People Without Accents are Non-Existent

Normally I enjoy reading thoughtcatalog, whether the thoughts are silly, interesting, wise, or whatever else. I don’t agree with some of the thoughts posted there, but the one I read today actually made me mad. As in, fume in an empty living room with anger, furious. But I’ve calmed down a little since and realized I shouldn’t be in rant-mode when typing up my reaction to ‘People with Accents Are Stupid’.

If the title is some tricky way of saying everyone is stupid, then I’m more inclined to agree. I just don’t think that’s it.

The author clearly separates those without accents (people who sound 100% ‘American’, I’m guessing? It wasn’t clarified whether non-accented people are from San Francisco, Dallas, Detroit, Boston, or New York) and… everyone else. How do you react to something so absurd? People without accents do not exist.*

It would be easy to take shots at the ridiculous sentences included in the article and vent. ‘I’m so glad the author-person was able to convince an accent-biased girl to dance and hate her for it!’ ‘As long as you wear purple velvet and speek liek zis, Vogue would totally hire you! They wouldn’t be annoyed at all that you merely take up space!’ I wonder if the author ever tried being a charismatic, enchanting worldly American. They can exist, you know.

There were little bits I reluctantly admit I like. Capes, for example. I’ve always like capes. It might actually be amusing if the title changed to ‘People With Fake Accents Are Stupid’. Most people with fake accents fake them for the very purpose of acting stupid, being silly, providing entertainment, sparking laughter, or all of the above.

Changing a person’s natural way of speaking takes a lot of work and often a lot of time. Even then accents can blend together for something completely unique. A person’s accent is a part of who they are, regardless of whether or not they are a ‘foreigner’ in your eyes. We’re all foreign to somebody and accents are just a part of the difference.

To me, the sentence ‘people with accents are stupid’ is something along the lines of ‘people with hair are dumb’, or ‘people who wear clothes are idiots’. You know, hair definitely drains all the blood from a person’s head so they can’t think as clearly, and wearing clothes just hides who they truly are!! Yeah – NO.


* Even if a person speaks sign language, there are also ‘accents’ whether angles of gestures or different vocabulary!

Follow that impulse!

I’m excited about life.

I’m unemployed, in-debt, grinning like an idiot, eating cheesecake in Beijing while inhaling pollution, moving to Hong Kong next month without even half a plan, excited about all the world’s possibilities, and extremely excited about life.

Of course, life will probably kick me in the teeth sometime in the near future and make me depressed as hell, but right now I’m feeling more optimistic than I have in a long, long time. Maybe it has something to do with finding one’s calling, or at least accepting people are so ever-changing that finding that one, singular, calling is only possible to a lucky few.

Too long have I lurked in the shadows watching others live life! Too long have I been a coward and afraid to take a risk! Too long have I… done nothing! Too long, too long.

I’ve always declared myself a ‘creative type’. My notes for PSY101 was covered in little stick people and stick brains declaring ‘Freud is a fraud!’, all the while declaring majors in International Relations, Economics, and later, Political Economy. My one concession to a more creative self was a minor in Art History. I’m not regretting any of the amazing education I’ve had – it has led me to my friends, to my experiences, to my beliefs, to the me that I am today, and I rather like that person… all except my inner sloth. And today, I will am doing something about it. Kind of.

More than ten years ago I discovered deviantART, an amazing online community for artistis and art-lovers alike. I created my little account, which still stands to this day: kuami.deviantart.com. This is how I know I’ve been neglecting a part of myself for too long. See where it says ‘Deviant for 10 years’? An entire decade. Mostly of emptiness. That’s where I’ll start.

Last year, a friend gave me a copy of Notes to Myself, My Struggle to Become a Person by Hugh Prather, a collection of writing which has made me ponder a lot of different things, with a note in the back. “Don’t compromise yourself, you’re all you’ve got”, it says. I’ll do my best.

Some of my initial excitement is gone, clearly, and I am breathing normally again. And worrying about the absurdly high rents in Hong Kong. But I will move and this cheesecake is delicious. Life is good.

A book with pages

I bought a book. It cost USD17.83, or 49.90 Malaysian ringgits and is titled “21 Speeches That Shaped Our World”. I wandered through the bookstore for a good half hour before choosing the first physical book to buy in a long, long time. Before when I read during this trip, it was with my iPad. However, with another day ahead before I get to my destination, I fear the battery (currently at 74%) will not last. Without much money left, the choices were to either buy a converter to use this once because I have another at home, or an actual book to keep myself occupied after the battery runs out and keep it after. It’s a specter to be feared, having electronics that have gone dry. I chose the book and have adjusted the screen to be as dim as possible.

