Hi, I’m new

Yeah I’m not from here, I know you can tell from my accent. I also don’t know how to use credit cards and which numbers ‘account number’ refers to. I don’t know how to get to that bus stop or which way I should go to get to school faster (Google maps is sometimes a LIE). I don’t know how to be an adult. But I’m trying, I’m learning, and I can now successfully cook asparagus and salmon fillet. I can also sort the whites from the coloured socks and shop for sponges but I can’t deny that I’m missing my helper from back home… It’s strange how something so commonplace in Hong Kong isn’t a thing here at all. Alas, my bed sheets remain a perpetual mess. But what is the point when, at the end of the day, I’m going to roll around in it? 

My mattress sits in the living room and my suitcases are lined up against the wall. My books, boxes and bags have dominated the floor. And I realize now that I do mind when people sit on my bed- people who I’ve just met. With a group of friends that I’ve gradually gotten to know through the seven years of high school, I’ve been used to the quiet understanding between us. It’s a different thing, having to get to know strangers. In the beginning, it’s all fine and dandy, because neither party can afford to be rude and neither knows the other’s annoying habits. I don’t like the sound of chewing. I hate it. But I can’t tell her to shut up like I do with my friends. 

Things aren’t as I thought they would be… But my mind couldn’t have prepared for them anyway. When I first arrived, LA highways and palm trees were extraordinary, lifted from screens and Tumblr photos I’ve seen- like seeing celebrities in real life at a concert. You’ve seen them in adverts, on various media and you know they’re real but it doesn’t quite register; it’s the merging of two formerly separate realities. 
I didn’t think I’d be emotional when my parents dropped me off after dinner (dad’s birthday) on the second day of orientation, but as I hugged them, thanked them and told them I loved them, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude my eyes began to leak. Thank you for working, paying, making sure I’m well and alive. Thank you for giving me the incredible privilege of planting my feet on the concrete of Los Angeles, let alone UCLA. Thank you for loving me, for the life I’ve led up to this point. Thank you for being my parents, because that is a privilege too.
I’m also beginning to understand just how expensive a comfortable life is. Again, it’s something I’ve always known but not fully appreciated. Whenever I was hungry at home, I only had to open the fridge to resolve the problem. Someone would always be there to cook dinner and there’d be fruit at the table. Now I have to worry about things like paying for school, electricity, wifi and rent. It’s much more than I’m usually responsible for. This independence they speak of- or freedom from reliance – is slowly waking. 

Without a car, I can only be bothered to walk a certain distance. I thought there would be a coffee shop for me tucked around the corner, but 1) It’s further than I’d hoped. 2) Coffee is expensive. 3) It’s crowded. 4) It’s Starbucks and Coffee Bean and they’re both not very homey. Where are the nearby hipster coffee shops with pillows, drapes, lounge chairs and live music?

 The problem is not so much that I’m new… but that everything is new to me. 

Just visiting

It’s a strange feeling being amongst those who have found their place here at USC. Even stranger since I’m not going to this school and I’m wandering around campus with a HKU sackpack and a camera on my arm. Girls are somewhat more intimidating to ask for directions from and those who I’ve asked were as lost as I was- freshman boys. At what age do you start calling a boy a man? Calling an 18 year old a man sounds kind of patronising to me. And cliche. It’s like when a girl gets her first period. “You’re a woman now!!!” Cringe. And what is the equivalent of ‘guy’ for girls? Boy and girl. Ladies and gentleman. Guy and?? ‘Guy’ gets rid of the problem of addressing people in terms of their age. What if you’re too old to be a girl but you’re not yet a woman? Cue Britney spears.

In a way, it’s nice that I’ve lost my parents. They’re off speaking in some auditorium or lecture hall and I’m sitting on the steps of the Pertusati University Bookstore with my notebook out, smoothie settled on the ground and camera on my lap. Only problem is, I don’t know how long this will have to last. People are skating, rolling along on their bikes with a place in mind. In the canteen lines, friends greet each other with “it’s been forever!” and “how was your night?”  I hear snippets of conversations about carrying alcohol, about some Aussie guy being a threat to some sort of position. A ‘double whammy’, says a guy in military uniform. “You’ve got my blood running through you”, says a dad trying to reassure the freshman on the first day of school.

The sky is breathtaking. It’s like somebody’s hand swiped across the sky leaving clouds in streaks. And wow, so many good looking people! In Nikes and long socks and snap-backs. In denim shorts and sunnies. It’s So CAL.  

