Arizona tripping

          My dad decided last minute that the Grand Canyon would be a good place to celebrate my mom’s birthday, so he took a week off from work, rented a car, and the three of us set off for Arizona on the first family trip we’ve taken together in a decade.
          We spent the first few days driving on the road, reading and talking and eating healthy snacks, like roasted seaweed and cherries. We looked out of windows and took note of the changes in the landscape and compared things to other places we’d been. We pointed out interesting things to each another, like fields of giant wind turbines or groves of fat oddly-shaped cacti. Lunch and dinner were quick unfussy affairs taken near highway exits close to highway onramps, each one of our American diner-booth meals feeling like an unceremonious celebration of the distance we’d traveled and the miles left to go. We drove hours through desert on a slim road that distended before us like a long black string rolled out indefinitely, a sliver of black afloat the dry empty red land that seemed to stretch beyond and on in all directions of us for as far as the eye could see. Endless, is how everything in the desert feels.  >> Continue reading..


Dreams of teeth and feet

           Lately I’ve been having strange and vivid dreams about various parts of my body, each part in isolation. I rarely ever have body dreams except for ones about my teeth falling out, which recur every few months. The variations on these are endless. Sometimes I notice that my teeth are decaying at an astonishing rate, each tooth growing wobblier by the half hour, their roots visibly festering in a dark mess. Once I dreamed that my jaw had shifted somehow so that every time I closed my mouth my teeth ground against each other in a way that was shaking them loose, and in the dream I spent three days trying keeping my mouth open for fear of aggravating the situation. But it never mattered in the end how much effort I made or how distraught I was because all my teeth would fall out anyway, one by one, until none were left.
           There was nothing ominous about these dreams, the thing simply happens as it would in real life. It was the physicality of the event that was the sole fixation of my attention. Every twinge of pain, every physical sensation would be so keenly felt, so viscerally affecting that I remember waking up one morning and touching all of my teeth in turn with my fingers while examining each one in the mirror; I wanted to make sure they were in fact all intact.
           Someone told me long ago that dreaming about teeth meant I was anxious about something, which makes sense. These days, my subconscious has set teeth aside and moved on to hands, feet, bellybuttons. A few days ago I dreamed that my hair was somehow typing itself into tight little knots all over until every strand on my head was bent at odd angles, and there was nothing I could do to unknot them, I couldn’t even run a comb through.
           Last night I dreamed that a spongy off-white substance began emerging from of the soles of my feet the way mold sprouts from bread. It looked and felt just like the white pith around an orange. I was worried that the spongy white substance was growing so I began checking the bottoms of my feet every 10 minutes and every time I looked the white substance would appear thicker. I stopped looking after a while, and then I tried to forget it altogether until finally, after some undefined period of time that could’ve been a few minutes or a few months, I looked down and saw that both of my feet were now completely covered in the soft white mold.


A hypothetical

          Years of trial and error and error and error have finally taught A how to be kind, but nothing else matters to A except B. A takes great pains when speaking to B these days, reform present in every look and breath. B can feel the effort, but bristles at any small lapses of judgment, and ends up screaming at A for minor offenses. A is quiet during these wrathful tirades, but never angry. There is only forbearance now, but that only seems to make B angrier.

          Yet still, A only speaks to B in tones soft and eager. Yet still, A is patient. So quick to smile now, always generous in mood. Every day, A offers jokes with tired beseeching eyes to B who does not smile back.

          There was a time when forgiveness had been as freely granted from B as it was forgotten by A until finally the sensation had lost its meaning and disillusionment came in its stead. A is no exception to any rule. Neither is B, but that is another story.


To Cain

I still can’t quite believe that you’re gone. I’d always thought that we would meet up again some time in the future if I were ever in Vancouver, or maybe in China again, or wherever our paths might have crossed in this world in the future, as people do.

You were always kind. Always. I’ve never heard you speak uncharitably of someone. You were probably one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known. You were certainly one of the most earnest and honest – so much so that I didn’t really know what to make of you at first, and for a long time. I remember the night I first met you, you were so different, and everything that came out of your mouth was so serious and almost uncomfortably heartfelt that I didn’t know what to make of it, because most people aren’t like that. I remember you telling me that your parents had named you Cain after Cain in the bible because they thought God had been unfair to Cain, and I remember thinking that anecdote seemed to perfectly sum you up in a way I couldn’t quite explain. I still feel that.

The more I got to know you, the longer we were friends, the more I realized that you really were just one of those people who seemed incapable of being false or insincere. When you were, you seemed ill at ease, uncomfortable. You seemed to deeply mean everything you said, and the things you said were always life-affirming, thoughtful, and heartfelt. You had a way of speaking that made me feel like I was of value, that I mattered in this world, that I was a force of good. I have no doubt you also made your students feel this way, which is perhaps one of the most important things a teacher can do for a student. Almost every conversation I had with you were conducted in terms that were epic and philosophical and metaphysical that it bordered on being humorous; it was almost funny how incredibly sincere you always were, how holistic and interconnected your worldview was.

