The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: college

Le regard neuf de l’enfant sauve même les trottoirs de l’usure

enfantThe fresh perspectives of a child will save even the sidewalk from attrition — Romain Gary

I learnt this phrase from a friend from France who turned up at my weekly circus. We talked about haiku and I mentioned about the naive perspectives of children being one of the most beautiful things about it, and he told me about this quote. I found it poignant and decide to illustrate it.

Every day I wake up less and less sure of myself — I open my email inbox with my breath held, expecting to be disappointed. Expectations were met. No response from any of the jobs I have applied at.

Every time I write I become less and less sure of my ability — I used to think that being capable got you places, and I was sure that I was pretty capable. Now am I less confident that that is the case, or that maybe I’m not that capable after all.

And then I realise that perhaps what I need is a fresh perspective to stop this attrition of the self and of the mind. I left college with a font of hope and optimism, and thought that sufficient to last me till I transition into the next phase of my life; where I start working. I guess I did not consider that this transition might take longer than I expected, and hoping to merely brave this foray with what I had would not be sufficient.

I will need to renew my view on how I take each day that does not bring me the news I so fervently wish.

Sorrowful Rice 黯然销魂饭

Sorrowful rice

I tried making my own char siew, or Chinese barbecue roast pork, for the first time today. People usually buy them because nobody owns a spit and a fire pit, but I learnt that you can actually cook it in the oven, and char it on the stove top!

Given that I now have a batch of char siew, a natural dish to make with it would be what is known as “Sorrowful Rice” or 黯然销魂饭. The dish is essentially regular ol’ char siew rice, or char siew over steamed white rice, with a side of a sunny-side up and some vegetables.

“Sorrowful Rice” is actually the name of a dish from a movie, God of Cookery (食神).

In it, the protagonist Stephen Chow competes in a competition and strives to create the most delicious thing he’s ever tasted. He reaches into his sorrow and memory of a woman, who made him a bowl of char siew rice when he was downtrodden, and she supposedly took a bullet for him. With that, he created the “Sorrowful Rice.”

The sorrow is apparently onions.

I reach into my sorrow and create my own “Sorrowful Rice.”


Grandma, you never got to see me graduate college. You never even got to see me off as I left for New York later that year. You never got to see me do the ‘triumphant return.’ I have yet to return, and it seems I am becoming quite the prodigal son. Will you still be proud of me, even if I am struggling to make something of myself and having racked up a colossal collegiate debt?

What will you say, if you learn that I do not wish to return to the land where you are buried?

On 28th May, 2009, at around 5 AM, you passed away in the hospital. I remember, because I wrote it down.

I also wrote down having heard you cry when Great Grandmother died. It was really painful.

A grandson should never live to see his grandmother cry. Or any old people cry.

I wrote that down in my logs. In my mind, it seemed impossible that you were one to sob uncontrollably, for you were my stoic grandmother; frustrating at times, but always well-meaning and grandmotherly.

I also remember, and wrote down when your youngest son, my uncle, passed away. By traditions and customs, you were not allowed to attend his wake. I can only imagine what grief it must be — grief I didn’t want to imagine, because I remembered the grief you had at Great Grandmother’s funeral.

Many times whenever I am doing something, I would think, “What if she could see me now?” And then I remembered that you can’t, and I am reminded of the finality of death.


Uncle (叔叔), I wrote down what you told me when I visited you on 12th April, 2008.

The first few things he said to me were, “Is the army stressful?” and then he went on about how I should learn to take things easy and learn how to let things go. However I feel that it was more for the benefit of himself, as if he were repeating these to remind himself exactly what he has to do.

But he seems ailing in his road to recovery. He doesn’t wish to pick himself up, saying how exhausted he is and all, and all he does is lie in bed. He doesn’t move much, not even to leave the room or to sit on a sofa. That is bad.

Hope he perks up soon? I’ve even offered going out with him for photography as bribes.

