「week 8」Guilty pleasure

Last week we had a very unexpected typhoon day in Hong Kong. Usually people would be aware and words would be spreading a day ahead if there’s a chance it could be a No.8. But this time, we didn’t hear anything until the morning of that day. Maybe the observatory did give a notice, but everyone in the city was too preoccupied with all the protest-related news these days, in their own biased way.

Anyways, I had an unexpected half day off in the afternoon of Wednesday. And I love unexpected day off. (who doesn’t?) It feels like stealing some extra unofficial time in life and if it has any practical significance, it means I am entitled more than any other day to “waste” this day, it means I can indulge all my guilty pleasures, binge-watching tv series, having McDonald’s, listening to music and dancing uglily, and mostly, simply doing nothing.

I love doing nothing. But it makes me feel guilty. I’m not exactly sure why is that. Maybe coz we live in a time and society that fanatically celebrates “doing stuff” and silently shames the opposite. Maybe coz there is a fundamental anxiety rooted in my blood by my parents, my father particularly, who wouldn’t miss any chance lecturing me, urging me to always think how I could be better in something, as if me feeling at ease gives him a feeling of unease. Maybe one of my ex-boyfriend also contributed to the growing of this guilt when he asked me what I like to do and I said I just like to chill and he seemed to find this answer utterly unacceptable.

To be honest, I’m pretty good at doing nothing. If you have a chance to chill with me you’d know it’s true. I have this talent of making doing nothing a very fun thing to do. At least to me, it’s (almost) never boring. By doing nothing, I can casually grab any one of the New Yorkers scattered in every corner of my apartment and read a random story that I didn’t know I’d be interested in. By doing nothing, I can play music at a ridiculous volume and discover my hidden dancing talent in front of the bathroom mirror. By doing nothing, I can lie flat on my bed staring at the ceiling, sink into memories and cry if it happens to take me there and take film photos of myself crying. And thanks to social media, I can even share all these online and see who has viewed me doing absolutely nothing.

Jokes aside, I do admire those who seem to always have the energy of doing stuff. I have also fantasised that my life would probably be substantially different if I have that kind of energy. But unfortunately, I’m not one of them and I have to accept that. For me, doing nothing, or not feeling compelled to do something, is an ultimate pleasure and probably the only way I can truly relax and charge my battery up. Everything other than doing nothing, is more or less a consuming process.

I guess everyone has their own portfolio of guilty pleasure. Some people like watching corny Rom-Coms. Some people like eating chicken nuggets (and we all know who). Some people play Candy Crush. Some people chase celebrities. And some people (assuming I’m not the only one) simply like doing nothing. The bottom line is, we all need some sort of guilty pleasure to keep it going.

Who knows. Maybe one day, doctors will prescribe “doing nothing for 3 days” for a patient suffering from overstrain. Maybe one day, when someone ask me what’s my weekend plan and I say “my weekend plan is to do nothing, nothing at all” and that someone will go “oh wow, that sounds terrific”.

Until that day, I will keep this pleasure and live with my guilt.

P.S. Talking about that ex-boyfriend, one major reason I liked him a lot was that he always has the energy of doing a lot, is always full of ideas and up for adventures. With him I’ve done the craziest things, I’ve adventured every weekend, I’ve partied like I never will again. Those are still very vivid and treasurable memories. He came over to my place one night and the next morning there was a typhoon No.8, so we were literally trapped in the apartment for the whole day. There weren’t much to do, we chilled and talked, he worked a bit on his laptop as I read myself to sleep. We ate. We talked more. We took a walk when it wasn’t raining anymore. We had a heavy dinner in a corny restaurant in the mall. It was probably the most uneventful day in our volatile relationship and I’m sure he has forgotten about it. I don’t remember many details either but I remember feeling very happy that day. Thinking back, oddly, it was probably the most satisfying day in our relationship for me, a random typhoon day on which the two of us did nothing together.

「week 7」Story of buying art

Last week I finally received the painting I bought almost two months ago. It’s a painting I bought in the name of “birthday present to myself”. It’s also the first time I bought some serious art, serious as in, it’s not exactly a small amount purchase.

