Wednesday, December 30, 2015

15 things that I keep coming back to in Hong Kong.

The view from the tram (#11), somewhere in Causeway Bay. Source: my Instagram

Here's a break from my usual kind of posts - none of that soppy drivel today. As 2015 comes to an end, I wanted to share the 15 things that I do, see, experience, or eat every time I'm back in Hong Kong.

As you might know, I lived in Hong Kong between the ages of three and eighteen, and it's where I tell people I'm from. I attend a college I really love in another country and spend at least two-thirds of the year there, making me question what "home" is to me right now. That said, I'm really glad I get to go back to the 852 after every semester to see family and old friends. Even though I'm not sure what "home" is, and if I'm only allowed to call one place that, these things give me a great sense of familiarity and comfort, kind of like a security blanket which is not a hypothetical example because I still have one at the ripe old age of 20.

(Disclaimer: this list does not strive to be a guide for tourists, nor does it strive to encapsulate a "classic Hong Kong experience" - it's just the city through my eyes and these are just my own special things. Another point: I don't really take good pictures [#hkig], so just conjure your own vivid images through my literary prowess. Oh, and last point: all prices are in Hong Kong Dollars.)

1. Chicken and macaroni in tomato soup
Fairwood | Multiple locations | Approximately $30
Fairwood is a local fast food chain, but this specific dish might actually be my favorite breakfast in the world (and I've travelled a fair bit). A few months ago, my suitemate noticed and pointed out that every time we went for brunch on the weekends at the college dining hall, I wouldn't choose breakfast foods if other options were available. I think my cravings in the mornings have been shaped by the breakfasts I had growing up on this side of the world. Omelettes and waffles are fine, but there's something so wondrous about this soupy, salty, tomato-y dish. For some reason, they have never given me a knife with this dish and so part of the experience involves imperfectly cutting the chicken with a spoon and pacing the consumption of chicken pieces along the consumption of macaroni. Fairwood's preparation (clearly visible, rushed, think assembly lines) is far from grand, and I'm not a Fairwood fan in general, but they have this going for them.

2. Taro milk tea (with bubbles)
The food stall on Cannon Street; behind Sogo, around the corner from the minibus stop | Causeway Bay | Approximately $20
I have never not gotten this exact drink from this exact place within the first three days of being back in town. I'm sure there are like 2082309 food stalls in Hong Kong (lolz, I just realized that if this number/keyboard smash was factually true, the "people to food stall" ratio would be under 4:1), but ever since a friend took us on a detour to grab a snack from this place back in eleventh grade, I've just always come back to this one. I love whatever artificial flavors and coloring passes for taro, and it's impossible to find it in the rural town my college is in. I like, but do not love, classic bubble tea because I feel it lacks something that I can find in the taro kind.

Alternative #2: Taro green tea (with no bubbles)
Eslite Bookstore, 10th floor, Hysan Place | Causeway Bay | Approximately $25
This version is pretty different to the kind you typically get in food stalls; the sweetness is way milder, and there are what may or may not really be taro bits (which is why I always get it without bubbles). I am slightly ashamed to say that I've gone to this large bookstore for the drink more times than I have for books.

3. The basic Beef Pepper Lunch, large (optional: with an egg + cheese)
Pepper Lunch | Multiple locations | Approximately $50-60
The combination of beef, rice, pepper, corn, and a scoop of their special buttery mix on a teppan (a special plate on which the food gets cooked for a while) is so, so, so ridiculously good. It's salty and peppery (wow, what original descriptions), and the corn bits provide a nice comforting crunch while also adding a new dimension of flavor. Getting the dish in large gets you more beef. The egg and/or cheese can be added for a few extra dollars, but sometimes I feel like it detracts from the basic essence of Pepper Lunch.

4. Any salad combination at Urban Bakery Works
3rd floor, The Landmark | Central | Below $100
I've honestly never enjoyed salad more than I do at this place. They have a range of options; you pick and choose three for a small box, or five for a larger box. Even though their range isn't that large and choosing five is a matter of not choosing two or three of the options, it's tough because everything looks and tastes so good. Examples of options include miso-glazed eggplants, Thai noodle salad that's slightly spicy, and whatever they do that makes the cauliflower salad really yummy. I first stumbled upon this place in the summer of 2014, and it's been a go-to since.

