Thursday, April 26, 2007

Finding Sleep ... within Chaos

Came back from NYC on the 8 am Greyhound yesterday after a quick 1.5-day trip and got in at 1 pm. Went home, quickly changed, then off to my appointment with a student plus a 1.5-hour-long lecture and an hour-long meeting afterwards. Gotta stop by the department's spring party at 5 pm, check out a few books from YCL, and then head home to an apartment of disarray, so much so that the cleaning process would have to be postponed until the section of the week is done in less than 10 hours.

Completely collapsed in bed and went unconscious for a few good hours before my own very capricious biological clock suddenly woke me up before the cell phone alarm did its magic (strangely. I missed all the other alarm ringing before). By the time dinner was heated in the microwave, the clock had just ticked mid-night. A long night of section prep and miscellaneous academic studying had yet to begin.

This morning at 11 am, the new tenant for the apartment came by the sign the lease and talk about moving arrangement with my landlady. I stayed quietly in the bedroom, still trying to scramble last-min section notes together. My landlady came in and informed me that the first pink magnolia blossom in the backyard has just shown its head, and very soon the backyard will be filled with dazzling tulips. Spring is not only in the air but in everyone's mood and mind as well - except that the temperature isn't going to give spring much of a good face; in one day we are going to be back to low 40's, as I was told.

Ah, so it's that time of the year approaching again. In a few weeks time, I'll see myself buried within bubble wraps, tissue papers, duck tapes, and big and small cardboard boxes picked up from the street, performing my annual ritual of packing, moving, shipping, and storing. One question that I've already given up asking would be - when will this process end?

Perhaps a more manageable task right now is simply to find some decent hours of sleep among the whirlwind of chaos that I have been living within for weeks, even though tonight, I need to pack up for a conference at Yale and off I go, leaving my apartment in disarray for a few more days.

At least spring is here. Soon, summer will be knocking on my door ... and then - hopefully - the beautiful ajisai will be the first thing that welcomes me when I step out of my 5-tatami-large studio apartment in Tokyo.

Yet another new page in life, about to begin.

梅ちゃん at 2:09:00 AM


Monday, April 16, 2007

Journey on a Plateau

Lately I've come to realize my faith has been on a plateau. If one's personal "faith" is like a journey of a lone man walking along a linear, progressive manner, then I'm not sure if at this rate I'm currently sitting somewhere on the plateau completely immobile, or if I'm still walking forward except that this is a horrifically vast plateau where the end is still far in sight.

Or perhaps a better analogy would be like walking on a flat escalator walkway, like the one we have at an airport. You are still walking and in fact moving your body forward on a progressive manner, yet the walkway is long and the gate is still far that once in a while you pause and suddenly wonder whether you have truly walked at all.

Or could the journey actually be a circular one where one may not always be moving forward progressively but could possibly walk in a convoluted manner, returning to ground zero where faith all started years ago, if not walking past that point of origin back to the days before faith ever emerged into the picture.

And it's been like this for a while.

I think everything started when I realized that my faith in some very fundamental way contradicts with some other people's beliefs or - more horrifyingly - it ends up hurting or rejecting those who believe in otherwise.

That's the reality of Christianity - a system of faith that is based upon love and service, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross in the name of love and sacrifice. Yet its monotheistic nature often ends up excluding those who are not abided by the same philosophy even if they too believe in the supreme value of love, service, social justice and the sacrifice for others.

It is because I cannot work out such a contradictory nature between my faith and the faith of others - even at times when we are all loyal believers of the exact same principle of love, service, social justice and sacrifice - that I begin to doubt. I wonder if I've got it all wrong or if I've subscribed to a system that isn't what it claims itself to be.

But there remains one key question - what exactly is the difference between faith and religion? By religion one often thinks of an "institution" of faith that indoctrinates the metaphysical or theological beliefs into concrete, day-to-day practice. In this process, sometimes such day-to-day practice begins to take center stage, so much so that it overrides the very foundation of faith that is based on nothing but a simple belief in the existence of soul and the possibility of such a soul to continue to exist in eternity, whether it's eternity as time or as an form of ever-lasting life.

