No dick pics, please.

The more I immerse myself in the world of Tinder and online dating – not necessarily out of pleasure but more out of necessity and somehow self-rationalized social pressure – the more I realize how drastically different men and women are. It is a wonder, after all, that we, or at least, other people out there, find each other and manage to spend time together, whether that may be a few months or a thousand years. If god indeed created humanity in his/her image, (s)he must either be a schizophrenic or a sadist.

And this one conversation shows how different women and men are!

This guy, whom we shall call John (I promise that is not his real name), was relatively new to Tinder and he was the type that believes Tinder is for people looking for sex but disguising it as dating. Although I am not on Tinder for such purpose, I can understand his point of view. If I myself had not been the product of over 20 years of Asian PLUS Catholic education, I, too, may also use it for such purpose. And as I am depending more and more on it, I frankly don’t think it’s such a bad idea. I’d rather have one night of great sex than one hour of awful boring date. Anyways, I digress.

John was not obnoxious or weird or offensive, and he ‘looked normal’ on his pictures, so curious, I decided to engage in the conversation. He clearly told me he was looking for FWB and I honestly told him that was not my primary objective, but that I could be convinced otherwise. He was quite open about sex – which, I think, is something we could all profit from, myself included, and which is possible without turning it into a weird and offensive conversation. John loved great sex – who DOESN’T – and he was a ‘giver’ (thank you!). I do think if I were pushed or slightly drunk, I really could have said ‘Great, let’s see what you have to give’. But (unfortunately?) I wasn’t, and I may have missed the chance of my life, who knows. I bantered a little, not in a suggestive way, because let’s face it, I’m still prudish IRL despite my obscene infatuation with good “That’s what she said” jokes.

And that’s when he kindly offered if I wanted another photo. To be fair, I’m glad he asked first instead of shoving it on my screen (pun intended). Let’s give him that. I genuinely thought he meant another photo of how good looking he was or I don’t know, a great pizza, because who doesn’t love pizza. Just anything but a dick pic. I jokingly said “Please don’t send me a dick pic” and he genuinely seemed disappointed. The fact that he didn’t send me any picture later kind of confirms this, I think. When I told him girls don’t really like dick pics, and I think I did speak for most women, it seemed this was indeed brand new information to him. Most women I know or that I’ve talked to are not turned on by a random dick pic, or, to use the scientifically right term, the photograph of a penis (correct me otherwise). Don’t get me wrong, penises do great and amazing things, yes, but objectively and frankly speaking, they are not the prettiest thing on earth. And it’s the same for women’s vaginas! Sure, there’s all this talk about how your vagina is beautiful and unique, and yes, I do think you should get to know your vagina as an important part of the human body, but let’s be real. I wouldn’t look at some random vagina and think ‘Oh yeah, that’s a great vagina’. Sure, boobs, I can see why they might be a turn on. But penises and vaginas are just… organs that are better felt and savored (muhahaha PG warning) than observed.

And yet, here we all are, despite our differences, desperately or lukewarmly searching for that one person that will make all dick pics irrelevant and obsolete…

 

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All the worries of the world on your shoulder, child.

(This post was inspired by the episode “Kid Logic” of the podcast This American Life)

Every time I see kids crying or whining or doing any sort of kid-thing, I fail to demonstrate any sort of human sympathy, mostly due to my general lack of empathy and the fact that I am not a kid-person. But I guess there is also some sort of envy there, because they don’t have to worry about paying the bills, about whether or not they should spend $80 on the Victoria Secret semi-annual sale they probably shouldn’t, or about their PhD prospectus – life, in general. They, in a word, have nothing to worry about.

But as I was listening to this episode on This American Life about how children have their own way of dealing with logic and the world around them, I could not help but remember how I too was, once, a child, with “no worries”. And I remember that being a child doesn’t necessarily mean your world is actually void of worries. Quite the opposite. Maybe I was an especially anxious child, who knows, even though I don’t remember being one; it would explain many things I am going through as an ‘adult’.

