February 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
There have been so many life developments, both good and bad, over the past few weeks that I can’t even begin to catch you up on everything …but I don’t want this blog to fall by the waist-side either, so forgive me if I whizz-through this storyline…
Somehow… between an amazing trip to Latvia with one of my russian girlfriends ….a great trip to Amsterdam to FINALLY see some family …..my parents’ visit to Gent ….my uber – i can’t even begin to describe to you level of – disappointment I felt after failing one of my tests ….and the crazy roller-coaster of long-forgotten emotions (that tend to come along with dear aunt flow – who has now, thank god, visited me twice after her 15 month hiatus) ….I have found myself a recipient of a flower delivery – a lovely orchid ….and shortly after the… what’s the word, unbearable…? sentence of quasi established relations …the future of which is… unclear, at best. ….and the oh-so terrifying title of being someones … er, girlfriend.
Don’t get me wrong either, as I am not completely not thrilled, but I must admit I feel utterly unprepared for it. Which, of course simply means there’ll be a ton to write about… stay tuned!
Like why on earth am I freaking out? Do I even want it? Do I not want it? Seriously, what is my deal.
My head, as if I don’t already let it dictate 99.9% of all my decisions… tells me it’s not a good idea. Not really a good time for it. And probably not even the right person… and certainly not in the right country!
But that other thing they call the heart…, is more confused than ever … and that incessant tic-tocking of my biological clock says… you’re a bit too old to be waiting for something, aren’t you?
… and that constant need of mine to explore, is just happy to have a travel buddy.
Honestly though, there’s a part of me that’s just kind of tired of holding myself back… so I’m egging myself on to get a few toes wet… and maybe just plunge in… or not.
Still, I look back at at his predecessors, both those that were and weren’t… and wonder.
…what to glean from our histories… what to change going forward ...and where did it all go wrong.
December 4, 2010 § 1 Comment
I haven’t written in a few days a) due to a lack of time and b) in an attempt to spare you from some of my darker days. The last few days in particular it seems have gotten rather lonely… not lonely even in a people sense, as most of the time I’m always with and around others. But, lonely in more of a home/motivation or purpose sense… as studying is all we do, love of life or even reminders of its existence are few and far between. Many a-nights I find myself thinking it’s barely 5pm, only to walk outside our lab and realize it’s way past midnight – dark, cold and slippery to boot. All of which of course could be seen as marvelous… except on days, when I’m in the midst of catching yet another cold, don’t have time or money to shop for warmer clothes and studying is all I do. really ALL i do.
I have never studied this much in my life. Oxi and I were sitting in a cafe the other day (a lousy attempt at a change of scenery while studying) and joking about how we would have never in our wildest dreams pictured ourselves sitting in a cafe in Belgium deciphering 20 pages of CRM SAS code – the conclusion was unanimous, whatever happens from here on out, we will not be caught dead doing this for a living 🙂
But all this sense of missing something, along with that awesome Kings of Convenience song ‘Homesick’, has made me think about what it is that I’m even missing… nothing in particular it seems, just bits and pieces of something inexplicable. Perhaps something I keep hoping to find, somewhere else…
Well, it won’t be for much longer that I will allow myself to search and then I will settle down, making a real home for myself – more than a duffel bag can fit, with more than even a drawer ….and a place for everything that I own… I will own things! you’ll see… a lovely front door and a fuzzy welcome mat. This home will come with a zip code and will precisely mark a place on a map. It will have no intention of going anywhere and will exists in my new reality for many years to come. It might even have a dog or a cat or both – now that’s a home! and there might even be someone in my bed. But tonight, instead of drowning on about daily struggles with below freezing temperatures and lame teachers, lets reminisce about my many homes a.k.a places where I’ve had a drawer.
My first home. I had a pale pink closet with stickers on it, a room I shared with my sister and the entrance door 12 stories down was painted bright blue. Our windows overlooked a Hospital and big park and our dog Laddie could often be found snoozing in the hallway between our apartments. We had a piano in the entrance and red rectangular stools in the kitchen. Mom was always cooking something, out of nothing it would seem as there was never any food. But even for the worst of days, we had a bag full of croutons in the cupboard and jars of pickled goodness in the bathroom. This was a real home.
