Year in Review: Music

Beiruti band Soap Kills To be fair, 2014 was the anti-music year. The biggest personal trend being putting down the music and picking up books, which might explain the three day delay on this post. If 2013 was inhaling album after album (Kanye, Jay-Z, Kendrick, Earl Sweatshirt, Blood Orange, Autre ne Veut, Sky Ferraira, Lorde, James Blake, Daft Punk, Rhye to name a few), 2014 was seeing my iTunes "last added" tab stop at January 14. The remaining of the year was a fragmented landscape of music sourced from Xiami at work and replaying a "best of" mix from 2013. The lack of music this year was the result of an actual lack of good new music, and the final act in the erasure of music ownership.  Streaming made listening more difficult because everyday begins from the vast sea of "where do I start now" that usually ends with something you've been listening since you were sixteen (Goodbye Mr. Lawrence). Since Xiami doesn't have sophisticated playlists by mood, time of day or song, more time will probably have to be invested in curating music this year... and going old school and finding music blogs that do so.

This year was notable for stumbling onto two blogs: The State, found after visiting Dubai's art district, is a zine on the Arab/UAE diaspora and post-colonialist condition that happens to put out mixtapes, and 20jazzfunkgreats, a music zine based in Brighton found after searching for the Akira soundtrack. Both of these sites are interesting not just for the music, but condition wherein the discovery of music is considered. That is, it used to be that we found music through a narrative (current conditions of our present life, friends, stuff we read, people we admire). The Internet has made discovering new music and trends a breeze, but we're losing the surrounding elements that shape the musical experience. I appreciate these music zines, especially 20jazzfunkgreats for their foray of emotional weight in the binary landscape. They could be introducing anything, not just music. Oh, the gorgeous design helps too, of course.

Nevertheless, for the sake of keeping a record, here are the songs that were on repeat this year. Most of them, per usual, are not from this year.

"Aranis," Soap Kills I don't know how I found Soap Kills, probably in my continuing phase of interest in the Middle East and random searches for a Beiruti band. As far as Beiruti bands go, this indie electro-pop duo seem to have it all - a minimal sound combined with the sensuous Arab song, hip young faces - the only thing is they are from the late nineties, and who knows how their lives have folded with history.

"Kaneda," geinoh yamashirogumi It's true. I didn't see Akira until this year, and while that's embarrassing for the professed anime geek who loves Cowboy Bebop, I can't think of a better year to have seen Akira, a movie that would have been too weird for my fifteen-year-old self to grasp. Dystopian futures are all the same sexy in 2014, along with the lush cityscapes and a soundtrack that shot me to pause the movie several times to look up the soundtrack. Turns out the composer, the appropriately named geinoh yamashirogumi is a Japanese musical collective consisting of hundreds of people from all walks of life: journalists, doctors, engineers, students, businessmen, etc. The idea is already fantastic enough, but this soundtrack, an eclectic jungle of gamelan, chorus, and drum, is horrifically wondrous.

"Crow," 18+ 20jazzfunkgreats had the best description for this song. 18+ is a dope band. 18+ is two people, half LA, half New York, a potent mix for the hip American.

"18+’s Crow is a nightmare.  Not like those almost comforting sketches of horror; linear and formulaic with a beginning a bloody middle and a cathartic end.  A nightmare in the maddening repetition of that crow sample.  Like Game of Thrones web art .  An avian layering: one atop another, compressing into a insane chant."

"The Rip Tide," Beirut I was never into Beirut, and then this year I got into Beirut too late, and also for all the reasons that you probably shouldn't get into Beirut, which is a fascination with Beirut the city, and a superficial penchant for old Europe without really knowing either (old or new Europe). It's hard not to get into operatic songs like "The Rip Tide" and "Postcards from Italy" though, and in the end you are thankful for an imagination that carried Steve Condon from Santa Fe to the womb of Eastern Europe.

The Terrible Season

In New York City we took naps between five to seven in the afternoon, nine to eleven at night, catching dinners afterwards as if a new day. In consequence, we inevitably woke up in the middle of night to find ourselves answering work emails or playing retro SNES video games. When I asked why he was up too at three in the morning, he said "have to go find bub, what if bub runs away?" in a voice that resembled what one might imagine Babadook sounds like. And so, Babadook and Tonton comprised of New York vol. III, when no effort was made at overcoming jetlag, and simply letting the delirious days made of re-tracing a city that you knew by heart through subway stops, consume it all. On Christmas Day we went through my old neighborhood in Sunset Park. We ate Bahn Mi at Ba Xuyen (best in all of NYC), got spring rolls, an avocado milk shake, and a vietnamese coffee like it was 2010 all over again. New York stays the same even as you grow old.

