Friday, June 27, 2014

Social Experiment Reportings

Having cut my hair, I was prepared for the physical changes (hair completely drying in 45 minutes instead of 5 hours, no need for using and losing ponytail ties, headbands, and bobby pins, using less shampoo and conditioner, and exposing my neck) but I wasn't prepared for the psychological changes (how men and women respond differently to drastically short hair, how long hair can define "feminine beauty," and the amount (or lack of) of masculine attention.)

So I decided to do a social experiment: using the most shallow online dating medium to find out if men are more attracted to women with short or long hair.

The medium of choice of course was Tinder, because for an app that was an upgraded version of Hot or Not, where users literally swipe left if they like your pictures and swipe right if they don't. If there is mutually photographic attraction then a line of communication is open within the app and the next steps depends on the users. Men tend to view it as a hookup site (can you really blame them?) and women may view it as more.

So I scoured for pictures of my new super short do by begging co-workers and friends to take pictures of me because I refuse to do selfies, started up the Tinder account again, and let the experiment run for 3 weeks.

Based on an N of 1, as a 30 year old Asian American woman I received way way WAY more "matches" on Tinder with my long hair profile which was active in winter of 2014 for about 3 weeks. With the short hair profile for 3 weeks in early summer of 2014, I got 20-30 percent of "matches" compared with long hair profile!!!! It was astounding considering:
- The blurb about me was pretty much the same and stated that I'm based in a certain city and am not interested in smokers, drug users, and random hookups.
- My criteria for saying yes hasn't become more stringent.

Upon being matched, I do not take initiative to start communication (at least not initially) and the number of people who reached out to long hair me was at least 5 times more than those who reached out to short hair me but keep in mind I was "matched" with fewer people in the first place. When engaging in conversation to ask about hair length preference, most males acknowledge that they like longer hair on me and on women in general. Even with 3 short hair photos and 1 long hair photo the men still asked me if I have long or short hair (if I have long hair then why would my profile mainly feature me with short hair!?).

Now one may hypothesize that men who say yes and initiate conversation with women with short hair may be more discerning and truly "like" me for who I am but I received similar ratios of sexual propositions and digital booty calls.

Is this earth-shattering ground-breaking "research'? No, absolutely not but there is a difference between knowing that men prefer women (socially because of all the years of Pantene brainwashing and long hair expectations, biologically because long hair can signify reproductive years since hair thins with age and most older women have short hair) with long hair and understanding it because it can be disconcerting to have people choosing to associate (or not) with you or other presumptions based on hair! To be viewed so differently because of a cut has really taught me that appearances matter very much and sends a signal to other. On one hand I feel almost naked without my hair to bolster me as a woman but on the other hand it is totally freeing to be outside that box.

So what does my haircut say about me? That I can be unconventional and unbound by standards of "feminine beauty", perhaps "brave" for chopping it all off (as commented by several females), or I am just very lazy and want my wet hair to dry lot faster!

Disclaimer: Long hair profile may also be influenced by testing time period where people may be more Tinder happy during colder less active times of winter vs. the nicer more active times of early summer.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When I am with...

When I am with older people I feel younger, more naïve, less bent, more hopeful, less hopeful, have more intricate conversations about feelings and theories, mind the generation gap, want to absorb their lessons then blithely proceed on without pause, muse about is that what life is all about, see life as a marathon not a sprint, see how much having children affects your life, and how much strength life can give and take from you.

When I am with younger people I feel older, more mature, like I am not mature enough, sometimes think they are silly to agonize over certain things but then find myself doing something similar, exuberant and reckless, scoff at their silliness, am a teacher and sharing my experiences, feeling inadequate when they are so "successful," am glad I can afford to live on my own, and revel with them.

Regardless, I learn from all.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

-- Lao Tzu, philosopher and poet

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Journey to Feminism

So let’s talk about the f-word, no not that one but the other f-word: feminism. It comes with many different definitions, perspectives, and agendas. Here is mine. 

Like most births, no one truly remembers that moment of becoming into being but once something is given life it is hard to snuff it out. So is my journey to feminism. 

I would like to say that I was a docile child: always pleasing my parents, doing as I was told, a paragon of Asian filial piety but the reality was I was quite bossy, bullied my younger brother of four years, picked fights with kids at school because I did not know how to express my anger, and had screaming fits directed at my parents about 3-5 times a year. The cornerstone of all of this was “fairness.” It was unfair that I am born female and my brother male so he gets to be coddled while I wasn’t; unfair that I am the eldest and had to break all the rules while my brother had it easy; unfair that other non-Asian kids get allowance for doing nothing at all while I got nothing for doing a gajillion chores at home (this only improved slightly in high school where I got $10 a month in the 1990’s); unfair that we were so poor that McDonald’s was a treat for good report card grades (Thank god for that! My parents never let me develop addiction to fast food); unfair that we don’t get to drink soda (Kudos to frugal Asian parents!) unless it’s the holidays or someone’s birthday celebration; unfair that I wore hand-me-down clothing despite being the eldest kid, unfair that I’m short; unfair that our house had cockroaches and mice that crawl around at night casting shadows via the night light, scaring the crap out of me and turning me into a slight insomniac; unfair that I’m being compared to the genius kids of my parents’  friends who always got great grade and is going to be a doctor. The list can go on and on and on. So one can see that while I was obsessed with the righteous definition of “fair” I was also an angry kid.   

