Author Archives: Sentiments and the Like

Pre-departure Thoughts

February 5-7, 2017

What’s it like to leave everything I’ve known and loved for almost half a year on my own? I had gotten my acceptance letter to go on exchange at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia a few months ago and was finally leaving. There was a heavy mixture of excitement and nervousness the days leading up to my departure. Even when I was saying goodbye to some of the most important people in my life, it was only starting to hit me then that I was leaving for a while… It felt odd to utter sentimental words of a farewell because although I knew I would miss them, how was it possible to mean those words completely when I couldn’t even believe that I was leaving.

When I got to the airport and was ready to leave, it wasn’t easy saying goodbye to my parents without choking on my words. I was already missing going home to them with warmly cooked food ready on the table, having them listen to me talk all about my day, and open arms to embrace me in a hug. I also received a call from my sister and a friend before I boarded the plane, and it was comforting to chat with them during my last few moments in Canada. During the first half of my flight, I sat by the window, two seats away from a huge Super Bowl fan who exploded into cheers on the quiet plane ride at random moments and a seat away from a woman who had her earphones plugged in and a book in her hand during the entire flight. Tired from staying up until 6am the night (or morning) before with last minute packing, I slept through my flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles, staring down at the snow-covered Vancouver and then at the endless sky of blue in between fluttering eyelids – the views were beautiful. Walking from one building to the other to get through customs on my own was an experience in itself. I was surrounded by people of diverse culture and ethnicity – devout monks, nervous Chinese families, hippies in silver hair and unique wear, groups of black people, and CBCs like me. I wish I could have stayed in LA to explore some more, and I wondered where everyone was going. My neighbours during the second half of my flight from LA to Australia were an elderly woman traveling with her husband and also a soon-to-be international graduate student from Mexico. I slept for half the time and then watched one and a half movies – The Great Gatsby (which I absolutely loved!) and Interstellar. The plane ride was enjoyable. I was bursting with curiosity to find out what the other side of the hemisphere looks like! Yet, it also felt like the longest plane ride ever. I’ve been on longer plane rides before and I didn’t even have enough time to finish my second movie, but perhaps the thought of being faraway from home made the distance feel further… Holding a cup of apple juice in my hand and a glass of wine in hers, the Mexican girl and I toasted to studying abroad in a new country with expectancy and smiles, and before I knew it, I was looking out onto a wide, open field of yellow grass and scattered Eucalyptus trees.

Dear Australia, you have been my dream since the beginning of my post-secondary years. I’m here – with mixed emotions of fear, excitement, anxiety, and anticipation – but I’m finally here. Here’s to five months of adventure in a country that will become my home soon.

Looking, but never finding

    

I feel like I’m always looking for something to satisfy me, whether it’s in friendships, relationships, success, or those three themselves. Sometimes it seems as though they are never enough though.

It can be a painful feeling, trying to make what is intangible be tangible, or of not being able to grasp a solid answer to questions I have about life. Ultimately, everyone is searching for something that would fill that void in their lives, that would make their identities be whole, or that would give them a sense of purpose in this world and while some people give up and think they will never find it, others become complacent with what they find. I don’t think we know exactly what we’re looking for either. We pretend we know what it is, but we don’t. If we are all finding ways to be happy, how come we’re still not happy? How come we’re not satisfied?

 

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that we were made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis

Not Strangers, but Individuals

Sometimes when I watch people walk by, I wonder where they are going. Are they going to school or work, to see a loved one, to attend a meeting, to return something, or are they running away from a place or a person? And then I wonder how they are feeling. Are they excited for an event, heartbroken from having been broken up with, curious about the city, sad about a departure at the airport, or disappointed that they are physically moving but not actually going anywhere in life?

Whichever public place I am in, I am surrounded by not just people, but individuals – individuals each with a purpose and a range of emotions. The crowd around you in a public space are all experiencing or thinking about something at the exact moment you are walking by them. Each one of them has a story. Their stories all link together to create a bigger story. And it’s not that each individual can change the world; each individual has already changed the world by being in it.  The world may be different to someone because someone else is in it. Our limitations expand, our decisions change, our perspectives alter, and even our life directions can shift with an encounter, re-encounter, friendship or relationship with someone. As cliche or common as all this may sound, we can neither doubt that we have never ignored a stranger’s worth nor can we promise that we have never trivialized our own worth. There is a reason why you are brought into the world and I believe that it’s meant to be when you cross paths with certain people in life.

Sometimes when I watch people walk by, I also wonder what it would be like to personally know them, and as I’m caught in the moment, pondering, they quickly become another passerby. Other times, I am lucky enough to have my life intertwined in theirs.

