Why the Chungking Mansions are actually awesome

When I emailed my uncle the address for Delta Hotel, a small budget hotel in the Chungking Mansions, he immediately called me to express his concerns about the safety and cleanliness of the area. “You should cancel the booking and stay with us,” he urged. “A Chinese girl was raped there before. It was all over the news–you can Google it.

 

I reassured him that I’d done my research, and the place seemed fine. If I really felt unsafe, I would just leave after the first night and stay with them.

Truth be told, I was aware of the Chungking Mansions’ unsavory reputation. It was the site of a 1988 fire that killed a Danish tourist. About a decade later, it was in the headlines again for the murder of an Indian tourist by her partner. That same year, there was a police swoop that led to the arrest of ~50 people from Asia and Africa for failing to provide IDs, overstaying their visas, using false documents, etc. All of this led to its image as a refuge for criminals and undocumented immigrants.

Nevertheless, I was not deterred.

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Nathan Road on a rainy Tuesday evening, as seen from the upper deck of Bus A21 from HKG.

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god of beginnings

My dad, who has been hosting on Airbnb for several months, asked me to make some paper cranes as gifts for honeymooning guests. Miraculously, I didn’t feel weird about it, despite the strong connection between these cranes and my mother. I placed a pink crane (her favorite color) in front of her photo and burned some incense, and I carried on without resentment. This feels like the beginning of the nebulous future I was waiting for.

I keep thinking of the phrase “god of beginnings” as I pat the little ears of a Ganesha figurine, the favor from my cousin’s recent wedding in San Rafael and now one of my most prized possessions. It’s perfect.

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The wedding was a glorious mishmash of Chinese and Indian culture (and square dancing), and the poet in me can’t get over how momentous the occasion felt. Continue reading

25 before 26

New things:

  • My poem “Angles” is out in Spry!
  • It’s National Poetry Month. In honor of that, I am sharing one of my favorite poems.
  • I’ve started watching the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and it’s as good as everyone says.
  • It was National Puppy Day and my birthday two weeks ago. To continue the tradition, I’ve made a new list of new things to try.

To explain, since high school, I have been a huge fan of Sarah Von’s blog Yes and Yes. She seems genuinely interested in being a part of the world, and I’ve always aspired to be a little like her (or at least her branding). In keeping with that vibe, every year on her birthday, she makes a list of new things to try, an annual bucket list of sorts. In the beginning, the number of items was dictated by her age that year. I’ve followed in her footsteps, and I’ll probably keep up with this system until I no longer want to share my age. Continue reading

Immortality, lost and not quite found

Yesterday, I spent over two hours injecting cancer cells into mice, looking through a glass barrier in full, identity-erasing protective gear. As I did this, I listened to a Longform interview with Wesley Yang, of “Paper Tigers” fame. When the Longform hosts introduced him, they noted how unique he is among their interviewees in his convoluted path through journalism and writing in general.

As Yang describes it, when he initially became a journalist, he was not super set on that path or particularly ambitious. He just wasn’t good at anything else. What lingers with me most is the few minutes when he said that he was just always lost, still is lost.

Today, I went to the Asian Art Museum for its 50th anniversary celebration. There was an exhibit on the use and symbolism of gold throughout the ages. The placards noted its association with prosperity, divinity, and immortality. As I read this, I thought what strange creatures we humans are, to desire immortality with such fervor. What drives us to construct tombs containing thousands of warriors, to build pyramids on the bones of the unfortunates, to create and collect records of civilizations?  Continue reading

Five years and counting

I am remembering for some bizarre reason the last time my boyfriend cooked rice. “You rinse it first, right? Until the water turns clear?”

I’d forgotten I ever told him to do that. My mother used to nag at me to rinse the rice before cooking it, and I never did because it seemed like an unnecessary extra step. What’s the point when the heat will destroy whatever needs to be destroyed?

I only started doing it after she died. I suppose it’s another weird ritual I made up, like the cranes and the notes in simple Chinese and the incense, the obsessive idea that if I burned these things she would get them or, better yet, the flames would open up a tiny portal into the parallel world in which she is living a new life without me and can see me continue to live mine even if I can’t see her. I’m reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, and what a pleasant way of referring to these delusions of the grieving.

Yesterday marked exactly five years since she died. I’ve lived a little over 20% of my life without her, and every second that passes is another second away from when we last coexisted. Tonight, I feel acutely alone.

 

Episode 2 of Bone Lab Radio is out!

Bones Don’t Lie

This episode tells the story of how a living, breathing organism turns into a pile of bones, and how those bones can tell us about the lives they led hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

Ep. 2 features Myeashea Alexander, whom I met at ComSciCon over the summer and who runs the fantastic blog The Rockstar Anthropologist, and Christine Lee, a bioarchaeologist, Nat Geo Emerging Explorer and TED fellow!

And because I got so obsessed with Mongolian music during the production of this show, there are multiple links to videos on the blog. They are AMAZING.

Also, if you need even more incentive to listen, I am narrating (most of) this one. Continue reading