You Know, This Blog Really Is Done, But

I found this while sifting through old files and had to post it in response to this.

From left to right, representatives from 10 different nations embrace their roles as ambassadors to the Chinese public. (I’m the one scratching my back. Denise, my closest friend, is the rebel without a sash.)

 

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An Open Letter to Where I Now Live

Because I’ve written letters to every other city, so why not this one?

She’s pretty swamped at the moment—plenty of material to sift through, I’m sure, but here’s another one, just in case.

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I’ll Put You on Z-List

Disclaimer 1

There are few first date conversations in this world stranger than describing your experience as Fake Miss America in the middle of the Mongolian desert. Perhaps explaining how, the following month, you were Fake Miss Canada in the middle of the Mongolian wilderness would trump this. I’m not entirely sure.

In any case, I now have it in my repertoire of Unexpected Anecdotes to Share on First Dates. Which have occurred, in case you were wondering. I also have them to share on here, because, happily, life has taken a turn for the miraculously ordinary (I have a job! That I love!).

Enjoy. I did.

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Momentarily

You know, I really didn’t want to do a post about this.

About what comes after. After the “Afterisms,” if you will (Afterisim-isms? No. Too much.) After succumbing to real life in perhaps the most disorienting environment I’ve encountered, though it’s an environment I chose willingly. After accepting that I did choose it willingly, and it’s wonderful and fulfilling, and I am doing things I never thought possible, even though I am exhausted, spent and most days, teeming with insecurity, which you can probably discern from my posts.

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Too Long, Didn’t Read

Okay, this thing has been dead due to the aforementioned grand move to NY. Sorry about that. One job, two internships sorry. Moving between hostels and couch crashing in beautiful Brooklyn neighborhoods sorry. Getting lost and getting found and sighing at my phone sorry. I intern in social media now and know the importance of frequent updates sorry.

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The Year in Pictures

I’ll keep this short and sweet, having recently checked in on my Google Analytics for this thing only to discover…

a) About 80% of you spend approximately 1 minute on here, meaning there’s no way you read any of this.

b) Which means you just want to see something, instead. Re-generating at home has given me some time to sift through photos from my travels, which got the full Adobe treatment this weekend. Don’t read through this if you just want pretty pictures. (You probably didn’t read that, anyway. You just scrolled down.) They’re here, promise.

c) More people see this thing than I thought! SWEET.

Instead, I’ll just post a few golden credos gleaned from my time abroad.

On life:
Never be intimidated by people, as you never realize who’s just as intimidated by you. (Natalia, Canada, freelance journalist, model, and computer science and psychology major.)

On love:
When you have a doubt, you already have your answer. (Agata, France, model and ex-curator, living in Mexico City.)

On resilience:
Don’t let Panamanian thugs get you down. One day you’ll be in Milan shooting for Vogue and they’ll be adding you on Facebook. (Julian, America, but with a home base in Panama with his family. Model, who’s Vogue Italia‘s 6’1 answer to Tilda Swinton. Can you imagine growing up in Panama? His grandmother is a painter and was Diego Rivera’s assistant. I am seriously thinking of contacting him for a story on her.)

On all of those (and this is mine) – Don’t rush them.

All the king’s men… at the Terracotta Army in X’ian.


Fresh flowers in Milan.


My friend Sara explores the secret garden of a Milanese palazzo.


One of Milan’s winding roads.


Sunny shot of Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace, where the staff of Moses is (supposedly) housed. Mona Lisa? Please.


An appeasing display at the Spice Bazaar. Turkish Viagra, anyone?


Nice street shot outside the Opéra National.


Her eyes were watching the gods (@The Louvre). Still one of my favorites.


The Blue Mosque. Hardly any retouching required here.


Inside of the Grand Bazaar.


My favorite mural in Istanbul, located in the Taksim district.


Summer Palace in Beijing. Still one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.


Peering out over the rooftops at Summer Palace.


40 models on camel-back in the middle of the Gobi Desert for a fake beauty pageant, which I’m currently crafting a piece on. And that must be the strangest sentence you’ve ever read.

