Lessons and pitfalls of X’mas decorations for house owners

Christmas is the special time of the entire year when all Christians unite in the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s birth. Today, X’mas has turned into a almost universal festivity celebrated by huge numbers of people from all walks of life – Chritians and non-Christians. Most probably it’s been heightened by the world’s enthusiasm to welcome the new year, and what better way to usher it than joining in the festivities brought by Christmas time. This said, it’s generally acknowledged that we all love having a break from our daily routine to be with family and friends; thanks to Christmas day for making this feasible as we celebrate the birth of Jesus in pomp and style. If there is a single factor that makes every Christmas so unidentical from the other celebrated occasions, it’s to be the amazing lights and decorations that people in various corners of the world has come up with. In regards to decoration, there’s virtually a limitless amount of possibility, therefore let us try to have a look at some.

When speaking about elegant Christmas decorations, one has to distinguish between outdoor vs indoor. Ultimately, everybody loves to have both outside and inside of the home to be spruced up for the X’mas. Frequently, having less time and budget prevent homeowners from achieving this. Among your foremost concerns is that outdoor and indoor X’mas decorations usually have different specifications. For one, with indoor decors you will not have to worry about the weather, as opposed to outside ornaments where you need to consider whether it’s sturdy enough to endure low temperature, sun’s rays or snow. Decoratives meant to be hung or placed inside the house could be sparkling as the lighting within the house will bring a feeling of glamour. Outside decors nevertheless, are normally pre-lit for them to be obviously seen at night time.

diy wreaths

 

Because millions of American folks celebrate Xmas every year, availability of decorative ornaments can very quickly be found everywhere. There will even be massive parts which can be spectacularly dressed up in stores such as JC Penney, all with a single purpose of giving consumers endless shopping options. The other option would be to get online where some of those names do have online stores at the same time. While you can buy ready-made ornaments from these areas, don’t expect uniqueness as for each and every item that you buy, there will soon be hundreds others buying the same thing as you. If special is what you are striving for, you have to think about crafting your own. A thing that can be easily done and fun to create will be a DIY Christmas wreath.

As you can see, holiday decoration is meant to be a exciting thing but one which requires at least some small planning if you need to put up good and elegant X’mas accessories, whether inside or outside the house. Probably the most convenient method of getting these ornaments is unquestionably to buy them but for those handicraft enthusiasts, only DIY ornaments may be acceptable for them. Things like wreaths that you hang on the doorway and garlands that you spread on the staircase rail are just samples of the type of things that you may do quite easily on your own. Before you roll up your sleeves and have the ball rolling, do not forget to establish a budget and be discipline about it or else, you may possibly end up clocking huge credit card debt.

I did not invent the Internet but the Internet invented me

When I was living in the US, I received my e-mails immediately through my Blackberry, and when I was at home enjoyed ready access to the internet.  Up until now, in Taipei, I have also been able to go online at home.  Using the internet has become an obsession, I check my e-mail at semi-automatically structured intervals, such as when I wake up in the morning, and before I fall asleep at night, like brushing one’s teeth. If I am by a computer, I will quickly, yet resolvedly, check my e-mail and my facebook at least once, even if I am running late for an appointment.  Even though at times I expect a specific correspondence, there is also a sense of waiting for an unknown letter or message that, due its unexpected arrival, will uplift my spirits that day.  Occasionally this happens.  Inevitably, the opposite also happens, and my inbox contains news I do not want to hear, deflating my mood.  This waiting has almost a religious quality to it – waiting for the unknown to suddenly appear and transform the contours of the day. However, mostly, there is only spam.

Recently, the part of my computer that connects to my internet cable has broken, and since I am unwilling to pay the exorbitant repair costs, remains broken.   As a result, I can use wireless internet at coffee shops, but I cannot use the internet cable my landlord provides.  Thus, at home, I am without internet.  While it is extremely frustrating not to be able to use the computer to research information, such as the Chinese internet dictionary I frequently visit, there has been something chastising about this experience- secretly scolding me that I cannot control myself from wasting hours reading miscellaneous articles, updating my FB status, as well as chatting with friends back home via gchat or skype.  This deprivation of distraction had to be imposed on me from without, and for that, I am both grateful and frustrated.  Frustrated by the way it impedes my ability to do my work, and grateful for the way it opens new opportunities to do my work, in a more focused manner, without the alluring temptations the web offers.

