50. Drinking Culture

They drink early, and they drink often.

This is the great country of the drinkers.

I first noticed the drinking culture when they served up wine at our orientation reception. Then, I started to notice the pubs around the corners and down the streets of the LSE campus. Then came the strange flood of people who all crowded around the entrances of these pubs, with beers in hand, at lunchtime.

Then one friday night, we couldn’t squeeze our way into a pub down by the Strand because there was a massive load of people. It happened again one saturday night, and again, and again.

So now, I expect wine and even a corona or two at any school event with the words “refreshments provided” on their advertisement posters. I expect to see students and non-students alike, holding a jug of beer or two at noon. I expect to see people drunk and stumbling about on the streets as early as 9pm. I expect to hear insane stories of pub crawls and I-barely-made-it-home-this-morning madness in the middle of the week.

They definitely don’t like to stay sober. And I’m not the only one taking notice: The Telegraph, The Guardian and the WHO.

This is definitely not a place to start a dry-term regiment, but I am stubborn and defiant. This semester, I am determined to stay as far away from alcohol as I mentally and humanly can.

Cheers to that!

49. The Queueing Phenomenon

I’ve seen good line up. I’ve seen horrible line up. I’ve stood in lines. I’ve crammed into lines. I know about lining up.

But I have never seen line-ups quite like the Queue.

LSE’s space-to-student-population ratio demonstrates complete overcapacity. Its buildings, rooms, hallways, cafes are much too small for its large student body. This problem becomes especially acute when the school hosts conferences, events, and fairs.

I was at a fair last week, that saw more than 700 students pass through a space that can only hold 200 or so comfortably. The school has devised a system to divvy up attendees whereby limited amount of tickets are opened at three slots of time. For this event, students can go for the 5:30, 6:30 or 7:30 time slots, or they can try their luck and come without a booking.

The event was on the sixth floor. At several points, the line-up, or Queue extended all the way round the stairs down to the ground floor lobby.

Students were turned away if they came too early for their time slot or if they did not have a ticket. Some of these students have waited over an hour in the long snaking Queue. But instead of becoming overwhelmingly irritated when turned away, they simply accepted the fact and gracefully stood to the side to wait some more.

With the exception of one or two students who got frustrated with the long line, most came in with a cheerful face and at the ready for more Queues inside the venue. I was blown away by the extraordinary patience of every one of them, not to mention the persistence. I see a long line, and I am immediately turned off from whatever the line is for. I usually don’t even bother with it no matter how much I wanted what’s at the end of it all.

But this year, I will learn because at LSE, there are Queues everywhere. At the library, in the school stores, outside classrooms, inside classrooms, into theatres, into coffee and snack shops. If your day did not involve a Queue of some sort, then it must have been a sunny bright day because both are tremendously rare.

Happy Queueing!

P.S.: I am well aware that Queue is not usually written with a capitalized ‘Q’.

48. Wannabe Londonist

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Driving on the right side of the car and the right side of the road. The queue, the loo, a quid or two. Double deckers. British accents. Talfargar Square. Red, all over the place.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!

London town has greatly impressed me so far. Except for the fact that you cannot just get on the bus with your backward, old-notion coins and paper money, the grey dreary days of rain, and being nearly run over by cars because you were looking in the wrong direction and because pedestrians are not almighty here, this city has definitely got a hold on me.

This has been the fastest I have ever adjusted to a foreign place. Mostly due to the fact that I really had no alone time to dwell on homesickness. I dived right into the busy lifestyle this city loves and demands. Culture shock came and went in the blink of an eye. I did come from a Commonwealth country after all, there really weren’t much grand differences to shock my system. My room was rather dingy when I first arrived, but post-IKEA, it is now very liveable.

My fantastic flatmates put the final nail in the coffin that housed all those horrible feelings of homesickness and loneliness. There are seven of them, and one free pizza night bounded all of us together in a common cleaning schedule and condiment-sharing scheme. If nothing else, at least I won’t have to eat dinner by my lonesome again. As the Italians would say, it’s unhealthy to eat alone. And of all the coincidences one of my flatmates is even a Vancouver native!

Plus, this city is littered with museums, walkways, the Thames, Harry Potter sites, gorgeous tall British gentlemen, and tea. What more does a girl need? There really is no time or space to be dwelling in homesickness.

I have been here for just over a week now, and every day I come home drenched in that good kind of exhaustion. I have some warm lavender tea, chat with some of my flatmates, and I fall right off to sleep the second my head hits the pillows. Every morning starts early, with a full breakfast, lunch preparations and then I take the red double-deckers to school for the day.

