Books, the Fox

I re-read The Sun Also Rises. I read the book in high school, back when I was obsessed with Hemingway and his stream-of-conscious, terse prose. And now, after spending a springtime in Paris and having certain life experiences, I have a totally new perspective on the book. Hit me up if you want to talk about it.

I also finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, pronounced Doo-mah. My little brother saw the cover and started laughing.

“Your book is by dumb ass!” he said. “Do you like the book?”

“Yes, I like this dumb ass book,” I replied. Though the book is long and the pace is slow, the elaborate descriptions and the way the characters are woven together make the book a masterpiece.


There was a fox sitting at the edge of the lawn. It was raining hard, but there the fox was, with its richly hued orange coat and white underside, hindquarters on the damp grass, black forearms straight and tall. The orange fox was in such stark contrast to the gray skies and earthen tones of the vegetation. After sitting in the rain for ten minutes, it got on all fours, shook its fur, and went back into the tall grass and trees.

I told C about the “emo fox”.

“I wonder what the fox was thinking about,” C said. “Probably the economy.”

The Best Three Days of April

1. Six Flags with my little bro, watching a giraffe lick the car window, riding a roller coaster (no lines!) with my brother three times in a row.

2. Hiking to the top of Bear Mountain.

3. Saturday with A.. We walked around Greenwich St. at the Tribeca Family Festival. There were singers and dancers, stilt walkers, bubble-blowing stations, BMX bikers doing flips on ramps, booths selling cupcakes, crafts, and Kumon.

A chess club had brought a bunch of giant chess sets. The only unoccupied board was being set up by a young boy. I asked him if he was looking for someone to play with. He said he was. I asked him what color he wanted to be, white or black. He said he didn’t care, so I thought he must be pretty good. Afterwards, I regretted mercilessly trouncing him. I should have let him win. But in competitive games, it is difficult for me to fold or go easy.

We got dumplings at a food truck, and continued walking. We stopped by a bar for a quick rest. Then we went to Chelsea Market. There were so many unique stores of remarkable foodstuffs. My favorite was a store that sold different flavors of vinegar. We sampled all kinds of flavors: champagne, pomegranate, dark chocolate, and my favorite, blueberry. They tasted true to their labels. Each time I tried a sweet flavor, I forgot I was drinking vinegar and not juice, so the bitter aftertaste took me by surprise. So many images  of Chelsea Market stick out in my mind… an old woman sharpening knives on a grindstone in the hallway, pasta shaped like genitalia, a stack of orange-red lobsters, a rack of board shorts with a toucan print in the flea market. There was a wine tasting at the wine store, so we walked in and sampled some whites. I remember the cashier at the wine store. “Can I see your IDs?” he asked. We showed him our IDs.

“Can we see your ID?” A. asked.

“No one asks me that question. I’m the one who buys the wine for the store,” the man replied with a smile. That took me by surprise, because he looked quite young, and I always imagined wine buyers were grayed, pretentious connoisseurs.

We bought a bit of food from different stores, and afterwards, we took the food to the High Line for lunch.

On the wooden bench, we laid out sushi and sashimi, pizza, chocolate-covered cranberries, and a bottle of sake. The sky was bright, the sun was warming. Conversation was light and mellow. Photographers took photos of us eating, some flagrantly, others at a distance. I thought this was peculiar, but I guess it was a good shot of the diverse peoples that share a bench. While I was eating some pizza, two policemen approached us. They asked for our drivers licenses, took them, then stood at a distance, and proceeded to scribble for what seemed like ten minutes. Then they returned with our licenses and gave us tickets for possessing liquor in a public park. A bunch of tourists snapped photos and inquired what we had done wrong. The bottle of sake was closed, we weren’t drinking, and we were the least bit belligerent. Well, I learned my lesson.

We walked some more, trying to catch a movie at the Tribeca Film Festival. But it was clear we wouldn’t make it in time. We talked about many things. But would stood out was A.’s recalling of those arbitrary yet beautiful times where you meet a complete stranger and a special connection forms. These special moments cannot be forced. “Imagine if you were friends with everyone walking down this street,” she said as we ambled down Bleeker St. Sometimes I feel this way when I am walking down a road or sitting in traffic. Each of those other people, each person walking or sitting in their car, has some hopes and dreams and interesting tales, but we are separated by something deceptive and petty and will never get to know each other.

A. notices so many details– the reflections in shattered glass and puddles, a store-front constructed from keys, a door covered in stickers, walls plastered with old posters, faded and ripped. She is unassuming, but speaks of so many things with enthusiasm and spark. What a lovely spirit.

We ran into a street artist whom A. knew, a middle-aged Japanese man wearing a beret, a richly textured grey sweater, and corduroy pants. His clothes were lived-in and nondescript, but he gave off the impression of one well-dressed because his outfit was suitable to his demeanor. We agreed to watch his stuff so he could go to the bathroom. We admired his watercolor vignettes of various street intersections in the city.

“How long does it take to paint one?” we asked when he returned.

“Three afternoons”, he answered.