Somehow I hungered for Chinese food through all of this. I missed the sautéed vegetables and the comfort of rice soaked in sauce through all the fusion-y spectacles. I hungered for it until I ended up in Chinatown in front of a preserved egg and pork porridge, ordering in Chinese because there was no other way. I hungered for it like it was something I will be losing soon.

Because here's the thing with being in China, it's a terrible way to live, and we all know it, and it breaks your heart because you utterly love it with all your heart. I think of my father who lived through these years of chaos and conflict, and wonder if I'd failed him somehow for choosing to be in this iron-clad, nonsensical world that fundamentally rejects goodness, openness, and progress beyond economic facelifts. America may not be perfect with its unabashed capitalistic outlook, its terrible reality shows and endless commercials, but it is a collective conscience that learns from its ill-doings and combats its failings, even as it struggles at the darkest hours. It is a cacophonous world held together by idealism. It is not this machine, governed imperviously, slowly closing its tentacles on itself.

Farewell Gmail. May this day be remembered as the day that China chose to remain in 2004, which is what my QQ email account's interface looks like, but at least it doesn't carry a numbered address like 126, 163, or another lazy man's spit into the universe, unheard. We mourn for you motherland. We mourn.

Year in Review: Books

My best friend from high school loved to read. She always had a book with her, and occasionally talked about them with a peculiar, fanatic, dreamy voice that only happens when a high school girl falls in love with Leonard Cohen's Fishing from Pavement. I managed to evade her love for books. Being a good student but a non-reader, I read what was required in school and stopped at rants about Gatsby. Instead I wrote bad love stories and somehow believed that non-readers made better writers because we had no influences to draw upon. Today I read not because I write, but simply for the pleasure of reading. If 2013 was biking, music, and management books, 2014 was learning to read in order to better understand a wider world.

 

2014 / Chronologically

1. Dance Dance Dance, Murakami Haruki, January

Wherein a last grasp of youth (spent on j-rock, lit, films and anime) succumbed to Dolphin Hotels, Sheep Man, elongated hallways and a fleeting memory of reverie. Murakami never fails to present cinematic, dream experiences, but maybe it's me who's outgrown one man's lonely, fantastic tunnel vision, and need a bigger piece of the pie.

2. The Lemon Tree, Sandy Tolan, January 3. The City of Oranges, Adam LeBor

Read before the trip to Israel, and, for an American who knew embarrassingly little about the Middle East beyond headlines, both of these were sweeping epics in their emotion weight. Even though it was difficult to hold on to the facts while Evan recalled timelines and events like a historian on a documentary tour, it helped with the gravity of being in the Old City. Arduous. Complex. Heartbreaking.

4. Quiet, Susan Cain, February

One week of conversation followed this book in the vein of "so do you think you're an extrovert or introvert?" In the end, bestseller semi-self-help books are all the same, a few forgettable anecdotes, statistics, lab tests, and a well-meaning thesis.

5. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, Adele Waldman, February

This novella is the act of drinking gourmet coffee in Williamsburg. Everyone is interesting looking and smart and funny and attractive, until you realize we're all the same. Impressive close read on the inner-workings of the Brooklyn writer man-child, but not really a story that needs to be told. In fact, I'm going to say no more New York stories period.

6. Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, March

The naiveté of which I came to this book and left with shiny eyes only reveals the extent of my lack of understanding of feminist literature and history. The bullish voice Sheryl writes with may not be a nuanced enough, but as with other "feminist" work that gets criticized for not being big enough, diverse enough, at least it's a beginning. Role models take time, just because she's white, privileged, and has a supportive husband doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile fight.

7. Interpreters of Maladies, Jhumpa Lhari, March

The first story in this short story collection, "A Temporary Matter" about a husband and wife who can no longer cope after losing their baby in labor complications, is literally a study of how a universe can be created between the emotional synapses of two people. Loss, told with silence, coupled with secretes, blanketed in dark outs, induces the strangeness of how ephemeral a connection can be. Simply brilliant.

8. On Love, Alain de Button,  March

I read this book and skimmed a few of the author's work after listening to a talk of his on TED. Alain de Button makes the inscrutable (philosophy! love! architecture! proust!) digestible like a SOMA pill, made for the modern man dogged by a pressure to succeed. While I appreciate his switching frameworks and unconventional thinking (in one memorable instance, we should all have a day of fools where we fuck other people in donkey suits, more or less), his witticisms can be forgettable, and more an entrepreneurial reaction to first world problems: i.e. School of Life.

9. City of Gold, Jim Krane, April

Read before going to Dubai in my burgeoning interest of the Middle East, this told the short history of a desolate place that found oil and a man who ran a country like a corporation. Wonderful, zipping, perplexing development in the middle of everything impossible… Dubai is willed into existence by man's aptitude for the impossible.