Technically, this is the second time I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur. The first was to the low cost airport in transit from Hong Kong to Mumbai. Now I’m again in transit, but at the main airport and from Phnom Penh to Guangzhou. There’s more than enough time to go into the city before my 9am flight tomorrow, and yet I felt reluctant to go despite having planned which route I would walk and which guesthouse to stay in. I’m using the rain as an excuse, because it has continued to rain in the two hours since the flight landed. Somehow the prospect of going into KL for half a day didn’t appeal as much as loitering around an airport (and stalking people for their converters…). In the back of my mind, I know someday I’ll return to KL for Malaysia, so it’s all okay, isn’t it? Until you run out of battery.

It’s taken two hours for me to give up the outlet/converter search after going back and forth between gates c and h via the aerotrain. Now I am exhausted, having woken up at 4:30 am for the taxi from Sihanoukville. Eyebrows,,, heavy… nap.

Luang Namtha and the unexpected in Laos

The 19th, the 19th, is it already the 19th? Since the last blog entry, I’ve written in my journals and can’t quite remember where my last online thoughts were from. Time since has been filled with buses and strange moments that are closer to fiction.

Currently still in Laos, in the southern town of Pakxe with the sun shining and a functioning Internet connection. It’s been too long and the world has shifted and continued outside these borders. Friends aren’t worried if they’ve not heard from me in weeks because consistency isn’t something I’m good with. That should be a problem, shouldn’t it? But then it wouldn’t be true friendship if check-ins were needed daily, so goes my thinking.

This past week and a half, we’ve been stuffed on buses along with rice, lettuce, motorcycles, luggage and instant coffee among many other things. We’ve taken a tuktuk ‘bus’ for a 3-hour journey and have probably collected dust souvenirs from each and every location. Sitting still on a moving vehicle is surprisingly exhausting and doing absolutely nothing has more appeal now than it has in a long time. So I rest now, watching backpackers come and go from the main room of this guesthouse, listening to the occasional bursts of song from the little man behind the counter and recalling those strange events that makes Laos so memorable…

The first night across the border we spent in Houay Xai. The Gibbon Experience was fully booked a week in advance and we had to find alternative plans for the next few days. While wandering in town, searching for food, we were given a flier for a guesthouse-restaurant which benefitted mountain villagers and one of the options was to dine with the staff and cooks and other lodgers for dinner. I had lemongrass tea for the first time and sat around a little fire while we waited for the meal. One of the guests had somehow found a Chinese dreadlocked motorcycle man and the two artists found a connection of colour. I thought they were showing each other photos when in reality, it was google translate. Never did I expect to stand in an interpreter for their stories, but there I was, relaying messages back and forth from the blond Californian (who also had dreadlocks) to Chopperman. They spoke of travels and societies and planned when to meet each other again. Conversation paused when the food was brought out, a variety of vegetarian delights with a single bowl of fish. The sauces were spicy and the variety made me feel extremely healthy despite the constant diet of crackers and Oreos on the bus. After the hearty meal, people gathered and talked and laughed and compared cameras and shared travel advice.

The next day, we decided to head north for Luang Namtha. We would have never sought the option had the Experience worked out, but there we were, on a bus stuffed with people, navigating the twisty mountain roads of northern Laos. We met some fellow travelers along the way and the gang of us complained, tried to take naps and shared stories. It would have been a very nice journey had it not been SO twisty. At one point, the minibus stopped for a bathroom break. It was very awkward for me when the gang all got out to pee by the side of the road. A row of them, just… there, by the side of the street on a bright sunshine day. My own bladder has gotten considerably stronger since then and thank goodness for it. The bus journey lasted from 11am to about 5pm and we were lucky in finding suitable rooms. We ate at the night market and were carefully watched by dogs wanting to be fed. After, we went for a walk and on the way back and saw a familiar motorcycle carrying more stuff than possible. There he was, Chopperman. He really had journeyed up to Luang Namtha after us. A piece of his bike had fallen off on the journey and he shifted gears with a bright green piece of string afterwards. Around the table where we sat for drinks was an old Dutchman who lectured us on the importance of women’s rights and how societies controlled by men are fundamentally decisive. He lives in Vientiane.