Since it’s a first time, it’s more or less a symbolic event for me. As one grows old, one would realize the “first-times” in life happens less and less. What made me make the decision of purchase? I guess there’re two very important reasons. The first is, I can afford it. The second is, the moment I saw this painting on the social network of the artist, I felt a real connection and I knew I wanted it, I wanted to own it. I guess those are the two most important conditions if anyone is to buy any art, or at least to people with very limited budget as me.

The process of buying this painting, though, is more dramatic than I expected. When I approached the gallery at the beginning of June, the painting was on an exhibition in Berlin. The gallery owner at first told me he could ship the painting from Berlin, which would be cheaper than if he brought it back to US. After two weeks’ wait, I asked about the shipping and he said he had to bring the painting back for some documentation’s purpose, which made sense. After some more wait, the gallery owner told me he’d finally wrapped it up and built a box crate for it and it’s ready to be shipped to me! We talked about the options of insurance level of shipping and stuff and I thought, finally, it’s happening. Except that it wasn’t.

Two days later the bad news arrived, the gallery guy’s car was smashed and the painting package he left in his car was stolen. MY PAINTING WAS STOLEN. It took me a while to register this information, like, what on earth are the odds of that? Is this some kind of joke? Why is this happening to me? I was seriously upset by this unexpected turn of event for a few days and was ready to get refunded for my 50% deposit.

Three days later, in mid-July, when I was on a business trip in Shanghai and woke up one morning feeling I have nothing good to expect on that day, I saw a message on my phone saying that the painting WAS FOUND. The fliers that the gallery guy posted and handed out actually worked. It took me another while to register this information, like, what on earth are the odds of that? It better not be some kind of joke! I was so happy instantly and rolled on the huge hotel bed for 3 rounds.

It took another two week’s wait for it to be shipped to me but I didn’t mind waiting anymore, not at all. It’s funny how we only learn to truly appreciate the simplest things that we usually take for granted after it’s almost taken away from us. In this case, I simply couldn’t be more grateful that the painting was found and I really got to own it at some point. And my gratitude was at its maximum the night I received the package, opened the package, met the painting for real for the first time, held the wooden frame on my thighs, and walked around with it in my apartment trying to find a nest for it.

There’s a Chinese saying “好事多磨”, which means good things would take more setbacks to realize. I guess this is one of those cases. And thanks to the whole series of events, this painting is now officially a painting with a story behind.

So there it is, my story of buying art. I guess people buy art for many different reasons. Some buy art with a clear investment thinking. Some buy art more for the emotional and aesthetic value of it. Some buy art simply becoz the buying itself is an act that brings them satisfaction. I only started to have the intention of buying art in recent years (since I started to have a little saving), and I’m happy I finally acted on it. If there’s anything that my story reveals, I hope it reveals that buying art is not only a rich people thing.

I don’t know if it counts as a rough start for a first-timer in the art market. As volatile as it turned out to be, I guess it means my art karma is not that bad after all. I wish I can afford to buy myself a piece of art that I really appreciate every year. And more importantly, I wish I can always appreciate art as art is.

P.S. I’ve been running 20 mins for more than 30 days now (not everyday, like every other day). As expected, my body doesn’t really want more, and it’s not really getting easier. I’m going to extend this experiment to 100 days.

「week 6」In treatment

I started going to a therapist more than two years ago. I have never been secretive about that, while I also have never really talked about this experience in details with people, even with those who are/have been close.

I’m not going to disclose the details of my therapies here, for apparent reasons, but after two and half years, I do feel like sharing two cents of why I feel it necessary to go to therapy and what can be expected from it.

Being an oversensitive kind of person all my life, I’ve always been very drawn to the act of psychological analysis of people and their behavior as I need to rationalize things to counter-balance the “too-muchness” constantly felt. And out of all the human beings, the most puzzling piece for me is, inevitably, myself.

I remember planting the seed of wanting to see a therapist when I watched Annie Hall by Woody Allen decades ago, in which Woody Allen’s character was mumbling about his therapist anecdote in his signature bourgeois self-mockery fashion. I must be in my early 20s when I first watched it and I thought, “wow, what a dream it is to be able to start a sentence with ‘my therapist said…’ one day.” (Yes, I fancied being one of the bourgeoisie and Woody Allen certainly contributed to it.) But back then, seeing a therapist feels more like an immature fantasy, something intriguing and might even be “fun” to try. It came from a curiosity about my undiscovered self, instead of an urgency to deal with real pressing issues.