10.  From Beirut to Jerusalem, Tom Friedman, May

I barreled through the Beirut section before bed, on buses, on subways, enraptured, but couldn't really claw my way through the Jerusalem section. Somehow Israel really paled against Beirut throughout its Civil War years of death as norm. Still, another good book to gain a foothold into understanding the Middle East. Written with precision and typical Friedman ease.

11. Age of Ambition, Evan Osnos, June

There it is, a China book by an old China hand. Osnos is such the impressive writer who can wrought a meta-narrative through several disparate pieces, pieces that are already incredible strong on their own, but that overall, offers a look into China in the 21st century as a place made of both promise and fake prestige. The cliffhanger is China itself, no one will know what will become of her.

My third year in China has somehow rendered me uninterested in Chinese literature. I guess reading Osnos is at least a bit of a redemption despite it not being in the language. He is missed.

12. The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides, July

This fast read of the love and life of Brown kids intertwined in romance and destruction is just that, a very fast read. Eugenides is a smart and good writer, but the characters are limp and uninteresting, except for introducing the effects of Manic-Depression for me, applicable to a dear friend in real life so that I may more empathetic.

13. The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer, August

The idea of the interestings probably reminds all kids with an arty bent of a youth dominated by thinking we were the most interesting people who've ever graced the earth. This book was about that, but also the aftermath, the banality, life's every little mundane play after therein and the nagging fear/reality that, maybe you too are ordinary, and that may be ok as long as you try to stay good and kind. This was entertaining. The geek main character was a treat, but otherwise nothing heartbreaking.

14. Little Birds, Anais Nin, September 15. Diary of Anais Nin, Vol II, October

Anais Nin marks the year that I try to reclaim Feminism 101. At first it's love, like OMG writing quotes to Tumblr love if I only I had know her when I was 16 man! Then fear of narcissism and emotional over-indulgence floods in, and so ends the reign. It's too bad. She, and her writing is sumputous, fearless, and beautiful to the teeth and bone. If only we had the audacity to embrace all that we are: a crazy bundle of emotions, un-honed, beatific, horrific. Such is life. As for Little Birds, a collection of erotic stories, they deserve to have as many hits as pornhub except with far better orgasms. I would masturabte to Anais Nin erotic stories anyday.

16. Bali: Heaven and Hell, Phil Jarratt, October 17. Surf Stories, Stormriders, October

Read during and after the Bali trip in my newfound ritual to read about a place before I go, this was also a call to youth when I went through a minor surfing phase (in Ohio, dreaming of groms). Bali turns out to have had quite a vibrant expat creative scene dating back to before WWII, led by one charismatic German primitivist painter Walter Spies. The convergence of an artistic community around him reminded me, at times, of our little bubble in Beijing. Unfortunately he met his end during the WWII, drowned on a ship of prisoners.

18.  The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt, November 1. This book was nearly all Boris for me. 2. I picked it up because Kate Bosworth took a photo of a chapter entitled "Morphine Lollipop". Since then, I've been following Kate Bosworth. Then Instagram was blocked. Blue Crush was awesome. 3. It's one of those books that you read knowing "this probably has been optioned," then wondered if the writer purposely wrote it that way.

19. White Tiger, Aravind Adiga, December

The theme of book I read this year is basically IndiaMiddleEastChina, or so I like to think. This book, recommended by a friend, is written from the perspective of a Indian entrepreneur / murderer in a letter to Premier Wen Jiabao. The premise is clever enough, and the book moves swiftly and bitingly as the main character makes his way from countryside to Delhi, from the darkness to promise. It's hardly a favorable view of India, which only makes me think that ironically, even while Balram notes of China's ostensible success compared to India's "failed democracy," such a story would be hard to be told in China, period.

20. Midnight in Peking, Paul French, December

I don't read or watch much horror/mystery anything, so this was read mostly for Beijing as it makes rounds in the expat community here. To my delight, this was a great book to wade through while knowing the invisible lines that make this ancient city. Geography plays a big role here, as in most murder mysteries between people, places, and alibis. At times I literally pulled back at the mention of Hutongs and British girls who speak perfect Chinese, not to mention ample references to my dearTianjin (Tientsin), Edgar Snow, and an expat scene that brimmed of gossip. Beyond the perks of historical fiction and re-living Beijing in 1937, the book was simply a thrill, an astoundingly well-paced tragedy, a beautiful, proper girl lost to the throes of a licentious underbelly, a brokenhearted, obstinate father who waged his own investigation, a sympathetic hermaphrodite, villains with nudist colonies. In some ways, maybe mystery is fiction at its purest form, to make us wonder ceaseless until we hurtle to the end.