Faith, however, is simply a belief in the unknown, the abstract, the unanswerable or untouchable "truths." Not a vow of confidence in an institution but in the values of love, service, social justice and sacrifice, as well as the explanation of life and death and the identity of the creator(s) or in some cases, the absence of such creators.

So I believe in God and Jesus Christ's atonement of our sins on the cross two thousand years ago. But if I don't say hi to my neighbors next door, make billions of dollars off from a lucrative Wall Street career, or perhaps set the primary use of my bank savings account for personal or my own family's purposes, then I may still go to heaven or am rid of the privilege of ever-lasting life?

Likewise, even if I love my neighbors, fling my doors wide open to those who are hungry, sick, or socially outcast, choose a low-income job at a NGO organization, or simply try the best I can to be a honest, decent, and good person, I am still rid of the possibility of enjoying eternity with God b/c I do not claim "God" to be the all-mighty Yahweh or fail to recognize Jesus as the Son of God but simply b/c I regard him merely as an awesome sage or teacher in history?

Faith vs. religion, life vs. eternal life - none of these are meant to be simple, black-and-white questions, aren't they? But my journey of faith has begun to enter a plateau since the first day I felt like my faith is often explained or perceived if not firmly believed by some other fellow believers or non-believers in such a simple, black-and-white fashion.

And I want to resist such a fashion. But at times I catch myself asking the same, rhetorical question - wait, am I really trying to resist such a fashion, or am I simply rebelling against God?

I know that even among my fellow Christian bro's and sis's, the opinions may be quite divided.

"If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?"

~ Psalms 44:20-22

If only God may know the secrets of our hearts, who are we - people who cannot even fully understand one's own heart if not often deceived by it - to think that life may be sailed through along a simple paradigm of black-and-whiteness?

I much prefer a world of multiple shades of color, all acceptable and beautiful in the eyes of God.

So with this simple belief or faith if you allow it, I continue my journey on this plateau. I really don't know if I'm sitting or still walking; at times I'm not sure if I'd just pick myself up and run away from it - backwards - as fast as I could. But right now, at this very moment, the plateau is where I'm sitting or standing or walking on, with this simple belief or faith tugged in the back of my mind.

And so the journey continues. It has to.

梅ちゃん at 7:26:00 AM


Saturday, April 07, 2007

It's Be Oneself and Be Perfect?

"Admission to a brand-name college is viewed by many parents, and their children, as holding the best promise of professional success and economic well-being in an increasingly competitive world.

“It’s, like, a really big deal to go into a lucrative profession so that you can provide for your kids, and they can grow up in a place like the place where you grew up,” Kat said."


Just look at me - approaching the end of my golden 20's, I'm down with no savings, no beaming careers, no concrete promise of future professional success or any prospect of future economic well-being (in fact, the latter has been issued a death sentence since day one I arrived at grad school). On top of that, I'm still traveling like a young 20-year-old, staying in shady hostels (though fun and having much more character) and treading the water of ill-maintained public beaches of Mexico, biting my own teeth when an emergency phone call across the continent costs $29.99 for the first 5 minutes b/c after 5 of those, I lost more than 1/10 of my monthly salary.

Worst of all - I'm not sure if I'm happier than years before.

So what has gone wrong?

I did go to an ivy-league school and am studying at an ivy-league school. Those Newton girls that have raised much national attention and discussions since their appearance on the New York Times article, "For Girls, It's Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too," needs to be told of a different message.

Well, I guess that's why another article - "Looking Beyond the Brass Ring" - came out today on the NYT. I cannot agree with Cate, the best friend of the writer Warner's more:

"I still remember the day when I was in my mid-20s that Cate, my best friend from college, told me her cousin had gotten into Harvard.

She laughed as I expressed my congratulations. 'She doesn’t know that it’s all downhill from here,' she said."

