As far as family vacations go, we should have probably gone with Bangkok. If my mother's pronouncement that everything looked "stunning ordinary" from the cab going into Madrid isn't killer enough, it may be the weight of the history, economic crisis, and my six months of Manchester and desperation for non-European food.
But Europe had to be done. In the decade that seems a carousel for the Chinese tourist, Europe is still a beacon of romance and intellectual glory. For a family vacation that is the first of its kind -- mother, daughter, aunt, cousin -- we chose Europe. The problem, and joy in this entire endeavor begin with the algorithm: two "Americans" vs. two mainlanders, one low-key hipster vs. one gucci-wearing, street smart nouveau riche, one aunt who still lives a little in the sixties (note, in China, that was the Cultural Revolution, not the Love Revolution). Finally, there is me, who through the sheer will to "vacation the right way", has burdened myself with Airbnb bookings across five cities and all the transportation links in between.
After years in project management, it's only fitting that before sleep all I see are excel sheets. The logistics of check in, check out, trains, flights, sights, and good eats weigh me down like a wet blanket, while all my mind wants to do is bake in the sun on a remote island for a month.
It is not Spain's fault. The first thing I wrote down in my notebook about Spain is the following. "I fucking love Spain. The coffee is always good. The orange juice is always freshly squeezed. The tea comes in a glass," Amazing. It's also not mom's fault. Her arrival today has been nothing short of sweet. We walk, we talk, we cook.
The anxiety lie in the fact that my mind is catching up with itself. Too many things affected me the last six months, the last WEEK that I can't even find the right song in iTunes for reflection. Since last week is easier to deal with than last month, maybe I'll try to untangle that first.
It was really good seeing Robb and Leila. Both connect to my China days when I still had, in many ways, shiny eyes for that place. I've never let myself ease into an afternoon wine as I had with Robb, finishing it up with blurry eyes and blurrier heart. I've never talked for four hours and felt like I woke up from a few minutes of a dream than with Leila. Both are well, very well on paper, searching in their psyche. I am always impressed by friends who are in the mode of searching for something greater, something that moves them.
"What if all of your life you knew exactly what you're doing, then all of a sudden, you don't?" The funny thing is, in both of these instances somehow I was brazen enough to break the "we worked together" context by searching their faces, and becoming deep friends by the end of it. Friendship is a strange thing. I used to say it takes investment, but something happened in these cases that made me realize all it takes is an understanding. We talked China until we rekindled it, but more importantly, we talked about the growing self and vicissitudes of life that make it simultaneous heartbreaking and grand.
Elsewhere in London last week were other deep friends. Friends who make me not want to make new friends. Friends who make these days in exotic places seem commonplace compared to a desk with the four of us around it. Sometimes I worry. I worry that China feels like exile, anachronistic, and I am too comfortable there to grow. I worry that these people will live and learn without me. I worry that Rita will say yes to too many things while I live in a state of no. I have FOMO like I never had in New York or Beijing. I know these worries are as ridiculous as Dom worrying he might not find a job, but in the juncture of life, we all fear the fuck up.
The four of us are mighty together, and only now do I come to some sense of the cruelty of exile. It feels like one moment you were on a rocket with everything you need to explore the universe, and the next you're Matt Damon trying to grow vegetable on Mars. The unbearable lightness of being is this moment -- glorious vacation vs. heartaches for people you miss vs. a future so uncertain that only you can find it.
And so life sings on. It sings somewhere for Trish, deep in India, on twenty hour trains, maybe no Internet. It sings for the last night as we walk the canals of Camden, joking like the moment goes on forever. It sings deep into sleepless nights in Madrid.
It sings until the songs kind of blur together, and you remember your mother's in the other room, and how lucky it is that you can still speak to her in Chinese fluently, and how lucky it is that you were even together for twenty-two days, and how lucky it is that you even have enough songs to keep you breathless.
I don't know what the future holds but I will go boldly where it takes me.