Lugano, Switzerland

It’s been awhile since you have last seen a place this grey and this radiant. The whitish grey fog hangs low in the sky as if it is a giant laundry that hangs on the tarnished-red roofs of the short houses that align the hills around. Between the houses and you stretches a lake whose greyness blends so well into the greyness of everything else that you would not have noticed the water were it not for the abandoned sail boats at the dock. The boats tremble every time a small wave comes by and lifts them up slightly above the usual water level, and you imagine the boats to be on their tip toes and waving a big hi as they rock on their sides. At where you come from, people used to ask you how you were doing instead of saying hi but no one ever waited for the answer to the question. It’s not an actual question, a friend of yours told you, it’s just a casual way of addressing someone. So they aren’t really interested in how I’m doing, you asked back. Your friend looked at you and blinked thoughtlessly. Maybe, she said. Maybe not, she said.

It’s been awhile since anyone has asked you how you are doing, and as you stand there in the brilliant greyness of fog, lake, and dock, you feel an impulse to ask the flying sea gulls how they are doing. The sea gulls look white, whiter than the distant stars in the night sky, and unlike the stars, the birds fly around– the white specks in the greyness fly to and fro, scattered here and there, and they make the grey even more brilliant. It’s interesting to see that the whiteness renders the greyness even more like grey than it would otherwise be without the whiteness. How are you doing, seagulls? You wonder if anyone has ever asked that question to the sea gulls. Has any sea gull been asked any question at all? What happens to the stories of these birds if no one ever asks about them? You and your friend try to talk to the birds that are so nearby that it would be possible for you to jump on one of them give it a hug. You wonder aloud about the chance of encountering any relative of Ramalinga, a pigeon that your Singaporean friend told you of, that had accompanied her when she used to attend high school there. Your Singaporean friend saw it every morning on her way to her school and she attests that she never saw it fly. Curiously enough it would walk, run, and even lie down on the street as if about to take a nap, but it never flew, she said. Whenever it was chased by one thing or another, it would run like the fastest pigeon in the world. Your Singaporean friend had thus named that pigeon Ramalinga, after an Indian runner who was supposedly the fastest runner in the world (not fact-checked). So now you are here, in a bird-crowded place of Switzerland, looking for Ramalinga that you have never seen before and perhaps would never see but nonetheless would look for and be reminded of whenever you see a pigeon or any sort of a bird. You and your friend call out its name in the unfamiliar street, and desperately too, because there must be a sliver of hope in a grey that is so brilliant. There is no doubt that such brilliant grey is wonderful, you think to yourself, as you and your friend shout out “Ramalinga!”

Hanover, NH, USA

You miss everything about that place. Nothing elsewhere comes even close to getting as real and fantastical as things were in Hanover. You remember the wonderful taste of gelato that you had on a snowy day; the warmth of August sunlight that blanketed the greenness of the Green when you first got off the Dartmouth Coach and stepped into that magical island in the middle of nowhere; the angelic snow whose mere sight delighted you and made you wish that time would stop so that you could simply stand there forever and watch the snow glitter forever. You cherish those moments when you used to look up at the night sky and find shooting stars splitting the darkness every now and then, as if the night is a crust which, if cracked, would break like an eggshell to reveal who-knows-what that lies beyond the night. You recall that shooting stars slashed across the murkiness of the night, quite suddenly and surreptitiously. Pieces of sky would fall apart under such sharp cuts– perhaps some would fall onto the treetops while others would crash into the soft, wet ground with a thud– and you might feel an urge to pick one of them up, if you can. You used to sit there, under the night sky on an open field so that when the sky actually breaks apart and falls, you would actually be able to grab a piece of it. Anything could happen, you used to think to yourself, at a place like Hanover.

