When Reality Beckons: Confessions of a Drama Addict

Recently, my dad sent me this photo which expressively demonstrates my aggressive territoriality over a french fry (or my incurable love for food since I was a kid). When my phone ding!-ed and the screen lit up with this incoming message, I was in the midst of a rough week built up from a lack of sleep, exercise, and healthy food—I ate a record-breaking number of four fat cup noodles in a span of five days—and this photo which loaded on the screen made me laugh so hard that the world seemed like a gentler, funnier place to be in.

I kind of fell into an emotional rut over the past few weeks. Around the time I posted my Pride & Prejudice movie review, I had just embarked on the first steps of what would be an all-consuming fictional marathon, in which I watched an accumulative seventy hours of movies and dramas. At the peak of this obsession, which was during Spring Break (10-18 March), I holed up in my dorm room during a gusty snowstorm, passionately consuming twelve hours of movies continuously (Titanic, You Are the Apple of My Eye《那些年,我们一起追的女孩》, The Sound of Music, The Proposal, and the final stretch of Moulin Rouge).

Outside my windows, the world was rocked by invisible, tempestuous hands into a topsy-turvy blend of thudding grey rain and ferocious pale flakes (with some irony, I now recall my enraptured post on First Snow last December). Inside the room, I was under a spell. On an empty campus engulfed in inhospitable weather, I found myself in almost complete solitude, thoroughly enthralled by the binding power of storytelling. When my stomach growled, I would order food delivery to the door. It was a frenetic, seemingly psychedelic week. On the Sunday before classes resumed, I collapsed into tears. I had finished the final episode of Reply 1988 (twenty episodes of two hours each) and felt as though someone had dug out my soul with a shovel. After days of being utterly immersed in a world of true-to-life characters, my own life seemed faint and colorless to me in comparison to the intense, stirring world of the drama. I was untethered to my reality and desperately wanted to hand the reins of my life to another drama or movie. Escapism was transformative. Real life was unpalatable.

Needless to say, I knew I had a problem. My subsequent steps out of the shadows of this unhealthy addiction to fiction constitute a very individualized recommendation of “How to Re-engage with Reality”. For all I know, most of you might never have this problem. But here’s an honest account of what I did:

How to Re-engage with Reality (in a severe case of drama addiction)

  1. Stop staying in your dorm room. What I did this week: I spent as minimal amount of time in my dorm as possible, by exploring the far-flung libraries in Harvard Kennedy School and Divinity School, eating breakfast in CGIS, and just simply walking in the sun to buy pastries (Monkeybread!). A lot of traveling and walking that I used to deem as a waste of time was whole-heartedly embraced. I averaged 10,000 steps a day this week.
  2. Make a pledge to give yourself a period of drama-cleanse. What I did this week: I made a promise to myself to not watch any dramas or movies at all until Harvard China Forum (happening 6-8 April) ends. Speaking of which, if you’re in Boston, please come! I’m organizing the Culture Panel, which will feature Fang Wenshan 方文山 (famous Chinese pop music lyricist best known for his collaboration with Jay Chou), Li Lu 李路 (the director of the top-rated Chinese drama in 2017, In the Name of the People《人民的名义》), Stanley Chan 陈楸帆 (sci-fi writer), and Yang Hui 杨晖 (CEO and Founder of Vivid Media, which has produced several notable Chinese variety shows). Check out the Facebook event →
  3. Talk to your close friends about your addiction. What I did this week: Not that it came as a surprise to anyone who knew me well, but I confessed to them about my addiction to dramas/movies. They gave me their observations about my behavior and unexpectedly kept me accountable to my pledge. ❤
  4. Find something substantial to occupy your time with. What I did this week: Unexpectedly, I got a job! I officially began working as a Research Assistant at the Ash Center with Professor Kishore Mahbubani, who is a visiting fellow from Singapore at the Kennedy School. He first sparked off my interest in international relations in secondary school when I read his book, The Great Convergence. I thought it would be vaguely surreal working with someone who I greatly admired (as one of Singapore’s most eminent diplomats, he was my idol in those years when I wanted to join the foreign service), but it’s instead rather humanizing—it brings them down from the pedestal that you put them on. Thank you, Harvard.
  5. Laugh at yourself a little. Feel the weirdness and ludicrousness of life’s punches and presents. What happened this week: My water bottle leaked in my bag and my notes from both semesters for two of my favorite classes (Hum 10 & Fiction Writing Workshops) were soaked to the point of illegibility. I waited for some extreme sadness to well up, but then the sheer absurdity of this tiny episode struck me—helped by my roommate Ani who snapped a photo of the drenched notes, commenting that it looked like artwork—and the moment became oddly tender.

