Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

Terry Pratchett

The reason I talk about moving to a new country as “when” and not “if” is because I will do it. When the time comes, I will leave my current life, move to a new country, and do as the locals do. I will do it because this goal precedes any other goal I may have.

I find 1-3 years to be the sweet spot before making the next transition, enough to go through all the phases of cultural shock: honeymoon, anxiety, adjustment, and adaptation. The path to adaptation is emotional and unstable, as it has been in my past 2 moves, but that’s what makes them important. You can’t grow if your reality is never challenged.

I look forward to shedding my identity in the face of new social rules. I like to play the part: dress like them, eat like them, behave like them. I want to seep into their community as seamlessly as I can, and when I go home at the end of the day — I will come back to myself feeling richer inside.

While the physical moving portion is the ultimate goal, it’s not the end goal per se. I will continue learning languages, devouring books based in different cultures, and immerse my mind in other worlds all the same. You see, this goal can’t fail me. A tangible way to do this can enforce the transition, but it’s not a requisite.

It makes me happy to think and plan for the Next Move. It’s aligned with my values, it gives me something long-term to look forward to, and it makes me appreciative of everything that has come before this moment. Every priviledge, every achievement, and every failure I’ve had — I thank them all.

I used to be deeply affected by natural disasters and social issues. I wasn’t personally affected by them, but seeing how people had to ration their water supply while I was taking hot, steamy showers every night was a horrible feeling. Why did I deserve hot showers when others barely had enough to drink? I felt like I was contributing to their misfortune. I dedicated my high school and college years doing community service, because I was convinced that there was nothing more noble that I could do.

I mostly advocated for social issues, and strived to inspire others to dedicate their free time to volunteering. They were great experiences, but I ended up feeling more at odds with myself. I was disappointed that my actions were temporary. What was the point if everything will just revert back to its status quo?

Since graduating, I’ve been able to distance myself from the things I feel I “need” to do and have turned to just slowing things down. I’ve turned inward, scouring books and inside my mind to understand how I should live my life.

I came to the conclusion that, while spending time contributing to others can help both parties grow, I cannot depend my sense of achievement on them. I can’t make my life purpose to help x number of people. I can contribute for the sake of contributing, but my life purpose will always be something within my control. Whatever I dedicate myself to, that’s the thing that will have the biggest impact on others.

Alex Honnold is the first and only climber to have free soloed the 2,900-foot El Capitan in Yosemite. His main life purpose is to become the greatest free soloer that he can possibly be. After his documentary Free Solo came out, many people were inspired — but that’s a secondary effect. He never set out to inspire others, but he’s done so precisely because he’s focused on achieving his goal of greatness. He’s also doing this by causing the least amount of burden on nature as possible, by living a low-budget, vegetarian lifestyle.

I want to achieve my form of greatness at the lowest cost to nature as well. I want to contribute to the communities I immerse myself in, but my heart and soul will always be devoted to that thing that speaks to me. Only then can I say that I am living my life; I’m not living yours, and I’m living for you, I’m living for myself.

I do wonder how things would differ if I had been raised under different circumstances. Would I have arrived to the same conclusion? What if I were to have kids? Would I see them as an extension of myself, or would they force me to reevaluate my life?

I think we all harm ourselves inadvertently. We scold ourselves for acting like a fool in front of others. We think ourselves weak when we oversleep. We long for things we don’t need, in attempts to mask our true unhappiness. We harm ourselves mentally, because no one can see the damage with which we treat ourselves. It has become such an immediate response, that we no longer question how we treat ourselves.

I tend to talk down on myself to the extent that physical symptoms manifest. Back pain, irregular heart beat, tiredness. As a teen, I didn’t make the connection right away. How can my mind cause physical pain? It’s easy, actually. Remember when you would have a stomachache every time before a stressful presentation? It’s the same thing for your other emotions — only, they become more permanent when putting yourself down becomes a constant in your life.

We’ve all heard the same old advice that You should treat yourself like you treat your best friend countless times. Maybe it’s too soon to call myself my own best friend, but I can see myself becoming one. I got my own back, but I also call myself out when I act out. But if I just talked down on myself all the time, my life would be purposeless. The voice inside my head would not give me a chance.

Now, my reason for not talking down on myself is simple: I want to accomplish my goals. I need the freedom to think and ponder about any kind of thoughts that come across my mind. There is simply not enough space for “talking down on myself” anymore. It doesn’t do anything but sink me deeper into a dark hole. It prevents me from making progress, and affects those around me.

I don’t claim to be free from mental self-harm, but it helps to have a very clear reason why I should invalidate it in my life. It’s not about being kinder to myself, because emotions can be a fickle reason to do anything. Rather, it’s about achieving my goals, something that I will always strive for regardless of how I feel.

It’s late at night, and I’ve been twisting and turning for hours. Why do I want to do it? Should I do something else instead? What will people think about it? I’m such an idiot.

