Two Takes on My Harvard Freshman Year (My Year in Review?)

cof

TAKE ONE

Here’s how it happens: eyelids fluttering, an image rising, and a sudden plunge into the hot, wet mouth of memory. I’m walking on a boulevard and then this hutong catches my eye and before I know it I’m wandering down networks of neurons, lost. Or I’m talking to someone, laughing, and there’s a tug and I can’t remember what I ever wanted to say. There’s a face, a sentence, a moment. One minute I’m dancing to Bruno Mars on a raised platform in a swanky Beijing club at 1:58AM and suddenly I’m a freshman again in a long snaking line of sweaty, jittery bodies leading towards the First Chance Dance housed in the dark Northwest Labs. Some weird upperclassman guy in crimson is smelling the green tea bottle in my hand like it’s beer, a tendril of hair sticking out from his nostrils. The white cloth-covered tabletop is littered with askew metal plates full of crumbs and crumpled wrappers. Self-consciously, I’m dancing or trying to move to some insipid, synthesized track while the bones in my body hesitantly reconfigure. A crack. Flash forward a few months: I’m leaping around and jutting out my hips to Zumba at the Hemenway, all over me a sheen of sweat, like I’ve been dipped in oil. My shoes are scraping against the bare floor and screeching to Meghan Trainor’s hearty, sassy ‘No’. The air-con licks my skin.

Or, in the present, I’m sucking on a red bean popsicle by the curb near a symphony of honking from Beijing’s sea of vehicles or thirstily swallowing a spoonful of matcha soft serve in Kyoto’s heat and then I recall the first taste of J. P. Licks during a pre-orientation program, immensely hopeful, eyes squinting against the sunlight as we crossed the street like a beaming group of tourists. Samples of sliced, melting mochi ice cream from smiling aunties at H Mart in neat little cups, opposite the freezer with dumplings and banchan. Berryline on cold days, gloves stuffed into the pockets of a down coat. My breath hanging before me like a fog.

I could be scrolling through my phone to airdrop someone a photo, or enlarging a selfie, or searching for an ancient screenshot. Maybe I see a photo of a beige wall decorated with yellow post-its and fenced off by purple and red ribbons. That’s all it takes. One look brings back the quote wall, the dubious carpets, the spiderman gravity-defeating moves, and the laugh-addled screaming-cum-squealing sessions that invited some poor guy from the floor below to check in on us out of concern. Five minutes later I’d still be standing there, unsure what I was looking for, like emerging from a pool with a smile on my lips. The phone screen turns black.

Or, crowding beside roundtables of hotpot with floating shrimp, meatballs and spicy vegetables, rotating a glass turntable laden with Peking duck and thirty appetizers, sipping on cheese tea in a crowded mall, chewing on pumpkin seeds in a teahouse simulating the old days while a lady in cheongsam sings opera, suddenly it’s the third week of Fall semester again and I feel like a stranger walking into Annenberg and drowning in the din. Then I drift into another memory. My third bowl of golden hash brown nuggets, with a heavy green blob of guacamole on top. Eating breakfast food for lunch on Sundays because I never wake up otherwise. The times we sit at a table next to someone’s crush, or two guys who looked decently cute in the dim light, or just some awkward acquaintance from God knows where, and we communicate with only our eyes, collapsing into giggles on our way out of the hall.

It’s living several lives, curled up in a hotel room’s rumpled sheets, or the pristine homestay bedroom just a door away from my new Japanese family, or my familiar, old bed with three pillows and a fluffy panda in Singapore. And when I come back to the present, eyes blinking, I am typing on the same screen, listening to the same Spotify playlist, the yogurt cup on my desk leaving a rim of condensation. On my computer the same blinking cursor. Inside my mind, I am remembering and forgetting a thousand tiny things.

TAKE TWO

Very honestly, I was planning to seriously write out a comprehensive Year in Review post with bullet points, labels, a slate of photos, and coherent paragraphs of descriptions. As I tried to write that post, beautifully envisioned and probably much easier to read than whatever I wrote above, the inevitable came: my impressions of those moments were always shifting and being filtered through the numerous new experiences I had. It felt pretentious even to slip back into my own skin and write about how I feel about something at its most visceral when it happened months ago. But. To go back in time and capture how I exactly felt would have been near impossible EXCEPT for the fact that many of such moments and my reflections have been penned down in the 21 blog posts published over the course of freshman year. So here’s another way to look at this year.

