Living with Wolves
I didn't know this so-called research trip is a journey with no return into the house of wolves. Every one of us in this industry is in the same country, some in the same city some not. We act as if we're forming a happy loving community. Then we turn and try to stab each other in the back.
It's quite ridiculous. Come to think of it, nobody ever warned me, or anyone maybe. Academia is such a funny world. We know so much, yet speak of so little. Every single one of my predecessors has gone through this, yet they said nothing. I was sent on this journey…wait, I CHOSE to be sent on this journey. I looked into my boss's eyes and ask, "How was it like for you?" He replied, "Oh it was great! It was fantastic!"
No it's not. Absolutely not. I have never been this unhappy, being around hypocrites all day. And I have to become one too. This is quite ironic. We are studying humanities, but we must throw away our own humanity first. I put on a mask, so do you. We smile and never talk about the real stuff.
I ask, "How was your week?" They say, "It was good I had really good coffee."
They ask, "How is your research going?" I say, "Pretty good! Everyone here is so nice!"
We never speak of the truth. The truth is that we're all in so much pain in the heart. We're losing our minds and our conscience. We're becoming wolves every day.
Actually, wolves are way better. They work with each other in the pack. We don't.
Are we even a pack? I thought we were supposed to be.
I don't understand. I'm too naive. All I want to do is read and learn and talk about what I read and learn. But no one wants me to do that.
I cannot be that bubbly friend or colleague that everyone wants me to be. I cannot smile all day and not complain. This world is fucked up I have so much to complain about. I cannot contain it I'll go crazy.
Tired. My body aching. My mind hurting. My heart worn from all the fake expectations. All I wanted to do was to be a good person. I even took a New Year's oath: I'm gonna become a kind person. Then I realized no one wanted me to be kind.
They want to see me sharp. My claws my teeth, my eyes shooting out laser beams.
A bubbly doll with laser eyes. Superman should go get fucked.
No. We are all supermen. We are the ultimate lying hypocrites. We care about global warming. We support gender rights. But we stab each other in the back first. Or maybe after, depending on which order has the bigger benefit.
My entire body is aching. My heart too. From pain from anger from disappointment. I had so much love so much passion, only for it to be tossed into turds.
I don't understand. I'm too naive.
But don't you worry. I'm a hard-working learner I'll catch up in no time. And you'll witness it when--after--I turn successfully into a cold-hearted bitch, just as everyone expected me to. I'll eat my heart, washing it down with my tears and blood.
"I need to get out of the room."
I told myself in my mind.
"Just put on your shoes, open the door, start walking."
But it's so tough. Why would I do it anyways?
Why would I put myself out in a wide wild world. Everyone is so busy.
What does it matter if I didn't?
No one would notice.
"Oh that person is missing from the 11:08am train. Is she ok?"
Nobody would think that.
I wouldn't think that, to be honest. If the lady in all animal prints were to disappear from the earth, I would not even give a damn.
But I need to get out of the room, I feel like.
It's more of an expectation. The sun rises and we leave our rooms to start the day. It's life.
Is it really though?
What if I just stayed in my blankets on my pillow wearing my earplugs and eye mask.
What if days just go by without anyone having to leave any room.
What if there were—gasp—no rooms?
We could be monkeys, jumping from one tree to another.
But at night we'd have to sleep on the trees so that other animals don't try to eat us.
But then some other animal can also climb trees. We'd have to appoint one of us to guard.
Also, can we still have fluffy blankets if we were monkeys. How would we invent them?
How would we produce them? Where do we get polyester? What about the cute kitty patterns?
Ten minutes passed as I thought about these.
Only ten. There are many more ten minutes left today.
But if I fill the 24 hours with ten minutes like this, it would be a whole day.
Ha I'm so smart.
I laugh out loud. The room agrees as it echoes my laughter.
Yes the echo. That's right. The room is so small that my voice echoes.
It's quite fascinating actually. Normally rooms don't echo.
Sigh. Now I'm hungry.
But there are Cheetos.
But they are cheese flavor.
I only like barbecue flavor.
But we must be grateful for what we have. The bread on the table every day.
Perhaps it'll take another ten minutes to finish the bag of Cheetos.
Only one way to find out.
I lost 3 pounds in 6 months--you can do it too!
You look in the mirror and see yourself. "Oh my god I'm fat!" you think, perhaps even scream out loud, "Why am I so fat?"
You rush to your phone, your tablet, your laptop, your computer, and you type "how to lose weight" in Google's search box.
