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goodnight moon

Sep. 10th, 2008 | 03:15 pm

First off, I apologize for the lack of entries lately. Unfortunately, my posting frequency on livejournal for the next four years will remain low, which naturally suggests that my posting wavelength will stay quite high as long as my posting velocity stays constant. In other words, my blogging energy will also be low since it varies directly with blogging frequency (assuming we can apply Planck's equation). From a practical perspective, this simply means that you will not get cancer from reading my blog.

But, all of the above simplifies to the fact that this blog has been losing momentum and will soon begin to collapse from its own inertia . . .

. . . because I just got hired as an official blogger for MIT admissions!

Ergo, r-flautist.livejournal.com is now promoted to http://mitadmissions.org/Yan.shtml.

I was ecstatic upon learning of the 2008 admissions blogger selection results a few weeks ago, especially since the application procedure involved a series of exhausting tasks including (but not limited to) submitting original LOLCATs and glorifying youtube videos to the status of high art. At last, six lucky blogophiles were chosen from the masses and given their own immortal corners of cyberspace.

A bit of history: I've been reading the blogs for over a year now and learned a lot of my tricks from the masterful likes of Sam M. (alumni), of whose myriad entries I have read every last one (this clause barely works gramatically, I know). The thought of joining this legion of Internet micro-celebrities on a site that generates over 1 million hits a year, especially when a large number of readers will be combing through my stream-of-consciousness, trying to probe my psyche for secrets on how to get into MIT (there aren't any, I checked yesterday), still intimidates me in a wonderful, exhilerating way. I've learned over the years, however, that everything turns out fine as long as I (1) write with total honesty, (2) care about the readers, (3) think of the world wide web as my therapist, and (4) remember to turn off the flash.

And, for the faithful readers of this blog, I should mention that the entire public archive of r-flautist.livejournal.com (which dates back to 2003) was available to the blogger selection committee. Unedited job complaints, longwinded rants, aloha-ha's . . . all of it became part of the evaluation. And mitadmissions still invited me over for breakfast this morning!

So, drop by anytime and let me know if it looks like I'm forgetting how to write in standard English.

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St. Louis

Aug. 10th, 2008 | 11:45 pm

Half a baker's dozen plus one half years ago, Highway 40 whizzed past my car window in a humid soup of cement and indistinct vegetation, which was steadily condensing into my first primordial impression of St. Louis. Pepper it with dismay. I wanted flowers bursting at the rims of palatial white streets. I wanted Chinese markets. I wanted desert nights lurking at the side of frenetic shopping districts, city soundscapes perfumed by Spanish accents, and painted buses that doubled as moving, hobo-transporting murals. I wanted California Pizza Kitchen, but without the pizza and the kitchen.

Pasadena was packed into two suitcases in the trunk.

Dad said, “Can you see the Arch from here?”

I looked ahead. A bridge curved over the highway, forming a mild and unspectacular arch. I turned right and saw a building with an arched roof. McDonalds: Not one, but two diabolical golden arches. Another bridge. A splattering of Spanish architecture. Thus began a confused and torturous interest in parabola-shaped structures. Inverted smiles burned into the thin, tenuous fabric of my nightmares that weekend.

Seven years later, with seven days remaining in this nomenclaturely-challenged city, my conscience is compelling me to this: dear St. Louis, although I won't deny that “the Arch” is sort of hip in a New Age, less-is-more fashion, you chose one of the worst landmark names known to touristkind. Imagine if England were famous for the Stones and the Clock, or if Greek tour guides simply encouraged visitors to view the Ruins, or if our nation's capital were distinguished by a building known only as the White House. What a travesty.

Yet, the pulsing heart of my inner hypocrite (inner? really?) is soft as a dying oyster at the sight of this city on a crisp August day, thickly buttered with perfection. Despite the muggy days and the muggers at night, I've developed a love for this city that (like all true loves) has all the characteristics typically associated with bipolar disorder. And so, given all the attention and photographic energy that I've lavished on the OC as of late, it's only fair that I spend some time and webspace rhapsodizing about the city that I've reluctantly accepted as my hometown (well, not so accepted that it's going on my Facebook).

And what better place to begin than 400-or-so words after the beginning? Here's the story of my day, finally.

