Year of Humility [Kai Huang] / by EMW Bookstore


Welcome, new students and family members. This is a private institution of higher learning. Let me explain to you what it is that we do here. You have recently signed a check for a large amount of U.S. currency and we regret to inform you that we will not be using the vast majority of said currency to provide you with a quote education. Instead, we thank you for your contribution to our undisclosed commercial quote research interests and we sincerely hope that your generosity towards our private institution will only increase as you inevitably enter the owning class of twenty-first century American society.

Do not be alarmed, new students and family members. I am telling you this now to spare you what would otherwise be an unseemly and rather soul-crushing epiphany in the near future. The quote faculty of this private institution come in two primary flavors or varieties. The first and predominant flavor or variety consists of those quote instructors who simply do not care enough to quote instruct students. The second flavor or variety consists of those quote instructors who, despite their best intentions and efforts, do not know of or have not been properly trained on the pedagogical principles necessary to quote instruct students. You will quickly realize that the quote experts in their field whom we have implored to spend time in technologically advanced quote classrooms with the likes of you and your little non-celebrity friends are far more concerned with appearing to know everything than with actually trying to convey anything. Do not say that I did not tell you so.

Listen, new students and family members. News flash. For those of you who enjoy sound bites, here is a sound bite: Knowledge cannot be given. Knowledge can only be taken. You’re welcome. Those of you who have studied post-colonial liberation theory may be familiar with this notion but for the rest of you, let me explain to you what it is that we do here. You have recently signed a check for a large amount of U.S. currency and we regret to inform you that we will not be using the vast majority of said currency to provide you with a quote education. If you come to a technologically advanced quote classroom with the expectation that someone will be there to impart knowledge to you, then you are mistaken, my friend. You are in the wrong place. Knowledge cannot be given. Knowledge can only be taken. I suggest that you purchase a small library of textbooks and a small arsenal of automatic weapons for the express purpose of extracting knowledge from this private institution and from its quote faculty. If you are successful in your endeavor, then you will become more capable of attracting another successful extractor of knowledge and perhaps even convincing him or her to have unprotected intercourse with you and to subsequently collaborate in rearing the hopefully adorable and intelligent products of your heterosexual encounter, who will fortunately be endowed at birth with all of the privileges associated with having emerged from the womb of an individual who once signed a check for a large amount of U.S. currency.

Congratulations, new students and family members. You have finally made it. Congratulations to you. You were selected based on your demonstrated ability to acquire knowledge. We sincerely hope that you continue to demonstrate said ability and we are proud to inform you that any accomplishments you may or may not make in the field of knowledge acquisition during the course of your quote career will become classified as the exclusive private property of this private institution and that you will smile and shake hands amicably with the frontline suit-and-tie representatives of our undisclosed commercial quote research interests and that you will be reimbursed handsomely for your quote work and that your reward will not come merely in the form of individual wealth or prestige, but that indeed you will be effectively ensuring the social and economic well-being of your loved ones for the next several generations to come, thereby perpetuating the way things ought to be, no? The way things have always been, yes? We as a private institution of higher earning (I mean, higher learning) are happy to assist you in your quest for owning class status in twenty-first century American society. Congratulations once again, new students and family members. Now go out there and BE SOMEBODY.

2 - Good morning, beijing

To justify the free market reforms that ran counter to Chairman Mao’s brand of communism, his successor Deng Xiaoping argued that, “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”

My parents, Huang Ming and Lei Xia, named me Kevin. If there is anything the Chinese are good at, it’s painting cats white and catching mice fast.

Good morning, Beijing.

On Saturday mornings, my people leave the mice to their own devices and send our youngest off to stretch out their tongues (miao1 miao2 miao3 miao4). HanYu PinYin is the most commonly used Romanization system for standard Mandarin Chinese (miao1 miao2 miao3 miao4), using our Western alphabet to turn upwards of forty-seven thousand cryptic characters (miao1 miao2) into simple combinations of twenty-six letters (miao3 miao4) and four distinct tones (miao1 miao2 miao3 miao4).

When I was twelve, we retroactively came up with the name KaiWen, so that I could feel a little less out of place on Saturday mornings. Isn’t it sick? The stick of something that’s already dead to the tip of your tongue. The mangled, Anglicized remains of language lying lifeless like a small bird left twitching on the doorstep of the emperor’s palace.

Good morning, Beijing.

Eight summers ago now, I went from KaiWen to Kai, dropping the Wen and keeping the Kai so I could try to remember when I used to wonder why cats like me are often called Bruce.
Or Jackie.
Or Kevin.
Mice are named Jerry and we Uncle Tom.