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I remember being worried that humanity was destined to live ‘forever’ (although that may not be now, thank you Climate Change). I could simply not understand the idea that although my mommy and daddy will die, and I will die one day, life was to go on on this planet earth, until the year 3,000 and more and more. It scared me that life was endless. Life was not a happy story that could end with a firm ‘The End’ that I was so accustomed to.The book of Life did not have a last page. Life was going to persist, and although individuals would eventually die, humanity, as a race, would just go on forever. I remember my mom laughing, telling me I wouldn’t be alive to witness it anyways, so why the concern? But what was I to do with this baffling and disturbing knowledge? Just go on, like a naive creature without reason? I just couldn’t.

Maybe I indeed was on the higher end of the anxiety spectrum, when I think about all the diseases I was afraid I might catch. One of the many ‘dangers’ you become aware of when growing up Catholic and with the Bible around you is leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease. The bible is filled with stories of Jesus healing the lepers, and that is all good and beautiful, but I was mostly concerned with the fact that there were lepers in the first place, and that they were inevitably shunned by all (except by Jesus of course). I was terrified at the idea that I too, might catch this disease, and I could see my finger-less and toe-less future, for sure. Jesus had been here once already, and he couldn’t possibly come back and heal me, so what was I to do? Then, with the whole AIDS phase in the 90s, I was afraid I might catch that too. I knew it was a sexually transmitted disease, but there had been cases, after all, of transmission through blood transfusions, and so on. What if I needed blood transfusion and was pricked by a contaminated needle? The horror!

I had this blue booklet when I was in my early teens, given by an acquaintance of my mom. This person was a fervent Jehovah’s Witness and apparently her goal in life was to convert us – which she still pursues today. I don’t remember the title of the booklet, but it basically masqueraded itself into providing all the possible answers teenagers could have and ‘guide them through the right path’. I guess my mom thought if it meant it could keep us away from trouble, a Jehovah’s Witness book was as good as any, and had no qualm giving it to my sister and I. There was the usual ‘obey to your parents’ and ‘no promiscuity’ (why are religions so obsessed with sex, I don’t know) chapters, but I especially remember the one on how masturbation was an absolute sin. As a prude teenager, I had no idea what masturbation meant. My mother, as a good Asian mother, wouldn’t give me a satisfactory answer, so as the diligent student that I was, I turned to the huge dictionary we had at home (this was pre-Internet, also known as the Dark Ages). I don’t know what definition it had, but either because the definition itself was unclear or because the idea of sexually pleasing oneself couldn’t have possibly crossed my mind back then (I know, let’s laugh together at this idea), I remained in ignorance. And that, of course, was another major point of concern. I mean, if I didn’t even know what masturbation meant, how could I possibly avoid it? What if I were to fall into the depths of sin and hell without even realizing?

Let’s not forget the time I watched a movie where one of the characters died after stepping into quicksand (I don’t even remember the plot, I just remember that scene). This did not bode well for a kid living in a country that is literally in the middle of the Saharan desert. I was terrified I would one day step into an innocent-looking dune only to realize, too late, that it was quicksand and not even my parents would be able to save my body engulfed by sand.

At least, problems that we face as adults often do have solutions – we will pay our bills if we wisely choose not to spend $80 on the unnecessary (albeit so beautiful) Victoria Secret sale, and well, we just have to make that goddamn prospectus happen, once and for all. So let’s give some credit to all the kids out there with unspeakable concerns weighing down on their shoulders, disheartened, without a single viable solution on the horizon. Let’s hug them (and by ‘let’s’, I mean the rest of you, because, let’s not kid ourselves (pun intended), I remain a no-kid-person) and reassure them that they will grow up to face very mundane problems and that everything will be all right in the end.

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This is not the end of the world

Anger, sadness, numbness, despair, hopelessness, disbelief – is there a word that encompasses all of these feelings? Yes, we do now – a Trump presidency.

