There’s no experience quite like journeying to the Bangladeshi countryside and meeting face-to-face with the village people. Although there was a major language barrier between us all, in this instance the face said it all. Everywhere we turned there were curious faces peeping out between the palm fronds and tall grasses. I’m sure they’d never before seen any facial features other than those of the familiar Bengal face. But there we were, my strange family trio consisting of a white haired white man, a Chinese woman, and me, the strange in-between specimen. Like before, a crowd of people followed us wherever we went, trying to catch a glimps of our alien faces, and exchange smiles. And there were many smiles; genuine, thankful ones that spoke of joy regardless of poverty. The women hid their faces and laughed when we pointed our cameras at them, the children ran by us giggling, sometimes chasing wild dogs. Visiting these people, and seeing them retrieve water from the very rain-catchment systems we’d provided them, really gave our abstract philanthropic organizational some solidity, some more authenticity. I had always wanted to support those in need, but such an experience as this one was a wonderful reminder of what we take for granted in the developed world, what many are deprived of, and most of all brought inspiration and passion back into our project. The Bengal people had thanked us for their drinking water; now I thank them for bringing meaning into my life.
Sorry, this post is a bit late considering that we’ve passed through four countries within the last two weeks. We left Taiwan on July 15th, and when we landed in Hong Kong we had gone to the visa office to get visas on arrival for China. We decided to do this at the airport instead of getting our visas back in the US because we did our research and had been reassured that they were available on arrival. But two things happened. First of all, I was not allowed to get a visa, since only two months ago a new law had gone into effect that stated that all passports issued after 2015 must get their China visa from the US. And if this wasn’t bad enough, my mom was also refused for an even worse reason: because she was born in Taiwan. Yes ladies and gentlemen, in the year of 2017, a modern era that supposedly values freedom and condemns descrimination, my mom was refused a China visa due to her origins at birth from an opponent country. Not to mention that she’s now a US citizen. So long story short, we had two extra days in Hong Kong that we did not expect. It’s been an exciting adventure so far, I would say. Lets see how the rest goes.
As our very first stop to our long journey around the world, I’ve made it to my home away from home: Taiwan. Being the hapa haole that I am– for those who don’t know what that means, it’s a name for someone half white and something else; in this case, Chinese– I come from two very different families. They’re literally from opposite sides of the planet. Which makes it hard to stay connected with all of them. Of course, I have my family on Oahu, and those that visit from the mainland now and then. But the deep connection I feel to my family in Taiwan hardly gets to be strengthened due to the immense distance of ocean that lies between us. But here I am, in my home away from home. And as with every time I return to this wonderful place, I can feel the very air charged with the sentimental energy of all the visits before.
It’s hard to explain the strangely deep feeling I have every time I’m here. It’s a feeling of love and contentment that has grown over the past seventeen years of aquaintance, but it’s more deep than this; for I have to mention that I still barely know any Mandarin, and because of that I am surrounded day and night by words spoken in a foreign tongue. My dad used to complain all the time about being stuck in one of these family gatherings where, for all he knew, they were insulting him for the entire dinner in another language. But for some reason, I revel in this strange experience. It’s just such a comfort to be surrounded by my family and hear them talking together, regardless of whether or not I can understand them. But most strange yet precious of all is my bond with my two favorite cousins. I’ve known them all my life; we used to play with toy guns and cars together all over the house when we were little, the very same house I sit in now as it continues to echo the sounds of laughter from another time. Now, even though their English and my Chinese have both improved a bit (I’ll admit, I’m still the worst at this bilingual thing) there’s still a huge language barrier between us. But, just as we were able to enjoy each other without words in our childhoods, we are now more close than ever even though between us lie boundaries of language, miles, and years. It’s such a relief to know that such a family connection can endure regardless of all those conditions, and it’s so great that I have the chance to visit these people I love so much on the island I feel so connected to. I’m sorry for rambling but it’s true; I love this place and these people so much. In fact, that’s why I insisted that we come to Taiwan as our first stop instead of our last; so that I wouldn’t get to sad when we left.
I’m signing off from my home in Taiwan. Zaijian!
It’s all been happening as if through a filter; an image, perception-altering lens that enhances everything within its frame. And as each vibrant snapshot tumbles into the abyss of memory, so does a new image appear, these frames being compiled to create the very identity of those who witness them. I must admit that times are changing; not just in the generational sense of the word but in the mere sense of years, months, even minutes. High school has come and gone, and a summer of these very snapshots have passed with surprising intensity and speed. I had sought to recreate old times for posterity’s sake, but instead have experienced moments that have become precious in themselves, and because of that they’ve become that much more reluctantly filed away as new memories in the grand stack that is my life.
