Sunday, August 21, 2011

First Impressions - Part Two: Changsha

(taken from an email to a friend back in September)

…..It’ tough to tell if the city weaves in and out of the mountains or if the mountains weave in and out of the city.

Not even 100 yards from my dorm is a start of a hiking trail.

Maybe a mile from my campus is the river which cuts the city in two, so when you ask people where they live? They first refer to what side of the river they live on (east or west) and then to the bus stop. Biked along the river last week with some friends and was rendered speechless... to my immediate left, maybe 30 feet away was steps going down to a stretch of farmland. The farmland stretched outward to the river for a few hundred yards and then along the river for miles. Looking down you could see horses milling about… and small fishing boats that could have been plucked out of a Chinese painting. Looking across the river is a backdrop of a city that is highlighted by mountain peaks. Ominous rain clouds do not exist. To my immediate right was the east side of the city I live on -- and one of the busiest highways, not more then 100 yards from the horses and fishing boats I just told you about.

The juxtaposition of these images is mind boggling to me at times. It's a unique blend of raw nature with concrete and development. I quite enjoy musing about how things must have looked like a hundred years ago.

People here are like people in any city. There are nice people and rude people -- the extremely fashionable and the ones that you can sense immediately are from the rural areas of China, city bound for the first time. People that speak flawless English and people that hawk a spit from the back of their throats. People with perfect hair and people who have rat tails. The humidity here can be oppressive at times, but I've quite gotten used to how kinky my hair is everyday. As most people would say here "随便”.

There is a decent amount of black people here -- mainly from North Africa, which really surprised me when I heard people speaking French. I've met a few Americans from Yale, but I have yet to see white faces unless I go out of my way to meet up with people.... and my American friends are Black American and Asian American.

I haven't started classes though, so perhaps things will become less interesting when I actually can't go out everyday to explore the city.

I figured out on my own how to use the buses, so I've been quite addicted to public transportation. It's a little weird being in a city with no metro, and no Starbucks (coming soon in a month). The idea that China is a "developing country" is definitely more apparent here than in any other city in China that I've been to before. Between the BMWs that drive on the other side of the road, the abandoned hotels where the beggars live, and the strawberry fields by the agricultural university-- Changsha is quite a contradiction in itself. Buildings are knocked down every other day and it seems like overnight... beautiful architectural masterpieces are erected just for fun. As if a child was playing with a trunk full of legos. I wish I could explain to you more accurately what I'm experiencing and seeing, but just be reassured that it is quite a new experience. It feels like I'm in a different world -- mainly because there seems to be no comforts of home or signs in English. I'm completely immersed in Chinese -- I even text in Chinese. It helps that I look Asian – people immediately write me off as from Hong Kong.

I miss home terribly, but only because of the people I've left behind. If I could take all of you with me to China, I wouldn't mind being here for another few years.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

people watching

with sunglasses on.
i really like it.
i have an excuse not to socialize.
a bit unapproachable.
legs crossed,
expressionless, eyes darting.
a slight jutting of the jaw.
a knowing smile that quickly disappears. wonder if it was even there.
my head cocked to one side --
a little too strong
but unassuming, discreet
i fancy, a bit mysterious.

i'm starting to wonder if this is what...

private detectives.
fbi agents.
cia operatives.
or just ordinary state troopers, day in and day out.

stake outs are really just...
...glorified people watching.

perfect location? shenzhen airport, waiting for my flight to bangkok.

Monday, July 18, 2011

King's Black Magic - Lady of the Sunshine


the roar of the subway
creaking of metal
the strumming of a guitar
a chinese serenade
phone beeps, alarms, and text messages
a child hopping up and down
shuffling and murmuring
a recorded, automatic, feminine, robotic voice

announcing that we've reached our destination.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Confessions of a List-aholic

Staring at my computer.

I was confronted with the death screen. White and blue lettering on an otherwise black screen. I turned my computer on and off, on and off, off and on, off and on, and then off again.

I pull back, slumping against my chair, a little too tired for words. My mind racing at the different options, different scenarios, and different price tags I might be confronting. I immediately pulled up my mental checklist, grudgingly adding another task to my laundry list.

