I'm in Nîmes right now with one of my best friends that's also a teaching assistant in the same program. I met Jana the last time when I was in Paris when we were in the same photo class. After many many hours in a cramped darkroom [the submarine] together, we became really close.This is our first time seeing each other since Paris, so it's lovely to be reunited with her finally after a year and a half. We've been spending long afternoons in her small apartment just sitting at her table, sipping coffee and talking about what it means to be back here as the warm southern breeze blowing through her open window.
Nimes is much smaller than Paris and there's a certain charm to being able to go out and run into the same people all the time. Very Hamilton in that way, so it's a familiar social dynamic. Jana's integrating herself in the community wonderfully (even though she doesn't think so most of the time), but it's so nice to see her with people that care about her so genuinely.
We talk a lot about how difficult it is to be in French. What do I mean by that? Like how how our linguistic skills get us Internet, electricity, housing, phone plans, and all the basic needs to live here. You know, the bottom rung of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and that shit (yes, I just placed Internet on pyramid). We're perfectly functional and are "fluent" in that manner, but then there's the higher, more complex need to express who we are, the self actualization part. That's a whole other level of French.
When I was younger, I was really into languages because I always believed that the only way to really understand who someone is to learn their language and understand them in their purest form. I don't know why but I never really considered myself as an actor to be understood as well.
I've been musing recently about how difficult it is to translate my identity and personality into French. Or just how damn difficult it can be to have a personality period. There are so many social functions where I find myself speaking very little and expressing very little of what I feel to be my personality because my language is so limited right now. I often say things and participate in conversations simply because I can, maybe not because that's really what I would usually say or do. It's strange to be developing these relationships with people right now and realizing that they're probably not really getting the real me right now. I know that it's impossible that they're not understanding a large part of my personality, but it is frustrating to me that I cannot express myself in ways that I feel are authentic and complete, which, you know me, is difficult to accept. Knowing that there's maybe another two years of Peace Corps at the end of this, I feel odd knowing that I have resigned myself to an incomplete communicative level for three years of my life.
I think often of my parents in relation to this and realize for the millionth time in my life how fucking amazing they are. For them to uproot their lives and settle in the States, resigning themselves to never being fully who they are in this new country, never truly belong--that's so incredibly brave. And then I think of my father, who is vice president of this company dealing with complex chemical engineering and things that I can never hope to understand, and that's just the most incredible thing to me that he was able to get to that point from where I am right now. Yet, also realizing that even my parents, after having lived in the States for over 20 years, still are not their complete selves in English. I can definitively say that their personalities in Chinese are different. That's hard to accept.
But you know, I think that for me to be able to think about my relationship with French in such an existential way is already huge. I remember just my first month here back in 2013 and my problems were just struggling to communicate that I needed a SIM card. The nature of my French problems have evolved to be so much more nuanced and intellectual and that's definitely improvement. I'm excited to see where I am by the end of the year.
Anyway, long rambles about where I am in French. I'm going to make dinner with Jana right now, but I'll talk to you soon? I'll call you sometime this week. Pick up when the weird French number calls.
By official accounts, I've been in France for over two weeks now, but time is doing strange things here. It feels like I've been here years and just a day, all at once. The day I landed, I came off the the plane at Charles de Gaulle and immediately rushed through customs, baggage claim, and onto the RER to run across town to catch a bus to Strasbourg.
It wasn't until I was standing on the RER platform, waiting for the next train, that I had a moment to breathe and begin to process the fact that I was standing on French soil again. It was so blessedly normal to be back. I expected to feel overwhelmed in some way–happiness, anxiety, something–after all, wasn't this all I've wanted since I left Paris? But it felt like any other day, just standing there waiting for the train as if the past year had never happened. What happened to Hamilton, to my senior year, to my New York summer, to you? Just like that, erased with a seven hour flight? Or just set aside until I go back to pick it back up where I left it, like I did with this life in Paris?
And the train pulled in and I was off, automatically going through the motions of transferring to the metro and navigating metro maps in my brain that I didn't realize were still there.
home, home, home, home, my heart murmured gently in time with the deep rattleclackroar of the metro. you're home again.
