A Brave Thing

Sometimes bravery doesn’t look like overcoming physically challenging feats like slaying dragons or jumping out of moving vehicles. For me on a Sunday two weeks ago, bravery was purchasing two pairs of shorts.

I don’t like buying trousers or shorts because I keep thinking that I might get smaller so the things I buy will not fit me for very long. I hold off on buying anything because I keep believing I will fit into some smaller size. I also hate the feeling of measuring myself against a number and feeling, “Yet again, I do not fit into a size six. The last time I bought something for my lower body was over a year ago, partly because of my fear of not fitting into the “appropriate” size for me.

I thought I was overcoming my body image problems as I overcame my fear of 130 pounds, but I see now that this reluctance to purchase trousers or shorts is another manifestation of those problems. Measuring myself by clothing size is still measuring myself by arbitrary numbers, regardless of whether it is six or 130.

In March, I had the small thought of, “What if…I just bought clothes that fit me, no matter what the size was?” The thought faded as I hit lower points in my mental wellness, but in early June the stars aligned. I found myself feeling confident enough, close to a mall and with enough time to shop.

When I browsed the racks, I was hung up on size six, but I tried the next size up anyways upon the sales person’s advice.

The larger size felt so much better.

I got them.

I have new shorts and they fit. For me, by buying those shorts, I’ve dealt a blow to a fear that has lingered about me for a long, long time.

Welcome to my wardrobe, my new size eight shorts!


Coming back and moving forward

Fourth post in the Architecture and Design series

On my last day of undergraduate classes as a social sciences major, I looked more like the architecture student futurity that I abandoned prior to entering university.

With a black oversized blazer and culottes, I fit the (completely fictional) stereotype of architects wearing dark-coloured clothes. What completed the architecture look was the large portfolio bag I deftly carried around, in order to keep the the final tabloid-sized (11×17”) prints for my final presentation flat.

For my last class was not a class for my major, but rather the city visuals course. To top it off, it was presentation day, for which we had to bring in our final drawings for one last crit session thus the large print outs.

All throughout today, I mused how it was very neat to finish my undergraduate classes this way, doing a presentation like the architecture course I had in high school. Being the architecture student that I might have been, rather than the social sciences major that I actually am.

Since starting this course in January 2018, I’ve had the sense that I was returning to a past version of me. Through this course, I was exploring the future as an architecture student that I never had.

I made use of experiences from the summer high school architecture course in this university course. I attribute part of the success I had in my final project to the “Why” lesson I learnt all those years ago. From the get-go, I saw the need to establish a strong narrative to unify my project. I think I successfully achieved that as I did not receive any questions during crit about why certain components were relevant. Rather, I only received questions about the execution of my project, which did not dig deep at whether I successfully conveyed my concept or not.

In this course, I built on those experiences and deepened my understanding of design. I learnt about drawing principles, how to convey hierarchy of importance, and applied those lessons to real-life examples. I figured out how to use Adobe Illustrator for my final project. I wasn’t designing spaces, but I created visuals with purpose and demanded “Why?” as I contemplated designs, much like what an architect does.

All this reminiscing about my architecture and design history and the future I might have had is what prompted me to do the Architecture and Design series. This course has reaffirmed my interest in the way things are visually represented.

A friend who has read the posts asked me if I regretted not choosing to study architecture five years ago. To her, it sounded as if I saw greener grass on other side.

I reassured her that it was the opposite. Perhaps it sounded like I yearned to have done things differently and that I only declined my BArchitecture offer because I felt that I was not capable of doing well in that field. In reality, I love where I am nowadays. I also knew when declining my BArchitecture offer that is a Master’s degree in Architecture that is essential for an architecture career, and so I have always known that I could pursue that if I was still interested after my Bachelor’s degree.

That is not happening though. I will be pursuing further studies in the social sciences and I cannot recall pausing to consider architecture at any point during this undergraduate degree. I love what I am doing right now too much!

At the same time I began exploring the potential architecture student me when I started the city visuals course in January, I already realized how important my current interests are to me. While the prof went through examples of how visuals were biased, my mind instantly screamed, “Politics! Politics!”

So, though I came back to my interests in architecture and design during this term, I simultaneously am moving forward. Onwards, onto new adventures.

