Long form musings
A June Day in Oslo
There are cotton candy strands of rain in Oslo. The type I’m most familiar with having lived most of my life in Vancouver. The droplets most velvety, a blanket of uniformity tranquility cascading down. No harshness, delicacy the only quality. Oslo reminds me of home. It’s the coolness; of the undertones of people, the breeze that resolutely cuts through my trench coat, the pastel nordic pallet of the architecture and cityscape. A city that knows no warmth yet is still tender.
A tragedy happened in the household this morning. I spoke to the harpsichord player about his grandmother who just passed, of laborious work in the post office, of extramarital affairs born not out of insecurity, of being someone’s daughter-in-law for 34 years. Of speaking multiple germanic languages, of musicians exploring maslow’s hierarchy of needs from top down, of actors having the largest egos out of performance artists. Johanne keep apologizing for the greyness of Oslo yet I only see perfection. Phone calls are being made to family members in the bedroom, sustainability reports are being written in the living room, a foreigner only in nationality is writing a segment of her memoir in the kitchen, biting down on a granny smith. It’s 2:42pm and none of us have left the apartment, except to bring groceries up.
Johanne said that I bring her calmness. That I invite her to see her city from a brand new perspective. It was only 3 years ago when Venus said that she experienced chaos vicariously through me. How much can change in 3 years when one is 23, or when one is me.
An Ode to Vancouver Summers
Biking the seawall, watching the sunset slowly unfold itself through washes of peach and coral, the air saturated with salty mist. The vastness of the ocean invites you to come hither, and you allow it to envelop you. She and you become one as the rubber on your wheels slowly meld together with the rippling surface of her skin. You are no longer riding a bike; you are gliding through the surface of a crystal ball, the ball rotating, not you.
Paddleboarding through False Creek towards Science World. The crystal ball has stretched out, losing its spherical shape and spread out like crepe batter on a griddle. You drag your paddle through the batter, and the scenery changes a tiny bit. Ahead of you a family of seals sunbathe on the rocks. You imagine them to be Korean and play out a scene in your head where the mommy seal slaps sunscreen on her unwilling son.
Watching the fireworks at English Bay. A Vancouver classic. You get there early to secure a log on the beach to rest your back on. But you were not early enough. The beach has already been polluted by other beachgoers and fireworks watchers. But you find a few square inches of dark yellow sand with more than a couple cigarette butts, declaring it your empire. You drink a couple of beers that had been pre-poured into coke cans because Vancouver is anal like that. You slowly await the sunset. You know what to expect because this has been a tradition amongst your friends since your high school days, yet the brush strokes that paint artificial rainbows into the night sky still takes your breath away every time. Their explosions into glittering kaleidoscopes, their provocative contrast against the dark of night, reflected above the calm shore, leaving behind epilogues of smoke and mirrors. And just when you think that it’s time to finish the last of your “cokes”, an encore of the most ambitious gems of colour blossom once again into the velvet sky.
Wasting the day away high at one beach or another, Wreck or Kits. There is sand in every crevice of everything you own, body and belongings. An ice cream truck sings in the distance, and you’re reminded briefly of simpler days when that familiar yet exciting sound was all it took to achieve the same state of bliss that now requires 26 hours of sleep and a telekinetic lover and still only briefly during the first few minutes after a bowl of Blue Dream.
Cliff jumping off Lynn Canyon. The crystal clear water showcasing the architecture of the earth below it, one exquisitely crafted by the most patient of masters, Time. You swim towards the waterfall edged between two shelves of obsidian, and coquettishly ask your summer fling to take some photos of you, because after all, what is the point of all this if you don’t have any photos to look back on the freezing wet moments once the fling has all but flung?
I think I’ve finally come to understand that fall is my favourite season. And no, not because I have a strange obsession with pumpkin flavoured items that have no business being pumpkin flavoured. It’s the falling resolution (no pun intended) for what has come of the year. The climax, of course, being summer. Always summer. Summer is eating prosciutto wrapped honeydew in 12-hour days and skinny dipping with a boy who’s too pure for this world, fall is the uber ride back home.
