Monday, August 14, 2017


 (I'll edit this tomorrow some other time.)

Okay, so I want to talk about an experience I had maybe four-ish years ago when I was in France. This is just one of many stories I feel I should write down, but I feel like talking about this one now. It's pretty complicated. I'm just gonna spill it out.

Alright. I'm about two months into the TAPIF program and Toussaints is coming up. I plan a trip to London. I have two friends in London, let's call them Oliver and Camille. Oliver offers to let me stay at his place. I book a train from Bordeaux to Paris, then from Paris to London. I do this all on the Eurostar website.

Some time before the trip, I go to the local SNCF office to pick up my physical tickets, and the guy working there says that he can't access them because I booked them through Eurostar, and there is no Eurostar office in Bordeaux! I have to get my tickets in Paris through a Eurostar office, which is stupid and beside the point, because one of the tickets I need to pick up is the one that gets me to Paris! He asks me to pay €20 to "buy" a new ticket (a nominal amount for the ticket, but absolutely not something I should've needed to pay because I had already bought the ticket). He handwrites this note and tells me to go to the SNCF office when I'm in Paris after visiting Eurostar, show him my tickets, and get a refund.

(I'd actually forgotten this part until I started writing because it's not the main part. Hahaha!)

Okay, I vow to never book SNCF tickets through Eurostar again.

The day of the trip. I'm riding the Bordeaux-Paris section and the train stops. There's an announcement that something's wrong. My French skills are still catching up so I'm not sure exactly what happened, but I know a ton of other trains are stopped too. My mind is cycling through the possibilities. Mechanical error? Suicide? Other track obstruction? I sit there and hours pass. Literally hours. I don't remember how many. I remember the Eurostar schedule and eventually I come to the conclusion that I'm probably not even going to make the last one.

While all this is happening, one of the few friends I made, a Taiwanese assistant, innocently asks me how my holidays are going. (This is all in French.) It's a polite message but I'm stressed and panicking. I'm fervently text back, oh, not so great. You know, my train is super delayed. I'm not sure I can make to London today. I might be stuck in Paris. I don't what to do.

You see, I was using this flip phone I bought in 2009. Back in 2009, it was already the cheapest option. I was using it because it was what I bought that last time I was in France. My own American smartphone was locked (and honestly not a scion of modern technology itself), so I decided to just use this one I already had. I can't look up anything on it! Not news, not lodging, not fucking anything.

My friend, bless her heart (I mean this!), kindly decided to look up some hostels for me. Here I am, sitting on the train, holding this flip phone like a lifeline, anxiously waiting for her reply. I open it and close it, open and close it.

She doesn't reply for a while, but I think when she does, she says she doesn't find anything. She's like, maybe the train company will help you out. I'm like, yeah, they better.

I stay calm. I'm not the only who's missing a connecting train (I wonder if I'm the only one missing on to a different country through a different service, though!). Lots of people are getting screwed, too. I'm not alone. SNCF will provide compensation, right? I text Oliver, who was supposed to pick me up at the London station. My arrival would've coincided with him getting off work. I tell him I'm probably not gonna be there today. I'm not sure on the details, but I'll let him know. I'm making these international texts with my scarce, precious, pay-as-you-go credit.

We finally get to Paris. It's chaos everywhere. Tons of people. I think I go to a regular service desk before I redirected to the correct place, this, glass walled section for... I don't remember. It's also service. I line up, I get to the front. They are brusque. They say they've booked me on the first train out the next morning. (Fuck me, I think, 6:00am. I'm not a morning person.)

Okay, you should know that there are multiple major train stations in Paris, and Paris is a damn big city. Train from Bordeaux comes into Montparnasse. Eurostar leaves from Gare du Nord. Trip on the metro between the two stations is about half and hour.

They have accommodation. I ask for something close to Gare du Nord. I already have to wake up super early tomorrow. I don't need the extra complication of trying to figure out how to get to the train station from some place, possible far away, I haven't been before. The lady nods and hands me a piece of paper with a hotel name and a metro stop on it. She waves me away.

I feel a little relieved, until I look at the paper again and realize there are no directions on it. Just the metro stop. What the hell? I'm already out of my element. My French isn't perfect. I'm tired. The stress comes back. I see a group of people next to the counter and they all have the same piece of paper in their hands. Some of them are talking about going to the hotel together. I think, maybe I can get in on this, and I step into their circle, but they all ignore me. They sort of separately file out. Great.

