A Non-Immigrant Visa Holder’s Guide to Barbados 

August 26, 2023
Bridgetown, Barbados
Carpark at Pebble Peach

Below is a guide to Barbados if you happen to find yourself stuck there in limbo as you wait for your passport to be returned to you so you can resume working and living in the United States.  

1.  Rent a car. The island can be driven across in 40 minutes, and if you can drive, it’s worth renting your own car to explore all that Barbados has to offer. If you don’t, you’ll either be stuck in your hotel, be subject to $40 taxis, or be left to navigate the white private buses that hurtle down the badly maintained roads that stop at a whim, with only loosely defined routes that tend to change while you’re on them. They usually do not have AC, blast ear-splittingly loud Bajan local radio stations, and they may or may not take you to where you need to go.

Marvel at the fact that you’ve never rented a car by yourself in Barbados before, despite having gone fourt imes. Think of how much you’ve grown, and inhale sharply every time you hit a pothole. Every time you successfully reverse or parallel park, think about how you used to question how every idiot in the world seemed to be able to drive a car with ease while you had recurring nightmares of being behind the wheel of a vehicle you didn’t know how to drive, zooming down a highway way too fast. Once you learned how to drive, those nightmares continued, but the vehicle featured would be replaced with a motorcycle (which you don’t know how to drive).

Driving is a form of freedom, the promise of being able to take yourself anywhere you’d like, and renting a car lets you take yourself to any of the many beautiful beaches that dot the coastline to increase your chances of skin cancer dramatically. I’d recommend Go-RentACar, which can be picked up from the airport and offers full collision coverage for $30 a day. They told me I could bring the car back completely destroyed if I wanted to, as long as my gas tank was replenished. Remember that they drive on the left here.

2. When you get to the embassy, which is not where Google Maps says it is, make sure to bring at least two books and your Nintendo Switch and a laptop, and maybe even lunch. You will be waiting for at least four hours, half of that in a parking lot under the hot Barbadian sun. You should wear clothes suitable for an interview because you need to convince some person that you’re an upstanding member of society not trying to illegally immigrate in their great country, so prepare to sweat through your long sleeved button up shirt.

Rehearse the line, “I can’t possibly stay in the States, my mom would be so upset!” if they were to ask your long-term plans of living in the U.S.. You cannot bring a phone or any electronic device, so if you forget your books and laptop and Switch, bring a single New Yorker, which you will read front to back, and then go back to the beginning to read the cartoons. Once you’re done with that, you can re-read the Crossword already filled in by you and your boyfriend at the back, going down each clue and matching it with its answer. You might learn something new.

3. Make friends with any other Western-looking person at the embassy. They are most likely also Australian, and potentially alone and desperate for company throughout the week like you will be. Staying in touch will be handy to exchange updates on when you or they get their passports back from DHL. Make friends with a sister and brother duo who seem friendly, who text you to make plans to “link up for dinner”. Text them about dinner plans to go to the Oistin’s Fish Fry, which is basically where everyone goes on Friday night, and watch as they completely ghost you, only to awkwardly make eye contact when you see them at the Fish Fry in question later that evening. Other people may be more normal, so it’s best to hedge your bets and speak to at least three other embassy-goers so that you have someone to have dinner with during the week.

4. Do not trust the embassy, or DHL. The embassy website will change your visa status to ‘Issued’ a day or two after you leave the embassy. Do not wait to receive a tracking number, as it may come two weeks after you’ve returned home. Book your flight home nail-bitingly close to receiving your passport. You will have to go to DHL multiple days in a row (which is also not where it is according to Google Maps), and wait 2-3 hours each time. Do not give up if they said no, they might have it ten minutes later just as you’re about to hit ‘Rebook my flight’. Bring your pasta leftovers, because they have a microwave in the waiting area. They also have a weight machine in case you need to work out while waiting.

5. If you are a woman traveling alone, practice your best stony-faced polite non-response as you will need to wield it regularly. Men, both Barbadian and tourists, will attempt to speak to you, at an unprecedented rate. Stop reading and get up from your beach chair to swim in the ocean even if you’re in the middle of a really good part any time you see a man approach you to speak to you, so that you can avoid him. Pretend like you don’t use Instagram so that you don’t need to give it out. Do not work in your hotel lobby and believe the man who tells you the WiFi is better in the bar. It’s not. He just wants to buy you a drink, and being focused on your laptop is not a strong enough protection against unwanted conversations with strange middle aged men. Tell yourself that at least it’s clear that you’re somewhat attractive here, and can always return if you’re feeling ugly back in New York, the land of unnecessarily hot people.

