Why is my English “so good”?

Let me apologize for the boast implied in the title first. But please rest assured, I’m not writing this piece to boast. Mostly, I just can’t think of a better title for now.

Often I’m asked the question by strangers: “Why is your English so good?” It’d happen on many different occasions, and it’d come from people who speak little English, people who speak English as their second language as myself, and people who are native speakers.

I’ve got it mostly when I was travelling in a foreign country. When people see an Asian girl on her own travelling abroad, I guess they would have a certain level of presumption of her English level. That is understandable. So when they realize I can converse in English at a level more fluently than expected, the above question would sometimes follow.

I’ve also got it on first dates (when I was still dating). Sometimes some European men would be really impressed by my English. At times like this, I got a little annoyed. Because please, we are on a date, isn’t there anything else about me that you can be impressed with?

I also got it when people read my writing in English for the first time. I’m told many times that a lot of native speakers can’t write English as well as I do. I don’t know if that’s true, but I guess it has something to do with my personal interest in writing and my fundamental English learning experience in China which makes a sheer focus on grammar. (This I will touch on later).

A more unconventional occasion I’ve got this was in an interview once. I was being video-interviewed by an American guy sitting in Califonia in a fund company, and after a few minutes of normal conversation he out of blue said “I don’t understand why your English can be so good?” I didn’t get that job in the end after 10 rounds of interviews, but I’m certain it has nothing to do with this guy.

In the beginning, I took these questions as compliments, becoz they are. And I was flattered. I honestly never think my English is so good (on the contrary, it’s never good enough) and something worth this many compliments. But gradually, as it happens so much and so often, the joy of receiving compliments starts to wear off, and instead, it starts to bother me, becoz I never know how to respond to this kind of comment properly. For a start, I’m not sure if I should take it as a real question or it’s just something people say. And then, if it’s a real question and people do expect a truth-revealing direct explanation, I don’t think I have anything like that to satisfy them. It bothers me to disappoint people unnecessarily.

A typical conversation would go like this (*I’m not making this up):

Your English is really good, why is that? I can’t hear any accent.
Oh, thanks. But I do have an accent. I can hear it myself.
Not really. You might have some American accent. Did you study overseas for a long time?
Never, I always wish I had though. I just did a 4-month exchange in New York during my undergraduate study.
Oh, it must be that then!
Hmmm, not really. I didn’t speak a lot to anyone when I was in New York. I was a little depressed in that semester.

And then it gets unnecessarily awkward and the conversion kinda goes to a dead end. But all I’m trying to do is simply to tell the truth. I can’t recall how many times this kind of conversation has happened and I really wish there was a quick fix to this. A convenient explanation that can satisfy people’s curiosity and just get it over with. But here’s nothing like that. There wasn’t any miraculous switch. It didn’t happen in one day, nor one concentrated period of time. All the effort I’ve put into English since I was little, is a slow, cumulative, and ongoing process. On that, I’m sure many people who have devoted their lives to a foreign language and master it as their own would resonate. And my experience isn’t anything special nor my skillset impressive.

Thinking back, I don’t think anyone has really asked me any details about how I learned English. People usually see the outcome and assume there must be some trick behind the outcome and that seems to be all they’re interested to know, your trick, not your process. So I’m writing this now, my personal history of adopting English as a language I use every day to live, work and write, with no tricks involved. And why? Simply becoz no one ever asked.

I will start by laying out all the facts that are unique to me first. There’s really only one – my mother was a middle school English teacher all her life until she retired a few years ago. Now you must think, no wonder. Ok. Has my mother being an English teacher helped with my English? I guess yes. I must give her some credit, but not becoz she passed on some great tricks of learning English or amazing language talent. I never for once was impressed with my mother’s English level or the way she teaches. (Don’t get me wrong, she is a great teacher, and her English level is that of someone who learned English as her university major but rarely used English as a language in her real life. For her, English is a job, a means of livelihood. And she was great at that.) I must give her credit for the fact she made me think, at a very young age, that I must excel in English becoz otherwise, it’d disgrace her. I don’t mean it in a negative way. Everyone has to face some specific parenting style as they grow up. And my mother, when I just started in primary school, made sure I feel a certain pressure, generally, but also specifically with the subject of English. It was with the determination that “I must excel in English” did I start my English learning journey. Compared to talent, I think that “determination” mattered much more at an early stage.

As a result, I did excel in English, as a mandatory subject, all the way from primary school to the day I graduated from high school. I’d always get the top grades in English in the whole school and met little competition. In both the high school entrance exam and the national college entrance exam, the two most important exams in every Chinese student’s life, I received scholarships for my outstanding English grades. These are ancient history. But back then, English to me was more of a glory than a language I’d use. No one used English back in school. We had oral English lessons taught by foreigners but it was more like a joke. I started to listen to English pop like Avril Lavigne, Linkin Park, and I’d skim through the lyrics book and check any new words I came across. I even faintly remember some childish attempts at writing poems in English. But really, the one and only objective with English in my mind was to do good in exams, a skill I more or less mastered since I was 6.

Then I came to Hong Kong for university, and English was the language used in almost everything. That was when I realized my “good English” was merely an illusion masked by the good grades that no one would give a shit in the real world. I was amazed by how other students my age could already speak English so fluently and quickly realized the education system where I came from didn’t really prepare me for competition at that level. There was a big discrepancy that needed to be filled up. We had a lot of language classes in the first year and it was a nightmare in some way. Overnight, English turned from my source of glory to my source of self-abasement. It was a difficult time, the first two years of college. I was also suffering some other issues such as an undiagnosed depression and compulsive eating disorder. Being fat, unhappy, and losing my English is how I remembered that one to two years.

I spent the rest of college time chasing up, on English and everything else. In some way, in retrospect, I know that getting back my pride in English is part of the process of regaining a sense of normality. I needed that to feel ok again. And I did feel ok again. The gap wasn’t too impossible to fill up and soon I felt my English was at least back to an acceptable position among my school peers. I started to notice some good English writings by people from a similar background as me and I greedily studied them and wondered if I’d be able to write like that in English one day.

Then it was the year of master in Journalism. Inevitably, it requires a lot of writing. I started to write English more seriously from then and also started to do some personal writings in English. I’ve always loved writing and in some way, I know it’s one of the few things I can be pretty good at. So I diverted some of my Chinese writing time to English, just for practice’s purpose. In the master’s program, my grades were back to the top again and English helped a lot. Upon graduation, I dreamed of getting a job in a foreign press, any foreign press. As a fresh graduate with top grades from an ok journalism school, I didn’t think it was too out of my reach. And the reality was, I couldn’t convince any foreign press that my English was good enough to get an interview, mostly becoz (I guess) I’m not a native speaker on paper. The best I can get is English-related jobs in local media. I did that briefly (English reporter, translator) before joining a Chinese TV station and lost touch with English on a professional level for about 4 years.

It was a rather frustrating time. Not only was I facing some conflicting career choices which could be a lot to take on when one was young, but I also felt rejected for something fundamental that I could’t change despite all the effort I put in. But thinking back, it was probably at that time that a renewed determination started to root in me, that one day I will be able to use English as good as any native speaker does.

That of coz, never happened. And I don’t think, or expect it will happen anymore. Throughout these years, I’ve understood that there’s no point trying to conceal my Chinese accent or feel shy becoz of it, (what other accent could I possibly bear anyways?) nor do I fuss over the fact that my writing will never be “native” enough. If I may to jump to a major revelation here, it takes accepting one’s true origin to really excel in a foreign language. 