 

2015 / reading, to read

The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine Serious Men, Manu Joseph Creating Effective Teams: A Guide for Members and Leaders, Susan A. Wheelan

Fever

You are so excited lately that you get insomnia at night, staring into the abyss of the bedroom with your fingers in a ball, toes curled, body rigid. Any second you want to spring forward to scratch more meaning into the day. Anais Nin has nothing on you on pretension, poetry, and the female psyche. You are so excited that you even start getting carsick in the car, when the city fade in and out between Weixin moment scrolls. One of your best friends leave Beijing and you played Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night" followed by Billie Holiday on the street, spun out on whether you were in Beijing, New York, or a music video. Life is only a series of meetings and goodbyes.

You like feeling alive again, like a fucking Radiohead song. The city is made of a beauty that only comes from cruel familiarity. It is in our tiredness of it that we find meaning. It is in our compromises that we find little triumphs.

Finally these strange steps we take lead somewhere nowhere all the same.

See you somewhere someday my friend. Remember to dance dance dance!!!

Cyberpunk Futura Soundscape

You're getting too old for the Akira soundtrack. The drums, the stops, the skits, the gamelan. Yet when you look into the crater of the city from the apartment nook, you imagine that the crevices hold just as many secrets. I loved this city once, came as a 21-year-old with more hunger than I had even for New York, because this was it, this was home, this was a crater on the rise. I'd met too many good people in its claws, and I'd punched, willed my way to belong here. Yet I leave. I leave because I'm getting too old for Akira, and one should never feel that way. Instead of gamelan drums paired to dystopian anime, soon it'll be the Smiths and Joy Division. Life should always be a struggle, because where else is the fun, if not in these flashing lights, in the decayed?

I'll be back.

Table by the Window

And I'll miss this desk by the window, this bed beside the wall. This is theoretically my third favorite after a serial chain of apartments -- the first being the Hutong dig perfect for the laowai looking for Beijing authenticity, the bathroom of which looked out in the courtyard and when it's sunny the light splatters on your wet, shampooed hair. My second favorite apartment overlooked the May Fourth plaza, where the movement originated, and on the other side, grand courtyard homes being reinvented. I took that apartment from Rong Rong, and inherited a wall of cat pictures and miscellaneous curios before wiping the place down in an act to organize my mind. It didn't have the best light, but one good nook and a great small kitchen. I finished vol. 3 of 1Q84 there and felt like Qingdou in her hide out apartment the whole time.

So the third, this one with the best fengshui and best sunlight, where a year went by in a heartbeat. It is a desk, a bookshelf, a closet, and bedside table. It is everything a girl might need for the rest of her life, and it is leaving, yet again, for some other configuration and window light.

Hard to write about changes, especially when the minutia of the moments add up, and you crave something more after all the Evernote, tasks, and 沟通ing  is done. Maybe like Haruki and his baseball bat, or Jung and his active dreaming, it's time to collect, and create.

Witchetty Grubs

"But Boris -- like an old sea captain -- put them all to shame. He had ridden a camel; he had eaten witchetty grubs, played cricket, caught malaria, lived on the street in Ukraine ("but for two weeks only"), set off a stick of dynamite by himself, swum in the Australian rivers infested with crocodiles. He had read Chekhov in Russian, and authors I've never heard of in Ukrainian and Polish. He had endured midwinter darkness in Russia where the temperature dropped to forty below: endless blizzard, snow and black ice, the only cheer the green neon palm tree that burned twenty-four hours a day outside the provincial bar where his fathered liked to drink." - The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt I find, after a year, the best nook in the house. It's in the northeast corner where you can simultaneously see the moon (on these good, rare AQI 50 days) and the lights from the Worker's Stadium that like flash like a multi-colored electric torch. Finding a nook here is more important than liking the smallness, or the actual nook of the Hong Kong apartment. It is more important than being at the balcony in the New York apartment. Saying all of this sounds absurd, as if existing on parallel planes.

The nook gazes out to the hollow of the city, and it's Patrick who reminded me of its majesty and possibility when he said, "guys I fell asleep looking at the night sky." Incredible. The same radiant, golden boy Patrick, sleeping in the nook in Beijing, remarking on the skies the way we moaned about loneliness in Ohio.

During college in Ohio, when it felt like we could see miles and miles stretch from the rooftop of the Beta House. We'd climbed up to the slanty roof, tearing our best jeans in process, and be a rooftop closer to the moon. Even while we craned for the celestial, it never felt precious until today. Drowned in a city of lights, moons and stars beyond legendary, and it was Patrick that reminded me of the one place in the apartment where a date can be made.

It was good seeing him. In the way that planets align and you finally knew for sure, for sure that what goes around come around. So was that fateful meeting 10 years (10!) ago of him and I, of yearnings for China, and a tolerance for cosmic weirdness.