You think for a second, then modify the search to "how to lose weight fast."
Yes this should do it. You read through the first page of results, half of which are advertisements. You click on the five that aren't ads. Two of them show you pictures of very muscular men and two show pictures of contrast pictures of two mid-aged women who clearly weren't living a healthy lifestyle. The last one you click on shows you a pop-up ad: is your fat body affecting your performance in bed?
My darling, don't bother. The exact same thing happened to me six months ago, but I managed to lose 3 pounds already by following these 5 tips strictly. It was probably the biggest achievement I have accomplished since kindergarten--you know, the time when I successfully reclaimed that toy I very much wanted from Laura who got it from her grandma but refused to share with me.
Anyhow, here they are.
1. Smash all your electronic devices. Studies show (doesn't matter what studies) that electronic devices are the number-one cause of laziness. Life is simply too simple with these little inventions. We must connect to our true selves and return to mother nature. Phones? TVs? Computers? No! All those screens are keeping your attention with the tremendous amount of radiation that sucks you in. Rejecting this radiation and releasing your butt from the couch is the first step to mobility.
2. Get a Mastiff. You've probably read about how keeping a pet is good for your health. Indeed, researchers have proved this is scientific. To achieve maximum weight-loss fact from your pet, I recommend getting a Mastiff (minimum weight 140lbs) and lifting it 30 times/group, 8 groups a day. It's also a great way to enhance your relationship with the pup.
3. Leave your partner. Does this sound too cruel? Don't worry, your partner will get over it sooner than you'd expect, especially when you give up all your money in the bank account. This aspect of weight loss is highly underrated, but many don't realize that in order to lose weight, you must lose yourself first--after all, that's 150lbs right there that you don't really need. But the healthiest way to eliminate oneself is not by suicide--no, never ever would I recommend that to anyone--but by losing the love of your life. It is also a great way to test if it's true love. If you find yourself losing your mind, your feelings, your sleeping habit, eating habits, social life, and weight, you know you made the right choice to be the right person. One stone two birds.
4. Stop writing journals. I know, I know--all the mindfulness coaches have stressed to you the importance of keeping a journal. Your therapist probably recommended it too. But the truth is, writing journals might make you feel fulfillment, especially when you reflect in-text things that you achieved, even the slightest things like putting on your socks on your own or finally drinking a cup of tea without choking four times. We don't want fulfillment. That's bad for weight loss. We want emptiness, both physically and metaphorically. So take that cute journal that Aunt Mary bought you last Christmas and burn it on your stove. You will feel so much lighter.
5. If you've made it this far, congratulations! You are very determined person and deserve to know my last and most important weight-loss tip--read books. A wise man used to say that "books are the best food," and he's absolutely right. When you feed your mind with knowledge, you will find the satisfaction that no food could ever offer. Read three times a day regularly to allow your brain to digest all the wisdom that you are absorbing. If it becomes too dry, I sometimes also chug a bottle of wine. To help you start, some of my favorite titles are:
Stronger Looks Better Naked by Khloe Kardashian (2015)
Birth Control is Sinful in the Christian Marriages and Also Robbing God of Priesthood Children!! by Eliyzabeth Yanne Strong-Anderson (2007)
Natural Bust Enlargement with Total Mind Power: How to Use the Other 90 % of Your Mind to Increase the Size of Your Breasts by Donald L. Wilson (1979)
Eating People Is Wrong by Malcolm Bradbury (1978)
The Parallax View by Slavoj Zizek (2009)
The journey of weight loss isn't an easy one, but you must be determined and have faith in yourself. You must ignore the voices around you and maybe from within you that doubt the choices that you make, but remember: you are your own person. The fat is on YOUR body, and it's your job to make YOUR body look like every model on a Victoria's Secret show. A dream will not realize itself, so follow my tips and start today. When you look back at this journey after years, you will be glad that you read through these tips.
(Seriously though, don't even think about losing weight in any way harmful to your body. Love your body and screw those who make fun of your body. You are you and that's beautiful.)
My grandpa has Alzheimer's. It's been seven years now. The last time I saw him was 2019. He still remembered me, but he couldn't talk anymore. He watched me, listened to me talk, although I'm not sure he knew what I was talking about. He was smiling the whole time so I knew, at least, that he was happy to see me.
He was to some degree my childhood hero. Funny. Many people's childhood heroes aren't some old guy, I imagine. But when I was in elementary school, even middle school, to me he was the one that's capable of anything, and that's mostly because he could cook so well and could make anything I wanted.