The word for pain in architecture

Third post in the Architecture and Design series

I mentioned in the previous post of this series that the architect’s design process involves a series of kicks to the gut. These kicks to the gut come rapid fire in a condensed period known as “crit” to architecture students.

Crit is short for “critique” or “criticism”. In the summer architecture course that I attended, crit is the name for the session where students present present their work to the prof and their peers, and receive feedback in return.

Feedback does not only come in the form of demands of, “Why?” It also comes through audience suggestions and having the brilliance of your peers shoved in your face.

Indeed, the most vivid memory I have of crit from all those years ago is not of how a prof roasted me. Rather, it was how another peer had chosen a concept similar to mine, yet had executed it much better than me.

I had managed to escape my presentation relatively unscathed, but my feeling of relief came too early as crit had not ended. I began to feel a sense of unease when I listened to another classmate explain his concept, which was essentially the same as mine. The prof, renown for being a particularly tough cookie with extremely restricting standards, actually got excited about his design. She applauded my classmate’s design with a smile and a nod.

The prof then turned to me and said, “See, Corax, isn’t this a much better execution of your concept?” Behind her, my classmate smiled brightly, gleaming with pride from his hard-fought success.

My heart sunk down and so did my shoulders and head in embarrassment. I meekly nodded. I somehow had managed to get crit even though my own session was over what were the chances?

I was reminded of the pain of crit sessions after a class I had a few weeks ago emulated that process. The prof didn’t call it crit but it sure was one, for we had to present our infographic works-in-progress to our peers in small groups while a teaching assistant looked on.

With my past experience of crit sessions, and all the times I have received feedback on my performance since then, I was prepared. I was on the defensive this time, ready to take option two: justify and bluster my way through because I was determined to prove myself the superior one this time.

The defensiveness was not helpful though. When I got advice on how I should broaden my horizons, such as by considering other ways of presenting my concept or including different information to support my concept, I initially shuttered them out because I felt that they were coming from people who didn’t understand my purpose and reasoning.

A few hours after class, when I had relaxed a bit, I reconciled myself to accepting these suggestions. They were valuable since they were coming from my audience, and design must have an audience after all.

I did have a hard time getting over one particularly painful comment. I scribbled the encounter furiously into my journal as I attempted to blow off the frustration that bubbled up when I thought of that comment.

A classmate had remarked that I had not collected enough data in my infographics. My eyebrows flared in anger when she repeated that again even after I explained my design again, assuming that her first remark came from not fully understanding my work. My data was there in the bar graphs! My data was there in the colours that I used to categorize information! My drawings went beyond the two dimensions of the flat sheet of paper as I had at least four different types of information in each drawing. I had painstakingly recorded information on a daily basis over two months for this and had categorized hundreds of people on my Facebook friend one-by-one. To say that I didn’t have enough data was the biggest insult.

I could dismiss that comment and the rest as the consequence of an inattentive classmate, or my rushed presentation that skimmed over important information as class went overtime. Unfortunately, I can’t, because her reaction too is valuable. Clearly my message wasn’t clear enough if they didn’t understand that I had indeed collected large amounts of data. So, I have to take their response as part of crit as well, no matter how unreasonable the comment seemed.

No matter whether I was defenceless as I was in that summer architecture course, or defensive as I was a few weeks ago in class; neither of those recourses to crit were helpful. You have to take the crit you get. Having to take all feedback, regardless of the circumstances surrounding its delivery (when it came, who it was from,  whether you thought it was accurate…) – therein lies the true pain of crit.

While “crit” is what such painful sessions were known as during my past architecture course in Hong Kong, interestingly enough, I learnt that it is not a localized abbreviation. A friend whom I was venting my frustrations to did not bat an eye when I used “crit” without explanation. She doesn’t have a design background and nor is she from Hong Kong, but it turns out that her friends abroad (in a country other than Hong Kong) used that term too. She recalled seeing friends’ Facebook posts declaring “crit” as a time of serious significance, accompanied by photos of boards pasted with drawings and posts embedded with a barrage of emotions.

Crit: the word for pain to architecture students across different countries.


“Do you want me to turn on the TV?” asks my family member as we start dinner.

