Photo Diary of a Year: Scenes from 2013, Part 3 (The Last Part)


The view from my window, taken during New York’s first snow.

I set out to make new friends, but was met at the airport with old chums from middle school. Among the best feelings in the world: being greeted by familiar faces outside an unfamiliar airport. Continue reading “Photo Diary of a Year: Scenes from 2013, Part 3 (The Last Part)”

Photo Diary of a 2013, Part 2

At the beginning of April, I left the bustle of Asia and came home to this:

The road. 

I flew to New York to attend Columbia’s admitted student’s night and stayed with Albert, an architectural student from Taiwan whom I’d met many years ago through my cousin. He never slept and smoked like a chimney and was constantly complaining about his monumental workload, but ask him if he’d prefer to be studying anywhere else and he’d shake his head. “New York is where I want to be.” His apartment was my temporary home and despite it being dark, with critical windows facing brick walls, I could see how when life is full and you’re doing what you love (and hardly ever come home because you’re at studio), things like that matter just a little less.

“I haven’t slept in three days,” says Albert, “But I’ll sleep when I’m dead (or when I run out of cigarettes).”
I was, obviously leaning towards Columbia but two things helped seal the deal: 1. They gave me more money. 2. I found my dream studio, minus the nightmare of five flights of stairs and no elevator. Also, the passionate urging of others helped. “It’s New York! What the hell are you going to do in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere North Carolina or West Virginia! New York, Betty! New York!!! Every writer’s dream!”  
I have yet to set foot inside that building. 
With the minor detail of where I was to spend the next two years of my life out of the way, it was time to settle into a peculiar routine: three days a week I lunched with my grandfather. I would get to his house around 11AM, read for a half hour, then put together a simple meal while he watched TV or read the paper. We’d eat, chat about things – sometimes he would tell me stories, sometimes he would be quiet and shake his head, wondering what was to become of me. All the time he would think about his old half, my grandmother. Lunch was always short, a thirty minute affair at the end of which I would clear the dishes and ask him if he wanted dessert. 
“None for me,” he would say. But I would push and push and eventually he would share a pineapple cake or have a bite or two of ice cream. We would read for a half hour more and he would retire to take a nap. I would move to the couch and try to continue reading, but eventually, the whirr of the water pump in the fish tank, the breeze from outside and the warming afternoon sun would cause me to nod off and for an hour Grandpa’s house would be silent but for the slow, even breath of an old man and a young woman, an anchor and a sail. 
Because sometimes glasses just don’t cut it. 
And around these afternoons I saw friends… 
Coworkers who turned into great friends, Grace and Enny. 


Babies galore at Lucas’s (on the right!) One Month Celebration held, where else? At Sam Woo’s in Irvine. 
May rolled around and I turned twenty-seven. A damn good age, if you ask me. 

I took a trip to Charleston to see Grace, a cellist who was playing in the Spoleto Orchestra (longer post to come). I fell in love with the south and southern food, but that was expected. I went to my first southern beach and wondered what the hell southern Californians were so proud of. We wore summer dresses. I let my hair down and played bingo and drank with classical musicians who were surprisingly raunchy when they weren’t playing classical music. We walked a lot, ate a ton, and I pretended to understand the opera she got me tickets to.

Woohoo, culture! 
Grace walking at Sullivan’s Beach. 
When we weren’t stuffing our faces with fried everything we were trying to walk it off.  
Like that one ride at Disneyland. 

And immediately after that, my mother suggested an impromptu trip to Kauai. She popped into my room one evening and asked, “How much are tickets to Kauai at the end of May?”

I looked for her, then asked, “Who are you thinking about going with?”

She seemed surprised, “Oh, you! Do you want to go?”

This is what’s called a no-brainer. So we went, just the two of us.

My mother thinks about her mother. 

On our last day there, we went swimming in the hotel pool, then my mother took a nap while I wrote a letter to my brother. When she woke, I asked her how she felt about barbecue. She said fine. I ordered it by phone and drove to pick it up. My mother stayed in the kitchen, peeling papaya and when I returned, I saw that she’d been crying.