Many things have happened. A shift in geography. A shift in necessity. The roamer is ready to feed again, and even while, I, like dearest Rob, may feel the uncertainty shining with the moon's lonely halo. The heart is also ravished again. For more. For the next continent. For everything.

Bali

Bali is many singular things.

Bali is stray dogs, offerings, waves, traffic, motorbikes, warungs, suckling pig, smoked duck, Aussies, surfers, a grace, dignity, and gentleness that make you question the singular strengths of all these things, and how woven together, they become a rare moment of rugged serenity.

At first you kind of hate it, because nothing about the traffic suggest paradise. The main arteries that link up to Seminyak from your sleepy surf village, Canggu, are few in between (in fact, there is really just one going north and one going east, passing Pepitos, the big grocery store catering to local expats with cheese and granola).

We made the mistake of making a grocery run on the first day to stock up our Airbnb, and in turn, Bali sucked us in and spat us out with fumes and bumpy roads. In a daze, and stocked with milk, juice, and donut snacks from the market, I swore to take smaller routes on the way back, and found them cutting cross villas and rice fields. The road would curve up and down and narrow suddenly. No lights except the moon, and other headlights crossing in front, behind, and past, existed. So it was in these wayward roads and shortcuts that I found a touch of nostalgia, when I used to ride my bike in the darkness of Nankai U or to Big Auntie's in Heping District in the nineties.

There were other ways in Bali that reminded me of the way things were, or the way things are supposed to be. They collided in the form, as Ken playfully puts it, "Eat Eat Love." Nothing, not work, not phone, stopped in the way of eating our way through Bali. Yet the most memorable moment perhaps still lived in the scratched out "pray," when, pummeled by a wave, you grab fiercely onto your surfboard, hull your heavy body back on the wax board, and saw at the far end of the beach a Hindu ceremonial procession marked by Gamelan music. That was it. The image and moment will live in your mind's eye forever. So will the first time surfing, the first time paddling out to the waves, to the sun, with such purpose, and such gravity.

The magnitude of mother nature has never dawned until one experiences surfing, and there it will, staring at you in the eye, carrying you, and in the next instant, throwing you. Surfers write about the waves they love as a ferocious, beautiful woman. I can see why now. At 14 you went to Hawai'i for the first time and came back with surf fever (even though you didn't learn to surf then) via plastering walls with pages of blue from Surf mags,. At 28 you learned to surf, but more importantly, you learned what happens after the surf, and that is, the sitting. In Canggu beach ("Our Fort Tilden," he joked), we sat on the parking lot steps during sunset after two hour surf sessions and do nothing except sit. The occasional stray dog with his feral eyes would pass by and meditate on the moment with us, and that was it. That was our Bali, and nothing was better than everything.

3AM in Brooklyn

The last time you were up at 3AM rolling through Brooklyn in a car listening to Rae Sremmurd was basically never, so when in did happen in the way of friends stuffing bikes in the van, Ferris calling from the curb (we all thought he was crazy), then driving to some random hipster bar in Bed-Stuy, passing by Ari's house and seriously thinking about waking up the dude (he was sick), then did I understand what he meant by "everything's just so easy here." Maybe easy was the reason why we left, but in 2.5 days you do appreciate the ease and pleasure of having double steaks, walkable streets, gorgeous weather, happening, ambitious people. New York is still the best, even in ridiculous condensed time segments. Everything's a bit like a dream, including carousals, J and B, and my mind melting into a margarita.

All I can remember are Schmoney dances, being hit on by shorties (props to the real men in New York), then crashing into baby boy.

----

After announcing his 15-year-plan during dinner, H turned to us and said, "I love you guys." He said it with such effortlessness that it made me realize that, oh yeah, I kind of do love these guys. Even if our friendship didn't entail the proximity of college roommates, even though we spend most of our days with co-workers, I really appreciate all the friends I've come to know here. These adventure-seekers, these nutters, these us...

Next steps are difficult to make our, but I'm taking it day by day. If you commit to something, commit to it 100%. It's important to commit to the day you're living.

On Beauty

Since we live in the age of consultants, branded selves, and ten-minute talks, since we solve all of life's matters with an app, pass boredom with an app, and share our thoughts on love through an app, this is what I miss. I miss tiled wallpapers, livejournals from 1997, the crack of a smile on his face at two in the morning. I miss the Internet as a messy, emotional, amorphous wad of mysteries. I miss flawed, intensely personal moments not perfected by a logo. I miss run on sentences that doesn't contain a mission, vision, or action steps.

This might go against everything I've learned to hone in the past years in a push to over-plan and over-organize. What I miss is the deep and honest moments that bare a beauty uncontrived.

In New York at two in the morning. I encounter for the first time, chaos that felt real, conversations with real humans, warped space and time. Suddenly I understand why Angelina adopts eight kids. What else do you do when you have the world if not to own the world?

