Granada

Finally, I am in Granada. Words can't really explain the feeling. Except it is a place that cripples me, fills me with sentimentality, makes me groan for earthly things and want to retrace Lorca's steps all day. Like Gulangyu island, it is made of all the things that feed me -- the sun of the south, narrow winding streets (of the Albayzin), verdant green, a patchwork of cultures, a sublime past that seem to glower over the present and modernity. 

I can be nothing more here than a stereotype of myself, a half-hearted artist in perpetual contemplation for three days, sitting in my Airbnb renting a moment. Being thirty and spoiled no longer doesn't help my case, as we dine daily and vacation in the earnest (do I sound guilty for traveling? Is it the American in me?). I try to navigate the constant family conversations that has quelled loneliness (what is loneliness?). But loneliness comes in other forms as the world moves on without me.  

Yet there's nothing more I can do than staying in this bright moment -- of bright skies and hardier earth. My mind is caught in a web of new words and ideas: Moorish Spain, Azulejos, Islamic tiles, Byron in Seville and Cadiz, Lorca and Washington Irving in Granada, countless writers with their ruminations on this peculiar amalgamation of people, culture, and history. 

My cousin doesn't seem to take any of this in, and of the old style Albayzin house we are staying in, the slow wifi makes her cringe, the shower water is not hot enough, and she is glued to a tv drama on her phone in the den, where the wifi punches in a little faster. On the other side of the den is me, wearing a coat so I can keep the window open for a view of the Alhambra, moaning the passing of time, the loudness of modern living.

Who is the fool? It's really rather hard to say. 

Madrid, Seville, Cordoba

Madrid, like London, like New York, like Beijing, has the pulse of a big city, and maybe that was why it didn't stick for me. Somehow Madrid felt more real in fiction, as in Leaving the Atocha Station, and while I'm still torn about the book, the image of Madrid, Museo Prado, the world that the narrator resided in somehow felt more immediate than the real thing. 

I know the reason for this is because I'm a passing tourist, and being responsible for three Chinese family members probably doesn't help. The most I can do is book Airbnbs. All I can remember are the walks. Day 1. Walking to the Royal Palace, walking to lunch, walking through the park, walking home to paella dinner. Day 2. The next day, rinse, repeat, walking to the museum, walking to lunch (the suckling pig restaurant), walking to different places to shop, walking home, walking out for dinner. Lei Lei has a fitbit-like thing that calculate our steps, and she would occasionally jab “we’ve walked over 20,000 in one day.

Day 3 began with a train toward the south of Spain, and if I were traveling by myself, the moment would have probably peaked with the rows of olive trees, white houses with orange tiles, and arid landscape that looks like a painting you’ve seen in a museum. Traveling with family meant instead having an entire compartment’s polite quiet interrupted by argument between my aunt and cousin in harsh whispers sparked from one conflict to the next, until it touched on everything from filial expectations, generational differences, to the modern Chinese woman. What felt like stereotypes of the Chinese story in my ear was to her, something that is missing from the national conversation. “I wish I could write about it,” she said.

In Seville we wade through a labyrinth of alleyways, standing tables, and cafes. The sky is lower in southern Spain, and the sun hotter, sometimes my ears are blocked from the altitude. Day four and five, We do tourist things — flamenco, the cathedral, the Alcazar where they filmed Game of Thrones, the bullfight ring, and celebrated my birthday. All tourist things. All stereotypes. Yet all moving, especially the flamenco, where the dancers dance with their jawbone, and their bodies (steps, claps) make conversation. They were gorgeous. Postcard-worthy stunning indeed. 

Airbnb turned to be a major blessing. Instead of two hotel rooms and monster fees, there’s something about four women in one household. There’s no privacy, never silence, and by the third day, we’ve learned to evade Spain’s tough rules about eating at 3PM and 9PM by eating a later lunch out, and cooking a vegetarian only dinner. Shopping for food, cooking, and eating together may be the most joyful part of the trip. 

Day six, the Airbnb in Cordoba is magic. Cordoba itself is part magic. It’s a sleepy tourist old city with not many sights. This worried me at first. I felt guilty about not planning enough for my mom and aunt to see more. But by the seventh day we were all a bit wore from walking. We spent the day playing cards and sitting around. There’s a rooftop here that overlooks the town with a stunning view of great mosque. The collision of civilization meeting in one view, and there’s nothing better than spending time in silence here. 