“Mom, what’s wrong?”

She started crying again.

“I was just thinking about grandma.”

“What were you thinking about that made you think of grandma?”

In hindsight, it was a stupid and insensitive question, but I think my mother understood what I meant.

“I am so lucky that my daughter can travel with me and we can spend time like this, but I can’t do that anymore with grandma.”

I hugged her, because you can’t really do anything or say anything but hug a person who misses their dead mother.

“Let’s eat outside on the balcony,” I said, and she agreed.

I poured us each half of the small bottle of wine we’d gotten from the airline and when everything was served, she raised her glass to me, something I’ve never seen her do. My mother is not a big drinker.

“I wish you a good happy life in New York,” she said. Her voice broke and her face crumpled and I choked up too, but did not cry. I said thank you. I said, “I already have a good and happy life.”

My mother thinks about me. 

At the end of June, it was time to return to Taipei. This trip was much shorter than the first, but no less fun. For starters, my cousin Karen and I returned to Hong Kong:

Traveling for business, obviously.  
Before our feet started to hurt. 
Do this panorama some justice and click on it. 
My brother got married (again, to the same Cathy), at the W Hotel in Taipei. He cried the whole time and Cathy, was like, “What is wrong with you.” It was very touching. 
Bubbles and my brother’s tears. 
Some Ho’s and then some. 
I spent some quality time with family in Taiwan, and it felt a little different this time because I wasn’t sure when I’d next be back. 
My uncle at the office. He looks at numbers, then reads Buddhist scripture, and is in bed by 9PM. Every. Single. Day. 
My cousin Melody was also home from Boston over the summer, taking a break from breaking hearts. Over Din Tai Fung, we talked about the elusive Mr. Right and the ubiquitous Mr. Wrongs.  
I ate Chinese food as though my life depended on it, unsure of what awaited me in New York. Pasta, it turns out. 
And a lot of the time, marveled at the fact that this guy was in a relationship with a girl who really really likes him. “I don’t know why either,” he says. 

I returned to California in the middle of July, hoping to return to a somewhat normal schedule, but it was crunch time. There was another trip to Vegas with the girls I go most often and have the best time with: 

Elevator selfie. 

A short trip to SF. First stop, two nights at Erica and Carson’s:

TPE – HKG – SF! Taxicab selfies are now a thing. 
I had lunch with Emily from Pearl’s wedding. She lived in SF and was trying to convince all her single girlfriends to move out there. 
“The odds are so much better for women in SF,” she said, “I heard it’s hard to meet someone in New York.” 
I nodded; I had heard the same thing. But a month later Emily would make it very easy for me to meet someone in New York. 
“What about POI? He’s offensive and so is Betty.” 

And the main event: Jaime’s Bachelorette party, which was supposed to be tame but ended up like this:

The bachelorette and a very drunk man who liked very much to “back it up.”  

My cousin Wendy’s baby shower:

Remember earlier in the year she was in Vegas! 
And a quick succession of hangouts before I had to leave town: 
I watched a lot of movies with this girl, equally as obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch as I was until we realized he was probably gay. But we still really like him. 

