I returned to Japan from Beijing with a tremendous feeling of disorientation. It’s hard to really describe why. I was only in Beijing for 8 days and I’ve lived in Japan for over 3 years. Everything in Japan is as I left it. Nothing has changed. But something inside me feels like it’s been smacked out of place. And I have no idea how to put it back again.
After the opulence, grandeur and chaos of Beijing – I reluctantly returned to the austerity, subtlety and discipline of Tokyo. Beijing was such an intense experience that I’m finding it difficult to re-adjust to life in Japan.
Beijing was the first time I’d travelled alone for leisure in a long long time. It was also the first time that I travelled to a developing country on my own. And it is the first time in eight years that a place captured my heart and my soul in that indescribable you-have-to-feel-it-to-understand-it kind of way. After Jerusalem, I often wondered if I would ever find anyplace that would talk to my soul again. I’d given up on the whole idea. I told myself that I was young at the time and the whole thing was just a phase. And then voila. Life shows up and surprises you when you think you’ve got it all figured out.
I love Japan – always have, always will. But it is a love that is born of duty and familiarity. Beijing – on the other hand – set my heart on fire. I didn’t expect it. But once I started to feel that way – I couldn’t control it. My passion had been reignited – and now that it has been awakened – there’s no putting it back to sleep.
All frequent travellers have a checklist of dream travel destinations, and China was never on mine. My reasons for choosing Beijing were logical. It’s nearby, things will be open for Christmas, and I might as well see the Great Wall since I’m in this neck of the woods.
But from the moment I arrived, there was an energy in the air that captivated me. It was really something – seeing and experiencing three thousand years of history all wrapped up in the present moment. Hutongs and old houses. Wide open streets and shopping malls. Ancient grandiose temples and palaces. Modern buildings with abstract designs. And everything is just HUGE. Massive. Enormous. The kind of stuff you just need DAYS if you really want to take it all in.
I don’t think I could have appreciated Beijing had I gone there any sooner. It took a certain maturity from me to make the decision to go there. And it took a certain maturity to come to terms with my own feelings about a culture that has shaped and moulded me more than my own.
Singapore is a multicultural country with a Chinese majority. I grew up speaking Mandarin. Although I haven’t spoken it much in the past ten years, I still understand it fairly well once I get into the rhythm of things. It was tough – growing up as a minority (Gujarati) within a minority (Indian) in a young country that’s still trying to work out its identity.
People would always ask me – do you think of yourself as Indian first or Singaporean first? Of course I think of myself as Singaporean first – I was born and raised there. But whenever I told people that – they would look at me suspiciously – as though I were the biggest liar they’d ever met.
Thankfully I turned 30 and stopped giving a crap about people’s preconceived ideas. If they refuse to believe facts – what can I do about it? And how are other people’s preconceived ideas my problem?
WHO CARES WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK?
I have a map of the world on my wall at home. A couple of nights ago, I caught myself looking at the large landmass that represents China. I gazed longingly at the territory that stretches out across the continent of Asia. It was the last place on earth that I thought I would end up. But now having been there, I want nothing more than to go back. To see more. To live more. To experience more.
And perhaps, God Willing – I will once again, one day real soon.
You never know where the wind can blow you.