Pieces of Dartmouth strikes you just when you think that you have finally put past things as past and are ready to focus on your present. A glimpse of a lush-green lamp that somehow reminds you of Harry Potter every time you see it catches you at a cafe in Hongdae where the waiter is quite rude and the dessert too sweet. It looks exactly like the one you used to work under on wintry days at Dartmouth, on the top of the antique library building where both students and professors drowsed off under the spell of warmth and coziness that pervaded the place. The transparent, purple water bottle that was one of the first things made in America that you owned jumps at you in your home university’s store and makes you smile wide at the thought of yet another alma mater. Some things come back, and they bring everything else along with them. You unconsciously play around with a loose string near your fingers and accidentally pull it until the entire sweater that you are wearing comes apart and you stand there naked, vulnerable. You shiver at the room temperature because the memories are so real and they create goosebumps on your arms. That’s what Hanover does to you: the place makes you swim naked in its memories, people, snowflakes, and fall leaves.

Copenhagen, Denmark

You arrive and are immediately plunged into the insipid grey of the night. It has been quite awhile since the sun has set and luminous yellows stand by the roads, here and there, awaiting for the complete darkness to settle in. The yellow lights seem distant and nebulous; the misty night pulls over a diaphanous cloak around everything that is lit and you are left thinking whether it is your sleepy eyes playing tricks on you or the place really is that misty. Copenhagen at night never fails to remind you of the very first scene of Harry Potter, that misty night when Hagrid turns up in Dudley’s neighborhood without a warning. You imagine a giant figure walking towards you from far away, breathing heavily and knocking out everything in his way, and the illusion stays with you for so long that eventually, you feel as though you would not be surprised if you were to actually encounter someone with as big of a coat and a beard as Hagrid does. If that ever happens, you would casually offer him a piece of chicken nugget and perhaps even an entire burger from Burger King that you are having with your once-in-a-lifetime friend.

Days of Copenhagen are short, especially when Christmas is just around the corner and your dearly-loved friend has three essays to complete in two days. You lie around in an old couch that faintly smells of spilled milk and cookie crumbs, watching the sunlight fade away at three in the afternoon. Sometimes it rains, and raindrops cling to the windowpane where yellow light of the room seeps out little by little. Other times, you hear distant owl’s cries that somehow make you feel lonely and cuddled at the same time. Perhaps you feel cuddled because artificial lights in Denmark are all yellow and so everything you see at night is yellow– the notepad, the chairs, and even the tired smile that overhangs on your friend’s face. Perhaps you feel cuddled because your friend asks you what you want to eat for breakfast even though both of you know you do not have too many options. Your friend fixes breakfast, lunch, dinner every day for three days, and that makes nine warm meals of slightly burnt spaghetti, Danish rice pudding, and black bread that you manage to convince yourself is tasty enough. As far as you can recall, this is the third time that a friend of yours has cooked for you, and you secretly feel grateful for such a privilege; certainly, it is not to be taken for granted when someone cooks for you because cooking seems to be such an intimate activity, the making of something that is directly related to your health, survival, and above all, your precious taste bud. You realize that it is little things that make you feel cuddled, that really matter in life.

Little things can also make you feel scared too– for instance, when it comes to bikes Danish people turn into one of the most aggressive peoples in the world. Believe it or not, they start cursing the moment you slow down, pointing fingers and glaring at you like you have just murdered your son. You hear all the scary stories about the transformation of Danish that seem to exceed that of Frankenstein, and without further hope decide against getting on a bike in that country. Walking is better for looking at fat mannequins that align the street shop windows, you tell yourself rather timidly. Strangers are no one in your life– you are going to see them only for several seconds– and the words they throw at you are only going to be heard by you and no one else, but then you find yourself afraid to bear those few seconds and words. And you realize yet once again that little things are big things. Denmark is full of little things that are actually big.

