Lights are silly

Habit is such a funny thing. Moments ago, I was sitting in bed reading, enjoying the end to a way too dramatic and short day. I have two bedside tables, each an arms-length away, decked out with matching lamps. Typically, I only ever turn on one of these lamps, the one at my righthand side (due to convenience, proximity to door, ease of location in the pitch dark, etc). Recently, however, the on/off switch had suffered a bit of a meltdown, working only every third flick or so, and I had switched my nighttime lighting to the left lamp. As I came to the end of a chapter in A Confederacy of Dunces, and stifled a yawn, I decided I was done for the night. I reached out to turn off the light.

Flick. Confusion ensued for the briefest moment as my light popped on instead of off. In my habitual state, I had reached towards the right lamp and flicked it on rather than turn the left one off; instead of basking in darkness, an unexpected multiplication of light flooded my room.

I’m not quite sure why this specific act fascinated me so, but it probably has something to do with the multitude of psychology lectures I’ve been listening to on OCW as of late, or the rather unintentional and silly slips I’ve been making all over the place: forgetting to buckle my seatbelt the instant I get in a moving vehicle, nearly signing a check without tipping, spending ten dollars as if it’s ten yuan.

Some habits build hard and die easy. Running, exercising, staying healthy: it astounds me how much effort people here make to work out everyday, through the sludge and snow and second jobs. Yet other habits build easy and die hard. The habit of staying out all night with little respect for the tasks to come with morning? Gets me every time.

Location: Ellicott City, Maryland

Time grinds to a halt

I’m not quite sure when this happened, when I turned from a mostly introverted person to an unceasing extrovert. I think it was some time in my college years, likely the summer after my sophomore year. I remember making a conscious decision that I would try to alter my social behavior. Ultimately, I think the outcome of that decision was positive, but I still laugh a little when I think about it, how one little thought altered my perspective so permanently.

Nevertheless, I’m a lot worse at being by myself than I was even at this same time last year. I still enjoy aloneness, in fact, I rather need it. But I’ve lost the ability to be cooped up in one place perpetually. It feels as if too many thoughts are stuffed inside my brain, needing a valve to quell the pressure. I can’t remember the last time I accomplished so much, and hated it so.

Well, perhaps I’m just looking forward too much, thinking about where I’ll be in a few weeks (Beijing), where I’ll be in the summer (somewhere else in Asia), and where I’ll be in the fall (which is an absolute mystery yet). My mind is already somewhere else, thinking about exchanges and interactions yet to happen in another space and another time. And as much as I am not listless, I am equally frustrated with now, because it’s just now, and not the future.

Somewhere back there, my realist self lies. But right now, I’m rather content thinking about things that might happen, could happen, or rather, could be willed to happen. Amongst all the twisted tendrils of future realities waiting to be built, I single out the ones in which I am my most productive self.

Then, onwards.

Location: Ellicott City, Maryland

First Boston, then New York

The places that meant a lot to me still mean a lot to me, regardless of how much I hastened to remove myself from their presence not so long ago. Funny thing about Boston, how it can feel so small and at the same time still boast so much to be explored. I can’t go anywhere in this city without running into someone I know, pleasantly or otherwise.

Not necessarily a bad thing, relationships change and morph over time: enemies to friends, friends to lovers, lovers to cautious acquaintances and so on and so forth. Problems arise when one person starts fulfilling all of those roles, a sort of mega-agglomeration of all your relationships, a multi-facet, loved and hated, respected and despised. The people here, they are exquisitely incestuous, building up layers and layers of relationships across the same bridged chasms. At some point, you’ve got to step back and take a breather, look down at the tangled web of strings you’ve knotted yourself into, and decide it’s time to start fresh. Move to a new city, run away, start snipping those unimportant ties, cast out a new line — desperately seeking new friends — and hope for someone several degrees of separation away to bite.

Stepping back into it, the complexity, the drama, was rather fascinating. It’s subtle at first, those little shifts in behavior (affection is rather difficult to hide). I like seeing it, those changes, those small stepwise modifications, it speaks to the passage of time. But what always strikes me as equally wonderful is the way I can pick up where I left off, that the people who meant a lot to me still mean a lot to me; that speaks to the integrity of human emotion.