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On Hitting Return

So. I’m home now, and it’s as strange, and awkward, and comforting and disconcerting as waking up in one’s childhood room after sharing 4 different apartments with international strangers over the course of a year can be.

“It was all a dream” clichés aside (and isn’t that the cheapest way of ending things?), I guess this blog is now shifting from “scintillating, stimulating travel blog about my awesome adventures” to just, well, “…blog.” I don’t know if what will happen next—moving to New York and starting from the ground-up—will nearly be as scintillating, stimulating and, yes, awesome (you can take the girl out of California…) as the past year has been, but rest-assured, it’ll be well-chronicled if it is.

And what’ll you do there, loca? Moving clear across the country without a solid plan in place? In the throes of one of the worst economies in history? Are you NUTS?!

I’m aiming for something in digital content production or possibly even art direction, given my writing background and love of web design/any design in general. Stop berating me, Logic and Reason, I know it’s super competitive and I’ll be lucky if I can do a Starbucks run for some overstressed megalomaniac creative’s second assistant, but if I don’t do it now, I never will. For the first time in my life, I have the means, the motive, and nothing to lose (uh, except a year’s worth of savings if I can’t placate said second assistant and am out of a job. But that’s a tale for a different day.) And, hey—Logic, Reason—just FYI, I’m totally cool waitressing or temping for a while if need be. Internships are also great—preferred, in fact. So callate la boca. Gotta pay the outer-borough rent somehow.

Being back in my hometown, however, a small, suburban offshoot of San Diego, has got me feeling all kinds of nostalgic, as well as given me some time to meditate on just how surreal 2011 actually was. I didn’t realize how many stories I had to share until relaying my time abroad to my good friend and mentor, the effortless Chantal Gordon (girl played wing-woman to Andre Leon Talley!) over coffee at my beloved Café Bassam. Expect plenty of anecdotes to fill this thing in the coming weeks as I chill at home updating my portfolio (I like to draw, too!), hawking my C.V., planning my move and gorging on sugar-free pudding (God bless America…).

For now, here’s an interactive take on what this crazy year consisted of that I maybe, maybe am thinking of sending to prospective employers, as well as a few shots from my last-minute road-trip up the PCH to San Francisco to visit friends. Vintage Clapton and the California coastline…nothing quite like it.

Slightly cheesy? Maybe. But I sure had fun editing it. Did you spot the Mona Lisa? Small, right? Did you laugh at the cute Russian models snacking on apples at the Great Wall? Just how fierce is that dude’s strut in front of the Forbidden City? And is that reallyVenice, or are those just fake gondolas at The Venetian and you just got Rick Rolled? So many questions…


Creep-tastically cool marionettes at S.F.’s Musee Mechanique, which houses a plethora of arcade games from years past. It’s easily the most incredible and terrifying place I’ve ever visited. And I used to live in China.


Lunch is served at Fisherman’s Wharf.


Similar to Beijing, S.F. is chock-full of wonderful, whimsical public art.


Yet another reason I’m glad to be moving to a car-less city. We coughed up $68 bucks here to satiate my poor little VW Jetta. Really.


Exploring Golden Gate Park at sunset.


Obligatory. Like my shades? They’re Prada. And totally borrowed from my good friend whose couch we were crashing on.


Dolores Park on a perfect Saturday afternoon. Interesting cast of characters there, I tell ya.


Solitude along the PCH. This was somewhere in between Half Moon Bay and Monterey.

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The Irony of “If Only”

Seventeen-year-old Maria sits quietly in the back of the casting van, studying Beijing’s  traffic through the window’s dirty exterior.

“What’s wrong?” I say, prompting her to pull her headphones from her ears. A wisp of a girl from rural Russia, she is shy, soft-spoken and kind; today she radiates a lingering sadness in place of the usual teenage cheer she greets me with each morning. She is turning 18 next week and has never set foot in a nightclub. This is her first trip as a model. She shrugs.

“No work,” she says, turning towards me. “My roommate… work every day. What is wrong with me?”

