Firsts

“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”- the little prince

My heart is in my throat as I wake up from a pool of cold sweat. I dreamt of trying to find you when you wandered into the adjacent. The gravel beneath my feet feels like heavy sand, and the first stars are appearing in the valley. I stand at the end of the drive way in the time stopped stillness of the moment and take a deep breath as I realized I’ve gone to look for you at the wrong house.

Suddenly you appear. Everything happens at light speed.

We are shrieking with laughter and our bodies were shaking. We are at one point the same height in each other’s arms. Your neck smells like clean sweat, heavy with you. I hadn’t seen your face in over a year. I don’t really know what you look like anymore. You’re wearing a black hat, with bracelets at your wrists. We’re staring at each wide eyed and a little shell shocked, laughing with nerves.

You and me.

We were only ideas of us before. A teacher I met on Instagram who made me hold my breath late at night as I listened intently to his voice over my phone. I am a simple girl from California with a little camera and a penchant for words. These were moments of extreme lightness, the story of two people continents away.

You pulled my head into your reality. The voice on the phone telling me you enjoyed talking to me live rather than texting. I paced around the house trying to drop my voice just a pitch and a half because I was worried I’d wake the neighbors.

But I was afraid you’d be like my other dream, where you dissolved in the morning. The one where you wake up and half-remember. I am looking for you through a relentless search, except I couldn’t find you. Other men have appeared, I was drinking and lonely. Disoriented and scared. My mannerisms made me stammer my way through timezones and explanations of kumquats and the countryside life. I imagined you in my future life a little but I was a timid kitten in the woods and didn’t know the impact of the realization it had on you. I held still and waited, but you were already gone.

I had always wanted to love. I never craved for passionate kisses, presents or fancy dinners. I wanted to be the only one to have a key that could unlock someone, so that their soul came spilling out, perhaps someone as lost and spirited and wondering as I am.

A soulmate.

“You see, one loves the sunset when one is so sad.” 

Someone to pour my life into, to mold together with. We’d be the torrent river on the way to the wild sea. Full of rainwater and brightly colored pebbles all worn and smooth from the passing of time. Something the world had never seen before, and perhaps, maybe never see again.

But i was always wrong for you, while I worried that for you I had been far too much, or maybe far too little. The realization made me feel devoid of all else. My brightly colored version of love did not fill your empty spaces. Maybe for me it was a sad tale that happens to far too many – without nurturing you, you turned inward. I am always on the lookout for something meaningful to quench that aching thirst for connection. I prayed that i could be different, for you, though mostly I felt that my efforts had been a failure before it really began, that balmy May night. I couldn’t be sure that you’d turn the tides the other way and I thought maybe you’d fight a little harder for me. That you thought the exact same of me as I thought of you.

I think I knew more about you than you realized.

You never revealed anything. You were nowhere to be found. There were small clues along the way if I looked keenly enough. A hint that something was wrong; the vagueness of a certain June weekend. Something troubling you at a place where no one would catch sight of.

You were like some kind of fortress, your emotions indiscernible, your true feelings hidden just past where I could see them in the fall and rise of your chest.

It had been a secret pride of mine- the ability to read an emotional landscape like it was a vast expressionist painting, every stroke of the brush and where it came from visible to the eye.

But it wasn’t that way with you. Everything was carefully organized and tucked away. When I reached in your direction the space was grey and shrouded in certainty. Your face was unreadable. Your brown eyes huge and unfathomable. What you thought as you watched me fumble through making you tea and I lost track of what I could possibly say, it was all mystery. You were a mystery. You were made of walls. A maze of dark heavy stones that towered high above my head and out of sight. There were no doors, there were no windows. No signposts, no hints.

The only way in was to go in at the very start and work my way through to your brain, path by path right in the thick of the endless dead-ends. But at times the ground was very hard and if I looked very sharply in the dim light I could follow where you had once been, the mark of your shoes on the interior of your world. A world that you kept separate when there were others involved.

A girl and her many tattoos. A beautiful young woman with hair like the sun. Chasing you. Protecting you. Understanding you through the epic frontier of Alaska.

We were a relationship that hadn’t quite made it. As everyone bears a thorn in their heart at times, there was an idea of hope that fell to the ground in torn paper wings. A hurt that may take a long time to go away. I knew the feeling from both sides, especially when forever turns out to be a lot shorter than you thought it would. It wakes you up in the middle of the night while you blink back tears remembering the sweetness that turned bitter. Wasn’t this love? If it wasn’t, what did I do wrong? Why were you conflicted? How did we lose? 

Perhaps the love we had, you were cautious to begin. It was me, maybe. I was the girl everyone claimed was made of syrup, sunshine and smiles. The girl always reaching for your hands, laughing and laughing. My life, wholesome and bright, with the scent of toasted marshmallows.

That was how I lost you. In that long June night, I left my glasses on the bed post and began to cry, petrified at the sudden loss. A head rush of knowledge that this, the romance felt by strangers in Bangkok, was over.

