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Instaseries: The Shanghai Bund

Hello all!

Sorry for the lack of activity on this blog! I’ve been able to post some snapshots semi-regularly on social media websites, but WordPress seems to have more connectivity issues. Also school and studying for graduate school entrance exams  and visiting my family has definitely kept me busy! Nonetheless, while some of my more story-like posts are in the works for you all to enjoy, I thought I’d start something new on my blog: an Instaseries!

Yes, an Instaseries is exactly what it sounds like: a mini-blog series of the pictures that up until now, I’ve only been able to post and share on Instagram and Facebook, with a more detailed description than the cryptic ones I usually post.

So here we go: the obligatory tourist shot of the famous Pudong skyline from the Bund! (Pudong means “East of the Huangpu River”)

Pudong Daytime

I came here on one of the first days I left the comforts of the Fudan suburb, and even though it’s still lively out in the day, the night view here is what attracts people. Still yet, this view is spectacular any time of day.

What you see up there is not necessarily “the Bund.” The Bund, pronounced with the actual short “u” sound rather than the “oo” sound, refers to where I was standing when I was taking that picture, more accurately speaking, west of the Huangpu River. This is what you can see on the Bund on a nice sunny day (see below, previously not posted). And Shanghai has blessed us with really nice weather throughout almost all of September and even now, with the occasional endless rain.

The Bund

The Bund is actually an Indian word meaning “embankment,” which coupled with the neo-Classical style of its imposing buildings, really preserves the sentiment of Shanghai’s yesteryears. The richest and most powerful (foreign) investors were the ones who were able to carve out the most prime of locations, so for a very long time, the famous Shanghai Tang, or Waitan (外滩), did not belong to the Chinese, but was rather a part of the British Settlement. Which might help to explain why the Anglicized name for 外滩, the Bund, has Indian roots. (Connect the dots: East India Trading Company, and the fact that the British got opium from India)

[Fun fact! There is a clock tower in the photo that is actually called “Little Ben.” If I’m not mistaken, it was designed by the same person who designed Big Ben. If conditions permit, I’ll try to upload a recording of its hourly chime!]

A tour guide once told us, “If you want to see China 5000 years ago, go to Xi’an (cue the Terra Cotta warriors). If you want to see China 3000 years ago, go to Beijing. But if you want to see China 100 years ago, and perhaps what it will be, come to Shanghai.” And just being on the Bund a few times, or even once, you can see that it is true.

But even with the albeit sad history aside, this place is absolutely amazing. And not too far along is the 5th Avenue of Shanghai, Nanjing East Road! More to come 🙂

Staying Connected While in China

Hello, friends! 朋友们, 你好!

This marks the first post in this new chapter of my blog, and if you’re reading this, it means the VPN I’m using must be working!

I left Hawaii about two weeks ago, right as school at the University of Hawaii (my home institution, known affectionately as UH) started. Because of my summer schedule, I didn’t really get a vacation until I flew out. Although it feels a bit strange to be on vacation while everyone else is going to class, I’m truly grateful for this small bubble of time.

During these two weeks, I spent half of it visiting my family in Macau and retracing the baby steps of my early childhood (a blog post to come soon) and the other half settling in Shanghai. I’ve only been in this grand city for four days, but I already feel more welcomed than I’ve ever been. (Still working on the language, but the food, the sights, the people, education, job prospects, etc. have exceeded my expectations. More on that in a later post)

But first things first. It is very, very important to know that the Great Firewall of China blocks all things Google. (Sad, I know.) This also includes your Gmail account, and even your university email, calendar, and cloud drive if your institution uses Google as the main online platform. UH, for example, uses Google. This also means that my favorite method of navigation – Google Maps, of course – will no longer work as well as it did for me in all my years of being on the internet.

Other important sites and apps of note that are also blocked/restricted include, but not limited to: Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. I have not tried Line outside of my VPN connection, nor do I have Kakao, so I do not know yet if those work. I’ve heard that GroupMe works, and although I’ve seen my friends’ messages coming from within China, I have not used it since I got here. However, Skype apparently seems to work, so yay!

So what are your options?

