and then there was light

Tomer's Lighthouse

Image by Tomer Tysowsky

Reading Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm germinated in me an unhealthy desire to watch a mega-storm; probably not on the water, but close enough to feel the tininess that is being human.

Over the last summer I ventured attempted to visit all of the lighthouses along the North Carolina coast, in severely illogical order:

light houses.pdf

Original image from Lantern Press, Lighthouse and Town Map, Outer Banks

I also went to the Wright Brothers Memorial near Manteo, and was struck anew by the willpower of mechanics and tinkerers who are hell-bent on figuring out that they had set out to figure out. Especially when your co-conspirator is your equally tinkering, equally dedicated, equally bachelor brother. And with the collective power of their frontal lobes, tiny humans strained toward a dream and took to the sky.

Naturally, the one lighthouse I chose to climb is the tallest: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse at 210 feet, depending on your sources. There are pages of all sorts of terrible things that might happen, for which the government is not responsible in case they should befall you. An AED was located halfway in the tower; and the question remains, who shall deliver said device in its need?

I was fascinated by the Fresnel glasses, which in their own right, have grades much like diamonds. Apparently the lenses were also irresistible to thieves, although if I had my choice, acquisition of any loot should not increase my likelihood to suffer a herniated disc. I have no idea what sort of pulley system was called upon to transport the unauthorized acquisition, but that is one potentially deadly Rapunzel’s delivery.

The lighthouses seem arcane now: the light’s automated, and the buildings are arguably ornamental. But in their time, the lighthouses are human’s victories over nature, who unfazed by the darkness of a wild sea, created for themselves a guiding light. The tender to conquer storms are measured in men’s lives, but the human spirit seems to be immortal.

For more stories of tinkerers who won’t let up on their dreams, check out How We Got to Now. I have a moderate geek crush on Steven Johnson. 



I got stuck in the airport in Atlanta on my way in for Christmas Eve. A solid 14 hours of repeated flight delays, then cancellation, being told no flights are available, only to overhear two people behind me in line getting tickets, then stand-by’s which also ended in cancellations. When I got to Milwaukee, barely tangent on the cusp of Christmas Morning, my suitcase was completely soaked, a lot of the presents ruined, and my brain felt like the innards of a over-ripe pumpkin.

Airports sometimes symbolizes freedom, since you’re most likely going somewhere. But the polar opposite can be true too, especially when you have nowhere to go because the warm and cold fronts are having a marital dispute outside the oversized windows and consequently, your plane is stuck in some god-knows-where cornfield. It struck me how vulnerable we are to isolation when we depend on machinery to get to places, and how confined we are by our bodies. Having a car, a home, a place to be and a place to go, sometimes makes me forget that I am at the mercy of physics — that sometimes, I cannot go as I please.

As I groped through the fatigue fog –per internal human resource report, getting up at 3am after 4 hours of sleep is no longer agreeable with my body — and took in the throne of thwarted Christmas Eve travelers, I thought of the people who are homeless. I had a place to go, and people to take me in, but somehow spending 14 hours — almost the amount of time it would have taken me to drive from Durham to Milwaukee — in an airport imparts this sour taste of loneliness, of being invisible in a crowd. That visceral sense of being in an eternal moment suspended in time, going nowhere, and being nobody.

I don’t know if this is why we keep busy, so we don’t realize that we are lonely.

And the first real bout of snow stranded me in Milwaukee until today, when I was due to leave on Monday. Dear Midwest, I’m returning all of your snow; refund please. After the initial internal screaming, I decided to visit friends who were in the area; the whole kerfuffle ended up a blessing in disguise, really. And now I am back in a very rainy town, with a very leaky roof. I am glad and I am reluctant to be back.

And what really makes a home?

Somewhere in the world the water-child is stomping about, terrorizing all of the thrift stores for their hidden gems. The absence tastes like a frozen moment, a truth I daren’t touch but warily paces about its periphery, drawing its circumference with memories, and hope.