People continue to come and go at the guesthouse. From their inquiries, I gather now there is only one room left for 98,000 kip, with hot showers. We’re all millionaires in this country, literal kip millionaires. Laos is more expensive than expected, perhaps because tourism is one of the main sources of income for many of these places and many of these people. When a restaurant owner gives change of 30,000 in 1000 kip notes, it really puts the world in perspective.

We rented bikes that next day in Luang Namtha to explore the areas around town. Paved roads were scarce and the majority of our day was spent bobbing along rocky paths through small villages where food was dried by the side of the one main road and children ran along side chickens and ducks. People were friendly and smiles go a long way. We were careful to always ask before taking photo, which usually consisted of pointing to things. We saw people working the fields, old men whittling in the shades of trees, cows making their way to unknown destinations and a wide stretch of land largely left alone or simply skipped by standardizing international conglomerates. Still, there was the option of coke or lays in even the smallest roadside stalls right next to beerlao, beer of the wholehearted people. We didn’t speak much to each other that day, just drank in the fresh air and a way of life so different from ours. Near the end of the day, Chopperman and I were separated from the rest of our gang by a series of crossroads so we made our way back to town only to arrive some 10, 15 minutes before the others. Silly me for worrying about boys worrying about us. That night during dinner at the night market, there was a woman who asked for food and picked through the bones left from our meal. She greedily picked clean what was left and drank the entire bottle of water that was offered and went on to the next table. Chopperman was leaving for China the next day and before we said our goodbyes, he wanted to give us a gift of song. From the many bags attached to his motorcycle, he took out a hang (type of drum, similar to a calypso drum). Sitting on a restaurant table, he began to play with the group of us gathered around then let us try to make similar music. It was surprisingly difficult and he kept telling me to translate ‘relax your muscles!’ The night ended with us sitting in the middle of the road to get the best light for a group photo and assuming passing scooters would avoid the large group of foreigners occupying their street! We were shooed away soon after. Lamp-lit photos in the middle of the street in Luang Namtha.

The next day we set aside for a trekking trip with a morning of kayaking and an afternoon through the mountains. The boats departed from the shore of a village south of Luang Namtha and we were allowed to wander while the boats were set up. We saw the huts they lived in, drying laundry, roaming chickens, ducks and piglets and were shown inside the village shaman’s home. It wasn’t small inside but we never imagined it was home to 8 people. The village has electricity because it was along the road but they need to pay for it themselves. To one side of the hut was a banked fire and to another was an ancient television set. Woven baskets were stored on top of the shelf above their sleeping places and he had a poster of Asian flags by the side of the door. We were introduced to him by our guide and asked questions through translation. We learned of village inheritance rules, the importance of the written word and how married women of the group shaved their eyebrows. This particular ethnic group went south from China some 300 years ago and still retain much of the writing. The shaman asked where I was from in writing, and I was absurdly proud to have understood those four characters. He pointed to the Chinese flag, then me, before we left and I was happy to know he understood me in turn. Outside were a group of villages watching our departure. The four boys I went with were all tall and European and must have been unusual visitors with me in tow, even for a village that regularly received them. The kayaking was fun, though our boat was constantly attracted to rocks, but we never fully flipped over. Lunch was eaten in a shade of a little hut hidden in the jungle. Our local guide chopped fresh banana leaves to serve as a makeshift table on which a meal of pumpkin, omelette and rice were directly deposited. We ate with our hands and joked with the English-speaking guide. His parents want him to become a teacher as soon as possible because they have such long breaks. He could help with the family farm then. But then we were off, trekking on a dirt trail and stepping on bamboo. The local guide eventually provided us all with walking sticks and continued without one himself while wearing flip flops. The journey ended around 5:30 after we waded through three rushing streams. The deepest ensured my pants were completely soaked. An hour, the guide told us, an hour before we reach town. Only it wasn’t. Because the road was torn through. Giant machines worked on as our driver stomped out, likely muttering Lao curses under his breath. It was cold and eventually, all of us made our way to a fire by the side of the road built by one of the road workers… I think. There we huddle and waited. An hour passed and we were hungry. Another hour passed and we could admire the stars because it had gotten so dark. Another hour passed during which we spoke of life philosophies and beliefs and afterlife and happiness. We were ecstatic when told to get back into the van but it didn’t last long because the driver barreled down half complete, windy roads in darkness without high beams, only the faintest flicker of headlights from a minivan completely not made for such roads. We were tossed upwards and sideways and I clung to dear life while not trying to whimper. Please never let our parents find out, please, please. Arriving back around 10:30, we were told that we were the latest to return of all their day-trek groups. Ever.

