The aircraft wheels seamlessly touched down on the runway at YYZ, yet the rose-coloured glasses I’d been so happily sporting for the previous eighteen months seemed to be abruptly thrown from my face. As I patiently waited to disembark the plane, I gazed out the frosty window to the blistery, snowy conditions beyond the tarmac; I knew it was far more than the Canadian winter weather that I was unprepared for. The truth is, a whole host of emotions had been presenting themselves in the weeks leading up to my departure from Asia. As I savoured those last days in paradise, I stifled destructive feelings of resentment towards my loved ones for their unwillingness to travel to my world; forcing me to leave a land of happy, chilled vibes and return to a place that, I believed, was burdened by materialism and gluttony. I tortured myself for the entire fifteen hour flight into Toronto by replaying memorable songs, scanning through thousands of travel pictures and watching every last video stored on my iPhone in an effort to desperately cling onto the memories of the people and places that had so greatly inspired me since my departure from Vancouver almost two years prior.
It’s not as if I haven’t booked countless one-way tickets throughout my travels. Yet, this flight somehow felt more permanent than all the others. It was as if I had succeeded in tricking myself into believing that a plane ride back to Canada symbolized the end of my journey; leaving me with only beautiful recollections from what I would one day describe as a transformative period of my life. As if buying the ticket inevitably placed a big, fat period on what was once a captivatingly told storey. The blissful, adventurous life I had come to know and love was over, and the unknown reality of what faced me was both terrifying and bleak.
Of course, like everything, “coming home” was bittersweet. Every feeling of disappointment was met with a tidal wave of excitement as I dreamt about reuniting with my family for the first time in nearly two years. The four of us had been counting down for months, and I began to really look forward to the daily bombardment of group messages laden with happy, celebratory emoticons. The truth is, no matter how independent I had become, I longed to be in their physical presence. To be enveloped in the warm feelings of love and acceptance that only my closest kin could provide. And going forward, no matter how great their physical distance, I will always hold blissfully close to my heart that feeling of hugging my mom, dad, and brother in the airport hotel hallway for the first time in far too long.
As delighted as I was to be in the presence of my family, it would be a bold-faced lie to admit that those first weeks in North America were anything besides distressingly challenging. Each day became a spiteful struggle in remembering (and trying to find gratitude in) all of the ways in which this now-foreign world operated. I continuously sobbed in my mom’s arms; longing for the tranquility and simplicity of the East. In every moment I resisted the urge to buy a ticket back to a continent that, I believed, made me feel so much more inspired and excited. I found it impossible to see the beauty in this ‘developed’ lifestyle, and no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not cultivate peace. A very ugly and deep-seeded resistance to anything and everything Westernized began to manifest and slowly infiltrate my being. I was an alien in a world that, for the majority of my life, felt like the most familiar place on earth.
I imagine it was the stark cultural contrasts that seemingly emphasized every little thing about how this new way of life didn’t suit. And, to this day, I’m still not sure as to why it all came as such an abrupt revelation to me. After all, in spending so much time away from home, I couldn’t possibly have expected to return unchanged. So here I was, in a once-adequate world, only now – it all appeared terribly unbalanced. A world that seemed to thrive on consumption, overstimulation, and abundance. A society that appeared so concerned with keeping busy and making money, that it failed to place any importance on silence and rest. People who objected the invisible forces of intuition and fate, yet admittedly defined success by the number of zeros in their virtual bank accounts. Conversations lined with self-judgement, comparison to others and division of ideas. Negativity of thought. Burden from excess. Action without mindfulness. Love oppressed by expectation. And a complete disregard for the importance of nature.
For weeks I lived in physical and emotional turmoil. And, in the absence of recognizing that I must first change myself before I can transform the world, I made it my personal mission to save my family (and ultimately the planet) by lecturing them about all the ways in which they could do better. I mean, I had seen and experienced so much – shouldn’t they want to behave and live with such purpose? I unknowingly held up a mirror and began judging their way of life with the same contempt that I so passionately disapprove of in others. I complained about waste, I critiqued their food choices, I putdown their lifestyle, and perhaps worst of all, I became one of those incredibly irritating people who returns home from a very long trip away and relates everything in this mundane life back to their incredible travels abroad.
In hindsight, it’s obvious to me that this behaviour was all part of an ongoing process of growth and adjustment. And, although my intentions stemmed from a place of love, I now realize that it is not my responsibility (nor in my capacity) to alter any one persons’ ideals based on what I believe is better or worse. It was only when I finally accepted the infinite things that I simply cannot change that I began to see the West with new eyes and extra colours. Within every instance I willfully relinquished control and surrendered to what is, I proved to my own self that I am capable of being the peaceful difference I wish to see in this world. That, more times than not, I need not utilize my energy to explain my actions, but instead, simply give answers in all that I do. And above all else, I learned to trust in the notion that we all cannot just Be There. That every person on this planet is doing their best in navigating a unique path to Arrive; and this road looks completely different for every single one of us.
For close to three months I ebbed and flowed with the highs and lows of a completely new lifestyle; collecting lessons and surprising my own self along the way. And, it seemed to me that as I continued to soften to the ways of the Wild West I, in turn, reaped rewards. Slowly but surely I reconnected with all the people from my past who set my soul on fire; reminding myself how easy it can be to see your worth when you surround yourself with others who do as well.
I brunched like a queen, drank too much champagne, danced all night in high heels, and sang at the top of my lungs while the music played full blast in my bestie’s car as we embarked on a road-trip across the east coast of America.
I strapped on a snowboard and re-taught myself how to reach the base of Whistler without breaking any bones.
I cooked and hand-washed dishes at every opportunity; relishing in the ability to prepare food in a kitchen stocked with something other than chop sticks and a hose for a tap. I indulged in expensive salad bowl-lunches, shopped at trendy grocery stores, took public transit that allowed me my own personal space (seriously appreciating the comfort of a subway journey in which another human’s sweaty skin wasn’t forcefully pressed up against my own).
And, although I will never say that my visit to North America infused my soul with the same glitter I feel when I’m abroad, I began to accept and appreciate this world for all that it is. I made peace. I ended chapters. I asked forgiveness. And, from this space of complete surrender, I allowed my heart to decide what felt exactly right before booking a one-way ticket back to Asia. Recognizing that, although Canada will always be the place that holds my fondest memories, earliest friendships, and first love; it is not my place right now. I’ve learned that it’s okay to whole-heartidly miss some things and some people without needing to possess or have them back.