What I did not write down, but I always remember was when you asked me that day, “So what are your plans for college?”

“I’m probably going to apply for college in the United States,” I said.

“That’s nice. What are you going to be studying there?” he asked.

“Journalism.”

“Journalism? That’s good. I wanted to be a journalist too when I was younger, but I never studied hard, and I couldn’t be one. You should study hard and become one for me.”

You passed away a week later.

I graduated journalism school, but I have yet to find a job in journalism. I am going to keep trying, uncle. With the memories of that robot dinosaur you gave me as a kid, and also that toy guy that you disabled the recoil feature for because it scared me, I will become the journalist you couldn’t be. I could not keep the promise to go do photography with you, but I will try my darndest best with this one.


I should ease up with the onions. This is too much sorrow for me.

Graduation: We did it! What is ‘it’?

About a month and a half ago, I graduated with my bachelors from New York University. It was a pretty grand affair. The Yankee Stadium was awash with a sea of purple and camera flashes, and while a sizeable portion of the student body was not impressed that their commencement speaker was David Boies, the lawyer who got Prop 8 overturned, I thought it was pretty rad.

However, I just could not muster up the enthusiasm to enjoy the ceremony. Around me, friends were congratulating each other, high-fiving, taking pictures of themselves in graduation regalia.

diditI just didn’t feel it. People were telling each other, “We did it!” But, what is it about “it” that we did that is so worth congratulating?

Perhaps I was reluctant to be ending a period in my life where I didn’t have to worry about finding jobs and entering the “real world?” Perhaps I was unhappy to be leaving friends I’ve made in my four years?

No, not really. University for me has always been a gateway for me to enter the world of journalism. I practically entered college with my major declared. No fudging around classes, wondering what life was going to be for me when I left college — no, I did college for what lies after. I was eager to start my foray into professional journalism. And no, while I had a handful of friends at college, my closest friends in the city were mostly outside of college (circus, online communities, etc), and the close friends I made in college are still in the city anyway. Also, it is not as if I am one to bemoan having to leave people behind; after all I am not stranger to uprooting myself. I left a lifetime of friends and family 9000 miles behind to be here.

What I was not enthused about was of the zeitgeist of “We did it!” What was particularly hard about college that surviving it made it an ordeal worth congratulating? A student who puts in conscientious and regular effort into his or her school work will find that making it to graduation is not that big a deal. Perhaps we now live in a culture where “keeping up the good work” has become a rarity and that one who displays it should be congratulated.

Or perhaps I grew up in a culture where such things are expected of you. Insert Asian stereotypes here, but verily making it to the finishing line doesn’t turn heads, doesn’t make eyelids bat. Distinctions do. I was not a spectacular student, and I even lapsed at school work at times, but I can say that I consistently put in effort in college, and I came out okay. I didn’t graduate with Latin honours, but my grades were not abysmal (3.5 out of a 4? I’ll take it.). I am sure if I put in more effort, I’d have gotten better grades and all that but that is no more than a numbers’ chase.

One’s path in college, no matter the classes taken, is predictable. One is expected to put in a certain amount of work into it, and at the end of the day, you come out unscathed and meeting expectations. Do we congratulate people for meeting expectations? Maybe we do, but people at graduation make it out to be such a big deal it is as if people enter college with the expectations that they are all going to flunk out, and that having made it to graduation actually is exceeding expectations.

Why would anyone want to enter college expecting to fail anyway?

What I would say “We did it!” to would be more of the unexpected things one does in college; things that a student endeavours at his or her own risk with no idea what the outcome would be. Things I would celebrate are:

  • Having started a community of my own, the NYU Violet Circus Arts
  • Making the effort to immerse myself in the local cultures, such as having performed at the Howl! Festival
  • Learning to extend myself in ways I’d never have done back home, such as forming friendships online, etc

The common denominator of the above seem to be about forging and integrating into communities, and they don’t seem like much, but these are things that were quite unknown to me back home. Going to gaming meetups from Reddit groups? Would never even have touched Reddit back home. Talking to random poi spinners in the park and subsequently being introduced to the local scene of fire spinning and circus arts? People scarcely even publicly practice circus arts, and that’s not to say that there are very many.

