海外华侨女孩:金庸和我的小故事

Jin Yong

Remembering Louis Cha (Jin Yong), my favorite author, in the language I read him in. Today, he died at age 94. May he rest in peace.

今天,就让我难过一下吧。

六岁那年,爸爸几乎每晚都把我拉去公园散步。傍晚的树叶和微风很浪漫,是个听故事和讲故事的好时候。当时的我已经喜欢上了读书,但是天天手上捧着的都是西方读物:英国的艾尼德.布莱顿(Enid Blyton)、美国的《神探南茜》(Nancy Drew)、《甜蜜谷》(Sweet Valley Kids)系列,以及一箱又一箱的外国入门侦探小说。书本中的主人公虽然年龄比我长了几岁,但是都陌生的要死。他们需要喝下午茶,敢用姓名称呼他们的父母,出门要围围巾。

有一天我们又在绕圈的时候,爸爸通知我:“既然我们这几天散步你不愿意给我讲故事,那就我来。我来给你讲讲我最喜欢的。”

他选择了《射雕英雄传》。

说实话,一开始,我是很排斥他这个选择的。对于一个只背过唐诗、论语和三字经的我来说,中国文化是枯燥无味的条条框框。爸爸讲的那个故事的开端是一个臭道士,场景是一个年代久远的乡村,里面有一群叔叔阿姨天天在打架。我很不耐烦地威胁爸爸让他讲一个有公主和王子的故事,结果他告诉我这个故事里会有我这辈子都会想要的爱情。

他说的没错。

就这样,爸爸把这个故事的蓝图在我幼小的脑海里展开。我从不稀罕到走火入魔般地着迷。六岁那年,人生之三大难题如下:降龙十八掌到底是怎么打的?爸爸为什么不是桃花岛主?我应该到哪里去找武功秘籍好能称霸武林?但是,故事太长了,爸爸后来工作很忙,没有时间跟我在公园绕圈。我便开始去烦他,泪眼汪汪地求他继续把故事讲完。

他一指书架,对我说道:“都在那里,你自己看。”

结果是,我苦苦地啃了几个月,也没读懂。《射雕英雄传》分为了四册,我走到哪里都带着一本,搞得母亲对爸爸颇有微词。书中世界之丰富超过了我之前所读过的一切。里面形形色色的人和我有着类似的姓名,一样对长辈又敬又爱,年轻却充满了超越时代的侠肝义胆和令人动容的儿女情长。

后来,我慢慢长大了,却年复一年于这江湖流连忘返。在金庸的文字中,我似乎逐渐能从见自己,到见天地,却至今还是无法见众生。

现在,我二十岁了。我在新西兰出生,新加坡长大,美国读大学。从小到大,我在学府里读得最多的是西方文学,现在在哈佛主修的专业之一也是英语文学。至今,我读了荷马(Homer)、莎士比亚(Shakespeare)和简·奥斯汀(Jane Austen),也读了萨曼·鲁西迪(Salman Rushdie)、托妮·莫里森(Toni Morrison)和J.K.罗琳(J. K. Rowling)这些当代文学的泰山北斗。但是,至今,再也没有一个作家能让我如此留恋他笔下的世界,那些人的刹那芳华、仁义与柔情。

白马带着她一步步的回到中原。白马已经老了,只能慢慢的走,但终是能回到中原的。江南有杨柳、桃花,有燕子、金鱼…… 汉人中有的是英俊勇武的少年,倜傥潇洒的少年…… 但这个美丽的姑娘就像古高昌国人那样固执:“那都是很好很好的,可是我偏不喜欢。”

咱们就此别过,人生离合,亦复如斯。

金庸就是金庸。 四海列国,千秋万代,也就只有一个他呀。

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After the Darkness, A Meadow of Books

The number of papers I’ve written this semester: 

7.

Words that appeared in my first 10-page screenplay*

Wong Kar-wai. Temple. Claypot. Kant. Fortune-teller. White peach tart. Mahjong. Wikipedia. Red Mansion Dream. The Gods are real.