I see this one student flirting with a bookstore clerk. Or the other way around. She says, “you got me turning red”, “my lil’ crush on you”. Hilarious. I can’t hold back a smile. Is this what people call stream of consciousness? Continually putting down immediate thoughts? Connecting thoughts to pen to page?
The smoothie has melted and the initial mind blowing explosion of peanut butter and chocolate and bananas and marshmallow has simmered down to pure sweetness. I need a change of scenery. But where to?

- – – -

Who knew my camera would be a conversation starter? “Are you a film student?” said one. “You might want to take it from the bottom up, ’cause see, the umbrellas just look like shit”, said the other. The umbrellas turned out fine. And now I have two allies from USC.

To remember.

Connecting the dots

Inspiration and motivation strike at the most inopportune times. Or perhaps it is the urgency posed by deadlines that gives birth to motivation. Now I’m in LA with little time to spare before University so here I go. 
Before I left Hong Kong, I had so much to say. Even so, I did not transfer my writing to this blog and have been busy just living and eating vegetables. Oh, yeah, that is a recent development- I’m a pescatarian now. It was a health conscious decision, a challenge with regards to self control, and a question of what I was willing to sacrifice. I guess I’m too selfish to monitor my protein intake with care so I eat fish. I tell myself it’s okay because fish memories suck so it’s not like I’m eating dogs or intelligent creatures. But I can’t deny that I am selfish and well, cruel too. I am however starting to think about cutting dairy as well, what with all the cases of animal cruelty. I never allowed myself to watch the videos on animal farming because I knew that once I did, I’d never be able to eat meat again and I love/d meat. I didn’t actually have to watch a video to make up my mind; I just watched one of Tim Schieff’s videos on veganism. For so long I’ve been detached from the reality that these animals go through, since I never see it for myself. Someone far away does the slaughtering and I am presented with cooked barbecue wings, disconnected from the rest of the chicken. Why should a conscious, intelligent animal be killed- and usually in a barbaric way- for a meal that tastes good for the fleeting moments it is in my mouth? So that’s that. Turns out meat is much easier to give up than I thought. I don’t miss it… I just resent the lack of variety. But then again, that’s because I’m not searching for the good stuff, and from what I’ve heard, LA is the perfect place for such diet changes.

Just before I left, I was confronted with a problem: I no longer needed people the way I once did and it made me feel guilty. It scared me. I was ready for a fresh start, I genuinely felt free; a sense of independence. But I decided that this is what people mean by growing up. I reconciled my feelings by realizing that although I may not need people, it doesn’t mean I love them any less. The charge of emotion when you think you NEED someone makes you think you love them more, but love, as I have said a thousand times, is a choice. People are a lovely addition to life. Maybe some people need me more than I need them, and that’s okay. Why do they have to be a necessity? They don’t. When someone needs you, you carry responsibility. You need to prioritise. There have been moments when I didn’t want to give, but working relationships require sacrifice. I admire givers- givers that don’t ask for anything in return, so I will strive to be one. Whether you love me or need me, I will respond with love and choose to give and give and give- as long as my morals remain intact. 

It’s crazy to think how close I am to University orientation- just two days. University was the dream! I still remember sitting in english class, before the GCSE exams, deadlines, late night scrabbling, IB exams, prom, graduation and all the filler days, when J and I shared how we envisioned it. All we had to look forward to was what we were going to have for lunch that day and what clothes we would wear on our next night out. But we did imagine. How great it would be to finally be done with high school, to dive into the college experience, sleep in and wake up whenever to go to class. Meeting the cute boy on the first day of school, walking into the lecture hall. Downing a cup of coffee every morning to wake heavy eyelids. It was always there, some way far off. But the dewy days of summer evaporated rapidly… And now it’s here. The plane descended and the pilot welcomed us all to LAX. When the future comes, it’s hard to recapture what you once thought it’d be like, and the feeling is hard to describe.

I’ve been living past the suburbs, in a neighbourhood comprised of multiple Wisteria Lanes and picture perfect houses. Green yards, pebbles on the walkway. The malls are massive and the whole foods section gives me a selection of at least five different hummus. I was surprised to find that there aren’t many fat people here. Obesity is overstated, it seems… in California. Montage of LA so far: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OJ4JoUc38M&feature=youtu.be

 

Let’s be loving

With six hours of sleep- this morning my mother’s petulant voice woke me at 8:40- I am a grumpy old fart. Anyone who forces me to talk or gets in my way is the devil. I had to pick up my SAR passport, and whilst waiting in line, I was met with the most pungent smell of sausage bread. These two kids were munching away and I scowled, thinking who eats sausage bread in a government office? Why would anyone #stank up the place like that? Then I came to my senses and thought: how can I hate on children for eating bread? I am a terrible human. 

