Tuesday, June 06, 2006

another day

8:45 am – stumble out of bed, forget to shave, stuff contact lenses in, throw on t-shirt and blazer, soy milk and honey nut brunches of oats for breakfast, rush out the door.

9:15 am – stop by starbucks. buy banana chocolate muffin.

9:25 am – clock in at work. boss-uncle-g stops by my desk, pulls me into a design discussion about project ns – a competition for an I.T. park somewhere in China. present are: boss-uncle-g and teammates ja and vp. aerial photographs (i found them via google earth while listening to the mission impossible soundtrack) are shown and marked-up in white out. we talk about simplifying things. i think about an einstein quote “things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler” and wonder about how to get there. maybe it’s about forgetting all about trying to impress, and just doing it for ourselves.

10:15 am – i decide to spend the next few hours on project mc – a residential tower somewhere in china. boss-bertbert stops by my desk and tells me that i’ll be helping with “contract administration” soon. i wonder what “contract administration” means.

11 am – i e-mail some engineers about suggested changes to a project’s structural grid. i wonder how i'd feel if some 23 year old constantly gave me extra work?

12:00 pm – the client wants to see furniture in the building plans. i draw furniture. all the furniture. in all 45 floors.

1 pm – lunch time. beef melt sandwich, and then a haircut at a spot where you don't have to say anything, they just know what you want. i think the haircut looks cool, but 10 minutes i think it looks a little silly.

2:00 pm – i draw more furniture.

3:30 pm – i get pulled into a design discussion with boss-uncle-g and boss-uncle-g’s boss. i’m surprised he’s not yelling at us. boss-uncle-g’s boss’s boss, the big boss, drops by. i’m surprised he’s not yelling at us. hey, we're cool.

4:30 pm – i do some sketches.

5:00 pm – cigarette break with vp, who just joined the team, so he has fresh eyes. we talk about the façade and bounce off each other a lot, we scatter ideas around like cigarette ash, i tell him i like his style, with this project, we just gotta go where the feeling is good.

5:30 pm – meet up with team for another design discussion. i get called out on the words i use to explain architecture. too vague, and too many metaphors. a bit like this blog.

7:00 pm – dinner at a taiwanese restaurant that’s “elfish forest” themed. there's giant mushrooms, fake trees, and cute little elves everywhere, the food's nice too i had salty fish and minced pork, with a big thick taro milk shake.

8:30 pm – start to do some 3D drawings for project ns.

9:30 pm – avoid boss-bertbert outside the bathroom, don’t want to be guilt tripped about not drawing furniture.

10:00 pm – boss is delighted by some of project ns drawings. i then show him some other ones and he thinks they're so-so, but me, i like the bad drawings more than the nice ones, they're messy, struggling, trying to be something.

11:00 pm - computer crashes. it's a sign.

11:15 pm - boss brings big boss over to my desk to show some drawings. i tell him i can't, that my computer bugged out. i pack my things, throw on my jacket, and put my headphones on. it's time to head home.

Monday, June 05, 2006

9 months later


i watched a typhoon walk towards me, smiling, with a djarum in its mouth. the weather here in hong kong is a cocky bastard, a humidity with sweaty arm pits, a rain that moves like a prize fighter, like a wrestler, pulling at your ankles, holstering you upside down. it was a mistake to wear my new shoes to work.


for a year, perhaps, if this cubicle doesn't get to me sooner. i'm an architecture assistant, worker number 272, on floor 22, of number 213 queen's road east street. and i work overtime. and the best part about work is the leaving, the closing of the elevator doors, squeezing between the metal security gate into a closed-up fish market, where families sit outside just to sit outside.or maybe because their apartments are cramped, and they got no place else to go.


i ran into wing on the subway yesterday. i missed my train to causeway bay so i caught the later one, turned several wrong corners towards several wrong exits, paused to look at a map to get my bearings, made a complete 180, rushed to a random escalator and suddenly i hear "BRUCE!!!!!"

wing is getting off the escalator as i am getting on, so we chat in the middle a crowd rushing in and out.


duuude. i just had dinner with mom, chiu chao (spelling?) food. dude i ate so much, a lot of taro, but you know you gotta have the taro. taro everywhere in hong kong.


i was an airplane pilot once, and i used to have iggy pop's "passenger" on repeat in my cockpit. one day i flew through an elephant shaped cloud and got a cherub's harp lodged into my propeller. i had to evacuate immediately so i tucked myself into a rubber duck hidden in the cargo bay and leapt off the plane, spinning at the speed of sound, singing but nothing coming out of my mouth. only when i plunged into the south china sea could i hear my own voice catch up with me, audible underwater, a bedtime song dancing through the teeth of a shark about to swallow me whole.


so i was feeling lonely, and i spent some extra hours at work to keep busy. a work friend scolds me:

"hurry up and learn Cantonese, man!"

i tell him i'm trying, and point to a piece of metal on a table.

"how do you say that in chinese?"

"we call that 'luie' (aluminum.) it should be easy for you to remember, we pronounce it the same say we pronounce 'girl' ... 'luie' (girl!)"

