勇氣

Day ten at Williamstown. I walk into the audition room and when asked the song I will be singing, I hesitate. “I was thinking –” I stop, “I am going to sing a song in Chinese.”

I’m finally at a point where I FEEL like “I am Asian, proud of it, and if who I am is part of my art, then this can and should be too.”

Let’s be clear: I am not a singer. I am not good at singing, nor am I good at dancing, frankly, but I am getting better at being myself. Two days ago, at a panel with Mandy Greenfield, the artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, I raised my hand to ask a question. Eyes puffy from a night of crying and anxiety, I decided to air out all the insecurities I had been feeling, “I am struggling with something of a paradox in the industry. We are told, when we walk into a room for an audition, or when we send a script in as a playwright, or when we interview for a position as the director, or anything else, that if we are not chosen for a part or role it is because we are not the right type, that it is not about us and our talent but about what they need. But at the same time, we are told that if we are good enough we should be able to change anyone’s mind about what they’re looking for and what they want and need. So, to that end, how do you know when you’ve tried enough, when it’s not that you’re the wrong type but that you’re really just not that good and should stop?” It was a release of an insecurity I have been feeling, heavily, and which perhaps is an indication that I shouldn’t be doing this, but more than that, I think it is an indication of how well I need to know myself in order to gain resilience. Her answer was essentially that we have to trust the honesty barometer in ourselves to know when someone offers criticism, or rejection, or approval and affirmation, if what they are saying about you is true or false, deep down. And that requires a sense of self-knowledge and self-worth that I think I am here to find this summer.

The past week has been filled with new things – new friends, new auditions, new rejections, new artistic endeavours, and ideas too. From going to Walmart,

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to going to a pop up shop where I really wanted to purchase a useless shirt

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to going to Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachussets, on a beautiful sunny morning

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to going to Mass MOCA and seeing the incredible beauty in visual arts

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being here with new people, new faces, and new work has been really lovely, enriching, and also difficult, all at once.

Yesterday, one of the most important people in my life came to visit. Kristy, my person/Christina Yang/soul mate of sorts popped into my Williamstown life, and I was reminded of who I am outside of this place, and how that identity is not only vastly important here to maintain, but that it is who I am, always, regardless of where I go.

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we got to do a beautiful hike up Pine Cobble with two other amazing young ladies I’m so glad to have gotten to spend time with here, Julia and Haley

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(spot Julia’s small face under her bucket hat in the bushes here)

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and we had some AMAZING Indian food that I am still digesting, 16 hours later, as I sit at this coffee shop, writing this

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Something I am struggling with is the difference between who I feel I am, and how I am perceived. And I don’t mean just my race, my gender, sexuality, hometown, or any of that, though of course it all matters and is impactful in my daily life. But I often feel like I have an armour on, one that is polished, painted, colorful, vibrant, beautiful, and composed, while on the inside it is a wild, wild zoo of small chipmunks, rampant squirrels, and worms who are bumping into things because they’re blind and in the dark. This is probably one of the worst analogies I can make, but that’s how it feels, and I am trying very hard to air out the mess. I am trying to be myself in my art, not only in terms of culture, language, and background, but in terms of how I feel, how I am able or unable to express those feelings, and rather than only speaking when I have figured myself out, to use language and art to process them. Being here as an apprentice, I feel the need to do  so much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited. Excited to work on deck crew, to do a reading of a new play, to meet people, and see new things, but I am also excited to just fuck up. And do things that I need to fail at in order to learn about how to do things better for myself, and know myself better through it.

 

Back to Massachusetts & Whiteness

It is 8:57 pm, I am in bed, wanting to go to bed, but no. A callback at 10:40 pm, and another at 11:25. I look down the callback list and the slots go until 1:30 am tonight (or rather, tomorrow morning). And so my next two months at the Williamstown Theatre Festival begins.

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~ on the road ~

I arrived here in the afternoon yesterday, which I owe to the wonderful driving skills of a girl, Chrissy, who offered to let me take up a spot, along with my belongings, in her car. We drove up from New York city and as we approached our destination, watched the landscape turn more mountainous, greener, and more like bum-fuck nowhere Massachusetts. (Pardon the language, that was meant to be endearing, because I love nature.) I figured no one else was bringing much, so I only brought a big suitcase, and some pillows and a fan. Turns out, I might have thought wrong?