Speaking of terrible humans, I have developed a prejudice towards Mainland Chinese people. I know not all of them are rude, I know there are exceptions and lovely people from the Mainland, just as there are in any other place in the world, but recently I’ve witnessed so many situations that reinforce the negative stereotype. My sister says they’re loud and proud… A generalisation that I find myself agreeing with. I try to keep and open mind but unfortunately for me, the stereotype is always proven right. 
Just yesterday, I was at the food court with my sister, holding heavy trays of steaming food. We waited by a table for around fifteen minutes, when suddenly a family of three plus a grandmother slid next to us, and the father put his bag onto one of the empty seats- a cheeky way of saying THIS IS MY SEAT NOW. Um, hello? I gave him a look so that he could re-evaluate. When the people eating finished and left, there were four empty seats. Let us take two, you can take two and split up, or go somewhere else. If I saw that people had been waiting for a while and they were holding food, I’d give them the seats no doubt. It’s the courteous, polite thing to do. It’s what people should do for an optimal and functioning society. But, the mother took a seat, the grandmother advanced to ‘my’ seat and was beckoning the rest of the family to sit. I spoke to the father firmly in Cantonese, but he couldn’t understand. They spoke mandarin. Mainlanders. I pointed to my wrist to indicate that we had been waiting for a long time, and put my tray down to mark my territory. I took the seat before the grandmother (of around 60 years) could (#sorrynotsorry) and told my sister to sit. The family shot me daggers but I was hungry and tired of standing around, especially when there were barely any free tables in sight.
That is just ONE of the many examples and experiences I’ve acquired throughout my 18 years in Hong Kong. Hong Kong people can be rude in the sense that they don’t have time for people; they’re indifferent, standoffish. But Mainland people? Cut-throat, every man for himself, no concept of the other? Is it an ingrained cultural attitude? They cut in front of taxi lines, bus lines- any line to be honest, as if nobody else exists besides themselves. They raise their voices in public spaces, cram themselves into the MTR when there is no space (cause they can’t wait?) and apparently, pee on the streets. News articles on the inappropriate behaviour of Mainland people do not bolster their reputation. Maybe I’d be more sympathetic if I understood their need to fight for resources, but my sympathy would not change the fact that it’s not okay to treat people with such little respect. It shouldn’t be okay. 

I’ve realized that the opposite of love is not hate, but selfishness/ self-centeredness. Every evil, bad thing finds it root in how we love ourselves too much. I am the only thing that matters, I’m entitled to this, I’m better than and superior to this person, I can exercise my will over these people, I deserve better. My feelings are more important, my thoughts are more valuable, and I need the universe and the people in it to bow to me, to change for me because I am right and I am proud.

So, I guess I’ve just convinced myself that I must forgive the Mainland people who have angered me. I can’t change them but I can change how I feel about them. I will let it go. 

ACCLIMATISE

Sea foam, like erupting clouds… As if the sky had fallen. Beer bottle aimed down my throat, you are a speckle that seldom dances behind my eyelids. What I see when I close my eyes is my own darkness. I don’t even miss your fuzzy outline, which used to peer out from behind my shoulder. I don’t even mind the coarse sand against my shin, between my inadequate thighs. I’ve allowed my hair to become stringy with salt and I’ve stopped fighting the sound of your berating. Yes I am all of the above and I’ll take another swig.
Serenity does not exist as a pebble in your hand. It lies somewhere between realising that some messes don’t need to be fixed and knowing that you can coexist with chaos- because it will follow you until you silence it with a knowing look.

Love is the best way

Friendship, I have learned, is conditioned. At a certain point, too much is too much and the defence mechanism kicks in: you’re not good for me, I hate being hurt and I will no longer have you. You care too much or too little, expect more than is possible or accept everything. The struggle takes its toll. But I want to learn to love when it is difficult to love.

“You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you’.
– John Green

Thanks John, that pretty much sums up my attitude towards friendships. If friends are the family you choose, love them like you would your family. Hurt me, neglect me for a while, but as long as you love me- even when it seems too late, I’ll be here. I will welcome you with open arms, whenever you want to come home, because that’s the kind of love I wouldn’t deserve, but would love to receive. That is the love of Jesus Christ and that is how I want to love.

‘…Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong’. (1 Corinthians 13:5)
‘If you love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him’. (13:7)

‘You imitated us and the Lord; and even though you suffered much, you received the message with the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit.’ 
1 Thessalonians 1:7

Now I see

‘Feelings linger where thoughts do not’ (Kathleen Taylor). Even if you say you don’t care, make up your mind to move on, your heart cannot be separated from the person it is entangled to. When you’ve grown up with someone and you’ve spent a great deal of time with them, your feelings won’t let them go. But what I fear now is that there will be no pain of separation when I leave my sister for university.
I didn’t care when my brother left because nothing changed; we had grown apart long ago. My parents don’t speak to me much and I don’t mind, because it’s normal, I’m used to it, it doesn’t hurt. All this time, I’ve sworn to myself that I’d never let this happen with my children. But it’s been happening with my very own sister and I hadn’t realized it until now. When I go, will there not be a difference? I’m barely home because for years I’ve chosen my friends over my sister. Whilst she was at home with no one to play with, I’d be sleeping over at someone’s house.