“No. I’d much rather sit to eat, just eat,” I reply.

In a world where there is so, so much information that all seems so, so relevant to my interests, it once seemed like the only way to manage was to tread frantically. To let my arms and legs thrash around, groping about to touch all those information inputs and to dabble in all those activities that I felt would support my goals.

Many settings served double purpose as I tried to jam pack my days with productivity. Breakfast was where I consumed analysis of current events alongside my toast and tea. Mealtime could double as study time, as I took a bite of rice out of my thermos while scrolling through a reading. Class time could double as email time, as I took advantage of the prof’s transition between slides to send off replies.

I hope the detriments of multi-tasking like this are widely recognized now, but even if it is I still find myself and others around me resorting to this behaviour. I’ll admit, just this week I resorted to eating while sending off emails as I tried to get my meal in before going on public transit.

Multi-tasking sucks.

My first pivotal moment was two years ago, when realized that my emailing in class undermined the purpose why I was there. I pay for my education, not a space to send emails. On top of it, frantically hammering away at my keys to kind-of grasp my prof’s message was stressful and like running a sprint every single time. From then on, I quit my email app during class.

I continued to dally around in class by working on other assignments, but I have mostly phased out of that since a prof challenged us to stay focussed on class. He did an anonymous in-class poll of who had been using their laptops for something other than class, and promised to do second one later that term to see if there was improvement. He never did a second one but with the sense of guilt tickling the back of my neck from the first poll, I cut my wifi connection. It helped enormously: I engaged in class discussions and felt inspired by the class material. I listened and could make links with material from outside. I came up with questions that I ventured to my prof’s office hours to get answers for.

As for my aforementioned focus on eating, I have difficulty pinning down when I changed. If I’m correct, it was about this time last year. Living by myself in Ottawa, I had a limited food budget and had many meals alone. I kept myself company with a book or with YouTube videos, but somehow my meal always disappeared faster than I expected, leaving me hungry for more. I wasn’t actually hungry either, as my servings were substantial enough.

Trawling the internet for fitness and food tips, I found material that suggested that distractions made me unaware of how much food I was eating. I took that advice: I put away my phone and book, and broke my food into smaller bites. My meals did not elicit a, “Wow, amazing!” reaction but somehow from the glob of brown rice and lentils that I often prepared I could appreciate a certain hearty flavour.

Again, my transition to eating without distraction is not complete and there are still many occasions when I eat with distractions. However, I’m really growing to appreciate my meal time for the food and as a respite from work or information. The break helps me reenergize so I can continue tackling my to do list.

Indeed, I love how I feel when my mind is singularly focussed on one task. For classes I am less anxious and engaging with the material. For meal times I am relaxed. For bus rides that I used to be glued to my cellphone on, I arrive at my destination with less of a headache that comes with straining my eyes. For times when I’m waiting for something to cook/bake/boil, I enjoy tidying up the kitchen or sashaying along to K-pop instead of running between my assignment on my computer and the kitchen. For anything I do, if I do just that one thing I find myself better off and still achieving about the same things than if I had multi-tasked.

In sum, the answer to doing more is doing less.

Preferences don’t need validation

“Ed Sheeran is horrible.  Ed Sheeran IS horrible,” the teen in front of me repeats a second time (verbatim), announcing it clearly enough for most bus riders to hear.  He continues to scroll down his friend’s phone as his friend peers over, eager to see where the first teen lands.  “Yeah, this is good,” the first teen pronounces, affirming his friend’s choice of music.  “This is okay.  Mhm.”

A few scrolls later, the first teen hands back the phone to his friend, evaluation complete.  “You should listen to Calvin Harris.  And AC/DC,” he recommends.

His friend nods quickly in affirmation, “Ah, yeah, I’ve heard of him.” His choice of words sound like he’s nonchalant, but as they came so quickly after the first teen’s verdict, it sounded like he was keen to interject into his friend’s review – to prove him wrong.

From my seat behind the duo, I glowered at the first teen.  If only my stare could convert into some sort of slap that he’d feel on the back of his hand.  What kind of friend critiques their friend’s music choice like that, with such harsh words?

Also, to the one being critiqued – I wish you never believe (or quickly overcome the belief of) that your preferences need validation from peers.

