Monday, December 14, 2009

dress up

Holiday season in Hong Kong is quite beautiful..
Sparkly, lots of lights, I don't want it to end.

I was trying to remember what I could from holiday season as a kid.. The plastic Christmas tree, cookie baking with the psychotic neighbours' kids, bicycling with my brother at night trying to claim which house's christmas decorations we liked best. There was a house with a snoopy santa theme, or the one with the stone reindeer in front, and another with a bright 'UK Wildcats' outlined on their roof in blue lights.

But what I remember most was having those Advent calendars with the little doors on them. Every day you'd open the door and find a little picture, most people use ones with little pieces of chocolate behind each door... but ours had Bible verses. (I guess in our family a bible verse was like the equivalent of finding chocolate, "ooh no way a verse from Isaiah??")

I took a break from exam studying on Saturday to walk around Sheungwan and Central. We walked the antique alleyways with the old clocks and Mao watches (the second hand is actualy Mao's arm going up and down in salute), past the flower shops with poinsettias and restaurants with the women who brunch.

We stopped at the Christian Louboutin store because I'd always wanted to try on their shoes, and I suppose trying on ridiculously expensive high heels are a way to pretend that things like constitutional law exams don't exist.

Thinking now it was rather embarrassing.
The girls and women who were there were nonchalantly slipping their feet into sky high heels, sitting as they yawned their disapproval and boredom to their boyfriends while salesmen waiting eagerly. "no.. I don't like." "Any other colors?" ""

And then there was me running around the shop floor tottering and tripping in 6 inch scarlet heels as though I'd just discovered flight, "I can walk omg I can walk!!" "Look look! This is the height I was meant to be! wooooooo!"
While the salesmen waited anxiously, what a disaster.. please don't fall...

But it was like dressing up again. Becoming the little girl in a disney fantasy, spinning around with my friends at the church reception hall, lemon cookies in one hand and the other outstretched in a competition to see whose dress could pouf up the highest.
Our competitions always ended in a dizzy tie (I think we just liked spinning) and we'd collapse in a heap of tulle, lemon cookie, and pastel colored dresses. Until we found our way back up again to run outside with the boys and play tag while the snow fell.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

strangers alike.

I'm at home on a Saturday alone. Studying and ill.
Angrily wrapped in a fleece blanket thing and leg warmers because Hong Kong suddenly got super cold and there is no indoor heating. I've lit all these ikea candles but there's no warmth from them and for some reason they keep melting and within an hour the candles turn into a flat 2-d thing of wax.
so sad. are there no candles that can light for me?
I feel like the little matchstick girl.

I keep thinking. what if.
what if I fail my exams.
what if
I look at my test paper and realize the only thing I have to say about hong kong's basic law is that I have no basic idea of what it is basically. but it is basic.

somewhere my elementary school nerd self is looking at me and shaking her head in disapproval and disgust.
It's strange - I see the same woman every time I go to the gym. (Well maybe not so extraordinary because I don't go very often).. But anyways, she's a woman in her 60s, although from a distance she could pass for 20s. She's asian - but her skin is the same color as the Southern country club grandmas I grew up with - baked a bizarre brown-orange color from too much time in tanning beds (on wrinkly skin it makes the person resemble a walnut).

I've only ever seen her in the locker room, standing on the scale in her underwear or putting on makeup in front of the mirror. Each time I see her I want to feed her something. Like a bag of lard or maybe a gotta have it coldstone. Her legs are easily half the circumference of my arms, and she has a gap between her thighs that a 'little person' could walk through without worrying about bumping their head on anything(weird image). Her arms look like fingers, and her chest is the definition of concave. She always stands on the scale wearing only underwear, moving the silver lever back and forth back and forth, impassive but somehow also upset.
I looked over once out of curiousity, the lever hovered around 78 - 80 pounds. Although I couldn't really tell because she kept moving the lever so much.

