#2031 | The measure of a month

It feels like both a lifetime and barely the first axis of an inhale but the truth is it has only been a month (already been a month) since I moved to New York, where in no order of priority I have:

1. Started school

2. Created the hole of silence wherein my first two weeks reside – which I will one day have to unpick, I know

3. Went into the wine shop only one time and declared loudly (dramatically!) “I have had a long day, and i want something cheap and good.”

4. Replied to the man who tried to sway me in favor of the forty dollar bottle (then you should treat yourself, girl!) definitively, confrontationally, firmly – “I am a broke student and your country is making me hemorrhage money, show me the cheapest bottle that you would still actually drink!”

5. (Please.) Always affixing the concession after, after the act.

6. Went through eight housemates (some of whom overlap) and two houses.

7. Assassinated eleven goldfish but only in my mind’s invention.

8. Took the uber of a famous-ass youtuber and told him i disapproved of his pranks, then realised how old i sounded, had a minor crisis, shut up, all in the backseat of the uber. Stared out at the skyline in silence. Thought to myself: well, that’s that on that.

9. Turned twenty seven!!!!!!

10. Over the legendary momofuku noodles which I must admit do live up to the ~hype~, interviewed Tash which I am happy about, shot his portrait which I am also happy about. Good lighting and good conversation and good noodles! Interview is up on the Columbia Journal.

11. Bought one zillion second hand things to construct the semblance of a living space

12. Made myself responsible for four houseplants, was given another two. We will see.

13. Read eleven books and wrote none.

14. Sigh.

15. Did I procrastinate?

16. Went 48 hours without talking at one point, which is a minor miracle for me. After that I started talking to myself (not unusual).

17. Felt very attacked when in a lecture, Joshua Cohen when debating the first vs third person said: “If a character talks to themselves all the time, they’d be like, totally crazy!”

18. All of you talk to yourselves too.

19. Tried and failed to get some logistical matters in Singapore settled. Honestly the biggest pain of moving is probably the minor administrative details that slide like grains of dirt under the raw skin of relocation, only to resurface in itches; irritations under scabs, pressing upwards demanding attention, threatening inflammation.

20. Still, I chose this.

x
Jem

#2023| Some important things of late

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Lombok, Indonesia

1. Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse just dropped on Netflix, which is incredible news because it is the best movie in the entire spiderman franchise, and i will fight you on that.

2. I’m now writing for a new horror series which is going into production soon, slated to hit the screens end of this year. Sometimes life just comes at you like – Boo. (!!)

3. We wrapped for NBC’s E! Travel Diaries yesterday, which will be showing in the trans-tasman and southeast asia regions this August. Pretty psyched for this – this shoot was a dream. Great crew, amazing co-hosts, and happily, every last one of them enjoyed a glass of red at the end of a long shoot day. A dream, I say, a dream!

4. I thought I was pretty pleased with the latest iteration of one of my stories, a thai narrative set along the chao praya river, until I read lie with me by philippe besson, a masterpiece which made me ugly-cry. Back to the drawing board i go.

5. On that literary note, I was so very impressed with How We Disappeared by Jing Jing Lee this week, a totally immersive, incredibly beautiful intergenerational story about the ripple effects of trauma inflicted during the Japanese occupation. It follows the story of a comfort woman, but beyond that, explores the heartbreaking consequences that live on in one’s body and society even after escape. Absolutely destroyed me.

x
Jem

#2020 | a tale of two portos

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Porto, Portugal

Because we had taken a walking tour in Porto the city split in two. There was the Porto we had learnt about, culturally, historically, through the eyes of an enthusiastic and underpaid woman in a red polo shirt, shackled to the city by familial connections despite her advanced degree which could be traded for a better life just a little down the railway line. Then there was the Porto which was a series of beautiful encounters, enchanting meetcutes, the Porto that caught us off guard at each sharp turn with bent sunbeams and street music. Perhaps being with someone you love adds a sort of hazy filter to the world, a filter that wraps your surroundings around you, bestows upon you a half-belief that the circumstance you find yourself in was made specifically for you.

We were hand in hand in the Museu Romantico, within the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, a place seeded and tended to with the sole purpose of embodying romance, each birdsong and wildflower echoing in the faces of the bodies strewn haphazardly across the grass, in some peaceful measure of sleep or dreaming. We were wondering about the woman we had spoken to the day before, the enthusiastic and underpaid one who’d made an appearance in sentence two of this post, and how she dropped her old salary as a teacher in a conversation as if it were nothing. How as she explained the cost of living in Porto it slowly took on the shape of nothing. How in the cracks of her voice we heard a bittersweet love for the tourism that had elevated Porto, decrepit city of her childhood, to a point of interest, attraction, to the outside world, and the accompanying way it revised her critical self analysis of her home. The tourism that created a revitalisation of the city center, a city center the locals refused to set foot in because it was too run down and too seedy, that now had restaurants playing jazz and fado by the waters at one point five times the regular prices. The tourism that lifted their property prices, up up up, so that once upon a time, when her mother had told her: don’t buy that building, eighty thousand euros worth of trash, she had listened, and it created not only the most haunting missed investment opportunity of her life. It had created also the story compressed into anecdote for the same tourists who now moan slightly as she tells them the story of how she chose to rent, not buy, and that building she once passed over for eighty thousand euros which is now worth what, two million euros. Stories, anecdotes, that her tourists lap up, which on some level, she also laps up, as a tour guide.

