Updated: Jul 11
Pic is Mark Eliyahu's concert in Instanbul
I was on the ferry from the European side to Kadikoy a few days ago. It was around 8 pm; I was stunned by how magnificently beautiful the city was. For a second, I was jealous of people born and living here. The skyline of it with the twilight in the background was just divinely breathtaking. This moving feast comprises exquisite historical buildings, dazzling new skyscrapers, enormous floating ships from afar, and grand bustling bridges.
I quickly realized that it was also rush hour for locals who commute to the other side of the continent for work to go home. Therefore the ferry was quite full. As much as I was deeply drawn by what was in front of me, for many people who live in the city, it is probably just their daunting daily routine because they are already used to it, and it is nothing too special. I noticed most people have their heads down, fixated on their phones rather than the view. The world on that device seems more extensive, exciting, and boundaryless. I accidentally peeked and noticed the girl sitting next to me was editing just one photo for the entire ride. I could not take my eyes off the view; it took me a whole ride to ponder and appreciate how romantic and lucky to have this present moment. It made me realize that our experiences and how we react to that experiences are entirely individual and private.
During that ferry ride, a few thoughts dawned on me.
How lucky I am
Indeed, how lucky it was that I was experiencing this in my prime time. I am still young, energetic, and curious. I am capable of physically demanding adventures. I am still very hopeful as I have my whole life ahead of me. I am mentally curious about many things and like to embrace new things and ideas. It made me think that endless possibilities are available in this city. I enjoy the vibrancy and the freedom it has to offer. Don't get me wrong. I have tremendous respect for people who travel in their 60s and above. I admire their curiosity and courage as I am not sure if I will be so driven and adventurous to do the same. Therefore, I think it is a privilege to experience and learn about the world at a more physically capable age.
Traveling has become secondary
I felt grateful for all the previous travels I had. The truth is, I did not know why I traveled, and there wasn't any profound purpose behind that. I was doing it because it seemed incredible to explore a different country, and I was curious about life beyond China. In the past, I did invest lots of my money to see the world. I would have saved a considerable amount of money hadn't I made those cross-continental trips. When I got the scholarship to study in Israel in 2014, ironically, studying was my secondary goal as I was keener on experiencing life there. My travel bud peaked in 2019, and I was exploring a new country every month until the upheaval of covid 19 wrecked my plan. These past two years have been life-changing and in the end, I stopped traveling for the sake of traveling (I can elaborate in another article on why I stopped traveling). As a result, I gladly made Istanbul my home base.
Self-awareness and self-acceptance
Over the years, I faced many voices of doubt and self-doubt. No doubt the first voice comes from my family. Living their whole life in a 200-people village, they could not relate to why I enjoyed being alone in a foreign country without any support. My stubbornness eventually conquered them, and they finally accepted my choice. Through many clashes, my mother finally accepted two realities: I am probably happier living abroad and will be doing just fine without tying myself to a 9-5 corporate job. Somehow, doubts from my friends were louder and more profound. They made me think about it more seriously. I had friends doubt my lifestyle and question the meaning of my travel. "Why do you have to travel so much?" they asked me. I did not develop a compelling answer by then. Travelling felt more like a hobby to me, and I did not feel I gained any immediate results.
It was only until recently that I stopped having this urge to travel that I realized those trips shaped my identity. Traveling made me more mature, tolerant, and less judgemental. I learned a lot about the world through my footsteps, crossed paths with many wonderful people, and with some I developed strong bonds and relationships. It broadened my interests, built my confidence, and honed my personality. Everyone can be their type of traveler and should have the liberty to define the meaning of their travel. Some people love exploring history; some are into food; some enjoy photography, and some just want to get lost in a foreign place or even upload pictures on social media to impress their peers; there is no need for any deeper meaning or justification beyond that. The key is to know who you are and be conscious of your choices.
I also understood that my travel desire originated from some deep insecurities and anxiety from my upbringing and the society I was raised up; it is like a matrix in which I live. Traveling is a kind of therapy and tool that helps me navigate and work on those fears and finally see the other side of reality.
Now, I don't feel the need to escape anymore. I am comfortable and settled where I am. As I developed more sense of self, I also stopped looking for adaptation. I have my ethnicity and nationality, but I don't feel the need to fit into any culture or society anymore. I learned that the best thing to do is to take what serves me and respect the difference. I feel very fortunate to have navigated several cultures, especially my experience in the middle east. It is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted places in the world.
Now I am sitting between Europe and Asia, and I have no imminent desire to explore the exotic, the unknown. I stopped looking because I got rid of my inner insecurity and am at peace with myself. I began to have a new relationship with my apartment; I felt comfortable and relaxed at my home.
三十而立 Nothing but 30
Confucius once said, and I quote "三十而立，" the literal meaning of this idiom is that "you are truly standing when you reach 30". I searched on google, and it is translated as "nothing but 30". In modern Chinese society, 30 is a very harsh and embarrassing number, especially for women; if unmarried, most girls would take it as one of the worst life crises in life. Our society and social media are happy to spread more fear and insecurity. Therefore, there are ridiculous phenomena such as the existence of the word "剩女" which means leftover women, and the date-renting market, which booms during the Chinese new year that you can rent someone to fake as a couple to meet your parents to avoid all the annoying questions. In my opinion, the essence of this saying lies in that 30 is the age when you develop more self-awareness and self-acceptance, therefore, more capable of making better decisions in life.