In comparison, having done these as a student was above and beyond what I felt was expected of me as a student. The true growth came not understanding of linguistics and journalism in the classrooms, but from what I made myself do outside of them.

You don’t have to run away

runaway

I’ve been keeping myself occupied, none of these occupying things are going to lead me to an occupation. But it takes my mind off of less savoury things, like why haven’t the companies I’ve applied to replied.

Tomorrow’s the weekly Circus in the Park which I hold in Washington Square Park. It started out as a thing I did on my own, where I’d just practice poi and unicycling by the fountain. Eventually, people got interested in what I was doing and started to join me. That was how I got to know the spinning community here in the city, really. Even though we haven’t talked in a while (Dale, Gwen, Rappo, etc), I will always remember them opening my eyes to the magnitude and vibrancy of the spinning community.

Funnily enough, back home, I was always surrounded by lots of jugglers and nary a unicyclist, except among the Singapore Unicyclists. When I did my outdoor practice, those who would join me were jugglers. Here I find the opposite: many poi-and-staff spinners, and I did not get to know many jugglers until junior year in college.

A contributing factor to why poi is so much more pronounced here is simply because there are rave scenes. Poi and glow-sticking are essentially the same thing, and they are constantly a mainstay at rave scenes here in the city. Not to mention that there is a hearty drug market that goes alongside these raves. You can scarcely find a light-show back home save for tourist landmarks, and it’s a death penalty for drugs (I heard the ‘mandatory’ part has been repealed but that’s another story).

Anyway, I created the above cut-and-paste notice to bring to Circus tomorrow, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while but have never found the time. Guess what, I now have all the time in the world. Go me.

I must say, the tedium of drawing, cutting and pasting the drawings by hand has a certain charm to it. It gives me a sense that I’m doing work. Granted, it’s elementary, but it keeps my hands and mind busy.

Here is another set of pictures I’ve drawn for the circus club last winter.

pbcircus

PBDIABPBUNIPBJUG

Whatever pays the bills

It’s funny how after four years of college, many internships later, when it comes down to paying the bills at this trying period of joblessness, neither my relatively good grades, nor technology-savvy, nor resourcefulness in my work field are any good. In the end, it is still street performing that is keeping me (barely) out of the red.

Today, I set myself a goal to go out and make some money busking. Usually, when I street perform, I never put out a box. The ability to spin freely without needing a permit, being tutted at, and actually having people interested in what I am doing is usually payment enough for me. Washington Square Park has been a very special location for me, because not only do I get such a sense of freedom to do whatever I want there, the space fosters creativity all around, as guitarists and singers play around the fountain why the b-boyers and breakdancers do their thing to the side.

So this time, I put out a box and put in some dollars of mine and hoped that money attracts money. I was also taking a risk by deciding to into the city to perform, since that means an automatic $5 sunk cost in transport, and I was unsure if I could even break even.

I made $37. Not too shabby.

I had on my fancy swishy belly-dancer’s pants, and at the end of the day, it was kinda soaked with sweat. I am achy and sore, but I think it’s worth it. Now at least I’ll have electricity for another month!

It’s funny that during the two hours that I was there, I received various compliments about how good I was doing whatever I was doing; people were saying I should go professional with it, but on the other hand, I’ve never received compliments about how good I was at journalism. I don’t know if I’m actually any good at journalism, but I get things done and I’ve (shameful to admit) done more than my fair share of digging up records of people, etc., to a point that borders on ‘creepy’. I mean, it’s all in the name of journalism, right? This makes me wonder maybe I’m more suited to hold a pair of spinning fans and flags than a pen and notebook.

Right.

The below isn’t from today, but it’s an idea of what I generally do.