Bombs over Beijing tonight and the mice are everywhere. The mice and everywhere and we are hunting in the emperor’s palace. The snip snapping of mousetraps is our soundtrack.

Two point six million pounds of British poison were dumped into the Pacific.
First Opium War.

Thirty million people starved to death between nineteen fifty-eight and nineteen sixty-one.
Beijing reports “natural disasters.”

Nineteen eighty-nine. Tiananmen Square. Student stands still in front of oncoming tanks.
Makes the cover of
TIME Magazine.

Six thousand Beijing homes were demolished to make room for the four hundred and twenty-three million dollar Bird’s Nest.
2008 Summer Olympics.

My entire generation took piano lessons.
And tennis lessons.
And violin lessons.
And swimming lessons.

And if you guaranteed admission to Harvard to anyone whose immediate family members would leap from the windows of the Empire State Building, half of Flushing, Queens would fly tomorrow.
Cats are careless with those eight lives they borrowed.

Quiet. Incense is burning on every corner and back alley of our city. My fifteen-year-old father sits in a restaurant on the eve of his departure for a counter-revolutionaries’ re-education camp, where he will spend the next six years of his youth.

Good night, Beijing.

He tells me, “There are some things we should only whisper of when even the dogs have gone to sleep.”

12 - The Shire

My friends, to know a city is to love a city. It is to know it intimately, to know it deeply and lovingly and physically and viscerally. It is to build a community of men and women and children and creatures and wildlife along the banks of an ancient river and to dream together of a perfect world.

When I close my eyes, I dream of one river in particular. The grass is tall and green and the water sparkles with the brilliance of a thousand suns. Little men sprint barefoot downstream until the river opens up into a magnificent harbor, where ships come and go at all hours of the night, bringing news of the outside world, bringing bread and wood and clothing and letters from the ones we have loved and the ones we have left.

In The Lord of the Rings and other works by Tolkien, the Shire is a place, a region, a piece of land settled exclusively by Hobbits and largely removed from the happenings of the rest of Middle-earth.

When I close my eyes, I dream of one river in particular. It is the Charles. It runs through eastern Massachusetts and it separates the red and brown of Cambridge from the green and shimmering blue of Boston. On the north side of the river lies my beloved City of Squares. Kendall. Central. Inman. Harvard. Porter. These names. These city streets and corners where I have stood as a younger man and wept in gratitude of all those who have come before. It is said that in New York City, everyone wants more money. And in D.C., everyone wants more power. In San Francisco, everyone wants to come up with the next big thing, to be Zuckerberg or to be Gates, to be at the forefront of some great, unknowable technological revolution. But in my city, in Cambridge, MA, the City of Squares – perhaps we are squares after all because all we want to do is ride bikes and smoke weed and read Dostoevsky.

To the south of the bridge lies the land known as Boston – a beautiful city, bustling with all manner of life. Allston. Brookline. Fenway. Jamaica Plain. Downtown crossing and Chinatown. Roxbury and Dorchester. Boylston into Back Bay. These names. These communities of men and women and children and creatures built along the banks of this ancient river, each with a magic unto itself. Every September 1st, Hobbits flood the streets of Boston leaving couches and futons and bookshelves and old microwaves on every corner. It is pandemonium. It is Christmas. It is wonderful to be alive, to be young and healthy in a city such as this one. A giant neon sign adorns our skyline, smiling brightly over the ballpark, announcing the absence of a gas station. It is the most tender and singularly heartwarming corporate logo you could imagine. It is our north star. It is the light that guides drunken Hobbits back across the bridge after a night of foolishness. Paint the Shire red, my friends. Paint our faces young and beautiful and let us sprint barefoot downstream until this river opens up into a magnificent harbor. There will be dirt between our toes and pepperoni between our teeth. What a time to be a Hobbit. What a time to be alive.

My memories of this city are memories of youth. They are memories of love and growth and freedom. Memories of stumbling through the Commons giggling idiotically with my roommate, wondering if everyone else here might also be high out of their minds. All these families. All these beautiful happy people with their picture perfect little American lives. Perhaps one day we will be like them. The swan boat swims by as the State House glistens in the distance. To miss a city is to love a city. It is to miss it intimately, to miss it deeply and lovingly and physically and viscerally. It is to close your eyes and dream of one river in particular.

KAI HUANG is a spoken word poet, a disgruntled fourth-year student at Harvard Medical School, and the current blogmaster here at EMW. He has slammed for Providence at National Poetry Slam (NPS) and Brown University at College Unions Poetry Slam International (CUPSI). He believes in love, minimalism, and playing Sam Cooke at loud volumes in residential areas from a water bottle shaped speaker attached to his bicycle. Crash is his least favorite film of all time.