Adjusting Back to America, Winter Term, and Other Things
*Sprints into hypothetical room called The Internet, frantically shuts door behind self*
Hi everyone! I am so sorry for not having written in a while! I feel like I have become the elusive Private Ryan that Steven Spielberg had to send Tom Hanks over to save from certain obscurity–being Matt Damon.
But first things first, Winter Term happened! I moved back into Oberlin and am living in Asia House again! I turned twenty-one! I saw The Shape of Water and cried! And I saw Black Panther twice!
I was juggling a lot of things this January. The first was jet lag: I would start falling asleep at around 6 PM every day, making it really hard to catch up with family and friends. And then this was followed by the next Great Difficulty–a nasty case of food poisoning that I got either from the massive amount of instant oatmeal that I had eaten for breakfast, or ramen with eggs that I had after that. Either way, it ended with my stomach–and brace yourself if you’re a tad squeamish, I can’t help but indulge myself in the poetics of this situation–voiding itself into Sutphin Boulevard in Queens. One of my favorite songs happens to be “Sutphin Boulevard” by Blood Orange, so this turn of events has amused me in hindsight.
Anyways, besides jet lag and food poisoning, I spent time on my Winter Term project, which was working on production design for a science-fiction feature film that I am going to eventually write, and finishing up my final film that I made at the Prague Film School last semester. I purposely decided to do a very laidback Winter Term project (earlier last year I thought that I would go to New Zealand and try to find my Māori family, before I came back down to earth and remembered that that would require money that I don’t have) to get used to being back in the US after living in the Czech Republic for some time. For the most part, I think that it has worked out pretty well, because if I had planned to do anything particularly demanding, I most likely would not have done it to my satisfaction, due to jet lag.
The actual mechanics of my Winter Term project let me stay at home so I could draw and color in my sketchbooks. It ended up being slightly more challenging than I thought it would be, because I had forgotten that I’m much better at drawing inanimate objects with lots of straight lines (I went through a phase in high school where literally the only objects I would draw were analog cameras) than people and/or human bodies, which made the costume design end of the project take longer than I had expected. Luckily though, I managed to pull through and discover that I’m much more suited for designing furniture and sets, where I can employ the drawing skills my parents taught me as architects.
Another thing that has caught me off guard was adjusting back to Oberlin. Initially, I thought it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, because I had spent my summer here, so how hard could it be? The answer: it’s actually pretty hard for a variety of reasons! It was a bit overwhelming my first few days here, because I had forgotten how large my social circle was, and how many people I wanted to catch up with. I found myself frequently hitting my capacity for social interaction much earlier than I usually do, leaving me drained and also somewhat guilty for being so out of it. Having been here for a few weeks now, I think I have my roots back in the ground, finally.
Thankfully, I haven’t had any difficulty with getting back into the groove of classes and discussion participation. This semester, I’m taking two Cinema Studies courses, Animation Workshop and Strange Cinema, and two English courses, The History and Theory of the Novel and Welfare Queens and Tiger Moms: Narratives of the Maternal. For my animation class, I’ve made my first project of the semester, a short stop-motion film using paper cutouts inspired by a haiku, and I have already written an essay on how my viewing of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was one of the most alienating experiences of my life for my Strange Cinema class. If this isn’t indicative of my own niche learning explorations, I don’t know what is.
Though it is very early in the semester, I have already read two books in my Narratives of the Maternal class that I know I will keep returning to for many years to come, as it describes feelings that I had never been able to express before. The book is Lose Your Mother by Saidiya Hartman, and documents the author’s journey to Ghana where she sought to uncover insights about the transatlantic slave trade in the face of a sparse historical archive. Of the array of themes that Hartman addresses in Lose Your Mother, her take on emotional turmoils and questions posed to bodies unable of response that accompany being part of a diaspora spoke directly to my own feelings of alienation and perpetual state of speculation from what little information I, and the historical archive, have about my family and other people like them.
The other book I’ve read in Narratives of the Maternal is Dictée by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, a distinctive exploration into language, memory, diaspora, and historical trauma. Cha’s perspective on the difficulties of speaking a language that isn’t your own resonated with my own shyness about speaking French. Even though I’m technically fluent, I often feel very embarrassed to speak it because of how inelegant my American accent and speech difficulties make each word sound. Additionally, its form as a work of experimental literature is mind-blowing, and I read it in one night because I couldn't put it down.
In addition to my classes, I have a fair amount of extracurriculars going on this semester. I’m back in the zone as a WOBC DJ (my same show as always, Sounds of the Silver Screen, which airs every Saturday at 9 AM! Tune in on wobc.org!) and as a co-technical coordinator for the Oberlin Student Theater Association. I’m also taking an ExCo this semester on taiko, a form of Japanese drumming, and I’ve quickly discovered that it’s something I feel passionate about! Taiko combines my musical background, my interest in Asian American history and issues, and my own sense of physicality and athleticism into one activity. I honestly never thought such a thing existed, but it does!
Additionally, I have been elected as co-chair of the Asian American Alliance. I can’t think of a better way to start off the semester, and I have lots in mind for the organization moving ahead. We’ve already had discussions about Asian Americans in the Winter Olympics, and what our ideas are for April’s Asian Pacific Islander Diaspora Heritage Month. At first it was a bit of a shock to comprehend that I was suddenly co-chair, but with a little bit of time to get used to things, I’m starting to feel comfortable in the position. On another note, I’m also directing a short film that one of my friends wrote outside of class. We’ve already begun shooting it, so I’m feeling good about where all of this is going to take me.
Thus far, I’ve been pretty wide-eyed at my return to Oberlin. But what I’ve noticed is that this state has energized me in a much different way than I’ve ever experienced here before, largely because I was away for an entire semester. To conclude with a gratuitous Marvel reference, returning to Oberlin after living abroad is basically like how Captain America wakes up after being frozen in an icicle for 70 years. At first he’s really confused by Times Square, but eventually he moves to Washington D.C. and listens to Marvin Gaye. And manages to stop Robert Redford from taking over the world! See? Maybe it isn’t so hard.