My first move. We moved from the outskirts of the city, right into the center, three buildings away from St. Isaac’s Cathedral. and I lived for a little over year in an apartment that was being remodeled. At the time, the move spelled adventure. The smell of the old apartment, the chaos of broken walls and lifted floors, discovered old-world moldings and pre-war safes in the wall. Each corner it seemed told a story of the past. It fascinated me to think about who lived there before us… I have distinct memories of roaming those hollow halls, skipping from beam to beam on the way to the kitchen, passing the ice cold tub that was disorientingly placed at the end of the hallway … i remember, the past lingered there like a ghost. Its musky smell, its thin walls, its presumed conversations… always a reminder of our sudden displacement. Our intrusion into someone else’s world, and the most definite collapse of our own. It was my first non-home.
My first futon. The next place I laid my head, was a sanctuary. I spent 10 months living on Novelier Street in El Cerrito, and discovered what it means to have family. I probably never took the opportunity to properly thank my aunt and uncle for allowing me to become a part of their family back then – and this won’t really do either. Maybe one of these days I’ll write a proper thank you. But for now, lets just say it was a tough move, made only bearable by the love and support I felt in their home. This also happens to be the first time I had the privilege of waking up to Barney and Baby Bop every morning – being bounced on by a few rowdy early-risers, learned all the words to the Sounds of Music and Jesus Christ Super Star soundtrack and fell in love with Zach from Saved By The Bell.
My first pit stop. After my parents arrived a year later, we lived in SF for a few months. This was not all that significant, except for some lengthy school commutes and some great car adventures with Z that would otherwise have never taken place. But somehow, with parents in tow, this felt a little like seedlings of home.
My first room. Sometimes in my quest to find a place that’s home, I think back to Hearst in Berkeley and wonder if maybe that’s it. Us sitting at our tiny dining room table, with the waddleyouhave duck hanging in the background. Garage sale furniture sloppily scattred throughout, a crooked bookase, our first computer – blue screen Dos code twinkling above Z’s shoulder, my second futon, big kangaroo in the corner of my room, the Datsun parked outside… It was as close to home as we could get, yet we were merely living there, day to day, week to week, waiting for something, it would seem…For another move I suppose.
My first roommate. Then I began to cycle through my roommate/dorm hopping phase which lasted another 5 years or so. First there was AL in West, then KK in North, then LT and JJ and KG in East. KT in Irvine and our Gay housemate in Costa Mesa. J&I all over the place and in our tiny slice of paradise with our three cats and our red walls, finally another home.
What I learned in that time is the importance of a duffle bag – basically a home on wheels that ensures that you’ve got all that you need, as long as you’re with the right people (and when you’re not, you’ve got only a duffel bag and you feel it… ). And so, I duffle bagged through life for 5 + years, skillfully mastering the art of packing in a rush and locating separated socks stuck to the bottom of the bag, in the dark, no less and ….growing embarrassingly comfortable with wrinkles.
After, my duffel bag phase, I moved 5 more times – the 6th bringing me here to Belgium.
And now, I am finally in a place that’s the closets and yet farthest away from what a home should be. I own nothing. I’ve bought everything, again. It’s only mine – it’s only mine. I feel grounded yet free at the same time. I feel lonely yet loved, happy yet sad… and all the while I wonder if I will remember it as home, or just another duffel bag.
November 13, 2010 § 1 Comment
omg. I’m back… talk about a hiatus. That was the longest that I had gone without writing since I got to Ghent. Won’t happen again.
First of all I have to say thank you to everyone for being so amazingly thoughtful… the messages, the emails, the everything… were just what I needed to put life in perspective. …although I must admit, I was starting to lose my bearings there for a bit… No worries though – with a little help from you, my new friends, a few nights of a heavy drinking – not to mention, a spontaneous sprint across the borders for a bit of Parisian soul searching in the form of fuck-me-boots, just the boots so far, and I’m back on track.
But in order to tell you how I got here, I suppose I should start from the very beginning… that is, the day I wrote my last post. It was the day of our SQL exam, and lets just say a lot of people, not excluding myself, were in a bit of a shock. So much so, that we couldn’t bare the thought of studying for anything else… let alone our SAS exam which was swiftly approaching. So, instead we took our dazed minds out for a drink.
As I was walking over to our agreed upon meeting place, in the rain, in the dark… after having failed and then proceeded to not study all day for the next thing. I thought to myself, what on EARTH am I doing… I don’t even like drinking. And how relived I was to hear my friend say the same thing… only she says it more hilariously, in Russian, always pushing my vocabulary to its limits – “Kat’, Shto za chush – kuda yedish?’ she says. Seriously, shto za chush.