List of things I should have brought that might have been helpful or would have made my stay minutely more comfortable:

  1. my tempurpedic extra-long twin mattress pad from college
  2. my shower caddy from college
  3. zip lock bags (I spent all of today looking for some and refused to buy a $10 box of 15 ziplock bags, so now I just have some of the things I need in ziplocks in free red solo cups)
  4. some sleep so I can compensate for the sleep I won’t get here

It has been a long day and a half already, since being here. I am beginning to get used to this room and this place, but I am still quite shocked by the lack of diversity here. Upon arrival, I started a joke instagram photo stream of the extreme whiteness I witnessed arriving on campus, talking about how I had yet to see a person of color walk by me.

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At orientation, however, I sat down in the auditorium and looked around. Of the 70 apprentices who sat in the same area, it seemed only around 10 were people of color, including myself. That’s not a pretty percentage. Only 2 were East Asian. Only 2 were international. Yikes. I sat there, in the auditorium, looking around, when the girl next to me asked, “what are you looking for?” “Oh,” I bumbled, “uh (do I tell the truth?!) I’m looking for people of color. Counting, I mean.” “I hope you’re having fun?” She laughed. Well, that was awkward. Ten. I counted. And the dorms were segregated by gender. That’s also very heteronormative, isn’t it? We spent the evening at orientation and then at a barbeque, which was then followed by an evening of me trying to memorize my audition monologue for today.

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Disclaimer: I love my monologue. I love Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven. I love Young Jean Lee. But I always feel a little bit too bold for myself, a little bit out of place when I go up to do my monologue about the pervasive whiteness of the theatre industry and world, and my own innate desire to be white (is this the character or me speaking?), and about the impossibility of being a minority and wanting to be able to just enjoy white privilege, even for a split second, when the audience is almost entirely white. Maybe that’s the point. I think that’s what I gleaned from today, that maybe the point is to do pieces that are a little too bold for myself in front of an audience that is vastly more uncomfortable than they make themselves out to be.

As I looked around the auditorium last night, I wondered to myself, why in the world am I here? In the Berkshires? With all this whiteness? And maybe this is why. I was encouraged today by the number of people who asked me about the piece and the play after, and who talked to me more about the content of what I performed. There is such a difference between good art and important art, the best ones are both. And I want to be making both, constantly. I had an infuriating conversation today, with a girl who came up to me and said (to my Yale sweatshirt), “Oh, you go to Yale? Do you know (so-and-so)? He just graduated and he tends to date a lot of Asian girls? Wow, that sounds a little racist, haha?” But she was dead serious. And the infuriating part wasn’t what she said, but that I had no idea how to respond in a way that wouldn’t sound like what my monologue was talking about today. As Young Jean Lee says, “the truth is, if you’re a minority and you do super-racist stuff against yourself, then you’re a cool minority and white people treat you like one of them.” And it’s sort of true. Here are the things that I heard in this conversation:

  1. A white boyfriend’s mom will be like, “let’s bake bread!” An Asian boyfriend’s mom will be like, “what are you career goals and aspirations?”
  2. I don’t really date white people. I date out of my race.
  3. How do you speak English so well?!
  4. Since Hong Kong is so homogenous, racism must be much less of a thing?
  5. Is it hard to be an actor as a non-white person?
  6. I like to write plays that are sort of fantasy-esque, so I think it contributes to opportunities for people of color because those roles aren’t grounded in reality and can be played by people of all ethnicities and I make it a point of saying so.
  7. Are you sure you don’t know this person? He recently took a photo with his ex-girlfriend who was in a Japanese kimono and he was wearing Japanese clothes too.

And my response to all these things? Mostly smiling, and laughing, and fending them off because I was so shocked I didn’t really know how to respond. These things hurt. These things hurt in conversation, on the stage, on the page, in the theatre, outside of the theatre, as human beings. This is why having diversity matters. This is why listening matters. This is why art can be important, but also so divisive if an audience is only listening selectively.

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I am nervous for this summer and these two months, but perhaps it will be one of intense reflection, of voicing painfully important opinions and understanding why they matter, even in times of isolation.

AppendAixItis

This is probably my most exciting post ever this year, because I finally came up with a new pun. The good news is that it’s a good pun. The bad news is that it is actually related with appendicitis. The other good-ish news is that I might not have appendicitis, the bad news is that if I don’t then it means I have peptic ulcers and either I have to get surgery tomorrow in an appendectomy or get a gastroscopy. Which means anaesthesia and lying on a bed with a stick down my throat or a knife in my tummy.