Diversion for myself in the upcoming year. Intercourse between brain-cramming for licensing boards.

wanderlust Friday

Nostalgia came out of nowhere and smacked me in the face. It’s been over four years since I was in Europe and China, and every time I hear someone speak in a foreign language/accent I mentally grab my luggage and head for the door. My roommate is also an anglophile so we languish in mutual misery and reminiscence.

So here’s an image of part of London, by Stephen Wiltshire. One of the items on my “If I am a Millionaire” list is to purchase more original artwork. And travel.

Houses of Parliament in the Sunset, Stephen Wiltshire

Houses of Parliament in the Sunset, Stephen Wiltshire, 2008

the workaholic’s confession: part 4

This is so unimaginably overdue I considered not writing it. Then I decided in my late-summer graduate-school-induced cold, I’d wax a bit poetic and abstract. It’s the brain fog.

official day 5 in NOLA: crawfish boil, being driven about NOLA Miss Daisy style, 24 march 2013

Crawfish fest reminded me of the stampede during the National Holiday in Beijing, only instead of people trampling each other in their eagerness to demonstrate patriotism, the crowds of a crawfish boil mosey around in the good ol’ lackadaisical fashion of the South. Generally, people purchase lots of really buttery food, wash it down with tremendous daiquiris, then toss their children onto bouncy houses until someone falls off or throws up, either from the overabundance of butter or poor aerodynamics of too many children on a single oscillating surface.

Crawfish boil is a Louisiana tradition but other southern regions have their own styles, too: come spring, crawfish get dug up by the thousands, washed repeated until they mostly attain godliness, quickly boiled, then steeped for hours in a briny concoction of spices, vegetables, and potatoes. And you really have to work for your food when your food is a crustacean whose head is usually thrice the size of its edible tail.

After partaking in the moseying and finger-food-ing, Katie’s local friend took us around the city in his pick up truck, fully equipped with first-aid kits and enough tools to construct a rudimentary shelter. I felt a bit like Miss Daisy, only substituting Morgan Freeman with a bona fide redneck suth’un gentleman, who carried on a conversation like breathing was a mere inconvenience.

We rode past the tourist regions of NOLA and onto her frayed borders, the places scraped raw by the water. Houses teetered on 15-foot stakes: outside of the levee protected regions and into the realm of the waters, you build your house in the air. Crab-traps nestled in single columns and the wind weaved through the holes. The splintered wood of fishing docks snagged bits of sunset, where squadrons of pelicans rested on the pockmarked stakes.

Blaine Franger Photography

Blaine Franger Photography

I looked through the window and saw the places that don’t make it onto a postcard, the wind-burnt houses and water-bleached land.  It’s a land that never quite de-colored, and its people never quite forgot that the backs of slaves plowed the land into fields and reined the waters into fisheries. There’s a barely-muted black pride and white elitism and all of these things that America has been trying to file into its history, but the not-quite history is New Orleans’ undeniable now.

I saw the broken and mending and tenacity of living that put me to shame, with all of my middle-class and midwestern complacency, my meager and naive ideals of empathy, of compassion, as if I can understand suffering from afar, as if my brief sojourn can teach me everything I thought I already knew. I saw and realized how little I know, and how infrequently I express gratitude, for a life that I attempt to claim sovereignty over but in fact, is a continual respiration of eucharisteo.

I saw and sought, and this is the kingdom of God.

there and back again

Disclaimer: the following contents contain information processed through suboptimal brain function. The author is not responsible for irrational aphorisms, improper grammar, and general nonsensicalness.

I am writing this from the southern quadrants of the Canadian-United States border. One of the slew of reasons I have not updated anything since my last post in Canada is that school crashed in full-force 60 hours after I parked my car in Durham, North Carolina at the end of a 13-hr driving day, and since then my brain cells have contemplated spontaneous apoptosis a dozen times over.

A bit of catching up: since posting about my previous Visa interview, I was able to successfully interview for my student Visa the second time around, on August 19th. Technically speaking, I was not any more or less eligible for the Visa the second time around, since my student status is still in good standing, and I have no questionable intent that might jeopardize my successful term at Duke.

This illustrates my trip since leaving Milwaukee on August 7th:

Plus or minus 5% in mileage for when my GPS decided to be coy.

