#2107| pachinko: airport stories

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Over the past few years I have taken so many flights alone that the airport has started to take on a strange significance to me as a breeding ground for the inexplicable. A limbo of reason, if you will. Logically I know the probability of this being true is low, but still it seems to be my truth that stories happen to me in airports, places of transit.

Leaving Okinawa I nearly lost my temper at a tiny man who smiled at me while telling me he could not help me. It is a story I don’t want to elaborate on, it is boring and dull as stories of petty authority often are. I knocked out on the hour long flight to Taipei, so consumed by my annoyance that it had exhausted me completely. It occurred to me that I had a vast amount of work to be done once I touched down in singapore, the reality of which I had unwittingly escaped for the past seven days of shoot in OKA thanks to my shitty internet connection. It gave me a bit of a migraine. Also, my iPhone was acting up – it had been ever since the announcement of the iX earlier in the week, and this ever strengthened my resolve to jump ship to android. Shaking my metaphorical fist at the international money men, as it were. Whatever. I know one is the same as the other but it felt necessary. Anyway. This meant that I was struggling throughout my two hour transit in Taipei, trying to fix my phone, trying to set up and liaise meetings for homeground. I settled early at my gate, trying to fix my phone despite being totally unqualified to do so.

A girl’s voice chimed: Jemma. I looked up to a totally unfamiliar face and prepared myself to attempt to recognize this girl I had never seen before in my life, cursing my hopeless facial recognition skills. But it was unnecessary. The girl continued: I follow your Instagram. I can see your – she gestured vaguely at my skirt – underwear. Then she looked away and stopped talking to me.

My skirt had ridden up without me noticing it. I rearranged myself and nodded my thanks to her but she’d looked away already. Later on, I boarded the flight and spent three hours devouring 531 pages of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, which I had bought in another airport’s bookstore because it had a gorgeous cover and also because on that gorgeous cover Junot Diaz had testified that the book was ‘luminous and powerful’. It was both these things. I thought to myself, one day perhaps I will be friends with Junot Diaz and tell him I bought a book because his recommendation was on the cover. I truly believed this for a moment.

It was doubly annoying to me, then, that through these few hours of what seemed to me as great personal growth (all reading blocks seem to me that way, the entrance and exit into another world), the handsome German boy sitting next to me had taken off his shoes to reveal hideous pepsi cola socks, and was intermittently scratching his balls. I had seen the trio of German boys earlier in the Taipei airport while transiting, and had noticed them because they were ridiculously good looking. I identified them as German because I heard them speaking in the familiar inflection reminiscent of my seven months of student life there, and has felt a strange compulsion to walk up to them and make conversation and prove that I could speak mediocre German. Kommst du aus Deutschland? I used to do this, after my student exchange there – randomly strike up conversation with Germans I ran into despite my incredibly bad grasp of the language. I must have been so insufferable. I feel like I had possibly been the reverse figure of that white person who goes Ni Hao to every vaguely Asian looking person. Anyway, I no longer do this because I don’t know why, but I’m thankful that I don’t, because in retrospect it seems like a stupid thing to have done. Back to the point – I had noticed the trio earlier and thought they were handsome, and thought the same thing again when they sat down next to me in the airplane, and then I felt so annoyed when they took off their shoes and started scratching themselves in strange places that it took me a moment to process my irritation. Perhaps it was the fact that Pachinko was a book about the quiet grace of Koreans living in Japan, a literary cubby that I had been so immersed in, that to see these Germans behave like the airplane was their home assumed a certain entitled confidence that chaffed at the conservativeness I had momentarily adopted from the book. Perhaps it was also that no German I had encountered in my seven months living in Stuttgart would have behaved like this, leading me to question the authenticity of my life there, my life here, these people beside me in the plane. Perhaps it was as simple as the fact that I could not reconcile their good looks with their behavior. Why would you scratch your balls while sitting in an aisle seat? Anyone can see you. There was no attempt to at least hide under a blanket or something. I had to blink my irritation away, and I felt old, and stuffy.

I didn’t see the girl from the Taipei airport again although I knew she must have boarded the same flight. As I disembarked, I wondered why I hadnt told the boy to please stop scratching himself next to me. I wondered how I lacked the courage to make that simple statement when a total stranger could tell someone she followed on Instagram that her underwear was showing. I thought to myself, wow, that girl, with something like admiration. I lacked the information to feel anything past that. And then I collected my bags and was back in my home ground and life stopped being a story and started being real again, and I thought I had better write this all down before I forget, and so I did.

X
Jem

#2106 | Amenable

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This is what I consider press-conference garb, obviously. Here you see me sleep deprived and in between interview sessions at the Dr Wu press conference last month, a mad 48 hours in Taipei, running across the street for – you got it – the strongest iced americano the place has. My hair is no longer that color of purple-rose thanks to my recent diving expeditions, but when I saw this picture in my phone’s photo album I felt this pang of missing something artificial and man-made but something that you’ll still love to bits anyway. I’m currently in Okinawa filming a travel series for Jetstar and Okinawa Convention, blonde, because I’m sure i’ll dive here too, but I’m thinking about going back to that hair color when I get back. Yes, thats exactly what I’m thinking of – my hair. This is really the extent of my consideration and concerns at this point in my life because the girly frivolity is precisely what I need to balance out things in my head. Not that life has been super mega heavy for me of late, but for some reason I’ve felt incredibly low on energy and I suspect I went through a minor burn out somewhere in the last one month without me noticing. As a result yesterday I did something I havent done in years – I went shopping. I got into a cab during my half-day alone in bangkok, went to the nearest mall, bought like five things, and then I went to get a matcha latte from some specialty matcha store, and I recognised the cliche mimic of my actions, and I liked it. I remember thinking to myself at one point: I work hard. I deserve this. and I remember the reflexive guilt that came with it. I dont know why we are all conditioned to be so hard on ourselves. Perhaps this is the strange limbo between graduation and assured adulthood that I am experiencing, this unmooring, this coming undone. Perhaps not. Either way, it will pass, and so will your phases of doubt. Chin up.

x
Jem

#2105 | Sediments

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Omg the exhaustion is real.