Not long after 11:00 AM, I hitched up my bike (pictured below) at Saint Louis University and cruised along metropolitan Lindell into cosmopolitan Forest Park, where I became wonderfully lost in a noodle soup of winding streets.
St. Louis Culture Club 008

The pre-noon air suffused with dappled sunlight and specks of shade, the way the rubbery wheels caressed the sidewalk with languorous strokes, the pedestrians screaming as they pushed each other aside when I passed . . . I felt feathery and bright, like an exotic insect with feathers. As I sailed deeper into the verdant heart of Forest Park, studded with ambiguous road signs and useless arrows, I was gripped by an inexplicable urge to become a cast member of South Pacific, the musical. So I sang, for a while, before succumbing to the photogenic beauty of these tiny roadside attractions.

Destination? I was headed to the World's Fair Pavilion for a picnic with my epicurean friends, each of whom was supposed to bring a food item that could not be found in any reasonable supermarket. Eventually, the GPS of my whim received a fortuitous signal from the satellite of my spacial reasoning and I ended up where I ended up. Hello Stairs, meet Bike.
St. Louis Culture Club 010

I reached the summit, looked around, and, to my surprise, discovered none other than The Theme of Atlas Shrugged. Namely, it's lonely at the top. Especially when your friends can't find parking. Oh well, at least I was afforded the opportunity to star in a spaghetti western, complete with the necessary low-angle shot.
St. Louis Culture Club 012

Four weeks later, the other picnickers arrived. All except for the fellow that was consumed for sustenance while the rest were waiting for a minivan to back out.
St. Louis Culture Club 032

At long last, the feast commenced. First course: dough-covered ice cream balls (Mochi).
St. Louis Culture Club 015
(For the curious gourmande: Besides mochi, pictured above are various fruity flavors of Asian frozen yogurt drinks, candied hawthorne berry kabobs, French bread and Nutella, lobster crakers and dried squid (in plastic bag), lychee, and an assorted bag of Chinese snack foods shipped from the motherland in my father's suitcase).

Next was the bombshell neo-European combination of French bread and Nutella, commonly marketed as The Original Creamy Chocolaty Hazelnut Spread that Madame Bovary Died For.
St. Louis Culture Club 016

Veer east to Beijing, and you'll encounter almonds, black sesame, and mixed nuts in a chewy and mildly-sweet paste sheathed in rice paper.
St. Louis Culture Club 017

Squid: Chicken of the Sea No. 2.
St. Louis Culture Club 018

Lychee: Grape meets stegosaurus.
St. Louis Culture Club 019

Naturally, lunch was accompanied by a steady patter of conversation, but I was alarmed to find that my powers of gesticulation were severely hampered by the stickiness of my hands. With not a napkin in sight, how could I discuss sign language or applause or other necessary topics? Emergency. I bolted down a hill and plunged my adhesive fingers into a convenient waterfall.
St. Louis Culture Club 021

Scrambling across protruding blocks as I strategically surmounted torrents of water, I finally realized my secret desire to be the protagonist of an early, somewhat boring prototype of Super Mario Bros.
St. Louis Culture Club 033

The left half of the following picture is what the right half of the following picture sees, and the right half of the picture is that to which the left half of the picture is giving a most terrible facial sunburn.
St. Louis Culture Club 027

The combination of piquesome lunch and equally enjoyable company turned me into a great artist. While the artist admits that the following sequence, staged with much discomfort, is open to stylistic interpretation, the artist likes it because of the middle picture, in which Thoa beams brightly at the camera as she snatches a head in each hand and fishes two limp corpses out of the fetid green water.
St. Louis Culture Club 029

As I step outside tomorrow morning, I will be beseiged by the Mongolian Golden Horde reincarnated in mosquito form and I will feel the clamminess of a thousand water droplets clinging to my skin like microscopic leeches and my hatred for this city will burn with the passion of a supersized glass of passion fruit juice. I can hardly wait.

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In which I prepare for my debut as an advice columnist

Aug. 8th, 2008 | 10:29 pm

Anonymous Friend writes:

"I hit a car the other day. It wasn't bad, just some paint transfer. I also almost hit another car last night. I feel like the worst driver in the world, not to mention the biggest idiot that's ever walked the planet.

". . . I'm scared about college. I hope I pick the right one and the right major and get enough money so that I won't be in debt 'till I'm 50. I'm scared that the outcome of my life depends on a few choices that I have to make while I'm only 17 or 18 years old. Can I just crawl back to my childhood and run in the sprinkler and get my feet muddy again?