Surprisingly this concept of “unfairness” never prompted me to be a feminist yet because I was a huge nerd, actually enjoyed school quite a bit, and did well enough academically which engage and challenge me at the same time. The closest I ever got to feminist studies was in college while pursuing my biology and East Studies (with a concentration in Japanese) majors that I decided to take a Japanese women writer course that took care of 2 birds with 1 stone: liberal arts and writing requirement. I saw how “unfair” it was within the Tale of Genji, that Japanese noblewomen were treated as sexual playthings to Prince Genji but the “unfairness” never touched me because it was in the past and everything was romanticized in my quaint naïve adolescent mind. 

But oh how I read! Since I learned to read, I devoured books from the library like a starving person at a buffet because it was a way for me to escape from growing up in a poor immigrant family where we had no means to own a book. The library was a magical place that houses an infinite number of friends, possibilities, and adventures that expanded my small world to beyond my imagination. My readings should have tipped my off about my feminist tendencies because while I like fairy tale with beautiful princesses, magic, love, and happy endings, I especially loved stories with strong female characters that save the day because I imagine that one day I too can be the main character and hero.

My journey to feminism didn’t proactively metamorphosized till coming back to the East Coast after a sales rotation in San Francisco. Maybe it was the liberal west coast air or that everything is better out west, or just that I have a lot more free time to peruse the internet in an office job setting, thus I began to read. I’ve always been an avid lover of reading, with my taste shifting from sci-fi fantasy of childhood to actual interest in non-fiction writing. As I kept reading I noticed that the articles I gravitate to are 1- usually about inequality (socio-economic, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, gender, etc) and 2- about women. The more I read the more I can’t stop but from 2012 onward there was also a dramatic shift in American culture and politics. Mitt Romney’s “binder full of women” snafu was repeatedly called out/made fun of, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler emerged as the funniest comedians around, America’s love/hate relationship with Hilary Clinton is still very much love/hate, Miss Representation documentary exploring the damaging relationship between women and media, and Sheryl Sandberg stepped out from being a TED talk darling to a Lean In machine. All of this I devoured ferociously. 

At the same time I was also looking at my career, or maybe lack of. Despite being part of a rotation “program” the company was in an industry of mergers and acquisition, downsizing, and lackluster pipeline. I look at senior management and all I see are “pale frail male” aka old white men. I do not see role models for me as a woman or an Asian American. This made me question if I am cut out for slugging it out to climb this corporate ladder (or jungle gym or whatever metaphor people like to use about career management.) It has been shown time and time again that if one does not see someone like them in aspirational roles, the individuals have a hard time aspiring.
At the same time I found a group of college female friends who have been traversing this feminist journey that was similar but separate to mine. One is a PhD candidate for Japanese literature (specifically Chosen literature (written Koreans living in post-World War II Japan)), another taught English abroad for a few years and has joined the corporate world (she is also the one who wordsmithed “pale frail male”), one is a publishing house editor, one is a pharmacist, and one is a lawyer. All of us through different walks of life are suddenly converging organically to want to talk about being a woman, the opportunities and obstacles arising from our gender, and what does it mean to navigate through personal and professional lives. Albeit some of us are much more passionate about the topic, we all were finding a voice that resonated with each other. We would have ginormous email chains that would break Gmail because there would be over 100 emails with 800 word essays about our views on a NY Times or Atlantic article, personal happenings, opinions about Lean In (oh what battles we would have about this!), a Buzzfeed list about women or people in their 20s/30s, or academic analysis of gender inequality. Such an insular sisterhood that was analytical, self-aware, and amazing! 

Bolstering this digital connection was my own real life connection with Asian American women in the city I was living in. I have joined an Asian American professional organization upon moving to my 4th city and sought involvement with the organization, which didn’t come to fruition till in 2013 when the local chapter decided to launch a women’s group within the Asian American organization. Working with a team of talented, dedicated, and amazing women we worked throughout that summer to officially launch the Asian American women’s program via a panel of Asian American women small business owners and entrepreneurs. Countless hours of coordination, venue planning, logistics, naming the event, and marketing drew a crowd of over 80 women and men. I was so caught up in the event planning that it was so gratifying to learn so much from amazing women who have forged their own path by taking a place at the helm. 

Since then my journey continues and I am learning much about myself, the world, and others. Assuming more leadership in the Asian American women’s program has grown my sense of leadership, made me question is the program mainly to provide a “safe space” for Asian American women (or should the program go beyond to really encourage the dialogue between men and women about gen inequality instead of having one-sided monologues?), made it harder to meet and date a man who can be truly be my life partner, realized my sense of self in different ways, and pushed me in ways I didn’t expect to be pushed. 

I know that “women” and “feminism” is a hot topic right now. It’s amazing how my journey has gotten me here and I am truly grateful that I was not involved in women’s study during college or younger because I would burnt out by now. My sense of “unfairness” would have erupted into anger that is fueled by youth and personal righteousness that would quickly die down due to exhaustion and also personal sense of lack of impact or ability to change the status quo. It’s been amazing to see so many women come to terms on their own in this mass journey to feminism. Yes the whole world is gearing up for election 2016 despite the fact that it is 2 years away, yes it is a media sensationalization at its finest, yes it is trendy to be a feminist (look at Beyonce!) but I hope this is not just a blip in time, that the current dialogue will continue to grow a future where not all men aspire to be CEO’s and not all women want to be housewives. That our potential in life is not inhibited by the gender given to us, or at least the hurdles and barriers will be lowered so that regardless of being female or male we can realize our greatest potential for impact, happiness, and harmony.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Beautiful Sight

This was so beautiful that it took my breath away: Bonchon (darn good Korean fried chicken!) is coming to Philly!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Social Experiment

Pst, I'm going to do a social experiment. One where I revisit the world of online dating but with shorn hair and record the receptivity.

All in the name of science and data gathering!

Monday, June 9, 2014

We Are Not Our Hair…or are we?

“How was your Memorial Day weekend?” a friend asked me over text. 

“Good, went to visit the family in Brooklyn, got a haircut, and BBqed.” 

“I just saw your facebook picture. You cut your hair that short?”

“Yes, I told you earlier I got a haircut.”

“You didn’t say it was that short!”

I went from having long coarse thick mostly black but about 20% white hair that was several inches past my back bra strap to a boy short haircut that was about an inch around and about 1.5 inches at its longest. It was drastic and when asked why I did it, I joked: “I need a change. I can change my job, move to a different city, or get a boyfriend. This is by far the easiest change.” 

My hair suddenly felt a pound lighter, I had phantom hair syndrome (similar to phantom limb syndrome, but where I felt I need to take down my pony tail before going to bed), I suddenly was way over using shampoo and conditioner, but was discovering how much upkeep short hair really was (Really? A trim every 4-6 weeks? There goes all the savings from the shampoo!) My hair follicles, used to years of being weighed down was suddenly liberated and didn’t know where to go, so they went willy-nilly everywhere: poking out of my head, making me at least 1.5 inches taller but made me worried about being a poofy-head but at the end opted out of using hair products since I didn’t want to wash my hair every day! On the flip side I also did a good thing by donating to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program, similar to Locks of Love but for women with cancer.

I was prepared for all the change to my lifestyle but I wasn’t prepared for the reception. Friends, family, and co-workers all had different reaction, if not treating me differently. It made me realized how much I was partially (if not more) defined by my long black locks. Long hair has always been a defining hallmark of feminine beauty. From Barbie to all the fairy tale princesses to even most modern day women: they all have long hair that is shiny, inviting, feminine, mysterious, and luscious. It was a relatively phenomenon that promoted the short bob, along with flapper dresses and women’s liberation. Relative because hey Eve had long hair.

Going from mid back to top of neck length was an unexpected experience in de-feminizing. Females would come up to me and gush about how nice it looks, how it suited my face (which was surprising given the Asian lack of cheekbones and relatively smaller eyes), and how “brave” I was. “Brave?” I asked myself, “I didn’t fight in a war, defend justice, or defeated imminent danger. How is this brave?”

Males on the other hand didn’t know how to respond. They were similarly stunned like the females but lacked words. I don’t expect to have men normally comment on women’s hair but when one hacks off a good foot of hair one expects at least a “Oh you cut your hair” comment. Some men quickly recovered and say how it looks good on me; those are usually the ones with good female influence. Others just make a comment and gives off a vibe of “I don’t think it looks good but I don’t know what to say.” Others just sit there and pretend I didn’t lose a pound of hair. 

The funniest story was from work. I had a meeting with 3 older gentlemen. The Latin American and American (this sounds like a beginning of a bad joke but I promise it’s not!) were already there but the Israeli was running late. The LA and A men just took a look at me made no comment and proceeded with the meeting. When the Israeli finally arrived, he shouted “Oh my god! PJ, you cut your hair!” in this loud booming voice. “Don’t take this the wrong way but it looks great!” and proceeds to share that his wife has short hair too. Sometimes people surprise you.

All in all having short hair made me questioned not only how poofy or big head I have but also my femininity. I become more conscientious of wearing clothes that are more feminine and become starkly aware of how androgynous I look when I wear my normal t-shirt and shorts. My mom’s comment is that I look “asexual.”  When I go out, I notice less masculine attention was given. A friend of a friend also noted similar experience with short hair and was thinking about cutting her hair short again to escape such attention, while enjoying the convenience. 

So we are not defined by our hair (although a bad hair day does not help!) but it has been fun confounding people while they try to make heads or tails of the drastic chop.

The Awakening...

I am back again.


Is anyone

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tales from a wise friend: Networking is like poop

Around the table over a game of Defenders of the Realm around last Christmas time:

"Networking is so hard!"

"I agree, sometimes it feels so disingenuous and forced. Plus what do I bring to the table when I network!?"

"Well networking is like poop."

"What?!" "Huh?!"

"Yes, exactly: networking is like poop!"

"What do you mean by that?"

"Well as you know I really like poop related things that are cute (see picture below). As I talk to other people it somehow comes out that I like poop things, just because it's something I find interesting! So now I have amassed a collection of poop paraphernalia: stickers, bookmarks, children's book, dolls, and such, or people tell me where they have seen such things or they takes pictures of poop things for me! So networking is like poop because you have to tell people what you are interested in, what you want to do, and what goals you have. Just by telling people about my interest in poop I was able to get all these random poop items! So networking is similar: you have to tell people what you want, the information to be impactful, interesting, or at least memorable, so that when people come across something you're interested in the first thing they think about is you. So in my case: poop!"

"Ah I see! So networking is like poop!"

Nod nod. "How wise!"

Cute poop rubbers X3
Yes even in japan they make these little rubbers look cute!! XDD

Monday, March 10, 2014

The joy of human spirit

It's fascinating to walk past this statue every time I go to the library. On one hand it's pretty eerie and haunting to see the mold of a person struggling to be free of the stone elements. On the other hand I like to think that it celebrates the human spirit through struggles and work.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

You know you're old when...

Someone declares: "Tinder is for old people!"

I think to myself: wait....but I'm using Tinder...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Tart and delicious

As a frozen yogurt lover I am sad to say that the Yogorino closest to me is closed. How I will miss the thick, creamy, tartness that just melts on my tongue! Purely simple with no need for fruity garnishes. You will be missed!

The walls of the Yogorino was also fantastic with these stiff white peaks:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.

- Oprah Winfrey; media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Are we becoming the men we want to date/marry?

On yet another snowy rainy sleeting "work from home" day in Philadelphia, I posed that question to a friend over lunch. I look at her: a smart, financially independent, career driven, funny, gorgeous, healthy, educated, and overall a pretty cool person. She thinks for a bit.

"Well what do men have to offer?"
"Support, companionship, friendship, someone to reach tall places and open stuck jars, affection, love, and sex."
"I can get most of those things from my female friends, except for sex."
"Does that mean we only need men for sex?!"
"You tell me!"

All cheekiness aside, I look around and see amazing female friends who have these qualities that are deemed "masculine": outspoken, charismatic, career-oriented, ambitious, decision makers, independent, and essentially non-shirking violets. All these traits that if it were in men it would be deemed "good" but when the traits reside within women the positives becomes ambiguities, if not negatives. Why is that?

To understand the current situation, let's take a look at where we came from. The right to vote, equal employment opportunity, and equal pay is a relatively new achievement for women considering the long history where women didn't even hold jobs, step outside of the house without a chaperone (well at least the well to do ladies can't), can own property, or were even considered their own entity beyond their family, father, and husband. When I first watched Mad Men I was absolutely livid: what a horribly chauvinist and paternalistic society! Sure Don Draper is this suave, handsome, charismatic, smart, and cool guy but he also cheated on everyone he's been with romantically, objectified women, and had a huge ego. A representation of his time that makes me glad that I wasn't born in the 1940s! How far we have come from that time period.

With the introduction of women to the workplace comes with challenges to both men and women: men now have to deal with women outside the home in a professional setting and women now have to learn a new way to compete in an unlevel playing field. Issues still persists in modern day setting where the ratio of women to men in college, higher education, and entry level jobs are 50/50 yet the ratio drops precipitously as one goes higher up the corporate ladder and of the Fortune 500 companies only 5% have women CEO's. The reasons for these trends are vast, multi-factorial, and complex but clearly the cards are somewhat stacked against women in the business world so that in order to succeed one has to be stellar or very well connected to garner the roles, respect, and responsibilities traditionally accorded to men.

So back to the two women at a diner on a snowy day in Philly. Here we are living our lives without aid from family, government, or men; developed human beings with our own thoughts, aspirations, and many traits that would make any man just awesome. So yes: to a degree we have attained and embodied the men that we would like to be but that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. It just means it takes certain personalities and characters to appreciate what we have to offer and conversely we may appreciate different traits in men that others may overlook.

Problem as solved as it can be on this day. Now onto tackling that giant piece of chocolate cake to round out the meal

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Fortune cookie art

Don't worry, I have no ran out of fortune cookie wisdom yet!

In the spirit of art, this is the fortune cookie art exhibit at Philadelphia's Asian Arts Initiative that is creating and empowering the Asian community via art.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hi tea time

Tea time in a charming jazzy Japanese setting that's restaurant and tea parlor by day and sake bar at night. Hi-Collar in East Village in NYC.

The tea cup sets were so elegant and unique! 

Darjeeling on the left and English Breakfast tea on right. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Tetris Jenga

As if normal Jenga wasn't devious enough, there is Tetris Jenga!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Positivity attracts positivity

As I continue down this crazy journey call online dating, without much luck albeit currently, it's amazing to see the profile of people: how they can be so bitter, angry, negative, and not too pleasant to know digitally nevertheless in real life. If they showcase themselves as such a people then what sort of people were they hoping to attract?

Also what is this "game" that they speak of? I don't quite understand when did finding love/boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other/lover ever was a game. In talking to some guy friends they talk about the uncertainty of calling or texting 3 days after a date or not, which all sounds rather silly because there are no "rules" or "games." If you like someone then you contact them as soon as you want to and if the other person does not respond to you then good riddance because they didn't like you enough, so why would you want to continue to get hurt by someone who doesn't like you enough?

We want to be in and think we deserved to be love, so find it in the places that are possible instead of pining for the impossible! Positivity attracts positivity so shine on!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Philly airport art

Taken at the B terminal of the Philadelphia airport: a mosaic of cherry blossoms. The dream of spring continues.

Friday, February 28, 2014

So I’m into men now, even though they can be frightening. I want a schedule-keeping, waking-up-early, wallet-carrying, non-Velcro-shoe-wearing man.
- Mindy Kaling; comedian and author of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Palm trees = smiles

Miami was wonderful, paradise on earth during a grueling seemingly neverending winter with 80 degree temperature, sun, and best of all palm trees! When I look at a palm tree my mouth just naturally curls up into a smile. Maybe it's because the northeast doesn't have them or that palm trees represent everything wonderful in life: beautiful weather, beaches, and the heat!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Open sesame

This is what greets you as the elevator doors to the Philadelphia Anthropology opens:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson; essayist, lecturer, poet

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Rewriting of the Nijou’s

Rummaging through nostalgia, this was a short story that I wrote for a Japanese women literature class in college. Truthfully speaking, it was mainly a piece that was trying to mimic Michael Cunningham's The Hours (one of my favorite book and the movie was quite true to its roots!) with a slight flare of my own. Reading it with the distance of time, I am embarrassed at the mimicry but the waves of fond memories follow closely. So here goes.

The Rewriting of the Nijou’s                                                                                        
            There is still paper to buy. Nina blows out a sigh of exasperation but drops a smiling kiss on Georgiana’s sleeping forehead, takes care to close the door quietly, and leaves the tiny apartment complex with a faint click.
            The air feels particularly filtered on this fine spring morning as Nina’s heels click smartly on the cool concrete. Tiny flowers peep out from the dull brown earth, reminding everyone that they are but playing hide-and-seek for the winter. The universe seems to consist of children who smile and the parents who love them; all is in harmony. Yet there is a niggling sense in the back of Nina’s mind, taunting her to go back to bed, lie flat on her stomach, pull the thick down comforter over her shoulders, huddle over The Confessions of Lady Nijou and continue reading. But no. Today is not her day.  Today is their day, Georgiana’s day, and so Nina shall set aside her desires for that moment and go on, for there is paper to buy and things to do.
            The wind chimes on the tiny used bookstore’s door clink faintly as Nina opens the door and walks in, a tiny waif in a gypsy skirt among the dusty books that she has so many times lovingly pored over, debating about whether to purchase or not -- only to slot them back into their original position. There is no room in the apartment and the appearance of the used books would clash with the sleek modern furniture. Mr. Smith, the owner of the store, says hello, pauses a second and offers his cheek for a kiss.
            Nina places her lips against the whiskered, leathery, sagging skin, and for that moment everything is in accord. Surrounded by more than five thousand books that contain five thousand different worlds, each with a happy ending, Nina feels at home.
            “How are you?” Mr. Smith inquires.
            “I’m fine. It’s Georgiana’s and my 5th anniversary; I want to make it extra special.”
            Mr. Smith’s eyes turn hooded for a second, and then he asks, “Shall it be the regular,  then?”
            “Yes, please, the regular.”
            As Mr. Smith rolls the sheet of fine calligraphy paper made from the hands of authentic Tibetan monks (so they say) with his delicate blue-veined hands and secures it with a single blue rubber band, Nina suddenly wants to know his name. His real name, not just Mr. Smith. How many hours has Nina came into here to look over every volume of twice loved books and seen that gentle old man in the corner? Approval is a funny thing. Nina never thinks she sought it, but on rainy days when there is only Mr. Smith and her in the bookstore, she craves the praise and the love a child would receive from her parents. Granted, they have shared a few ideas but whenever Georgiana is mentioned, Mr. Smith gives a token polite smile, as if he neither understand nor wants to understand; and an unexpected wall is instantaneously erected between them.
            Just as Nina’s curiosity and quiet desperation threatens to gush out, Mr. Smith asks, “Is that all?”
            “Yes, that is all.”
            “Well then, have a good day.”
            “You too,” says Nina and leaves the bookstore as she found it.

“The restless world of the unenlightened men is like a burning house,” Ariake once said.
Lady Nijou wonders if he has attained enlightenment. After Ariake died, Lady Nijou thought a lot about death. If Ariake had worshipped the Buddhas with as much fervor as he worshipped Lady Nijou, then he must have gone straight to nirvana, for who can be as heartless to deny passion as strong as his? Even if he didn’t attain enlightenment, Lady Nijou is sure that he died happy, for finally he is able to do what he derided so much: burn like the commoners do.
Many say it takes more courage to live than to die; well, it takes more courage to burn than to live life slowly, carefully, as if every single step determines your next move, your last move. As if every single decision creates a definite ripple in a tiny pond, until all of the ripples blend into one another so that you don’t know what you did, what you didn’t do, and how it all began.
 To throw away the promises of salvation in one fell swoop. Now that takes courage.

            By the time Nina passes the myriad of punks with technicolored hair smoking weed in the lobby and reaches the fourth floor of the ritzy artist-filled apartment complex, she realizes that she has forgotten her keys. After a few minutes of debate, Nina knocks quietly on the smooth splinterless oak door. The door swings lazily on the hinge and Nina’s eyes look up to meet the even lazier, exotic, half tilted, single lidded moon-eyes of Georgiana.
            “Okaeri nasai, Nijou-Sama,” greets Georgiana in a husky, just woken up voice, with a perfect pitchless Japanese accent. Nina is annoyed and briefly wonders when Georgiana will stop with this silly nickname. When they first met, Georgiana declared that Nina was too plain a name for her and insisted on giving her the name of an immortal heroine. Nina had suggested Athena or Minerva, her favorites of all the goddesses of mythology, but Georgiana insisted on dubbing her Nijou-Sama, the tragic Heian woman writer whose literature still persists after more than a thousand years. So Lady Nijou has the last laugh.
There once was a time that Nina was so afraid of becoming like her namesake that she kept on chanting, “No, I am not promiscuous. Will not become a nun” until it became a mantra in its own right.
“Tadaima,” replies Nina. It seems like yesterday that she met Georgiana in her Japanese calligraphy class. Nina doesn’t know what compelled an English major at Berkley College to take a course as eclectic as Japanese Calligraphy. In the 1700s Georgiana would have been persecuted as a deviant, an abnormal, the devil herself, but in the 1980s Georgiana just took her gorgeous mixed body (half Japanese, half Norwegian), sauntered over to Nina, and asked her for a date. Day by day, date by date, Georgiana claimed parts of Nina, her thoughts, her dreams, her hopes, her fears, her joys till nothing was left but bare bones and a kiss.
Then Georgiana kissed her.
Nina wonders about what if’s all the time. What if she had slanted her head away at the last minute in the little rusted park bench beside the ancient maple tree? What if she turned away and feigned disgust?  What if she had refused to accept the bestowment of Georgiana’s kiss, all that happiness it promised and all the sadness that followed? Surely if all the what if’s had coalesced together in an alternate universe, bifurcation after trifurcation after multi-furcation, they would have been so powerful that they would have taken their toll and punctured the balloon of reality of ‘had been’s’ and ‘had done’s.’ Yet Nina had tilted her head ever so slightly, met the cool lips.
“Happy 5th year anniversary,” says Nina.
“Has it been that long already? Happy anniversary, sweetheart.”
“Yes, it has. Come back early tonight. There’ll be a surprise.”
“I’ll try. I’m leaving for work now,” Georgiana proclaims with the confidence of an artist who does not dance to anyone’s tune but her own. Her crisp, blue-collared shirt ironed the day before by Nina is slightly unbuttoned, revealing the single silver cross that Nina gave to her on their first month anniversary. Georgiana had laughed in her low breathy laugh and graciously accepted it. But Nina felt mocked, for she later discovered that Georgiana is an atheist, reined by no god, be it be a man or a woman.
They go through the ritual they have gone through for the past five years. The flurries of kisses, the handing over of coat, briefcase, and shoes continued as a practiced dance, faultless since the movements have been traced over so many times. Nina wonders what will happen if she “accidentally” dropped the coat, but she never does.
What is Lady Nijou doing in the book right now? Will she still be there as I left her on page eighty-one? Will Lady Nijou finally accept the devoted Ariake or turn him away?
When Nina was a child, she never wanted to leave a book alone till it was done. She was afraid that the characters would magically pick themselves up from where Nina left them and proceed along the story without her, she was like a child missing a parade -- the parade of life. Nina would stay up all night long till her tired bloodshot eyes forced her to go to sleep. She didn’t want to miss a single minute.
Georgiana is no longer thinking about the night but about work, the few hours she gets to shine and show the artistic side of her that wants attention, compliments, and love. Always love.  Like a child, Georgiana craves love and is never completely satisfied. Nina was surprised when someone as brilliant and ephemeral as Georgiana picked her -- a white girl, a little bookworm with no root, no mother or father to anchor her, fresh out of college -- to be a life partner, to be the beacon for Georgiana to return to after the excitement of the multiple new affairs has worn off.
“Love ya. Be back soon. If I’m not back by midnight, don’t wait up for me.”

Lady Nijou sits still as a stone as the two maidens attend her hair, the one on the left, Ayako, being slower but more careful, the one on the right, Seiko, being fast and efficient; but what is the use of Seiko’s haste if Lady Nijou  must inevitably wait until Ayako finishes brushing the floor length hair to her satisfaction before sneaking out to see her lover after?
GoFukakusa hasn’t visited her in three weeks and four days. For each those days Lady Nijou has been waiting up each night, accompanied by only the chirping of the cicadas on the trees and the lonely moonlight traversing the length of her hair. The shuffling of the palace guards sends her heart into a staccato every time. The footsteps stop to shoo away a cat, to flirt with a maid, or to bring messages to other ladies, but never stops at her door; and Lady Nijou waits each night in vain.
Was it because of that incident he is repelled? Lady Nijou knows that trying to stop rumors and gossip is as useless as trying to catch sakura petals in a net. Her mind constantly wavers among the image of GoFukakusa’s face as he ardently pledged his undying love in poetry so moving that even the gods must have wept, to him begging her to continue her affair with Ariake, to the multiple affairs that he conducted with Lady Nijou as the go-between, and finally to GoFukakusa waking up groggily that morning, oblivious to what had transpired the night before between Lady Nijou and his half brother, Kameyama. All these images superimpose upon one another until Lady Nijou does not know which one is true, while the maids placidly brush her asset of beauty, wealth and status, unaware of the turmoil swarming inside their mistress like a group of angry bees.
One more hour and it will all be over.
            All is not perfect. Nina squints critically at the last stroke of the u in Otanjoubi Omedetou, disappointed in the flatness of the character. No matter how many times Nina tries to smooth the curve, the character refuses to be coaxed from the brush and ink. If only she had the skills of her namesake! All this time spent on making the floor spotless (Georgiana likes to walk around barefoot), cooking (filet mignon with cream hollandaise sauce, Georgiana’s favorite), and calligraphy leaves Nina no time to return to the world of Lady Nijou. Nina bites her lips and looked around; the clock on the wall reads a quarter to five. Georgina gets off work at exactly five and should be back soon.
            Not that it matters. The quaintness and lack of direction in Nina’s calligraphy will please Georgiana nevertheless. Georgiana will smile and say what a great present it is, how she doesn’t deserve it, exclaim how it brings back memories of how they met, and give her a kiss. Those pale faded memories feels like sad excuses that are unshelved once in a while to admire but are quickly returned to the closet before the sunlight does more damage to their already worn colors. It irritates Nina that no matter what she does, Georgiana will be unperturbed.
The shade of pasty green on the wall tempts Nina to dig her fingers in, until she hits the asbestos lining, and then pull off the vile wallpaper. It reminds her of puke. Neither does she like the metallic table, the ebony black closets, the stainless steel refrigerator, the black leather sofa that is too high for her and leaves her legs dangling above the floor like a child sitting in her father’s favorite loveseat; but nor does she like the steel stools that provide no cushion for her weak back or the white veined black marble kitchen top. Nina has no memory of when these things were bought in the first place. The only thing that Nina can claim for herself is the ridiculous Mickey Mouse telephone that she insisted on buying despite Georgiana’s protests. Surrounded by all the hard metal and dark colors, Mickey’s red shorts and yellow shoes look out of place.
“Maybe he needs a Minnie,” Nina says idly out loud.
Lady Nijou would have never stood for this. She would have elegantly composed a poem so filled with feeling and truth that GoFukakusa, Ariake, Akebono, and Georgiana would have come crawling back to her, begging to be accepted back in her graces.
            Suddenly Nina rips the calligraphy paper in half (there goes three dollars and twenty five cents), rips the halves into halves, and then halves the quarter pieces again till there is nothing but asymmetrical pieces left. She carefully places them at the very bottom of the trashcan, taking care to hide them with a torn Gap bag; closes the lid as if it were a coffin, and wipes her hands on her pants. A broad black smear is left trailing on the right thigh of her white pants.
            How is she going to get the stain out in time? There are only fifteen minutes till Georgiana returns; she can’t change her outfit. No, it will be all right. Maybe she can wear her white skirt instead; it will go nicely with the patterned white collared shirt she spent days looking for in vintage stores all over downtown Los Angeles. No, it would make her look childish, almost virginal.
Suddenly Nina wants to stop, let it all end. What does it matter what her pants look like when she still has not returned to Lady Nijou’s world? What does it matter that the cake is ready and the present is finished when Georgiana left with a careless, “If I am not back by midnight, don’t wait up for me”?  For all Nina knows, Georgiana might be in the same situation as the last time Nina randomly decided to visit her office: shirtless, in the dark, with Sharon, again.
No, it will not be all right.

It would be so easy. There’s a bottle of Tylenol in the bathroom cabinet. “Take no more than four tablets in twenty-four hours,” the bottle instructs. What if Nina took 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 356, 712 tablets? What if Lady Nijou took the ornamental sword hanging on the wall and slowly drew a line with it from one end of her neck to the other, leaving a fine line of red, red blood trailing elegantly down her pale neck, a single drop falling onto the sleeves of her favorite red Chinese jacket with ivy patterns?  What a picture she would make: serene, pretty, and still. That’s too easy, too simple, no flair at all; something Nina would do. What if she jumped off the fourth floor of the apartment complex? The spring sun would feel nice and breezy while the four floors flashed by in rapid succession until her face kissed the hard concrete that countless dogs have defecated over. But today Lady Nijou is wearing her favorite outfit  and does not want it to be dirtied by blood. What if she casted herself off the quaint wooden bridge spanning the pavilion between her garden and the other lady’s? The layers and layers of gown would be soaked, clinging to her legs, dragging her to the bottom of the calm artificial pond, cutting off everything — sight, sound, air — until time slowed, faded, and stopped into the darkness that no Buddha could pierce: for suicide is a sin. The thought of her body shattering to pieces and leaving an unattractive splotch on the concrete disturbs Nina. What if her blood flickered onto the white jacket of British man who happened to walking his Scottish terrier at 4:57 in the afternoon?  Nina knows how hard it is to get blood out of clothes, especially white ones.

Nina runs into the bedroom, takes her copy of The Confessions of Lady Nijou, slips back into her prim black heels, and leaves the apartment with a click. Out the splinterless mahogany door, down the elevator, past the lobby now absent of technicolored punks (although the sweet cloying scent of weed still lurks the air), and onto the street. Everything feels like a dream, highlighted by the brilliancy of the setting sun, dulling all edges and casting everything in a kinder light. I need a place, any place, a place of my own. I need to finish this book. Is this what it feels like to be crazy? The movies always depict crazy women who rend their hair and beat their breasts, but real insanity is a desperateness that is punctuated by silence and a clear mind.
Finding herself in front of the secondhand bookstore again, Nina pushes the resilient door, whose chimes clink sweetly, and looks into the face of Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith looks tired; tired of owning a bookstore that does not make any money, tired of sleeping on a queen size bed by himself at the age of sixty-seven, tired of waiting for the short hand of the clock to hit six everyday.
“What are you doing here?”
“Let me stay here and read. Please”
In that moment Mr. Smith sees a woman with a glazed look in her eyes clutching a book as if her life depended on it, so tightly that her the bones of her knuckles form tiny white islands against the sea of red skin, wearing white slacks with a huge black smear on them and black heels that do not match the rest of her outfit. Pity creeps into his heart.
“Please, I’ll close up. I will lock the door and make sure nobody breaks in. Just for a little while. Please.”
Perhaps Mr. Smith will curse himself later, wondering what makes him hand over his key without a thought to the girl with the desperate gypsy eyes. The eyes that asks for constant approval that he is never able to give, never wanted to give, but suddenly at that moment he wants to reciprocate and perhaps leave her with a kinder memory of him, for he is but an old man who has nothing else to give. Mr. Smith puts on his jacket, tips his hat, and goes out the front door.
At last! Nina pulls down the blinds, turns on the lights, sits down at a neatly organized table, and begins to read.

The sound of laughter pierces Lady Nijou’s reverie, cleanly severing the thought of death from her mind. Lady Nijou looks up and spots two maids playing with a calico tabby barely weaned from its mother. The setting sunlight gleams unbearably bright on the girls’ black, black hair and the world is on fire. Yes, the same fire that fuels the poets to pick up their brushes, the heroes to brandish their swords, and the lovers to forsake their duties.
She wants to burn. Lady Nijou hasn’t felt that fire in a long time. Dulled are her senses that used to be so fine and exquisite, dulled from the petty gossips and the fear of GoFukakusa’s suspicion. Or is it just GoFukakusa himself? GoFukakusa the father, the lover, the confident, the betrayer. Lady Nijou couldn’t think of a single moment when GoFukakusa hadn’t been in the picture of her life, peripherally or centrally, overshadowing her (the supposed protagonist of the story). Casting her from heaven to hell and back to heaven within the space of five seconds and ten syllables.
Lady Nijou no longer knows where the beginning of her story is. Was it when her father handed her over to GoFukakusa? Was it when she started her affair with Akebono? All these possibilities pool into the past that was, the present that is, and the future that will be.
She needs to get away, to find a place of her own so that she can burn freely with oxygen of her own. Yes, she will become a nun and take the tonsure, wash away all the sins that she has committed and dedicate her life to Buddhism in hopes that one day she too may attain enlightenment. Or can she? Are her sins too deeply fixed now that no matter how many times she scrubs the darkness will remain?
Lady Nijou suddenly remembers the poor fanmaker, the painted undergown seeping in the rain, her nose red and her hair wild. What an unpleasant sight it was then, but the fanmaker’s sorrow resulted in joy while Lady Nijou’s joy resulted in sorrow. The poet Semimaru once said, “One cannot live forever in a palace or a hut.” Lady Nijou decides that neither will she.  But she can’t leave at once; she will need a week’s time to prepare quickly and find GoFukakusa to tell him about the sudden revelation she has had. Surely he will understand and let her go.
Two days later, GoFukakusa declares the banishment of Lady Nijou from the palace.

A sigh of pure bliss escapes from Nina, spirals into the air and is captured by the softness of the surrounding books. So this is how it ends. The pure craft and perfection of Lady Nijou’s story leaves her breathless, wonder-filled, and hopeful; like being in love with Georgiana except without the confusion and the heartache. Nina can no longer tell where Lady Nijou’s story ends and where hers begins.
Was it Nina who was sold by her father to GoFukakusa, or was it Lady Nijou? Was it she who recoiled at the thought of conducting an affair with Ariake? Was it Lady Nijou who cried when she saw Georgiana bestowing a kiss onto another woman? Was it she who boldly traveled in Kamakura Japan as a nun? Or was it she who forgave Georgiana for a few crocodile tears that glistened so prettily as it slid down her cheek, and a fake diamond bracelet she saw in the windows of Walmart? Does it matter?
The world is suddenly simple. Lovers will meet, couples will cheat, pets will die, and children will cry; yet despite it all, we go on in life. No one’s story is truly original or extraordinary, although we lie awake at night wishing it to be so. But life is not like that. If you are good enough the world does not mock you; if you are lucky enough the world remembers you; and if you are truly great the world will put you onto a pedestal so high so that others can bounce their dreams off your shiny patina, hoping that the dreams will be reflected back to themselves.
Georgiana should be home already.
Grabbing a piece of floral stationary off the top of the desk, Nina begins to write. Purging, returning every gift, every promise, every lie to Georgiana so there is nothing but Nina left. As Nina drops the flimsy letter into the mailbox, she imagines a satisfying clunk breaking the fall.
Whistling, Nina walks away; Nina, and not Nijou-Sama, for there is no one to call her that again.