I wish I knew in high school that was the case.  There were so many things I spent unnecessary time on and so many things I suppressed to make myself acceptable.

One was pop music.  Unlike my classmates, I did not spend ample time in cars listening to hit music stations with the latest songs.  My family instead listened to Chinese radio programming, or if it was music, we would play musicals like Les Miserables and older singers like ABBA.  I also perused Japanese rock (J-rock) as a result of my passion for anime, since they often featured J-rock songs as opening and closing themes.

I could never enter discussions about the music we were listening to without being exposed as clueless about Flo-Rida, Owl City and Rihanna.  I don’t recall if my peers ever made negative remarks about my love for music genres that they had never even heard of, but I’m sure that my preferences for musicals and J-rock were met with silence. I felt like an outsider for not being able to relate to the stuff they liked.

Unlike the teens I observed on the bus, my experience was more of a self-imposed pressure.  It did stem from my surroundings though, as my peers’ discussions informed me what was socially acceptable and what was not.

To rectify this, I started listening to the radio.  Every single evening, as I did my homework, I’d place my Hello Kitty radio by where my head would be on my desk if I craned it over my textbook.  I’d crank it up to a moderate volume that was just loud enough for me to hear, yet not annoy my family, since they were not big fans of pop music.  Soon enough, I caught up, knowing all the lyrics to all the popular songs that would be played at school dances.  I could sing along so dances never got too awkward, what with a bunch of teens straddling the line between wanting to dance and wanting to look non-committal for a school dance.  With my knowledge of the lyrics and the songs, I proved myself up to date with the latest trends.

Another pastime affected by the desire to gain validation was my manga-reading.  I started with manga that was pretty widely heard of in North America like Naruto, Bleach and Inuyasha, but eventually I dove deep into translated manga sites where entire genres of manga with thousands of titles were ready to be read.  I voraciously consumed manga, particularly shoujo manga, probably dedicating at least an hour a day.

I didn’t talk much about that daily habit.  When I did it was because the key figures in our class had gotten into a manga craze themselves, excitedly discussing Death Note or Prince of Tennis.  I got into those two series myself as a result of those classmates.  Their brazen discussions normalized manga and anime as a topic.  Otherwise, my love for manga would also mark me as an outsider.

Towards Grade 11 or 12, I jumped aboard the Hallyu wave.  I became entranced by how the coordinated limbs of K-pop idols moved in perfect synchronization in their music videos and live performances.

Not that I had anybody to express this interest to.  K-pop was not something discussed in lunch times or break times, and so I kept it to myself.  Of course, this was still concurrent with the overwhelming reaffirmations from my surroundings about the supremacy of western popular music, as evident from school dances to the school’s yearbook section on popular culture that focussed solely on western media.

This false perception that my hobbies needed to be approved continued into university.  An experience that exemplifies this, and marks how I began overcoming it, is my first date in first year.  My boyfriend at the time was older than me.  He seemed so sophisticated, mature, and knowledgeable.  Fresh out of high school, I found it hard to believe that I was dating someone like him.

Before we started dating, I didn’t mention K-pop at all for fear that it would make me seem unattractive, although King of K-pop G Dragon’s “Crooked” was my ringtone.  I watched Wes Anderson at his recommendation, although I wasn’t particularly into artsy films at that time – I only enjoyed visual arts more broadly.

I wasn’t tailoring myself to be a different person, but there were certain aspects that I suppressed because I imagined that they would make others think of me as strange.

Please note that he did not at all contribute to my sense of this, and really didn’t give two figs about whether I liked K-pop or not, which I’ll describe later.  The pressure I felt is something I carried in.

I carried this false perception in all the way into our first date.  Once we confirmed that this was going to be a relationship, the first thing I got off my chest was my love for K-pop:

“By the way…I listen to a lot of K-pop.”

I don’t remember his reaction.  It definitely wasn’t anything significant.  Probably acknowledgement, before the topic naturally switched to other things.

I think that with that minimal reaction to my love for K-pop, I began to realize that I don’t need my preferences validated.  I also have good friends to thank for, from high school and university, who share in my “strange” preferences, support them or do not think any less of me because of them.