"I'm generally a negative person. I determine my self-worth by my academic performance and compliments other people give me. I wish I was stronger."

Instantly, my monitor-frazzled eyeballs fired an urgent signal to my fingers, already poised on home row (read: asdfjkl;) for an Olympic round of keyboard gymnastics. Here I was, suspended inside a stagnant Friday afternoon as if time were a wobbling ring of Jello, ready to melt into a red-fluid night of liquid hours dripping by at an indefinite velocity, rolling blindly into another morning, another day slowly solidifying into another mold of Jello. Pause this. Here I am, congealing in my gelatinously ephemeral relaxation, while my friend and myriad others are stuck in insecurities thick and heavy as concrete. I respond:

"While my helpfulness in regard to most of these is severely limited (ex: My driving is comparable to a 3-year old's coloring. I can't stay inside the lines.), I do want to share some thoughts about college, which seems to be approaching like a concrete wall to a careening motor vehicle. Oops, let's not talk about my last driving lesson.

"Here's the surprise: It doesn't matter. College isn't a road. It's a field of corn. No matter which direction you start in, you can always end up somewhere completely unexpected, as long as you are willing to plow through a lot of corn.

"More than ever before in your life, you'll have the opportunity to explore. Meet strange and delightful people. Join suspicious clubs. Travel the world. Be Magellan. Die in the Philippines.

"And if you're like the average student, you'll end up changing your major 2-3 times. So you might as well pick culinary arts and feminist studies now, because we all know those are your consuming interests.

"A wise and wizened mystic once told me that grades are structured violence. Meaning, to judge the value of a student by numbers alone is a tragically limited basis for education. Toward the end of my high school career, I realized that the best way to learn was to ignore our school's system of quantifying effort and progress with percentages and rankings. Instead, I worked as hard as I thought I deserved, and I worked until I felt like I learned something worth remembering.

"My advice, in short: Determine your academic performance by your self-worth, and not vice-versa.

"Have a great year."

And the truth is, I needed to write this as much as my friend needed to read it.

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Living arrangements

Aug. 8th, 2008 | 09:59 pm

Once in a while, a well-meaning friend will ask me if I've been preparing to move in to my dorm. The answer is yes, but only with certain priorities, so to speak. I'd rather not discuss it in public though.

Axiom: Roommate hates Sylvia Plath.
Assumption: Roommate is currently unaware of my sleep habits.

From this, I derived and implemented a simple test to estimate Roommate's tolerance level for General Weirdness.

Step 1: Message Roommate.
"I have a secret confession to make before we move in together."

Step 2: Introduce dilemma.
"Sometimes, late at night, I will recite passages from The Bell Jar in my sleep."

Step 3: Carefully approach upper threshold of weirdness.
"Depending on the moon phase, I may quote selections from Ariel instead, which always seems to be a hit at sleepovers."

Step 4: Conclude message with a thinly-veiled warning.
"I figured you should know, in case you ever hear me muttering something about shoes and Nazis and horseback riding into the cauldron of morning, etc."

Step 5: Wait for response.
(Step 5A: Cling to dear hope that Roommate does not read blog.)

Let me know if I should patent this method. Also, will you please buy extra bedding and laundry hampers for me while I wait for the results?

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Aug. 4th, 2008 | 10:17 pm

One of the funny perks of keeping a blog is the emergence of unexpected and probably hallucinatory patterns in the trail mix of assorted happenings conveniently packaged as Life. For instance, either I am woozy from heat stroke as I type this or my daily existence is in fact defined by a unifying theme that happens to be Mexico. To continue our delicious metaphor, I have spilled a package of trail mix and found that all the red m&m's, green pistachios, and white yogurt-coated raisins clustered into three vertical stripes on the floor. Evidence?

1. In my refrigerator, there are tortillas and a jar of pineapple salsa, both of which appear in Mexican cuisine more often than in my refrigerator.
2. A bag of avocados magically appeared in the kitchen, and with the aid of a fork, I concocted a substance known as guacamole without conscious effort.
3. The previous situation appears "magical" yet is simultaneously real. Mexican literature is known for magical realism.
4. It's hot outside. It's hot in Mexico.
5. Lately, I've been taking a lot of naps, which are known as siestas in Mexico. Uncanny!
6. I've been listening to The Mars Volta in the time between naps. Half of The Mars Volta's lyrics are in Spanish, and most English-speakers would agree that this half is considerably easier to comprehend than the half that is in English*. As a result, my brain is tricked into believing that it is processing Mexican lyrics with an the occasional dash of Dadaism**.
7. Mexico is often described as "South of the Border". Missouri is also South of the Border (of Iowa).