I’ve been in Taiwan with my grandma, uncle, and cousins, and it’s been nice because I finally slept like a regular person last night, but I’ve been having a lot of stomach pain, which today I realized was coming from near my appendix. And so now we wait for the doctor to come and tell us if I do or don’t have appendicitis. This could really be the worst time for appendicitis, given the fact that I have to go back to school and go do things that I’m supposed to do (although I feel like nobody will care if I don’t do them), but at least I’ll get my appendix out for good and never have to deal with my stupid hypochondriac fears of having appendicitis all the time. My grandmother also just informed me there’s a typhoon coming this Friday, which means if I have an appendectomy I can’t really leave here until next week, which might be a good or bad thing, depending on whether or not I can eat after surgery (my guess is no, which sucks).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Chances are, I don’t need surgery, and I don’t have appendicitis. But just a bunch of peptic ulcers because of some magical source of stress and stomach acid. Maybe?!

Politics Turned Poetry

This past weekend I watched my mom do two talks about her experience as an investment banker turned professor and on her new book (which everyone should buy) about Taiwan’s China Identity. And the only thing I knew to do was to write a poem about Politics (Sorry mom if this turns your speech upside down)

 

Which Home?

I landed a few hours ago in Hong Kong, and as I was landing I thought of the same time last week when I was headed back into the mountains in France. I remember seeing the mountains and feeling a surge of strength and happiness inside of me at the same time, and wondered why the same feeling didn’t come to me when I saw the skyscrapers and buildings of Hong Kong come into view. There was still a sense of home, something warm I recognized, but it felt a little rustier, less wholesome, more humid, less fresh.

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It’s been two months since I set off to go to Europe and I can barely remember how the time passed this quickly. I left the train station in Modane and set off for Milan yesterday, where I milled around for an hour or two with a girl I met on the train, and it felt like a closing of a chapter. But somehow, this time around, I was both saddened and felt lifted up by the fact that I would someday go back. I have come to realize that the mountains are what make me feel strongest, and no matter what I do it should be in proximity to that feeling of strength and happiness. Two weeks ago I finished Yasmina Reza’s book  Heureux les Heureux written from the perspective of a father mocking his son’s desire to “be happy,” because what does that even mean? And I think this is what it means, to feel at home no matter where you are. Part of me understands that as growing up on an island of mountains, where I was surrounded by this sort of strength, but in a city that continually undermines its nature by creating more city, more commerce, more coverage to shadow over its landscape, and it feels, at times, a bit more suffocating that I remember.

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And perhaps this time around, I’m understanding what it means to have homes everywhere, that though it means I will have places to be and people to come home to no matter where I travel to the older I get, it also means there will be homes I have to abandon, places I will not be able to go to as often, people I see less even though I love them, that time is a limitation that both allows us to do the things we want and also is not infinite and cannot happen in multiplicity.IMG_4843

I feel different, this time, coming home, to the people, to the food, the scenes, the topics of conversation. I feel simpler, less burdened by the weight of appointments and constraints and city life. I will wake up tomorrow morning without an alarm and work without the hours, which is, of course, a luxury, but something I never did often even when I could. I wonder what this will mean for my last year in college and the years after that. I wonder if living a day-to-day life is considered acceptable.

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I am forever grateful to the people who have made places in their homes for me, or made homes for me in their lives. I’m not sure how much I contain, but it seems that there is an infinite amount of space within me to make room for more people to love, and for that I am continuously surprised by my own strength and the size of the world and of humanity. It makes me hopeful that the world is kinder than it appears.

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Home Again

I’ve been reluctant to write ever since I finished the tour du mont blanc and came back to Aix. I am still surprised, when I think about it, that I did and finished the TMB, that I call it the TMB, that I was there at all. These days I’ve been thinking a lot about time and how two dimensional it is starting to feel – things that happened three years ago and six years ago now feel like they live on the same plane, where it’s almost as if 21 years of memories has squished them together onto one flat ground. The tour du mont blanc was tough, it was probably one of the hardest things I have tried, done, and was definitely not as prepared for as I should have been. From rain, to snow, to falling rocks, I had no trekking poles, no crampons, not quite enough clothing, and definitely insufficient sunscreen, but I made it out alive with battle wounds, and a handful of new friends I intend on keeping.



