To Stay or To Go

I was in the library the other day working on my thesis when a woman came in and seated herself in the lounge chair across from me. She looked familiar but I couldn’t place her. I tried to make eye contact and smile but she was staring intently at something outside the window; I might as well be invisible.

An hour passed. I noticed the woman across from me had not moved once. Still, she sat, staring out the window. I followed her gaze to the outside: nothing but trees and parked cars. I observed her, happily indulging in a distraction from my paper.

Still, she sat, not moving an inch. Resting into the lounge chair, her hands folded in her lap, she stared, not at the world outside, but into the maze of her thoughts. It’s a process, reaching into one’s own soul searching for answers. Here lied the question: to stay or to go? Still, she sat, while her thoughts revisited the aggregate of cities and places she had collected in the past five years.

Every time she arrived in a new city, she gave herself an adjustment period. It varied depending on whether she needed to learn the local dialect, how much she liked the food, how easily accessible the city was via public transportation. Just when she’s mastered it all, when she’s learned the streets and adjusted to the customs, she began to grow weary of the same scenes. “I’ll come back,” she told herself. There are so many places she hasn’t seen yet, why stop here?

How was she supposed to pick a place to stay when they all bled into one another? How could she pick the right place when she hasn’t seen them all? So she kept moving.

It can’t last forever, this moving around, going from city to city, forming intimate relations with no long-term plans in mind. She longed for an anchor, a reason to stay, without which she had only her heart to guide her. And through five years of travels, she has not yet mastered the map of her own heart. So she sat, contemplating her next moves, immobilized by all the possibilities.

I looked out the window and there you were, five floors down, in a white tee and pants the color of the Caribbean Sea, the color of your eyes. Out of a city of tens of thousands, I picked you out. I recognized you by your walk. You smiled and I knew we were kindred souls, two pieces of the same puzzle. I packed up my bag and walked out of the library, leaving the woman there in the lounge chair, with her possibilities.

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.

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.

Never Fight With Someone You Love

Recently I got into a fight with someone I love very dearly.

I don’t have the best temper in the world. I know this and I’ve been working on it since college. It’s not an easy task, changing a part of my personality. My temper has improved a great deal since I was 18 but I’m fully aware there still exists the Hyde to my Jekyll.

Usually when I feel the tempest brewing within me, I extract myself from the situation. I mentally press pause and leave the room. I go for a walk to clear my head. By the time I return, the storm has passed. You’d be surprised at how trivial most fights will seem if you only give yourself a ten-minute break from it.

This time, however, I forgot the reason I control my temper. This time, I decided to unleash my rage. This time, I met her hurricane with my own tornado and the resounding collision threatened to destroy our relationship.

As I gazed at the debris around us, I did not feel an inkling of triumph. Both of us were wounded, defeated. I decided then to fully commit to protecting our relationship, to never give another storm a chance to rip us apart. I remembered then why I try so hard to control my temper.

Never fight with someone you love. Nothing good will come of it. No one ever walked away from a fight with someone they cared about feeling like a winner, wanting to high-five themselves. Everyone loses. Stop yourself from saying anything you’ll regret later. The anger will pass, but you’ll never be able to take back those words.

Decide how important the relationship is to you. Regard the person standing in front of you as you feel the upcoming storm, weigh your anger in one hand and your relationship in the other, decide if you’re in it for the long run.

Personal Legends

My GRE score arrived in the mail yesterday, which means I can start my applications for grad school.  I spent some time this morning reviewing Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, figuring out the difference between the MA and the MAIS.  I researched the top International Relations programs in the country and made a mental note of which ones I would apply to.  I looked into duel MA/JD programs for the second time; it’s an exciting option but I don’t know if I can handle 4 more years of school or if I need both degrees.

The wheels are set in motion.  I’m quitting in June and moving to Shanghai in July.  I’ll be completing my grad school and law school applications during my first three months abroad and returning to the States next fall for school.  I’d like to get a short-term teaching job in China, look into some volunteer opportunities, and/or spend a few months in an ashram.  It’s very Eat Pray Love of me, I know.  I want to visit my friends in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore, explore Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia.  I can’t wait to spend my 25th birthday with my family in Shanghai.  I want to…

Yet as  March turns to April and April to May, I’m plagued by anxieties.  A year abroad is not the most practical decision I could make; I could easily spend the next year staying at my current job.  But just thinking about doing that depresses me.  I’ve given all I can to this paralegal job and taken away just as much from my experience here.  I’ve learned so much in the past two years but now I feel like I’m no longer being challenged here.  The work days blend together and every task feels like a chore.  I’ve done all that I can here.  Another year at my current job would not add anything new to my resume or enrich my life in any way.

Still, there is security and comfort in staying the same course.  More than ever, I understand how much courage and determination it took for Santiago to pursue his Personal Legend in The Alchemist.  He left the stability of his life, of everything he knew to unearth the treasures he dreamt of at night.  He had many opportunities to stay complacent, each more alluring than the last.  But he pushed on, pursuing a seemingly ludicrous dream.  The journey itself strengthened his character and provided him with the tools he needed for success.  I imagine that even if he didn’t ultimately find the treasure, he would not have regretted the journey.  If not for this pursuit, he would have remained a shepherd all his life, wondering always if he should have taken more risks.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.  And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dream.”

The Alchemist

I’ve been thinking about how I want to spend the next year everyday for the past 7 months.  I’ve turned the decision over and over in my head, considering it from all angles.  Every month, I think of one more reason to go and one less reason to stay.  The voices of doubt and uncertainty are not mine but others’.  It has been difficult, painful even, to try to explain my reasoning to others.  I can understand my parents’ concerns but my friends are a different story.  I know they are concerned for my best interest but the conversations are no more than interrogations that make me feel trapped and abused.  I know their questions come from love, but how presumptuous of them to assume they know what’s best for me.  No one has put as much thought into my future as I have (with the possible exception of my parents), and no one knows what makes me happy or what career I want to pursue better than I do.