I believe in beauty from craft, patience, time, idiosyncrasies, and most of all, stories that might expose the fragility in the best of us.

The Professional Wedding Goer

"Soon, she and the rest of them would be ironic much of the time, unable to answer an innocent question without giving their words a snide little adjustment. Fairly soon after that, the snideness would soften, the irony would be mixed in with seriousness, and the years would shorten and fly. Then it wouldn't be long before they all found themselves shocked and sad to be fully growin into their thicker, finalized adult selves, with almost no chance for reinvention." -The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

Who knew at some point you'd become a professional wedding goer. You just go through the motions now. The thoughtfully designed invitations, the new dress you pick out appropriate for both wedding and client meeting, the miles you travel, the ceremony, the bride's costume changes, the toasts, the parents, the smiles.

At some point, life becomes a rehearsal of milestones, and everyone a puppet of fate. If the spotlight is bright enough, and you are giving your Oscar-worthy performance, then a moment breaks through at these milestone moments, and life is sheer fucking gorgeous. Other times, such as when you are subject to witness too many of other people's milestones, you feel a little helpless, like something is inevitably ending in the way that childhood ended, and sixteen ended, and your first job ended, and your first love ended.

Milestones are reminders that no matter how special you thought you were, you will fall into the design of being human. That no matter how hard you dreamed of being exceptional, the urge to love, to carry a child, to have the good life, to have peace, to reach the happy ending is an alienable right.

Going to Annie's engagement party reminded me of how young we still are. If thirty is the new twenty then here we are, graduating from teenagehood and whimsy. Yet on the other end we talk about friends in small voices, those who didn't quite yet find the script of their lives. What are they still doing circling that intersection, and when will they find the compass of their lives?

Now is no longer the time to linger on the curb, the world seems to say. Now is the time to be poised and knowing. Now is the time to get your act together, and perform. Or maybe, now is the time to cherish what you have, and live not for society or anyone's expectations, but only yours, and what you excites you, live for yourself.

Bunnies, Iberian Ham, and Atama Daijoubu?

This all happened in one night. One moment you were downing your third Veuve Clicquot champagne, the last full bar you heard Brent utter after a bite of the Iberian ham was "we're gonna have to carry this girl home." The next you were whisked to a ballroom full of the party people, normal looking party people except the occasional patterned kimono or yukata. Your head grew dizzy, like it's being squeezed. The boy band on stage did perfect boy band dancing. You ran to the counter for a glass of water, the bartender says something about picking up coins. You ran to the bathroom, a row of bunny girls took over real estate around the mirrors. You wait in line to pee, thinking about the Yakuza boss man and what the fuck did they put in the champagnes, then next thing you know your eyes snap open from your head hitting the ground and a girl gasped and helped you up and pointed to your head, "atama!" and kept on asking "daijoubu" and pulled out a chair for you and asked you to "sit sit" except that part was probably also in Japanese and all in all you were having an out of body experience at a Yakuza jewelry line money funneling party and all you want were the bunnies, where the fuck were the bunnies? "Hey where are you?" Came instead your boyfriend's text.

It felt like 4AM but it was only 12AM. You found your way to keep together your "atama" and you made it back to your boyfriend.

Beirut

I've been reading about Beirut -- Maronites, Sunni, Shiites, Druze. I've been reading about 15 years of Civl War, a sectarian conflict of east vs east, west vs west, southeast vs. northwest, northeast vs. southwest. I read because I've been half-obsessed with the Middle East since Dubai, and half because I just like the words Beirut and Lebanon. I like the way the words slide off like a hum, that instead of closure, 'ru' and 'non' goes on as if a hymn. I like the way the words look, harmonious in serif and strong in sans serif. I like that two words stand for nostalgia and hope - the heaviness of humanity that we are capable of the best and worst. As for Dubai, well, let's just say you find love in the most unexpected places, and in the colossal year of travel, it was not in the living fairytale of Florence, but in the bloated dream of excess, in the silver monolith rising from the desert that things began to make sense. If Florence was a picture book, Dubai was a sci-fi fantasy novel you hope David Lynch had a hand in. Gazing afar at the Burj Khalifa, there was the tower that defied heat, mankind, and imagination. Like a needle pin pointing true north, it is omnipresent in the desert city, alert and shimmering.

What made me like Dubai were the conversations of imperfections and hope for the better. In their voices I heard the rough edges that echo my own, the rules bent in funny ways there, but we found the pockets of people, places, moments that we could empathize. There lived the children of diaspora, post-colonist, post-nationalist, post-futurist.

In the end all the post post post identities end up sounding familiar, "It's not a place that you'd expect to be good with all the stories you've heard, but in time you find the parts that charm you." Joseph, our Palestinian friend who grew up in Paris said, and onwards he mentioned the few events and venues that made the city happening, much like the way we talk about the five venues to see live shows in Beijing. We were all apart of something that was in the stage of discovery, had a hand in building it as we wagered our youth for something that was inscrutable and fragile instead of comfortable.