5. Kingduck
3rd floor, apm Millennium City 5 | Kwun Tong | Approximately $100-200 per person
Growing up, my favorite random place for Shanghainese food was this restaurant named China House. I was devastated when I heard that it closed in 2014. But I realized soon after that the restaurant that opened in its place was run by the same people (King Parrot Group) and the menu at Kingduck was almost identical to that of China House's. Maybe KPG decided that the place just needed a slight makeover? Maybe they were trying to capitalize on the hype that frequently surrounds newly opened places in Hong Kong (see also: queues spanning entire streets when Forever 21, Cotton On, American Eagle, and Abercrombie and Fitch first came to town). Anyway, I'm very grateful that I can still go back to the same place to get my usual stewed chicken and vegetable noodles with chilli bean paste on the side. Oh, and they make pretty good wontons too.

6. Brunch Club & Supper
1st floor, 13 Leighton Road | Causeway Bay | Approximately $100-120 per person
There is another branch in Central, but I've never been to that one. I had brunch in this branch with a bunch of friends (wow, what a tongue-twister) to celebrate turning 17, which was my last birthday in town before I left for college. The ambience is something distinct from that of other places - the best way I can describe it is that it has a hipster-chic charm of its own. Unlike many places, I don't have a specific dish that I get every time (though I like their set lunches - again, not really a breakfast foods person). My friend who goes to Le Cordon Bleu and writes a foodie blog on her experiences at Michelin-starred restaurants chose to come here the last time we met up over the summer, so take that as some indication of the quality of food at Brunch Club.

7. Aladin Mess
2nd floor, 60 Russell Street | Causeway Bay | Approximately $60-100 per person
The location of this hidden gem (spelled with one "L", not two) is hard to describe over the phone to a friend who has never been, so the process of converting new people to Aladin Mess usually involves meeting them at Times Square (see below), which is a minute away. The restaurant, which serves unexpectedly fantastic Indian curry, can be found if you know which nondescript entrance to duck into amidst all the neon signs and buildings and make your way up the slightly sketchy-looking, dusty staircase. I have a weakness for their fish madras with plain steamed rice. A friend first brought me here in high school, and I've been back many times since.

8. Foo Lum Palace
438 King's Road | North Point | Approximately $100-150 per person
This place has generally negative reviews on Openrice, and I'm not really their biggest fan either. Foo Lum Palace earns a spot on my list mostly because it is somewhere I go every time I'm back. My grandmother lives in the area, so this is the default place for dim sum with her. This tradition goes wayyy back to the dim sum place that previously occupied this space (kind of like Kingduck, see above). The food is meh, but I think their glutinous rice and chicken wrapped in lotus leaves, cha siu baos, and Yangzhou fried rice are decent.

At this point, I have devoted a whole lot of words and over half of the spots on this list to the subject of food (Hongkongers really do like food). Also, I'm making myself hungry so I'll switch gears.

9. The scent of IFC
Everywhere in the IFC mall | Central | Free
No, "the scent" is not a store or a restaurant. Over the past years, I have thought numerous times upon walking into this mall that the literal smell of the place is one of my favorite things in Hong Kong. I associate it with happiness, and I'd consider marrying the first man who bottles that scent and uses it on himself.

10. Cycling from Tai Po Market to Tai Wai (or vice versa)
Outside the Tai Po Market/Tai Wai MTR station | New Territories | $70 per person (and someone has to show ID before bikes can be rented)
One of the happiest days of my life was when I was in kindergarten and we went on this field trip to a place where we rode tricycles around a mock city; there were street lines, traffic lights, bridges, tunnels, and underpasses. I think the purpose of the field trip was for us to learn about traffic rules and respecting each other on the road. Apparently, I ignored my mom every time I cycled past where the parents were hanging out - I remember being so damn happy because I felt so independent and free to move at my own speed, which might say something about what I'm like even today. I really wish I knew the name and location of this place. Maybe I will become unspeakably happy when I learn to drive and get to relive these feelings on a daily basis, but for now, this biking trail is the next best thing. The trail almost never integrates with the regular roads, making the journey a bit safer, and you get a pretty lovely view of the city. All the uphill roads make for a good workout too, especially when compounded with breathing in polluted air. There are a number of bike rental companies that cover similar routes. This specific route takes about two to three hours to complete.