When I started to seek for professional help more than two years ago, the most straightforward reason was, I guess, the relationship of that time wasn’t going well. And it agonized me a great deal. But I know clearly, deep down, that this was just a symptom, the agony that I was experiencing from that failing relationship. It was the symptom of about 30 years’ accumulation of unanswered questions, uncleared emotions and unearned experiences. I felt that I was drowning in my 30 years of life and I couldn’t resurface by myself anymore, not without a firm pull from another hand. And I felt that that I couldn’t go on anymore if I don’t pause to make sense of my pain, my anger, my sadness, my edges, my misplaced love, my destructive behaviours and my incompatibility with the outside world. That was the real reason why I started to see my therapist, Julia.

It’s been quite a ride over the past two years. In front of Julia, I’ve shed tears a million times, I’ve lost my temper, I’ve argued aggressively, I’ve been triggered badly, I’ve told stories I’ve never told anyone and there’re still more I’m not ready to tell yet and I don’t know if I ever will. I’ve spit out unedited thoughts and I’ve looked hard into my behaviors and decisions over and over again. And I did have my doubts. I’ve wondered if this is really helping anything but I’ve also questioned myself what do I really expect from it. Looking back, it’s a rather slow progress but there is a progress. (I’ve bragged about it pretty recently so I’m gonna skip this part here). Maybe this is a progress that’d happen anyways, but having someone who’s (paid to be) there to have witnessed it and is probably more aware of my progress than myself, is after all, a pretty assuring thing.

The other day I was watching a show, in which one of the characters (starred by Nicole Kidman) was testifying on court for her custody of her children. She was asked by the judge why she wasn’t even confessional about some of her destructive behaviors to her therapist, and she said it’s especially hard to tell her therapist, I quote, “becoz she’s worked so hard on me and, I think I just, I desperately wanted to see myself through her eyes and see progress.” And exactly that line, it simply struck me. I couldn’t resonate more with it becoz there have been many times I struggled to confess to my therapist of things I feared that’d disappoint her that I almost didn’t wanna go to a session.

Today I don’t go to therapy that often. Even when I go, it’s more like a regular dusting instead of some serious digging around or urgent salvage. But still every time I’d prepare myself for the confessional mode and the uneasiness that comes with it. It’s not all comfortable, becoz being 100% truthful about ourselves is not always in our nature. And with the busy urban life that keeps rushing us forward, we’ve more or less grown into the habits of covering up the messy part that we subconsciously wanna shy away from. We probably won’t even realize that if we’re not paying someone an expensive hourly rate to specifically uncover that. And just by being truthful as much as we can, in front of another person’s face, is in a lot of ways, already a significant progress.

I can’t give anyone any advice if they should seek therapy help, as it’d be a completely different journey for different people. And throughout the whole time, I’ve never seen myself as a patient, at most, I see myself as a temporarily lost person seeking for directions. But I guess the least I can say is, therapy does give one a chance to tell the truth about oneself, to chew on the truth, to acknowledge the truth and eventually, to work on the truth. Some people spend their whole life seeking for the truth, some people spend their whole life running away from it. But either way, after all, it is only the truth that matters.

P.S. I titled this piece as “In Treatment” in dedication to one of my favourite shows, In Treatment, produced by HBO more than 10 years ago. It’s definitely not thrilling to watch, with its overly simple setting and characters. It’s like a “salad” in shows, but provoking in its own tasteless way. I’d recommend it if anyone wants a “free therapy.”

「week 4」Meal plan

In the past week I tried a meal plan service after a colleague told me about it. We are both single girls who doesn’t cook, so a meal plan sounds like a perfect solution of one tricky problem in life for our kind. It works for her, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Since the point is to eat healthy and in balance, I chose the low calories meal in small portion (becoz by default I just assumed small is the size for me). It is a mistake, it’s too little food for me, and too healthily plain that it upsets me everyday when I opened the food box. But It’s already ordered for the whole week, I had to stick with it. So everyday, when I sat in the office pantry having my sorry-looking meal box, feeling sorry for myself, some colleagues would pass by, see it, and feel sorry for me, hidden behind comments like “Why do you even need to eat meal plan?”, “Are you trying to lose weight?”, “You’re already so skinny.”

