Recount of LA

So much of my trip to Los Angeles has been immortalized in pictures, but not everything can be captured in photos; thoughts and minute, significant details accompanying those experiences must be captured in words. I cannot rely on my memory to keep these recollections in my mind, because my memory is constantly refreshing and vacating space for the countless exciting moments that are to come. 

Some moments may seem small and fleeting, yet they leave a deep imprint in the mind and stir the soul….

Day one, we explore Little Tokyo. We’re full from our first stop after leaving the airport – ktown, where we had two bowls of amazing stew and a plate of dumplings – and it’s raining. It’s only drizzling a little bit, and we don’t mind. I’m grateful to have a friend with whom I can explore without a single qualm in my mind; we have no concrete plan, but we know the pieces will fall in place in a serendipitous manner as always. We check into the airbnb and meet our lovely host and his adorable puppy, which honestly could be mistaken as a stuffed animal from a sweep of the eye. That night, we get slightly lost walking to the Broad and end up scaling a tunnel on the highway. The Broad is closed. We walk to the last bookstore and then to perch. While we’re waiting, a lady confides in us about her cheating boyfriend and boasts that she’s dining on his credit card – clearly some form of revenge. She seems proud in that moment, but you can tell that she’s torn up on the inside.

Day two, we start the day off with brunch at republique. The pastries there were unique and delectable; the special ingredients combined with the culinary prowess made the desserts there quite unforgettable. I ordered the wrong dessert, but the tres leches cake was still satisfying; I wish Frances could have tried some but it completely fell apart so I ate it all. The couple next to us were celebrating the wife’s birthday and they were both foodies so I liked them. We went to Melrose and didn’t buy anything but took a lot of pictures and did basic LA tourist instagrammer things. Alfred tea house was cute and grungey, but a disappointment to my taste buds. We actually made it to the Broad (with 5 minutes to spare) and almost froze to death taking pictures outside. This night, I had the best sushi of my life. Which really makes me question where my taste buds were when I was in Japan. The salmon belly roll is forever engraved in my mind. This night, I also saw my first live raccoon EVER. Our uber driver was chinese, and he had just arrived in the states three years ago with his young daughter. He asked me for advice on interacting with his daughter – quite a position to put me in. I feel that my father and I don’t have a very intimate relationship, so it’s hard for me to reflect on such topics. I told him to be more expressive about his love to his daughter because that is a large cultural difference between America and China. I hope that his daughter grows up feeling warm and loved at all times, and I’m sure she will – her father clearly loves her very, very much. 

Day three, we explore the gardens and hike up to Griffith Observatory. It was cold, and I wore too little. The gardens were beautiful, and I would love to visit in the springtime. The highlight of my day was the sunset; we watched from above the entire city as the sky evolved from sweet grapefruit to blood orange. The periwinkle deepened into a deep navy. The sky is the most effortlessly beautiful in the whole universe, and every day it blesses us with an unique present. We go to a cute yam cafe and eat korean bbq and overstuff our bellies. Then, we go to LACMA and take an excessive amount of pictures. I enjoy being excessive with Frances because I understand that even when we partake in such shallow activities we have depth in our thoughts and conversations – there is balance, so I can have fun with her without feeling any guilt at all. 

Day four, we venture to venice and santa monica. The ice cream at salt and straw was so delicious, and I am inspired to maintain a healthier diet after eating at urth. Santa monica beach is some sort of dream; the water is a bright aqua, and the scenic cliffs in the distance bridge the bright aqua with the vast skies. Was this a dream? The boardwalk is full of so much life and music. I wish I could pause this moment, save it in my mind, and revisit it whenever I want to escape. 


The first session – a short reflection

I haven’t had time to write for a while, but I felt an impulse just now as I worked on compiling a list of possible donors for the nonprofit organization at which I am volunteering…

This nonprofit organization serves refugees – refugee students, to be specific. They span middle school to high school, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in a mentorship program with them for their spring semester! At first, mentorship opportunities were full and I ended up on the committee board for their main fundraising event, which has also been a great experience.