There’s so much contemplation in the fall. Perhaps it’s partly due to my having a fall birthday. November first, the day after Halloween. Summer was my last chance of being 17, 19, 21, and by the time October rolls around it’s time to gear up to turn a whole year older. A whole year older in one day, just like that. Somebody on the internet told me that dog people are simple creatures unable to appreciate the complex psyche of cats. I find that too, are summer people.
People are just smart enough to make themselves miserable.
I fell in love again recently.
A few months ago I thought about how people are like paintings. There’s no reason for a Manet to look at a Matisse and think, “I wish I looked liked her”. I feel very fortunate to have a plethora of life experiences I can pull from for my art. And as such I doubt if I’m actually a good writer or if I’m just good at describing things, things others could chronicle just as eloquently, if only they’ve also seen, experienced, lived.
Hippo Campus sounds like dew drops rolling off wide, waxy leaves on an early spring morning, the juvenile rays of sun cutting through the layer of condensation in the air, illuminating micro rainbows against spider webs dripping with the chilliness of the newly exited night.
Vampire Weekend is thick, rubber soled Doc Marten boots stomping against a meadow of forget-me-nots and goldfields worn by freckled, red headed nymphets whose locks run down to their hips, running around crowned in their newly completed daisy chains dressed in lace trimmed cotton poplin dresses; the hand feel of a mug of hot cocoa made just the right thickness of smooth, not quite glossy pale blue and greige speckled china warming your palms.
The days finish too early, it’s just a little too cold, too wet to go out. So you’re back home, musing over the golden, honey-coloured strands of Summer’s glossy locks which have been cut too short. Sometimes you spend so long reminiscing the sun that you fail to notice the coniferous trees which have dressed themselves in a robe of crimson.
Last year around this time I was working at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C. I miss that time dearly. The monotonous days in my cubicle, the walk from the embassy to the bus stop, the wind always climbing up my legs barely sheltered by a thin film of hosiery. Capital Hill in D.C. is a beautiful neighbourhood, especially in the fall. The sunlight would illuminate the many facets of the trees the colour of gem tomatoes and project beautiful, distorted shadows onto the equally vibrantly coloured row homes. God, I will never stop describing D.C.
Midsummer Night in Shanghai, or, A Story Without an Ending
The Australian bartender with the Shenyangnese ex-girlfriend poured us a round of yagers on him. We weren’t the regular customers of the dingey sports bar, slim women in short skirts, wandering eyes, and accessories that made it just clear enough why they were there. Them and their Middle-aged, Carlsburg-sipping European wine importing clients. We left just in time to give the others enough time to exchange Wechat IDs, decide on the going rate for the night.
The air was heavy and humid, the type that drenches your entire body in a film of moisture the second you step out of AC. Around midnight, we walked back from the bar to my apartment, the citrus streetlights illuminating the street with a foil of orange haze. I walked behind you, surveyed you from crown to ankle. You wore grey suede sneakers with white socks up to your lower calves, and a White Rabbit Milk Candy tee you got from Tianzifang. Unlike the other laowais, you know the nuances of The Culture. You’re a local foreigner, meaning that cabbies spare you from the 200 kuai scam rides from M1NT, and you couldn’t ever be found in a button-down made translucent by perspiration, drunkenly trying to groove to whatever dog shit they happened to be playing at Bar Rouge. You went to Le Baron on Thursdays, to see sets played by your buddies from high school.
You were over that night to book flights for Hong Kong. I’d never been, and asked you on a whim if you’d come with me. It was July of 2019, right in the middle of the protests against Carrie Lam. Everyone advised us not to go, but…
“If you’re down, I’m down.” You were, and I was.
I have an inability to hang on to cameras. I lost my Sony a7 with all of Ecuador and Europe on it. After that, it was my Hero 8 with all of my underwater Oahu footage. And then most recently it was my mother’s Nikon F70 with photos of me and Robbe.
The ancient beast weighed a ton, contained no batteries, had no lens cap, and I had no idea how to use it. It sat in a camera bag the size of a small child with an all-Japanese instruction manual and a warranty that probably expired before I was even born. After experimenting with several rolls of instant film, I had decided for an upgrade, and my mom told me that there was an SLR collecting dust in our study. The machine is currently listed on eBay for a staggering $20, she bragged.