WORD OF CAUTION: There are many people who want to get pass the Chinese Intranet and have gotten quite creative, including some anti-Chinese government websites that have created free software to allow users to bypass the firewall. But I have not tried any of these, and especially for exchange students at Chinese universities, I do not – repeat – do not recommend even attempting them. I have no examples, but I’m sure those websites will definitely have enough English to make themselves clear.

Real deal: I’ve been using ExpressVPN that seems to work quite well for me so far. It’s one of the most highly recommended VPNs across multiple sites. A year’s subscription comes out to about $10 USD per month. A month’s subscription is about $13 USD. From my experience, the customer service is quite good. Also comes with a 30-day money back guarantee. Check out their website here. You can select from the many servers and cities ExpressVPN has. Since Honolulu isn’t on the list, I’ve been using New York or Los Angeles.

One well-kept secret of UH that I’ve just discovered, thanks to a friend of mine who recently went to Hong Kong for her exchange semester, is the fact that UH also has its own VPN. (What? I know; I wish I knew this earlier too.) Directions on how to how to get it are here. It also explains what a VPN is, just in case.

As for my Google substitute, I’ve been using Baidu as my main search engine and the 高德地图 mobile map in place of Google maps. It shows detailed directions by car, public transportation, and foot. It even shows where the stoplights are! You can also download voice packages and maps by city so you can access them offline. What’s the setback? It’s all in Chinese.

On the whole, your best bet is to use WeChat as the main form of communication. It’s totally free, and the whole country is pretty much connected on WeChat. Those QR code scanners get you everywhere. This cafe I just went to had no print menus, so I had to scan their code and follow them in order to see what I wanted to get.

As promised earlier, more to come very soon! I will be moving into my apartment tomorrow right across the street from Fudan University, Handan Campus (er, more like today because I’m a night owl), so I’ll be showing pictures of that and my school!

And I also hope this helps whoever is planning on making the journey to the Middle Kingdom!

Shanghai is Calling

There have been many variations of this quote, but for the most part, it goes like this:

“China is a sleeping dragon. For when she wakes, she will move the world.”

This is attributed to none other than Napoleon Bonaparte. Two centuries later, the world is still trying to figure out what to do with this dragon, who is now–most people may agree–is stirring, if not already awake.

Being Chinese myself, it’s fascinating to see other people being fascinated about China. I just read this article about what shocks foreigners most about China, and to be honest, I think I was more surprised that most of these are shocking because I lived with or knew these all my life. This is especially because I have lived in Hawaii most of my life and do honestly consider myself a Twinkie. (or to use my mother’s words, a banana)

But I too am fascinated by China. If you have ever seen this movie:

you will find that Shanghai is absolutely stunning…and not just because Daniel Henney is in it. (Seducing Mr. Perfect and Big Hero 6, anyone?) But of course, that’s not the only reason why I’m interested in going. I do love xiao long bao though…

Perfectly formed.
How could you even resist?
No. You can’t.
One more picture! You’re welcome.

Just a week ago, my acceptance letter for international exchange for the Fall 2015 semester arrived from Fudan University. I had already known for months that I would be going to Shanghai, but the acceptance letter just made everything more official, because now I had documentation to back it up! Since I had already gone abroad, I noticed that I am significantly less nervous this time, but I know China will be very different from Germany.

I will leave Honolulu in about two months’ time, during which I will be making preparations such as applying for a multi-entry visa (I still have the travel bug; 19 countries didn’t take it out of me quite yet), finding housing, brushing up on my barely existent Mandarin (I took third-year Chinese two years ago, so it has to still be there somewhere!), finishing up work and my internship at Accenture as well as doing as many island-y activities as I can!

Proof I don’t look my age :)

May 20, 2014 (10:30am, CEST)

I was finally at the Frankfurt airport, bags checked in, ready to go, and consciously aware of the fact I don’t have much to show for the fact I went to Germany except for my Deutschland scarf, my WHU student ID, and lots of pictures. On my way to my gate, I was popping in and out of airport gift shops and boutiques, partly just out of curiously, partly out of a genuine hope I could find something reasonable priced and sized and legal to take back with me.

A little shop with a promising title came into view, and I thought “Why not?” I went in and immediately took in the neatly arranged collection of alcohol and pre-packaged sausages. Biscuits and such were in the back. Near the register was a large container filled with little liquor bottles, mostly about 20ml. Jaegermeister, schnapps, Kleiner Feigling. I gave away my first Kleiner Feigling, so I decided I could buy this one, empty the contents, and bring back the cute little glass bottle and I would be content.

