Not Farewell, but Another “See You Later,” 北京

Every morning, twenty-one million people wake up to tackle the third largest city in the world. Three millenia of history reflected in its tea houses and imperial gardens, bundled together by glass steel shopping malls and 15-lane freeways. A city housing 7,000 hutong alleys and 3,000 McDonald’s with 24-hour delivery service. Four kuai beer and five kuai jianbing. Miles of zhajianmiangallons of suanmeitang, a ton of spiced lamb skewered into yangrouchua’r

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I could eat jianbing for days. Straight.

…and yet I decided to spend the better part of the summer tethered to my Mac, bitching about Beijing’s smog to my friends back stateside.

Don’t get me wrong – they’re incredible support during a time of bewildering change, but there is such a thing as relying too much on Skype relationships. I can recount my cramped subway ride into a speaker and show off my new purchases over a screen, but no app can truly allow me to share Beijing with them viscerally. The result was a rather lonely, unfulfilling June and July.

After my refresher trip to Japan, I genuinely made an effort to reach out more to people I knew in Beijing. Man how I wish I did so earlier. With the company of friends, old and new, Beijing quickly transformed from a grey concrete expanse into a dazzling 热闹 metropolis. I found my grounding, and it turns out not to be the perfect cafe or park bench, but to be in people.

This got me thinking – how do we evaluate a city? Most people would tick off concrete fixtures. For Beijing, that sounds like “the subway system is so extensive” or “it’s such a bicycle-friendly city” or the ever popular “dude, clubbing is ridiculously cheap.” Convenient transport and affordable nightlife may set the scene, but my experience of any city is intensely colored by the people with whom I share the scene. After all, it’s our friend groups that decide how we spend the night out (seedy sports bar or upscale dance club?), and how we utilize top-notch metro transportation (oh you live just two stations away? Let’s get coffee more often)!

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Nightlife in Beijing is super….neon. Not here (Gulou) though! (PC: Michael Chen)

So thank you, to everyone I met in Beijing and who colored my experience with lively conversation and laughter. Without you guys, Beijing really would have been just the pollution and humidity. I didn’t expect to, but I am going to miss it here. Funny how that always happens.

Of course, there’s still a few things left on my Beijing checklist that I didn’t get around to this time, most notably climbing the Great Wall of China (lol). It’s like how Chicago natives never go up the Sears Tower (yes, Sears) or the Ferris Wheel. We always think that we’ll get around to it, if it’s even worth visiting.

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I have a feeling that the Great Wall is worth a visit, of course. (PC: Michael Chen)

Live update: I leave in four hours on a flight bound for Cairo, Egypt. Another city, another life (it seems).

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Anti-Reflection on Paris

Leaving Paris broke my heart.

I have unfinished business, months of exploration left in me. Now that I’m sitting home in my bed, propped up with pillows and hearing the suburban nothing-ness… Paris really does seem like it was a dream – a three-month long slumber and plunge into the depths of looping arrondissements, clacking metro cars, and the interconnections of my brain wires as I try to process that this city literally encompasses all that excites me. How can it be real? How can it be that just a day ago I was breathing in all that cigarette smoke outside the Bastille bar alleys and now I’m reclining in my white-grey-flower patterned sheets, listening to people mowing their lawns?

Do you ever ask yourself, why am I here? Not in the philosophical sense of like “with what world view do you ascribe meaning to your life?” But geographically, why are you here? Right now. In Chicago? Yes, I go to school here, from which I will graduate in June. The question then inevitably becomes, why am I here and not in Paris?

Why did I go to Paris in the first place? Because, in November 2012, I walked down the quai along the Seine for the first time and I made a mental pact to myself that I will find some way to spend more time here. It was one of the most intense, romantic feelings I’ve ever experienced. I looked around, saw the building where Voltaire was born, the fricking jade green river, and it sounds ridiculous but damn, love at first sight is real. Is it possible to love a place as much as a person?

In my mind, BP and AP will not refer to a gas conglomerate or college-prep standardized tests. They will mark my life as “Before-Paris” and “After-Paris.” Does it sound like I have lost my mind? Perhaps. I said at the beginning of this post that I lost my heart to Paris. Are the head and the heart not the same in some ways? Without my heart, my mind is useless. Without fierce determination fueled by heart-felt obsession, my work ethic becomes sub-par. I’ve lost my mind to my heart and that’s ok.

So I refuse to write a definitive reflection post just yet, simply because I am not done with Paris.

Impersonating a classy person.

Fortune Telling from Turkish Coffee Grounds

I don’t believe in fortune tellers and horoscopes. I believe in serendipitous moments in which the right person says the exact thing you need to hear at exactly the time in which you needed to hear it. Throw in a beautiful embroidered tablecloth, ornate copper tea cup-holders, and the smell of Turkish coffee mingling with sweet cigarette smoke – for a moment I can believe in destiny and psychics and magic. I mean this in the least “Orientalism” way possible.

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Traditionally, one finishes sipping the coffee, leaving the bitter grounds congealed at the bottom of the cup. You cap the saucer on top of the tea cup, grip the two together while rotating it in front of your body clockwise three times, and then flip (always away from your body) the cup-saucer upside down. If you want to know about your financial success, place a coin on top of the upside down cup. If you want to know about your love life, place a ring on top. Introspect about life and make a wish as you wait about five minutes for the cup to completely cool down. Turn it over to your lovely Turkish friend who will proceed to read your future.

I’m not going to lie to you guys – I wished for love. Self-love, romantic love, familial love, I don’t know what, I just wanted love. Perhaps because I had just watched Moulin Rouge on the plane a la “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” Filiz lifted my upside down cup off the saucer and a plop of coffee grounds spread out cleanly in one mass.

“Oh! That’s really good! That means whatever the fortune is, it will happen surely and definitively.”

She then peered into my cup and my fortune began – “I see a big cloud. This means that there’s something in your life that’s weighing you down, you’re obsessing over it and it’s holding you back. There’s a bright star, that’s good. Your future is very bright but whatever the cloud is in your life, you need to overcome it. I see a whale…but I’m not quite sure what that means. There looks like you’re having trouble at your work. Sometimes at work it seems like there’s too much for you to handle but don’t worry it will all be fine in the end so do not be overwhelmed. Oh! I see a big romance and love coming soon for you.”

The final step is to tilt the contents left on the saucer back into the cup and read the drippings while holding the saucer vertically. Most of the time, they’re confirmations and predications of the timing for what was read in the grounds.

“You’re fortune is going to come true during the dark of the moon. Be alert for love then!”

Look, I know this is irrational and just for fun. But I looked up the next “dark of the moon.”

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It’s set for September 24th. I also looked up whale symbols in coffee readings and found that it signifies a very big accomplishment especially in your career. And you know what? I have been obsessing over past relationships. I have let it affect me even now when I should be completely free to explore the world, to make decisions about my future selfishly and with greed. Nothing will hold me back anymore from traveling the world a thousand times over. And balancing work with language classes with scholarship applications has been taking its toll on me this month. I needed that reassurance that everything will and always will be fine. Nothing new was really learned I guess but it helps.

Though if on Sept. 24th I fall in love at first sight at some art exhibition in Paris… we’ll see.