My first afterschool mentorship session was this Tuesday, and I was able to meet students of numerous ethnic backgrounds. They had the most diverse group of names that I have ever encountered, and even though remembering them will be a great challenge, I will be sure to remember all of them. After all, names are important. They are an integral part of our identity.

From the first session, I was extremely impressed by the students’ dedication to and motivation for their studies and their future.

As soon as I walked in to the office to register my ID, I introduced myself and my university and one of the high school students shrieked for a second with joy. I was confused; then, her face lit up with a bright smile and she proclaimed, “Emory! I want to go there! That’s on my list!” That was my first encounter with one of the mentor students.

Later, we were able to discuss with the students about their hobbies and goals. I spoke with two new girls who had just transferred into the program; I was told that this meant they hadn’t been in America for long, as this High School was mostly for students new to the United States. They were sisters, from Afghanistan, and they both aspired to be doctors. In fact, one girl inspired to be a doctor AND an engineer; I grinned as she counted in her head the years of school she’d have to attend to be both.

The first day everyone shared why they come to this organization – the students and the mentors. All the students were grateful for the help they receive in English and homework, and many mentioned that these sessions were even a form of stress-relief for them from school. I could see that this organization was really a sanctuary for them.

Personally, I decided to volunteer here because I wanted to help these students share their stories with the world. The students’ dedication to the program and their futures in America in spite of all of the strife in the world has truly motivated me to help them with my best efforts.

The strength of a rock

Assessing the durability of a rock under pressure can only truly be done when pressure is applied. Given two rocks of similar stature, you cannot make an assumption of which is stronger unless you are aware of the stress that each rock as faced. Only when pressure is applied can you truly tell the intrinsic strength and being of a rock.

The same principle can be applied to people. You cannot assess the beauty of the mind, the purity of the soul, the resolve of the heart without knowledge of the stressors in one’s life. It is easy for an unscathed being to pure and trusting; it is easy to be magnanimous when one has never felt the sorrows of loss. Only through tribulation and trail can you truly peer within the soul of another. The strongest and most beautiful souls belong to those who have suffered, yet suffered bravely, to those who have triumphed their losses and embrace their scars, to those who remain truly kind to the world throughout it all.

when love displaces anger

He asked if I were angry, and I replied with a distinct resoluteness – no – for anger is too dense an emotion for me to bear.

If anger is too dense, shouldn’t love be also? he retorts.

No, I say.

Anger is a biting emotion, tenacious and heavy, an irremovable sword piercing the heart, rendering it stone and weighing it down. Anger is heavy cement pouring into the crevices of the heart with obstinacy, blinding the soul with a dark mass. Anger shuts down the wavelengths of the heart that intertwine with those of others, immobilizing them indefinitely. Anger is hard and unforgiving. Anger is paralyzing.

Love is the lightest – it is air. When love pours into the spaces of my heart, my heart feels light, as if it were floating, lifting my whole being up with it. Love extends a bridge through the walls of the heart, allowing the soul to expand outside of its cramped enclosure and stride alongside others. Love is the gentle light that spreads from within, enwrapping the darkness that threatens to permeate your being with unsought comfort and warmth. Love is allowing your heart and soul to breathe, to see, to glide through the currents with gentle yet steady motions. Love is soft and accepting. Love is liberating.

The souls that color the city

When I think back to my travels, to the streets of London and Amsterdam, to the pastel rows of houses of San Francisco, to the serenity of Verona, and to the clamor and hustle of Hong Kong, my mind begins to paint the background of the city, yet the people – the souls – that I have encountered there truly color it and give the city its spirit. In that way, the city becomes engraved in my mind.

Of course, the architecture, the rivers, the roads of the city give the city its body, its physical being…yet the people that fill the city form its soul, its color. Every soul contributes a touch of pigment to the city, and each city becomes a unique palette.

