Long Roads

I used to cycle around Beijing, before my bike was stolen. The city was big enough to accomodate long lengths and fewer dead ends. But the air. The pollution was bad enough when you’re walking around, but when it smacks you with a certain velocity, it’s like swallowing acid. My throat would be itching within minutes of cycling in the roads and I had to slow down once in a while just to breathe. So juggling that and the attempt of suicide that is crossing an intersection (EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.), I tended to wonder why I took joyrides at all. I think it’s just the appeal of the long roads. When I ran out of destinations, I followed random people on their bicycles, which led me to all sorts of different places (I would turn around once they reached home and head off again.)

So two days before the Olympics. Friends tell me the pollution hasn’t improved, the manners are still as bad (once on holiday from Beijing, I dropped by Hong Kong and felt extremely moved because someone had offered a curt “sorry” when he bumped me in the MTR), the traffic is worse, and I’ve seen the attempts for the city’s beautification in the news magazines, which look extremely forced. When the 8th starts, it’s either going to squeak by or flop magnificently. Either way, there’s going to be plenty to watch.

Oh yeah, I’m in Manila at the moment.

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I Saw the Olympic Torch

May 2, down Queensway at Admiralty, Hong Kong. A once in a lifetime experience, folks.

I was nowhere near planning to go. Near the end of work my colleague decided, out of the blue, that I had to go with her to see it. Had no idea where the torch already was by the end of work, but after some frantic decision-making and a lot of lucky help from a student, we figured the best place was to wait for it at Admiralty. Ran, got into the MTR, crossed the sea, got a great spot at Queensway, waited, waited, waited, and after some false alarms, an empty belly, and a panicky bladder, finally saw what’s been printed in newspapers all over the world. The Olympics have come to China.

If you’ve lived in Beijing, toasted a million times with your friends all over the world to the 2008 Olympics, watched the Bird’s Nest stadium being built, seen how the city had thrown itself into this whole affair…you can easily bet where I stand in the Beijing vs Indignant Developed World in the Suburbs (IDWS) question. No contest, man. No contest.

I suppose the wonderfully enlightened IDWS finds immense civilization in gatecrashing and wants to educate the rest of us in its arts. If it’s not Tibet or Khartoum (whaaat? It’s not about Tibet after all?! Maaan, I’m confused!), they’d find another reason to make sure it’s their faces on the cameras. (Perhaps the monstrous pollution in China, since the IDWS is finally rich enough to let go of fossil fuels themselves and to build a nice little soapbox upon which to preach to the rest of us.) Dear Western world, you’ve really outdone yourself this time. As if it weren’t enough that barely a century ago you were forcing Asia to capitalism with your opium, bayonets, and cannons, and now you accuse us of learning so well from you. We can never please you, can we? Ah, one of your poets says it best: “The villainy you teach me I will execute; and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction.”

(I’d advise Ms. Farrow to take the first flight out of Hong Kong before she gets run over by a minibus.)

Really, a situation in which a country is paid so much scrutiny, attention, and overwhelming criticism from the rest of the world can only mean one thing: that country is on its way to a boatload of power. Otherwise no one would care an atom for it. It’s funny, the only thing the torch-snatching has achieved so far is build up a felt, potent patriotism within the Chinese that was previously only force-fed by government. What this whole kerfuffle has done is justify those tacky propaganda programs I watched in Beijing. A backfire for a few certain somebodies? I think so.

中国加油。

“Metropolis” is UPPPPPP!

My story “Metropolis” is up at East of the Web: Short Stories.

I LOVE the cover they’ve designed for the story. The lanterns fit perfectly with the malatang image in the story!

Metropolis

I am ecstatic. I’d write more, if it wouldn’t fire up adrenaline in the veins (which is already coming on anyway), which is the last thing I need now because I need to go to sleep right this moment or else I won’t wake up for work tomorrow. Thank you so much to East of the Web and the editor Charles Lambert!

Perfect end to this day. Call it a present from God.