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

As snow turns to sleet outside…

How quickly it has transpired, this week, mostly lost in a myriad of spring cleaning and petty jet lag.

Yet again, I sit in an airport, plodding along that infinitely long wait between arrival and departure. I am three hours early for my flight. There is nobody here at the gate except these two janitors, who are gossiping animately several meters away, far enough that I can’t make out what they are saying. The only clamor is from the noisy ventilation, droning onwards, interrupted every so often with the soft clanging of metal on metal many meters of air shaft away. The snow which has been falling since the wee hours of pre-dawn seems to muffle the sounds indoors too, and I am left largely alone with my thoughts.

I think this is perhaps why I like traveling so, or rather, the process of traveling. Airports, airplanes, long stretches of hours on the road mostly by myself, surrounded by crowds of strangers who know little and care less. I admit to needing these moments: to organize my thoughts without distractions, to analyze what I have done and what is left to do, to take a breath after too much blind plodding. It’s the only way to clear out the dust, and figure out the next great important thing.

Best to learn fast and forget fast.

Location: BWI, Maryland

Morbid curiosity

I am glad; I was surprised when my mother asked me on the phone this morning, do you actually want to come home? I answered of course, without hesitation, because of course I wanted to go home, and sit with my parents, and rest for real for the first time in months. Home is a different beast: when enough time is spent away from it, on your own, taking care of yourself, those moments when you are home, those precious few moments in the long span of time, those are appreciated.

My mother seemed genuinely surprised to hear it, as if she felt guilty for dragging me away from Beijing, from this place that isn’t home. I feel like there’s something a bit off with that reaction. Perhaps I haven’t been as good about missing them as I could have been, perhaps I’ve given off the utterly incorrect impression that my happiness involves being far, far away from them. I wonder if they realize how much I would like to be able to take them with me on my adventures, and how unfeasible that is.

Regardless, I will miss Beijing, the same way that I miss nearly every city I leave. Except, I guess I’ve already decided that I will miss it quite a bit more, and have set the right things in motion in the right avenues to ensure my return. I mean, why not? If I like it enough, why can’t I decide to stay? Things are totally happening here. And I’ve always been a bit too attracted to drama.

I joke often with friends, that the moment I land in the States, the moment I set foot outside of the airport, all those wonderful memories of living in the States will flood up and fully immerse the appeal of Beijing, leaving me wondering why I ever decided I wanted to come back. What a reversal that would be.


Location: Yanqing, China

Getting into fights on streets

Really, these things find me. Drama follows me unbidden here in China, and I think perhaps that is why I like it so. And in Beijing, the physical outpost at which such drama primarily shows its face is Sanlitun. Nearly every time I’ve been there, I’ve witnessed some stage of a fight. Typically, some locals are irked by a crazy, douchebag stunt some expats pull, and instead of words of warning, broken bottles and physical threats are exchanged.

One of the earliest times, two white boys were chased down and off bar street by these three big Chinese boys, and long after they had disappeared pissing themselves, one of the Asians still sat at the entrance of the road, on the traffic stump, wielding a baseball bat (who knows where he got it) menacingly, wearing the promise of a brutal thrashing on his face. We steered clear of that one.

Another time, a beer bottle was smashed at our feet, the only time we were the direct target of such aggression. It was for something trifling, and I yelled at the guy for trashing the dance floor.

So this weekend, when Mark disappeared into the crowd and could not be found, and misspelled texts followed: Got im a fight, my apprehension was immediate. Of course, the fight ended up not being his, but he was doing his best to break it apart. I suppose that’s an obligation of being able to speak both Chinese and English, making the peace between people who speak one or the other. One American boy was wrecked when I saw him, his face a bloodied mess. His friend was yanking on his arm, trying to get him away from the Chinese men hot on his heels. Mark was trying to reason, but something about those testosterone glazed eyes seemed to manifest a complete lack of understanding. It always seemed to be the same guy: nearly hairless, built like a gorilla, always ready to fight instead of talk. I tugged my friends along down the street, mumbling to myself about boys needing to fight, and why they couldn’t just be passive-aggressive like girls are.