With cousin Michelle in Venice, aping an ape. 
At plate by plate with Enny, whose outfit was pretty much the talk of the town. 
Billy’s dad salting seasoning their salmon during a random weekend at their mansion in Upland.  
With Angie and Lynn at a Phoenix International event. 
Getting In n’Out with Grandpa. 
With Auntie Linda, a few days before leaving. 
Pint-sized houseguests from Taipei. 
An impromptu mexican feast at Grace’s.  
Then, on August 17, 2013, I moved to New York. 
Well. Sort of. 
The early days. 
Grace and Charlene were there to help make things better. We went to HomeGoods and bought mirrors and lamps, you know, essential things. They helped me haul three giant boxes filled with Forever 21 crap up five flights, something the UPS guy failed to do. 
Best moving service ever 🙂 Way better than UPS. 
Then in my giant mess of an unfurnished room, we got ready for my first girls’ night out in New York. 
And it was never this messy again. 
Cleaned up and celebrating Charlene’s birthday belatedly, at Robert in Columbus Circle. 
And it was back to California for Jaime and Alvin’s beautiful wedding in San Clemente. I’ve known Jaime since middle school, when we met in science class and giggled together at the teacher’s giant armpit sweat stains. Four months later, she and her husband would fly through a snow storm and battle massive flight delays to visit me in New York. 
With bridesmaid Emy, also an old friend from high school and Jaime, one of the most low-maintenance brides in the history of brides. Emy and I always look like her bodyguards.  
I like to think that some of my photos were better than the wedding photographer’s. 
At the wedding, just as I was sitting down to dinner, Emily texted me. 
“Hey! I want to set you up with someone.” 
“I’m game,” I said, taking a bite of fish. 
A few minutes later POI texted, asking me to dinner sometime the following week. I’d let him know tomorrow, I said. First I had to eat cake and dance. I was at a wedding, after all. 
The next evening, I boarded a red-eye flight from Long Beach to JFK. And just like that, it was back to New York. For longer, for real. 

Photo Diary of 2013, Part 1

 At the end of each year, I go through my photos. This is what you do when you have a bad memory. I click through the folders, labeled by events or by season (big events – weddings, holiday parties, trips, etc., – have their own folders, while seasons, paired with a specific location, e.g. “Fall in New York” stand alone to represent the zeitgeist of the time). This year (and hopefully each year after), I’ve decided to share. It’s an effective way to remind myself of the people and places that matter and of that familiar paradox: how long a year is! And, how very very short.

Continue reading “Photo Diary of 2013, Part 1”

Laughing Hysterically at Dinner

My birthday dinner with friends was held at The Orange Hill Restaurant, located way up on a hill that over looks Orange County. Stepping inside, my cousin Michelle said, “The last time I came here was ten years ago, for prom.”

My brother and his wife were supposed to have their wedding reception there. My dad and I had rushed around last fall trying to secure the Evening Star Room and adjacent patio and when we’d done so, placed a non-refundable deposit for Sunday, July 7th, a grand time to have a wedding because the ceremony would be held outdoors against the setting sun and afterwards we’d all be ushered into the dining room with panoramic windows of the view. 

Then some things changed. My brother and his wife are now having their reception in Taiwan which left us with a massive question: how do you finagle back the non-refundable deposit? Well, you can’t. But you can host “up to four events,” the restaurant manager told us firmly.

“Have a good time,” my dad said, when I suggested I have a birthday dinner there, “tell your friends to order whatever they want.”

So we did, and I spent most of the night looking like this:

Thanks for this, Charlene. 

Amy was kind enough to put my hair up in a sock bun ten minutes before we left, but from some angles I like I looked a little too kung fu master. It didn’t matter; I always look better in person anyway. I had a good time scaring people at other tables, gentle families who wanted to take their mother somewhere nice with fish on the menu and dim lighting. Except the guy behind me couldn’t tell a story without peppering it with the F word. My poor friends, I hope they had a good time too, though most of the time they were probably thinking, “What is she laughing at?”

Amy: “Betty, you’re scaring me.” Notice the empty plates of dessert. 
Jaime: “I didn’t even say anything.” 

In calmer times, we managed to catch the sunset and pester a kind, patient waiter to take multiple versions of this photo for us.

Twenty-seven with some friends, some cousins, all family. 

Mostly I was laughing because that’s what I do when I’m happy.

