April: Random Musings

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).

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March: Ode to the Nameless

曾經有那一刻
There was once a moment when
回頭竟然認不得
I looked back and actually couldn’t remember.
需要 從記憶 再摸索
I need to fumble through the memories again
的人 和他們關心的
To remember the people and their care
的地方和那些 走過的
And the places I’ve been to.
請等一等
Please wait.

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.”

Description and lyrics by Asian Euphoria.

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.

Osho

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Book Ubers ahead. They’re cheaper and easier to find.
  4. Eat out at lunch on 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  • Essay: Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid” by Rufi Thorpe — On being a mom, a wife, and a writer.
  • Places & People:

February ’22: Storytelling is a Superpower

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.

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2021 reflections (& the past few weeks)

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:

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August: Scrapbooking Life

A year ago I started the 52 weeks of Self Discovery journaling prompts. Last week, I finished my last entry, exactly one year after my start date. I’ve changed in some ways, but mostly stayed the same. No longer overcompetitive, but still disciplined; not so hung up on high school regrets, still can’t stand it when other people don’t pull their weight on team projects.

I’m trying to record more of my life:

  • What happened: daily Homework For Life and journaling sessions
  • What I think: rants or responses to prompts in my journal, reflection questions on my Notion page, and monthly blog posts
  • What I consume: food and product ratings in my journal, a meticulous Goodreads, meal pictures on my phone, and a Notion media consumption database
  • What I buy: taped receipts in my journal and a Notion expense tracker
  • What I cook: recipe ideas on my Notion
  • How I move: the runkeeper app and my Mi Fit band.

Some of this is public; most stays visible only to me. It is a way for me to revisit a past self, to track my idiosyncrasies and habits. Think of it like lifelong qualitative data gathering: I did X and Y is what happened. What parts of my life are governed by a set of rules? What resembles a random scatterplot? Most importantly, what stories can I share and connect with others over?

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July: Paradigm Shifts

Lachesism n. the desire to be struck by disaster—to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall—which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp, not just a stiff prefabricated beam that barely covers the gap between one end of your life and the other.

That perverse thought that creeps up on you in the worst moment. At the red traffic light of an intersection—what if I just stepped on my gas pedal? On the top level of a shopping mall, looking down at the first floor—what if I jumped down?

Intrusive thoughts, the “Call of the void,” the “High Place Phenomenon, and l’appel du vide in French, all refer to this feeling of self-sabotage. According to April Smith, an associate professor of psychology at Miami University, this phenomenon is pretty normal. It’s an alarm signal from your brain to be careful.

Lachesism, however, takes it a step further:

And while your brain goes numb trying to shake off your complacency, your heart can’t sit still, and your gut is hungry for chaos—itching to chase after storms and run headlong into the fire. To watch society breakdown and find out what’s truly important and watch everything else fall away.

The apocalypse is one of the oldest fantasies we have, but it’s not about skipping to the end of the story. It’s a longing for revelation, a revealing of what we already know, but cannot see: that none of this is guaranteed and there is no such thing as “ordinary life.”

…But soon the storm will pass, and the world will go on spinning, and we’ll pick up our lives just where we left them, no more urgently than before. After all, it’s just life. It’s not the end of the world.”

Here’s a perverse secret: I used to want to experience a school shooting that left everyone unharmed. For the thrill of it, maybe. But also to understand what true danger feels like without any real consequences, to be awakened from everyday mundanity, to be reminded that existence is fleeting and I should appreciate it more. This scenario—like the apocalyptic, dystopian, and cyberpunk media I consume—is a fantasy, and yet they make me feel so human.

Hamish Dalley, an assistant professor of world literature at Daemen College, would argue that Lachesism is a fantasy by settlers to preserve their own futurity and disavow the violence of settler colonialism:

We dream instead of ends, imagining worlds without us, thinking of what it would be like not to be. But at every moment we know that that the dream is nothing but a dream; we know we will awake and still be here, unchanged, unchanging, living on, forever. Thus settlers persist even beyond the moment of extinction they thought they wanted to arrive.

By imagining apocalypse scenarios, we—those privileged enough to imagine destruction as hypothetical instead of our present condition—assert our vulnerability instead of challenging the “material, political, constitutional, [and] practical” structures that lock us in perpetual inequity.

But what happens when disaster actually strikes? The pandemic has changed our lives permanently. It gave some of us an excuse to cut off the toxic people in our lives, the time to rediscover art, the miracle of collective action. However, I recognize the privilege in this statement. While COVID-19 has awakened us to the reality of mother nature and exposed the hubris of humankind, it has also caused so much destruction and pain for those who have been affected directly and indirectly.

But perhaps this pain was already present, and has now been brought to the surface; many of those hurt were already in vulnerable communities. Vaccine inequity, for instance, has highlighted the gap between the First and Third Worlds, calling for increased international cooperation. Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic was enough to swing some American voters to Biden’s side as the negative effects of his policies began to directly affect them.

Disaster as a precursor for change seems to be the theme of the past year. The killing of George Floyd launched a series of protests and interrogations of America’s anti-black structural racism. The Atlanta spa shootings reflected (and for many, revealed) the complex intersectional experience of being an Asian woman, and its historical legacy. No doubt, we will emerge out of the pandemic with a different conscience.

Yet, if you ask me, “would you rather live in a world without COVID-19 and the recent killings of Black Americans and Asian women?,” my first instinct would be yes. But if I chew on the question for a little longer, there’s that growing inkling of hope within me that things will change for the better.


I like thrill: roller coasters, ziplining, jumping from tall ledges, you name it. I crave the physical sensation of my stomach dropping and air rushing past my body, the awareness that life is ephemeral so I might as well send it. However, I wouldn’t say I love risk. As an introvert, I’m uncomfortable by seemingly minor social situations. Sometimes, I even dread catching up with an old friend—but when I do, I’m always surprised by how smoothly we slip into our old ways, conversation taking its natural course.

Recently, I caught up with two younger friends who are still in high school. Their worries and desires reflected their naivete, bringing me back to my own mindset from a few years back. Having never gotten a proper high school graduation or a senior trip, I used to want closure. I refused to let go of my senior year, and I still feel like I’m seventeen. But growing up is not determined by lavish celebrations, vacations to tropical islands with friends, or the length of your existence. It’s looking back to the last few years and seeing how all your small experiences have accumulated, each nudging your worldview until your paradigm shifts.

In late June, an intense heatwave hit the Pacific Northwest, pushing temperatures up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat literally melted power lines, and my neighborhood’s power went out. Before, my biggest complaints would have been about not having air conditioning because our house was old and not being able to connect with friends both in-person and online. Now, I’m more concerned with the my city’s infrastructure: How will utility companies adopt to increased energy usage when more residents begin to install air conditioning? What more sustainable, resilient cooling alternatives to air conditioning are there? Will officials see the heatwave as an ad-hoc event, or will they prioritize dynamic emergency weather response in resilience planning?

A mass exodus out of my hometown on day 1 of the heatwave

Monthly Favorites

💫 Recent Life Updates

  • I finally tried matcha and have decided that I’m a huge fan. My wallet, however, is not.
  • I’ve been trying to make the most out of the PNW summer. Every weekend my family tries to have an outdoors activity, but it mostly ends up being just my parents and I, since my brother just wants to play video games. Even with friends, our hangouts are mostly outside.

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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