Tuesday, December 28, 2010

am present.

my booklist has been taken over by a series of self-help books. Never thought I'd be the person to say, "so i was just reading this book about love languages and..."
But it is addicting, each seems to hold a promise of some self-improvement.
currently - how to control your emotions. ha great.

Was reading an interview, the writer was saying how hard it was for her to remember what person she was. Vague, but somehow I understand exactly what she means.
Floating along - in some space. And then suddenly with a jolt - perhaps on a bus, sometimes in the middle of a lesson, on an escalator. This isn't right. Wait I'm a alive. Where am I supposed to have been? And as I stumble and fall, it's like I've become an abstraction. And I have to grasp at something, some certainty, what was past what was present. What was merely a dream, what was real, what was imagined. what made me happy. what is being sad.

And then like those schoolday equations a=b=c, a=c.. slowly, the mind reaches and slow steps, dogs with caramel spots, ice cream left on a spoon, covers spread like the ocean, slow certainties, moment caught, bodies alphabet shapes, skylights from a bus, and the present is present. am present. and that is All There Is.

Friday, November 5, 2010

New things.

I like.

Riding the tram in autumn. Especially at night when it's quiet and all you hear are the sounds of metal and rail.
Milk swirls in coffee. (everytime makes me hear that lyric - clouds in my coffee)

The diner scene in True Romance - it's perfect.

Looking out the window to see sky. If I could I'd walk around with my head tilted upwards. Or maybe ask for another set of eyes on the top of my head.

Disney songs. Walking around with a very serious expression and headphones. What hard-core music could she be listening to?
"He could clear the savanna after every meal! Lalalala"

Hku library 'leisure reading'. People don't do anything for leisure, much less read. so all mine :)

Black hair. Honey. The moment of a student finally understanding something. Rare but it happens.
Description in duras' the lover - the paper thin dress and gold heels. Bright umbrellas in grey rain.
Dreamless sleep.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Never understood the physics of falling up stairs.
And yet it happens to me so often it's like a disease.
And all I can think as I try to pick myself up off the ground with some dignity is.. "how?"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


The life that I have is all that I have
And the life that I have is yours.
The love that I have of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have, a rest I shall have
And death will be but a pause
For the years I shall have in the long green grass
Are yours and yours and yours.


apparently was used as a code
Funny to imagine secrets in an open heart,
war in a love poem.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

march madness

Whenever I tend to feel like a failure, I remind myself that it could always be worse.
During middle school, I made a very misguided decision to start playing basketball. It was a short-lived and horrific basketball season.

By then, I had achieved a height of four feet, wore thick glasses, and had no concept of athleticism. My only knowledge of basketball came from watching Space Jam during after school daycare, and even then I was pretty sure that Michael Jackson was the name of the lead. I'd heard he could also sing some.

My mother had already recognized my lack of sports ability. A pragmatist,she didn't see the point in wasting my time in encouraging something I didn't have, so she had failed to introduce my brother or me to any form of physical activity. (Well she made a mistake on him, the athletic overachiever that he is).

She bought us a basketball to play with when I’d told her I needed to practice, but neglected to install a hoop because it was too expensive. And you know, how necessary is a hoop in basketball anyway.

But being resourceful, we noticed a cluster of odd colored bricks on the wall above the garage, and figured it was a lucky coincidence - it could be our target.
So we spent our afternoons throwing the ball against the side of the house, aiming for the trio of bricks above the garage.

I was very dutiful during practice, running when the coach told us to run, tossing up the basketball for lay-ups. I remember feeling like it was such a pointless exercise, running back and forth. The coach only ever yelled two things, “Pivot!” and “Backboard!” And I had no idea what either instruction meant.

As no one bothered to explain the rules to me, I learned from trial and error. No running while carrying the ball. it was cheating to stop and then run and start dribbling again. Pushing and tackling - illegal.

I was a starter on the team so needless to say, most of our games were a failure. I don’t remember winning a single one, or even making a basket. The only thing I was somewhat good at was defense. I was good at knocking people over, and that was mostly an accidental skill. Already being low to the ground, people tended to trip over me.
The one time I did have the ball - after tripping a poor giant of a girl, my own teammate took it away from me. I'd been running the wrong way.
So when facing failure I think of basketball. It can't be as bad as that.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

autumn nights

I saw stars for the first time in weeks last night.
I was frustrated because I'd just missed the bus, and the next one wouldn't be for half an hour... And as I put down my bag to sit and pout, I looked up. There they were. The moon, stars - caught in the sky which was black and slick as oil - still wet from the past days of rain.
And breathing - I heard the waves taking the shore, footsteps of children running on the sand, and the sounds of silverware and diners from the restaurant balcony - and above it, peaceful again those stars waiting to be noticed.

