Reaching out to people through the chaos that is life

Everything I do online is very… solitary, in a passive sense. I’m one of those (yes, somewhat annoying) people who go around like-ing your posts but never really commenting. Actual interaction? Oh no, oh my! But it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while: to give and become part of an online community. As it currently stands, I’m merely the occasional visitor. Perhaps I’m just so used to being outgoing and proactive in person that assuming a rather ghostly internet self is just the more comfortable path?

Many people are different in group settings than in one-on-one conversations, and even more people are more outspoken online simply because of the freedoms that exist. International organizations and media giants, presidents and CEOs, neighbours and friends, everyone and everything and influence and possibilities and, and, and!! It is simply overwhelming.

Yet, when I chart out the course towards an eventual goal, which yes, I will eventually figure out, the online world is sure to play a large part. How can anything exist nowadays without their own website – be it NGO, restaurant, or person? There are also so many fantastic, wonderful and inspirational ideas floating about this mystic digital realm and I can’t help but want to… improve because of it, be a part of it if only as an audience member, and some day, perhaps even contribute to some greater whole. I’m being driven by a search for independence and purpose. And really, can anything or anyone ever exist alone?

Perhaps the possibility of living in Hong Kong for more than a year prompted me to move. Though friends are scattered, perhaps they’re more likely to visit Hong Kong than elsewhere. Perhaps I will be a better correspondent with facebook, twitter, and wordpress apps on my phone.* Perhaps the energy of this city will make me more efficient and productive, certainly I’ll walk faster! Perhaps the opportunities are endless. Perhaps I only make use of them.

In the month and four days that I’ve been on Hong Kong, so, so many things have happened!

Got here on Cinco de Mayo – just in time for a friend’s party with Corona and lime and tortillas and everything. Since then, I’ve found an apartment after looking at countless others, been given the one month notice due to ‘cultural incompatibility’**, found another apartment (going to move next week!), gone to two interviews a week, successfully landed the part-time job as a graphic designer, received a formal offer for a full-time business development position pending a visa (which I’m terrified won’t go through), worked like a crazy person to edit over 1300 photos this past week and completely destroyed whatever biological clock I have left! Slept from 4am-12pm and only went out today to do laundry. No, not even for food, because I cooked ham, eggs, beans, and a sausage. What a day, eh? Thus, we arrive to right now – this very second.

There are two to-do lists in my sketchbook, a daily one and a weekly one. On the daily list are things like having breakfast and checking the news. The weekly list has items like ‘spend at least an hour learning Cantonese’ (ha) and ‘draw more!’. It also has ‘blog’ on there, which I’ve really never done with consistency… but if all goes according to these to-do lists, I will soon! Blogging includes splashing thoughts here and also drawing comics, so between the two, some sort of weekly update should happen? Blogging will now also include writing comments and generally communicating with other bloggers through something other than ‘like’. What a goal, what a goal!

This past week has been terrible. I would harshly judge myself based on actions from the last few days! It’s not a life that’s easily maintained, and I’m not about to give it a try. And yet, it’s so easy to fall into old patterns! Or rather, to fall back into a complete lack of any pattern at all.

“Is this something you want?” “No.” “Can you change it?” “Yes.” “Then do!”


* During the beginning of the Cinco de Mayo party, my first few hours in Hong Kong, I sat in a corner with the phone downloading apps that aren’t available in Play from Mainland China. It was a joyous occasion.

** Oh, yes, I kid you not. The conversation began with the soon to be ex-flatmate giving me $500 and saying “here, for the stuff you bought when you move out”. I thought it was a joke and it really wasn’t. When I pressed him for an actual explanation, he said I was too ‘North American’. He doesn’t much distinguish between culture and personality… It’s a topic I’d rather not think about!

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.

