october 31

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As a graduate student, over the past year or so, I have started to hold opinions on china, east asia, government policies and economic strategies.
But I do so lightly, gently. I chose, no, rather felt on an intuitive level, that any opinion or view could be refuted by opposing information. I don’t know if I have ever been a person with truly strong, stubborn views (certainly not compared to some people I know), but I think the combination of understanding economics (taught by professors who though subscribing to free market views, freely admitted their shortcomings and limitations), speaking three languages, experiencing living in different countries and interacting with different people, something inside of me protests against a truly dogmatic or one sided view of the world. I inhabit the grey, keenly aware of the shifting factors and effects that cannot be summed up with a pithy headline. once reached, my opinions still come with a silent “and yet” addendum.
i continue to feel this way in DC. something inside me rebels against too neat, too tidy an argument (though I certainly can appreciate an elegant concept or through line). writing off a country, a ruler, even a policy as wholly bad is not for me – i always try to pry out the sometimes minute seed of good that an otherwise useless or awful thing has caused, and the reverse for something good.
the world is too complex for our brains. it troubles me when we forget that, when we think a tidy narrative of racism, populism, ideology, religion or cynicism explains it all. just existing in this world and trying to understand it is a true act of cognitive dissonance that we have to bravely embrace, and not resort to low tactics. we have to be willing to say this is confusing and unexplainable and I will go on doing my best anyway. I will continue to give things the benefit of the doubt, to stay open, to hold room for the unimaginable. To admit you don’t have the answers and live the questions all the same.
So, I will go on with my innumerable readings, my talks and my conversations, holding the information in my brain, trying to make sense of it all, even as I know I cannot. Just trying is the aim, as it invariably has been, is and will be, in every fragment of my life.
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a day in the life

This is a little snapshot into my life as a grad student in Washington DC, as taken from tuesday 25 october. Not every day is like this – I work 3 shifts a week as a student worker in admissions, go to a lot of talks given by experts at school, and obviously do things outside of school too haha, but this is a little taste of a tuesday in my life!

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7:30 am: I wake up, get dressed and head downstairs. First stop, coffee and breakfast. I make porridge and then sit and work out what I have on today with the help of my diary. I set out tasks, sip my coffee and enjoy my porridge. I then have a read of my current book, Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. I only have the last chapter to go so I manage to finish it.

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9:00 am: I walk down to our gorgeous neighbourhood library, which is less than a ten minute walk from our house – what a luxury. I return the books I’ve read, borrow the ones they’ve got on hold for me (What I Know For Sure by Oprah and Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl – I’m on a memoir kick at the moment). I sit down at one of their lovely wooden tables in a sunny spot and do some equity market reading for my class the next day on my laptop.

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11:00 am: My laptop is low on battery so I pack up to go. I walk a circuitous route home, enjoying the pretty street art, gorgeous turning leaves and stellar blue sky. Once home, I finely slice some cabbage I have in the fridge and stirfry it along with cracked black pepper, some dried chilli and some salt. I top it with some crunchy breadcrumbs. I also make a slice of peanut butter and honey toast for good measure, with some of my beloved Alvarado Street Bakery bread which is the closest thing I can find to vogels here.

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12:00 pm: I sit out on our upstairs balcony to eat it, and enjoy sunning myself and watching the crazy squirrels racing along the telephone lines.

1:20 pm: After doing work in the living room, it’s time to head into school for my two o’clock class. I end up biking to school in convoy with my flatmate which is novel because we go her route which is a little different to my usual. We park up and head into our respective classes.

I have comparative politics, which goes by fairly quickly. I spent a while on the readings this week, so I’m able to contribute by answering some questions. After class, I walk down the road to one of the other uni buildings and bump into an acquaintance from Nanjing. We catch up for a while and then I head into the cafeteria – it’s the weekly free cookie hour. I snag one for now and another for later and then head back to find my bike. I usually have a tutorial from 6-7pm on a Tuesday but we don’t have one this week because of midterms, so it is a nice treat to head home much earlier than usual.

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5:00 pm: I bike down 16th street which has an extraordinarily large amount of old, gorgeous churches. While I’m stopped at the lights I can’t help take a photo of this one illuminated in the golden light. I head down the road to Trader Joes. I lock my bike up outside and zip in to get groceries for the dinner I’m cooking my flatmates tonight. I walk out awkwardly as my arms are filled with the groceries I bought, but I stow them successfully in my bike basket and take off again – uphill this time.

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5:30 pm: I arrive home and get cooking. I’m making sausage casserole with rice and peas, a family classic. I have a cooking rotation with two of my flatmates, so 3 nights a week we have dinner together. It’s always a treat to have dinner cooked for you, and they always cook something yummy and different.

