Friday, April 29, 2011

For Beauty

Sitting here in front of my laptop, I've had "Variations On The Kanon By Joh" played by George Winston streamed from my iTunes more than a dozen times.

After a very long yet meaningless day at work, this seems to be the only consolation to one's soul a. A day when one is "borrowed" to serve as another person's "tool" and "convenience" only for the sake of advancing the latter's personal reputation, professional title, earthly vanity and glory.

In the film, Shawshank Redemption, Andy once gains access to the prisoner governor's office, fishes through a pile of records, picks one, and plays it to the whole prison through the broadcasting system.

The record he picks is Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro".

Outside, the prisoners - one by one - stopped their labor work, dropped their tools, looked up to the sunny blue sky and listened intently to the music floating in air. It is like time had transfixed itself, and so are the prisoners.

Then, Morgan Freeman's firm, steady voice narrates in the background:

"I have no idea to this day, what those two Italian ladies were singing about.

Truth is - I don't wanna know. Some things are best left unsaid.

I'd like to think they're saying about something so beautiful it cannot be expressed in words. And it makes your heart ache because of it.

I tell you those voices soared, higher and farer than anybody in a grey place dares to dream.

It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away.

And for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free."

Tonight - I feel for Andy and all the prisoners at Shawshank. And tonight, I've come to understand much more about what BEAUTY is - as well as the HOPE that is born within - why it should never be given up by anybody or taken away from anybody, at any place.


In this daily battle against this invisible yet omnipotent enemy called "INJUSTICE", more times than ever, I truly wonder if I am the one and only biggest fool of it all, still believing that "INJUSTICE" needs to be fought against, "INJUSTICE" should not be tolerated, and "INJUSTICE" may be and will be conquered, someday.

But perhaps the best weaponry against "INJUSTICE" is not just determination, persistence, a dying hatred against this powerful enemy, or refusal to make compromises with it.


As well as the belief in BEAUTY because it brews hope, comfort, and another day of possible strength to go on.

梅ちゃん at 2:07:00 AM


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

For The Young and Crazy - Live It In Full!

Went to check out the dorm rooms reserved for foreign students on campus this afternoon. When the manager opened one after another single, double, single-with-bath, or double-with-shared-bath rooms for our examination, unexpected nostalgia emerged to overwhelm me.

Summer of 2000. In the midst of a hot, humid, and non-stop rainy season - in which whenever an afternoon shower arrived, we would be walking on the street with our sandals and feet half-submerged into muddy puddles - I embarked on my very first journey to China, dying to get to know this land of my ancestry.

Back in those days, convenient stores remained a rarity in Shanghai except the filthy and dimly-lit "Kedi" where we always filled our water, milk, and breakfast supplies. Back in those days, buses that looked like beat-up iron junk roamed around the city, taking us from the old campus to the new campus afar; each journey took about 45 minutes one way - standing, of course.

Back in those days, 11pm curfew was still applied to even the foreign student dorm, and each time a violator - myself included - returned, putting on the most charming smile was a must in order to avoid a harsh scolding from the first-floor A-yi. And back in those days, a meal in the school cafeteria cost less than 5 RMB, while an occasional self-treat to the nearby Korean or Dongbei dumpling restaurants right outside the school gate could mark the highlight of the day.

I have no doubt that even though our budget only allows us to put two students in one tiny cell-like room with shared washroom and shower room in the hallway, the best late-night conversations, mafia games, random ruminations of the 20-something-year-old's, and contemplations or debates about life, dreams, regrets, and love aches WILL happen and happen earnestly and unforgettably in those tiny, cell-like rooms.

I also have no doubt that with the bloody hot summer weather outside - when the fans or AC's in the rooms will be bound to die or work only under the condition of making incredibly loud noise and creating ceaseless water dripping - some students will fan themselves to sleep in class, not obtaining any of the materials that the professors have said. Others, who manage to keep their consciousness alive, will do so by busying themselves with doodling, journaling, day-dreaming, or again, contemplating about the unfinished bedtime chats from the night before.

That's what youth is about. And that's what leaving your comfort zone and encountering and embracing a world of new culture, funny habits, unfamiliar diet, and strange accents and intonations are all about.

If everything goes well, this summer, there will be a Shanghai-Busan-Fukuoka student exchange program among our school and two other schools in Korea and Japan. Though the prep work remains mountain-high, and the thought of maneuvering through all the required paper work and bureaucratic red-tap for students just paralyzes me, I do hope that one day - in the year 2020, or 2036, or 2045 - someone (more than one!!!) who participates in this program will still remember those bedtime chats, early-morning strolls, mid-day rumination, and late-night curfew violations as a way to remind themselves:

I too was young and crazy, and I too had lived it full.

Better yet - if this may somehow provide students with a life-changing, mind-blowing, vision-opening moment for them - let all bureaucratic paper work and prep work fall!

梅ちゃん at 2:52:00 AM


Friday, April 22, 2011

Last Night in Tokyo

After a rather sad farewell on my very last night in Tokyo, I hopped on the train and decided to drop by the old neighborhood that I stayed for over 2 years. Walking down the rather empty and quiet street past 10:30pm, I felt as if I was simply going home, like all those all too familiar nights when I was still a local resident of Tokyo. There was a scent of fresh spring rain in the air, and the temperature was just perfect for a nice evening stroll.

I walked into the tiny restaurant-bar that at its maximum capacity could only fit no more than 12 people. AJ was surprised to see me and greeted me with a beaming smile.

"Thought you've already gone back to Shanghai!"

"Nah, tomorrow, departing in the morning."

"Well, then thanks for spending your very last night here, dear", she said.

