To the Heart of Europe — Epilogue

A few days after we left Berlin Tegel, Dennis sent us a photo of Prague’s Wenceslas Square. A hundred thousand people were crammed into it, chanting for the corruption-laden prime minister to step down, eager for a change of government. I’ll admit that my first reaction was to smile amusedly at this — although the anti-ELAB movement was a couple of days on the horizon, Hong Kong had never really been terribly good at political movements, and my apathy towards authority has meant that I don’t have strong feelings about politics, here, there or anywhere. So the main effect of this piece of news was to remind me of a happy time in Prague and a vague sense of contentment that democracy was being exercised in loads of places around the world.

This is not a political story (me? get political?), but in the eight months since we left Berlin Tegel, so much has happened and we’ve landed ourselves in so much hot water that it already feels a world away. In Hong Kong, things have turned upside down, and the illusion of stability we had before the summer has been utterly obliterated. I’ll admit that during these dark times, my mind has wandered back to those days in Europe, where everything was simpler and more pleasurable. But I realised when writing up this journal that it wasn’t just all about happy times, wandering through streets eating a gelato and looking for a fancy manhole cover to cheer myself up. There were lots of unhappy incidents, quite a bit of loneliness and attention-seeking, and I can’t honestly say that everything has been amazing throughout the tour.

When I started writing this journal back in July (yes, it took me seven whole months to write 31,000 words), I wanted it to be merely an observational thing: ooh, look at us, gambolling through Europe trying to “fit in”, ain’t I a foolish one. But as summer turned to autumn, and finally winter this week, I’ve noticed that there’s been so much change in the way I look at the world. I’ve become more pensive, eager to ruminate on little things. Maybe it’s cause I tended to observe less and fantasize more in the latter half of the journey, or maybe it’s just cause half a year of distance — especially when so much has happened in the world around me — has caused those observations to be replaced by filtered memories, both of the things I saw and the things I thought. (That might explain why my posts tended to get longer and longer — they’re part of an effort to remember how I felt after seeing… things.)

So what have I learnt after seven whole months of writing a travel journal that helped me attain record readership for my blog? (Seriously, I’ve never had more than two or three readers at a time before.) To be honest… not much. Perhaps a vague sense that the world is not as binarized as I like to think it is, that there are people around the world are willing to help you in your times of need, or maybe that the road to freedom is long and paved with lots of blood and tears. I don’t know. These are commonly repeated answers, perhaps even clichés, that I’ve been exposed to over the past couple of seasons. And I genuinely can’t tell, even now, whether I truly believe in them, or if I’m just parroting what society has told me over and over again.

Okay, break time, here’s a photo of some more clouds on the flight back…

IMG_2648

But when I turn inside and think, there’s one thing that I realise I’ve sort of held back because it makes me sound petulant — childish, even. I’ve constantly mentioned how I’ve felt lonely while walking along the streets of Europe: obviously the space between peoples has something to do with it, but then there’s the intimacy that is so close and yet seems so far. But when I look at all those online blogs, all those Instagram accounts that show a fearless traveller soldiering forth and discovering unknown places of the world — Kazakhstan! Morocco! Peru! — I feel wretched. “How is it that they can do it, and you can’t?” My stupid inferiority complex, jumping up and berating me from out of nowhere.

Am I just being needy? Being in the third decade of my life, I really should have learnt how to become independent, but no: on this trip I couldn’t go five minutes without wishing for someone to pop up and share the crushing emptiness that I felt inside me. And that’s not easy when you’re travelling: it’s all about being self-reliant, learning how to be at peace with the fact that everything is new — the sights, the scenes, and most importantly, the people. If you want to go places, then you’ll have to learn to accept your solitude in this big, big world, fight your own battles, and not rely on other people for things, especially your happiness. That’s a revelation I find myself facing, but finding very hard to accept.

But then again, IS that the only thing that matters about travel? After all, travel isn’t only a self-enriching journey, where you learn more about yourself and become a headstrong fighter in the world. Most of us do it simply to escape from the shackles of our humdrum lives, to see what other people have deemed amazing. To spend too much time on yourself — not only focusing too much on how alone you are, but also imagining that you also need to revolutionize yourself — risks putting too much emphasis on your personal growth, taking yourself too seriously. You don’t need to be the best you on your holidays — in fact, you’re going on a trip specifically so that you can let your hair down and become just another tourist. Simply put: these cities only invited you to have fun… so drop everything, and come and play.

And I think that’s why I travelled. Only because I want to have fun, to explore more about a world which contains multitudes that will in turn astound and delight me with its wonders. I know, of course, that I’ll need to toughen up in due course, learn how to become self-dependent. But I think I can simply focus on loving these places and forget myself for awhile. And there’s so many places I want to visit — Copenhagen, Lisbon, Athens, and also some places that are like not in Europe. There’s so much to see, so much to do within a lifetime. Here’s hoping that I get to be swept off my feet by them someday.

And with that: my travel journal comes to a close! Thank you so much for reading some of the words I wrote, and whether you were here for just this passage or stuck with me right through these eleven weeks, I hope you enjoyed what you read and had a good laugh at a couple of my jokes! (Any one? Anyone?) I also desperately need to thank Dennis and Wilson for being delightful companions: I’ll admit that there were times when I did feel a little irritated by their nonchalant replies to my urgent, slightly attention-seeking requests, but I’m also aware where that irritation came from, and by and large I would absolutely jump at the opportunity to go somewhere with them again. (In fact, that might be on the cards this summer…)

One last thing before we close for the year: when I met up with him last week, Dennis still had the photo of the girl on Charles Bridge on his phone, and he still gets a kick out of mentioning it. Whether he’ll eventually tire of it one day… God only knows.

There’s no place like home they say
You’re my home, so hear me pray:
I don’t know you, and I need more time
Promise me you’ll be mine
Birds are flying over Europe’s skies,
Tell me please: why can’t I?
— Alexander Rybak, “Europe’s Skies”

Thanks for reading, everyone. Godspeed.

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