6. Go on a turtle snorkeling tour that you find on TripAdvisor. I went to one run by someone called Hayden Payne. The boat will offer free watered down rum punch, and be filled with older white sunburnt British tourists and a family of Barbadians who take turns being incredibly sea sick. Don’t worry when one of them throws up at the site you’re supposed to jump and swim in, the vomit will dissipate almost immediately even though the water is crystal clear.

Do not put your snorkel mask over your sunglasses because it’ll make a bunch of water seep into your mask and cause you to panic, forcing you to adjust it in the water, which will then make you realize you feel like you’re drowning if you only use your legs to tread water. Remain calm as the instructor holds you hostage and forces you to pose for photos in a school of fish while water keeps getting into your snorkel spout. He’ll tell you to put your big girl pants on, and you should, because the photos he takes on his GoPro are going to be straight fire and amazing for your vacation photo dump. Everyone on social media will love them.

7. Go to Cuz’s fish shack when you start your trip, and order a double fish cutter with cheese. Smother that thing with the giant bottle of “Onion Vidalia” sauce and eat it by Pebble Beach. Get another one when you leave. Feel good about yourself when the guy who runs the parking lot tells you he’s done his calculations and can tell that you’ve been to Barbados before, because you’re driving normally and know what you’re doing.

   8. Be prepared for flight delays. As soon as you realize your flight is delayed by over eight hours, immediately find a wall outlet that hasn’t been colonized and set up camp. Alternate between Season 2 of The Summer I Turned Pretty, playing Overcooked 2 on Nintendo Switch, struggling to write the second chapter of your book, and learning that you cannot download Kindle books on your phone because Amazon refuses to pay Apple for the commission of using their payment system. You will want to move away from the main gate where everyone else is, because a man will start playing “Jammin’” on his guitar really loud, competing against multiple families freaking the fuck out on the phone with JetBlue. Don’t worry about trying to find out about delayed flight compensation—that’s a European thing. They might offer you $12 meal vouchers, which you can redeem at the only open restaurant in the whole terminal, which is Subway. Try to remain calm when the desk people give you a  middle seat after you’ve asked three times for a window.

9. Don’t forget that it’s humid AF. Remember that the water is velvet with humidity, and you need at least 10-15 minutes after leaving your air-conditioned hotel room before your sunglasses or your film camera will be usable, as the lenses will fog up immediately. Do not leave your swimsuits out to dry outside, as they never will, they will just get wetter somehow.

10. Go to Payne’s Bay Beach and see a guy called Skinny on the north end of the beach. Park across from One Sandy Lane, where Rihanna’s villa is located, and walk through a random alley way just south of it filled with debris and mirrors. You can rent a beach chair or an umbrella from Skinny for $10 Barbadian dollars for the entire day, and he will fetch you a beer or food from the bar 100feet away whenever you want. The water here is calm and clear, and at low tides (early in the morning), you can walk north across the ocean wall outside One Sandy Lane to get to Sandy Lane beach, which is usually accessible only through the resort or by boat.
11. Prepare to be bored. Being bored is a gift in today’s world, so relish the opportunity to be completely alone and to have so much time at your disposal that you run out of episodes of The Summer I Turned Pretty. Bask in the lack of responsibility and the access to salt water and fresh Caribbean air.  

If you cannot stand the boredom, drive to Animal Flower Cave, or the nature resort in the middle of the island. Miami Beach has great local food trucks only open on Friday morning. Do not take furtive photos of local women as they will march up to you and demand to see the photos, which you’ll tell them regrettably are on film.

12. Be nostalgic about every version of yourself that has come to Barbados before—the one with a long-term boyfriend at a fancy five star resort, the one alone in a hostel taking chaotic white vans because you couldn’t drive for $2, the one that was also alone at a resort popular only with the 60+ British couple set that your company booked you. Barbados is an incredibly specific place for an Australian to be so familiar with, and there’s not much to do, so it’s the perfect backdrop to cry to your therapist about how far you’ve come, and how much you’ve changed. There’s something about the wet air, the hot sunshine and the laborious visa process that puts you in a liminal space of reflection. You can drive now, after all, and only needed to take advantage of the full collision coverage because you overestimated the curb and scratched the front of the car.