I feel zen here, watching the clouds gather from the mountain edges, watching the sun rise and fall. This town has seen much more than I, and I am no more than a visitor in the speck of its timeline. Its grandeur and history humbles, and to be able to feel the history underneath my feet at a time of modernity is precious. In the old city of Spain, I can’t help but to think of Beijing, and wishing that I knew my country better, and that my country would help to know itself better. 

20,000 Steps

"I can't tell you how many times I've seen long tables like this one!" So announced my cousin in the banquet hall of the Palacio Real Madrid. Frescos above, tapestries around, and Chinese vases abound but nothing could impress this world traveler. Lei and I blew through the palace with mom and auntie until all the "chinoiserie" became a blur. No amount of treasure could stop us in our step. In fact, the whole day was made of steps. 22953 steps according to Lei, which is only short 6000 steps to her record of walking in Paris.

At the end of the day, as the family returned home, and draped ourselves on the chairs and couches like terrible Dali paintings. We fell into naps. At some point it was time for food again. There is a rhythm to this trip that is like a wave, constant ebbing, peace. Maybe there's no story, and that's fine by me

European Anxiety

As far as family vacations go, we should have probably gone with Bangkok. If my mother's pronouncement that everything looked "stunning ordinary" from the cab going into Madrid isn't killer enough, it may be the weight of the history, economic crisis, and my six months of Manchester and desperation for non-European food.

But Europe had to be done. In the decade that seems a carousel for the Chinese tourist, Europe is still a beacon of romance and intellectual glory. For a family vacation that is the first of its kind -- mother, daughter, aunt, cousin -- we chose Europe. The problem, and joy in this entire endeavor begin with the algorithm: two "Americans" vs. two mainlanders, one low-key hipster vs. one gucci-wearing, street smart nouveau riche, one aunt who still lives a little in the sixties (note, in China, that was the Cultural Revolution, not the Love Revolution). Finally, there is me, who through the sheer will to "vacation the right way", has burdened myself with Airbnb bookings across five cities and all the transportation links in between. 

After years in project management, it's only fitting that before sleep all I see are excel sheets. The logistics of check in, check out, trains, flights, sights, and good eats weigh me down like a wet blanket, while all my mind wants to do is bake in the sun on a remote island for a month. 

It is not Spain's fault. The first thing I wrote down in my notebook about Spain is the following. "I fucking love Spain. The coffee is always good. The orange juice is always freshly squeezed. The tea comes in a glass," Amazing. It's also not mom's fault. Her arrival today has been nothing short of sweet. We walk, we talk, we cook. 

The anxiety lie in the fact that my mind is catching up with itself. Too many things affected me the last six months, the last WEEK that I can't even find the right song in iTunes for reflection. Since last week is easier to deal with than last month, maybe I'll try to untangle that first. 

It was really good seeing Robb and Leila. Both connect to my China days when I still had, in many ways, shiny eyes for that place. I've never let myself ease into an afternoon wine as I had with Robb, finishing it up with blurry eyes and blurrier heart. I've never talked for four hours and felt like I woke up from a few minutes of a dream than with Leila. Both are well, very well on paper, searching in their psyche. I am always impressed by friends who are in the mode of searching for something greater, something that moves them. 

"What if all of your life you knew exactly what you're doing, then all of a sudden, you don't?" The funny thing is, in both of these instances somehow I was brazen enough to break the "we worked together" context by searching their faces, and becoming deep friends by the end of it. Friendship is a strange thing. I used to say it takes investment, but something happened in these cases that made me realize all it takes is an understanding. We talked China until we rekindled it, but more importantly, we talked about the growing self and vicissitudes of life that make it simultaneous heartbreaking and grand. 

Elsewhere in London last week were other deep friends. Friends who make me not want to make new friends. Friends who make these days in exotic places seem commonplace compared to a desk with the four of us around it. Sometimes I worry. I worry that China feels like exile, anachronistic, and I am too comfortable there to grow. I worry that these people will live and learn without me. I worry that Rita will say yes to too many things while I live in a state of no. I have FOMO like I never had in New York or Beijing. I know these worries are as ridiculous as Dom worrying he might not find a job, but in the juncture of life, we all fear the fuck up. 

