It’s that time of the year again where I tell myself that I’m going to strike it rich, get six pack abs, and marry a hot K-Pop star. Usually by the time January 3rd rolls around, I look at my empty bank account, get the gin, and get annoyed with men, then say, “Looks like I’ll have to try again next year.”
It’s interesting to me how people strive to confine their experiences to neatly labeled epochs in their life. Calendars, dates, time – again with the facetious buzzword phrase – are just social constructs. The problems of 2018 do not necessarily end with the start of 2019. Neither do the achievements.
But maybe that’s a good thing about people. Maybe we can look as it as our ability to build order out of chaos. And when things don’t always go as planned, we’ll create our own opportunities to start over again. Unless you’re like me. If so, you might want to set your goals a little bit lower before trying again.
Random highlights of 2018 for me:
Where I Went
I got to go to a lot of places this year. I’m happy that I got to see a little more of the world.
1. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Funded by the Elisabeth Luce More Grant from Wellesley, I came here for an internship. An extremely rewarding experience. Admittedly at times I felt like Wonder Woman emerging from her cloistered Amazon island into the savage world of men, but in a good way.
2. Tokyo, Japan
As part 1 of my junior year study abroad and probably one of the best times of my life. Met cool people and did cool things; indulged my weeb side.
3. Pattaya, Thailand
I also went to Chiang Mai and Bangkok, but notorious Pattaya was actually the most relaxing experience for me – beach walks and lots of writing. Also, I made friends with the tour guides at the Sanctuary of Truth where Miss Universe was also being filmed at the time.
4. Cancun, Mexico
My mom was sick of being home for so long and one day called me up asking if I wanted to go here for spring break. Great for learning Spanish. My mom and I discovered we were very good drinking buddies. I’m sure our AirBnb was more exciting than the resorts.
5. Montreal, Canada
After non-stop movement between Mongolia, NYC, and rural New York, we decided an impulsive trip to Canada was just the thing I needed. A hectic time, but Montreal is now one of my favorite cities, hallelujah.
What I Read
lol yes this is a random bookshelf from my internship in Japan
I didn’t make my Goodreads reading goal. 😦 Can fan fiction count? (Oops, did I just admit I still read fan fiction?) Oh well, let’s try again in 2019. Here are some of the books and a brief sketch of my impressions. Spoiler alert!
1. Un Cœur Simple (A Simple Heart) by Gustave Flaubert
Disturbing and déchirant at the same time. Félicité is the expression of our feral innocence, naïveté.
2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
A rich illustration of the outsider and the immigrant experience. Also a very real depiction of what many experienced. However, the thing about this book I like the most is that the notion of the “outsider” is not restricted to just the racial sense.
3. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami
Oh, Murakami, you and your heavy prose and provocations. A vibrant book, a celebration of friendship, and an echo of Waiting for Godot in emphasizing how isolation makes us realize just how much we truly need others.
4. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
An unfurling of dramatic heartbreak, complex characters, and life in ancient Japan. I’m still reading this at the moment tbh. It is startlingly beyond its time.
5. How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Originally developed to help salesman pitch their products better, but actually an interesting portrait of the fundamentals of human interaction. Could be considered manipulative psychological hacks in a certain sense, but on a deeper level, I found it a study of the human ego and using that understanding to establish more harmonious communication patterns.
What I Watched
from 2017 Japan trip but it’s ok it captures the essence of the matter
I don’t really watch TV or movies nowadays, but I ended up watching some things that really made me think this year. Again, spoiler alert.
1. Crazy Rich Asians
In this politically correct era, inclusion has become important, which Crazy Rich Asians seeks to achieve by featuring an all-Asian cast. I enjoyed the movie but did not find the writing particularly groundbreaking. But it is clever in that sense, perhaps, showing that Asians can star in movies that are fundamentally the same kind of usually all-Caucasian Hollywood chick flick.
2. The Many Faces of Ito
Came at an important time in my life when I needed to reexamine my relationships with others. I enjoyed Rio’s cynicism towards romance and how she resolves her own insecurities to work towards her dreams rather than towards a person.
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
A great film, and I love the ambiguously “happy” ending. The deconstruction of romantic relationships over time is something that is all too real but to which fiction normally turns a blind eye.
4. The Greatest Showman
Very entertaining. Took me an eternity to watch it. But I wonder why it’s so popular? I like Broadway and musicals, and I like inclusion, but I still have to wonder why I see so many TGS fanfiction AUs. I love the soundtrack though and also… Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron.
5. Avengers Infinity War
I am still mad about this movie.
What I Listened To
Sidenote: I was and am still inspired by Sungha Jung and Renee Dominique who both create amazing acoustic covers of oldies. Just gotta get going with the guitar and ukulele…
1. “Dream Lantern” by RADWIMPS
After seeing Your Name. for a total of 9 times, you’d think I’d be bored of it, but nope. I love the sense of excitement in this song and the underlying current of hope of a new beginning. Or rather, the notion of searching through the world or even different dimensions for that obscure name – not even yet really a person so much as a hope – that we chase after.