I’ve realized over the years that as these snapshots fade, their value seems to multiply as that of an antique. It seems that once the foundation of memories is set, it will always be there in us no matter how nonexistent in the present. Yet the present is all we’ve got; constantly shifting, moving pictures that begin fading by the millisecond. These ever transforming scenes may consist of laughter and tears, mere minutes and years. Bleh, I know this is cheesy. But when you are on the border between childhood and adulthood, and when you are freaking out about the prospect of getting past the very checkpoint that divides the two, there is no preventing those feelings of sentimentality and reminiscence. Before this summer even started, I had felt the impending loss of many friends that were soon moving on to bigger and better things, as well as my own daunting future ahead. But, as the date of my trip around the world creeps around the corner, a bright beacon in my very near future, I cannot help to try to grasp those fleeting shadows of very fresh memories that have collected over the past month. I’ve seen the island of Oahu spread out beneath me as I stood on the Ko’olaus, first-handedly shot a billiard ball straight to its target (not quite as often as hoped, I must admit), even endured a badly bruised arm from a not-so-stealthy jump off the rock at Waimea bay. But none of these great experiences would have meant much without the great connections I made and strengthened while doing them. Life’s too short to live without some company, and I feel closer now than ever to those who are on the brink of leaving me for good. But all I can say is that it was worth it. No matter what happens next, I must keep experiencing these moment-enhanced snapshots of the present, and make my collection of memory as vibrant as can be.
It’s 4:00 in the morning. The harsh sound of alarm bells send painful reverberations to my eardrums. Why am I doing this again? I ask myself. But them I’m up, and facing the day.
Koko Head. They just happened to decide not only go on the one hike I vowed to never again do– mainly because of a previous incident of near-fainting under a blazing sun– but to do it at sunrise on the longest day of the year…in other words, the earliest morning of the year. Horrible. Just horrible. All we had to look forward to were heaving lungs and the not-exactly-trusty footing that results from lack of sleep. Perfect hiking situation, yes?
Well, it went as planned. We did get up at the appalling hour of 4:00 AM, we did feel the pressure of our desperately contracting lungs in their attempt to counteract our exertion with a fresh supply of sweet oxygen. We let many people pass, feeling less and less in shape with every passing group, and as the sky began to glow a deep blue, then a pale one, we thought it was certain we wouldn’t make it for the sunrise. 5:51 it had said on the internet. We wouldn’t make it by then.
We decided to take one more desperate break on the steep steps of the constantly ascending tracks, when I saw the opening in the brush. We were about ten steps away from the top. We were going to make it! I ran the last few steps up and rushed to the nearest rock ledge. It was 5:49. We made it just in time as a golden speck peaked out behind a cloud that hugged the horizon. Flecks of gold began to appear as the cloud moved on, and as the golden orb moved upwards, until it was blazing through the darkness and lighting up the sky. God, had this hike been hard. But at that moment, with the wind cooling the sweat from off my neck, and the sun’s rays blinding me, it was completely worth it. From where we sat, the whole world was spread out before us, all small and seemingly insignificant in individual manifestations but displaying one great sheet of existence, each part of which glowed now in unison with the next. Had I really complained about waking up early this morning? Had my lungs and legs been made useless with fatigue? Because I wasn’t feeling any of that. I was feasting my eyes on the rising sun, and it flooded my senses and became seared into memory.
I had a writing assignment for my AP English class this past year that really sparked my interest and proved to me just how much of an English nerd I am. We were to write an entire story with only 55 words. Trust me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. Here’s a few that I came up with.
“Why don’t your parents approve of me?”
“I don’t know; since we’ve met, they’ve just looked at me like I’m crazy or something.”
“They don’t understand that what we have is special.”
“They’re jealous they’ve never felt this way before.”
“She started hearing voices five months ago.”
“Don’t worry; she’ll be in good hands.”
April and May left with chaos in their wakes. I had hoped that they’d bring about some kind of change in my life, some sort of self-transforming experience that would make me see the world differently. But alas, my life sustained its meaningless monotony.
Until June came. I married her and lived happily ever after.