This is why the most confident, interesting, and beautiful women I know aren’t models. They’re med students, they’re editors, they’re chefs, they’re kindergarten teachers—they’re wholesomely “normal,” in any profession that validates their sense of self-worth through hard work rather than the dismissive glance of a tired casting director.

When I started writing this blog, I started it with the sole intention of keeping it travel-based, sharing my adventures with family, friends, and even internet randoms who might somehow stumble upon the page (and it happens–got my first-ever fan letter from a stranger last week! Say what?). But after a year of whetting my wanderlust through these strange means, I feel this entry is necessary as a sort of public service announcement to those who may be misguided by the glinting veneer of this strange, strange subculture.

Models—at least female ones, but we’ll get to their male counterparts some other time—are ragingly insecure. Even the most arrogant* I’ve encountered fall to pieces over a missed booking or coolly appraising glance from a Client. (Captial C, thank you.)

*I’ve always considered aggressive narcissism to be the byproduct of insecurity—after all, if you’re talented, people will recognize it without your braying acknowledgment.

At 25, I’m no longer afraid to admit this to myself. Modeling is just something I did for awhile, like any hobby you fixate on for a brief period of time. It’s not who I am.

You learn to appraise your physical exterior with the objectivity of buying something at the supermarket. I’m acutely aware of what’s “wrong with me”: the ability to comfortably shrug on “gargantuan” size-6 pants after two weeks of living in Italy; pale, sensitive skin that turns cherry-tomato red after a simple scrubbing or crass remark; unmanageably coarse Persian hair that simply refuses to stand still. I accept these things and acknowledge them. I see them in the bathroom mirror each morning and have learned to love them in the way only you can when growing into yourself. And it’s not like I need a sartorially-refined Greek chorus of art directors to point these out—after all, participating in a fake beauty pageant in the middle of Inner Mongolia isn’t exactly Vogue Italia. But at 17 or in a different mindset, all of this vocalized “wrongness” can destroy you.

“If only you could just…”

Lose 10 pounds (that’s everyone). Grow 2 inches (everyone not 5’11.). Tweak your nose a bit (Two people. One went through with it.) Fix that smidge of a birthmark on your left wrist (One. She got a tattoo instead.)

“You would be perfect.”

I’m not that jaded. All women have this internal voice. It’s often supplemented by the subtle shoulder-jabbing of advertising. It’s just that with those who choose to market their exterior as a profession–and, yes, they must acknowledge it is a choice–all of these “If Only’s” are publicly acknowledged. Loudly, countless times (sometimes in Chinese). The ultimate irony, perhaps, lies in the clichéd teenage girl’s mounting feelings of inferiority while flipping through the pages of a magazine, not realizing that those who comprise its pages are perhaps more insecure than she is. And, usually, they’re just teenagers, too.

As for me, I’m cool. I think I’m done with this. I’ve peeked through looking glass—or, rather, shop window—and decided it’s just not a world I want to inhabit any longer. Maybe I’ll change my mind one day. But for now, I’m perusing paid internships and places to live in NYC.

The most interesting and beautiful women I know aren’t models, though they may assume that identity right now. They’re people—imperfectly and gloriously so. Maybe one day they’ll realize that, too. If only.

Here are some snaps from Italy to distract from the rant. Promise to be funnier next time.


Professions of faith inside Milan’s Duomo, the 4th largest cathedral in the world and the only Gothic cathedral in Italy. Notre Dame, who? (see below)

Interior shot of Teatro alla Scala, the famed Italian opera house where we saw Giselle, gratis. My friend in Italy is best friends with its ushers. They love her there–as does everyone. She’s just one of those people.


The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which now houses Prada, Gucci, and, yes McDonald’s.


Surveying the new kids in town at Milan Fashion Week.


Rehearsal for Jil Sander, where, later, its very talented creative director, Raf Simons, presented his final collection.


The best models at Milan Fashion Week were to be found off-runway.


Having a moment at Venetian Carnivale.


The Swan Queen reigns supreme in Venice.


Wouldn’t be a post about Venice without a few Gondolas in row–er, tow. Yeah, yeah. Bad one, but I had to.


