Nanjing/Shanghai

Middle of last month, I took a trip back to my birth place with my mom and sister. We bought the tickets way back in October of 2018, by the time we got ready for the trip, it felt new.

For visits to China, I always make a list of things I want to eat rather than things I want to purchase or see. There are so many things I crave that just aren’t available even in the bustling New York. Some of these things include 小馄炖 (small wontons, which is usually a pork filling served in clear bone soup with scallion, cilantro, pickled vegetables and spicy oil for garnish), 鸭血粉丝汤 (glass noodles with duck blood and intestines, it sounds gross but it’s amazing) and surprisingly Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds (the quality of fried chicken at these chains are so much better than the states). Of course I can’t forget about bubble tea. The trends of boba is forever changing and China has so many other chains that are not available here. I tried my best to try at least one different chain of tea for each day I was there. There were a couple days where I had three different ones, but even then I was no where close to trying out all the well-known brands.

One of the trends when I visited this time was the popularization of ancient Chinese outfits (汉服). I’m not sure how, but from what I heard it’s due to the popularity of some online game. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun walking around Laomen East Pedestrian Street (老门东), one of the more popular destinations within Nanjing with ancient storefronts and structures. It was like living out my childhood dreams of being in a period drama.

Every time I visit, there are parts that I don’t recognize at all (this time was being able to order boba through a WeChat by scanning a QR code). But some things stayed the same despite how long I’ve been gone, the bus lines, the dialect, my elementary school, and my elementary school teachers…

Who knows when I will visit again, but no matter what it will feel like home, just like New York City.

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Sink or Swim

Swimming had been a luxury where I grew up, like buying new sets of crayons. The first time I went to the pool was in elementary school when I took my first swimming lesson. I remember spending quite some effort convincing my grandparents to enroll me in the group lesson taught by the community gymnasium. Lessons weren’t cheap and the pool wasn’t near. I was so excited after I’d successfully convinced them. Not just swimming, purchasing a swimsuit and cap had been a special event too. Grandma and I planned half a day to do it, taking the bus, going to the department store, purchasing the items, taking breaks to eat, etc.

After a lot of waiting and anticipation, it was finally time for the lessons. The first time I stepping inside the natatorium, I was greeted by a wave of humid and heavy air. Although it was huge, it was filled with people and loud chatter. The water wasn’t blue and clear but a cloudy gray. Nothing like the scenes I’d seen on TV. I was distraught as I followed the other children as we lined up near the pool ladder as our teacher introduced himself. There must have been multiple lessons that lasted at least 30 minutes long, but now I could only recall less than 10 minutes of it.

We were told to practice ducking our head into the water and holding our breaths by the wall of the shallow end. As the these were amateur lessons, none of the students had goggles. So we squinted our eyes tight as we fought the buoyancy of water and submerged our heads. I guess the teacher did not approve of my work,  he singled me out and pulled me to the deeper end of the pool. He then held me up like Rafiki holding Simba in the Lion King before dropping me into the water. It was literally sink or swim.

I froze but luckily held my breath and didn’t choke. Everything slowed down; the florescent lights, orange nylon swim cap, lukewarm water were carved into memory. It’s surprising I am not terrified of water and had competed as part of my high school’s varsity swim team.

This isn’t just a post about a childhood memory. I didn’t just bizarrely decided to share a distant story.

Little over two months ago, a new person joined my team at work. As I had more experience with team team, our manager asked me to mentor him even though his role is above mine on the corporate hierarchy chain. I may just be petty; but not only did I never got similar support, I was left to fend for myself right after joining the team as our manager went on vacation the same week. Figuratively sink of swim.

Looking back, there had been many times where I was thrown into unfamiliar situations (some caused by others, some due to my lack of insight) with no support system. For example, moving to Chicago alone, traveling solo to Japan without knowing Japanese, putting on projects half way. I’d faced all these circumstances with a can-do attitude (sprinkled in with some stress, anxiety, panic attacks, what most people feel). Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I tell myself “I’ve literally survived without sinking, I will swim figuratively as well.” Untitled_Artwork

Spark Joy?

If you’d been on the internet at all this year, you would have come across the “sparking joy” phenomenon, otherwise known as the Mari Kondo method of tidying up and decluttering.

I first learned about the KonMari method back in 2015 when I had just moved into off-campus housing. I had less storage space than the dorm (and I didn’t want to purchase more furniture) and I came upon her method of folding and storing clothes vertically. Although I’ve been storing my clothes the KonMari way since then, I did not do the full Mari Kondo cleanse until last year when I finished the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Truth be told, other than clothing, I did not follow Mari’s instructions to the T. There are still notes I’ve kept “for references.” Even then, it had not been easy, especially with my parents go through the donation boxes and picking out items that could be passed on to my sister.

I moved out of my parent’s house a couple weeks ago, and I’ve got to say packing had been so much easier after I’d gone through the spark joy process. Even before putting things into boxes, I knew exactly what I have. It was much easier to gauge how many boxes and in turn furnitures I would need.

In addition to the practicality of decluttering (more space, easier to move), I noticed my desires to shop decreased and I’m more content with the things I do have. Having an organized space also help me feel calmer. With my new place, I created a corner on top of the dresser with items that sparks joy. Seeing it every morning brings me a sense of fulfillment.

Decluttering all of my items was definitely hard work. Even though I didn’t go through every single thing I owned at my parent’s house, just by going through the items I use frequently have helped tremendously. Changing my mindset (still working on it) from feeling guilty when parting with something to saying thank you for serving me has been my biggest takeaway.

If you’re on the fence about decluttering your life as it seems too big of a project, I’d suggest try tackling just one part of your items (i.e. clothing, kitchen items, bathroom items, etc.) with the Mari Kondo method first. This way you won’t get overwhelmed but still can get a taste of what your new home would be like.