For a year now, we’ve all been joking about this, unaware that it would one day become reality. Sure, we joked about being deported, about moving to Canada, and about the world coming to an end. And today, even as reality seeps in, slowly and painfully, I know I am not going to be deported, I know I’m not going to move to Canada, I know I will stay in the US and do my best to actually find a way to stay here, still, and I know that the world hasn’t come to an end.

Because despite being an F1 visa holder foreign student, I’m still privileged. I am here because I had the opportunity to choose to pursue my studies in the first place, and I will still be paid to do so. I will still pay my rent, albeit not without struggle (which is nothing new, really), and I will surely still go out with my friends for a drink or two when I feel like it. Things come to worse, I do have another country to go back to (although things are certainly NOT looking much better in dear old Korea). I also have the luxury to joke and say “Hey, at least we’ve got weed to keep us going on.” (Thank you Massachusetts)

But this is so much bigger than me, bigger than many of us in my circle of friends and acquaintances. I am deeply saddened that people would rather believe they should fear groups of people many of them probably have never met. I can’t understand how people from counties where 96% of the population is white in states like Montana  are so concerned about immigrants they would rather have a racist, sexist, and incompetent leader, and rapist!, for the next four years. I am concerned about the gap between rural and urban areas, and between generations. I am heartbroken to see that many of my students, who exercised their very first vote in this country, realized their votes did not matter after all. I am left without words to see how so many Americans have so little faith in their constitution that they will believe Sharia law will take over their country.

It is devastating to see that fear and hatred of the unknown and mostly of the different, the very basis of the American nation, have taken over the rational and the reason. This is a blow to humanity, not just in the States but everywhere in the world where people feel their fear validated and legitimized to the expense of others.

This is not the end of the world, that’s true, it’s much worse.  We are alive and well to see, feel, and experience the huge step back humanity has chosen to take. It’s not the end of the world, but it is the end of a world, a world in which we dared to believe in love, peace, understanding, and brotherhood.

Yes, the sun did rise today, and will rise tomorrow, but on a world a little less beautiful, a little less peaceful, a little less understanding, a little less united. And to me, that is worse than the end of the world.

Umbrellas and Rain

It rained yesterday.

Teeny tiny drops of rain that turned into some steady streaks for a couple of hours and then ended, not even enough to let the dust and sand settle. The smell of the dust was in the air later when I walked out, along with tiny pools and streams of rain water that had yet to dissipate into the ground.

When I was growing up in Nouadhibou, rain was a big deal, mainly because it occurred so rarely. Although, to be fair, we did have some heavy rain a few times during the 14 years, which had flooded our backyard, our school, and our town overall, unequipped for such large and sudden amount of water. So when it did rain, school was out of question, and my sister and I hurried outside in our garden to play with the unsteady drops of rain, and most importantly to give a little taste to our rainbow-colored umbrellas of what they were actually made for.

I don’t know why my parents bought us those big colorful umbrellas during our first and last visit to Korea. We may have insisted, but that had rarely been an effective strategy for our parents after all. Maybe they thought it would be funny to see us twirl around under the rare rain. Maybe they felt a little sorry for us for not experiencing the full extent of seasons. Whatever the reason may have been, we loved those umbrellas. Sure, looking back, they must have looked god-awful. But back then, they were so big, so colorful, and so special. They even had little tags where you could write down your school and your name, and we did, although we knew they would never leave our front door.

Alas, unsurprisingly, our umbrellas never came to quite fulfill their purpose in life. But they died serving us well for other purposes, sacrificing themselves for our tent-building endeavors alongside their faithful companions, chairs and blankets.

I now hate rain, obviously – you have much more meaningless concerns once you grow up, such as having your shoes, socks and clothes all wet, not bumping into other people’s wet umbrellas and raincoats, and avoiding puddles of water. But once every now and then, especially as I was sitting in my room, watching the feeble rain hit the sand and listening to the constant and regular sound of water landing on can roofs, I remember the two little girls laughing and dancing around barefoot with their umbrellas, to whom staying dry was the least of their concerns.