In my freshman year…

  • I explored writing fiction: I’ve never written as much fiction. Ever. I’m most grateful for the tremulous beginning to this writing journey—when I applied, got rejected and subsequently got off the waitlist for Claire Messud’s workshop in the Fall. One year later, I’ve completed three short stories for class, enrolled in another workshop (with Neel Mukherjee), and still struggle with this lonely, poetic affair. But this is what started it all. Embracing Rejection At Harvard (also unexpected surprises)
  • My main extracurricular life could be boiled down to three words: Harvard China Forum—when I surprisingly pulled together, with the help of many many people, a panel of speakers that I never could have imagined coming face to face with before Harvard (director of my favorite 2017 drama! lyricist to my lifelong pop idol Jay Chou!!! sci-fi novelist! variety show producer! CEO of online fiction publishing juggernaut! veteran journalist!). This Fall, I’ll be doing it all over again, yay! To Harvard China Forum • 致哈佛中国论坛
  • I spent my winter break at Dumbarton Oaks interrogating cultural philanthropy, diplomacy, and art in the cold. Girl in D.C.
  • I spent this sweltering summer in Kyoto. When In Kyoto ≧◡≦
  • I also ate my way through Japan. From A Foodie: Tasting Japan & Its Shokunin Spirit
  • I turned 2-0! From 20-year-old Me, With Love
  • I experienced my first shopping week, my first snow in Boston, a November of Taylor Swift, BBC’s Austen adaptations and daylight saving time, and made a list of things I love.
  • I told my own growth on this blog through stories. On navigating love after a bleary-eyed whirlwind Black Friday, on coming to terms with materialism in Gangnam, on those fleeting moments of great metaphorical meaning or unexpected snippets that we cannot capture behind every grinning photo, on combating drama addiction after a dreary spring break.
  • I deal with debilitating doubts about my writing; on bad days, I yearn for external validation like an addict. But, in the end, it’s really just the page and me. I feel extremely nervous about putting my edited works onto this blog for more eyes to scrutinize, but I would like to start doing more of that! Here’s a throwback to the two stories I’ve published here during freshman year: [Story] Why Believe in Fortune Cookies, and 7-Eleven: A Summertime Romance?.

Here’s to a sophomore year with more blog posts!!! To everyone I met during my freshman year and over this summer, wherever our paths may lead us, thank you for being part of this journey. I hope you will stay with this blog ❤

Lastly, Happy Birthday Daddy!!! 亲爱的爸比,生日快乐 🎂🎉✨ I’m not sure if I can keep myself from crying when I say goodbye to you both at the airport tonight, but I know that because of you, I can venture continents away with strength in my wings, love in my heart and an unyielding faith in the kindness of life. 没有您,就没有我。谢谢您总像魔术师般地将我的烦恼和忧愁化为动力和正能量。您的智慧、引导和关爱让我这棵小树一直在幸福的包围中茁壮成长。谢谢您为我撑起了一片天,为我遮风挡雨。我会让您骄傲的。永远爱您,爸爸!❤️❤️❤️

Lots of love,

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 11.16.46 PM

To Harvard China Forum • 致哈佛中国论坛

Harvard College China Forum happened! 🌻🌻🌻

DSC09260

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。

Copy of DSC00398

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。

DSC00494

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.

38ea9e2e-7dc2-403b-83e0-f11e19e6e5df-17187-00001019c14857b0_tmp

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,

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 11.16.46 PM

春节快乐!

Happy Chinese New Year!!!

春节是红色的,是栩栩如生的剪纸娃娃,是在角落那只名叫旺财的小狗,是桌上瓷碟里的清蒸红斑鱼。

春节是金色的,是墙上倒贴着的亮晶晶的福字比划,是一双沟壑纵横的手递来的红包上的绵绵希冀,是财神爷爷手里滑稽的金元宝。

春节是蓝色的,是屏幕上的蓝光,闪烁着千丝万缕的挂念和祝福。我们抢着红包,发着表情包—最后,声音和指尖的温度都被传送到千里之外。

这些红色的、金色的、蓝色的,模糊而又清晰的点滴,跨过时差和海洋,温暖着我在异国他乡的心。

祝所有爱你们和你们爱的人狗年汪汪(旺旺)❤️

As I Stand, I Feel

Minutes before the day ends in my time zone, Merry Christmas everyone!🎄🎄🎄

1. Christmas

Today, I am grateful for

  • Funny presents (the wrapped mango slices still win)
  • This year, my dad told me with a straight face: “I’m no longer going to be Santa because you’re nineteen.” My parents pretended to be Santa for years in order to make me happy (till I was eighteen!) ❤ I’ll always be the girl who ardently believes in Santa but I guess I’ve finally grown up in their eyes. 😦
  • Many many hours of sleep
  • The yearly tradition of unwrapping a Moleskine planner for 2018 (here’s to better time management skills, as always)
  • Singalongs on the way to lunch and back with my family, with light from the sultry Singapore sun streaming into the car and falling softly onto our crinkling eyes and pink faces
  • Sending the same poorly photoshopped picture of my face on a chubby Santa’s body to random friends and receiving replies ranging from “STOP REUSING THE SAME PHOTO EVERY YEAR” (old friends) to “SO CUTE” (new friends)
  • The geniuses who wrote Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (Mariah Carey herself and Walter Afanasieff)
  • God, who is always here for me, and on this day, his magic is everywhere. Thank you for loving me and bringing all these people into my life. I love you.

