Confronting My Worldly Fears

At some point in your life, this statement will be true: Tomorrow you will lose everything forever.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu

At the most random of moments, I consider my own mortality. One such instance was as I was seated in the cozy office of Professor Racha Kirakosian, which contained books so numerous that they seemed to be spewing out from the shelves with a life of their own. Half an hour ago, I had bumped into Carissa outside Lamont as she was on her way to see our Hum 10 seminar professor. I took it as a sign from the universe.

Just being in Prof Kirakosian’s office, in the presence of someone whose interests and expertise range from German to Religion to Medieval Studies to Game of Thrones, someone so winsomely at ease, witty, and genuinely passionate about life, I felt almost ashamed of my own fears—those that emerged with the onset of sophomore year, creeping like vines over my humanities-centric class schedule (the next blog post!), over the obstinate, inarticulable aspirations I harbor, and harnessing my vulnerability to the capitalist onslaught on campus, emblazoned in two words: Recruiting Season.

As a freshman, cocooned in the bubble of the Harvard Yard, my days were largely buffered by a sense of exhilaration and lethargy, the four years of college unfurling before me like an unending yellow brick road. As a sophomore, I am now suddenly catapulted from the periphery of real-world concerns to the precipice of worldly success outside of college gates: the moneyed prestige of Wall Street, the ascendancy of Silicon Valley, coupled with the irrational but still visceral fear of unemployment.

I can’t recall the conversation between Prof Kirakosian, Carissa, and me in complete specificity—I just remember laughing a lot, feeling at intervals, a sense of wonder and the budding certainty that life can work out in magical ways for those faithful to what they love. The professor confessed, after I hesitantly voiced my fears, that she never expected to be doing medieval studies or to be where she was today, but it was all about following her instincts at every stage in life.

I think about it sometimes, she said, the fact that we don’t live forever. I ask myself if I want to be doing this today if I were to die tomorrow. 

There’s an army of people doing CS, she said, why force yourself to do that? 

I see you as someone constantly reinventing yourself, she said.

In that small room almost suspended outside of time, like being in an interstitial space between two selves coming of age, with the soft afternoon sun seeping in like egg yolk, I felt many things crack open over my head—the purpose of our individual humanity, the power of instincts, and how even as she said those words, I drew strength from what she saw in me.

Often, in a place like Harvard, I feel the simultaneous pull of opposing forces: the allure of worldly success and the devotion to growth in wisdom. On days like this, I am grateful for God’s gentle reminders and life’s role models.

IMG_8341

Professor Kirakosian ❤

Lots of love,

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 11.16.46 PM

When In Kyoto ≧◡≦

IMG_5319

With the most adorable Sae-chan ❤

Kyoto is one-hour strolls along train tracks, washed-out pink carpets hanging on strings, bottles of sake behind second-storey windows, two scrawny girls trying to catch a pale yellow butterfly with a net, watery rice paddies beside a parking lot full of Toyotas & Hondas. Kyoto is that moment my hair almost rustles as my bones quiver with the ground, with the rumble of the passing train across a few thin walls. The train tracks are embedded in a sea of rocks, streaming to where the horizon meets the sky—so clean yet intense that, despite all differences, it’s almost reminiscent of the sixth station scene in Spirited Away.

sixth station vsixth station

Kyoto is light grey sheets of rain on wooden houses, bright red gates before tiled rooftops, the simultaneous terror and wonder of Yayoi Kusama’s black dots in an endless space of yellow, the swish of the obi in a maiko’s (apprentice geisha) kimono in spotlight, the cool softness and stickiness of mochi against a parched tongue, and the heavenly pleasure of matcha ice-cream in all possible weathers and places. It’s touching a love rock in aged temples and above waterfalls, and trying but failing to touch a deer grazing freely in the precincts of Nara.

IMG_5384

Kyoto is spending buckets of coins at a game arcade with a six-year-old, a thirteen-year-old and a fifteen-year-old, in a ruthless game of air hockey, in deceptively promising claw machines that cheated my feelings (I swear, it’s rigged), in the pew-pew sounds of Jackpot, in the vortex of Coin Pusher which sucked all our money away, in the tiny space of Purikura photo booths (the photos help you discover new levels of cuteness that you never know existed within your features), in the din, the clamor, the furrowed brows and upturned mouths.