Amsterdam is colored by the man I met on the way into the city, the ten-hour bus ride from London. I remember the weed that crept into my nose as he sat beside me, one of the few empty seats in the back of the bus. His friends sat around, and I made a feeble attempt to do my Game Theory homework on the 6” x 13” table. He smirked when he saw me, pretending to concentrate, and asked if I were truly completing homework on the bus. This made me change my mind much sooner than I might have, and we began a conversation that lasted for hours; each second into the conversation fed into my regret of asking the bus driver to change buses mid-journey to be with my friends. I could have talked to him for ten hours, but this was probably better for my sleep. He was journeying with two friends for a weekend filled with legal weed adventures, and I was headed on an impromptu trip to a huge music festival. We talked about economics, artificial intelligence, psychology, and shared chocolate from a fellow passenger on the bus. When we parted, he threw me a bag of chips. I still have the wrapper, because that is the type of sentimental person I am.

San Francisco is colored by two people – an uber driver who advised me to travel the world, and an old man who offered for me to enter the museum with him for free (I’ve already written about him). The driver had an incredibly suave, smooth, rich voice…the type that you could listen to forever, and you’d feel as if you were in a dream eventually. He spoke of his travels, his temporal companies overseas, and advised me to purchase an around-the-world pass, which I had never heard about before then. This advice was the present he offered to me for the new year, an early graduation present of sorts. It even more deeply ingrained in me my love and eternal thirst for travel, for seeing worlds outside my own and opening my eyes and widening my horizons and embracing every inch of our planet. As for the elderly man, I now wish that I saved the sticker I received from him instead of sticking it on my phone cover, only for it to slowly deteriorate.

Verona is colored by the warmth of the woman and police officer who offered to help my friend and I when we lost our way – both entering the city and leaving it. Our suitcases pitter-pattered on the cobblestone roads as we followed our trusty guide – Google Maps, per usual – to our airbnb residence. And as we “arrived at our destination” and only saw the cold wall of a building, our evidently confused faces stirred a passing woman’s attention. She approached us with a warm smile and a flurry of Italian that only left our faces even more confused. Even so, she remained cheerful and, after we showed her the address, generously gesticulated the direction we would need to go to reach our destination. We gave her our thanks, mostly through the gratitude beaming through our smiles than any words we could muster – as we had none. Having successfully settled into the city, we were faced with trouble again on the day we left to catch our flight. There was a marathon and no vehicles were allowed to run in the inner city – no buses, no taxis, no cars at all. After scrambling around with our suitcases click-clacking furiously behind us, we finally spotted a police officer, who kindly worked a bit of magic and called a taxi just for us. The kindness and generosity of Verona leave us thankful forever and remind me that we do not only communicate with our words, but also with our hearts.

There are so many other cities in which I have had the fortune to explore. Each city is colored by countless stories, and if I were to recount them all I would have a novel. These cities imprint themselves into my eyes, my heart, and my soul as I traverse their open bodies and wander into the crevices of their souls. And for a fleeting moment, I kiss the earth with a distinct hue of lavender myself.

When a rose wilts

When a rose wilts, not much can save it. It will begin shedding its vibrancy, its color lost to the past. When a rose wilts, it bows its head. No longer does it view the expansive skies above, it only sees the unforgiving ground. When a rose wilts, the flush drains from its cheeks and its supple youthful petals give way to elderly creases and dryness. Darkness spreads from the heart of the petals to the stem. Darkness pervades all. Only the very beginning of the stem is spared, its light green persistent and obdurate. The bright light green of beginnings, of sweet, tender hope, of memories yet to be tarnished. Of a more beautiful past.

The petals harden into a dark clump atop a black stem. All the leaves have fallen off now, already departed. Only the rose remains, its head bowed lower than ever, staring down at the cold, dark ground of its inevitable fate, yet unwilling to let go. Knowing its demise will come, yet still so stubbornly pretending to be alive and well. And so it freezes – trapped in time, suspended in the air by an unbreakable stem. The world around it is moving, changing, yet it stays there still, silent, entrapped, a mirage of life.