6:00 pm: while the casserole is in the oven, I sit down with some of my flatmates for an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show we’re currently working our way through and just loving – we’re currently in season 3 (of 7!) We watch Buffy slay vampires and deal with teenage angsty friendships and it’s great fun.

7:10 pm: dinner’s ready. I dish up and we eat together at the table. We have a glass of wine in celebration of papers submitted and midterms completed which quite rightly deserves a celebration.

8:00 pm: I get back to my readings and keep working on those, writing detailed notes. I’m going to have to refer back to them anyway when I write my paper on the capital markets in China, so I may as well make it easier on myself and figure out the key points now.

9:45 pm: the content of the readings is no longer sinking in and I head up to have a shower. I put on my pjs and start reading one of my library books I Take You by Eliza Kennedy. It’s funny and gripping and feminist and I can’t put it down.

11:45 pm: I notice the time with a start and quickly put the book down, set my alarm, turn off the light and fall asleep, ready for another big day of uni.

taking stock, dc edition

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Learning: so much every second, via piles of readings, classes and talks
Cooking: yummy meals for my flatmates, like butter chicken and pumpkin risotto
Drinking: lovely icy sour IPAs
Reading: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd which is a needed reminder that my education as a woman is a gift and a privilege and not only something that tortures me
Wanting: to make the most of every day, to figure out how to be both happy and productive
Enjoying: my daily bike rides to class on my bike i’ve nicknamed Susan
Wondering: what the coming months will hold
Listening: to The Chainsmokers and Macklemore and letting them get me through the days
Loving: my cute part-time job which makes me feel capable and efficient
Hoping: that the cool people I’ve met through classes will turn into dear friends
Eating: new crunchy Honeycrisp apples, yum
Smelling: my jasmin noir perfume which i still love so much
Wearing: a lot of dresses and my beloved 5 pound silver loafers
Watching: Buffy the vampire slayer with my flatmates
Noticing: little bits and pieces of DC – fun architecture, shops, street signs
Knowing: that this is all still very new, that I must be patient with myself and others
Thinking: about the fact that this year will go by quickly even as the days feel long
Laughing: at sassy asides in readings and my stats lecturer’s self deprecating jokes
Feeling: a little tender and fragile, but also deeply hopeful in the wonderful things to come

thoughts on living overseas

i was at dinner last night with friends who have all moved overseas and one of them said something that really struck me. she said she wished she could tell everyone back home to go and live in another country for a while, as she just thinks it’s so important for your development (especially as we were all in our early twenties) and after thinking it over i definitely agree.

obviously travel itself is great for your confidence and resilience, but i also think making a life for yourself in a place is uniquely special in a way that a backpacking trip doesn’t necessarily equate to. making your own routines, finding your locals, making new friends, trying a new activity or hobby (me doing zumba and volunteering with kids in nanjing) all are part of making a life in a place. and when you push through the stress and the administrative dramas that characterise the first phase (along with excitement and new discoveries, naturellement) you find yourself happy in a place that you never knew you could be.
i.e. me in Nanjing: look at me! i’m away from my countrymen, not able to do the things i love (get books out from the library, cook, go to barre class, hang out with my family) and yet I’m ok. better yet, i’m happy!

and then when i left china. all the things that i felt so keenly being ripped away from me. street eats, constant language breakthroughs, pudgy babies all around, zumba, my new friends, fun conversations with chinese people all the time…. those were all things i just loved!

and yet. in london i’m back with my uni friends, back cooking (and loving it), finding new places and neighbourhoods, finding enjoyment in earning and being a productive member of society again, being in a multicultural atmosphere, enjoying architectural splendour and fun day trips.

and i realise. there are so many ways to be happy. there are so many ways to build a rich, full life.
life staying always in one place can feel one dimensional. and i’m not saying it is, but we forget about all the rich possibilities and choices we have available to us. moving somewhere new gives a new lens to view the world through, opens everything up and puts it all on the table. and makes us realise what we can do without and surprisingly enough be ok without.

it is bittersweet. right now I know that all the people i love and care about will never all live in the same place with me. that’s a hard thought. i’ll always be a bit behind in their life, communicating through social media and the odd message rather than in person hugs and walks and long lazy dinners. but how lucky am I that i can visualize a life in four cities (chch, dunedin, nanjing and london) and from those countless more, since i know what it is to pack everything and go somewhere new and start afresh and succeed?

on replay: open heart, open mind and you’ll be fine.

ps – i feel i’ve learned so much in my short life of 22 years. can’t imagine the lessons and wisdom the next 60 or so have in store for me!