On these types of summer autumn nights, I think of days from elementary school

We'd just seen the disney Pocohantas - and so for weeks my brother and I would play Indians in the backyard. We were the Indian tribe - and the sun was the settler. Our land was the shade, and wherever the sun hit belonged to 'them'. As the day passed, the sun rose further and further, and pushed out, we were stuck playing in the tree branches, shaking our fists at the sun until eventually it crept away to nighttime. Victorious, we would light a bonfire and chase fireflies with glowing ember sticks. We'd smoke makeshift "pipes" that were stuffed with old herbs, and hollered disney rhymes of what we thought was an indian song.

(which actually thinking now was a really inappropriate song from peter pan - 'what makes the red man red? what makes the red man redddd. you squaw! go fetch firewood!")

I remember mostly the moments before the sun would set and we could claim 'our land' - lying under the oak tree, where there was a slight mossy bank scattered with dark violets. And we would lie there breathing in violets, waiting for the shadows to come back, while the sunlight filtered down in streams through the oak leaves lighting up the helicopter seeds which floated and clung to the branches around us.

i confess i do not believe in time.


School has started, and I’ve taken to studying at the mall. I used to try studying at the school library, but it was like a factory straight out of some sci-fi movie. Rows and rows of desks with fluorescent lighting and kids hunched over silently in frozen stares at their textbooks. After a few minutes it's enough to make you feel like clawing yourself just to feel / hear something.

The only problem with the mall is that there are so many distractions. After an hour or so, I usually end up wandering into the bookstore upstairs to browse. Browsing a couple pages turns into reading the entire book while standing in a corner, trying to avoid the glares and elbows of salespeople.

The other day I tried to avoid that temptation by sitting at the opposite end of the mall from the bookstore. Instead I ended up wandering into the cinema and watching a movie. I had the choice of either Bright Star or the Expendables. It’s sad to say, but it took me a while to decide on bright star.. (so much for being an English major).

My memory of keats is a particularly bitter semester of romantic poetry where I felt horribly out of place, surrounded by people who wore tweed and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes. They carried scuffed and vintage briefcases (meant to be ironic) while I carried a Chinatown totebag with a talking panda on it. They could sit straight-faced while our professor talked about about the mastubatory elements in so and so and the obvious vulvic references in blake. And then there was me trying not to giggle, but mostly feeling strangely foreign and confused – is vulvic a word? What? I thought this was a poem about hell?
“yes the paternal references in this passage where blake is keenly babblebabble- a clever suggestion to the female vulva’s motivations of paternal angst and emotional need to be filled.” Filled?
*tweed wearer raises hand. “actually I felt that it would be more accurate to characterize that as a clitoral conceit.”
I wish I was joking.

But anyway while watching Bright Star, I started to forget about that semester, and even felt a bit open to keats. The love story was beautiful in its own way– these two lonely people finding each other, but then having it end without ever beginning.

When the movie finished and the credits began, something strange happened. People were getting up to rush toward the exit, when the actor’s voice came on, reciting one of keats’ odes. There was a hush, and everyone in the theatre was still, and stayed. No one moved… listening to those words until the credits had finished and the lights came on. It was the first time I had felt a sense of complete quiet in hong kong. Of suspended action, and it was beautiful.

Thinking of sad love stories, I recently re-watched the korean movie, A Moment to Remember. I came across it online while I was on a bus. I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to watch it, it makes the notebook seem uplifting. I ended up crying so much that it was actually physically painful, and got random looks from strangers who probably wondered if they were witnessing a mental breakdown.
I’m glad no one came up to me… I would have felt the need to come up with a justified reason to be crying in public. “Korean drama” doesn’t really sound like a legitimate excuse.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I spend my time walking
so much that now the polluted air just seems like a mist
a mist to walk through

Somedays I feel like I'm walking a neverending road through candyland.
egg tarts, mango drinks, coconut milk with sago, pineapple buns, and custard rolls, shaved ice with condensed milk and sugar beans, sour fruit candy.
By the end my skin feels stained by sugar.

