Monthly Archives: July 2009

And Now I Know The Time!

On Monday I received my acceptance letter from the New Asia – Yale in China Program at the Chinese Language Center at the Chinese University of Hong Kong!  Very exciting as it is now official!

Since deciding on enrolling at CUHK, I’ve had to do a lot of flying by the seat of my pants, where I really had no idea what was going on (not to say that I know now either).  First off, the website is a tad difficult to navigate, and not all the critical information can be found easily — or consistently! I had read again and again that I should get my application in two months in advance of classes to ensure that the school is allowed enough time to also apply for my student visa.  I even e-mailed the office to get confirmation of this timeline, but in late June, when I just happened to revisit the website randomly saw two different pages insisting that applications be completed either 2.5 months or 3 months in advance, to allow for the initial class application evaluation, and THEN the visa application.

Oh noes! Was I going to miss my chance to head out to Hong Kong this Fall? I mean, worst case scenario would be a delay to January, but I had my heart set on hitting the HK pavement come September.  At that point, I had EXACTLY 2.5 months assuming class started Sept. 7 (which was still listed as tentative on the website). 

So always remember – READ CAREFULLY! Look through every page, and every page it leads to, even if it seems tedious or unnecessary – because you have no idea where important information will be buried.  Also, try to resist that urge to wait – these things take time, and more importantly, you need time to make mistakes.

I had been delaying because I wanted to take a few weeks to study my old college Mandarin textbooks, so that I could try to start from where I left off.  However, I was preoccupied with much of the holiday planning to go to Brazil with Sunil.  In any case, I rushed my studies and went forward with the placement exams (there was both a written and oral component), doing that all online; then sent those in with my application and credit card number, and received correspondence on other paperwork needed for both the program and the visa. 

I proceeded to fill those out – including circling the option “bachelor/spinster” on the marital status box of my visa application (!!!), and voila – it was all off, via electronic superhighway, to the admissions folk in Hong Kong, and then I was off to Brazil.

Now, I still have some uncertainties looming – like what I’m supposed to do about my visa, which level I was accepted into, and whether or not they can take my credit card payment over e-mail – but that’s minor compared to the complete unknown .  And of course, I still have ONE more chance to back out by not paying the balance, but NO! I will go forward and DO IT!

I’m going to Hong Kong, people — SEPTEMBER FIRST!!!

Toto….we’re not in Kansas anymore: Somehow I’m Not Home Here

I’ve been back from holiday in Brazil for a few days now, and I’ve felt completely disoriented and uncomfortable.  First, I have become rather ill; I guess not so bad considering I hadn’t a cold yet this winter, and I tend to get deathly ill but once a year.  If this is my one time, it’s not too bad – it just happens to be rather inconvenient at this time.  But more upsetting – my listlessness, which is beyond me.

In Brazil, we had scheduled activities, or at least some kind of plan to create an agenda each and every single day while in a new place.  Pre-Brazil, I was constantly running around hammering out details to our trip, and also finishing some work for one of my clients.  Now that I’ve returned, I’ve been feeling all wrong.

I have plenty to do – I even did up my “to do” list yesterday — it’s not too bad, but it will require some legwork and tenacity.  Maybe things don’t seem set yet because I have still to receive that blasted acceptance package from CUHK (why they can’t send me an electronic version is beyond me; my entire application and visa application was done all by e-mail).  But I think what it really is is that I just don’t feel that I’m “home” anymore.  I don’t feel comfortable here, even if everything is familiar.

It’s rather unsettling to feel this way.  Every time I’ve slept or napped, I would wake up not sure if I were in Brazil or NY.  Very strange feeling.  I’d have a longing for the distraction of being in Brazil, perhaps scared to finalize my days in NYC.  Although I’ve been seeing friends since a matter of hours since stepping off the plane at JFK, I have no idea what to do with myself when I haven’t any plans.  And since I’m now officially ill, I can’t make plans to see other people.

I feel I am neither here nor there.  I’m at home yet not at home.

First Pangs of Fear

I’ve been off-line awhile because I decided to take a quasi-impromptu vacation to Brazil with Sunil shortly after Independence Day.  I suppose holiday was a bit unwise considering it’s officially crunch-time now (still don’t have the exact departure date yet, but have been told by the CUHK admissions folks that my acceptance package is in the post).  Worse, I seem to have contracted a dreadful cough that isn’t too helpful either.

Sunil and I met not a year ago, just after I’d come back from Brazil the first time, which was an important trip for me.   I had been suffering terribly with the Great Sickness.  I effortlessly lost about 7 lbs in a two-week time span, weighing less than I ever did as an adult.  My insomnia was continually getting worse and worse, to the point where one night I did not sleep even one minute. I was being pushed from all sides.