It’s been hours since I sat down to write and a little lady here noticed my sitting by the wall instead of at the table. I pointed to the short cord connecting my iPad to the outlet and she returned not a minute after with a powerbar. These are the little important things that makes a day so much better. I like it here.

After all this rambling and it’s covered only four days in Laos, but surely the four most eventful ones… For now, I need more mosquito repellent.

Our choices in life

The answer to everything is relativity. When comparing, it depends on who or what is compared too. It’s something so familiar to us, comparing, that it’s difficult to sort out when we’re measured by others’ standards versus our own. It then becomes incredibly difficult to figure out our priorities. I’ve always made decisions by working backwards. In order to get to where I’m told I should be in however many years, I need to get to a certain place today. Other people – friends, classmates, overachieving strangers – will all be there so I should be too. A friend I’ve been traveling with left today to start a brand new job and it’s just me now. I’ve been comparing my life to hers, backtracking each decision to when we worked at the same office. Do I like where I am? If given the chance, would I have made different choices? Are these questions even worthy of consideration now that we’re in the future?

The beginning of Japan – Tokyo, Day 1, Ack!

What a… surreal sort of day. Things that happened are like those scenes from movies we all love to laugh at… or at least snicker a little.

It all began at 5:40am when I had to get up. Or rather, when my first alarm began sounding. I had called for a cab at 6:30am to avoid morning rush hour and had to fold and pack-up laundry before then. So there I was, hobbling around trying to pack and get all my stuff together before 6:30 comes around when the taxi driver calls. Did I mention I have a sprained ankle currently? I do. I’m suppose to stay off it, but in the past week I’ve moved house and have taken a trip to Tokyo, where I currently am. Yes. The taxi man has been driving for 39 years and 5 generations of his family have all been in Beijing. I fell asleep on the way to the airport.

At the airpot, while waiting in line for check-in, the lady behind me asked if she could follow me through to boarding. Her husband, whom she hasn’t seen in a year, lives in Tokyo and she was on her way to join him. She’d never left China before then. We spoke, I tried getting through in my broken Chinese… we determined that we already change the world by existing because our unintentional actions affect other people’s worlds all the time. We sat next to each other on the plane and complained about the terrible food. Eventually we found ourselves with a pushcart full of suitcases exiting customs. Her husband was magically there in less than a second and we embarked on a Tokyo train adventure. Thankfully her husband was familiar with Tokyo, and I met a girl on the train fluent in English who explained a bit more to me. There are the metro trains, the private trains, the JP trains, which are somehow separate… some other sort of multi-colour-coded-confusing-as-hell systems where they require different tickets and… I suspect they do so to intentionally confound visitors. Like me. It’s those rare meetings with such nice people that makes things all okay.

This couple, one and two years older than me respectively, are doing something amazing. The man studies during the day, works from 5pm-midnight every day and has a part time gig for when he doesn’t have class. He’s as skinny as a twig and probably overworks himself on a regular basis. The woman, who taught me about the village she’s from and all the various dialects within the province, was eager to take Japanese lessons and start contributing to household income. They’ve been married for over a year. How can someone be so brave? Just… up and move to some place completely foreign? Not understanding the language, culture… not having people to fall back on. Even while just travelling, I hesitate…

The couple got off the train before me and I found myself leaving the transfer station myself. After trying, and failing to buy a metropass (the poor man apologized more times than I can count, kept on bowing and pointing me towards another sign) I realized the only visible way to the Tozai line was down some stairs. My suitcase weighs about 20kg. I’m not going downstairs with a sprained ankle and that. I tried and tried to ask for where the elevator was. “Excuse me, do you know where the elvator is?” “Excuse me, is there an elevator?” “Excuse me, elevator?” At one point, I stood in front of rush hour people exiting the metro and said “Elevator??” to everyone who passed. Some shook their head and apologized, many continued on their way. I felt like an idiot. Eventually, after being misdirected in several directions, I found the elevator which was in the middle of the roundabout thanks to its medium-small sign. There was a little clearing courtyard place… and the elevator. What.

So I find the elevator, go down to B1… only to realize there’s another flight of stairs. And no elevator. Thankfully I had asked to buy a metropass (successfully this time) and the guard guy actually carted my suitcase down the stairs. O_O He looked very… delicate and I was impressed. But the lack of elevator and escalator continued. I got off at the metrostation closest to the guesthouse and at that point I was cursing silently under my breath, limping, sweating under 30 degree weather and dragging a 20kg suitcase. I struggled up the stairs of Kagurazaka station, all the while muttering to myself. An old man stopped to help. His wife was with him and undoubtedly muttered how dumb he was to risk his back on a stranger’s suitcase. I was incredibly grateful.

