Haymarket has become my favorite Boston phenomena as of late. The open-air market opens at dawn on Fridays and Saturdays. The vendors are mostly immigrants, but the shoppers come from all walks of life–a hodgepodge of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, all trying to find the best deals.
I struggle to come up with a concise description of the aperture between my Asian immigrant mother and I. It’s an amalgamation of various gaps: cultural, generational, economic… So after hearing the raving reviews of Everything Everywhere All at Once (that the film is a true representation of the Asian-American experience, filled with seamless code-switching and a narrative that would open a floodgate of tears), I was eager to bond over it in theaters with her.
“How do we imagine and struggle for democracy that does not spawn forms of terror, that does not spawn war, that does not need enemies for its sustenance? Because people who are in prison are pointed to as the enemies of society, and that is one of the ways in which we can define our own sense of ourselves as free, by looking at those who are our opposites.”
(Angela Davis, “The Meaning of Freedom,” 149)
This passage from Angela Davis’s “The Meaning of Freedom” comes at the end of her speech as she revisits the theme of the conference, the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. After examining the harms of the prison-industrial complex, Davis turns her attention to what we ought to do in the present to create a democracy that does not cause terror, war, or “need enemies for its sustenance” through incarceration and exploitation. In the form of a question, Davis invites her audience to “imagine” and “struggle” for this democracy.
To understand why she proposes imagination, it is important first to grasp what she means with this concept. One way to interpret her words is as a call for a thought experiment. Under this reading, the passage is a stark turning point from her detailed exposition of the real violence and social problems that threaten marginalized populations. It is easy to dismiss the act of imagining as restricted to the sphere of philosophy, or even mere fantasy. After all, how can mere imagination translate to changed realities for imprisoned populations?
It seems like every week brings us closer to a breaking point that we will never actually reach–an asymptote, if you will. The limit as x approaches infinity.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was only a debate argument until it was not. Even though it’s been almost two months since the headlines broke the internet, I’m still processing it. The clips of the Shenzhen and Shanghai quarantines seem like eerie dystopian filters. My relatives are locked in their homes and face difficulties securing food while some students at my university are hosting anti-mask protests.
So I’ve been trapped in my own thoughts. I’m trying to parse through them, trying to find some coherence and connection. A meta level takeaway that I can put into my pocket. But I haven’t been able to. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe what I’m experiencing. It’s like taking someone from a thousand years ago to the 21st century and asking them to describe what they see (analogy source).
There was once a moment when
I looked back and actually couldn’t remember.
需要 從記憶 再摸索
I need to fumble through the memories again
To remember the people and their care
And the places I’ve been to.
My favorite Chinese song is 不为谁而作的歌 (The Song Which Was Not Written For Anyone) by JJ Lin, a commemoration for all the nameless people that leave some positive imprint on our lives.
“This song is about unsung heroes and the people you forget to thank for helping you get to where you are. In the beginning of the music video, JJ Lin is asked about the people and things in his life he is most thankful for. He answers that there are too many, just like how there are too many people in life that you don’t know. The interviewer remarks that it’s not possible to talk about all of them and jokes around asking if he needs to write out a table of all the people. JJ replies that he’ll write a song. Throughout the music video, there are scenes of people helping out in everyday situations. They’re people who don’t always get thanked or whose faces could be easily forgotten years later. They include people on the train helping a mother and child, students helping a bullied student, people helping out after they see a car accident, and people who help the handicapped.”
I wrote a blog post in October 2020 of some of the nameless neighbors that I call my community. Now that I spend most of my time in Georgetown instead of Bellevue, I have a new set of anonymous acquaintances.
Leaving my dorm at 7:30 am, I bump into the building janitor. He’s always smiling, quick to pause his work to open the door for me. I reciprocate his expression and greet him good morning.
