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?

kindness

something i’ve been mulling over, during this month away, is that travelling is almost the definition of getting out of your comfort zone. as home, which we have moulded and patted into the most ideal habitat, is for most people their comfort zone.

no matter if you are an introvert or extrovert, the change in social settings can be disorienting, with an extrovert away from their beloved social fabric in a solo situation, or introvert plunged into an environment where they are constantly meeting new people.

not to mention the changing availability of foods, products and services (i’m looking at you, washing machines!)

anyway, what it had me thinking was that travel is really good in making it abundantly clear of your natural level of generosity and kindness when all your support systems are stripped away from you. for instance, if you visit me at my house, i would be delighted to make you a cup of coffee – but share my special coffee bags when i only have a limited number, for my own purposes? i’m very good at saying get well soon when you are feeling poorly, but what about when i have to skip dinner and spend money and time looking after you when you have an allergic reaction? when i want to cut loose, go with you for a night on the town… but what about forfeiting my own sleep to accompany people to a social occasion, and stay up later than i personally would prefer?

it can be discomfiting to realise the twinges that accompanied each of these actions, that urge to be stingy with possessions, time, money. it’s not always as effortless as we might hope, doing the right thing.
sidenote: i know that we’re not supposed to ALWAYS put others before ourselves (trust me, my boundaries are very much present haha)
it can feel even wasteful, or unhealthy, or spendthrift to overcome the impulse to economise. but i’ve come to conclude, after mulling over my reactions to these events and trying to figure out where this all sits in the realm of right, wrong and human nature, is that i want to be a kind person. i know what kind people are, i can recognise them out in the wild (amongst friends and family, acquaintances and sitcom characters), and i hope and expect that when i eventually get married, it will be to a very kind man. so the thought i now have in the forefront in my mind, and which i hope to cling to moving forward in the moments when my baser nature threatens to win out, is that it isn’t always easy to be kind.

it often is. most people can’t help but stroke puppies, coo at babies, hug their family, smile at their friends, pay an obvious compliment, spend a happy afternoon in the kitchen baking fun cupcakes for a charity event (that sounds so great to me right now, sans kitchen, ha!). these things come easy. they are easy breezy to accomplish, one of those cases where the right and the comfortable go hand in hand.

i want to work on the right and the uncomfortable. speaking out about an unpopular topic, refraining from hurtful gossip, ordering food that isn’t my favourite because it fits someone else’s dietary preferences, insisting on squarely splitting the bill even when the other person’s drink was more expensive – none of these things actually is going to really negatively impact on me. none will hurt me, or make me broke, or render me sick from food poisoning or faint with tiredness. but it will do the world of good for my character, for the experience of others around me, and make me into that kind girl i’ve wanted to be all along. the girl for whom kindness is just how she lives her life.

the silver lining in this realisation, that kindess and a generous spirit doesn’t come easy, is that you come to value these so much more. i’ve heard it said that love is an action, and so we can also see that “kindness”, “generosity”, are also actions. we have to choose to be kind.

of course, our wise pals the dalai lama and henry james put it best:

“three things in human life are important.
The first is to be kind.
The second is to be kind.
And the third is to be kind.” – Henry James

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – the Dalai Lama

plus this one, which i think sums up the spirit of this post:

“Every act of kindness grows the spirit and strengthens the soul.” – unknown

and now… the word kindness just looks all squiggly to me, i’ve repeated it so many times. hopefully it is still in fact a word (I can’t tell at this point!)

ps – back in nanjing on saturday. this break has been delicious, but i’m ready to go back to study and more importantly, back with my darling friends!

the year of the rooster

img_0771today is the first day of the year of the rooster! its been really special being in tainan the past 10 days and observing the lunar new year preparations slowly happening around the streets. at the hostel i am helping out at, we were also tasked with decorating the common areas with characters, red and gold.