This is what happens when a rose wilts.

It stays.

but its soul is already gone.

Dream Catalog

The first half of my dream has long escaped my mind, but the second half remains vividly instilled in my mind.

I am walking through a one-story home, making my way to the back door. I have some recollection of there being a large crowd of people there before, but they had all disappeared. So I proceed through the back door, in search of where everyone had gone.

I look before me, and there is a towering, grandiose mansion…its heights seemed to graze the sky. I enter the mansion, and I feel like I have entered some sort of fairytale world. Dark wood and forest green walls surround me, and I clamber up a spiraling staircase. I pass through several rooms, which were all inhabited by different individuals sleeping. As I entered each room, the people would wake up and say “Good morning.”

There are only two rooms that I remember now.

One was spacious with high ceilings and the same forest green walls that covered the entire mansion. Two beautiful girls with waterfalls of blonde, wavy hair were sleeping under a huge satin magenta comforter that stretched well farther than their feet. When I passed through, they awakened, rubbed their eyes, and said “Good morning.”

In the other, I was passing by outside, and through the doorframe, I saw two elderly men laying on top of each other on a four poster bed; they were only wearing pants, and they remained deep in slumber as I passed by.

Suddenly, I am rushing down the stairs. I pass a group of people speaking together at the top of a stairwell. I do not see their faces. One sees me and asks, “Hey, are you from Vega?”

And in that moment, I somehow understood that the world of the majestic mansion was “Vega”; these people had wandered to the mansion and were now trapped here, destined to stay in the mansion sleeping forever. I lied, “Yes” and I sprinted out the front doors of the house.

Thinking that I’ve escaped, I feel a rush of relief. Then suddenly, I notice a collection of floating banners in front of me, reading “Try Again!” “You lose!” And here, I realize that I was in a game the entire time; the goal had been to retrieve some item from inside the mansion, and I had merely escaped.


Learned Helplessness

“And what do you think happens when people do not have access to transportation or mobility……psychologically speaking,” I asked, my phone pressed against my ear.

“Learned helplessness,” my psychology professor replied. “It’s the state psychologists term as ‘learned helplessness.’ When people can’t get to the experiences or places they want, they become depressed and feel trapped and confined in their circumstances.”

I had heard the term before, back in my introductory psychology course freshman year. There, this state was exemplified by a dog; the dog was subject to repeated electric shocks within a confined box, and after a long duration of time, the dog no longer attempted to escape. Learned helplessness seemed like such a unique condition then, yet now I could see its applicability to everyday happenings, everywhere. This is the moment that keeps on replaying in my head, the moment when I interviewed an old psychology professor for insight on a project – only the insight I had gleaned was much more far-reaching.

Learned helplessness. It is common knowledge that if you are stuck in a poor situation, you will attempt to escape it. Of course, the underlying premise is that you must feel that you are capable and you have the power to escape your current circumstances. If like the dog, your attempts to escape are thwarted each and every time, naturally, you may become crestfallen and accept your misfortune. And this is a loss in confidence, a loss in strength, a loss in yourself. It is rare to persevere beyond repeated failures. It is rare to remain resilient despite facing repeated defeat, for from this continual draining of your spirit and drive, you may be conditioned to eventually fall into a state of learned helplessness. And with learned helplessness, the flame within your soul will dwindle into darkness.

Yet we are not caged dogs, destined to be zapped by an outside force; our lives are not experiments. The tribulations within life are inevitable, and the storms are many; throughout all, we must guard the flame within our souls with vigilance, for this flame carries our hopes and aspirations. In the darkest of hours, this flame is your guiding light.

So add timber to the flame when the winds are rough, and let those winds carry your flame into a blazing fire.

The only cage you live in is the one you build yourself.

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