Over dinner at the weekend, a friend asked me a simple question, to which I gave a simple answer at the time. Over the last few days however the question has been playing in my head and a number of very different answers have been floating around in there too.
One of the first things that struck me was that out of all the questions that people ask me, it is one that comes up a lot. More frequently in fact than any other more obvious question I would expect. The second thing I realised was that my answer has become the answer that people are expecting in some ways, rather than the answer that I now feel would be the right answer.
What is this question?
Very simply “Do you miss living in Asia?”
I find it interesting that people don’t ask me often if I miss living in London, or Europe or the UK. Is that because it is assumed that I do, or indeed because it is assumed that I don’t? I really don’t know. Is it because for many people Asia is still seen as more exotic, exciting and maybe even a bit more enviable? Is it simply because it was the last place I was living before I came out to Sydney? Who knows.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised that it may be because I now rarely use Europe as a reference point. I left over 14 years ago and it has become less relevant to my life in general. The person I was then is certainly not the person I am now (thankfully!). My experiences in Asia have been, in many ways, more formative – mentally and emotionally – and closer to my current life. The challenge of starting again from scratch in a new place forces you to distil your personality down to the things that make you who you are – becoming a different you in the process.
I have, over the years, also realised that the move from the UK was just that. When I made the decision to move, I wasn’t going to Asia because I wanted to be there, but I was going to Asia because I didn’t want to be in the UK. Things had happened that I was keen to move on from and the method I chose was to take a job overseas, experience a new place and create new challenges. I know now that I was in a sense running away and maybe that is why I retain so few reference points. I took only what I wanted and deliberately but also unconsciously cut out the bits of London I didn’t want to carry around with me.
Of course I ended up loving Asia and spent over 9 years there. It would be difficult not to and I think that maybe this is what people are picking up on. It is almost as if, in some way, I only started to be me when I arrived in Manila. I met new people, new friends, took on new challenges and healed the hurts that I had been nursing as I left London. The ‘me’ that people know here is the person that was created there, in some ways with little of the UK left in it. They sense the happiness that I had in Asia and don’t look beyond that. But more importantly I have let them do that too.
The friend who asked the question on Sunday is also one of the few people who has really understood why I now need to spend some time back in the UK. Just a few months, but enough time to make peace with myself and with the place. Life and work have lined themselves up to make this trip back possible, so I am taking the opportunity and running with it. Who knows what will happen when I am there?