opinion

Be a Stargirl

There’s a new virus these days.

It spreads like wildfire and is deadlier than Ebola. What could it possibly be? Legionnaires? A mutant flu? The triteness of this introduction?

It’s a word we really don’t talk about, probably because not everyone sees it as a problem:

conformity 

[kuh n-fawr-mi-tee] 
noun
1. action in accord with prevailing social standards, attitudes, practices, etc.
(another cliché here ._.) 
Conformity plagues the halls of high schools everywhere around the world. For example, I attend Highland Park High School. You can count the number of people who aren’t white or rich with your fingers. Due to the homogeneity, we’ve adopted an unofficial dress code starting before we know what a store even is. From elementary school, oversized Cotton Island T-shirts are a must. The number of apparel from Vineyard Vines or Southern Marsh, those GIANT fountain drink styrofoam cups from JD’s Chippery or Eatzi’s, and epilepsy- or mirth-inducing baggy shorts worn by MIS toddlers outnumber the fancy cars and oversized mansions and Spanish-speaking nannies– wealth and “the HP identity” strut across this catwalk of a city. It seems like everyone has been molded into two model citizens–the male and female versions so distinct in their mannerisms and dress and yet so identical in their willingness to suppress their individuality. Walking through the zombie-land hallways of HPHS, Old High Park High, I see nothing but sameness, a sea of whales and ducks and camo, a sea of Seaside and Destin and 30A. Facebook accounts are littered with photo albums all named “freshman year,” “sophomore year,” “$KA” with the same content–Seaside vacations, meet-ups at dance class, happy group of friends in the same few restaurants the entire female citizenry frequents; lacrosse championships, lacrosse in general, football games, football in general, fishing, hunting, big game next to a grinning father-and-son duo. Ah, what else could there be?
An observer may think that only the outside appearances are the same in this second Stepford, but once he talks to one of the students, the chipped gold leaf reveals even more gold. (Although the value of a typical HP pupil is far less than that of gold!) Topics for conversation never change unless the mass changes. Who’s dating who, which athletes got ineligible, who tweeted something hilarious makes up the majority of all conversations in my high school. What is valued is a mentality to be cool (aka drink and do drugs–what the Chinese would call 任性), to enter the decades-old machine line of afternoon football practice, and to acquiesce in a routine siblings and parents have worn out. (Note: I know this blog is list- and cliché-heavy; are you as tired as I am?)

However, that is not to say that some aren’t embracing themselves–their “inner awesomeness.” I see people everyday who don’t conform to these standards, who wear what they want, speak what they want, and do what they want. This silver lining is a community made of those who embrace eschewing the norm and instead rejoice in their own quirks. One day, I hope our high school and community at large can do so as well– a bastion of creativity and of expression of the inner soul, a village of profundity and acceptance. I envision HP as a mosaic of many colors, not just of blue and gold.

High school is a time to discover of who you really are. That takes some courage, some toes into new water. Most importantly, it takes some elbow grease. Failure and some embarrassment add to a man’s experiences, experiences that one person holds exclusively. Without these experiences, man is left with nothing but a corpse.

One of my favorite books is Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. The titular character is a wacky high-schooler attending a school that celebrates conformity. Stargirl is one who doesn’t follow the crowd; she dances in the rain and plays a ukulele every day during lunchtime while singing “Happy Birthday” to kids she has never met. Although some might say Stargirl would never be a real person, she continues to inspire me (and thousands of other teenagers) to pick Dr. Pepper in the Coke vs. Pepsi debate, to think outside of the shackled box we live in– she is a vanguard for those who are willing to take the adventure of free expression of the unique self with its ups and downs.

As a final note, there is no recipe for you to follow; just add in as much of what you like into the big melting pot of life.

(Wow, I even ended on a cliché!)

UPDATE: Ellen DeGeneres won the Choice Comedian award in 2015 Teen Choice Awards. In her acceptance speech, she also emphasized the importance of not hiding who you really are in order to “fit in:”

“I wanna say also it feels good to be chosen but there was a time in my life that I was not chosen. I was the opposite of chosen because I was different, and I think I wanna make sure that everyone knows that what makes you different right now, makes you stand out later in life. So you should be proud of being different, proud of who you are.

The most important thing I wanna say is just really embrace who you are because being unique is very, very important and fitting in is not all that matters. It’s being unique and being who you are.”

creds to BuzzFeed. Those 10:30 trips are really worth it!