11. The tram
Almost anywhere on Hong Kong Island | Under $2.50 per ride
It's excruciatingly slow (as my friend and I confirmed, with the speed filter on snapchat), but it's a nice change of pace if you're in the mood for that. A lot of my hangouts involve eating, and then walking about aimlessly in malls after (spontaneously going to someone's place for no specific reason is considered kind of unusual here). That's where the tram comes in; I've had many good conversations with people as the tram chugged along its tracks. If you can get seats (not too difficult during non-rush hours on weekdays), you can just stay there until you feel like getting off or until the tram reaches its end stop, whichever happens first. Chances are, its the former. Taking the tram from its most eastern (Shau Kei Wan) to western (Kennedy Town) end (or vice versa) is pretty chill journey that takes about two and a half hours. If you get a seat near the front of the upper deck, you can get some pretty sick "middle of the road and looking down" pictures (like the picture above - which again, must come with #hkig). It also costs (very little) pocket change.

12. The ground floor of Times Square
Times Square | Causeway Bay | Free
My mom jokes that if she can't reach me, she'll go to Times Square to look for me because that's where many of my meet-ups begin, happen, or end at. In middle school, the clock tower was the default meeting spot for my friends and I. Since then, the default meeting spot for my friends from different circles has become "under the big TV". There is also always some major display related to a recent movie release in the open area on the ground floor. While I think it's silly that so many people frantically crowd around these displays to take pictures (and I silently judge them), the crowd is also part of what I consider so synonymous with Hong Kong, and no trip back would feel familiar without this sight. Side note: the food stall kind of halfway between Times Square and Aladin Mess (see above) makes pretty good siu mai.

13. Bungalow
Ground floor, The Centrium, 60 Wyndham Street | Central | Cost varies
Upon looking Bungalow up for its address, I have just learned that it serves French cuisine during the day. Clearly, I'm referring to this place as its other form (mode? function?); a nightclub. The bouncers hand out drink vouchers pretty liberally, and I've had a number of good moments here in the past year. The music is pretty good, and I've never seen it so crowded that you lose your friends.

14. Big Wave Bay Beach
The middle of nowhere? | Shek O | Free (sort of)
Relatively clean and accessible (a $10 ride on the minibus from outside Shau Kei Wan MTR station), Big Wave Bay is a nice place. This is where I incurred the two major, skin-on-entire-body-peels sunburns that I've had so far, both in the summer of 2013. The showers and bathrooms are not horrendous, which is a plus. The combination of seawatered, salty, sandy skin, and the nearby (very informal) restaurant's food (in particular, their instant noodles with egg and sausage, or their snack platter with spicy pork neck), topped off with either a young coconut or a red bean ice, collectively forms the first image that comes to mind when I think of Hong Kong summers.

15. The Hong Kong Story
Hong Kong Museum of History, 100 Chatham Road South | Tsim Sha Tsui | $10, free on Wednesdays
This permanent exhibit takes at least four or five hours to get through if you want to be serious and not just breeze through everything. I haven't retained much and I'm no expert on Hong Kong's history, but I fall in love all over again with the way the story is presented every time I go; the exhibits, recreations, and explanations are so detailed and thorough. I'm not much of a museum-goer in general (I don't really know how to appreciate art), but this is one exception. My mom bought us annual passes to the consortium of museums when I was younger and would constantly bring me to the Science Museum in hopes of making me more interested in science, but this is the best thing I got out of those passes.

So that concludes my list of 15! It definitely says something about me (unadventurous - no outlying islands, no hiking trails, and always eating) but it is what it is. I hope this was a mildly interesting read for you. If you're also from Hong Kong, hopefully you can relate to at least one of these things. Also, this is most likely my last post of 2015. So if you read this in time, happy new year!

Friday, December 25, 2015

2015: My year in review.

Last year, I finished off a self-reflective post expressing hope that 2015 would turn out to be a good year for you and me. Was it? I think so. It's amazing how so much happens in one year; things dear to you in the present might not have been so a year ago, and vice versa. I hope I never get to the point where the passing of a year is unmomentous.

Another year has passed - many moments of laughter, tears, self-doubt, debauchery. Kind of like Pantone's Color(s) of the Year, I think that each of my years are defined by a few significant characteristics. My 2014 was marked by greater independence and effort (basically the tl;dr of last year's post - now you don't have to read it!) and I likewise have another set of key takeaways from this year.