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What to expect when you’re not expecting

What to expect when you’re not expecting.

I think this was the title of a movie -rather a disaster I hear- starring Cameron Diaz and Elizabeth Banks. Although I am in no way of ‘expecting’ as the movie indicated,  I do think it serves as a perfect subtitle to my trip to Dakar.

What was I expecting indeed? Getting lost from the airport to my airbnb place. Not being able to step one foot outside the door without being called ‘Chinois!’ or ‘Amigo!’ or ‘Ching-Chong’, like my 14 years of living in Nouadhibou had taught me, yet never accustomed me to. Being utterly unaware of how to find my way in town. So many concerns and anxieties, besides the main question ‘Does my research question actually make sense IRL?’.

What I was not expecting however is the wave of familiarity and memories that overcame me when I saw the little bit of the city from the plane. The lack of skyscrapers, the overwhelming presence of neutral toned colors – sand, tranquility, monotony – the flat houses invading one another on narrow streets, the occasional minarets, the vast parcels of destitute lands, and the multitude of cars – everything that I had forgotten, that time had tucked away in the further corners of my box of memories, came back. Granted, Dakar was not my hometown per se, it is actually a much more developed version of good old Nouadhibou (especially 20 years ago), but it didn’t matter. I could still recognize bits of my childhood in this West African capital.

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View of Dakar from the plane.

Once in the city, I realized memories come in other forms than visual ones. It was not just the sight of ’boutiques’ that seem to have just popped out of nowhere from pieces of metal. It was more than the frequent horses (donkeys in Nouadhibou) dragging the carriages. It’s as if all my senses had been awoken by this trip back ‘home’.

It’s the heat of the scorching sun on your skin and in your eyes. It’s the smell and taste of the exhaust fumes from the run-down vehicles that constantly tingle the back of your throat (whoever thinks Africa is the land of pure air and nature blah blah has never been to African capitals). It’s the sound of the clip-clops from the horse carriages. It’s the sound of the distant, yet awfully close, call to prayers five times a day. It’s the tingle of the sand on your feet, it’s the struggle of trying to walk in that sand everywhere you go. It’s the constant thrill you get trying to cross a busy intersection, looking left and right, without the help of traffic lights – will you make it this time as well or will that car run you over? It’s that laugh and not-quite-shaking, not-quite-slapping of hands when you say something funny with your friends. It’s that smell of a mixture of piss and food gone bad from the heat and time that linger in the corner of every street.

It’s the feeling of finally being at home after all these years, something I have never been able to feel from the many instances I landed in Seoul, South Korea, the land of my passport.

Gosh, Africa (not to generalize), it’s good to be back.

 

Me, Myself, and Writing

I’ve always believed in the power of writing; whether it was to share my thoughts on some ‘serious’ so-called ‘intellectual’ issue, or to pour down personal feelings, which is apparently something I can’t do IRL. Seeing letters come to life on a blank space, letters and words that are far from being unique, but that for that space only, can and do become solely yours, is both rewarding and comforting.

Writing to me is a safe space, which ironically makes it personal and detached at the same time. It’s personal because unlike spoken words, I put a lot of thought and time into it, going back to my sentences and my choice of words, and the end product will depend a lot on my state of mind, not on the consideration of how my interlocutors will think or react. Not that I blurt out whatever passes through my head when I talk, but I don’t exactly spend more than seconds on my spoken words, whereas I could spend days on end on a single post. There are things I would never say out loud or share directly with friends, even close ones; not because they are fascinating and complex revelations about my personality, but… well, I guess because I’m not much of a great talker to start with.

Yet as personal as they can be, I know the number of people who will actually read what I write is limited, and words on a screen are still far from being my actual face, with my instant reactions and facial expressions . The medium of blogs and the computer screen I imagine people will stare at provide a shield I can safely hide behind, with no fear of judgment or ridicule, or even total disinterest.