After I posted about my situation while in Canada in mid-August, people in the States came together and made contacts for me to stay with the local Pastor’s family. So I was an unwilling, yet not homeless, international bum for about two weeks’ time. I really can’t tell you how much difference that made, to be with a family who took me in without a moment’s hesitation and treated me like I belonged there.

And now that I am recalling on the ordeal—can I still call it an ordeal even though I matured and grew from it, more than I could have ever imagined?—I can’t quite capture everything anymore. These moments, the marrow of life, are so real when they were taking place that, once they have passed and “normal life” inundates me, I find it hard to describe them with all of their realness intact.

I haven’t really written much about spirituality and my personal beliefs up to this point, because like relationships, those things are sacred to me and I, perhaps out of selfishness, want to keep them private. But sometimes, a trip to Canada to confront one of my deepest fears, and to be rendered helpless, then delivered, makes me think that perhaps, my faith isn’t just mine, but it’s a story. And we are storytellers, and we are dreamers of dreams.

I wrote to a friend about my recent journey, there and back again, and I think sometimes, life is about reshaping everything you know. Rarely does a traveler returns from the journey unchanged:

“[Speaking of spiritual fire, and the transformative power of trials.] For me, the struggle had been trying to feel worthy by what I can do and accomplish. I associated my worth with my immigration, where I only feel worthy if I can prove my worth by being granted to stay in the United States and build my career that I can call my own, and not realizing (not fully, at least) that I have inherent worth with God, regardless of what immigration rules dictate, or what country decides I can contribute to their workforce. So my personal test by fire for the past decade, and now the fiercest this time around, was God taking a firm hold of my entire heart and being, of what I cared about the most, and taking it out of my hand, and asking me do you trust Me? do you trust me THIS MUCH? And I realize this even now, just a few days after the “ordeal” (since it usually takes me a while to recognize His work), that He knew what I needed, what had to happen for me to grow and mature spiritually, was to cut me to the quick and lay me open so all of my internal demons stood before God and I had to surrender everything I thought I could handle.” 

And I’ve been there and back again and it’s already a struggle to remember that journey, of the people I have met and the roads taken and the battles fought. And I am a bit frightened that I would forget what it was like and what it all meant, because I want to remember. I want to remember my story and tell it someday. And I am frustrated because there’s been hardly a moment to think because a mere two weeks into graduate school I am forcibly suffusing my brain with biomechanics and anatomy and I am about being ready to

I may or may not have already thrown stuff.

So I am sitting down at last and writing; it’s a start, at least, and I hope after a few reams of pseudo-sensical rambling I might begin to tell you a story worth hearing. Because being there and back again, and being here now, I don’t want to let the busyness of life dilute the essence of it.

The beginning.

P. S.: Adding to my no small list of to-do’s, I went online to check my phone account and waiting for me was my monstrous roaming bill.
P. S. S.: For school we’re using MacBooks and being a PC’er I am super discombobulated with all of the Ctrls and Alts and Apple signs being in different places. I feel like a cat after the house has been suddenly remodeled and I keep running into wrong corners.

oh Canada

quick update on my travels:

I have made it safely from Milwaukee to Durham, unloaded all of my stuff, and drove solo to Toronto to interview for my F1 Visa to re-enter the States. My interview was yesterday, 14 August 2013 and was unfortunately, denied.

Bad news: I am stuck in the land of the red and white until I successfully reapply and interview for my student Visa. Until then, I am an unwilling international bum. I’m currently in one of the hostels in downtown Toronto, trying to find housing for the weekend as tonight’s my last night (of my three-night stay). Also bad news, if I cannot successfully interview for a student visa in time school starts in less than two weeks, I will have to defer for a year.

Good news: this will make for an amazing story when I am old and creaky.

