This piece is part of an ongoing series called With Love From. You can read the rest of the articles here. If you would like to send some love from your corner of the world this semester, please contact Precious ([email protected]), Helen ([email protected]), Lyon ([email protected]), Adaobi ([email protected]), or Arden ([email protected]).

Amid a global pandemic, Arden Yin from the Class of 2023 experiences a little Minerva of her own, hoping to travel to a different location within China every month for the semester. 

This month, her cultural immersion takes place in Xi Dao, a small island in southern China. Some things about Xi Dao she’s fallen in love with so far are the homey atmosphere of a not-too-modernized fishing village despite being a tourist destination (with its main attraction being floating bookstores — yes, check them out), and the incredible friendliness she experiences when talking to locals. One particular conversation with a restaurant owner has reminded her of the privilege of being able to get a college education at Minerva, as the owner mentioned her patriarchal upbringing, lack of education, and fear of venturing another part of China. “She also gave me a type of tea and very fresh fish that the locals usually save for themselves,” added Arden happily.

“It was kind of like I had been climbing up this mountain for the past ten, twenty years of my life, and suddenly realizing that the mountain was fake; it was only in my imagination.”

“Artist” is the first word Arden chooses to describe herself. “There is no distinction between life and art for me. Everything I do is a performance art piece.” She’s dabbled in many artistic mediums so far, including fine art, photography, sculpture, and, most recently, vlogging — and she’s always searching for more.

If you’re getting the picture – that Arden is living her best life in her remote semester – you’re on the right page. Recently, she’s been experiencing life simply by indulging in herself, whether that’s with food, clothes, or makeup. She hasn’t always been like this. Not long ago, she’d been obsessed with “minimalism, Zen, Daoism, spirituality, and all that,” setting high expectations on herself and even making her own toothpaste, until just last summer, when she realized she wasn’t exactly treating herself nicely. “One day, when I was realizing this, I would just be walking down the street and start crying.” 

“It was kind of like I had been climbing up this mountain for the past ten, twenty years of my life, and suddenly realizing that the mountain was fake; it was only in my imagination.”

She’s now “lying at the bottom of the cliff,” which involves watching K-dramas, shopping online, and playing games. It’s been a well-deserved break. She knows now that she doesn’t have to restrict her life to a few, set expectations for herself. Rather, fulfilment – or mountains, as she likes to call it – can come in a hundred different shapes.

“I really enjoy watching TV shows, but I hadn’t allowed myself to do that full-time.” In the years leading up to her “existential crisis,” Arden had defined TV shows as something that “didn’t align with who [she] should be.” But to her amazement, she’s recently found out that Rick and Morty, The Simpsons, and Normal People have captured the existentialist struggle quite well for her. 

Arden’s Minerva Talk last year was about the third one the author has attended, and for me, it’s still one of the Talks I look up to the most. Yet to learn that so much of her minimalistic and spiritualistic philosophies have changed since then is not disheartening, but exhilarating. If Arden’s philosophies can change, so can mine. We’re continually learning and adapting, so it’s only natural that the way we treat ourselves should also change. 

If you’d like to learn more about how Arden lives her life in Xi Dao, always in pursuit of wonder, check out her most recent vlog here. If you would like to discuss anything mentioned above with Arden, she’d be more than happy to. Or if you’re just looking to chat with a magical person, she’d be the person for that, too. 

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