Back to the timeline a bit. (Sorry if it’s boring, but I have to tell it this way) After I joined the Chinese TV and have more or less settled career-wise, I felt strongly that my real adulthood had begun. And it was from then I started to really adopt English as a life tool, instead of a tool to exchange for a life. I started to travel myself as much as I could. I read novels in English as long as an English version was available. I subscribed to The New Yorker even tho many articles in it were beyond my understanding. I wrote half-half in English and Chinese to dispel an overwhelming youngster’s angst/blue. I had my first English-speaking relationship and new “daily life” vocabularies started to flow in; I still remember the huge frustrating feeling when I had my first couple-fight in English and was seriously disadvantaged due to my lack of words. And so on and so forth. Life has its own way of pushing you to things you’re determined to excel in. 

By the time I was more settled in my adulthood, I had also reconnected with English in the professional space. After four years with the Chinese TV station, I happened to be at a crossroad in my life in every aspect. I decided to come back to Finance for a change and quickly got a transition job thanks to my “good English” (a translator for an investment bank) before I gradually found my way in content marketing. Today, my job requires some writing in English – not just on a daily emailing level, but also on a ghost-writing thought leaderships for (native-speaking) fund manager’s level. Sometimes when I was writing those pieces, a strong sense of oddity came upon me, like who am I to be writing a thought leadership piece in English about something I’m no expert at? Why do they even trust me for that?

My English writing is not perfect of coz, and I would send in every piece I wrote to my UK colleagues for a quality check and it’d usually make my day when I got a brief recognition like “really like this piece”, “very interesting” or “your English writing is great.” In a similar way, it weighs as much as the highest grade I got when I was in primary school. 

I also still do my personal writing in English. In fact, I almost only write in English now, for reasons briefly mentioned in my previous piece on Being Chinese. Writing in English takes much more time and I struggle all the time to find the right words to fit in a sentence and a right way to put a sentence, but I kinda enjoy this constant struggle, despite the time-consuming nature. Many writers, such as Murakami, Kundera, have shared the same feeling of using an adopted language to explore a different channel of expression, a more straightforward, freeing way. For me, I started to write in English more or less out of a need to practise, and that comes from my deep-rooted unexplainable determination to excel in English. In this process of practising, I slowly realized the charm of expressing oneself in a second language and developed a need for the distance it provides, the distance that can be so valuable when it comes to translating minds into texts, a distance I don’t have with Chinese.

And practice does make perfect. After the numerous attempts of writing unheeded personal essays in English, I do feel I’m getting slightly better at it. As I’m writing this piece now, I have just finished my second short story (or novelette, the word count guideline is kinda confusing). In hindsight, I guess it’s something the 6-yo little girl couldn’t possibly have predicted she’d do one day, not even with her determination to excel in English. As I said, life has its own way of pushing you towards things you’re really determined to excel in. But I guess there has to be something more than the determination, there needs to be some sincerity, some craziness, and a ridiculous amount of effort. 

These days when I’m complimented for my English again I usually just laugh it off, same way when people tell me I don’t look my age at all. Am I supposed to still feel flattered after hearing it one third of my life? No. You just let it in from the left ear and let it out from the right one. I never forget how old I am just becoz people tell me I don’t age, as much as I don’t forget my English is not good enough. And it never will be. I don’t pass a day without learning something new in English, a new word, a new expression, a new way to tell a feeling. I gather them here and there, or I just create a new sentence myself. I constantly keep a monologue in my head (I do that in Chinese too), reorganize a same sentence in my mind a hundred times and write down the one that I like, which very likely I’d realize I don’t like anymore the day after. I don’t think I need to go on with my list of peculiar behaviors. 

The point is, I know no shortcut of being “good” at English, but I try to share as much as I can. When I think about it, I admit I might have a little talent with language. The so-called language talent might have given me a headstart, but it was really the amount of time I put in it that brings me where I am now, which, to be honest, is nothing to brag about. 

A friend told me her young cousin has been reading my essays to learn English, and she often encountered new words that she’d need a dictionary with. This makes me really, really happy. I wanna tell her, this is exactly how I learned English, and it’s still how I learn English.



I turned 33 yesterday.

One day recently when I was cleaning up my apartment, I found some dusted packaged home objects that I bought from Ikea years ago when I just moved in but never managed to put up – a small window blind, two short photo shelves. I never put them up becoz they all require hole-drilling in the wall and having to rely on some worker to just do that is something intrinsically annoying to me that I chose to procrastinate. Then the procrastination (of 4 years) turned a bit out of hand.

I decided to just get it over with this time. I went to a hardware store in the neighborhood and asked if someone can help me drill some holes. The shop owner looked at me and said: “you know, having a worker make a trip to your home would cost you minimum 500. Why don’t you just buy a drilling machine and do it yourself? You can drill as many holes as you want from now on.” I knew he was just being lazy and trying to up-sell me, but somehow the idea of gaining hole-drilling-autonomy got the better of me and I ended up coming home with a case of new hammer drill that was almost too heavy for me to carry.

I hastily took out the drill when I got home, couldn’t wait to try it out when the tutorial instructions were still fresh in my head. I moved the furniture, assembled the drill and plugged it in, held the drill against the wall, activated all my non-existent biceps to hold it upright, and pressed the power button. There it goes, I drilled the first hole in my life into the wall. Then a second one, a third one, a fourth one…… It wasn’t as easy as it might seem, and it wasn’t a pretty scene at all. My finger eczema were cracking from over-dryness, my wrists were shaking, I stank of sweat and I had to spend twice the time to clean up the mess afterwards. I have to admit, the newfound hole-drilling autonomy was exhausting. But it did make me feel good. I feel so physically empowered and independent that it spills into an overall sense of empowerment and independence, something I thirst for all these years.

The holes I drilled in my walls are so insignificant that no one would pay any attention to, but their existence is also so indispensable to the home structures that make my place notably more functional and aesthetic. I can’t help but feeling this little anecdote of hammer drill is a miniature of this past year, the year of my 32.

On face value, the past year was a placid year with my personal life. I’m at the same weight, seeing more or less the same people, watching the same shows, frowning over the same problems. Other than the job, almost everything remains unchanged in my life, I’m as alone as I was this time last year.

My relationship with solitude has evolved from a rocky one to a much more stable one. I have built up pillars to support this castle of one and I keep strengthening them in my daily practice. The music exercise, the fitness routine, the home decor execution, the regular grocery trips, the food-making explorations, the instagram story improvs, the one glass a day, the Saturday mornings and the Sunday nights. A younger version of me would probably disapprove of life of such plainness; and yet, the 33-yo me, on the contrary, is truly appreciative of the strength and poetry in such plainness. In some way, I have been drilling holes with my life throughout the year, holes that are almost invisible in their own existence, but only I’d know how crucial they are to my inner space, the core system I spent so long to build up brick by brick.

Other than the eternal project of straightening out my self-relation, one of my new year resolution this year is to develop more genuine relationships out of the romance sphere. It’s kind of a missing piece in the past few years when I was too preoccupied with the romance turbulences. I’ve allowed romance to dominate my world to the extent that I’ve been on autopilot mode with almost all my other relationships, with my parents, school friends, work friends, internet friends, people that I appreciate and adore, people who nurtured me in the most earnest way, people who keep me grounded.

In the meantime, my growing cynicism about people had cost almost all my interest in making any new friends, and my demanding requirement for purity in a people relationship makes it even harder. I was so worn out by the app-intoxicated hypocritical social relation atmosphere that I stopped at all to look for any potential meaningful ones.

With human, I understand there’d always be people who’d disappoint. Often, the closer you are with someone, the bigger the disappointment. Having been on both sides of the disappointment, I have come to accepted that developing the allowance to be disappointed is part of the path for any meaningful relationships. And it takes a strong core system to dissolve the potential disappointment and to remain as intact as possible. I guess the bottom line is, never let the disappointment consume your own passion in life, however sparse that is, nor let it impair your faith in deserving anything good.

