Music has always been a big part of my life, so it’s strange to consider the fact that I only seriously took up an instrument the year I’m turning 30, which I generally consider late to be starting anything new.
I used to play piano and flute, but that was never really my choice. For the former, it was more of my mom wanting me to be a good Chinese boy, and me not wanting to let her down. When it came to the latter, my school had a strong emphasis on arts, and either visual arts or music were mandatory. I chose music1, and played the flute; far from ideal for a teenager going through puberty and an identity crisis.
I bought my first ukulele a few months ago, and I don’t think I’ve stopped playing since.
So much of my life has been filled by those four little strings. It’s an entirely new medium I’m still exploring, a muscle I’d yet to flex, a way of expressing myself that’s so unlike any of my other outlets.
I get pains in my fingers and wrists from playing too much, so I structure my life around the breaks; doing laundry, writing, cleaning my room, sorting my paperwork until the tingling or pinching goes away. The pads of my fingers are dead. I used to fall asleep thinking of her — now I work out scale patterns and chords across the fretboard in my head until I pass out. I even decided to make the ultimate commitment and grow out the nails on my strumming hand because the longer they get, the more pleased I am with the sound (and I find both long nails and asymmetry absolutely disgusting).
It’s come to the point where I’d rather play ukulele than play games, or go out, or talk to people. I love playing so much that I enjoy it even though I’m still no good at it.
I turn 30 in three months, and music is my hot hot bath, my dead end, and my girlfriend.
The Turning 30 Series
- 29: The Child
- 29 1/12: The Adolescent
- 29 2/12: The Lachrymologist
- 29 3/12: The Once Loved
- 29 4/12: The Mask
- 29 5/12: The Uncarved
- 29 6/12: The Arrival
- 29 7/12: The Taoist
- 29 8/12: The Son
- 29 9/12: The Rocker
- 29 10/12: The Deadline
- Ironic that I’m so much more of a visual artist now. [↩]
There’s no revelation more startling than the fact that your dad is cooler than you.
This is especially true of my own father, who isn’t just cool for an old guy, he’s cool period. As a teenager, I remember him wearing a leather bomber jacket, and learning to ride a purple Kawasaki Ninja sport bike which he eventually traded in for a silver Porsche.
When I was even younger, my friends would tell me he looked like a secret agent. One time he came to help me move out of residence, and his jeans had wider cuffs than mine (and back then I loved wearing wide-leg khakis). I can’t remember a time when he didn’t wear something by Lacoste, Polo, or Tommy, and even though he may dress far younger than his age, he can still pull it off.
Now he’s a man moving closer to his 60s, driving a Mercedes and a BMW, with what seems to have a coterie of women whose common interest is him. He watches popular movies, practices singing, and dances on a regular basis. Even my grandma once told me that people like him because he’s the fun one to be around.
This is all very different from me; a shy, introverted, awkward person whose idea of a good time generally involves being in front of a computer.
Still, with all these differences, I know I’m his son. Just a chip off the old block, with the same work ethics, the same perfectionist tendencies, the same neurotic tendencies.
We get grumpy when we’re hungry. We hate feeling sweaty and sometimes have to shower twice in a day. We make the same silly jokes when we’re around new people. We decorated our houses exclusively with modern, minimalist furniture before we knew what each other’s houses looked like. And as I grow older, I’ve also started developing the same night owl habits, carefree attitude, insomnia, and digestion problems.
I turn 30 in four months, and I’m becoming my father’s son.
The Turning 30 Series
If, 5 years ago, you asked me where I’d be now, I couldn’t have even given you a decent guess.
I never imagined I’d be working in graphic and web design at a dental lab. Or that my job would shift to more of a corporate level, something that happened because I happened to have the right set of skills at the right time.
I never imagined I’d meet people like Bronwen or Julie or Heather G, or Frédéric and Misun, or Jesse and Audra, or Shane and Krista.
I never thought I’d discover bands like Magneta Lane, The Knife, From Autumn to Ashes, and Muse.
I never knew I’d start playing the ukulele. Or have an art gallery show. Or finally, finally, finally start learning astronomy and own a telescope.
But I’m not surprised at where I’ve ended up. And who knows who I’ll meet, what I’ll do, or where I’ll be? Long ago, I decided I’d stay in Ottawa until my Tai Chi teacher retired, and that’s soon coming. This city is comfortable, but it’s also just as small, and I’ve always dreamed of living in an alpha city like Hong Kong or New York or London.
It’s easy to fall into the belief that we’re in control of our lives or our destinies. The reality is that we’re just traveling through life like leaves being carried by the current in a stream. There are so many things that can happen along the way out of our control. Connections you can’t predict. Experiences you can’t even imagine.
I turn 30 in seven months, and I don’t know where I’ll be, in life, love, or home.
The Turning 30 Series
Man cannot cast off this mask; it is a projection of his own flesh and spirit. He can no longer remove from his own face this mask which has already grown like skin and flesh so he is always startled as if disbelieving this is himself, but it is in fact himself. He cannot remove this mask, and this is agony. But having manifested itself as his mask, it cannot be obliterated, because the mask is a replica of himself. It has no will of its own, or one could say it has a will but no means of expression and so prefers not to have a will. Therefore it has left man with an eternal face with which he can examine himself in amazement.
—Gao Xingjian, Soul Mountain
I turn 30 in eight months, and I still don’t know if I’m the person who smiles, or the person who hides behind the smile.