I realized while riding in a taxi yesterday that people in hong kong must think I sound very rude - my lack of vocab makes me sound like a toddler (although to be honest a toddler could probably outspeak me) Things have improved a lot, now that i've stopped calling cab drivers "SiuJe (Miss!)" (In my defense, I thought it meant Excuse me) but still.. translated with what i understand. a cab conversation goes like:

driver: "chinesechinesechinese go asdfawerasdv where?"
me: "address"
driver: "asdfwaerawvasg traffic. lots cars. aweravawebserf way?"
me: "fast"
driver: "awgasdvawer asdfasdf"
me: "yes." smile.
driver: "asdfawerawer"
me: "yes. faster."
driver: SIGH.

and the words of Buffy:

"Lots of people lose themselves in love. It's no shame. They write songs about it. The hitch is, you can't stay lost. Sooner or later, you have to get back to yourself."
"And if you can't?"
"If you can't... Well, love becomes your master, and you're just its dog."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

kindness of strangers

The other day I got my dress stuck in an escalator in Central. I was wearing a long dress, the kind that goes to the floor. It made me feel miles tall, and for some reason there’s some imagined elegance in wearing a floor-length dress… Although there’s probably nothing elegant about cleaning the floor with your clothing as you walk. A public service maybe?

Anyways it was right before the lunch hour rush, and I was trying to sprint shuffle down the escalators – a sandwich in hand, a book in the other. Mid leap, I felt a sharp tug pull me back.

When I turned I saw that the fabric had been caught in the stair. I was absentmindedly tugging at it still eating my sandwich – but it just kept getting more and more consumed by the escalators – until I was at the bottom and the dress was caught up to my knee.
A man behind me was yelling– and before I knew it, he'd sprinted to the bottom and on the floor tugging at my dress. I told him it was fine, but he kept saying it was dangerous – and I giggled as I had this image of myself being dragged and shredded into a smeared, bloody mess into the escalator.

This was then replaced by the more realistic and even more horrifying image, the dress ripping off me and me being left to wander around central without clothing. Then I started panicking too and pulling frantically at it.

Somehow in the midst of it, someone pressed the emergency stop, and the business people in suits were forming a small crowd around the two of us and bickering amongst themselves about what advice to give me. “Just cut it off.. No don’t ruin the dress, call management. I think you can reverse the escalator some way. Just pull at it, it’s not that stuck. Go get some scissors. Who gets stuck in an escalator?”

Eventually the only way I got out was by being cut out of my dress – which the man did handily because (like so many hong kong people) he was carrying nail clippers – massive ones, like industrial size.

By the end, any possibility of imagined elegance was sadly and decisively gone. I was left wandering looking like I'd been mauled by forest animals, but I told the man it looked chic. My students probably thought I was trying to make a statement.

Victory for nail clippers.

Friday, July 23, 2010

to dream.

All my dreams lately end the same way... with me killing someone. It'll begin a quiet scene, a kitchen table, hands deep in flour; in a classroom florescent lights above ; on a bus legs sticking to vinyl seats. And then just as quietly a person will appear. And I know without question that this is my enemy. And I do not hesitate. I do not run. I merely lunge. Quiet desperation.
vegetable peeler to the throat. Pencil to the heart. Umbrella across the skull. And then blood spills and I wonder about cannibals and reversing time and rage, but mostly I feel sad. A shivering red sad..
And then I wake up.

I blame the jetlag. 'blame it on the a a a alcohol baby.'

Anyways... speaking of dreams. Inception.
It's been awhile since I've been lost within a story and its telling.

I saw the movie in Chicago when I was visiting my brother. He was determined to not let me see the movie by myself. Somehow he finds my watching movies alone the saddest thing - I've found that all I have to say is, "When i was watching that..well you know, by myself..." :trail off: - and suddenly I've gained immediate power over him.

But I've always liked going to the theater alone. Sitting in a dark cool theater... when I know that outside in the city it's hot and the sun is melting and people are bumping against each other. It's so freeing and calming, randomly deciding to spend a few hours alone in some other place.. although of course, in New York a lot of the time a movie theater audience in the daytime can be a distracting experience. I'll look over and see in another row some man muttering and jacking off, usually to something wholly unerotic... like Ratatouille or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Anyway, this time in Chicago - I was amazed by this machine that dispenses liquid butter. You press a lever and there's an endless stream of butter (? yellow colored oil?) to drown your popcorn in. The machine is parked away from the concession stand, right outside the theater door, in case you know - one is ever in need of more butter midway through the movie. I took pictures of it, and forced my brother to buy us popcorn, "Well you know :sigh: i usually don't get popcorn cause i can't finish it when i'm watching movies BY MYSELF.." for the experience of this butter dispenser. We ended up with more butter than popcorn, but still... pressing the lever felt like 'Americaaaaa'.