I walk to a metro map. Maybe the hotel is near the stop? Honestly, this seems impossible. I look for the stop indicated on the piece of paper. And then I realize that this fucking place is nowhere near Gare du Nord. It's at the terminus of some other line that doesn't even cross Gare du Nord!

At some point during this mess, my Taiwanese assistant friend texts me if I've gotten a place to stay. I finally text here back. I say, kind of, but I don't know where it is except that it's super far from where I want to be. She says, she has a friend who lives near Gare du Nord. Would I like her to contact her for me and ask if I could stay there?

Close to Gare du Nord? Yes, close to Gare du Nord.

I say, yes, please. I think maybe she might've been hoping I'd say no.

I wait, wondering what I'd do if her friend says no, wondering where she lives. Time is ticking and I don't want to be wandering around some random area of Paris at midnight.

Taiwanese assistant friend eventually texts back and gives me the okay. Tells me which metro stop her friend closest too. I look at the map. She really is close! I think she was only one or two stops away from Gare du Nord. I keep expecting to get this friend's number and be asked to communicated and figure our the logistics directly, but my friend keeps playing middle man.

I take the metro. I text her when I'm at the stop. She tells me which direction to walk and to look for a big red door. The instructions are detailed, but I'm still worried, of course. I stare at the doors in the darkness, wondering if any of them are big or red enough. I keep walking.

I see one that does looks appropriately red and large. I text, I think I'm here, and by then her friend has come down to greet me. By now it's midnight or a bit past, I think. I'm full of apologies and gratefulness. Thank you so, so, so much for letting me stay here. I'm so, so, so sorry for bothering you so late. I'm also so, so sorry because I'll have to wake up early tomorrow and probably wake you up, too.

I'm a complete stranger to her. I barely know her friend (my Taiwanese assistant friend), and suddenly she's letting me crash at her place on short notice. She's a student and she has an exam tomorrow. I'm just amazed, and so grateful, and thinking what great people these two people must be.

We go up to her apartment which she shares with a couple roommates, some of whom are already asleep. I meet one. I'm like, how does she even introduce me? Hey, here's some random person I'm letting sleep in my room tonight. We go into her room and she has this sheet laid out on the floor. She offers me a small pillow, which I graciously accept.

I say I'm gonna go make a couple calls. I go into the small kitchen. I call Camille. I quickly explain my situation to her, thinking about my dwindling minutes. I say, I missed my train, do you think it's possible for you to meet me tomorrow morning instead of whatever time we had originally decided on? My friend Oliver can't pick me up anymore because he works in the morning. We can hang out for the day before I head over to his place in the evening. She agrees! I say--it's gonna be early--are you okay with that? She laughs and says it's okay.

I call Oliver and explain to him the plan. He says, in that case, he won't be going to the train station. He'll meet me at the metro stop closest to his home. Is that okay? Yes, of course.

I hang up, finally, finally, finally relieved. I feel so relieved. I stand in the kitchen and eat a little bit of the food I brought with me. Paris-living friend offers me some water, which I accept.

So I take to the sheets on the ground and cover myself up with my coat. (It's cold, but hey I am not complaining in the slightest. I will take what I can get! Which is already more than I expected.) Paris-living friend says that she'll probably pull an all-nighter is everything is okie dokie. I try to sleep.

The next morning I wake up very early, as planned. Friend is still awake and I thank her a ton, quietly. I use the bathroom. When I come out, one of her roommates is there, groggy and pissed. I don't notice the second part at first, so I smile and says "bonjour!" but she's like, do you speak English? She tells me to not use that bathroom because it's very loud in her room, then promptly goes back and shuts the door. I apologize and ask Paris-living friend about it. Apparently there are two bathrooms, and yeah, I wasn't supposed to use that one during sleeping hours. I feel bad that after that, I'll just be disappearing into the ether.

I make my train. It takes me a while to find Camille on the other side (miscommunication about where we should meet), but we meet up.

And that's the story of my first trip to London, where almost everything went wrong, but so many things went right because of the great people in my life.

Here is a picture of the English breakfast I had the morning I finally arrived.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Relearning the guzheng 11

I spent some time trying to learn my teacher's version of Dance of Yi by ear. I'm now playing a hybrid of the version in my sheets and hers (but mostly hers--it might be because I heard it first, but I think it sounds better!).

Anyway, here's a full version of 彝族舞曲. It's probably my best recording of a full song so far on this journey. It is, of course, still far from perfect. I get nervous when I play for an audience! Even when that audience is myself, apparently. Ha ha ha.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Relearning the guzheng 10


By the way, finishing a song means, for me, being able to play the entire thing, even if poorly. And since I suck (a lot) at reading sheets while playing, most of the time, it also means that I've memorized it.