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personal, time capsule

*Freshman Reflections

It’s the Fourth of July weekend, which means summer barbeques, slices of watermelon wider than your head, a lazy afternoon by the pool, and some fireworks to cap this day off.

This long weekend also means that it has been a little over a month since the conclusion of my first year in high school. I’ve decided to write some reflections, and the * in front of the title means this post will go in the “Time Capsule” category. Hopefully, in a few years down the line, I’ll be able to look back and see how much I will have grown!

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the past school year is the sheer number of new friends that I have met. I’ve been blessed to meet such wonderful people. It definitely took a while to grow out of that awkward middle school shell I was stuck inside of. Enforced by the traditional mentality of my parents…actually, just my mom, I’ve always been “friends” with peers of my own gender and, on the most part, race. It’s been nothing to think twice about until high school. However, as I acclimated to the foreign environment of high school, portrayed in so many different ways in the media I consumed before freshman year, I began to slip out of my old shell and discovered what was around me. I stopped lying to myself; instead, with my newfound openness, I managed to see the hidden treasures who were lying around me this whole time. More and more of my friends whom I felt I could spend an entire day with. They were also older–the upperclassmen, especially sophomores and juniors, welcomed my spectacular ways and allowed me to see who I really wanted to be. Someone who could see beyond the dizzying display of numbers of high school, the eery GPA, those sneaky grades, the first and second ranks–the data-crunching of our times. Someone who is honest, a bit sardonic, very sarcastic, and with just the right amount of wit. Someone who cares about not only himself and his piece of paper worth more than blood, fresh off the press, to send to various admissions officers who will forget him in a snap. It’s been great, those lunches filled with laughs and devoid of food, the after-school meet-ups at the local favorite, those discussions, wacky or not, we had everywhere in the school building.

Immediately after that thought came the next one, hand-in-hand with the previous one: how much have my classmates changed! Some have for the better (as you’ll see in the next paragraph), some for the worse (unfortunately, the more common of the two). It has been a gradual process, like prisoners digging a hole to escape with a single spoon. Just like this scenario, the effects are long-lasting and felt throughout the prison, or school (they’re basically synonyms). The hallways of the school are filled with rumors of every sort: who’s doing what for extracurriculars, who has the highest grade in bio, who’s smoking, who’s planning to take this-and-that course the next year… the list goes on and on and will do so until my classmates find something better to do. Such rumors have been drilled inside their heads as well, like a woodpecker, biting into the flesh and fabric of our unity as friends or even just people who can stand being in the same room. The grade-chasers, just as eager as the tornado-chasers of our Tornado Alley, hunt down every piece of juicy gossip and every way to bump that 96.6 to a 96.7–because that .1 difference will catch the eye of everyone who passes by and will drastically change your life. The lies, the back-stabbing, the back-talking throughout the school year could easily be part of the plot of a cheesy daytime soap opera. Except in real life, when Steve kisses Ashley, Debra can’t just kill Steve or she’ll go to DAEP; she has to spread rumors like butter on toast until everyone can feel the unctuous effect of the knife that kills all.

However, the Polaris of my path for understanding high school was also the last period of each school day: Chemistry I PAP TAG. It’s in this thriving environment in which I seek solace. It’s in this classroom in which I met so many new and interesting people whom I can connect to, including two of my fellow freshmen. I could write another blog post about this class, but I’ll just leave off with one word: life-changing.

Finally, a note about band. It was great for the most part, but I never felt quite included as the other kids. There were mentors and laughs along the way, but cookie crumbs can’t substitute the cookie. It’s time I see what life is like without.

Here’s to a merry year, a year of laughter and hope and friendship for all.

~MX

personal

NYC 2015!

Hey, Internet!

As I’m writing this, it’s raining, just like the majority of my family’s trip to New York City. We went a few weeks ago, starting the evening on the day school was out, but I have been busy beyond words since then. It’s now time to reflect, especially because I think this trip was a definite “eye-opener:” sometimes, here in Dallas, I like to think of myself as a New Yorker, missing the sights and sounds, but have realized nothing is the same here. Alas!

First Impressions

DFW airport has brushed up its game! The new look of American Airlines is inviting and modern. The gate-side area was also touched up, with new restaurants, work stations, and power outlets everywhere! Millennials need only two things: Urban Outfitters and outlets, nothing more.