*If you are intrigued and would like to read it in exchange for giving me your genuine critique and constructive feedback, please reach out to me. (´・ω・`)

The number of times I went to the gym: 

8.

Where I’m going for Thanksgiving Break:

Cambridge (UK) & London (hello my loves)!!!

The number of sit-down exams I will have during Finals: 

0.

WHAT? It is, fortunately, happily, emphatically, true.

Correlatively, the total number of pages I will have to write in my final papers:

41 to 48 pages.

(A 20-page screenplay, a 6-8 page Global Fictions paper, a 7-10 page literary analysis or creative project, and an 8-10 page paper on Kant.)

The number of days till I come back home (i.e. fly back to Singapore): 

40.

(In fact, I won’t even be on campus during Finals Week (or Reading Period) because I’m flying off on the last day of class, which is December 5th. I shall lovingly labor over my papers in Singapore.)

A jumble of things on my mind: 

Unpaid. internships. Concentration dilemmas. (ಥ﹏ಥ) Career choices. “Don’t idealize or romanticize suffering.” Screenwriting. Grad school? Techno-orientalism, postcolonialism, literature & culture & race. Sit in an alcove and read and read and read until I grow cracks and crumble like moth wings. Do novels get written under deadlines? Do I want a creative senior thesis? I want to read big, fat, difficult, swollen, convoluted books that I will never read again. But, I don’t want to take a class only on Shakespeare, or Poetry, or early British literature. I should do Hist & Lit. The fantasy of intimacy with the language is increasingly falling apart. I want a critical lens, to explore, to challenge, to immerse myself in the contemporary, not the old, white, Western canon that has nothing to do with a 21st-century Singaporean-Chinese girl grappling with globalization, who wants to enter a conversation with writers who deal in that vein of global imagination. 

Here’s an Easter egg—a random snippet I typed on my phone in class because I was hungry and homesick and harboring within me a dim sum-shaped hole: 

The first thing I hear when the Play begins is the flurry of Cantonese chatter. Flying across the room like darts and then bouncing on the cloud of soft affection, blood ties, subtle enmity and piping hot early morning news Fresh off the Tongue making rounds.

Xuan, beautiful, a head taller and cantonese-speaking, whispers into my ear, with a glint in her eye. That short fat man, Xuan says, with a hiccup, as she downs another gulp of sweet white coconut milk, does pharmaceuticals and always loses in mahjong, probably intentionally when he plays with my Ma. Listening, my mouth forms the shape of an ‘o’.

No one else notices us collapsing into giggles, or my wobbly chopsticks dropping the prawn puff beneath the table, or us imitating the adults while chewing, or me eating three times The Amount of Golden Buns that Mami said I was allowed to.

The table is strewn with dumplings with different skin, different colors, different meat textures, with brown baskets of steaming hot pastries half the size of my tiny palm, with sweet chicken claws and spicy carrot cake, hard noodles in cups and soft eggs in half cut shells, and the iced mango sago melting over my tongue like cold cold honey.

***
After a brief patch of darkness, of indecision, of agonizing back-and-forths between two concentrations that may seem indistinguishable to the observer (English with its early British literature and poetry requirements and the glowing possibility of writing a novel in a Creative thesis, and History & Literature with its incredible freedom of charting my own course and piecing together a singular academic focus from an array of departments), of self-interrogation, of asking myself again and again ‘What do I want out of college?’, of grasping the shovel to dislodge already fixed aspirations, of negotiating the dilemma of studying the canon versus what I’m actually intellectually passionate about, of self-doubt, of my aversion to certain facets of the English language, of my fraught relationship with writing…

I see that there is always a meadow of books—my green light, an intellectual lodestar. It eludes me sometimes, but it’s an ancient instinct from which I may stray but always never wander far.