For the past year however, I have had a hard time managing the delicate ‘personal’ and ‘detached’ equilibrium, mostly because I have come to realize another power that writing provides. Putting your innermost thoughts and feelings in writing is quite a compelling and vulnerable process, if you think about it. It’s admitting to the world, but first and foremost to yourself that you are feeling helpless. It’s not just about knowing that it’s wrong to feel certain things, but acknowledging it. Once the words are written, there’s no going back. Your doubts, feelings, and anxiety become truth. And there are certain things I don’t want to admit even to myself. No, especially to myself.

I don’t want to admit that I can’t do this on my own, that feelings of loneliness engulf me more times than I can count, that at least once a week I want to drop everything and disappear in the farthest, smallest corner of my existence, and not care about how others will feel.

I don’t want to admit that my heart rarely lets my head control my life, that I’m doing so many things against my belief and conscience, that I’m a more emotional being than a rational one.

I don’t want to admit that I need, that I want, help. I don’t want to admit that it would be nice to feel loved from time to time.

Because I’m a fucking 21st century strong woman, for god’s sake. Because I have so many things that should keep me strong – I’m not starving, I have pretty shoes, I have good friends and a supporting family, I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. Because there are so many other people who are struggling daily with so little. Because, theoretically, I should be happy.

But maybe happiness is not about being thankful for every single day. Maybe it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s a process, it’s a journey. There are ups and then there are downs. It’s about learning how to maintain your ups for a second longer than your downs. And maybe, some day… my ups will be there for a minute, an hour, a day, longer than my downs.

I am slowly learning that it’s okay to feel vulnerable – it sucks, but it’s okay.

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“Dear Life” – by Alice Munro (or Some Personal Reflections)

I’m cheating a little here because I haven’t really finished the book yet. And this is more of a reflection on my life for the past few months during which I haven’t been able to write, rather than a book review per se.

I haven’t written anything ‘voluntarily’ for almost over a year, and just like a foreign language, the skill, no, the sheer will of writing slowly disappears with its lack of usage. You lose its grammar, its vocabulary, its syntax, its flow.

I have spent every minute of my ‘free time’ this semester watching Netflix and Amazon Prime shows, YouTube videos, and browsing through meaningless Buzzfeed articles or shopping sites to fill in the gap in my life. Because none of these actually required me to take a minute to reflect on and acknowledge how shitty my life was. For the few minutes or hours my brain was wired to the moving images in front of me, I was allowed to forget I was still making mistakes in life well into my 30s (okay, not ‘well into‘ really, but you know). I didn’t have to face the fact that I had the tools to get out of the shithole I had dug for myself, but I just couldn’t push myself to use them. Or maybe I didn’t have the tools after all.

This is why I haven’t really written anything or even read anything (besides scholarly articles) to, however cliché it sounds, ‘feed my soul’, because writing or reading require you to face reality, your reality. And that’s absolutely scary when you’re still writing and re-writing your reality, and you have no idea how the ending will go. They demand that you pause your life for hours and face your joys and your demons. They cannot afford your brain to shut off, which is what you do when you laugh at Kimmy and Titus’ banter on “Unbreakable” or shudder at the thrill “Bosch” provides. They want you to understand the grammar rules, to finish the vocabulary, to review the syntax, and to analyze the flow of your day, your week, or that moment you decided beer would solve everything but didn’t.

“Dear Life” has, in this context, come at quite an opportune moment. I did learn earlier of the beauty of ‘that is not said’ that short stories provide; and today, as I read through Alice Munro’s words and sentences, they make a little more sense, and provide me with some sort of comfort. The comfort that just like her short stories, things can be left unsaid, yet still matter. The relief that I can still write my own future, with its good and its bad. It’s okay to make mistakes even at 31 years old. 31 years old is not too old to get heartbroken, procrastinate, or lie down in bed well past 9 am because you just can’t be bothered with life.

My life doesn’t have to be a 300-page novel with a clear start and ending. It can be a series of short stories; some find their happy ending, but most of the time, I am and will be left troubled with the missing details and at a loss as to how I should feel. But it’s okay. Each story matters.