I’m reading Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko now and I miss reading, damn it. I’m so tired nowadays my eyes dont focus properly on the words and I just give up and take a nap instead. I want to watch TV all the time now because my brain has obviously rotted, but I dont, because my eyes are tired and dont want to work too, which is what watching TV would feel like. Anyway i have been spending time working and stuff. I’m whining, forgive me. It’s bedtime.

x
Jem

#2104 | August in Panic and Wonder

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We are so quickly here in September I cannot believe it. It seems only yesterday I claimed to be offended that July flew by so fast. But it did, and so did August, and now here we are.

August in particular was a pretty insane month for me. I did three huge things in August which I will elaborate more on when I have the time/headspace to do so – I 1. submitted by Masters thesis, a monster two years in the making, 2. took my Advanced Open Water diving certification and 3. launched the film + campaign that I conceptualised, wrote, and produced for Laneige Singapore, which you can watch here. That one was a year in the conceptualisation and refinement, which probably would have been shorter if I hadn’t been trying to write my master’s thesis at the same time. And also because of the nature of the project it was very secretive which meant I couldnt talk about it at all, and so whenever I looked like I was about to die of stress people nodded sympathetically and were like, it must be really hard doing your masters. Which i mean, it is, but that’s besides the point.

Anyway, those are all things that I am pretty proud of, so I’ll definitely want to properly document them here when I have the time, if only so I have something to look back on and remember the intensity of emotion and ardour that went into the three separate things. And then also in August, I had a couchsurfer Shane and I crashed with in Salzburg come visit, so we did a really touristy weekend, I emceed Melissa’s wedding lunch and dinner over two days, so I did a weddingy weekend, and then I also fit a 40 hour press trip in there to Taipei and a shoot for the National Heart Foundation and gave a talk to my church’s youth group, so I did a lot of things lah is the point. Actually now looking back I think it was no wonder I spent most of my August in a kind of red alert high panic mode daze, walking around in horror and jumping at every little thing. On hindsight of course I’ll say it was all amazing, and I do think it was. But that’s essentially what August was for me – a solid mix of panic and wonder.

Now that it’s over, and my three biggest projects are more or less wrapped up (still handling PR for the Laneige film but the bulk of that is also done), I feel like it’s time for me to really get back into the grind of life and get my shit together. The last two years of my life have been more or less on standby while I was working on my masters, and now I’m finally able to get back on track with everything else and establish a semblance of routine and so i am EXCITED for that. HURRAY, i say. Time to make some plans.

x
Jem

#2103 | An airplane is a stateless place

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In the air, the best and worst of people surface. Shoes come off and toes are splayed. 32,000 feet above sea level, people don’t believe that they are bound to the authority of any land, and it shows. Does the person in front of me and really believe I cannot see him pick his nose and wipe it on the plush of the airplane seat, I don’t know. I turn to the window, wanting to nap, but someone’s toes are propped up, wedged between the tall edge of my seat and the airplane wall. In the air, I am almost a person who can poke at these oblivious toes with a pen, nudge them hard off the seat so they go back to their rightful place on the floor and not beside my face. But I don’t. I pull a book out of my bag and read instead.

The first meal is served as we’re passing over Puerto Princesa. There is always a queue for the restroom after the meals are served. Meals on board are curious – you see people tell themselves carbs don’t count while in the air while they scarfe down mediocre pasta, you see people drink too much because it’s free. And then there’s the queue for the restroom. People standing around in close proximity pretending the other doesn’t exist, which is fine, I guess, and then I see a kid trying to pry open the door to the crew quarters. I think: people behave so badly in the air. But maybe kids dont have a sense of personal boundaries even when they’re grounded.

I end up sleeping after all. I am woken by a bumpy landing and find myself in Taipei. For a moment we are both in a new state and not, half bound still by the communal bubble of stale airplane air. The seat belt sign is still on and the plane is still moving when a man stands and starts pulling his bag out of the overhead compartment. Immediately the stewardesses erupt into a chorus of Kindly sit down sir Please sit down Kindly but they are still belted to their crew landing positions and don’t (can’t?) get up. The man, incredibly, acts like he cannot hear them. The hint of a pause doesn’t even register in his movements, he continues yanking things from above, duty free shopping bags and the like. The refrain from the stewardesses continue. He stays vertical. Kindly sit down please be seated kindly kindly kindly. We all stare. Then the plane grinds to a halt and although the seat belt signs are still lit, more people get up. Kindly sit down please please. You have to give it to the stewardesses for persevering in the face of such humiliation. They keep on going until the seat belt sign clicks off and then they have to get up and help. You really have to give it to them. For smiling and nodding at each passenger as we disembark, despite their in flight authority being completely and publically dismissed. I absentmindedly nod goodbye to the one closest to me. Thank you see you again thank you for flying with us.

Later on I see the same man who started it all stride out of immigration, brimming, and kiss his wife hello in the arrival hall. It’s the kiss of confidence and for a hot minute you can kind of see how he’d have charmed her back in the day. In that moment I feel communal in this charm. I walk past them and think to myself how an airplane is a stateless place.

x
Jem