Overheard in New York

Thank you, New York. Many things you were, but boring you were not. I will miss you. x

Finished typing this list as I was standing in line at JFK — it’s surreal how fast these two months passed (although there were patches when the days felt meandering and Mondays when I could not get up), but there’s something intensely liberating and restless about living in Manhattan by yourself, a certain je ne sais quoi.

A list of anecdotes.

***

1. (Walking down Times Square with two finance girls behind me talking about Type A guys.)
If some guy is going to reject me just because I make less than $200K a year, then I’m out, one of them says.
Well, that’s what all guys are thinking, her friend says, some are just better at articulating.

2. Everyone, after meeting me, asks within three sentences: Where are you from? 

3. When she hands the Phantom his mask, I say solemnly to Z, she is handing him his dignity.

4. I’m walking down the street and some guy keeps yelling behind me, Jesus is coming for you with a sword!
What kind of sword?
a man passing by shouts back.

5. A friend and I have an in-depth discussion about the statistical possibility of true love on dating apps. We conclude that it’s very low.
But the next day I meet E, who used to teach me physics. She has moved in with her boyfriend and it’s getting serious.
You and your boyfriend are so cute, I say, how did you guys meet?
She tells me with a shoulder shrug, Coffee Meets Bagel. 

6. I believe God has a plan for all of us.  And I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet, croons Elder Price.

7. People seem to think entertainment should be paid for, but that news should be free, we discuss at the bar over meatballs.

Do you have a Spotify subscription but still refuse to pay for the New York Times?

… You’re right.

8. The stock markets are going to crash in 2021, the man tells me on a cab, silhouetted against the streetlamp light outside the car window.
That’s the year I graduate, I murmur.

9. Climate change. Climate crisis.

10. But first, here’s my take, says Fareed Zakaria.

11. The girl walks out of her room in a bright pink bathrobe and closes in on me, asking while she holds out her phone, Have you seriously never listened to a BTS song?

12. The one and only day I had to wear a suit, he said, gesturing wildly, happened to be Pride Day. And here I am, standing on the subway with my suit and tie, and everyone else is in suspenders or wearing nothing or in every single color ever invented. Goddammit!

13. (I actually talk to a neighbor. Surprisingly rare in a sprawling apartment in Midtown of Manhattan.)

We stand in awkward silence in the elevator.

Do you happen to know if it’s raining outside? the neighbor suddenly turns to me and asks.

I checked the weather app and it shouldn’t be. And I didn’t bring my umbrella, I answer truthfully.

Yeah, it’s a hassle sometimes.

Exactly, I’m going grocery shopping so… I make a gesture of carrying heavy bags with two hands (belatedly, I realize as I’m motioning that it makes me look like a 🦍).

He laughs. If it rains, he says, you can always take an Uber.

That’s the plan!

You mean, Uber there and Uber back?

I shake my head. I walk there, I emphasize the word ‘walk’, and Uber back.

Oh, Trader Joe’s pretty far.

A beat. Yes! I’m going to Trader Joe’s!

The elevator door opens. We amble.

Wish there was a Trader Joe’s closer to us, he says.

Well, I just finished dinner so it’s good to walk.

As I speak, he is wrapping up his umbrella like peeling lettuce. It’s done. He hands it to me.

You want it? he asks.

I’m strangely moved but I say, No, but thank you, thank you.

14. We’ve been looking a lot at China — Do they want to be a superpower? What’s on their agenda? — but we should also look at us. Regardless of China’s ambitions, they will become rich and powerful. So the question we need to ask ourselves is: are we comfortable with another country being rich and powerful, and one day as rich and powerful as us?

I find myself nodding.

15. I tried to be famous on Twitter, but it was too much effort, he said, thick brows furrowed.
How long did you try? I mumbled, chewing a matcha beignet.
Quite a while, he said, almost begrudgingly, like two weeks.

16. There is another kind of math that kids in the US study – Singapore math, he said, chewing a fry.

Oh, I said, Wait. WHAT.

17. My stomach is colonized by cookies.

18. I feel like we are all collectively held captive by the MTA, she said into my ear.

***

Goodbye, my New York summer! You’ve been good to me. ❤️🗽🌉🍕👩🏻‍💻✨🎧🚕

Lots of love from Singapore,

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my pillow book: the pathos of November

Inspired by Sei Shōnagon’s diary-lists in The Pillow Book.

