A Summer to Remember

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It’s crazy to think about how many versions of ourselves evolve from each experiece that is encountered over time. In my case, high school merged into a multitude of traveling adventures, which then rolled into the very new collegate experience. Each time these new chapters of life unfolded, they were all-encompassing and became integrated into the very core of my identity. I went from sentimental high school graduate to humanitarian freedom fighter to over-eager student within the span of a year.

Yet, believe it or not, another chapter has been splayed out before me, giving me yet another filter through which to see this great big world. I’ve been taking part in the Kupu HYCC Summer Program, this great program offered by a local nonprofit organization that gives youth a chance to see places on the island that are inaccessable to the public eye, and to malama the ‘aina (take care of the land). It’s sort of a gateway internship into environmental conservation, but it’s more than that because we are able not only to learn more about the environment but also about the culture of this place we call home. Doing painstaking work out in nature really reminds us how out-of-touch we normally are with nature in our everyday lives. When you let yourself forget about all the ins and outs of everyday reality, and instead feel the grass between your toes, and listen to the unruly billowing of the wind, there is so much more to learn and feel than by just picking up your phone and going on snapchat. There’s something in the wordlessness of the wind that speaks wonders.

Close your eyes. You’re sitting on grass, the wind caressing your hair, feeling the sun’s warmth bathing your skin and the intensity of the silence only broken by the roaring of the wind.

In today’s fast-paced age of electronic communication as well as electronic antisocial disorders, it is hard to picture that the Earth on which we reside was once a whirling sphere of natural beauty. Rewinding to times before human existence, nature found an ecological balance that kept its species in check, creating a sort of natural unity in all things. Of course, to say it was perfect would be stretching it a bit, since there were drastic changes in climate and many mass extinctions caused by natural means that had nothing to do with human kind. Yet here we are today, accelerating and altering all life processes to the point of  creating antisocial social networks and unnaturally rapid climate change.

Where do we all fit in this whirlwind of reality? you may ask. Well, when considering the immensity of the world’s problems historically and currently, it becomes quite overwhelming to pinpoint one’s own place in all of the chaos. Yet, if one just takes the time to just sit down beneath a tree and watch the leaves rustle, the cacophony of craziness that is the world disappears as we reconnect to the land we come from. It doesn’t solve anything, of course. But when there is a world spiraling so far out of one’s control, these moments of observation and total immersion may not be a bad idea after all.

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Sense of Place

taiwan roadHaving traveled to many countries around the world, I have much personal experience with the almost palpable effect of one’s surroundings. This sense of place varies not only across continents, or border lines, but also between houses and among the nooks and crannies of one’s home town or city. We all have a Place, that Place that we always go back to whether that be in the flesh or merely in our imagination, which gives us the feeling of home. My “Place” exists in my home in Hawai’i, as well as in California and Taiwan where my family lives. It’s amazing how much such places can change one’s sense of self; you can go somewhere and be totally self-absorbed, but when you find that certain somewhere you no longer are yourself and instead come to embody the very energy of the place in which you reside. I don’t know if this is just word vomit that no one else has any relation to, but in my own experience this tie to Place can be so strong, it sometimes hurts.

Like that one street in Taipei city, where the one-way roads are so small that they all resemble little dead-end alleyways that go on forever in an urban maze. On that road, across from an adorable, white church that had been there since my mother’s childhood, stands the classic Chinese double doors with brass handles, which open up into the house in which I had played with my cousins since before I can remember. It was in those dusty rooms, along the dark, cold marble floors, that we had played with toy guns and raced toy cars, doing everything we possibly could together regardless of the fact that not an intelligible word passed between us due to an ever-present language barrier. Despite the fact that those kids who had run up and down the stairs in that apartment have since grown into college students leading individual lives of sprouting adulthood, this place endures, untouched to the point where the same couple that had once served my mother breakfast there when she was little remains, still putting together those delicious egg and chive pancakes we love so much.