IMG_5199

Kyoto is waking up earlier than I ever did since college, at 7.30am every morning, being greeted in a cascade of murmurs of ohayo gozaimasu, being ushered out of the house with itterashai and welcomed back with okaeri. It’s the simple warmth of daily dinners, eating at a table of more than three, of strangers who now seem to be almost like another family.

Kyoto is the daily routine of three-hour classes—one on East Asian religions, one on inequality in contemporary Japan—in a cool, white classroom. It’s venturing in underground malls, running down alleyways in the rain and tasting food samples with newfound friends. It’s everyone in the photo below. 😊

IMG_5576

It’s also my first experience of an earthquake. Fingers crossed for the days to come.

IMG_5320

Little Princess, Sae-chan~ 💓

Praying, with love,

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 11.16.46 PM

From 20-year-old Me, With Love

IMG_4836

Today I turn 20! I wonder how past birthdays feel like because this one feels very homely despite the fact that I’m in a country I’ve never been before. Last night, I was sitting cross-legged in a hotel room on the 46th floor of Japan’s tallest building, wearing a dripping sheet mask, clad in Mickey Mouse PJs, typing out this blog post while my parents enthusiastically exchanged scintillating tidbits of gossip and news glimpsed from their phone screens, engrossed faces enclosed in bluish halos.

We’ve got to close the windows, my mum comments, curled up on the bed.

However pretty the view is, my dad concurs, you can’t eat it.

As always, when I occasionally tune in to my parents’ conversations, my brain thinks: hmm…?? It’s so weird, but so them.

IMG_4851

The last few times I’ve been on a family trip were Bali and Macau at the beginning of 2017 (read about a countryside episode in Bali here and a heart-pounding first encounter in a Macau casino here). This time, our vacation to Japan was entirely planned by me. To celebrate my 20th, my parents submitted themselves to my whims and bucket list items for a full ten days. The day after tomorrow, we will be on the last leg of our trip, Kyoto, where my parents will drop me off for a two-month Harvard Summer School program from June 3 to July 28.

cof

Today, I spent my birthday at Universal Studios Japan (featuring The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!!). What a dream. How amazing it is that people of all languages from across the world—there’s a smattering of Cantonese, Chinese, English, and some European tongues mixed in the staccato lilt of Japanese surrounding my ears—are enchanted and invested in the world that J. K. Rowling created. Her words have taken on a life of their own, to be re-woven by each person. We take a slice of this fictional world and make it ours—even the tiny granny sipping Butterbeer while tottering in Hogsmeade on wooden clogs and the excited forty-year-old lady in a pink dress waving her wooden wand in front of Ollivanders. How powerful stories are when they seep into our concrete architecture to become tangible, tangible things. They compel into existence a new physical reality. It’s every writer and reader’s ultimate fantasy.

IMG_4740

Spending time so intimately and completely with my parents on this trip has grounded me. They pronounced at the beginning of our trip, as I was happily munching on dim sum in the airport lounge, that their main present to me was to help me to slim down. My saddest takeaway from freshman year had been fifteen pounds of flesh (mostly fats. biological inaccuracies not considered)—when people laugh about Freshman 15, BEWARE. It is real. After a winter of snacking, hibernation, and a final month of belated awakening, I returned to my parents’ arms a much chubbier version of myself. This trip, surrounded by matcha everything, gyoza, unagi, cheese tarts, okonomiyaki, takoyaki and all sorts of infinitely tempting foods presented exquisitely (even the fake food put on display looks absolutely delicious), I’ve been compelled by my parents’ withering glances and snarky remarks to exercise self-control. For someone who loves food as much as I do (e.g. our Japan itinerary is basically a food-centric sightseeing, extensively researched based on food blogs, gourmet guides, GURUNAVI, Tabelog, TripAdvisor ratings etc.), this has been tremendously painful. My parents had the weirdest conversation about how I would have thrived in medieval times when chubbiness was desired since the state of plumpness represented sufficient resources at one’s disposal. Time spent apart from my parents abroad has heightened my awareness of how precious such face-to-face contact is. Talking to them almost constantly in every waking minute about everything and anything is a real blessing. They love generously, unconditionally and wisely, with an empathy that is almost intuitive and most singular. On this day, I am most grateful for them. 爸爸妈妈,我爱您们!💕💕💕