I wish I had told you more what a talented writer you were. I remember reading the beginning of your novel, and listening to all the writing pieces you’d share during our little writing group meetings. Your writing was so distinctly you, so bursting with life and intensity that it felt like you had poured absolutely everything about yourself in your writing, and I remember how I had envied your ability to be so unafraid and unfiltered on paper.

These past few days, I keep remembering things about you, conversations we had, the way you looked when you were happy or sad about something. I remember the long walk we took along the boardwalk that night in those last few days in China when almost everyone had left for the summer already. I am grateful for that memory and for all the things you shared with me about your life. If there had to be a last memory, I am glad that that was ours.

You were a good man and a good friend, probably a better friend to me than I was to you. I wish I had been a better friend. I wish what happened hadn’t happened. I wish I had made it more clear to you that you were of value, that you mattered in this world and in my life, and that you were a force of good in this world.

I don’t know if there is an afterlife, and I can’t remember if you believed in one, but it seems like something you would’ve believed in. I hope that wherever you are, you are at peace.


Haters gonna hate.

          Generalizations are fun to make in part because they allow a person to assume a position of “truth-telling” without demanding from the teller any of the rigors in telling the truth. They are also generally safe from serious reproach, for in dealing with opinion, what is there to argue with except against the observer’s accuracy of perception with the keenness of your own?
          Consequently, this also means that most generalizations rarely ever find consensus; there’s always going to be that guy in the group to helpfully point out that, well that’s just, like your opinion, man.
          Things turn even more problematic when it comes to generalizations about groups of people, perhaps because aside from being merely unfair, reductionist, and impossible to do with any real degree of nuance or sensitivity, it is morally dubious to even attempt to reduce a entire country, a people, a culture and history into one ambitious, sweeping sentence.
          All that being said, I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway with China.  
>> Continue reading..


Some thoughts on family

          I am spending the holiday break in Shanghai with my grandmother. She lives on the second floor of an apartment building in the former French Concession on a street called Xin Le Lu, which translated means “new happiness road.” The building is small and aged, like many of the inhabitants inside, and each apartment is shared by two or more families, as many of the older styled apartments in Shanghai are. My grandmother shares with the Wu’s, who have lived there for as long as I can remember and have a boy in the family a few years older than me whom I used to chase around the apartment and bully (so I’m told) back when I was still living there with my parents. They own the two rooms near the front of the apartment, my grandmother owns the two rooms near the back, and the kitchen is shared, as is the hallway in between.

          This is the apartment that my grandfather fell in love with and insisted on moving into when he and my grandmother were young and just starting their family, and after my grandfather was gone, this is where my grandmother raised her three young children on her own, my mother the oldest of the three. The walls are cracked and discolored with age now, the rooms cluttered with a lifetime of possessions tucked away in dusty drawers, cabinets, and shelves, but whatever may be lacking in space on the inside, the neighborhood more than makes up for, and I think that Xin Le Lu is still one of the prettiest streets in Shanghai, although I admit I am not an objective judge. The street is quiet and narrow, lined on both sides with the tall stately old French sycamore trees that line so many of the streets in the French Concession. The trees are bare and knobby now, but in summertime the branches are so heavy with leaves that they bend and meet with the other side in the middle of the sky, creating a tunnel of green over the sidewalk speckled with dots of sunlight peeking through from the gaps and holes above, and I remember walking underneath that dense greenery in summers past, listening to the cicadas that would fill the humid air with their sounds and make me think of my grandfather and how he would catch the cicadas with traps, fry them up, and give to my uncle to eat as a treat.
          In America, it is and has always been just my parents and me, and when I’m there I often forget that anything else came before, but when I’m in Shanghai, my concept of time widens, and I am reminded that the three of us are not simply some lone detached unit whose history only began when I came into this world and was taken to America at the age of four by parents who’d decided to forge new lives in a new land where they knew almost no one, owned almost nothing, and worked long days and even longer nights like so many immigrants do. Sitting here in the room where my mother grew up, I’m reminded that we are in fact tied to a longer family history of parents and daughters and grandparents and great grandparents and everyone who came before, all of whom gave birth and lived and died in this place that is now foreign to me, and that in this place, my mother and my father were born and were young and grew up and fell in love and got married and had me.  >> Continue reading..


China and life and stuff

          I first left for China back in February of last year so early on a Wednesday that the sky was still cold and black when I left for the airport. I was not well rested, having used up most of my energy those last weeks saying goodbye to the people I love most in this world, late into the night and long past practical bedtimes. The packing I had left, of course, for the last minute, as usual, and had managed to get in only a few hours of sleep before it was time to get up.
          The entire trip would take two days, three planes, one bus, and an overnight’s stay at a hotel in Narita, Japan to complete, but I didn’t mind the transfers and complications. I enjoy the process of traveling almost as much as I like traveling: I like the personal challenge of packing as light as possible, I like leaving hours in advance for the airport, I even like going through the security checks, and after having gone through them, being left luggage-less with hours to idly pass in the airport before my flight. I like the way airport terminals feel – the insular airless quality to them, the way white light permeates through the walls and makes time feel irrelevant, disorienting familiarity and routine.  >> Continue reading..