And yet, even within the most timeless places, the inevitable winds of change must eventually pass. On that beloved road in Taipei city, those double doors with brass handles remain, but they will not remain in my family’s possession for long. The place has since been vacated, and will soon be sold, leaving a hole in the otherwise timeless tapestry of the place. This has greatly pained me, and yet it does not take away from the magic of the place, instead almost making it stronger as the bittersweet feeling which lingers there will forever hold a sort of magical charge in the air as one passes it, knowing that there was so much love as well as loss in that very spot.

Just think of the infinite performances of the human condition that have gone on in these different places throughout history. Places of love and loss, of success and failure, of  camaraderie and loneliness. Books have that special ability to transport us to other places and other times as well, allowing us to experience the feeling of a time that may no longer exist. Isn’t it interesting to think of how socially constructed our environment is, as we constantly shape it and reshape it through our perceptions, and those very feelings which are experienced in these places are then reflected back onto them, becoming a part of the very patchwork, or shall I say brickwork, of the place? Maybe these meditations are not at all connected, but there is some connection so deep that can be felt between a person and a place, whereby, even if later one’s experience there does not compare to the original, just stepping onto the same soil has that magical effect of returning one to the very feelings that had been so enveloping at the time. And as time goes on, the emotional ties to a place become more precious with time, as the antiquity of the spot becomes the very thing that makes it special.

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I’m not sure where that all came from, but I just have this deep connection that I feel with some places, and it just spilled out of me when I started to write about it. Although I got a little deeper into the idea than I was originally planning, the sense of a place trully is one of the beauties of life.

And people ask me what’s so good about studying geography.

 

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Another Year Passes…

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This blog began as a testament to a new chapter of my life. Not only had I been preparing to embark on a life-changing journey around the world, but I had also just finished my high school career. In fact, as I began to write this reflective post to mark the end of my first year of college, I came to realize that today happened to have also serendipitously been the exact day, one entire year ago, that this little personal project of mine began with my very first post.

That first post, Goodbye High School…Hello the Rest of My Life, marked the begining of my reminiscence of a childhood I hadn’t realized was slipping through my fingers until time had already run out. Yet, here I am, exactly a year afterward, feeling just as childish as I had in those final moments as a bumbling high schooler. Sure, I’ve learned so much since starting college, and, although I am still not clear as to any definite life goals, the future is certainly looking exciting and bright with possibilities. And yet, that little girl who doesn’t know what the heck she is doing still lingers within, showing her face with every new endeavor that I attempt to embark upon in my clumsy yet gradual journey through life.

Regardless, it is amazing how much has changed since that time as well. Since that first post, not only had I gone around the world and subsequently taken on a whole new outlook of the world, the immensity of which seems to increase with every new piece of knowledge I acquire in my studies, but I have also had the privilege of meeting amazing people at UH Manoa and having great experiences there. Some of my professors have become great friends of mine, not only providing great intellectual stimulation but also sharing warm personal connections that will continue into the future. I have also been able to improve my Chinese, a language I have wanted to learn since I was little for the sake of speaking to my mom in her mother-tongue, to a level I would have previously thought impossible for only a year of study.

Having joined the UH service learning program Mālama i nā Ahupua’a also allowed me not only to grow as a student and a citizen, but also as a local in Hawai’i. I must admit, although this island O’ahu is held close to my heart as my lifelong home, I had never felt in touch with the Native Hawaiian community that is such an integral part of this place. However, by taking part in MālamaʻĀina (taking care of the land) with community partners in this program, I was able to make better connections not only with the land on which I live, but also with the people who strive to better this human-environment connection with communal projects which in turn bring people together as well. I have since been exposed to the harsh reality of systematic opression that the Native Hawaiians have been put through for much too long, as well as the irresponsible mismanagement of large portions of land in our islands. With these issues pertaining to my major in human/physical geography, I hope that I may be able to help to better the situation of these people with wherever my career path takes me in the future.

