Untitled #1 – Victoria Chepa [RU]

Submitted Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Так дорого и так бездонно, ты говоришь слова любви не мне,

Так одиноко и безмолвно, стояла я там где-то позади!

Быть тяжело свидетелем речей твоих любовных и (клятв пусть даже без крови),

Стоять! Не плакать, не смеяться, лишь чувствовать себЯ, униженной сироткой, бездушного и злого короля! Continue reading

A Welcome to Salad Eaters [EN/CN/ES/DE/RU/UA]

“The Salad Bowl” is a guest blogging community within “Quote, Unquote” with posts about various topics in various languages.

The ethos of The Salad Bowl is to build dialogue between readers and writers by creating a thinking society in which cultural and regional barriers are broken.

In a cultural manner of speaking, the concept of a “salad bowl” originates from a term coined to define the integration of the many different peoples residing in the United States and how they combine like a salad—all ubiquitously present in one place, yet maintaining their individual cultural identity. We want to take a bold step forward and claim that not only is this idea no longer restricted to the U.S. alone, it is also the force that drives today’s diversity- and identity-seeking world citizens. It also opposes the earlier belief in the existence of a cultural “melting pot”, in which ethnic groups, unable to preserve their cultures due to assimilation, lose their identity to form a “neo-culture”.

This section in the blog “Quote, Unquote” was created so the ingredients of the salad that is the international community can share their thoughts and opinions about any topic or issue that is close to their heart, but from their personal, cultural and individual point of view.

Continue reading

Cambodia – Kampuchea

A small collection of three days of memories in the steaming hot Cambodian springtime.

Barrelled Thoughts #43 – Dear John, About That Paradox of Yours

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I was sat there on Tuesday thinking about this paradox we humans have. You know the one of always wanting to grow up when we are kids and now as adults, we really wouldn’t mind being a kid again to enjoy the so-called “easy life”?

It’s only natural to say that, as children, we knew not what awaited us after “growing up,” and perhaps we took for granted the easiness and simplicity that came with student life. It’s no one’s fault, we simply didn’t know. But of course we wanted to be grown ups so we didn’t have to listen to all the rules and so we could finally sleep at whatever time we wanted, doing whatever we pleased. That’s what we wanted—right?

The paradox is that when we were “limited” by these rules and by the time we had to spend in school, we saw them as impediments that kept us from being free and happy, but now, maybe more than ever, we are living by these rules ourselves without complaint, just because the ones demanding this lifestyle is none other than…well, us.

The 21st-century generation loves reading about ways to improve health (we probably need to anyway), and most of the time, what’s recommended is not dissimilar to what we were being “forced” to do as children—sleep early, wake up early, spend less time in front of computers, eat a more balanced diet (i.e. more veggies; less fast food), get more exercise, read more books—the list goes on. Ironic, isn’t it, that we are contempt as long as we get to dictate what we do?

I was sitting in my university’s campus the other day. It was sunny and cool—one of the rare crossover days that we get between constant rain and perpetual, asphyxiating heat. These days are few and far between. My days as a student are now in double figures. From the thousands of days in my first year, I now only have around 60.

Two of my days in the week are taken up by my classes and the rest by my internship, so I now appreciate the chance to relax at university when I can. I didn’t ever think of stopping before. But why? Why was I always going somewhere and doing something as a student? Was I really that busy? Maybe. Maybe not. The point is, the past me did what the past me wanted to do—and that’s completely OK.

At work, there is no time to chill under the sun with a soda, neither is there time to wander around aimlessly. Work brings its own rhythm, and that means there’s no time for spontaneity and adventure. And it quite literally eats away my days.

In the past, I might have expressed a longing to return to former times—to be back in school once more. But the truth is that I would never swap anything I have now for anything in the past.

Yes, there were some magical times in the past that I often think back on with reminiscence, or heartache. But the way I am now is a culmination of 24 years of my life. Every scar, every imperfection and every click in my joints is me like I never was before.