Split Habitus 

A week spent in a southern French surf town

July 7, 2023
Biarritz, France
Beachgoers at Cote des Basques 

  Last month, I was in Biarritz, France, which is a small beach town on the coast of western France, directly opposite of Marseille. It reminded me so much of Sydney, where I grew up. 

Firstly, the coastline was uncannily, freakishly similar to Sydney’s. There are a string of beaches connected by dramatic cliffs, small coves and inlets that lead to the next, and a walking path that leads you along it. Similarly, in Sydney, there’s the famous Bondi to Bronte Coastal walk, a 2.3km path against the cliff. They look exactly the same, down to the angles you view the beaches from on the walk, and the rock formations that dot the coastline. It felt like I was looking at the school project of the higher being who made the world as if they were playing Rollercoaster Tycoon, hit a J, got real lazy and just decided to copy and paste an entire coastline instead. 

Secondly, it’s super duper white. Jill and I hit up a random gallery opening that we were handed a flyer to on the street, and we ended up being the only people to A) buy art from that opening and B) take advantage of the tattoos being offered downstairs (this is a week after I announced to anyone who would listen that I was no longer getting tattoos because of my psoriasis). We missed dinner completely and ended up yakking it up with some expats who had moved to Biarritz from Boston after years of going back and forth. They were trying to convince me to move by describing how safe the town was, how everyone knew everyone else. 

The guy I spoke to has a teenager daughter, and said that he barely worries about her because she can’t really get away with anything when everyone in town basically knows her and can surveil her ass 24/7. These people were white, the gallery owners were white, most of the patrons of that event were white. When I hear someone cite ‘safety’ as the major drawcard to live somewhere, it feels like a dog whistle for ’not diverse’ Biarritz is beautiful, and it’s safe, and it’s so homogenous, in the way that certain parts of Sydney feel. 

The third reason it reminded me of Sydney is the water. Biarritz is known as the town that brought surfing to Europe, and Jill and I stayed right on Côte des Basques, the most famous surfing beach, at a surf lodge called Hotel Carlina. Same gorgeous ocean stretching into infinity, same salty stinging feeling in my eyeballs, same washing sand out of my crevices days after. I took the kid’s bunk bed room which faced the ocean. Every night I’d fall asleep and every morning I’d wake to the sound of waves crashing against the stone wall at high tide. 

There’s something jarring about the moment you realize your relationship with a thing has changed because of time and age. There’s a quote I just heard on that Prime show The Summer I Turned Pretty. Summer's the same. We're the ones who are changing.

Some things are obvious—like loud clubs in Koreatown with bad music, long lines and mean door people. That used to feel like the possibility of an adventure at 22. Now at 30, it feels like punishment. I’d rather be at home. What I realized in Biarritz is that my upward shift into socioeconomic mobility has completely shifted my relationship with the ocean.

When I was in my mid-20s, I went back to Sydney over the Christmas break and met up with an old friend of mine who had friends who lived in the Eastern Suburbs (the more affluent beach-adjacent neighborhoods). My family is from an hour west from that, deep in the heart of immigrant Sydney, past all the landmark and cliches that come to mind when you think of Australia. 


Where I grew up, in the Western Suburbs, there were barely any white people, especially ones that had blue eyes, blonde hair and a proclivity to surf. My schoolmates and neighbors were primarily Lebanese, Macedonian, Vietnamese and Korean, and my neighborhood was defined by loud, customized cars low to the ground and bass-heavy sound systems that would thump past our house in a swell of noise and movement.

There’s a specific culture I grew up in colloquially known as “Westie”. It’s a specific accent, style, type of car, way of speaking that betrayed your affiliation with an area of Sydney that was known for its immigrant demographic. The Wikipedia article says that “Westie became a rhetorical device to designate the other Sydney: spatially, culturally and economically different from the more prosperous and privileged Sydneysiders of the North, East and South.”