Some of the masks were just insane. A good day for a disguise, no?


Embraces at Lake Como, where we passed the time with a $2.00 bottle of wine and morose couple-stalking. Was a beautiful day.

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Cities as People, and People in Cities.

If I’m self-absorbed enough to believe you’ve been following this thing from the start, you’ll notice that each time I depart, I make a quick list of what I’ll miss the most from each destination. Be it the subtle shift of cultural nuances, the personal curation of history, cross-continent carousing, or just wandering aimlessly with a good soundtrack, there’s a whole lot of things I find myself longing for as I pass through customs each time. But, you’ll also note, at the end of each list follows perhaps the most valuable thing I’ve acquired in each place—the people. (A self-professed social hoarder, I try vigilantly to keep in touch with everyone I’ve met in this year of travel—an index that comes in quite handy when planning last-minute trips to Italy, where I’ll be going next week. Tell me stuff to do there!)

I’ve also come to realize that cities are people, too. Each has their idiosyncrasies that make you wholly enamored and exasperated at the same time. And each is as bold and memorable as those you encounter dwelling within them, even temporarily.

Mexico City? She’s that buttoned-up, all-knowing, effortlessly cool older sister who pulls double duty in confessional on Sunday after crawling back into her window post downtown all-nighter. She nods primly to her parents and elders, volunteers on weekends and wears a subtle perfume to mask lingering traces of Mezcal. Alone, she’s loud and brash and makes you laugh harder than anyone else with her refinery of region-specific vulgarities (a la verga, guey!) and passes you a cool flask under your desk during third period. And though typically barefaced, she always, always has a tube of screaming red lipstick stashed in her conservative leather messenger bag.

Beijing, meanwhile, keeps to herself. (Yes, I’m making all of them female, just for lazy metaphorical purposes. Gender re-assignment is welcome.) First impressions: reserved, futuristic and cold—but talk to her for an hour or so and you’ll glean a lush history lesson while waiting for her to continue the story. She wants you to discover the winding rows of Hutongs, smoky, saturated street markets, hidden views of cultural monuments and arcing temples that lie beneath her metallic exterior. Really, she does. But you need to ask her first, and you must ask politely—most of all, you need to speak her language. A translation book may be necessary. But she’ll make sure you find your way.

Istanbul, well, she’s a bit confused at the moment. Stuck in a moment of self-discovery as she shifts from tradition with trepidation, you’ll find her awkwardly trying on new clothes (Doc Martens, miniskirts) and lingering in nightclubs and galleries as often as you will having family supper and kneeling to daily prayer. Sometimes she’s lofty and introspective by the seaside; sometimes she shares her deepest secrets with you over ancient ruins. Her European elegance is underscored by her reticence to change, but her resilience—through natural disasters and centuries of political upheaval—is her most attractive feature. And she loves, loves, loves to cook.

I met the city/girl of my dreams last weekend, though, after a quick birthday trip to Paris, where I was lucky enough to intersect with good friends. A few visuals are below. This Smartphone photography-tweaking thing is getting to be a bit obsessive.

Entrance to the Louvre. Hey! The Mona Lisa is actually really, really small! And it’s actually across from the biggest painting in the museum, Veronese’s frenetic, huuuuge “The Wedding Feast at Cana.” Talk about misdirection. Can I also mention that the Louvre is the only museum I’ve visited in the world that only lists descriptions for its paintings in French?

France loves fonts. Lots of ‘em. Even their typography on simple street signs and at cafes is glorious, like this one above.

Totally obligatory I’m-in-front-of-the-Eiffel-tower! shot. I was really happy, despite my “whatevs, man” half-smile.

The Monmarte Basilica. See those people at its base? They sang me “Happy Birthday”.

Self-explanatory.

Birthday cake? Crepe with fresh whipped cream, dark chocolate, (French) vanilla ice cream, and almonds.

My favorite shot of the bunch. There’s a window that peeks into the Louvre before its entrance, and this dear young girl was feeling curious.

Big wishes inside of the Metz Catherdral, located just outside of Paris.

