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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Ungrateful Mess

“I do all this for my husband and he says he does not love me.” We were standing at the kitchen sink, and I had the beginning of a few glimpses into how hard it is for Sylvie to live right next to her husband and two sons who are incredibly ungrateful for how wonderful she is. She cooks and cleans for them, and they, in turn, ask her for money to build a wall between their living areas to block her off from them. They come and use the pool that she cleans every year and don’t even say hi to her in the house, and they resent that she has people. They resent that she hosts workers like me even though her psychiatrist told her she needs to have people around to combat her depression, to make sure she eats and sustains herself in that sense. It’s hard not to feel like it is an effect of marriage, or of being a woman, as I observe us cleaning the dishes after dinner while the men stay seated, drinking, wiping their faces with tissues they leave behind on the dinner table that they do not clean. These are things I know are part of a more heteronormative and older culture, but which I wonder when I look at kids like the fifteen year old Russian boy, if it will ever actually go away.

I have nine days left here with Zaza until I leave for the Tour du Mont Blanc, and I have never so strongly feared that if I leave I may not see her again, because of her physical and mental health, and the lack of support she has from her family. Her sons treat me nicely, but never their mother, and anyone who treats their parents and their mother, especially, that way are not worth even talking to.

I’m trying to figure out the play I really want to write, about the purging of culture and home and the abandonment of people and language and the things we are made of because we take them for granted or want to escape from their roots or their home. I miss home a lot and cannot wait to go back soon. I am beginning to feel more and more like myself, regardless of the place that I am in, and it makes me feel more content with leaving places, like college, but also that I want to stay in one place for a long time now, and not leave things or people behind.

No Turning Back

Today I worked really hard. I woke up early, walked Loulou, and worked with digging, shoveling, and raking soil for hours until my hands had blisters that will soon turn into callouses I can pass off as rowing callouses (as a friend of mine informed me). I worked until I was hungry enough to eat, and then wrote a bit in the afternoon, leaving time to walk to town to mail a few letters and then wait for the arrival of Ruby and her boyfriend. Ruby worked for Zaza two years ago and came back to visit once for a week and is now here visiting with her boyfriend from London. In the evening I took her to the goat farm where we saw Samuel milk the goats and then make cheese, a process which was so simple, lovely, and where each goat was treated like their pet dogs. And then we walked back home, where we had fresh goat cheese to eat with bread and wine and veggies cooked by Tanya in the wok.

I had a really lovely conversation this evening with Tanya, sitting at the dinner table, drinking wine. She asked me if I wanted to learn any other languages, and naturally my answer was yes. Languages make me want to travel but travelling only fuels the desire to learn even more languages, to communicate with even more communities abroad and in other places with other cultures. And then she looked at me and told me about her education, her three degrees, her life teaching young Russian children how to read and write, and how she was sure I would have a good future. She said she saw in me a great path ahead because she could tell I had plans and that I wanted to do things. It sounds like a cliché but I had no idea how much I needed to hear that. In the past few days I have been more than a little stuck with writing, and thinking, and thinking about what to write and if this was ever going to get easier or work out. With my final college year coming up, I have been becoming both excitd and anxious at the prospect of going out and realizing I may love doing this but the crapshoot of it and my abilities might not take me far enough, that, in simpler terms, I won’t make it. And in talking about “it” that I don’t even know what that actually is.

Watching Samuel tend to the goats, he said he had been working with the goats for 37 years, his entire life. How quickly a life goes by, and how possible it is to stay in one place for so long and be content, or not be? I’m not sure what I want anymore, and what the trajectory after school will be. Travelling is an escape, and also a destination, and neither seem right at the moment. These days I no longer know whether to say I study theatre, that I do theatre, or that I am a writer or an actor. Am I real enough to say I am doing it or child enough to say I have not embarked on the path to do it yet? It feels like limbo, in a way I am not entirely comfortable with and am not sure I want to settle down in.

Home and Herbs

Today has been my favorite day here thus far. From waking up rested to cleaning a disgusting pool of festering frogs and bugs and drinking wine between bucketfuls of feces, biking to buy two huge baguettes for the day in town to cooking Taiwanese beef noodle soup for a table of ten, reserving my spot at nine different hostels for my last hike in France on the Chemin de Robert Louis Stevenson to my sixty-six year-old host lady offering me a joint after dinner, it has been quite the day. Today I have laughed more than the entire week combined and I have felt at home.

The first few days here I thought I had to pay for my stay, with work and obedience and cultural contribution at meals, but today I finally realized most of the time Zza just wants company, and new experiences she cannot have by travelling anymore because of her age and limitations. So when she asked me to cook dinner tonight I thought it would just be for the four of us when it ended up being ten of us, sitting outside in the garden, eating bowls of Chinese noodles I cooked for five hours, and which everyone seemed to enjoy! We had been cleaning the pool all afternoon, and I had already been laughing through the mud and yuck of festering bugs and other things in the water because I had relegated myself to needing a shower. I wasn’t even really listening when Zza said to a friend, “je pense que Stefani n’a pas entendu,’ (I think Stefani didn’t hear) but I knew she was talking about smoking weed. I started laughing; I said I had nothing to say, and then following dinner she passed me her joint, stumbling over her feet saying she was drunk. And then she fell on a table of potted plants and had the whole dinner table helping her up, including her two twin sons. It was quite the spectacle. Messiness is always the most genuine kind of home. One of the sons helped me serve all of the dinner and the other stayed behind to chat with me and offered to take me to see some of the football games and go to a party this weekend in Montaren, which was really nice of him since most of what I do here is sleep right after dinner when Zaza does! (When either of them ask me what I will be up to after dinner I always just laugh and say spend time with their mom, which for the most part just means sleep). I’m really glad to be staying here for a while, so that the people I meet aren’t just passing through my line of vision once, and that I can establish “future activities” with these people, and look forward to spending time here with them, eating, laughing, cleaning gunk, and feeling more and more at home.