When I was in elementary school, I'd go to my grandparents' place for lunch because they lived close to the school. I knew he could cook, but the daily lunch at that time was a different level. There was always one, occasionally two, meat dishes and one veggie dish and a soup, because I loved soup. They never repeated throughout the week, unless it's curry potato which was my favorite.
I could make such a list of the menu, and every single one of them was exceptionally tasty, except for the lima beans.
He'd make braised pork, teriyaki chicken, sometimes fish, either steamed or teriyaki.
There would be nappa cabbage, stir-fried or in soup. Tomato and egg. Something with zucchini, something with cucumber; potatoes cooked in every way possible because I loved potatoes. Winter melons cooked with tiny shrimps and gosh were they good. Silk squash also cooked with tiny shrimps for some reason, and it was the only way I'd eat my silk squash.
The soups were always amazing. Even with the most ordinary ingredients like egg and green onion, he could still make the most perfect homemade soup. One tiny drop of sesame oil changed everything.
Every day I'd look forward to lunch. On the walk from school to their place, I'd be so excited for the surprise of the day. Unless, of course, when it's lima bean season. Grandma loved (LOVED) lima beans, so every day I'd see a huge bowl of steamed lima bean on the table. I hated it because it takes the one veggie dish slot and lima beans meant no napp or potatoes.
I'd try so hard to eat all the lima beans so that there's no leftover for the next day. But somehow miraculously, there would always be another huge bowl of lima beans. After about three days I realized: grandpa thought I ate so much of it because I liked it, so he made more! And also that grandma wanted it, but anyhow, after I figured it out I'd stay away from it, so grandpa would then made another veggie dish for me.
I have to mention the curry potatoes. It's just diced potatoes cooked with curry powder. But for weird reasons, my mom could never recreate the same flavor as my grandpa did. There was always something off about it. The closet I'd ever had to grandpa's curry potatoes was at a brut truck in front of a local brewery in Arizona who sold German style potato salad that was seasoned in curry flavor.
And grandpa's noodles and wontons--mmm there's no replacement for that. One would think it's simple: it's just noodles mixed with soy sauce and slightly fried green onion. How, and how on earth, could grandpa make such good noodles with the perfect sauce. It was a perfect ratio of soy, sugar, salt, and maybe vinegar. I don't know because I still haven't figured out his recipe.
My mom once told me that she thought grandpa's cooking secret was lard. It was natural, in some ways. Lard is a very common seasoning choice in food around the Yangze river region around Shanghai and Suzhou. The ideal lard must be snow-white, and in cooking one'd only need a tiny spoon of it to change the entire tone of the dish. I didn't know this because I never learned to cook when I was living in China. After I came to the US, somehow the cultural hierarchy led me to believe that lard was a inferior ingredient.
It's not. There's no inferior ingredient. I understand that now because I understand colonialism better. It's just food.
But I never got used to cooking with lard, let alone making it from scratch. Since I had been craving for a particular kind of noodles, I had to make my own lard. I got pork belly, chopped it up, first boiled a tiny bit of water then threw the pork belly in there. When the liquid is clear, turn down the heat and let sit for half an hour, stir during so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
So I stood in front of the stove, stirring the pork belly, and remembered grandpa. He must have spent a lot of time like this making lard. That's what made his cooking so different from my mom's because she didn't like making lard. But grandpa, oh no grandpa was serious about cooking. His noodles and wonton were so good because he'd use a small spoon of lard in it.
When I was little I didn't know what lard was. I thought it's like peanut oil or sunflower oil that would come in a bottle. Turns out it takes a lot of time.
It's so funny, and sad. I didn't realize how cool my grandpa was. I knew that he had two large bookshelves of books, all kinds of books. It was during the nap time after lunch--when I never napped--that I read all the so-called classics. I read the Romance of Three Kingdoms, the Water Margin, the Red Chambers, a bunch of Lu Xun and a bunch of Liang Shiqiu, stuff that were considered high-brow literature, especially for an elementary school kid.
But with all the interest in literature, grandpa was actually a chemist. I don't know what kind of work specifically, but he had a college degree in chemistry, which, in the 1960s China, was pretty rare and precious.
During my college years, there was one time when I was having dinner at my mom's friend's place. They grew up together and knew each other and the families pretty well. The friend showed me a picture of his father and my grandpa together--they had worked for the same oil company for many years.