You see a diamond. So perfect and pure, it reflects and refracts light in infinite directions that constantly shift with every slight movement. Colorless, it is indeed the picture of purity, of clarity, of order.
What happens when that diamond, in the process of its formation under high heat and pressure, is exposed to an impurity? The diamond is contaminated, the clarity is gone…and the crystal bursts with color. For, the Hope diamond itself, what the world has long called the most pristine diamond of all, was the product of an imperfection, a mineral deposit that transformed the once colorless gem into one of great depth and pigment.
It’s a great parallel to life, I think. Innocence is one thing, but wisdom only truly comes from experience; from little bits of imperfection here and there that add up to make you a more beautiful gem than you could’ve imagined– which is why I don’t yet claim to be at all wise; I’ve barely lived yet.
But these thoughts really did move me. Thinking that impurities can bring about even more beauty in a diamond than it already has gives me hope for the change in a corrupted spirit. Maybe the corruption can bring about change that will inevitably bring more wisdom than first was even conceived.
And, reading a book on Norse mythology recently, such thoughts were amplified in my mind. For it had said that, symbolically, the mind was air, and the spirit, smoke. Just think, the pristine air all on its own would have no essence without the smoke of the spirit.
I also remember that once, during my band trip to Indianapolis this year, the well-known conductor who was in charge of our clinic called my final note that hung in the air as the song came to a close– that single tone that sprung from the euphonium– the smoke that lingered after the flame of the song* had gone out.
It’s a pretty cool thing to think about.
*If you’re curious, the song we’d been playing was called Rest, by Frank Ticheli
Why is it that so many with great artistic expression live horrible lives? I just watched a movie on the life of Emily Dickinson, and as witty and wise as her poetry was, her life was just depressing. Repenting unrequited love of a man she barely knew, and who was unaware of her affections, she spent the rest of her life a hermit. She wasted away in her room, not living at all, but creating fantastic works of poetry all the while. It was the same with Van Gogh, who cut his own ear off in his life struggle full of masterpieces. And neither of them, nor other great people like Jane Austen, were even recognized for their work until after death! To think that they worked so hard, and did not even have the consolation of living to see the fruits of their efforts displayed to the world.
How ironic it is that people with such ugly lives create such beautiful works of art. But the irony itself is a bit of an artwork, both frustrating and beautiful at the same time. Life is so much more complicated than we take it to be as we first enter it.
I’m not sure whether I left anyone more or less certain about the world in writing this, but it is something to think about.
Being a fan of Walt Whitman, I thought it necessary to write my own version of his famous opening to Leaves of Grass, as recomended in the post Walt Whitman’s Advice for a Kind and Authentic Life. He was a very philosophical man, and although I prefer the more poetic and fluid prose of European literature, I do really love Whitman’s inciteful meditations about life’s precious moments.
Here’s the original opening…
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men — go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families — re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.”
— Walt Whitman, preface to Leaves of Grass
This is what you shall do: Tred with your feet upon the Earth everyday as if time did not exist, living not for the past nor the future. Love the little things; the soft sprinkle of rain upon your head, the grass between your toes, the smells and stenches of home. Cherish what’s yours, and let go to what isn’t. Realize how significant your every action is with every passing day, but still be aware how insignificant you are in a world of seven billion others. Fight for what is right, but do not fight blindly, and have the courage to admit when you are wrong. Listen with open ears and heart, but stay true to yourself in the midst of the chaotic worlds of opinion and belief. You need not convince everyone to live the way you believe they should; only by living the life of your own ideals will you be able to prove to the world that that ideal is truly possible.
— J.W. Grand, preface to the rest of her life
I’m sorry; I’m bringing up that stinking Paris agreement AGAIN. I really didn’t mean to nag about this, but the leader of my country’s decision to pull out of it is really irritating me. Nonetheless, I’m an optimist, and so even though this may be a total case of denial and naivetey, I’ve got to at least give SOME hope, and if I can’t convince others I’d at least like to console myself slightly. Because, what if the total lunacy–ok I’ll tone it down, the irrational behaviors–of our president turn out to be what the world needs? What if one person’s stupidity is the rest of the world’s wake up call? Trust me, I’m not happy with what’s going on either. But what if the unbelievable nature of all that’s happened lately turns out to be what calls us all to action? Maybe we were starting to become stagnant and too comfortable, and a fool was what we needed to remind us what we’re supposed to be fighting for. Ya never know what’s in store for our crazy humankind.