The four of us are mighty together, and only now do I come to some sense of the cruelty of exile. It feels like one moment you were on a rocket with everything you need to explore the universe, and the next you're Matt Damon trying to grow vegetable on Mars. The unbearable lightness of being is this moment -- glorious vacation vs. heartaches for people you miss vs. a future so uncertain that only you can find it. 

And so life sings on. It sings somewhere for Trish, deep in India, on twenty hour trains, maybe no Internet. It sings for the last night as we walk the canals of Camden, joking like the moment goes on forever. It sings deep into sleepless nights in Madrid. 

It sings until the songs kind of blur together, and you remember your mother's in the other room, and how lucky it is that you can still speak to her in Chinese fluently, and how lucky it is that you were even together for twenty-two days, and how lucky it is that you even have enough songs to keep you breathless. 

I don't know what the future holds but I will go boldly where it takes me. 

When It Is

When it is in fact over, you run to Madrid, and it's like you're on Mars. One year of high school Spanish has proven hopeless. You forgot how to say twenty. At night, you greeted with Buenas Dias instead of Noches. Being mute is a state of mind you can appreciate.  

Your friends are all out there -- London, New York -- meeting the good people, and you're feeling half-major-FOMO and half-zen. In a strange turn of events, you feel satiated before you even dive back in the world. There's still so many good people to meet, but the ones you have deserve some time. So instead of running around like a charismatic headless chicken, you hope this journey in Europe will be a meditation on the past six months and beyond. 

Eventually the thank you letters will roll out, eventually you will rise from anonymity and start talking, eventually there's simply a lot a lot of work to complete by candlelight. But for now, an exercise in documentation and reflection after six months is a necessary exercise. 

A Note on Hyper Island

The lack of documentation, shameful. I seem only interested in the undercurrents of my Hyper Island life -- films, countryside, being alone. Regret will find its way soon enough, because before the moment sinks in goodbyes are already in the process. Yet it is too hard to make assessments in the heat of the moment. I don't know how to write about the Hyper Island experience except to reflect around it, that it is so fulfilling and emotionally taxing and hard and liberating and creative and conflict-driven and half-magical that all the body can do after is watch movies alone, and all the mind can do is reflect on the watching movies part.

So let me tell you about Spain instead. 

I’m reading a book called the Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. 
I started copying landscape sketches of Granada, and Matisse’s odalisques from Granada. 
I watched Almodavar's Volver.
I’m reading Lonely Planet Spain
I’m traveling to Andalusia with mom in October.
I’m listening to Rita and her mom. They sound majestic. 

It started with a need for warmth I think. The finality that summer will never come, and the fact that summer is ending and this need to chase summer. The answer is in the southern most part of Europe, craning toward Africa and in places that even sound warm: Granada, Cordoba, Seville. If you say that enough times on repeat you can feel the heat rise from your toes. 

Hyper Island on the other hand, volcanic sounding as it may appear, is associated with cold island prisons. There's not one song I can think of to capture the Hyper Island experience the way I can do with romances and cities. I hope it stays. I hope even if I lose the contours of this experience, even if it doesn't have much contours beyond post-it notes and reflections, I will remember this constant mode of ease that we presided. Even as we enter the final phase -- the magic breaks a little as we harden and arm ourselves for the future -- that we'll remember we all came in here and sat in a circle and laughed, cried, crossed rivers, tread deserts and talked about each other like we were the only ones left in the universe. 

My Thoughts on Fashion

I knew a girl once,
who wanted to leave China for school, instead
She spent eight years with a man who,
told her what she could do,
told her what she could say.
told her she wouldn’t leave.
She got out, left the only world she knew.
It took spine.
Years later I see her, in her ¥4000 sunglasses,
and ¥5000 shoes, and ¥8000 vacations, and
¥9000 air purifiers, and the friends that never stay,
and the men who are never enough,
and the leaving that never came.
A different kind of shackle.
Dead dreams, dead weights in the closet.
No, the grandmas never bothered me.
The people who pour their sweat and blood
to make a dream happen.
Your dad for your family, so you could read
books on the streets of New York without
a worry for the universe except a moment
with the protagonist.
No, the dicks on Rick Owen’s runways never bothered me.
Your Berrin and your Jill and your Tara and
your Qing Qing in Damir Doma
and your think pieces in Garmento
never bothered me.
What bothered me was girl never left.