After a shift of focus to relationships other than romance, I have relearned to enjoy the simple pleasure from being open-minded and earnest with people and the magic of it. I have reconnected with people I’ve lost touch with and I even made one or two new friends, who I genuinely appreciate.

I guess in the past year I have been subconsciously practising one thing, that is to acknowledge that love is not the only subject and source of pleasure in life. In the absence of it, there are always other sweets in life to be cherished.

Yesterday I hosted a small party at my place and invited some friends over. I was debating myself a lot over the idea, but at the end decided to go ahead despite the amount of work implied. I didn’t do it becoz I feel compelled to have some sort of birthday celebration (there are easier ways to do that), but rather out of an urge to connect, and the hope to reinvent the sort of ideal human connections that I’ve been yearning for. In my imagination, it does’t take being a social animal to enjoy a party. It should only take good music, good space, good intention and of coz, good wine.

After my guests left, I had a little after-party of myself with all the leftover wine and loud music. I was so drunk and so happy, one independent of the other.

Waking up with an expected hungover today, the first thing I did was to check what ridiculous contents i posted on instagram last night. And I was somewhat amused by my own drunken toilet cabaret, and decided to leave it there (instead of deleting all and pretended nothing happened).

It’s a bliss to have the power to entertain oneself. At 33, I do understand youth is a fleeting bitch. If there’s anything I wish from time, I genuinely wish it’d never take away my superpower of dancing narcissistically on my toilet lid.

letter #1

My dear friend,

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? When I wrote at the end of last year, I knew I wanted to take a break. What I didn’t know was it would be so long. Almost 5 months. What I also didn’t know was, in just 5 months time, we’re living in a completely different world now.

So where do I even start? Since I started with the new job in November last year, my work-life balance has completely gone off the track. The job is much more demanding than I expected or ever had experienced and it took me a while to accept the fact that I’d just be eternally busy. Calling oneself busy sounds like such a convenient excuse to account for the writing hiatus – in fact, I wish this was just another excuse – but unfortunately, it’s true this time. Or truer at least. The upside is, if I must stay positive, it does keep me occupied and exhaust me in a way that everything else in life just automatically matters less. And let’s admit it, being occupied is kinda a luxury nowadays, when a third of the global population is under lockdown. Still having a job, a pretty busy one, isn’t something one should ungratefully complain about now.

I had a dreadful a few days around the new year’s eve and let me just skip that for now. In fact, the heartburn I had to go through back then seems so insignificant now, relative to where we’re at. Any personal pain that doesn’t concern life or death seems insignificant.

Then it was Chinese New Year. I remember taking the train back to Shenzhen to reunite with my parents on that Friday close to the end of Jan, also the first day I wore a mask, which I hurriedly bought at lunch break from a tiny pharmacy store near work. Little did I know, that would be the last stash of masks available (at a normal price) everywhere. Little did everyone know, in a few months, the whole world would be so surreally united, through a common trauma. I’m certain you must be also experiencing it one way or another, and you wouldn’t wanna listen to me ramble about it. Repeating information that are publicly acquirable, factual or not, isn’t for me and you. It’s for the elevator small talks that no one really enjoys but everyone still does it anyways.

After Chinese New Year, you probably saw it somewhere on social, I went on a trip to Sri Lanka, which I planned last year. I anticipated I’d need a break 3 months into my new job. In February, travelling was still possible, although probably already not the most sensible thing to do. But I’m barely sensible when it comes to executing a trip. In hindsight, it feels like winning a lottery to have gone on that trip.

To some extent, Sri Lanka to me means the last personal memory when I was out there and unreservedly enjoyed the world. To tell you a secret, I’m still wearing the white cotton string on my right wrist which I received from a Buddhist temple on the last day on the trip. It’s now the 73rd day I’m wearing it, which I was only supposed to wear for 7 days. The string is balling and has turned yellowish and is probably full of bacteria, but every day I looked it, I feel like I could still faintly connect to the tremendous and innocent joy I had experienced. I’m so reluctant to let go of it.

The longer I wait, the harder it is to make the cut. When I was brushing my teeth the other day, I looked at the string on my wrist in the mirror, a thought flashed into my mind and I made a pact with myself. I will take it down after the next time I have sex, which, you could imagine, is quite a small probability event in the current condition.

Speaking on which, with already one and half years in the single universe, I do have new revelation these days and believe I have further advanced in the ancient art of being alone. The pandemic has definitely intensified the purity of single-hoods. I don’t just mean on the love and sex level, I mean on every level. Cutting off the physical contact with some casual dates is, in fact, the least I could worry about. At first, I realized I couldn’t visit my parents in Shenzhen anymore for at least 3 months. Then, I could barely see my friends in Hong Kong, which was already a handful to start with. Just when I thought my level of social contact couldn’t possibly get lower, I was cut off with the gyms, the beauty salons (where I go to trim my brows every month so they don’t grow into a jungle) — almost all the routines that keep me in touch with the outside world, is gone. The only thing left is my piano lesson once a week (my teacher tried to persuade me into doing it online and I rejected) and my therapy appointment, which doesn’t happen so often. I am my own island, even more than ever.

I do everything at home now. I work at home, I play music at home, I exercise at home. I spend a stupid amount of time with Netflix and I developed a serious bond with my kitchen for the first time in my life, which, knowing me, is a small miracle.

Before this, I was deeply convinced I am just the kind of person who’d live her whole life without knowing how to cook, and I was convinced this is perfectly ok in a time where all kinds of services can be available at a price. Well, I still think the latter is true, but after having three McDonald’s meals in two days once which made me feel my organs had dried up, I decided to face my utmost incompetency: cooking.

When I was a kid, I detested a fresh market. When my mum picked me up after school and she needed to go to the fresh market to get groceries on the way home, I’d insist to wait outside coz I couldn’t stand the smell, the fishy, earthy odor of daily lives. I grew up knowing I have zero interest in cooking, knowing there was so many other advanced and interesting stuff that’s more worthy of my attention and time. I also don’t seem to have any talent in it at all, in my very few short-lived attempts in cooking in the past years, it always ended in vain as I was just too frustrated with the mess I created that could barely be deemed as food.

When I most recently reattempted to take up cooking in late Feb, it was purely for practical reasons and I just hoped I could at least develop some basic capability in this area. As I delved into the process, started to try out different recipes based on what I’d like to eat and go through failures and minor success and so on, even though it still annoys me sometimes that all the time and effort spent doing the grocery and jumping up and down in the kitchen was merely for the amount of food that can’t even last a whole episode of “friends”, it occurs to me that the process of cooking is more than making food and eating food. For me, it means facing one of my deepest insecurity, my incapability of taking care of myself substantially.

I start to have these flashbacks when I struggle my way in the kitchen. I thought of how my mother could function seamlessly in the kitchen and sometimes when I was home, I’d just stand on one side and watch her doing her trick, as she’d always make it look so easy. I tried to replicate the dishes that I’ve always liked when my mother cooked them. I realize what an uneasy thing it is to be cooking day after day for a family, no matter how she makes it look so easy.

I thought of the men who used to cook for me. I always have a thing for men who makes me food. I can easily forget about others, but not the ones who’d cooked for me. One morning when I was cutting strawberries into small pieces to put into my oatmeal, I suddenly remembered this moment when I just started dating my first boyfriend and he cut a plate of strawberries for me, in perfectly neat shapes. I felt surprised, why bother cutting it? I can just eat it as it is. And he said, coz I think you deserve to have strawberries this way.