    So, back to this day with my friend and her friend. It was a beautiful, blue-skied beach day, and I tagged along to go shopping with them. At some point, we walked past Bondi Beach, which was rammed with people. My friend’s friend said, “It’s probably all tourists and Westies”. Before I had time to react, my friend laughed at the comment and said “true”. 

I watched them talk derisively about the type of people on the beach below them. People who were passé enough in their eyes, to visit the most popular beach on a nice day. They grouped Westies (people like me) with tourists—people who were not from here. Outsiders, foreigners, losers. 

On most days, where I’m from in Sydney is so beyond any reference familiar to people I meet in New York that it just doesn’t matter. I’m just from Sydney. That’s it. In my teen years and in moments like this, where I’m from feels like hailing from a foreign land, a second version of Sydney that is filled with Vietnamese grocery stores where my dad trades the quail eggs he breeds in his backyard for pho and bun bo hue ingredients. A version of Sydney that is far from the water. Going to the beach was a special occasion growing up. It required preparation and travel - it was a day trip to a place that other people got to live in. A version that I only got to visit. A version that for me as a teenager, represented ample opportunity and access, a way of speaking and inhabiting the world that I would never ever pass in.

More than ten years later, I still don’t live on the beach, but I belong to the hoards of freelancers and upwardly mobile childless remote workers who depart for beaches in Europe, in the Caribbean, in Florida, seemingly whenever we want. Right now, I’m writing this on my balcony at a resort in Barbados, waiting for my passport and new visa to be returned to me so I can continue flying around and living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. A lot has changed.

In Biarritz, I woke up with the ocean in my ears and spent my days impulsively buying art, going to fancy restaurants, floating on my back in the salty water thinking about how strange it was to be able to take something like the ocean for granted. 

Despite that, even now, at 30, the worlds that I now inhabit can bring up the same feelings of alienation I felt back then. It doesn’t matter what I do, the person I am now, my experiences or my income level. There’s always going to be a part of me that feels like it’s from a second version of the world that others get to confidently inhabit. It feels normal until all of a sudden I look around and realize I’m still somewhere inside, the Westie who is just visiting. 

I wonder if people can smell it on me, this otherness. I’ve felt in some ways like I’ve been cosplaying being part of this world. On the outside, I definitely look the part.

I am so lucky to have met incredible people who have made me feel as though I am a part of them, that I am cut from the same cloth, where the background track playing in a loop about class and otherness in my head gets muted to the point of imperceptibility. These days, I feel more and more like I belong rather than not - for all intents and purposes, the reason that girl that day in Sydney was comfortable making fun of ‘tourists and Westies’ in front of me was because she thought I was one of them, that I wasn’t like the people she was speaking to. 

There’s a term in sociology called ‘Split Habitus’, which describes the phenomenon of having one set of ‘habits’ or a mindset associated with growing up in certain economic classes, and then having those ways of being directly come into conflict with the behaviors and ways of seeing the world associated with a different, higher economic class. The two modes of being end up having to co-exist and navigate the existence of each other — two opposing ways of being — existing in the same body. Some days I can honor both parts with peace and acceptance, and on other days traveling through paradise, I feel like I’m playing a part I can never get used to.

This life is nothing I could have ever imagined for myself, and being by the ocean tends to stir that up the most. This feeling sends me into a spiral, but I’m also deeply grateful for it. I hope that never lose sight of what a miracle it is to be able to float in the ocean and feel the sun on my skin. To marvel at how places can be the same, and notice how different I am as the person who is just visiting. 

Mothers Stand Still...

so that us daughters can look back and see how far we’ve come.

1994Sydney, FranceMe and my mum


“We mothers stand still so our daughters can look back to see how far they've come.”

This is a line spoken by Ruth Handler, the inventor of Barbie in the new Barbie movie. WHEW. This line took me out. The overall movie was fine, it was funny and saccharine and predictable, but this line alone followed me around like a lost dog for a week or so after I watched it. Levina, the friend I watched it with, also an eldest daughter of immigrants, started weeping immediately after hearing that line. 

I looked up the movie afterwards on Reddit to see what the people were saying, and some interpreted the quote as if it was an insult to motherhood, that the quote implied mothers sacrifice their careers and personal lives — they stand still — so that their daughters can leapfrog them in success and fulfillment. 