I don't know, I've always hoped that with age, you earn the right to care less about what you look like, or at least not have body issues. Maybe next time I go I'll bring a bag of lard... It's hong kong, can't be that hard to find.

newly discovered -
cappuccinos. Who knew foamed milk could be so good. whenever I drink one it reminds me of three failed weeks I spent as a barista in london. I could never figure out how to foam milk and had to rely on the Polish bartender from the shop next door to come in and do it for me... mostly I remember because of what I can't remember. I can't remember the name of the cafe, the street it was on, the name of the polish bartender, or actually even how I came across that job.

portraits. Outside of our apartment building there's a man who paints portraits in oil paint. He hangs his canvases on the side of a brick building. It took me a few weeks to realize that the paintings were commissioned, because every few days, it is a different group of faces on the wall. He paints faces throughout the morning, working on several faces at once. One hand holds a photograph, the other hand paints the eyes of a woman and then the hair of a man - so that every face takes on some resemblance to each other.
Strangers who become alike - it's kind of a beautiful thing.

By the time I come home in the evening, the paintings and the man are gone. And the only hint of the faces from before are the colors of oil fallen on the sidewalk.

I know it is silly to be deeply affected by celebrity deaths. Why should the death of one person mean that much more than anyone else's? But I have to say I was really sad to hear about Daul Kim. She seemed very charming, and while not conventionally beautiful she had a beauty that seemed dangerous, sharp like a knife. the edges of a line.
I'd kept one of the things she wrote:

i never thought i was innocent
but i was pure

i believe that i am pure

now i just feel misunderstood.


When you're a teenager and in your early twenties [love] seems desperately eternal and excruciatingly painful. Whereas as you grow older you realise that most things are excruciatingly painful and that is the human condition. Most of us continue to survive because we're convinced that somewhere along the line, with grit and determination and perseverance, we will end up in some magical union with somebody. It's a fallacy, of course, but it's a form of religion. You have to believe. There is a light that never goes out and it's called hope.
— Morrissey

Monday, November 2, 2009

Things learned:

It is embarrassing to walk around Central in a backpack.
In a city where girls don't switch to flip-flops at lunch and wear heels no matter if it's raining or typhoon status black rain or whatever - then there's me shuffling through the sidewalk with a backpack like Sam going to Mount Doom.

I carry a backpack that looks kinda like those LL Bean ones, the ones that used to be cool in middle school. (Ok maybe not everywhere, but at least in kentucky, LL Bean backpacks with the initials were the rage... I think).
The backpack stunts my growth (potential growth) and makes me look pretentiously 'studious', when sadly I wear it because I pulled my back a month ago and carrying even a handbag on my shoulder makes me want to flinch.
On the bright side, the backpack is an effective defense tool - anybody who tries shoving past me in a "queue" finds it impossible. Hah.

Hong kong minibus system. (This might not seem very momentous but I feel so native now) =]

Haven't learned:

How to teach. I tutor every weekday, with a new batch of students in IB English. IB English is quite difficult - asking a high school sophomore to figure out the incestuous themes / Greek tragic elements in a play seems a bit overdone.

Most embarrassing moments: explaining that a scene with "kind, loving uncle character" is actually supposed to be about incest.

Defining what impotence is. I still don't think I explained that one quite well.

The law. It's a bit dangerous teaching so much because sometimes I forget that I'm in school as well - and now exams are coming and three months in, I still have no idea what the law is about. Panic panic.
It's like the longer I stay in school, the worse I get at it.
I can already imagine my professor saying "DUHH. As if!" as he reads my exam. Completely possible reality because that's his favorite phrase to say in class. Well not the "as if" but "Duh" is his catch phrase as he looks at us in disgust.


It's been awhile since I've read anything... but the last book I read was Shantaram the rare kind that stays and colors everything that goes on outside of it while you're reading. At points it gets draining and overwritten, but at the same time it's so generous in what it's saying and trying to give, you have to respect it.

"We should've built a life from the stars and the sea and the sand. And I should've listened to her- she told me almost nothing, but she did give me clues, and I know now that she put signs in her words and expressions that were as clear as the constellations over our heads."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


In the past couple of weeks I've become a law student. HKU is a campus on top of a mountain.. well built into the side of one. Going from class to class is like living in an escher fantasy, a neverending trail of stairs, elevators, escalators, and then more stairs.

