a liminal state

12.16.20 - 2.2.21
published 2/7/21

In some way, I probably had more fun “at school” than during winter break. I was initially going to be at Luntan for a week, a retreat/event organized by my friend Shaobo, but I got sick. But, now that my plan to go to Singapore then US was finalized, I thought I should spend more time with my family, so it sort of “worked out.” I also cancelled my plan to go to Sanya to learn surfing, for the same reason, because at this point, I only had three weeks left in China. 

While in Beijing, I visited 2 pretty big VR studios. One of them is developing a real-time VR performance in which actors would put on motion capture suits and hundreds of audience could sit in at the same time. The other produces VR films, both fiction and non-fiction. My conversations with the founders further convinced me that I should go back to the States this winter: one of the appealing factors of staying in China was that I could find a few XR or other new media projects to help out with people in the industry. But one of the founders literally told me that I shouldn’t seek my opportunities in China because the bigger environmen there wasn’t nourishing for people who want to pursue purer art. So... there and then, I officially decided that I’d set my mind to going back to Princeton.


before my grandma left Beijing


New Year in Shanghai !!!

Since I missed Luntan, I decided to do a 4-day visit to Shanghai to say goodbye to my friends there. 

The first day I arrived, my friends and I sort of just brought up spraypainting as something we wanted to do eventually. So, instead of waiting for an indefinite point in the future, we just went to the art stores to get our materials, and spraypainted on cheap T-shirts at midnight!

Coby and Stephen Are in Love
Yuanyuan Yang

On December 31 of 2019, I made Diana, one of my best friends from high school, and who was visiting me in Beijing, record a video with me. We talked about how 2019 was for each of us, how we hoped the next decade to be like, what we wanted to bring into 2020 and things we wanted to change or add. Little did we know just how ridiculous and precious that video would seem to us even just a year later. So we recorded a video again this year, through Zoom this time!

On Jan 1, we spraypainted on the street! Originally the art district had a wall that allowed random spraypainting, but that wasn’t there anymore, so we found an electricity box that looked very ugly and messy already, and had fun spraypainting / painting it. 



Hectic Goodbyes

After I went back to Beijing, I had less than a week to get ready for going back to the States and saying goodbye to my friends there. Before I left for Singapore, I still had a good number of people that I never got to meet up with in China, or have one-on-one conversations with... And no one knows when we’d see each other again. 

My dad flew to Guangzhou with me, before I took my second flight to Singapore the next day. He came up with all sorts of reasons for why this was a good idea (not much price difference, visiting Guangzhou for fun, blah blah), but I think he really just wanted to spend a bit more time with me before I leave for a longggg time :(

Sometimes it’s pretty crazy to me how my parents love me. They didn’t want me to leave. Especially when I started my visa application process at the start of December, they didn’t know if I could get vaccinated or not and so were really worried about me going back to the US. But they still did their best in helping me with the application and arranging everything we needed to do before I left. They couldn’t understand why I’d want to leave China, where I’d have a normal life, for the US, where I’d be trapped on campus for a whole semester. Yet they respected my decision. Just like my decision to do a gap year. My mom only started saying things like “wow this gap year has been so meaningful for you” towards the last third of my gap year, and my dad kind of always wanted me to just finish my undergrad because I was already a year behind my original class. But they still let me do it, and supported me financially throughout the year, without really questioning me in how I spent my time or other resources.

I really, really appreciate this about my parents. WIth the sheer difference in our upbringings, there’s no way they’d ever have a full grasp on the reality I experience, the world I navigate in, and the possibilities I see. (Lol I still remember the mixture of fear, confusion, alertness and tension on their faces when I first told them I became interested in psychedelics just two years ago. But this winter, when psychedelics came up in our family conversation, my dad got excited and said he knew that a lot of people are doing cool stuff about psychedelics and weed now HAHAHHAHA). But in the end, they always respected my decisions, and provided me their support, even though they might still felt reluctant internally. 


Thinking about the body

Since the beginning of this calendar year, I really started to pay more attention to my body: being aware of it, being in it, loving it, expressing myself with it.

I lowkey wanted to do this at the beginning of the gap year, but many other questions and wonderings occupied me. About a year ago, I started to dance freely to music I love, just as a thing to do and enjoy for myself, and I immediately recognized how just dancing without judgment, to music that resonated for me, made me feel more understood, actually. So I naturally picked it up as a habit to destress and feel a bit more free. And when I started taking dance lessons again in Beijing, I noticed that I was able to do or learn certain moves better than I remembered from dance lessons I took a little over a year before that. I felt that just free dancing alone, watching dance videos, and exploring movements inspired by dance videos I’ve loved, have already helped me gain more access to my body, in a subtle way. 

But during this winter break, I wanted to explore more. How can I be in my body more in my daily life? How does my body want to be taken care of? How do changes I make with what/when/how I eat, what physical activities I do, my sleep schedule and my morning and night routines, affect how I feel physically and mentally? How can I listen to my body when my mind is confused?

These are all important and complicated questions... And there are many things I could do to explore them. So I want to continue trying them out and see what particular methods or frameworks work for me.