Your river begins to flow. You’re free.

1.5 months in Yangon, Myanmar

It was sitting by the lakeside pier of Bogyoke Park when I finally pull my phone from my lap to draft this. The water was flowing in smooth curtains under the rise and fall of the densely green waves adorned with lily pads and the occasional birds flying by to touch the water; their long beaks diving over hoping to pull up food.

The trees lining the park are so richly green and dense – something my eyes have never seen outside of Yangon. Green and yellow hues as far as one can see. The humidity presses skin deep, with droplets of water forming on my skin. The sky is a rich grey, clouds moving to signify the impending storm. I feel the weight of the past 2 days breaking me silently inside, a deep rooted fear that’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The heaviness feels exactly the way the sky looks, and the weight feels heavier the further I carry it. My heart has stopped looking for him, or expecting him to come around a corner laughing or explaining something in his careful, ardent way. It’s an ache that slips to the surface whenever I look through our photos of happier times.

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Then you overcome. Then you begin.

Jennifer Ngan photography

It takes a lot from us, at times, to be the best version of ourselves. Being defined and redefined at any given moment, whether through a tumultuous experience or a eye opening revelation. Living a false sense of self, only to a die a little, promotes a life of faux perfection and non- redemption.

More than ever, i see that we live in a society where (illogical) fear is not only instilled in us since childhood, but is rather a byproduct of our culture that seeps into every aspect of our humanity.

For example, the importance of one thing relative to another. Finding a breakthrough in cancer research vs an angry boss whose jet is needing to be rerouted because of bad weather? In capitalist hierarchy, the ladder is always more important. And we are trained to believe that we must alleviate all roadblocks for said plane because someone has the money to exert their power, yes, even weather. Because capital is everything here, and we are so deeply divided by means over matter.

This isn’t some negative thing. And i swear there is no gloom in recognizing it for what it is. I would just like to see more compassion in people, more love in an otherwise mundane outlay of the modern world, with careless robots operating conveyor belt style in a half-assed attempt to better this world.

I think people like the idea of a united front but to be the one that leads with example is a lot less popular.

In the grand scheme of things, what matters? I mean, the level in which the importance comes from is quite tasteless. In my recent pursuit to find meaning, I’ve learned that when you’re not ready to, you’re all too eager to prove that you are ready to start this path but it is hard to admit to yourself, and even harder to those closest to us, that you are completely and unabashedly unprepared.

Finding that grand escape sounds wonderful. Fueling those thoughts with an open heart and mind is another. And it is often where I question myself in the middle of a gloomy afternoon, wondering if my path is all wrong, that maybe I should be elsewhere, maybe i should not be here. That this isn’t right for me, that perhaps I should leave it or should I just let it be..? Or maybe I am selfish and I don’t see things with enough clarity that I become too fixated on my own journey that I neglect the journeys of those closest to me? That internal battle of leaving it all behind sounds like a welcome reprieve until it doesn’t.

Time – is it really there? In the artificial construct of human mentality, yes. Time is quantifiable. Time has a duration. Time seems to be of a sequential chain in which events take place, measured in a forward-going linear motion.

But when can we take a minute be defeated? To be so vulnerable that our soul bleeds our ego. And to be so gone we finally reacquaint ourselves with clarity and see time as nothing more or less the present?

Because when you are defeated, your heart pounds harder and you are in this uncharted terrain of life that becomes you. Consumes you.

Then you overcome. Then you begin.

Having an English Degree: Why Does it Matter in the “Real World”?

Jennifer Ngan Photography

One question I get asked a lot as of late is, why did you study English and why is it that you’re an accounting professional and not a…. teacher, or a novelist? Poet? How can you be both? “It’s the total opposite.”

The yin and yang, the duality….that’s why.

While that may be somewhat truthful, that answer will garner weird looks.

How many of us will say that the career paths we’ve chosen are far from what we’ve studied at University? I am sure plenty of people can relate to that statement.

But it seems, sometimes I need to mightily defend the study of English.

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You May Say That I’m a Dreamer

Jennifer Ngan Photography

When I was five, I struggled in kindergarten because I had a hard time understanding and speaking English. All my life, I only spoke Cantonese at home, and going to school was terrifying as it was brutal. The teachers suggested to my parents that I should stay behind, and take another year to catch up. My immigrant mother did not budge and knew that I will grow into it. She wasn’t worried.

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Writing As a Form of Meditation Through Self Reflection

Sometimes I lose touch with reality from stress. Getting flashbacks from things best stored away. I don't have a "method" to deal with triggers. It just is. I like to say i am above work stress, but I am not. Why does it matter really? It doesn't. In hindsight, some things are out of our control. I just wish my mind and body could agree. But, it is a brand new day... ☀️

There are pens and pencils that litter coffee table. Notepads and sticky notes shoved in every drawer and corner around my desk. Notes on my phone far too plenty, with new things added daily. Phrases i like, buttery rich words, pictures, artwork, lyrical sentences in the abstract nature, verbs, idioms, and sentences in every literary technique. A string of favorite quotes for artistic merit. All of that far too precious to be without.