"mm, perfect, because they can both be so cool sometimes. "

"no. girls aren't cool. they're quite warm."


do you still want a cockroach tattoo? because today i saw a giant cockroach. an saw it too, and she got scared. brian played it cool.


so wonderful that you and my aunt fell in love. i only got to spend a night and a day with her in new york, so you probably know her better than i do by now!

new york felt like a kiss on the cheek at every street corner, man, it was love, sometimes strutting around feeling cocky sometimes walking at half-steps, feeling so small in face of it all. hearing about my aunt brings me back there, her living room, so warm and lush, the street she works on, snow white in the springtime, but a sly smell of pizza and honey roasted nuts.

that button room, maybe that's how i imagine your future home, and by then you're old, and tired of photographs, and you just keep buttons on you walls, and each button a story, a person you fell in love with on a subway ride somewhere, an eight year old who told you a secret in a garden while eating popcorn.

my architecture job here in hong kong is a fistfight, no gloves, just bare knuckles, and a lot of black eyes. a fleet of 100+ sailors, each divided into their own ship, tackling its own monster project, a stadium for the 2008 olympics, a mixed use neighborhood that will replace a historical district of central hong kong, a high-tech college in the country side of china. me, i'm in a small ship, just the 3 of us, so i get to do a lot of different things. like design a façade of louvers for a sports club by lunch, layout plans for a fine dining restaurant by dinner, and figure out where escalators go in a shopping mall during overtime… it's like learning the tango, the breakdance, and the shuffle at the time, three records playing at full volume all around you, and you're not wearing any pants.

but hey, it’s fucking fun.


the other day i walked into a small corner take-out restaurant and wondered if faye wong would pop up and sing hotel california. maybe i watch too many movies. head in the clouds, i'm gonna get hit by a car one day, i think.

today it was "sunflowers," set in inner mongolia, in what could be the biggest sunflower field in the world. after the film i sat down with the director and a few other audience members in a library and we talked about music and road trips


these days… i've been wondering about my future a lot, pick-pocketing my childhood for clues about what to do, two of my favorite people at work are a pair of pilipino architects i eat fried chicken and nuts with it every other week, they are in their forties, former punk rockers now domesticated and corporate. one likes to talk about pilipino poetry (the balagtasan), and his 8-year old who is writing a war novel. the other likes to talk about toy cars, and his father-in-law, who's in a hospital in the Philippines. i tell them that i like poems too, and that (trying to over-compensate for my age) i think death is a bit like going home, for the deceased, and the people who loved her.

they just nod, like they've heard it all before, and continue eating, one of them wonders out loud about the guitar, and mentions that he never had a talent for it. i think, i feel the same way about architecture, about writing. i take another bite and wonder about that city on the horizon, blinking at me, just a nap away, and about that record shop, just around the corner.


missed opportunities, the last trip i regret not taking was a flight to Vietnam last October to see my friend Lisa from Orange County, she was in town for a medical mission and invited me to come along with her, visit towns around Saigon, I said, yes, at first, but balked when I found out I was broke.

the first trip i regret not taking was a flight to Paris, Spring semester, Junior year. It was for a funeral, my mom and all her sisters (two from Torrance, two from NY, one already in Paris) and brothers (one Swiss, one Parisian) and extended family (almost all continents) went. I didn't because I had midterms.

when i drop out of something i absolutely feel like doing, i hear Jimmy in the back of my head whisper, "you'll regret it." the next morning, i see his face in the mirror, he's shaking his head: "i told you."

i'm adding Harbin to the list.


i hope your life feels like you've survived a 5-lane car wreck on the 405 freeway, shattered glass, twisted metal, and oil picking up the shine of the sun all along the tarnished concrete, and somewhere in the distance, you can hear a car radio rock an ibrahim ferrer song.

glad to hear that you're journeying to europe soon. i hope you get lost out there, and end up in some gas station in the countryside, drinking coffee out of styrofoam cup, you don't know where you are, but you're having a nice conversation with some stranger. one of those chance friendships that make this life worth living. just two people, in the middle of nowhere, both coming from somewhere far away, and going someplace else entirely.

and wear aviator sunglasses. you'll thank me later.


so i was watching a video today about toyo ito, and he was talking about how the space he is sometimes most interested in is the void between two words, and i thought, yes, mmm, i like that.

Vietnam and back, Hue and Saigon, caphe and vegetarian meals (why does fake meat taste better than real meat?), cemetery skipping, family seeing, laughing in elevators, talking Milan Kundera and Buddhism over dinner, my mom’s “they’re goose liver, we’re chopped liver” line, looking for an orphanage lost in a jungle, climbing down a mountain while telling children’s stories, watching the sky undress herself and her clothes turning into motorcycle headlights all around us, “it’s like they’re stars looking for some grounding,” smoking cheap cigarettes, praying, dreaming about turning into a tree, my grand cousin tells me love stories as another sings “one day my prince will come,” I speak in French with all of them, except the kids my age, we talk through cell phone videos (he plays me a breakdancing video), I fall in love with a fried pancake in Hue so I throw a chair onto a table and draw our faces onto the ceiling (the food is that good,) one day we’ll all come back, we’ll build homes too, homes all over the place.

A pair of photos, for now:

Marie-Paule asked me if I wanted to go with her to find her grandfather’s grave, I said sure, and we cross by foot a river, a train track, a sea of bicycles/motorcycles and rusted toppled gate into a cemetery. There are a dozen or so kids playing soccer between the tombstones. Some of them eye us curiously. She finds her grandfather’s grave, and is totally upset to see it overrun by weeds and snails. I help her clean it up. Two kids come by and offer us a brush. They halt the soccer game to watch us clean the grave. On our way back, we wonder if the kids are talking about us. “Of course,” Marie-Paule says. And we stop for cigarettes.

The fam, at our family home in Hue. Aunts and uncles and cousins from all over the world came out to Vietnam that week. The woman on the left is Bac Ma, my godmother in Paris, the one in the middle is Bac Ang, my mom’s oldest sister, from Torrance, and the woman with the back turned to us is Bac Mi, the cool aunt in New York. They’re checking out flying plants, and will soon tell us good stories.