My favorite books that I read in class this semester: 

 

 

Lots of love,

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Book Reviews: Sel Takes on the Classics! Part 1

Life Updates: the odds and ends of this at times extraordinary, at times off-kilter month of October

Happy Halloween, dear friends! 🎃✨ I can’t believe October is coming to an end — this month I sat for my first college midterm (Anthropology), submitted my first graded college paper (on Oedipus Rex), had my story workshopped for the first time in my life, met two of my literary idols in class (poet Susan Howe & Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist cum novelist Lorraine Adams!), went on a historical tour of Boston led by superstar history professor Jill Lepore (❤️), finally shopped to my heart’s content at Newbury Street (shopping is cathartic), experienced Freshman Family Weekend without my parents by my side… It seems strange to boil down a month to a couple of sentences, but I’ve tried. It is in monumentally busy periods that time has the swiftest wings — I have barely settled into my skin as a college freshman and now, I am almost at the end of an eighth of this whole college journey. 43 more days and I’ll be on a plane back to Singapore! It seems like only last week when I penned I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane on the eve of my departure; soon I’ll be Returning on a Jet Plane. Wow.

I’ve been reading a lot for class. There’s a category of books that I’ve been pretty unfamiliar with before coming to Harvard. So I’m dedicating my first series of flash reviews to them: the classics. Oh, Dawn with her rose-red fingers! (I finally cracked a Homer joke.)

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My dorm room bookshelf 🙂 2.5 months into college & the top shelf is already filled!

The Odyssey, by Homer

So very very long, it’s like swimming across the Aegean Sea, and yet — this epic is reminiscent of a lyrical Percy Jackson installment. It has a ginormous cast of who’s who in Greek mythology, with everyone from Helen to gods who run amok to man-eating cyclops making an appearance. Odysseus, our hero, is Robin Hood and Don Quixote wrapped up all in one muscled bundle. He’s worldly and wily, manipulative and charming (even goddess Athena isn’t immune), but he is also incredibly fallible. His embracing of mortality and yearning for Ithaca is what makes this homecoming tale thrum with humanity. At last, when the covers close, this vanishing world of supernatural happenings and mythical beginnings leaves behind a strange ache in us; we ache for what is recognizably tender in the tragedies, for the hero’s resilience, for our own sea-borne adventure, and for the kind of greatness Odysseus has that defies oblivion and reverberates through the centuries.

Readability: 🌓 🌔 🌕 🌖 🌗

Symposium, by Plato

Just from this book’s title, it seems like it very well could be about old wise philosophers who are embroiled in polemics on matters of pressing concern, maybe in a merry circle around the Pnyx. That’s somewhat accurate. Symposium in the ancient Greek sense of the word means a drinking party, not a fancy forum. The men in attendance (alas, no female perspective) devote themselves to the grand task of giving speeches, hurrah. Is it about a meaningful life? About beauty? About wisdom? Sort of. It’s about love, which ties all these loose threads together. The traditional Greek erotic relationship in question is one that is odd and objectionable even by today’s standards — a homosexual love between an older, educated man (the lover) and a younger, uninitiated boy (the beloved). Pause here and play this (MY REACTION WHEN I WAS READING). Even though it all seems strange and convoluted, read for interesting soul mate arguments, fantastical origin stories, distortions of love into philosophy, and glimpses of Socrates through Plato’s eyes.

Readability:  🌓 🌔 🌕

Fragments of Sappho, by Sappho

Sappho is basically the Taylor Swift of the ancient Greeks. You’ve got to give her credit for making angsty, raw love poems — brimming over with desire, physical agony, irrationality — trendy. Her poems survive in fragments, with empty spaces galore; for me, their incompleteness allows me to write my own experience (not that I’ve any, but) and opens up a huge abyss of love that accommodates various luminous possibilities. Personally, these fragments are way more powerful in expressing love than Symposium. Torn, burnt, lost, Sappho’s fragments have survived and continue to move us, just like how we — though “burned”, “shook”, or “broken” by love we may be — let out a soft sigh and succumb to the drumming of our hearts. Padam Padam.