This mess, if you look hard enough, is evidence of self reflection. It’s all in the trying to fall asleep thing at night, the restlessness, the sometimes-anxiety that comes and goes. The lying awake at night; that turns into midnight stories, short fiction. Creative writings. They are the scattered thoughts and dialogues of someone far too empathetic to let things go. And someone who wants to make sense of it all. Not through logic, no, but through the heart.

Most of my writings is a series of reflections, thoughts and musings. They have all my initials attached in some form or another. Sometimes I write things that resemble the symbol of ugliness but it is a representation of the things I’ve felt, and written in anger or frustration. There are words I’ve written, letters that are laced with scars and heat of the moment observations. The unwavering honesty is what makes the words authentic, true. Though exposed, and the exposure is then what makes a person naked.

In moments like those, it requires strength to emerge from the shadows. Shadows of shame and guilt. To truly recognize those written words, and understand that I am the imperfect person standing, it is recognizing that imperfection is just a side effect of the human condition. In that sense of reflection, it is a humbling realization to acknowledge my flaws before those I want to be the Most Perfect For.

I started journaling since I was in 7th or 8th grade, and continuously kept journals (both paper and online) since. What I realized when I went through more than a decade of old notebooks and writings was that I kept beating myself up for not being good enough, and never being the person that I wanted to be. Maybe it’s the angst of growing up, or it was self reflection.

Sometimes it is a sad thing, the realization. The realization that you are not how you want to see yourself. That you’re better, or your idea of yourself is much better than who you think you actually are. But this is part of the journey and it takes a special lens to see through the distortion. The mess. When there is evidence of reflection, creation, improvement, it is okay to see past it. I learned that writing, in any form, is a form of meditation. It helps with cultivating awareness to your thoughts and actions, seeing things for what they are and being okay with it. Writing it down, structuring those sentences, mapping out the timeline, and simply letting it flow through inertia

And to quote one of my favorites – “Good Luck Exploring the Infinite Abyss”

Goodnight.

Jen Signature

A Dream in a Dream in a Dream

jennifer ngan photography
I’m wide awake, restless yet warm. I dreamt of you, just minutes before, still feeling the graze of your sweater on my skin. And your brown eyes burning into mine.

It was early morning, quiet and dark. We were both walking in tandem, breathing in the dewy air, the scent of jasmine prominent around us. Not one who is much for words, you say nothing but you smile that secret smile, and I, smile back and rest my head on your shoulder. We walk together, arm in arm flowing through. There is no destination. We just keep going.

Then it becomes a silent evening in, and the only sound is the turning of pages. We glance up and look at each other occasionally, smiling that secret smile. You’re working on a sketch, a drawing of sorts that you’re drawn to. Something you saw in a dream or a place, and trying to interpret that meaning through colors and shades. I am reading a book – and very much caught in the story, telling you about it when there is a pause in background music. You make predictions, and we laugh helplessly. My legs are resting atop yours, and I’m wondering how effortlessly easy this is. Us.

We both fell asleep with your sketch book in hand. I wake for a few minutes to spend that precious time with you – soothed by your steady breathing and strong arm resting under my head. When you open your eyes, you blink out of that dreamy shadow of sleep, and looking as if you’re seeing the world for the first time. In this quiet moment, time is still. The background music a mere blur of thumps and crescendos.

And within this moment, the quiet speaks the loudest. And it is within the presence of your quiet that I grow closer to you.

4:30AM

 

Monochromatic for days.
Monochromatic for days.

I feel like I’ve spent a majority of my life waiting. Running, with no promise of an end in sight. Watching, though no light at the end of the tunnel. Waiting, while I get smaller and smaller, drowning into oblivion. 

So this explains how, while waiting for an Uber to pick me up at an ungodly 4am hour, staying still is not my strong suit. I was tired, but fidgeting, anxious then pensive, casually switching every few minutes. In a moment’s notice, i made some herbal tea and proceeded to wipe down the kitchen counters. 

4:30am is a moody grey, with skies devoid of any real color. The marigold leaves on the ground can hardly be seen at that hour. I am the only one outside, and despite my dismal view into the empty road, I can hear the idling engine of a car that sounds a few yards away, overworked and begging for rest. 4am doesn’t care what weather related disorder you have or how dark it is outside. It is, afterall, 4am. All will be forgotten when the sun rises.

Fast forward several hours later, and I am at my parents’ home. I’m focusing on the late Saturday morning, curled up in my bedroom floor with iced coffee, and soaking in the light streaming in from all three windows. It’s quiet and calm here, an acoustic rhythm strumming in the background. I am thoroughly appreciating the nothingness – I suppose this is what they mean to stay in the moment and relax. I could be the only person awake, or the only person writing about this moment. If right now is a color, it would be a golden peach glow with orange edges.