I was often asked when I would reach the summit of Mont Blanc, and in fact the TMB is the tour de mont blanc, where we walk all the alps around it, which takes 170 km around and 10 km up and down through three countries. The Mont Blanc itself has taken a record 4 hours ans 59 minutes to go up and down. So in my week of hiking, where I crampes in 11 days into 6.5, I found my body in a lot of new soreness and also strength. At the end of the hike, I decided instead of busting my knees on 1500 meters of descent to paraglide down with a guy I met and it was an incredible 40 minutes of flying like I have never experienced before, and what a way to end a glorious hike through the alps.

But now I am in Aix. Back home. It feels good, but this morning I spent all my time hiking and lookin for the TMB in this home. And I know when I go home I will try there too, and in New Haven as well. There is something about hiking and walking and travelling by foot, meeting the people on the road, that makes me feel so alive and incredibly invicible and strong. I ate for my body to recover, I slept to gain strength, and I walked with my two legs to take me to higher and newer places. I met Jan, who helped me walk two days’ itineraries in one twice in a row, who helped me with my sunburns and rallied me on, even getting me a new walking stick he found on the trail. I met an entire family of French people who invited me to their home next week, who lent me trekking poles in the snow and fog, and fed me when I had nothing to eat in my backpack. I have never been so grateful for the kindness of strangers.

But I have also been reminded of home in Aix, and who I am as a home body. That I enjoy and love eating at home, spending time with people I love at home, resting, laughing, reading, writing, taking time to not constantly move around or away.

I am happy to be back, and it feels like a good transition to going back home to Hong Kong too. I miss home and the food at home a lot. Sharing food with family is so wonderful and I miss the people at home. The summer is going by so quickly I am a little afraid it will continue to pass, time that is, faster and faster. I don’t ever want it to end.

Home and the Tour du Mont Blanc

I am on the last of three trains to get to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc where I’ll start hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc early tomorrow morning. I’ve managed to fall asleep on all the trains which makes my time at Zaza’s and Uzès seem farther away than it actually was. Just 8 hours ago I was still sitting at the dinner table, wiping sugar off the table, washing Loulou’s food bowl after she refused to eat leftover mi fun, drinking red wine, and getting all my stuff together to leave on this 7 hour journey to hike the TMB. I loved being at Zaza’s. It’s funny how the human body and mind takes time to get used to a place. The first week went by slowly, as I counted everyday how many days and weeks I had left in the hot, fly-ridden countryside, but by the end of it I had stripped my bed off the heavy duvet, was more than comfortable walking downstairs in the middle of the night in my underwear on a bathroom run in the dark, and woke up to the sound of Zaza coughing and my own wondering if I had slept in too long (most of the time the answer was yes, but Zaza was kind and didn’t wake me up except that one occasion with tea).I’m on the train looking out at the mountains peeking out of the fog, and rather than fields of hay and horses there are small villages on hills of dark green forests and white fog in the sky. There are two men on the train with hiking gear and smaller packs than the one on my back which I hope is just evidence that I have spent time elsewhere and that packing light when leaving a place you have loved is hard. We had a wonderful dinner party last time, with food Magalie cooked from the island of the Reunion. We had sausage stew, spicy tomatoes, red kidney beans, and rice!!! It had been a while since I ate rice and I realized that’s probably why I felt bloated eating bread. The body will also always be used to home. We had Tito play the accordion, we drank good wine, we ate my “healtht” banana-chocolate muffins no one liked because the French like their desserts to be real with real sugar and sweetness, and we had discussions about Trump, and Duchamp’s Urinal art piece, and Aix-en-Provence, and my life plans, and South Africa, and Le Pen, and the amazing meal we had.

I still can’t quite believe I’m hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc on my own tomorrow, though it’s obvious there are others doing it. It just proves that as long as you buy a ticket to go somewhere, and you go through with it, it will happen. That’s all it takes for things to happen; just show up. In the next six or seven days I’m not sure if I will be blogging, since I will be walking about and even with internet I may not want to type long posts on my phone, but I will be around and with my map and guidebook in hand making my way from France to Switzerland to Italy! I miss the home I made in Uzès in the past month, but it’s the kind of home I am excited to go back to soon. I hope Mont Blanc brings people of adventure to my life, but even if not, I hope I am enough for the next week. I have been finding that I am enough for myself more and more. It is a wonderful feeling.