My Thoughts on Shoes

WOMEN ARE COMPLEX reads the last page.At the end of this brief, I think we can all agree that women are complex. Like many problems in society today, they deserve a complex solution. Maybe it’s important to realize it’s not a problem in the first place, The answer was never pastel, It is about empowerment through authenticity, and money, fame, and most importantly, glory, will follow.

You feel like mini-Don Draper, throwing in your childhood for Kodak, not sure how many emotional marbles you have left to sell shoes. Drake’s “Over My Dead Body” plays for the 156th time. His mass appeal is pretty devastating. He’s cooler than an Apple keynote. We’re all walking keynotes now, walking in these smog cities, dying in these smog cities.

I used to listen to white people music when I’m feeling complex. Now I can only listen to black music. I wonder if this is a consequence of seeing race. If only America could see it more, we’d all be listening to Kendrick out of affirmative action for our iTunes playlist.

No, I have not tried Apple music. Don’t you know it’s not cool anymore? If you haven’t trade in your 6 for Xiaomi you’re insane. Think about it.

Think about your Kodak childhood and what actually mattered. The days when you didn’t see shoes, or race for that matter. When it was just you and your Nana, dirt and grass, bubbles and handkerchief. Except you never called your grandma Nana and this is all a commercial about soap.

On 14 Miles, 12 Hours and Optimism

On OptimismIt wasn't until 14 miles and 12 hours later did I realize I'd trekked 14 miles and used up 12 hours in the day to do so (from train station and back). In the process I've missed out on one party and the chance to thwart existential loneliness. Ken says he doesn’t know what existential loneliness means. I call him my big smart simple bub, partly out of envy. Pragmatic, smart, chill people have it really good. Instead I feel my father's philosophy-major, serious intellectualism creeping on me day by day. The good thing is I have a tendency to bend anything toward the positive. It is the structure of all my blog entries: emotional strife, deep learnings, eyes toward the sky. Some say this is very American behavior.

I don’t know where this deep-felt optimism comes from. Some might think it’s worse than ignorance to “know” and turn a blind eye. In my case I always plead optimism is contingent to action. Optimism isn’t knowing there are problems in the world and feeling sad about it. Optimism is knowing, and in some strange manner, feeling that you can do something about it. Hence, the better we know our enemies, the better we’ll be equipped to battle. Better not to see the world as enemies in the first place, because they were once probably all like us — wide-eyed, artistic, and hopeful.

On Music No, I have not used Apple Music. In fact, the only music app that I’ve been a fan of is Songza, and even that I’ve only used sporadically. The truth is, when you have 8753 songs in your library accumulated from age 14, that is the world you want to play in instead of re-curating another life on Spotify, or worse, having to face the decision of figuring out what new music to listen to on Spotify, or worse, venturing into Spotify’s never-spot-on playlists.

For example, I spent this afternoon reading while listening to my “Wo Qui Non Coin” genre, which is basically code name for all the anime music I have from back when. The 205 songs in there of mostly Sailormoon, Cowboy Bebop and Miyazaki soundtrack music are simultaneously a relief and heartbreaking. I’m familiar with every single song, the moments they are associated with, as well as the time that have gone by. We love music not for the music, but for the moment they stand in for. That is why the process of choosing sucks… This goes for Tinder too. Maybe I’m just old.

On Anime I fucking miss it. I wish I wasn’t too cool for it, but the idea of watching any new anime feel daunting. Instead, I just wish I haven’t seen all of Cowboy Bebop 12 times and could spent my afternoon bleeding my heart with Spike and Faye. Cowboy Bebop was possibly the moment of my life where fictional life was better than real life. Then again, sometimes I think my teenage-hood was spent in fiction based on the amount of anime, fanfiction, and j-rock I consumed. I know a lot of people talk down on being a teenager, and I was probably awkward as shit, but never in my life will I reclaim the 150% commitment to a fantasy life that was going in my head.

Unfortunately I spend my Sundays now reading about the fall of Barnes & Noble instead of reading slash. Sadness.