It did feel kinda strange going to the theater with my brother... when we were growing up movie theaters were a banned place. We were in a compressed bubble of carefully filtered books and encyclopedias, fiction was limited to Wind in the willows - where animals talked and had picnics (wild!) or abridged versions of Shakespeare. And while I knew faintly that there were stories of other 'wilder' things, there are limits to the imagination. It was in grade school, our class took a field trip to the local theater (I don't know why that counts as a field trip) to watch the Special Edition version of Star Wars.. the moment Carrie Fisher came out with the doughnut hair and the stormtroopers shot their taser guns, the world I knew multiplied and seemed to explode in all the possibilities. It was like being in a trance. A new dream of robots and light years, outer space and galaxies.. fiction. And when the movie ended I cried. At the sheer beauty and visceral impact of it.

When I told my mom of my new-found experience of 'rapture' and how there were sequels! and all I had to do was go to a theater to find out what was going to happen, she was rather unimpressed. And so I ended up savoring that memory for a few years,.. Until some years later I found out what happened in the rest of the story. Which was also even crazier than I could have imagined - although by then I'd replayed so many fantasies of Luke and Leia together that I almost vomited when I found out they were twins.

Anyway.. this has turned too many tangents - but Inception - I have to say, made me remember that moment again. Of being a girl frozen in my seat, eyes wide as the credits came on.. and understanding that line, "that, when I wak'd I cried to dream again."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

river tubing pros.

I spent independence day weekend river tubing on the james river. River tubing is probably the most Southern concept of an outdoor activity, as activeness is not a requirement. The most strenuous part is the occasional sit-up in order to reach your cooler of beer. The concept is to sit in an inner tube for several hours as the 'current' - (which is snail pace) floats you along a river. To prevent this from being a very boring activity, heavy drinking is involved.

The beer is strapped in its own inner tube, which is then tied to your foot. Amateurs like us had one cooler for the 5 of us to share. We were to realize that pros have a cooler per person.

The pros - well not to label, but the only word to use would be - rednecks. So southern that even the kentucky blue I grew up with would have blushed at the caricatures they were. (But since rednecks is offensive, I'll just use 'river tubing pros') The river tubing pros came in groups - spilling out of pick up trucks - beer guts proud, tattoos out, the women in confederate bikinis. (I have no idea where one goes to buy a bikini with good ol' Dixie printed on it - I wish I'd asked). The tattoos were variations of cherry stems with dice and flames emblazoned on skulls -usually with a large cross for good measure. They were obviously expert at river tubing, one hand holding a half-lit cigarette and the other tying easy slip knots for each of their beer coolers, which as one man announced to our group were filled with "Schlitz - a 12 pack is 3 bucks y'all!" PAUSE. as he seemed to mentally try to calculate, but then turned and walked away, implying 'well don't know how much one beer comes out to be. but if it ain't cheap!'

The only drawback to this river tubing activity becomes obvious later. As you float along this river, eyes closed, sun beads on your face, feeling 'one with nature', ice cold beer in hand, thinking... I am the sky. yes I am the trees. I understand you spirit of the river. I will ask the grinning bobcat why he grins. And hrm whatever else is in that colors of the wind song..

And as you hear the sound of water on your skin, pebbles and moss at your dangling feet - every so often a sudden warm current will pass by and then another and another... and as you wonder, you will realize you are downstream of half a dozen floating river tubing pros - who are pissing their 12 pack schlitz's in the river. 5 hours on a river - with coolers packed with beer - becoming one with nature = adding to the water cycle.

that seems to define independence.

Friday, July 16, 2010

had i

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

wb yeats.

Friday, May 7, 2010

listlessly listing

It's exam time... and my mind will only think in abbreviated list form. sigh.

Things that are under appreciated:

Pigeons - it wasn't until I got to new york that I realized people didn't love pigeons... that actually pigeons were something disliked.
The calming, scurrying sound their little claws make, and the soft cooing, the rustling of their wings as it releases caught dust.. oh pigeons. =]

My childhood memory of pigeons was the scene in mary poppins with the pigeons swirling "feed the birds.. tuppence a bag". In the summers when we visited Korea, every morning my brother and I would beg my mom to let us go on the hour walk up a mountain with my grandmother to feed the pigeons with handfuls of sweet popped corn.

