I came here in the last week of August

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and just like that, a month has passed, quicker than I can think to say “dōjeh” instead of “mh’goi.” There remains not much to tell except that I am well — that nothing’s up, I’ve little progress to report, but I am managing the quotidian in a way that gives me little reason to welcome disruptions to my everyday. I wear this new life like a skin by slipping into a mantle of old habits: buying the same kinds of goods off supermarket shelves, making coffee with a French press in the morning, practicing yoga when I can, wearing black to work. I have been making friends and learning how to swim and how not anxiously to be in the water, or in love. I try not to stay in the office too late, to wake up with the rising of the sun and to sleep before midnight, but in these I have been failing. There is always so much to do. I read too slowly and squander minutes, and feel always at a loss over lost time. Elsewhere, autumn colors the trees and the pavements in fire; this morning my view from the window was sleet gray with residential towers and rain. Still, there are spaces for joy–as when I dive into the pool and lose sense of sound and see only refractions of light in the blue water. When I take my washing from the tumble dryer and feel my clothes clean and warm in my arms. When I walk back to the dorm late at night, bopping to The 1975. When I think of him smiling as he opens a book or a door, when I hear his voice, smooth and mellow, like milk tea, calling my name.

 

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in the mood for blowing water

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One rainy morning, in the common room of the 8th floor of Hall G, a girl I shared the washroom with asked me if she could join me at the table for tea. She said her name was N., that she was from Pakistan, that she was also in her first year of MPhil studies, researching on the social psychology of driving behaviors. This, I have long noted, is de rigueur for introductions by research postgraduate students: Name, Research Topic, Institution, maybe Country of Origin, though some tend to state their research topics first. Finally she asked, How have you been adjusting to life in Hong Kong? I said, Just fine, and you? And she talked about being culture-shocked: the weather, the language, the food, the customs, the people are alien to her. Isn’t it so for you?

Cantonese is an incomprehensible tongue, but signage is written in English too. While I do not eat pork, so common in Chinese cuisines, dimsum and noodles are familiar to me. Like Hong Kongers, I bathe and wash my hair at least once a day and do not throw tissue paper into the toilet. Hot, humid weather and strong typhoons are part of our lifeworld in my country that’s one of the most vulnerable to climate change. I’d already made a few local friends before coming to live here, since I studied for a short while at this university before. What I am not quite adjusting to, but simply accepting: the searing heat, the briskness and efficiency and orderliness of Hong Kong people, their careful attention to and observance of rules that actually make sense (there’s effective governmentality for you). In Hong Kong, I wouldn’t think of jaywalking, or eating in the bus or the train. I celebrate the convenience afforded by the Octopus card, though I rue the difficulty of finding scented rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl, with tea tree extract and moisturizer), sweet crunchy peanut butter, a French press.

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My parents decided to fly with me to HK and stay here for a few days. They wanted to see my university, do some sightseeing around Central, a little shopping in Mong Kok. We spent a day in Tuen Mun, an evening in Tsim Sha Tsui, an afternoon in Ocean Park. I wanted to take them to Victoria Peak, but then Typhoon Hato struck. We spent more time watching TV and ordering room service in the hotel than going around. And that was fine, they said, because what they wanted more than to go around was to spend time with me. As they left, my father handed me a couple of hundred-dollar bills. Make sure you go home in December, he said. He knows too well my penchant for leaving, for being away. But as I grow older, I wonder if I weren’t catching a quaint yearning for home—not just a headquarters, or a base camp, but a fixed, certain state or place, a compass of meaning, a stable point of return—to a house perhaps, or to a person or persons. I am getting older, my parents are aging too fast, I will likely die alone.

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Don’t think of moving to Hong Kong as departure, a friend said to me. Think of it as transferring to another city, like Makati, from QC. After all, Hong Kong is just a little over two hours away from Manila. Baguio is even farther in terms of travel time.

But I like to think of it as departure, actually, to have a greater sense of narrative leap, of plot or character development, between departure and return. I have been getting so very bored.

What I watched, stuck in a room during the height of Hato, when T10 was hoisted in Hong Kong for the first time since 2012: Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express (1994) and In the Mood for Love (2000). They’re the kind of films that are so well-composed and visually stunning (cinematography by Christopher Doyle), I wanted to screenshot every frame. I didn’t manage that, but here are a few stills:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d write a meditation on love, betrayal, missed chances, and time, but I’ve been avoiding thinking about such poignant fancies (as I am, as you know, wont to do). Maybe the briskness of this place is ideal for me; even when watching In the Mood for Love, I do not feel like indulging in melancholy.

 

It’s okay, that’s love

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1.
Walking to the lecture hall, I tell C. how I worry that I’d end up finishing more Kdramas than books this year. I should read more books and watch less TV, don’t you think? C. says, don’t think of it as a lack or loss. You also learn through watching, don’t you?

2.
This past weekend I watched how love is built, shared, and tested by a psychiatrist with genophobia and anxiety disorder, and a bestselling crime writer with OCD and schizophrenia, even as they deal with work pressures, family troubles, heartsick friends, faithless ex-lovers, and childhood traumas involving domestic violence, parental infidelity, arson, death threats, and murder. As the plot, which began as a light-hearted rom-com, took a dark turn, and for a long while refused to look back, I thought, “It’s Okay, That’s Love” is a misleading title for that show. Or is it.

3.
The thing is that we’re all struggling, some with more success or more difficulty than others. What is it that gives strength even to the most miserable?

4.
It would be nice to struggle through life with the certainty that the person I love also cares deeply about me. But can I love without caring? Can I care without understanding? Can I understand without listening? Can I listen well without first muting the voices in my own head, with their unfounded assumptions and shaky conclusions, their quick judgments, their anger, sadness, and fear? Can I mute them without humility? Can I be humble without recognizing that in loving it’s never just about who I am and what I think and how I feel and what I need and what I want? Can I recognize this without also accepting uncertainty, vulnerability, disappointment? Can I accept these without surmounting fear? Can I vanquish fear without trust? Can I trust without assurance? Is that what faith means?

5.

My friends… The next time you are suffering, if this suffering was caused by the person you love most in the world, have recourse to right action and say the fourth mantra: “Dear one, I am suffering deeply. I need you to help me to get out of this suffering. I need you to explain this [the situation perceived to be hurtful] to me.” This is the language of true love.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, You Are Here

6.
In one scene, Jae-yeol tells Soo-kwang: in a relationship, the more powerful one is neither the one who loves more, nor the one who cares less. The more powerful one is he who can love without needing anything in return. A person who can love without clinging is a person who is free. He can be kind and understanding and generous because he does not fear losing himself.

7.
This morning, my sister, while brushing my hair, after cooking food for me to take home to my apartment: “You poop. Meme loves you even if you’re the poopiest poopyface.” I thought it was the sweetest thing anyone had said to me.

8.
Last week, as we were walking to the lecture hall, I told C. how I’d outsource my emotional life to TV and focus my energies on cultivating my mind. I said, dispassion and intellection — these would be my telos! C. just chuckled.

9.
In the still, quiet darkness, where she stands between his body and the wall, he flicks the lighter on to illuminate her eyes, and, smiling at the embers kindled there, whispers to her throat, One moment. It takes but a moment to fall in love again.