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.