How We Love

One quote on love that’s stayed with me is by the late Christopher Hitchens: “To be the father of growing daughters is to understand ... to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else's body.” The truth is I’ve been trying to write about Vietnam for days, and each time I am stopped by a force that renders me a little speechless. At the risk of sounding sentimental, I am entirely startled by love. The past two months at Hyper Island has made a warrior woman out of me, even less prune to hugs, more drawn to nights alone in the theatre, desexualized, intensely resolute on something: anything… Then came Vietnam, who was humid, soft, lush, chaotic, and everything I no longer was. Then came my lover, who was strong, tough, smart, and with him I morphed into a woman who leaned and sighed and savored.

At first this surrendering of power feels unfair. After all, haven’t I worked hard being whatever it is that I am? I don’t care to haggle anymore. I could stay there and count his white hairs. To this he said, “you don’t have to be so hard all the time.” His friend, the last one we met on the last day, added, “you’re clearly an independent woman, and he protects you while giving you room to breathe.”

It’s hard being a woman who has this awareness - the awareness that love calls for the surrendering of power. If I could surrender anything, it might be the awareness part, the part that spirals into measurement of actions, an analysis of what is biological and instinctual. Design teaches us to be more mindful and more aware, but in my lover I find the only time when my mind is in the right heart-space, completely befuddled, a beautiful fool!

So instead of rationality and beautiful type, I want to celebrate nonsensical, emotional, chaotic, heavy, and soft moments. There were many of them in Vietnam. There was walking through an unkept but gorgeous Imperial City with him and Nam, talking about Babe Pig in the City and all the years that have past. There was watching the sunset and feeling the yoke roll over your body. There was meeting the infamous Nowathip, who regaled you with stories and films and music in a way of talking to you that made sense of everything. There was walking back from the restaurant, dying a little, then back to the hotel and waiting for Eclipse (who is a man), fading. There was the groom, who of course started to cry on mentioning his parents. There was the scooter ride across the most Orientalist landscape you can imagine. Then there was of course, him, who beyond anything was a force to be wholly crippled by.

Bienveillance

Matthew 5:44 "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." You meet your Sasha. You do. A fantastic call from the memories of youth. You take long walks. You find Rilke like a forgotten tome from memories. She has tomes too, sometimes religious, and it's comforting to have something grounded. You are enraptured by the allegories. Mostly, you are both 120% committed to kindness and optimism, and that helps in these times.

Because it is not very easy. At the same time of being repulsed, you are then repulsed by yourself. A circle of bitterness forms. Then you shut down. Then again, it really isn't as if you are Jesus Christ persecuted. It isn't very hard at all.

I shall have silence and kindness, and that is all.

Fiction

It’s easier to sink into fiction instead. The forgotten novel that you haven’t finished reading, or the short story you try to finish writing in your dream. That’s how you go to sleep these days. Always the same damn scene with the same characters, always stuck in the moment, never really living beyond. That’s the power of characters you suppose, the pull of narcissism as you inhibit their world. Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid M.A.A.D City remind you of the headier days. He inhibits characters too, a chameleon rapper dripping sweat and push. Earl Sweatshirt is 120% committed to being Earl. You wonder how many verses he can come up with about his interior life, delivered in simple beats and a voice inside your head. Kanye is just crazy. Kanye you can’t touch. You can’t be friend with him, you don’t understand him, you just kind of look at him and his designer boots from below. Good riddance. Good artists are always good characters. This is why Vampire Weekend is really forgettable.

All I want to do is go to this music festival next weekend and melt my brain. The way brains melt over steam engine trains, castles in strange cities, the night before presentations. Apply fiction and go. Apply fiction and go.

A$AP Rocky's new album is pretty dope.

Far From the Madding Crowd

"When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun." - First sentence of Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy.

Here's what you do. You stuff your head with the image of sheep running off a cliff before you trek through the woods and emerge into sunlight. Well, I've never been one for Victorian romance. They tend to cover the emotional gamut from here to the next man. I watched Far From the Madding Crowd mostly for the subtle work of Carey Mulligan, who is one of the finest actresses today. She's fiercely feminine and absolutely lovely to watch.

It turned out to be a good primer for a walk in the countryside. There were lots of sheep. No sheep jumping off cliffs, and mind you, much dirtier sheep with color markings. But finally, in the eight hours of trekking up, down, around, against wind, with wind, gritstone and pasture, you come away with a good wedding palette. You begin to understand why this was a country of poets and storytellers. 