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除夕, the eve of the new year, is super important for chinese families. that evening, i found myself wandering the streets trying to find dinner. (i did have oats as a back up in case the search proved fruitless, no need to worry!)
as i walked through quiet, empty streets usually packed with noisy street carts, and brightly lit restaurants that spill out onto the pavement, it could have been thought of as eerie, or unsettling, or frankly an inconvenient nuisance, but it wasn’t. every closed up shopfront, every cart with a tarpaulin fastened over it, symbolised a family sitting together, around a table, celebrating together with their loved ones. all those dark empty streets meant lighted, warm, full living rooms in houses and apartments around the city, around Taiwan, China and the other Asian countries celebrating the lunar new year. getting to witness the inverse of the celebration felt like a peculiar privilege, one that never crosses my mind on days like christmas and easter, where i’m too caught up in my own family celebration to ponder others.

in my anthropology class last semester, we spent what seemed like a vast amount of time on 仪式, rituals. after reading hundreds of pages of readings regarding them, i got quite sick of the topic. however this chuxi, the necessity and wonder of rituals was so clear to me. how much we need to have things that we repeat, that mark and structure our days, months, years. that bring us together with those most important to us.

as part of the celebrations, people offer food as sacrifice. the incongruous sight of a whole chicken or duck, baked goods, fruit and other objects sitting on a table with incense sticking out of them like birthday candles has been common throughout the streets of tainan. when talking to a taiwanese girl the other day, she said “you must think it is a waste, and crazy!” I smiled and said i thought it was nothing of the sort. it reminded me of leaving milk, biscuits and carrots out for santa claus and rudolph. of making a gingerbread house that after a month of sitting out in the living room, was stale and inedible when we took it away after christmas. of dyed eggs at easter time. doing something for the sake of ritual, of love, of culture, is the thing that assures me we aren’t the money hungry, materialistic robots that newspapers warn of. and how very reassuring that walk through the streets was, in the most surprising of ways.

thoughts on the last four months

hi, friends. happy 2017.

despite the excited tidings of my previous post, lol, i haven’t been blogging while in china. part of that is the lovely censorship we have to deal with over here. part of it is my computer’s random refusal to access the wordpress website even when censorship isn’t an issue. and then there’s the fact that i’ve been so busy and had so much to do that figuring out solutions to these issues has felt too hard.

anyway, i am currently in Taiwan on break! i have finished one semester and i’m utterly stumped as to how it has flown by. just one semester to go! i have been so immeasurably blessed with how helpful and kind everyone who I have encountered here has been – from the fellow student on the first day who calmed my flustered nerves and showed me my room in the dormitory, to the kind chinese professors who could see steam was just about blowing out my ears in my efforts to understand what they were talking about, to my lovely classmates, some of whom have already become dear dear friends, to the ordinary chinese people on the street who do things like remind me of drink bottles left on restaurant tables, to staff at cafes who assiduously ensure i have plenty of water and repeat the wifi password multiple times until i finally catch the right spelling, to my roommate who has to deal with me at my most stressed and curt when i’m up to my ears in assignments. i can honestly state i’m yet to meet anyone in China who has been nasty to me. perhaps the sarcastic comments go over my head (since there’s no way my comprehension extends that far) and the dirty looks evade my glance, but i can’t help feeling bowled over by the gracious hospitality i felt in Nanjing, Yunnan and now Taiwan.
i want to yell it from the rooftops: thank you! 谢谢! merci à tous! it feels indulgent and extravagant to be having such a positive experience. when does the penny drop?

i was really afraid and nervous to go to taiwan alone. the night before my flight, i couldnt sleep, gasping for breath as my heart beat much faster than normal. the thought of navigating the two metro lines, check in, flight, bus, high speed rail and taxi that was awaiting me the following day stressed me out enormously – so many chances for things to go wrong. not in a mortal danger kind of way (i’m not that kind of worrier), more getting lost and flustered and upset in a different city kind of way. yet the following day, even after my flight arrived late and i feared i wouldnt get to the high speed rail station in time for my train, i felt eerily calm. i imagined a sensible adult’s voice in my head saying, worst case scenario, you miss your train and you have to take a later one. you buy another ticket. it’s not the end of the world.