I was searching through the bottles for KF when a store associate said, “It’s all alcohol, you know.”

Me: “Yes, I know! I’m looking for Kleiner Feigling.”

He reached over to help me go through the pile, but hesitates and looks at me. “Wait, how old are you? You need to be 18.”

I laugh. “But I am! I’m 19.

“Oh gosh! Really?”

“Yes! I have my ID if you want to see.”

“Oh, no. It’s fine. I believe you.” We both laugh.

I saw something that amused and puzzled me, so I point it out. “What happened to the ‘Best of Germany’?” Sure enough, the shelf that was labeled “Best of Germany” was nearly entirely empty while the rest of the store was impeccably stocked.

Turns out the “shelf” was a refrigerated shelf that broke down earlier that day, and since most of the items was cheese, they had to move them elsewhere, leaving only the vacuum-sealed sausages.

I paid for my bottle and turned to leave.

“Wait!”

I turned back and saw there was another associate. He was pointing at my bottle with an absolutely priceless look on his face.

The first associate looked at me, smiled, and waved me on. “It’s okay, she’s old enough.”

The poor guy didn’t look convinced. I tell him my age. “Are you sure you don’t want to check me?”

His eyes got even bigger when I said 19, and his body frame quickly relaxed when I asked him to check. “Oh, no! You’re fine! Have a safe flight!”

And with that, and another peal of laughter from both sides, I figured I was ready to come home.

Why I Don’t Have Much Souvenirs From Germany

…except for some Ritter Sport chocolate bars (slightly melted at some point and resolidified, still good though) and an empty shot bottle.

Every time I travel, I try to search for budget and space-friendly gifts that are representative of the country. For places like Ireland and Greece, this was easy. One can’t go wrong with the four-leaf clover magnet, a classic Irish blessing, or olive oil soap.

When I first came to Germany, I tried putting the stereotypes behind me. I mean, Oktoberfest only happens in October, right? (and the last bit of September) What about the rest of the year? I quickly learned that Germans really, truly, passionately, do love their beer – with a few exceptions, but that goes without saying for anywhere. In Munich, you can order beer by the liter. BY THE LITER. Which is 1.567 quarts for the customary unit lovers and will cost you around 10 euros. And if you are male, please, don’t order anything less than a liter. From what I have heard, Bavarians (both when drunk and sober) will judge you. No pressure. And for the ladies, half a liter is perfectly fine, but they will be pleased (not to mention impressed) if you go for the full-sized Stein.

As I spent a great deal of time on German trains that take me up and down the winding Rhine river, I had quite a while to think about what is it that I really liked about this country. For the most part, I couldn’t get over how beautiful and clean everything is. Even the fields of yellow canola flowers were breathtaking–endless expanse of bright yellow against the verdant green. Of course, these flower fields served a practical purpose (for canola oil production): something I should have expected from Germany.

I grew up in Hawaii, so I am well acquainted with the importance of souvenirs for tourists; most of them only get to come once to the Islands. In Hawaii, the safe choice is obviously a box of macadamia nuts, either chocolate coated, sea salt or honey roasted, wasabi flavored, etc. I haven’t encountered the German equivalent of such that is neither alcoholic nor perishable. If alcohol were an option for me, it would have been easy! Of course, wurst (sausages) were abundant, but I doubt TSA would approve.

However, I was determined to make something work. Here’s the story of my acquisition of my last memento from Germany.  I know it doesn’t make sense that I can have so little from the place I spent the most time in. But I really did try.

And in a way, it does make sense, because I’m definitely going back.

The Grand Total: 46 Cities in 19 Countries

As I mentioned before, I still can’t really process how my life had been during the first half of 2014.

I’m back in Hawaii now, and when I wake up (in my own bed), I wonder for a moment if it all really happened. Sometimes, the truth is the craziest thing that your mind needs to comprehend.

I set foot in almost 20 countries within three months, and in almost 50 cities in four-and-a-half.

It’s been a heck of a ride.