My AmLaw100 law firm job (for laypeople, that’s just your stereotypical giant corporate firm) was not agreeing with me, and I was desperately seeking an escape for something that suited me better.  The IRS was pursuing nearly half a million more dollars in penalties and interest for my mother’s estate (and we’d already paid out nearly a million dollars in total taxes by that point).  Life at home was also very stressful, and tension between all four of us left us far from the ultra-tight-knit family we were always well-known for.  Oh yes, and let’s not forget the real estate business I inherited (which was still losing money even though I had hired new professionals that should have performed better than the mom-and-pop agency I was using before the primary owner died unexpectedly in May 2008).

Just about everything was difficult.  I was working three full-time jobs as administrator of the estate, real estate manager, and lawyer, on top of some stressful personal matters at home.  So thinking that getting away for 16 days would be a wise idea was a challenge.  Nonetheless I decided to go for it  and made plans to attend Jojo and Paul’s wedding in Rio, followed by adventures in Paraty, Iguassu, Bonito, and the Pantanal.

Heck, I needed a break, and nothing was really going to change in my absence anyway.  I’ll never forget the moment I stepped off the plane.  It was bright and early, and all of my friends were still fast asleep after a long night of partying.  I headed straight away to buy a couple of those world famous Brazilian bikinis and headed for the beautiful sands of Ipanema.  That night,  I had one of the best sleeps of my life, even though I had nowhere to lay but this tiny couch in our rented flat.  I woke up feeling like a human being again.

So when Sunil suggested he’d like to visit Brazil during his own personal sabbatical, I jumped at the opportunity to revisit this beautiful country with him, hopeful of re-experiencing all the energy, beauty and inspiration brought to me the first time in 2008.  I’d also agreed to this trip well before I had decided to leave the country, and being one who avoids backing out on commitments, I carried on with the plan.  Over the course of nearly 2 weeks, we’d visit the Amazon, Salvador, and Rio.

I saw plenty of amazing things (my favorite animal in the Amazon was the sloth!), met many interesting people (was particularly impressed with this highly entrepeneurial couple from Houston that toured with us at the eco-lodge), and  experienced people in a way I never had before (one night in Salvador we had to be escorted to our car by the near 7-foot tall bouncer because this hothead I did not want to dance with earlier was waiting to start a fight with us).

As interesting, educational, and enjoyable as it all was, it was there in my precious Brazil that I had my first pangs of fear about my upcoming changes.  It happened towards the end of our trip in Rio de Janeiro.  We were taking a little power nap in our miserably lit hostel room in Leblon.  For some reason, I just felt too agitated to sleep more than 10 minutes.  I realized I had been feeling homesick at last.  I just missed being able to communicate with the people I loved, or speaking the language I felt I could express myself best in, or being in a bed that I could truly call my own (potable tapwater, reliable hot showers, and toilets I could throw the paper into were also sorely missed).  The feeling was palpable and rest heavy in my chest.

My mind wandered further.  I guessed this painful feeling would be inevitable once I moved.  I felt scared having to deal with this all by myself in Hong Kong some day in the near future.

Worse, I had been missing and thinking about Mom more than usual during the trip.  I can’t recollect specific thoughts, just knowing I missed her badly.  During our trip, Sunil asked when it was she died.  It felt awkward to admit it had been nearly 4 years.  He remarked it sounds like it was just yesterday.  It’s funny how sometimes it still can feel that way.

My unkind mind went on to contorting my ill feelings further, and I began to think about this great change I’m about to embark upon, and why I was doing it.  I started a dangerous path of self-blame:

What a loser I am! I am so incompetent I have to run away to chase some new adventure that is utterly unnecessary in my life right now.  Look how educated you are, and yet you are so completely useless!  What would Mom think knowing you were taking advantage of your inheritance to effectively become some trust fund baby, recklessly going wherever whenever, doing nothing to earn your own keep, only taking.

It went on, and tears began streaming out from my eyes.  I was embarassed.  I couldn’t let Sunil know how I was feeling.  I went outside to this little terrace that overlooked the residential buildings of Leblon.  All were indistinguishable rooftops.  The sun was setting.  I thought the air would help me, but I was still stuck in the negative loop, feeling worse and worse and worse.  A part of me wanted the tears to end, another part wondered if I just might need for them to exhaust themselves.

Eventually I stopped myself.  This was ridiculous, I could go on crying forever, it seemed.  And why should I cry? Great, now I’m just a bratty crybaby!  When I returned to the room, Sunil asked what that was all about.  He’d heard me through the shutters.  I admitted to him my ill feelings, but without raising my eyes to meet his.  There was no way I could let him look at my tearful eyes.