One day I was pondering what kind of salad I could make myself so I can cut down on carbs for dinner. It wasn’t an easy thing as I’ve always hated salads. I thought of one salad that someone used to make for me years ago and I actually loved it. My memory was blurred and I only know there was some sort of meat and strawberry in it, and nuts. At that moment, I felt utterly sad and I cried. It’s the best salad I’ve had and I didn’t even know what it was.

More and more memories like these came upon me as I developed my cooking skills day after another. Through cooking, I was also going through my personal history of being on the receiving end of food and the people who have made me happy through food, from my mother, to my first boyfriend, to the guy who convinced me salads can be tasty, to my exchange roommate in the one fall in New York, to my last boyfriend who made me the most exquisite birthday meal. I don’t know if it’s coz I’m spending too much time alone, but all those dusted moments feel extraordinarily precious now that I’m going through my own journey of making food. I realize I’ve always subconsciously seen cooking as a way of giving love, and refreshing those memories made me see how much I was loved.

These days, for the first time in my life, when I wander about in the fresh market, instead of revolting the fishy smell, I see now the poetry of everyday life, as if I’m living life as it is eventually. It’s funny how it takes a pandemic for me to understand the earthiest pleasure, but if there’s a silver lining to every disaster, this would be it. As I grow increasingly committed to adopting cooking as a way of life, in the reflection of the food and love I once received, I could sense I’m also progressing at loving myself properly. And I don’t mean it in the way that your yoga teacher would tell you in a lululemon-cult-like session. I mean the kind of real hardship it takes to turn the heavy anchor around in the opposite direction. As Oscar Wilde said, to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance. On top of that, I guess I could say with experience, that only when a person has proper self-love in place, is she/he able to receive love properly. I hope I’m now one step closer.

If I’m being honest, this unexpected period of heightened aloneness feels like what I’ve been always longing for, having the luxury to cut off all unnecessary distractions and just devote time to myself, take care of myself, entertain myself, inspire myself and eventually, appreciate the company of myself.

I’ve been reading some news and contents covering how couple-hood has evolved during this time, in some cases, couples become more intimate and co-dependent, in others, the divorce rate spikes. Much less coverage was paid to single people, which I guess, partly coz we’re in a less complicated status. Without the option to divorce ourselves, we have to make it work.

At the end of the day, you must admit the pandemic, despite all the damage it has caused, is an extremely humbling experience for most of us (the one exception I can think of is Donald Trump).

And there it is, what I’ve been up to. Apologies for writing such a lengthy letter. If by any chance you’re feeling stiff under the lockdown in your part of the world, I hope it could help a bit in passing the time. Who knows when would be the next time I write to you. Until then, take care, my friend.

「week 29」Ringing out the old

It’s this time of the year again. The date on the calendar is reading a mixed sense of anxiety and hope. Another year has passed, are we closer to the things we want or further? At this time of the year, we seem to always secretly think that “let’s just get it over with”, wishing that a change of vintage would just miraculously write things over.

In a nutshell, I am actually quite happy with my 2019. It’s probably the one year that I spent the most alone time in my life. I traveled by myself four times throughout the year, two of them profoundly changed my perspectives — a 6-day unplugged silent retreat in Bali and a long-overdue first trip to Paris. I got a new job, made more money. I reignited an old passion for piano. I took my body serious and trained hard. It’s a year I didn’t share myself with anyone. A year I fully retreated to the basics. A year I worked hard to make me re-like myself.

Last time this year, I was alone in Bali. I didn’t intend to be alone. (Even for me, someone who travels solo all the time, I still would prefer to be not alone for that time of the year.) But I didn’t really have a choice. My relationship ended before the trip I planned with my ex so I had to go by myself.

I booked a volcano sunrise tour for Jan 1st, so I celebrated new year’s eve by dining alone at 5pm in the best restaurant in Ubud center and went to bed at 9pm. I woke up at 2:30am the next day, a tour guide picked me up and drove me to the volcano area. It was a long drive, we chitchatted a little bit. I looked out the window at the moon, feeling both sleepy and nervous, for I really dreaded climbing a mountain and I knew it’d kill me for my pathetic level of muscle strength. I started to climb up following a local guide in pure darkness. It was slowly lighting up. People passed ahead of me one after another while I was panting like a cow. It was as tough as I imagined, if not more. By the time we arrived at the peak, the first sunbeam of 2019 was out. It’s hard to describe how I felt at that moment. I was both exhausted and excited. I had no one to share the excitement with. I remember thinking to myself: it’s not that scary, isn’t it? (I was wrong, it was really scary going down the hill.)

When I was back to ground level alive after scratching and scrambling and cursing my way down the hill, I posted on Instagram and said: “I reckon there’s no better new year present than this, stronger legs, stronger heart.”

Looking back, I do believe I have lived up to my own expectations this year.

A few days ago I realized I sort of made a list of resolutions sometime last year. So I dug it out and did a self-review. The result, surprisingly, is only 50% disappointing. Attaching it below for everyone’s entertainment. (I wrote it in Chinese originally, so I’m keeping the Chinese and giving a quick translation in English.)

New Year Resolution 2019:


狠狠加大阅读量。不是for pleasure only的阅读量,是真正通过量变达到质变的阅读量。每天集中时段阅读一小时以上。每本new yorker至少读2篇(不包括shouts and murmurs). 确保身边永远有书可看 。
Read, a lot, not for pleasure only, but read to the extent that qualitative change happens. Read one hour everyday. Read at least 2 articles in every issue of New Yorker.(excluding shouts and murmurs). Make sure there’s always a book around.

Review: Failed. Stopped reading books after Paris. And only read New Yorker occasionally.

Write. Except essay and diary, try to write a short story every month.

Review: 80% on target. Didn’t manage to make progress on short story.

显著减少社交网络使用。social networking screentime降至1.5hr以下。有意识地养成每天只在固定时间(如午饭、 晚饭等)看社交网络的习惯。
Significantly cut down on social mediating. Keep social network screentime under 1.5 hour a day. Develop a habbit to only look at SNS at particular times in a day (eg lunch, dinner).

Review: hmmmmm. pretty much failed. my phone addiction is more serious than ever – I blame it on the new iPhone 11pro.

每周健身3次——yoga、fitness、boxing。夏天学paddling。养成在家可以做的30分钟routine。 Three times of fitness activity a week. Learn paddling in summer. Develop a 30-minute home workout routine.

Review: 80% on target. didn’t learn paddling. didn’t do any home workout – too busy ordering chicken nuggets. But training has become a core part of my daily routine and I have developed a mental need for it.

Play the guitar for 30 mins every day. One new song a month.

Review: On target, except that guitar is replaced by piano now.

减少看电视时间,美剧一天最多只能看一集,whatever that is。每周可有一天chill day。
Cut back on watching tv. One episode a day at most, whatever that is. One chill day a week (means free pass on TV).

Review: hmmm. I did watch less…. but sometimes before I reachded the controler to press “stop” the next espide has already begun. I blame Neftlix for leaving too little mental struggling time for viewers.

生物钟目标:12点睡,7点起。早上预留一小时时间做以上任何一件事,如阅读、瑜伽、吉他。 Schedule goal: bed at 12, up at 7. Leave one hour in the morning to do anything mentioned above: read, yoga, guitar.

Review: 100% failed.

消费及存款目标:减少可有可无的消费。普通衣物购买准则:买一件新衣服,就要舍弃一件旧衣物。每个月可以买一件pricey & timeless piece。每个月平均存1/3收入。
Consumption and saving goal: cut down on Latte factors. Principle of buying clothes: an old piece has to go to make room for every new piece. Can buy one pricey and timeless piece a month. Save 1/3 of salary at least.

Review: Beating the target thanks to my one year clothes shopping hiatus pledge.

Diet goal: no carbs for dinner. Learn 3 dishes that I can cook myself (excluding frozen dumplings). Use the juicer frequently.