Rumination sometimes leads to inaction, but more often it leads me to an intense desire to redo my actions. It’s like this urge to paint over the canvas before it dries, because I just can’t let my painting sit like that. Sometimes, I take it as a good sign that I’m growing. Other times, I wonder how traumatized I must be to not be able to face my own work.

When I first started blogging, I had a hard time re-reading my posts. I just wanted to tap “Publish” and start a new page. It was easy to do that. Then I started creating videos, and it got worse. I just could not watch a second of my video after I published it. Ironic, isn’t it? If I’m posting something, I can’t be embarrassed about it; otherwise, why the hell would I post it?

I always hoped that my skills would level up to that of my creative eye. To match my creation with my expectation. Both are in constant flux, but my eye seems to change faster than my skills can keep up with. It’s like when you try to draw a face, as an untrained artist. You can see how it’s supposed to look, you can even picture it in your head when you’re not actively looking at it. But when you lean your head back to get a good look at your drawing, it looks awfully unproportional. The eyes are too big, the nose is not right, and it doesn’t resemble the actual face at all. You may know how it’s supposed to look, but your skills deceive you by penning only the most memorable parts of a face and leaving out the rest.

I’m not mad about this dissonance. If anything, it forces me to write more, create more, and post more. I want to receive praises and criticisms — I take them all. Not because it will change what I ultimately create, but because I know I’ll grow immune to them. They might signal validation (or lack thereof) of my work, but the only criticism that matters is that of mine. If I can stop listening to others’ criticisms, then maybe there’s a chance I’ll grow more resilient to mine.

“A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

Jorge Luis Borges has put my thoughts precisely in the best way possible. The way I look at my life experiences — any experience that evokes strong emotional reaction — is like raw material that I can use to develop my art.

I have no art to show as of now. I blog and I make content, but they’re merely expansions of my experiences; ways for me to process what I’ve experienced, but nothing that would be classified as art.

The powerful thing about thinking of experiences as art materials such is that it gives me a sense of purpose when I see none. I may feel like I have sunk to the bottom of the pit, with no way out — but if I just think beyond that moment, I will realize that when I get through it, I would have garnered juicy passage that no one else has.

I don’t think there’s a greater form of true self-expression than the art that you create. It abides by no rules, it listens to no one. Its intent is purely the act of creating itself, to enlighten no one but the artist herself. This art can come in different forms, but I think it’s undeniable when you spot it. The art speaks for the person behind it. There’s no need to justify it or to make it useful. The art just is.

For many years, I preferred pen on paper. Words are unpolished, but the physical constraint forces you to convey your thoughts more efficiently. I also have an online journal for rants; there, I prioritize getting my feelings out over coherency. Sometimes it be like that.

Recently, I started posting my journal entries here instead. Emotionally, it’s a terrible idea. I lay awake at night, thinking about the stupid things I’ve written that day and do everything I can to prevent myself from coming back here and deleting it. Was I too insensitive? Self-conscious? Immature? Stupid?

Rationally, I want to get to the root of my fears. I want to understand why the way I come off to you matters so much to me, and how I can prevent that affecting my work. I want to become more poised, albeit faked at first. Perhaps I’m all the things I fear; but they’re poor excuses for inaction.

Text, and other pieces of writing, are precious reminders of the past. I went through old emails of my first hotmail.com yesterday, and I was immediately flooded with memories about my school days. Email chains between friends, self-email reminders to study SAT vocabulary, one-line emails from friends asking about Spanish homework. I deleted that email right after. Memories can last forever, but the evidence doesn’t need to sit there. It would be extremely easy for me to just forget about these old emails, and unearth them again decades later. But I see no reason to leave a digital footprint if the only time I unearth it is when I’m grappling what to do with it. Thank you for being part of my past, but goodbye.

I guess journals are a bit different. They’re a way for me to remember who I once was, no longer am, and still am. Most of my entries seem like useless rants, but years later they become key pieces of my identity. Getting rid of these entries would be like erasing private thoughts that only I have access to. They are precious because they are solely mine.

Now, I journal as a reminder to do something for myself only. What’s the point of investing in a hobby if my ulterior motive is to profit off of it? The moment I make it profitable, it stops being about myself and starts being about what others want. I risk losing the creative autonomy that, once lost, will be easy to forget. Journaling reminds me that I am the only audience I need to cater to. I am writing for the 13 year-old me, the 30 year-old me, and the versions of me who need a reminder of what I stand for.

Social media is amazing when you go in it looking for inspiration. It’s awful when you go in it looking for a distraction. I would love to say that I have given up social media altogether, but it’s hard to stay away from it when I’m posting on those very platforms every week.

I redownloaded TikTok last week, and it was amazing. YouTube can already be addictive when I’m bored, but TikTok is just on another level. Ever wonder why you don’t see the time when you’re in the app? It’s the easiest thing to do whether you have one minute, or four hours, to spare.

But there’s a reason for that. The amount of unique TikTok content is just incredible. Somehow, a lot of people are able to find their niche and find a solid fanbase. A guy telling storytimes about the 7 year-old daughter of Japanese millionnaires he nannies for. A female magician shows us wowing her fans on Omegle. Your favorite artist. You get it. There is something in it for everyone.