East of the Web

A year and a half after I sent a story for consideration, the British online short story collection, East of the Web, has just given me word that they want to publish my short story about Beijing, “Metropolis”. The editor wrote that he was hoping that the story was still available because the submission had been made such a long time ago.

I got the email last night and was appropriately thrown. 1. I thought the story had been rejected five months after I had sent it. 2. East of the Web is pretty prominent among Internet-savvy contemporary writers, with a rigorous selection process and a terrific traffic of visitors that consist of publishers, filmmakers, and universities.

“Metropolis” will be published in a few weeks after the story goes through editing and a cover page is designed for the story.

B O O Y A. So. Happy.

Ah, sweet melancholy of life

Maybe it is quarter-life crisis that’s plaguing me. In a little over a month, my postgraduate degree in Sydney will be completed, another year done. Over. No direction, nowhere to go. It sucks to plan your life in such small increments.

*emo alert*

What a representation of the transience of life. I’ve been harping about transience practically everywhere, but I think that’s a huge part of being a student abroad, especially if your home country holds little reason for you to return. The people I hung around with in Beijing – they were mostly older than me and had been going through that at that time, and I had watched them consider one shaky option after another, and eventually just go home. I think I had been too young to truly understand what they were going through; either that, or because at that time I had Sydney to look forward to, knowing that my life would be set at least for another year. Now, here in Sydney, I finally understand what that they had felt then, and most of the people here that I hang around with are too young to understand; either that, or because the next few years of their undergraduate lives are pretty set. They’re in the middle of the journey; I’m already on my way back from the tail end, with the authority to decide the next step of my life in my hands, and deathly afraid of using it.

(Sucks to be older than everyone else.)

Ah, transience. What an achingly beautiful thing.

I should have enjoyed myself more here in Sydney, gone to more places, ate better food, watched more movies, met more people, took more pictures, found such eagerness for life each day. I had been hoping that I would get from Sydney what I did from Beijing  – of course, now I realize that very few things can actually compare to my time in Beijing. And I’m not idealizing my time there; it’s because I was practically on vacation in Beijing, and my friends and I had massive amounts of time to go out to (a hell lot cheaper) places, learning what you never can from books. We never had to deal with research essays and presentations (like what I’m doing now, and I deal with it by procrastinating). It’s not a lack of feeling here; it’s a lack of time (and money). Sometimes I wonder which is better, having enough time in a cheap, inconvenient place of bad hygiene and being cheated from all sides, or being stuck in a nice, expensive place where everyone and everything disappears into the deadlines.

And perhaps, most importantly, I wasn’t worried of what would come next, when I was in Beijing, because I knew what it was going to be. There’s nothing like a foggy view of the future that makes you feel like drowning in the sea of mediocrity. And believe me, in this field of study I’m in, mediocrity is inexcusable. Sometimes I can’t help thinking that I really made a wrong decision somewhere. Wish I didn’t care so much about not wanting a cog-and-wheel existence.

*end emo alert*

Anyway, back to that research essay.

Let me paint you a picture of words

It’s been raining horribly here in Sydney the last few weeks and the temperature had dropped. At one point you’ll have the blue skies, bright sun combination then the rain comes, just like that. Two days ago, though, I happened to look out my window after a particularly bad soak, and I saw this sight:

rainbow over unsw

I felt incredibly gratified. There’s actually two rainbows there: the very visible one and a bigger arc above it, if you can see. It’s rather faint.

I was reminded of something that happened to me during my first days in Sydney. I was still in the dumps about leaving Beijing then, and I was walking down the road next to the VG back to the College. You can see the road in the picture. It was at night and I was walking alone, pretty lost in a depression that kept throwing me back to memories in Beijing. I was wondering if I could ever get the same sense of belonging in Sydney and if I could live without it after all.

