Embrace your UNpopular emotions

(Hiding in the corner after coming in late for my first Princeton in Asia session. | Pc: me)

If you are confused as in how you got to this blog of mine, maybe this will clear the air: this site used to be called DrizzleinBarcelona.wordpress.com.

If that didn’t explain, reading this Facebook post of mine back in May will most definitely do.


(Just in case you missed the last part, I will be writing about Chinese and Burmese economies on playwithrmb.wordpress.com. And my site siyulei.com will always include my most up-to-date works. Please pay them a visit, too!)

Clearly, this is not a new site. But what’s ahead will most certainly be a new journey.

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(WordPress reminding me how inconsistent of a blogger I must be.)

WordPress, I know better than you do that it’s now been ONE FULL YEAR since those months I spent striding through the narrow streets in Spain, staring into the eyes of worldly-famous statutes or at the beautiful (often religious) gothic buildings, and, of course, eating plates on plates of fried calamaris every night at 10. The cities – Barcelona, Madrid, Saint Sebastían, Zarautz – just mouthing these names fill my heart with pure joy, till today.

This blog, then operated under a different name, was not exactly the most successful installment, considering I was spending bigger chunk of my days not typing in front of a computer, but exploring the beautiful European views and the beautiful European men (and yes, also women, who ate bread, drank beers and smoked cigarettes addictively, yet every single one of them was thin AF). I remember not having the time to write down many of the things I felt, saw or experienced (what a sin!). But those are the things I do remember. Many more nonetheless wonderful memories have since then faded and vanished completely in the months following the end of that adventure.

It is sad to say RIP to the memories you once held dearly and thought you’d never let go. But well, that often is what happens.

Based on not just one, but multiple people’s judgments, Europe forever changed me. When I hear this statement, I just shrug it off because, doesn’t every experience we go through in lives change us somehow and cause consequential effects? Saying “oh so and so changed you forever” is like saying “oh sun comes out from the east and goes down to the west” – it’s just bond to happen, you know. Anyhow, a handful of friends claim that Europe shaped my sense of style and fashion, while the others proclaim that I became a generally calmer and more laid back person with a teeny bit more spontaneity in life and appreciations of little things. I did wonder for a long time if that was intended as praise or as something else.

But they aren’t wrong. My interpretation of fashion before going to Europe was, at best, “clumsy.” The so-called “Parisian Style” was a myth, and my laziness limited the color choices in my wardrobe (“It’s just that black goes with pretty much everything!”). Even though I haven’t ventured much out of the color of black since then, I’ve learned from European women that you ought to be comfortable in your clothes. Barcelona’s bar style was not in one bit like “clubbing in the USA.” There’s no disco light (is that still a thing?), no flashy short (SHORT) skirts or high heels that made it impossible for any girl to walk in. Instead, girls wear Converse and jeans and show up at bars at 10 p.m. for tapas and Estella. T-shirts can be the most glamorous thing if you rock it. And you bet they rock it.

As for spontaneity, a word I used to consider too vague and still consider overrated, may refer to a couple different things. Thing No.1 has something to do with people, humans, individuals I interacted. It’s in Spain when I first consciously acknowledged that, with the hope of seeing more of this world, not only can I NOT avoid meeting new people, but they are the ones who will enhance my experience and make the journey more fabulous than it already is.

To be honest, I was never someone who value relationships and put them at the forefront of my life. My freshman year in college I did a Values Auction activity at work with the other new hires. In a fictional game, I decided to bid all my fictional money on “advancement in the workforce” (and got it, of course). My coworker Nick, who later became one of my best college friends, bid on “compatible coworkers” and “pleasant working environment” and stuff in that category, all the things I frowned upon at the time and thought were trivial. I am an introvert who gain peace and pleasure from being alone. I strive to be over-the-top independent and incredibly self-sustaining. I know the idea of educating myself on “we all need friends and you do, too” at age 21 seems rudimentary and antisocial. It only makes admitting that I have a lot to learn and a long way to go in the relationship building department much harder, as well as a little shameful.

In Barcelona, I befriended my language exchange partners: Spaniard Marta and American Dylan. For two short months I was their Mandarin buddy and they were my Castellano ones. The last night I spent in Barcelona, before heading to the South of France, the three of us met up at one of the best (if not, arguably, THE best) ice cream shop in the city, and talked about sex, families, love and many other things we were never able to touch on in the couple of months of trying to communicate with pretty great but still difficult Mandarin or very crappy Spanish. It felt right, to be there, at that time, and to be talking about those intimate things, with some still very new friends. For a brief moment that night, while sitting in the dusk outside of that ice cream stand, I felt like I belonged to the city, that it was mine.

