They told me there were three phases to go through. The first three months, everything is new and inspiring, a holiday under the guise of a new life. At six months it starts to sink in – this is for the long haul, and you’ll begin to notice things that you don’t like. Minor irritants, as well as bigger and until now unimaginable, differences. After a year, you’ll just stop comparing it to home.
It’s six months in and I wish I had been told this earlier. I hadn’t anticipated the strength it takes to be outside of your comfort zone so relentlessly, nor the energy it takes to be open to stranger upon stranger. A time limit is imposed from the onset, and this restriction subconsciously hinders you from establishing deep connections to your environment. Ironically, it also frees you through allowing you to be whoever you want to be on a whim, like entering a private game or conducting an experiment with reality, testing your own ability to adapt. How close you remain to your intangible self becomes an exercise in the strength of your original character, lest you are tempted to stray.
This is known to be a transient place, where the dense air hangs heavy with moisture and indistinguishable sounds, and disparate opposites attempt to co-exist. The cold, sterile strip-lighting of late-night tea canteens in discourse with the ultra-luxe, high-rise, architectural design. Lush tropical plantations merge with the backdrop of neon skylines resulting in a sensorial battering. The abundant new residents of this city are often temporary. Inevitably, most encounters will remain as symbiotic, surface-level relationships.
However, there was someone I’d encountered early on who I was unexpectedly drawn to. It was our instant understanding of one another, despite a vague language barrier. His subtle mannerisms were oddly familiar; striking a precise tone, rare for two strangers. He represented something not as obvious as a kindred entity, but more a comforting confirmation that we had been existing distantly on a parallel.
Things took a heavier turn when my biggest tie to home suddenly loosened, bringing me to the realisation that over 26 years, little in life has been a surprise to me. To the extent that I’ve always felt this (false) sense of foresight. So, though the loss was calculable, it was also the first real shock I’d experienced, never having enacted anything like this sequence of events before. In a recent conversation with a friend, she told me that she’d developed this bizarre sensation that daily life was becoming somewhat dreamlike. We were just playing out a series of events and none of our actions had any real consequences. I understood this state entirely, having also felt this precarious notion up until this point, and took it as a symptom of having over-fortunate, over-fulfilled lives. It’s made me reckless. I want to push things as far as they can go.
Finding meaning in resilience has been arduous. You are expected to ‘keep going’ and ‘stick it out’ for some sort of greater good. Not sure what that is. A pale moroseness accompanied my previously comfortable nostalgia, escalating into a crippling burden. My mind obscured by the past, as if there is too much to remember, too many details. I don’t feel ready to build new memories. I keep going back, like a holiday.
Memories that have started to accumulate here arise in a new domain of nostalgia. A pervasive feeling that things have entered a new realm. My environment is now able to evoke and partition some feeling of the ‘before’. This process of time is too soft for me to grasp. The physical measurement versus the psychological. Is the significance of the time inside our minds greater than the one outside – governed by divisive timezones? How can we forget? If you’re unconscious, or comatose, time continues to go by regardless. When you wake, you’ll need yet more time to adjust, catch up, move on.
What further aggravated the dark mood permeating my stay was the significance of a recent collective upheaval, the first of its kind in the city’s history. Political protests unexpectedly dividing more than just generation and class – opinions differed vastly, threatening further disruptions to an already conflicted cultural identity. The population had existed on autonomy and neutrality: now the safest streets in the world were becoming volatile. Power handed to mobs, while the rest of the world moved on to more pressing matters.
I’m indebted to the complex and intricate ways of how this place has affected me, but I am a mirror. The entire city is an entity which I reflect. I am impatient. Resilience has been built. I’m awakening from the dream.
Photograph by Creative Commons