Clothes remembered

I used to have the best jean jacket,” she tells me over dim sum in Hong Kong. I left it in the taxi to the airport when I left Berlin. That was fifteen years ago. I still think about that jacket.”

My mind goes to my favorite garment, a green corduroy and laminate North Face black label jacket bought as a self present on arrival in Hong Kong five years ago. It’s been my favorite piece of clothing ever since. And then I remember my four pointed felt hat, black with two gray stripes, purchased in Shinjuku in 2003. And then to my partner’s comments, on looking through old photos this weekend, so often exclaiming oh my god that shirt!” or do you remember those shoes?” I do, of course, the photos tracking our relationship, yet many of the memories have faded, and require these pictures to access. My body, as I often write, has forgotten.

When this site began I worked in the garment industry, spending hours on fabrics, stitching, trim. I think back to those days, to the personal focus on quality that came out of that experience, and I remember things. Physical possessions. Expensive jeans, mostly, a hoped-for connection between the increase in garment cost, livable wages for the sewer, and water treatment facilities for the indigo dye. After a bit I remember my wool knit hoodie, Triple Aught Design, my first merino garment. It was purchased early on in our time in SF, and worn almost daily there. It’s hanging in my closet as I type this, more than ten years later. For a long time I never traveled without it, my one essential item. It has been used as a pillow in countless mid-tier hotel rooms, slept in on dozens of transpacific flights, and worn on every evening bike ride all the rest of our ten years in that foggy city.

In some ways these garments shape us, even years later. I wonder what events my friend took her jean jacket to, what she felt like when she wore it? I wonder if she’ll ever feel that strongly about a jacket again? Does that part of us fade as we age?

I think of my wife’s green jacket, which she’s had from high school or early college, which she wears now around Tokyo in the winters. How many of these garments are for cold weather, how many of them are rarely worn now, able to be pulled out intact for good memories? Or is that just because we moved to the tropics, and they so rarely feel necessary?

In January for a few days the weather cools. I wear my favorite garment everywhere I go. It’s something to treasure, feeling good in clothing, feeling good in a way we’ll remember.

Another strange night

A view across Hong Kong toward Tai Hang and Braemar hill behind.

I go to bed in a hospital room. From the window I can see our apartment. This is closer to home than any of our other hospital stays, and less stressful. We age, we injure, we heal. Or we go through the traumas of childbirth, and heal. The pain is not always evenly distributed. It is shared though, which is both comforting and real. I look across the sports fields beside the Hong Kong Central library at Tai Hang, at our tiny box, the lights that mean home, that mean people, and relax.

I’ll be out of here in another twelve hours. I’ll probably still have a job. Things aren’t always as bad as they have been, and there’s a lot of hope in our corner of the world. A lot of growth, new words, new abilities. Hopefully some of the old abilities, too, returning after rehab and intention, after focus and time.

We get older, and we keep going to the gym. Our fitness plans remain much the same, climbing frisbee yoga and the occasional jog, on either side of these milestones. On either side of these years. My shoulder, the cause of that stay in twenty twenty, is pretty functional. I boulder on it, lay out on it, swing on it, and carry a small child with it. The rehab took a long time, but I had little to do. Tomorrow’s rehab will be lighter, more like the last op than the shoulder. More like stiches rather than reconstruction. I’m happy with that, happy with the ability to fix things before they’re impossible.

You woke up smelling horrible every day. Like pain,” my partner says of the three months pre-shoulder surgery. After surgery you immediately smelled like yourself again.”

Smelling like myself instead of like pain seems like a big step. The gift of a mediocre memory, of being unable to hold my body’s prior feelings very well, is that I do not remember. I hope never to remember. I hope to read these words in a few years and be startled by them.

Do you re-read your own writing,” a friend asked me in December.

All the time, I said. All the time. It’s a way of remembering, of anchoring myself. Most of these posts are written for me, to help me tell the story of my life, across time, to myself.