Jeju island, Republic of Korea

You see through the stone walls because the stones do not quite fit into each other and that is the way it is supposed to be. The wind that was born in Atlantis and came all the way across the backs of traveling whales never tires as it runs in between and right through the stones. The rushing air blends in with the rocks as if to let the long-held breath of dust and cut plant roots out of the solid chunks of time. The walls breathe without moving their lungs or any other part of themselves; they simply are there and the wind does all the dancing and twirling in and out of the stone walls– the breathing in and out of the walls– until all the life that the walls need fills all their cracks. When you lower your face until the tip of your nose almost touches one of the stones and peek into the purposeful holes, you realize that there is indeed so much life imbued into the walls; the roof of the house that floats just above your chin, the fat chocolate-brown horse grazing on the color of the apples that you ate in the morning, and the cacti that may or may not contain water underneath the prickly thorns (who knows what the cactus hides in its inside?) are all growing lively within the holes of the Jeju stone walls. There are many other things, too, dwelling in the smallest and the largest cracks of the island, some beyond your expectations and others far from the lowest of your imagination: the navy blue waves that quickly turn into the pearly foams, spreading like a spiderweb across the deepest azure; the veil of sunlight that renders the air faintly misty, just like the way morning dew rains down in the earliest time of a dawn; the standing boulders that remind you of both black honeycombs and hexagon pencil leads; all these grow in between the rocks of the island amidst the rough manners of coastal people who serve fresh sushi. And in one and all, the conscience of an island looms; that feeling of separation from the mainland, farewell to the main civilization, and the distillation of mundane, everyday life.

Jeju island also holds the memories of the very first family trips. Your grandparents had come here a long time ago for their honeymoon, your parents came here quite awhile ago for their own honeymoon, and now you are here with your most beloved ones, quarreling every now and then over what to wear and where to go. Your mom insists that you cover your head with a towel on top of which you must put on your cap in order to protect your skin from the malicious, lethal sunlight that is bound to bring you nasty sunburns. You adamantly refuse such order, partly because you do not like to have a towel around your head when you swim and also because you are beginning to recall that your childhood was not as happy as you often reminisced it to be (your mom had in fact intervened in almost every part of your childhood). This is how most quarreling starts– with a small, petty matter to which the level of priority bestowed differs among the social constituents– and you wonder whether your grandparents might have had fought over the color of their shirts on a particular day at Jeju island. You can almost guarantee that your parents would have caused a ruckus over the price of lunch that they had on their honeymoon, and then you start to imagine a whole new world of Jeju in which couples dissent over so many little things that eventually petrify into memories. Family trips, bickering, memories. That’s the equation for the birth of pasts.

Pride and Prejudice Soundtrack- Dawn

The child is asleep. She is sleeping a honeyed sleep, one that soars above the terrains of worldly sufferings and alights on top of the crescent moon that plays around with the white crashing waves of a shore. Such an oblivion tastes blissful, so sweet and full of naive joy that has yet to realize its own beauty. With every sleepy breath, the child drinks from the fountain of contentment and life, falling ever more deeply under the innocent, good spell of a tooth fairy. A child’s sleep is surely a thing to be admired, as it simply is and nothing more; there is no pretension, no pride, and not even self-awareness. Only a sense of peace pervades– a peace that completely surrenders itself to the world without compromising any of the essence– and a child rests in the purest form of being, the kind of being that is quite intensely faithful to being itself that it calms everything there is to be calmed. It is in this truthful conscience and quietness that a full force of sincerity and love lunges forward and makes itself acutely felt.
Memories come and visit her. Memories of the past, of the present, and of the future. They linger around her softly breathing lips, in between the nostrils, tapping at her eyebrows and playing with the thin train of air bubbles that she lets out. They come and dance around the feathery clouds of sleep that every sleeping child’s face is covered with. Sometimes they would turn into lucid dreams and other times grant a relief in the child’s soul that she would sigh a sigh of gratification, tinted with a sense of pleased humility and enamored acceptance.