The dining hall is where things get a little more toxic. I only ever eat yogurt and fruit in the morning, and the servers know me as the girl who always asks for two bananas, and separate cups of Greek yogurt and fruit to maximize the value of her meal swipe. When they only fill the cup halfway, I ask them as politely as I can muster, “could I get a little more, please?” Next, I head over to the coffee station and fill my 600 mL thermos with hot water. The lady there watches me like a hawk to make sure I don’t pour any liquid into the colossal container of brewing tea.
On my way back to my dorm, there’s a middle-aged guy dressed in Georgetown colors sitting on the bench right outside the front door. I still don’t know what his occupation is–maybe a guard, police, or janitor—but he’s always carrying a plastic bag and has his mask pulled under his chin.
As I head out for my morning run, I see a junior girl from the seventh floor. Donning a beanie, long socks, and bright yellow Hokas, she actually stretches before taking off. I could definitely learn from her.
Along the canal, I’m greeted by familiar daily exercisers: an old blind man walking briskly with his walking stick; an extremely athletic lady out of breath from her long run; a mustached man, hands deep in his pockets, who always nods and says “good morning;” an older woman in a Reuters coat, and another female biker with a Deloitte backpack. Take your pick: Asics or Hoka running shoes, lightweight Patagonia or North Face down, Soulcycle or Outdoor Voices tote.
These people haven’t necessarily done me any explicit favors, but I would like to thank them. Thank them for being there, as my feet pound the pavement, on both the oddly humid mornings and the windy, frigid ones. They are the reason I keep running the same route. As people who take their coffee in a specific fashion every day, I get my energy boost every time I pass one of them. It’s like, hey, I may be dying from the four midterms I have this week, but at least biker lady is still doing well.
Sometimes I think I like solitude too much. On my birthday this year, I tried spending as much of it as I could alone. Walking back from my free Soulcycle class, breathing in the crisp air, legs sore but feeling strong, I was so content in my own company. I ate all my meals alone, too—with the accompaniment of Netflix, of course.
And yet, it’s because of this solitude that I appreciate company when I have it. I’m intentional with my hang outs, only doing so when my social energy is recharged so that I can be fully present with others. If I spend time with someone, it’s not out of obligation, but out of genuine desire. The time I give out is much more valuable. After all, according to the laws of economics, when supply is scarce… (okay, I won’t go there.)
My favorite Youtube vloggers are people who spend most of their time alone. Doobydobap, Emma Chamberlain, and Michelle Choi, to name a few. There’s something so delightful about their seemingly mundane days; it’s their free spirit, I think. Untied by social pressures. So comfortable in their own skins.
The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it’s not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person–without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.
Excluding school and extracurricular-related travel, I finally went on my first chaperone-less vacation! My roommate and I stayed in a cozy Airbnb in the Communipaw neighborhood of Jersey City, which has a sizeable Caribbean population. Here are some of my like-bests and next-times:
Like Bests (what we did well & will do again):
Prepared for the weather. It was sleeting half the time and sunny the other half. While we couldn’t control the weather gods, we could plan our activities (i.e. going to New York on a sunny day) and dress (wear a hat, gloves, and packable down jacket) and pack our bags (with sunglasses and sunscreen) accordingly. However, I have to admit that weather really makes or breaks an experience. My roommate asked me if I would live in Jersey City on the day it was sleeting, and I immediately replied, “no.” By the next day, after a morning run through downtown, I was already reconsidering my answer.
Pack snacks! There’s nothing worse than being hangry on a vacation. Everywhere I went, I had an apple, banana, and protein bar in my tote bag.
Book Ubers ahead. They’re cheaper and easier to find.
Eat out at lunchon weekdays. Lunch set deals are so worth it and also delicious! Given the lack of good Asian food in D.C., I indulged in hearty Japanese, Thai, Indian, and Asian Fusion meals.
Walking is good for the mind, body, and soul. With good weather, fun people, and an expansive college campus, what’s better than a good walk & chat? I walked 45,000+ steps (20 miles) at Princeton University, and somehow still felt energetic.