As a card-carrying eldest daughter of immigrants, the quote is more about the quiet tragedy of being from a different place than your child is born in. The fragmentation of cultures and language that occurs in the journey of migration. When you don’t speak the predominant language, where your food, your music, the way you discipline your children is unfamiliar and strange. 

Some immigrant mothers have had an entire other life’s worth of memories tied to a place and language beyond the reach of their children. 

I was born in Australia, and my mum was born in Vietnam. She moved to Australia in the late 80s because she was curious and seized an opportunity that was presented to her, lying to her family and knowing essentially nothing about the country she would go on to live in for 30+ years. She moved because she is curious, and adventurous, and brave. Things that have unfortunately never really crossed my mind as her child, because of the enormous cultural gulf of understanding that lies between us, rendering her into a 2d figure. 

My mum was hit by her mum, and so she hit me, until I hit puberty. I remember her saying, “you’re lucky - I can’t hit you here in Australia like I would in Vietnam”. I remember her telling me that I couldn’t sleep over at people’s houses, or stay out past a certain time because I am “not an Australian girl. You’re a Vietnamese girl.” There were so many examples like this, little moments that showed me the jarring differences between us. I was a child who didn’t listen, who laughed and spoke and talked back in a language she couldn’t plant her two feet in. 

I don’t know how it must have felt to assimilate into a new country, trying to make a living as a working class family while navigating a raise a kid you don’t really understand. Where do personal dreams and ambition fit into the heirarchy of needs? It’s somewhere below making sure you have enough money to get groceries.  

Daniel Kwan’s ecceptance speech when he accepted the Oscar for Best Director for EEAAO said, “ We are all products of our context. We are all descendents of someone. Thank you to my father who fell in love with movies because he needed to escape the world and thus passed that love of movies on to me. My mother,  who was a creative soul,  who wanted to be a dancer, an actor, a singer, but who could not afford the luxury of that life path, and then gave it to me.”

The reality is I don’t know if my mum is a creative soul. I couldn’t see much of her beyond caretaker and disicplinarian. 

I was the one who left for the other side of the planet, to create a life of my own away from my family. I look back at the family and the mother I’ve left behind in my writing, in my conversations with my therapist. When it is convenient for me. I’m sure my mum’s eyes never left my receding back, while I turned my gaze outwards onto the world, onto building a career in New York, falling in love, falling out of love, navigating a life that felt lightyears away (and still does) from her figure in bed, watching hours of Chinese dramas on TV in the home I had rushed to leave more than a decade ago. 

I would think about our home, my name scrawled in permanent marker on every single drawer of our inbuilt closet, the kitchen cupboards yellow with mildew, the plastic chairs we would sit on to eat dinner, and think about how that memory has stood still, and my mum inside it. It’s remained untouched in my head as a moment for me to compare my journey to, it’s my origin point, look how far I’ve come.

In reality, my mum’s life never stood still. She’s a much different woman than the one whose roof I hated being under as a teenager. She’s mellowed out, she’s physically much healthier because she’s doing a job that requires her to be on her feet now. Things are a little easier for her now. 

She laughs and apologizes when I bring up the things I remember from childhood that have landed me for years in therapy. “

I didn’t know better,” she says.

She’s been on her own journey of growth just as much as I have, both of us on opposite sides of the world going to work, washing dishes, taking care of dogs in countries we were not born in. She’s changed careers multiple times, navigated death and crises and then dealt with me, her first-born, leaving to go as far away as I could, as soon as I was able to, just like she did. It embarrasses me how easy it is to reduce her to a spot on the horizon for me to compare my own journey to, instead of a person dealing with fear, joy, mundanity just like me.

It feels like we’re at the beginning of a big boom in immigrant-led narratives in books, tv and movies, but sometimes the character of the immigrant parent feels like a caricature, reduced to only the tropes of lost dreams and stunted communication. 

It’s in our nature to locate where we are by comparing ourselves to the versions of ourselves and our families that exist only in memory. Maybe because it’s impossible to compare it to the person you are yet to become, to really see where you are going when everything feels so brand new. We fail to see the cycles and patterns that repeat in us from the places and people we come from.

For me, it’s because I don’t really have a present context of who my mum is to be able to replace the version of her I keep in my head.   