Speaking of facebook, a while ago, even though I use facebook, I hypocritically would argue it lacks any redeeming value, other than connecting old friends, and possibly, allowing a few more people to discreetly get laid.  I viewed it as a virtual extension aggrandizing the ego, with each carefully framed beauty shot, snarky quote, and favorite band, being nothing more than an advertisement, proudly and pathetically claiming, ‘here I am, like me!’  However, I was dead wrong.  Social media like FB and Twitter have been a central platform for organizing protest and consciousness raising in authoritarian states such as Mubark’s Egypt, and also, in places like Myanmar.   Web-based social networks allow information to flow, travel, inspire, rouse, disgust, and so on, in ways that truly open new political horizons.  It just appears strange to me, that the same communication platform can be used by a 16 year old boy to complain about his unrequited love with little emoticons and lol’s, and by protestors to topple a dictatorship.

Traveling: a very expensive and pretty picture book

Declaring “I like to travel” or admitting that your life’s ambition is to travel as much as time, money, and circumstance permit is a fairly safe, innocuous, and perhaps somewhat empty phrase. Empty because, truly, who would disagree? These days, who insists on being rooted in one place and remaining attached to one’s place of birth, at the risk sounding close-minded? As a result, those of us lucky enough to be in a privileged socio-economic class, have all become … cosmopolitan world-travelers.

However, I want to pause for a second and question the assumption underlying this common-place wisdom: namely, that traveling is about gaining new experiences, exploring the world, learning about other cultures, and understanding oneself in the process. I don’t think that is true actually. To be more precise, I do not think travel necessarily results in open-mindedness or an experience of “cultural difference”. It can be a life-changing experience. But often times is not. Instead of experiencing other cultures, the traveler will begin to recreate a microcosm of his previous existence back home (somewhat like a bird instinctively building a nest). He will surround himself or herself with other foreigners/ex-pats; mainly speak their own mother tongue (for familiarity, comfort and ease); and, begin to seek out the same forms of pleasure, night life, and experience they are already used to. In other words, they may have moved apartments, but all of the drab old furniture is exactly the same.

To be honest, none of the things I mentioned above are bad in and of themselves. For example, since I moved to Taiwan, I also hang out with other Americans; at times, I genuinely crave to eat a good, juicy hamburger and drink a Coca-Cola, in order to satisfy the nostalgia that permeates my life like a soft buzzing sound. My point is not to stop doing what you like to do and embrace an entirely new strange existence (which would be an impossible, foolish task). However, I am trying to point out a kind of accumulated insularity I sense everyday as I walk through Taiwan and watch other foreigners go about their lives. Some I have met have been here for years and barely speak any Chinese; they may even have a Taiwanese girlfriend or boyfriend, but utterly lack the inclination or the discipline to sit down and devote time to learning the language. Especially since English is still, at least for the time being, the language of soft power, globalized discourse, the neutral standard against which all else is differentiated and othered. In this case, traveling is merely about exploring the power and influence of one’s own culture.

Also, is encountering a new aesthetic (the smells, foods, different rhythms and groans of a new language, in the case of Chinese, the characters plastered everywhere) a form of difference? And by difference, I mean something that genuinely challenges and shifts the way we think about the world. The Facebook or Flickr Photo Album says this: Look at all of the beautiful places I’ve been to and seen (I am so cool)! Our pictures serve as badges, testifying to our courageous traveling spirit, when truth be told, they are more like a collection of dead, petrified butterflies pinned under glass. To put it simply: what kind of deeper understanding about existence is gained or opened up to by simply seeing beautiful landscapes? Again, please don’t think I am hypocritical. I relish the aesthetic pleasure of seeing mountain scapes, among other forms of natural and manmade beauty. However, what I am challenging, is the idea that this form spectatorship naturally makes us cosmopolitan, open-minded, and adventurous people.

