Travel Journal: El Duomo

Tap, tap, tap, tap.
The pain in my feet reverberates with each step I take, sending the pulses into my head. It’s the only sensation I can focus on through the cramped, dimly lit stairs to the top of Florence’s Cathedral Dome. Keeping my hand running along the cool brick wall, I use the excited, and slightly tired voices of my friends to keep me balanced on the ascension towards the apex; a cool draft of air constantly tantalizes us as it passes through our clothes, telling us how close the top is.
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
I notice a small hole in the corner of the stairs. The fragility of the dome suddenly hits me. What if this shattered and fell? How could we get back? Immediately I began to imagine the walls crumbling, the wrong escalating, practically blinding me as sunlight began to piece through the derelict walls. Was this what it was like to get to the top?
My foot slips slightly; I am immediately brought back from my imagination. Still a few more steps to go.
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
My breath grows a little heavier. While the thought of falling is erased, my mind grows impatient.
Are we there yet?
Slow but steady wins the race; my excited friends chatter, keeping me going.

We reach the first tier past the stairs, and suddenly, our walk leads to the inner ring of the dome. It’s a good few hundred feet to the ground, with only a thin balcony holding me. Above us, a rendition of The Last Judgement by Vasari, rendering the events of apocalypse.
In awe and fear, I take a few pictures, holding my breath as I try to navigate to the next doorway. I begin the second flight of stairs.
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
The passage has become even tighter now, as people who have already visited the dome try to edge their way past the worn down steps. I hear their feet, anxiously going down the stairs. The stairs grow steeper, our breath gets heavier. Thankfully, the cool air encourages us. As it begins to flatten out a littlw, we begin to hit the peak of our 10 Euro investment.

I hear it before I see it.

I can see my hotel from here.

The view from Il Duomo, the largest unsupported dome in the world.

Wow.

 

One of my friends ahead of me reaches the breach of blue sunlight right before me, and I knew I was in for a treat. I see sunlight trickle down from the hole above us, so as my head poked out, it took a second until the horizon opened up to me.
But “wow” wasn’t enough to explain it.
The Sun was surprisingly mellow abouta letting us see as soon as we reached the top.
I cannot explain in words how difficult it is to describe the experience. The flow of wind, that carries away my trepidation, feels invigorating and free. And when I could see Florence, I mean that I can see Florence.
From the watchtower, to the mountains kilometers away, my eyes take in the beautiful red roofs, the cobblestone streets, and little ant sized people from all the roads.
In Florence, all roads lead to I’ll duomo.
You never really get to experience the full extent of a view when you look into a picture. Words really can’t do it justice either. The entire experience felt like such a loose, departed feeling. I could maybe hear some muffled chatter from down below, but the atmosphere on top of the dome, 400 steps later, is deafening and isolating. The wind and people nearest me are the closest and loudest things near me, and when I look out, everything around me ceases to exist, my very being, propelled miles across to the edges of my sight.
The Dome, my first experience with such a huge view, really let me just realize:
“wow, this is what I signed up for. And I’m sure as hell going to make the best of it.”

There haven’t been many moments of clarity like that, and I think In today’s era of habits and rushing, we can easily forget to stop and see things for what they are. I feel like this trip, with its inconsistent travel days, random concerts, and even more random events each day, with so little time to see everything, has made me really try to appreciate every minute of every hour of every day.

 

Travel Journal: Final Thoughts on Rome

I imagine myself back again, to the Third of June. I sit with my back against the head of the bed, separated by a thin, comfortable pillow at The Hotel Meridiana in Florence. My feet remind me of the built up pain it received from walking over eight miles every day for the past week, sending sharp pulses down from my heels up through my calves. Above me, only a few inches above my bed, a bottle, round and tall, perches itself on a ledge. My blue Nalgene held the last four hundred milliliters of Roman spring water that I would be drinking in a long time. My right hand lifted itself to the bottle, using its thumb to hook the loop of the cap, pulling it down to my left side as its counterpart began unscrewing the lid.

Three hundred milliliters left.

Taking in the mildly cool fountain water in one swift gulp, memories flood back to me as the quiet, tasteless, yet powerful flavor of Roman spring water courses down my throat. As my feet make a sigh of relief, sensing the water surge down my torso to ameliorate my numbed out pain, I recall the moment I turned a cobblestone street corner to come across The Pantheon. The next thing I clearly remember is the feeling.