2. “Samson” by Regina Spektor
This song could be your typically maudlin pop medley, but it’s a poignant, slightly quirky ballad. The idea that the singer loved Samson first and all he does is eat Wonderbread, go to sleep, and tell her “good job” when she slices his hair… The undercurrents of indifference versus caring too much is something all too relatable.
3. “Cactus Tree” by Joni Mitchell
Beautiful guitar, beautiful vocals, and beautiful lyrics. A powerful statement on, again, the notion of indifference vs passion, this time in the context of travel. A familiar sentiment from both the man and the woman’s perspective.
4. “You’re Aging Well” by Dar Williams
This song has always been around in my life, but the older I get the more I understand it. Hardships particular to women – “watch your back, where’s your husband” – make us want nothing more than to say to the hell with it all and revolt. Yet there are moments, of course, where we realize that “all we can eat is the poisonous apple” and no one cares that we are not supposed to survive that. Except that someone somewhere does care – perhaps others who have been through the same thing – and all of these hardships that we experience are, in fact, a part of growing up. And by making it to where we are, we’re not just aging normally – we’re aging well.
5. “Close To You” cover by Renee Dominique
The Carpenters have come up quite a lot in my life lately. I stumbled on this cover on YouTube one day last fall and haven’t stopped listening since. Renee has the most angelic voice, and this otherwise somewhat over the top song gets set to a simple, gentle strum to match the style of the words. The final combination – simple lyrics, simple instrumentation, and an unadorned but beautiful voice – is simply amazing.
What I Did
This year was rich in experiences. Just some random highlights.
1. Cut rice stalks with a scythe in Yokoze, Japan
Boy did I bitch about this at the time, but now, I realize it’s (a) a great story and (b) an experience that can’t be replicated.
2. Pet an elephant at a certified humane sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Visit Kanta Elephant Sanctuary! Also met the coolest Aussies and tour guide here. Of course, the elephant only let me pet it because I gave it food.
3. Got certified in CPR and First Aid via Wellesley EMT
I just wanted an excuse to listen to the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive” on repeat for 4 hours.
4. Saw the Milky Way at 3am from the banks of the River Tuul near Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Protip: if you are in Mongolia and need a date idea, I recommend this 10/10. Top it off with 4am KFC and you’ll snag all the ladies in no time.
5. Took a lot of lake walks in both New York and Wellesley
Yes, I actually exercised. Sometimes, I even ran.
Whom I Met
Aside from the obvious. I became much less of a hermit this year. Glad to have gotten to know all of these folks.
1. Peace Corps Volunteers & Mongolian Folks
The coolest, most hardcore people. They know how to party but are also super kind and genuinely want to make a difference in the world. People from all different parts of the USA. I loved learning about what they’re doing in Mongolia and the impacts they have on improving US-Mongolian relations, especially in these trying times.
2. UN Staff Members
yes these people are all my friends
I was lowkey intimidated at first, but the people I met through the UNFPA and random UN conferences were some of the warmest, most interesting individuals I’ve ever met. Heard stories about everywhere from Tanzania to random islands off the coast of Siberia. Also super kind, not stuck up, and extremely devoted to implementing positive change. You all inspire me so much.
3. Middlebury, UC, and ICU Students
My most recent experience. Coming from a very strange all-women’s college, I worried maybe I forgot how to interact with peers who are actually my age and go to normal places. It was refreshing to know that I can still talk to non-Wellesley/MIT students, YAY. Met so many diverse, talented, internationally-minded students and became close with them in such a short time. Hope we’ll all be volunteering together at Tokyo 2020!
4. Other Solo Female Travelers
Thank goodness for you women on Khaosan Road. I bumped into a couple of women in my hostel and also joined some meetup events I saw on Facebook. I’m happy to find like-minded, adventurous young women who want to explore all of what the world has to offer. And it’s great that I was able to bond with them over the span of literally 1 day. Hoping these fleeting encounters are some day not so fleeting and we’ll meet again!
5. Old Friends
And last but not least, my old friends from PHS, Wellesley, MIT, and the neighborhood. It’s a shame I was only in America for the a couple of days, but I’m so glad to have been able to meet up with my old friends. I’ll see you all again soon – Fall 2019 😉
I guess in a sense, I don’t believe in ripping the page off of a calendar and having everything start afresh. But I am looking forward to letting the past go a bit and making new strides forward. I’ll read more books, keep in touch with old friends while making new ones, and write more on this blog (hopefully). And who knows, maybe I will actually get rich/get ripped/get married to a hot K-Pop star. Just probably not this year. But looking forward to the other things the future has in store.
Now, off to London, then Paris. Meet you there, 2019.