Yes, being in school was great, but every phase teaches us something different, forcing us to grow up, and we do what is required of us during every stage. My time came and went. I’m now in my final term and I’m setting myself up for the next stage of my life.

So scholars, workers, fighters: do what you’re suppose to do. Don’t overlook the potentially beautiful things around you. Stop looking backwards, and remember that there’s no rush to immediately look forward. Look at the “now” and enjoy the little things in your life that are afforded to you because of your current position in society.

All these words are first and foremost for myself. I am first, second and third person, but I’m just as happy to share them with the world.

Study, work and live as you’re meant to be. Don’t let the “now” slip through your fingers. JSF.

Barrelled Thoughts #42 – What Ifs and If Onlys

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

If I knew just half of the things I know now about university life when I was in my first and second year, things would be so different.

When my life was surrounded by university matters, I never thought about anything “outside the box.” Four years ago, I was just happy to have entered one of Taiwan’s best universities. A university that prides itself in offering the best in a wide range of humanities and its welcoming of dozens of exchange students year after year. I was overwhelmed by life in university, and I wanted to do nothing else but dwell in the atmosphere. My first term was spent largely on campus while acquainting myself with my new surroundings.

In my second term, I met a group of overseas Chinese students, with whom I would spend a fast one and half years. My time was spent attending classes and burying myself with activities that mattered to me at the time. We went to clubs and bars, going for walks and talks. We even managed to squeeze in a five-day getaway to the Philippines. All in all, it was a splendid time. But it wasn’t a time I spent growing up. During those 700-odd days, never once did I think about the future. All was rosy.

Then came India.

India was a life changer for me in such a way that even the large university campus I lived in was too small for me after my return from the land of cricket and Vishnu. I started looking “out” and I never looked back.

The activities, values and “cools” that mattered so much to me in my first two years just disappeared overnight. The things I used to do seemed banal and trivial. They were meaningless and without perspective. After India, for the first time in my life, I started looking forward into the future. There was just one small problem—I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.

I had double-majored in business administration in my second year and crushed myself with credits—31 and 29 academic hours per week across two terms. “Crazy,” they said. What can I say? Maybe I was. However, before I knew what I wanted to do, the decision to take those classes seemed perfectly rational to me. Why turn down any chance that comes your way before you know what you want to do?

Then came the big curve ball—Russia.

The first two months in Russia passed quickly. I took time to adapt to life there as an exchange student, and I started to like the country. That said, after things took an unexpected change in the middle of November, I found myself staring at the reflection in the mirror on my dorm room wall, asking myself, “What the hell do you want to do with your life, John?”

I was, and still am, technically a nobody. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to do business. Become a businessman, earn a truckload of money (potentially) and continue the rest of my life that way? I wasn’t feeling it. And I don’t regret turning down the offers I’ve received, because when you already know what it is you want to do, nothing should get in your way—especially not money.

So there I was in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. Winter had hit and days were getting shorter and shorter. My confidence was shot and my self-esteem, conviction and direction were all found wanting.

“Where do you want to be this time next year?” I asked myself one evening. “Moscow,” I answered.

Ironically, what was meant to be a somewhat scarring experience eventually became a turning point in my life. My lowest point came with a trampoline that allowed me to bounce back and push on. Onwards to what, exactly, I was not yet certain. But then and there I had made up my mind—I had found my conviction—to recreate what my experience in Russia would mean to me and make something of myself. I was not going to let my impression of Russia remain as cold, lonely nights in a dorm room.

In January, after a fair share of ups and downs with my own feelings, I decided to write again. This blog is the result of my lowest point in Russia. I needed an outlet, and I wanted to return to a simpler me.

Four years ago, I wrote miniature memos on Facebook notes just because I read something and wanted to express my opinions. During that particular summer when I started writing, I wrote about everything I read. Classes started; university started, and I never typed another word again. Just as well, because I honestly needed some time to mature. Some of the things I wrote about were plain childish. That said, I still have much maturing to do.