For those of you interested, here’s the scorecard:

GERMANY (well, obviously) – Vallendar, Koblenz, Heidelberg, Cologne, Stuttgart, Bonn, Trier, Frankfurt, Baden-Baden, Munich, Karlsruhe, Düsseldorf, Bürgstadt, Miltenberg, Dortmund, Berlin

BELGIUM – Bruges, Brussels

PORTUGAL – Porto, Lisbon

AUSTRIA – Vienna

NORWAY – Oslo

SWEDEN – Gothenburg

ENGLAND – London

SCOTLAND – Edinburgh

IRELAND – Dublin

DENMARK – Copenhagen

FRANCE – Paris, Caen (Normandy)

HOLLAND – Maastricht, Amsterdam

SPAIN – Barcelona

ITALY – Rome, Pisa

VATICAN CITY (Yes, it’s technically it’s own country)

POLAND – Krakow, Auschwitz/Oświęcim, Wieliczka

CZECH REPUBLIC – Prague

GREECE – Athens, Sounion, Santorini (Fira, Oia, Kamari, Akrotiki)

LUXEMBOURG – Schengen

And all of this wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the fact I had four months in a very centrally located country with an amazing (though quite expensive and ein bisschen monopolistic) train system and the existence of Ryanair. And also my travel buddies who are extremely talented at travel planning (and actually enjoy it!) as well as discount brands at grocery stores, especially in Germany.

Home Is Where You Let It Be

(Entry from May 11, 2014)

This morning, I hopped on a train to leave my home forever, and didn’t look back. I realized there was no sense in thinking too much about it. I boarded the train from Track 2 in Vallendar station to Koblenz as I had done so many times during the semester that it all felt routine.

I’ve moved around before, but it was almost always back and forth from the places I called home. Whenever I left, I knew I’d come back eventually. This time was different. I never expected to feel such at home in little quaint Vallendar, but I did. The truth of it never hit me so much as it did tonight, after I settled into my lodging for the night in Stuttgart that I’ll probably never see Vallendar again. And even if I do return, it wouldn’t be the same. I’ll just be passing through.

Something I’ve always struggled with is the saying, “Home is where the heart is.” Can it be more than one place? What if I don’t feel anything for anywhere? Germany made me realize I could do something about this, that I made the mistake of merely adapting to my surroundings, thinking it was enough, and never trying to  belong.   There is a difference. Feeling you belong makes the place home, wherever you are. Otherwise it is just an address, simply where you live. All my life, I’ve been trying to balance out the cultural differences, trying to awkwardly fit in to both. At some point, I knew as hard as I tried, I would always be a mixture of at least two worlds, but I always saw the glass as half-empty and not half-full.

Germany taught me many things, but the most powerful and simplest of one was the great difference a small change of mind can be. I wanted to be European. I wanted to thrive in this new surrounding. I came here with an open heart and mind, freed myself all my emotional baggage upon arrival — and it made all the difference. Germany became home for me because I WANTED it to be.

Part of the reasons to study abroad is the demonstration and experience that one is a global citizen. One must be empathetic towards different cultures and find strength and harmony through those differences, rather than dissonance.

I know I am blessed beyond measure to have three places in the world that I can call Home. Slowly, but surely, I’m emerging from my self-induced dissonance, and truly making an effort to make music out of my eclectic identity.

P.S. I’m coming home (back to Hawaii) on May 20, at which point I will have time to really process my life over the past few months and (hopefully) give a intelligible account.

Another thing I learned/saw in action: All things do happen in some sort of weird, great design; one just needs time to make the connections.

Vallendar Living

Hi everyone!

I can’t believe I’m already halfway through my semester at WHU. So far, most of my blog has been about my experiences in getting new experiences, within and outside Germany. There will be more, I assure you, so stay tuned! But for this time, I want to show you more about my daily life in Germany.

Living Accommodations

So when you Google the name of the place where I live in, you get this:

Haus Wildburg
Haus Wildburg

That’s partly true. Haus Wildburg is a property owned by the Marien nuns who work and live in this building as well as the housing units immediately behind it past the metal gate. We live past the gate, past where the nuns live, up a little hill to the student dormitory section.

Haus Wildburg is one of the cheapest housing options available to Tauschies at WHU. For 335 Euros per month (which, I now know, is very over priced in Germany) you get this:

Single unit, with one bed, a closet, a desk, a sink, and a radiator. Oh and a chair.
Single unit, with one bed, a closet, a desk, a sink, and a radiator. Oh and a chair.

