

Whatever the answer is, I’m tired of feeling like I’m helplessly floating along as the current of time takes me farther from home.  So I’m taking matters into my own hands.  I’m going to take a risk, follow what my heart knows to be true, and see where it takes me.

I’ve always loved the open road, the landscape constantly unfolding, promising to take me exactly where my heart desires.