Have you ever felt small? That’s the best way I can summarize my entire time at Rome. Any time I went to the city, I felt it: a constant, imposing, and sudden burst of breathtaking power that takes me by surprise, shaking my very being every time I would look up, realizing that I still need to bend my neck back even further to see the ceiling. All of these landmarks and buildings, painstakingly measured and planned, never ceased to astound me. Even after I had visited Rome just the day before, walking through the same path from the Trevi fountain down to the massive Pantheon hit me with the same impressiveness as when I first encountered it. From a slightly angled direction, the Pantheon looms imposingly ahead of me, staring menacingly, yet stoicly, through the crowd of little people throughout the plaza in front of it. The shadows seem to grow out from underneath the roof, slowly swallowing the ground beneath it without even needing to move. In gigantic letters, carefully etched into the front of the building roof, were the words, heavily darkened from age: ”

“M. AGRIPPA L. F. COS. TERTIUM. FECIT”

“M(arcus) Agrippa, son (F) of Lucius (L), Consul (COS) for the third time (Tertium), built this.”

People had carefully, and fervently constructed these entities with far less technology than we have today, achieving such massive and awesome works.

I never thought that I could feel that way again.

I had thought, with my eighteen years living on this planet, I would have a relatively experienced grasp of people. I attended Westminster, and currently, Georgia Tech, where people constantly strive for excellence and exude their intelligence. I was used to people performing the best in the state, inventing new solutions to everyday problems, or even anything crazy that involved celebrities. I thought I had gotten used to that feeling by now. Feeling small, watching other people succeed. My time spent at Rome taught me, in actuality, I haven’t actually gotten used to impressive people, but rather the opposite: I opposed their success, and ultimately, dismissed them.

Being around so many people and their achievements had made me extremely sensitive to my own ability to succeed. You know the saying, that there’s always a person better than you, who does more, is smarter, more attractive, whatnot. And with such a pressure filled atmosphere, at that point, I realize that I had to convince myself that I was better. I constantly told myself of the things others did that I could easily outperform. I couldn’t let myself get bogged down in comparing myself with others. In doing so, I began to focus on myself, and the projects I could pursue, and ways to really diversify myself from the crowd. I basically silenced the voices of doubt so that I could feel better about myself.

I can’t say that I regret it, though. I think that such a phase really had helped me gain confidence; it made me step out of my comfort zone, and helped me begin my journey in Theatre. It’s allowed me to isolate myself from others, and focus on what I know, what I can do, and because of that, I began to understand myself better. What I like, how I worked, all of that became clearer once I began to say, “fuck the haters.”

But now, I believe that there was still something missing, and that’s the “others” part. This world does not only include myself. There’s a vast world out there that I felt uncomfortable acknowledging, and it doesn’t help in the long run. I realized the fact that every person is special, unique, intelligent, and most of all, beautiful in their own way for being who they are. And With that in mind, each person I meet pulls off an aura where I’m impressed at the things they do, the stuff they believe, etc. I was, and still am, used to being around people who achieved.Rome had taught me, with it’s awesome presence and power, to really take a step back, and admire someone or something for whatever they do. Recognize someone for who they are, the things they do, the beliefs they stand for. I think Rome taught me something that I didn’t really realize I had missed, and that’s the power of others. The sheer influence that everyone has, and how that should really affect me in a positive and productive manner.

It taught me the real meaning of humbleness, of humility and admiration. I think the most important thing I got out of Rome wasn’t the smallness I felt, but rather the impressiveness I felt for others. Rome taught me an extremely profound lesson that I thought I had already understood, but still haven’t completely mastered. And the idea of further mastering it excites me. I know for a fact I still haven’t grown out of this stage completely, but I feel like it’s something I can keep developing, and something I’m excited to really understand during this Oxford trip. I also finally retyped this! Posts should pick up once again!

 

Travel Journal: When in Rome….

Stay away from the tourist roads
Eat street food.
Gelato.
You’ll get used to sparkling water and black coffee (caffe)
If the wine is more expensive than water, it’s better to get the wine.
The prices on menus are what you actually pay, taxes are already included. Things are also cheaper. 80 cents for an Americano? Yes please.
Gypsy children are capricious little Satan children.
If a gypsy throws a child at you, don’t catch that child. Unless you want to lose everything.
Literally every sculpture has their genitalia missing.
Rome is huge.
You will feel small
Fountains are drinkable!
Pizza in america, like all “authentic” foods in america, are a lie.
Selfies with Roman architecture is really difficult to take because they’re massive.

Travel Journal: All roads lead to Rome

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Touchdown! We’ve made it to Rome nearly 12 hours after my first flight from Atlanta. I don’t think a huge reaction sets in, or will, but that doesn’t mean I’m not excited. In fact, even though I’m not freaking out, I’m really looking forward to everything Rome is going to offer.
I’m sitting on a bus next to April, someone I met on the first day of the predeparture classes, waiting at a checkpoint just on the outskirts of Roma. From the brief drive, everything here feels a lot slower. Not in a bad way, but in an expansive, relaxing way. We all know about how rushed American society and culture is, but in all honesty, you can feel the difference here, and it’s something difficult to describe. To have such a loose schedule, and over the hours of free time? In Rome? I can’t say no. I unbuckled my seatbelt, because I feel like such an action has a meaning.
I really want my trip to be something…different. it’s hard enough when you know you still feel calm in these situations, but I want to grow. I want to challenge myself to be different, to experience things differently, and, maybe, see things in a different perspective. I have a lot of hopes within the trip itself, and I also have a lot of fears.