IMG_4602

Tonight, after a day of Harry Potter, roller coasters that go backwards, 360 degrees and parallel to the ground, yellow minions and pink Hello Kitty, virtual reality headsets, and 3D and 4D rides; of eating fudge and exploding bonbons, drinking Butterbeer (heavenly calories in a mug); and of puking after a ride, squelching across park zones in the rain and waiting in some queues, it’s a good day. When I left the park, I was cold, shivering from wet toes, hungry but ineffably happy. 😊

It has been slightly more than a year since I started this blog. Thank you, always, for interacting with this corner of my world and pieces from my life—for reading (as you are right now in your inbox!), commenting and sending messages, and for your support, criticism, and attention. Thank you for coming along for this ride and becoming part of this experimental space that I started on a whim in 2017. To be utterly honest, I had no idea how long this blog was going to last. Many short-lived blogs have preceded it. But, somehow, in my 19th year, documenting my life became a habit. It’s disarmingly easy writing here, to you, you and you. Among you are many wonderful, precious friends, old and new. I’m thankful for your friendship ^_^

I told my parents that I had no idea what to wish for this year, but as I clasped my hands and closed my eyes before blowing the candles, I ended up taking more than three minutes to run through in my head all the wishes I had.

My wish for this blog is for it to keep growing with stories, with footsteps of those who come and go, with a trace of my words in your thoughts and feelings, with an honest account of my personal growth—mistakes and jubilations, stumbles and detours, ascents and conquests, explorations and experimentations alike—as I step into my twenties.

I hope we’ll all grow alongside each other.

Here’s to my new decade on Earth! 🌏

cof

Lots of love,

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 11.16.46 PM

 

Before It Ends (Part I & II)

Part I

Typed on May 5, Sunday in the Canaday basement while waiting for my laundry (surrounded by the humming of the washing machines and dryers).

Freshman year is ending, it really is. I can feel it in my bones. I’m flying off in four days; I’m done with three out of four of my classes and doing my last take-home final oceans away in Singapore; I’m drowning in packing (too many shoes and books and clothes); college already feels like a dream.

How to capture this feeling? Winter break felt like a short interlude between acts. Yet, this time round, departure evokes the closure of a final curtain call. To simply call it the most transformative year of my life, the year of adventures and expanded horizons, seems too pale.

When people say that college might just be the best time of your lives, I now admit with wonder that it really may be.

What a week. On May 3, Thursday, I emerged from the depths of Lamont (the only 24-hour Harvard library) with my roommate cum project partner, Emily, after nine full hours in the café. From 10.30am to 7.45pm, we churned out a 12-page (single-spaced!) business case study. On May 2, Wednesday, I wrote and submitted a full 14-page creative project from scratch (procrastination woes) for Professor Homi Bhabha’s English seminar. On April 30, Monday, I revised a 3000-word short story and expanded it to 4750 words for final grading. Altogether, I wrote a total of more than 13,000 words this week for the final papers of three classes. Crazily unforgettable. Could I have started earlier? Possibly. Do I regret this? Not really.

As everything winds down, it also feels deliciously like we are all on the precipice of new beginnings. What individuals are we as we venture home after this weird, incredible, crazy, electric first year at college? College will be a different experience next semester as we leave the Yard, declare concentrations, take new classes and find our paths crossing with new people that we’ve yet to meet out of the 6,600.

Part II

Typed on May 8, Tuesday on the plane before it takes off from the Boston Logan Airport (a race against time).

It’s funny that a year ago I wrote a post about packing and leaving home (I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane + Life Updates) and then, freshman year happened in a blink and once again I’m packing and leaving, again and again like some iterative pattern. Packing was a thorough nightmare this time round when completed all by myself—in the end, my belongings were distilled into two suitcases, three boxes, one fan and one clothing rack for storage; and then, there are the two suitcases that I’m bringing back to Singapore.

A few minutes before I got onto the Uber to the airport, I stared at the empty room with the sad-looking mattress, brown desk and drawers, stripped bare of all signs of my former habitation. Sometimes, when we walk across the Yard—a flash of brilliant green, the throng of tourists, the crimson bricks—it’s easy to think that Harvard is ours. But, as my belongings were picked up, the room emptied out and the keys I had kept in my pocket for a year were dropped off in the metal mail slot, I realized how brief our time here is. Canaday E-44, however fleetingly, belonged to us. As did Annenberg (I hope I don’t miss you).

img_3898-1

Posting this before the plane takes off–

Lots of love,

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 11.16.46 PM

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,

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 11.16.46 PM