Moreover, often what we are seeing and photographing is spectacle produced specifically for the gaze of the tourist/foreigner. I will never forget arriving in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and being welcomed by a troupe of Inner Mongolians dressed in traditional costume, singing traditional songs. Later on in the evening I shared a cigarette with them and listened to them tell me about how boring it is to sing the same fucking song again and again; discuss where they were going to drink that night; who is dating who, etc.. Much more insightful to me than the spectacle of cultural authenticity was this group of ordinary, bored, young people, who reminded me of characters from Jia Zhangke’s “Unknown Pleasures.”

My point is that aesthetics needs to be combined with critical thought in order to bring about a shift in one’s being; traveling needs to be combined with an ethos of openness and attentiveness if it is to live up to its promise of providing new ways of understanding the world- if it is not simply to be a cocoon for the rich (relatively speaking), bored, and pampered.

My marriage to the Chinese language

This year I’ve suspended all other forms of my life and devoted it solely to learning Mandarin. I realized my relationship to learning Chinese has taken the shape of a marriage: a volatile combination of patience, commitment, frustration, despair, elation, and overcoming.

What I mean simply is: I need to keep re-freshing my own commitment to the language. At multiple points during the day, I lose heart. I want to throw in the towel. However, those points are delicately balanced with moments of pure joy when I understand what is going on around me, and can participate in entirely new worlds, which open up because I am learning a new language.

Here are some of my daily frustrations:

Simple English sentences come to mind, sentences that I could say with such ease, swiftness, and lucidity (or one would hope) in my mother-tongue that I have no idea how to say in Chinese. When I draw this kind of a blank, I can feel a heavy ache, a sense of failure weigh down my tongue. But then, I remind myself that learning a language or doing anything worthwhile requires patience and practice, and being the son of two Americans with an Italian heritage, Chinese is not something that will come natural to me. Thus, I persist.

There is also the god awful feeling of regression, learning so much vocabulary and grammar, only when the time comes and I want to articulate a phrase I am sure I’ve learned, my mind draws a blank (different from the above mentioned experience of not knowing certain words to begin with). I’ve got nothing. Nada. Just like the irritating feeling of trying to remember the name of an actress or song title, and coming up empty, but-multiply that feeling of frustration by a thousand.

And, finally, there is the daily experience of clumsiness. Trying to attune my ear and my tongue to the living rhythms of the language, what people actually say as opposed to the grammar of the text book, or words looked up in the dictionary. I dread using the dictionary because I never know if what I look up is actually a phrase that is commonly used, or some dusty old relic from the language’s past forms. Every time someone tells me what I just said is 书面 or too bookish and literary, I realize I am out of touch with the normal flow of daily conversation. And the only way to become integrated is to repeat the process, again and again.

Besides, as a person who cannot sing to save his own life, learning a tonal language, has been tremendously difficult. In the middle of the conversation, I stand there, like a clumsy child attempting to juggle: needing to organize my thoughts; listen to what the other person is saying to me, make sure I understand correctly; and, pay attention to my tones, the materiality of my words, the uncomfortable sounds my mouth makes; as I try to make myself understood, and pray, in a very real sense of prayer, that at least a portion of the meaning will be delivered. (we are so misunderstood even in our native languages, that at best, when speaking a foreign language, we are traders in fragments and images).

But the moments when it comes together, the moments when I hear a short story being read aloud, a dialogue in a movie, or the confessions of a friend, and I understand it…. The moments when I am flowing with the language, anxiety-less, dissolving into what I knew all along, becoming part of the conversation… The moments when I am researching the history of the characters, or various proverbs, and a different, entirely new perspective comes into view, that would be lost in the English translation…. Those moments are so damn sweet, I savor them dearly.