I hope to really get to know people on this trip, and I want them to equally know who I am, not just some Asian dude who Ulrich talks to occasionally.

I hope to encourage myself to take new leaps, and do things I would never have had the chance to do, and also maybe stupid things.

I feel like, cheesy as it sounds, the unbuckling of my seatbelt is the start. A catalyst to begin my experience in a different approach. I don’t want to be risk averse, like many people I know. I want my trip to mean something, and what can I learn of I always turn my head away from new things? I don’t want to just sleep through it or miss something small. I want every second to matter.

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We just got into Rome, but the traffic’s speed is letting us take in the sights.
Once we get to the hotel, we’ll see what I end up doing!

Things are different now, It’s been awhile.

Or, you know. Two years.

As I write this, I’ve finished my first year at Georgia Tech. And I’m not sure what to be looking at. I’m not sure exactly what I want to write about. All I know is that I want to start tracking these things down, and my dilapidated and snarky old blog would be excellent for that. I’m going to try not being an asshole because in general, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with myself, and I know that I’ve changed a lot in these few months. But I’m not talking about my past as of now. I’m talking about the present and future. In these two weeks, I will be taking a short break before preparing myself for the Oxford Study Abroad Program for about 10 weeks. It’s insane, and I don’t think my mind really let that sink in. I can remember the quick, casual conversation I picked up with my parents during my FASET (Freshman orientation) session at Georgia Tech. We talked about my future, what I had to do as the male in the family, and a whole lot of stuff that really boils down to race, sexuality, and the expectations that come from both. And casually, somewhere in that conversation, my mother said to me, in an expecting, “don’t-let-me-down-again-or-your-own-guilt-will-make-my-guilt-trips-hurt-even-more” tone, “make sure you sign up for the Oxford study abroad program. They fill up and close by October.”

Well shit.

I signed up on August 31st, and they closed somewhere around September 15th-ish. Lucky for me I didn’t wait until then. But even then, the entire signing up process was so…simple. I felt really underwhelmed. I sort of expected some sort of metaphorical set of fireworks to shoot off from my somewhat unpacked dormroom laced with The Oatmeal Posters.

Now that brings me to my future, and the future of this blog, as well. Even though there are LITERALLY NO FOLLOWERS ON THIS THING, I still want it to be both a track of what I’ve experienced, my thoughts, and things that provoke thinking for you. I’ve been so fortunate to have interacted with so many different types of people, and their ways of thinking have influenced mine, whether I like it or not. I want to make a list for you, of things I want to do. Think of it as a New Year’s Resolution, except for the summer. Because I don’t actually believe that you need a specific indicator of changing. You should just do it. But that’s for another time.

So here are my hopes for this summer while I’m travelling throughout England:

  • I want to get back into writing, both as a historical medium for myself, and for my own catharsis; I plan on guest writing for my lovely cousin’s blog, Never Stationary (Seriously, check it out, it’s great) sometime in the near future. I also hope to continue building on my own fantasy/sci-fi world The Clocktower. It’s like drug wars and hungergames in a steampunk dystopia.
  • I also look forward to get back into drawing. It was a great past time as a child. I really aced the stickfigure fighting and poses on pencil. But I think I can do a little more.
  • Animation! I’ve been lurking around the community of stickpage and Hyun’s Dojo for… well since 4th grade. I’ve been on/off animating for awhile, I think this year I can try something.
  • Music making. Music has seriously been such a huge staple in my life, and I would not be the same person without it. I’ve put a lot of my stuff on Soundcloud, but College has forced me to put that on the shelf. So this summer, I’ll be re-immersing myself in the culture of classical music in opera houses, but also exploring the scenes of EDM through clubbing. Wahoo!
  • Get A Girlfriend  Learn to be more sociable (I still do not consider myself a social butterfly yet), experience different cultures, eat awesome food!
  • LEARNING. I mean this goes without saying, but seriously! The aspect of learning exists in places outside of the classroom, and people tend to overlook it when they walk the streets. I want to learn how to learn better. See more with my eyes, and take them off the computer screen for once.
  • A lot of snapchatting/instagrams/twitter/livefeed/social media doodad jiggy stuff for all my friends and family and people reading this.
  • Do stupid things! Does this need to be explained?

The list is detailed, and time consuming, but I’m really, really looking forward to this summer, we’ll see if writing this down helps. I read it somewhere on an  unnamed research that writing things down helps people do them.

 

But essentially, these next two weeks are going to be of me trying my hardest not drying up and rotting on a couch, in front of my computer, playing Skyrim.