On Family

The past three months of my life has been mainly about family. Being a nomad can be tiring, and I needed a good dose of doing not very much. I ate, slept, read, procrastinated, worried about The Future, and spent time with my family. I haven’t lived with my parents in more than six years and a part of me has missed them dearly. In February, I traveled to the opposite corner of the country for Chinese New Year. It was one of the biggest family gatherings I can remember with everyone there on my dad’s side. It was a week and a half of easy smiles and relaxation and fireworks and enormous amounts of home-made deliciousness. I had to tactfully reply to questions from my younger giggling cousins, mostly about boys. One insisted I let her be a bridesmaid when I inevitably get married very soon (her words, translated).

They told me about their lives and their difficulties and showed me around the city. One afternoon, my future bridesmaid went on a tirade about how much her teachers charge for supplementary weekend lessons. 100 RMB per student per hour was obviously way too much considering the class is overcrowded with more than sixty students. The lessons are supposedly optional, but teachers often skip important material (which will be on tests) in class so students are forced to pay on weekends to keep up with the demanding curriculum. All the teachers do this, she said, but some just charge too much. With the increased fees, they can make more than a year’s basic salary with one weekend of extra lessons. My cousin complained about the worst offenders, but it was accepted practice. She also told me about her daily 14-hour schedule and the backdoor approach to getting students into well-known middle and high schools. She told her stories like it was the most natural things in the world. For her, that is her reality… so far removed from my own. In retrospect, my teenage complaints seem trivial. Again, I’m so very grateful that my parents are my parents and I have the family that I do.

I’m an only child. My entire family, with the exception of one cousin and one second cousin (I had to look this up to make sure – my dad’s cousin, I mean), are all in China. Having spent the majority of life in North America, I’ve had very few family gatherings and even those were small. I know my grandparents, aunts and uncles and their families… and very little beyond that. My mom doesn’t speak of her extended family very much. She isn’t certain where all her aunts and uncles are. My dad occasionally tells stories but only if I specifically ask. This past month, my grandparents came to spend the summer at my dad’s townhouse in the middle of a large housing development (where I am now). The majority of properties here are owned by people from large cities who hold onto them as an investment and the occasional weekend getaway. Few live here on any permanent basis (with the exception of an old couple across the street and a random Portuguese family with two young girls who love our dog. They’ve been here for at least three months. No one knows why… or even how they found their way here.) To me, it was already full house – my grandparents, my parents, myself, and the dog.

Last week, my dad casually informs me my grandpa’s younger brother, whom he has not seen in over forty years, will be visiting from Heilongjiang with his son. (I think he’s called my great uncle… and another second cousin?) This great uncle was driven from their home village for unspeakable reasons (literally, since no one will tell me) and fled to Heilongjiang in the northeast, where he has been living since. He grows grapes. After so many decades, he’d finally earned enough to fund a cross-country journey to seek out his siblings. He found us through my great aunt who hadn’t moved all this time and then… there I was, standing dumbstruck in the middle of the airport watching my grandpa and great uncle embrace and cry and laughing about how much the other has aged.

The same week, my aunt’s husband came to the city for surgery accompanied by my aunt, later joined by his brother and his brother’s family. My parents couldn’t deny dinner with either side of the family and we ended up with a table of 12 somehow-or-other-related people. Great uncle, second cousin… even a cousin’s cousin’s wife. It was so surreal, because my dad had arranged dinner at a rather fancy place with servers who insisted I have varying glasses of water, tea, corn juice, wine, and baijiu (strooong Chinese alcohol). There wasn’t much space left around my plate. Conversation around the table was animated with lots of introductions and questions and toasts. It was surreal and I felt absolutely out of place among family who spoke with at least four noticeably different accents.

Next month, I’m moving to Hong Kong. For now, the plan is some short-term future planning. I never imagined actively choosing to live there since apartments are outrageously expensive and are the size of shoeboxes. But it’s a great place to be, where I have great friends, and though I’ll never admit it to my parents (who won’t be reading this blog since wordpress.com is banned in China. Thank goodness for VPNs), I want to be close to them. Guangzhou is just a train ride away and I could come back and plague them whenever. In the past, I’ve been sadly inconsistent in contacting my parents while living on another continent. Timezones, work, school, stuff sometimes just got in the way. My parents were so understanding it hurt.