Home is always a concept that I've struggled with, because I've had many: Parsippany, Clinton, Paris, New York, Taipei–even far away Dushanbe, I would call home in some ways. And then there are people that are home: my parents, my brother, Julia, Candice, Amal, Jacob. And then there's home hidden in transient moments : a bowl of warm miso soup, hearing and only half-understanding Taiwanese, the hush of a snowy winter morning. There are homes that have been lost and then homes that yet are to be created.
but I'm always home, I wanted to say back, but that got swallowed whole in the steady mantra of home, home, home, pulsing through me until it was just meaningless sound.
I meant to write you ages ago, but then the days turned into weeks so suddenly and things got busy, as they tend to do in this wild city. Been thinking about you recently.
Summer in the city is fading quickly with the mass exodus of student interns and the return of my NYU friends.
In a couple brief impressions and colors, the past few weeks have been:
a bus ride by the rising sun + talk with a long ago friend
a liberating phone call on 44th st, all silver and greasy fingerprints and wild laughter
dark locks of hair gathering on the ground below me in a Flushing hair salon
my hands and arms sticky with lychee juice, fragrant and sweet
pink clouds hanging above Sheep's Meadow
numb toes and air in out in out in out
a sleeptalking friend + an ex-lover + a partner in crime + a mentor
beers and corn on an Astoria fire escape by the dying lilac light
flowers and bright cobalt Frida at the top of the world, way at the end of the 4
Zadie Smith once wrote about New York that "You don't come to live here unless the delusion of a reality shaped around your desires isn't a strong aspect of your personality. A reality shaped around your own desires — there is something sociopathic in that ambition.”
She's right in a way. The city is like a version of the American dream on high, individualism becoming a religion and dreams becoming currency. Yet, it's this very feature that makes city of sociopathic dreamers the magic place it is, truly unlike any city in the world. It has an energy about it, powered by the low hungry rumble of millions of hearts that dare. They ("we" now, I guess) "dare to disturb the universe" in a way that T.S. Eliot's Prufrock never did and here we are for all to see, piled on top of each other in high rises and rushing past one another in great rivers, yet never quite seeing the beautiful, terrible, wonderful humanity of it all.
It's gritty, raw, glittering, and so unapologetically real in a way I've never known another city to be.
That's the beauty of New York, my dear. In a way, it's the home that's never really been home and I love it more than I have ever loved home.
Our second day in Iceland, we hopped on a plane to a little city in the North called Akureyri to catch the Northern Lights. Although, city is quite a generous term to describe the place. It was much much smaller than originally anticipated and the full day of city exploring that we planned looked like it would take an hour. So we rented a car last minute to see the surrounding areas during the day.
At night, we returned to Akureyri where our resident "crazy viking" tour guide, Gisli, drove us far far out to desolate landscapes for our Northern Lights expedition. As we drove further and further away from civilization, I looked into the pitch black desperately for any sign of the fabled lights. Stars, a million of them. And dimly, in the distance, was that—?
Suddenly, Gisli is shouting. "THERE SHE IS. STOP THE BUS."
He's ahead of all of us, nearly falling off of the bus as we gather our camera equipment hastily and follow him into the cold. And there it was.
Wind whipping and biting at my exposed skin. A smudge of green across my vision that I could not rub out of my eyes. Focusing in on the strange green and seeing, overlaid on top of the tapestry of stars, a massive green translucent ribbon hanging in the sky. It was growing and wavering and rippling in midair, completely independent of the cruel winds I had to brace my body against.
College spring break typically brings to mind debaucherous weeklong spectacles of alcohol fueled excess, punctuated by seaside lounging. Somewhere tropical. Warm.
I did expect that I would be doing that at some point of my college career, but my spring breaks were usually spent in New Jersey and New York, usually with a Hamilton Alternative Spring Break trip thrown into the mix. Exactly my speed.
I didn't envision my senior year spring break being any different. Until a moment last summer, when my parents called me and asked me what my dates for my next spring break would be. And then asked me if I wanted to go to Iceland with them and their friends because they found some crazy cheap Icelandair Northern Lights promotion. Excuse me? Is that even a question? I think I reflected for about a millisecond before saying yes.
Fast forward nine months and I'm en route to the most un-spring break spring break of my life. We're on a redeye to Reykjavik with Ronnie and Lisa, one of my many adopted aunts and uncles. The flight was cramped, uncomfortable, sleepless, but taking off from Newark was like falling into the arms of an old friend. I felt incredible being on the road again, especially after being cooped up at Hamilton for so many months. A crazy grin broke out on my face as we took off, and I pressed my face up against the cold window, watching as Manhattan glittered below us and disappeared into the distance.