Day 341: An Overachiever’s Guide of Carrying On

It’s been a tradition to self to come to Bookworm whenever I’m in Beijing.

Today is the last day of July, July 31. Also my 341st day in Myanmar.

If you are wiling to answer some questions listed at the end of this story, I can offer more stories in return

Bundled in the day-to-day whirlwind of attempting to live life as healthily and sanely as circumstances allow, I lose track of where I came from and how far I’ve gone. The road onward – its bumps and its unpredictability –  seemed inscrutable at times and threaten me to give up. For more than once this year, I entertained the unimaginable: what would happen if I move back to my parents’ place – a place I haven’t lived for more than two weeks at once after age 12 – and just, you know, chill for some time?

(Disaster, that’s what.)

Alas, I’m at the same spot where you saw me last time, fighting as days pass. For a much-mellowed overachiever, I tell myself the hardest bit of adulting, and of the hazy route ahead, is accepting my much slower pace and carrying on, despite the unsurety of direction.

Some things that took priority over leisurely writing in the last three months: my impaired stomach, my intense grad school application, and my immediate next stop.

I screwed up my digestive system by paying little to no attention to what I eat and when I eat them. I would willingly ignore my deteriorating health if not for a sudden dull pain that hit my lower abdomen when I was naked in the bathroom one chilly night in June. Thirty minutes later, the pain slowly faded and left me drenched in a pool of my cold sweat on the slick bathroom floor.

I was always a healthy kid, and that night was not fun.

My trip back to China soon after the incident was therefore punctuated by popping handfuls of Chinese medicine pills, attempting to gently comfort my belly into semi-functioning. Between pills, I spent hours in seminars, meetings, discussions at Tsinghua University in Beijing during my three-day Schwarzman Scholars interview.

Oddly enough, despite my busier than usual schedule, this trip allowed me the mental space to look back on the first half of 2017, with gratitude.

Part of my longtime brain muscle exercise is to place certain key dates along a Möbiusband in my head, and spun them around nonstop: fellowship ends in August. Schwarzman – if I get in that is – starts a year from August. I will know the result before October 1. Skype call with collaborator about what’s next for my podcast this weekend. I behave as an ant drilling ahead in darkness, all eyes forward, believing the path behind me collapses as I edge on.

Time in China, at Tsinghua and at home, reminded me that there’s no ant that has no past. The path behind me doesn’t collapse. It lets in light that brightens what’s ahead.

So a toast to history, to the first half of 2017, to a much-needed break in my restless mental journey forward. To me, and to every one of you hard damn worker out there.

Being in China early July, I realized my desire to go home is not coming from my desire to give up, or even to take a break. Rather, I want to know more about where I came from and how I’ve come to be. My family culture is so distinctively Asian that I’ve stumbled upon more family history through neighborhood gossip and educational guesses than at the family dining table. Being in China reminds me of a root I denied having for a long time, and brings my mental state a tad bit closer to peace.

In June, I spent a weekend in Bangkok, a trip filled with the capital “LOVE.” I wrapped myself with as many loved ones and supportive people as I could gather, my partner and my old old friends, and felt spoiled and rejuvenated by their presence and attention.

In April, a backpack in hand and a plaid shirt around my waist, I went to Nepal. I’ve kept a running list in my phone since 8th grade, which titled “places to go before I die.” Nepal was one of the first places I jotted down. On those 15-hour bus rides, or in those long, sleep-inducing meditation sessions (I spent a week in a monastery outside of Kathmandu), I think of me being right there, right then, as some kind of end to a journey. No, it was not life-changing as some assumed. I’m still me, and upon returning to Yangon I realized how little my circumstance had changed while I was away (presence brings changes, not escapes), but my reflections on my anger and ignorance wrapped my heart in protective layers, and have guided me in what I want to pursue and how I make my decisions ever since.

These are a few of my important trips in the first half of 2017.

You know when and why creativity recedes, and making things – let it be painting, designing, writing, and composing – becomes difficult? When in love. Maybe grad school app wasn’t the only thing that stopped me from writing. But it’s good to be in love. I met him at the beginning of 2017. We’ve been in love ever since.

My roommate is a genius and a man with the biggest heart. In the last ten months he’s changed me for the better. I don’t think I have changed him for the worst.

My girl friends, they empower and enable me every day. I wish them the world, and want to give them more, and more, and more.

These are a few of my important people in the first half of 2017. 

I read 25 books in the first half of 2017. Some long, some short.

Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition propels me to unlearn, then reexamine China.

John William’s Stoner cracks open a window and shows me my alma mater between 1910s to post-WWII. Through reading, I lived his life with him, and somehow became less fearful of my own.

I cried over Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and Lucy Kalanithi’s epilogue for her deceased husband’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air.

Of the 25 books, 11 are by female authors.

These are a few of my important books in the first half of 2017. 

I’m still puzzled by much that is life. I still find myself untangling messes I created. I still lash out against my best interest, more sparingly and less willingly. I still grow, but not fast enough in my eyes. For those of you more experienced with decisions and confusions, I have a few questions I’d like to seek your honest input. Comment or email please ( I will return your generosity with thank you notes and stories.

  • Is constantly seeking and wanting to move on to something new a noble, or not event that, a possible pathway to a life of reliability and happiness?
  • For the writers out there, how did you find your writing mentors? And what are your relationships with them? I’m not talking about merely someone whose work you admire. But rather, someone who edits your work from time to time and give opinions that you trust.
  • What was your beginner’s step of financial investment? How old were you and how much money had you saved back then? What did you choose to do – Stock? Bond? Or going with a investment firm to alleviate risk? Curious to learn more.

These are a few of my important questions in the first half of 2017. 


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