A friend of mine recently wrote in a personal e-mail to me, in disagreement with my last post on love that: “the places where one feels most vitalized are places where you confront the boundaries of your self most forcefully.” I agree entirely with her statement because it precisely defines my marriage to learning Chinese as a constant confrontation, sliding backward, and pushing across the boundaries of my self. For me, learning Chinese is a labor of love, a life-time commitment.

Damn that was cathartic. Too bad it was in English.

What is in a Name?

I started this blog on my birthday February 14th, more or less one year ago. At that time, I posted on the idea that the purpose of Valentine’s Day is to encourage lovers to perform their commitments in order to temporarily ease the anxiety over the question – why am I loved – (see blog archive). Today, I want to revisit the same question but from a slightly different perspective: discomfort with the unknown. Why we are compelled to name, define, and enclose.

I am not only speaking from my own experience, but also reflecting upon many of the experiences of friends and strangers, I have come into contact with recently, and had the good fortune to listen to their stories, longings, and complaints. Here is my basic realization: a relationship suffers from the imperative to define the relationship; in other words, the present may be shared tenderly until it becomes stretched and stressed by the pull of the future. At that moment, when it is demanded that the present be named and the future mapped, something goes terribly wrong. In admitting what we want from the future, we inevitably appear as other: distinct, strange to, and perhaps out of sync with the person we are confiding in. In such discussions, the other person emerges as truly other, and beyond the control of the intimate space created by the relationship. And all of a sudden, your grasp on the fragile composition of the present slips, and the illusion of control over and knowledge of the person crumbles.

As a result, certain demands, actions, and performances inevitably creep up to compensate for the moment when the other slips out of sight. As a friend of mine pointed out, in many ways, this process resembles a baby’s scream to re-claim the absent mother’s attention ~ although, our modes of screaming have become more subtle. An obvious technique is to signal to the beloved that other people are interested in you ~ that the other person is lucky to have you, and it could be easily taken away. This way, the fear of loss binds us to the present. Another way is to continually re-affirm and perform your love, and demand that everyone else recognize how in love you are, as if the infinite reproduction of the image of being in love gives it weight and substance. We can also ask subtle questions or pose small, trivial demands, in a search for confirmation. Do this and Remind me that I am still loved. Prove to me that I still exist for you. Finally, we can pretend we are hurt in order to demand sympathy and attention – Hey! if you knew the pain I am in, you would not do this to me. Nonetheless, in all of our attempts to overcome, deny, or hide the distance inherent in every relation, uncertainty trembles.

So is it possible to accept uncertainty and distance as fundamental, and courageously resist the temptation to collapse 2 into 1? This would mean that a part of the other always remains broken off, out of reach, and for that, we are grateful. None of this, however, rules out the possibility of being with someone exclusively or having a future with them. My purpose is not to dictate what are appropriate forms of love and desire or prescribe durations, but rather, to elucidate what we inevitably bump against when finding our own way.

A year later, and all I’ve got is the uneasy sense that I am not so sure what is possible anymore, because all of the scripts and narratives we’ve inherited prove ultimately unsatisfying when it comes to such singular matters as love, desire, intimacy, and distance. But in many ways, I think that is a lot.

Imagining Disaster

Happy New Years from Taiwan!  In the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, we heard a lot of buzz here that the Taipei 101 fireworks display would be awe-inspiring.   According to my friend Chris, the government spent the most money it ever has on the fireworks this year in order to celebrate Taiwan’s centenary.  Usually the downer when it comes to big celebrations, I reluctantly agreed to go to Taipei 101 to see the show.   I went mainly because, recently, I’ve been feeling a tender urgency to be around the people who have made Taiwan feel like a home to me (you know who you are).  And, of course, in part to indulge my perverse curiosity to see  fire-works exploding from the gigantic phallus looming in the horizon that frames our daily comings and goings.