I like going to the classes, but I've realized that sitting in a 3 hour lecture is something I'll never get used to. There's always a lull period - maybe at the 1 hour mark, where inevitably, I can feel myself start to fall asleep. Coffee doesn't work, neither does sugar, so I've taken to doing what I used to do in college - stabbing my arm with sharp asian pens. (The asian pens have the best points, especially the .38 ones, which could double for ninja weaponry.)

I still have a few students that I tutor. My youngest student is in 3rd grade, a very artsy kid. At first it was hard to learn what would help him pay attention, but after some trial and error, I figured out that he likes to play hangman, mostly the part of adding extra bleeding heads around the hangman's feet or other creative accessories -
-is that a belt?
kid (ignoring me): yea. for the dress.
-It's got sparkles on it?
kid: yea.
-why's he wearing a dress?
kid: cause it's a girl. Duh. (starts to thoughtfully draw teeth falling onto the ground)
-oh. right. oh hey. now you're adding books? why's she holding books?
kid (carefully shading in the hair): cause it's you. hahahahaa.


Thursday, August 27, 2009


*patrol on the border of Texas*

"The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal."
C.S. Lewis

Friday, August 7, 2009

summer's end

I tried to overcome my fear of deep water by learning scuba diving for a trip to Malaysia. I had to take a four day workshop in Hong Kong in order to get licensed. It was very humbling, 3 of my 4 classmates were under the age of 11. For example while I almost failed my swimming test, the 11 year old girl in the lane next to me swam butterfly stroke.

By the time I finally got under the ocean in Malaysia, I had mentally said all my goodbyes. I tried to remember that I just had to breathe through my mouth, and I shouldn't worry because I didn't have any life insurance on me so no one was going to be turning off my oxygen (haha. actually apparently some horrible guy killed his wife underwater by turning off her oxygen tank. on their honeymoon. for her life insurance. o.o)
Supposedly going underwater was going to feel 'calm' and peaceful, something "automatic" and nirvana-like would happen. It didn't.

I gamely held on to my guide's four-fingered hand (he was missing his left thumb, probably because he had some compulsion to touch everything that was underwater, including giant clams and eels with teeth. We saw a shark and he was racing to get to it, dragging me with him.)
I thought of mermaids, and Ariel and Sebastian, I sang Under the Sea in my head - well the parts I remembered, which was just that line, 'under the sea, under the sea', and tried not to imagine octopus Ursula appearing behind me, for some reason I remembered the part of her song 'And don't underestimate the importance of booooddyyy language! Hah!'. Repeated in my head about 20 times, it became a bit annoying, even to myself.

The rest of Malaysia trip was pretty amazing, kayaked, mountain biked, fished (for them big fish). It was the first time I'd felt remotely sporty in my life.
The possibility that I could replace that Survivorman on the Discovery channel became that much closer. No crew, no cameras, just HIM, battling to survive in the toughest places on earth. (I don't understand how they do that anyway... they have a camera shot of him setting up his camera... it's confusing. Maybe he has more than one camera? He's filming himself filming himself filming himself?)

Whenever I needed anything in New York, my working method was to pick a direction, and if I walked far enough I would eventually find what i needed. Whether it was a hammer, rope (for hanging curtains - the sales person did ask me what the use was for, apparently it was a 'liability thing), a portable map of the world, gum... The method doesn't really work in Hong Kong, a search for Post-its lead to streets with stores that sell only wheelchairs, then a street of stores for crutches, a street of clothes for pregnant women, sports gear, wigs, lights (Actually the street of lights I see everyday, and it's beautiful. A small block of shops and each shop is blazing with light from the inside - the lights bounce and reflect from their own reflections, multiplied glass chandeliers and lamps.)