But, as anyone could have predicted, a few beers in (Roomer to be exact – a special Ghent drink made out of flowers that float magically at the bottom of the glass) and a few hours later… a much needed break and new, albeit temporary, leash on life.
The next few days after that were spent locked up in our computer lab trying to absorb as much SAS nonsense as possible. By Monday, a day before the test, I was on the verge of getting sick and knew that pushing myself even a bit more would only lead me to having to take the test lying down, brain off. So I spent the entire day and night sleeping, in hope of awakening with at least the slightest ability to concentrate and even half the information absorbed – i did lose 12 hours of studying time though, so that sucks. By Tuesday morning, I seemed to have slept it off and came to the test at least with my brain in tact. Four hours later, we handed in our exams and sighed deeply as we passed one another in the halls. No words required. Well, actually it went better than SQL… but that’s like saying death by hanging is preferable to the electric chair.
That day was also Amador’s birthday, so we all went out to celebrate and shake off the stooper. I didn’t get home until after 4, but managed to get myself up for class at 9.
Then we went out for chinese food and as I was sitting there thinking about what to do over the weekend… the first chunk of time I can remember having where there doesn’t seem to be an urgency to study… yes there’s a test in less than 2 weeks and hundreds of pages of reading… but no reason I thought, I couldn’t be doing this reading on a train, …or in coffee shop in Paris, eating a croissant perhaps … or tart?.. or french salad…? ( no worries, I had all three! 🙂
That night I had company at my place for the first time… tea and waffles, to be precise, so I didn’t get to sleep until very very late (or early depending on how you look at it), on top of which i woke up and realized… ah, I AM getting sick … but I wasn’t about to waste this precious weekend, being sick at home. Heck no. I packed nothing… just my backpack and a book, and headed to Paris on a one way ticket. Indefinitely.
Of course, I knew I was coming back.. i just didn’t know if waking up to a croissant would do it, or if I would want to stick around for a french dinner, or another morning – a walk to the eiffel tower perhaps, or a french haircut? Maybe a tattoo… I was keeping my options open. I needed this trip to cure everything and I just wasn’t sure what it would take… only that I needed to feel alive again, with a purpose… moving… thinking… feeling.
How long did it take you ask? It took 3 days and two nights… after-which I arrived back at St. Pieter’s station in Gent (after a few train mishaps) welcomed by none other than hundreds and hundreds of rowdy drunk college students standing in line for the city organized I<3TECHNO Tram 21 (I guess I won’t be taking that one home…) and dozens and dozens of police officers and their dogs guarding this howling mayhem… the slight but constant drizzle of Belgian rain, my feet tired from three days of non-stop trekking, the air warm but dark… buses re-scheduled again (where is the one I need??? i’m tired.), drunk drivers everywhere, there isn’t a weekend where this doesn’t happen – almost got knocked over within 5 minutes of getting back… when I finally made it onto a bus, safe and sound, I peeked outside the window and there it was… Saturday night, in my precious Ghent. I just wanted to give it a big big hug. I am home.
Oh, and I needed boots and an Umbrella. Having not ventured out of my apartment for a few weeks now, and never at night – it all of a sudden dawned on me on my way to our Chinese dinner that it’s almost friggin winter!!… like BRRR cold… and like… holy cow, wet and slippery. And how these Belgians and Russians love to make fun of Miss California girl who only owns sandals. So at least, I left for Paris with a mission… go to Paris, clear my head, buy boots – come back when you know what you’re coming back for.
I will probably write more about this later, as surly it will be on my mind for many days to come. But here’s a quick few things of what I learned in Paris.
Standing in front of the Eiffel is a good reminder of this…
The best lesson you can learn in life – one that came to me much too late, but which I welcomed open-arms on this trip – is that there’s only one thing, and one thing only, that you can be 100% sure of in this life – you – exist – ALWAYS. …regardless of where or how or what you’re doing. YOU, are the constant.
I know that seems like a silly thing to even mention, especially since most people mention this as a negative – as in, you can’t get away from yourself. But the truth is, it’s the best and most positive thing there is about our lives – the one thing that takes fear out of anything and defuses all pressure of any what-ifs. What if… you say? The answer is simple… you’re still there.
