What to do with the passage of time.
4 years ago I was restless. I was constantly in a restless state of mind. When I came back home to Malaysia after graduation, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My future was uncertain and I dreaded it.
After living, and essentially growing up, in Europe during my 16–22 years, I thought nowhere else was ever going to live up to what I had experienced in those times. I called Europe my spiritual home, where I am free to be myself, free of labels, free to love and free to be young.
Because I had spent my formative years there, naturally I normalised and supported what I had learned. My values system was in sync with my peers in major capitals like London and Berlin — it was liberal, it was Bobo. Bourgeois Bohemian. Like I wanted to save the children in Africa but also to spend a fortune on eating out.
Coming back to Asia was like dunking my face in cold water. I was no longer a student. I had a Bachelor degree in social sciences but didn’t know what to do with it. UK tertiary education was a scam. In reality, what skills had I actually learned?
My family suggested I could pursue my Master’s in Hong Kong. It was close to home, I speak the language etc.
Elated at the thought of not having to deal with reality (and getting away from home), I applied to the University of Hong Kong for its journalism degree and while I waited for the semester to begin, I flew to Myanmar and worked at a hostel in Bagan for 3 months.
It was an endeavour that brought so much joy to my being that I momentarily forgot that I had mild depression in the 5 months that I was home. You must think I’m an over privileged prick. I don’t reject that title because I probably was. But I didn’t know that at the time.
All I wanted was an adventure, to leave the domain of “real life” for a later date to deal with. Plus, wasn’t my acceptance at HKU proof that I will be doing “real life” soon enough?
I came to associate adventure with being alive, albeit not living the real life that so many people expect me to succeed in.
I am most myself when I am adventuring. Because nothing I do in my adventure will be deemed as success or failure. It’s simply an experience.
My life in Hong Kong could be described as a time of productivity relative to my entire 24 years of living on Earth (up until that point). I had no WiFi at home. For 6 months, I worked part time at an adventure travel magazine and studied full time with time consuming modules like documentary production. Just to make matters more interesting, I signed up for a short documentary competition with my team during this period. (We won first prize in the end, landing us a beautiful Canon camera).
I suffered from a lack of social life, for the first time in my life. There were nights when I felt lonely in my flat, devoid of a community living near me. I was a cog in the economic wheel. But I was doing the real life. My family was happy.
Deep down I longed for an adventure again, because I wanted to be and feel alive.
A friend of mine said something very true to me: I am a dopamine addict.
I crave novel situations where my brain is on hyper mode to absorb and react to my environment. The familiar is never as interesting as something unknown. This fundamental theme even reflects itself in my love life.
Until I could learn to be happy with the familiar, I would never be in a stable long term relationship.
In the dark, I began to fantasise about cycling back to Europe from Hong Kong overland. Not many people knew of this dream of mine. I began saving some money, it wasn’t much but it was better than splurging it on eating out, the way I used to.
This fantasy took a year to materialise into an actual plan.
I found my current partner busking on the streets of Hong Kong and we realized we both wanted to travel. First stop: Nepal.
The universe responded to my call though in a different form. We weren’t going to cycle all the way, just a part of the way. And so we left in April 2017.
Now, fast forward a year and 4 months after our departure from Hong Kong, I am sitting on a local bus in Thailand, travelling from Bangkok to Hua Hin for a new role working with a friend.
My partner and I had made it back to Europe over the vast continent of Asia, passing through Nepal, India, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and Russia. We arrived in Spain in March this year.
The feeling of being back in Europe filled me with a mixture of joy and nostalgia. Because I have so many memories here. When I went back to London in June to see friends, everyone seems to be doing the real life well.
They had stable jobs, moving up the career ladder, even took out a mortgage. Some of them still like to go out. Some of them are depressed. Some of them wanted an adventure like how I felt when I was in Hong Kong.
I noticed one very strong theme during my time back in London. Youth.
And everything associated with youth.
A friend of mine said he was dating a 21-year-old to live his early 20s vicariously through him again.
My youth is something I treasure.
Because it was amazing. It still is. I still feel like I’m living through my youth but perhaps towards the end of the spectrum that society would still consider as ‘youth’.
26 is a funny age. You are experienced enough to not be desperate in many situations now. You actually like going to bed early. Some of your friends just got married. A few have kids. Yet you still have another friend group that likes to party and is part of the cool crowd.
It’s quite bipolar really.
I had recurring dreams of myself dying and I didn’t even have time to scream before my impending moment of death. The way I see it is my subconscious telling me my youth is dying. Changes are coming my way.
And it is strangely pleasant to say that aimless wandering serves no purpose to me anymore. I did that already.
For the first time in my conscious life, I want to build.
How wonderful! Does that mean I am finally ready for the ‘real life’? Well I guess I wouldn’t be writing this on this bus if that were really the case.
I am still not wise, but a little wiser than yesterday.
I know that I am now more comfortable with uncertainty.
I know that my family has the best interest for me and I am grateful for all that they’ve done but I also know that this is my life and I need to do what my heart tells me to and live with its consequences.
I know that I am now less of a dopamine addict because I am finding the balance in my life. To give you an example, I managed to stay with my partner since we met on the streets in Hong Kong. And it’s not because he wears a different mask everyday. So that means I am capable of being happy with the familiar.
The patterns are starting to morph.
I like this change within me.
It’s part of a latter stage of growing up. My youth may be coming to an end, I need to accept it a little, if not all of it…
4 years later I am less restless. 4 years later I am fine.