Working for the Ka Leo newspaper as newswriter was another game-changer for me. Having loved writing for most of my life, and dreamed of becoming an author one day, this job (although the pay was horrible) really gave me the chance to expand my writing abilities to include pressing contemporary issues that call for local and global awareness. Having had the chance to interview people like Maya Soetoro-Ng (Obama’s sister) and Brian Schatz (US Senator) not only put me much more on the front lines regarding these issues, but also made me realize that all of these big names that are referenced in the media really represent people, just like everyone else. People who are striving just like any one of us to do what they can to make the world a better place. And in writing about each of these personal efforts, as well as those of national proportions like the March For Our Lives, I have become more aware of the passions that drive individuals to bring about change, and have consequentially become more passionate about bringing about change myself in any way I can.

Finally, all of these recollections come back to my trip around the world, which I have recently been able to reflect upon once again as I sifted through pictures for a small community showcase of our great adventures. All of these endeavors are being pursued to spread awareness, as awareness has indeed made me a very different person and the spread of more global perspectives, I think, would create a better world of more socially-responsible citizens.

So, after looking back at all of this at the end of my first year in college, maybe I have changed a bit. Maybe I’m not exactly that same girl who cut her hair for the grad ceremony that had seemed so surreal at the time. But, no matter where the wind takes me, I hope to collect all of these little bits of experience and identity that I accumulate over the years and point them in the direction of making a better world.

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This Year’s Women’s March–A Slightly Late Account

IMG_7606I just got the job at the UH student newspaper the Ka Leo, and did my first official story. The story itself was published in a more timely fashion than this one, but I wanted to make sure it was fine for me to publish it elsewhere. So I’m posting my original copy of the article here…

Hawaii’s 2018 Women’s March was more than a rally on the feminist social movement; it was called the People’s Rally, marking the one year anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration. It had all started last year on the day Trump was installed as president, when retired Hawaii attorney Teresa Shook first started off the nationwide movement. A year later, people have once again gathered together across the country to not only empower women but to get people to the polls and encourage them to really get involved in bringing about social change in their community.

One of the rally’s most conspicuous features was the grand spectacle of women wearing bright pink caps. When asked what these hats were for, Vivian Carlson replied, “The Women’s March last year, they put the knitting pattern for this hat up with the idea that all women would wear pink pussy hats. And so this is the anniversary…so bring out the pussy hats!” This very satirical display of pussy-hat-wearers was meant to represent society’s concept of women and broadcasted dissatisfaction about recent events that have disrespected women.

This year’s rally in Honolulu again took place at the state capital, where hundreds of individuals and many organizations congregated to do what they could to promote change. Lisa Grandinetti, a UH alumni who had graduated in 2017 with a double major in ethnic and women’s studies, came to the rally representing the organization Local 5, “We’re with Local 5, we’re a union for hotel workers, and we’re here to support progressive politics.” Joli Tokusato, a hotel worker at Local 5 and former city council candidate, added, “We have to take care of women, we have to take care of immigrants, we have to take care of our children and make sure they have healthcare. All those things are super important as well as jobs and unions and power to the people.”

Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were also present at the rally. Kit Grant, Deputy Director of the ACLU of Hawaii and 1988 liberal studies graduate from UH Manoa, was present to inform the public about the ACLU’s purpose, “The ACLU is the nation’s foremost guardian of civil rights. We work in a lot of different areas, a lot of which touch on women’s rights. We’re here to show support for the women’s march and to do some education about the constitution, your right to protest, and also about a bail reform push that we’re making.”

IMG_7521Clearly, with the Local 5 and the ACLU attending, this year’s Women’s March is bringing together people from all walks of life and with diverse political and social focus in a single rally for the people. When asked why she was here at the march, Punahou student Claire Cutler made it clear that it was not only in support of the female gender, “[I’m here] to show my dissatisfaction with everything that’s happened in the past year…specifically women’s rights, and then also since this is the People’s Rally it’s a little bit more general: also the environment and then the bill he just passed about treating LGBT people.” The Women’s March taking place on the anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration certainly makes this rally a passionate one for a lot of people.