A. spotted a sign for “Spy Store”, and wanted to check it out. We walked up to the second floor of the building, through a vacant, narrow hallway lit by the cold glow of incandescents, but could not find the store. A young man and woman from Boston and Philadelphia bumped into us. They wore backpacks. They too were looking for “Spy Store”. A. climbed a ladder and pushed back the door to the roof. Maybe, she joked, only people worthy of being spies could find the elusive “Spy Store”, and this was all a test. Perhaps the store was on the roof. The four of us climbed to the roof, and looked down at the intersection below. A. commented on the difference between being at road-level, walking among busy people, and taking a break on a roof, watching all those below.

A. recognized the building whose roof we were on, and that this building was shared by Fat Cat. So we went into the bar, got a couple beers, and waited for the live jazz to start. When the trio on guitar, string bass, and drums started playing, A. explained the usual jazz set: improv, followed by a more guided improv, and then a chance for each individual instrumentalist to be the main focus and showcase their talents. She pointed out how the musicians looked at each other during improv for synchronicity, then frequently glanced at their sheet music during guided improv, and how the guitarist sang inaudible “bops” to the tune of each strum. After the set, we walked some more in the crisp night air, past the exit to the Holland Tunnel, took the 1 uptown, and said our goodbyes.

Most Random Moment of April: riding a mechanical bull in a black pinstripe pantsuit

Happy Easter!

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” -Matthew 28: 5,6

I am a wretched sinner. Jesus died for my sins, then He overcame death. I owe Jesus my gratitude, my life. Do I live for the glory of God? Do I love the people that He loves? Usually the answer is “no”, as I pursue my own selfish interests. It is much easier not to care, to be dead, an unfeeling corpse that does not feel the burden of sin.

These past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my future. I sat on grassy hills watching clouds roll by, rested in a tent on a field of dandelions, listened to waves on the beach, all the while wondering what I ought to do. But I already know what I ought to do, I just don’t do it. I ought to live for the glory of God. I should prioritize relationships, give people my time and be available to them, because they are more important than profit. I made enough money to do a bit of travelling, so I will visit friends this month. And I should do work that tangibly benefits people, not work that theoretically benefits people. Whatever work I do, I should offer it up to God, whether cooking or writing or programming.

I pray God will use my life to His glory. Part of me is reluctant to pray this. I want to live a quiet life in peace and comfort. But I have to face hardship and discomfort to do God’s will. The world is plagued with many problems– famine, war, injustice. It seems like the world will always have these problems, and everyone eventually dies anyway. So why bother to feed the hungry, be a peacemaker, fight for justice? What difference will it make when each person is but a grain of sand that will be forgotten in time? My heart is callous and I forget what pain is like, or in my blessed life I have never suffered in such ways before. But when people feel the blunt trauma and the empty stomach, they do not say, “Oh well, I will die anyway as everyone eventually does. My life is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.” No, they have senses and feel pain and want something better. So I hope I am never complacent and I always think of helping others.

Anton Checkov

I really like Anton Checkov’s short stories. He only includes the details that matter, and captures the subtleties of human emotion and thought. His characters are largely realistic and unexceptional. His stories end abruptly without a grand climatic happy ending, for life continues to unfold even after a story’s end.

Wooooooot Knicks!!

I started watching Knicks games at the beginning of their six-game losing streak, after the Jeremy Lin-fueled winning streak. My family members are fans (or Fans, oohhh pun) of Jeremy Lin.  My dad likes Lin because Lin also went to Harvard. My little brother likes Lin’s inspirational story as an unknown who shined when given the opportunity. And my little bro likes seeing someone who looks like him on TV, someone Asian, who is a total baller (ohh another pun, but seriously, Asians are underrepresented in media and pop culture, and seldom get lead roles).

It was painful to watch the Knicks lose those games, since there were always a few moments in each game where it looked like they could win, especially in the game against the Celtics that they lost in overtime. So it’s been great to see the Knicks win these last four games and to see their camaraderie on the court.

I’ve suddenly been hooked on basketball. Granted, there are one-sided games. But only in basketball can a team come back after a 20-point deficit. I wonder why ice hockey never got as popular. Probably because in ice hockey the teams don’t post points that quickly, whereas in basketball the teams alternate leading the game with each possession and a lot can (and often does) change in a short amount of time. In basketball, the changes in pace, the “hot hands” racking up points, the tension and excitement, it is all so palpable. You can see the players’ facial expressions, their anger, disappointment, and joy. And you can easily see the big orange sphere that they play with.

Fear, redux

I biked with no hands down winding roads, asphalt roads, sidewalks… then I got to a familiar road that had an incline, such that the middle of the road was higher than the curbs. And everything was all fine and dandy until the bike suddenly veered right and I crashed against the pavement. Now my hands, elbows, a knee, and a foot is bleeding. The thought had crossed my mind many times: if for some reason the bike suddenly shifted, I would be unable to stop the bike from turning, as I am biking with no hands. But I didn’t heed my own concerns. How foolish.