As well as usage of the kitchens and common areas, which are essentially lounges. The facilities are old, but they get the job done. It’s small, but for me, it’s enough. I don’t take up much space anyway. (Haha)

I live with nine other students, most of whom are from America, so it didn’t take much adjusting to get along. It’s nice living with other people. When I go down to the kitchen to cook dinner (which I never did back in Hawaii because there was always the cafeteria that served buffet style meals), I would usually hear the boys in their kitchen, and it almost always smells amazing. No joke. The guys can really cook.

Which reminds me of the peculiarities of Wildburg. There are separate common areas and kitchens according to gender: one each for male and female. For laundry, we have to pay four 50-cent coins to use the washer and 3 coins for the dryer. That means one load of laundry will cost 3.50 Euros. Eek! Also, the nuns are VERY diligent landlords, and coupled with the fact they speak close to no English, makes things at times quite interesting.

Food

I know Europe has a reputation for being expensive, and I can validate that because I’ve been to some very expensive places (but nice ones. More on that later), but at least compared to Hawaii, groceries are very cheap here. I rarely spend more than 10 Euros on groceries, even at the most expensive store nearby campus, and that can last me for over a week. There are a few main places to go shopping for essentials at:

1) REWE (pronounced like “RAY-VUH”): the newest store in town, a few steps from school, and the closest store to home. Also the most expensive. But if you buy the Ja! brand, it’s like Safeway Select, or Kirkland Signature, or the CVS brand. You get it for cheaper – about the cheapest it gets.

2) Lidl (pronounced like “needle” with an ‘L’): A few minutes from campus not far from the Vallendar train station. It looks like a warehouse, and you can usually find cheaper produce and goods here than at REWE. But if you get Ja! from REWE, it’s comparable.

3) Aldi & Netto: Two separate stores, literally side-by-side, only divided by a parking lot between them. They’re about the same distance from school as Lidl (a bit further) but in the opposite direction. You can probably some of the best deals at these two places as well as good variety. For me though, it’s just really far to walk with a bunch of groceries.

The German diet consists of a lot of meat (yes, wurst), which I ate a lot of during my first few weeks here. Now that I cook a lot, with one good meal a day, I can save a lot of money. My home-cooked dinners have cost me no more than 2 Euros. Actually closer to 1 Euro, with pasta, meat, and veggies.

School

Compared to most campuses I’ve been to, WHU is actually quite small, which is nice because I’ll never have to rush from class to another. Every room is clean, well-lit, and new. The school has only been around for three decades, but it has already maintained a solid reputation for rigor and excellence for years.

The largest lecture hall at WHU. Not the most comfortable one.
The largest lecture hall at WHU. Not the most comfortable one.
Another lecture hall. Smaller but with better seats ^^
Another lecture hall. Smaller but with better seats ^^

And this is one of my favorite places on campus (aside from the library that is accessible 24/7):

The WHU chapel. Anyone is welcome to play the piano as he/she wishes. It is, however, not a sanctified chapel.  Image courtesy of Google.
The WHU chapel. Anyone is welcome to play the piano as he/she wishes. It is, however, not a sanctified chapel.
Image courtesy of Google.

Oh and they have coffee serving vending machines. For 60 cents, you can get a decent cup of coffee, hot chocolate, or even shot of espresso with milk. Every school needs this. What would I do for one of these so I don’t have to wait in line for Starbucks (and watch my paycheck dwindle down…)

Also comes with a cup :)
Also comes with a cup 🙂

Port of Happiness

Porto, Portugal
Portugal

Of all the places I’ve been to so far, Portugal was definitely the hardest to leave. I’ve always wanted to go to Portugal, so when I got to Europe, this was one of the first trips I planned and was really excited for. There are many reasons why, but I can guess it’s probably because I spent part of my childhood in a place with a very prominent Eurasian culture—I was born in Macau, so it was Chinese and Portuguese to be exact. My favorite pastry of all time has always been the Portuguese cream tart, fresh out of the oven. And I’ve always preferred wine to beer (though German beer is pretty good.)

