Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: reflection

My stories 05: Everybody’s Changing

“So little time
Try to understand that I’m
Trying to make a move just to stay in the game
I try to stay awake and remember my name
But everybody’s changing
And I don’t feel the same
You’re gone from here
And soon you will disappear
Fading into beautiful light
Cause everybody’s changing
And I don’t feel right…”

The song “Everybody’s Changing” has been on my phone ever since I discovered it, and I remember very distinctly the circumstances under which I first heard this song. It was October 26, 2017, my final week in Glasgow. I was having lunch with a friend at Chaiwallah, a cafe/restaurant nearby the University of Glasgow that popped up a few months before. (Side note: the site of the restaurant used to be a public toilet but has since been revamped into a cafe. As far as I am aware, at the time of writing, the cafe has closed down.) The space was small but cozy, fitting only approximately 15 customers. I wasn’t very close with the friend with whom I had the lunch date, and within the less than one year that I had known her, we never had a one-on-one conversation. Yet, there was an unspoken mutual bond between us, so it was only natural to finally have a chat with her in a relaxed atmosphere, before I left Glasgow for good.

We ordered our food, and mine was a sandwich with sweet potato, avocado, onion, and cheese. Though the portion was small, it turned out to be one of the best sandwiches that I’ve ever had, but in fact, food was not the spotlight of this meal. Our conversations were light but pleasant, brief but memorable. We talked about God, aspirations, relationships, the past, the present, the future. And then I heard it – a song played in the background that instantly caught my attention. I don’t know what it was that appealed to me. The instrumentals? The voice of the lead singer? The vibe? It didn’t matter – I knew I had to find out the title of the song and who sang it. Thankfully I had Shazam on my phone, which opened up promptly despite my phone usually being sluggishly slow. I told my friend, “I’m sorry, give me a moment, I like this song.” She smiled and waited. In a few seconds, “Keane – Everybody’s Changing” appeared on my screen, and it was like a dose of epiphany…of course!

Keane. I should have recognized that voice, and I shouldn’t have been surprised. “Somewhere Only We Know” and “Perfect Symmetry” were songs by Keane that had significantly impacted various phases of my life, and now, “Everybody’s Changing” made its way into my heart. The song speaks of embarking on the walk of life while all of a sudden realizing that nothing is the same anymore. It speaks of the struggle to accept change in order to stay alive in the game of Life but at the same time, trying to remain true to oneself and remember one’s own identity. But in this day and age, we are all sacrifices of our own products, aren’t we? When we are twisted, bent, and scarred beyond recognition, is it those around us who have changed, or is it us and only us?

Just imagine the sweet potato, avocado, and onion fusing together in a warm cushion of cheese – oh it was lovely!

(This short essay was written on January 16, 2019.)

Regaining my love of reading

COVID-19 has allowed me to pick up the habit of reading again and I’m loving it. It’s strange, sometimes I would wonder how I spent my time after work pre-COVID. I then realized how much time I wasted doing…nothing? Or perhaps nothing meaningful, shall I say. I would maybe scroll mindlessly through my phone or watch short videos that don’t require much thought, and before you knew it, it would be time to sleep. The cycle repeats day after day till I’m numb toward my perception of time, and then there’d be the perfect excuse of “I don’t have enough time”.

Then COVID hit and all of a sudden I found myself in quarantine/lockdown with all the time in the world. There’s only so much on my phone that I could mindlessly scroll through before I’d go crazy, especially during COVID when the news is either about conspiracy theories or overly sentimental positivity that does nothing but exploit emotional vulnerability. So then I turned to books – physical, paper novels. I had made the resolution to read more since the end of 2019, and COVID just seemed to make that resolution easier to achieve. For a long time, I had forgotten what it felt like to be immersed in adventure through flipped pages, to be gripped by the rich emotions of imaginary figures, to be able to experience worlds I would never have otherwise even known of. I had forgotten what it was like to have to force myself to NOT start a new chapter in order to not sleep too late (last time was Count of Monte Cristo) or to anticipate the gleaming introduction of a new book. I loved reading – and I wanted to regain that love.

Books on the small shelf of my rented home – can’t wait to move into our own home soon and get a nice big bookcase!

I started buying books, most of them classics that have stood the test of time. Some I have been meaning to read for a while (like the Japanese work “Norwegian Wood”) but many were titles that I was discovering for the first time (like those from HonorΓ© de Balzac). Of course, these were Chinese translations of the original works. I deliberately avoided English works for the moment because I prefer to read their original versions, which are rather hard to come by in Wuhan. That’s why most of the novels I’ve read so far were either Chinese originals or Japanese/French, translated into Chinese. (My French reading skills are only at the “Le Petit Prince” level so I won’t embarrass myself by attempting Balzac or Hugo in French…)