As we arrived in LaGuardia near 11:30 PM, I could feel the squeeze. Everything IS bigger in Texas, especially our airports (DFW is actually the size of Manhattan!!!) What was most intriguing was how security guards checked each person’s boarding pass before he/she left the baggage belts. It’s to prevent luggage theft!

I’d like to say that life just moves quicker here. At once, the man controlling the taxi queue asked us where we were going and then impersonally directed us to a cab a few feet away. People kept on walking and talking and looking around. Life doesn’t stop in the city that never sleeps.

Our taxi driver was shy at first but later opened up about his life: he’s from Pakistan and has been here for 18 years. His uncle recently moved to Houston and loves the prices! This was my first glimpse into the multiculturalism and diversity that has its roots deep into the soil of the Big Apple–as I soon saw, everyone here has his/her own story to tell, and I can now understand why Humans of New York is so popular. As we finally passed through Manhattan, one thing I noticed right away was the trash—it was practically on every street corner. Then came the constant honking, which seems like the first thing they teach you in New York Driver’s Ed. Then again, I feel like it’s passed down in the genes of New Yorkers. In fact, there was a sign posted high up on a lamppost with a warning of $300 and the words “NO HONKING.” Anyways, it was 2 AM by the time we finally settled down.

First Full Day

We woke up quite early and headed off to Central Park. Wow! It’s much more of a Central Jungle or a Central Pokémon Deck–so many different things to see and do! My family started in the northwest corner and made our way down to the southeast one (Grand Army Plaza), first stopping by the Pool, which was my favorite spot, an oasis in an oasis, and fields after fields with early morning baseball games, “mindfulness” group walking (just middle-aged New Yorkers willing to do anything to not stress), and yoga classes galore. In fact, the locals here seem to do just about anything–for example, on a balmy Saturday morning, the NYRR (New York Road Runners), along with the UAE government, hosted a 10k for healthy kidneys. Next thing you know, I saw a grown man wear a tie-dye one-piece swimming suit… I’d pay to see that transformation in Dallas!

Under the midday sun, we finally arrived in the verdant city block squeezed in the hustle and bustle of Midtown—Bryant Park. There, Nigerians chess-masters sat next to millennial jugglers, who were within feet of different New Yorkers, all attracted to the sense of peace and quiet that Bryant Park offered. Pétanque, Chinese yo-yo, juggling, performing with a hat, walking in seven-inch heels were all present. Diversity is everywhere in this city; I bet I could listen to each one of these people talk about their experiences for hours, and I wouldn’t get bored. Of course, this is New York; Bryant Park still had a little buzz, just enough to perk us up, yet not enough to awaken us from the fantasy. I felt the most relaxed I’ve ever been, within fifty feet of the usual grind of a big city next to me! We later ventured into the neighboring building, the New York Public Library main branch. Unfortunately, the main reading room, quite spectacular, was closed for renovations, so we headed off for our hotel.

As the day was coming to a close, so was my energy level. We needed a quick break back in our hotel room, but not before long, we headed off westward for the High Line. Along the way, I overheard two women engaging in a discussion on street safety in the city. The mayor announced an initiative called Vision Zero, in which he plans to improve biking facilities, pedestrian comfort and safety, and regulation of the new speed limit, 25 MPH. Just another reminder of how people up here seem so educated and motivated. Anyways, I’m sure they knew the local secret about the High Line—that park wasn’t designed for the tourist load of NYC! It felt like any Manhattan street at 6pm: bumper-to-bumper traffic! However, the public art along the way, as well as nearby, made up for the congestion. The streets below were awful as well; I saw an ambulance trying to get through the rush hour jam, but it just wasn’t possible to make room. Instead, it just obediently sat at its spot, waiting for the lights to turn green again. We spent quite a while on that railroad track, and I slowly started feeling more and more faint. The remedy for such ailment? A Shroom Burger from Shake Shack! The thirty minute commute to that little slice of heaven will be the longest thirty minutes of my life. At Shake Shack, I had to wait even more, and there was no room for even a mouse in that place! Packed, like worse than China, and we have 1.3 billion people. Like everything in this city, the crowds and the wait were worth it! Shake Shack already has a location in Austin; only time separates me and my Dallas Shake Shack!

Gallery BELOW (click on any image for a larger view) 

Day Two

Ah, this is where the trip starts to become interesting. We started late today, as in double digits! First, to take advantage of the scraps of sunlight left in the day, my family and I headed for Columbia University. I could smell the cookies from Levain Bakery (OK, maybe not, but I was very close), but my nagging parents would not allow such a thing. Sigh. Maybe next time.