It’s not surprising, then, that such an all-encompassing rally like this one would also include organizations like Refuse Fascism, which focuses more pointedly on the Trump Administration. “I am in solidarity with the movement that says no to the agenda pushed by Trump and the conservative parties: attack on immigrants, permanent war, removal of regulations that protect health and the environment, racism…income inequality, increased subsidies for big business and less benefits, less education for the lower income classes,” said Hector Valenzuela, a member of Refuse Fascism.

With so many organizations to choose from, and so many social issues to fight for, the Women’s March is not only a display of people’s ability to unite against adversity, but also a reminder to get more involved. Jennifer Hsu, a current UH Manoa student majoring in social work, is a perfect example of how students at UH can contribute. “This is part of my practicum for social work,” she declared as she stood behind the Planned Parenthood booth, fighting for birth control and healthcare. “This is my first time here,” she said. Of course, in order for any of these organizations to get here, or any of these social movements to begin at all, someone had to step up for their first time in their effort to make a difference. Students from UH Manoa as well as the rest of the community are given a chance at events like these to become inspired and do something for the community. We are also reminded of the democratic power that can be wielded by going to the polls to support candidates that will make such issues their priority. In short, as said in the opening speech, this march reminds the people that women “are the mothers who raised nations,” and today these mothers strove to stay true to that pledge.

To see the edited and published version, visit Ka Leo.

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Pending Impending Doom

I woke up this morning with the impression that I was going to die in less than half an hour. “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” I read, the notification having flashed on the screen of my phone only minutes earlier. There I was in bed, having just become a legal adult less than a month ago, and was now about to see those very precious eighteen years flash before my very eyes with my imminent death. Only last night had I been dreaming about my future, and now I was gathering in desperate fistfuls whatever I had left of my past memories.

At least, those were the thoughts that swept through my head in the beginning. I mean, along with those feelings of fear and loss, I must admit that incredulity and disbelief were also in the mix. How could this actually be happening? I asked myself. Of course, horrible disasters take place everywhere. But what was missing from the end of that question was the final phrase “to me.” How could this possibly be happening to me? Sure, I had liked to see the world as a place of beautiful chaos, a conceptual balance of supreme goodness as well as absolute terror. But somehow, with the sky falling at that moment, I couldn’t really do justice to the whole very extracted perspective of the balance in any of this turmoil.

Nonetheless, along with my fear, I also found myself laughing. Laughing because I couldn’t believe this notification could have actually been true. Laughing because, on the brink of death, the natural reaction almost always begins with denial. Laughing, because life is a comedy, and we need to live it with a sense of humor.

Only half believing the alerts, my parents and I, along with family and friends who were panicking even more so, were extremely relieved to be informed about half an hour later that it was a false alarm. Of course, it would’ve been nice to know this before so many families had said their last goodbyes and “I love you”‘s, but there’s not much to complain about when the alternative would’ve been our instantaneous demise. Being exposed to this close encounter with death, especially as I live day-to-day in my youth chasing on my hopes and dreams of the future, I have come to realize how much we take for granted in our daily life. Especially with the gift of youth, all we seem to think about is the future. Now, however, as I felt the closest to death this morning than ever before, I’ve been reminded that youth doesn’t guarantee longevity. We must all live by each day, and, although it’s cliche, we must remember to truly live life to the fullest. Because you never know when that next missile threat will really not be a drill.

Growth for the New Year

IMG_7456Each day we are given the gift of a fresh start as a new day emerges. But with the new year, we are given an even greater chance to truly renew ourselves. Unlike the days of monotony in which we perpetuate our already existent way of living, when we begin a new year we experience a sort of wake up call in which we remember that we must continue to grow throughout our lifetime.

This new year I was reminded of the fragility and determination that comes with growth when I successfully coaxed to life the seed of a silk cotton tree I had pocketed from a botanical garden a while back (I know, you’re not supposed to do that. But I just love plants!). Of course, since my thumb has never been the greenest, I doubted that it would ever actually grow under my supervision; I couldn’t even find any information on growing your own silk-cotton tree, even though you can find hundreds of websites instructing the right conditions for planting a tomato plant.