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Things That I Will Remember

Shivering as we tread the familiar path to Annenberg in the canopy of night. Everyone holding signs celebrating the declaration of their concentrations. Shimmery silver streaks, Trophy Wife and Sugar Daddy signboards, bare cookies, beaming faces, flashing lights, postcards sent into the future, holding my choices in my palm: History & Literature and Philosophy.

Classroom to Table with Professors Ellen Song (History & Literature) and Musa Syeed (Screenwriting). Faculty Dinner at Leverett House with Philosophy Professor Samantha Matherne. ❤

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Professor Matherne, who chatted with me about Kant, Kyoto, the imagination, grad school, and teaching philosophy. 🙂

Stepping into the dim, timber lighting of Border Café, looking left and right, before my gaze falls on a face I haven’t seen in person since 2014. Many things change, her smile (and our appetites) stays the same. Aspirations are different, more uncertain, still fervent. Our eyes as bright, as clean as our sixteen-year-old selves.

 

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The hasty, just-right moment of picking up the phone, hearing a strangely familiar voice and only being able to utter Oh my God again and again until we both start laughing. Falling into an easy camaraderie built from a patchwork of a few days — some friends are only made in a handful of hours but seem to have been known to me from a past life. Laughing in an empty dorm room strewn with red solo cups and curious, sullen bottles of alcohol, like the aftermath of some alien abduction scene, the three of us the last ones standing. Talking till 4AM, bleary-eyed, yet feeling like if sleep was not gravity, we could float till infinity in this ether of honest intimate conversation.

Eating hotpot with ginger ale and lemon tea, slurping a big bowl of ramen under the veil of steam and the wise words and heartfelt advice from Tim & Ee San, tasting first snow on the tip of my tongue.

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To the wisest and the kindest. Thank you for guiding me and bringing me to eat yummy food! ❤

Going wild at Berklee’s Jay Chou Tribute Concert, in stark contrast to all the other mild concert-goers. Singing like no one can hear us, dancing like no one is watching us.

Doing Harvard-Yale as a room, all deck in Harvard gear, rubbing numb fingers, smiling in the wind, rosy cheeks, furry hats, munching on fries, cheering confusedly, posing for photos, and collapsing into giggles over how good we look.

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Walking from Fenway Park (in Boston) back to our dorm (in Cambridge) in the cold, noses red, sipping on bubble tea (milk green tea, mini bubbles, 50% sugar, no ice) and talking about everything under a sky thick with clouds and fecundity.

Things That Constitute A Bad Day

Waking up at 7AM after snoozing my 6AM alarm for an hour, once every eight minutes.

Writing a paper already due which I got an extension for. Clock ticking.

Stomach growling but no real food in sight.

A throat parched and scratched from two chocolate chip granola bars and a hundred goldfish crackers.

Waiting in front of the printer for ten minutes, paying three times, refreshing, and nothing stirs.

Being late for class. Again.

Falling down the stairs of Quincy, wrapped like a maki roll in my puffy ankle-length down coat, tumbling, crashing into the long legs of some bewildered, terrified guy who grips me tight and sets me right on the stairs. Glasses askew.

Not wearing contacts and glasses fogging up when I blow my nose.

Limping back to my dorm room in the darkness, puddles sprouting in front of me like invisible tiles.

Purple bruises on my legs when I want to wear a skirt.

What I Wrote This Month

A 20-page screenplay titled UNWIND ME about the inexhaustible variety of college life. Three characters. One night. Sometimes we don’t see how much we need someone to care or just how lonely we are. 

A paper using the lens of trauma to inspect the complexity of white liberal guilt in Jess Row’s Your Face in Mine: its historicity, hypocrisy, and fantasy of a return to innocence.

A comparative paper on the extent of fictional repair in Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats vs. Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt.

Coming up next week: revising UNWIND ME and writing my second PHIL 129 midterm paper.

Things That Don’t Last

Strawberry yogurt-coated pretzel crumbs. Squashed juice boxes. Empty bottled iced tea. Lindt chocolate wrappers like aluminum petals.

Negativity. Bad days. Writer’s block. Being upset at a friend. The absence of a response, the limbo before a decision, the length of time called waiting.

A month like November.