The little side roads around here were rather difficult and temperamental to navigate and at one point I realized I hadn’t properly followed directions and was in the middle of these tiny nameless roads without very many people passing. The friend who’s also staying at the guesthouse wasn’t answering her phone and I was on the edge of panic. However! However, I had a photo of the area’s map from the metro station. That guided me – correctly – to Tokyo Guesthouse. Travel tip: always take photos of any magnified maps you see. It will save you.

That’s where I am now – Tokyo Guesthouse. The rent is 1400 yen per night and 70 people stay in this small, 6-story building. The 6th floor roof has showers and laundry machines. The 5th floor is the common living room and kitchen area. The 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st floors, with one room per floor, hold people. 70 of them, of us. It’s a bit pod-hotel-esque, actually. A bunk with a little curtain is what we have. A little bit of space beside the mattress for a suitcase. There’s a whole lifestyle here that’s so foreign to me. I’m in the living room now leaning against the wall surrounded by Japanese people, most of whom don’t speak English (or don’t answer when I speak. I’m not that intimidating, am I?) Some are watching tv, some reading manga, others are on facebook.

I’m here for a week… 8 days, I’m hoping. But it feels like some people live here year-long. They’re so familiar and comfortable here and they know each and every person who wanders into the living room. It’s a friendly atmosphere and that I’ve missed, especially while living in a studio by myself. There’s definitely a trade off between having precious space and privacy and the friendly sense of community they have here. And it’s always a difficult trade to make…

As minutes pass, I’m getting more and more frustrated. I want to ask them questions, I want to interrupt their tv-watching, I want to ask for restaurant recommendations! I want to communicate in addition to typing out all my memories from today. Most of the places I’ve been to, I’ve been surrounded by others who were similar – those who travelled, those who spoke English, those who lead a life similar to my own, those who’re facing uncertainty and indecision and opt for escape… This frustration made me wish I had chosen a typical hostel where the like-minded gather, where I could be jabbering away about plans for tomorrow and the day after… but that’s not really seeing the city, is it? The gathered sense of anticipation from the ghost-story tv show isn’t something I’d get from a foreigner-filled hostel. One by one they come, with plastic bags filled with food…

Purchases

Here are three recent interesting money and future related China stories. I couldn’t decide on one sort of feeling after reading through them… partially depressed, partially resigned and partially shocked. Buying beauty, selling a kidney and trading years of life… and for what? A hopeful future or momentary satisfaction, or maybe there was no choice available in the first place…

For some of the 6.8 million students who graduated this year, plastic surgery offers a way to boost self-confidence and increase the likelihood of getting a job. The doctor interviewed in this Bloomberg video says to some, getting nose jobs or double-eyelid surgery is like purchasing a new handbag. Apparently, having needles stuck in various facial muscles and injected just isn’t treated with the same attitude anymore. Though not as prevalent as in Korea, the absolute numbers for surgeries in China still rank among the top. These surgeries can’t be cheap but I guess for recent graduates, these expenses can be claimed as an investment.

Some other students though… they just make terrible decisions. The SCMP reported last week that another high school student sold a kidney. He received only a tenth of the profits, or 22,000 RMB, while the patient who received the kidney paid 216,000 RMB. The rest of that money was presumably distributed between organ dealers and doctors who performed the transplant. Five men are on trial now. The saddest part about this though? The kid started searching for organ dealers online after his parents broke his computer in a failed attempted to curb an addiction to video games. Eventually he bought an ipad and iphone because he didn’t know what else to do with the money. Bet he’ll be regretting those purchases when the next version shows up.

To earn lots of money, what he should have done instead is start practicing an Olympic event between the age of 4 and 15 then win a gold medal for it. Just like Chen Anqing for example. For winning China’s first gold in London in women’s 10-meter air-rifle, she has been awarded over 1.5 million RMB in the form of cash, real estate and a car by her hometown of Chenzhou and 800,000 RMB from Zhuhai, where she trained. Even as I congratulate her, I wonder whether she thinks it was worth all the struggle, including leaving home as a teenager and not seeing her grandfather for two years for fear of distraction.

Would you agree to a deal without knowing the exact terms?