"Turns out we’ve been trying to figure out Dubai - this strange, wonderful, occasionally traumatic place we grew up in - all along. (Jury’s still out on whether that trauma was due to Dubai, or just the turbulence of adolescence.) The thing is, we are the child of Gulf Returnees ourselves. We didn’t leave our home countries to come here; Dubai’s the only home we’ve ever known. yet most narratives of Dubai focus on its extremes - solar-sintered skyscrapers made from sun, sand, and glass or the unknown laborers who built them; unbridled admiration for its visionary transformation or vitriolic, xenophobic dismissal; searing desert heat or lush, landscaped golf courses. As residents-but-not-citizens, we’re paradoxically privileged, yet invisible; our stories remain as yet untold.” - The State

The other reason why I fell for Dubai lives in a magazine, in fact, the love lives in one thin volume of personal narratives calling to the Arab diaspora, a volume that is rigorous, thoughtful, hyper-intellectual but deeply intimate. A love for a place doesn't necessarily have to be its beautiful boulevards or quaint coffee shops, but in the minds and stories of its travelers, settlers, lovers and its estranged.

I hope one day I will meet Beirut, as I will meet Africa, India, and all the places larger than myself. Also, check out the Lebanese band Soap Kills, they are my jam right now.

Leonardo

America smells like Windex, and in New York, it's mixed with sandalwood and perfume from big hair. Vacationing in my former home, where I made the daily grind, wasn't easy. I told friends on the first day on how I wanted this trip to not be a vacation, but "simply living two weeks in the city." I'd hoped to wake up, go on runs, work, read, write, see everyone. What I most hoped for was to meditate on the pause, linger in the space, to write, to produce. That didn't happen. The city, as it always had and always will be, is made of hustle and bustle. Instead of writing about life in Beijing, you rode to Fort Tilden and the Rockaways, you rode to and fro the Brooklyn Bridge four times, you rode through Times Square dodging feet, exchanging grins with fellow bicyclists, you rode as a metaphor to create movement and meaning. Between all this riding, an anxiety crawls to the pit of your stomach. It happens the moment you open your eyes. Your lover kisses you and leaves for the day. He dives seamlessly back to life in New York -- work, friends, sensibility. You are confronted with a strange silence and a day not structured by the meetings and deadlines and a vague sense of productivity. You explain this to B as: "I'm was like a gerbil going on and on on that wheel, and all of a sudden I'm thrown off and I don't really know what to do."

Seeking meaning could very well be the theme of the trip, and it arises from these moments of self-doubt, of feeling left behind. As friends forge their paths and have bigger conversations, it was not peace that moved you, but a feeling of static crisis, an anxiety that shot straight through the body and left you paralyzed and screeching for something weightier. Then one day, on the last day in New York, somehow you found it all. You don't have the answers, but you have the image of her seared in your memory.

Aniko and I sat on Washington Square Park the way it felt like we always did when we lived in New York, except we actually never did when we lived here, but the city is full of living memories, and every avenue, every square seem to breathe a past, a conversation. We were both leaving. I the next day and she for good after six years of on and off. We watched the characters in the park. She pointed to me - the parrot man, the abstract painter man, the man dragging his lazy, beautiful Welsh Corgi on the ground, the girl stripping to her bikini and climbing into the fountain. We were two characters in the corner of this world of Waldo.

Here's what she said. She said, her co-worker talked about how much she had learned from her, the kids shouted stories they remembered about her. She talked about using bio-degradable shampoos, Veganism, a dream of building a homestead, an earth shelter, running a camp for kids. She talked about all of us being one single organism, about doing our part. She talked about hobbies, maintaining the hobbies, marriage, growing with that person. She talked about materialism and I talked about my $70 Coach shoes. She talked about how much more "business" I've become. I talked about dreams and values and my million dollar metal tree. I talked about the loss of hobbies and a greater pivot. I talked about the importance of the conversation even though I had no resolutions. In the end, she beamed, "have a good bike ride and dinner," and I offered the cliché, "have a nice life," but meant it hard. So many of us live in the moments, not many of us live purposeful lives, and in Aniko I saw a maturity, fortitude, and strength in reason that blew me away.

We are the makers of the dramatic farewell, just as Aniko forged her own path with discipline, guts, and a ethical compass tougher than anyone I know. The contents of this conversation will stay with me for a long time, just as this trip will and all the faces of strangers. New York is drawing full circle in my life. From a perpetual visitor with wide-eyes and excitement, to temporary resident, and finally, back to the perpetual visitor more seasoned, more nuanced.