taking stock, london edition

IMG_5020Learning: what types of events and announcements matter in political risk analysis and which don’t (its all about context)
Cooking: tasty simple summery meals with new potatoes and asparagus
Drinking: beers in parks, yay for enjoying beer and english laws
Reading: just finished The Hate U Give and pondering my next pick!
Wanting: for everyone to know how much i love and care about them, even if we’re not constantly in touch
Enjoying: my new city! london is a lot of fun
Wondering: how i will feel to leave it
Listening: Lorde’s new album. i don’t know how she does it but every song speaks to me
Loving: english raspberries. they are a tangy, juicy revelation!
Hoping: for the weather to work with all my travel plans, please and thank you
Eating: scrummy cafe brunches which i sure missed in china
Smelling: the roses on every street I walk down. they smell better over here, i’m sure of it
Wearing: my navy culottes which make me feel cool and breezy
Watching: the bachelorette with a passion and a need to discuss
Noticing: the bits and pieces about England that mimic NZ, and those which are very different
Knowing: that i am so privileged to have all these friends spread throughout the world
Thinking: that i have to stay in touch with them but also focus on my life in the city i am in
Laughing: so easily and so often with dear C & J
Feeling: overwhelmed at my countless blessings, amazed at my flawed and wondrous life

last days in nanjing

bittersweet, the taste of nostalgia, and catalyzed fondness, and joyous memories
mixed
with anxiety and sadness and sense of loss

i may be here again
and
i may be with these people again

but i will never be in it, in this season of life again

the saddest goodbyes are the ones you don’t verbalise
goodbye streets
goodbye favourite coffee shop
and second favourite coffee shop

the anxiety about what’s to come
the loss of what is now

i know, i know
i must say goodbye, but also say hello
and i know
that nothing ever stays the same

and that which does is but an illusion of sameness
and that still water is bacteria ridden and grotty

and yet
i’m not really for the white water to rush through and propel me forward to the next thing

i want
to be babied, rocked, cooed at
in a place where everything is safe
and can’t agitate my ruffled state

i know
that i will look back on my stress and worry, and only remember the almost imperceptible silver thread of faith in everything,
in god, in myself
that things would work out just fine

that i would be cradled and carried
even as i felt i was falling and skidding

you don’t remember the pounding work of it all
you remember the view from the top, and the satisfying ache in your joints
that reassure you that you earned it

it’s never like what i imagine
it never quite measures up to what i imagine
(in technical, numerical terms)

it’s so much better
the swish of a monet watercolour compared to a paint swatch chart
a dog compared to a computerised 3D model of a dog
it’s alive and breathing
and so much more
in every dimension
than anything you could ever generate

over/under-achieving

i have an inbuilt mechanism that clamps down when i get close to finals and keeps me in the library until I get what i need to done. it’s been useful, i admit, over the 6+ years i’ve been taking exams.
i’m currently trying to fight it, however.
I have 40 days left in China. I know for sure i will be otherwise engaged until June 2018, just over a year from now, but I suspect it’ll be a while longer until I’m back..how long exactly, is up in the air like the rest of my future plans after june 2018.

i want to savour it. at the start of the year, the staff advised us to get outside and soak up the atmosphere. that class and assignments weren’t the be all and end all. i’m just trying to remember that in my final month. i’m aiming for my first b+.

being confronted with career stuff is hideously terrifying. dreaming big from the comfort of the midst of bachelors degree is one thing. from the rapidly approaching graduation from an expensive postgraduate programme is another.

i keep trying to establish what i truly want, trying to sketch out a dot to dot figure which ends up with a complete picture. how do i get there?

i repeat to myself: you don’t have to conquer the world. you don’t have to make a ton of money. you don’t have to be prime minister or a ceo or win an olympic medal.

i state to myself, with an upwards lilt: if you’re a good person. if you have kind friends. if you find someone lovely. if you get to have kids. if you stay close to your family. …does it matter what your career is?

marketing myself to people seems like such a waste of time. i just want my cover letter to read: i’ve done these things. i’m nice. you’ll like me. i’ll probably laugh at everyone’s jokes. i’ll try really hard. i’ll do a good job.

econometrics has been good for me, in a cod-liver-y oil kind of way. i’m bad at it. i just am.
and on the whole, when things tend to come fairly easily to you (as long as i’m trying), you forgot what being bad at things is like. you scorn those who take longer, who falter after countless tilts.
it’s humbling to really, really, really not get something.
and it’s so good for my character for me to feel that way.

boxes and definitions are so arbitrary. i struggled with not getting econometrics because i thought it devalued my economics knowledge and skills. i thought it meant i was faking.
but why does the world have to be split into diehard number crunchers and airy fairy pols majors?
i can choose to exist outside of those two categories. i can proudly admit my love for economics, and use what i have, without having to be the one scribbling equations and commenting on regression software forums.
plus, i can take myself out of the race.
once i admit it is truly not for me, i can completely sidestep any “ought to” feelings about achieving in the field, and focus on passing the paper and getting it over with.

life is too short for that stuff.

i guess the message of this post is, i’ve set myself expectations and i’m trying really hard to under-deliver on them.

inspiring stuff, huh?