At first I’d try to explain myself. But after a while I stopped trying, it’s not necessary to share my single girl’s eating difficulty and it’s not anyone’s obligation to relate to a single girl’s eating difficulty. And mostly, I don’t even know why I’m eating a meal plan myself.

To be clear, I’ve never been the kind of person who’s cautious of what they eat all the time – partly coz I do look skinny (*this topic is worth another separate piece), but mostly coz I just don’t wanna bother. Eating, as much as it appears to be a tricky problem for my case, is after all at least supposed to be an enjoyment in some sort. And I simply don’t enjoy eating a lot of those trendy healthy bullshit food. In the universe of food, the love of my life is chicken nuggets, and my all-time comfort meal is the “sharing box” from McDonald’s, which includes 4 nuggets and 4 wings and I literally would never share it. In fact, one day last week I forgot to bring my dinner meal box home, I was quite annoyed at myself and decided to maximize the failure by having McDonald’s instead. It feels like cheating on my meal plan when I’m supposed to be committed to it (for the week) . It feels like acting out when you’re on a rehab of something. I’m not proud it. But honestly, that’s the only meal I enjoyed eating in the past week.

On Friday night, when I was eating my chicken breast and broccoli in the empty office pantry with 6pm sunlight shedding through the gigantic office building window, (I was hungry since 4pm) I can’t help but reviewing the reasons behind a meal plan. Besides the obvious convenience of never needing to fuss over “what/where to eat”, and the hypocritical satisfaction of eating healthy (and overpriced) food, it’s really more about a sense of control, something people are kinda obsessed with and is probably oversold in our modern society. Control over what we eat. Control over how many calories we intake. Control over how many calories we burn. Control over what materials we wear when we burn those fucking calories. Control over how we look. Control over what shade the skin glows, what angle the brows tilt, what degree the hair curls. The scary thing is, the level of control would only keep escalating. There’d always be products, services, professional advices that match up with or promote a higher and broader degree of control.

To be honest, I’m doing most of the above, if not all. By all means, I do think well-being and making informed decisions are pressingly important. And I’m trying to train myself to become a more self-disciplined person in all areas. Therefore, while I’m already making so much effort trying to control so many aspects in life, the meal plan is kind of like the last straw that crushed my “I’m living a healthy balanced life” fantasy and threw me into a “absolutely joyless camp”. I stood in that camp and thought, wait, I didn’t sign up for this, did I?

Healthy or not, I guess the bottom line is being able to see myself as a fleshed human being, instead of a hinged machine. And having a meal plan makes me feel the latter (whilst having chicken nuggets makes me feel like the former).

At the end of the day, there is only a certain degree of things we can control in life, and a lot more out of our control. For me, what I eat, I decide, is something I’d rather leave it in the “not meticulously controlling” category. I’m not sure if I’d order the meal plan again, but if I do, I’d at least make sure to order a larger portion and to pair with a glass of wine when I eat.

That being said, I am perfectly aware that I should really eat less chicken nuggets.

P.S. Talking about self discipline, I binge-watched Stranger Things S3 until 4am on Saturday. What can I say. I’m just a human bean.

「week 3」Not belonging

There’s a traditional banquet-style Cantonese restaurant (Tao Heung) in Tsing Yi mall, right at the ground floor next to the escalator that I’d pass by every day as I go out and come home. Since I moved to Tsing Yi three years go, every time I passed by that place, I looked at the big groups of people dining inside, and knew it’s a place I’d barely have any chance to eat at. Yet, just as some girls always get attracted by unavailable men (or vice versa), the thought of that, made me wanna eat there more than any other restaurant in the mall.

I did eat there, twice before today, in the past three years. The first time was with my ex-boyfriend. After I told him that this is sort of my “dream restaurant”, we went one day early in our relationship to help me realize this “dream”. The second time was 2 months ago, when a friend visited HK and crashed at my place, I took him there for the dim sum that was on his to-eat list.