Ewan tries comforting me and JunJun offers to go fix the computer with me. I walk up to my room under the excuse that I need to ask Amanda for her computer, but I walk away to collect myself. I try to assess my emotions. Sometimes I find it hard to understand what I'm feeling... but I always find that once I pinpoint what I'm feeling, I can calm down considerably.

I was feeling anxious. A little bit distraught... but mainly just annoyed with what had happened. I was nervous about how much money I would need to spend. I hadn't accounted for how much my French visa would cost in China (another 1800 RMB -- which is 277 USD or roughly 180 quid for those who want to quickly assess my financial situation)... and to tack on a computer problem would considerably squeeze my already tight budget. I started re-doing my budget and listing out future and potential expenses. Fuck.

When I feel anxious, I make extraordinary random lists and elaborate plans.

I can make list after list of things to do, things to see, books to read, people to meet, places to visit, and goals to accomplish. My planner is color coded -- my to do list in one corner and my day planned out by the minute in another corner (usually when I'm abnormally stressed out during exams, emergencies, or when my parents fight)

I compulsively make lists and plans. Like, really. Some people joke about having anxiety problems and quirks. I promise you; I most likely, probably, maybe, definitely do have an anxiety problem of some sort. And it's not a lame joke. I can't really explain why I'm like this... then again, I've never really bothered to understand this one facet of my personality. Some people may pick up on this habit of mine ... but looking back, I'm not even sure even my parents, my ex-boyfriend or even best friend ever actually knew how extreme this part of my personality was. Sometimes I'd be on the phone with my ex and I'd bring up the idea of traveling together (looking up hotel prices and emailing him random websites)... but he always dismissed it as random musings, as if I was suddenly caught by the idea of traveling... not realizing that when I was bored or distracted, instead of doodling, I'd be making ridiculously long lists of countries to visit. On the back of napkins, the corner of newspapers, book margins, random handouts in class, or on the edge of flyers.

I realized I wasn't normal when I realized I was afraid to tell people how far I plan out some ideas (particularly travel plans). Part of me was afraid people would laugh at me... How corny would it be for me to say that my dream was to travel the world? What people don't know is that I've been like this since before middle school.

I remember after one particularly large fight my parents had, I planned out an entire family vacation to Maine. At the time... I was 12, and I had the idea that if we just took one family vacation together -- things would just go back to normal. Maybe the fighting would stop if we just remembered how much fun it could be to be together. I was young.

Nonetheless, the image was in my mind and I was completely enraptured by the idea. Family vacations always seemed like they would be relaxing (at first), brought my brothers and I further apart (due to long car rides without AC), and managed to tire us all out by the end of it (because we forgot that the point of a vacation is to relax and we did too much sightseeing). But... my parents always mellowed out considerably and never fought. And that's what I wanted.

I looked up maps, hotels, and hiking trails. I planned out our daily schedule for a four day weekend trip... making sure to plan around a budget, timing each activity, and even taking into account driving time. I looked up when different museums open and closed and what areas had peak travel seasons, seasonal discounts, and special promotions. I looked up local attractions and popular restaurants -- and even tried to find restaurants that would cater to my father's high culinary demands. Every aspect of the vacation was considered. I even went so far as to check to see when the sun would rise and set in case my family wanted to do a hike to take some pictures. I compared hotel prices and tried to predict gas prices. I looked at rental options and also considered bike shops. I spent the better part of a day planning out a trip that we never took.

Now? When I'm really upset? I'll just hop onto a random site and look up airplane tickets (my current favorite - AirAsia)... my mind constantly figuring out a budget, listing out prices, figuring out currency conversions... my cursor quickly navigating hostelworld, couchsurfing, and various websites. Multiple browsers opened, endless amount of tabs to sift through.

I don't generally know what I'm doing next week... let alone have a definite ten year plan (because I have 26 ten year plans -- Plan A to Plan Z). In fact, I'm the biggest procrastinator -- so to be honest, it's kind of stupid I even make plans. Probably the biggest reason most people don't know how OCD this quirk is ... is because it doesn't affect my mood if things don't go according to plan. I hardly ever have to stick to plans. If plans go awry, I never get upset, I just replan. Nothing is ever definite in my life. When you travel around as much as I do, it's tough to make promises and it's easier to be flexible and laid back. And I'm the furthest thing from high maintenance when it comes to traveling. But I like having ideas. An idea of what will happen. So let me clarify and say -- I don't compulsively plan, I compulsively make plans. Does that make sense? I make plans because I am stressed, I don't stress because of plans. I like having plans even if I'll never follow through with them.

