Wednesday, July 13, 2011

No Island

I’m on the new fast train from Shanghai to Beijing travelling along the east coast of China at 310km an hour, but I can think of nothing but what I left behind. How often do we move on with only thoughts for what we are moving away from. How often do we undervalue the role of an individual within our lives?

Today I left a friend whose impact on my life I may never be able to truly fathom. I have no doubt that our relationship was one of the strongest and most important I will ever experience, and losing it so quickly only magnifies what will be missing in my life without her. I have grown up in a society which sells sex and romance as the true connecting ideals. Movies and advertisement have instilled within my generation, a notion that two people can only be truly together if they are lovers. Friends are always extras on the set, treated as though they serve only to enrich the background detailing of our lives whilst we quest to find ‘the one’. I can identify this as the only reason that Hanna’s friendship was able to sneak up on my heart and cement itself so wholly within me. She and I connected on a profoundly deep and yet ever-refreshing level, and only now am I beginning to realise what that means to me. What she means to me. Shanghai threw us together and we found that this companionship was enough to get ourselves out and to the other side of a rough exchange. Right now is that ‘other side’. It is quite a lot of bitter and I am yet to enjoy the sweet. My memories of our time together are fresh and I cried at the train station as I wrote them down so as not to forget. She is on her plane home to Finland now.

In China, I felt myself becoming more of an island each day. I am so alien in this place, and Shanghai is famously aggressive toward foreigners – I feel as though I lived (read: was stuck) there for years, and yet my friendship with Hanna was so short. Perhaps China is a strange location full of time lapses and black holes and perception-altering pockets which morph the space/time continuum. I would not be surprised. What I do know for sure, is that in booking this trip and organising this exchange, I was severely overestimating myself. In January this year I was not ready to spend a year here. In what way? I think emotionally unready to be apart from my family and friends. Not mature enough to manage both the logistics and internal struggles of China at the same time. Perhaps even not intellectually ready for such an onslaught of new ideas about the world… I was unready in almost every single way an individual could be. Sitting on this train at the exact halfway point I am exhausted. Perhaps I am not the kind of person who can live out of a suitcase and constantly move from one place to another. This nomadic business sure has left me feeling lonely. I am not an island, and I know myself well enough now to know that I never will be.

Now, I look for comfort in the fact that my brother and mother will be joining me shortly. The more I am alive the more I recognise a cruel kind of irony in the way humans prioritise and evaluate their lives. In the most simple sense, we cannot see good unless we know of bad. We are almost masochistic in the way we appreciate fullness so much more after hunger and relaxation after intense pressure. It has taken loneliness in my life to truly understand the role others play within it. In a more developed sense, absence will always continue to make hearts grow fonder. Complete separation from my family has brought their importance within my life to a sharp clarity, and my independence from them when on the other side of the planet only really serves to illuminate my reliance on them. I almost begin to worry about my apparent lack of autonomy. I cannot survive in a vacuum. Can anybody? Really?

In my most stressful times, and even in the quieter ones, I fantasize about a Robinson Crusoe life. I might get on a boat or a plane or even just swim to a deserted island. From what I can tell, a lot of other people do too. Perhaps they dream of finally being free of their Blackberry’s or the calmness which must come when you shirk the responsibility to watch the news. What does this longing for simplicity and aloneness tell us about our lives? It tells me that I am tired. It tells me to watch more of that stupid show and realise that Crusoe spent every episode trying to get home. His extreme lifestyle change informed him of how much he wanted to return to his former life. China is, really, a strange kind of island experience. I threw myself from home with the kind of reckless abandon I remember when bungee jumping. I knew it was going to be hard, but like most things of this nature, the end is supposedly supposed to justify the means. I did it to have done it, forgetting that you actually have to do it first. In this analogy, the fundamental difference between Crusoe and myself is that I chose to leave home and he was forced. Obviously that makes me the crazy one.

There are, of course, good things about my island, and I write of them often. It’s just difficult to see them at times like these. I suppose if I had not been stranded here, I would not have met Hanna. In the past 6 months I have grown into my feet just as a Labrador does at an alarming rate in it’s early life. At the beginning they are adorable as they stumble over their own paws, but eventually their bodies and capabilities match the size of their feet – a physical sign that they fulfill their destinies to be big dogs. Yeah, I know, weird choice of analogy. Whatever. What I mean to say is, having been thrown in the deep end (read: throwing myself in the deep end), I am now pretty sure I can make it through the second half of this year and I am pretty sure it will be good.

On that note, I’m going to try and finally organise my visa stuff tomorrow. If I don’t get it all done I won’t be able to go to North Korea – which I’ve already paid a deposit for… so I’m pretty anxious about it. I plan on doing a fair bit of walking tomorrow. I believe one can never sat enough good thinks about walking for the soul. Maybe I’ll get some nice Beijing pictures too. We’ll see.

We shall see.


  1. You're the sweetest and bravest chocolate brown Labrador there is. (Actually you would be a super rare ginger Labrador)

  2. Hahahahah... super rare (magical) ginger Labrador?


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