I went to bed at 4.30am last night but found my exhausted body shaken to consciousness by my anxious mind. Go to bed, my tired body says, but I can’t. My mind is like a war zone, with thoughts flying left, right and centre, like bullets coming at me, making me scared for what the future might hold.
At one point, I almost cry because I’m terrified.
I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days, this growing fear as the date for my departure slowly arrives. There’s a little excitement, but there’s also more fear than before. And sadness. Being back home for a year has definitely got me used to quite a few things, like the comfort of my bed, my mum’s incredible soups, the certainty of a jam going into KL or Bangsar, the immaculate taste of a cold brew at Thursdvys, the silliness of new found friends and warmth of someone’s hug. In other words, familiarity and security.
Unlike my previous trip, which has definitely turned my world upside down and unsettled my insides making me long for more, I’m leaving behind a community that I have found and loved so so deeply. They are made up of old friendships and new ones, of beer and wine and cocktails and shots (sometimes at midday), of tears and laughter and shock and more laughter (the kind where you’re tearing up and gasping for air), of sorrows and worries about our future, of God and spirituality and eternal life, of shitty relationships and shittier break-ups, but also of good and kind and loving relationships, of work and our careers and where we see ourselves in 5, 10, 20 years. In other words, friends I see shaping my future and who I will miss dearly.
I believe that everyone will have more than one “love of their life”, but not always in a romantic way. I’m terribly lucky to have found a few of them. Nevertheless, what if we change too much that when we’re finally together again, what if it feels weird and uncomfortable and unfamiliar? What if something happens and I can’t be there for them? Long distance relationships are hard, regardless of whether they’re romantic ones or not.
In other words, what if our futures don’t fit like they do now?
When I left in August 2015 and embarked on a long-term solo trip for the first time in my life, I was ready to leave. It was time. Everyone had graduated and moved away. I was on my own and done with the town that shaped my young adult years. This time round, I’m not ready to leave but I simply can’t wait any longer. The restlessness I’ve tried to subdue for the past year has finally taken over and I need to go.
Yet, the fear, the damn fear never goes away.
This time, it’s the uncertainty of the unknown that’s scary. Money isn’t an issue because I now know that I can make it on a shoestring budget. Getting lost is not scary because I know that kind strangers exist and they’ll help me find my way. Foreign languages and stares from locals don’t worry me either. Instead, it’s about my passport, the tightening “free movement laws” within the EU and my visa.
Yes, I’m a tourist travelling on a tourist visa, but I’ve heard countless horrible, rude and mean stories of immigration staff giving foreigners from developing countries a hard time. I don’t have a student visa on my passport to help me out anymore and that scares me. What do I do if I’m not welcomed into a foreign country just because I don’t “look right”?
Before boarding my flight, my mother told me of her experience at the Australian airport, where she was put in another line and subsequently had her bags tipped over and dug through. My parents think it’s because she was travelling as a single woman and that she fit the description of a stereotype – single Asian woman from a developing country goes to developed Western country to look for a husband. My mother was there to attend my uncle’s funeral.
Also before boarding my flight, I was told that I needed a ticket out of the port of arrival in the Schengen zone, which completely blind sighted me. I wasn’t going to be checked-in unless I had a ticket out of Milan. But I’m going to be travelling long term, I don’t know where I would be leaving from, I told the lady rather impatiently. It doesn’t matter, she replied. Well, that killed the whole backpacking vibe didn’t it?
I booked a ticket out of Milan to London in 20 minutes. Thank you, Google.
When that was over, the damn fear crept back in again.
(Written on the flight out of KL)
It’s supposed to rain in Milan and I’ve got too much crap with me. Hi, I say to the immigration officer. He takes my passport without looking up, stamps it and gives it back to me. Done. I’m in. No questions asked.
I’m writing this from Milan Malpensa, sitting opposite Hudson News in Terminal 1. Two men in blue jumpers are rolling some trolley carts away and the cranking of the metal frames are driving me insane. There’s a fly hovering around me, also driving me insane.
There’s no time to dwell on fear now, although it might come back at night, or if I get lost, or if I get robbed again. In the meantime, I need to find my way to the bus station and let Europe sweep me off my feet, again.