Archive for October 2015

to tc : nîmes

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. 

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to tc : reflections on home / the return

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.