Mini fist pumps

[Hong Kong post]:

Thankful that there was only one other person in my Muay Thai class when my body was processing the alcohol, so I wouldn’t have to kick the bag a hundred times as we usually did in a group effort. So I didn’t have to vomit. Thankful that I had an extra hour before class to drink a Pocari Sweat. Although it reminded me of chlorine and nausea and high school P.E.

Thankful someone got off on the same bus stop as me so I didn’t have to yell at the bus driver.

Catcrawling

I just locked myself in the shower with a fart. I let the water run along the grime on my skin from the oily glares of men on the streets of London, men on bikes risking their health insurance. Craning necks out of car windows- about to break. What a time to have small boobs!

Theres an inbuilt revulsion to lust in the eyes, uninvited. Intrusion, violation. So different from the relish under the hot, hungry eyes (like glowing coals) of the good looker across the bar. The ephemeral power in arresting his attention. No, the wolfish hoot of a predator makes me small. I lower my head, tail tucked behind my legs. I want to disappear so you can’t have me at all- not so much as a wispy silhouette.

Why can’t I wear my shorts, my body hugging skirt? Why must I wear turtlenecks in the summer? We brace not from the chill of night but from the assault: “nipples!” he bellows. “Wow you’re hot, where are you from?”, “Chinese!”, “Japan!”, “can I hang out with you guys?” A whistle. A scuffle and a greeting: “OII!” When we walk away, we are “fucking rude”, lips tight, fist clenched. It could be worse. Boy, it could be much, much worse.

Sarcy Darcy

Tongue like a viper. I haven’t spoken to a quick witted male in so long I’ve forgotten how to flirt. I think I might be flushing. I’m particularly taken with ‘darling’ and ‘my love’, even though that’s what bartenders and fathers do. The English have a way, don’t they, even when they’re ginger and not particularly good looking.

***

I had a crisis moment. She said something that could have been sarcastic. She wasn’t. I used to be able to tell, easily. The Brits are superior.

***

“I love colours but only if they’re black”. She said Jesus did Jewish magic and that she had Wicca friends. Went to a festival for druids and witches. Believes in communism and disagrees with old fashioned social categorisation. Gender fluidity, unidentifiable sexual orientation, a child of the 21st century. She thrived in Catholic school- the parties were wild. I listened but I was two strikes away from saying “don’t talk about politics and religion on a first date”. I hadn’t seen her in so long, it might as well have been our first meeting.

***

I missed the train by one minute. One. I ran/ jogged to the station as fast as I could in my sandals, slap slap on the concrete. I had to focus on retracing my steps from the station but was distracted by the sun skimming over the sea, the belly of a boat nestled in the streaks. The sky a dazzling blue.

***

It was getting dark- the first time I’ve been anxious on my trip. What would happen if I missed the stop? Would there be a last train home? How will I find my way back from the station to the house when I am blind to streets in daylight? My stomach lurched when the guy spoke through the speakers overhead, horrified by the thought that I might have been on the wrong train. Romsey. Thank God! I scrambled out and saw my grandad on the bench, waiting for me. As we walked home, he said “I know you would have found your way back, you’re a big girl, but I do feel a little responsible for you”. I nodded in gratitude, hushed into contemplation of the child I still very much am.

Delight

The first thing that caught my eye was a crate of wine bottle carcasses. I’ve been drinking every day since I got to the UK and I have never once been bored. It is not the wine I like so much as the leisure with which it is associated. We talk about French etiquette, Tom Hardy, the future of agriculture (apparently we’ll be farming vertically, skywards), things I know nothing about. They take pleasure in blue and white china tea sets, in sparkling water with a slice of lemon in it. Dorset’s red cheese and peppered crackers after dinner. It is never too much trouble.

I am so beside myself; it’s been perfect. I’ve been so present on this holiday. I mean, I am never thinking of being elsewhere, rarely dipping into the past or the future. Rarely in need of anything or anyone. I feed on my family’s love of culture, history, art, and good food. On my grandparents’ wisdom. I am so FULL.

Out of dust

Sophie's picture

Photo of New Zealand by my grandfather. 