I will keep you all updated as much as I can, in between trying to not mentally implode.

what I learned from immigration woes

I got an email from Duke the same day the cat had her surgery and now I might be back on Square Zero with going to graduate school. As an incoming international student, I am required by Duke to prove that I have enough funding for my first year before the Visa Services Office can grant me my I-20 which I need to apply for my F1 Student Visa. (This is completely different from my fiasco with my J1 Visa.) Evidently, the Estimated Living Cost for one year at Durham is vastly higher than what I had budgeted, and Duke’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program recently adjusted their tuition and technology fees, so my proof of funding is currently more than 20k under what Duke deems as satisfactory. Until I find a way to get that amount in assets, I am currently prevented from matriculating this fall.*

photo credit: Tumblr

After I gave my Hamlet soloquy of why me and why this now, the hilarity and tragedy of this entire process made for some clear thinking, like discovering one’s love for painting while on imposed bed-rest:

Being an immigrant makes me appreciate people much much more, because I might not be with them a few months from now. A friend of mine said having a transient lifestyle—moving every few years because of school—makes it hard to really care about people, because you’ll be losing touch with them soon. I don’t agree with that anymore, because it’s even more the reason to connect and spend time with the people around me.

Having said that, I realized how damn entitled I feel most of the timeToday I plan this and tomorrow I should do that. It’s a complete change of pace to understand that something or someone is not mine to keep, and most of the time I take what I have for granted. As much as I hate being the exception to every immigration rule and organizational regulations in existence, it’s awakening to realize that no, I don’t know this or have the power to execute that tomorrow. I am now. I only have now.

And despite what immigration and systems and regulations might do, people care. Sometimes they can’t do anything, but they have made me feel less lonely. And that kindness, that opposite of loneliness keeps me going. They give me hope.

Being surrounded by people who care, I acknowledged that I am not a victim. I think it’s easy to say oh woe is me (which I did, dramatically) and lambaste against the governments/institutions (which I did, dramatically) for making rules that are conspicuously inconsiderate for immigrants who have been in the country long enough to be naturalized citizens. Yet although I can’t change governments or organizations or institutions or rules, I can choose how I face hardships when they arrive. I can choose to be angry or despondent or frantic, but I can also choose to be calm and logical and practical, and ask for help when I am in need, and accept help when help is offered.

And help comes in many forms. Despite her inherent fear of all things technologically savvy, my mom stayed up until 3:30am helping me finish translating and preparing my documents, with both of us on loud-speaker over the phone and working on the same document in Google Drive. My mother is awesome.

I learned a few other things too. I learned that it is okay to grieve and not be so strong all the time. No one is above receiving kindness, and every one of us can offer grace. I learned that I am not supposed to be a human pressure cooker and pent up all of my troubles: I have seen an actual pressure cooker explode and take out half of an apartment. I don’t want to be like that. We share our troubles and joys and we grow together through them.

When I got accepted at Duke I thought I had my one road to go on: school, find a job, work, so I got all bent out of shape when this plan is being severely impeded. (See entitlement above.) I then got all depressed and keened my life is ruined and I have no future! but then I realized I have more options than I thought. It all depends on what kind of vision one has for one’s life, and sometimes the detour leads to grander vistas. Maybe I will move travel the world higher on my life-goal docket.

*To answer some of your questions:

  1. No, I cannot take out loans, because as an international student, I don’t qualify for federal or state loans.
  2. No, Duke did not offer me any scholarships, or offer a lot of assistance-ships/stipends. Physical Therapy programs are similar to medical and law schools in that there aren’t a lot of scholarships or TA/RA positions available. Either way, the scholarships I can apply for are not available until after I matriculate, and I need to prove my financial assets now, which is before I get to Duke.
  3. Also, this excludes me from applying for a need-based scholarship, as once I prove my funding sources, I will be disqualified for a Duke doctor of physical therapy need-based scholarship that awards a certain amount of financial aid to students with standing need of $10,000 or more. So, I won’t be allowed to attend Duke if I don’t have enough money, and when I have enough money (for just this year) I won’t be allowed to apply for more scholarships. This is such warped logic.
  4. Yes, I will take hugs by proxy.

the workaholic’s confession: part 3

official day 4 in NOLA: Metarie and the French Quarter, 23 march 2013

One should never expect the normal in NOLA, with normal being “not serving shots of Bailey’s Irish Crème in the grocery stores”. There are also drive-throughs for 44-fl-oz Daiquris, which I regrettably, did not get. We had originally planned to attend the Irish-Italian parade, however, upon arriving on location, found out that the parade was on the next day and stumbled upon the local Human Society’s Adopt-a-Thon instead. So I squealed for the next hour or so.

