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It is always interesting go back to place you’ve spent a significant amount of time, to see new things in familair places, slip back, however briefly, into a life that could have been yours, and look back on the miles you’ve logged since then. At the beginning of Easter Break I went to the US, and Boston was my first stop. The brown buildings along Newbury Street, the Charles, Tufts, the huge piles of dirty stubborn snow — Boston is apt for reminscing.

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The first night I spend feeling a sort of familiarity, drinking out of red solo cups on the top floor of the house with laugther and tired eyes. They wanted to know, what’s it like in the UK? Biggest regret leaving Tufts? Do you miss anything about it? These are questions I asked myself all the time, it took me a long time to come up with any semblance of an answer. Before I came back I thought I would miss it; I was sure that when I saw the blue skies, the sunrise over snow-covered Somerville, the hill, and ate that Flour Bakery egg sandwich for the first time in a year, I would regret that I ever left. Like what made me super 悔しい in freshman fall: I’d come face to face with everything I had given up and feel that helpless sense of a loss that I’d chosen for myself. A grief I couldn’t mourn.

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There are days in Durham when things are hard. The bus that stops at 7pm and doesn’t run on Sundays. Dragging my shopping bags in the cold and in the wind. The seemingly endless grey days and the weak sunshine. And, sometimes, the disappointing tutorials. Somedays I spend so much time alone in my room with my books and JSTOR readings that I’m convinced my sanity won’t outlast my time here. At times I think, do I really like English Lit enough to justify my coming here? I was always trying to answer to my ego, maybe, throwing tantrums and giving in to the anxiety as a way to dramatize my decision. But along the way I settled down. いよいよ落ち着いたかな?

I met 小泉先生 (and M and C) for dinner towards the end of my trip. By then I had spent a week in Vegas / Utah / Arizona, gone to Chicago and seen what was once my dream school, and caught up with a few friends I haven’t seen in a while. She said she never, in freshman spring, saw me smile as much as I did in that few hours we met.

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At some point I think I stopped trying to find ways to justify and make sense of a past decision. Somewhere alone the way I think I found new reasons in my current life that bring a new sense of purpose going forward in this journey. And at some point I stopped missing home so terribly. Grateful to be able to dedicate three years to studying a discipline I might not have the chance to again, in a place that’s significant to its development. For all the shit I give it, if I had to do it again I think I would make the same choice.

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「さがしもの」角田光代

「さがしもの」って単に失って、さがして、見つかってものだけでは言えないかもしれない。第1章の「旅する本」には世界のどこの片隅までも主人公を追いかけている本の話がある。人間が命の道で進みながら、どうやっても抜けないものごともあるはずだ。時間が経って、慣れてた景色と自分が変わっても、文章の中の古本屋のようなずっと変わらないものがある。具体的には中学校4年生で英語文学のために読ませられた「エマ」(ジェーンオースティン作家)という小説だ。4年ぶりの本は今年の大学のゼミで再び浮かんだ。再読したとたん、ほろ苦い。まるで16歳の私に振り向いてように、4年間の成長をはっきり感じる。

たぶーん、「不幸の種」の主人公のように、人生の経験 によって本の意味が変わると、いつも自分の解釈を変わるのはやむを得ない。ポイントは、失って、さがして、見つけてというのは定期的なことではないだろう。いつか、それでどんな新発現が得るかわからない。しかもそれは楽しめることの理由でしょう?時間が経ったら、気になったものが失ったと思ったけど、実際は抜けられない。記憶から消えたみたいけど、本当は自分の心の底においてしまった。ずっとお互いの再開を待ってます。

しかし、長く探しても見つけないというテーマもあるかな。「彼と私の本棚」の主人公のように、恋人に振られたら、彼と自分の本を本棚から取り分けている間の傷みがよく気になった。本棚というのはただな捨ててもいい家具ではなくて、二人の本と一緒に過ごした時間の思い出を詰め込んでいた。だからこそ、恋が過ぎ去ってしまった状態で、捨てられないものごとは傷口でも単純な嬉しさもなってきた。やっぱりまたそのほろ苦い気持ちなぁー。おそらく、大事なものを残っていたいとともに、落ち込気分から抜けたがってるので、新しいものを探す代わりに、思い出を基づいて自分の個人的なものを探し始める。つまり、探すのは甲斐がある程度になれば、積極的に自分のことを優先して、個人的な空間を見つけるように進む。

やっぱり、一番気になったのはこの本の前半分の物語は「本」とか「読書」でキャラクターとものごとをつながっている。人間は時間が経つと変わて消えてしまうけど、本は世の中で中区存在し続けられるものだろう。だから、本は人間のために鏡のようになって、命っていうものの全てのほろ苦いを映ってくれるかな?