From my day 1 in Singapore, I started exercising at least 5 days a week and eating as healthily as I can (while allowing some exceptions from time to time). As time went on (even though I only spent 3 weeks there), I added more things: drinking more warm water, going to sleep and waking up earlier, meditating every day, avoiding eating too much high-FODMAP foods.

By the end of my time in Singapore, I’d become more attentive to how my stomach feels than before. And doing exercises every day didn’t feel like anything that required my willpower, but something I wanted to do. But my stomach still feels weird a lot of the times, and I still vaguely feel like I actually have some mental work to do that would in turn help my body feel better. And I really want to learn more about gut health, and gut-brain connection now. 



I had to go to Singapore to: 1) “wash” my travel records because US still places a travel ban on China, and 2) do my F1 visa application interview because my visa expired last year. But I’m really glad that I got to be there -- Singapore barely had any covid cases so we were able to have a normal life there after just one day of quarantine. (LOL. Politics. No quarantine for people flying in from China in Singapore, but absolutely no entrance to the US for anyone who was in China within the past 14 days)

Singapore’s a really interesting place. One thing that particularly fascinates me is the mixture of religions you can vicerally experience by just walking on the streets. At one intersection, you could see a Hindu temple at one corner, a Christian church at another, and there could be a Buddhist temple and a Mosque within five minutes of walking distance from that intersection. 

But during this visit to Singapore, I really wasn’t in a suitable mood for a more systematic or thorough exploration of the country. I just ended up exploring in a scattererd manner.

When I was in Beijing, so much was going on all the time that I didn’t save a lot of time for myself. So I wanted to cherish my time in Singapore and be immersed in my own world without having an external structure imposed on me (ie. school). I did a Big Five personality test to see the difference in extroversion/introversion, and it turned out my extroversion dropped by ~20 points out of 100: I switched from a perfect ambivert (a little over 50 points on extroversion) to a pretty classic introvert. This change just happened within a month!

Pulau Ubin

This was one of my favorite days in Singapore. We went to this island to see wild pigs! We just biked around in the gorgeous nature and met many animal friends <3 At one point we stopped to listen to several birds talking to each other, and, apart from spotting wild pigs all throughout the island, we also saw a lotttt of monkeys, on the trees, by the road, in the middle of the road...

Singapore Art Week

I love that I happened to be in Singapore when the SAW happened. It looks like the pandemic cast a huge influence on the theme of these shows, and I have no problem with that. It’s very very interesting. There’s a more commonly shared context to people’s lives in the last year, and thus the art made in the last year, or the art show put together in the last year, even though none of them specifically referred to covid, made people relate to their covid experience with isolation vs. togetherness, connecting through cyberspace, remembering/forgetting their bodies, the interactions between the cyberspace and the physical reality, and such. 

Our Softest Hour (exhibition)
its virtual edition

Alive Stream

Telematic Dreaming
Paul Sermon

My friend Ariel and I really loved a video piece A Dialogue with Cyberspace by Brian den Hartog. 

We also went to an interesting AR show. At first you are going through the AR exhibits, playing with imagined worlds through interacting with real signs with your physical phone. Then you enter into the black box in the middle, and discover a whole natury scene in there. You sit on a tree trunk, plants dangling from the ceiling. You smell the freshness of the plants and the soil around you. You look at the people outside engaging with virtual worlds: they can’t see you but you can observe them. You know there’s a nature they’re unaware of, yet. That was a satirical moment, because in the AR world, you’re also just seeing nature anyways.

This show had a virtual prelude. It’s by artist Reza Hasni, whose body of work is incredibly, psychedelic. Here are some screenshots of the virtual worlds he built: 


Another Island

On another day, we went to an island for the beach. I kind of just played in the water, making myself almost float, while facing different directions, in order to perceive how the waves pushed me differently. Then I started making wave-like patterns with seaweed(?). Every few minutes the waves would wash my pieces away, so I was doing a meaningless thing in some way, but I also enjoyed it. I don’t know, I probably appeared retarded. I also wasn’t thinking much. But I had a peaceful time in nature that afternoon.

Wakeboarding lesson

Man I sucked. But after dozens times of trying, I finally got some number of seconds of sort of “surfing” on the ocean and THAT, felt wonderful. My friend Ende said that basically when you’re surfing on the tip of the waves, it’s terrifying because you’d feel like you’re flying. I. Want. To feel. That. Eventually. I hope not too far into the future, I’ll get the chance to actually learn surfing!


Things I loved from this anti-social time....

The Artist’s Life Manifesto
Marina Abramovic

I found this from my friend Zuck’s website, where he has a list of readings he’s enjoyed. While reading the manifesto, I was overwhelmed by an unnamable feeling. By #4 or #5, I had tears in my eyes, and the last couple of paragraphs really, really hit me. I read the whole thing a few more times. In one of them I was mostly giggling. In another I cried more. After two hours of reading and processing what was going on, I sort of realized that I was just so struck by its beauty -- the sincerity for art and life that the artist holds. I deeply resonate, and aspire to approach life and art the same way as much as I can. 


