Thailand, twice

Our quest to find an infinity pool ended in success at Ao Nang Cliff Beach Resort, following a luxurious two-hour massage.

My last experience in Thailand overlapped with a surreal transitional ~life phase~ , serving as a high-key emotional goodbye to the life that I’d lived in California. This time, my time in this lovely country was much more mellow than it was melodrama (though I still definitely ugly-cried a few times).

My beloved K (not to be confused with my significant other KT, who unfortunately could not join me on this trip) met me during our layovers in Singapore. I’d just finished a frenzied half-day tour of the city and checked into an airport lounge. (Thanks to a credit card perk, I’ve discovered the beauty of airport lounges and not-so-secretly enjoy feeling like a part of the 1%. My. Goodness. To think that I was sitting in terminals for so many years, when I could’ve been going HAM at buffets…)

Gardens by the Bay in Singapore was not part of the free city-sponsored tour, but definitely worth the taxi fare!

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Y2

I’m done with my second year of graduate school.

It’s insane to think how quickly time is flying by (and how poorly I am documenting all of this). Some neat things I’ve done:

I successfully proposed my master’s thesis, and am hopefully going to be able to defend it (and obtain two new letters after my name!) in the fall.

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twenty eight & Asheville

On the rainy weekend before my birthday, my friends and I went out to a lounge, built within the former home of an oil & gas tycoon, for late-night drinks and dancing. I ordered three Cucumber Irish Mules, requested one song (OBVIOUSLY), and took exactly zero pictures. It was so fun.

A few days later, KT & I were on a plane to North Carolina. Despite a number of travel mishaps (why are not all airport car rental kiosks 24 hours?!), we made it to Asheville, a charming little town tucked within the mountains. We stayed in an AirBnB branded the “zen cabin,” built by a monk-turned-playwright-turned-milkman and featuring a meditation corner, Buddhist library, and Tibetan singing bowl. On my actual birthday, we were visited by our host’s friendly golden retriever, Rosy, and later had Spanish tapas in a cozy, cavernous restaurant in the heart of the city. I was in heaven.

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Chicago

“Is… someone here? Hello?” I called out as I opened the door to our AirBnB.

The studio was warm and steamy, as though someone had just taken a shower; on the bed, rumpled sheets and blankets were heaped into a pile. No one answered. I gingerly walked into the space, peeking into the bathroom. Aside from a hamper full of dirty towels, there were no indications of life. It looked as though someone had just left the apartment, mere minutes ago. “This is weird.”

KT and I glanced at each other, laughing nervously. After quickly texting our host, we passed out (as loathe as I am to admit this) on a corner of the unmade bed, laying my scarf down on the pillows to feel slightly more hygienic. What can I say? We’d stayed up all night to catch a 4am flight, and were in desperate need of a nap ten hours later.

Despite a rocky start to the trip, our time in Chicago was pretty lovely. We were there for KT’s college friend’s wedding, so we spent each night at open bars. (Can I also just say that, should I get married, my top priority will be free-flowing alcohol? How else am I supposed to make family togetherness and lifelong commitment bearable, am.I.right?)

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done with one

… And, just like that, my first year of graduate school is over.

I’ve rambled at length about the major life change this whole process has been, so I won’t bore you with details or existential questions anymore. I just wanna document some cool things that have happened, complete with poorly/casually-shot iPhone photos. Without further ado…

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ice cream cake

My ice cream cake, in all its un-iced glory.

Perhaps it speaks to my nature that, on the eve of my 27th orbit around the sun, I am posting about a cake I made for someone else’s birthday. But — onward.

This has been a year of insane growth, in which I’ve reinvented myself several times over. My friends have come to know (and name) my alter egos.

There’s Bad Jules, or BJ for short. Formerly known as Party Jules, BJ is the wild mustang who comes out after a drink or two. She is responsible for many fun nights, Ubers of shame, hungover mornings, and one (relatively uneventful) experience blacking out (oops). I embrace BJ with all my heart, as she is the person I once was in my younger, study-abroad years and have since neglected. She is the id to my ego, the Sasha Fierce to my Beyonce, the Miley Cyrus to my Hannah Montana.

There’s also Productive Jules (PJ), that version of myself who actually gets shit done. You can find her in one of a few beloved coffee shops, at a corner table, earbuds in, typing notes frantically, papers strewn all over the table. It is thanks to PJ that I’ve passed classes, written book chapters, and (mostly) checked all my emails. She is the functional piece of me who does all the adult-ing of which I am capable.

Finally, there is Mama Jules. This, perhaps, is the alter ego truest to my real self: the person who loves to take care of others. My lab knows to expect baked goods with every birthday. My colleagues know that I will make a signature batch of roasted broccoli for every event. My friends know that I will heat up leftovers for them if they come over (and Mama Jules always has leftovers). As I was told recently, cooking for someone else is the ultimate form of affection, in that it involves actual nourishment of a body. That lovin’ maternal instinct is what drives me to make and share food.

It is with great care, then, that I made an ice cream cake for a birthday. I’d considered baking an actual cake, but my (school-dominated) schedule and (grad student stipend-funded) pantry are not what they used to be. I gotta say, though… Though I personally thought this ice cream cake was a misshapen cop-out, everyone else in the room seemed duly impressed when I brought it out. People were mystified at how I managed to transform gallons of dairy into a big ol’ birthday dessert. It still comes up in conversation months later. I guess that’s what happens when you do anything involving ice cream.

My own birthday festivities will certainly involve indulgence — hopefully involving an equivalently copious amount of ice cream, in addition to beer and pizza, at a sweet new biergarten here in HTX. More importantly, though, I’ll be ringing it in with people who I’ve come to care about and vice versa. Late twenties… I’m ready for ya. I think.