Review: pretty much failed. I need to eat heathier.

Master the skill of spending quality time alone. Make plan and set a goal for every big chunk of alone time. Remember being alone doesn’t mean slack.

Review: 50% on target. There are ups and downs.


1 – 对新事物保持开放态度。Keep an open attitude to anything NEW.
2 – 减少成见、偏见、不在不了解对方时stereotype任何人。Hold back on prejudice. Never stereotype anyone before knowing them.
3 – 建立positive perspective. Establish a positive perspective.
4 – Don’t be petty. 
5 – 在亲密关系中做到坦诚。过没有谎言的生活。Be honest in any intimate relationship. Live life without lies.

Review: can do better on no.2.

This will also be my last post this year. I appreciate everyone who has ever visited this place and spent time reading my thoughts. Resuming writing, out of everything, is the most meaningful move for me in 2019. A friend asked me earlier this year that “what do you like about writing?” It got me in the first few seconds. I don’t think anyone has asked me that before. After thinking for a while, I told him “I write to help myself. It’s a therapeutic process for me.” I guess people write for different reasons. And I, for one, write for very selfish reasons, and will probably continue to write for this reason only. But I believe every writer writes in the hope to reach someone, anyone, a potential reader, a potential reader that can resonate. Knowing there are people reading, does make me feel less lonely.

Thanks for reading and happy new year.

The crier monologue.

I cry a lot. If it’s a social norm that we all need to identify ourselves based on tear-secretion habit, I’m definitely a “crier”, same way as I am an occasional drinker, party hater and used-to-be smoker.

On a recent weekend, I cried on the taxi on my way home. I was a bit tipsy after a whole evening’s game-playing/drinking/laughing at my friend’s house-warming party with people that I knew from head to toe. I walked on the empty street for a few minutes after the party ended. I got on a taxi and looked out from the window, as the city in the midnight passed through my blurry gaze, a sudden rush of lowness crept on and my tears started to emerge. When the taxi arrived at my doorstep, I knew it wasn’t over. So I got off and walked along the waterfront nearby, facing the darkness glittering through the water surface, my favourite emo song playing in my ear, and started to cry as hard as I could.

I can’t remember how long it lasted, perhaps half hour or longer. I just let it flow, the fluid of my eyes, with my face wrinkled at its maximum and my upper body involuntarily twitching. Often when I was crying like that, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the same time, at how little control I had over my own behavior, how powerful sadness can be, and how inexhaustible my tears are. It was a good cry that evening, for I happened to be at a perfect place at a perfect hour to enjoy the luxury of crying in public open air without worrying being embarrassed. Even more, I received messages from someone I wanted to connect with most at that moment. On a scale from 1 to 5, it was a 4.9-rated cry in my extensive experience of crying.

The above behavior, which I wilfully exposed a bit on my instagram story (as I usually did), has generated concerns from some friends and stranger followers. Which, wasn’t my intention but also wasn’t surprising. As much as I appreciate that, I genuinely couldn’t respond with a better explanation than “I just like crying,” which, I know, could sound perfunctory and almost disappointing, in a way that my crying wasn’t driven by any dramatic event and failed to satisfy the sympathy-mixed curiosity. And this was not only to general acquaintance or strangers. My ex-boyfriend, for one, had tried to get to the bottom of my tears. There was once I cried unexplainably when we were both in an altered state and he was desperate to understand the reason behind my sadness that I just couldn’t give. I remember he had this dissatisfied/dubious look on his face. It was the kind of expression that pained me, for I couldn’t share more, and it wasn’t becoz I didn’t want to.

The myth of crying had stayed with me for many years. I first noticed it when I was in the second year of college. I was drinking with some uni-mates one night and it was probably the first time ever in my life that I “over-consumed” alcohol and entered an alcohol-driven emotionally-heightened state. At a moment when everyone was still laughing and high, I quietly started to cry, at first only to myself, wishing no one would notice. When someone saw that and it became a group-wide event, I just gave up and let it out. And inevitably, I quickly killed the night. That was the first time I met this incontrollable, inexplainable, and inexhaustible stream of sadness inside me.

There were of course, many times when I’d also cry for more specific reasons. Like the night when my first serious ex-boyfriend told me he was engaged, half year after our two-year relationship ended, and he said “I wanna personally tell you instead of you finding out from facebook or something.” Like that time when I couldn’t get out of bed in a tiny hotel room with no window in Toronto after being thrown out by someone who I flew all the way there to meet. Like when I first found out in primary school that my father was having an affair and I thought “this is it, my whole world is broken and I would end up like one of those miserable unloved kids“. But these aren’t the kind of cry I’m talking about, these disaster-driven emotion breakdowns. The kind of cry I’m talking about is something that doesn’t have a clear trigger, not from outside at least. It happens as if someone left the tab on, or there’s a leakage in my body somewhere. It happens as if the sadness creek inside me has accumulated to a point that it just has to empty out to keep it going. It happens as if there’s a little weeping girl living inside me and from time to time she just badly wants attention.

Throughout all these years, I’ve spent numerous nights with her. And our relationship wasn’t always as smooth as today. I used to resist and feel shamed of her, the incontrollable sobbing. As many people would, I had taken her as a sign of weakness. For many years, I thought I couldn’t help crying becoz I was a weak freak who couldn’t contain her emotions better. And I did feel weak when I was crying, among other things. I had felt helpless. I had felt there was no way out, and that my existence made no sense but only pain, endless pains. I had felt it was impossible to connect, no matter how much I wished for it. I had felt wronged, hurt, all alone, and simply sad. I guess these are pretty generic feelings shared by mankind when we cry. And I guess I was indeed a weak person, for a long time. Until the day I realized I’m not as weak as I thought. (It happened last year) And I’m actually stronger than many people in many ways. Ironically, if there was one witness to the process of my toughening up, it’d be my tears.

But the crying didn’t stop. She still showed up out of nowhere from time to time. I started to understand I didn’t cry becoz I was weak. I cry becoz I have this intrinsic sadness in me that needs a mechanism to be funnelled out. I start to take my sadness as part of me – an important part – which makes me who I am, and is core to my sensibility. I don’t confuse sadness with weakness anymore. And I start to recognize sadness as a source of my strength, even though it doesn’t seem that way sometimes. Most importantly, I have no shame for my sadness, no matter how unpopular it is in today’s world.

Today, when I cry, besides the unexplainable sorrow, the cathartic and liberating feeling, I actually am relived. I’m relived that I’m still connected, with the used-to-be weak version of me, and the latest version of me with a part that would be eternally soft and fragile. I’m relieved to know that they’re still there, despite how far I’ve gone, as a safety-net knitted through time.

Make no mistakes, I’m not writing to promote sadness in any ways, and I envy people who doesn’t have to deal with this much sadness in their lives. I’m writing, I guess, to self-certify a small finding – the best (or only) way to connect with ourselves is to accept the shadows that come with it.

I’ve developed a habit of taking film portraits of myself when I was crying in the past years, given, I’d like to make the time I spent on crying more productive. The output, however, is pretty low as most of them are just not decent.

Several years ago I happened to know of a random acquittance’s negative comment on me to my friend, that he thinks my instagram feed is awkward, which seems to be full of selfies of me being alone and sad. His original language is something like “who does she think she can impress with those selfies showing she’s all alone at home?” I was a bit offended hearing that years ago. It was hard to imagine someone in the “art community” would make such insensitive comment about people he barely knew, not to mention I use instagram primarily to document the trace of my being instead of a tool to make inflated impressions. Thinking back these days, I guess I can sort of understand why he’d think that. It can be uncomfortable to come across contents that one can’t makes sense of. He is probably one of those people who somehow never need to confront their solitude or sadness (which is indeed a shame for an “artist”). And it’s definitely too much to expect for people to resonate with the sad states that I captured through images, when even I myself can’t fully comprehend them.

