The day was early when I made my way to the “pink church,” which wasn’t far from where I stayed. I hadn’t made any specific itinerary, so it was rather an impromptu trip. The only particular reason why I picked a place of worship as my first destination was because of its supposedly flashy, curiously unusual appearance for a religious building, which happened to be in the shade typical of one of those Wes Anderson movies.
As I walked southeast, I noticed that there weren’t as many pharmacies as on the northwest side of the road. It was the night before when I made my first attempt to explore the area to find some bottled water and stuff to snack on, when I noticed that the northwest was basically overrun by pharmacies, which to my surprise existed literally in every other house on the street. I reckoned it was probably the byproduct of the pandemic. I had to turn around, walked in the other direction and passed the hostel again until I finally came across a FamilyMart, like a luminous shrine in the middle of a chaotic street market that reminded me of bits of my hometown.
In the morning, the messy street market seemed to feel a little more welcoming. It was still overrun by people, still ever-lively, but felt more bearable for passersby when under the sun.
Then the rosy-looking building, Tan Dinh Church, emerged on the right-hand side of the street. Almost commanding the entire crowded, grayish street to pay attention to her unmissable, grand, almost jaunty facade.
London, June 4th, 2022
As I typed these, I was sitting at a very unusually quiet corner at London Gatwick Airport, waiting for the first leg of a series of long-haul flights that would bring me home. After 32 days of being away from home for my “ultimate solo bachelorette pilgrimage,” a.k.a. post-pandemic solo revenge travel, my reality slowly brought me back to Earth.
That day felt much quieter than the previous 31 days. My eyes were still a little damp from all the sobs that lasted for hours last night. I was definitely sleep-deprived, and also felt bizarre – in a couple of hours, I would be leaving all the faces and places that have provided me not only a shelter to sleep at night in the past month, but also to build my own temporary nest among the foreign and unknown.
The past month had got me high on life and love – and it had been way too long since the last time I recognized those feelings of appreciation of what life could serve and offer. I forgot how much joy one can absorb and digest. I did not remember that there were a few better parts of me which had been asleep for quite long that I barely recalled even existing – and they had awakened again in the past month. There was a spectrum of emotions and feelings I hadn’t experienced in a while, and it was such a lovely pleasure to welcome those rainbows, butterflies, and even thunderstorms again. It was everything but numbness, unlike the preceding two years of surviving the strangest years of everyone’ life.
Other than simply trying to maintain my sanity, one breathe at a time, my late twenties which practically began right at the onset of the pandemic was essentially filled by the many efforts I put to work on some loose ends in terms of my relationships with people around me.
I’ve started seeing a professional (again) since last year, this time rather regularly. There’s this topic I’ve kept to myself for the last two decades, that I never really talked about to anyone else but I finally worked up some courage to deal with. I also took this presumably life-altering course called The Science of Well-Being from Yale, as suggested by a blog reader and also because I’ve always heard this course being referred to all the time whenever I binge-watch yet another TEDx talk on happiness and so forth. From which, I felt inspired to reconnect and rekindle past friendships that might have gone almost stale due to the nature of the awkward adulthood phase that these friends and I are navigating through. And of course, despite having previously spent more than half of our time together in long-distance, facing yet another LDR phase with my boyfriend of 8.5 years was not without issues and new sets of challenges.
Although not always directly, all these things taught me one thing. You’ve got to be brave to be a bit vulnerable to invite others in.
I had this conversation with my boyfriend of eight-and-a-half years the other night.
It was triggered by a random question that a friend got when we played a little game of Q&A by flipping through random pages from What Makes You Tick? The Question Book the night before, when she was having a sleepover at my place. The question was, “Would you want your partner to confess to you if he/she had an affair? Have you come to an agreement about being unfaithful?”
She and I had disagreeing opinions at first, although I guess by the end of it she was swayed by my perspective and decided to also go with my answer. (If you’re curious to know what it was, you’ll have to wait until the nearing end of this post.)
I was then intrigued to ask that to my significant other because only then I realized that in our more than eight years of being together, he and I never really talked about these things. Which perhaps could be a good thing I suppose, considering that the sole reason was that there was never any occasion, i.e., any trigger, which compelled us to have to have a discussion about it.
Nonetheless, as our relationship ages, at some point it becomes important to know where each of us stands on those difficult questions. Because as solid as we hope our longstanding relationship to be, one would never really know what could unfortunately happen in the blink of an eye. And it does no harm to be well-prepared by figuring out each other’s preferences in handling such problems, so that you don’t end up hurting someone thinking that you’re saving them instead.
Actually, guilt may not even be the correct word for it. Guilt seems to imply that there is something wrong to be admitted, but for this particular situation, I don’t think that there is. I just haven’t found the exact term, and guilt feels to be the closest to what I’m currently feeling despite missing a certain justification.
There is this specific pattern that being in isolation had brought me to, which I’ve noticed more over the years. It began when I was still living in Edmonton, where oftentimes, especially during winter when everyone couldn’t be bothered to go outside and be in a -20°C weather, I would spend so much time alone that it forced me to only interact with and process my train of thoughts. As much as the loneliness felt miserable, funnily enough, there was also a good outcome that is being able to understand myself and my surroundings better despite the unpleasant process.
During the pandemic, even though I’m not quite literally alone since I’ve been back in my parents’ house to live with my family, being distanced from my partner, friends, or colleagues who were the people I’ve drawn closer to in my adult years, has somehow also brought the pattern back. I was never the kind of person who needs to regularly talk to or text other people as most of the time I can enjoy my time alone, and with the added fact that we’re not obliged to interact every day, the habit of overanalyzing things finds its way back to me. As a result, I have also added a category in this blog called the Pandemic Pondering to document my contemplations.
And while it seems that I’ve been experiencing explosions of ideas to write about recently, it seems to be more of a collection of sighs and whines instead of some fruitful revelations – although I would also argue that some of it does contain quite a bit of enlightenment in my self-discovery journey. I’ve been treating this blog as my primary source of therapy, and I do appreciate that some people sometimes swing by to remind me that I’m not alone. Nevertheless, I would still joke to myself that I should probably edit the tagline of this blog from “words, whimsies, wanderlogue, and whatnot” to also adding “whines” in front of it. (Well, shall I?)
Among other things, which are mostly the awful ones, the pandemic has strangely helped me reevaluate many views in my life. One of them is the realization that the common mindset of “work isn’t meant to be happy, it’s meant to be done so you can use your paycheck to afford things that make you happy” may not only be outdated, but also a little peculiar. I used to live by that motto, thinking that it doesn’t matter if I have to spend more than half of my awake time every day dealing with things that are less interesting than my leisure activities. Because at the end of the day, I get paid for it, and I can then use my income to afford things that not only I genuinely love about, but also won’t be able to afford otherwise, such as travelling.
But I never noticed how sad that idea might sound, until the pandemic.