My mom pulled up to the drop off lanes in the ever-the-misty YVR in her Mercedes minivan, about to send her daughter off to Vietnam to start that all too familiar banana pancake trail in Southeast Asia. I had decided to drop acid the night before my flight so I would stay up all night and sleep on the plane; and because I was going to be in Asia for the next six months where even marijuana possession had a death penalty. As my mom was parking the car, I was on the 14th hour of my trip, trying to explain to her that, “...everything is written in the universe.”
It wasn’t until I’d gotten to Thailand that I’d found enough modern development to host a camera shop. It was right across the street from my hostel, with big bold neon signages for Canon and Nikon. Perfect, I thought. That afternoon I met the absolute most boring people from my 6-week trip. Americans, of course; four blonde nurses from Santa Monica on a girls trip. I took my mother’s antique to the camera shop in hopes that they could fix her up, after a failed effort to squeeze any meaningful conversation out of the ex-sorority women. I was greeted by a gentleman wearing thick black-rimmed glasses. He brought me these chubby batteries which he punched out the backs of their packaging and plugged into my mom’s machine. He then took me to the film rack and had me choose how many frames I wanted in my roll. 36. He fitted those in, and taught me the button-pressing basics.
I met Robbe at an open air jazz bar in Chiang Mai. There were no walls which divided the inside from the outside. Its orange interiors were hand-painted with elegant swirls of tropical flowers. It was pretty and unpretentious. There was no AC; fans spun overhead, stirring the humid evening air just enough for us to stay and not take refuge in the air conditioned hotels nearby. Most everyone had a bottle of Leo in their hands, plus a few more empty ones on the floor beneath their stools.
He was sitting on a bench in the back row, wearing olive linen pants and a classic white linen shirt with just one button done, exposing his chest. He had golden, collarbone length hair, a mole in the centre middle of this left cheek, and a body expertly sculpted by a vegetarian diet and the Siamese sun. I called out his name, and he stood up to greet me by the entrance. There was a small ditch right beneath the wall which divided the ceiling and the charcoal sky. Like a corny scene out of a rom com, my hello was abruptly interrupted by my tripping over said ditch and onto him. I fell into his chest, he reached for my arms, he caught me, I stared up at him, I giggled.
We welcomed the wondrous music that flowed out of the local jazz band, number after number, offering their singular, creamy take on everything from Amy Winehouse to Childish Gambino. Their sound reminded me of the unintentional harmony of a symphony of tropical birds and insects, its beauty residing in its spontaneity and impromptu. We collectively agreed that that had been the best concert we’d ever seen. We had the most bona fide of laughters. Of course, his always were.
I don’t remember what we talked about. I just remember there always being something more that I’d wanted to know, always something more he’d wanted to understand. At last we welcomed slumber to the sound of the soft cricket orchestra performing for the moon and the stars and us.
He was the most perfect human being; untainted and filled with sincere optimism despite the blight of the world. The human embodiment of the first rays of sunshine at dawn. He approached life with a child-like ardor which translated to an unexpected, unlearned form of charisma, that of the purest form. I loved that he makes, “smoo tees”, for breakfast, the way he kindly told me to, “cover for ze tees”. And his laugh, the type of wholesome, stupid laughter that babies make, filled with naivety in the most captivating way.
I was at the departure gate waiting to board my flight to Lombok, Indonesia the next morning when he sent me a picture of his hand. He had the silver ring I’d bought from the night market the night before on his pinky. You forgot this. But I hadn’t. I had deliberately left it on his nightstand for him to find, in the spirit of passing along traditions.
I wonder where my mother’s camera is, I wonder who has it. I wonder if the film will ever get developed. I wonder if they will ever find their way back to him, to me.
He came over the night before her flight to pick up his flowers: preserved blooms of purple and beige asymmetrically woven through a wooden birdcage. The flowers were sent to her by her best friends for her 21st birthday party which he missed.
“What is this witchcraft?” He joked. She had flowers scattered everywhere, some tied at the stems with vine, others in various vases with their heads drooping, awaiting to be cut. Frail leaves, baby’s breath, and flower dust were scattered everywhere. She told him that she was planning on drying them to make an arrangement. He had asked her to gift it to him. She agreed.