I’m trying to change that. I’ve been calling her on Facebook Messenger to ask her to tell me stories about what happened to her on the way to Australia. I’m in the process of putting together a book proposal (!) and it’s based on our tessellating lives, the patterns repeated between us. It’s usually early evening for me, early morning for her. The first time I called her, she had her fluorescent work vest on and was 15 minutes from leaving the house. I still haven’t figured out how to push her to give me texture or details about her stories that go beyond the broad summaries she’s giving me, but I’m so excited to keep calling her and to keep finding out. It feels like I’m unthawing my frozen mum from a lifetime of being stuck in my head as a one note person, a landmark in the past I can compare myself to. 



Thoughts on Turning 30

May 28, 2023
Kingston, New York 
Tessa and Jill

    When I asked my friends how it felt to turn 30, the response I received was mostly that it was as big a deal as you made it. Most of my friends were card-carrying 30-something year olds for years before me. I felt like I got it - more money, better relationships and a sense of self, less fucks to give on whether people liked you. I could get behind it. After going through what I thought was my Saturn’s Return in my 20’s (only to find out it actually only began this year), I was ready to GTFO of my 20’s. I was ready to join all my confident, wise, disposable income-having friends in their 30’s. 

For me, it felt like a heavy lingering smell in the air entering the room a few months before my birthday. I really, really felt it. I can be overly sentimental, and birthdays are my national holiday for unecessarily intense self-reflection. Some stuff that came up:

- I’ve seen a few important friendships recently fall apart, and I took them all pretty hard. Friends who didn’t really try to keep up or stay in touch, friends who didn’t have a handle on their insecurities and projected them onto me, friends who never showed up or got in touch when I decided it wasn’t my responsibility to show up over and over again without reciprocation. The way I grew up meant that I’m constantly looking for signs that people don’t actually love me, that I’m constantly looking for ways to be a good girl to keep those relationships. By showing up relentlessly, by being compassionate even when it blows past my own needs, by being helpful and fun and good company. What I ended up realizing was that long-standing and important relationships shift and will continue to shift because we are all shifting, every single day. We’re constantly meeting and re-meeting each other and negotiating the shared future of our relationships. Change is the only thing we can plan for, and we can almost never plan for how other people act and change relationships we’re involed in. I have spent so much of my 20’s hyper-fixated on how everyone thinks of me, how much they love me. A little abacus in my heart counting every word, action, gesture. Being surrounded by dozens of people at my birthday party (maybe I was also on a little mushrooms) made me realize I was missing the forest of people who loved me for the handful of trees who no longer wanted me. Life is too short for that.

Image from @mysticmoonmedicine

- I had a plant ceremony recently that dealt primarily with darkness and shadow (in myself and in the world - I can only describe it as being put through a washing machine of hell), and it took me a few weeks of being in my white angsty man in a cabin era to allow my body to process how dark that experience was.

One version of me that has been hard to embrace, is the one that wants to be acknowledged and loved by others, and that self lives in the shadow that was confronted in that ceremony. It’s a desire that stretches into the deepest part of my smallest self, born from a childhood without support or love from others, and I’m so ashamed by it sometimes that it’s easier not to look. In not looking, I’m not giving myself the very thing I want — to be seen fully, by myself. I think it’s hard for even the most self-aware therapy nuts amongst us to be able to see fully behind the veil that protects us - the shitty behaviours, the secret anxieties, our common need to be cared for and loved. In purposefully squinting when looking at my shadow, I miss so much. I miss all the beautiful parts of me that are all mixed up with the people pleasing, the selfishness, the depression that has lived under my bed since I was a teenager. I can’t have one without the other. In avoiding the dark parts, I miss everything.

- I was under the impression that Asian women don’t get cellulite. I think it was something someone told me when I was 13, the age old cliche that Asian women don’t age (until we turn 70 and shrivel up into a prune). I’m starting to get cellulite, which has been accompanied by weight gain, and a new version of my body. I’ve been in the same 5lb weight range since I hit puberty.

Dealing with the physical changes of my body has returned me to a hyperfixation that has not been present in my life since I was in my early 20’s. I remember someone recently told me that women spend so much work and time getting used to the bodies and selves they cultivate, and then once you’re like, hell yeah,  I can navigate this, it switches up on you and the process starts again.


