August 14, 2020

The last time we did those things

Most mornings I wake up in Hong Kong to several dozen new texts from my friends in the States—usually a mix of media industry hearsay, restaurant and chef news and topics for discussion, and general life updates. In one of our group texts today, one of my friends wrote: "I really look forward to the day when we can all be together somewhere fun eating." I wrote back: "Isn't it crazy to think that things we did in 2019 might have been the last time we did those things."

The caveat here is that I know everything I'm going to talk about is #firstworldproblems. There are so many people in the world who are grappling with real problems involving health and survival right now, and the intangible things I think about while sitting in an air-conditioned apartment in the middle of Hong Kong are, by no stretch of the imagination, anywhere close in seriousness, by comparison. This is all very personal, ideological, meaning-of-life stuff that is self-indulgent, even in the best of times.

This stretch of time, since December 2019 until now, August 2020, is the longest stretch of time I've spent in one city since June 1995, the month I graduated high school. That summer, we went on a family trip to Paris and England, and from that moment onwards, I made it a priority to "go places" as often as possible—sometimes it could be considered "traveling," other times I'd out to Boston for lunch with friends and some window-shopping at Copley Place, hop a bus to Philly to shop at Joan Shepp, jump on a quick last-minute flight out of Cairo to spend the day in Sharm, take a train to a mall in New Jersey, pop down from Oxford to London for a Friday night drink. To this day, my favorite feeling in the world is the feeling of getting ready in the morning and walking out the front door with the knowledge that I have the freedom the go anywhere and do anything I want—there's nothing I like more than arriving at an airport with a ticketed flight, but also with that tiny inkling in the back of my mind that if I really wanted to, I could get on a plane to anywhere. So I was always "going places," all the time, until this January, when going places became riskier and far more difficult.

Maybe it's my American-ness—my friend David says that, as Americans, we're used to rolling around like marbles in a big box—but I could never have imagined, not in my entire life, that the world would come to a virtual standstill, that going places would become inadvisable and dangerous, and I'd be geographically contained within a city's boundaries for this long. No neighboring cities to visit and explore, no long bus or train rides to other states, no weekend getaways a couple thousand miles away in a different climate or time zone. These days, on my weekends, I split time between my apartment (laundry takes hours here—the shortest dry cycle is 2 hours and 50 minutes long, I have no idea why), Starbucks (where I write my weekly pages), and walking between other man-made things in town—malls, bookshops, supermarkets. To capture that feeling I miss, of going places, I take boats, trains, and buses instead of taxis, but mostly I try to walk if it's not raining out.

Update: I started writing this blog post a couple of weeks ago, but still can't find a way to end it. So I'll leave this video here to wrap things up. (Tl;dr I'd like to break out of this rut, and I think the way forward is to direct my energy creatively outwards)