He grabbed a PBR from the fridge and her an IPA with the pop art packaging she took home from a work event. They walked up the stairs, each step lending a creak, and jumped on her bed. She rested her neck on his thigh which perfectly supported her neck. He started stroking her hair.
“Hey, do you wear rings?” He asked her. She nodded.,
“Here, take this.” He slid off and handed her the ring from his right pointer finger she’d seen him wear since the first day they’d met.
“Where’d you get this?” She asked, bringing the ring closer to her eye to examine it
“Hong Kong.” Interesting, she thought. The city was a backdrop to many of her fondest memories.
“Where in Hong Kong did you get this?” She asked, hoping it’d be somewhere she knew.”
“My grandma gave it to me, actually.”
They went by her windowsill to light a cigarette. She pulled up her windows, exposing them to the indigo night which sprinkled a light curtain of rain. She sticks her head out and takes a breath in. I’ll miss this place, she thought. D.C., her hundred-fifty-year-old house with real hardwood flooring, him… The cigarette brought them out of their hop-induced fuzziness, and the music brought her to her Mediterranean summers.
“Close your eyes”
“Just close your eyes! Picture this: we’re in southern Italy, the Amalfi coast. We’re on a balcony lined with vines, dancing on terracotta tiles, by white cast iron fence bars. There’s a party going on inside that glows of gold and everyone’s wearing velvet for some reason. It’s summertime, but late, so a little chilly. The party inside just rolled out the cake and everyone is cheering. But us, we’re out here in this little oasis, dancing to Polo & Pan’s Dorothy. Do you see it? Are we in Italy?”
“Ok! Ok! Ok! Oh my god! Ok, now we’re in Barcelona. We’re walking through an alley right off of La Rambla, and the sun’s just set, so the sky’s a little purple, and there are tons of people on the streets. Performers, musicians, magicians, those weird levitating human statue things, it’s a whole party. All the patios are set up, lit by street lanterns. Servers in mahogany satin vests are throwing menus at us, and we’re trying to decide on a place to eat. I’m wearing a drapey silk orange dress with white flip flops and a floppy straw hat. I start skipping and you spin me round and catch me. We get progressively drunker on Catalonian chardonnay as twilight leaves way for night.
Alright, alright, now we’re in the South of France, we’re in Eze. We’re walking up endless spirals of cobblestone staircases, climbing up the town vertically. Every once in a while we step aside to admire the glittering Cote d’Azur or the rich foliage that grows amongst the cobblestones. Up ahead a wall of magenta bougainvilleas falls down against a white and blue wall, and I kneel to smell the hydrangeas.
“Ok now we’re at Joshua Tree, we’re taking that trip we always said we would. But I don’t know what Joshua Tree looks like so you’re gonna have to help me out here.”
In her imagination, they were a singular force against the world. But for now, he was just someone very special whom she’s seeing, as far as she knew, for the very last time.
Recently I’ve been overindulging myself in the bittersweet, borderline crippling memoirs of times gone. Replaying imagery so memorable they’ve been branded into the back of my skull, while grasping on to others so nearly forgotten they hang on by just a single coat of myelin. Letting myself wallow unreservedly in the most dangerous intoxicant of all, memories; reliving the twinkling moments of times past in my mind again and again every night like flipping through a Carousel, thinking about how the stars which hang above me are the same ones which hung over in each of those fleeting moments of unadulterated bliss/pain/heartburstingthroughyourchestintoyourthroat/heartdroppinglikeanunhingedelevatordownintoyourstomach/otheremotionsimotsurehoweventocategorize.
Being in Vancouver feels like limbo. There is so much to experience in this world yet I am stuck in the sweet purgatory of the most beautiful place on earth. In these times of zero responsibility, nostalgia has me wrapped around its finger, grasped by the neck. You should live in the moment. But I much prefer welcoming the warm embrace of photographs, lyrics, scents, plane tickets, foreign coins, receipts, and laundry slips, for they bear the stories of heydays past.