i chose enrich as my word of the year, which is supposed to guide my approach to the year ahead.
this quote really summed up my position towards it:
“You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things.” – Nate Berkus

the thing about an enriched life is that it’s not necessarily an easy, or comfortable, way to go about living.
things i have been a complete beginner at in the last 4 months:
– speaking chinese to people who aren’t my teacher
– zumba (we do it multiple times a week with the local community down at the communal track!)
– hip hop dance (our friend runs a dance class at the center)
– ordering things in chinese restaurants
– living in a foreign country
– navigating the metro
– playing lacrosse
– teaching cockney accents to chinese schoolchildren (funny story there!)
and the list goes on!

i have been so challenged by my new experiences in china. extraordinarily so. but it has been so rewarding and has taught me so much, and i just want to keep this momentum going. i want an enriched life, not an easy one.

i’m writing this as i sit in a cafe in Tainan surrounded by the soft chatter of chinese conversations. would i have ever believed at age 13, starting Chinese for the first time, that I would end up here? i doubt it. but i’m so glad i did.

7 QT: autumn and entertainment

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1. hi honey bees, how are you going? life is great and busy with me. I found out some stellar news which has tinged my world view rose pink for the next wee while and am still enjoying christchurch and home living. my job is going great, it is challenging me and very grateful being able to get it as my first ‘proper’ job out in the world.

2. i’m still going great with my reading! i read americanah which was brilliant – i thought the main character had such a strong sense of self and her critiques of race in america (“by a non american black”) were skin crawlingly dead on. i definitely felt a few twinges when the attitudes of ‘liberal whites’ were dissected as it made me realise just how easy privilege is to take for granted. a very thought provoking analysis plus a gripping love story. the scenes of nigeria also just drew me in – a country i had never thought much about visiting. i love how books can make you so wanderlusty.

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3. we are into the 4th week of my food bag and absolutely loving it. i see so many ads for blue apron around (especially the dreaded sponsor post, shudder) and they drive me up the wall, so i feel kind of awkward saying this, but we have found my food bag absolutely perfect for our needs! we have been getting the veggie bag and it is just the perfect amount for 3 ladies. our favourites included bang bang tofu salad with sesame rice, halloumi pappardelle with lemon mint and garlic crumb, and malai kofta with spiced vegetable pilau. so, so good, and i think fairly inexpensive too! the three pictures are of honey soy tofu with wasabi mash, lentil cakes with avocado and caramelised onion, and kale salad with pumpkin, dukkah and haloumi.

4. we are in autumn now but it really feels like we have jumped straight into winter! the weather has been so so cold and i’m realising just how spoiled we were with summer – it is a big shock to the system! i am not ready for winter coats but try telling pesky metservice that.

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5. the bachelor usa – thoughts? i was rooting for jojo buuut i also think lauren b and ben are sweet together so i wasn’t overly sad, especially since jojo is going to be the bachelorette!! exciting stuff!! Plus the bachelor nz is back too! haven’t decided who i like yet but the two drama queens naz and claudia are hilarious in their scheming – my favourite part is when they throw each other under the bus at any opportunity. good old homegrown tv.

6. we went to visit some 3 week old puppies the other day and they were just so cute – enjoy the photos!!

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7. my weekend starts on friday and i’ve got a few fun things planned with friends – i can’t wait! i love not having to carve out time for study/readings on the weekend – i feel like i have so much more free time than when i was a student! well, guilt-free free time maybe…

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I plan on doing having some great sleep ins like this little pup!

talk soon! happy friday xoxox

january

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let’s talk about what i was enjoying in january! aka the month that doubles as the southern hemisphere’s blissful golden month and the northern’s devil freezing month.