I asked for a warm bottle of nihonshu, only immediately realizing that I was not in Shanghai anymore, and the indoor temperature is never so cold in Tokyo that there really is no need to order everything hot (including water, yes).

"What is more important in life, AJ?", after a few rounds of self-toasting, I popped the question. "Career, or having a family?"

"Why, what's bothering you?" She could tell immediately that I came with a troubled heart tonight.

"I just really don't know if I've given up all I'd had in Tokyo for the right reason."

I took another sip, and flashbacks of my previous life in Tokyo and my current life in Shanghai rushed back to mind. Just the week before, I was taking a lone lunch break in the almost empty school cafeteria since the lunch rush had just finished even though it was barely 1pm. Struggling to eat my cold sandwich while avoiding the reckless water splashing and chair folding of the cleaning ladies nearby, and trying hard not to spill more coffee on myself because the lady who packed my "take-out" coffee and sandwich basically thrown everything into a flimsy plastic bag, I only had one thought in my mind -

"Man ... I used to live in Tokyo. And now, I have cleaning ladies splashing water right by my feet and rushing me out of cafeteria with a broken coffee cup lid and a nasty cold sandwich in hand after a 3-hour-long teaching session in an unheated classroom."

"So, the salary issue still hasn't been resolved at school?" AJ asked.

"So far, I've only seen less than 1/3 of it."

"I don't know why you have to stick it through, my dear," she said. "You've got so much on you; it doesn't have to be like this."

I shrugged, taking another sip.

O-san, AJ's husband, was standing nearby and began to talk. He told me what he'd experienced as a Japanese grown up in Manchuria (as one of the left-behind children after the war), the propaganda songs and slogans that highlighted the best of his youth days, and his first arrival/return to Japan, learning to speak this foreign language for the first time and reclaiming his ties with his real homeland.

"China carries a long~ history and has its own rhythm of life. No one can really change it so easily. Chiang tried to change it, and then Mao tried to change it. So many people had put in the best of their attempts and effort, but look what happen?"

Then AJ cut in.

"O and I used to argue about this lady and her life," AJ said, pointing her finger to this poster on the wall - the ever-so-sweet-and-beautiful Teresa Teng in her usual warm and charming smile.

"About her?" I was puzzled.

"O always feels that in terms of her personal life, it was such a waste for her to be missing out on the chance of a having a good marriage and family ...", AJ explained.

"Of course! Look at her, so beautiful and talented, yet marrying to a French and then suffering so much in her personal life, including dying at a young age 'cuz she lived such a tough life," O couldn't help but went on.

"But I always tell O - that is her 'fate'. She is destined to live a life for the others around her, bringing joy and blessings to the world through her angelic voice and charm," AJ rebutted right away.

"One in a million, if not billions, really!" and AJ had to reiterate.

"Fate huh? ..." I said it to myself. Having just emptied one bottle, I gestured for another one.

"Or is it just that as women, we simply cannot have both? Between the choice of having a thriving career and a good family life, does the choice always have to be 'either/or' for us?" I raised the question after a few minutes of silence.

Perhaps it is for this very question - this dying desire to know the answer - that I'd decided to come back to this all too familiar place to drink and to seek the answer from dear old AJ and O-san.

But before AJ could give me her answer, I had turned into a basket case of tears.

"Don't worry guys ... It's just been a very tough 7 months and a very hard night, bidding a very special goodbye," I reassured them.

For the next hour, my tears couldn't stop falling like the rain drops outside. Thankfully, I remained the only customer of the night until the very end.

Before I dashed out of the door to catch the last train, AJ said the following to me - "You will be fine, my dear. Trust me, you will. I know how hard it must be for you right now and how confused and disappointed you are feeling. But just 'let it be' for awhile, you don't have to do anything. Time resolves a lot of things, it always does. So treat this as a time in life when you 'just be' and think about what truly are the most important things to you."

I thanked O-san and her and dashed out. The rain had fallen harder, and without an umbrella while carrying a 5-kg worth of work bag and dressed in a suit and heels, I ran as if I was running for life. "How in the world have I gone to this point," I wondered to myself, running as fast as I could. "How in the world, really?"

In the end, I still missed the last train, and the rain had no signs of stopping. I crawled into a cab, gave my directions, and just started sobbing.

"Okyakusama ... are you ok?" the driver kindly asked.

"Yes, I am ok, thank you," I said. I even received a little discount from him in the end, for he claimed that it was the midnight construction that had held the traffic and delayed my ride.

At least I got my share of nihonshu that night, and I got this wonderful couple who was out there listening to all of my woes and regrets and poured out their encouragement through the sharing of their lessons in life.



"Keep a strong heart for Shanghai, and remember - you can change your situation," the next day, a friend in Tokyo texted me this line before I hopped on the plane to return to Shanghai.

"Keep a strong heart".

I had the urge to chuckle when I first saw that line. A chuckle, though, that comes closer to a contained laugh, and a laugh that in fact isn't so much of a straight-out happy laugh but a laugh mixed with an urge for sarcasm, cynicism, venting, and simple relinquishment of all control and power.

"Keep a strong heart".

Friend - you have no idea how strong of a heart I've come to acquired even though "how strong-willed of a person you are!" has always been one of those frequent comments given by friends around me. Yet, back in this massive continent that is simply a 2.5-hr plane ride away from Tokyo, sometimes, a strong heart just ain't enough to carry you through the day.

Yet, this line has been on my mind ever since.

"Keep a strong heart".

Will do, my friend.

"... and you can change your situation."

Yes, and I will.

And to the rest of my Tokyo friends: Thank you all, for making my past 9 days of stay meaningful and wonderful. You guys have given me so much love and care that I feel like I indeed am stronger to carry on - at least until I see you next!

梅ちゃん at 12:48:00 AM