Letter about New York

Dear X,

Dude thanks for sending the Ebert article to me. It’s nice to know he was so approachable – sometimes I have these lofty dreams about being some uber famous mysterious writer who doesn’t take interviews like Salinger, but I don’t think that sort of behavior is in my blood. I want to teach so I can make myself as accessible as my professors were to me, and I think these things really do come full circle 

I’m slowly getting more excited about moving to New York, but there is still so much going on before I even make the move. I’m still going back to Taipei for a month for my brother’s wedding and then J’s bachelorette and wedding… 

BUT I just returned from a long-ish weekend in New York where my emotions ran pretty high, at least on the first day and a half. My flight was delayed three hours and I basically spent all of Thursday dragging my carryon through John Wayne chasing friendly but incompetent UA agents down asking, “Will I ever leave?” When I finally arrived in New York (or Jersey, actually) and waited an HOUR for super shitty shuttle, I was shocked by the cold. Shocked! I had packed a wool cardigan and a tarp-like trenchcoat, but it wasn’t enough. I used to raise my eyebrows at people who said, “It’s so cold I wear two scarves,” but I became like that this weekend, twisting two cheap scarves together to make one slightly thicker cheap scarf that didn’t really do much. 

The sad thing was, it wasn’t even that cold by New York standards: just 49-55 degrees or so. That made me think, “I don’t think I can do this.”

On Friday I went to view some apartments with an Asian broker around my age – she moved to NY from SF, loved New York yada yada yada even though she lives with her boyfriend in a basement somewhere an hour and forty minutes away. The whole time she emphasized that she was being “straight” with me and I don’t doubt that she was, but my god her listings were terrible. We walked through torrential rain to four apartments, three of which were literally about as big as my brother’s room (including kitchenette! Hot plate right next to the desk or bed! Your choice!) and only had one window, just like Rikers, the place all the rapists and pedophiles go on Law and Order: SVU. Not very much light in any of the units, which I need tons of. They were all in these rank old buildings that appeared to be on the edge of caving in, which I began to think was quite normal in NYC.

Perfect example of don’t judge a book by its cover. 

The last one was on the top floor of an old townhouse, and it was larger with more light (2 windows!), but the building through which I had to climb seemed to be on the edge of collapse. I had never seen such filthy carpeted and narrow stairs, and the studio was very obviously the servants’ quarters back in the late eighteen hundreds. I wondered about things like furniture and how they got into the living quarters. 

The broker seemed to think I was accepting the situation because I just nodded silently every time she said, “This one is reasonable! Totally reasonable!” I wanted to shake her unreasonably hard. Still, despite my initial disappointment I held onto this rather prissy conviction that my dream apartment in my desired price range existed.

So I was wet and cold and staring into these abysmal hell holes in not so great neighborhoods, and when I finally got back to my friend A’s apartment I just wanted to pack up and rethink my leaning towards Columbia. I decided not to stay shivering in the apartment and went out for a walk, ending up getting on a bus that took me to the Met where there was a great exhibition on fashion in Impressionism. The museum was crowded, but still warm and I ate a cupcake in the basement (silently promising to myself that I would never EVER do that sort of thing again: eating giant desserts alone in the basement of anywhere), and felt oddly in-between warm and cold, happy and not very happy. I was between the art and the lonely place I remembered so well the first time I went to New York – and this time I realized, staring at the crumbs of my Crumbs cupcake, that the art wouldn’t be enough. 

Later in the evening, I attended the admitted students’ night and heard Richard Ford speak rather earnestly about the “point” of the MFA (he got his from UCI), and considering that he is famous (in the writing world) and has two books from which I have quoted endlessly on my blog and in my diaries I was like, “Heeey.” I also talked briefly to Gary Shteyngart who wrote Absurdistan, which I think I borrowed from you but never read, but then saw prominently displayed in every single bookstore. 

He was very weird in person and quite short and wearing a plaid shirt with short sleeves. Actually most of the professors looked weird (long white hair, huge glasses, gawky eyes, pale papery almost translucent skin – I kept thinking a bit wistfully about Zadie Smith who is gorgeous and teaches at NYU) as well as some of the students (including several girls named Cora or Fiona or Wynona who were all either tall and willowy or short and fat (eating disorder alert, the lot of them) the former who looked as though they were made of cigarettes and the latter who clutched moleskins to their heavy bosoms because, well, that’s what serious writers us. Interestingly, I saw SO many people holding Moleskin notebooks that for a minute I thought Columbia was gifting them to us, but disappointingly there were only the wine and cheese and the company of my future classmates.  

