Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Five Years Time

Disclaimer: this was meant to be posted in mid-January, the 5-year mark of my departure from everything I knew.

Second disclaimer: Photos are not actually anywhere in HK, but were taken on travels during my time abroad.

The day was cold and biting, the night before bittersweet and tear-stained. I regretfully left the side of my sister and brother-in-law to pass through the cold, metal gateway to an escape from my life.

I had a difficult year behind me, the self I had known disintegrated before becoming viable again. I needed an escape: new scenery, new people, new adventures. A naive, 20-year-old with waning confidence and a nervous demeanor, I boarded an airplane with two acquaintances who would eventually grow to be my best friends. 

To get through the 14-hour flight, we started conversations and played games. David and I poured over the pages of his puzzle book, competing to find differences between two seemingly identical photos. After bouts of being entertained, bored, anxious, excited, restless, sleepy and sad, we finally touched down on the foreign land we were to call home for the next five months. Hello, Hong Kong.

David, Jeff and I made the mistake of not learning the name of our university in Chinese. We scrambled for any address, logo, document we could find that would bear any sort of clue to where we needed to be. Weary and drained, we finally were able to communicate our needs and were promptly packed into the boxy red taxi en route to Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

I had been in the city before, but had little memory of just how massive and daunting it was. The millions of people sardined into high-rises were a spectacle; the rolling hills, surrounding water and striking cityscape all juxtaposed to form one, beautiful, chaotic reality.

4am is no time to get lost in translation, much less check into your residence with hefty eyelids. I managed to forget the sequence of communications, but in the end, we barrelled up to the 2nd and 4th floors to our respective rooms. I dropped off my suitcase, then descended to see Jeff and David again. We woke Jeff's roommate, Jake, and he stayed coherent enough to make introductions and chat. I love to look back on the first time I met someone - the impressions, reservations, excitement all eventually trade themselves in for familiarity, memories, inside jokes and a deep connection. 
Angkor, Cambodia

After tiring ourselves out once again, our sleep-deprived bodies stumbled to bed. Not expecting the historical cold front in a tropical land, I had little with which to sleep. I snuggled with my travel pillow, a towel and a hoodie the first lonely night and eagerly awaited a feeling of rest and a looming trip to Ikea with the boys.

Fast-forward to five years later, and I'm sitting in my bed in Minnesota, longingly remembering all of the shopping trips, dim sum and sushi dates, ditching class, practicing yoga in Times Square, bottle service, Engrish, Ebeneezer's, and trips to Shenzhen, Macau, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Xi'An and Beijing. What has stuck with me the most is the confidence I gained from living on my own in a foreign country and the amazing, driven, intricate people I have met.

Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I strongly encourage it for anyone who has the opportunity. If I could go back, I'd do it again and again. 

Sapa, Vietnam
Here's to you: Jeff, David, Rahul, Jake, Sebastian, Michael, Arne, Kevin, Jeremy, Eva, Jocelyn, Davina, Kristen, Frances, Juliet, Alex, Dan, Jennifer, Laura, Lisa and the whole lot. 

I miss you and am so glad to have met you!