So, to this blog—Quote, Unquote, I “migrated” most (but not all) of my earlier memos, and I ended my four-year hiatus by writing a post for the first time since August 2010.

Writing is a laborious process. It takes concentration, isolation, remoteness. You need to find your inner self, and that requires an experience that becomes your writing source. – David S. Blundell

I do not have the time to read TIME every week like I used to, and so I don’t write article reviews like I did back then. That phase has come and gone. The posts that appear in this blog only do so because of an experience of some sort. It’s become the diary I never had.

Somewhere in-between the John that arrived in Russia at the end of August last year and the John that left at the end of February, there was an inconspicuous crossover. Things I use to say, I now don’t see the need to express; things I previously felt like I needed to share, I now don’t either. There was a shift from talking to writing, and that’s when I decided I wanted to become journalist.

It hit me square in the face. How could I have overlooked it? My old man was a journalist. He even ran his own newspaper company. Is all that time spent running around the editorial room as a kid finally boomeranging back to me? Is everything simply coming full circle? “I guess you just couldn’t escape it,” I was told. Maybe—or maybe this is just what I subconsciously chose.

“A journalist? A reporter?” No. What if I told you that reporters are journalists, too, but not all journalists are reporters? This becomes difficult to justify when no such expression exists in Chinese to adequately interpret this word. It’s commonly translated as 新聞工作者—news worker. I suppose we’ll just have to make do with that.

If I knew four years ago that I would be so happy working in news—in journalism, I would’ve screamed at myself to find an internship then and there. Although there’s a big chance that I wouldn’t have listened.

That’s right. What ifs and if onlys appear in our vocabulary to express some form of regret about a past decision (or indecision), but the truth is that it changes nothing. Put bluntly, if I travelled back in time and slapped myself in the face saying, “Hey! Pull your socks up! Go find yourself an internship and spend all your time there so when you graduate you can find a good job, you nincompoop!” I still wouldn’t have listened.

It’s simply a case of not having been pushed hard enough. I hadn’t been prodded, tried and tested by the events of the last two years, to feel inspired to enter this field and do the internship I’m doing now. Вот так вот.
That’s it.

So where does this leave us? Where does this leave those who realise late on what it is they want to pursue? We charge forward, of course! Push on! If it’s truly what you want, even if you already knew what you wanted five years ago but haven’t fulfilled it yet, now is the time to act! Do everything in your power to make it happen. That’s the path I’m putting myself on now. Go all in. No turning back.

During the two days I spend at university every week, I can never wait to get out of the classroom. Not to go home and idol on the bed, but to head to the office and swim in news. So, this must count for something. This momentum is a wave I must ride, because after the decline brought about by the last three months in Nizhny Novgorod, I have nothing left to lose.

Even if my plans to work in Moscow fall through and I never get to see her beauty ever again, I will at least know what I want from this little magical island I live on. Someone very close to my heart once told me that everything happens for a reason and that there are no such things as coincidences. I guess I’m a believer. So if it’s to be, it will be.

Do I look back?—Yes. Do I bear seemingly unrealisable hopes?—Yes. But, most importantly, I’m on the up and up.

It’s not so much a case of zero or hero, as the prospect of all or nothing. JSF. 

Photo of the Week – April 8, 2014

Empty cans of Taiwan Beer lie in the sand on a mild day in Taiwan’s fluctuating spring weather. These days are rare, but when you take advantage of them, they’re worth every single second.

I took a day out of the long weekend to take a stroll on Baishawan, a beach in northern Taiwan. It’s a 40-minute bus ride away from Taiwan’s most northerly metro station—Tamsui. The rain continued the very next day, so I’m pleased to have been there. Until next time and on to pastures new.

Barrelled Thoughts #41 – Back to the Future

Tuesday, April 2, 2014

I’d like to share with you all a seed of inspiration I received from a professor in our university the other day. But before I do that, I need to tell you a little bit about who this professor is.

Well, I say professor, but he’s actually more of a traveller; or a writer; or a researcher, anthropologist, volunteer, director, scriptwriter, hipster or hippie. He’s an American, and we know him as all of the above.