- To celebrate, I co-hosted a Memorial Weekend joint birthday party with my friend Jeremy at his home upstate. He barely has neighbors, at least not ones you can see or hear, a private creek and a hill that happens to be the perfect angle for a slip ‘n’ slide. We had 100 people come and eat hotdogs, dance, gab, and roll around in the grass, and a few of us stayed at the house and hung out the day after.

At one point my friend Jill was blowing bubbles in circles around her in a circle, my friend Trevor was doing handstands in the grass a few meters away, and my other friend Tessa was drinking a glass of wine in her bikini lying in the sunshine. We were fully in our bodies, making photos for fun, playing frisbee and being giddy 30-somethings in the sun. It was a wet dream for me, and everything I have ever wanted. To have fun with people who love me and can roll around in the grass with me.

I’ve spent the last ten years living in New York trying and trying to find the people who fit, who could love me. It felt like an impossible task because I spent so much time in my 20’s concerned with trying to become someone important and cool and consuquential. All of it has finally melted away to reveal an ironic truth - that I’m still just the same person I was at 15. It took me so much searching and fussing to simply return to her. Which is cool! And silly. I spent so much time searching for myself somewhere else when I was right here all along.

- I know less now than I ever have, and I know more now than I ever have, and thank god for that.

Image from @fariha_roisin’s IG Post, link to original video of his convo with Maya Angelou here

    Saying Goodbye 
     to Aida

    May 21, 2023
    Greenpoint, New York
    Aida and Ghost

    Aida left on a perfect New York spring day.  

    We spent most of the day cleaning her apartment, preparing it for my friend Athena who was moving in. She gave me a magic eraser and told me to put my ADHD to use, so I sat on her stairs and obsessively cleaned all the marks on her white walls, my bum scooting down each step one by one as I finished wiping the marks off each section.

    We sat in front of a plastic bin full of accouterments collected from a few years, like hair ties and cotton pads, and we sorted through the things she would bring with her to London, and the things that would be left behind on the sidewalk. Tampons without an applicator purchased specifically from Australia - keep.  Electrical detritus, macbook chargers - left on the street. I inherited a single orange wine cup, a Mac keyboard and magic mouse, and three tennis rackets. 


    Aida lived with me and my ex-boyfriend in our loft for a year before the pandemic. It was Aida’s first place after moving here from Sydney, and we were only separated by a janky sliding wooden door with a huge gap between the edge and the floor. There was no sound privacy to speak of, and our year living together was spent waking when the other woke up, having takeout dinners from Hungry?, bickering, buying groceries, celebrating Persian New Year by jumping over candles on the ground, watching movies and consoling each other when crises (there were many) came by.

    If it wasn’t for Aida, I wouldn’t have lived in my loft (my boyfriend at the time didn’t want us to live alone in that place without first sharing it with someone else), and she was present for the entire thing. Holding the 12ft ladder of a handyman perched at the top to install the disco ball on our 15ft high ceilings, hanging 16 NASA posters into a meticulous grid, buying plants, choosing furniture. I watched her bring two large suitcases in from Australia, drag them up the small staircase to her tiny lofted bedroom, and make a life for herself after never having left her parent’s home. 

        Then, I watched her pack everything back up to go to London. This time she has 6 suitcases. We had to put our full weight on them to be able to zip them up. 

    While we were packing her life up,  it struck me that it felt so easy to completely erase Aida’s existence in this apartment in a matter of two Magic Erasers and a few hours. It felt impossible that there had been four years of building friendships, going to work, buying things, selling things, hosting, crying, laughing, everything done and experienced and packed away in iCloud photo storage and six bulging suitcases. 

    There was so much to do the day she left. It felt like there wasn’t enough time until she needed to get into the Uber to go to JFK. I felt strangely calm, like I was about to see her again in a week or so, her Find My Friends icon  pulsing a 10 minute walk away from me at all times. 

    I took some quick photos of her and her friends Lauren and Nina, helped transport her suitcases downstairs, we said our quick goodbyes, and then she was gone. 

    I walked home with Ghost, and watched the shadows of the trees shimmer on the ground in front of me. I had a tote bag full of my inherited objects from the clean out. It was such a beautiful, still day, and one of my best friends had gotten into an Uber and left New York for good, the same casual way she came into my life four years ago. 