A timid sun rose over the buildings of downtown Vancouver, illuminating the cold brew sky into an Americano that’s been sitting out for too long, slightly acidic. She moved slowly, like the subtle movement of your toes rubbing the soles my feet, my cheek caressing your hair. A skyline cased in gold contained perfectly in the frame of the window on my 22nd floor apartment, bottom right corner blocked by the outlines of your shoulder. My eyes focus on your skin, then back out the window, knowing that this is the closest I will ever be to you.
I started writing a poem about you in the summer. I never finished it because I told myself to not be so sentimental, something I used to associate with weakness. I regret nothing more than not capturing exactly as my heart felt that walk back from my best friend’s house the day after you told me that you had decided to make somebody else yours.
I’m reading a book on beauty and everything reminds me of you, of us, however brief that we were, the us that walked the line of reality; did we, or did we not exist?
“…moved into the space between us, words giving way, sensation the only thing left.”
Or, in my own words, an energetic field so strong it engulfed my thoughts, moving me into the dimension above, that of pure feeling, pure emotion. It emitted photons or electrons or some such things way out of that room and enveloped the entire earth, because in those few countable moments we were the only beings that existed.
I keep gaslighting myself by feeling the things that I do but that I should or can not, I’m not sure, still refusing to accept that your words carry more truth than the seventeen megatons of energy you sent by way of particles in the air. Refusing to believe that it’s all in my head, that July was the season finale of this anti-romance.
I will for the rest of my life be like this, I’m certain.
When I stared past the side of your head, your shoulder into the young morning, I knew that that was a moment I could not ever forget. It was a memory that would become branded in my memory one way or another, so I’m not sure if it’s there because I’d wanted to preserve it in the resin of my mind forever or if that’s where it was destined to be even had I preferred to have forgotten about it altogether.
Embraces overlooking metropolitan skylines, pt. 3.
I love men, and I love you. You should know, if you only gave me a chance to speak it into existence.
It is a gift to be able to feel this deep, to be able to translate it into language that others could resonate despite feeling being a universal language we’ve all collectively decided to abandon in lieu of words. But it is exactly this game of hide and seek that we play with ourselves, the deliberate denial of feeling over thinking that gets us into this mess again and again.
The sea saved me again as it always does. My heart a tangled mess, I started peddling a bike across the perimeters of Stanley Park because I knew that the time and subtle effort it took to push the bicycle towards the end of the circumnavigation would somehow untangle the wreckage that was my mind. And it did. Towards the end of the journey I parked my bike by the sea and watched as the waves came, crashed, and left. It reminded me of the impermanence of my fleeting thoughts, and somewhere along those thoughts I recognized that which was unique to me, this very feeling, the very ability to contemplate that which makes me feel. The way I could pause, if I should like, to savour the sweetness of a moment, the bitterness of another, the way I can do that, the way a wave cannot; the beauty and the end of humanity. As the waves are carried by its mother sea to shore over and over again ad infinitum, unable to pause for even a second to register the texture of the sand, the warmth of the sun soaked shore, I could dwell, for as long as I should like, in that which is equally chaos, as beauty, that which is you, the way you ever so slightly kiss me, the way our bodies fit together, nook in cranny, cranny in nook, as if formed from the same mould.
Forget Me Not
I started dating things– photographs, gifts, cards, letters, journal entries in the latter half of last year. My life has gotten to a point when it’s becoming hard to remember exactly when things have happened. The early 2010′s have started to meld together, blurring into a single chunk of memory collectively known as My Teenagehood. In late 2019 I often experienced things retroactively– as I biked home from my 9-5 down the narrow, crowded nongs of Shanghai’s Jing’an, I would often experience what was currently unfolding as a memory.
It’s so odd that two months from now, this bike ride, so routine and integral to my current life, will be but a forgettable component of a series of memories left in a storage unit somewhere in my brain, brown boxed with, “Shanghai 2019″ written in Sharpie over a strip of torn masking tape. By then the leisurely strolls under the mighty London plane trees, immune to the pollution of the Pearl through a self-cleaning mechanism will seem from a different lifetime altogether, completely removed from what my present life will be then…
My overpriced oat milk lattes, the couple from Guilin that takes turns making my rice noodles
My walk home from work in Washington, D.C. two months later was lined by the distinctively Washingtonian row houses, some almost two centuries old. Ghosts of D.C.’s deciduous guardians pile up on the sidewalks, unraked, at varying stages of decay. Blood-red maple leaves seemingly still breathing life, vivacious only moments ago lay atop gravity’s newest captives, stacked on top of veterans from last week, sodden with rotting flesh. Dancing around the breeze, carried up or down or wherever are crispy brown skeletons that have escaped decomposition, waiting to be cremated by the tip of a rusty metal rake or the light-up rubber soles of one toddler or another.