I've been trying to prep myself for law school, we have summer reading assignments that are supposed to be relatively light and helpful. I usually read them during the day but inevitably after a few chapters I'm not sure if I'm asleep or awake. One is an advice book that the author writes to a fake law student named Sam(the disclaimer that Sam isn't real is on the first page. I guess he wanted to save me from feeling HORRIBLY cheated.)
But anyway his advice included "put down a boring book immediately! If you find yourself bored by your text, put it down...2 pages of filler explanation could be the author's fault in not engaging you, the reader, in the material."
Hrm. dilemna.

things to be thankful for: tea with lemon, the sound of a dial on a diver's watch, sugar syrup, olives, lee byunghun's eyes in GI Joe, vermouth, the tram.

Friday, July 3, 2009

peach season

It's been a couple weeks since I've had any students to tutor. All of them, even my 12 year old have been carted off to Korea to attend SAT 'hak-won', a voluntary summer school that lasts all summer (i say voluntary - cause from what I remember when I was in middle school, summer school was just someplace you had to go to if you couldn't pass your classes).

today I took a cooking class to make "chicken a la king". I had no idea what that was til today, but it's basically chicken with vegetables and bechamel sauce. The class doesn't really do much for technique - the attitude is more like a frenetic one of "go free! go! gogogogogogo..." with instructions shouted in both english and cantonese. I sliced my finger within the first 5 minutes of class while chopping carrots, and midway through the teacher's presentation, a huge roach walked out next to my foot, before it was promptly and casually stomped on (by someone else, not me). But I do feel fulfilled, who knew I'd ever learn to make bechamel sauce.. so yay, life goal attained.

I've realized that sometimes I read books that I just don't understand. It makes me feel very stupid, and also somewhat cheated (So much for getting a lit degree. 4 years! *shakes fist*). The most recent book I didn't get was "Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safron Foer. It made me sad because this is a movie adaptation book (which means a lot of people did get it.) And there were so many passages that were so beautiful and others that made me laugh.. I wondered why I didn't understand it in the beginning, and still in the middle - and by the end.. I still hadn't gotten it.

I've been trying to find loans to go to grad school here in Hong Kong. For some reason, it's been a lot harder than I thought it would be. I might as well find a scholarship to go to the moon. I called some bank hotline today and talked to a sweet Southern boy rep who kept calling me "Ms. Chow". "Cho" I'd correct him each time, but I guess he thought it was an echo on the phone or maybe a tick of mine that he would politely ignore, because I remained "Ms. Chow" for the rest of the half hour.
During the half hour I explained that yes, the school I was going to was in Hong Kong. Which was the country name. Yes it is a country. And a city. Yes it is both things... the city is in the country, like New York, NY except that New York is a state. yes and a city, just not a country. rawr.
twenty minutes later:
"Aha! Ms. Chow"
"Yes! I've found some loans I think would help you.. it's for schools in Singapore? Now, is that a city near you?"


My brother is biking across the country for habitat for humanity - my mom calls me every morning to tell me how many miles he's biked that day. "88 miles! Can you believe it? Now what are you planning to do today?"


It's the beginning of peach season here - I ate one today and it was amazing. (haha I could use that as my answer to my mother's question. "i'm going to eat a peach!") It reminded me of a part from 'goodbye to all that' - not really in that context, but still - somehow anything can make you think of new york, even if it's something as distant of not belonging there anymore.

"I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out out of the West and reached the mirage. I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later—"

my brother's photoblog of his biking trip :click:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

a month since

It's June.. and I've broken my promise to myself and haven't written all month.
May passed by so quickly which means is been a month since:
I started taking Cantonese classes at a school in Wan Chai. Every morning for two hours I sit with 3 expat women, and we judiciously take notes.

"Do you like Western food?" "Are you Canadian? Are you French?" "No he doesn't like Japanese tea, he doesn't like any tea."

Our teacher is a flamboyant old woman who wears flowered dresses and barks at us whenever we get something wrong. It actually gets very competitive, and I never thought I'd feel the same annoyance I'd felt in grade school when some punk kid was showing off or trying to steal questions to answer. Except now the punk kid is a 30 something woman in a house dress.