I tried feeding pigeons once at wash sq park, only to get some woman snap in horror, "what, why are you feeding them!? are you actually feeding them??"
I fed pigeons one last time at a plaza in venice during a year abroad (where this was actually encouraged) I held the birdseed in my hands, scattered it on my arms, running as pigeons landed on me as my friends watched in horror.

And now, since I've moved to hong kong, pigeons feed us, as a culinary dish. For some reason the restaurants always serve them in deconstructed broiled pieces with the head proudly propped on the plate. As if the customers need some more proof that the bird has truly been conquered.
There's something operatic about it. "Where's its head?! bring me the head of this bird! So that it can gaze at me while I feed upon it."

mayonnaise - mayonnaise is so good.. I know it's unhealthy and like butter, might as well be a product of demons.
In new york there were many butter haters - this woman at the office cafeteria would order her omelette with a frantic intensity, "egg whites. only the whites. no noo butter, no butter no butter! and a spritz of - hello! JUST a spritz please of Pam."
While I'd be getting my bowl of grits with tabs of butter melted in.. and she would walk past me and leave me with a glance of pitied disgust.

but yes. mayonnaise makes everything better.

During nutritionally dark days in london (and economic semi-darkish days), if I was tired of ketchup and peas or wanted to refrain from eating oatmeal for dinner.. I'd treat myself to rice with mayo mixed in.
mmm. try it.

electric fans - Korean people have this "medical" fear of electric fans. Specifically of sleeping with one on or blowing on your face in a closed room. It is believed that this will kill you. It's called 'fan death'. I don't really know the explanation, I've heard all the different ones from: your body forgets to breathe, or the fan takes all the air out of the room in some air vortex, or your body develops hypothermia... And most Korean people I know will say this in all seriousness. Colleges do tests and there've been several scientific studies on the mystery of 'fan death'. (All the theories are listed on wikipedia - 'fan death')

When I was little, I asked my mom if death by hypothermic air vortex was the reason she would never let me sleep with a fan on, she said that no, she just wanted to save money on electricity.

That explanation made more sense.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


it's one of those hawk-eyed nights
where even i seem to have wings
feeling haunted
by wind
by the promise of metal under my feet and
a breeze hard against the body or a taste of concrete.
the night holds the terror
the secret that you are alive.
you are living!
the night is a question
and it is demanding the answer
the whole being yearns
for completion
for the embrace of safety
wishing for power
for conviction
to no longer hunger
for the heart to stop mid-beat.

she traced orion in the black velvet of sky
the sharp line of his belt
the shoulder clasped hard in her fist.
she was wearing a dress as black and soft as the night,
tied up to her knees as she moved through the ocean.
listening to the waves shape the shore -
walking as though she'd become a shadow
a single shadow blurred into the edges of night.

again again
the human body can take more than one would believe.
skin and bone when thrust upon will press back.
A hard slap across the face - a punch to the head
yes there will be noise and the emptiness will ring
Stomping on the feet
a kick to the gut
slashing of a belt and buckle
ad yet the skin does not break. It learns to stop bruising
not to swell - quietly retaining its own protest.
one would think there is something glorious in it
some triumph or rebellion from the pain
feeling the ache the reminder of life
but there's nothing glorious about it
there's only the desperate echo - a desire to claw to hang on to keep life.
again and again
you will the body to break
but it won't.
it remains
and you are its prisoner -
but safe in its cage.


Things that I wish I could do better:

planting flowers - I have 3 dying pots of flowers on my balcony, they look like they're gasping for air. No matter how often I water them, or say positive things to them, the faster they seem to die.

The only time I had a very successful flower garden was one spring in grade school. I'd just read "Secret Garden" and wanted nothing more than a key necklace and a friend named Dicken to run around with. With all this enthusiasm, I'd managed to make a vast meadow of flowers - crocuses, marigolds, cosmos, wildflowers...

Unfortunately, my father absentmindedly bulldozed over them with his mini tractor when he was mowing the lawn one day.

flowers never forget.

cycling - whenever I go to a spinning class at the gym, it's an exercise of how inadequate I can feel for 50 minutes. There is the amped up music and the instructor whose sweat runs off like a constant stream while he shouts into his headset - rpm! rpm! Resistance should be at 10! (Mine's at 3.) Rpm should be at 100! (Mine's hovering at 70.) Give it all you've got all you've got! (All I got was when you said that five minutes ago.) sigh.