A November ray stamps against my cheeks, and a bead of sweat slithers down my temples.
Oh, how lovely this piece of a jigsaw
I remember telling you that being in love is like living your entire life through the pretty Snapchat filter and that I finally understood what the expression, “Rose coloured glasses” meant. My entire life had been tinted the colour of the sunset reflected off of the delicate ripples over English Bay at dusk, through the liquid rose quartz in my glass. The colour of delicate satin reflected onto the lampshade, casting shadows of the intertwining curvatures of our bodies’ undulating, harmonious symphony. The colour of my lips, bitten and swollen. The colour of the aura of our
Rare yet everpresent at the same time. Deep, hard, passionate love, a shooting star falling from the cosmos at one million miles per hour. No, two shooting stars, one blazing through the star-studded fabric of the universe to catch the other, playing a game of cat and mouse like the first and second places in the final round of Mario Cart Rainbow Road.
At moments like these when my brain feels fuzzy, I’m reminded of how truly happy I was at one point, with you. How truly, deeply, unreservedly happy I was.
Thanks for giving me a sample of the best ice cream flavour in the world.
I’ve been obsessed with the concept of the sublime ever since I’d first heard about it on an art history podcast about two years ago.
Before I look up the actual definition, I think from what I’ve gathered it is an overwhelming, all-encapsulating feeling that washes over you when you are in the presence of something as terrifying as it is magnificent. Something so breathtaking that, one wrong step and it could take your life. If the sublime had a sign, it would be a Scorpio for sure. The sublime is larger than life, yours but perhaps even all of life. A beautiful woman whispers, “You can see, but you can’t touch. And if you dare proceed, I just might ruin your life” through her eyes, her breath, her intoxicating scent of equal parts peony, sea salt, and oud. The sea, the Alps, the Amazon, common iterations of the sublime, reverberates much of the same idea, but through energetic vibrations that reach into the very marrow of your bones, in the deepest of baritones.
Casper David Fredrich painted many such scenes during his lifetime as he was fascinated by the sublime, as were most well-to-do continentalists with too much time on their hands to know what to do with. For CDF, the sublime meant, “…a reunion with the spiritual self through the contemplation of nature.” I saw in a video once, that the paintings of CDF have the same effects on you as drugs, insofar as drugs are defined as substances that alter your mood. His paintings are intended to, “…produce an expanded state of consciousness in which the pain of immediate troubles is lessened by the euphoric recognition of the immensity of nature and the cosmos.”
The wallpaper of my laptop and phone have been his paintings since. Specifically, Monk by the Sea, and Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog.
I’ve had just a singular experience with the sublime. I was on a chairlift going up Blackcomb mountain on a ski trip in Whistler. About two-thirds of the way I turned my head to the left and saw the side of a mountain that looked like it was made of pure slate– no scattered skeletons of evergreens or orphaned rocks rolling about, just a shelf of piercing basalt. Below dropped what seemed like one million feet. Certain death. Directly above the drop of Certain Death, hung by some iron bars like socks on a flimsy clothesline, was me, a 120-pound girl with zero muscle mass, bundled in layers of dri-fit, fleece and Gore-tek yet still shivering from the forceful wind that blew flecks of snow through the sneaky crevices between my cheeks and goggles. There was a blizzard; zero visibility. The combination of snow blown from the ground up, the clouds, and the fog dressed the mountain in a robe of coolness, of unintentional nonchalance. As if you could be devoured by her drop of Certain Death and she wouldn’t so much as bat an eyelash. She had better things to worry about, like filing her nails or spitting out a piece of gum that had gotten too stale.
You’re still here? You must be really into me. Here’s some more content for you to mull over. Be careful though, you just might fall in love.