Mundanities #1 Home

Every morning I wake up to the sound of sweeping. Below or above I’m never sure. But the steady hush of straw on concrete is the first sound I hear.


After that, it’s the Squabblers. I’m not entirely sure what they look like. They are the birds here. I hear them from up in the trees but don’t see them come down. They always sound angry, like they are arguing with one another. I think they must not like it when the sun comes up. I only hear them squabbling in the morning.


Then there is the steady hum of traffic and the voice of my neighbors lifting up from below. I hear the scrape of feet on cement. A baby’s cry. The whir of a washing machine below me, the trickling of water from above.


My flat is not much to look at. At first glance it looks nice enough. Slick linoleum tiles that resemble polished wood. Bright white baseboards, trim and coffered ceilings. Textured paper lines the walls, shiny and dotted with the spiral pattern of flowers. I can never quite tell what color the wallpaper is. Depending on the light, it either shines a pale pink or a more subdued beige. The door handles are ornate, fake brass and carved like the detailed hardware of centuries old homes. Each is equipped with a pair of keys dangling from it that I never bothered to move. The lights are equal in show. Ancient calligraphy etched into the light boxes to resemble old lanterns.


Of course, upon closer inspection one is bound to notice the dark spots on the wallpaper, bruising purple. They are likely to notice the unevenness of the paper too, asymmetrically pasted in each room. Notice the seams gaping and folding down like the dog-eared pages of a book. They will see the coffee table held up by copious amounts of tape. They will notice the mark of water on the ceiling. See the warped floorboards gathered together like the peaks of tiny hills, sputtering black water from below with each precarious step. They will see where the raised step outside the bathroom has mostly rotted away, black and peeling. They will observe the ever pervasive and cloying smell of damp and mildew. If they stay long enough, they will catch a glimpse of the tiny dots of mold peppering the walls throughout the week before they are scrubbed down again with bleach.


My apartment is not always pretty. And while it is my refuge from the world, sometimes I truly loathe the tacky wallpaper and lament the perpetually wet floor. I get angry at the damp smell that persists here in winter, trying in vain to find better ways to air out the place.


But it is home. At least for a while.


Sometimes I hear the cries of the newborn from the apartment below in the early hours of the morning. Above, I can hear the tinker of a piano. These things remind me of a home far away. Of my sister’s tiny little fingers curled into fists. Of a piano collecting dust in the corner.


My neighbors keep their windows open. In the evenings, I hear the sizzle of the fire. The cooking smells drift out of their open windows to greet me as I come up the stairs. The food doesn’t smell familiar and it makes me miss home.


On the way back to my flat I see the grandmothers with their grandchildren. They play in the neighborhood playground together. A girl, not yet two and with a gummy smile only punctuated here and there with a tiny tooth, sees me. “Ayi!” she yells. The grandmother smiles and there is something familiar in the gap between her two front teeth.


Ayi!” she cries again and toddles toward me. And I am home.


Ayi means “aunt.” It’s a respectful term you’d use to address a woman old enough to be your mother.





Here I am, making up words again.


I’m not sure what to do with the collection I have of these. But since my time here in China I’ve written a few things about my life. Some of them are in the form of personal essays, some of them have turned into stories with a life of their own and others are really just the day-to- day mundane things that make up a life.


So this will be a series entitled, “Mundanities,” for some of the day-to-day things that make up my life here in China.



As always, I hope these find you well,



Greetings From Beyond the Firewall

So apparently China doesn’t like WordPress too much and I have difficulty accessing the site, hence my lack of posting.

I’ve been in China for roughly about 7 months and have opted to stay for another year.

So far my time here has been a mass of confusion, delicious food, social faux pas, indescribable joy, and me speaking terrible Chinese. It’s a work in progress.

Hopefully I can start telling you all about it soon.

Until then,


Book Stash: Book Recs

As evidenced by the scarcity of posts on this humble blog, I have not done much writing lately. However, I have been doing a lot of reading. Here are a few things I’ve read recently that I quite enjoyed.

Snow, by Orhan Pamuk

This novel takes place in the city of Kars and follows the journey of the poet, Ka, who has returned to his native Turkey after being a political exile in Germany for twelve years. While his stated purpose in returning is to write about the suicides of several Muslim teenage girls referred to as “the head scarf girls,” he hopes to also become reacquainted with the beautiful–and recently divorced–Ipek.

The heavy snow in Kars temporarily cuts off transportation to and and from the city and as a result the city is isolated. During this period of isolation Ka meets a cast of characters; from Ipek’s ex-husband, to alleged Muslim extremists, would-be-writers, and a curiously dangerous acting troupe.