It's still so difficult though, trying to figure out a language where a slight inflection can mean the difference between the number 9 or dog or a part of male anatomy..
It's been a month since my mother's visit. She came and left, a whirlwind. Before we got to the airport, I had a fear that because I hadn't seen her in so long she'd have changed or become older so that I wouldn't recognize her. But she was just the same, lovelier than ever, with the usual energy and constant stream of approval, disapproval.

Why do you look like that? How'd you get so... I thought Asian food is less fattening? What's this? I thought you said you'd learned how to cook.

I'd expected we were going to have a lot of things to debate but our main point of contention was about air conditioning.. she never wanted it on. "Wasteful. Haven't you heard of this glob-al warming?"
And she refused to let me turn it on when we slept. I lay awake and although it's sad... I think I cried cause it was so hot... and watched as the tears turned to steam and rose to the ceiling. haha.
I miss her.
It's been a month since I bought a pair of shorts that don't fit me anymore. I tried them on the other day and kept them on to stretch them because I thought they were just small because of being in the laundry.
But no that wasn't why.
Instead I spent the day feeling suffocated and trying to ignore the looks of suppressed horror from passerbys. For fun (and distraction) I counted the number of girls in shorts vs. the number of pregnant women. There were more pregnant women.
It's been a month since I've turned 23 (I guess this really means I have to give up on growing any taller);
a month since I found stars in Sanya, and stood with my head tilted back wondering; and it's been a month since I've decided to stay here and go to grad school.

"I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live."

Monday, April 27, 2009


Thoughts at the end of April:

Trying to take yoga classes during the day. Mostly feel overwhelmed by the very fit, very buff crowd of hong kong Tai-Tais (housewives). Twice my age and they could easily bench-press me in between manicures and luncheon. While we are trying to relax with downward dogs and Warrior Is, I look at the mirrors, all I can think of is "SPARTANS ~ Hoohaa... For Tonight we shall dine in HELL... I brought more soldiers than you Arcadian... What Does a man want of his queen?" And then whatever zen I had been seeking is permanently lost.

But it is rather awe-inspiring, and I guess it's an effective way to keep status and husband.


I can't believe it is already the beginning of may.

Friday, April 24, 2009


what is love. I have heard many things. A man says to his grandson, regretfully, it was softness. she was softness, bu-duh-ruh-wuh.
"But then it is too simple to say that you love someone. It hides a list of things. Tangles of things… the way I could forgive him, and he has been forgiven.
If I lost him and he were a ghost, he would be the first thing I’d call for, the imprint of his shoulder in my bed, the touch of his hand on my waist, the fights, the games. sight, touch, taste… and then… the bond of what we’ve seen and promised never to tell."


Sole Survivor
He walks away
No surveying
the catastrophe
Of covers and torn sheets
An open diary of past mistakes to fill.
He puts on his clothes quickly and doesn’t turn to see
Her lying
hand outstretched -
Doesn’t turn to check if she’s breathing .
His hand lingers on the door
Where hers will be
When she shuts it in the morning.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hole in the sky

It always comes as news. The news that I heard today... as though phones are still only the styrofoam cups with strings - hello hello. over.
the sadness of a small town spreads across the world. prayers.
and hope becomes something smeared across the glass-
or just a hole in the sky for the stars to pour through.

It seems silly because it's been years, and the memories I have are those of a child, dream shadows, laced with giggles and whispers and deteriorated by time.
catching ahold of what is left. candy hearts I remember, spun sugar, greased hair and shaky valentines.

a boy with elvis curls and a wide grin.

screaming around the playground - 2nd graders enacting our version of romance, love as war, girls against boys, stolen kisses and laughter, the swinging of ponytails, plastic barrettes and jump rope.
as you screamed that a girl should not kick a boy 'there'
even if it was for a kisser team war and the odds were tight.

middle school tag as the sun sets in the church garden, stomachs full - pigs in blankets, baked beans and chili cheese, cinnamon apples. Ran past the grey statues and warnings of ghosts or after-dark wanderers. a game of tag in the dark turns to accidental hide and seek, screaming until the statues echo back, admitting the night time terror of being alone.