2. Homecoming

After more than twenty hours suspended in flight, starving (I can never eat airplane food because I get airsick) and groggy-eyed, a swift transit in Dubai, and four movies (I rewatched the Christmas classic Home Alone which is laugh-out-loud hilarious and so cute; Reese Witherspoon’s Home Again which cannot be salvaged by all the prettiness on the screen; the immensely satisfying Captain America: The First Avenger; and the 4-hour-long monster of a movie, Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton which left me feeling wistfully disoriented on a dark plane), I finally land in Singapore at 8.30 am SGT. Stepping off the jetway and into the arrival lounge, I suddenly understand how much I want to be here—clean carpeted grounds doused in warm lighting, the staccato hum of Singlish with lahs freely tossed around, harried parents ushering skipping kids on December holiday family trips so much like a scene from my own childhood—and all the latent feelings of homecoming erupts. It’s like becoming aware of my own breathing.

Mayday Concert on 17 December 2017 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium

3. 青春(Youth)

在我心中,青春所有的感动都有一个最好的代言人:那就是五月天(Mayday)。去听一场他们的演唱会就好像是再次祭奠一次那似乎刚刚离我而去的懵懂时光。这是几万人一场的盛大缅怀。那种倾心的感动,可能是当阿信嘶喊 “至少在我的心中还有个尚未崩塌的地方” 时我那狂跳的心脏,也可能是当《干杯》接近尾声时我和十年的闺蜜相视一笑然后齐声激昂地高唱:“有一天 就是今天 今天就是有一天 说出一直没说 对你的感谢 和你再干一杯 再干一杯永远 喝了就能万岁 岁岁和年年!” 也许,如五月天所唱,青春是挽不回的水,转眼消失在指尖。但,我们依然年轻,依旧热血,无名却充满了莫名的渴望,等待着此生一次的发光。所以,坐在驶向远方的车,摇晃着脚丫,塞着耳机,哼着歌,继续谱写着我后青春的诗篇。一生一次,足矣。

A direct translation would be “LIFE Private Unlimited Company”. The official title of their world tour is Life.

4. Memory

Waking up naturally when sunlight is peeking through that slit between my curtains; the humongous life-sized Winnie the Pooh that meets my eyes at belly level when I face the right side of the bed; Natasha Bedingfield’s husky voice crooning “We got all the memories” from my vibrating phone at 10.05AM sharp; my mum’s hot ginseng honey lemon tea in a white Pooh Bear mug (anything can be skipped for breakfast except for this because my mum will resolutely not let me out of the house); my favorite Pokka green tea—bought religiously as a substitute for coffee from the Nanyang Primary drinks stall to the Nanyang Girls’ High vending machine to the Hwa Chong café—arranged neatly in packets of six in the pantry; the Kinokuniya main store at Ngee Ann City, renovated but still where I immediately feel at home (no other bookstore in the world makes me feel this way, probably because I spent hours there as a kid whenever my parents went shopping at Orchard Road); the chewy golden bubbles in the Koi green milk tea; my mum’s tomatoes with eggs; sitting crossed-leg on the sofa hugging a fluffy, pudgy Android soft toy while watching Chinese singing variety shows with my dad; rearranging my bookshelf by color; trekking along the Bukit Timah Rail Corridor with the exact person I was with five years ago; meeting up with friends and magically picking up at exactly where we left off; loving this city and its breaths, compressions, sinews, words, and you, you, you.

Trekking with one of my longest friends, Xin Min!!! We’ve known each other since we were nine and awkwardly squatting beside each other during orientation.

5. Writing

The longer I don’t write a post, the harder it is to try to process everything in words. It seems so much easier to upload an Instagram story peppered with emojis and geotags than to pause—and think, How do I want to remember this? What is this story of my life that is being written at this very moment? I have opened this WordPress page a number of times since coming back to Singapore and found life too fulfilling, too familiar, too vanilla, too disarming, too soft to be made sense of in words. This gentle gentle life.

Since arriving back at home on 16 December, it feels like I’ve fallen out of the orbit of one hemisphere to another, shedding one outer life and slipping into another. Yet, my inner life remains stretched across time zones, pulled between disparate tent poles—weirdly shaped and not fully-formed as of now. Everything shifts, nothing unfolds. I ought to be geographically removed from college enough to contemplate what 2017 has been like, but it’s like my mind refuses to think; Just feel and let it wash all over you, it says.

So I feel and let it bleed over the page.

Ho Ho Ho 🎅

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 11.16.46 PM