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Forecast of thunderstorms dissuaded us from a crayfish crawl in the afternoon, which is rescheduled for Sunday…not sure how we’d fit everything into one day. By now humidity has escalated my hair past the fro-wannabe and into an Asian Annie. Since I have returned to the Midwest the air can be dry enough I need to mash an avocado into my hair. We ended up re-visiting the French Quarter and saw a fuscia wedding at the Jackson Square.

Later in the evening my friend and her gals gave me a surprise birthday party and hence her incessant texting when we were walking about in the French Quarter. I was getting irritated with her at the time, then felt horrible about nagging her later on, since she was planning the surprise. The girls and I joked and laughed over tacos and wine and cake while the preview for Devil Wear Prada played again and again. A portion of the conversation can be seen below:

Concerning pick-up lines:

[After inquiring her major in undergraduate, a man said to N in all seriousness]: “Are you sure you didn’t major…in beauty?”

[In another incidence]: “Baby, I am made of boyfriend material.”

  • F: “So, what were you supposed to do with ‘boyfriend material’?”
  • J: “Apparently wear him…”
  • H: “Like a sweater. Obviously.”
  • J: “So what are boyfriend materials made out of?”
  • H: “Vinyl.”

So I had to give a “Sweater Report” when I got back to the Midwest. The Sweater turned out to be more polyester than cashmere.

total walking time: 4 hours

sandwich size is to scale.
this is a “half-sandwich”.

culinary report:

23 march 2013

  • French Market Café: Muffelata, made with three types of cheese and two types of ham, on a bed of olive salad and hugged between an sesame-studded bun, buttered generously and toasted. I am usually not a fan of olives, but with this sandwich, oh lawd, ah’ma believa. We washed this heavenly sandwich down with a Créole Splash, made with two types of rum, orange, mango, and raspberry juice.
  • Food fair, French Quarter: Grilled oysters, succulent and buttery and garlicy. We ate them with sporks in the drizzle. Pheasant, Quail, and Andouille gumbo. I believe the ingredients speak for themselves. Praline samples from the Southern Candy Maker’s. The shop smelled of butter and vanilla and sugar was paralyzing. I brought two boxes with me and they didn’t make it past the week.

You can find part 2 here, and part 1 here.

the workaholic’s confession: part 2

official day 3 in NOLA: the French Quarter, 22 march 2013

my friend drove me to downtown NOLA before work and even though it was past rush hours, the traffic on Canal Street never thins. she ended up letting me out while waiting for a red light, so out i hopped like Mario being ejected out of a world that he is unqualified to play in. i put on my mildly annoyed, mostly impassive face to alleviate the fact i was wandering in downtown NOLA for the first time with the directional acumen of an amoeba. a straight shot down on Canal took me to the Mississippi River in her murky glory, snaking around the mostly-concrete, sometimes-bare dirt riverfront. humidity by the river aggravated my normally wavy hair into a ‘fro-wannabe. paired with my multi-colored pashmina scarf i resembled a circus poodle, sans tutus. 

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this is not an update, it’s an update on upcoming updates

so…it’s a meta-update.

i have lots to catch up on from my NOLA trip, now that i’m fully unpacked, thrice laundered, have tallied up my expenditures (cue: wince. if you hear a high-pitched squeal, it’s my bank account), and the cat has mostly forgiven me for disappearing. we’re not quite “warmed up” per se, more in the tepid range.

and miraculously, i have lost weight from this trip, especially considering i was eating almost constantly. alas, it appears i have miscarried my triplet food babies.

photo credit:

photo credit:

coming up: 

  • reviews of NOLA excursions.
    with accompanying
     photo gallery.
    if i can manage to make it.
  • a culinary update.
    you might want to bring a drool bib.
  • and additional items on my previous post.