For all the times that I alluded to/outright expressed a dislike for people on this blog, that sentiment no longer really applies to me. I shake my head at how much I have contradicted myself here, but I'll forgive myself and point out that this blog has spanned one-quarter of my being; I am now 33% older than I was when I started. Throw the terrible teen years and residual childhood trauma in there, and let's say I'm excused. Anyway, point being - I am a self-identified introvert, and I also happen to really love people. I feel like sometimes, society views these two at odds with each other. I get a lot of energy from myself, a lot of my growth comes from introspection, and I absolutely prefer small, one-on-one gatherings. I'm also constantly inspired and fascinated by individuals. I love that my way of thinking and the emotions that I feel are shaped by the people in my life. I think that I became a better friend this year when I realized how much people really matter to me. I don't cherish my friends just because of the emotional and mental stimulus they provide me with - as I realize my previous few sentences might have implied - but also because I get a lot of joy from getting to understand individuals better on a personal level and connecting with them. I am very fortunate to have met many people who have opened themselves up to me, and they are my treasures. #tbt to the five-year-old reading alone during recess who proudly told her teacher that she didn't need any friends. There is a certain vulnerability in acknowledging my dependency on others and knowing that my emotions can be affected greatly by my friends, but I think this also comes with joy that I trust and feel comfortable around many people. I'm not good at goodbyes (see also: lots and lots of tears), but I have accepted that this is a by-product of putting a lot into my relationships.

On a tangential note, I've come to realize that I'm pretty good at keeping in touch (and actually having deep conversations, instead of small talk) with people I don't get to see everyday. I think two factors contribute to this; firstly, my friends transcend groups and countries. My good friends are people that I connect well with on a personal level, and I've never really been the kind of person who has one big friend group that always hangs out together every time. Plus, I also happen to go to school half the world away from the place I grew up in. I feel that in order to keep any of these people in my life in a meaningful way, I had to become good at communicating from a distance. Secondly, this isn't hard for me because (as you might guess) words are my thing. I obviously don't know for a fact how other people think, but I'm realizing that words both in the spoken and written form make up a huge part of my connections with people - and this is less so the case for some others. To me, if I feel like I get to share everything I want to say in the present to someone virtually and I feel like the other person is doing the same to me, I'm satisfied and don't feel like I'm missing out on much as compared to if we were conducting the conversation in person.

Next, another point that might go against impressions of me here: this year, I decided that more than ever, I'm fairly happy about the person that I am. Though I don't think I owe anyone an explanation, I do wish to clarify that some of the posts that you see here are relative extremes. I'm usually more inspired to write when I'm not in the best mood. This post is not an example - I think that my posts here fall into one of two categories; "calm, reflective, and explanatory", and "much angst, very poetic". Writing posts in the latter category always make me feel better afterwards - but the post stays here. It's kind of like what my friend Amanda said about why you should limit the number of times you complain about your significant other to your friends - "If you and your boyfriend have a fight on Monday morning and you tell your friends about it, even if he makes dinner for you that night and apologizes and you make up, your friends only remember what you said and how you felt on Monday afternoon." For all the things that I have written, I'm actually a pretty happy person almost all the time. I've been through some weird, occasionally unhappy times growing up, but as I move further away from them as a function of time, they have become less of this insurmountable emotional burden and more of a series of events that might shape my perspective, but do not hinder my ability to trust, love, and press forward. I had a few emotional lows this year, but I think I handled them well and got a better appreciation of myself through this. I have many shortcomings and I hope that I don't become complacent in my desire to become a better person, but I like the direction that I'm going in. The future is scary, but I know that diligence, great supportive friends, and the ability to have an honest ongoing internal dialogue are things I have on my side.