Basically most of the students looked as though they all took themselves and their “craft” very seriously and basically, I milled around with a glass of water and said, “Published? No, but I have a blog.” 

But everyone was kind and helpful, including a girl around my age from San Jose who gave up a full ride to Wyoming (they rejected me) for a no-ride to Columbia and who, like me, also likes writing about family (she is actually from Shanghai whereas I only get sick and throw up in Shanghai). There was also a gregarious black woman of about forty-five named Yvonne who was a professor back in Austin Texas but for some reason felt compelled to pursue an MFA with a focus on music writing and is now paying both her mortgage back in Austin and student loans. Because she was older I asked how she liked the classes (most of the students seemed to be late twenties early thirties) and she said, “Oh I love them! But there’s this one girl who writes exclusively about ex-boyfriends.” 

“Like Taylor Swift,” I thought. 

“Frankly,” Yvonne said, “I just don’t give a crap.” 

We walked out of the event together later that evening and she stopped me from turning on the path I’d come from, “Don’t walk through Morningside Park at night. I’m black and I don’t do that shit.”

I went out after that with my A and his friends (bright young things) from his graduate architecture program and mused at the various incarnations of “artistes: architects, writers, painters… Writers are somewhere in the middle – not so rigid as architects (all the bright young things seemed to me so angular, with their black and grey and white clothes – that and they were all Asian) and not so crazy as painters, though now I’m not so sure, having seen the collection of people who actually write for a living at Columbia. I label people so broadly and it probably hurts me (and them) but honestly, (and this is probably as close to damning the writer’s work as I’ll ever come – that and my awful habit of reading book reviews in lieu of the actual books…) it’s exhausting to note the details all the time. Sometimes I just want to say callously, “Oh? I didn’t notice because I don’t care.” 

And of course I am callous. During the admitted students’ night when someone asked me why I didn’t like the Bay Area. I responded, “I don’t like homeless people.” I felt several of my future classmates turn to stare. 

“Where I’m from,” I continued, “We pick the homeless up and drop them off in other cities.” 

More stares. I’m sure I made a rather distasteful impression on some of them, but they’ll get to know me once classes start and they’ll think what everyone things, “God she’s blunt.” 

ANYWAY – that was not the crowning and probably deciding factor of the weekend – FINDING MY DREAM APARTMENT. I went to meet with one more broker on Sunday and she showed me three brilliantly bright apartments in a five story walk-up, all within my price range and on West ZZth street between Broadway and Amsterdam, all gorgeously airy, with a window in the bathroom and in the kitchen, which was just large enough to accommodate a small small small dining table. 

I fell in love but was also heartbroken because it was much too early for me to lock any of them down without wasting $$$ on rent. I told her to keep an eye out for me for apartments just like these, and she nodded, though I could tell that she felt I’d be priced out once summer rolled around and rents routinely jumped up $200 or $300. 

I spent the rest of Sunday half brooding and half dreaming about said apartments and telling the universe that I wanted any one of these apartments, and convincing myself that I’d get one too, at my desired price point. But it didn’t seem plausible… but I still kept wishing. Demanding, actually. 

Then Monday, I was scheduled to see ONE MORE apartment, not through a broker but through a leasing agent that represented one building. I met him in the lobby and a rather disheveled, bony woman with piano hands came in behind me wearing wire-framed glasses and ugly shoes. The leasing agent, a man named Brian, asked me just as the elevator opened, “So, Betty, when are you looking to move in?” And I said, “August,” and the elevator doors slid open. 

“Betty?” the woman asked, and I paused to turn around as Brian held the elevator door open.

“Could I speak to you after you’re done meeting with Brian?” 

I thought her kind of weird. She seemed to me like a Berkeley professor or something. Rat’s nest hair and faded clothes. A Nokia phone. Lots of quinoa in the diet. I nodded sure, but was thinking, “Oh god what does she want…” 

When I came back down I asked her what was up, dreading that she might want to be roommates or something, but she basically turned out to be my angel in disguise. She was looking to sublet an apartment from May until August and was getting desperate because she had walked up and down the city, finding that everything was either too expensive or weird or the location was just not right (she had earned a hard won arts administration internship with the Lincoln Center) and was hoping to find something on the west side. My eyes lit up like the blazes and I quickly pulled her aside and lowered my voice: 

“Well, don’t tell Brian but I HAVE THE PERFECT PLACE!!!!” So we ditched poor Brian and put her in touch with my broker and the rest is history. 

