Late November. The last morning in Vienna. My train for Slovakia leaves in ninety minutes and there is hardly any time to prepare coffee. I stumble around my friend’s flat (my namesake, anchor in the summer), waiting for her to get ready. Half asleep, I search for something in her room. But then.
I look up through a window and an incredible view shocks me into being wide-awake. The sky is blood red. Blood orange red. It is all the warm colors of this Earth. It is on fire. It is everything I need to be reminded of the beauty in this world. I am reminded of many things. That being half-asleep isn’t good enough. That one must look for beauty in life all the time, every day, every minute. That one shouldn’t be afraid of challenges. That one shouldn’t be afraid to live.
After that, I wasn’t anymore.
Early December. I get off the plane and straight onto the train. Ten or eleven stops to my destination. A cute boy sits across from me; we look at each other once in a while. A little smile in the corner of his mouth. He gets off the train before me. Adele’s Hello in my earphones. I have been listening to the song without a pause since she released it in October. Something is brewing inside me, I can feel it. I am about to make a sudden move. Hamburg is gray. Hamburg is always gray. There are different kinds of people around me here; different nationalities, languages, ethnicities. I feel more comfortable when a city’s population isn’t as homogenous as it is in Prague. It is, perhaps, the only reason I’ll end up leaving.
It is almost Christmas time and apart from summer, it’s the best period of the year to be in Hamburg. The Christmas markets are impressive. Loud, flashing lights. I eat my weight in sugar-roasted almonds. Mulled wine for lunch and then it just keeps flowing. It is dark early and exploring the wintry canals is tiring. I drink a lot of coffee in Hamburg. Even more wine.
The friend I am visiting holds a special place in my life despite the generational gap and many years apart. We spend the evenings at home, cooking Dalmatian dinners with a bottle of dry red. Solving puzzles with her kids. She’s animated and loud and never stops talking; she is exactly what I need in order to be ripped away from my thoughts. I feel at home.
Monday morning. I leave for the airport at five thirty, while everyone and everything still sleeps. It is close to 0*C Celcius. I walk through the darkness to the train station. Airport Express is almost empty. Somehow Hamburg becomes another city I call home. And so, in February, I return. And I am happy to be back.
London, United Kingdom
Late February. This particular London trip was three years in the making. In retrospect, London was the sudden move. Everyone I know here is a Hong Kong connection; it doesn’t surprise me. The girl I am staying with is from the same region as I am, but we still speak in English. I hang around Angel Station a lot; explore the area. There is a bar called Prague. A new photo series is born on that day, but I don’t know it yet. I drink coffee during the day; Hendrick’s at night. I am on edge during my entire stay. Never truly relaxed. London feels familiar. It is a city I was supposed to live in. At least, I think of it that way. For four days, I wonder whether this is where I will end up anyway.
On the second night, I pick up my friend at King’s Cross. We haven’t seen each other since an evening in Hong Kong at the Roadside Bar a few years ago. I still think of that night often. But now we are in London. It’s almost midnight and we devour the most delicious hot dog I’ve ever had – with onion and an abundance of toppings. For next to nothing. On the way home we pick up a bottle of rosé. I welcome the quietness of Hackney. Happy Man saw me on a Sunday; after the failed meet. There was irony in it, there was everything in it. It was the night I started drinking gin again.
One evening, I see a rasta musician at the Tottenham Court Road station singing a rendition of Pimpa’s Paradise. He looks like a Marley a little bit. I am taken aback by the song. I record a video of him and there is a moment when he looks straight at me. As if to say, this is for you. But I don’t want that song to be mine.