Xianggang

one last thing about hong kong, this city perennially fatalistic and scowling, before i go: i will always think about you, and be grateful for how you found me at the wrong time and made something right out of it. it is far from biographically accurate but in so many ways i feel like i was born here, and then ripped away, and then joined back with shoddy glue, feeling out of place and like a stranger as i watched myself live a parallel life to this city’s own. it sprouts new and dangerous heads and limbs each time i visit, biting at my ankles and forming a far cry from the hong kong i first made the acquaintance of in the early 90s– a hong kong full of roast pigeon, naivete, my mother’s sheer laughter and this red lacquered sedan chair that i would never come to see again. then there is the hong kong of the evening sun that oozed its yellow yolk all over The Peak; and subsequently… subsequently the curtains upon curtains of spacemen and an ever-expanding lifetime over the edge of reason. it was an era characterized by hope, by true belonging, and the accompanying anxiety that somehow, somewhere, someone is going to do something very wrong and everything that has been achieved so far will be for nothing.

each time i come back here i peel back an old layer of skin from my footpaths around this place, and realize how blind i once was to what the truer ‘hong kong’ is. everything that makes it tick is not what i thought it was. i was totally oblivious to the superficiality and rugged judgments that strung its people together. and i’d also constructed this false sense of myself that earnestly believed there was a place for me here. why? was it because hong kong is so magical? was it because i could spend all day deep in the lungs of tsim sha tsui or the paper-thin cracks of hollywood road’s antique stores? was it the beautiful people i met who talked so often about awakening the sleeping dragon of 1960s HK? but hong kong is so magical. it is altogether accessible (you can buy a plane ticket) and mysterious (so many dark secrets). it welcomes you but doesn’t confirm anything. if you are lucky maybe you will catch it on a vulnerable night, and it will spill something out its mouth onto your shocked soul. and, still lucky, you will have no choice but to carry it with you for the rest of your life, never telling a single person or even whispering it into a wall.

i am aware with each thing i eat here that i am having all my favorite local foods in a silent sort of farewell. i am laying to rest something that is enjoyable but painful, like love or deviance… it’s just that at the end of the day a city is just a city, and it doesn’t at all owe you the obligation of loving you back.

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Geronimo! Part I

there are very many things that have happened and been roosting at the forefront of my mind since i last wrote, or even thought about writing. such as my graduation, my departure from the magnificent city of new york, my excitement at entering the world of the working, how different kuala lumpur currently feels, some deaths and some rebirths.

people ask from time to time if i’m going to blog about these things and i keep saying i’m not– i’ve somehow accidentally detached myself from this blogging persona, and no longer see that side of me as an outlet for the rest of myself. but more and more i’ve come to realize that the need to put things in words, in sentences, is inherent to how i organize my thoughts and feelings. it’s not even (just) about expressing myself anymore. without documentation, i become almost like a spectre, drifting across things, never quite getting anywhere. it is a rather uncomfortable sensation that i’d like to avoid experiencing too much. so i guess here i am again. for some reason, writing things down in textedit on my laptop is not quite the same as quaintly.net :)

where do i start. let’s talk about two things… firstly, some nebulous updates about the space i currently inhabit as a human being, which i’m quite strangely curious about myself, and secondly, how it felt to leave new york, which in many ways was devastating and rejuvenating. the first:

if i had to choose some marker or checkpoint of myself in history to compare my current self to, the most salient of them all would be my departure to college four years ago. oh college… so much to say about it but i will leave that account for another time. in 2008, i was happy, excitable, funny, interested in everything and in a perpetual state of potential energy. more importantly i was generous: generous with trust, knowledge, words, love. perhaps it is the experience of university, or being abroad, or quite simply ‘growing older’, but gradually over the small handful of past years i have lost a lot of verve and bigness of spirit. i became quieter, neater and quicker to judge.

in essence, i’ve retreated into myself and i don’t really know why. i’ve been trying to understand this so i can reverse it — it is the most contemptible feeling to recognize that you are someone else that you don’t want to be. i like sharing and i like people. but somehow i’ve become intensely paranoid, private and mistrusting. when i’m feeling lazy, i blame this on recent traumatic events that have scarred me for what feels like will be eternity… but ultimately i know that the mistake lies in me allowing the trauma to ripple across my life instead of letting it go. there are many platitudes out there about how we shouldn’t allow small people and small things to control so much of our mind and heart. in theory that sounds very acceptable, but in practice it’s not so easy for me. yes, some things are just not worth it, but some spider in my soul is just so incredibly sticky to these painful things and crawls the universe seeking closure. it gives me much grief and anxiety in its wake.

the reason i’ve stopped blogging as much is because i’ve been occupied at college, but the reason i’ve stopped liking blogging is this new and unwelcome paranoia and stinginess of spirit. i often find myself looking over a blogpost before publishing it, and thinking, no, i’m saying too much. or, i don’t owe anyone all these words and exposure — i don’t even owe them to myself! and then i delete it. but still longing to write, i wonder then about what kind of things i can write about that are consistent with my new misanthropy. candid and superficial updates about the day-to-day? pictures of food and travel? or the opposite: oblique thoughts on things i care deeply about but referred to tangentially and indirectly? i eventually settled on none of the above.