In other less abstract thoughts, I can pinpoint a few standout things that happened to me this year.
  • I started off the year travelling to New Mexico to attend some Native American traditional celebrations for a class
  • I got into a relationship with someone I had to share a table with in the pizza place downtown because it was crowded; we met in the wee hours after Valentine's Day had ended
  • I went to Florida for spring break and got tan
  • I took a poetry class that I really enjoyed and produced a portfolio that I'm proud of (plus I became super close to a classmate and even lived with her the following semester)
  • I got out of said relationship
  • I worked as a student paralegal over the summer, learned to cook, and got extremely tan
  • I replaced another teacher at the school that I taught at in the summer of 2014 for the latter half of the 2015 program, and I felt like I achieved a sense of closure. After the 2014 program, I thought that there were things I could've done better, and I got to the chance to go back and be a better teacher.
  • I got back into said relationship again
  • I felt down
  • Said relationship ended for good
  • I turned twenty and celebrated in a way that allowed me to see many people that I cared about; based (very) loosely off the idea of professors' office hours, I invited a bunch of people to drop by my room for cake and stay as long as they wanted within the late afternoon. It went way better than I was expecting it to; twenty-five people showed up, and many really cool conversations were had between various unusual combinations of people at different moments. I worried that it might be awkward because people might not know each other and there was no booze to boost social interactions but it all worked out. I had dinner with some very close friends after. My birthday was very shortly after the aforementioned breakup, and it was just really uplifting to be reminded that there was so much to be thankful about outside of my love life.
  • Speaking of friends - so, so, many good one-on-one conversations. 
  • I realized that the fall semester of junior year was the toughest I had ever experienced, academically speaking. There were many times I really thought I couldn't do it, but I got through it! (At least, I think I have. Grades aren't out yet. Maybe this is a presumptuous statement.)
I'm back at home (what is home anyway?) right now, and writing this on Christmas Day. As an only child in a very small family (and a lot of the extended family lives in another country), big family celebrations don't necessarily happen on every holiday for me.

I'm excited about what lies ahead for me in 2016! I'm spending the next semester in Washington DC as part of this program where a group of kids from my college live together, take classes together, and work full-time at a political internship. I haven't decided if this adventure is something I want to write about on a brand-new blog (believe me, I already thought about ideas for a snazzy URL), or if I want to write about it here, or if it's better to not promise frequent public updates in the first place. (Remember the time I said I was going to read Slate's list of books from 2014 by the end of this year? Lol, #fail) I'm excited about the upcoming semester because I haven't gone to school in an urban area in a while. I haven't been to DC before. I haven't experienced the degree of "real life" (albeit still limited) that I will be undergoing then; working, commuting, making meals for myself, having to pay for internet/cable, having to budget more seriously than I ever have. I hope that I'll be able to keep up with my current friends while I'm not on campus, and make many new ones. I'm not sure what I'll be doing over the summer, but I have a couple of ideas and will be working on them in the next few weeks/months.

Like its predecessor, I end this post with expressed hopes that 2016 will be a good year for you and me. Or maybe...this is not quite how the post ends? Here are some songs that I associate with this year, and you can check them out if you want and realize what a basic bitch I am when it comes to music tastes:

Uptown Funk - Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
Sugar - Maroon 5
Want To Want Me - Jason Derulo
Or Nah - Ty Dolla Sign ft. The Weeknd, Wiz Khalifa, and DJ Mustard
Roses - The Chainsmokers ft. ROZES
Yoga - Janelle MonĂ¡e and Jidenna 
Drag Me Down - One Direction
I Am The DJ - Neon Trees
Locked Away - R. City ft. Adam Levine
Dark Times - The Weeknd ft. Ed Sheeran
Wake Up - The Vamps
Downtown - Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
When We Were Young - Adele

Also - before I end this post for real, I would like to point out that as of a few weeks ago, this blog has (finally, after almost exactly five years) hit 100,000 page views. At an average rate of 20,000 per year, that's just over 50 views a day. Which is cool, I guess. Thanks, and happy holidays! :)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

"Superhero (drunk rant)"

I am the kind of heartbroken that
is nuanced enough to not come out most of 
the time, for I have been heartbroken before
and it takes tears that match the raindrops on 
a bus with a drunk friend in the corner
to understand what I have been escaping from.
I love you and even though I know we are
not right for each other, I wish that
I could hear you tell me that you 
love me one more time and I cry quietly
hoping that the bus driver doesn't notice.
My friend is asleep and I wonder whether
I miss you only because I am lonely and I am spiraling
downwards in my thoughts. Is my love for you
conditional on not having been able to
find someone new? Or have I always loved you and
just been able to successfully suppress it until now;
I do not know but I am alone and these words come
out and all I know right now is that I wish I was strong enough
to accept the kind of love that you were offering me because
our lives would be so simple like that. There were many times
I never quite told you how I felt because I did not know
how to express it and I felt unfulfilled in many of those times
but I am sad right now, filled with grief over the loss of you
and yet not enough that you turn into my superhero.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Lost?

