Quirky Snippets of An Untold April

I guess there’s an untold side to every story.

Professor Kishore Mahbubani!

He handed me a Whole Foods bag. I took a peek and saw a glass bottle of red wine vinaigrette resting against some other random-shaped items.

“There’re some salt, olive oil, and chili,” he said, “and chocolates.”

“Okay, I don’t cook, but thank you, Prof.”

I was sweaty and flushed from a run, but it struck me that it was the last day of his sabbatical at Harvard. His daughter’s boyfriend, a bespectacled, blonde man, offered to take the photo for us.

Later, it took me two trips to the Lost and Found counter in Science Center, three awkward conversations with a homeless person, a security guard and a janitorial staff, and more than half an hour before I resigned myself to guiltily abandon the condiments in the Canaday common room kitchen.

That was how my first student job came to a closure—the brown bulging bag, the watery red chili sloshing in my hand, and the almost psychedelic glint from the fluorescent kitchen lighting. They all felt like metaphors for something. I just wasn’t sure what.

***

We were sitting in Lamont.

“I’m going to press confirm?”

“DO IT.”

The laptop screen generated my freshly purchased flight itinerary. $452.80. A trip to Puerto Rico smack in the middle of Reading Period. We would arrive there on the 27th and return to Boston on the 29th, a day before I had a paper due. It sounded crazy. It sounded wonderful.

My phone buzzed with an incoming text. Don’t arrive on the 27th!

We exchanged glances.

It might be the baby back ribs we ate in Annenberg during dinner or the neurotic air in Lamont. We made snap decisions. It took no more than five minutes before we charged another $123.00 to our credit cards. The email with the changed itinerary appeared in the inbox—everything was pushed back by a day. Now, I was going to arrive back in Cambridge groggy-eyed at dawn after a sleepless night in flight, attend a rescheduled class at noon and then miraculously submit a final paper by midnight. I felt sorry for myself, but not sorry enough.

I thought about not going, but that would mean throwing my accomplice for the past hour under the bus. It would also mean that I couldn’t be the kind of person who could both turn up on an island during the weekends and still ace my work. That was a difficult reality to own up to.

At least it was until my mum, absent-mindedly playing poker on the other end of the phone, blithely commented, “Don’t be ridiculous, sweetie.”

It made me feel peaceful when I clicked cancel. I didn’t understand how a person could change her mind so fast. Why did I never know what I wanted only until the very moment after I acted? If I reversed every decision I made, where would I end up? How was any choice better or worse than another? It was all so arbitrary.

***

Two of my roommates and I went running.

We managed to stick together from Canaday to the MAC before dispersing once the river was in sight. One of them ran in her boots.

“I didn’t bring running shoes,” she said. “I asked myself, Would you really exercise in college? Nah.”

“Wow,” I said.

“I ran in heels every P.E. lesson in high school. My feet fit the shape more.”

I told her I was very impressed.

I was soon jogging by myself, down an endless path of asphalt merging with dirt then receding into concrete. The river flowed endlessly, like a long brushstroke, underneath sooty clouds. The ducks sitting on the banks looked almost human, studying the panting creatures in shorts trying to shed their freshman fifteen with an unflappable air. Could ducks get fat? I thought about J. M. Coetzee’s character Elizabeth Costello, who said that everything was an allegory. According to her, a dog could be a vessel for revelation, and each creature a key to all other creatures.

Amongst themselves, did each duck notice if one of them was fatter or skinnier? I saw my roommate standing there in her black, chunky boots at the end of the bridge and then, it no longer mattered.

***

The room was doused in mauve.

Yardfest had ended that evening. I had bobbed my head in the lawn for thirty minutes, grabbed three slices of watermelon, said hi to every effusively enthusiastic person, finished an ice cream cone and went back to my room to complete my draft—a modernist retelling of Song of Everlasting Sorrow—due at midnight.

At 9:34pm, I decided I was going to go to a karaoke outing. With a writing speed that I didn’t know was possible, I finished four pages in an hour and submitted it on Canvas.

I sprinted in heeled boots to the Widener Gates to catch the awaiting Uber. Half an hour later, we were in a karaoke room warm with cigarette smoke, beery exhalations, and some kind of dancing disco lights that painted everyone indigo. I didn’t know where to place my hands.

Then the familiar music I had heard in three continents started playing, Jay Chou started crooning, and my hands grasped a microphone.