Sometimes in moments of clarity between the feeling of collapsing, I feel strangely aware that I'm pedaling so hard and staying stationary, and that's multiplied by looking at the mirror wall, and all I see are about 30 of us pedaling like crazy making these silver disc wheels spin around.
And then I wonder what a discovery channel guide would say to explain this to those people who live in isolated tribes in the desert or on a mountain or jungle. "In places where there is not much space to move around, these men and women get on these contraptions and work as hard as they can to pretend that they are moving and ... no they do not go anywhere, no they do not mind it."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

angel on being

Francesca Woodman

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I know that I can't consider myself a newcomer in Hong Kong anymore. But even though it’s been over a year, every day I feel like I discover something new.

For one thing, I learned that the word I thought meant “Excuse me”, was actually the word for “Miss”. So for the past year, I’ve been heckling so many people shouting “Miss!” at taxi drivers and waiters, who would approach me with reluctance and confusion – like who the heck is this girl. While I angrily wondered why I was being ignored and grumbled to myself about the lack of service manners in HK.
Embarrassing. =.=

I also learned not to sit with my legs up in buses, well at least not on the second story. Most Hong Kong buses are double deckers, and it’s still a novelty for me to sit at the top, so I always do. Several times a week I have to ride for an hour to see one of my students, so I sit at the very front, which has a ledge that I can rest my legs on, usually with them spread out.

Not very ladylike I know, my mother would probably be shocked - but I figured HK bus etiquette was lax enough, and compared to the people cheerfully picking their various orifices or the ones loudly cutting their toenails – I thought I was ok. What I didn’t know was that I was sitting with my legs like that in front of the driver’s periscope. And probably in such a way that for the driver, the view of me would’ve blocked everything else in sight.
I’d noticed the mirror hanging on the ceilings before, but I’d never been able to figure out what it was for, just thought it was a bit useless. Apparently not.

So that I’m not just writing about my failures… I recently gained the courage to shop at the street market below the apartment.It might not sound like a big deal, but I was always too intimidated about shopping there. For one thing, the majority of the street carts don’t have any price tags, and so trying to decipher the price was always a minor ordeal for me. So for example, buying avocados.

Did the woman say $5 or $50 for 3? Or how much is one? And then she’d say to me, $1 or $100 or maybe $10. To me it all sounds so similar. And then trying to guess involves trying to remember how much was reasonable for avocados in the U.S., and then translating the price to HK., multiply by 8 – and then guessing the market price for what avocados should be in Hong Kong vs. the U.S., where are avocados grown anyway? South America? So more expensive in shipping? Or maybe South Asia? Or should I account for less demand?

It’s like playing Price is Right – helloo bob barker.

Inevitably, I’ll have confused myself, so I have to choose between looking obnoxious – paying for a $5 item with a large bill, or looking stupid – holding out my inadequate coins and smiling.

It also made trying to bargain an almost impossible task. “No! Not $40, I’ll pay $20!” I'll say with conviction. And then realizing that the original price was actually $8.”

But luckily, rather than taking advantage of the useless girl who can’t count, even when I pay them 10 times too much, the vendors always give me back change, and look at me sympathetically.

People from home have asked me what Hong Kong is like, and it’s difficult to describe. Just as I’d never imagined before what it could be like – it’s a place that’s a combination of things.
There are skyscrapers like New York and businessmen and women in suits. There’s buildings marked with name brands, luxury is King. Armani building, bulgari, chanel, LV, Gucci building, the name brands have it. There’s the alleyways with noodle shops and chefs in wife-beaters, sweating as they chop beef bones and sauce beheaded ducks.
It’s a port city, because there’s ocean on all sides, with harbors and construction ships, and it’s also like San Francisco with streets that look more like mountains because of how steep they are.
At night time there’s blocks and blocks of people drinking on the street, and the sound reminds me of London, with pub music blasting and the clinking of beer pints. While also at night, there’s the people who come out to push carts of trash, massive carts up and down the steep streets. It takes a lot of strength, and patience to navigate around the crowds of drunk people. And for some reason the majority of the cart pushers are old men whose faces look at least 60 – 70 years old, but have the body physique of the hulk or a ninja turtle. They work with their shirts tied to their six pack waists, and a cigarette sticking out of the corner of their mouth.