Grandpa must have had been in his 20s, and damn was he handsome. He was like, well, some sort of hot guy face, considering the time and the lack of materials. The friend told me that when my grandpa was young, he was a famous guy because he's handsome, he knew literature and could write poems, he played basketball well, and he cooked well. He was the dream man, the friend said.
How funny, and how sad. I learned about these in 2013, the year that he started to show symptoms. I first thought it was just a part of aging. The clue was in his cooking.
He'd make all these things that I loved: braised pork, curry potato, teriyaki chicken wings. But the seasoning would be completely off. It became saltier and saltier. Eventually my mom noticed, because I would not eat the food that she brought from grandpa's place anymore.
I thought he'd just gotten older and his taste buds were dying. But turned out his taste buds were fine. He just didn't remember whether he had added salt or not, so he added more.
There I was, making lard and remembering all of this. Grandpa can't talk or walk anymore, and I don't know if he remembers me still. I don't know if he would ever know how the lunches at his place have made me who I am today.
I don't know if I'd ever see him again. I wish I could show him my cooking, have him taste it, and tell me how close I've got to his cooking.
That will never happen, and it shall be a pity forever.
So you think you’re smart, huh?
Every time you look into me, at yourself, you seem confident, huh?
Do you notice that your eyes aren’t even level and they’re not the same size?
What about your eyebrows? They are not symmetrical, you know. But I guess you can cover that up with some make-up.
And your nose. Oh God, there’s a big scar on your nose. I mean, you must be pretty proud of your nose huh? It’s kinda tall and slim, standing straight. But that scar, man, there’s just no way to cover it up. You just had to pop that pimple in high school, didn’t you?
Your mouth, well your mouth is fine. Right now rouge is trendy and your thick lips are good for that color. But man, did you notice your lips are also asymmetrical on the two sides? Like, it makes you look like you constantly have this evil grin, at least from my perspective. I don’t know if people notice it when they look at you, but when you look into me, I sure do notice. And when you put on rouge lipstick but not carefully draw the lipline, I can see it quite obviously.
Now, I know people always compliment your dimples. “Oh how cute” they say. Funny! You realize the left one is deeper than the right one? The only thing that people ever complimented about on your face and it’s just, how do I put it, horrendous.
Do I still need to go on? We’ve only talked about your face, not even your hair! You see, I just do NOT understand why you think you can put on a confident face when you look at me. You. Are. Flawed. You’re not beautiful. He probably doesn’t think you’re beautiful. Otherwise he would have stopped the other day to talk to you for a full minute, am I right? If only you were a tiny, little, eeny miny prettier, he would have paid you more attention. He would have responded to your email. Maybe would have given you his phone number even. But he DIDN’T. That should be a pretty obvious sign.
So yeah, pretend to be all confident in front of me, you imposter. Lie to yourself all your want. “He’s just busy.” Sure. “He’s not in a good mood.” Uh-huh.
Look at me.
Look at me!!
Wipe off those tears you loser! You have been an imposter all along. There’s no turning back. Now put that smile back on. Show your white teeth (ok I forgot to mention but those do look good actually) and try and make your dimples look even.
Now get out there and keep smiling. No one will know.
Trust me. I’ve seen it all. They’re all like this.
#nonfiction #romance #maybe
I was watching one of the latest episodes of Loki. When the ending song started to play, I found myself fall in love immediately. It was "If You Love Me (Really Love Me)" by Brenda Lee. I know many others fell in love with this song too because when I opened my YouTube app, it was on the recommended list. Not creepy at all.
This led me to go down a rabbit hole of old songs from the 60s and 70s. Surprisingly, I found many of the songs familiar. When I was a kid, probably kindergarten age, my parents had a set of stereo players that would be playing all night. I didn't know back then, but now I know that they were Carpenter and Elvis, Whitney Huston and Micheal Jackson. I wasn't surprised that I still remembered the melody--I was sensitive to sounds from an early age. But I was amazed, when I listened to these old songs again after some twenty years, that I remember some of the lyrics too.
It was amazing and astonishing because I didn't even speak English back then, let alone understanding it and remembering the lines. It was the 90s in China. The albums and tapes were collected by my parents when they were in college during the 80s. I supposed they were the fancy kids at that time. My mom studies German in college so she'd listen to "foreign music" all the time; my dad, well, he was a college boy so he was into writing love poems and singing love songs outside of the girls' dorm, according to my mom. I don't know how many girls really fell for him but dad used to brag about all the girls going gaga for him. I accidentally found his notebook on which he'd write those love poems and they were, of course, terrible.