Headlines

1. She will give you a “heart hug,” which is a hug of the heart touching the heart.2. It’s hard to think of any actress that Ryan Gosling doesn’t have good chemistry with. 3. Design brief: what’s it like to live on Mars? 4. “Apparently I have a wall.” "It’s hard to read when you’re uncomfortable, but that may be because others haven’t learned how." 5. The Asian man in a gray suit stopped in front of Slice, fixed his Fedora, looked pointedly toward the right, then strode forward with purpose. He reminded Wanda of Tony Leung in Wang Kar Wai’s In the Mood for love. 6. It is best to eat your biscotti with tea or coffee. 7. So it’s a storytelling game! 8. There is sensory overload. 9. There can be no one more hip than you. 10. So is your plan to become a mogul? 11. You were like a mad-scientist genius at your podium.

SONGS

In Manchester all you listen to are mandarin pop ballads - the saccharine 278 songs you have in your “Iching Sodapop” playlist that hasn’t been updated since, oh my, June of 2012. Some routines don’t change though, the fact that you still only light candles when you do deep writing, preferably staring out a window. To be fair, listening to music of the opposite origin seem to have always been your schtick. As a preteen in Ohio, you grew tired of Hot101 and the moment Internet happened it was gorgeous melancholy Japanese rock and glam all the time. The walk from your apartment to the bus was always dark, and therein the best time to growl to Shiina Ringo. China was the opposite, in China you took all the “Music Mondays” Urban Outfitters music from your co-worker and lived on Pitchfork like you were going to step out to Bedford for lunch. When you were learning about the Middle East you listened to Lebanese bands like Soap Kills, and of course, Beirut, even if they have nothing to do with Lebanon.

It probably would have been better if you turned up to, say, Costa Rican birdsong.

PITCHES

You do so many pitches. You do so many pitches the same way, the familiar feeling of sculpting the stories, the wee hours into the night, the heart racing before the presentation. Some of the emotions are shadows. Most are different. More are the non-stop talking. Instead of sculpting in silence, some brooding, mostly maniacal, you are working on some hybrid, futuristic, larger than imagination statue with five strangers. In one week you get to know them better than your mother (in some ways). You grow to love them, just a little. In the way that you love humans, and their idiosyncrasies, their fallacies, their tenacities. You write a Wechat message to R telling him that, “bro, we worked together beautifully,” because more than anything else you’ve learned at Hyper Island, it is the act of knowing it and saying it.

You hear they can edit genes now like cutting a scene from a movie. Hello Gattica. You hope the scientist in China editing Monkey genes know that imperfections are the stuff of great art. NEVER SURRENDER YOURSELF TO PERFECTION.

MOVIES

You keep watching the movies in the theatre alone. It has become, shall we say, therapeutic. It’s wonderful unlike Beijing or New York. There are no lines, and 20 minutes of commercials and trailers! And when the movie starts you shed layers and layers from the day and almost climb into the screen until you are clandestine and consumed by giant trees, giant buildings, and giant heroines.

You wonder if the world had always felt like it was on the brink of something big - Mars, Arctic Drilling, A Planet Dying, China Ascending.

Even the movies and floating cities couldn’t save The Avengers. You can’t wait for a big beautiful film… my god. A tree to the moon. You can’t wait to be swallowed up, lifted away, and forgotten in the darkness.

CHINA

China is almost becoming a burden. A self-assigned burden. A wounded ego with a sustaining bruise. The key is probably to be Buddhist about it. Let it go and enjoy the five seasons in a day in England, and the air! What air! The air is probably already enough. The key is not to feel obligated. There will never be an answer to this. She will always be familiar, and alien, deeply-moving, constantly-heartbreaking, suffocating, dying, and living just fine, with or without you.

Then again, so will you, with or without her.

You Begin

You begin with a number of books, articles, and studies you haven’t read. Everyday consists of an interesting link, a wonderful insight, strands of emotions flying at you from all sides. At the end of the day you’re drained, a little numb, tougher maybe, but you can’t seem to move beyond playing the “Drive” soundtrack over and over again. That was the soundtrack from the summer of 2012, something so familiar that the instant moment it plays, you are reminded of those long sticky nights spent on trar, wine, scooters and bikes. Familiarity is comforting. Even if you enjoy the present and want to hold onto it as long as you can.