What a most fantastic start to my final year as a Masters.

Cheers!

47. In Transition, Again

In less than 12 hours, I will have achieved the first goal on my 30 before 30 list: live in five different countries.

A part of me is flipping off the walls in so much excitement I can harder keep to this seat and write this post. China, Canada, France, Japan, and now the imminent UK. It has been a journey, a long, expensive, frustrating, brilliant, extraordinary, life-changing journey.

Every place has held something unique.

China is my birthplace. It is in my blood, in my appearance, in my heritage, and in my ethnicity. It is home to the people who loves me most. It is the foundation on which I am building my life.

Canada is the promised land. It is where my future blossomed into a hundred thousand potentials, beyond the confines of the Great Walls that humble and intimidate its Chinese citizens. It is the second half of my identity.

France is the first step out. It held my debutant ball. It is where I began to pen my own story, instead of letting my parents write it for me.

Japan is maturity. It housed my full independence. I got a taste of the adult life and the delicious freedom that comes with my own purse of change.

What will the UK be?

It will be my branching out, completed.

As saddened as I am, I know I am not coming home after this year. I don’t know where in the world I will land. All I know is, I will be on a crazy job-hunt, the results of which will determine the rest of my young adult life. I will have my own bank account which will contain a dismal amount of personal wealth. I will be living in some dingy basement with five other roommates just to afford the rent. I will be emerging from that academic bubble and into society, once and for all.

And I will be utterly, wholly alone.

As if that isn’t heart-pounding enough, for the first time in my life, I cannot see five years down the road. I cannot even see a year ahead. It is deeply unsettling, the unknown.

I am an organizer. I organize everything down to its most minute detail. And here I am, marching forward into a foreign country with not even a shadow of a plan. I am out of my element and I am scared out of my mind.

But the daredevil side of me breathes in the thrill. It does not see pitch blackness ahead, but rather a never-ending firework of possibilities, exploding in a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes. It sees the world as its playground. Armed with an education, some languages, and the confidence I have gained through my travels in my ability to survive and thrive, this time next year, I could be anywhere.

It’s only natural to be afraid of the mysterious. It’s human instinct to experience fear when stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. I know there will be hardship, a thousand petty humiliations, and even more tears. It will be treacherous, laborious and immensely challenging. I can vaguely see the warning signs staked out along the side of the road. I see three choices here: let fear immobilize me, destroy me, or strengthen me.

The world is too big and I have too many aspirations to choose the first two.

There is nowhere to go but forward.

So what will the UK be?

A dazzling world of possibilities for a young 20-something to build her life with.

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46. The Grind

There’s a locally famous hiking experience here in Vancouver, aptly named the Grouse Grind. It is a steep 850 meter ascend by a 3km climbing trail, from the bottom to the top of Grouse Mountain, itself a renowned skiing and tourist destination.

The name might strike fear into the hearts of newcomers, as it should. It is a challenge that requires physical stamina and more importantly, endurance.

This past Saturday, I conquered the trail for the second time this summer. It also happened to the second time in my life that I have ever ground my shoes into the dirt and stone. I did pretty well for a beginner. 1 hour and 10 minutes well.

However, even if I had done the trail in 2 hours or more, I would have still been proud to have made it all the way. I don’t know about other hikers, but both times that I’ve done this, there were numerous times in which I wanted to give up and go back down. These thoughts of abandoning the challenge were especially prominent and plentiful before the half-way mark.

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It is so hard at times to lift my legs even one more step. They felt like they would give away underneath me. Any time, at any moment, I would be send flying back in humiliation and defeat.

There were times when I had to pause on the side to catch my breath, to quell the fire inside my lungs, and banish the defeatist thoughts inside my head.

I no longer cared how loud I was breathing, how low my head hung, how red my face were. Pass the quarter mark, I started to walk like a deeply drunk idiot that had unlearned the art of walking. I was stumbling. I was tripping. I was slipping. I was using my hands to crawl at times. It was unseemly.

If the adrenalin had not been rushing through my veins, if my mind had not been so singularly focused on reaching the top, I might have let my perception of what others thought of me buried me alive, like it did so many times in so many different situations in the past. But I wanted that personal improvement. I wanted triumph over myself.

There was no one, no amount of self-doubt or self-consciousness, that could have stopped me.

I began to see fellow hikers as kindred spirits rather than competition. I dropped the mindset of comparing myself to others. That would have poisoned my resolve. Instead, I looked at the clock and thought of only one thing: to beat myself. I wanted to strike away my first record of 1 hour and 15 minutes. I was the only competitor I needed.