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2015: a retrospective

We are nearly finished with the first month of 2016, and only now am I getting around to  posting my reflection on 2015. It’s cliche to say, but it really has been a whirlwind. I can’t believe how drastically my life has changed in one semester, let alone an entire year.

I spent the last few weeks of 2015 all over the map, both emotionally and geographically. After clawing my way out of statistics hell via 100-page final, I immediately dove into writing a 40,000-word textbook chapter. Fortunately, I was able to do so in my beautiful home state — in Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Strikingly, however, I couldn’t wait to return to Texas by the end of break: to the new home I’ve built in a new place with new people. Life is full of surprises, y’all.

This year also marks the 10th (!!!) year in a row that I’ve completed the same survey. Without further ado… Continue reading

thankful

A few weeks ago, my mom sent me an email out of the blue:

Bí, don’t bake for thanksgiving dinner.  I want u to relax and enjoy the time home.

Ugh. She knows her girl.

The sad truth, however, is that I wouldn’t have been able to muster up the energy if I tried. My life has been consumed by grad school, such that any free time is spent frantically downing wine and/or uselessly laying in bed until noon. This time last year, I was spending entire nights baking mass batches of chocolate chip cookies. Now? I spent my first vacation day at home sitting in front of my computer, troubleshooting statistics problem sets for hours. (Technically I was still in the kitchen doing this, but the fact remains: things have changed.)

That said, I’m still able to do some “normal people” things this year. Chief among these: practicing gratitude.

As always, I am thankful for the unending, unconditional love of my friends and family. These past few months have truly tested the strength of each and every one of my relationships — and what necessary trials those were. They’ve also required that I open myself up to others, to create the opportunity and space for new friendships. It has been incredibly reaffirming to know that I have so many gracious, generous people in my corner.

Unlike previous years, however, I am also grateful for change. Radical, all-consuming change.

I have never been a risky person. I enjoy, for the most part, dreaming from my bubble of safety: romanticizing lives separate from my own, safely ensconced in the world I’ve created for myself. This year, however, I closed my eyes and stepped out (or maybe sky-dived) of my comfort zone. As has been documented here, it has been terrifying, taxing, traumatizing, tearful… and so transformative.

Beyond all reason, I’m enjoying — or, at the very least, valuing — the life I’m building in Texas. I will always hold San Francisco dear, but, in hindsight, it seems a vision now: a mirage that would fall apart it I looked beyond the surface. Houston feels authentic and true, misshapen and solid and forged in fire. I clung (and continue to cling) to California out of fear. Texas makes me brave. As deeply painful as 2015 process has been, I am so grateful for it.

Other things I am thankful for this holiday season, in no particular order:

  • My car. Nine years goin’ strong now (including a semi-cross-country trip). What a fuckin’ champ.
  • Carbohydrates, and my newfound ability to eat all of them.
  • Frank Ocean. Miguel. Blood Orange. Music by babes for baby-making.
  • Snapchat.
  • My beloved Houston homies, formerly known as “the Goobers” and now referred to as “Julez and the Virgays.”
  • Spooning.
  • Master of None, particularly its excellent use of the fig tree analogy. Very honorable mention to You’re the Worst.
  • Valhalla.
  • My little sister, without whom I’d be utterly lost (even if she doesn’t know it).
  • Spotify Premium. So, so worth the chunk of change.
  • My huge bedroom windows, which bring so much lovely light into my space/life.
  • Sleep. Oh god… sleep.

And, of course, this little haven here. Thanks for listening.

peak grad student achieved

We were in lab when I got the text from N: “Free food in Farnsworth Pavilion at 6pm.”

I excitedly broadcasted this news to A & B and wrote back. “What kind?”

“Mediterranean.”

A’s eyes grew wide. “Im so hungry. I want that.” I furiously texted N back asking for more details.

  • Yes, it was for an event.
  • No, we didn’t have to stick around for it.
  • Yes, I could bring a few friends.
  • No, I couldn’t just bring my entire lab.
  • Yes, we should get there ten minutes early to grab the food.

We scheduled our walk over, down to the minute. “Would you like to sign in?” someone at the reception table asked. I stammered a bit before N strode over and spouted off some nonsense about our belonging there. In an act of mercy, he made us look less useless by “volunteering” us to open up the trays of food.

Um… Where the fuck is the dinnerware? I wondered as we surveyed the (delicious-looking) spread. We need to grab the food and get outta here. I began panicking at the prospect of the room filling with actual event participants, who would then witness us, in our yoga pants and unwashed hair, scavenging for food. My soul sister A read my mind and immediately went on the prowl for plates, running over to the coffee shop and convenience store across the way. Whoa. We are desperate as fuck, I congratulated ourselves.

Back in the event ballroom, someone had finally brought out the dinnerware. Unfortunately, now people were too polite to break into the food, including myself (a total fucking trespasser). Exasperatedly, I turned to N and put on my most pitiful puppy dog eyes. “Could you please be the first one to start eating?” He looked amused. “Okay.” I happily trailed him as he made his way across the buffet, low-key filling my plate with four times as much food. Shameless.

Moments later, as A, B and I sat in the student center stuffing our faces with chicken kabobs and hummus, we spotted a nearby hallway emptying of business school students. In their wake, they left behind buffet tables full of food. Wordlessly, my friends and I made eye contact.

“I nominate B,” I said. She nodded.

We got up and entered the hallway, B leading the charge and shout-asking, “Can we have some food too?” The servers stared at us for a second before handing us take-out containers. I flipped open my Styrofoam box and proceeded to fill it with approximately three pounds of gourmet catering.

A few hours later, N texted me again from the event ballroom. “There’s more food left.” I told him about our second raid. His response made me beam with a bizarre sense of pride.

“What a grad student.”

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