basketball game in the afternoon - laughing mouths open, back and forth.
braiding hair. moving past ocean water.

not all was kind: games became more cruel, chasing a wasp til a girl cried, charades of heartbreak and flirting, the sketches of naked women with bodies like vases, women with legs splayed, posing in impossible ways - posted on the windows of the church van. alcohol and detergent.
but still you laughed. everyone laughed. reckless and proud, youth and beauty.

and then childhood and memory were put away, folded and tucked, left and abandoned to shadowland.
i don't know how the story got so much worse.

It shouldn't have been written. It wasn't meant to be written that way. A cruel game? A joke, where somewhere the string pulls and it all comes apart, and we are all left laughing. Hope for that.
But it seems too much has gone for that now. Maybe in another life, in another place. It is wishful.

Or maybe
it's like we are all running in the dark, looking for that hole in the sky, and you found the stars first.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I now spend most of my evenings tutoring a succession of Korean students. I wish someone would study how a Korean mother network works.. it has the same efficiency necessary to deploy weapons. I started with one family, and somehow it all began after that.

So I end up tutoring from 5 to around 9 on most weekdays.. SAT verbal, essay writing, middle school history.. Working in the evening makes my sense of time interesting. Sometimes when I'm on the subway and hopping on mini-buses, I wonder how night-shift workers or prostitutes feel - I see that the sun is setting, thus my workday begins. Not that I'm comparing being a tutor to prostitution.. besides a strange time of day, going to the students' apartments, charging by a clock. heh. ok no. :)

Overall I like tutoring, and I think I do a relatively good job. Parents like me because I don't short them on time, and I guess also because I am strict. Sometimes when I'm starting to raise my voice, I notice that outside the room is suddenly quiet, so the mother can hear what I'm saying. I've always thought of myself as a patient person, but I guess not.

Twenty minutes of patiently explaining and arguing - so much that my throat is dry and my voice is shot to a semi-baritone:
Student 1 (yet again): "But why do I have to map out my essays? Can't I just write it?"
me (patiently): "no, you must map and plan. Otherwise it's like you're shooting a gun with a blindfold on." (nice metaphor - mentally pats self on back)
Student 1: "But.. I don't think I have that much time to do it. I think I should just learn to write well."
me (starts to silently shred bits of paper): "Planning is writing well."
Student 1: "But .. but.."
me: "OK. Look. Right now what grade do you have? What grade do you have???"
Student 1: "A 17 out of 40.."
me: "Yes. You have an F. Not even a high F. If you want to keep getting Fs do it your way. It's the lazy way and it's not particularly smart.(pounding desk with fist) Just. do. It. MY WAY! Ahhhhhhhh.

Update: 2 weeks later and the mother called to quietly tell me her son "just didn't want lessons with me anymore."


In any statutory definition of a crime, malice must be taken.

1. A desire to harm others or to see others suffer; extreme ill will or spite.
2. Law. The intent, without just cause or reason, to commit a wrongful act that will result in harm to another.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


happiness is best when unrealized. Or unconsciously felt. Because the discovery of it is so beautiful that it's worth the not realizing.
It creeps on you, so then with a sudden awareness - a different bodily sense - a calm and euphoria that everything is all right.

I'm sitting at the Hong Kong version of Times Square.. Which is actually a building with a department store with Times Square written on the side. Deceiving, but still it feels like a link.
There is a big tv screen which plays music videos. Actually I'm never sure what they are, but the music is very empowering and operatic and so I always look up and stare while people grumble past me thinking, Why is she watching the refrigerator commercials?

I like this area a lot... it pulses like a living thing, from the movement of people. maybe it's just because I have a bad sense of direction, but each corner brings something different. on one side, the chestnut man, on another a mcdonald's and american brands, on another a japanese snack store... other way sweet pork or mango drink shakes, there's the arm-less man who paints names with the brush clenched in his mouth, the fish market, the store with yellow buns in the window.

walking there's not enough time to think. just image.

gingko nuts with green hearts. the threat of rainstorms with no thunder.


my mother called to tell me that the tree my brother and i used to climb on had lost half its branches in an ice storm. It was a very elegant tree, it still is I hope... a maple with low-reaching branches. I think we'd called it Marigold or was it Meredith? I can't remember.