Of course, that did not meant blindly charging forward without giving any thought to how much my body could handle. I paused frequently to quench my thirst, to regain an even breath, to let my legs rejoice in the momentary rest. In these ephemeral instances, I got the chance to take in all the beauty around me. The wondrously giant trees that offered shade and cool temperatures, the distant shimmer of the Fraser River that cradled my home, and the other hikers, young, old, and younger.

I saw white-haired couples puffing and huffing their way slowly upwards. I saw golden-haired little girls being encouraged by their dads, and sometimes carried by them when it got too difficult. I saw a mother with a new-born baby wrapped in front of her chest. I smiled at the enthusiasts that whooped and yee-ha’ed their way up, urging others with their smiles and “come on, you can do it!”. They were my encouragements. Of course, Eminem shouting into my ears with his angry rap words helped too.

That’s how I heaved myself up and conquered. Although exhaustion pierced every fibre and bone in my body, a wide-toothed grin spread across my face.

The feeling is incomparable. Standing there on top, the first gulp of fresh water since the half-way mark when my supply ran out, all the others who made it and who were smiling so brilliantly because they were victorious. Walking the final stretch, on both sides were hikers nodding at you, their grins congratulating your effort. It’s like a grand reception at the end of a marathon. It was so worth it.

Despite all that, ultimately, it might be the thrill of pushing yourself to the limit. Up on that side of the mountain, you have nothing but your own two feet and pure will to depend on. And when you hit your goal, when you have broken your own record, when you have surpassed yourself, it feels incredible.

You feel invincible.

In a way, this experience is a microcosm for life. Life is a grind, like it or not. It’s the ultimate challenge of endurance. It will take your breath away. You will collapse some days. You will want to stop and give up. But you will also meet people who will encourage you forward. You will learn to stand on your own and endure. You will, hopefully, take pauses and appreciate all the beauty and joy around you. And in the end, you will have nothing but your own two feet and pure determination to make it through.

Happy hiking!

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45. Adulthood Nightmares: Getting a job

When you are in your 20s, you are constantly being bombarded with advise to take in how lucky you are for being young and carefree. From some angles, it’s true. It’s great to be young and burden-less. My current life is testimony to that. Being at the rip age of 24 means certain liberties, a worry-free lifestyle, and a distinct lack of crying and vomiting mini-me’s running around the house. I’ve been born into the first-world privilege of being a single child in a family with enough means to keep me buoyant through graduate school in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Don’t for a second think I take these for granted.

Nonetheless, I retain the right to throw a few darts at what I consider to be one of the worst possible rites of passage of adulthood in this first-world wonderland: job hunting.

You think school was tough? Job hunting will make you wish you were in school forever.

With the tanking of the economy came a sharp drop in employment opportunities and a great rise in unpaid, overworked internships. Now-a-days, even those are highly competitive and requiring years of work experience.

This means rolling your resume and cover letters (or CVs and cover notes as is pronounced in British) in more sugar and bullsh*t than ever, so much so that it seems physical impossible for those 2-3 pieces of paper to stand straight in all that glutinous weight.

But alas, it is a necessary part of ensuring your application gets at least a passing, bored glance from HR before it is hurled into the wormhole where your qualifications go to die, without even being dignified with a rejection email. You have to call up the employer yourself, just so they can shoot you down by saying some vague, unconstructive crap that they’ve pulled out of a hat.

And you go on to send out a few dozen more, never to be heard of or seen again.

On and on you tailor, tinker and toil, feeling more and more insignificant as you go.

Until that one day a few months down the road, when your confidence and ego has been reduced to the size of a grain of sand, then it’s time for your nervous break down. Just in time for Christmas.

Thank goodness you have the comforts of friends and ice cream to turn to. You stop the whole charade of endless email attachments and please-hire-me gimmicks. You spend quality time in the company of humans who appreciate you with all your shortcomings. You spend the holidays rediscovering the lightness and wonders of life again, by lying in bed with Netflix or listening to a recommended album. You gain a few pounds from all the necessary therapeutic chocolate and Ben & Jerry’s. You lose a few pounds from vigorous, impossible-to-maintain-levels of exercise and diet. You try out ballroom dancing, and decide that you are way too clumsy for such a fast-paced, on-your-toes-in-heels activity. You go out on a few dates. You take up yoga. You volunteer for your local animal shelter and open a flood of unconditional love and loyalty from those dogs abandoned by society. You heal. You rejuvenate. You slowly rebuild that essential self-confidence.

You are horrifyingly alarmed one morning at the ATM, to discover that your bank account is at an all-new low. You don’t want to ask for any more money from the parents because they are willing to dig into their retirement fund or sell a kidney to support you in your endeavours.