I still have a ton, ton more practice to do on it, but it feels really good to be able to play a song even pre-hiatus me couldn't.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Relearning the guzheng 9

I finally started the fast part for Fragrant Jasmine. I'm doing it, you guys.

The following is a recording from yesterday, the equivalent of almost two weeks of work. (It's a practice with tons of mistakes.) About two pages. It was kind of excruciating to get through, but today I continued it with the tremolo part (not in the recording), and that part is really fun! I was having a ton of fun playing it.

Now the end is so close I can taste it. So close! Only about one and a half more pages, and the last part is just a rehash of the beginning.

I mean, obviously I still have a lot of work to do. First I have to play it well, and then I have to play it way faster, but this is still pretty exciting for me.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Relearning the guzheng 8

Yeah, I'm flighty and undedicated and I have no patience. I'm doing more songs.

I'm still practicing the others. But yeah, other pieces are happening.

I surprised myself by wanting to play 梁祝. I never thought the arrangement I had of it was that great. Well, the beginning is pretty good, but the fast part was just okay.

But here is me playing the beginning. Also sans intro. Some mistakes were made.

You know, I was never amazing at keeping a beat. Like, rushing or dragging (mostly rushing) was something I had to concentrate on not doing... but, man, am I at my worst beat keeping-est or what. It's not rushing. It's just inconsistent.

I feel like it's partially my hands' fault. Like, this is definitely the case with the fast part in Peacocks.

Anyway. 梁祝.

Oh yeah, I've been reflecting on the eight-ish years I'd been taking lessons and what I learned and did not learn. I'll probably make a post on that, too. I just need to organize my thoughts some more.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Two completely unrelated topics

Once, when I was in college, I decided to do an exercise and honestly write down everything I didn't like about myself. I'd been having a lot of negative thoughts and I just wanted to lay it all out there. It actually made me feel better because what I thought might have been a never-ending list turned out to not even fill the entire page of my notebook.

It might be a little longer this time, but I should probably try this again.


Yesterday, I tried to make the Cantonese dessert 双皮奶 for the first time. I only had powdered milk (at least it was full fat), so it wasn't great. It didn't form a lot of skin. It turned out okay, though. The inside was nice and smooth.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Relearning the guzheng 7

I somewhat finished 孔雀东南飞. As in, I can play all the parts--just not well, yet.

Here's what I sound like now.

Finally, the full beginning of Fragrant Jasmine sans intro (from June 2), and then today's poor rendition of Peacocks. The tempo is pretty bad (inconsistent) on Peacocks. But it's the whole song.

There's a video I took of myself playing Peacocks from 2009. I made some mistakes in it, but it's obviously very much better than what I've got now. Cleaner. I keep going. Actually, I'm a little surprised how quickly I picked it back up.

Oh, and I can tell that my phone microphone isn't really cutting it, hm.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Relearning the guzheng 6

So the pick tape I bought, it's some poor quality pick tape. I mean, I knew from the moment I saw it was it wasn't as good as my old stuff, but damn, it's shittier than I thought. It's fraying and unsticky and it gets in the way. Annoying.

Maybe I'll have to make a trip out to a supply store to look at the types in person. I dunno.

Also, I've started working on 孔雀东南飞 again. It's easier than 茉莉芬芳, and it's also a song I've actually completed before. Man, playing songs in different keys is annoying. In that, during a practice session, I have to retune multiple times.

Saturday, June 3, 2017


About a month ago I sent off my old passport for a renewal, and I was so worried about it the whole time. What if it got lost in the mail??? What if it got lost in the passport processing center?? Well, it came back! A week ago, actually. It was such a relief to have it back in my hands.

That passport is a record of my most prolific travel period. I'm honestly not sure if I'll ever fill a passport like that again (not in the least that fewer and fewer countries are giving out stamps). I have a lot of memories attached to that thing! I used it so much I even memorized its number!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Relearning the guzheng 5

So, I remembered that 茉莉芬芳 is a key of G song, but back in the day I played it in D. I remembering bringing it up with Teacher and she was like, eh, just play it in D.

I thought about it (now), and I think I should play it in its proper key. Key of G is the second most common key for songs on the guzheng, apparently, and it's relatively easy to tune for (just change F# to G and it becomes the new 1). Man, I have to admit, I find changing keys difficult. What had always been ingrained as "1" is no longer "1"! Etc.