And even just on my street, where there’s a French bakery and boutiques with ridiculously overpriced brands– there’s also a street market with butcher carts and ceiling hooks of meat, and a print shop that smells of ink and blocked metal where a man makes name cards on rows and rows of paper sheets. There’s a 7-11, and next to it a man who sits in a chair in front of his shop, who’s so old his eyes barely open and he only has a couple of teeth left, who will squeeze fresh fruit juice for you.
There’s antique shops with only vases in the window, and several high end art galleries, where the art consists of a tv screen that shows blue tattooed belly buttons that breathe in sync. And also another gallery with a pornographic pig sculpture in the window, sucking its own strangely human boobs. (It is just as disturbing as it sounds).
Next to a kebab shop and a frozen yogurt place, there’s a small bakery on the corner, a hole in the wall without a door that sells trays and trays of egg custard tarts. The strangely bright yellow glazed kind that glow in metal tins. They look like little circles of sun resting in a plate of silver. All day, there is a line going into that shop to buy egg tarts. And for me, it all comes together on that corner outside the shop, the men in business suits, the school uniformed kids, the expats, the shirtless men who push trash – as they stand on the street corner, one hand in their pocket as they eat the bright yellow custard out of a tin.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

pistachio green. knots.

on a particularly grey day,
I'm sitting at IFC drinking a cappuccino with a cream heart and an over-expensive slice of opera cake.
I'm scraping off all the pistachio filling - I have to admit the only reason I bought the cake was for the pistachio.
It looked so green and mint-like and foreign. I had to have it.
The waitress is looking at me reproachfully, while the done-up taitais aren't wondering why I'm only eating the lining of a cake, but why I would ever drink a beverage with cream in it. And I'm wondering why they're wearing 4 inch platforms when it's raining outside.

knots. When we were little, every couple weeks my father would let my brother and I "destroy" our minds with television. Which meant, we were allowed to watch a videocassette about the mathematical properties of knots. A man's voice came on, and it would portray a couple of hands making different knots, which would then be analyzed through computer animation with the same man's narration. (It says something about the power of the screen that my brother and I used to look forward to that 30 minute video.)

I don't know why I suddenly remembered this but I think it was because I felt out of sync, sitting in between a long row of carefully done up women in high heeled shoes.
And whenever I feel out of sync I think of A Wrinkle in Time - and the boy on the other planet, who couldn't keep the ball in time with the other children and ends up being tortured by IT. And in that novel, there was the concept of traveling in space and time, I think it was called tesseract-ing, and it was described through a series of knots.
And in the brief couple minutes of opera cake and pistachio green, I remembered the excitement of watching that knot video, and tried to remember what happened to Meg and Calvin and the happy medium who once loved a star.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I went back home over the winter break. It was the first time I'd been in the States in a year. I didn't know what I expected, nostalgia maybe, relief at English signs, relaxation from seeing people who weren't only Asian.
(Groups of Asians still intimidate me, during college, one of the most stressful events was walking through Stern courtyard to use the free printers.)

But I didn't feel nostalgic, instead I felt bizarrely out of place. Nothing was familiar anymore, the loud Newark security guards who shouted "Hey you", the girls in the fake-bake tan and velour jumpsuits,... it was all disconcerting.

I had expected a tearful reunion with my family, the prodigal child's return home from the Far East. It had been a year...there would be embracing, "let me look at you", slow motion running Homeward Bound style.

"You look like Woody Allen" -my brother backing away(looking disgustedly at my 'emo' glasses)
"Uh ok. Hi." -me
My mom pushed him away, "Tsk noo no she doesn't-"
Turning gratefully to her..
"He's thin."


But being back was nice, eating Chipotle, being trapped in snow blizzards. And as always, reverting back to my parent's lifestyle - lots of church. Lots of books.

On my way back to Hong Kong I had to take a small 'commuter' plane from Virginia to Newark airport. The idea of a 'commuter' plane frightens me, but that's what they called it. There were only 9 rows on the plane, and only about 30 people. The ceilings were so short I had to crouch (which gives you a perspective... it was not a plane meant to be in the air). It was a minivan with propellers.

Unfortunately that day we were delayed because of wind. I wouldn't have thought this was a problem for most airplanes, isn't wind supposed to be helpful? But for a commuter one it most definitely isn't. We took off anyway, and because we never even got close to skimming the clouds, we were right in the wind channel.