There's something that I've wanted to write about for a while here but I don't really know how to articulate it. I fear that I am somehow letting other people who are going through the same thing down by not writing about this in a satisfactory way, so here's my disclaimer that this is post is entirely only about my own experiences and does not speak for anyone else's.

Without beating around the bush, I've been struggling with minor anxiety and depression for the past few months. I have been hesitant to use these as I never sought a proper diagnosis, but I will do so here because I identify with the definitions of these words as we commonly understand them. Know that I don't use these words lightly at all, and it took a lot before I could - or had to? - come to terms with what was happening.

I see my anxiety and depression as two things that are never quite there at the exact same moment, two sides of a broader issue that explain and also exacerbate the other. I get quite a lot of pressure from home in my academic life, and I put a lot of pressure on myself too. The reality that I'm doing pretty well makes me worry that I have more to lose, that I might come close to "succeeding" (whatever that means) but not make it. On the flip side, I feel down when I've had too much idle time because I start thinking about how insignificant one individual life is in the grand scheme of the universe; does anything I do really matter? In my effort to combat to my blues about my life being utterly insignificant, I turn to my control-freak side to do as much as I possibly can so that I don't feel purposeless. In my sleep-deprived, coffee-fueled, stumbling state, I freak out about my schoolwork while taking solace in the consciousness of my stress, my mind being stretched, and my vitality. I feel the most alive when I'm stressed because I feel like there's a challenge immediately in front of me which I can fight. It might be hard, but in times like these I know what I have to do to respond to a challenge of that nature. With enough organization, discipline, and hard work, these challenges are not insurmountable to me. The questions of how to stop feeling sad over how all human relationships come to an end, how to define my purpose in my life, and whether there is truly any purpose in this world are not questions I really know how to even approach. Thus, I kick the metaphorical can down the road by throwing myself into my work. You can see how the reverse connection happens too - in the midst of a particularly dark cloud of stress, I break down when I allow myself to think about why I'm bothering to try so hard. I might never feel fully satisfied with myself in any aspect of my life, but I feel a greater awareness of my being as I feel guilt over the privilege I have to be able to constantly reach higher, to change my mind, to complain about my problems. That said, privilege and inadequacy also go hand-in-hand in my thoughts; for all my privilege, sometimes I also feel like my abilities are mediocre and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes I feel like all my successes are mostly a result of the background I was born into. Am I appreciated for qualities that are absolutely from my own doing?

I hit rock bottom - I'd like to think that's what it was for me - when one day I started crying, like hardcore crying, at the dining hall. Though it might not have looked like it at all to an outsider (I am aware that there might be a disconnect between what my life looks like to others and what it looks like to me), things were truly really bleak for me. I would go home after my classes to cry, and then freak out about having been unproductive during that time. I would start some work, and then resume crying when I asked myself what the point of working was. I was mostly able to avoid these problems in the past few months by staying extremely busy (I went from this past spring semester to immediately working at a law firm to immediately replacing a teacher at the school I taught at last summer to starting the fall semester), but I could only run away for them for so long. All these problems came back to hit me very hard when I felt overwhelmed by my harder classes this semester and feeling like my friends were all further away from me. After sobbing at the dining hall (super grateful for the friends who happened to be there and comforted me!), I decided that I couldn't continue like this. At my worst, I honestly didn't know what I was living for, like maybe there was no point to anything I was doing. That hopelessness was then followed with immense guilt for even thinking that I had a right to feel that way - and like that, negative guilts followed one after another.

At times, I thought about this weird line of logic - if psychological problems aren't supposed to ever be the individual's fault, if these things happen beyond an individual's control, then perhaps I was supposed to just accept the circumstances I had been given and just stick it out? But that passivity scared me, and I was like, "nah, fuck that."

