I like to think that I don’t dwell on past events or hold grudges… with the exception of Sammy in Year 2 who made fun of my 糟菜粉干 lunch – it tasted so much better than your Wonder White and Kraft peanut butter, you asshole (#asiankidproblems).* Once in a while, usually on a long-haul flight, something will trigger a memory of pronouncing “Niger” incorrectly in Year 5 geography class, or a contact lens falling out in the middle of a speech in front of the whole school, and I’ll spend the next three hours systematically working my way through every mortifying moment in my lifetime until I feel like the entire plane is judging me.
Aside from that, I feel like I’m a pretty forward-thinking person.
And yet, my one genuine source of recurring regret is not having spent more time with my extended family in China. Growing up, we returned to the Motherland once every couple of years, which was certainly not often enough (nor did we stay long enough) to be treated as anything but disproportionately important guests. Asian sisters in the room (or any family-based culture, for that matter) – you know how it is. Being force fed the home-cooking so good that you want to vomit, bruised cheeks from elderly pinching with bonus running commentary on how “fat” you are and don’t forget the violent battle for the cheque at the end of a meal at a restaurant.
Over the course of my travelling career, my body has associated particular sensory experiences with particular continents. In Europe, I feel like my chest is wide open, my breathing deepens and slows down, I’m constantly looking up in awe of the architectural history and I see colours in periodically relevant music (hot tip: walking around the white hills of Granada with Granados playing in your ears is the closest you’ll ever be to any kind of bizarro enlightenment people claim to reach). Every Asian city I’ve worked in over the past four years has had a similar effect of stirring sensory memories I built between ages 7 and 16: the weird contrast between beautiful weathered old women with a tonne of corn attached to their bike and the youth’s hyper-reliance on technology, the blur of sewerage and Arctic air-conditioning, the simultaneous mass obsession and rejection of Western culture and commerce. You definitely internalise to cope with the clockwork masses. And you definitely try not to breathe the smog and secondary cigarette smoke.
A 48 hour work stint in Hong Kong last month (during which these shots and elaborate tripod selfies were taken – more on that later) definitely reignited all of the above. The last time I was in China, I was hiking in 四川, with numb toes from the December freeze, and a numb mouth from the famous provincial chillies I overzealously consumed with every meal. The time before that, this website didn’t even exist, and Justin Bieber still had a bowl cut.
Time to return to the Motherland.
Beam me up.
*admittedly, I asked Mum to buy me Uncle Toby’s Fruit Roll-Ups and string cheese sticks the next day. Fresh Off The Boat is too real.