When in doubt, ask a local. Whether you’re lost or just looking for some niche places to visit, a local will likely have the answer. It saved us from wandering for 30+ minutes looking for the Brooklyn Bridge.
Next Times (things to keep in mind for next time):
Eat more fruit. As someone who eats at least six servings of fruit a day, I only had 2 or 3 servings per day on the trip. Even though I didn’t go hungry, this was far too little to promote good digestion.
Spend less on transport. Although we walked a lot, we spent even more on Ubers and Amtrack. If we had planned ahead, we definitely could have used more public transport.
Stop draining the phone. Stunned by the splendor of a new city, we would use most of our battery before half the day was over. Thankfully, I always kept a portable charger; alternatively, I could have just cut down on screen time.
Bring more cash. Some of the smaller restaurants and shops we stopped at had extra credit card fees. While a few dimes don’t seem like much, they quickly add up.
Each time I travel is a new learning opportunity. This trip has made me realize that the accumulation of dozens of vacations and debate tournaments have made me much more comfortable with unfamiliarity. I’m no longer as unsettled by a lack of Asian faces. I can usually find my way back without Google Maps. Tourist activities—though fun every so often—are not as fun as living like a local: people watching in downtown during morning rush hour; wandering out alone in the “hood” in the evening; buying from corner grocery stores instead of large supermarkets; and surfing Yelp for the most “bang for your buck” meal.
✨ Monthly Favorites
Book: The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki — After the tragic death of his beloved musician father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house – a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous.
Movie: American Girl— When her mother gets sick, 13-year-old Fen moves back to Taiwan, where she struggles to fit in amid the 2003 SARS epidemic.
Podcast: “Could we lose delicious foods forever?” by Vox Conversations — Vox’s Benji Jones talks with food journalist and author Dan Saladino, whose new book Eating to Extinction documents rare foods and food cultures from around the world, showing how they are being affected by climate change, globalization, and industrial agricultural practices.
What kept you up at night with excitement this year?
I asked this question to a good friend from high school over winter break. We hadn’t caught up in a while and dove straight into the juicy questions as soon as we could in our conversation. His answer went something like this:
“During first few month of school, my small friend group would stay up in a small common room and just talk, ask random life questions. All four of us have pretty different backgrounds. Different stories of how they got to where they are. We didn’t know each other that well [at first], but it was nice hearing other peoples opinions. It became a game asking people questions called, ‘you don’t really know me.'”
Likewise, I’ve become close friends with people in college through their stories, not parties or sporting events. The most striking similarity we share is our love to hear about each other’s differences.
2021 was a wild ride. From moving out across the country alone to running my first half marathon, the last year was all about pushing my limits.
I have always practiced the art of reflection. Last year, I published my reflection for 2020. This year, I expanded upon that using Ali Abdaal’s annual review template on Notion, and while it’s far too long to post its entirety, there were a few snippets I wanted to share:
My favorite time on campus is 7:00 am, just before the sun has risen along with the clamor of sleep-deprived college students stumbling to the gym, the dining hall, or class. I have always been an early sleeper and early riser. From 6:30 am dance practices on weekdays to early morning debate rounds on the weekends, you’d think my parents would let me sleep in during summer break. But I never slept past 9:30 am; always too many things to do, someone to meet, somewhere to be.
Being an Asian American woman means living through a series of dichotomies: sometimes the dragon lady and other times the China doll, seductive yet obedient, hypersexualized but innocent. She lives oscillating between visibility and invisibility: silenced when she wants to speak out, spectacularized when she wants to blend in. Hardly ever do people stop and ask her, what is it like navigating a world that tries to force her into predefined boxes?
I had the delight of reading Oriental Girls Desire Romance by Catherine Liu for my Asian Americans in the Public Sphere course this semester. This novel explores the exogenous factors that set conflicting expectations for how Asian American women should behave, and how these expectations make it difficult for them to identify their supposed role in American society. Through a stream of consciousness style, the unnamed young Chinese American narrator takes us along in her struggle to find her place in the money-obsessed New York City of the 1980’s.