Quebec, Canada (feat. Groulx Mountains)

It isn’t that the entire place is covered with snow– no, I would not use an expression as cliche and nonsensical– but there, the world is the snow itself; the snow, which is the world, is studded with spruce leaves, treetops, mountains, and sparsely populated human beings. The fresh wolf tracks that are left unseen, the fire-lit pages of books whose words are read aloud ever so sweetly by an endearing stranger, the wisp of anxious sleep that covers your eyes right before you fall into a deep oblivion that gets progressively colder– everything you encounter is just another playful disguise of snow, an intricate adornment for the snow, the world. I’d like to imagine that the core of this planet is actually packed with blaring whiteness, that underneath my frozen toes lies a universe of pure, pristine blankness that has been touched by none and yet embraces everything. It would be just like a magic show where instead of a white rabbit jumping out of a black hat, the quintessence of whiteness surprises everyone who sees it. The moment I lift up the veneer of what seems to be a civilization, an established network of luxuries and desires, I thus expect to find a warm blanket of twinkling snow underlying all those that are in vain, the delusional, schizophrenic chasing of gold, fame, and self-gratifications.

And then there is the black cat with transparent yellow eyes that acts so unlike a cat that you begin to wonder whether it is actually a cat. The question of identity is a complicated one, you see, and any Quebecian would know that. Where you come from, where you are going, how you react to different situations along the way– all your actions, words, motivations, and purpose contribute to determining who you are and in turn, who you are designates you to act and speak in a certain way. Like any other, this cat has decided to choose its own destiny and act like a sheepish dog; when called, it always(!) comes and meows to you, completely acknowledging your presence. It meekly sits on your lap and gives you a nice excuse to not go out into the coldness to cut some more wood for the fire. Sometimes when you forget to stroke its back it carefully scratches you, cautiously nagging for attention and comfort. This cat definitely makes a choice, and it chooses to be with you.

Under the dim, orange yellow light of the wooden cabin also dwell the fond moments of folk music and laughters that are so wholesome to the extent that they feel holy. As you awkwardly play the newly-bought accordion accompanied by others with their harmonicas and guitar, you think to yourself that this is the life that people are supposed to live. This is a way to live, you whisper in your head. Living without electricity and running water (and laptops and cellphones and facebook and emails) reveals the utmost simplicity of life, the beautiful essence of living the elementary life of feeding yourself, keeping your house warm, and occasionally allowing yourself to relax with a warm cup of peppermint tea. Songs sung that night are embroidered with unintentional harmonies that sound good nonetheless, and amidst the excellent company, it is human warmth that you cuddle into as you stare at each other with eyes filled with wonder, endearment, and respectful love. You feel so alive, so good.

Coldplay- Hymn for the Weekend

An echo comes slithering from a faraway land where the scent of shooting stars, powdery flower dusts, and kaleidoscopic rainbow hovers above the air that sparkles like sparkling wine. The sound of the echo is something that you might have heard of in your dreams– it is vaguely familiar but you cannot quite pinpoint where you had encountered it or what you were looking for when you had first heard it. You remember desperately looking for something, something that no one else could find except you. You knew that you were destined to find it, if anyone were to find it at all.

Suddenly, you realize that the sight that your eyes are beholding is that of love; such irresistible beauty the echo has led you to, a life of its own music and love. You see all these colors– cold blue, blaring pink, chrysanthemum yellow– and find your home in them. I found my home in them, the rundown village in one of the world’s most remote places where the smiles of innocence and childlike happiness made the sun rise every morning. The sun used to rise every morning without the blink of an eye, because everyone smiled a smile that shone brighter than the morning sunlight that poured out itself onto a backyard pond where a couple of old goldfish lived. We didn’t need a sun back then. There was no point in having the sun except to make us blink. The peacocks loved the sun, though, as they opened up their elegant feathers and danced to the cascading rays of transparent yellow that splashed and crashed against the very thin tips of the feathers. And I loved the peacocks. I loved my home.