To make sense of my very own sadness is perhaps a lifelong solo journey. After all, crying to me, as much as writing, is the most private act in all human’s behaviours. The most and least I can do to share, I’m afraid, is to instagram-story about it that would last 24 hours.

「week 25」Returning and the cave

I decided to write this piece with as least thinking and organizing as possible.

In the past month or so that I didn’t write, I was busy with many things. Travelling alone in Laos. Starting the new job. Getting annoyed and exhausted by the new commute. A short and reminiscent trip to Shanghai. Seeing someone that means something to me. Meeting many that mean little to me. Being distracted for silly reasons. A few silent and chronic heartbreaks, for the soured friendship, the enlarging gap on a society level, the fleeting intimacy.

On top of all these undercurrents, I feel like I was really just busy doing one thing. I was waiting for them to pass. I was waiting for this moment that I can sit down back at my desk and type, with a more or less neutral mind. The moment of returning.

There were twice I tried to force myself to sit down and pretend I’m here, but both times I failed. I wasn’t here. I was somewhere else. I discarded the unfinished drafts that I wrote as if they were mind garbage. I don’t want to force it. It has to be flowing out of my mind naturally. It has to be that I really feel ready to be here, instead of the adult version of me ordering me to be here. When I was in primary school, the schoolwork that I dreaded most is the weekly journal we had to write. I always felt deeply stressed by that assignment and would have a mini-breakdown (a mix of tears and curse) most Sunday afternoons when I didn’t know what to write. Funnily enough, I almost replicated the same scene in my middle-age adulthood.

I won’t say I’ve completely shrugged off the aftermath of this mini-storm in the past month or so, but here I am anyways, giving it a try, and documenting with my maximum honesty.

I started to meditate for 15 mins every night before I slept (if I’m not too drunk) recently, as an attempt to regain some control in the midst of a turbulence, or simply out of a need to spend some “quality time” with myself out of a crazy life schedule.

When I close my eyes, the one scene that keeps emerging is when I was in a dark cave in Laos. In some way, it seems my mind was trying to take me back there. The cave experience is not very pleasant to think of. I was at the end of a full-on doing-stuff day in Vang Vieng. And the last activity in my booked private tour was visiting Jung Cave. My driver dropped me off at the entrance of the area and I started to walk in myself. I was quite exhausted already and thought, let me just get this over with.

When I was walking in, I realized this scenic area is bigger than I thought. Since it was already the last opening hour of the day, people were walking out as I walked in. The whole area was getting quiet. I didn’t see any peer tourist around except myself. At somewhere, I saw a group of Lao teenagers hanging outside a small entrance to a cave, they were playing guitar and singing. I walked over, and saw a buddha at the entrance of the cave. I walked into the cave without a second thought, assuming that was the cave I was supposed to see.

As I continued to get in, the natural light was quickly lost. It was pitch dark inside and it became more and more challenging to climb. I had to use all my four limbs to climb up. I remembered seeing a group of elderly tourists walking pass me as I entered and wondered how they climbed this challenging cave. Despite of the suspicion in my mind, I proceeded to climb in pure darkness. I had to use my phone as torch so I can make out the inside of the cave – it was absolutely a wild cave, extremely narrow and steep. At one point when it was simply too narrow for me to climb through and I didn’t see any other possible ways around, I knew it was time to give up and retreat. And it was at that moment, when I tried to step down with my body in a completely twisted posture, that I missed a step and fell off in the cave by about two meters in height, with my arms and legs scratching against the rough rocks and my phone dropped off my hand. The typical “FUCK!” moment. I probably did say that, gasping and evaluating the damage. My phone was ok. I managed to stand up and reorient my body to be temporarily safe. Some scratches and broken skins on my arm and my right hip hurt terribly, but I managed to get out without further surprises.

It was an unfortunate but minor incident and I didn’t linger on too much for the rest of the trip. It was also a stupid mistake. I found my way to the “right” cave I was supposed to visit, a huge one that no climbing was involved at all. I hastily dressed the wounds and scrapped the whole wild cave excursion to the back of my mind.

When my subconsciousness took me back to the dark cave, I had no choice but to revisit the scene, the whole process, and especially the state of mind in the few seconds right after the fall. I remember feeling a fluttering fear in my heart, becoz I was all alone in a pitch dark wild cave and I just fell. If I injured myself more seriously, I could be in a real danger and it’d be very tricky to get help from where I was. I remember telling myself to stay calm and figure out a strategy (to move my body around the tricky rocks in dark) as soon as possible, I quickly switched my mind to a “surviving is key” mode. I was alone, absolutely alone, not just physically. It was like in an instant, that fall cut off all my connection with the world outside the cave and I slid to a parallel universe where there was just me. I also didn’t have any intention or bandwidth left to connect. I was 100% there, body and soul. In an obvious way, it wasn’t an ideal situation. But in a less obvious way, it wasn’t all bad. In fact, having revisited the scene repeatedly in my meditation, I realized it isn’t a situation that could be easily labelled as “good” or “bad”. It is simply an irregular heartbeat in the scale of life.

I’m not sure why this scene, of relative insignificance, kept emerging in my meditation. I could only assume it’s my subconsciousness reminding me of that feeling of my sheer existence, the kind that one sometimes can only feel through an irregular heartbeat.

Not many of us is in search of that cave. I’m certain that many of us aren’t even aware of the existence of caves like that. But the cave is just there. I have been there, by chance or by choice.

「week 20」Leaving Central

Suffering a huge hungover and a splash of self-loath, I finished my last working day with my old job. It was also my last working day in Central, after four years and four months. 

I was the last one to leave the office on my last day, waiting for my gym class at 7pm on a Friday evening. As I walked out of the office building with several bags carrying all my remained office belongings, the evening was quietly falling with an early autumn chill. I stood at one of the busiest crossing in the middle of Queen’s Road Central waiting for the light to turn green, and just at that moment, an unexplainable sense of emptiness came upon me. And I know that’s something I cannot fight against. It’s what one is supposed to feel in the situation of a substantial ending, despite of what leads to it.

I remember making the decision of coming to Central four years ago. A lot happened in 2015. I ended my 2-year relationship, quit my 4-year job at the TV station, and moved out of my 3-year apartment in Tai Wai. I’m not quite sure how my mentality exactly rolled out back then, except that I was desperate for a change, any change. It was probably for the first time, I felt the need to take back some control from life and I needed all those big gestures to make that point.

I remember telling myself, I need to find a job based in Central. And I took the first offer of a job I randomly found. It’s a really boring job, translator for an investment bank. But I didn’t care. All I needed was a job that can get me to Central, a transition in my non-existing career path. In July 2015, I started to work in The Center, just like I wished. I remember feeling odd at the beginning when I found myself blended in the central crowds, a mix of curiosity, repulsion and constant awareness of my otherness. 

I didn’t stay long on the translator job before I found another job in the same building. Dark amusingly, what motivated me to leave wasn’t the lifelessness of that job, but that I realized the medical leave benefit wasn’t good enough for me. And it wouldn’t have mattered at all if not for the illness I had to cope with at that time. As such, after 4 months of translating at machine speed but better than a machine, I moved to another job that granted me more medical leaves that I needed and a starting point in marketing, on which I spent the past 4 years at.

Thinking back, it was for pretty random and reckless causes how my whole Central chapter has happened. And it was pure damn luck that I met my previous boss (also a great mentor, role model and reliable friend), who gave me that job and enabled me to find my position in the marketing field, which I can now more or less see it as a career, instead of just a job. I really can’t take any credit but simply exclaiming at how life somehow just managed to connect the random pieces together.