The fireworks were indeed moving, but often we are moved in ways we don’t expect, and what moves us perhaps is precisely this element of being surprised, and overtaken by a feeling at once familiar as much as it is strange.  For me, this NYE’s fireworks display provided an experience of what Freud called the “uncanny” or in German, “unheimlich.”  In German, heimlich means “home”- in a sense that is richer in meaning than a physical dwelling – it connotes a place that is also warm, recognizable, and familiar.  The prefix “un” interjects distance and strangeness into the intimate.   When the fireworks began, and the smoke shrouded the building obscuring (for the most part) the dazzling pyrotechnics of the show, I could not help but imagine that I was witnessing 9-11, for the first, but also for the millionth time.

However, this time, it was a 9/11 absent the hatred, terror, and retributive wars in which so much more than two skyscrapers burned into cinders…..

Later, I spoke with my friends, and we all hesitantly broached the issue.  ”Did you think the Taipei 101 looked like …..”  a long pause…. “9-11…?”  ”yes, me too….” accompanied by a sigh of relief that other people shared the same aesthetic unconscious as I did, and it was not merely my morbid imagination alone imposing a scene of catastrophe on a mundane annual celebration.

So, what happened that blurred the line between disaster and enjoyment?  I would not dream of calling what I experienced  a PTSD recollection, because, for one, I was not directly affected by 9-11, as a survivor, rescuer, new york resident, or person whose loved ones were among its causalities.  Instead, I can frankly say, that the firey glow of Taipei 101 made me feel strangely calm.  I knew everything would be alright.  It was only a spectacle staged for entertainment.  I enjoyed a benign sense of annihilation with the knowledge that life would continue.

I am not exactly sure how to analyze or name this feeling.  Maybe I should go read more Baudrillard.  But, at times, reading can be a way of avoiding this uneasy inability to name.  I guess this blog is a space for thinking about feelings that have pushed themselves into my awareness, without politely declaring their identity, and obediently sitting in their proper place.

2010-20′s-And so on

It is the end of 2010 and also the remaining few weeks of my 20′s.  So, here are a few things I’ve learned.

1) to be in love is to be caught off-guard by your own emotions.  we may believe we do not care about someone, and then, suddenly, we are changing our plans to be around them, and their image drifts into our thoughts, even as we try to defend ourselves against this intrusion.  love does not resemble a lightening bolt or earthquake, but is more like a slow gathering of moss around the edges of the heart.

2) I am too old to feel guilty about my desires.  when others demand that expressions of desire conform to their expectations of normalcy, it is because they are uneasy about the fragility of their own beliefs and need them to be re-confirmed by the performances of others.  we are so easily pulled, and snared, by the deep human need for recognition and tenderness, that we can often do ridiculous things, like pretending we are somebody we are not, or manipulating our words in expectation of what the other wants to hear, in order to be loved.   we should not shape the plasticity of desire on the mould of other people’s insecurities.

3) learning how to listen is crucial to knowing how to speak well.

4)  since i have been living in Taiwan, i have been frustrated with the glacial slowness with which my ability to speak chinese is progressing.  there are moments when my words simply fall apart in my mouth, and i am left feeling desperate, and self-conscious, imposing a masochistic demand that i should be able to express the same complex thoughts in chinese that i do in english.

i need to let go of this ridiculous delusion of immediate mastery and comprehension. and just step into the flow of conversation…..

(on a side note, i appreciate more deeply Derrida’s point that language provides the most intimate sense of identity, at the same time, as it disrupts identity from within by its radical exteriority).

5) i have a great respect for the fragility of drag queens.  living in the margins of the recognizable appears to me so tender, and so, absolute.  it is as if, all of the sad stupidity of macho bullshit could crumble in the glow of a dress, and a maternal touch, that is as out of place as it is natural.

6)  i keep wishing i had a brother or a sister.

7) it is important to cultivate a sense of gratitude.   my father, who is a devout christian, gave me wonderful advice.  he told me ‘i don’t care that you are not a christian, as long as you have a sense of something greater than yourself.’  for me, this sense lies in the fact that when i think about “who I am” it includes the world – the boundaries are so porous and blurred between myself and what is referred to as outside of it, that i recognize my fundamental dependence on  that which precedes me, transcends me, forms and trans-forms me, disrupts me, and will continue to compose different landscapes after I die.  my words, memories, nourishment, everything that is me, is also a part of the world that is not me.

gratitude is the sense accompanying the recognition that we would be nothing without the world which supports us.