 

Backpacking in Taiwan (Day 1): Waterfalls, Sky Lanterns, and Gratitude

I spent years obsessing over, Apple of My Eye, a Taiwanese film about a pair of high-school sweethearts, who end up breaking up due to an immature argument aroused by misunderstanding. Then, with only two days of planning, my sister and I finally had time in summer 2015 to travel to the famous filming location in Pingxi, New Taipei City to participate in the popular activity of releasing lanterns, an imitation of a scene in Apple of My Eye and a cultural practice of pleading for peace. We were reunited after a month of completing separate programs as overseas students, with her program being lessons in Chinese and mine being English-teaching in the rural town of Fuguang. The spontaneity of the trip excited us, but our lack of research resulted in several mistakes, arguments, and dangerous situations. Ultimately, though, we learnt to take care of and appreciate each another.

The air was thick with humidity the morning we left. We walked over to Tsinghua University from our aunt’s apartment in Hsinchu to catch the Kuo-Kuang eBus, a frequent shuttle bus that would took us to Taipei City in 45 minutes. Then we took a train to Badu Train Station to transfer to Pingxi via the Pingxi Branch Rail Line towards Jingtong, which took approximately two hours. During the three-and-a-half hours’ journey, my sister and I caught up about our past month. There was so much to say that even the lengthy ride did not allow enough time.

Since the day was still too bright to set off lanterns, we agreed to start exploring from Shifen, the second last stop on the railway line, and travel backwards. Walking along the train tracks through the bustling Shifen Old Street, we marveled at the low pitch roof houses and little shops selling cultural artefacts, traditional souvenirs, and street food. Never had I imagined the outskirts to be so charming; I was in awe. My favourite local delicacy was an ice cream and peanut wrap, a dessert inspired from the original run bing (spring roll).

Our first stop was the Shifen Waterfall. My sister and I took a detour to hike up it after reading signposts of its must-see beauty. It was a strenuous one-hour walk, but we admired the stone houses, hanging bamboo chimes, and danced in the middle of empty highways on the way up to relieve our minds. The unoccupied road had us assuming that the destination would be quiet, but our encounter with crowds of tourists, who we later found had taken taxis and tour buses up, proved the contrary. We watched the graceful cascades of the broadest waterfall in Taiwan plummet into the Keelung River, as the cool air refreshed our sweating faces. Boulders surrounded the river and there was a steep stairway on one side that led to different vantage points for observation of the waterfall.

After treating ourselves to pineapple slush and exploring the pathways near Shifen Waterfall, we caught the train to our next stop, Wanggu, a strangely quiet region. The landscape seemed to whisper secrets of the past. Towering over the train tracks was the destroyed Qinghe Suspension Bridge, historically used for coal mining. Since the train only came once an hour, we wandered around aimlessly. Had we done more research though, we would have discovered the Wanggu Waterfall hidden next to the station. We spent the hour laughing and singing, our voices ringing in the desolate wild. It felt like the world was ours.

There was still an hour left before the sun went down, so we hopped on the train and headed to Jingtong. We weaved in and out of numerous shops including the Jingtong Railway Story House, fascinated by the handmade objects sold and the small-town vibe of the Old Streets. We were amazed at the spectacular view beyond the village too – a mountain of trees and vertically rectangular houses enveloped in fog. There was a path to walk down and a love bridge strung with bamboo tubes of written wishes below that arched across a gently trickling river. The bamboo tubes sounded like windchimes when the breeze knocked them together. Time escaped our minds… and that was when we missed the train.

Not wanting to wait another hour, my sister suggested walking to Pingxi, which was fortunately just a station away. On the train tracks we walked – past the huge Jingtong Mining Industry Life Pavilion, secluded farms, and lonely houses – as the sky grew pitch black. I was frightened and weary, but we talked and sang into the distant skies to have our echoes keep us company.

Finally, we arrived at Pingxi. We hungrily ate wraps for dinner just before the shops closed for the night. It was only 7pm, a time when Taipei city would have just begun stirring with commotion, but it is bedtime for the rural towns.

When we reached Pingxi Sky Lantern Story House, one of the many shops that sold lanterns, the compassionate shopkeeper kindly agreed to handcraft two more multi-coloured lanterns. What I had imagined to be an experience with a crowd was now an experience solely shared with my sister. We talked about our dreams and filmed each other writing them down on the lantern as we struggled printing with the calligraphy brushes. An hour later, we were ready to release our lanterns. We couldn’t help shouting with joy, as we sent our wishes into the stars. Watching them float away was beautiful – two lone lanterns flickering in the night sky. It had truly been a dream.