Readability:  🌓 🌔 🌕 🌖

***

What do you think? If you had to pick one book from the classics, which would be your favorite?

Part 2 will be coming soon 🙂

Lots of love,

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Things I Love

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Yesterday at Kirkland House (where Mark Zuckerberg stayed!!) after a FIP lunch.

1. Sundays on hammocks in hot Singaporean-like Cambridge weather. Hurrah!

2. Learning. The room is warm. My pulse is throbbing at an almost manic pace. In a hitched breath’s moment of unconscious cerebration, it occurs to me that I am surrounded by knowledge coming to life — in eager minds, raw stories, bustling thoughts, and this palpable sense of convivencia and of shared humanity that emerges from within all of us when we discuss vanished worlds in ancient texts (Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, Poetics, Symposium…). Unbelievable, but somehow it is happening, in this time and place, in this infinite now. (I am really loving my Humanities seminar under Professor David Carrasco — here’s a link to his Wikipedia page! Every time I walk out of class, some ineffable change washes over me; I’m not sure what it is, but I feel just a bit more comfortable with uncertainty and a little bit more certain about what gives me meaning.)

3. Making stone tools in archaeology section (Anthro 1010). This satisfies Math?! Blessed.

Trying to refit the fragments of a stone.

4. Yesterday, I went to church for Sunday Mass for the first time in a long while. Some of my close friends may know about my uncertainty and burning questions with regards to religion’s answers to ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘How should we live our lives?’ As a kid, I encountered God in the Catholic tradition due to my parents and upbringing, but in recent years, I have leaned towards labeling myself as spiritual instead of Catholic. But, in a strange turn of events, I found myself seeing this age-old faith with new eyes after many years of estrangement. Thank you to each of you who are giving me a hand in this self-exploration 🙂

5. Drowning in books (is there anything happier than drowning in books?). There are a few which I’d like to spotlight because, without college, I would possibly never touch them:

  • Sappho’s If Not, Winter (for Humanities 10): basically the Taylor Swift of ancient Greeks (102: sweet mother I cannot work the loom/I am broken with longing for a boy by slender Aphrodite)
  • Anne Carson’s Nox (for my Translation seminar): a handmade book in a box, an artifact, a translation, an accordion, an epitaph for an estranged and deceased brother, a raw and almost manipulative scrapbook of his life… It defies categorization, bursts with torn photographs, yellowed notes, and an overwhelming, fatigued sense of loss that echoes in Latin poem Catullus 101 (which Carson translates).

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    Look at this gorgeous work of art.

  • David Macaulay’s Motel of the Mysteries (for my Archaeology class): it’s honestly hilarious. In the year 4022, a random dude chances upon a hotel from the 2000s and thinks it’s a tomb. He treats the toilet seat as a sacred urn and all kinds of nonsensical, nutty misinterpretations of the past ensue. But, maybe, if ancient civilizations read about our current account of the past, they would be laughing in their graves.
  • For my fiction writing workshop, our lovely professor Claire Messud was on a book tour last week in London so she couldn’t come to class, but her husband did and he is James Wood!! He has been called the best literary critic of his generation and he writes book reviews for The New Yorker. The fact that I get to be taught by such incredible people sometimes blows my mind.

6. Roommates who squeal with me on Saturday nights about the WEIRDEST things. 😇

At slinky silent disco (???)

7. A weekend that included a wondrous burger at Harvard Square (Alden & Harlow), going to Chinatown in Boston for xiaolongbao and authentic bubble tea, singing karaoke, rewatching The Social Network, a lot of ice-cream, and good catch-ups with friends that have been swallowed by the monster called Harvard Life.

8. Facetiming/Skyping/Video-calling people I love, such as my parents ❤ ❤ ❤ If you are my good friend and we’ve not Facetimed, TEXT ME NOW.

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Until next week!

To all my dear friends across the globe: how have you guys been? I miss you and I love you.

xoxo,

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