Nonetheless, about a month ago, I decided to plant the seed (in fact, the reason why I decided to go through with it anyway was partially due to another failed attempt at keeping a plant alive; I now had an empty pot for a new botanical experiment:)). I just thought, what the heck, at least I can say I tried.

But then, only two or three weeks ago, I noticed a small, yellowish sprout had broken free from the soil, and was reaching out to the sun. Soon, two perfectly formed leaves emerged, and the sprout became a bright, youthful green. You don’t understand how excited I got when I realized I’d actually sewn the seed of the miraculous silk-cotton tree! One day, when it grows into the big tree it’s destined to become, I thought, I can start making my very own silk-cotton-stuffed pillows! I know, I’m a weird one, but nonetheless this occurrence was quite magical for me, being the clumsy nature-lover I am.

On a less giddy note, this sprout came into being just at the cusp of the new year, and has become a sort of symbol for me, reminding me of the need to break through the dark clutter and reach toward the sun. Wow, I just reverted from giddiness to cheesiness. But really, I have so much that I want to do in my life, and now that I’m in college, I feel that I’m truly beginning my journey on the path to my future. I just need to figure out what exactly that future will be.

More broadly speaking, as the seasons begin to change and the leaves turn vivid green once more– note that I’m using the seasons as a mark of passing time even as I live in Hawaii where the seasons hardly change at all– we must all remember the immense nurturing and care that it takes to make such a beautiful plant grow, just as we must all strive to focus on ourselves as well as others in our own personal growth. Only when we improve ourselves can we hope to improve the lives of others.

And so I will end with a beautiful quote from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.

“Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself like a lotus of countless petals.”

–Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Life is a growing process; every day shapes us, making us a slightly newer person with every moment. And with the new year, this maturation becomes more apparent. Remember to nurture your personal growth, and in turn help those around you to grow as well.

 

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This post was inspired by this week’s photo challenge: Growth

A Blast to the Past in California

In the midst of the immense change I’ve been experiencing in rapid succession in this new collegiate chapter of my life, I have forgotten just how sentimental a person I am.

There I was, walking meditatively throughout the beautiful campus of Caltech, where my aunty works, and although before me spread a familiar tree-lined path devoid of people, I could still see my seven-year-old-self with my two Taiwanese cousins running around together beneath the sifting shadows of the trees. Retracing the footsteps I had taken so many times, so many years ago with those I loved so much, it seems as if my present surroundings take on a certain golden glow of precious antiquity. Such a precious place that had been the setting for the making of so many wonderful memories becomes an almost holy ground of one’s own spirit, where everything seems just a little more magical than they would have been in an everyday context.

In this manner I walked the streets of Pasadena, making new memories all the while as I pondered in bittersweet recollections. I guess this is how one’s entire life seems in old age, if one’s life is lived to the fullest. Luckily, I’m still young. Although many of these sweet memories sadden me because of their expiration, I am so thankful to have such a place to revisit and feel what I had felt before, and have the chance to make new memories that will incite these very romantic, loving feelings in the future.

With this sentimental post, I wish you all a Happy New Year. Make sure to remember and love your past as you embark on your future this new year.

Merry Christmas

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Happy Holidays everyone! Yes, the most wonderful time of year is finally here, and I’m sure everyone is hustling and bustling from store to store by now to get those presents for all the people you love…and even the ones you don’t. Christmas lights have been strung, ornaments hung, and Christmas carols will be sung. I of all people have experienced the absolute joy that comes about during Christmas time, as it’s my favorite time of year.

The thing is, the happy holidays aren’t happening everywhere. As we max our credit cards here, in a place where materialism is considered almost equivalent to expressions of love, somewhere far away is a mother and child struggling to salvage enough for their next meal.

