Emptiness

What was 24 hours ago: sprawling about on the floor of the Airbnb apartment amid my Dad’s chatter (and calculating the probability that you would get 2 different ice-cream flavours from 12 sticks in 3 colours, i.e. 4 in each colour), annoying my brother and getting him to wake up (he was asleep at 9pm!), looking through the photos from the entire trip and deciding that I had to upload it NOW or I’d never be able to look through them myself when I’m alone.

What was 12 hours ago: silently sitting cross-legged on the floor of the Airbnb apartment, alone. I was afraid I’d forget how the place looked like and the memories I have created here the past 5 days, so I sat there to absorb everything and just cried. I felt everything so intensely at the same time. I never wanted to forget how my brother and I burnt the pizza the first time we used their oven, how my cousin and I struggled turning on the AEG electric hob because I never dealt with a touch-screen hob. This place held so much memories from home for the past 5 days: of my noisy family that annoyingly wakes me up at 7am to disturb me, of my Dad’s snoring that I never got used to at home, of my noisy siblings and accusing one another of being stingier than ourselves, of my cousin who was always scrolling through Instagram feeds of pretty girls and catching up with his female friends. In a way this was everything I had always been looking forward to- living with my family in such a relaxed setting, talking about life until we got tired. It reminded me of the family holidays we used to have going on (and escaping from) tours, like Korea in 2008 and Hong Kong in 2010 where we went to each other’s rooms to talk the night away. People would earnestly ask why I made the choice not to returnhome for Christmas but I’d excitedly add in that my parents were arriving in 1.5 months after that to celebrate Chinese New Year with me. It was worth it, I was more than willing to wait for the week when my family didn’t need to work for us to really have a proper holiday. They would be working anyway if I return during Christmas. So quickly, all the anticipation I had in these 5 months in London is gone, and it’s all over.

I had a great time being a tourist in London, with all my virgin buys of “Sainsbury Taste the Difference” items because they were more expensive than the usual buy. I enjoyed devouring duck after duck at Gold Mine and Four Seasons, and I loved all the expensive meals that I’d never bring myself to eat, namely Duck and Waffle and Poppies (expecting above £100 when the check came was never normal). I came close to living like a tourist settling in initially but never as extravagant as when they were here- my family believes in the “Live like a King” philosophy on your travels and I enjoyed every bit of it. My neighbouring Sainsbury held a different meaning when they were here because I found myself walking to sections I never used to walk to, and buying the (more) expensive items I never used to. What kills me most right now was how my family bought items and food so excessively because they were afraid I’d be stingy with my purchases if I were to be left alone, and spoilt me so much in the week they were here. My mother got terribly disgusted when I told her how people here (including myself) reused jeans for a week, and she made me walk to the jeans section to buy myself new pairs. They bought so much instant noodles and 优乐美奶茶 without sparing a thought because they thought I’d be too stingy to buy these “slightly-more-expensive” products, and bought so much clothes for me because they knew I was never the type to shop.

But what tops it all was how familiar things felt when we finally got home at the end of a long day with all the walking. It felt like things never changed, every single day just felt like any other Sunday when we sat in the living room and just talked about life and what made sense. I’d be enriched by my father and brother’s conversations about business and the stock market, and his ingenious comments from his silent observations about things. I found myself learning much more about London and seeing things from the perspective of a foreigner so much more when they were here, despite having so much spare time and so many months here I never was able to make these (easily) deductible conclusions like him. UK helped its citizens in small ways: not the celebrated (yet debated) free healthcare through NHS, but how they locked up their tobacco in cupboards that you could only access when you paid by the counter which greatly increases the inconvenience of smoking, or how daily necessities like bread and milk are priced so affordably that a family would find it easy to survive with the littlest means. It makes me happy because my family dynamics remain the same, with us being all noisy and annoying yet occasionally wise, but at the same time recreating memories in a different place and space makes me terribly afraid. I’m afraid that with the years passing, while I continue living in my bubble that things haven’t seemingly changed, everything will slowly change. Afterall I am no longer in what I deem my safe sanctuary for 19 years of my life, and the conversations with my siblings edge me towards sadness even more as I slowly realise that we are growing up all too quickly. How much time am I left with- yet, once again how much time am I sacrificing with my family as I give away these 3, 4 years of undergraduate and postgraduate studies?

S0078725
捞鱼生 with my family on Day 2 of Chinese New Year this year, something I never escaped every single Chinese New Year, something I always looked forward. My dad and his long string of nonsense 成语s whether or not they make sense, and the snatching for salmon after that. 10 years on and this has still not changed. :’)

The incessant chatter for the past week makes this current silence deafening. I woke up from my nap an hour earlier to find myself crying endlessly and fetching tissue after tissue, at the same time getting annoyed with myself because tissues are expensive here. I never felt this level of homesickness because I stepped away from the SAF to so much more family time with my family even after I left. Notably I had the chance to FaceTime my family every single day, and sailing would not grant me that opportunity as frequently. But having them here for a week, living through all the familiarity and noise and having it taken away from me so quickly kills me so much again. I remember heading back to my hall to shower because I forgot my undergarments, showering at full speed unlike my usual slow hot shower because I wanted to spend as much waking moments as I could with them. I lived for the nights they were here, because they created a different meaning to the nights I have always been leading here in London. Family truly makes everything different, and they can make any environment pleasant.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve already felt all the emotions that ever “exist”, and whatever I feel from this point is just milder versions of what I have ever felt before. These extreme emotions hit me so much at many points of my teenhood, but feeling them again makes it so fresh and painful still. I’ve been too emotionally unstable the entire day to do anything concrete, but I hope the following weeks studying, catching up on work and revising for the examinations will make time fly faster. 到时间回家了.

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