Emily! Who is graduating T_T

Lots of love,

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To Harvard China Forum • 致哈佛中国论坛

Harvard College China Forum happened! 🌻🌻🌻

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感谢你,哈佛中国论坛。这一年过得忽快忽慢,有时磕磕碰碰,但终归时常能让我深夜里兴奋得睡不着。从一开始担心文化分论坛一个演讲嘉宾都请不到,到奇妙地看到一位位重量级嘉宾加入,再到最后在Seaport会展中心看着座无虚席的剧场和台前分享的方文山、李路、童之磊、杨晖、陈楸帆和刘林老师,也许那一刻感受到的是几百人思想上的碰撞和略微不可思议的欣喜。这是一个有魔力的平台,吸引着太平洋两岸、各行各业的人才一起前来贡献他们对于这个世界的想法。谁能想到一年前在香港红馆《地表最强》演唱会挥舞着荧光棒、亲眼看到台上的周杰伦时泪流满面的我,一年后能有幸邀请到方文山老师出席文化分论坛?反正我一年前跟全家一起追着看《人民的名义》时,完全想也想不到一年后我能亲自与李路导演交谈。

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作为大一新生参加哈佛中国论坛的团队是我2017年做的最好的决定之一。感谢向我强烈推荐HCCF的Zara Zhang学姐(who happens to run an amazing blog; she was also last year’s Co-President)、整个Organizing Team (尤其是我所属的Programming Committee),以及热心帮助和引导我的每一位学姐学长。团队的力量真的令人震撼。一年前的我很青涩,但这一年来我学会了如何待人处事。这些点点滴滴我会放进人生的行囊里。感激每一次成长的机会和与我一同成长的你们。

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Now, time for some life updates! It has been a week since Harvard College China Forum concluded at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. Time has been hurtling forward since Spring Break came and went. Classes are ending in two weeks’ time (on April 25th), with a week of Reading Period, followed on its heels by college-wide finals (I don’t have any sit-down ones), and before we know it—

My freshman year at Harvard will be over.

Sometimes there are days when nothing seems to happen other than the routine cycle of classes, paper-writing, and endless piles of readings. And then there are weeks when a lifetime takes place in a blink, which is how April feels like thus far.

This past week has been spent religiously in the world of fiction. By sheer chance (or luck, depending on how the imaginative process unfolds), two of my classes allowed for the option to do creative projects in lieu of a final paper/graded assignment. Counting my fiction writing workshop class, I have three creative projects to complete before Spring semester ends—a piece of fiction to workshop (which I will craft in this upcoming week), a personal essay on the genealogies of global imagination (I’m currently envisioning something to do with arrival and displacement, in the style of V. S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival), and a modernist retelling of Bai Ju-yi’s Song of Everlasting Sorrow 《长恨歌》 (which I just finished a draft of last Friday—maybe I will post it here?). These characters I have been or will be in the skin of—my fictional self, Yang Gui-fei, Emperor Xuan-zong and their motley crew, and the yet-to-be-conceived ones dancing in my skull—seem to exist corporeally in a different time and space. Yet, the more I write, especially in such a concentrated stretch of time, the more I’m struck by the constructedness of fiction and creativity itself. Where do all these stories come from? Am I some conduit of the invisible? It’s a fathomless, marvelous process of magnitude and mystery:

Out of the dark emerging, out of nowhere: first not there, then there, like a newborn child, heart working, brain working, all the processes of that intricate electrochemical labyrinth working. A miracle.

The quote above is from a book I just finished reading last night—J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello. Is writing creation out of the void? A transition from non-being to being? Words, from an unknown place of shapeless thoughts and abstraction, translate onto the blank pages as a concrete gospel of the human condition.

It’s funny how easily I oscillate between the abstract and the ultra-practical. During the three days of Harvard College China Forum (April 6th to 8th), my psyche was orbiting in a different hemisphere. The Culture Panel I organized was decidedly rooted in a business perspective of the Chinese cultural landscape. As an avid consumer of new models of content,  I came up with a panel topic that was very close to my heart. I’m not sure where these varying concerns will take me as I explore, but in experimenting on my own and hearing the thoughts of those who have been in the creative industry for decades, I hope to slowly formulate why culture matters to me and what I want to do as an individual.

Culture: China’s Contemporary Content Revolution

China has one of the most dynamic and fast-changing culture industries in the world today. Contemporary Chinese society avidly consumes and creates avant-garde culture, from music streaming to web literature to video streaming. What underlines such shifting cultural trends is the content revolution that is taking place in the form of IPs (intellectual properties). Originality and creativity are key markers of valuable IPs, which can be translated into various artistic mediums, constitute well-known franchises, and form a crucial part of China’s cultural narrative. In an age when content lies at the heart of cultural consumption, we will explore how lyricists, directors, writers, and producers create resonant, defining, and thought-provoking content that captures the modern imagination. We will also look at the challenges and opportunities these content creators face in the midst of China’s unprecedented content revolution.

These are just some of the thoughts darting around (or brewing) in my mind. Since I’m writing so much for my classes in the last 21 days of Freshman year, I’m really excited to share some of these pieces with you in the coming weeks!

Will be making announcements on my Summer plans soon! Still finalizing some loose ends.

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With Fang Wenshan, the lyricist to the soundtrack of my youth (i.e. Jay Chou’s songs). 和方文山老师的合照—我青春乐谱中的字字句句都出自他笔下。

Lots of love,

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