🌻 courting the city
A good date is about anticipation, and anticipation is at its highest when you don't know what to expect—only what you can imagine. Venturing into an unfamiliar city produces a nervous high, like the first time meeting someone after only having known them through a screen. Digital street maps look nothing like their cobbled counterparts; past reviews never encapsulating the chaos of the whole. Urban exploration plays with the boldness of your intuitions, your ability to trace the contours of each angle and concrete curve, and the serendipity of finding resonance in diverse, dynamic space. That's why new cities make the best kind of dates, and why I prefer to travel alone: some encounters are too intimate to be shared.
My first big solo trip was to Taiwan. I lived that summer in a little apartment for four hundred dollars a month with five other students and one tiny bathroom among the six of us. My room had one dresser and one desk. Both were child-sized, yet I felt more adult than I ever had in my life. I chased crowds in Taiwan. I chased noise and novelty. Traversing night markets in narrow streets, full of vendors clamoring to sell their wares. Hopping on a speedboat in Danshui and watching my body get battered by the wind and sea. Taking Taipei's night buses to get off at unknown stops in unknown neighborhoods, watching apartment lights flicker off, one by one. And after I saw an entire building fade to dark, I waited on the cool metal bench for another bus to carry me home.
Sophomore year, I spent many weekends with San Francisco. Campus was suffocating and Palo Alto too uppity, so the city was the closest somewhere that felt like somewhere. There's so much character just in the shape of the place: I liked the pastel houses and steep hills and fickle weather; how if you stand on the right street facing the right direction, you can see the asphalt drop off into the glittering sea; and the way the city is strewn with staircases that climb straight into the sky. For views like this, I tolerated the men. I lunched and strolled and pretended to care about products and pour-overs. They talked about the cloud and I listened, mostly. But I never dated them; no, all this time, I was always courting the city.
Most recently, I spent the winter in London, and one of my favorite outings was an evening between West End and Chinatown. My original plan was to walk from the bookstore to Broadway, sitting down for sushi before the show. But I spent far too long soaking in other people's conversations: first, seated next to an old couple at Foyles's fifth floor café; later, behind a grey-suited man waiting for his flat white; finally, floating among flocks of people crowding the sidewalk, spilling drunken laughter into the streets. By the time I got to the restaurant, I barely had enough time to scarf down my salmon before dashing to the Phoenix across the street. This theatre was so much larger than any I had been in, my seat so much higher than the dollhouse of a stage below. But the distance didn't matter—the ceilings were painted gold. That night, I left the city with a paper bag full of egg tarts nestled in my lap, the pastries cooling as the bus barreled out of London and into the night.
I miss leaning against those cloudy windows, backpack tucked by my toes, the world whizzing by at hyperspeed. Many months have passed. I have since clung to these memories like life rafts, spending lonely nights pining for places I've barely been and strangers I've briefly seen. These cities are old flames and long-distance lovers. They live in the shadows of my subconscious, in flashes of sight and sound.
🌱 quick life updates
I started a new job this month interning at Schmidt Futures, where I’m researching tech policy and ~AI for good~. It feels good to be doing impact-driven work again, even despite the early-morning wake-ups.
Reboot, my book event series (and now newsletter), is relaunching very soon! We’re adding book reviews and guest editions from community members working toward better tech futures. Click here to stay in the loop.
💎 internet gems
Midst Press: A digital publication publishing poems as timelapses, so you can watch the poet draft and revise a piece (here’s my favorite). One of the reasons I’ve always loved hand-writing is that it feels more honest than typing: every hesitation and addendum makes its mark on the page with no Ctrl+Z to save you.
Blacklight: Tech watchdog publication The Markup has released this simple web tool to scour websites for user-tracking technologies. This is what journalism should look like. The Markup empowers readers to participate and understand in ethical dilemmas, accompanying the interactive tool with their method, analysis, and concrete to-dos.