So basically, I’m waiting for one final document to complete my rental application and voila – a gorgeous, sunny and clean studio on the upper west side shall be in my possession, hopefully by the end of tomorrow! I’ll show you video and pics when you come home. 

That said, please come visit me in New York. Anytime. My education remains to be seen, but my apartment will undoubtedly be the bee’s knees. 




The plan was to fly from Seoul to Shanghai, spend a few quiet days with my brother and his wife before my cousin Karen came into town, at which point we would change out of tennis shoes and into heels and go out into the booming, boozing haze of Shanghai’s nightlife. Then, on Sunday morning we’d beat ourselves awake at 6AM, eyes painfully sensitive to air and light, hair still smelling like last night’s smoke and board a six-hour bus ride southwest to the Yellow Mountains in Anhui Province. We joked about the photos we’d take: done up, mascara’d young women in nightclubs and lounges, tired hags in the clouds high atop the Yellow Mountains.

“You guys have very diverse interests,” my sister in law mused.

That was the plan. What happened instead was I arrived in Shanghai from Seoul at 2:30PM, was greeted with icy cold rain, a half-hour wait for a taxi cab and then an hour long ride from the airport (the closer one, no less) to my brother’s place. I was underdressed and a bit tired from all the waiting, but still, I was in Shanghai and even though my body said, “Heeey, maybe you outta take a nap,” I shrugged off the fatigue, threw on an extra sweater and took a long walk with my sister-in-law before heading to dinner with my brother and his coworker in what seemed like the outskirts of town.

The coworker, a Korean named Daniel, had asked my brother a few months earlier if it would be alright to send some vitamins via his sister. They were much cheaper in the States where their safety and purity was assured. My brother said sure why not and a few weeks later a shoebox-sized packaged arrived from GNC at our house in Orange County, filled with fish oil and men’s daily vitamins, the latter of which made my mother wonder what the hell I was doing to my body. I explained that they were not for me and packed them into a largish suitcase with my scarves and shoes and brought them back to Taipei. My brother then came to Taipei from Shanghai for Chinese New Year and I handed him with the vitamins for his Korean coworker. Upon receiving the vitamins the Korean was pleased.

“When your sister visits Shanghai, I will treat her to dinner for her troubles.”

It really was no trouble (I marveled at the Korean man’s patience, waiting nearly three months for vitamins!) but this is why, after leaving Seoul, my first meal in Shanghai was a Korean feast in Shanghai’s Korea Town, adjacent to a Korean shopping center called Seoul Plaza.

My medical expertise tells me it was the sudden change in weather and not the food that made me sick. The dinner was delicious – a spicy mix of seafood and vegetables paired with endless Korean pickled side dishes and the most excellent bowl of white rice I’ve ever had the pleasure of chewing through – though I still get a bit nauseous thinking about that night’s dinner. I ate more than I normally would have, an unfortunate side effect of fatigue, but was otherwise in good spirits and looking forward to the night’s slumber. Walking out of restaurant into the freezing Shanghai air, I imagined that the Korean food had warmed me. Back at the apartment I changed into pajamas and clearly remember thinking as my head hit the pillow, “I will sleep very well tonight.”