Location: Beijing, China

Bloodless sagittal sections

Mistakes are rarely awful and for the most part, rather pleasant in retrospect, at least in the rather liberal definition of the word. My 2010 was riddled with these types of mistakes: mistaken identities, mistaken words, mistaken meanings, mistaken impressions. Some of these things I will catalog in some dark recess of my brain and call upon in times of profound need, but most of them I will let slip with a laugh and think of with ironic fondness from time to time.

It is already December 31st, and the new year is my ???, the year of the rabbit. What this means, I have no idea, but I know that it matters significantly to people here. It’s my quarter life mark; hitting 24 is supposed to signify something important. I feel young, I feel like things are here for me, especially here, in Beijing, where parcels of some substance, rather immaterial, are rife for the taking. I’ve never felt this way living in the States, where markets are already so saturated, stabilized, and singly established that the only thing I had ever really considered doing was to go to school and work on science and technology. I don’t know what these thoughts mean, I don’t know how I’m going to act on them, but sometimes, seedlings are enough to start something.

So, roll on. Roll on, 2010.


Location: Beijing, China

Once in a while, one needs an invigorating scrub

Some ordinary morning, waking up lazily at a bit past nine in whatever timezone I happen to be, shuffle to the kitchen in bare feet in the middle of winter, albeit not cold at all, scarf done a feast of vegetables, raw, preserved, sauteed, boiled, all spicy, all delicious; greet a friend I haven’t seen in what feels like forever but has only really been a few months, and catch up on what it is to be friends again. I have to say it was worth the hectic <3 day trip, the mis-scheduled plane ticket, and all sorts of other comical travesties, like when that girl at the airport spilled an entire cup of coffee on my phone (which isn’t even really my phone) and tried to use her sweatshirt to mop it all up.

It felt nice to get away from a big, big city for a few days, and wax in the comfort of a friend’s house, feeling deliciously pampered and lazy. It was nice to take in an entire city from somewhere decently high up, and actually be able to see to its edges without all the buildings disappearing behind a cloudy wave of small particulates. Moments of immense immaturity were suffered over by speckles of emotional clarity. Ah, vacation! What you do to me.


Location: Cheongju, South Korea

Building 8N

…or something like that. You’d think there would be signs visible from both sides of the road, but apparently only northbound travelers are allowed to go to the Gehry exhibition. I suppose in a way it was our fault too, Valentin and I, for spending most of that afternoon eating inferior pizza at a place called Ciro’s Pomodoro, and having only <30 minutes to traipse through an entire five floor exhibition before having to run back to the subway and head for home.

At least the building holding the exhibition was taller than it was wide, and each floor consisted of only 15x15m, a few spaced out models, and pre-, under-, and post-construction photographs of Gehry’s most brilliant works. I think the impetus of such an exhibit is the in-design-process apartment complex, dubbed 53 Stubbs Road, Frank Gehry will soon be (might already be?) building on the hills surrounding Hong Kong proper. Pretty neat, but not as transfixing as some of his other works.


Location: Sanlitun, Beijing, China

Realistically speaking

I am a long ways from home, or the place that I would typically describe to people as home when they ask me where I’m from. That place is beautiful, in some ways, as most places are, and it’s easy to lose oneself in the description of a beautiful place. When the words flow, I can picture myself coasting down a small, suburban road lined on both sides with trees, the kind that are tall enough and lush enough to form an archway of sorts in the middle, letting in just peeks of sunlight which sparkle on the dash. It is spring turning into early summer, and the laziness of the willow blossoms floating along in a fragrant air touches the laziness of the people who walk through them.

It’s familiar. It’s familiar in an easy, predictable way. Yet it brings none of the ripe excitement this place brings, or any less-than-home place might bring. I suppose there are perks in being new in town, especially a town so big one could perpetually drown in it. Just now, just when I am beginning to understand her eccentricities, her challenges, her intimate crevices, I find that I am soon to be torn from her, soon to have my last finger ripped from her ledge, soon to lose all this ground I have gained.

Location: Beidaihe, China