Then for some reason I just looked up, and I saw the Southern Cross for the first time in Australia. I had seen the constellation for the first time in my life when I went to South Africa, and it had been an amazing experience because I had never seen so many stars so visible in one single place before. And seeing the Southern Cross here just evoked that same awe of beauty from me, and I was suddenly reassured that everything would be fine. Now I see the Southern Cross every night I walk back from my classes.

Cheesy, perhaps? Well, we all carry our own cheese.

In any case, I’m posting a few night photos I took of Sydney Harbour during my second week. That had been more than a month ago.
Sydney Opera House

This is the famous Sydney Opera House. Sometimes it still takes time for me to get around the idea that it’s just a bus ride away from me.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

This is the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I plan to walk across it on the last week of September to the other side. There’s actually a tour where you walk on top of the bridge, on the railings, but it’s heaps expensive. My parents stayed in a hotel next to it and you could see the little people on top of the bridge in their gray-blue suits.

Museum of Contemporary Art

That’s the Museum of Contemporary Art on the left. Read my lips when I say: free entrance.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House again, from a point of view not usually seen in postcards.

Why am I taking all this effort to put this in my blog? Because I just discovered how useful it can be. I’m working on a new story to be workshopped next Wednesday, and I’ve based it upon my life in Beijing last year. And I’ve been referring a lot to my Beijing blog. I have discovered that I’ve actually forgotten things I never knew I would be able to forget. The palest ink is still stronger than the strongest memory, that’s for sure.

I’ve been listening to the Chinese pop songs I heard on the streets when I was still in Beijing while I write my story, to make me remember even fiercely all the detail. Makes me miss it so much. And I was practically salivating in remembering what’s it like to eat malatang in the dead of winter.

You can’t take what must be left behind

Yeah, I am definitely being pestered and strangled by the cold now. Not a good time especially when this is the crucial period of meeting people for the first time and shaking their hands.

So I’m meeting a lot more people now, getting a bit busier lately, getting less time to wallow in what-am-I-doing-here-knowing-nobody pits. I’ve attended two lectures so far; I have this feeling that I have forgotten how to do this sort of thing now (sort of thing referring to university-level academic performance et al.)

I actually still dream about Beijing when I’m asleep. Curiously I don’t see the people or the places anymore. It’s gone to another level; it’s gone figurative. As in I dream about other people whom I do not recognize but whom I am aware are symbolic of the people I know in Beijing. Like dreaming in a way similar to writing a story about your life but having it played by fictional characters. Very odd.

I stil wake up in Sydney and immediately think, “What am I doing here?” though. It’s extremely annoying. Move on, move on, time to move on…

Umalis Uli Ako

Well, here I am finally.

University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. On a postgraduate program. School starts on the 24th of July.

I should be overjoyed, excited, nervous (in the good way), looking forward to things. Right now, 19th of July, 11:23pm Sydney time, alone in my dorm on an Internet connection that charges four Australian cents a megabyte, I’m feeling none of them. I’m missing my one year in Beijing to an extent I never thought possible. What I’d give to be there again. And what I’d give to just finally get over it.

Maybe it’s because I’m exhausted from running around campus attending orientation programs and getting lost. Maybe it’s the weather – it’s winter in Australia and the rain in Sydney is terrible and makes 14C colder than what it really is.

Or maybe because the transition was too quick. I left Beijing just nine days ago.What surprises me most of all is why I suddenly care about circumstances making Sydney seem personal or impersonal. The troubling part is that I was so much less concerned when I first arrived in Beijing. I always felt I had something to occupy my time. I just knew what I was going to do for the day and did them, and they never involved others.

So, now I have a heart and I’m in Sydney, and believe me, it’s subjecting me to everything that makes it vulnerable. Gosh, I feel sorry for people with hearts.
Geez. Well, I haven’t eaten in the cafeteria in the dorm yet anyway, didn’t really have a chance to meet the people here yet, since I arrived in Sydney yesterday and just moved in this morning. Of course I’m going to give it a chance, no doubt about that. Just that right now, I really do wish I were somewhere else, somewhere north of here.