And then it’s today. On my way back home in the morning after a night spent away, around 8:30am, I passed by it as I did a million times before, a sudden crave for dim sum struck me. I walked over to the counter and asked if it’s possible to get takeaway dim sum. The counter lady told me, sure, but if you eat in the restaurant, it’s half price. There I went. Out of the economic saving’s sake and a faint mindset to challenge myself, I followed her in and sat down at this shared table with two other local ladies, a pair of senior mother and middle-aged daughter.

As someone who’s very used to doing things alone, not many situations could easily make me feel uneasy anymore. But as I looked around, I still couldn’t help feeling amusingly out-of-place while almost everyone else in the huge restaurant are grey-haired, the dominating clientele in a dim sum restaurant before 9am. And I, a woman in early 30s and looks younger than her age (as she is constantly told), wearing her AirPods and reading her New Yorker while she was waiting, was evidently someone who doesn’t belong.

A few minutes after sitting down, I realized the “daughter” at my shared table is mentally ill. She couldn’t stop mumbling stuff in Cantonese that made little sense and was marginally rude, while her mother, seemingly in her 60s, could only smile apologetically at me. Through their conversation, I learned that the daughter lives in a mental hospital, and this dim sum breakfast was apparently a special weekend treat for her as she was taken out by her mother.

They left while I was half the way with my food, the mentally-challenged daughter said “Goodbye beautiful girl” to me in Cantonese on her way out. Shortly, the next group of guest was brought to my table, an old lady and an old man in his wheelchair. At a quick glimpse, I saw on the wheelchair a sign that claims it a property of some elderly home. I couldn’t help but feeling that I’m sitting at a table that specifically hosts people who needs special care – an equivalent to the priority seats on the subway. The old lady read the dim sum menu slow and loud to the old man. She’d give him two choices a time, and he’d choose one, in his feeble voice. They ended up ordering only three dim sum. We can’t eat that much, she said. He didn’t respond.

I finished my three dim sums (which is obviously too much) before their food arrived. On my walk home, I thought of three years ago when I was about to move here, this little island that’s half residential and half industrial, a friend pointed out “You just don’t seem like someone that’d live in Tsing Yi.” I knew I didn’t. I guess I still don’t. If one is to hashtag Tsing Yi, it’d be #family #kids #dogs, maybe #airportexpress. Three years living here doesn’t make me one of them, just like 14 years in Hong Kong doesn’t make me one of them. I never feel I belong here. But then I never feel I belong anywhere. The feeling of not belonging is, oddly, something I’m most used to, and inevitably, something I’ve come to terms with after all these years. After all, this is home now. Or at least the closest thing to home in the world to me.

And I do find a connection between me and my community – we are all the kind of people who’d do anything to just satisfy our sudden crave for dim sum on an early Saturday morning, be it from a mental hospital, from an elderly home, or from the void after a long journey of walk of shame.

PS: There was a lot of things I thought I could write about this week. The night I went to a friend’s opening and ended up bonding with two young girls and unexpectedly enjoying it (with the help of alcohol). The day I went to run in gym but forgot to bring my phone so I could’t listen to anything as a distraction while being a hamster on the tread mill and spent the most tedious 20 mins in my life. But I just proved these are things that can be said in one sentence so, I guess that’s that.

「week 2」Another run

How long does it take to turn something you hate doing into a “habit”? I can’t help wondering when I was running on the thread mill in the air-conditioned gym. It’s the (N+1)th time I tried to pick up running. I’m not particularly more optimistic or confident than previously, (I think I have lasted for roughly one month for my most successful attempt, which was 5 years ago) but I do think I’m a different person now. More self-disciplined is one.

On Saturday morning, as I walked down from Peel Street and was standing on Queen’s Road Central, right opposite to my gym building, I struggled for about 5 minutes in the middle of the street. (A situation I hate, an adult woman should always know where she’s going!) Going home seemed like a MUCH easier option after a night out. I chose the less easier one, going to the gym and run for 20 minutes.

Tonight after I was back from Shenzhen, I had this sudden idea of going for a swim. As I was lounging in my place and feeling cozy, time passed by. 6:45pm, 7:30pm. Staying home and having a chill Sunday night would be a much easier option. I chose the less easier one, going to the swimming pool and swim for 10 rounds.