Tower Room, Baker Library

The morning sunlight sleepily caresses itself on the carpeted floor, wallowing in the red and green waves of the patterns that remind you of a Christmas tree, with its jingles, lights, and pleasant surprises. Some of its rays perch on the antique armchairs with deep-green cushions and generously shine themselves onto the small golden beads that playfully align the armrests like a group of excited children who can barely restrain themselves at the sight of chocolate chip cookies. Shelves on the walls are filled with books– books covered with dust, faded letters, and time-worn knowledge that are bound by the spell of some unknown curiosity– and the sunlight springs on them, too, bringing their colorful spines into life. The light seeping through the thick red curtains is everywhere and yet nowhere; the room seems to be alighted so naturally that you never really think about where the light comes from. The light belongs here, in this room, as it illuminates the sparkling dusts floating around in the air and the french macarons that sit meekly on one of the desks, and there is no way you can mess around with that. Sunday morn sunlight and macarons are both just so tasty.

The Tower room is where the silence resides, too, away from the fancy neon streetlights, the drunk students’ ramblings with sour breaths, and the growls of rushing cars. A chandelier with faint yellow lights of fireflies hangs still in the air, so still that it almost seems surreal– as if it has been plucked out of the thin air, as if it is not of this earth. The more you stare at it, the more you are drawn to it and the more you begin to wonder whether what your eyes are beholding is actually real. Perchance this an extremely realistic painting, you whisper to yourself, or maybe you are simply in someone else’s dream. You secretly wish that the person who is dreaming about you is the one who is always so fond of you, so blindly in love with you. You notice that the air is viscous with silence, a silence so thick that it would make much more sense to imagine this entire room brimming with honey and everything– the carved wood designs on the wall, dimly lit lamps, pillars of papers– all submerged in golden, oozy honey. This entire place would be so drunk with that particular fresh sweetness of the autumn, then, and everything would slow down just like they do in hallucinations or slow-motion films.

Her- Photograph

You close your eyes into the sweetened reality of hazy sunlight, unseen daylight stars that promisingly resemble droplets of water, and the scent of shades that green leaves of spring carve on the ground. Things are common, and common things are dreamy; it is as if you are seeing the world for the first time as you take in a deep breath of the crystal air, just like a newborn baby who is ready to burst out his first cry after that breath. The spring wind whispers into your ears the words of love, flowers, and summer,and you are lured into sleep– a deep, enchanting sleep that won’t let you go until you give it a sincere kiss on its nose.

As you fall asleep, the sky suddenly turns into a swirl of water, and before you realize it, you find yourself floating in the middle of a midnight lake. The stars that had previously reminded you of waterdrops have now turned into diamonds, like the ones that you often find in pencil leads or on wet asphalt road or even oil spills in sunshine. Ah, you softly breath out a heart of air as you exclaim. The stars are diamonds that have been brushed off from the layers of snow on a crisp winter morn! How could you have mistaken such simple fact of life. It is of course a matter of fact that stars lingering on a midnight lake are indeed diamonds from the snow.

Thinking of this somehow makes you thirsty. The thirst that you feel is not one of those parched, mean ones, though. Rather, it is one of the motherly ones, the gentle nudge in your body that both reassures you and prompts you to action. Sometimes, a need can be a sorely beautiful thing, so beautiful that you want to keep on thirsting, thirsting for the thirst. It is like that moment when you sprinkle bits of flower petals onto the colors of macarons and just want to stop time right then and there, even if that would mean you would not be able to take a bite of those rose-scented macarons.

So you wait a moment or two before slowly drinking in all of the midnight lake water that flows down your throat into your lungs and fills them with the sparkles of diamonds. The water is so cool and relieving, and it sinks into you until you are filled with the stars and roaming around a distant milky way. And there you remaing floating, in that space where everything is quiet and serene. You finally close your eyes and let the darkness embrace you.