本のような世界に向けてある扉を開かれるものは確かに少しでも無知や自分以外のことの無関心を消えられるって思う。そう「引き出しの奥」の主人公はたぶん落書きをたくさん書き詰め込んでいた表紙がある本の探しに囚われたので、自分の自滅的考え方を越えられると言える。「ミツザワ書店」も同じように本に関するきっかけを与えて、培った読みと書きという意識に成立できるかもしれない。ここでは本の話けど、それよりいつももっと意味深いものが含んでいる。例えば、「さがしもの」の主人公は祖母が見つけさせた本の探し過程に納得に自分の未来に対する責任を得られる。あるいは「初バレンタイン」の主人公のように、本で恋人と繋がりたいと思ってたんけど、結局全くできなかった。でも、最後まで大好きな本に与えた意識や影響を握り続けるので、本気で失敗したと言えないかな。

みんなも本のおかげで、他人と繋げれる。「引き出しの奥」の深くなっていく人間関係が得たや「ミツザワ書店」の謝罪が出来たことや「さがしもの」の主人公見つけたいものの探しプロになってきたのはたぶん本と人間の依存関係を述べると思う。書いたのは人間だけど、生み出した本は確かに自分の存在が得たにちがいない。しかし、最後まで解釈を出来るのは読者の責任に属すと思う。なぜなら、有意義な人生を求めたいなら、本っていう世界に向けの扉の力を認めるのは必要不可欠かな。人生のような期限的なものの上に、変化の波が激しくうねる波に浮いている途中で、唯一長くあり続けるのは本と言えるだろう。表紙で埃がどのくらい積もってもページが黄変されて腐ったようなにおいがしても、本に詰め込んでいる意識や概念や思考は永遠にあり続けるだろう。だからこそ、貴重にする。

 

 

「キッチン」吉本ばなな

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18歳のころ最初に読んだ日本の小説は吉本ばななの「キッチン」の英語に翻訳されたバージョンだ。その時から川端康成、三島由紀夫、村上春樹のいろんな作品の英語バージョンも読んだけど、日本語で文書を全部読んでしまう経験なかった。しかし、昨年に日本語もバージョンもついに全部読んだ。それははじめに日本語で小説を最後のページまで読んだ。

「今日が終わらないといいのにな。夜がずっと続けばいいんだ。みかげ、ずっとここに住みなよ。」(雄一)

確かに英語のバージョンにオリジナルの懐かしくて、つらいときに希望がどんなに薄くてもずっと輝いてるという感じが残されてた、びっくりした。吉本ばななが優しくて簡単な言葉を使ったおかげで(かもしれない?)、伝えたいことがしっかり伝えられると言えるかな。みかげと雄一二人の友情とか、三人が一緒に過ごした日々の簡単なことに見つけた幸せとか、三人のゆっくり癒されること … 全て感動された。刻々時間が過ごして、何か失ったと気がしたのに、徐々にその状態で自分を回復する。んー、いや、違う。元の自分に戻せないから、一応できるのはがんばってて、悲しさを感じさせられた途中で、「ほほえんで」のきかっけ(理由?)を探している。見つければ、よい。でも見つけられなくても、自分で作ろうわけだ。ただ、つらくても次の日を続けべきだ。

「まあね、でも人生は本当にいっぺん絶望しないと、そこで本当に捨てらんないのは自分のどこなのかをわかんないと、本当に楽しいことがなにかわかんないうちに大っきくなっちゃうと思うの。あたしは、よかったわ。」(えり子)

out here

2 semesters + 1 term later: 

What someone told you when you were starry-eyed and filling up your common app was that it would be hard. You laugh, pack your inflated self-importance, and walk through the gates at the airport without a single tear. It will, you are sure, look just like the view books and Instagram accounts you’ve spent years perusing. What they tell you also, but what you have to experience on your own, is how it is a fight. There is always a fight and there are always things to be overcome.

You will, for the first time in nineteen years, hear how grating your accent sounds, and you will wonder if people actually understand. There will be those who lean forward when you speak, eager to offer the flatness of your speech their consoling ears, and those who frown and look away. And you will notice every one. It will take you weeks to raise your hand in class, and the first few times your heart will beat louder than anything in the room. You look forward to Japanese, where accent is not your hindrance, and each class in the language centre, where you feel, maybe, that you have just that little bit more power.