At times, it feels like my life has been on a downhill slide for a long time. And I can't recall the exact starting point of this whole sliding process except that I was pretty happy before I stepped into this place called the academia.

In grad school, the only time when I feel like I could possibly measure up is when I can manage to demonstrate the vibrant activities of my brain cells or the neuro-hyperactivity of the previous night in some vaguely making-sense words put together in a form of a "response paper." The more jargon the closer I sound like some academic erudite; the more convoluted the idea perhaps the greater chance of the professor skimming it through while still thinking that I've done some hard work of contemplation. Better yet if I could think of a title that reads like a sentence extended into a sub-sentence, all separated with a simple semi-colon, such as:

"For Academics: It's Not Be Oneself Nor Be Perfect."

Not the most wholesome experience, I can assure you. What happened to all that talk about striking a balance and achieving well-roundedness? Back in high school, at least those were more than a talk but concrete action initiatives. Otherwise, I guess I wouldn't be able to sit here typing out this message at a library cafe run by one of the most wanted univ's on this planet.

At times, all I want to do is to lounge on my couch and munch on a bag-full of chips, watching a no-brainer movie or a chic-flix, think not for a second about how such an activity could do no wonders to my brain capacity or graduation outlook - even if it does miracles to the index of inner happiness.

So, the question is: In a world that rests its very existence upon the mastery of critique and analyses, perfection does not exist, only counter-arguments do. How, then, does one manage to achieve everything well, to have all things together, while to remain true to oneself?

The answer: One doesn't. He/she just appears to be.

That face - that very face of my own - among the thousands of pictures taken in Mexico told me that I was happy. Life was simple, the weather was warm, and the sun brushed through the surface of my bare arms just right. Despite all that happened - losing all my financial security or bodily well-being at the end - I looked different because I was different -- I was a much happier being.

It wasn't just b/c I was on vacation. lt was b/c I could be who I am, stripped away of that image of the serious, knowledgeable, seemingly intelligent and getting-it-all-together TF/graduate student on campus. Gone was that core identity that I carried with me day in and day out here in Cambridge; gained hundreds-fold more was that true self that I too have almost forgotten.

"Ten minutes later, when her father arrived, Esther realized that he had somehow not registered the devastating thinness of the envelope. The admissions office was sorry. Williams had had a record number of highly qualified applicants for early admission this year. Esther had been rejected. Not deferred. Rejected.

Her father hugged her as she cried outside her classroom, and then he drove her home.

Esther said several days later: “Maybe it hurt me that I wasn’t an athlete.”

"It's ok, Esther, you are gonna be alright. Your life is going to be alright even if you never become an athlete," so I wanna tell that girl. Like Warner, I too believe that getting into the best college doesn't guarantee success, money, perfection, and, most of all, happiness. It's not about not having enough gratitude towards life but really about the kind of life that one wants to live, really, and the courage to live that life.

So perhaps the statement should be rephrased: For Me, It's Be Perfect As You Be Yourself.

梅ちゃん at 8:00:00 AM


Friday, April 06, 2007


Topic: Spring Break in Mexico

Items Lost:

- Let's Go Guidebook (1)
- ATM card (2)
- Credit card (1)
- Wallet (plus all those goodies stored up inside for yrs) (1)

Items Gained:

- Infinite fun time
- Infinite credit card bill spent on salvaging all the damages done
- Lots of laughter over the desperate degree of the situation (no tears, thankfully)
- A more blackened lung thanks to Mexican air quality
- A terrible cold + two-day-long fever: worst ever in years
- A record-breaking experience: missing my flight after a daylight saving time change


- Mexico City is NOT English friendly; Puerto Vallarta is EXTREMELY English friendly
- The best food in Mexico is anything under 30 pesos and sold on the street by local food vendors
- OJ in Mexico is the bomb
- 80's degree weather all day long is the bomb too
- Beach quality in PV is no good; sunset view is amazing though

Current Challenge: Adjusting to 50 degrees of temperature difference plus getting over a resilient cold. Oh yah, and work ...

梅ちゃん at 7:05:00 AM