I was….

cooking:

revisited my cherry clafoutis from last summer – a really helpful side effect of blogging is that recipes you’d made once (and improvised on a bit) are there ready for you when you want to make them again!
though i must emphasise not to overbake – i accidentally did and it wasn’t quite as silky this time around.

made a quick cherry compote with cherries that were getting soft –
pitted cherries + a sprinkle of sugar + a dash of vanilla + a knob of butter + a splash of brandy, simmered for 15 mins = saucy and delicious. how’s that for exact quantities ;)

avocado toast with thick slices of fancy seeded bread + LOTS of very ripe avocado + crumbled feta + salt and pepper

(are we sensing a theme here? fruit and vegetables that are verging on over-ripeness? summer, y’all)

drinking:

rosé – oh my goodness i have LOVED rosé this summer – it definitely unseated G&Ts as my drink of choice in january. a nice cold glass of it on a warm summer’s evening has been just brilliant.

watching:

the lizzie bennet diaries – oh gosh these are wonderful and i just devoured them! it’s a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and simply delightful. i watched 99 four minute episodes in 48 hours – a pretty good effort you might say! i am now eager to watch their adaptions of Emma and Little Women, and will report back.

doctor foster – tv one did a special timetable for this gripping miniseries – they aired the complete season over 5 consecutive nights which really made for fantastic viewing. reluctant to say much about the plot as being ignorant of the details is the best way to begin. just trust me that it is a thrilling drama that will leave you guessing at the end of each episode!

white collar – i got this box set out and watched the 14 episodes over 5 days – so good! i saw janssen reccommend it as her favourite tv show of all time (!) so when i saw it available i was excited to watch it. smart and funny, and i love the main two character’s rapport. 5 stars.

reading:

the luminaries – this is one of those things, like watching the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films or following the All Blacks/Black Caps that i’ve felt compelled to do to be a patriotic NZer – Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker prize for this complex novel. i was simply in awe of her clever mind and layered writing. definitely not a quick easy read but a rewarding one for sure! super gripping towards the end. i loved the self reflexive, omniscient narration.

wild by cheryl strayed – i’ve had this one on my list for a while after reading a few of her dear sugar letters on the internet. i hadn’t seen the film, and am unsure if i would want to following reading the book – just because the enjoyment for me lay in her narration of her experiences hiking the PCT, rather than the hiking of the trail itself. one thing i took from the book was that with knowing of strayed first and foremost as an empathetic, insightful advice columnist/writer, my impressions of her were of a really angelic, perfect person. in the book, she has imperfect experiences and at points acts in not very likeable ways, so it was very telling for me that her advice for troubled people stems from her own experiences – these are why she is able to write so movingly on such matters. a special reminder of the role that negative experiences have in forming our character and making us wiser people.
interestingly, in the luminaries, there is a great quote about one of the characters – “He had always been irreproachable in his conduct, and as a consequence, his capacity for empathy was small.”

the silver linings playbook by matthew quick – another book turned film starring bradley cooper and jennifer lawrence. i read his other book the good luck of right now last summer, and prefer it just a bit, but he again writes with gentle humour about characters with differing mental health states. a lovely read.

fates and furies – ummm, this had absolutely sensational prose – i would frequently go back and reread the page i’d just finished to appreciate groff’s brilliant imagery. and such a fascinating story! very deserving of its acclaim, do read it.

catlins calling

i’m in wanaka at the moment, which is definitely rates very highly in the nz pretty places list, but i wanted to backtrack to a day trip i took in the midst of exams with my very dear clara and jess.
we all had a significant break between exams which we wanted to exploit to do some adventuring, and the catlins topped our little bucket list.
a quick geographical representation of where all these towns i talk about situate themselves in nz:

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^^going anticlockwise, we have Christchurch, Timaru, Oamaru, Dunedin, the Catlins, Invercargill and Wanaka^^

the catlins, of course, are that picture the very lowest on the map, and are a drive down the east coast from dunedin.

our top picks to see were:

the purakaunui falls

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nugget point + lighthouse

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the mclean falls

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and we were more than content to allow for any other serendipitous occurrences on our way, which included a sheep traffic jam (only in NZ), a visit to a kitsch café with an alarming amount of frog figurines, a donkey sighting, teapot land (oh gosh) and two more waterfalls.

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we sure packed a lot into one day!

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