You will learn different ways of answering ‘Is English your first language?’ Sometimes, politely. ‘Your people colonized my country, so what do you think?’ In Philosophy class discussions you will become the authority for China, Chinese cultural practices, and anything remotely associated with East Asia. The face of the product of a soulless education system. The mouthpiece of a benign dictatorship. ‘So do you speak English in Singapore?’ In the UK, the same tutor who asked you in Week 3 if you grew up in China, will spend half an hour giving you a grammar and spelling lesson at the end of Week 9. On the first day of an American literature class in Freshman fall, the professor will ask, ‘so where did your ancestors come to this country from?’ You, for lack of anything more clever, will say, ‘they didn’t. I’m not from here.’ Each space you thought you might want to occupy came with a set of labels: ‘International’ or ‘Asian’ or ‘Singapore’, which you find came to mean the opposite of ‘White’ or ‘Well-Assimilated’ or ‘Successful International Student’. You will want to be the special, exotic foreign student, but see yourself more as the characters of the Asian-American stories you read throughout school: bumbling, inadequate, and stripped of the means of being heard.

You will perpetuate that system by developing a vague way of introducing yourself. You will be your Chinese name to Singaporeans, friends, and whoever you assess as being ‘Asian’-enough. Anyone you believe will have a hard time squeezing the Chinese pronunciation from between their teeth, gets to hear your English name. It will sound unnatural to you, but you will convince yourself that it is part of changing; part of refining your identity. After all, that is what you came here to do, isn’t it? There will be a TA who tells you to stop using a fake English name, and that will be your first fight. It will be the first time you cry over a class, and the first time you call someone out. Two semesters later in Japan, over the summer, you will catch yourself thinking ‘I’ll just use my English name to make it easier for her… no one seems to be able to get my Chinese name’ before introducing your English name, and you will suddenly hate yourself for it. The blind desire to fit in. A softness of self that is shaken by that re-affirmation of the labels you thought nobody else could see if you cloaked yourself in a neutral name and an unassuming attitude. That is one battle you will win, and you will carry it on from there. You will learn to ‘disrupt the status quo’. You will make sure you keep disrupting it.

(8 December 2016)

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Can you believe the year is 1/12 done? I spent the last weekend in Amsterdam, on an unintentional solo trip, but I was grateful for it anyway. The view from the train (reminded me of paris trains, but cleaner maybe) from Schiphol was the same bare trees and half-constructed buildings and fields that reminded me of the North-East of England. but when I stepped out and saw the canals I kept saying to myself holyyy shit i’m in Amsterdam: I’ve heard about it all this time form my parents, from Revuh friends, and from people who have been. My first proper trip to (continental) Europe, and the first place where i wasn’t 100% comfortable in the language (though I figured out by the end that English was no problem).

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Of course, pancakes first. I order salmon and guac, grateful for my first non-salad / non homecooked meal in two weeks, but also realize later that thanks to the salad diet, I can no longer stomach more than one proper meal a day. After that I walk along the canals to noordermarkt, passing by the Anne Frank House (only to take a picture of a statue and oogle at the queue) and lululemon, and all the canals begin to look the same.

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I don’t like cheese or fries, and it is both fascinating and alarming to see the amount of both of those items in Amsterdam. As for cheese, I find lavender, pesto and truffle flavored ones later in the day in Zaanse Schans and end up trying it.

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Tried to go to omelegg in centrum for lunch, but it was way too crowded, so I bought a crossaint from the supermarket in Centraal station and headed out to Zaanse Schans, following the Asian tourists in the same carriage all the way to the windmills. I ask people to take my photo throughout the day, relish that feeling of being alone, but also wishing that the most important people were there to see it with me: the slow turning of the blades, the mid-afternoon sunshine, the flatness of the dutch landscape.

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i must have seen this in dream some time before

It is nice, I think, to relearn what it is like to travel and what it means to me. 28 january was the first day of chinese new year, and the 2nd out of 4 times away from family, which lends itself to evoking a kind of inevitable nostalgia. A lot (most) of my travel so far, especially in the time that I’ve been abroad, has been about locating the familiar -Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, China, various cities in the us. there are always routines i fall back on, and travel ends up being a way of revisiting rather than challenging myself with the new. even Hokkaido was comfortable, in a way, and I was at home with the langauge, the food, and in Asia. Always i am trying to recollect, to do the same things like I once did — to evoke the same feelings as much as i know that it will never be possible. So Amsterdam was a conscious decision not to be complacent in travelling, but there is also compromise: the first night i eat Vietnamese food in de pijp, the second night, Thai food near the flower market.

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These boots took me over 55km in three days. to de pijp for the best croissant + scrambled eggs and mushrooms breakfast at omelegg, then to and around the Rijksmuseum, then up to jordaan for the apple pie (with a po lo bao crust), then around the canals to wait for the red light district to turn red, then to dinner and back. Grateful for the weather that I could walk around in, for the temperatures warmer than Durham, for the paved roads and for the stairs in the Rijksmuseum that led me to interesting things.

For the canals that guided the way, and the bridges that allowed me to cross them.

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