Regardless of depth or reading difficulty, there is something to be learned from each piece of literary work, whether superficial or profound. For example, “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami, while ruthlessly exposing the gravity of depression, made known to me two classic pieces of music, both named “Norwegian Wood” (English by The Beatles, Chinese by WuBai, and they have nothing to do with each other). “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera introduced me to the Prague Spring and Czech history. “The Sound of the Mountain” by Yasunari Kawabata (Nobel laureate) and “Paradise Lost” by Junichi Watanabe sparked my curiosity in the city of Kamakura in Japan, as it was the primary setting of the former and an important location in the plot of the latter. I’m currently reading “Notre-Dame de Paris” by Victor Hugo (a difficult read) and though I’ve never lived in Paris, my connection with France made me ponder about and want to explore the themes and motifs mentioned in the book (architecture vs. literature, piety vs. compassion, virtue vs. vice). (On a side note, I wonder how Hugo would have reacted if he found out about the fire at Notre-Dame last year.) As for “Dream of the Red Chamber” by Xueqin Cao…that’ll warrant its own essay, when I finish reading it in mid-June.

February 2020

Because of the COVID-19 situation in China, Jian and I couldn’t get back to Wuhan after our honeymoon in Japan. As a result, we’ve been stuck in the city of Dalian in northeastern China since the beginning of February. It’s been a month, and the lockdown in Wuhan still continues, so we wait. Thankfully, Dalian was not hugely affected by the virus, so our quarantine (expected as we were from Wuhan) was not extremely strict and we were at least able to go out and explore the city during this period of time. This would become the city after Wuhan where Jian and I had spent the most amount of time together πŸ˜‰

Upon arrival in Dalian, we were directed to a specified hotel that was able to accommodate citizens of Hubei province under directions of the local government. It was not cheap, but we were thankful to have a place to stay (most hotels were not allowed to accept guests from Hubei during this period). And hey, at least the view out of our window was spectacular, as we welcomed a bit of snow on our third day here!

Same view, different day, different time of the day. Dalian is situated at the southernmost tip of the province of Liaoning, which is the southernmost of the three northeastern Chinese provinces. I guess that’s why it’s not extremely cold, even though it’s way up north by Chinese standards.

Third view out the window, this time at sunrise. We were facing east so every morning we had a nice bit of sunshine coming in through the window to wake us up.

Now, getting out of the hotel, we began our exploration of Dalian. It was super foggy one day with very low visibility, but I was glad to be able to get out and get some fresh air (with obligatory face masks unless you want to be arrested) after the initial days of quarantine.

Dalian is located on a peninsula in the middle of the Yellow Sea between the Korean peninsula and mainland China, so we knew we had to go to the seaside for a stroll. Oh, it was windy, very windy alright…

A random bit of colour fun here as I contemplated what I could make out of what I had in the hotel room. Red and green are my favourite colour contrast, and strawberries give off such an aesthetically pleasing hue of bright red. I also got a small matcha-flavoured Swiss roll at the nearby bakery, but I definitely had to put the two together before I ate them πŸ˜›

Why, hello there. The sign in the elevator says “This region has been sanitized”, and most public places are now obliged to undergo frequent sanitization. Face masks have also become a rare and much-sought-after commodity in China, as you can imagine. Luckily we got some in Japan…

…and the Eiffel Tower appears in Dalian? Nah, just a small model in a commercial shopping area. Jian is so happy to be outside. Fresh air has never felt so precious.

Final view of the city of Dalian from our hotel window, at night. It might seem like we spent most of our time in the hotel. Well, this is true, as we didn’t want to cause any unnecessary hassle or misunderstanding. But I’d say within a month, we gained a pretty good idea of what life is like in Dalian. In the future, this city will always hold a special place in our hearts.

As we continue waiting for the end of the Wuhan lockdown and the day we are allowed to return, we are still thankful for the blessing of safety and health in the midst of the chaos in the country. Here’s to hoping that the March 2020 post will be written in Wuhan…!

Reading “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”

I finished “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera on the bus this morning (could have finished it last night if I realized that the last 25 pages were an incomprehensible epilogue). Yeah, I skipped the epilogue after about two pages because it made no sense to me (it consisted of a lot of references to other works that I haven’t read). But about the book itself, I probably only understood 30% of it. And what I did understand, I understood it superficially. The book had a lot to do with philosophy, religion, and mostly politics of Eastern Europe in the last century. Not having any prior knowledge of events such as the Prague Spring severely hindered my full appreciation of the book, but I finished it anyway as I couldn’t bear leaving it half (un)read. I think another reason that this book was difficult for me to read was that I read it in Chinese. Frankly, it was one of those books that caught my attention at the book store and I bought it without having done any research on its cultural background or author or even considered whether I would have liked to read it. But yes, reading it in Chinese was a little awkward, mainly because a lot of the translated expressions were awkward themselves. The essence of the original text must have been lost in translation, even more so in Chinese. There was one part that I read over and over again and still could not understand, so I found an English translation online and, immediately after reading it, understood what it was all about. This made me realize several things: (1) I need to read more literary works in Chinese because there is a lot of room for improvement; (2) English works need to be read in the original version (except for maybe CS Lewis’ “The Four Loves” – his writing style was so profound that I gave up 1/3 of the way in and in this case, it may be better to try the Chinese version); and (3) thank goodness I was not arrogant/stupid enough to try to French version of Kundera’s work, as I would not have gotten past the second page. I should probably re-read the book in English, but not before I finally tackle “The Great Gatsby” and let Kundera sink into the back of my mind for a bit. The “read more” resolution for 2020 (and for many years prior to this…) is off to a good start – let’s continue to rediscover the joy of reading!