At the start of every tour gathered under the statue of Pedro the fourth (or Pedro the first, if you’re Brazilian) she does that little speech where she reminds them that this is a free walking tour and they get paid by no-one, not the city not the company not the government, but they subsist off the tips of the tourists who decide how much their work is worth. So the stories she tells are not just stories of her life, they are also the stories that get reinvested in her tour track, that contribute directly to the enjoyability of her tour, of her repertoire, and ultimately of her take-home. There is no villain here, only the cyclical movement of life and economics. There is no villain, only players – the people who come, the people who go, the people who cannot. The tourists, of course, another key figure in the game, the ones that we are not unaware we are part of. Hand in hand in the Museu Romantico this is what we are talking about, for a while.

While we converse other things roll in my mind. I cannot stop thinking about the girl who had the piercing on the left upper corner of her lip. Who told someone else in the group that she had come to Portugal spontaneously because the city she had been travelling to was too expensive so she had to find somewhere cheap. Who said this kind of loudly, within earshot of the guide, who’s smile never slipped, within earshot of the Brazillions in the group, whose economy is also in a pickle, within earshot of an Irish man, who later shook the guide’s hand very passionately, saying he understood exactly what she meant, being priced out of a market you grew up in. The girl who for two hours and fifteen minutes was really super loud, but whose voice evaporated in the last twenty minutes. Did you see where she went I asked the boyfriend, did she stay till the end. But he doesn’t remember and honestly, I cannot say for certain either.

I cannot stop thinking about one more thing. The bright and hard way the guide’s eyes doesnt leave ours as she takes our tip in her palm, never looking down at it, slipping it immediately into her jean pocket. I watch her later as she greets everyone else who gathers around her to thank her for the tour, pressing crinkly notes of various colours and denominations into her hand. Her eyes never dip past a person’s nose.

Porto for us was split in two. New sense of life past the visitor-friendly veneer will do that to a city, close two or three fingers around a tourist’s heart. Still, as we think about this, we cannot help but marvel at the view. How beautiful the city is. How mesmerising. How very, very charming.

x
Jem

#2017 | from a guesthouse in portugal

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Olá from a guesthouse in Portugal, where I am currently sitting with my free coffee and tea, content with my discovery that the Portuguese do in fact make excellent (and strong) coffee, watching the other guests do various backpacker-y things like eat the complimentary cornflakes or charge their phones. One girl seems to be revising for a language exam: interesting. Also interesting: I had forgotten how glad I used to be for free laundry options in hostels – and accordingly, have revisited that feeling with great affection.

I am in Portugal for a wedding, which happened three days ago, a beautiful affair that was the cumulation of a student romance I was brief witness to in Stuttgart, Germany, 5 years ago. How time flies. After the wedding Shane and I have continued to traipse across Portugal since we are already in this part of the world, a strangely nostalgic remake of our time traversing the cobblestones of Europe as broke students all those years ago, dragging suitcases, drinking cheap wine, getting fat on fresh seafood. The difference is we are older now and our bags heavier, and we are more afraid of the unknown, I suppose. Or perhaps it is just me who is afraid. Not a crippling sort of fear, but a more adult awareness of the ways things can and may go wrong, a tenseness in my lower back that now never really goes away (correlation? to a newfound love for massages back home), and a kind of ache for the more gung-ho innocence of youth. Is this something that happens automatically as you grow older, I wonder? Or is this new wariness a by-product of the specific way the world has changed in recent years, and the lightning rod speed at which international conflict is wrapped up and delivered to us in our own remote corners of the world?

Who knows. The fact is that people have been so good to us on this trip – reuniting with old friends has been excellent, as always, making new friends who surprise us at every turn with how generous and kind they can be, also, the open helpfulness of people we meet in hostels, guesthouses, shops, and etcetera. So there is no concrete rationale for worry and also I am understating how incredible and beautiful the country has been thus far. Each interaction I have unknots a little of the fear in my belly and reminds me that I cannot allow a vague worry originating from increasingly hysterical international news to box myself into a smaller world. We cannot change the overarching sentiment of the world but perhaps in our own local ways we can weave a friendlier one, unseen and unmappable, but blended into the experience of each destination through our touch and speech and breath. Maybe part of travel is allowing that unseen world to move us too.

x
Jem

#2015 | under the weather again

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As I’ve been relegated to the couch, here’s my unhappy bedfellow

No romanticism about it, I’m just sick again, and it sucks. I saw two doctors this time and they are divided on what it means, but agreed on the point of it being non-contagious, meaning technically I can (and will) continue working. The bottom line is, I’m either the victim of a random viral attack, or have developed a tragic late-life allergy to shellfish. Please, Lord, no.

The worst part is, sick me is delirious me, aka totally hallucinatory me. The medicines have hit me hard, and I’ve been living life in a blurry haze the past week. I keep dreaming up plans that I’ve made, or texting people based on conversations I thought we’d had… it’s embarrassing. It’s funny, when I first read My year of rest and relaxation by ottessa moshfegh i didn’t like it at all, but I suddenly find her character’s Ambien induced wooziness extremely relatable, if not desirable. The difference for me, is that life, by both necessity and circumstance, must go on.

x
Jem