I am tucked in the middle of a queen-sized bed in my favourite black bralette. Family Guy is running in the background and in front of me is a scenic painting of Norwegian mountains. I have a glass of water beside me, a cup of tea, a bowl of jelly beans and a dry-fit hiking hat I told my granddad I liked. That hat has been to the untouched underbrush of New Zealand, the snow tipped French Alps and the coves of Mallorca.

Grandparents love to spoil their grandchildren, especially grandchildren they don’t see often. Love pours out of their eyeballs, like dew drops by the bridge of their noses (they’re not crying, it’s just something that happens when the glands are tired). “Let me get you coffee!” said my grandma. “Let me get these tickets for you” said my grandpa. But the best part of it all is that time with them is sacred. Momentous. The fact of your existence is already a joy and you are an exquisite thing to be learned and absorbed. They get the gist of you, the husk, your knack for the arts a red pin in your profile. Your favourite colour, a pair of killer heels on a card when you had a phase for fashion illustration. A photo of a dog, a cut-out from the newspaper, something they think you’d like. Being around them is so plainly satisfying. There’s so much to learn from these wizened souls, the ripples of influence forever expanding from their ancestors to your parents and now to you. We carry each other in one way or another, the memory of you ingrained in the way I pay close attention to harmonies, enraptured. In the way my desk mirrors the clutter in your kitchen, a projection of the sparks in your mind.

The older generation knows that tomatoes are picked from trees, not grown in baskets. Grandparents raised in the countryside have a special appreciation for the world that moves without us, like the scuttling of hedgehogs at night and the turning of leaves from lime to amber. They are in wonderment of the Earth, the ancient trees, the land that gives and gives us life. The carpeted floors of moss, the gentle trot of speckle-breasted does by crystal streams. Life all around us, nudging us into humility. Beautiful without even trying! And you see how they used to think the gods were everywhere.

I walked through the fields, weeds tickling my ankles. In the dust from which I came, I thought, horse poo trailing my Nikes. Out sprung a blackberry bush, and I picked at them with fervour, bearing the sting of nettles on my hip and hands. Not to fear, they grow by Doc leaves, I remembered my dad once said. I rubbed the leaves on the swollen bumps and  the pulsing in my hands abated. The Earth provides. I went home, boiled the blackberries and made dessert. The Earth provides.

Britons

If you want to survive in Dorset, and maybe England in general, you must talk about the weather. “It’s not as bad as we were led to believe!” or “awful, isn’t it?” or “lovely weather  today!” You must keep an optimistic skepticism, as my dad called it, an umbrella in your car. If you want to be British, apologise for the state of the weather. Apologise when you want to squeeze past the aisle. Apologise for the cheese that’s a little too hard for your liking. Try to find every opportunity to tell people what you’re sorry for and to thank them very much.

Vegetables don’t seem to be the staple; it’s truly tea and coffee. Coffee in the morning, after lunch, sometimes after dinner. My favourite thing is crumbly, soaked, buttery cookies. I was only offered one, but I wanted another. I liked seeing people waiting for the train with a Starbucks in hand and a book in the other. On the MTR in Hong Kong, heads hang like beans on their stalks, looking onto phones that make obsolete reveries and conversation. I saw a fifty year old couple on the train in England, sharing a packet of gummy worms. And a group of kids that finished a packet before the train even started.

I’ve been indulgent with dessert and family, watching my dad in his element. What’s a man like around his mother? It’s very telling. With a glass of wine, a hearty dinner, he’s smiling and energetic. He rips open the plastic of a magazine and lets it float to the ground. Care-free and careless go hand in hand. Grandma will pause what she’s doing to answer your question. Like dad leaving his soup to help me find an adapter. Both their tongues wag in concentration, and they say “ooh yes” in enthusiastic affirmation. Kind and yielding seems to run in the family. After lunch with my grandmother’s sister and her husband, I feel as though I’ve made some very good friends. I was sorry to see them go.

Coffee cake & tea

It has not yet been a full 24 hours since I reached my destination: Dorset. ‘Just’ Dorset of the hay stacks and fields, verdant narrow lanes, brick houses and 13th century churches. Just Dorset where most strangers and even more of them with dogs say hello as you pass them by. It’s the countryside that my grandmother loves.