Snow deals with the conflicts of Eastern versus Western, secularism versus religion, and tradition versus the modern through the lens of Ka in his quest to find love, god, and poetry.



Dr. Mutter’s Marvels, by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Marvels is a look at the development of modern surgery through the life and practice of Dr. Thomas Mutter. While the Mutter Museum is still around today, a collection of medical oddities to educate–and fascinate–all who view them, little is known about Dr. Mutter. The man kept no diary (neither did his wife), there is little left of his correspondence, and he had no children. What is known of Mutter is what endeared him to his students, his patients, and the medical world. His style, passion, flair, compassion, and cutting-edge ideas continue to be put to use in surgery today.


Once upon a Wednesday at 2pm

By chance I saw you,
standing across from Union Square.
I knew it was you from the nape of your neck,
the one I memorized as it retreated from view
all loose hairs and flush red.
I wonder
if it remembers the imprint of my lips,
mistaking your warm for warmth.
I wonder if you remember still,
tracing constellations in the freckles on your cheeks,
as if your face was somehow a road map to the stars.
How silly was I to think
I could make a holy place of a boy who forgets,
to have and to own are not the same?

Musings on Moving, Missing and the Mundane

An update.

If everything goes according to plan, two weeks from now I will be on Chinese soil.

Two weeks is a short amount of time, but China still feels like such a distant thing. The realities of packing and moving haven’t set in yet. Or more accurately, the panic of packing and moving hasn’t set in yet. The most I’ve done is make a tentative list of things to take with me. What do you put on a list of things to take with you across the world?

I keep trying to imagine what my days will be like there. There is a jogging path close to my flat that overlooks a river and mountains. I wonder what kinds of sounds I’ll hear, what kinds of flowers and birds I’ll see. I wonder what the view will be like from my bedroom window, if I can see my neighbors or the distant mountains. Of course there will be temples and the Great Wall, and markets but I wonder about these small, mundane things.

I’m preparing to say goodbye to this place. I don’t know that I’ll ever be back. I’ll have no one here to come back to. For a while I really loathed this place, and while it is not on my list of favorites now, there are some things about it that I’ll miss.

I’ll miss my morning walks. Trying to find the locations of woodpeckers by following their sounds through the woods. The random deer sightings, particularly a mother and child pair, shying peeking through trees, nibbling on the neighbor’s bushes.

I’ll miss these woods. I’ll miss the sweet musk of late spring. My blackberry brambles. The little wild rabbits.

I’ll miss my car. I’ll miss the long drives on winding, wooded roads, singing at the top of my lungs with no one on the road but me.

I’ll miss my dog, who sadly, I cannot take with me.

I will miss the man who looks at me with stars in his eyes. Who opened up an entire universe with his smile.

And of course my mother. My mother who drives me crazy. My mother who interrupts. Constantly. My mother who will buy me sweets on the days I am sad. My mother who does not understand me, but always tries.



Thanksgiving for Two

The past few days leading up to today I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media and the like about Thanksgiving. Among the most popular has been the Black Families Thanksgiving hash tag on Facebook and Twitter. And while these are meant to be more humorous than anything, they are rooted in being relatable to black families across the board. But it’s things like these that remind me that I don’t much relate to the people’s depictions of the holidays. I never grew up in a house packed with relatives during the holidays. I (thankfully) never had to deal with insensitive aunts or uncles questioning me about my life choices, or my parents embarrassing me the way some of my friends’ parents have.

Up until very recently, Thanksgivings at my house have always been quiet. Thanksgiving was my mother who once worked three jobs in order to provide and averaged maybe four hours of sleep, waking up at six in the morning to cook. It was the smell of her second cup of coffee drifting its way upstairs to my bedroom, its smoky scent coloring the edge of my dreams.

Thanksgiving was my mother and I eating on TV trays in the living room. It was my mother falling asleep on the couch at odd hours of the day while I read or watched recorded reruns of The Jeff Corwin Experience on VHS.

It was putting up our rather scrawny Charlie Brown-looking Christmas tree overloaded with ceramic angels, handmade ornaments I made in elementary school, wooden apples, and tinsel. (Oh god the tinsel. Our tree was practically metallic with tinsel. We would find tinsel around the house in odd places for months afterward.

My Thanksgivings may not have consisted of a full house, but they were full nonetheless. So here’s to the quiet Thanksgivings. The Thanksgivings where the table is set only for two (or maybe there’s no table at all). Here’s to the Thanksgivings of the overworked and underpaid. Here’s to the Thanksgivings in single parent households.