I know what you’re thinking: Whoa, this writer is one of those super cynical types who makes a downer out of all the fun. But no, I’m actually one of the happiest people I know, and am one of the most fanatical about Christmas Cheer. Only, as we open our wonderful gifts on Christmas morning and spend time with our family and friends, along with all the happiness that we feel in those wonderful moments, we must all also remember that the whole world does not share this epidemy of joy. We must remember to be humbled by the diverse states of human existence, and feel compassion for those who will not be waking up on December 25th to the sound of laughter. And therefore, I ask you all this Christmas season to appreciate the life you have now in the vast scheme of things; don’t be bummed because you didn’t get those really cute shoes you’d been dying for, or that super-sleek skateboard that you told absolutely everyone would make you happy for the rest of your life. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of someone who has none of those things, someone who may even be working long, hard hours to make those very things, and let that perspective make you feel even more joy this holiday than all preceding years as you appreciate what you do have rather than what you don’t.

This year, see the world and your own life from a bigger perspective. Commit a random act of kindness. And remember: presents aren’t the only things one can give to those they love.

Wandering Writings: The City

Since I’m on my winter break, and have finally had some time to write for the pure sake of writing–versus a grade or assignment–I wrote out this little tableau today and thought I’d share it. It’s just a little rambling of my mind, put into story form…

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He saw the city as the biologist sees both the subtle beauties and horrors of nature, saw the culmination of injustice and success as well-played roles of romantic grandeur and torment. To him, us petty humans were the most heart-rending beings of evil and goodness who went about in our daily lives steeped in ignorance and hope. He saw us all as a hopeless cause of beautiful dreamers trying to calculate the fastest route to heaven. He was in love with Man, writing poetry on the subtle as well as grand achievements that had been accomplished by this great object of his meditations. Yet, as he walked past the young boy who sat in grey-brown rags at his feet, he didn’t think twice about leaving the spare jingling change inside of his pockets, regardless of the sound being music to the boy’s dirt-laiden ears.

She saw the city as a horrible, belching, bureaucratic machine, whose tiny moving parts went unnoticed within its shiny veneer. She was well aware of the stratified organization of the city’s inpalpable–but very real–borders between the classes. She would see it as she walked from the gleaming city capital to its crumbling ghettos, seeing inside the windows of both the faces of dreamers, even though only a few of them would actually have the means to see their dreams fulfilled. She scoffed at the miserable state of the city, as its factories burped out puffs of blackness that tightened around its citizens very throats. Yet, as she passed by that very same boy, she too made no move to pull out her coin purse and ease his hunger, at least for one more night.

No, between them, stuck in their own wandering minds of love and hatred for their grandios city, neither made a move toward its actual betterment. Only when another child, a young girl similarly dressed in torn clothes, walked toward the boy did he find any relief. For she had just been able to salvage enough to buy a pastry at the bakery across the street, and, seeing him sitting out there all alone, came over to share it with him. They ate quietly together that summer evening as the sun went down, neither saying a word, but within that silence hung words of unspeakable thanks and understanding that neither the man nor the woman would ever understand.

A Beloved Book Quote: Winter’s Tale

Now that my first semester at UH has come to an end, I have had the wonderful opportunity of actually reading my own books once again. As you can probably tell from my most recent blog post, I really like to learn. So everything I was learning throughout the semester interested me greatly. But I’m also a book-lover, and have been deprived from my beloved novels for too long. So to pay homage to my euphoric winter break filled with the written word, I’ve decided to highlight one of my favorite quotes from the book I’m currently reading: Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale.

I may be dead wrong, but I do believe that every act has significance, and that, in our time, all the ceasless thunder is not for nothing. (pg. 346)

I really love this book. Not only is the prose beautiful, but the way Helprin portrays the city and life in general makes the world’s very horrible and obvious imperfections seem like part of the inevitably diverse mosaic of a worldly masterpiece. He portrays both beauty and torment in a way that is holisticly romantic and reminds me of the preciousness of life, regardless of its flaws.