On the last day in New York, Bryan and I made a vow that before 30 he will make an album and I will complete a novella. We left the restaurant just as Leo DiCaprio sat down and started walking to the Financial District on our way to the DMV during high noon, trying to find shade on the edges of building like two squealing Chinese girls (he's Filipino). It was on the curb right before Greenwich and before Battery Park when this happened, and that was it, that was the beginning of everything again.

Thanks New York, I love you always.

Zuckers Morning

I eat an half a bagel too much. Everything feels disproportionately large here -- the food, the people, gulps of air. At night we take long walks, and he cuts through the neighborhood like a real local -- here's a restaurant my friend opened, here's an art gallery that I have beef with, here's a spot that expanded, good for them. Every comment conveys ownership, possession, and an ease that comes with 10 years. He grew up here the way many of us dream about the characters in young adult novels. There were private schools, days of being the outsider, pre-Giuliani subways, concerts, drugs, dyed blonde hair, and guitars. All the kids here sound like rock stars, and you wonder, was it the city that made them, or they who made the city?

5AM Story

Watching the city wake up at the fifth hour, it's early and raining, but unlike your jetlagged body the city is already in full motion. You're sitting at the bowels of the city, Lower Manhattan Chinatown, gazing on it all while its skyscrapers fold into roads and twist into bridges to Brooklyn. In your younger days you wanted to live right across from this busy body of water. You no longer harbor the same wish. In some ways you don't have the proclivity to just settle anywhere anymore. Not here, where the buses screech in the rain and East Riverside runners wake up in a huff deprived of their morning routine (I among them if not for a bruised big toe from riding his fixie, and injuring myself at the last possible moment before limping home). No, home is slowly morphing into a temporary idea, an evolving identity of the increasingly post-nationalist self. As for this New York, this machine that keeps humming, some say it's falling into a stupor, that is belongs to the past. I will always be moved by the portraits here - the exulted and the downtrodden brushing shoulders. I will always see wonder in the beast that shapes so many of us - the go-getter, the do-gooder, the guest somewhere in between.

This is where I make my entrance. I will attempt to live here for two weeks, given the fortune of shelter, a bike, and friends who've yet left. I see this trip as a way of detoxing the mind and body, and instead of consuming, will simply live, and simply write. The past year has been a continued frenzy of motion. Work and love rages on and while both are exciting and inspiring, I miss the presence of "emptiness."

As Kenya Hara extols, "emptiness" "...provides all kinds of possibilities and can hold all kinds of meanings." Emptiness is not simplicity, it is ambiguous, big, heavy, and deeply meaningful. It is the interruption of the pause in our day to day routines, the beckoning for a toughened "why?" Why do this? What keeps you going? It is sculpted moments, disciplined, and full, and it is only in New York do I find the peace, on the cusp of humanity, do I find depth.

It has been a year of travel, perhaps this is the reason for his remark. "I'm Angelina and you're my little Shiloh," and more than anywhere else, the places that moved you were places of conflict, friction, people. Beauty exists in the moments between the words.

Desert

Tough time writing this love letter. Sometimes you're just at a loss for words. Before going to the desert, you think of Katherine Clifton. You think of the third chapter in Goon Squad. You are not going to the Safari, but somewhere pretty damn close. You've fallen in love with the idea of the desert because you fall in love with every new idea. You seek change, sea change, and hopefully it begins with a journey to the desert, golden hued and golden heeled.

Drake Moment

Really, have a Drake moment with me. Toss your skirt, loosen up that shirt, nozzle that face against the base and listen to "Over My Dead Body" over and over again, savor how body trails like this, "Baaaahhh-ahh." Sing it with me. "I think I killed everyone in the game last year fuck I was on though."

You reach a sudden state of calm. A calm you could distill from a moment, that moment, when you were looking at the moon and ready to climb a wall and your friend R was talking to you like we belonged in a mystical moment. Mystical was the way D described me at a separate dinner party, and I took it in like a good diehard artist. That night when we were all tripping I realized a few things about us. That we possess everything in ourselves to accomplish what we want. That you only reach a state of calm by doing and striving for what you care about. That in the end it's just you and yourself, and it's better to believe in the only thing you know to be true in this life, yourself. Everything else is transient. The moon, friendships, lovers, family, but as long as you are alive you hold yourself to be true, and you better put every fiber of your being into whatever it is you care about. Only in that way will the moon, the friendships, the lovers, and family stay with you.

Now that I'm beyond the routine of podcasts and morning runs, the clarity of a vision hovers at the horizon. I'm feeling the keywords in my life like all the keywords that we knocked our heads together for clients. Dear R has finally left, but the hole that's there is filled with a sense of empowerment. So here's they are, words of the year.

Do. Write. Love.

I'm having a Drake moment ever since we mentioned Toronto.