From the moment I accepted the new job offer and knew that I’d be leaving Central, I’ve been in the mood of a mild grief and panic. In one way, my life sphere and activities in the past few years has been heavily based around Central. My regular gym, my boxing gym, my go-to massage parlour, my bars, my secret happy hour/people watching place, my lunch takeaway spot, my midnight snack place, my brow-trimming salon, 90% of my blind dates and 95% of my social activities… In another way, no matter how demoralising and nakedly materialistic Central is, I can’t help but feel that it did play a big part in the becoming of me. It’s an intimate witness of how I have struggled through my late-twenties crisis and landed into my thirties. It’s where it all happened. Even though I could somehow still relate to the sense of otherness that I was feeling four years ago, it doesn’t bother me anymore.

When I just started working, at the end of the first year, I wrote an essay to examine what change had working brought to me. My outcome would be utterly different if I did the same by comparing my current self to who I was pre-Central. Back then (in 2011), I was relieved I didn’t change much, while this time, I’m glad I did. I’m living a better life, not just becoz I’m making fivefold what I was making, but for that I’ve evolved from the girl who would take whatever was given solely for location’s sake, into someone strong enough to make a well-thought-out career move, even if it means leaving Central.

P.S. This piece was written in the McDonald’s at ChiangMai airport on my way to Luang Prabang. #funfact

Being Chinese.

Two weeks ago, we had the National Day of China. It’s a big thing this year, the 70th birthday of a rebuilt nation. Living in Hong Kong, it’s also a big thing this year, for quite a different reason. I, among all other normal citizens, had to endure a complete lockdown in the midst of the most severe crisis this city has ever seen since the handover 22 years ago.

I’ve never felt so spilt up the way I felt on that day, Oct 1 2019. On one side of the border, where I was born and raised, the whole 1.4 billion population is fanatically celebrating the greatness and unprecedented strength of this country, while on the other side of the border, where I have lived in the past 14 years, people are enveloped in a state of extreme nervousness and busy telling each other “stay safe” to express their care and concern for each other, if any left. Moreover, as a smallest unit being swirled up in this history-making turbulence, I can’t help but feel, for the first time in my life, that being a Chinese, at this moment, means more than ever, not even on a collective level, but on a personal level.

Growing up in China, a country with the reputation of “brainwashing” its people with patriotism education system, I actually never think of myself as patriotic. This is consistent with my natural lack of sense of belonging to anywhere, any group. The idea of functioning as a group, taking pride in being part of a group and looking up unconditionally to the leader of that group is simply nowhere to be found in me. Since little, I already know I can only function as my own proxy. This individualism nature of me, when I tried to trace the source of it, is probably related to my family education when I was little.

A very early memory that I still quite vividly remember was when I was in kindergarten, the schoolmaster was a man very popular and well-respected in our campus and all kids would endearingly call him “Grandpa Jin” as instructed by the teachers. I mentioned this to my father one day on the back of his bicycle when he came to pick me up, telling something like “Grandpa Jin came to see us today in the kindergarten, I was very happy”. To my surprise, my father immediately corrected me in all seriousness, “He is not your grandpa, you shouldn’t call him that.” And just like that, as little as a kindergarten child, sensing from my father’s negative attitude towards a suspected attempt of personality cult, I learned for the first time in my life that, I don’t wanna be part of these campaigns, it’s a silly thing to do. Thinking back, I’m still not sure whether Jin’s popularity was naturally or tactfully developed – in fact, I have nothing against that man but respect, he might indeed have been a great educator, as the founding headmaster of the school where I spent my whole adolescence years – but I never called him Grandpa Jin again, while everyone else continued to do so until the day he passed away two years ago.

At 18, I came to Hong Kong for university. My individualism ideology was further strengthened with the western values that I was immersed in all these years. It felt like one key theme in my twenties was to fight against the traditional Chinese values that are widely rooted in the society and family environment that I came from, but made little sense to me. Most of them involves my identity as a woman, how I wish to live my life as a woman versus how I am expected to live my life as a woman, more precisely, a Chinese woman. I have been deeply enraged by comments from my relatives and my parents’ old time friends, the people who I felt close to in my childhood but more and more estranged as I grew into adulthood. Gradually, spending Chinese New Year holiday at home became more of an unpleasant duty rather than a festive tradition. The difference in our values are becoming more and more unbearable that it saddens me to look back.

For a long time, I desperately wanted to break out of the invisible shackles that I found almost suffocating, my Chinese parents, my Chinese relatives, all the Chinese values that I cannot resonate with, all the injustice and imperfection in the system so powerful that it cultivates a fundamental pessimism in me. I gave up my Chinese Hukou without too much hesitation when I had the chance 7 years ago. When being asked, I always tell people I don’t think I can go back to China, becoz I don’t want to, becoz I’d feel a reversed cultural shock when I’m back. I stopped developing my Chinese friend circle, all my Chinese friends are people I had known for a long time. I thought I’ve heard enough of the stories, perspectives, absurdities, misfortunes, miseries, everything that could possibly happen to a Chinese, I had enough of it all. I didn’t want to hear anymore about any life of any Chinese, which only either made me sad or made me angry or made me wanna scream or made me utterly bored, like my own life to me.

My language preference started to shift without any conscious thinking on it. I started to heavily adopt English as my everyday language. I speak in English, socialize in English, date in English, dream in English, and eventually, I started to write my personal writings in English, however clumsy an effort it may seem. I can’t exactly explain why, or I don’t want to yet touch the heart of the matter. But one thing I know is, to write in an adopted language is, apart from all the extra effort, an even lonelier journey. Lonelier, because I’d be free of all the noises that I wouldn’t be able to block out when I write in Chinese, therefore more real, more sincere, more honest. I could write very well in Chinese. In high school, my essays would be printed and shared as models to the whole grade of students. When I blogged in Chinese, I had much more reactions and praises. With Chinese, I know too well how to get people’s attention, how to be subtly deceptive and play with words, becoz that’s the skill I was well trained to master since day one. There are many people making a living this way, people with the same or higher level of proficiency in Chinese, using it as a tool instead of a genuine approach of expression. The more I realized the manipulative power I could have in Chinese, the less I feel comfortable using it. I wished to be at a safer place with my texts, I started to write in English, in search of that “safe place.” In a strange way, I’m using an adopted language as a safety net to protect me from myself, my Chinese-speaking self.

In the process of pursuing my independence, free spirit and the dignity that I believe I deserve, I had no choice but to renounce myself from so many parts of my Chinese origin and therefore, inevitably grew somewhat distant to China as a whole. I could say, in the past decade, I was being Chinese in a very passive way. If I’d be honest, I was somewhat disturbed by my nationality, not the symbolic meaning of it, but the actual personal pains it put me through. But one cannot choose their heritage, just like one cannot choose their parents.

Over all these years since I left mainland China, I have briefly resided abroad; I had imagined how much freer I’d feel if I wasn’t Chinese; I had wished to live somewhere far from home, New York, London, anywhere, and then that wish had extinguished itself. I remember on the first date with one of my ex-boyfriend who is French, he was telling me about how many places he’d moved in his life like it was a very easy decision. And I told him for me it’s impossible to move like that, I can’t just leave everything behind, and there’d be many factors to consider, such as how to convince my parents. And he immediately said in an almost judgmental tone that “You just have to action on it. If you don’t like Hong Kong, just leave.” I remember feeling sad at that moment, not for how unfree I am with my Chinese mental shackles, but for how impossible it is to make a non-Chinese person to understand that, no matter how intimate we’d become.