*English words that I have encountered in the bloviating course of a Mars Volta album: lancet, fontanel, catafalque.
**Time signatures that I have encountered in the same album and personally counted out: 10/8, 29/16.

I was in a listless mood earlier tonight, but the content above has rendered this statement invalid. Zing!

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Miniature update

Jul. 24th, 2008 | 10:08 am

Just for the record, I was planning to top off the OC series with a season finale of previously-unreleased photos and anecdotes. Unfortunately, life does not follow the record.

Since my return to the dominion of the Arch, I've been experiencing a soul-crunching outbreak of cabin fever, alleviated somewhat by a spontaneous daytrip to the city via metrolink. I forgot to mention in the previous post that, upon being received at Lambert airport by mom sans dad, I learned that not only was my father in Taiwan for a business trip but that he had also (1) lost his cell phone and (2) sprained/broken/(some other unpalatable verb) his ankle in a pick up game of volleyball (of all things). Thus, devoid of automobile or anything vaguely resembling one, I've decided to invest in St. Louis's public transportation sector.

Here we come to Tuesday: I walked like 3948294 miles through hill and dale (no, seriously) to the nearest metrolink station. Wait, that sounds a bit too straightforward. Actually, I walked as far as I could and was met with a sprawling expanse of concrete perilously infested with moving motor vehicles, a modern-day Styx separating me from the semi-underground railway. Faced with this befuddling obstacle, I had to mill around and wait until some sketchy-looking gangster guy showed up and nonchalantly strolled along the edge of a highway into a Best Buy parking lot, through which he was able to access the station. I watched, then hiked up a steep hill next to an Office Max, skimmed through some random bushes, reached the highway, and followed suit.

The rest of the trip was fairly easy in comparison. I bought a ticket, waited for the correct train, boarded, successfully avoided eye contact with other boarders, and dislodged myself at the correct stop. "Central West End" turned out to be "Middle of Parking Lot in Barnes Jewish Hospital, with No Recognizable Street Signs in Sight." Fortunately, it had stopped raining and I was able to use the position of the sun to locate the general Northward direction. From there, it was a pleasant walk through coffeeshop-and-bookstore lined avenues up to Lindell and Euclid.

First stop was the library. My goal was to arrange a volunteering/tutoring gig with the local youth library program, but it turned out to be a spectacular fail. No interest at all. It's their loss, I suppose.

Second stop was the bubble tea and crepe shop down the street from the library, where My-Chau and Helena were working. I dropped in, helped Helena paint a mural, chatted briefly with a DJ, and asked the supervisor for a 3-week job. She said she'd call me back. I went home.

Insert transition here.

Yesterday, MIT released my dorm and room assignment. Random Hall, 412 is my temporary abode for pre-orientation and orientation.

Here it is in Google street view, which has slightly Orwellian undertones but is nonetheless doubleplusgood in my opinion.

It's the oldest and smallest dorm on campus, equipped with a 13 year-old bottle of milk, a roofdeck for swordfights, and laundry and bathrooms that are connected to the Internet (surprisingly convenient, by the way).

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Part I of the end

Jul. 20th, 2008 | 02:46 am

St. Louis, I have returned to the festering swampiness of your humid intestines. This I thought as I protruded my cranium sideways out of an open car window attached to a car whizzing down Lindell, which was now steeped in an atmosphere that felt like churned butter in the balmy post-sunset pre-nightfall sliver of 8:00 PM. Immediately my skull was encased in a sonic cloud of cicada buzz, which is what schizophrenia would sound like if schizophrenia decided to become a sound. This particular impression was stirred and mingled with the lively nausea in my stomach brought on by a brief-but-murderous run in Forest Park (the same distance would have been a breeze floating through palm trees had I completed the run in the crisp citrusy weather of Orange County), resulting in a sensory cocktail that would become a puddle of regret the next morning.

Hold on. It appears that someone forgot to rewind. Let's go back, then.

