How did you spend your holidays? Did you get to go home, wherever and whoever that is, to find comfort? Did you get to unwind and reflect on the absurdity that was 2018? Or did you get lost in a new country surrounded by new people?
Do you have any resolutions for this year? Or do you unsubscribe from the idea of ‘turning over a new leaf’?
I take resolutions quite seriously every year and this year, I hope to:
- Become really skinny and then gain weight because this is the only period in my life I can manipulate my body however I desire without straining myself
- Allow my hair to grow for the first time in ten years
- Move to a new city
- Read more
- Blog three times a week (starting now)
- Share more about my life with my loved ones**
I spent most of 2018 alone. Yes, I was constantly surrounded by people I loved but I hardly ever let them in. In my defence, it has always been in my character to say a lot but never enough. This year, I hope to change that.
I think my first bout of loneliness while abroad shot in while studying in Paris. And then in Barcelona. But none can compare to the struggle with loneliness I faced while in China.
I gallivanted China alone for two weeks in May 2018 to explore the natural beauty of the country. But, I spent more days than I should have coiled up in my hotel room either crying or staring out into the cities I visited. I imagine that was the first time in my life I felt loneliness creep in–and there was nothing I could do about it because, alas, it wasn’t in my character to let anyone in.
I left Beijing a day before I intended to because I felt like a zoo animal. There was no turn I could take in the city without being stopped for a photograph. Not a ‘Ni-hao, how are you?’, just ‘Photo?’. Sis, I was hungry and looking for food I would enjoy but I obliged too many times to the photo ops out of politeness. On the third day, I gave up. I had had only one meaningful conversation with a man who walked me to a train station yet I had shared countless fake smiles with my ‘fans’. I had had enough. I packed my bags and hopped on a train to the Shaolin Temple hoping it would get better…
In Zhengzhou, home of the Shaolin Temple and a priority on my non-existent bucket list, I met a kind driver who smoked with me as we sped up the mountainside on our way to the temple. He did not understand me and I most certainly did not know a word of what he said to me that day but we constantly found ourselves in laughter. The windows were rolled down and his deep voice seemed to echo through the mountains as if that would make me understand him better.
But when that day was over and I found myself in the city center searching for a working ATM so I could get back to my hotel room, I wanted to fall apart. You see, none of the ATMs seemed to read my card and I only had enough money on me to either: catch a taxi back to my hotel where I would have to starve myself to sleep or buy food and stay stranded. I bought myself a sandwich and sat in the restaurant biting my nails in worry.
I couldn’t ask anyone around for help because they all only seemed interested in taking a photo of me because I was black and had long Marley twists in my hair. It was nearing 11 pm and most of the people in the city center seemed to retreat back to their homes.
I ran from ATM to ATM hoping any one of them would work for me. I had more than enough money for the first time in my travel career yet I was the poorest person in that city–I couldn’t even afford to go home. Anyway, I walked twelve minutes down the highway and found an ATM that worked and took out more money than I needed for obvious reasons. I left Zhengzhou the following morning.
The most meaningful interaction I had in China was in Guilin with some teenagers at a barbecue spot. That night made my entire visit to China worth it. I got to drink away my disappointment and hurt with some strangers who didn’t bombard me for photographs and were genuinely interested in my well-being– they even made me dinner.
For my readers who find themselves lonely in a foreign country: wait for that one Guilin moment that will make it all worth it. The point of travelling, for me, is meeting new people who laugh with you without even understanding your joke. It is hardly about the pictures (although some looks are necessary, please) or the luxurious hotel rooms or the cute souvenirs. For me, I thrive on human interactions that subconsciously shape my personality and drive my will to live (not stay alive, live).
Wait on your Guilin moment; it will make the loneliness feel like a bad appetizer to a world-class entree.