This is a cathartic post for me and I thank you for reading. I vacillated briefly between writing this and keeping it to myself, but to write this was to acknowledge a problem I had over the years, which exploded this month. Drama addiction, which sounds laughable and vaguely embarrassing, happens to everyone.

After only a week, I am surprisingly much more engaged with life. Perhaps, it’s when reality falls short that I turn to the fictional world. But the more lasting antidote is to take life—as dull, messy, stressful, and imperfect as it is—by its horns and to live it. Find tiny moments of pleasure, of emotional tugs at your heartstrings, of unannounced humor in unpronounced places, of the subtle thrill hovering in the unsaid, and of the plot that is embedded in our own lives. As fun as it is to live vicariously through fictional characters, the only script we get to pen is our own.

Here’s wishing all of you happy, concrete adventures! 🌱

Lots of love,

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 11.16.46 PM

November is…

On a sunny day, we did an impromptu photoshoot outside the dorm room when it was not yet cold 😇

November is the great mystery of daylight saving time. It’s the time when night comes early, days turn dark in mid-swallow, and the sense of time grows distorted. It also makes me freak out a bit when it’s 5pm but it feels like 9pm and I’ve not yet started on my paper.

November is days bleeding into one another in a whirlwind of the now familiar routine of classes and paper-writing (I just wrote an 8-page paper last week on Descartes’ Meditations — throwback to KI!), meeting new people and connecting with friends that begin to feel curiously familiar. It’s a whirlwind interspersed with brilliant encounters with famous people in different settings (sitting in the audience as Elton John received Humanitarian of the Year from our dean onstage; attending a lunch workshop with Man Booker Prize-winning writer Michael Ondaatje, who autographed my copy of The English Patient!!).

November is cold. I’m swamped in huge furry coats, woolly gloves, and snuggly scarves, with the heater turned on high. I’ve also gotten a tad bit more used to people using Fahrenheit — thirty basically means freezing. A usual morning on the groggy side looks like this: Wakes up — opens the Weather app on my phone — stares at the 3°C below CAMBRIDGE — swipes right and surprise! SINGAPORE displays 30°C. 😭

November feels at once brand new, cloaked in autumn gold, and like the same old calendar month. Classes are winding down to the final two weeks — there’s the Harvard-Yale Game this weekend at New Haven and next week’s Thanksgiving Break in between. Then it’ll be reading period, final exams, and WINTER BREAK! I’ll be in Singapore for three weeks 🏝 and then in Washington, D.C. for ten days (look out for updates!).

November is discovering the magic of the BBC’s Jane Austen adaptations. When I had to read Emma for Hum 10 and my roommate Ani declared that she had watched the 2009 BBC Emma miniseries no less than five times, I promptly went on Hulu, clicked Episode 1, and proceeded to say goodbye to my next four hours. I finished the entire series in one sitting. It was magical and redefining. Here comes the newest pivotal dilemma of my life: who should I choose — (A) wet-shirt, broody, principled Mr. Darcy (by the incomparable Colin Firth in the 1995 version) or (B) handsome, intensely sweet, morally righteous Mr. Knightley (by the brilliantly subtle Jonny Lee Miller in the 2009 version)? QUESTION OF THE CENTURY.

darcy

“Well, of course you must choose me.”

knightley

“How can it not be me?”

November is listening to Taylor Swift’s new album Reputation at midnight. ❤️ I’ve been listening to her songs since I was eleven, through her eponymous album, Fearless, Speak Now, Red, 1989, and now this; her songs are my go-to in times of crushes and heartbreak from unstarted loves. November is having her songs on repeat enough to last me (and ride out my habit of persistently playing a favorite song for 100000 times till I get sick of it) through the remainder of 2017. It’s my roommates dying from hearing her new songs in the morning when my alarm clock goes off, gets snoozed, and the scene iterates… HAHA.