A lot of the time, when fear holds us back… from opportunities, from whatever… we find ourselves fearful of change, of not being able to ‘do it’ of having a hard time imagining our lives without something… or imaging our lives with something, or somewhere… like Paris … and then it happens, and we realize that in fact nothing is that big of a change… we are in both scenarios. we are the one constant – the one thing that doesn’t change – the one thing we can rely on and the one thing we won’t get away from. And what does this mean? It means, you need find yourself – understand yourself, love yourself and realize, in all seriousness, there is no life without you – so get that right, and everything else will follow… So whether you’re in Paris, or Belgium, or San Francisco, or Pakistan or someday- Africa. You, are still you – albeit with a two pairs of amazing Parisian fuck me boots and a parapluie from an ACTUAL umbrella store and a french hat… but of course.
And, what did this mean for me? It made me realize I don’t need to go all that far, to find something that’s actually inside me. Next time I go anywhere, it will be to find someone or something else. But I dearly thank Paris, for reminding me that what I love about traveling should never be confused with what I love about getting away. More on this another time.
Also – French men in black trench coats are scrumptiously dangerous and a VERY good reason not to live Paris. Serioulsly, it maybe confusing here to know where you need to speak which language… ( i spent the first few hours in Paris, kicking myself for speaking Dutch, then finally switching to Bounjours and Mercis … then back to Dutch, only to realize I was still in Wallonia.. f7ck, I mean Merci – Dank u… shit. Whatever, I’m American, it’s true.. HI.) But, French/Belgian border can be defined much more simply if you just look at the men.. just a quick glance and you’ll know what country you’re in. And if you’re me and staring a frechman in a black p-coat, no words come anyway… so no worries about the language barrier.
Ok, so mabye they’re not all so scrumptious… at least not the few I had the pleasure of being chatted up by – I am not that lucky. But this morning, I watched the most entertaining pick-up I’d ever seen in my entire life… here’s how it went down. I noticed the woman first… she was walking in front of me… her jacket bright blue, her sweater peeking from underneath it’s rim… yes, I was studying it closely as there was something about the way she walked that captured my attention. I didn’t see her face – her hood was on – only because I was watching her did I realize what was about to happen. An absoltely gorgeous young guy starts walking along side her – tilted towards her – and extends his hand… he is smiley, cheerful and charming… he asks her if she knows french and keeps up the pace… something about the weather and possibly where she’s going… I was right behind them and waiting for her to give him the boot – certainly I would have.
Of course, he was cute, but I wouldn’t have wanted him until I’d seen him from this angle… she wanted him. She took off her hood – she’s asian – and they walked giggling for about a minute, then he took her hand in his and clutched it warmly. Surly, I thought, she will tell him to go to hell now. But instead, she played along. If i didn’t know better, I would have thought they surly knew eachother…. they walked, hand in hand, rubbing shoulders… smiling… fast-paced – oh how I wanted to know how this story ends. But then they turned down a strange alley, and I thought maybe I don’t… But here’s the funny part. If it had happened to me, I surly would have been uninterested… I point blank declined an invitation just a day before that, and the one before that as well… But watching this girl enjoy his company (ok.. and also lets be honest, he was HAWT… but I really don’t know if that would have made a difference for me)… and not shooting him down off the bat, gave me something to think about… something to strive for, perhaps… assuming of course she wasn’t an asian hooker (shame on me!) I think it maybe time I soften around the edges a bit. Yes, Paris taught me that.
Paris taught me a lot more, but I think it’s time for bed… I will say this though, I really really loved it… it is everything that everyone says it is… beautiful, grand, so french… just gorgeous on every level … and damn, those men in black p-coats. Oy.
But who would have thought that I missed school and studying and my precious Ghent… dorky Belgian boys and all.
September 12, 2010 § Leave a comment
Traveling on vacation is a lot different than learning to live abroad. When you’re just traveling, it’s like playing house – you get to stand back and watch the world go by, judge it, laugh at it, be joyous with it – but all the while, it is so fleeting there is little real about it. And in essence you’re just passing by…
I’ve been in Belgium for 18 days now and it’s just starting to feel like I’m suppose to learn to live here. It’s kind of amazing… i love it and question it and ponder it (is this really happening? will this ever really be home?… then love it some more, it’s strange, I really haven’t found the line yet. If i’m here to live, then it should be ok to stay home and accomplish things that I’m here to do… study a bit, read, take it easy, whatever… But, if I were here on vacation, I would be crazy right now not to be OUT… taking it ALL in… anyway, that’s the internal dialogue I’ve been having with myself.