After thanking the shopkeeper for staying an extra hour with us, we hurried on to check the train schedule and were relieved when it read that there was one more train departure left. By now, me and my sister were the only individuals left in the whole village. 9pm felt like midnight as we sat waiting, fearful and exhausted, for what felt like forever. When we arrived at Ruifang Station, however, we were horrified to learn that we may be homeless for the night. The hostel we had planned to stay at had no entry sign and the manager’s direction to meet him downstairs of a building suggested danger. As for the other hostels nearby, they were either occupied or required an earlier check-in time. We were almost in tears, call after call, until a manager we phoned offered us residence for the night. Although the price was two times higher than our budget for accommodation, we accepted the consequences of our ill planning.

The journey to Pingxi has been me and my sister’s most unforgettable trip to date. I can still recall the rhythm of the waterfall and the bamboo tubes, the chipped paint of the old houses, the honest faces of the local citizens, wanting to understand the secrets of the wild, and the mixture of excitement, fear, and bliss I felt during the time of. Moreover, there is something about spontaneity, the danger and adventure of it all, which has given me renewed gratitude for who I was traveling with – my sister. Throughout the ups and downs of life’s many more adventures, there is no one else I am happier to share them with than her.

Dare to Dream Again

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“Suddenly you’re 21 and you’re screaming along in the car to all the songs you listened to when you were sad in middle school and everything is different but everything is good.”

I’ve always thought there was something about the 2000s music, music you grow up to listening. Tonight was one of those nights that I wanted something familiar. Plugging in my earphones, I played the High School Musical playlist on Spotify (admit it, you were once crazy about it too), my head in the clouds, while on my one hour bus ride home. And all these sentimental feelings suddenly washed over me in an overwhelming but nostalgic sensation, as memories scurried across my mind. Do you remember that song you used to listen to over and over again in your teenage years? Or the one that you promised yourself would be one of your wedding songs one day? How about the one you made your personal anthem? It wasn’t just the songs themselves that I loved, but the moments attached to them. Hilary Duff was the girl-next-door I wanted to be like. Crazily jumping and dancing on the bed for hours with my girlfriends until we were exhausted from screaming to her Wanted CD when it first came out was the highlight of my weekends. Then it was Gabriella Montez. I wanted to dress like her and have cheekbones like her. My sister and I would rehearse High School Musical songs during our long road trips with our parents as the audience, blasting the tunes and attempting to harmonize when we didn’t know how to. How faithful my sister and I were in always trying to find the most up-to-date Disneymania CD that we could in local libraries, memorizing the names of the hottest Disneychannel stars, and I would spend days perfecting my “And you’re watching Disneychannel” line in between commercials because I promised I would make it on there someday. When the lights dimmed and couples began to slow dance to Mariah Carey’s Bye Bye during my middle school grad, I listened to the lyrics and felt the reality of eighth grade coming to an end. I crazily sang Avril’s Girlfriend and The Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That Way for years with childhood friends, Jay Sean’s Down in the parking lot when my friends and I were too cool for Chinese school, Hillsong’s ‘Til I See You when I cried myself to sleep, Regina Spektor’s The Call when I couldn’t swallow my emotions after the Narnia movies, David Archuleta’s first CD when I couldn’t stop daydreaming, and all of Against the Current’s songs when I partied in the kitchen by myself with my personal anthem (still) being Outsiders because “outside, we’re lonely but we are free.” I could continue on and on… Somehow, I remember all these details.

There’s something about songs that spark inspiration, memories, and feelings that relate to the present or are brought back from long ago. This depth of history and connection I felt as my HSM playlist kept playing was reminding me of who I was in the past – someone who dared to dream. Whether it was daydreaming about the guy I would marry, the person I would grow up to be, or the things I would do, I have always been a dreamer. But somehow along the way, I gave up on those dreams. They seemed too good to be true and took too long to get to… So wanting to catch up with everyone else, I set lower standards for myself to achieve so I can at least say I’ve checked it off the list. But what about those big dreams I once had? Why have I agreed to settle for less? Why is graduating within four years more important than gaining experiences if I have to graduate later? Or why is being in a relationship sooner more important than saving it for the right one? What is with the hurry in life that I give up my dreams and trade them in for complacency. I want to be daring in my dreams because I trust not in my own ability, but God’s ability to accomplish them. I limit God when I dream small. He has grand plans for me and His timing is made perfect according to His purpose. I need more faith.

And now suddenly I’m 22 and miss singing to those 2000s songs while dreaming bold dreams, and everything is so different but I’m learning to dream big again like my younger version would have told myself to not give up doing – this time, with Him.