Funny enough, the passion you show towards your interests can inspire others too.  At a trivia game during a recent holiday lunch party, I proudly wore my K-pop fangirl badge, joking that I’d fail all the “Pop Culture” category questions unless it was actually “K-pop Culture”.  This turned out to be a saving grace as one of the questions was about a K-pop boy group that made a splash at the American Music Awards this year.  The tie-breaker round involved having knowledge about one of the K-pop industry’s most famous girl groups.

After I had helped my team win with my K-pop knowledge, a person who I had just met remarked it was amusing to watch me think through my answer to the tie-breaker question.  It involved drawing upon what I knew of the members of that girl group, which impressed him.

Having gone over how preferences don’t need validation from peers, I do wonder whether the experience of feeling that way is necessary.  Nevertheless, it’s a lot less stressful if you can get out of that self- and socially-imposed sensation earlier.

The Racer, Part 2

Alternatives to racing I

I tried interval training for the first time a few weeks ago.  As you may know, I’ve been running for a while and have done a few races.

Interval training is very different from how I used to train.  Previously, with little guidance other than training plans found on the internet, I was running prescribed distances at a steady pace.  In interval training, you run at your goal pace in short, manageable intervals (usually one minute or so) with rest periods in between.  This supposedly helps your body acclimatize to your goal pace.

In this way, interval training is not about finishing faster than the last one.  It’s about consistency.

I definitely was caught aback by this difference.  The audio guide (from Nike+ Run Club – Nike+ apps rule my fitness life) for this interval training session that I was following called out in the very first interval to cease from all-out sprinting.  This surprised me as I realized that I unconsciously was doing exactly that.

Alternatives to racing II

A friend of mine and I were bemoaning the difficulties of writing papers.  Typical arts students.

I always manage to turn things in on time.  I cannot bear to take deductions based on lateness, rather than my skill.  So, it boggles my mind when I hear of others like my friend who knowingly turns things in late.  To her, the paper was not ready, so she didn’t turn it in until it was.  For her, the greatest challenge when writing papers is bringing herself to finish it on time.

“But why?” I demanded to know.

She replied that she’s not sure herself, but perhaps it’s because she lives life a little slower.  I can see that as a viable reason – she has told me about how she’s noticed certain trees on campus look particularly beautiful at sunset, and eased the speed that I would have gone at during our meetings by taking time to talk about things that aren’t on the agenda.  Things such as school and family, which are in a way just as important, because it’s brought the two of us closer and thus made the meetings much better.

I walked by one of those trees she talked about, albeit early in the morning instead of at the end of the day.  I chuckled as I eyed the orange leaves, drooping slightly with dampness, thinking to myself that it did look as gorgeous as my friend described.

Dear Opportunity

Dear Opportunity,

I believe that I just missed you.  You were virtually on the other side of the street, just a few keyboard strokes away.

I was very aware of your presence in my peripheral vision.  You were that message that I could’ve sent to someone and that application to some cool experience that I could’ve filled out.  I didn’t summon the energy nor courage to type my way to you though.  I didn’t send that message, nor that application.

We make calculated decisions.  Mine was to ignore you, for a variety of reasons.  Usually, it was because you looked too time-consuming, even though you look very promising – the chance for a new relationship, perhaps, or a fascinating adventure.

I don’t want to regret not taking you up as I have a strong distaste for regret, birthed from mental debates regarding my commute in high school.  Back then, I evaluated on a daily basis whether I should exert myself and run for my bus which was infamous for rarely coming, or take it easy and be content with potentially watching bus rolled into and out of sight as I strolled to the stop.  I learnt to embrace whatever decision I made and the emotions that came after through this, but it’s hard applying this to the rest of my life.

Since I’m writing to you about out of these potential feelings of regret, I am clearly still learning to and practicing how to accept the consequences of my actions.

I recently heard a helpful piece of advice that helps with this coping process.  A person that I look up to told me to not see my next actions as a finite, be all end all decision.  Choices certainly can irrevocably change a life, but they do not necessarily close off all doors.  They can open other ones too.

Opportunity, I may have missed you this time, but that’s alright.  I believe it’s alright.

Another time then, Opportunity.

The Corax

P.S: Looks like I did ultimately use more than a few keyboard strokes on you, writing this letter.