“…and how does that make you feel?”

That is the mantra of our Hyper Island, our Hyper prison, our dome of feels. Feelings explode around you everyday, and rather than like sad little volcanoes of hurt, sharing feelings generate empathy, empower, and humanize. One of the astounding things one of my crew mates said to you before the Adidas pitch was “just remember you are talking to humans. The client is human and we’re all human.” For some reason it clicked this time, because you’ve seen these humans in action. Even if it’s only been two weeks together. You’ve witnessed nerves, guts, excitement, elations, tears.

Lauren says, “you have to find your nutrition.” To have hope, you have to find your allies, find the people who give you hope. We talk about changing the world so often, and when the world launches the assaults, it’s much easier to curl in a ball and curse. China hangs on like a curse for all of us who made our way back. When you have the choice of a world that just seems to make more sense, it’s hard to remember that “benign impulses surely flourish under the frantic and gaudy surface of modernizing China.”

Will you go back? You hope you will, and you hope it is with renewed hope, an iron will, and an army of allies. Or you could remain here, and bury yourself in the books, and drain as much as you can from these books, articles, talks, and emotions. That is nice too.

Remember that you are not the one with the burden, that in fact you are lucky, because you have a choice. Remember that changing the world starts small. It starts with one person and one moment. So in the spirit of “service design”, let’s leave with a quote from Louis C.K. on the importance of serving…

"I saw a movie once where Spencer Tracy catches this woman about to kill herself — it's a pretty dark movie for the time — but I forget the name of the movie, but Spencer Tracy is on a boat and sees a rich, young girl about to throw herself off the boat because her fiance left her for another woman and he's trying to talk her out of suicide and he says to her, "Do you have a job? Do you have anything that you do in your life?" which was a funny thing to ask because she's, like, a 1920s socialite and she said, "No," and he said, "I think you should get a job, because it's very hard to be sad and useful at the same time."

Ever since I saw that I keep that in my head. If you can be useful, which means to somebody else, not to yourself, if you can be useful, it just makes you feel better. So I live in service for my kids, that's the first priority and then things like my career, they feed into that, they're part of that, because I'm providing for them but also it's just not that important. If something's not important, it's more fun."

On the sixth day, God made MANchester

No I cannot sum up these days with all the right words. Words escape me. What remains is a sense of urgency, momentum, and the feeling of being in something so good you are beginning to miss it already. The last time I had this feeling was 2007, when I went to China and fell into what felt like the center of the universe. Eight years later I still really only like one song from Sonic Youth (“Incinerate”) and the China years part beaux (2011-14) is just a stream of night music. Rather than reflecting what’s happening in the kaleidoscope world of Hyper Island, here’s what’s going on the periphery.

1. Champagne Kills 2. Alone in the Theatre 3. Reverie at Noon

One, one glass of champagne under the sun and I managed to fall on my face like an anime character. Two, going to the movies alone is as good as anything. Three, cooking works too.

Revelation: I don’t miss China at all. I don’t miss the food. I don’t miss the street corners. I don’t miss the wide lanes. I don’t miss shopping centers. I don’t miss the view. I don’t miss the subway. I don’t miss my biking route. I don’t miss the coarse air. The only thing I miss are the people, and so I consider this a great stride toward maturity. To love not a place, but simply the moments of a place. I feel the same for New York.

Maybe there’s no perfect place. Maybe the perfect place is to be moving from place to place. I have always, always loved the state of in-betweenness.

Ready, Set, Go.

Upstream Colors

In Japan I wished I was 19 instead of 19 + 10. At 19 I would've carved down the streets of Tokyo with a thin volume of Hitomi Kanehara's Snakes and Earrings in my pocket, Shiina Ringo would be singing in my head, and Osaka's Denny's my destination (this was a favorite hangout spot of my favorite band, L'Arc-en-Ciel). Instead, at age 29 I'm happy bumming along with my parents on the JR Train, running from one tour spot to another, not connecting any dots other than this place must have been ripened for so much weird art only because the rest of it is so perfect. Our Airbnb hosts gave perfect 20-paged instructions on way-finding, unlocking the door, using the washing machine, taking out the garbage. We never saw any of them and have a feeling that the perfunctory handshaking, key-handing, face checking your guests to make sure they aren't serial killers or orgy organizers just didn't exist in this country. Instead, an invisible hand of order pushes things in a web of efficacy. Everything seems designed to perfection in Japan. My morning jog saw houses, rivers, parks, temples, and towers, all in the quiet cacophony of Tokyo. A walk in Shizuoka with dad saw kids walking with plastic bags of recycling, kindergartens with bright colors in one corner, and after rows of uniquely designed houses, a cemetery sits quietly and with dignity. Life, death, and recycling in one neighborhood. Beautiful crows included. It's exactly like all those Japanese RPG games.