How was the flight? She inquired. My parents got lucky with a business class upgrade. When my mum whispered it to me, I’d rejoiced thinking we’d all gotten it. The trick is to purchase Premium Economy tickets, be the latest in line, a professor, and a beloved frequent flyer. Dad offered to switch places with me but when he came to check up on me midway through the flight, I was eating my black bean chicken and rice, refreshed from the best sleep I’d had on a plane since I was small enough to lay my head on mum’s lap. Neck strain was something I grew into. Vomiting was something I seem to have grown out of. I had claimed the two vacant seats beside me, which spanned my whole left side when I bent my knees slightly. THANK YOU GOD! I kept smiling to myself. It was, dare I say it, an enjoyable flight. I caught in the reflection of my screen the good looking dad behind me,  entertained by his beautiful green-eyed daughter. She was the kind of child to point at the horse-racing on tv in the immigration line and shout excitedly about the beams. “That’s like the one you rode right, daddy! Is he galloping or trotting?” “Yes, yes it was”, the dad mumbled distractedly as he typed on his phone. I wondered where the mum was.

I felt a strange pride when the immigration lady checked our passports and examined us, one by one. I love identifying the resemblances between family members. Yes, I am quite obviously the product of an Englishman and a Chinese woman. Sitting across from my parents at lunch, I realised that I have mum’s cheekbones, my sister dad’s eyebrows. And again on the taxi in the periods of quiet between the driver cursing the traffic, I felt that strange pride as my parents spoke to one another in Chinglish; English with Chinese stripes or Chinese with English stripes? Once, I asked my mum if daddy organised trips and managed finances too. She said: “we do different things”. I sat between them, a symbol of their complements.

When grandma showed me to my room, formerly her study, I saw that the walls were adorned with pictures of my family. My first day of school in a plum dress and a hat. Pictures of when I looked like a boy. My brother in a tub, my sister in a cable car. We occupy the corners of bathrooms; we are everywhere. We grandchildren are thought of often.

Today, she looked at me as I sat by the window reading a new book. She came to me silently and bent down to give me a hug, just because.

Drunk with the spirit

Woke up this morning red and splotchy, like I’d run a mile. Eyes wrung dry, swollen the size of golf balls. This is why I shouldn’t drink.

I didn’t set out to get smashed. I painted my eyes gold with no roaring excitement for the shimmery feelings of inebriation. I was blissfully unprepared, failing to exercise an inkling of forethought. I believe it is called “living in the moment”.

It is this morning that I remember what my brother told me about alcohol completely disrupting our sleep cycles. I testify to the sort of sleep that is not sleep as I know it at all. Not restful or restorative, just empty, static. The slow passage of time. I woke with ease; had I slept at all? Am I still sleeping?

I am a wreck, nauseated by the mere thought of sweet foods and powdery lemon. I’ve aged overnight, aching with every step, my body resistant to motion. How equipped we usually are, never to pay any mind to inertia. I feel defilement in my cells, my body in reparation from the inside out. Bloated and disgusting. It is exhausting to smile, the muscles in my face slumped and unable to hold themselves up. I don’t feel like myself. I know, I know, I’m a youngin’ and we bounce right back, but still my body doesn’t deserve this battery. What have I done to the dwelling place of God?

I’ve been here before, not too long ago. Said to myself: no drinking, because you let your guard down and act like a fool before God. Now I’ve added another layer to my wall of defence: no binge drinking, because you are destroying your remarkable body. How many times do I need to suffer through my mistakes before I learn to be cautious? Well, I’ll take a stab at it with Psychology. There’s this cognitive theory of alcohol expectancies, directly related to dem dranks. We exaggerate the good times and forget the hangover. We remember the intensity of the buzz and forget the shame. These positive expectancies reinforce our drinking behaviour, so we need to adjust our expectations to better reflect reality.

Plot twist: replace alcohol with your name and we have a pattern of addiction. A cycle of ups and downs, where two years later I’m recovering from yet another trough of this infinite sine wave. It was alcohol that made me numb to the cockroach in the kitchen, the risks of honesty, earlier this morning. It was alcohol that pushed me to the brink, that fanned the anger- what I suppressed and thought I could handle, beneath the positive expectancies and all the good I sent you in my thoughts- into flame.