5:00 AM: I'm fully awake at La Cousin's hovel, having pulled an all-nighter fraught with packing and other such necessary pre-travel nonsense, scattered with bouts of inexorable sadness and futile attempts to suck in as much California air as possible so that a thin layer of pollutants would (hopefully) accumulate in the bottom of my lungs like a final souvenir. What a romantic notion, to save the atmospheric trash of a city in your living breathing body so that two entities (person and place) unite in a single, silent pain. I need some coffee.

I feel like Tragic Hero Girl's face.

2 hours and 12 minutes and one security checkpoint later, I dashingly dash from Gate 48B into the nearest dispenser of airport merchandise, grab the nearest protein bar (breakfast), fling some bills at the cashier, and hop straight onto a jet plane, feeling mindlessly jazzed. The wonderful thing about being in a rush is that velocity is to sentimentality as a garbage compactor is to Luke Skywalker. Try that, SAT minions.

“Breakfast” was duly consumed as breakfast-eater was sandwiched between an oversized human and an undersized window. The plane drifted forward right as I drifted off into a mild unconsciousness that lasted for the entire three-hour flight, which explains my inability to recall anything that happened between the twin shores (fraternal twins, I guess) of the Pacific and the Mississippi. I woke up as Mrs. Lambert Airport Landing Strip tremulously flung herself beneath the delicate metallic wing of Mr. Plane.

But, this isn't where I wanted to begin either. So far, I've been building up an airy cushion of soft, frivolous musings so that I can bubble-wrap the memories that require special handling. Thank you for your patience while I unpeel the final sheets of packaging.

On Wednesday night, one of the kindest people I have ever met took me on a spontaneous goodbye tour of Orange County. An is a teacher at SAT Center no. 2 who holds the all-too-uncommon belief that each person we meet is a transitory snowflake of experiences collected and interwoven like water molecules, a transitory snowflake drifting in and out of our lives, deserving of contemplation regardless of ephemerality. And so, knowing that I was to leave a mere three days after we met, An gave me the opportunity to not only transcribe a few last glimpses of the city but also to understand the unpredictable nature of friendship.

After an abortive foray into one of the area's numerous outdoor malls (by now, they've all blurred into a single, glitzy lump of triteness in my memory. Every Hollister conjures up a nightmarish mirrored hall of identical Hollisters, a corridor of psedo-tropical facades flanked by chiseled headless mannequins extending ad infinitum or at least ad Kansas City), the spur of the moment spun us in the beachward direction. Well, roughly beachward, I should say. We got lost on the highway at least thrice and tossed two dollars in quarters into the weirdest, most potentially-entertaining tollbooths I have ever seen.

Finally, I sensed the rime of salt and glimmer of seawater. The buildings looked older, harder and more honest. Narrow streets crowded with a tidal anticipation, hole-in-the wall restaurants rife with the promise of seafood that breathed this morning. Beyond the chipped-paint urban tableau, the ocean reposed in dissipating sunlight as An and I strolled along the Pacific coastline.
Final Day 019

We spoke a lot about houses. Someday, I would like to live in the red one yonder.
Final Day 020

It was 9:00 PM or so before dinner sidled into the night. We ended up at a Japanese pub with dim lighting, low wooden benches, and a staggering array of small dishes.
Final Day 021
(Spicy cod roe)

Final Day 022
(Sashimi from various species)

Final Day 023

(Oops, forgot to take a picture of the fried salmon belly)

Not to worry; we also embraced the other side of the Asian cultural dichotomy. This relatively-traditional Japanese repast was followed by a colorful dip into one of Irvine's gimmicky new Asian dessert bars/cafes, which specialized in serving ice cream blobs covered in gelatinous sticky dough dusted with flour. I have a charming way of making new-age cuisine sound much less palatable than it actually is, but I stuck with a semi-straightforward green tea frappe anyway.

All in all, this was one of the nights that I will definitely remember when I am cloistered in a library at 3 AM in Cambridge prepping for a final in a subject that sounds straight out of The Trekkie's Guide to Sci-Fi Jargon.

Skip ahead to Friday.