I used to fall often when I was little. I would rollerblade and scrape my knees. But all throughout college, I rollerbladed through busy streets and up hills and slippery roads covered in fallen leaves and dirt roads and roads full of potholes, and I had never once fallen. I had reached that level of balance where if some large foreign object unexpectedly rammed into me I would be able to regain balance and keep skating. So it was strange to see that my hands were bleeding.

I got up, fixed the rear wheel brake that had jammed against the wheel when the bike fell, and biked back with my hands on the handlebars.

Fear

I biked down a narrow asphalt path, flanked by grass and golden wheat, wind caressing my flushed cheeks. The sun was setting, shadows spreading far like tendrils, and the whole scene was rather elegiac. But the temperature was still warm, and I started to feel hot, so as I was pedaling I unzipped my fleece sweater using both my hands.

I have no problem riding a bike with one hand. But I have hitherto been too scared to ride a bike with no hands. Until today.

How silly it all is, I thought.

I just have to let go.

February

On my birthday I had delicious food and wine. I received everything I wanted, and was awash with contentment.


On Valentine’s Day, C and I pitched Hotseat at the Women 2.0 conference in Mountain View.

It is considered a “best practice” in pitching to have one person do all the talking. But personally, I think having your teammates on the stage standing around doing nothing looks awkward. C and I took turns speaking, playing off each other, even making some jokes. And it worked. There were some one thousand people at the conference, mostly female entrepreneurs, and we fed off the audience’s energy and support.

Afterwards, we received lots of affirmation and encouragement, and connected with a lot of people who wanted to give us advice or partner with us. So now C and I are building out the website with content from professional job coaches.

San Francisco is so enticing, its year-round warm weather in stark contrast to the frigid Chicago winter. And the city has a certain attitude, at once languid and relaxed yet full of restless energy and new ideas. The following day, C and I climbed over a couple hills to reach the Golden Gate Bridge. The Bay sparkled, and over to the right we could see Alcatraz island. It was green with foliage and didn’t look much like a prison from where we stood, more like a billionaire’s private vacation home.

We stayed with C’s relatives in Palo Alto. They were so easy to talk to and pleasant to be around. Her uncle had those wrinkles at the sides of the eyes that people get from smiling so much. I had the strangest feeling, like they could be my family. I never felt that way before whenever I met my friends’ families.


Before the flight back, I stopped by the airport bookstore and bought a Haruki Murakami novel, Sputnik Sweetheart. I finished reading it the next day. Afterwards, I read Norwegian Wood. A friend recommended those books. Some of the passages were very moving, and Murakami perfectly captured feelings of longing. I didn’t particularly like the books, probably because it is so difficult to empathize with the characters. The main characters live self-described hollow, aimless lives, usually going by routine, reading books and generally not interacting with their peers. Then they’re attracted to manic dissociative girls, the kind of quirky girl that could be played by Zooey Deschanel, the kind of girl that cannot properly function in society. And I’m really sick of this trope, that glorifies dysfunction as some exciting gem amidst the one-dimensional, the conformists, the sophists. Because in reality it is very painful to live with a crazy person. And “normal” people are really not so stupid and unthinking like lemmings, and everyone is facing some kind of battle and has hopes and dreams and multidimensionality so I get annoyed by characters that make these sweeping generalizations of the human race and are generally apathetic and unloving. And what also annoyed me is the characters are overly detached, and never have a sense of urgency. When something comes up, like say… the girl you like has mysteriously disappeared, well then, let’s just eat food! Keep the reader in suspense. Eat food, listen to records that showcase my cosmopolitan tastes in classical music and jazz, namedrop some famous books and authors, talk about wells and cats, drink whiskey. Then after having pages of description about preparing food and domestic stuff, the kind of simple visceral actions that everyone can relate to that give warm feelings of home and self-actualization, throw in some jarring imagery and erotic sex scenes. And that is the formula for a Murakami novel derived from a sample size of two. There is such hopelessness in the books, characters living lives of quiet desperation. Do readers buy into this? Yes, people struggle and have to do stuff they don’t like doing to get by, but it has always been like this; it is not as though this is some recent development of modern living, if anything we now spend less time acquiring the necessities and more time pursuing our interests. And in the real world, there is more resiliency, more love, and even dull activities do not seem so pointless when motivated by love.

Right now I’m reading short stories by Anton Checkhov. It would be fun to go to Russia. Maybe for the Olympics in Sochi.


My dad told me a little about his childhood. He rarely does so, so whenever he does I listen closely. My little brother was reading and could not put his book down, and this reminded my dad of himself. He said that during the Cultural Revolution, people collected books like the classics, and burned them. My dad came from a peasant family (honorable during the Cultural Revolution), so his uncle was a prime candidate to collect and burn books. He collected the books, but instead of burning them, he hid them on his bed canopy. My dad did not have money to buy books, but now he was able to read lots of books, books that he would never have been able to afford, and so he read voraciously. Later on when colleges were re-opened, he got the highest score on the placement test and started college at age 16. “God works in mysterious ways,” he said with finality.