Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reality but not Quite

Today was pretty epic. I climbed a mountain, went sightseeing at a famous lake, and watched the seventh Harry Potter movie. I never thought that I’d ever do all these on the same day, but that’s the way life’s been rolling for me recently - oftentimes random and always exciting. Afternoons of soccer or yoga, movie nights and slam poetry.. throwing parties for friends, searching for an elusive Brazilian bakery, having your friend cut your hair, riding a motorbike to claim insurance, this list could go on and on.

This weekend just adds to that growing list, another gem in the treasure trove of stories I’ve accumulated in my almost three months here in Shanghai. I was hesitant to go to this Suzhou trip to be honest, as I didn’t know any close friends who are going. The 100 RMB deal was too hard to pass up though, and I’ve been itching to go on a trip for weeks.

First stop was some Suzhou Garden.. now it might sound like it’s just some garden but this is Suzhou we’re talking about, a city renowned all around China for its garden scenery. It was the usual picture-perfect fare, with a huge lake surrounding it, but one or two hours is enough to stroll around the so-beautiful-it’s-boring lawns.

Next stop, Tai Hu. We had to ride a boat without anybody knowing what our actual destination was. It took forever to cross the lake that felt more like an ocean. Finally, land. An island, what now? Well, to my surprise, we were there to pick mandarin oranges. As many as we wanted! I got to meet some interesting guys taking graduate studies in Fudan. An interesting scene: Arguing about world economics with an Estonian master’s student in the middle of an orange orchard.

Tired legs + bags heavy with mandarin oranges = hotel time. Having only paid 100 RMB, I wasn’t expecting anything grand, in fact a shabby hostel in the middle of nowhere would’ve totally met my expectations. But how wrong I was. After a hotel-caliber dinner, I went up to what was probably the most spacious and luxurious room I’ve ever stayed in. It was awesome.

Mountain climbing the next day. It was a regular climb up a regular mountain, but still loads of fun. A chance to bond with fellow scholars. I realized that the Chinese government sponsors such a varied group of people to study here: a Fil-Am who’s lived in five different countries, a guy from Myanmar who got a level 11 HSK, some guys from Burundi, Nepal, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and even North Korea! As we were having a group picture at the mountain top, I realized that I was with a pretty exotic bunch.

Fast forward to night time. My first time to watch in a cinema here in China. As Polyjuiced Harry, Ron, and Hermione were infiltrating the Ministry, that familiar magical feeling of the books started seeping back into me. Harry Potter 7 was damn awesome. The best movie of the series hands-down. Most faithful adaptation of the book without a doubt. This is the first time in the series where the movie actually gives justice to the book.. It’s pure pleasure to watch the characters come alive on screen, to see in full-color action the sequences I so fondly pictured in my mind while reading the book more than three years ago. HP7-1 is a perfectly brewed mix of romance, action, drama, and dark sequences with a sprinkle of comedy set in the spellbinding world of Rowling’s imagination.. Having been to London just makes the setting more real yet more magical for me. After the movie, I felt like all inspiration was coming back to me.. my profound love for the series, for the characters, for stories in general..

Looking forward to more weekends like this. Back to school tomorrow. Back to reality, but not quite:)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dry Ink

Did I just have a three-month long writer’s block? Great Firewall or no great firewall, I am stumped, my brain stale and my ink dry. I’ve always thought of myself as a writer, but what do I have to prove it, even just to myself? Two blogs filled with cobwebs? Check. A blank notebook? Check. Hammering away at the Add New Tab button until my browser freezes whenever I come face to face with a blank page and a blinking cursor? Check! Whatever happened to the notion of the scratch paper?

I can accept being average in any other field, but I am a perfectionist when it comes to writing, and that’s why I have grown so afraid of it. Anything less than awe-inspiring I’d rather not write. Any piece that I don’t feel can be an organic whole I cannot accept. That’s what’s making writing too difficult and intimidating, and this mindset is holding me back too much. I wait for an awesome idea to pop into my head, wait for this outburst of emotion to put me into a writer’s trance before I even begin dare to write anything. Writing is supposed to be free-flowing, but it has become a passive pursuit for me. I don’t control the words anymore, I just wait for them to possess me.

Not that I did not write at all in the past few months. I’ve scribbled the usual things in my notebooks and in my cellphone Notes - To-do, short-term and long-term plans, sudden nuggets of insight, realizations about myself… Colorful fragments of nothing.. null wayward strands of wonder.. impossible to weave into any tapestry. They’re pretty much like the random web articles I love to read so much. It’s so easy to do, and they make you feel like you’re doing something productive, but it’s actually quite an aimless activity. I just realized the other day that reading those little articles is like trying to catch sand.. it feels nice in those fleeting seconds that the sand slides down your hands, but you don’t actually get anything substantial from them. True learning is more like prying a hard rough stone. It may not feel as good but it’s something you can actually keep. I surmise that true learning needs focus - it can only happen when knowledge has snowballed on to the right direction, and then it just keeps going.

Okay, enough with the vague analogies. This just shows how long I haven’t written. And how I miss having this feeling of being able to bang on the keyboard keys for more than half an hour without feeling the urge to read yet another useless article on yahoo or engadget. But all is well. I realized that the amount I write is inversely proportional to the extent that I’m living. I got into writing because I had to balance the ideal and the real, but I never had that problem the past few months, because things were more than ideal. Everything was surreal.

I’ll leave that for another blog post though. But if there’s one thing that scares me more than a blank page, it’s reducing the vivacity of memories to letters, spaces, and punctuation marks. Besides, I can’t let loose too much, lest I run out of fuel for what I anticipate to be a regular string of posts from now on. Here's to hoping that the ink never runs dry again.