I thought about not working on it until I'd gotten good at a regular D key song, but, yeah, I guess this is the one I want to play after all.

So I redid it. Here's the beginning again in the correct key.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Relearning the guzheng 4

My pick tape arrived!!!

Kinda awkward wearing them, actually. It's been a while.

I practiced for long time today. I also started working on 茉莉芬芳 in addition to everything else (and upon listening to the entire song online, I'm pretty sure I never completed it). I just want to play everything... but only the slow beginning parts. The fast parts... will have to wait a little. Honestly, these songs are above my level now.

Yesterday I spent some time on and looked at the pieces used to grade your guzheng level. There are different authorities, but basically, 渔舟唱晚 is a level 4 piece. 战台风 is level 7. 孔雀东南飞 is also level 7 (I had no idea you could use it for a test!). 茉莉芬芳 is level 8, and 春到湘江 is level 10.

My hands and arms are pretty tired.

I recorded a little to see what I sound like currently. Here are my very poor renditions of the beginning of 茉莉芬芳 and 彝族舞曲--both without the intro, and the entirety of 渔舟唱晚 (except I cut out one repetition of the fast part since I'm not up to snuff yet anyway).

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Relearning the guzheng 3

Been playing about an hour a day minus the weekends. Back when I played, that's about how much a practiced a day. Maybe even a little less.

I was gonna stick with basic songs but they don't hold my attention. Started working on Dance of Yi today. The best beginning bit after the intro, and the first part of the fast part after. This made it clear that my left hand needs work too.

I hope my pick tape comes soon. I really need picks, man.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Relearning the guzheng 2

I'm still waiting on my pick tape. I really need it to do any sort of tremolo.

Index-thumb picking is improving. (Man, I really want to use my picks.)

I found songs that I absolutely loved and completed that I've also completely forgotten about. Namely, 彜族舞曲 (Dance of the Yi Tribe) and 茉莉芬芳 (Fragrant Jasmine), the latter of which I rediscovered while looking back on my old guzheng-related entries. Wow.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Relearning the guzheng 1.5

By the way, this is the best rendition of 春到湘江 I've found yet on Youtube:

I never finished it, by the way, before I had to stop playing. Got about 2:30 minutes in. It's hard.

I listened to this a lot as a freshman in college, away without my guzheng, dreaming about what could have been.

Relearning the guzheng 1

I play this instrument called guzheng and I used to be good. I haven't played in almost a decade (maybe eight years?). For a long time I've been looking at it longingly with my heart breaking because I could no longer play the pieces I want to play. It was a vicious cycle. I want to get good again. This is a log.

About a week ago I bought four rolls of pick tape from Amazon. They are shipping from China.

Today I went to Walmart for CR2025 batteries for my tuner (it needs two). They were out of stock on the shelves and I had to ask the jewelry counter for some.

My guzheng was tuned to F for 孔雀东南飞, but that is the only song I need it tuned to F for. At first I thought I was gonna leave it and work on 孔雀东南飞, since it's my favorite, but in the end I decided to tune it back to D to work on more basic songs first.

F key goes like this: F, G, A, C, D. What was once 2 becomes 1, etc. I don't need to retune the original 1 (D) and 5 (A).

D key: D, E, F#, A, B

I tried to play some songs without picks. Particularly 渔舟唱晚. I remembered a lot of 渔舟唱晚, but forgot most of the end and how to finish the fast bit.

I remembered more songs than I thought I would. I could sight read better than I thought I would be able to. However, I'm clearly lacking on basic picking technique (first exercise), which kind of surprises me. I'm not sure how long I played for but my right forearm is super tired.

Songs I had left on my stand: 孔雀东南飞,峽谷明珠放異彩 (Magnificent Bronze Gorge) (poor first page was collecting dust on the ground), 蝴蝶泉边,战台风, 绿岛小夜曲, and freaking 春到湘江. Wow. It's going to take me a long, long time to work back up to 春到湘江. This is like a direct continuation of my 2008 guzheng heart.

I'm worried about my guzheng a little. It looks and sounds fine but I've never changed a string on it. What will I do when one breaks? Where do I go buy them? I'll deal with it when it comes I guess.

Tried playing Golden Snake Dance (金蛇狂舞), which revealed my poor index-thumb picking ability. So slow. Guess I'll practice that until I improve.

Right forearm tired.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Love poetry

My three favorite love poems:

"A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" by John Donne
"my sweet old etcetera" by E. E. Cummings
"Variations on the Word Sleep" by Margaret Atwood