She once wrote me an email back in 2009 saying:
YOU ARE SO MEAN YOU ALWAYS COME TO PEOPLES HOUSES WITHOUT TELLING ME. DO I HAVE TO BE BY MYSELF WITH ONLY EKA (my helper at the time) WHEN YOU ARE NOT HERE!? (EVERYDAY, ALMOST -.-)

I responded with a belligerent email because I thought she didn’t have a right to be mad at me. She did though, and I’d be happier if she still was. Now that she’s not mad, she doesn’t mind. That is the worst thing. We are used to not being around each other. We are used to distance and she is used to being lonely. Now, I have a week and the rest of my life to make up for it.

An interesting book

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
– Whitman, Song of Myself, lines 1325-7

When I don’t feel like myself- basically when I experience cognitive dissonance, there are two things that happen. Either I change my beliefs or I make exceptions for myself, explaining away the discrepancies and compromising the original thought. I’ve been reading Brainwashing, The science of thought control by Kathleen Taylor for a while now and it’s great to read something and think THIS APPLIES! THIS IS RELEVANT! I can catch myself when it happens now, so I can mull over what it is I truly want to stand for.
If it’s really so frighteningly easy to change and let external stimuli influence our fluid minds, I want to defend myself, ground my beliefs and resist. Of course, this means I have to make sure my beliefs are examined and worth fighting for in the first place. So how can I make them strong? Apparently through reinforcement, so it becomes habitual, imbuing the belief with emotion, and forming wider connections and associations (expanded by experience) so that it becomes interlocked with the many cognitive webs in the mind. The belief must be stronger than any incoming idea that you are bombarded with. I might just make a list of things I believe in, with as many reasons and feelings to support them as I can. If I can stick to what I believe, I can be more sure as to who I am.

The book talks about emotion: ‘Their function as short cut to action can weight decisions in favour of short-term indulgence rather than a greater but more long-term benefit…’
Yes. Every time I fail to stick to the plan, it’s because I become short-sighted for a moment. It’s rarely ever worth it. Gotta #werk.

Clearing

I wanted to sit and watch the clouds move from one end of the sky to the other. The pink-tinged smoke from behind the buildings wrapped themselves around the stars in a haze. I didn’t want the future, to think about what I’d be choosing or what I’d be losing. What am I supposed to do? God, please tell me what to do. I don’t want there to be a later, only a now.
And then slowly the sky cleared and the moon was radiant. I knew what I had to do. Who knew that you can feel pain and calm simultaneously?

You will know the Lord

After a run, I didn’t know where or how to start. How do I close the distance between us, God? I was frustrated because I didn’t know what to do. The bible. Let me turn to the bible.

I put my earphones in, a worship playlist on and flipped through Ezekiel. What should I read? Where will I hear You? I ended up on Hosea, under the section of my childish bible (that my mum gave me when I had just become a teen) titled Israel’s Adultery Rebuked. 

These verses struck me:

She will pursue her lovers but not catch them; she will seek them but not find them… (2:7)
She does not recognize that it is I who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the oil… (2:8)
Therefore, I will take back My grain in its time and My new wine in its season… (2:9)
I will put an end to all her celebrations: her feasts, New Moons, and Sabbaths- all her festivals. (2:11)

Then, under Israel’s Adultery Forgiven:
Therefore, I am going to persuade her, lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. (2:14)
There I will give her vineyards back to her and make the Valley of Achor into a gateway of hope. There she will respond as she did in the days of her youth, as in the day she came out of the land of Egypt. (2:15)
I will take you to be My wife in faithfulness and you will know the LORD. (2:20)

I have lost sight of Him and consequently lost my joy, my reason. But He has brought me to my knees again to show me love, to give me the answer- the source of eternal peace.

And then the song Oceans by Hillsong came on.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
let me walk upon the waters
wherever you would call me
take me deeper than my feet could ever wonder
and my faith will be made stronger
in the presence of my saviour

So quickly has my thoughts and mood been lifted! Whenever I’d wander back to how I felt just half an hour ago, I couldn’t quite grasp the feeling. A blanket had been thrown over that part of myself. Today, I smiled more brightly. Today I lived for You.