My boss is a wonderful, generous lady. Not only did she throw me a surprise going-away party after my last day of work, but she also introduced me to the saving grace of pizzahood. You see, I had practically given up faith in insipid slices of puerile dough smothered with apathetic marinaras, limp cheeses, and dead cow parts. And then I encountered this deep-dish, barbeque-sauce-and-chicken wonder, the inch-and-a-half-thick isoceles miracle of incomparable gustatory pleasure. For the record: the food was from BJ's, which seems to be sadly absent from the Midwest.
Final Day 024

One minor detail: I had actually known about the “surprise” since Wednesday and was consequently able to buy Boss Lady a small token of appreciation in advance. By “advance”, I mean that I cajoled Copier Guy into driving me to the local Asian product-infested marketplace during lunch break on Friday. With his help, I located and purchased a small towel that was rolled and packaged to look exactly like a strawberry cake, complete with garnish and a faux-bakery cake box. Appropriately, I hid the gift in the refrigerator for the rest of the day. Boss Lady was adequately surprised.

Everyone was exceedingly nice to me, including Helen (!) and La Cousin, who randomly showed up late. Here's the gang of partygoers/employees in our natural habitat, minus La Cousin and her boyfriend (who took the picture, I think). Boss Lady is standing next to me in a navy blue suit.
Final Day 032

During a lull in the festivities, I whipped out my TI-83 and decided to stand by the mail boxes to finish my time card for the month. Unknownst to me, the other guests all thought I had disappeared and were searching the room in a growing state of confusion. It appears that my choice of sweater design was rather unfortunate, given that mailboxes also look like gray-and-white stripes.

Boss Lady was highly amused by my chameleonic properties, and I was quickly relegated from Celebrated Honoree to the workplace equivalent of Wally from the Where's Wally books. So it goes.

Following a sentimental montage of hugs and goodbyes, An and I headed off to enjoy the cruel, pencil-bashing genius of Christopher Nolan's Batman. Try that for incongruous. Regrettably, I was asleep for part of the movie and didn't realize this until I checked IMDB's plot summary later that night. It seems that another viewing will have to be arranged.

Later that night, I corrected my fallacious assumption that Dave and Buster's was basically a glamorous pastiche of Chuck E. Cheese. Nope; it's a glamorous pastiche of Chuck E. Cheese plus alcohol and some guy who cards everyone at the door to check if they're on the far side of 25. I also learned that I am far below the national average in terms of aptitude in zombie-killing.

It was close to midnight when I returned to La Cousin's apartment in a thickening simmer of nostalgia that boiled over into a full-blown effusion of regret (whyamIleaving) as dawn approached like an unwelcome silver Toyota Matrix. Which, to bring everything full-circle, describes my whereabouts at 6:00 AM on Saturday morning: in a car headed toward LAX, in a state of wistful sadness, and soon to be in a state of uncalifornia.

I took a picture of my eerily-empty room and added a soft light filter in GIMP to splice in some of that artificial home-sweet-home aura. It made me feel marginally better about sleeping in my own bed again.
Final Day 034

But then my mind ambled back to the fragmented mementos of the past five weeks.
Final Day 035
(Clockwise from top: map of nearest Borders to Cousin's home, fake detention slip, another fake detention slip, awesome non-fake card from Eric, boarding pass for return trip, card for Dave and Buster's with an amazingly useless amount of credit remaining, my nametag from work, free bag from one of La Cousin's shopping sprees).

This is one of my favorites. On Thursday the SAT class and I gathered our grievances and churned out a detention form for Eric, complete with authentic signatures from every class member.
Final Day 036

Later that day, I spontaneously decided to invite the entire class to Borders for coffee and goodbyes. To secure Boss Lady's approval, I officially designated the event as an “informative discussion” for students and parents about college and whatnot.
Final Day 038

Surprisingly, about half the class and two parents showed up to hear me ramble for two hours about my views on education and the role of the college process. I was deeply flattered when the parents insisted on taking notes and absolutely floored when Steven's father bought beverages for the entire table in appreciation. Trust me when I assert that everything I taught and learned that night could easily fill up an entire separate blog entry; let it just suffice to say that my heart felt close to bursting with love for humanity by the time I left.

Speaking of bursting hearts and other cardiovascular complications . . .
Final Day 018

I could barely believe my bacon-and-chocolate-stunned eyes as they gazed upon a monstrous chimera of ambiguous deliciousness, unexpectedly encountered at Tustin's Whole Foods Market (of all the places! of all the ironies!). I was almost prepared to throw my hands up to the unabashed absurdity and surrender $2.59 for the atomic bomb of mankind's confectionary progress over the last century. Mo, you are the Dr. Oppenheimer of our generation.

To be continued.