Because otherwise I’d forget. Otherwise I might never remember all the things I’ve done. I might not remember who I am, or who I’m trying to be. I definitely wouldn’t remember how it felt, ten or fifteen years back, to discover things I now struggle to notice. I might not remember all those nights listening to the Blade Runner soundtrack in Chinese hotel rooms, happy and healthy or sick and uncertain. I wouldn’t remember all my odd interactions with friends, or what it felt like to drive the PCH before finding a job in San Francisco.

Sometimes, when it’s hard to remember, it’s good to be able to remember, to have triggers. To create them. I do it with music a lot, and with people. Mostly, though, I do it with this site, with writing, and with time.

It’s another kind of healing, perfect for this quiet hospital room.

Welcome to:

Looking out from a hotel onto construction in Singapore

My colleague arrives in Singapore at nine am two days late. His original flight was canceled due to a blizzard. He’s understandably confused by the weather. Together we visit a customer and wander Tanjong Pagar without purpose. I am here to welcome him, to help him procure the essentials of life. Our list for the week reads like a modern life assembly kit:

  • Healthcare
  • Housing
  • Prepaid SIM
  • Guidance on taxes

These are not strange needs, nor are they hard to deliver. They simply require money, and some sense of the city. We will manage them before my flight home on Thursday evening. Call it fifty hours. It feels luxurious.

Welcome to:
The precipice between groundlessness and flight”

In the morning, briefly, I stand on the 27th floor of a hotel and look out at the rain. It’s a storm, but a lackluster one, and I’m sure there will be space for my sprint to the MRT in a moment. Singapore, for me, is an odd mishmash of memories. I remember standing under open pedestrian overpass in a true downpour, in the kind of tropical cloudburst that is truly rare in most climates. I remember looking down from the top of the with friends, relaxing in the air of what felt like amazing possibilities.

I think then of how many places we’ve looked down from, those friends, who just weeks ago climbed a Hong Kong peak with me, with whom I have stood on rooftops in Tokyo and New York. I think of how lucky we all are, and how long we have been so fortunate. Thinking this I pass on one of my core beliefs to my colleague, himself on his first such voyage.

It’s lucky to be flown to a new country for work,” I say, to get paid to learn a new place.

So here we are, wandering Singapore, working hard and searching for the building blocks of what will be his life. It’s not somewhere either of us expected to be, and yet it’s familiar.

These are the good weeks, I think, walking back to my room. These are the weeks we remember.

Quoted lyrics from Ani DiFranco’s Welcome To:’, from the 2003 album Evolve.

Places I slept, 2023

The sun blinding as it fades over Lantau

The year ending feels very long. I wonder about this, about perception in a family of three rather than two. Twelve months represents so much change to a being of only eighteen. I expect the next few years will feel likewise.

The list below, considered as such, is an impossible mishmash. I have learned that in some ways we did not leave the pandemic, and we can never really go back to our former lives. The feeling of freedom, and the lack of surprise at travel, may never really return, even though the act itself has. Even though the casualness with which we pack for a new country certainly has. As Ursula Le Guin once wrote,

You can go home again, the General Temporal Theory asserts, so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been.”

From Lone Stars’ 11th year playing beach ultimate in LA in January, to Malaysia with Hong Kong Masters in December, some of the places represent a familiar type of travel made entirely new and more challenging with a third family member. And yet they were still beautiful, as were Bangkok and Boracay for the same purpose. Malaysia also represented the first time all three of us visited a new country together, a list we are excited to expand.

Mostly, the places below represent trying to do a lot. The sheer number of times in the Bay Area (five) and Tokyo (five) go some way towards outlining the pace. With three family trips to the U.S. and another three solo ones, we covered more of the country we came from than we expect to for quite a while. The world is big, and now that airplanes are more regular, there are many new places to see. As to Tokyo, well, it will be a regular feature of future lists, and hopefully a comfortable one.