Yet beneath the surface of perfection and order, a touch of rebellion stirs in myself. At all the temple sites of Kyoto were signs of "touring route this way," and the tourist is guided into a sightseeing route that offers both the best experience and maintains order of the crowds. The offending tourist who ventures upstream is admonished by the site guardians, whose other job includes sweeping any rocks disturbed to the paths back to the bed of rocks. The loud, uncouth, social Chinese tourists must be a nightmare for the Japanese, but even the American in me wanted to go the other way just for the hell of it.

Suddenly I understood the conditions that breed all the weird people in Japan. At the end of a full day of bowing and "hai"s and "domo arigatou arimasu"s I too was ready for beers after work or submerge myself in a subculture that let me live a little harder. Suddenly I missed the uncouth and unruly that was China.

No culture is perfect. Between the pros, cons, and in between are very real heritages shaped by time. There was something so serene and tough spirited about Japan that it made me exasperated that such a place isn't "succeeding" right now, but what is success, really? If it's long life and health, they've got it. If it's beautiful design, they've got it. If it's order and efficiency, absolutely. If it's dynamic leaders and innovation, difficult to say.

Living China, and having a father as an intellectual has inevitably meant many conversations about government, culture, and systems, and moreover, what is the "perfect system." As Ken said, sometimes the thinking gets too macro, and it might be better to simply live for the immediate. So I'm becoming that "irksome brand of American liberalism: an activist mindset that contemplates, criticizes and mourns but does little to alter the conditions that permit both apathy and atrocity."

Yikes.

Sickness

One thing that thoroughly destroys resolutions of any sort is sickness, the sort that begins with innocent stuffy nose and transforms into a monster of a thing that corrodes routine. I caught a cold somewhere between bed and ski slopes, that was, woke with a head cold, made worse by snowboarding and having slushy ice down my waist in several occasions. Was it worth it? To have resolve slaughtered so quickly in mid-first-month, for the momentary euphoria of slicing down a mountain-hill? I think so, I think yes. Growing up, I've always been athletic, a penchant for speed left me running from A to B. If I couldn't run I would bike. Cars made me sick, like having my limbs supplanted by something alien and uncontrollable. Biking always felt like a way of being that was more natural and superior. Snowboarding affords that similar feeling of travel, to negotiate, indeed, command the earth beneath your feet as you leave a trail of S curves. The ride always unearths something primal and ferocious in me. Such is the case that any sign of a head cold vanished during the day, only to resurface the moment you put away all the gear and sink your bag of bones body into the tub like you wish to not return.

Still I'm dreaming about those slopes, the way I dream about riding, the way I dream about going back on the treadmill once the body heals. My mind, and body are now acute aware of the passage of time. Only with deadlines do we treasure the seconds given to us, and I fill these days with rage, rage for books, rage for words, rage for the run, to plant my feet wholly to the ground, and utter a rage and love for a world that I want to earn with my limbs.

Resolutions and Meta-solutions

1. Wake up at 6AM- Monday/Friday: Yoga+Running, Wednesday: Rest/Write, Tuesday/Thursday: Write/Yoga

2. Read in a combination of one nonfiction, one fiction, and one Chinese book for a total of at least fifteen books. - Currently fiction/An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine; nonfiction/Empress Cixi Dowager, Jung Chung; Chinese/胡适,介绍我自己的思想

3. Complete one writing project, however ambitious. Because it's still dark out at 6AM in winter time.

We accidentally venture into something new by way of reading a productivity magazine and noting that everyone wakes up at 6AM. It's three-part flippant, three-part foolhardy, three-part a habit I want to keep for the rest of my life. Part of it is not really waking up early, but to establish a routine that will allow for more vision-driven possibilities, and to have the hours assigned to blocks of activity instead of cruising by whim.