'I try to think of us playing in the trees during thunderstorm season, in the yellow calm when the storm is about to come. We are in the maple tree, the one with the shaky third branch. He sits where the branches begin to spread, the tree's heart. I'm waiting on the first branch, because I know I'll have to help him get down. The air smells like bourbon and we can hear the storm and thunder that's about to come... We wait as long as we can, shaking in anticipation as the sky changes and the trees around us turn gray. Our mother calls us in, and I help him down so that we can run to the house before the downpour.'

Monday, February 9, 2009


found yesterday from 2006 - in a box of paper:

I'm a step behind -
trying to catch up from a world of shadows.
Not enough air in my lungs, breath to push.
falling back - only there's nothing to fall into.
becoming a map of bones
just enough for traces to tell-
for people to remember
the curve of a shoulder
the slit of a mouth.

It seems silly to feel desperate when there's nothing dangerous threatening me.
I'm not running from a robber or trying to fight a fire. There is no gunfire, no bombs falling around me.
I am sitting on a bed with cotton sheets and pillows with daisies on them, and yet it might as well be a raft on an ocean, with sharks on all sides. Quiet desperation and the sense that somehow I am suffocating from the inside.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

student / teacher

I am taking Cantonese classes - tutoring sessions in the mall's coffee shop. Two hours each time, while I'm trying to concentrate on hearing the difference between high level and mid level to high slanted tones.

"High level. Mid to very high. Mid to not so high." Etc. Etc.

I don't think I'm an amazing student or anything, but I do think I try hard.
I do my homework, I've made flashcards, and I try to stay awake for my tutor as we go over the words yet again. And more importantly, I've gotten to like the sound of Cantonese.
But still, my tutor never seems very happy with my progress - and I feel like a lazy American person.

I do have an appreciation for my tutor as I've become one myself- I've started tutoring a Korean businessman who wants to improve conversational English. The challenge really is to keep up a conversation. After a bit of trial and error as he did not want to discuss Obama; politics; economics; the financial crisis; Korean beef; hobbies - meh; being in Hong Kong - well the food was good...

I found that what we could talk about was tv. Specifically, The Office, which he enjoyed but did not find that funny. So more specifically, the jokes from the Office - which I never realized, were actually pretty complicated.

How do you explain a double entendre? It made me feel like those high school days when the teacher laughed hysterically while reading Shakespeare plays, "Bite your thumb, get it?" "Explore a country, get it?" and the students would be sitting in sullen silence.
"Mmm... that's what she said? all right well, that's Michael Scott's way of .. uh. well. trying to put things in a context of a woman. For example... he says, I need two guys on this... that's what she said? haha? Get it?"
:sullen silence:


I just finished reading Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami. I mostly caught bits and pieces of it while I sat on the bus going back and forth through Hong Kong. When I finished it, I was also on the bus, swaying back and forth in my seat in the upper level. We were going up a large mountain, and we were about to reach my favorite part of the ride, a certain moment of view, where the city building lights are behind me.

It is a view that needs a soundtrack, but usually I don't have any - just the sounds of the tv in the front wall, tourists chatter, Cantonese, and occasionally the clicking of nail clippers (I've noticed that people really like to use commutes for that)

Sputnik Sweetheart is a lonely sort of love story - well, not love but rather obsession. There is the struggle of obsession, love and the loss of self. The plot is rather suspenseful, or at least has urgency. One of the main characters disappears, and so through half the book, the reader is trying to make terms with a character's absence.

I've gotten used to it when reading Murakami's stories, or maybe it's just that my brain is so tired that I'll accept anything - but his resolutions or explanations are always fantastic or extraordinary. And not to ruin the story - but it's the same for this novel. A disappearance that has no earthly reason, but is a combination of the "impossible". And even - this part was what made me wonder most - the idea of being abandoned by the self, a complete solitude - so then is one existing or non-existing?