Lots of love,

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2017, Thank You for Everything

2017 is my most paradoxical year yet in that it is both the most monumental and the most peaceful one in recent memory. For the first time in a long while, I found myself without any clear-cut, measurable goals. Since I was a kid and could grasp the concept of a university, Harvard had been my dream. After 13 December 2016 when the dream actually came true, I became suspended in a haze of euphoria. This happy bubble finally knocked against the edges of reality once again (as it should) when I stepped into college. I began wondering what the next big thing in my life was going to be. On the first day of 2018, I can tell you honestly that I still don’t have a concrete answer; I’m confused and conflicted about my aspiration for significance. But, 2017 is the first of many years in my life that I will spend figuring that out. As a yearly tradition, I write down the lessons I’m most grateful for on the first day of each new year. This year, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned with you:

  • Solitude is fertile. Solitude is okay. The capacity to be still and to soak in the uncertain, the unknown, the unresolved, and the uncomfortable sensation of being in your own opaque yet intimate psyche can be raw material for deeper self-understanding and even creative work. For instance, it gave birth to this paragraph and a story revolving around a theme of loneliness:

It was then when she saw the bartender, silent and smiling, like a priest intoning a mass to well-ordered rows of glasses. In the pool of warm light, she saw his dancing hands concocting drinks that swallowed worries without prejudice; his clear-headed sobriety in an inebriated world; and, through her sunglasses, she saw plain as day his brilliant solitude.

— “April, I Arrive on The Shores of Your Love” (the final story I submitted in December 2017 for the CFMR Fiction Writing Workshop, one of my freshman fall classes)

  • Boredom too is fertile. In fact, I’ll argue that it’s necessary. I used to get really anxious about being idle, but I’ve since come to terms with how it renders my messy and at times incomprehensible life into something less perplexing. Instead of striving to be productive constantly, being present in the moment and to simply rest idly allows for me to imagine—to imagine a mosaic of meaning for the web of my life.
  • The best way to become better at writing is to write and to receive honest no-frills critique. When I was at a literary reading by Jeffrey Eugenides a few months ago, he told all of us, Inspiration is a myth. It’s something produced by exertion, not grace. I’ve found that increasingly true.
  • “I don’t know” is one of the most freeing and rewarding sentences ever. Surrendering myself to not-knowing is liberating. I’m far more at peace with making uncertain what seems certain than with claiming certainty.
  • Our lives are a constellation of chance and choice. There have been frequent moments in 2017 when I was struck by an incredible wonder—will I be who I am at this moment if I had given up in a period of despair in 2016 and didn’t apply to Harvard? What if I had filled out my Housing Questionnaire differently and winded up with an entirely disparate set of roommates? What if I hadn’t applied to the Fiction Writing Workshop this semester as one of my classes—would I still be thinking about concentrating in English instead of Government or History? What if my parents hadn’t changed their minds at the very last moment on the matter of scholarships, and then I might have headed off to college with a wholly different set of priorities? I sometimes think about this when crossing the streets, rushing across the Yard, or lying awake in bed at night. Then, I realize that maybe we’re all just a cosmic aggregation of the lives we lead and the lives we don’t.

I do not know where I might have been led… What is certain is that I am satisfied with my fate and that I should not want it changed in any way at all. So I look upon these factors that helped me to fulfill it as so many fortunate strokes of chance.

Simone De Beauvoir

  • To my future self: be wary of choosing the ‘easy path’ and be wary of prestige. If I am equally torn between two paths, but one is more ‘prestigious’, as a general rule I really ought to choose the other. My thoughts on what’s desirable are always going to be slightly influenced by prestige. So, if the two choices seem equal to me, I probably have more genuine desire for the ‘less prestigious’ one. I hope I remember that.
  • What a lucky accident it is for us to be alive. There is no redoing, no perfecting, and no rehearsals to life. As it happens to us, we happen upon it. There is a strange serendipity to life, of such a delicate balance of infinite little accidents and intuitive encounters and contingencies that a single miss would have meant that this me I so concretely know vanishes into oblivion. Whenever I feel very down, I think of this and it makes me a feel a lot better. I am reminded of the magnificence of even existing. How can any single existence be ordinary?
  • Life is but a moment, so living it happily matters more than anything else. I really like how this phrase sounds in Chinese, so I’ll write it again: 人生就是一瞬,自己每天高高兴兴地过最重要。

Thank you to my dearest friends, family, and most of all to God for all the goodness, blessings, and wonder in my life. Without Him, I wouldn’t understand the importance of waiting, of growing, of failures, of tiny milestones of awareness, and of new understandings that push me into a braver, stronger, kinder, and better version of myself. It’s strange how life works—something that seems monumental, defining, or inescapable no longer amounts to much (if anything, at all) when we perceive it from many steps ahead. That’s life—it’s to keep moving forward and not wallow in the despair or jubilation of a moment.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! ❤️


Lots of love, and thank you, always, for reading,

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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 🎅

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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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