June: The Journey to Neverland

In honor of June, the start of seven week high school debate camps, here is an excerpt from my final assignment (a 5000+ word essay on friendship in high school debate) for my Experimental Essays class:


I have only one pinned text conversation, not with my mom or my dad, but with two girls I met at senior debate camp. As stressed college students, the conversation is usually quiet. However, every few weeks, I’ll get a stream of notifications:

Kelly:

Why can’t u all come to Taiwan so we can get lit ?!?’ 😫🥺🥺
I miss u all

Kristen:

yes

we miss u more

uh also can someone help me with my math really fast

This is the sole chat with people I’ve met through debate that I still keep up with. For most others, leaving debate as part of our high school personas meant our chats desertified and staled, gradually buried underneath new college GroupMe and Slack notifications. But here was the difference with Kelly and Kristen: our bonds were rooted in a soil deeper than this activity.

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April: Treasure Hunt

You take after me. Head of dark, coarse hair, a little uneven and frayed at the edges. No matter how I try to smooth it out, a few untamed strands stick up stubbornly from its sides.

Those tall, slender figures on TV—we don’t look like them, but that’s okay. We’ve learned to love being pocket-sized, venturing into spaces they can only dream of going. Who wants to be lanky and stick-like, anyway? Our Chineseness is tattooed on our bodies for everyone to see. On you: 小床刷—little bed brush. On me: slanted eyes like two lines of ink. Behind these artful strokes lies five thousand years of history.

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February: Drifting

My eyes open on their own, greeted by beige popcorn ceiling—a familiar sight for the past month, and yet. Yet, something is wrong. Curiosity fills in the gaps left by drowsiness, sending tingles through my fingertips. It’s quiet—too quiet; a deafening silence; a loneliness that permeates every breath and bone. I peel back the curtains and rays of understanding refract through the glass window.

I’m Alice falling down the rabbit hole, I think. An illusion of perspective: everything outside is still but appears to be floating upward. But this is not some fantasy world. Perhaps I’m in the silent outer space, specks of light orbiting around me. An illusion of distance: not fireflies stuck in that big bluish-black thing, but balls of gas burning billions of miles away. But that’s not right—the gravity here is 9.8 m/s2. I must be in the ocean, submerged fathoms beneath the surface, watching air bubbles swim to the surface. The silence is an illusion of sound: not less of it but traveling faster and through a greater density. But no—I can breathe. I turn to familiar memories: the white specks swirling and carried upward by the wind must be cottonwood seeds. However, it’s not spring, nor am I in Seattle. I’m in Washington—the city, not the state.

And then it strikes me: It is snowing. The white flurries are simultaneously thick and light, not falling but drifting uncertainly, caught in a tug of war between gravity and air pressure.

When I try to capture the view on my phone camera, I frown at the result. Through the screen, the snow has shrunk both in size and wonder, camouflaging against the abalone sky. The ground is disappointingly charcoal gray. The snow disappears as soon as it touches concrete, as if it was never there.

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January: New Year, Old Self

New year, new beginnings, new you. The concept of tabula rasa is especially true for 2021 as we try to shed the tragedy of 2020 behind. Spring is the light at the end of the tunnel. Just hold on a bit longer, and the vaccine will solve everything.

Why, then, do I find myself these days dwelling in the past? Not the past year (as I, too, would like too erase these memories), but two years, four years, even ten years ago. Weekly journaling and long walks with my parents mean I’m constantly digging through my memories, and there’s nothing quite like discovering a hidden gem that you don’t remember burying.

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2020 reflections

Spending more time with yourself is uncomfortable. You discover flaws that you never knew existed, catch yourself in real-time soliloquys, and sit in maelstroms of your own emotions—no distractions or flotation devices allowed. But solitude doesn’t have to mean loneliness: It can also be liberating. There’s extra time for indulging in hobbies, learning how to take care of yourself and others, and finding beauty in the mundane.

This year has been the most transformative year of my life. Though I’ve said this at the end of every year since sixth grade, I think 2020 will leave an impression that surpasses the next few years until I graduate.

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Saving Face

In the 1998 Mulan animation, Mulan undergoes a comedic physical transformation in preparation to meet the matchmaker. As she attempts to fit into the line of picturesque, proper young women, the movie soundtrack repeats an important plea:

Please bring honor to us
(Please bring honor to us)
Please bring honor to us
(Please bring honor to us)
Please bring honor to us all

“Honor to Us All” highlights the significance of dignity in Chinese culture. But while “honor” conjures images of strict, Confucian families of ancient China, the contemporary narrative is all about mianzi.

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Brightlines and Fine Lines

We’ve reached that time of the year in the Puget Sound when pale sunlight becomes shrouded by indecisive clouds that oscillate between sheer silver and dark gray, when we wake up to a familiar pitter patter rhythm—a reminder that we only have two seasons: three months of lemon sunshine and nine months of minty rain. On my daily evening walks, dim streetlights struggle to break through the rigid darkness. The past few days, I have been trying to loosen my hold on the illusion of summer. (However, this week is supposed to be sunny and/or partly cloudy. Sixty-degree weather won’t stop me from pretending fall has yet to come.)

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Relearning Proximity

I’ve never had a sustained conversation with anyone who lives on my block. I’m not sure if this is abnormal or not, but compared to my previous home where I lived from age three to 10, my current neighborhood–though much larger in size–is characterized by a strange silence. Scratch that–it was characterized by a strange silence. Or perhaps it was never quiet, I just never bothered to listen.

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Month-Long Roller Coaster

On August 16, I was supposed to move into Georgetown’s campus as a bright-eyed freshman brimming with anticipation for what Hilltop has to offer: the center of American politics, limitless pre-professional clubs, the Georgetown neighborhood’s prized dessert shops, and in-person classes with top IR scholars. I had even pushed my move-in date three days earlier so that I could attend a social justice pre-orientation program.

But on July 29, Georgetown announced its decision to go virtual. Not to be dramatic, but I cried six times that day. Since then, the weeks have merged into a blur; the only events that interrupt a seemingly-repeating day are periodic episodes of sobbing and quarter-life crises.

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Art Consumption | The Paper Menagerie, The Farewell, & More

In the past few months, I’ve been reclaiming my love for art–literature, films, visual art, fashion, and everything that two years of the International Baccalaureate program has detached myself from.

I’ve no doubt relished in art about experiences that I do not share (I finally read Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns) and consequently explored new perspectives and become present to the various privileges I have. Nonetheless, I find myself inevitably returning to Asian-American artists. In doing so, I’ve discovered that my connection toward Asian-American art does not stem from my ability to relate to its content–after all, I’ve indulged in countless books and films about the high school experience and the struggles of being a girl. But what Asian-American art does is unravel me, leave me raw and bare, expose my facades, and force me to deal with my identity in a unique way.

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