Through a quick stroll of Morningside Park and a few flights of stairs, we arrived at Columbia the weekend of the Alumni Reunion! (Sidenote: I think it’s great that I bumped into so many diversions from what I planned out obsessively—it just shows you how unpredictable life is. It’s that essence that I crave and that I find in New York.) The campus was smaller than I had expected, but all was good (most important: quiet) except the TV monitor broadcasting CNN right next to its renowned School of Journalism…>.< I don’t know how the students and faculty deal with that on a daily basis. Such juxtaposition.

After a tour of the college, we decided to head to Midtown East. On the subway ride to Times Square, I sat next to an up-and-coming actor who was reading through the lines of Edward, the part he was to audition for. It just reminded me of my favorite show, Friends. Again, this would never happen in Dallas. At around noon, we stopped by Times Square. I’m not sure why I decided to go there twice; it’s quite trashy to say the least. It doesn’t even deserve a big SAT word. After that mess, we walked toward Grand Central Terminal, which was, especially after that tragedy, beautiful and uplifting! Lunch was a hot dog in the station’s underground dining concourse, where the drastic inequality of capitalism, the dark underbelly, was quite evident, as in most of this city–tourists flocked to Shake Shack (I’m telling you, it’s good!) and various restaurants, taking pictures with their fancy DSLRs, while less than ten feet away, a man digs through the trash bin (New York values the sorting of waste…cough cough Texas), looking for food. Alas, everything has pros and cons. After Grand Central, it started to rain (to match with my mood), and we decided that a little trip to the Met would be the perfect rainy day excursion. That one building contained too much art for me to handle! We took a map and just flowed until our feet told us to stop. By then, it was 5:30, and that means closing time. A quick snapshot of Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm and we “peaced out”… from shelter to raging Mother Nature. My feet were wet, my mood down, so my parents decided to eat at the pub next to our hotel, Tir na nÓg.

Gallery BELOW (click on any image for a larger view)  

Day Three 

I got lazy into the vacation. It’s the last full day in New York City, and the rain would not stop pouring. However, we didn’t let that stop us from having the best possible day.

My family and I ventured out of Manhattan and jumped right into Brooklyn. The storm carried over from yesterday, and it was quite dreary. The rain pummeled us, each strike stronger as the wind gained ferocity. This was nothing to dampen our spirits, however; we just had to walk much quicker than normal. We toured a little of Brooklyn Heights, snapped a few pictures, and headed for the Brooklyn Bridge. Well, only Asians are determined enough to brave the storm, and we were accompanied by a few Chinese tourists. We were laughing at each other and our mutual stupidity. Why today? After a very long walk across the bridge, we arrived at City Hall with our feet soaking wet. I couldn’t feel anything anymore, and I just wanted a piping-hot beverage. Starbucks! It shone like an angel! Wow, this is what it feels like to be those stereotypical white girls, no? The green and white mer-lady (whatever) rendered my euphoria, as well as the nice coffee she gladly provided.

After that mess, the rain subsided, and we continued our tour of the “Downtown” region. Walking along Broadway, we passed by Trinity Church with its very-creepy graveyard, Wall Street, Federal Hall (where George Washington was inaugurated), and down to the Charging Bull! Since the day was just miserable, we needed another break again: this time in Burger King. Since there are so many tourists with full bladders roaming the streets of New York City, this establishment has established quite the procedure for using the loo–one toilet for each men and women! Ordering to-go, going to the mezzanine, receipt or no, I was tired and confused, the worst combination of emotions ever. What confused me even more was the New Yorkers actually say “on line” instead of “in line.” You’re IN a line and ON the floor. I’ll let this one slide by.

Later, we passed by Ground Zero and the two memorial pools where the Twin Towers used to hug the skyline proudly. This time was a time of thought and reflection. Although I didn’t know any of the names personally, the quiet flowing of water brought a sense of respect, a feeling that I will never forget. They will always be remembered.

The last place to go on this cloudy day was Top of the Rock. I know, there was ZERO visibility, and it was worthless, but I already bought the tickets a week before, and this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was in the middle of clouds! Never will happen again.

I don’t know how or why, but I ended up in Times Square again that day–this time, at night. It’s much better when the darkness contrasts with the clashing advertisements and bright lights. Last time, I promise.