As always, I look for themes in these years, in their pace or our hopes. This year the recall is harder than usual, a combination of sleeplessness and focus on someone else with the frantic end that saw me spend but one week in eight at home in October and November. Thus the point of writing things down: in this list I see old friends, a focus on family, and the return of places we love. Clara, at a year and a half, saw Bangkok, Boracay, and Taipei this year, the easy hops around Asia that we missed during the pandemic. In this year’s list I also see the new: our foraging adventures around Tokyo hunting something, some collective feeling we were sure we’d know when we encountered it. We did, and are working to make it a fixture of whatever weird life we are building.

That, at last, is the point, the central sensation of this odd year. As always it takes writing for a while before the core of the thing I’m considering presents itself: we are building some truly new life now, on the other side of our big move to Asia, on the other side of the pandemic, on the other side of the biggest decision of our lives. We are building a future that we can barely see, one in which we have hopefully slept more, wherever the places may be. And what I will remember from twenty twenty three is that, for the first time, it was a future we could start to see.

Tai Hang, HK
Santa Monica, CA
San Francisco, CA (four times, two spots)
Cherry Hill, NJ (twice)
Malibu, CA (twice)
Boracay Island, the Philippines
Santa Clara, CA (twice)
Taipei, Taiwan
Bangkok, Thailand (two spots)
Nishinippori, Tokyo (twice)
Shimbashi and Toranomon, Tokyo
Shinjuku, Tokyo (four times, three spots)
Fort Collins, CO
Stout’s Island, WI
Sugamo, Tokyo
Changi, Singapore
Pune, India
Otsuka, Tokyo (twice)
Downtown Singapore
Batam, Indonesia
New Braunfels, TX
Austin, TX
Brooklyn, NY
Manhattan, NY
Cyberjaya, Malaysia

Prior lists visible here.

Tradition

The sun sets over Hong Kong

I think we should do socks full of fruit

Her idea is better than any I’ve had, and she prepares, and we do. It’s 5’s second Christmas, too early still for memory, we expect. And yet let’s be too early rather than too late, rather than caught with no traditions of our tiny family.

I think we should talk about what habits we want to make rituals,” reads the email from May. Cooking, exercise, packing and maintenance, are at least some of the answers. Trying new things. Being excited about what’s next. With these conversations, done without urgency over the course of nap times, evenings, and long walks, we are trying to shape the family we become. We are trying to discover, like sculptors, what exists within the form of our relationship already, and bring it forth intentionally into the world. The topic resurfaces in late night chats with friends, in their neighborhoods or our own, and occasionally in third cities that belong to none of us. What is important, what family traditions they have, what they mean when they say the normal American way,” and what, above all else, we hold dear.

In these conversations I so often find myself suddenly, half way through, in someone else’s words or in my own. As with writing, clarity comes from bringing ideas into reality through words. And thus I discover a part of our family that should have been obvious, that is all around us. We value words, and descriptions, and jokes, and shared language. On mornings without work or other expectations 5’s and I walk the block and a half to the coffee store” together. She’s started to help carry the coffee mug, at least until she stops and says up”, uninterested in walking any further on her own. I oblige, grateful for these quiet moments, for the small ritual of this walk and the language that describes it. I’m sure these traditions, like many others, won’t survive forever. Thus writing, and posts like this, to trap them in some transmissible form, for my own memory as much as any others.

And so as she asks for more longan on Christmas morning, having eaten all that came in her own stocking while sitting in a pile of rambutans and tangerines, of tamarinds and apricots that will be eaten once the longan are no more, I lean back and appreciate. I appreciate the more hand sign, the Op!” that means open and follows more as a request to peal the things she can not yet. There are but scant days in all our lives, and it’s better to have put out milk and cookies for the as-yet-unnamed spirits of our family’s holiday already, to have made it a tradition now, so that next year we are prepared, wherever we may be. I look to the friends, here sleeping on our lightly-padded floor to share the holiday, and acknowledge their sacrifice, their priorities. They want to spend holidays abroad, and with old friends. These are priorities we share, having spent the prior holiday on the East Coast, and crashed friend’s New York apartments shortly after.

May we all be able to maintain these traditions, then, of spirits and fruit, of hosting and visiting, of talking and thinking and sharing, for as long as we are able.