It’s 3:00am once again — and I lie in bed, far from sleep.
There’s something about the New York city grime that sits on your skin. The city is an urban metropolis, so different from the pastoral suburbs of my childhood.
At home, when I found myself trapped in the lateness of nights, I’d climb down my balcony in my pajamas and sneak my bike out of the garage. Barefooted, I’d pedal around in my neighborhood in my nightdress, the mist and fog trailing behind me like a transparent cape. The trees whistled, and I saw the dew on each leaf. Streams sung, and my fingers tapped in unison. Next morning, I’d find branches in my hair, and smudges of mud on the floors. Brushing out the leaves, I felt a cleanness and freshness to myself that felt new and unfamiliar every time.
I try to mimic my midnight rituals in New York. Stepping into the bath, I wash away the grime every night, scrubbing down thoroughly. Closing my eyes, I let the water cover me. Stepping out of the tub, I tippy-toe, floating above the ground. But once I tuck myself beneath my covers—slowly but surely—I feel the feeling of dirt crawling back over me. Not fresh mud, smelling of moss and mildew, but a more sinister coating of oily musk, inescapable and almost suffocating.
And so I lie there; cold and clammy, half-alive and half-awake.
On a more motivated night, I find it to shake myself into action, like a wet dog desperate to get dry. Slipping into my Chinatown slippers, I waddle into the kitchen. Turning the stove on, I pour a bowl of water into my tiny target pot, mixing in a tiny cup of stock. Beef, chicken, vegetable— whatever fell into my basket at Trader Joe’s the week before. To me, the sound of gas is akin to any great call to action; I scurry around the kitchen, grabbing mushrooms, ripping apart Napa cabbage, dicing and slicing green onion and garlic. Frying the latter in a hot oil, I throw the rest in the pot, letting the fiery magic bring it all to an almost sensual boil. The mellow bubbles mask the harsh whistle of my stove, and I feel lulled into a calmness just as vitalizing as sleep.
I season with a cap full of soy sauce, and a pinch of MSG (often overflowing into a spoonful). It’s hard work grinding up the grains of garlic salt, and meshing my dashi with the rest of the broth. On a special day, I’ll throw in some seaweed knots, or fry up some salmon. I serve myself by the ladleful, not allowing the soup to even cool before it spills down my throat. The boil of the broth lights me on fire, and I feel enveloped in warmth. The flame cleanses me from the inside, and the fuzzy warmness lulls me into a deep sleep.
My midnight rituals have changed with my move in location, and so have I. I never would have imagined myself getting involved in Greek life, much less a fraternity like Alpha Phi Omega. Living in the city is rough, but staying stagnant would have been much rougher. Like the character 水 in my name, I want my “water” to take multiple forms, whether it be the mist and dew of the night, or a warm bowl of soup.
Ruo *Spinel Sun* Yang
Beta Nu, Spring 2022
Leadership Chair | Fall 2022