8-  I need at least 8 hours of sleep, otherwise i become severely cranky, and the dark circles under my eyes grow  more pronounced. naps during daylight provide only a temporary solution.

9)  it is important to let the people you love know that you care through small, nearly illegible signs.

10) do not let the past strangle the future through indecision, regret, and repetition.

Poem

I. The question: “what is modernity”
a cavernous tooth-ache.
I undress and consider
a body incapable of making history.

II. Digital cameras produce a
composite humanity
cropped most unflatteringly.

III.  Disheveled before sunrise
time loses its solidity
exhaustion nudges the infinite.

IV.  Believing in your own opinions
is a way of turning your back on the world.

V. It is time to reincarnate as the people.

The Sublime and the Broken

“Just under the surface I shall be, all together at first, then separate and drift, through all the earth and perhaps in the end through a cliff into the sea, something of me. A ton of worms in an acre, that is a wonderful thought, a ton of worms, I believe it.” – Samuel Beckett

In April, I was in San Francisco for a conference.  After the talk, we went to an all-night dance party where I was overwhelmed by the noise and anxiety arising from my inability to talk to other people due to the deafening loudness of the speakers. I realized how much I rely on language, both spoken and written, as my medium with the world, as if I have a body and face composed of words that is more solid and real than my body of flesh and bone.  So when I cannot represent myself through speech, and cocoon myself in words (ironically, as I am doing now), I become hyper-aware of my body; its slightly slouched posture; its anxious tics; and its physical presence in space as an object in the field of other people’s line of vision.  Second realization, my unease with dancing was due to this lack of trust I had in my body; as if my body would betray me, and make a fool out of me (as if there is a “me” apart from my body).  As if. For there is no spirit apart from the body (and vice versa) but there is also no unity between body and spirit – only fragile disjunctures and frictions and pleasures.   I digress.

Traveling alone though China last month, speaking only Chinese, I was again overwhelmed by a repetition of the same feeling I had in SF.  My awkward Chinese can manage to establish islands of communication (continually flooded by misunderstanding) and I can communicate basic, elemental needs, but always leave stranded in inexpressible solitude more complex thoughts and feelings.  As a result, I began to confront the question: how does one occupy space (or to use Heideggerean speak, “be in the world”) as a body without pretext, justification, or fear?  Perhaps, at stake is a struggle with society’s demand to have a reason for what you’re doing and a destination for where you are going.  Even ‘leisure’ and ‘tourism’ supply such reasonable alibis.  But a refusal to justify and offer up a meaning for what you are doing, and the heavy physicality of silence, provokes unease…When you travel, every government demands your reason for visiting and your address when you are in the country.  The basic existential condition of being a human drifting in ignorance will not get you a visa!

When I was in Myanmar, all of my reasons came undone.  Not in any traumatic sense, but in a way that, I think, released me from the anxieties of my own identity, speech, and so on – disarming my explanations of the world, expectations of other people, and my own personal limits.  Without a real reason for being there, I fell in love with the country.   My body, quasi-insitinctively, adapted to situations that were previously unimaginable to me, like walking in water up to my knees when downtown Yangon flooded during the monsoons (see picture below); standing in awe of the Shwedagon Pagoda at night (see picture below); showering with only a bucket of cold water in Pakkoku (for decency’s sake, no photo included), and waking up at 4am every morning to the sound of monks using a loud speaker to beg for alms; swimming in the lake in Yangon at dawn, and so on.  I felt like I was somersaulting through a field of contradictions: between the warmest and most wonderful people in the world, and the omnious shadow of soldiers armed with rifles patrolling the streets; the sheer magnificence and opulence of religious sites juxtaposed with the disrepair and poverty of surrounding areas… But most of all, the Burmese people, persisting in the midst of all of it, offered me a true glimpse of the sublime.

And suddenly,  I felt myself shatter into the world as flesh, sweat, laughter, and silence.