    I walked and felt the tightness in my chest that comes up when I think about all the people who have left in the ten years I’ve lived in this city. I thought about Aida, and my other Australian friend Jacinta who left a few years ago, my ex boyfriend who moved back to Australia, too. One by one they left, our pandemic pod scattered across the globe, years and years of life together coming to an unceremonious end for me, a new beginning for them.

    The heartbreak of living in New York is the transience of its inhabitants. To say goodbye time and time again, knowing it won’t be the last time you watch someone pull away in an Uber. Or the last time you inherit a household object that you will one day pass on to someone else when it’s your turn to watch the city recede from view. I can’t tell if it’s just a standard feature of the adult experience, or if it’s unique to this city, or something related to being in your late 20’s/early 30’s. All I know is that in living here, I am given endless opportunities by New York to be overwhelmed by the sensation that everything is changing so much, and so quickly, all the time. 

    Honoring the Teenager In Me

    May 7, 2023
    Greenpoint, New York
    Photo by Maddy Stoopack

       I’ve spent most of my adult years with the majority of my writing practice limited to quickly fired off emails, the writing heavy with passive aggressive corporate language. The automatic instinct to press ‘return’ twice and type “Best, Jess” is an impulse hard to shake...so I’m launching a blog!

    I just turned 30, and this new decade feels like a return to the teen I was in suburban Sydney: writing obsessively, reading 300 books in a year (for real — I was bullied and told I would never have a boyfriend. To quote my primary school bully, “Boys don’t like girls who read”), taking film photos of my classmates moving through our suburban lives, and attempts at creating art -- photos of the shadow of my hand against a tree, an out of focus portrait of myself gazing out of a window. I have always been that person, I just lost touch with her for a while.

    I had to spend my 20’s chasing a version of success that felt safe to me as a child of refugees. It was a vision built on the mirage of financial safety, in the only way that I thought was possible for someone like me (from a working class family, not coming from a background of art, as an Asian woman) - by being a corporate ho. 

    When I graduated from high school, I remember reading the entire college entry summary guide front to back and crossing out everything I knew I didn’t want to do. A bachelor’s in communications was the only thing I didn’t cross out, and it seemed a good a choice as any. My understanding of who I wanted to be was buried beneath what would end up being years of self examination and therapy to excavate, so I made my goals to what felt real to me - financial security and stability. 


    I am deeply grateful for the person I was in my 20’s. There were very real lessons I needed to learn by slowly expanding my circle of emotional and spiritual safety by taking small, calculated risks that built upon the last. I describe my patchwork career thus far as “random” (I’ve worked with: cricket protein, consumer handbags, sustainable group travel trips and tech startups), but as with all things in life, looking back now, it feels logical. Each new step was taken after finding the right footwear to from the ones prior to it. You get to where you need to go by taking tiny steps that feel like nothing until you realize all that nothing becomes soemthing real and consequential. 

    I don’t regret all the time I spent in my 20’s not writing or shooting. I was busy building a sense of safety in a loving, supportive relationship with someone for eight years who didn’t end up being the right person for me, but was the right person for the young person who left New York in 2013 with lanterns looking for herself (full quote from Emily Dickinson: “I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.”) I was busy learning how to ignore wanting other people’s validation and friendship, I was busy having fun. I was busy fucking around and finding out. I was busy building relationships with incredible people in New York who inspire me every day to try harder, be more emboided, to relax my anoos. 

    Hopefully this blog is a continuation of being on that path for me.

    Photos I took when I was 14 I recently found from my Flickr

    Starting a blog feels like a great way to return to writing and sharing and creating in the same way it was for me in that janky room in Yagoona, Sydney. Uncoupled from monetization and the instant affirmation of sharing on social media. A special secret pillow fort for me to write in and share photos on the internet. A room of my own.

    I had a conversation with Derek, who helped designed this website (thank you Derek! Get in touch with him if you want a cool slick website like mine), about teenage creative hobbies. That first touchpoint with creation and exploration for the pure sake of it, before the rest of life hit the gas. The distance between me and that person is so much closer than I imagined, and I’m so glad for it. It’s cool to have a blog again.

    I’m glad you’re reading this if you are. Thanks for being here. Feel free to email me if you ever have anything you want to share or ask: jess@scallionpancake.co.


    Some of the first film photos I ever took, age 16