[Side note: this particular train of thought made me examine my own subconscious stigma towards psychological issues. If we praise people for being strong when they overcome their problems, are we silently implying that the people who haven't gotten better are weaker? How is it that we say that psychological problems are not the fault of the sufferer, and yet we implicitly look down on those who fail to get up as quickly as some others? Or can a more nuanced argument be made to distinguish between attributing responsibility to when people develop psychological problems, and to what people do about said psychological problems? I'm no psychologist, so this is just a digression.]

While I think that my controlling, "I need things to go my way" self is part of what got me into this mess, I believe that it is also the thing that might save me. I finally sat down, acknowledged the extent and complexity of my problems for the first time, identified the things that get me in a bad state, actively wished to get better, and came up with a plan to get better. I read a bunch of articles on overcoming anxiety and depression, and felt incredibly hopeful that the odds were in my favor. I have an incredible support system, I hadn't let my problems really affect my work so there wasn't much to catch up on, and I have so many possibilities in front of me. I concluded that personally, it was best for me to keep working super hard at school - by striving to give myself less reason to be anxious, I can spend more time checking in on my mental health, trying out new things, spending time with my friends, and actively making my days happy ones. I asked myself the miracle question (it's been a while since I took Psychopathology, so I might be wrong) - I thought about how I wanted this semester to end, assuming no limits. Of course, I want to do well, but I also want to leave for home in December feeling like I had a lot of good times, and feeling like I made the people in my life happy too. With this end vision in mind, my personal plan to get better involves detailed plans for most days so that I continue to do fine in school, and more scheduled quality time for the things I enjoy doing - I do have minor crises about what it is I actually like, but I think these things include talking and listening to people, reading, and writing.

I'd like to think my plan is working well so far, a few weeks in. This post is not about that time I conquered anxiety and depression. My well-being is definitely still a work in progress. I still don't have the answers for the greater questions that trouble me surrounding humanity and my purpose in life. I still get stressed out all the time sometimes, and as much as I want to be organized about everything, that doesn't always happen. However, I am proud of myself for putting my best foot forward, and for trying really hard in the various aspects of my life. I am proud that I managed to articulate what I felt would be really hard to put into words, and I am sharing this with you because...well, there actually isn't one definite reason why. On a selfish level, it has been incredibly liberating to acknowledge my problems openly. That said, I realized after telling a couple of my friends about my struggles that these feelings are not uncommon. There is beauty in the way people relate to each other and draw strength from connections. Yet, it's totally okay if nobody relates to this; this post can merely be an update on this blog about how I feel. I'm a little lost, but it's going to be okay.

tl;dr - my current Instagram bio, a quote from Beau Taplin - "She was unstoppable - not because she did not have failures or doubts, but because she continued on despite them."

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A mid-summer report.

[Note: This is kind of a follow-up to this post.]