Also, speaking of cities, I come home to the sandy limbs of San Diego in three weeks. And then, as mentioned before, I plan to move to New York this spring. And I am terrified.

Wait ’till you meet that city. She’s absolutely nuts. You’re gonna love her.

 

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Drawing Lines (Both Parallel and Fault)

In so many ways, Istanbul reminds me of Mexico City. Both are relatively conservative, venerable cities of contradiction, as relatively conservative, venerable cities with a large population of youth are expected to be (Istanbul boasts half of its population under 28—lucky me!)

In the busy streets of the Taksim district, patterned Hijabs commingle with salon-perfect blonde and youth-in-revolt asymmetrical bobs; in the seaside neighborhood of Ortakoy, the reserved curves of Mosques clash with their more commercial neighbors of Carrefour, cafes and lingerie shops; and, just about anywhere, unnerving gazes of the opposite sex appraise for just a moment too long before studying the ground out of habit. Sex is a contraband commodity here (and I mean that in the metaphorical sense, of course)—the irony lying in the fact that on a very surface level, in modeling-related terms, one can expect a full week of transparent lingerie castings administered by a quiet young Muslim assistant.

(“Istanbul is a sexy market,” I heard repeated countless times before my arrival. Which, to this I say, if “sexy market” directly translates to “gain 3 kg of winter weight and get approving once-overs from famously fickle Turkish clients,” which, in turn, has made me pretty busy over the past few weeks, then bring on the baklava.)

As with most of Latin America and Europe (note the exclusion of my motherland), life is deliciously, if not sometimes annoyingly, languid. Five minutes means one hour, one hour means two, “later” means “tomorrow”, and “maybe” almost always means “you better remind me again in five minutes” (repeat cycle). Unlike China, or even home, people linger here. And they enjoy every “five minutes” of it.

Also like Distrito Federal, Istanbul is a city that quite literally rests upon its history. Whereas the Spaniards, and, later, after the quake of 1985, its more modern-day denizens, rebuilt and restructured the grid of D.F. on the Aztec’s original city-on-a-lake of legend, fragments and landmarks from both Constantinople (see: Galata Tower, Basilica Cistern) and the Ottoman Empire (Topkapi Palace, The Grand Bazaar) rest below and amidst metropolitan life. The skeleton of the great Walls of Constantinople infiltrates the seaside, now impassively guarding suburban houses and power lines with a half-hearted shrug. (It should also be noted that D.F. and Istanbul have an affinity for tectonic hot zones in common, as well, with Istanbul resting directly between the Eurasian and African plates—what is it with former empires and earthquake zones?) And, just as these great cities sleep and shift and transform on their collective myths and fault lines, so do I.

And, so, my transforming act (this time perhaps the third and final one) has begun again. The structural steel, Blade Runner-like futurism of Beijing’s daily run has been replaced (when the weather’s nice) with waterside glimpses of the Bosphorus; the slangy American/Chinese “O.K.la” has shifted to the Turkish “tamam”; amazing connections have been forged yet again with all of the anecdotes that they comprise, like dancing to Shakira until 3am on Christmas Eve at a Mexican bar with your Brazilian roommate–followed by 13 hours worth of shooting leopard-and-sequin-spangled evening gowns in a post Tequila-induced daze. Again. Istanbul reminds me of Mexico City in so many ways.

Oh, and I’m going to Paris for my 25th birthday. Just because I’ve never been. And, well, officially entering your mid-20’s seems marginally less daunting when done in style.

Here are a few Instragrammed visuals from my time here so far.


Famed view of the Blue Mosque. It’s called this because of the blue tiles that score its interior.


Galata Tower, one of the oldest in the world. There is also, apparently, a nightclub inside. Not kidding.


Just before sunrise over the Bosphorus. Was told by a friend in China I must find a spot for this. I did.


Eerie interior of the Cistern Basilica, which once was the water supply for all of Topkapi Palace.


Turkish Mezas, or appetizers, during Christmas Dinner.


Aforementioned Mexican bar.


Aforementioned Brazilian roommate.

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