Though my grandparents and aunts and uncles have all agreed vocally I should live in Hong Kong, my parents have never voiced that opinion. For them, my choices are my own and if I go back to Canada or Europe or wherever else, so be it. Airplanes are convenient and the world is easily accessible. I would never make a decision based solely on my family’s wishes (self-centered that I am), but I’ve come to realize that their proximity has at least played a part in my upcoming move. Granted, right now I’m certain I won’t stay in HK for forever… but that’s silly, because uncertainty is the only certain thing in the world. Ah, but I’m preeetty certain I won’t be reuniting with a brother I haven’t seen in forty years any time soon. Okay, so I still can’t get over the presence of my great-uncle. Here. He looks a lot like my grandpa. They recognized each other right away at the airport – no preliminaries, no questions, just a look and they knew they’d found their brother. Family. Nothing else like it in the world.

New Year in Chiang Mai

In a blink of an eye, 2012 has come and gone and we spent its last day biking around Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. The weather is all sunshine and blue skies and it’s been such a contrast to our time in Bangkok. I really should change the subtitle of this blog to something travel related… Because my current state of mind can only keep updated with the happenings of the world but reality here, before me has captured all my attention, in the most delightful way.

New Year’s Eve was spent by the side of a river marking the eastern old city wall here, with friends and strangers alike joining in the celebration. Skies were remarkably clear with just the right amount of wind to fill all that we could see with the glows of wish lanterns. People would cheer when a lantern took flight and shout words of encouragement in cases of unsteady progress. “C’mon, just a bit higher!” “Gogogo!” The countdown took place in a crowded square some 5, 10 minutes away and we simply sat enjoying the seemingly endless fireworks flashing in anticipation. No one around us knew when the exact moment was, when that second hand in our time zone proclaimed 2013… But when fireworks continuously exploded right above our heads and cheers echoed down the street, we too toasted in celebration of a brand new year. It was amazing and so completely different from new year’s past. A day later, we still see stray wish lanterns floating on carrying with them another hope, another dream.

The day went by steadily and at one point, I literally fell on my face. It was the excitement of seeing friends again and running with flip flops on uneven grass, they led to my (harhar) downfall. From what I heard and what I remembered, it must have been an epic fall. I now have battle scars from the adventure. All a person can do in that situation is to laugh it off and hope no one caught it on tape, though being a 10 minute YouTube star does have it’s appeal, and definitely not dwell on how completely embarrassing that was. A fellow hostel guest commented that she’d never heard anyone laugh so much after falling. I took it as a compliment.

We saw what a temple is suppose to be like at Doi Suthep, an amazing complex perched above windy roads overlooking the city. Multitudes of believers held lotus blooms and offered prayers for the year to come. The respect simply was, simply existed, and not forced upon visitors by an army of guards. Dancers performed before a captivated audience, adult and children alike. No camera could capture it all.

Now, I am back at the hostel and it’s 2am, Chiang Mai time. 2013 brought with it a promise I’d made to maintain a website of sorts, one new addition per day whether it be post or photo or poem. Though it’s past new year day, I cling to Toronto’s timezone as justification. No lateness here! And even if there were, I would lead yesterday no differently. Many times, I would pick up a pen to write or my electronic device to type, but the people and conversation always deserved my time more, and I knew in the quiet of darkness I could gather my thoughts. With different people we talked about different things, from interracial couples to the weakness in public regulation to the impacts of our choices. At so many points I thought to my journal. So philosophical, what we’re saying! But the words were lost in an overall experience and now, not remembering every detail of many hours here, I let those words sink into my mind like seeds into soil. The ideas, the experience, the friendships, I’ll nurture them all.

Tomorrow, I’ll buy a sketchbook and spend my day in the sun. I’ll climb ‘my’ tree and nap by the river and eat my own weight in food. Nothing but good times ahead!