In the water, gasping, I started to think, what’d happen if every time I’m faced with a pair of options I just always go with the less easier one? A friend of mine used to comment on me that “you’re always too easy with yourself.” A statement with some sort of truth in it indeed. And in general I’m sure I’m still always gonna be “easy” with myself, but just for curiosity’s sake, what if I just stick with the “less easier” rule for now?

Back to running. I didn’t start running this time for any particular reason except that one night over drinks, I randomly asked a runner friend why he run and after giving me a whole bunch of preach (like runners usually do) he said, “just try running 20 mins everyday for a month, then your body will start to want more.” Knowing my body for 32 years, I’m pretty sure my body isn’t gonna want more, but somehow I’m intrigued by this idea and decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I wonder if I’m going through some kind of crisis (maybe one-third-life crisis?) since people tend to do things unlike themselves when they are in a crisis. In my case, I absolutely hate running, but I started to run. The bright side is, if this is a crisis, it’s a pretty costless one. (except for the three new Nike dry-fit tops I bought in the name of “running”.)

P.S. As my coughing doesn’t show any sign of leaving me alone, I start to contemplate on a much bigger question: Why is air-conditioning always so strong everywhere in HK? Is there a department in the Government that sets forcible guidelines for air-conditioning temperature in public area? If that’s the case, I think a protest against that wouldn’t be too absurd an idea. In fact, it could be highly effective.

「week 1」 Sick days

I’ve been sick the whole weekend.

When I felt it in my throat on Friday night after going out with Lynn and Jae, I was devastated — I knew what it means, it means another unproductive and lifeless weekend. I can’t help hearing the irony, it’s like the higher power talking to me: hey, didn’t you just write an essay and brag about how independent you are? well, how about when you’re sick?

Somehow, since last year, I start to get sick pretty often. It always starts from an itchiness or a sharp pain in the throat, it’s like the body sending you a notice: get ready for the sick mode. But the worst thing is, when you get the notice, it’s already too late. Nothing you do will stop the process. You just have to go through the full cycle: sore throat, running nose, muscle pain, cloudy head, bad cough. If you’re lucky, it can be cleared in one week. Sometimes it can stretch to two weeks, or even a month.

When I was a kid, I was pretty healthy most of the time, seldom troubled by regular illness like a cold or fever. But in school, there’d always be a few kids who got sick very easily and often. I remember vaguely envying them, coz they seem to be able to take a lot of leaves and have a lot more going on in their young lives, while us, the healthy kids, could only sit still in the classroom, trapped by our boring homework. Years later, when a single sore throat could already annoy me so much and darken my whole weekend, I kinda wish I could apologize to those feeble kids: Sorry, I didn’t do you justice. Being sick sucks.

Overall, it’s a very unsatisfactory weekend. I didn’t swim, I didn’t meet anyone, I didn’t play guitar (and I can’t sing), I didn’t go back to Shenzhen, and I apparently missed another historic protest in Hong Kong. Yes, I blame everything on the sore throat.

P.S. One light in the bathroom started to blink today. When you’re sick, everything becomes a bully.

Lucky Enough

In the subway, on streets or in restaurants, one can quite often witness people hurting their loved ones in a stupid way without knowing it: mother gave a cold shoulder to her children after spitting out unneccesary dirty words; adolescent kid putting an impatient face in front of the elderly; wife could’t stop grumbling in a voice loud enough to reach everyone around, only because her husband got her bubbled fanta instead of the orange juice that she asked for.

It could be just out of the uncontrollable impulses at those particular moments (I’m sure it was), but the instant disgust flashed upon people’s face, together with their ill-mannered words, made me feel ashamed and unbearable even just as an irrelevant passer-by.

I couldn’t help wondering how badly people would wish they had never done what they did, how they gonna be eaten up by their own regrets when they lose their loved ones at the end of the day. They would wish they’d behaved nicer when they had the chance to, other than aggressively venting their temper, getting unreasonably tetchy to test how generous love could be.

We frequently observe others blundered where we used to blunder. I doubt there’re anyone born with the gift of knowing how to treasure something good as it was happening. And for those who do cherish things, you never know how much she’s lost.