TikTok also makes it so easy for you to create content on existing content. Reading Reddit horror stories, showing you things you msised from popular films, or retelling riddles from the internet. You can be unique by recreating content. You don’t need to have an incredible talent to create content. You just have to be creative.

I love social media, but it’s just not sustainable to have it accessible at all times of the day. If I did, it would be incredibly easy for me to overconsume. Feeling bored? Tap on Instagram stories. Have 2 hours to spare? Swipe up on TikTok. Need something to fall asleep to? Browse YouTube. I would need to fight against the algorithms that were designed precisely to make me stay, and I just don’t have time for that.

I feel like I’m constantly waiting for something to happen. That perhaps my present life is just a build-up for something better. It feels like I’ve been living for the future since forever. Since college became a goal when I was still years away from attending it, and my career seemed like an impending do or doom.

Now that I’m out of that chasing mentality and lead a calmer life, that nagging feeling still seeps into my mind every once in a while. Do I not like my life? What am I waiting for?

I feel a need to run away from my current life and re-invent myself completely. Whenever I move away, I feel it’s necessary to leave the past behind to fully devote myself to this new environment. But I also do it because I want to spare myself from seeing the friendships that will fade away.

But I think this trauma-triggered response has also reinforced my main life goal: to live the world. To learn a new language, struggle with the cultural shock, and become as close as I can to living like a local. Complete, then repeat. This process of learning, struggling, and adjusting is what makes my life meaningful. And I like to do it by myself. I guess I fear that if I hold on to my past life too much, it will prevent me from fully living in the present.

I preach living in the present, yet I am constantly planning for that to come. To live in the present is to acknowledge that your current lifetime will go by faster than you can say “I need more time.” To truly live life as you know best, because there are no second chances for time.

As a young person still, I guess I am still reinventing myself because it’s a palpable reminder of my mortality. I’ve been here in Taiwan for over 14 months now, and even if I stay here for another year or so, I will be gone faster than I can say “I came here to escape COVID” (too late, anyway). It’s been easier to consider what matters to me knowing that I will be gone soon. It’s really simple, actually: my hobbies, family, work. Everything else is secondary. Once I formed this hierarchical pyramid in my mind, I stopped obsessing over the secondary factors. There’s no time for them.

I’m happily holed up in my cocoon. I live in a small loft studio, with the full-size windows giving the illusion of a grand space. Since the soft lockdown started, I have gotten lost in my little moments of happiness. I’ve kept up my promise to love myself more this year. I turned 25 Lunar years on February 12th; perhaps that’s why quarter life crisis thoughts have been hitting me like what’s up.

I recently bought the cheapest piano keyboard i could find, and I’ve been playing away like a child playing with her new toy. I love starting something new. Most of the time I stick with it for a bit, and half the time I stay with it long enough to get what I want out of it. I’ve never been good at doing one thing for a long period of time; any aspirations of reaching Juilliard-level proficiency have been laughable. My mind can’t live in one world forever. But that doesn’t stop me from dabbling in many worlds and experiencing the little joys and frustrations that help me appreciate the truly talented a better.

I’m glad I lived in this COVID-free island for a year, but I’m afraid we’ve let our guard down. While the US seems to be going back to normal, our inhabitants are growing more restless. Still, we are better off than other harder hit areas, where border control is not as easy. I have been at home 98% of the time in the past 2 weeks. I’m prepared to make that 100% for the coming weeks or months, if I give up in-person grocery shopping.

Perhaps a thing to note is that Taipei gets extremely hot, humid, and insufferable for half the year. We have entered this stage in May, and I must say I’m relieved to stay at home during this time. The long, leisurely walks that I took during the colder months of the year are now but distant memories.

Some parts of Taiwan have also been hit by droughts and blackouts. I started taking shorter showers and whispering words of gratitude for my working AC and charged laptop. I’ve experienced water shortages in every country I’ve lived in; never where I lived, but always close. I don’t read the news much, but when I do, it’s just a reminder to stay humble in my lifestyle. How can I live extravagantly, if my consumption takes away from those who need it more? It’s not even a question of doing good. It’s like committing a crime knowing that people will get hurt. I could be on the receiving end any day myself.

  1. Alone time has become more enjoyable as the judgemental voice inside has dimmed. As the instabilities in my life settled and my life became simpler, my mental state improved. A stable, simple life, sprinkled with hints of exciting hobbies and wanderlust plans. A life planned by no other than myself.
  2. Life always seems greener on the other side. Even my past seems greener, even though the stress I endured materialized into physical pains. The other side always has more time. The present time is just the here, the now, the mundane. It can be wonderful, if you truly spend time with it.
  3. Time. That’s the thing everyone older than you will always be envious of, my dad said. It had never occurred to me, even though I subsconsciously look at people (younger than me) enviously. By the time they’re my age, they would have achieved more than I have at this point… It’s baseless comparison, goddamnit I know it. Isn’t time relative?