I don’t get nostalgic very often because I left my childhood home when I was very young for Hawaii, which was a very different place that doesn’t remind me of home much. But those feelings came flooding in as I walked on the roads paved with the smooth black and ivory tiles that are so typical of Portuguese urban planning. Our destination was Porto, which produces probably the best wines and dessert wines in the world.

My juice box of red wine that I finished at the airport. (no straw included)
My juice box of red wine that I finished at the airport. (no straw included)
Portugal is also known for the blue-and-white porcelain tile work. It's absolutely gorgeous, indoors and outdoors. This is in the Porto main train station.
Portugal is also known for the blue-and-white porcelain tile work. It’s absolutely gorgeous, indoors and outdoors. This is in the Porto main train station.

In all respects, we got very unlucky with the weather. The sun rarely shone (but when it did, it was warm and very beautiful), and most of the time, the sky was quite gloomy and one night, we even had to brave hurricane-like weather to get back to our hostel.

But in all honesty, I loved Porto and Portugal in spite of the poor weather. I don’t think I’ve fallen in love with a place so quickly, so completely—especially in such unfavorable conditions. Which says a lot about Portugal, I think.

Our stroke of good weather occurred when we took a day trip to Lisbon by bus for 32 Euros, round trip (three and a half hours, each way). It didn’t hold up by the time we got back to Porto around midnight, which was when we had to fight the typhoon to get back home. So if you’re planning to go to Portugal, might I give fair warning that compact umbrellas are pretty much defenseless. They might survive the rain, but the wind is an entirely different story.

Here are my highlights of Portugal (Porto and Lisbon), in no particular order:

–          Visiting Livaria Lello, one of the most famous and beautiful bookstores in the world, about five times. Legend has it that J.K. Rowling got inspiration from this bookstore to create the Hogwarts Library.

Unfortunately, the bookstore is still privately owned, and its owners do not allow photos to be taken inside. All the more reason to go there yourself and see it!
Unfortunately, the bookstore is still privately owned, and its owners do not allow photos to be taken inside. All the more reason to go there yourself and see it!

And for you serious Potter fans, this cafe is where (again, the legend goes) JK Rowling began writing the first Harry Potter book (HP and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone).

The Majestic
The Majestic

–          Amazing, cheap food. My wonderful meal of delicious pork chops and half a bottle (maybe a third) of red wine was only 5.50 Euros. My huge portion of the typical Portuguese Francesinha was only 6 Euros in a restaurant.

–          The people. I am still in amazement at how helpful, kind, and content with life the Portuguese are.

–          Our hostel. We stayed at Pilot Hostel, which had great facilities that were clean and modern, free tea and coffee 24/7, a kitchen, and wonderful staff. It’s not perfect, but for the quality of our stay, you would not believe it was only 8 Euros per night.

–          Going up on the famous elevator in Lisbon and getting a wonderful aerial view of the city.

–          Exploring the medieval St. Jorge castle and seeing picture perfect weather in Lisbon.

–          Seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time on the other side.

–          Making footprints in the sand.

*Germany is centrally located, which means it’s obviously landlocked. It’s the farthest from the ocean I’ve ever been. I’ve moved around a bit, but never very far from the coast…*

–          Our free wine tasting. Even if you aren’t a wine drinker, I promise you: YOU WILL LOVE PORT WINE.

–          Being told I have a good accent when I spoke Portuguese. Which I can’t, by the way. But I made it a point to learn it one day!

Even now, I still wonder what it is about Portugal that makes me want to go back. Like right now. Maybe even live or retire there. I don’t know. I suppose it’s the combination of really little things. Sure, I enjoyed the touristy things, but I think it was something more intrinsic and intangible that makes me so content with life when I am there. Till next time, Portugal!

**Disclaimer: I was not too impressed by the cream tarts in Portugal, to be honest.

But you still can't go wrong with buying one! For 1.20 euros, you can get a gigantic pastel de nata. Standard size 1 euro.
But you still can’t go wrong with buying one! For 1.20 euros, you can get a gigantic pastel de nata.  Standard size 1 euro.

I suppose I have been immensely spoiled by the freshly baked and piping hot tarts that I can only get from the little bakery on the island of Coloane in Macau. If you ever get a chance to go to Hong Kong, spend at least a day in Macau. I can blog for ages about that city, but for now, just try the cream tarts.