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(no subject)

Jul. 17th, 2008 | 09:07 pm

Tonight, I saw a cup of chicken noodle soup wildly spilled across a deserted parkway that was 90% street-lit and 10% moon-lit. Picture: doughy limbs of noodles sprawled, supine in watery light. Avant-garde strokes of carrots and celery exploding silently, frozen against luminous asphalt. Splattered supernova, poultry (poetry?) in stopped motion.

The last 36 hours have shattered my conception of humanity, and all I can write about is someone else's soup, undrunk.

No cliches tonight. My heart is the bursting chicken, robbed of claw and bone, diced geometrically, brined callously, souped into a warm bath of tenderness, then flung abruptly into an asphalt sea. I can't function right now, much less blog. Too much emotional broth.

In another 36 hours, this story will be over.

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Day 27

Jul. 13th, 2008 | 08:46 pm

Last weekend, I was ordering dinner in a Vegan/Vegetarian restaurant of undecided cultural identity and found myself unable to resist a vague beverage labeled only as Notmilk. Like a singsong taunt from a contrary third-grader, Notmilk was provocative, mischievous, tugging for attention. What was it? Not milk. What does it taste like? Not milk. What is it not? Milk. And so forth, in an endless circle of peevish puerility.

It was delicious, by the way. Definitely not milk. Fully lived up to its title, I suppose.

I mention this plotless anecdote only so that I can justify my answer when someone asks me about life outside of these neatly-packaged text boxes, beyond the fresh white milk of my internal-turned-external monologue, or perhaps blogologue (it gargles on the tongue like an ungulped gulp of cafeteria cow-fluids). "What happens?" perhaps you implore, if you have nothing better to ponder on Sunday night. Answer: Notmilk.

And Notmilk is not necessarily bland, though its flavor bears no more than a mere shadow of verisimilitude to the nuanced gestures of its lactic sibling. In fact, several of my technologically-disinclined friends pretend to be lactose intolerant and refuse to drink milk, even when I offer a fresh, unsipped, and totally appetizing hyperlink via Facebook chat or AIM (hint: Lucy. Although the very fact that she's used as the example here means she won't read this. How futile of me). Fortunately, Lucy phones me every weekend so we can catch up and share a nice swill of Notmilk.

So why do I write this now? Well, my date of departure has finally settled like fine-grain sand washed up by the tide onto the impending beach of July 19th. This coming Saturday, that is.

Listen: Blogging, although glamorous in its charming fashion of sublimating banality with wit and Pokemon and coffeeshop musings and Aloha-ha-ha's, is nothing more than the most flimsy doppleganger for actual, corporeal living. Notmilk, and I mean this both literally and figuratively, is far more nourishing than milk. For me, this blog is a resilient vehicle for petty analyses, random intellectualizing, and occasional self-therapy, but it is never an adequate substitute for human experience.

On that note, I hope to see every single one of you in person very, very soon. Leave a comment, send an email, or even shoot over a phone call. When/where do you work? What have you always wanted to do in St. Louis? Could you get me a discount if you do the former and I do the latter? Please refrain from texting, however, as this will cost me an entire nickel.

Here begins the actual entry for the day.

Recent developments:

1. In the unflinching absence of an actual library, I filched a tome of Margaret Atwood novels from the modest bookshelf at the SAT prep center (which happens to have the most eclectic mix of crappy Look-Ma-I-Can-Read-A-Chapter-Book books and serious literature that is not always rated PG, to say the least. I was much fascinated by the juxtaposition of Henry David Hwang's brilliantly-subversive M. Butterfly and the neon green cover of a Goosebumps volume (subversive in the hovering eyes of ultra-protective, no-scary-reading-before-bed type parents, I suppose). Sadly, it's almost certain that none of the actual Asian people around here has read the former).

2. I've been plowing through The Handmaiden's Tale whenever possible and will (hopefully) return it before I leave the premises for good on Friday.

3. Yesterday, I went to the Orange County Fair, which mostly consisted of urbanite SoCal'ers pretending to rusticate by grilling up a holocaust of pigs, cows, and corn-on-the-cob and selling overpriced farmer's market produce. Hilariously, there were also tents that sold designers shoes and upscale kitchen equipment on a hay-lined dirt floor that hinted faintly of manure. I'll try to get the pictures up soon.