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by French-Czech writer Milan Kundera, Chinese translation.

August 2019

In August I got married!! Well, legally married. In China, the process of getting legally married is usually separate from the wedding. We call it “getting the certificate” and it was a half-hour process of registration, after which you are officially husband and wife. The wedding often takes place after the legalities are taken care of, which is the case for us. We are still planning the wedding, which will take place in BORDEAUX in October, and while everything seems ready, at the same time nothing feels ready. It’s difficult to do everything remotely and distance definitely adds to the stress. A lot of uncertainty, but an equal amount of anticipation…

Right after J and I got officially married, we went on a mini long weekend honeymoon to Lushan (Lu Mountain) in Jiangxi province, which was right next to Hubei. We based ourselfs in Jiujiang, which is where most Lushan tourists stay. At the highly recommended Floral Hotel where we stayed for two nights, there was a small tea corner in our room, which was what attracted me to book here in the first place. Though the hotel was right by the main road, the closed windows served as an excellent sound insulation, and the room was peaceful and quiet, perfect for some relaxation time. Of course, J and I actually went out to buy tea just so that we could properly make use of this intricate little corner…or pretend to, at least. Fancy and classy…we tried!

Speaking of fancy, we had a candle-lit dinner…not by choice! When visiting our favourite Cantonese restaurant in Wuhan, there was a short power outage, and we were without light (and air-conditioning!) for about 20 minutes. While we waited, the servers lit a candle at our table so that we could enjoy some unintended “romantic” time, though I’d rather have a fan because it was 35+ degrees outside!

August was scorching hot but that didn’t stop J and I from exploring the East Lake on bike…always after 4:30pm when the temperature declined a bit. I didn’t realize this before but the East Lake was HUGE! We went cycling three times for approximately two hours per session, and I think we only covered about half of the East Lake Greenway. One segment had a long mural of random art, and this particular one of Lapras and Charizard caught my attention – and I think that’s a Krabby next to Lapras? There are surprises everywhere along East Lake. There shall be a post on the East Lake to come!

Next up, some photos of beautiful sky. I head west when I take the bus home after work, and when I reach the subway station, it’s usually just when the sun begins to set. As a result, I often see colourful patterns in the sky right in front of me when I hop off the bus, and some are quite impressive! Here a cloud was blocking the sun with its arm extended…or maybe the sun was wearing the clouds as a cloak and this was its idea of *smack my face*, ha!

Another view of the sky as I was walking to the subway station – how gorgeous are those clouds! Now that the sun is setting earlier and earlier, it will be harder to take photos like this because by the time I get to the subway station, the sun has usually set. Optimal time frame for photos at this spot: mid- to late August. Noted for next year…if I’m still working at the same company πŸ˜›

I love taking the train in China because you’re almost certainly going to pass by some amazing scenery en route. Sometimes you might also catch an almost-sunset, if you’re on the correct side of the train πŸ˜›

At Lushan, while everyone was busy taking photos of mountains and peaks (it wasn’t a very clear day so the photos didn’t turn out great for me), I saw this little guy chilling by a rock. I leaned in closer for a photo…or two, or three, or too many. Luckily it cooperated long enough for me to take a clear enough photo – and how pretty it was!

To prove that we went to Lushan and conquered the Five Old Men’s Peaks we took this photo. I think this was either at the second or third peak and my expression said it all: “It’s hella hot and I can’t feel my legs. Can we go home???” J’s expression was more like “I actually don’t want to take this photo, but we’re here anyway so we must take a selfie of celebration.” Let me just say that it was a VERY long day that consisted of probably 6 hours, 28 km, and 40000 steps of walking…all either uphill or downhill. At the end of the day my legs were shaking like mad and I literally had to lean onto J in order to walk properly. And my legs hurt and didn’t recover for an entire week afterward. Ugh. Never thought I’d fear walking DOWNHILL. An experience to be cherished, but maybe I’ll just stick to gentle hills in Scotland, thank you very much!!

We end with a group photo taken with DM (far left), a friend who visited us in Wuhan, and his friend XQ. We don’t get visitors often so it’s always pleasant to meet and chat when someone does come by. I think J was especially happy because he finally has someone to whom he could tell his secret guy stuff, ha!

As I write this we are counting down 27 days to the wedding…27 days!!! When the next monthly summary is posted I will have already arrived in Bordeaux…just the thought of it fills me with excitement!!!

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