The point where what should be extraordinary begins to seem normal is a strange situation to find yourself in.
I found myself walking through the Chinatown district of a city halfway across the world. I found myself walking with ease, a certain comfort and poise that would have been unthinkable six weeks ago. Six weeks ago I can distinctly recall attempting to walk down Little Bourke St attempting to find some cheap, scrumptious Asian fare and being quite overwhelmed. Bright neon signs, flashing my retinas with multiple Asian languages, my nose barraged by scents & spices and my ears assailed by a cacophony of languages. Try Shanghai St Dumpling, Ghin Khao, Noodle Kingdom, walk down a side alley for some place called New Kum Den, try our curry, we have the best sushi, freshest fish, spiciest dishes, on and on with the constant siege of the senses. Sensory overload.
The other night, same place, same time on a busy Saturday night in this lively city of Melbourne. Walking down Chinatown in search of some tom yum, pad thai, fried rice or whatever else caught my fancy; except this time I was able to savour all of it, less barrage and more indulgence of the senses. Despite this something nagged at me just a little. A little bug, an itch and a tingle tipping me off. I needed to explore more, push boundaries again. It was still an awesome experience, but this time I felt entirely comfortable. And for some reason this struck me in a not entirely positive light. I don’t think about which way to look crossing the streets (I know, it sounds silly but you’d be amazed how hard of a habit it is to break when you grew up with look left then right and it’s switched on you), I don’t ever need to pull out my phone for directions, it’s all become pretty natural now.
“Natural and comfortable” in a foreign city brings with it positives and negatives. It’s kick ass to be able to know exactly where you are, being comfortable and confident allows you to enjoy the city in many ways. You know some little tricks and shortcuts, you know that you have certain favorite places and sections of the city. It also makes you complacent. Comfortable means that the brand new sheen and excitement aren’t there anymore. Comfortable makes it easy to fall into a bubble, to begin to hit a simple routine and roll through days without the sense of adventure that was a constant during the first months of this adventure. It makes you return to the same few haunts over and over. You stop expanding and growing. Bubble. Not to say establishing certain favourites is bad, just that when surrounded by such a vibrant city it would be a shame to box oneself in. I’ve spent the better part of two weeks mostly within the four block radius of my apartment and the university. Sure, it’s nice to keep a low profile for a while, but I’m not here to be comfortable. Living abroad is not about falling into a routine. It’s about constantly being on your toes and ceaselessly pushing boundaries in some way. So though there is much to be said for some routine and some rest and recharging, it is vitally important to remember why you are abroad in the first place and to take advantage of it to the fullest.
A few more tips for any of those reading this and planning on going abroad in the future:
- Make a budget, even if you blow it out of the water, and you probably will, it’s a much better peace of mind knowing where your money is going and how you can save as opposed to checking your bank account and seeing decidedly smaller figures than you did a week ago
- Remember who you are, why you came and stick to these things. Growth is good, change can also be negative and it’s important to recognize the difference
- There’s a huge difference between dead horse (what they call tomato sauce) and Heinz ketchup. And yes, it is a big deal. I want ketchup, not tomato sauce with my eggs
I would hope that this little adventure bug sticks with me even after I return home. Looking back now, it is easy to see how much I allowed myself to stay inside the box. I fully intend to change this mindset upon returning and believe that this is an excellent lesson to apply anywhere. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, our hometowns may seem dull and we may feel we have seen it all, but there are always boundaries to expand, new things to try, and bubbles to be burst.