On Being Back Home

I was writing and then I wasn’t. Then I was again. Recently I took to liking in disappearing as I wish. It used to be that I needed to be present at all times, with my words, with my images. There was a time when I posted words daily. Back then when waiting was still my thing. I wished for massive followings and frequent comments, but masses scare me with their blind loyalty. I like the quiet and anonymity. I like real conversations with opinions. I think it’s okay when people disagree with me. Communication is tricky. Mass versus personal.

At the beginning of the year, I was dutifully employed and just having a full-time job at a media company meant that I needed to censor myself and watch what I was saying, where and to whom. It was a terrible feeling and it plucked me back to what was important. I wanted substance and honest content. But words kept getting stuck somewhere between my brain and the keyboard. Photography comes to me easily these days, easier than words, and I store the pixel memories carefully. I play with composition, colors, and contrast. Since I entered the Balkans, I have not used filters. I don’t need them here. Dalmatia has me by the heart and soul and I wish I never had to leave. Or at least, that it was as close as Thailand is to Hong Kong because winters aren’t pleasant here. But they could be.

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I flew in from Istanbul to Zagreb twelve days ago. I’d forgotten how small the airport is and I appreciated the lack of travelers that are usually at large international airports. My skin welcomed the lack of humidity and cool breeze. Sometimes temperatures reach 30C, but it feels like spring to me. Tropical climates of South East Asia turned me into a fragile and easily-freezing person at nineteen degrees. I didn’t know how much I missed Europe until I wasn’t in Asia anymore. One cannot lose its roots and origin, no matter how much time passes. I thought I did not belong anywhere, but in reality, I’d simply forgotten. Four years away will do that to you.

I’d forgotten how green the streets of Balkan cities are. I’d forgotten how kind and mindful people are. Young greet the senior; everyone says ‘hello’ and ‘good day’ and the lady working at a kiosk will say ’I hope to see you again’ and in return, you say ‘I hope I will come again’. In retrospect, I’m lucky if the worker at a 711 in Kowloon gives me an angry glare. It’s refreshing to be home. I am reminded every day of the simplest things in life: the smell and diverse roundness of tomatoes, the thickness of yogurt in a bottle, the smell of bakeries at 7 in the morning.

I spent an afternoon in Zagreb; with a couple of friends over a coffee and glasses of gemišt (white wine diluted with water) at a café called Mali Bar. Instantly it became a place I wanted to return to. I fully recommend this little gem of a place. There was no time to walk around after our lunch, but the streets still filled me with positive energy. Hearing Croatian instead of Cantonese was a pleasant change, and so was being able to understand every conversation without actually listening. Croatia supplies produce according to seasons and in June streets of Zagreb are lined with strawberry, watermelon, and cherry stands. I could eat my weight in fruit, not to mention that the quality is higher and the prices are lower than in Hong Kong, where everything is readily available all year long, but without a significant taste. I don’t have to force myself to eat healthy food. Junk simply isn’t as available.

A quick two-hour drive from Zagreb is Bosnia and then Banja Luka where I was born. I calculated vaguely that this was my 6th visit in my 24 years. Nowhere near enough for me to be familiar with the city, but there is a certain irreplaceable connection that only a birthplace can evoke no matter how much distance there is. I finally realized it this year.

Four days in Banja Luka were too short, but I still managed to form a couple of daily rituals: morning coffee in a café next to our apartment, purchasing freshly baked bureks and pitas at the closest bakery and walking down the alley from my grandmother’s apartment to our own. I stayed in the city center for the first time and awoke to a sunlit street and chirping birds. In comparison to busy streets of Hong Kong, this was paradise. I felt my body and mind slowly beginning to adjust to the quiet and calm.

I am nowhere near being content. The difference now is that I am aware of what I need be working on.