For more pictures, please visit:

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Distant Matters and Distance Matters: In Memoriam

I meant to get this blog out so much earlier, in memory of two people who I wish I had the chance to know better, but never will. The time, however, is long past for regrets. There never is a time for regret. Only for memory, respect, and celebration.

—–

The world has never been smaller. We’re so used to living with all this technology that instantaneous communication is just a fact and way of life. Our access to places on the globe has never been more vast. With daily access to WiFi and my data plan on my phone, I can check up on my friends and family in Europe, Asia, the US, and of course the place that was our address for a very long time, Hawaii — all within a few minutes. It’s crazy. I was Google+(ing) a friend a few weeks ago (me in Vallendar and he in Hawaii) and we could still talk just as we did last semester. Reception was perfect, so  everything was in real time. We both thought it was pretty amazing how the thousands of miles were no obstacle at all. It would have made no difference if I had called him from two doors down or (in this case) 7,400 miles. 

But the day finally came when I could feel the impact of physical distance, even in this age. I checked my email in class, read something odd, investigated on social media, and then all the news started pouring in. I was too late. Two people from completely different parts of my life…gone on the same day.

School never seemed so trivial.

And it’s been so long since I felt so far away and helpless.

In Memory of My Uncle

I met one of my uncles, Raymond, some years ago. One of the most adorable old men you ever will or did see. He was a war veteran, so he’s seen his fair share of action. He had a wife, my aunt, who was much younger than him. Here’s one of my favorite stories of him – it tells a lot about his personality and free will:

I was with my parents and Uncle Raymond and my aunt at his favorite place for Happy Hour. Years ago. Every single member of the staff (and even some of the patrons) knew him and treated him like family. By the time I finished my virgin lava flow, he already had five drinks (two of which were whiskey and brandy). By Jove, my uncle could drink.

And he was already 90 years…young. Was still cracking jokes and telling stories and whatnot. My aunt, who felt she was missing out on the show I suppose, kept telling him to stop drinking so much and quit embarrassing himself. And this is what he said, and wouldn’t stop saying:

“You know, I’ve had so many doctors in the past, and they all said that I was as healthy as an ox, and would continue to be if I could just stop drinking.”

“So, Uncle, did you ever try stopping?” I asked.

“Oh no, never. Thing is, every one of those doctors have already met the Maker, and I’m still here!”

I have never seen him stop grinning.

My uncle passed away peacefully and quietly in his own bed at home. He always refused trips to the hospital, even when he would fall and get into some trouble in his old age. I like to think he woke up in the middle of the night, heard a voice, understood the sign, and fell back asleep into the Holy Spirit’s arms knowing it was finally his time.

In Memory of My Friend

This one is a lot harder to start, write, and finish.

In July 2012, I met this sweet, quiet girl named Shae from Pearl City for the first time. Eager, bright-eyed freshmen straight out of high school, we were about to have an amazing buffet dinner at the Willows Restaurant in Honolulu in celebration of our good fortune to be part of the 20 freshmen to receive a full-ride to the state’s flagship campus. You can tell she had potential and the brains, but also the heart and humility to make you love her for who she is.

When we got our dorm assignments, my roommate and I were neighbors to her and her roommate. I would see her in passing from time to time, but since we all had different schedules, I did not notice anything at first when I didn’t see her for weeks.

Until I realized she had left school.

Shae had been battling her sickness for a while, and I was shocked. We had no idea. My roommate and I would check up on her Facebook, just to see if she or her family would post updates on how she was doing. Despite all the complications, she would still sound so optimistic. Not “sound,” no, she was and has always been optimistic. She was not only bright of mind, but also of spirit.

Before I left Hawaii, I’ve heard of developments that she was close to finding a donor, and even though she was still in and out of the hospital, it seemed she was staying more at home and would continue school soon, if not already with the new semester. She could still graduate with us; I just knew it.

She had to.

—–

I’m sorry I can’t be home in Hawaii to pay my last respects. I’m grateful for every smile and good word I said to my uncle and Shae during my brief time with them. I’m happy that my last memory of both of them was their smile.

So, 7400 miles, a breath, and a heartbeat away, I want to thank you both for inspiring me to realize that joy and peace come with acceptance, thanksgiving, and a healthy dose of laughter and humor.

Till we all meet again.