In all these years that I’ve lived my life in Hong Kong and kept a delicate distance from mainland China and everything it entails, I have also traveled to enough places and encountered enough people to understand the vastness of the world and moreover, to see the limitations everyone is bound to due to their own personal background, just like my limitation I’m bound to due to my Chinese roots. And it’s through my growing exposure to the outside world, that I’ve learned to be more tolerant and compassionate with my Chinese roots, everyone and everything that used to bring me pain, and are probably still bringing me pain. I stopped hoping a change of place would miraculously change the sense of helpless I was feeling in my twenties. And I stopped thinking “life is elsewhere”. I learned life is always here, wherever I am, and it’s up to me to make myself a better person, and my life a better kind. And I finally made my peace with Hong Kong, a strange little place I couldn’t care much for at the beginning but eventually started to see it as “home”, or something similar to home.

Last weekend I was back in Shenzhen. Out of curiosity, I went to the cinema with my parents to watch the 70th anniversary campaign movie “My People, My Country”, a huge box-office success in China as the enthusiasm of patriotism recently hit a new peak. The movie is made of 7 stories, each marking a memorial moment since the foundation of PRC in 1949. Among them, one story was about the return of Hong Kong in 1997. As usual, I didn’t feel much after watching the whole movie, as I still instinctively resist to feel anything from any sort of propaganda. But the episode of Hong Kong did generate a mixed feeling in me. It also reminded me of a memory I had almost forgotten.

I was ten, alone at home watching TV on the night of the returning ceremony, when both of my high-school-teacher parents were out there with their students in an organized parade to see off the PLA Garrison as they crossed the border from Shenzhen to Hong Kong in the midnight. I couldn’t exactly remember how I felt at that time, probably not too much, only slightly concerned with how exhausted my parents must be having to be out so late while it was heavily raining. I remember watching the ceremony on TV as the actual handover took place. For a 10-year-old, I couldn’t possibly comprehend the meaning of that moment, other than accepting it as a big historic event as I was told. For a 10-year-old, I also couldn’t have guessed how my life would roll out to be so deeply entangled with this strange little place because of that historic moment. For a moment, sitting in the cinema, I felt paralyzed, by an ironic realization of how my personal fate is connected to China, the evolvement and development of China, in a way completely out of my control, and probably out of everyone’s control.

It’s probably the 70th anniversary propaganda, it’s probably the unrest happening in Hong Kong and the absurd localism and uncanny racism that’s quickly taking on, it’s probably both of them adding up at the same time, nevertheless, I can’t help but ponder, in today’s world, what does it mean to be Chinese? While it can easily be argued it’s the best time to be Chinese, I can’t help but feel it more as an unprecedentedly complex and controversial time to be Chinese. It’s becoming more difficult to maintain the fair consciousness of being Chinese when I can easily see people of different biased extremes in my social circles, Chinese patriots, Chinese dissidents, westerners crazy about China, westerners habitually demonizing China, Hong Kongers hysterically denying their Chinese roots.

Being patriot is, in some way, the shortcut of being Chinese. But I’ve been off that route for a long time. Now I can only try to find my own route, the route to being a conscious Chinese. I don’t quite have the solution yet, but I guess, overall, being a better, conscious Chinese wouldn’t be too different from being a better, conscious person.

Amusingly, as I’m writing at this moment, it suddenly strikes me that the complex feeling of being Chinese is in many ways similar to being Gemini, or Virgo, or any other horoscope group. The idea is, you can’t stop people from judging you by this label that you can’t possibly tear off, you can only use your own existence to help shape/change people’s perspective of this label. (but Gemini is of course the best, non-arguably.)

Am I proud of being Chinese, an identity that instantly bundles me with another 1.4 billion people? Honestly, it’s a tough call. If I could choose, I probably wouldn’t choose to be Chinese. But we don’t choose who we are, we can only make who we are. And I know that at the end of the day, being Chinese is not about an outward statement, it is a war against myself, my past, my pain, my memories and my struggles. It is a long and winding journey of departing and returning, a personal story of trying to erase and attempting to retell. There would always be some place that I will never be able to go back, and there would always be some part that I will never be able to let go.

「week 16」Story of job hopping

So the wait is over. I verbally accepted a job offer last week. (And got completely wasted on that same night semi-coincidentally, the sickness that stretched over the next 24 hours convinced me I’m too old to celebrate by over-drinking.)

I was really happy though, mostly becoz I do think it’s a positive move career-wise, but partly also becoz I was cathartically relieved the wait was finally over. For someone who hasn’t changed job in the past 4 years, I was indeed a bit rustic in the job market and had little idea of how difficult and agonizing the process can be these days, even from the side of being headhunted.

Let me start from the beginning.

Sometime last year, I was approached by a recruiter about a job, and I happened to start to have the idea of looking around at the same time, so I agreed to proceed with the opportunity without knowing what I signed up for. It was a very strong brand, let’s say Company P. The interviews went quite well, I managed to move to the next steps successfully after every round, and I managed to complete all ten rounds of interviews and one written test with all positive feedbacks.

In the end, I didn’t get that job. They chose another candidate over me. Things like this happen. But the annoying part is, I had to wait for literally one month for this piece of disappointing news. I remember receiving the email from my headhunter when I was alone in Bali during the new year break, right after a morning yoga session. I was sitting at a beautiful cafe facing a beautiful rice field, and feeling only deeply depressed. In fact, it wasn’t even about not getting the job (trust me, after one month of not hearing, you wouldn’t be still expecting anything positive anymore). It’s about feeling a concrete sense of loss, which only started to kick in from that moment, all the interviews that I had to go through, all those nights and weekends spent preparing for them, all the time and effort I had committed. For what? I’d be lying if I said there was no bitterness felt at all. From the first day I heard of this job to the last day I heard from this job, it took two and half months.

After this episode with Company P, and several other unfruitful interviews that my headhunter rushingly set me up with (I couldn’t tell if he was trying hard to comfort me or just can’t wait to cash me out), I just felt pretty exhausted and decided to put my job-hopping thoughts on hold. I was equally jaded in the job market as I was in the dating market, and turned myself into the “not-looking” mode all together.

Fast-forward to this June, I got an email about a role from the same recruiting firm. The role was with, let’s say Company A. I took a glimpse and forgot about it. I got several more messages from the recruiter chasing me over it, telling me Company A was really interested in meeting me. I relentlessly ignored them. (yes I was that jaded.)

Fast-forward to this August, I received another email from another recruiter, telling me about the same role of Company A and the same message that the hiring manager was really interested in meeting me. Now Company A had successfully got my attention. Why is Company A so obsessed with me? Out of curiosity I agreed to meet with the recruiter and hear him out about this job. It turned out that the hiring manager joined A from P earlier this year, and even though she didn’t interview me for that Company P job, she had heard good words about me from her ex-colleagues (who interviewed me), and thought I’d be a good fit for the Company A role she’s recruiting.

Everything after was pretty plain and straightforward comparatively. After only 2 rounds of on-site written tests, 7 rounds of interviews (including a final round of being asked about my political views on the current HK mess and I basically took a leap of faith by being truthful of what I think), two weeks’ nerve-wracking wait after all of the above and one round of salary negotiation, I got the job.

At this point, my friend, I guess you could more or less resonate with how relived I was, not even for getting the job, but simply for having proved that at least someone does fancy me, and I’m after all not completely un-hireable in this cruel cruel market.

And at this point, I guess I could finally go back to that early January morning in Bali, pat on the shoulder of that girl sitting in the cafe gazing at the rice field with dismay, and tell her that all those interviews she had to go through, all those nights and weekends she spent preparing for them, all the time and effort she committed…she didn’t go through them for no good reasons.

P.S. Ironically, I got an unexpected raise last week on the same day I got the offer. Even though it didn’t change anything, still, I just wanna look up in the sky and ask whoever is up there: dude, WTF?