I thought it could be my last flight, either from the plane's failure or my inability to deal with the constant feeling of falling.
Every time the plane shook, my whole body shook, and a few times I thought the plane would just give up and flip over. The pilot came on the intercom several times, his voice shaking "don't worry! this is just a bit of turb --" :cut off:
I wanted to tell him to stop talking to us and just work on flying, actually I probably could have shouted it, HK minibus style, the plane was so small there was no need for an intercom.

I was sitting next to a 90 year old woman from south carolina, she kept clutching my arm every time the plane lurched. And she'd say, "oh lord not yet. Not yet. I'm not ready to see you yet." Then turning to me accusingly, "This little chinese girl's not ready to see you yet. "Are you?"
As I tried not to flinch from pain, "I'm korean... but yea I mean No no I definitely am not."

And as I was sitting in the plane thinking of all the ways I wasn't ready, I also thought of these things:

1) a misquote.
There's a semi well-known quote about Kentucky girls from Ashley Judd.

"Sure, girls from New York, they are tough. And girls from Georgia, they are sweet. But those born and bred feisty Kentucky girls, they are the ones you have to look out for. We have sugar and fire in our blood. We can ride a horse, be a d├ębutante, throw a left hook and tell you the entire UK line up all while making sweet tea. And if we have an opinion, you get to know it. We're both the pride and the downfall of the bluegrass..."

Growing up, I knew this quote by heart, I guess it made ky girls proud. Just as listing any celebrity from Kentucky would make us proud - Johnny depp, yeap and so is george clooney.. and two of the backstreet boys - yepyep, henry clay and daniel boone too. (i liked throwing in the last two, although they rarely impressed anyone)

When I moved later on to Virginia, a girl I knew at high school would always quote this quote- it was on all her internet profiles... except that she had it changed to "Virginia" girls. And somehow I guess people didn't know the difference. I hadn't had the heart to tell her it's actually "Kentucky girls". Which makes the quote mean a lot more sense that way. Particularly cause the part of Virginia we are from is more free-way than it is country. Who rides horses or makes sweet tea in northern va? And does Virginia even have a basketball lineup? (Not that I know, but I highly doubt it.)
I dont know where this girl is now, but I wished I had told her.

2) Whether Jin the rapper was succeeding in Hong Kong.
Jin the rapper came to hong kong about the same time I did - a year ago. I happened to see him give a rap performance at New Year's ball last year to a crowd of slightly dumbfounded older HK couples. His rap was a combination of English and Cantonese. He kept repeating helplessly, "put your hands up UP up. Come on! Do it with me." Commands like that don't really work across cultures or rather across generations. And after that, I wasn't sure how he would do.
But then a couple months ago I saw him on a huge billboard, advertising Vita boxed lemon teas - so I supposed he must be doing well.

3) new years resolutions.
I used to always have a lot of new years resolutions. I'd write them down on sheets of paper feeling glorious and 'alive'. Some would succeed, most would fail. "graduate. Go to class. Learn to do a pull-up".
Some were succinct. grow taller.
Some were ambiguous "learn to love without hurting others. Find a life purpose. Be. "

This year, maybe it was because I was traveling and still jetlagged.. I hadn't written any.

If by sitting in that plane next to a chanting old woman, I was hoping for an epiphany or a moment of clarity for a beautiful resolution, it didn't happen.
The only thing I could think of was, "wake up early."

Like most people who aren't morning people... for me waking up early in the morning feels automatically like an accomplishment. Walking around outside in morning air, still fresh because the rest of the world hasn't yet gotten up to breathe in it, feels dizzying and exhilarating. It sets off a lot of self-congratulation and "yay!" as though one should be high-fiving the other people on the street, "you're up too? yay us!"

I thought of the past year, I thought of all the law I hadn't yet learned, and how it was too late now cause I'd already been tested on it. I thought of how clever the name yo mama was for a yogurt place, and how I should really eat more hui lau shan mango drinks and try the egg tarts near the apartment. I thought about seeing the long escalators, and the view from our balcony.

And as we landed in shock and relief (relief for my arm mostly - the red marks on it didn't fade til several hours afterward) but I realized that I did have some moment of clarity..

I remembered hearing this expression of having your feet face the same direction as your heart. that when you're aligned you are where you've been longing for.

And for a time I'd always been thinking of the places I'd left - my backyard swing surrounded by maple and lilac branches, washington sq park, a library bench..
I guess I was always facing backwards.
And for once this time where I was heading was the place I was thinking about.