The old stereo set was a gift to my mom from my dad because it was something fancy to have. I remember it was Sony, and it was quite heavy. With the stereo speakers my parents would listen to English songs, Love is Blue, Moon River, Are You Lonesome Tonight. When they were in the mood, they would dance in our tiny living room, the floor of which was covered by ugly lino. I couldn't remember what I was doing, though. Probably giggling somewhere.
They also had an old karaoke set. I cannot recall the details, but it was probably VCR, and the TV would show lyrics and the music videos. Sometimes my mom's friends would come over to our tiny apartment and sing karaoke together. When I was going through the Brenda Lee playlist a few days ago and she got to the part where she read out a part of the lyrics, the memory suddenly came flashing back to me. I remember we'd all sit on the couch, one or two of mom's friends would be standing with the mic. They'd start to sing. When they got to the lyrics reading part, sometimes they would just read out randoms things, but all the friends on the couch would cheer. I had no idea what was going on but thought it was quite funny that they'd just utter weird words in the middle of a song. It must be a 60s or 70s thing, because Whitney Huston and Micheal Jackson's songs didn't have those parts.
Life is so weird. These songs from 60s and 70s America got popular in China and became the memory of youth of my parent's generation. Without even understanding anything of it, I somehow remembered them during the 90s. Twenty years later I am living in America, and another boom of nostalgia seems to be on the rise in TV shows and movies. Whenever a familiar song gets played on the screen, a strange feeling of familiarity would hit me. It happened when I was watching the Umbrella Academy season 2. In one of the episodes "Love Is Blue" started playing and I thought, "OMG I know the lyrics!" Strange.
After I entered elementary school, we did not use the old stereo set anymore. Televisions had better speakers and smaller-size CD players became available. The old stereo set just sat there on the shelf collecting dust. Then finally one day, dad decided to get rid of it. I remember my mom saying, "What a shame. It was such an expensive stereo set."
Letter to you
This is an impossible letter because it will never reach you. I know that very well, and that's why I'm writing it.
I assume it will be a while until I see you next. In the past year, we've all been trapped at home, so the only occasions I could see your face was on my computer screen. You were just a little bubble, among many others, with your name written in the bottom left corner. Most people didn't have their cameras on; you sometimes did. And whenever you did, I would stare at you--the tiny little digital you on Zoom.
Your beard grew longer and longer. You seemed distracted. You were completely bored of the stupid meeting.
Your hair grew longer and longer. I wanted to make a joke about it, but it would have been inappropriate if I'd just sent you a private message.
That would be weird indeed.
I wanted to reach out to you, email you, text you, ask you how you'd been. But you seemed to have disappeared from ordinary life.
You must be very busy with writing, I thought to myself.
Every little excuse with which I got to email you was exciting. I wrote three paragraphs, then deleted all of them. I wanted to tell you so much, but I was not in a position to talk to you like that.
You probably thought I was a moron, I thought to myself.
You probably wouldn't want anything to do with me. After all, my writing was so, so terrible; my essay was such a mess that you must have had a huge headache revising it.
But I wanted to hear from you, hear about you. I missed going to dinners with you and eating junk food together. We went to breweries and ordered random drinks for an adventure. We talked about everything holding random beers eating unhealthy amounts of french fries. I miss your silly little jokes that nobody else would laugh at. I know we are all on the same page most of the time because you would laugh at my silly jokes too that nobody else would laugh at.
We finally got to meet after a whole year. You had a handsome beard and a handsome ponytail. You were wearing my favourite linen-cotton blend shirt. I arrived early and you were next, so we got a few minutes alone. I wanted to gaze into your face, trying to tell if you were happy to see me.
You probably didn't care, I thought to myself.
Everybody else came. We had a good time. Then you casually mentioned that you'd be away for a year.
Congratulations, I said to you. I put on a poker face, the same as yours when I saw you earlier. I couldn't tell if you were happy to see me, and you couldn't tell that I was sad to hear you're going away.
I'd run out of excuses to contact you, so it is best that I write this letter that shall never reach you.
Perhaps next year, I'd write another one. It won't reach you anyways.
I dressed up nicely before meeting you for coffee--even put on some makeup.
But I was early and you weren't there yet.
I got a cup of tea so that I could keep a table for us in a quiet corner.
As I opened the door to get out and wait for you I saw you walking towards me.
You wore a cap and I was beyond happy because no one else had seen you in a cap.