And I did, until 6AM when I woke feeling ill in a vague, indescribable way. It was as though an insidious night terror had crawled down my mouth in the middle of the night and lodged itself in the core of my body, a limbo neither esophageal nor gastric. There was the faintest nausea with an indeterminate discomfort in my belly and a feeling of occupancy at the base of my throat – symptoms which on their own would cause me no worry but experienced altogether made me feel unsure about my existence. What was it? Like a word on the tip of one’s tongue, I could only say over and over again, when my brother woke and asked what was the matter with me, that I “did not feel well.” It was the understatement of the year. I was no stranger to stomach flu or cold and fever, but now the symptoms came from all directions and muddled my mind. Later my aunt would guess that I’d become victim to Taiwan’s latest flu virus, something that sounded like Nola, but without going to the doctor, we couldn’t be sure. I lay in bed ailing, the more coherent parts of my brain deciding whether to stay in Shanghai and calculating what the loss would be if I went home early: 500 RMB fine for canceling the Yellow Mountain tour package and a 700RMB fine for changing the flight and most painful of all, my cousin’s utter disappointment.

Going to the mountains was her idea and I was surprised that she had suggested it. I don’t know anyone else in my generation who would say, “Yes, let’s go clubbing in Shanghai and have a fancy dinner and all that, but please, let’s also see the Yellow Mountains.” That’s my cousin Karen for you. But I suppose when one is an overused and under-appreciated cog in a giant accounting machine, anywhere outside the office building would seem a respite. It makes sense then that the Yellow Mountains in Anhui, the backdrop to such films as Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and inspiration for James Cameron’s Pandora in “Avatar” were, at least two weeks ago, Karen’s much anticipated escape.

It would be better to see the mountains with her than not at all and she gamely researched and booked the trip, finding two of the mountain’s best-rated “resorts” (dismal two star motels at best, by most traveller’s standards) and looking up the area’s most popular trails for us to traverse. She had, a few days before her departure to Shanghai, assembled a respectable collection of borrowed hiking gear: a friend lent her his backpack and a coworker a pair of walking sticks, the kind that folded up into a tiny cane when not in use.  To everyone she talked excitedly about our plans. Some of her coworkers looked on enviously before turning back to their computer screens.

My aunt, not wanting her daughter to freeze to death in one of the world’s most famous mountain ranges, took Karen to the department store to buy a full set of Gore-tex outerwear to guard against the chilly mountain air. Karen had perused various online travelogues that advised travelers to prepare sustenance as food up in the mountains was expensive, so she’d gone to 7-11, stocked up on instant noodles and stolen a few packets of instant oatmeal from her office, where on Thursday evening she was only half-heartedly discussing convertible bonds with her manager. Her heart was already climbing the vertical steps leading up the Yellow Mountains and she could very nearly smell the crisp mountain air when she received the string of woeful text messages I sent her from the chilly guest room of our Shanghai condo.

“Hey Karen, I’m really sorry, but I got really sick all of a sudden. I don’t think I can go out never mind go to the Yellow Mountains. I think you should cancel your flight….”

She didn’t respond until a few hours later, but what happened, I learned after returning to Taipei, was that at 5PM on Thursday evening, she’d gleefully told her director that the convertible bonds would have to wait until after her trip to Shanghai. With a skip in her step, she went to check her phone to see if my aunt had called about her coming home for dinner, and instead saw the texts. She read them with the cliched sinking feeling all humans experience at one point or other and with her heart no longer light and her feet suddenly slow and lethargic, heavy, went back to her manager. She asked him to continue about convertible bonds with a muted expression.

“It can wait,” the manager said, waving her away. He knew when the underlings were checked out.

“I’m not going to Shanghai anymore,” she said and glumly explained what had happened.

Her manager laughed, not meanly, but patted her arm and said, “Well, since you’re not going anywhere, we’re not exactly pressed for time. Go tie up your loose ends and we’ll talk about it tomorrow. “

She cancelled her flight, the tour package, and on Friday, arranged to return all the things she’d borrowed. She’d unfortunately cut the tags off the Gore-tex stuff which made it hers forever, and the noodles, well, the noodles would stay uneaten in the kitchen cupboard.

The next morning, her friends and coworkers either jeered or looked at her strangely, “Aren’t you supposed to be partying in Shanghai?” they asked.

She hunched her shoulders and muttered something about her cousin’s weak constitution. The computer screen blinked with the likeness of convertible bonds, whatever the hell they look like. Karen blinked too. She shook her head. Expectations, she decided, were a dangerous thing. About 700 kilometers away in a much bigger and colder city, her cousin dragged herself out of bed, rushed to the toilet and threw up the remnants of a Korean feast.