My favourite Reputation lyrics

“You should take it as a compliment that I’m talking to everyone here but you.” — Gorgeous (THIS LYRIC)

“Is the end of all the endings? My broken bones are mending / With all these nights we’re spending / Up on the roof with a school girl crush / Drinking beer out of plastic cups.” — King of My Heart

“This ain’t for the best / My reputation’s never been worse, so / You must like me for me.” — Delicate

“Even in my worst lies you saw the truth in me.” — Dress

“There are no rules when you show up here / Bass beat rattling the chandelier / Feeling so Gatsby for that whole year.” — This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

“I’d kiss you as the lights went out / Swaying as the room burned down / I’d hold you as the water rushes in / If I could dance with you again.” — Dancing With Our Hands Tied

“I want your midnights, but I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day.” — New Year’s Day

This time, Taylor also penned two poems included in the limited-release magazines accompanying the physical album — “If You’re Anything Like Me” is acutely vulnerable, but it’s “Why She Disappeared” which uncannily resonates with me.

If You're Anything Like Me_by Taylor Swift

Why She Disappeared_by Taylor Swift

I’ll have a lot more time next week to slow down, take stock of the messy brilliant college semester so far, and blog (!) once Thanksgiving recess starts on November 22. Till then! Keep warm / cool (depending where you’re at) ❤️

Lots of Love,

To warmer days,

Sel

Wheeeeeee

Drama Review: Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo—the clumsy fairy & the loyal fox

WeightliftingFairy27

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo (역도요정 김복주) | 16 episodes | South Korean | 2016-2017

So adorable. The cutest show and couple I’ve seen in a long long time — the feeling of spring, sunlight, unpretentious youthfulness, and a pinch of stardust sprinkled in the air that seems to make every move and line uttered by each actor pulse with genuine emotion and earnest ambition. This college campus drama, revolving around athletes on various trajectories towards their dreams (be it weightlifting, swimming or gymnastics), is at its core about the many types of love that make our hearts full.

There’s the familial love between ace weightlifter Bok Joo (portrayed by an endearing Lee Sung Kyung, in a major deviation from her past mean girl roles) and her chicken store-owner dad and sidekick uncle (who has an unexpected love-line of his own); the friendship and sisterhood between the ‘swag’ trio that brims with support and hilarious moments (“혹시 메시 좋아하세요?” Do you like Messi?); the awkward, all-out first crush that Bok Joo has which resonates in all its cringe-worthiness; the passion for a sport that may enter into a slump, be distorted by endless competition, be stifled by trauma or insecurity, but still shines unflinchingly in its requisite amount of dedication, sweat, tears and self-belief; and, of course, the cracklicious friends-turn-lovers romance between Bok Joo and under-performing swimmer Joon Hyung (this role is Nam Joo Hyuk at his meltiest — I hail the drama gods that made this happen) which is tender, brilliant and about staying true to who you are.

Girls, if you ever find a guy who gazes at you like Joon Hyung, trust me, he is a keeper.

I was also unexpectedly invested in Shi Ho‘s storyline (a raw, nuanced portrayal by Kyung Soo Jin) — one of a girl who got pushed into a sport when she had no choice as a child, found it colonizing her life until the point when her years of training bankrupted and pulled apart her family due to spiralling costs and she had to come face to face with her dwindling talent. When it all culminated in that final performance of her career, she had to reconcile the warped person she had become by holding on at all costs (sleeping pills, bulimic tendencies, and consuming jealousies), with the fact that turning her back on all that she had known might just give her a taste of happiness.

While I had wondered about the incredibly natural chemistry between our two leads in the show, I guess the dramaverse has a wonderful intuition because Lee Sung Kyung and Nam Joo Hyuk are now dating in real life (squeals). So though this adorable, radiant drama might not have gotten its worth of ratings, it is a true gift in matchmaking.

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

Favorite Quote

“We’re not afraid because we have nothing to lose, and our hearts flutter because we can have anything.” (Bok Joo in Ep. 16)

Favorite Scene (SPOILER ALERT) 

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 9.40.54 PM 1

When the weightlifting team goes on strike to get their coach back in the winter, Joon Hyung sees Bok Joo trying to warm her feet on the steps at night and just crouches down in front of her, takes out heating pads for her feet, warms them and puts them back in her shoes. Then, he says: “Don’t overstrain yourself. Please.”

So much warmth and trust in that simple moment on a cold winter night.

Favorite MVs

****

Watch Weightlifting Fairy on DramaFever or Viu (Singapore).