September arrived, and with it, migrating bird formations, a more rat-friendly climate and the death of a queen. Times like these make me really appreciate not being in a newsroom. The sheer volume of nonsense being published. I mean, Metro ran a story about queen-shaped clouds.
This said, annoying as the coverage is, with all the freak news events that have marked the last, I don’t know, decade -- Brexit, Trump, pandemics, harbingers of climate disaster, autocracy’s rise and rise, JK Rowling being rubbish, etc. -- there’s something comforting about an event as innocuous as “very old person dies” making a lot of front pages. It almost feels quaint.
Charles’ face on all the money though? This I am uncomfortable with. There are so many other better faces to put on the money. What about Ozzy Osbourne? He’s a real national treasure.
Still, the event has made me think more about my own supposed Britishness and ties to a place I’ve managed to avoid now for seven years. That’s right, I haven’t been to London in seven years. That’s insane. My home city.
The thing is, I’ve been avoiding going back. I picked Germany as my post-Hong Kong homecoming spot, when it actually, in a way, isn’t my home at all. Here I’m an outsider looking in, as I probably would be in the U.K. now, too.
Maybe part of my resistance in finding my way back there comes from this fear of seeing everyone far more settled than I am in the lives they’ve chosen for themselves, while I’m sitting here certain of only one thing: my competence as a rat mom.
Still, though, I’ve been told I’m not the only 30-something who doesn’t have it all figured out. And even the ones that do aren’t peddling any ideas that this is the perfect way to be. I say this having been on the receiving end of a trickle of post-pandemic U.K. visitors, most notably one of my best friends from university who’s now a prominent philosopher and whose friendship has been really influential and also, really complex. If I’m honest, perhaps I was always kind of jealous of the stability and structure her life had that I don’t think I see myself having.
She’s lived in Oxford now, for well over a decade, has a small house in a village to the north Port Meadows, a husband and a little black cat, and her career is still going as well as it always was.
“I remember there was a time where it felt like my life could branch off in so many ways, and that’s not the case anymore. I’ve chosen what I’m doing. I like it and I’m good at it,” she said. As always, what I admired about her, this focus she always had on the things that mattered to her, was what I felt had always been eluding me. This even reflected itself in where we both are physically.
Seven years ago, I got her into yoga after being forced through the brutal contortions made obligatory the teachers I had in China (one of the first Chinese expressions I learnt was “body no good!”)
I have stupid, t-rex arms and very stubborn hamstrings, so I can’t say I was ever especially good, but I was definitely not as terrible as I was when I first started.
And I was interested. In all the stuff about mind and body and breathe, where there was tension in the body and how to relax it to deepen your stretch, getting out of the thinking mind through movement and all that. It appealed to her, too, and she’s said that she always associated her practice with me.
In my first years in Hong Kong I was still devoted. I joined one of those intense morning Mysore groups, where you go, nobody talks and you do the same sequence again and again, everyday, until your teacher tells you you’re ready for your next pose. And guess what? After two years he stopped giving me new poses and I got bored and stopped going.
So now, guess who, out of me and my friend, can do all the fancy stuff that happens at the end of classes, and whose Utthita Hasta Padangushtasana brings shame on their former (very quiet, but very nice) mysore clan? (yes, I had to look up that term).
This said, I can now throw a competent punch, figure out how to elude a takedown without running away from an MMA sparring scenario crying my head off, run really quite far without getting that tired, and lots of other things that I might not have learnt or experienced had my focus zeroed in on this one thing. So maybe drilling down on one specific path was never really what I was designed to do anyway, and that’s OK. (Have you read range by David Epstein? It’s quite good).
It was funny because while me and my old university friend were yoga-ing here in Berlin; I felt a faint trace of competition between us both quietly observing where the other was. Even though comparison is the biggest no-no there is in the yoga world. I noticed the smoothness of her transitions and she, presumably, noticed my now increasingly obnoxious guns.
Over drinks afterwards we talked about old friends, and caught up on all the stuff happening in the stretches of time in which we’d lost touch. My abrupt departure from Hong Kong? “Well, at this point I’m just collecting nervous breakdowns,” I joked. The thing about those is that you do come back from them stronger and more self-aware each time.
She talked about her career. “The thing about analytical philosophy is it’s like chess. It’s just a game that I’m really good at, that I don’t necessarily think everyone needs to understand or even like it, to live a good life,” she said. About embodiment. “Yep, definitely a thing”. About rats, obviously, and all the other things in our lives that felt meaningful and had made us happier people. And I guess it was just nice, to be in that moment and feel kind of at peace with all of it.
A Berlin-based writer engages in the study of belonging and in-between places after years spent faraway from 'home'.