The Fragrant Harbor: Hong Kong Photo Diary

Not supposed to take photos inside Bloomberg Hong Kong, but I did anyway.

In 2011 I spent a day in Hong Kong, walking around Lantau Island and then Central to kill time while waiting for my Chinese Visa to be processed. It definitely wasn’t enough time and I left wondering when I’d get the chance to go back. This year, I jumped at the chance to visit again with E and C, two friends from college whose first stop was Taipei, Taiwan.

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I did a serious blogger thing and paid money for a pretty template, of which, according to the designer, there are only fifteen available. Let’s just say it was a Christmas gift to myself, and turned out to be much cheaper than eighty percent of the other things I was considering buying myself, and something I’d get more mileage out of. Plus, I get to share it with all of you.

I meant to write a fabulous upbeat post about looking ahead and sticking to my resolutions and unlimited optimism, but I sat at my desk for a few minutes this morning and wrote a few lines, then deleted them out of embarrassment; it all sounded so vague and half hearted. I had good intentions, I swear, and was building said post up in my heart, hoping it would emerge like a sparkling, laser cut diamond on New Year’s Day, words flying from my fingertips in the kind of uninterrupted flow you hear about in interviews of authors talking about their most recent bestsellers I haven’t experienced in quite a while, but it was more like a sputtering car engine, the earnest kind you see in Chevron commercials of cartoonish cars that just want so badly to take you where you want to go but just haven’t the right kind of fuel. That and I was suffering the after effects of Christmas Eve, Christmas (in Vegas!), then a best friend’s birthday party (also in Vegas!) and then…well, the days tumbled together like an invisible avalanche and while I didn’t drink much at all and have clear smiling pictures documenting everything, the whole time inside I felt slightly fuzzy and subdued. It’s a crazy way to feel, but not at all bad.

Charlene captured it quite perfectly one evening in Vegas, alone in our room. Grace, Amy and I were taking our sweet time at the Encore Spa (highly recommended by the way, if you’re curious to know what it was like to be a Turkish Queen – though without the slaves). I was concentrating hard on not thinking (actually immersed in both my robe and the latest issue of O Magazine), and she had come up first to get ready for our heavy, fancy French dinner at Mon Ami Gabi. Stepping into our otherwise darkened room, she saw the colors first, a bold burst of fiery yellow orange glowing at the edge of the desert and sky, so bright that it cut through lines made by the sheer draperies. For anyone who’s spent some time alone in a Vegas hotel room, you may know the feeling I’m about to describe – especially when you stand near the window at the edge of the afternoon, at the dreamy hour right before the city transforms into that thriving, throbbing neon, strobe light bacchanalian mecca we call America’s Playground, Sin City, Las Vegas.

Vegas at Dusk, 2012 by Charlene 

That feeling is an odd concoction of excitement, anticipation, and admittedly, because of my weak composition, some fatigue. But the emphasis here is on the former sensations. I don’t believe what others tell me or what they like to say about Vegas: that Vegas is not real life and that I’m not myself when I’m there. I don’t believe it because I’ve been there enough times with different people to know otherwise, and because I have proof. I can turn to either side of the vista and see the apartment buildings and the track homes of people who have made Vegas their lives and have learned in both hard and easy ways how to balance day and night, the glitter with the sand. And waiting for friends to come back in a half dark room all quiet except for the hum of the AC and perhaps the occasional slamming of a neighbor’s door or the laughs of some rowdy boys, you look out the window at the view, slightly undulating through the sheer black curtain and see something more.

The city is there behind the curtain, its shapes just sharpening against the setting sun. The curtain moves slightly, playing with the light. What faces are being lit, what eyes? The Sun has his time, but at dusk he blesses the city with one last kiss before letting her go off and do her thing. In the morning the sun will be there again, perhaps a little too bright, and, some will think, too harsh, but all he really wants the city to do is wake up and look forward to the night ahead, when the city is at her best.