So I always write down all of my options... and plan every option out. I have tentative plans for almost every country. For every country, I have a list as to what I want to do and see in each. You actually cannot understand my wanderlust. It's only after I got to college that I realized... I can actually follow through with the millions of ideas, scenarios, and plans I've concocted over the years.

So my computer breaking down? No big deal. Let's breathe, calm down, and think. New budget. New list of things. New plan.

p.s. I hope I didn't scare anyone.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

beijing, brits, and bars

my last three weeks....

the soothing ambience of jazz...
while sipping a cup of bailey's coffee
hostel life. dirty. loud. but fun
constant goodbyes
a mess of languages -
chinese, french, cantonese, british, english
sharing music with strangers, drum and bass with chinese pop
too many brits
and a beijing fling with feathery soft kisses
something called "liquid funk" that i need to look into
bar hopping and tequila shots
clubbing til sunrise... two days in a row
hangovers in the afternoon
bookworm. reading books on rooftop bars with a beautiful nighttime view
shisha bars and fisheyed pole dancers
"i like clever girls" and "i can't be bothered"
random weekend trips to tianjin
bargaining for cheap purses
and macau food with hong kong dishes
never have i ever...
first girl kiss and a tangle of limbs
fourth of july and rejection
good friends and the warm buzz of alcohol
conversation, the hum of music, and comfortable silences
surreal. young. invincible. twenty something dreamers
content, peaceful, happy amidst the chaos
summer storms and soaked sandals
the smell of cigarettes and sweat
dancing on bartops and boats
silly giggles and stealing hotdogs
overpriced water and cheap barbecue
cutting hair and little buddhas
sanlitun, the village, and uniqlo
skype chats and photos
constant texts and laughing softly
stumbling, smiling, and child pickpockets
flirting with bartenders and swinging fists
laundry, clothesline, and underwear
french visa. complicated. money.

30 days til Hong Kong
34 days til Thailand
45 days til Malaysia

can't wait til europe next year

Life, love, and what happens after... V (Final)

Close to a year ago… I had meant to soar into the water, but in the frenzy and in those few moments of adrenaline -- I found that instead I had plummeted instead. From such great heights. Hurdling myself too fast forward, tripping, and lurching into the depths below.

Recovering from my initial distress, I craned my head to look back up to where I had started my plunge. It seemed like an impossible climb back up to that point.

Pulling myself out of the water, I stood timidly at the bottom of the cliff, taking in the task in front of me. No way out, but up. But…the cliff looked too tremendous, too imposing, and incredibly high. Shards of green glass from broken beer bottles sprinkled my climb up as I guardedly chose my footing. Accidental slips, fumbling back two steps for every one step I took.

And the “steps” themselves were uneven in height -- some giant-size stone steps. Some just small bits of rock, jutting themselves out unnoticeably among the bits of vegetation that had reached a settlement with mother nature. At points, I quailed.

Barefooted, I clambered up the cliff refusing to look down or pause for breath. I took leaps of faith, from one level to another – and held my breath each time I felt my grip slip. I was so focused on the climb, that I didn't even notice when I had reached the top.

Pulling myself up to that final ledge, I felt my body tense nervously as I reached for the smoothness that was the ground -- my feet now catching up to my hands.

And for the first time in a long time -- I felt it. A thump. My heart. A breath of a pulse. The soft beep of a monitor, a wave of green, and the tentative hum of the machine. I had worried that I’d lost my heart for a while there…

Like Spring's slow emergence... afraid of a sudden morning frost or perhaps that last shudder of a snow storm... Spring takes its time like a gun-shy deer. Caught in headlights. Perhaps too startled to move. Or inhale. Because the world in the next few moments might shatter and crash. Demolished, with not a slap but a slam. Back into confusion. Horror. Shock. And then death.

But for now, I'll take it all in. Take what I can. I don't need anything more than your company. Just this moment of tranquility. Quite out of no where, when I least expected it. I can breathe normally again. I'm happy with where I've found myself, at peace with what life has in store for me.

And perhaps that light -- isn't headlights at all -- but the light at the end of a long dark tunnel.