Reflections on A Year of Uncertainty
(This post jumps around a little, chronologically. But know that I speak from a present day perspective, even if sometimes I'm referring to events in the past.)
In the midst of the highest of highs came some of the toughest life experiences I've had.
This was particularly evident when, some months ago, on my 28th birthday, I was sitting alone on a train, travelling from Gothenburg to Hamburg (that's a whole day's journey, counting transit time in Copenhagen, and waiting for the ferry from Rodby to Puttgarden), and wondering what in the world I was doing with my life.
Now, you might think that sitting on a comfortable, high speed train in Scandinavian countries isn't such a bad thing, and you would be spot on. But when you've also spent most of the past three months alone and with no promise of a permanent home, while searching for your future and having no idea where that may lie, things quickly become a lot more bleak.
One year ago, I left my job and the promise of a life in Singapore, where I had been living for over 12 years. On 1st June 2017, I was unemployed, and had no idea what was going to happen, except that I was going to head to Europe to try to get a job with a dance company there and make my dreams come true.
'Cause boy, if you've ever woken up on a sunny morning in the Alps and walked out to the fresh mountain air to play with a neighbour's cat (ok, not my neighbour, but the neighbour of my AirBnB host), saw the green grass and breathed the fresh mountain air, then you've lived in a dream. (Sure, a nightmare if you don't like cats, but you get my drift.)
And that was the dream. To go to Europe, find work, and build a life there, because the world is so big and so wide, and all I had ever known deeply was a few spots in Malaysia and Singapore.
Unfortunately, things didn't quite wind up the way I hoped when I started my trip. The reasons are varied, and important, but I won't list them here. For another time.
Anyway, after not one, but two trips to Europe, and bouncing back and forth a fair bit between Malaysia and Singapore, it looks like I'll be here in familiar territory for a while. I don't say that with resignation, but with excitement as to what the future holds.
One reason for the excitement is that towards the end of my tenure in Singapore, connections with old acquaintances in the street dance scene began to revive themselves, and new relationships also began to form. By the divine providence of God, or stroke of luck, whichever you prefer, I found that there were dancers who had walked very different paths than myself over the past ten years, but all of us had ended up looking towards the same destination: seeking to bring street dance forms into the theatre, to merge them with the sensibilities of contemporary dance, to create art that was at the same time both epic and accessible.
In short, there is a community and a movement that can be built back in Singapore.
And back in Malaysia, there is a whole 'nother dance world that I've only begun to get to know in these early months of 2018. And yes, as I get older, nostalgia becomes a little more accessible. Things like pride in my national heritage come to the fore too. So the recent change of government in Malaysia? Man, that's been exciting!
Realising that Malaysia and Singapore are where I am going to be for now doesn't at all mean that the time spent in Europe wasn't meaningful, though. If nothing else, it was an epic adventure. Travelling around the place, sometimes with little or no plan was exciting and deeply rewarding.
On my journeys, so many cool people were encountered, with whom I'm trying to keep in contact with via the Internet (at least in the Facebook-stalking sense), some of whom I hope to work with in a professional capacity one day. These individuals, and the dancers that I just got to see (and not hang out with) at events like The Notorious IBE 2017 and Open Your Mind Eindhoven 2018 have challenged and motivated me, and reminded me that there's always so much more to do and learn and grow into that resting isn't an option, unless I want to sell myself short. Conversations with these artists have been fun and meaningful, and have broadened my horizons far beyond what they once were.
There was time spent with relatives that I haven't hung out with in years (some of that is, no doubt, my fault, as I wasn't back home in Penang when they chose to visit) and friends who I haven't had a meal or coffee with for a decade or more.
The epic scenery that I got to see was one aspect of the trip not to be forgotten! I've always liked looking out the windows of moving vehicles, but being able to do so in European countrysides is really different from what you get to see in Malaysia.
And walking around cities in Scandinavia? (Well, three cities. Oslo, Copenhagen and Gothenburg) was such a treat. They're so clean, and the old architecture so well preserved, and the new architecture integrates with it, rather than just forcing itself upon the old. And so integrated with nature, particularly certain bits of Oslo. Sometimes, it feels like you're walking through a fairytale.
Let's not forget the food! Oh the food. If you ever go to Berlin, make sure you drop by Zur Haxe for some traditional German fare, and Outbreak Food for the best burgers that I've ever had in my life! And the kebab. Berlin wins for kebab, hands down.
Perhaps the most important thing that I realised over this past year is how thankful I should be for all these opportunities that have come my way. Sure, I might not have secured a dream job in an idyllic country of choice (mosquitoes, among other things, definitely make SEAsian countries non-idyllic), but how many people will ever have the chance to travel the way I have the past year? In ages past, and in time to come? Sure, in this day and age the number isn't insignificant (and if you're reading this, I'm guessing you're not overly strapped for cash and are lucky enough to be able to fly overseas on holidays), but how many people actually would?
Beyond that, the family and friends that I have, and the hospitality they have shown me whether because I am the traveller or because I don't have a regular full-time job (I've done some work over the past year, just not heaps, and certainly not much work that will make me rich) has been pretty overwhelming. I could try to count the number of free meals that I've had over the past year, or the number of days I've lived rent-free in other peoples' homes, but it would be a big number, and I don't like math.
Moving into the future, where uncertainty continues to reign, there is still the promise pronounced in Matthew 6: that even Solomon, in all his glory, was never arrayed as marvellously as the lilies of the field, and my Maker knows my needs. He has set in me this desire to dance, and I have seen that there are needs in the dance world that should be filled, and so that is the work that I can look forward to doing in time to come. And hopefully, it will be meaningful, and make a difference in the world around me.
And so, that's where I am now. One year into uncertainty, with many more lying ahead. Never more than four weeks living in one place, and often quite a bit less than that. I'm a little bit tired of packing my bags, but I'm certainly not tired of being excited about life and all its treasures to be discovered.
(Below is a little gallery of my trip. I'll add more photos to it in time to come.)