Graham of Anywhere

Asia ‘23: An interlude in an otherwise average existence

Christmas is a day which I’ve hated since I was teenager. Maybe it’s a broken home thing, maybe it’s a consumerism thing, maybe it’s just about the pressure to understand your family which is tricky when you don’t really even know them. Well, not properly, perhaps; the connection that some other families have is only superficially present in ours. We get on, we can have a laugh, and it’s drama free. But, Christmas is one of only a handful of times per year that I communicate with my Dad and his partner.

I talk to my sister more, and I wish we were in more regular contact — despite not applying enough effort to that end. But when we’re together, we’ll always have a good time. Family, to me, is foremost her and my nephew. I’m grateful to have her, and I think my own world would be lonelier otherwise. I don’t have a family of my own and, while I’m perfectly happy to never have kids, I do recognise that I’m missing a partner to spend these sorts of occasions with. Therefore, having somewhere to go back to is, in some sense, comforting.

I’m always entering another domain, though, when I do go back; one of couples, one of success, one of happiness. I’m glad of it, but I am the black sheep. A week back in Edinburgh is both a welcome break and an endurance test. It’s always a symbol to me that another year has past and I haven’t gotten any closer to what I need. I’m looking for my own partner, success, and happiness, and yet my annual progress report invariably needs spin. It’s less of a social requirement and more of a self-comfort mechanism. If I speak about life and prospects optimistically then perhaps I’ll believe it to be true. It seems to work sometimes.

This year, though, I’m cutting short the annual conference and I’m flying out — midway through Christmas Day. My big Asia trip beckons. I’d originally planned to leave on Boxing Day but by the time I booked, the tickets were more expensive. I had to somewhat nervously tell my Dad that Christmas dinner might have to be done the day before if my attendance is required. I feel a tad guilty but he and his partner spent one Christmas in NZ without us, so it is what is is. We should take opportunities to make ourselves happier.

And so, I’ll be flying from Edinburgh to Hanoi, Vietnam, via Doha on Qatar Airways. I’d have chosen an airline from a non-homophobic state if I could but practicalities need to win out sometimes. In Hanoi I’ll meet Tat, my Singaporean friend, and over the following couple of weeks we’ll also explore Ho Chi Minh City and then, in Cambodia, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. His holiday time ends at that point and he’ll head back to Singapore — but here the scary part of my adventure begins. I’ll be heading to Thailand for almost a month to live, work remotely, and travel.

I’ve never been away for this long before and I’ve certainly never had to fend for myself for this long in a foreign country. I’ll need to buy groceries, do laundry, and get a haircut at some point. Now, I wouldn’t say these are concerns, but they are mini-challenges that I’ll have to work out. I’m independent enough and smart enough to tackle whatever will face me but I’m not confident, and despite having visited over 20 countries, I don’t feel well-travelled. I wonder how much of a stress I’ll find it. And, I wonder if I’m going to get tired of applying extra effort and so start to miss my comfortable if bland existence in London, with home comforts and little to challenge me. I’d love for that not to be true, and by the end of my stay I’d be wishing I could stay longer, but I don’t think I’m cut out to be a nomad. I don’t think I’m strong enough to enjoy living somewhere whose language I lack the requisite faculties to learn.

It might all just be a bit much, basically. But, we’ll see. I have to try. After my time in Thailand, I’ll head to Singapore for a few days to meet up with Tat again. Any stress I’ve built up can start to dissipate at this point I think. I’ve been there before and I like the city, plus I’ll have a tour guide for a bit. It’ll neatly serve as a transition from 6 weeks in Asia to my return to the West. Will I have learned anything more about myself by this point? Will I have gained in confidence? Will I have a clearer idea about what I want to do next?

Certainly, once I’m home, I need to decide about moving. I want to move out of Croydon and I want to do that in 2023. Where do I want to go? Where do I want to go that I also can go? Am I just going to find a way to move to a nicer part of London? Or am I going to decide I need to find a way to buy a place, and therefore I need to move to somewhere with a lower cost of living? Or am I going to decide I need to look at options for leaving the UK? At the moment, I can’t deny that I fantasise about the latter. I don’t love the UK.

The grass is always greener, though. Ultimately, the UK is geographically well placed to avoid the worst of climate change, Scotland especially. The UK is generally not corrupt, at least not at my level of existence. The UK doesn’t require medical insurance (but no longer provides a reliable health service); I do, though, get my subsidised (but not free) Asthma inhalers to keep me breathing, which may only be readily available in developed countries. The UK remains a decent place for employment purposes. The UK speaks English, of course, and I know a few people here.

I feel no strong ties or even have much interest in contributing to this society but the truth of the matter might just be that this is what I know, and at the age of 39, I’m getting a bit long in the tooth to be adjusting to new cultures. I could easily be content never living somewhere else if I were to find the love of my love on these shores.

Maybe I’ll find love on some distant shores, of course, and the calculations would change. They’re complicated and expensive calculations, however, and the likelihood of me needing to make them are low. So I’ll focus on the knowns, and I’ll defer until spring when I may know more. And then, I really have to decide on my next move. In the mean time, I need to focus on living, being present in the moment, and enjoying all the experiences that I’ve lined up on the horizon.
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