My friend Yudi’s recommendation after I shared Abramovic’s manifesto with her. Originally an art installation, this film shows Cate Blanchett portraying 13 different characters that represent different art movements, as each character recites exercepts from well-known art manifestos in dramatically different environments.

Abbas by Abbas

Kamy Pakdel
an article about the film

This is a documentary about the photojournalist Abbas, who spent his life taking photos of wars, protests and religious events. The film itself could be more well made, but I still enjoyed it because Abbas seemed to have indeed witnessed a lot of significant moments in his life.

Below are two photos by him that were particularly powerful to me.

A boy is washed in the muslim tradition before burial, killed by a Serbian mortar attack on his school. © A. Abbas | Magnum Photos

A. Abbas BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA. Sarajevo. 1993.
At a muslim cemetery, a Bosnian soldier in uniform prays over the tomb of his young wife, killed by Serbian fire. © A. Abbas | Magnum Photos

On the topic of photographing wars, revolutions, and other challenging human conditions, Abbas said he didn’t never emotionally process what he was photographing, he just reacted emotionally later. His reaction would come back as his nightmares. But he kept doing it, for fifty-something years, until he died, which was just a week after the interviews in this film took place. Abbas’ sons said that even after forming a family, he’d spend at least half a year each year on the road, in perhaps dangerous places, photographing by himself. Photojournalism really was a calling for him. 

Vasantha Yogananthan

A really powerful series of video and photography. Afterlife is one of the seven chapters in A Myth of Two Souls

“A Myth of Two Souls is inspired by the epic tale The Ramayana. Drawing inspiration from the imagery associated with this myth and its pervasiveness in everyday Indian life, Vasantha Yogananthan is retracing the legendary route from north to south India. First recorded by the Sanskrit poet Valmiki around 300 BC, The Ramayana has been continuously rewritten and reinterpreted, and continues to evolve today. Yogananthan’s series is informed by the notion of a journey in time and space and offers a modern retelling of the tale.“

Wendy (2020)

Ben Zeitlin 

This is a retelling of the classic tale of Peter Pan and Wendy. I have mixed feelings about the film. Certain lines were really cringey to me. The main characters didn’t seem convincing to me at first, in terms of where their desire to never grow up came from, and the connection between that and their time in Neverland was subsequently confusing. HOWEVER, the last ~30 minutes of the film dramatically changed my opinion, to the point that I went back to watch that part again to take notes of the dialogues and visual language. Overall, I could neglect the cringey parts and say I pretty much enjoyed it.

Bo Burnham

I love Bo’s random energy in his performances. There’s also something about him that I really resonate with that I can’t pinpoint. A certain attitude towards art, performance, being seen and being successful that rejects hierarchies of all kinds, perhaps? Below are three of my favorites, but I highly recommend not watching the second one by itself, and watch the entirety of Make Happy instead (it’s basically the ending of Make Happy). 

Knock Down the House

Rachel Lears

I loved AOC’s presence in this film, which made me think more about how what we do should be in service for something larger than us, and for love.



I’m starting to get really interested in AR filters, especially the fantastical ones. They help me temporarily imagine myself as someone/something else, in a different world that doesn’t exist in real life. I should say, I’ve been getting more and more interested in digital fashion -- there are so many possibilities in becoming something that’s not necessarily beautiful all the time, but perhaps eerie, subverting, provocative, alien, etc.

I just LOVE the wild freedom I get with virtual worlds.


More Singapore things

And... finally... after an 18-hr flight, I came back to the States! I’m currently typing in my room at Princeton.

In the almost two years I was away from Princeton, I lived in 25 places in 17 cities of 6 countries (not counting visits shorter than 4-5 days), and spent no more than 12 weeks in any of them. Even my literal home: I only lived there for ~10 weeks total. I got used to packing all seasons of clothing into one suitcase. I got used to stepping into new worlds where I barely knew anyone, making new friends, building a sense of familiarity or even a sense of home for myself, and saying goodbye’s too soon.

Coming back has been strange. I live in the same building as my freshman year. I’ve been running into people I met from freshman fall in Zoom meetings. Some things feel like they haven’t changed at alll, while what school means to me has clearly changed a lot, and I feel much more centered now, knowing much better what’s important to me. I’m not leaving here anytime soon. (I was going to do a gap semester this fall, but because of covid and all the visa inconveniences, I’m seriously considering postponing my Arctic trip to fall ‘22. I’ll probably have more cool things to work on then too!) If I encounter challenges mentally in any way, I can’t just run away, move to a new place to establish new assotiations and “start a new life.” I have to be here, layering more memories on top of one another with different people in the same places.

This is so strange. My easily overwhelmed mind gets really overwhelmed whenever I think about the past and compare it with this present. So I’m going to stop here now.

But, yeah, I’m back. And this gap year newsletter series shall end here now. Temporarily. Until I do a gap semester again in a year and half. Or maybe I won’t do a newsletter then. This might be my last post. Who knows.

If you’re reading this, I hope you’ve found something I’ve shared interesting at some point. Now, finally, I shall stop the self-indulging act of making web pages about my life that no one really needed to know. Have a beautiful day, and I hope I do, too!