Day Four–Half-Day

Well, this morning was quite melancholy, as I was now leaving. After a quick breakfast (people are so lazy; it’s almost 9:30 AM and the room was packed, unlike just an hour before), we bid farewell to the Big Apple with a self-guided, spontaneous walking tour. My family and I just headed southward along 5th Avenue all the way to Flatiron Building and Madison Square Park, the to Union Square, where we walked back uptown via Broadway, passing Macy’s (visited some day before), Herald Square, and Koreatown, where we had lunch and visited an H-Mart, a familiar sight to us. However, this store was CRAZY small; only one person could stand in each aisle at a time, and the average man would have to slouch the majority of the time in order to go through the cramped store.

Finally, we headed for the airport. There’s not much after this except the big bright skies of home. I have returned.

Uncategorized

REBECCA!

Hey Internet! It’s one of those midnight bloggin’ sessions!

Today’s post is rather personal. I have a friend named Rebecca, and she was in my chemistry and Latin classes. One day, right after a chem lab, she started crying in pure pain and told us that her back hurt like it had never did before. Little did we know that a few days later, she was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer. I have seen her a few occasions after this, but sometimes, she seems very weak and saddened. This saddens me as well.

Some high schoolers focus on what type of club they can find, what type of leadership position they can hoard, and what type of this and that they can do in order to be competitive in the Ivies race. Some high schoolers drop classes to boost one number and fret everyday about numbers. Numbers. Life is more than numbers. Enjoy life every day, and live to your fullest potential. I think Rebecca and her courage has taught me, for sure, a lot about what life really means. She’s taught me to never give up, to always keep a smile on my face, to appreciate what I have in my life, to tear down barriers… she fuels my passion for living in such a depressing world (aka high school). Step by step, Rebecca will go far in life.

Rebecca, you’re probably never going to read this, but your freshdogs are rooting for you! We know you have the great spirit and tenacity to overcome this obstacle in the road we call life. You can do it! We’ll be sure to visit you over the summer. You’re an inspiration to us all!

Click here to learn more about her.

~MX

Uncategorized

Bonton Farms 

Hey, guys!

Today, with the rest of the StuCo family (who I don’t know too well), I visited a community farm in SE Dallas, one of many “food deserts” in the nation– an urban area in which there are almost no grocery stores or sources of fresh fruits and vegetables. With the help of a $30 mil. federal grant, the neighborhood of Bonton has been transformed; nearly 1300 people have moved into new developments (as seen in the background of the first two pictures), and two lovely fellas, Darren and Regina, helped start this community garden. There is also a new recreation and civic center within walking distance of Bonton Farm-Works that offers a space for events and an after-school program.

There were college students and local young adults watering the crops on such a hot day! It’s evident that everyone in the community appreciates the garden and its positive ripples, the “good vibes” felt throughout the neighborhood. Every few days, the children come to Bonton Farm-Works to help water the plants and, more importantly, feed the animals. Although we did not meet any of those children today, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to observe such positive synergy in a quickly-improving part of town!

The produce includes Swiss chard, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, onions, cabbage, and many herbs. All of the harvested plants and eggs are sold each week at the White Rock Farmers Market. Click on the farm’s Facebook page to learn more.

Now time for some pictures!

BELOW: Some lovely goats and dogs! Many adults brought along their children to see the goats and chickens (which you will see later).BELOW: This one’s my favorite!  BELOW: Chickens (around 200 of them)! These are able to roam freely throughout the day and are actually heritage-breed, not the kind that lays eggs in closed warehouses for shipment to large supermarket chains. A chicken at Bonton take 25 hours to lay an egg, and by the time they are mature, the farm should collect 8 to 9 dozen eggs A DAY (compared to 17 dozen a week now). 

Proud to be here! Thanks for the fulfilling weekend and best wishes, Bonton!  

~MX

personal

Ahoy!

So, Internet, thus begins my online journey.

Hey! My name is Michael Xie, and I am currently a freshman at Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas. It’s in an enclave richer than the whole city of San Antonio (in terms of total value of property tax) and as white as a marshmallow.

I’ve decided to write a blog because I just needed an outlet for my creativity (or lack thereof), thoughts, and feelings. I don’t mean to be too personal or in-your-face, and this blog should give you a few laughs in such a tough world to be in.

Shout-out to my old Whiz Quiz friend, if she even remembers me, from Plano… Katherine Hu’s blog “katchphrases” really inspired me to start this project and face high school, a Polyphemus-like creature, with a fresh perspective.

Let’s begin– this is my first footstep, hopefully, into an endeavor of a thousand miles.

~MX