Eight weeks of summer have passed and they completely flew by for me. Here are some key takeaways:
  • I've moved from my dorm to temporary housing and to the townhouses and to a professor's house and back to the townhouses again. The next major move will be in two weeks, when I head home for the remaining four or five weeks of summer.
  • Thanks to my roommate, I've become exponentially better at feeding myself (proof is on my Instagram) and I'm no longer deathly afraid of kitchens. When I was on my own for dinner on Thursday, I decided I was going to make "something simple" - which turned out to be seared zucchini in tortillas with homemade avocado salsa, along with two semi-cooked eggs with soy sauce (it's a Singaporean thing, I think. or at least, a Toast Box thing. it sounds weird, but it's really good) as a side dish. I sat there, ate what I made, did the dishes after, and it was only then that I realized how far I've come. If I was in this situation before May, I would've had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or gone out to eat. In the past month, I've made all sorts of dishes, expanded my tastes, and used spices I previously didn't even know existed. I still have a long way to go, but it's been really cool recognizing that there are so many more options when you have the determination to learn how to cook.
  • Another thing about food - I work in Utica, NY, where there are way more restaurants than in my small college town. Though it's kind of not the smartest fiscal decision, I've been trying out a lot of different places and indulging the foodie in me. I was told that chicken riggies and steamed clams in butter are both "Utica things", so I tried them. Other memorable dishes include Asian-style calamari, the best grilled portobello sandwich I've ever had, and greens (they look so simple, but they're strangely addictive). I'm also told that there's great Lebanese food nearby, so that's something I'll have to try within my last two weeks of work. Through all this, I've become good friends with a coworker who's a law student and also loves food; we go for lunch together and we probably wouldn't have gotten to know each other on such a personal level if not for being foodies.
  • I did a lot of thinking (when do I not? do I ever?). I know that my rarely-quiet mind and need to constantly reflect internally form one of my biggest strengths and also one of my biggest potential source of problems. It's been interesting beginning to try and objectively analyze whether my overthinking in each specific situation is constructive or not before moving forward; I can't tell whether I'm just less stressed because school isn't in session and I feel better in general (but I generally feel pretty good all the time?), or maybe I've gotten better at letting go of the things I know I can't control and just "going with the flow" (an expression I normally despise because it's like, we are conscious beings, why be passive when you could be in control of the outcome) with things that I realize won't matter that much in the grand scheme of things. So, lots of thinking, but also lots of living in the present (not that these two are completely mutually exclusive, but you get what I mean).
  • I had this image of myself living in a nice apartment with a cat as a grownup. I guess I thought having a cat was like, an alternative to having children. Living with two cats for a month in the professor's house made me decide that I don't actually want this; I've been scared of/never really been crazy about animals and I was silly to imagine having a cat despite knowing this. (I guess I just wanted to copy Taylor Swift.) This makes me sound awful, but they were just kind of there at best and a minor burden at worst. I followed the instructions that I was given for feeding and litter, but that was pretty much it. No cats for the girl with the green glass heart.
    • Yet another thing - I have pretty strong feelings for when people insinuate (or flat out say) that not liking children or animals is not normal, or is an indication of being a heartless/bad person. I might be biased because I don't think of myself as a bad person and don't want to be perceived that way by others, but sometimes I feel like society has dictated that it's unacceptable to dislike them - we're all supposed to find pictures of kids or animals super cute and be super warm towards them. I think that some people - as a result of nurture and/or nature - just simply dislike children and/or animals; that's just how it is and everybody should accept that without judgment as long as these people still treat children and animals respectfully.
  • A word about my work - I love it. I'm a student paralegal at a nonprofit legal organization that provides pro bono legal services to a certain demographic in the region. I finalize bankruptcy cases before they are referred to private attorneys who then represent the clients in court for free. So in everyday terms, I write memos, do research, piece together a greater picture of a client's financial situation from all their letters and bills, and use a certain software to produce bankruptcy schedules. I'm learning a lot everyday and I've gotten to know a number of the staff well. This is quite different from my teaching job last year - for one, I carpool with four other kids working for organizations in Utica, so there's no staying back late (I always say that I don't think I ever worked as hard as I did last summer, especially in terms of time) because it's not like I could just hold everyone up. I was surrounded by other college kids last summer, and this year I'm clearly the youngest person at the firm. Other than the coworker who's in law school and is five years older than me, everyone else is between their late thirties and their seventies. I think that leads to a different dynamic in interactions. It's really crazy how only a few months ago I thought, "hey, maybe law might be a path for me" and it quickly became one of my driving forces to do much better. I also can't believe I managed to get this particular internship, so I'm grateful for that.
  • Something memorable happened a few days ago. One of my favorite people at the firm who's this super-sharp old man and lives right outside my college town said to me, "Don't let this get to you, but you have a great personality. You're so extroverted, and you just have this passion for life that shows. It's not something that can be taught." I didn't know how to react because:
    • I've self-identified as an introvert (even if my MBTI result says otherwise) since my early teens. Though I've definitely become much more outgoing in college (wasn't crazy about many people in high school), I know I derive my strength and energy from within, and I prefer to be around a few close friends instead of being at a huge gathering of people I don't know too well. Sometimes I feel like I have to consciously flip a switch in order to get out there and talk to people because of a vague notion that it might be good for me. (How selfish?)
    • Which brings me to my second point - I feel like there are introverts out there who feel this way too. Sometimes I think about how extroversion is valued in a lot of situations and whether that's necessarily justified. 
  • I've also been having a ton of good times. I'm now several shades tanner after a few books (and naps) under the sun. I've gotten to row and cycle a bit. Once, I curled up under a blanket on a sofa on a porch, watched the rain, and said out loud, "This is a Tumblr dream come true." The other kids who are also staying this summer and live nearby have all been nice - I've made some new friends, so that's cool.
  • This post is now just a wall of text and I'm not sure what to do about that, but basically my summer's been great :)