However, that’s not to say it hasn’t been amazing. Every day has brought so much new-ness with it, that by the time I get home I can barely recall all the things that I swore I would write about. Each day is like a year long… By dusk I feel different, more Belgian, more Foreign, more at home, more in search of home… all of it.
Let’s take yesterday for example: I awoke to a phone call (already odd, I’ve had my new cell phone for about a week, but this was the second time it had ever rang…) Bells for a ringtone, it turns out.
On the other line, Mrs. Kringwinkel herself apologizing for the delivery error with my bed and asking if I would be able to come down to the store to pick out a springboard that would fit my frame – of course, I say – delighted with the prospect of a mission. I decided to take my bike down a) for cobblestone/crazy street riding practice b) in case there was a chance I could use it for the springboard (instead of having to wait for another delivery on Monday).
To make a long story short, I ended up trading my US passport for a temporary release of one of their moving carts and with it, trekking all the way back to Hubert Frere-Orbanlaan (just think FAR). I say, you really have not lived until you’ve conquered a new city with the flare and audacity that comes about as you push a massive squeaky, steel four-wheeler avec a springboard through cobbled street alleys and canals. I kept my California smile shining bright (all the while pondering whether it’s a sign of stupidity as it’s considered in Russia) and juggled between ‘pardon’ and ‘soree’ as I tunneled through person after person. Finally I came across a British retiree from Delve who just about made my day… we chatted for a bit, shook hands and off i went, smile – bigger yet, less cautious and more joyously clumsy than before.
I was worried most that it was the wrong size – but it wasn’t.. it fit perfectly. Now, onto the trek back… sans springboard, a bit more hurried and less joyful – lets get this thing off my hands already. A few less ‘Pardons’ later and I had my passport back, hopped on my bike and on with the day i went… (oh, and the lady said that she never forgets a friendly person (which is why I didn’t have to pay for the springboard) – I guess maybe smiling’s not all that bad.
Honestly, after that there were like 6 more hours of wonderful adventures, but I can’t even recall exactly what they were. At some point I was in the crypt of a church, where suddenly I found myself in the throws of a religious experience – tears streaming down my face but my heart full of ‘high’ and hope (I suppose it’s hard not to when you just feel like there’s meaning in everything)… then, there was an art exhibit with the most amazing depiction of life in a monastery – I bought a CD of the monks in prayer, just to remember it. At some point there was a market and shopping, more biking around, a random Tram I took to see where it goes… it took me to the most amazing Bio store I’ve ever been in (that’s Organic in Dutch!) where I bought heavily scoured for Almond Butter and Whole Oats, which WOW – made for an amazing breakfast today. Then I saw a cemetery which just about made my day that I will most certainly have to come back to another time… and in the evening I poured myself a chilled beer and watched Chocolate. Seriously – get out of here.
Today, I roamed around the Gravensteen Castle, which don’t even get me started on – except that it was free, because it’s free for citizens and I got to show my domicile documents and in that moment, for a moment – I was not a tourist and this was MY city.
September 5, 2010 § Leave a comment
temporarily living on someone elses turf, vicariously experiencing someone elses culture, values, beliefs – slowly assimilating into their frame of mind. what an incredible journey it is, how well I remember it from before, how much of my life has been lived this very way, and oh, how much more prepared I feel for it now – like reading a good book or being immersed in a captivating movie, the world is a much brighter world when for a second it stops spinning like mad and you hear and see and smell everything as if for the very first time.
September 5, 2010 § Leave a comment
I am just starting a new tiny chapter in my life – I’ve recently moved to Gent, Belgium for a Grad Program and am hoping to start writing a bit more often in my blog while I’m here. I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person that’s able to keep a journal and take the time in life to reflect on things through writing, but time and time and again. I don’t quite do it… Maybe this time, I will. I will really really try. Today was day 10 in Gent, and was spent rather lazily gazingout my window, sipping on tea and nibbling on whole grain bread and honey – a pretty perfect day. Tomorrow though, surly promises to be more productive…
OMG OMG OMG, I just saw the craziest thing out my window… a young couple fighting… the girl screaming at her boyfriend, pushing him over and over again, until he snaps, and grabs her by her neck, yells in her ear and violently lets go… they both walk in separate directions – yesterday i saw a couple kissing in the park – how did I get this lucky, best people watching spot ever! ❤ my new apartment!