I like to count my time here in London by the number of birthdays I’ve spent here, the number of Halloween parties I’ve dressed up for, and lately, the number of times I have seen the white fluffy stuff transform the city into a thick blanket of sparkly white. Of course, the erratic weather in London has seen snow and hail raining on us in late spring and even summer, so I can’t quite determine the number of years I’ve spent in London by the number of seasons that I’ve seen snow, but it is suffice to say that I’ve seen enough and yes, I’ve been here for more than three years.
I have had a bit more time lately with my thesis almost done, and I often find myself at home, with the heater on, staring out the windows and…I do quite a bit of thinking. Yesterday night, as I intently watched (for the first time, if I might add) a pretty snowflake disintegrate into nothingness on my window, I felt a sense of wonder, almost magical, and the same warmth that I experienced when I saw snow fall for the first time in my life. Back then, I was already here, all settled in London.
Three years ago, for almost the entire year, I called my family every single day on the calling card I bought from one of the grocers in Chinatown. Every three months, the calling card would expire and I would have to run out to buy more. Everyday, I needed a homefix of some sort, I needed to hear my parents’ voice. And a lot of times, I cried after hanging up because silence can make one feel awfully lonely when you are having a difficult time away from home. I wasn’t coping well with my research, particularly so on the social front as I was working with a rather abrasive person. Calling home was a way of seeking solace in familiarity. I didn’t see my family for eight months until they visited me in April 2008. When they left, the daily phonecalls resumed and I had to run out to get calling cards again.
As time passed, I got busier with my research. Late hours and weekends at work kinda happened, the very big no-nos that would make a homesick person crumble. But somehow, I coped. I still cried occasionally, yes, but I did what I had to do, and I called home less frequently. The emails with Dad were thankfully, still pretty regular.
In my third year, I barely called and I actually forgot to call most of the time. Sometimes, Mum had and still has to call me and check if I am okay because they haven’t heard from me. Emails are far and few in between, I check in once in a while to let them know I am still alive. I weep less, I cope better, I have grown to be more independent and to take the rough tumbles like a walk in the park. I learn to stick my chin up and soldier on, even if I was weary and sad and homesick. I learn to defend myself, something that I was not capable of when I was younger and when I was still living in Singapore.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss my family as much. I miss them even more than ever. I still bawl like a baby when I hug them goodbye at the airport. It doesn’t get easier to leave, it gets harder, because I know that when I return to London, it is just going to be us two, me and M, and we have to rough it out ourselves in a foreign country that we now call home. There would be no Mum and Dad to run to when someone insults me at work, there would be no Mum and Dad to run to when things get tough. There would be no *gasp* cheap local food to indulge in when we’re broke.
So you see, being away has changed everything, and yet nothing for me. I’m the same, and yet I’m not. Just like the snowflake that melted on my window. It is H-Two-O, essentially, but sometimes it’s ice and sometimes it’s water. Sometimes I’m the old me, and sometimes I’m the new me, and no, even though it is tough to be out here, I wouldn’t change anything, anything at all.
Above all, there is one change that I welcome most with open arms; I now call the abrasive person I used to work with, a pathetic joke. So, there. The circumstances are the same, but it’s no longer about how they get to me, but what I make of them. Yet, I am still me.