I need to remind myself that you are not only the guy who told me my hair smelled like gingerbread, made me feel adored by your wistful eyes whenever I left you, charmed by the cloud of energy you engulf people in, but also the guy who made me cry because you gave me silence when I spared nothing on my mind and heart. You asked me to stay even though I was dying in my guilt, and I did because I didn’t want to ruin your moment. I kicked my spirit to the curb so that we could indulge in each other. And you insult me when you don’t acknowledge that-when you expect it from me. You are so selfish with me and you can’t even see it. I’m done with preserving the good I stubbornly associate with you. I’m done with feeling trapped because I still want you to think the best of me, that I’m the one you want despite it all. Am I pleasing God or man? I’m taking on an eternal perspective on what matters in my brief existence on Earth. I want to sever my attachment to the things that won’t let me move forward in faith; the people who won’t let me be my best self. Think what you want about me. You are not my God.

Synchronicity

I’ve been feeling like I’ve put a cap on my faith, a roof to what’s possible and reasonable to expect in my life. I’m drawn to this particular issue because I’ve been seeing this Faith theme pop up everywhere, from an article I’ve stumbled across, a random sermon online, to a book I’ve been reading called Synchronicity: The Promise of Coincidence.

I’m determined to flip this thing around. The more outrageous my prayers and hopes, the greater the power of God I can see revealed. Because He is capable of more than our wildest expectations, if we only ask. However, as I’m writing this, I feel it is careful to ask with the right sort of attitude. With honesty, trust, and humility. A profound understanding that we need His guidance and a deep gratitude for His care and love. He answers not because we deserve it- not because we go to church, not because we clean our trays at McDonald’s so that no one else has to- but because He is good.

‘Truly I tell you that if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and has no doubt in his heart but believes that it will happen, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’.
– Mark 11:24

Our God is a God of miracles, an unseen supernatural being with whom we can communicate and witness the work of in the material world. I remember believing as a child that the world was full of magic; I flipped through my books on mermaid and fairy sightings, immersing myself in a world where they could be found in countryside cottages, in the hollows of trees or by secluded rock pools. It was my favourite thing to do, fostering a sense of excitement for these enchanting creatures. I loved the Harry Potter books, where there is no limit to the wonders of life, an epic reality where dreaming is synonymous with creation. I wish to redirect that childish, misguided faith and bring openness and expectation to God.

Synchronicity speaks of God’s many thoughts about us, His plans and provisions. It is the idea of perfect coincidences which are in fact, not coincidences at all. I learnt a neat little fact: there is no word or concept of ‘coincidence’ in Hebrew. Only the word ‘mikreh’, which means ‘a happening of God’. Every moment is significant. When good things happen, give thanks, for they come straight from His hands. Sometimes, little ‘signs’ appear just to remind me that He is present and watching. And it has proven helpful in deterring me from sinning a couple of times. Sometimes a web page doesn’t load, the phone rings or a door is knocked on, so I get a chance to rethink what I’m doing. Every time, it is for my good.
When bad things happen, they prepare us for more of Him. They are opportunities! Last week, I strained my right leg doing exercise. Pulled a muscle. And I remembered what this yoga instructor said to me earlier that week: “if you ever tear a muscle or hurt your leg, once you recover, you’ll be more flexible than you were before”. This experience serves as an analogy for what my friend said the other day when I confided in him about my struggle with lust. It was so special: think how He must love you to let you have these desires, this challenge, so that you may experience Him and know Him better. So that I will learn to rely on the One who brings victory. I will trust in His unfailing love.

Here’s a snippet from an awesome article I read today:

The true disciple is an expectant person, always taking it for granted that there is something about to break through from the master, something about to burst through the ordinary and uncover a new light on the landscape.

And I think that living in expectancy—living in awareness, your eyes sufficiently open and your mind sufficiently both slack and attentive to see that when it happens— has a great deal to do with discipleship, indeed with discipleship as the gospels present it to us. Interesting (isn’t it?) that in the gospels the disciples don’t just listen, they’re expected to look as well. They’re people who are picking up clues all the way through.

Rowan Williams

I have started to pray: give me a big faith, God. A hope against all hope. I want to be excited for each new day, because I get to experience more of You.