for a while i thought this was clever and that in time to come i would thank myself for phasing out the young and idealistic me who put so much of herself on the internet or in other people’s hands. some small shred of me still believes this. but i don’t know lah. the more i go down this path of losing my extraversion, the further away i feel from my locus. surely there must be some compromise that is both careful but allows me to be totally honest with myself about what i like and who i am. the crux of this strange newness is not merely about blogging or talking, or the risk/reward of sharing big parts of me with people i love or people i don’t know — it’s also about how little inclined i felt to interact with anything, how risk averse i had become, and worst of all, how i felt like i had all the answers to all the questions i wanted to ask and thus did not need to look any further. i was becoming disinterested, fatigued and hateful, and for some reason i felt that was okay, and that it was all part of growing up.

but actually, it is not all part of growing up. when one grows up, one doesn’t necessarily become bored, fatigued or hateful. the problem lies in being weak, in choosing flight over fight, in being too proud to admit that i’m over-generalizing when i say my lousy investments in the past are signals of all humans i am to come across, in being too scared and doubtful to realize that within me there is an expansive capacity to engage in battles and win them well. it only took me until my last couple of weeks in new york to see these things for what they were and to truly come face to face with them and how these distortions have affected me for so long. which brings me to:

leaving new york.


fourth of july fireworks, NYC

is it a cliche to say that my life has changed? but it has. but then, more soon, as i have a plane to catch and i am quite late!

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A Reason To Be

sometimes i read these beautiful books, and all i can think about is how much another person i know would love this book so much more than i. often i do the right thing and gift the book to them, and the beautiful book then has a more suitable new home, in which it is cherished in its right place. but what do i do when such a person and i no longer speak? once, i was lucky enough to know and still be in possession of his mailing address, and so i sent the book anyway, without a card. because, ultimately, it’s about the story and the characters in the pages, and not about our awkwardness. but some other times, i am not so lucky and i don’t have an address — like tonight. where in the world are you? are you happy, are you well? did you know that the Borders where we used to read on Sundays no longer exists? if we played that game where we read out our favorite lines in a book, what would happen? and then, there is that thing about addresses, and how no one ever stays in the same place anymore.

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Myeloma

it is a truth that the people who have made the biggest impacts on my life don’t know it, and quite often aren’t very close to me at all. such people include – but are by far not limited to – the quietest girl in my seminar, the guy who lived down the hall from me in freshman year who had some really funny posters on his wall, my cousin’s ex girlfriend, the colleague from the next department two floors down whom i don’t even work directly with. the interaction is so limited but when my paths cross with such people whose brilliance and significance are so immediately eminent, i think about them for an incredibly long time and in some very big ways they change the decisions i make and the person that i become. sometimes they are people from the extremely distant past (like the guy i sat next to in kindergarten who had to put up with my endless crooning of Part of Your World) and sometimes they are people i live with (my suitemate).

i remember everyone and all the nuances of how they struck me the first, second, third time we met or spoke. the difficult part about that is that sometimes the most undeserving and wretched people hold my attention for that long. and the best part is that sometimes i fall in love. or rediscover what sheer respect means to me. or find a friend for keeps for life. the former kind of experience is very emotionally draining because i want to be rid of such oppressive presences, but i can’t help myself from ruminating about exactly why is it they are so undeserving and so wretched. and in a very sick way because i think about their undeservedness and wretchedness so much, it alters my form and the rest of my future as i previously knew it. i become different and it’s not even for someone that falls in the ‘best part’ category.

but that ‘best part’ category truly is the best part. it is finding small slices of humanity here and there. it is being pleasantly surprised. it is being inspired and changed by someone’s humility, intelligence, willpower or kookiness. as a result of lingering upon their impact, my form changes too — but in a strange and physical way, i feel my self morphing back into a state that feels natural and welcome. it’s new, but it’s old, and it’s natural. it’s a propelling force.

and yet the point is that these people so rarely know how seismic their acquaintance has been unto me. wistful as it is, i will probably never tell them. but then they disappear from this earth, and of course i regret not telling them — but what is most regrettable is the fact that they are forever gone, and can no longer move others the way they moved me.

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Exhalations

a small window on the lower right of the screen gives me the treasured opportunity to peer into his world, to see strange cushions of hot vapour billowing out into the snowy air, as he bangs and clangs around the kitchen, always narrowly missing the coffee pot. from so far away, it is magical to behold that vapour — it looks like smoke from a chimney, sauntering upwards into the morning air pompously, and almost seems to me to puff forth from the pages of a fairytale script. but more magical than anything is the truth that if i speak, he can hear me. sometimes that is all i need. somewhere i have read, and in life have been shown firsthand, that this sort of thing can be dangerous. it is so dangerous that i don’t even want to define it, lest i realize it is exactly what my affliction is. but then there is trust. and nothing makes sense henceforth.

some pictures from a jaunt into williamsburg, brooklyn earlier yesterday:

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