So inevitable, reluctantly, you wade back into the dark, bottomless job pool.

Miraculously, you discover that the new dose of confidence is enough to keep you afloat. Your friends are a constant reminder that you are not worthless, stupid, and unqualified to be a productive human being. You begin to understand that your CV and your cover letter are not your life. So, the silent rejections from HR should not to taken personally. They most definitely should not be taken as denouncements of your worth. Yes, be realistic. But also don’t underestimate yourself. Aim high, and don’t be so afraid of the uncontrollable.

Take it slow. Take it one day at a time. Be consistent. Don’t be afraid to take more creative risks with those cover notes. They are supposed to be a reflection of your personality, not another dull mechanical churn-out of qualifications and achievements. So make a statement. Be different. Be bold. Don’t let deadlines and inspiration slip pass you. Take breaks often and don’t be discouraged.

Like a romantic relationship, it takes time and there is one (several dozen actually) out there that’s right for you.

Happy hunting’ and keep those heads held high!

Book 20 and catharsis: Tiny Beautiful Things

Courtesy of Goodreads

Title: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar

Author: Cheryl Strayed

Genre: Non-fiction, autobiography, self-help

Summary: (From the back cover)

“Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.
Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond.  Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.”

Edition: Kindle

Eaten Thru On: September 7, 2014


Thoughts and more:

This is part review, part personal confession, which is a testimony to how powerfully healing and cathartic this book was.

The endless flow of troubles, worries, heartbreaks, woes from those letters made me understand this clearer than ever: everyone is living with their personal hell, everyone is dealing with their own demons. And Sugar is a blinking, imperfect, but ever-shining light in the midst of this deluge of dark waters. We have to have a light like that in our lives, whether it be a family member, a friend, a therapist, a pet, a book, or that undeniable strength in ourselves. This is how we smile and laugh through our messed up, crazy lives.

Perhaps it is because all the letters are from real people dealing with real problems. Perhaps it is because the stories are so raw and honest. Perhaps it is because they are all so human and therefore relatable in a soul-quenching manner. Whatever the reason, this book is poignant, intense, tear-inducing, and ultimately, cathartic.

Which is why, I can only take in two to three stories at most each time I open the book. After each story, I had to put it down and inhale deeply to calm the weeping and swallow the heaviness caught in my throat. I had to inhale all the humanity and healing and exhale all the tears and heart-wrenching empathy toward strangers whose horrors and behemoths are much greater, darker, scarier in comparison to my own. I was afraid I might break if I didn’t close the covers.

The finale few stories I read while sitting in the library. Its quietness, its public privacy was once sanctuary to me and my bibliophilic tendencies. But on that day, after each story, I had to pause, close my eyes and lift my head up. I was so afraid of what would happen otherwise. The silence was deafening. The presence of strangers was near unbearable.

I was fearful of the tears that would brim over. I was fearful of the heartache they would carry out of me, forcing their way into my conscious acknowledge of their existence. I was fearful of the monsters that strengthened with every drop out of my eyes. I was fearful of the overwhelming hope and gratitude and compassion and joy that rose out of me despite the trauma I had witnessed and experienced with my own family earlier that day. I was afraid to own up to the hope and serenity I felt I shouldn’t and couldn’t possibly feel after something like that.

I should be heartbroken. I should be in pieces. I should be hopelessly sorrowful.

But I wasn’t.

Not completely.

A part of me was and always will be deeply hurt at the shattered illusions I had mounted against the dark, relentless waves of reality crashing at my feet. A part of me will always mourn for the naive, childlike, wide-eyed innocence that once filled my being. But those monsters don’t stop me from smiling when I see children running and playing without a care in the world. Those wounds don’t stop my heart from pumping blood that will inevitably spill out and make a mess of things. Those tragedies are and always will define me and remain part of my story, because they are a necessary, visceral part of identifying my happiness. They form the bluish-black messy backdrop on which my bliss and hopes stand out ever bolder. I’m not saying that I am a masochist who relish in the pain, but I realize that without one cannot be the other. Bolts of soul-cleansing catharsis usually result from episodes of harrowing pain and excruciating reality checks.

So I take a deep breath, release, and smile at all the tiny, beautiful things in my life.


Favourite Passages:

“Don’t chase joy at absolutely any cost.” -Forgot the page.

“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue.” – Page 351

“Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naive pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you.” – Page 352


Final Verdict: 5/5 honey bees.

Recommended For: Everyone. Seriously, go pick this up. Try out just one or two stories if you are a skeptic or not into all this “gushy-mushy feely-touchy self-help” stuff.

Next Target: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro