I really want to believe that I’m invincible.
I know that’s impossible, though. Maybe what I really want is to believe that people will always do the right thing, so that I won’t have to be invincible. For a lot of the summer, I wandered around Berkeley and just photographed whatever I felt like (and I have talked and blogged about this so much that you’re probably really tired of hearing about it, but it was amazing). Berkeley apparently has this reputation for being a little eccentric, and I probably walked around waving my camera in places where a waving camera was not welcome, but I never wanted to stop.
When I was a freshman, I was obsessed with defying stereotypes. I decided to be obsessed with English, because most Asian kids were not, so I joined the book club and raised my hand all the time in English class. I decided to like math, because even though that fit right in with the Asian stereotype, it was something that girls weren’t always seen as being good at. I decided to be proud that I couldn’t speak Mandarin or Japanese, because it meant that I would be that much less stereotypically Asian (and also that I could tell myself that I wouldn’t have to be embarrassed every time I had to say that no, I didn’t speak Chinese.) Defying stereotypes was my obsession, and while I can’t say that I have outgrown that, it’s something that I think about less. Whether that’s because I want to pretend that I don’t need to defy stereotypes to be myself anymore, or because being myself now involves not defying stereotypes, I’m not sure. Either way, though, it is impossible not to cringe at certain stereotypes.
Earlier, I mentioned being That Asian Family. I’m talking about the family that takes pictures everywhere with a gigantic camera, while obstructing traffic, and takes twenty minutes to order food because it has to be just right, and pays in exact change down to the penny while the people behind tap their feet in impatience. On vacation, my family does every single one of those things. My parents want to take pictures, and so we shuffle around and obstruct traffic as people duck quickly past the camera lens. My mom bought a pack of gum at CVS, and she paid in 99 cents of exact change as the customers behind shifted from one foot to the other in thinly-veiled impatience.
When I was a freshman, being That Asian Family was the most humiliating thing that I could imagine. I thought that people would point and laugh at us, and I took a really weird kind of pride in my un-Asianness. And okay, it is still really awkward to be that family trying to take a picture in front of those flowers, and maybe some people think that we are That Asian Family, but for the most part it’s stopped mattering. Maybe that’s maturity, or maybe that’s just pretending that family is bigger than what other people think. I’m still figuring that part out.
I thought that Interstate I-5 might be one of the most boring freeways in California. It’s two hundred flat miles through cow pastures and farms, broken up by the occasional gas station and motel. There’s an understated beauty to the endless stretches of green and brown, but really, even understated beauty gets a little boring after four hours.
On the way back up from college visiting in SoCal, then, I spent four hours on what might possibly be the least interesting freeway in California. (Of course, even that’s objective–I love urbanity and oceans, but maybe someone who loves farmland and cows would really like I-5.) I spaced out for a whole because spacing out is the best way to waste time that I know of, and then I took out my camera (because that’s my other favorite way to kill time. Like, I have gone up to UC Berkeley and, without realizing it, spent four hours walking around and taking pictures of squirrels and lost tourists and pretty much anything else that crossed my path.)
Anyways—I-5. I started taking pictures of the cow-chewed landscape and of the sky and of people’s cars. (Not that creepy, not at all creepy, and pretty creepy, in my opinion). Where I’d originally seen miles after miles of the exact same landscape repeating like a loop of film, I started to see variety. The details started to pop out—the stacks of hay here and the telephone wires crisscrossing the landscape there. I was still in the backseat of a car traveling up I-5, possibly one of the least interesting freeways in California, but it was fascinating.
Maybe I was romanticizing everything—something I do a lot—but the magic of details is something that I totally believe in. Beauty can be big and bold and loud, and that’s one type. The type that I look for, though, is kind of like the human factor—it’s unpredictable and hard to understand because it’s locked up in the little things. It’s the clouds melting together like ice cream and the fact that the sun is setting and everything looks like it’s been dipped in liquid light. It’s the details that make up my favorite kind of beauty, and I can’t think of anything more romanticized.