4. There was a ton of cheap, low-quality goods for sale at the fair. I spent a total of $2.13 on a wallet that is 4mm too small to hold any reasonable credit/gift/ID card and a Transformers-themed Rubik's cube that is turning out to be absolutely diabolical. After 3 hours of eye-dizzying cubing (which included researching instructional videos on YouTube), I'm finally left with only two cubes that need to be switched.

5. I flipped over the packaging for the Rubik's cube and was greeted with the densest, most hilarious sea of blatant typos ever distributed in public. Quote:
"The wayg of combinatoin on gccond layer ia ghowed an below"
"5when the pyramid colors of therd layer as4, tum the side to upper"
"the conbinetion of gix gidea"

I swear, it's as if the guy who writes those incomprehensible spam emails in your bulk folder started working for a toy company run by Jamaicans.

6. Told my cousin that I needed to make a quick run to Borders today. Ran quickly to Borders, as promised. Stayed for three hours.

I had some extra time after I paid for my books, so I walked around the outdoor mall and let papery fragments of Neil Postman's writings ferment in my brain while little kids played in water sprinklers and throngs of denimed twentysomethings passed by, clutching coffee cups and faint airs of self-consciousness. Beautifully and beatifically, darts of perception began to leap between my inner and outer worlds, mingling bookish musings with mall-ish frivolity . . .

To be continued in a separate entry.

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Day 24

Jul. 10th, 2008 | 11:08 pm

I'll be blunt; tonight, my cousin and I had a soul-baring fight. Current weather condition is 68 degrees Fahrenheit and cloudy, current emotional state is disemboweled.

At roughly 8:30 PM, she managed to snag the one insult that I absolutely cannot swallow with a warm-hearted glass of milky forgiveness and a plate of good-humor cookies.

Imagine: the part of my linguistic facility in command of blogging, wordplay, general wittiness, and other such cerebral amusements shudders once and drops dead like a deer hit by a perfectly-timed golf ball. Hole in one, so it goes.

I try to be reasonable: "I wish you had told me that earlier. Could you have spoken to me personally?" Weak, I know.

Cousin: "Shut up. Who do you think you are?!" To be read with inflection soured by absolute disgust.

Long story short, I walked into the hall later, accidentally spilled a metric ton of insecurities on the carpet, and tried to clean up the mess by gushingly admitting my communication problems (ironically, I was highly inept in communicating this last point, but this is only apparent in retrospect). My traitorous voice, the Benedict Arnold of this personal war, inexplicably cracked like an unwelcome dawn. Behold: a vocal fracture, frail and fragile as a newborn duckling, melted hostility into a thin, tenuous stream of shared tears as we were suddenly encircled by the vibrating wings of a moment too young and tender to be understood.

9:00 PM, and we had driven miles away, encircling a sedated lake in the tense darkness. We walked and cried silently.

She asked me if I was afraid of her father. I said no; it had been years since I saw him. She explained that although she feared and sometimes hated him, she felt deeply indebted regardless. Never before had I understood the meaning of filial piety, or (to be less pretentious) of family.

"You're lucky your parents never hit you," she says. (She is mistaken.) "I remember once when I got hit hard with a ruler. You know, the wooden kind. It hurt so much."

Quietly, I remember being kicked by my screaming mother. This was a long time ago.

"And you're lucky you didn't go to school in China."

Another memory: a shrill-voiced preschool teacher grabs some distracting trinket of mine, slaps a few curses in my face for good measure, hurls the aforementioned item down a flight of stairs. and screams at me to go pick it up. Whatever it was, it snapped in two.

"Your mother was scary. She had a terrible temper. She tutored me in math and would go crazy when she lost patience." My cousin stares into a vacant distance. Recalling that my mother also taught me algebra at age 6, I try to conjure an echo of her wrath in the hollows of childhood memory. No luck; I was always quick at algebra.

"I don't know how she became so mellow." Another memory, far worse, surfaces. As soon as my aging mother began to show signs of blunting her razored cruelty, I began to treat her monstrously. Somehow, I consciously tried to exact revenge at age 9 or so; dearly do I remember yearning to reverse our respective roles. She's a nurse now, with a nurse's soft supple personality. I don't respond when she speaks to me on the phone.

With heartbreaking gentleness, repressed emotions welled up like rainwater in an abandoned gutter. I stood with intestines bared, viscerally vulnerable, trembling with relief.

Hours later, I still can't sleep.

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