 

So, what are your hopes for the summer?

The theories of my own relative culture.

I find the human complex fascinating. Just fascinating.

Especially when we look at our own cultures and then compare it to others. I don’t know how other people see this, but here’s my little brain bubble on it.

First, allow me to clarify: When I say “compare ‘it’ to others,” I want to talk about how their brain perceives certain events, or certain situations based off of how their life simply is. Not their psychology or their psyche. There’s a difference which doesn’t come out as easily as one would think. I guess in a scientific sense, the former focuses on experience, while the latter focuses on gut. I’m going to focus on experience. To me, I find this particularly interesting because of the responses I get. I mean with the psyche and how the mind works, I find it to be a bit droll because it tends to crack down on the scientific points regarding taking apart the mind.

You know what? Amidst my 11:40 College essay and History Project Delirium, let me just start. Examples are always better.

Here’s something I rarely talk about: My ethnicity, which plays a huge factor in piquing my attention regarding the distinct cultures I experience relative to my friends who are, more or less, not Asian. Well, it’s more or less how I came up with the idea to write about this. It just came to me in a flash of lightning, hitting me like a magnet train:

I’m Asian.

I’m pretty chinese. At Westminster, I think there are about 2-3 Mainland Chinese people in my grade. The rest are interesting blends of many different groups, or just look Asian. That’s not really the strange part though. We got taiwanese, japanese, Philippine, and in between. It has a nifty rhyme with it too. Bottom line, I think that despite being part of a pretty diverse culture and world both in America and in Westminster, I feel like my culture has focused less on assimilation and more on cultivation. Even amongst other Mainland Chinese Children, who are hilariously anti-social and all have the same frightening stigma for handling situations, my experience with culture throws both me and them off.

Food. It’s most definitely the food. My parents never discriminated or filtered what foods I ate from the chinese culture. Hell, as far as I was concerned, the only reason I didn’t eat those frogs were because I saw their guts get ripped inside out by a press of a thumb. If it looked cooked, I could eat it.

That’s not the same for others. On my trip to China, I explored many a strange places, filled with sand, trains, and smelly old people. I ate a lot of food, too. And I was with a bunch of kids in this Chinese Root Seeking camp (for edification, it wasn’t as fun as it sounds).

No one was in my age range. The people younger than me were going to eighth grade, and the people older than me were heading for college. I was an awkward sophomore, stuck between a rift of two seemingly different generations.

You could tell by the way each one looked at the food.

The college kids? yeah, they knew their stuff. They really did, knowing how the culture of the Chinese restaurants and many different serving styles and dishes worked. When they ate, each kid knew exactly what to do and they could get creative with those hotpots. They felt at home both in America and China.

The little ones, on the other hand, were like lost alpacas making their way across the tundra. Everything was foreign to them, even though their heritage linked them back to the place they were eating. They have been, more or less “Americanized,” changed into thinking of Chinese exoticism as a strange and unfamiliar world.

They’re so close, yet so far away.

Isn’t that intriguing? To be, in a sense, brainwashed (although that’s a really strong word) by a certain nations culture to be unable to be willing to try new things?

The established norm changed for them. They wanted fries, and burgers, and at most, sweet and sour chicken. They had no clue (and were frightened, in fact) of squids, snakes, and skewering raw shrimp into a boiling pot of water. Nor did they desire to try it. 

Sure, I get that culture is a strange thing to adapt to, but isn’t it a bit to much for someone to be close-minded about new experiences? 

I think that’s the reason I hung out with the older generation. Their experience and general open-mindedness seemed more promising (and it was). I could hardly tolerate the little generation. Of course, they were loud, and they were annoying. But I could get over that. I just couldn’t take the fact that they hated good food and ate the fabricated chinese food in the US in China, thinking that it was “oriental.”

They find American Culture acceptable, and Chinese culture strange. The alienation and boundaries hit me hard when I realized that if Chinese kids felt this way in China, how would Americans feel about China, having never gone anywhere else? 

I shudder.

That’s the same with me and my family relative to the rest of the people in my school. I’m talking about the white kids. I’m not immune to this whole “cultural diversity” spiel. I find eating dinner at a family table with shared foods and 4 bowls of rice normal. When I talk to my friends about that, I realize just how affected I am by my parents own form of Asian Culture. They don’t understand how that happens every day, just like I couldn’t possibly understand how the American diet works, and how they manage to stay in a moderately healthy weight zone. Seriously. I’m hilariously undereducated about American diets, seeing how the only thing I see talked about are burgers, fries, and hotdogs.

How far does this boundary go? I feel like the reason nothing right ever happens internationally is because people fail to recognize and try to accustom themselves to a socially acceptable norm. 

In this case, I actually support going with the grain. 

Maybe that comes with age.