Sunil has more than once been supportive of my decisions to make drastic changes.  Not only has he been supportive of my decision to move to HK, he was also there for me when I was considering unemployment last Fall.  With regards to HK, he pointed out that should I stay in NYC, I should be more disappointed with myself – because I was not doing anything new there, really just languishing in the lack of change.  In contrast, in Hong Kong I’d at least be learning a new and useful, marketable skill, and from there find all kinds of opportunity.  He was right.  He is right.  I’m right.

Now back in NYC, the feelings of listlessness have magnified post-vacation.  I feel uninspired in the mornings (perhaps because my throat is killing me), and I wonder what to do now… At least once I get to Hong Kong, I will be up and running with new goals and aims.  More on those later.

Happy 4th — Getting Sentimental Already!

Happy Birthday America! I was in the midst of another “Prep Steps” post, but have to interrupt to get my thoughts down about this special day in American holidays.

After a long day of barbecuing/chilling/frisbeeing in Alley Pond Park in Queens, a classic July 4 activity, I headed straight back past Manhattan, and onwards to Hoboken, New Jersey.  Why NJ?? For an unbeatable view of the annual Macy’s fireworks show, which was being held on the Hudson River this year to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s epic sail.

manhattan skyline

This is the view lucky New Jersey gets!

Namit and PJ, 2 total photo geeks camped out early on and got a spot right on the water at the esplanade, directly overlooking the Empire State Building.  It was perfect, and I arrived at about half past 8 — around an hour before the 26 minute show was to begin.

I had gone to the Macy’s fireworks extravaganza once before several years ago with my older sister, and it is most definitely an event worth checking out in person at least once, especially if you are like me, and for some uncanny reason, is somehow always mesmerized by fireworks. Being that I’m about to move to HK come September, I knew I could not miss it this year – and I was determined to grab myself the best view possible.

The news last night speculated that there would be approximately 2 million people out on the West side in Manhattan, and around 150,000 on the NJ side. Hmmm…. which did you think made more sense? Well besides the incredibly small crowd (I mean if that was meant to be “crowded,” then I really have lived in a big city for a rather long time), the gorgeous Manhattan skyline was my main reason to head out to Hoboken. Besides, it was incredibly easy to get out there – all PATH trains from 33rd Street go to Hoboken first before heading off for Journal Square on the weekends, and after the 4 stops in Manhattan, you’re there! Who knew? (Yes, Hobokeners, I’m conceding – you actually live in a really convenient spot, and have an amazing view!)

Once I emerged from the train station, I felt an immediate romance envelop me. All you lovers out there, take note – evenings on the Hoboken esplanade were made for you! After a very short walk, I was able to locate the pier Namit and PJ were camped out on, tripods, adjusted shutter speeds and all. Although about half past 8, nightfall seemed to come slowly.

Finally it got dark, but the lights of the city were twinkling.  Straight across the water was my city. My beautiful, shiny New York. My mind wandered as Namit was taking a panorama of the City and PJ continued to tweak his camera settings.  Oh New York, you are so beautiful. I wonder, will I see you come one year in 2010? Will I even be in a place that celebrates on July the 4th?

I then wondered how spectacular New Year’s (Chinese) will be in HK, and how the city lights there will look. That would likely be my next fireworks spectacular.

Before I could wonder much more, the show began, and it was a good one. Each year the pyrotechnicians seem to come up with still more to ooh and aah at, and this one was no exception.  I honestly felt rather overwhelmed this year, and I felt my eyes sting as the first few fireworks exploded up above the George Washington Bridge.

4th of july 2009 - 1

This photo, as awesome as it is (thanks Namit), only barely captures the intensity of the show.

In my mind I already began to get sentimental about leaving, thinking about what it means to be home, to be a New Yorker, an American. I started to feel a sense of nationalism that New Yorkers, who often feel so different from their counterparts in “middle America,” rarely feel (often it seems we’re New Yorkers first before Americans).

While I have plans to move to Hong Kong, I by no means was rejecting my nationality, nor who I am — that I actually did know that being an American was a big and special part of that, and it would never leave me.  It felt weird to have that realization, being a first generation Chinese American who often felt it rather confusing to identify nationality. I wonder, will I feel more “American” when I leave? Or might I rather re-connect with my Chinese heritage?

Feeling this extreme pang of sentimentality was in a way rather exciting. I think going to Hong Kong is a chance to get myself to feel things. I’m not sure how much or how clearly I’ve been able to do that in the past 7 years or so.

Oh, it’s time.