There is a passage about the strangeness of the satellite name "Sputnik" - "Traveling companion", when in actuality "lonely little lumps of metal spinning around the earth in their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality... each of us is locked up alone... When the orbits of these two satellites happened to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that was only for the briefest moment. In the next instant we'd be in absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing."

Sunday, January 4, 2009


I left New York a couple weeks ago, without much fanfare or tears - in a car filled to the ceiling with all my material possessions. I forgot to look back at the skyline and say goodbye, but it may have been because I was too preoccupied in preventing myself from being suffocated by my things. I had a stuffed dog balanced on my head, a potted plant in my lap, even my legs were curled under and stuck holding a random box in place.

I came back to New York later to fly to Hong Kong out of JFK. My brother volunteered to ride the bus up with me and then drop me off at the airport. It should have been a simple enough thing, but unfortunately, I discovered a whole corner of things in the apartment I'd forgotten to pack. We spent all night packing and stressing over what to throw away, while everything else was packed and tied up in plastic duane reade bags.

In the morning, as we got to the airport, we ended up abandoning more and more things, like a trail through JFK.. a nearly full bottle of febreze, the bottle of Gain, a box of cereal, clothes hangers... my fake snowboots. It made me feel like a refugee or one of those pioneers headed west, leaving things one by one at the side of a river.

I said bye to my brother.. it wasn't a very sentimental goodbye, mostly because I had to watch him stumble for a subway with plastic bags tied to his arms and strapped to multiple duffel bags, while balancing 2 pillows I refused to part with. sorry sorry.


I had bought a huge suitcase from Chinatown for my move. It was the biggest I'd ever seen; I could probably have lived in it. Even though Chinatown had failed me so many times, I figured the suitcase was just so big it had to be a good bargain, and besides how could a suitcase really go wrong anyway. The saleswoman promised it was good quality. She made a big show of zipping every zipper and pulling all the straps and showing off the pockets. There was even a combination that would lock the zippers into place.

It was the zipper lock that really persuaded me, I'd never seen one before - although afterward I was told that almost every Asian suitcase has a zipper lock and it's not really that special of a thing. hmph. I should have known better.

By the time I got to HK airport, when I pulled the suitcase off the luggage strip, a wheel fell off and bounced across the floor. Looking closer, the sides of the suitcase were coming apart, the seams were open and part of the fabric holding the top together was gone.

I was disappointed, but thought maybe the zipper lock could be redeeming. However, on opening the suitcase, nothing would get the combination lock to open. On the bright side, one thing that was lucky about it being so cheaply made was that I was able to pry open the zippers from the lock with a pen. Rawr. *shakes fist*


I like Hong Kong - it's always felt like a kindred city somehow. I think the landscape is really lovely, and the lights - well it's why I liked the city so much in the first place. And I get to see and hear the ocean everyday, I never would have thought that possible.

I've even gotten to like the sound of Cantonese, which I am currently learning. I'm determined to become good at it. If most urgently because I have to be able to order my own hui lan shan. (mango pudding shake with crystal jelly or sago... although I'm not really sure still what sago is).

I've tried to compare Hong Kong to impressions of other cities in my past... and it's hard to do. I thought of London, a city that wanted to kill me - with the constant grey weather and opposite street ways and crazy cabs (here in Hong Kong they do have opposite streets, but there is a polite cute noise that indicates when the lights are changing - and also signs on the road with arrows to let you know which way to look)...

Seoul was easy to get to know, but a somewhat snobby/intimidating one (but maybe that's just because of the crowds of Korean girls with high heels and Lv bags and identically made eyes is just naturally intimidating)

I guess that's one thing about living in a foreign place - a new place, is that there is nothing from the past that I really can relate it to. In a way, comparing it to the past or what's familiar is not doing it justice. Instead it's like discovering a new word, a new definition has to be made. It's a strange feeling, but a kind of wondrous one.