The second point about spontaneity is much harder to pinpoint. I think it has something to do with emotions. Not all the time I spent in the city of Barcelona was the best. It shouldn’t be. It’s a sickness if everyday one spends is a wonderfully good day. There are difficult things and difficult people one encounters that makes it difficult to get by. But I almost felt guilty about not enjoying every second of my time when I was in that beachside city of Catalunya, even more so than when I was anywhere else. I lived in what many consider the most wonderful city in the world (I would beg to differ), right next to the beach in Barceloneta (I didn’t end up going to the beach every day as I thought I would when I first moved) and was stress free and supposedly having the biggest blast of my life.

I mean, for the most part, I had fun. But being so close to college graduation, I was mulling over my options every waking moment: grad school? work? What about loved ones? Where shall I go, to a place that’s easier but short of challenges or a place that’s much harder but maybe more exciting? How can I be financially independent, something I really needed to move forward as an adult? Going through a major life transition made me feel lost, confused and helpless.

As a then 21-year-old, I had lived outside the comfort of my parents’ home for 10 years, and for the five years prior to that, I had been a serial expat. I knew my emotion and my sense of loss were valid, but acknowledging the difficulties I encountered in Spain somehow meant incompetence, like I didn’t learn my lessons from the experience I struggled a decade to gain. I know I’ve always been harsh on myself. I might have been particularly harsher during that period.

What I had done before Europe was “brushing it off.” It feels better to mask the pain and lie to yourself that “nothing is wrong and you are ok.” If needed, you can party all night and surround yourself with others all day to avoid dealing with the struggles inside. But when you are in a foreign country, when the number of people you know and trust is limited, you have no other options but to have those difficult conversations with yourself. And that’s what I tried to do.

Emotions are not controllable, nor is it something one could always explain. THIS is a simple idea, one I DID know before I went to Europe. But I’ve always been good at fighting it off and burying my emotions. You may call that sweeping it under something. I just call it “put a hard face on and completely ignore it.” Sometimes I reflect on what first impressions strangers may have of me, and the word “restrained” would come to mind. Something about living in the European summer heat tormented my emotional wall into pieces. I remember going to the movie theater alone one night, one of the last few I had in Spain, and cried out loud in the dark through the enter Pixar movie Inside Out, and felt refreshed and recharged after. Without the stares and norms of a familiar place, I all of a sudden learned to let go.

It was not until more recently, almost a year after the emotional Inside Out, when I found the right words to describe my “European Experience.” Two weeks ago, an individual I just met but with whom I built an instant trust with, told me: “Siyu, you need to learn how to handle your unpopular emotions.”

I followed up by asking what “unpopular emotions” entail, and he explained by saying that outgoing, happiness, lightheartedness and so on, all of those are emotions that people want to surround themselves with. These emotions make you friendlier and more popular among groups. But the ones we often consider negative, like melancholy, frustrations and jealousy, are not generally liked in this culture of ours and often make one less popular. For that reason, many people neglect their “unpopular emotions” on a constant basis, including me. This means it’s a norm for many of us to put our own emotional needs below other people’s judgments.

And for the past couple of weeks, not one second did I manage to get this comment out of my head.

Here’s another word I hate: epiphany. But you know when you are supposedly having an epiphany, everything you see in life seems to be reiterating this big mental breakthrough that you underwent? Well, that’s essentially how I felt. Two days ago, I watched a YouTube video of one of my favorite artists, promoting her new album. Her name is Aurora, a Norwegian singer/songwriter who just turned 20 – young and talented.

In the video, the artist said:

I think we are very afraid to feel, especially if it’s a sad feeling.

We don’t want to think about anything that makes us sad.

My album, is mainly about how bad experiences from the past

can be good memories.

It’s kind of like you come to peace with everything that’s happened.

And what used to be bad memories and bad experiences, you just accept them.

Here, I would like to push it one step further and say that it’s more than just accepting. It’s about embracing. It’s about acknowledging and feeling the pain, learning to adjust to the guilt, and instead feel the excitement of rebirth from the pain we’ve had in the past. It’s so much easier when you bump into something, and without stopping, without acknowledging the pain, or the upset, or whatever negative feeling you bundle up inside of you, you just carry on and keep walking. But sadness doesn’t leave. And without accepting and embracing the unpopular emotions, they’d slowly become our baggage rather than our assets.

For this reason, the less than a dozen blog posts from my months in Barcelona will stay on this blog. They are going nowhere. They represent my past and history. And some of them trigger bad memories. But they are just as important as what’s ahead. I will be carrying these memories and lessons through this future adventure, with Princeton in Asia, into what is my personal untapped territory of Southeast Asia. I will gain more experiences, some of which will be great, and some will be sad. I will treasure all of them nonetheless.

P.S. I realized even when this blog was first created, I never explained why “drizzle.” That’s what my name means in Mandarin. Siyu, 斯雨, drizzle, the weather of that Friday night 20 something years ago when I was born. Thank you, I think it’s poetic, too. 

To read more about my goals and mission for this blog, click here


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