I am, of course, speaking of Mr. David Scott Blundell, who, as it so happens, trends on Twitter under #BlundellQuotes due to the simply out-of-this-world stuff that exits his mouth. Unfortunately, he does not Tweet — a real loss to society, as I believe he would give His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Twitter account a run for its money.

Mr. Blundell, who learnt how to drive in Soviet Russia, and who had visited 16 of India’s 27 provinces by the time he was just 22, was adopted as a god son by a Sri Lankan family, the result of which sees him travel to the land of tea and fast bowlers at least once a year.

His family is from Santa Monica, CA, and Mr. Blundell told us that the reason he left the ever-sunny suburbs of Los Angeles was because life was too comfortable and that he was tired of persistent conversations about swimming or tennis.

Yes, a true hipster in every sense of the word, Mr. Blundell left The Golden State to explore the four corners of the known world. He eventually settled on the eastern coast of Taiwan in Hualien, and now takes a two-hour train through the marble cliffs of Taroko National Park every morning to reach Taipei. “It’s the most beautiful train ride in the world,” he once said. Few would argue.

As a scriptwriter and director, Mr. Blundell’s inspiration often comes from travelling. He asked us which topic we would be most interested in if we were to write a story. It could be fact or it could be fiction, but there was only one thing on my mind.

I decided that the story I would like to explore would involve my parents. More specifically, their decision to immigrate to South Africa 30 years ago.

The Chinese are everywhere in the world, and in great numbers, but why did my parents decided to traverse an ocean as vast as the giant Indian in order to reach South Africa? And during the time of apartheid no less.

My understanding is that toward the end of apartheid, there was a group of people who saw the potential of opening businesses in the freshly opened South African market, and my parents were just two out of millions who would travel to what is now known as the “Rainbow Nation.”

This term “Rainbow Nation” is used to characterise the diversity, in South Africa, of the people, flora and fauna. I was intrigued to find out that South Africa is home to one of the world’s five fauna kingdoms, and the plants and trees found there are not seen anywhere else in the world.

My neighbours in the quiet suburb of Edenvale in Gauteng, Johannesburg, were Portuguese on the right and Afrikaans on the left. My Portuguese neighbours’ kids used to throw rocks into our swimming pool, and our dogs — mine a German Shepherd named Doobie; theirs a Boxer called Champ — would challenge each other’s masculinity by growling and jumping at each other from either side of the wall.

I was raised with English as my first language because of school, while speaking my parents’ native language at home — Chinese.

I’m proud to say that my parents, my sister and I contribute to the diversity of South Africa. This diversity, which was made stronger by my attending of a Greek high school, is truly what defines me and indeed my entire generation.

I don’t think it really hits people just how much the world has changed in the last quarter century. The world’s borders have literally been redrawn. Those who are my age or slightly older have been raised through the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the mighty Soviet Union and the disintegration of apartheid. And this generation grew up in an age where travelling suddenly became very accessible to the everyday citizen.

When my parents decided to travel to South Africa in the beginning of the ’80s, apartheid was still in full flow, but so was the air of democracy and freedom. My parents took the risk, along with a whole generation of others, for a shot at a better life.

They started a newspaper company in 1994, the same year South Africa held its first democratic elections. Nelson Mandela (bless his soul) was elected president, and well, the rest is history.

My question to them would simply be “how did you do it?” What was the motivation behind choosing South Africa? And how difficult was it to leave everything behind for a land, which, at the time, was widely considered uncharted?

These questions storm my mind as I try to figure out my own destiny. Come summer, I will have to make a decision that will decide the next 5 to 10 years of my life.

How, exactly, does one immigrate? How does one take such a huge leap forward into the unknown? More to the point: how does one truly — in every sense of the phrase — start anew?

These are all questions I would love to ask them, but at the same time, these are questions I hope I can answer myself in the not so distant future, as I take timid but firm steps toward a new life.

If you could ask a question, any question in the world, how would your story start? JSF.