This is my 100th post.
Just wow – I can’t believe how fast that went! As such, I’m going to do a special topic. So this one’s dedicated to all the dearest friends I’ve met around the world, especially the ones I most recently was able to chillax with in Australia and the ones who I’m missing back home as the six-month mark rolls steadily closer. Love you guys.
After the poll I had a few weeks ago, it seemed like a lot of you wanted to know, “What’s it like to live abroad??” That’s no easy question and will have to come in many posts, but I’ll start here by talking about friends. Since the poll’s close second was “philosoraptor”, I’ll also attempt to talk about it via way of some deep thoughts that have gone kicking around my brain for a bit, mainly on the subject of – you guessed it – friends.
One of the (understandably valid) reasons not to pick up and go traveling is the thought of leaving friends behind. And yes: it’s harder than visa applications, airline bookings, and navigating a country in an alien language combined. Because once you settle and you’ve found where to buy your groceries, decided what’s your favourite bar, and pinpointed the location of the nearest movie theater, who will you enjoy them with? And who will have supported you through doing all that in the first place?
Yes, making new friends is a huge part of traveling, but ditching your already-established support network feels as silly as a blindfolded trapeze artist leaping at whim into the air on mere faith that there’s a net waiting to catch her.
So there’s something to keep in mind that’s just as important as encountering a different crowd of potential buddies: remembering that your old ones aren’t actually gone.
It may sound foolish to ever suggest that your old network would fade, but when you’re abroad, your life from back home becomes distant (and not just literally). The person you are in these different places shifts. Not to go metaphysical on you, but it’s like you’re living different realities.
This is part of the reason I don’t tend to be afflicted with homesickness; the places I go are so radically different from the places I’ve been that I don’t see them as existing on the same plane, nor feel like the same person when I’m in them.
So if traveling is like sliding between realities as easily as Neo flits in and out of the Matrix, what does this say about the friendships? Do they cease to be real? Do they lose value? Were they ever there at all? What’s the point of making new friends if you just up and trade them in when you shrug off a country like last season’s coat?
Obviously you don’t keep touch with everyone. You just can’t. You’d have to be living two lives at once if you were constantly chilling with both your friends back home on Skype/Facebook and trying to make connections with a new crowd. And imagine if you’ve lived in more than two countries? Unless you’re Hermione with a time turner, might as well just throw in the friendship towel.
Or do you have to?
A remarkable thing happens when you travel that gives you unique – dare I even say stronger? – relationships with the friends you leave behind. Granted you don’t spend as much time with them, and you certainly miss out on forging new memories, but when physical presence is gone and all that lingers is the memory of closeness, a bond of trust is made.
By trust, I refer to the knowledge that just because I’m not talking to you/you’re not talking to me – and sometimes weeks if not months go by between message exchanges let alone Skypes, we still have an understanding that we care about each other. The lack of communication has nothing to do with losing closeness, but rather gaining the trust that we’re comfortable enough with each other to know that our friendship can withstand the silence.
Just like in Pulp Fiction, intimacy is knowing when you can shut the fuck up with someone. It’s knowing that silence isn’t a bad thing.
I’ve known (and loved) both kinds of friends: the ones who get hung up about my lapses in communication, and the ones who lapse with me.
The ones who get offended are usually the ones where I can’t help but feel a little anxious in the relationship – not in the sense that I doubt our friendship, but that it makes me worry that they do. And I tell you there’s nothing more exhausting. It’s the lack of trust that gets to me, and then the paranoid, “Oh crap I haven’t heard from them in a while – does that mean they’re upset? Does that mean they think I’m mad? Does that mean they’re angry I’ve made them upset because they think I’m mad??” Then there come the tentative checkups and hangouts: everything’s set in order again; hard feelings are hammered out, phew. But then the silence again, and the whole worry wheel spins its spokes once more. You still love them, but how come it has to be so tense? Why can’t it just be easy? Because you know it can be easy.
Because the other kind of friend is the one who, inexplicably, synchronizes in your silence. It’s the same as when you’re chatting, taking a stroll through a neighbourhood, or sprawling on a beach, or taking a break on a park bench and your conversation reaches its natural end. Without even noticing, you each simultaneously fall into your own thoughts.
There’s something intimate about sharing that moment of silence. I suppose it’s biological, dating back to the time when companionship was necessary for survival. To be able to relax completely while in the company of another indicates a supremely high level of trust.
These days, this silent trust translates to cyberspace. If we’re to consider silence the best company, then in the time when we’re continuously connected to each other why should distance be considered a separation and not constant companionship? An elongated silence of the same timbre as that which we experience in person?
It’s a bit of a brain exercise to wrap your mind around that one…
…but think about it like this. We’re lucky to have the Internet, because now traveling doesn’t equate severing ties and creating loneliness, but rather the ability to carry your friends with you at all times. Hell, even when I wasn’t traveling, I’d often go months on end without seeing some of my closest friends and wasn’t melancholy about it because of this very line of reasoning.
Using this philosophy of distance, it compresses the world, makes it feel as if I’m living around the corner instead of in a distant suburb in South Korea – and it means you never have to be alone if you don’t want to be.
Granted, this doesn’t always work. It still holds true that you can’t stay in touch with everyone, and yes, some friendships are going to slide. But if they do, they’re usually the ones that weren’t meant to be anyhow. At the risk of sounding sentimental, the “special connections” you make through your lifetime become a lot more obvious. You start to realize which people you not only want to but need to keep reaching out to. Which inevitably makes those friendships stronger.
Such friendships are recognizable by their uncanny ability to bend time and space.
The old cliche of “Omgzz it’s, like, no time has passed!!” after a long-awaited reunion is entirely true. You pick up where you left off. I guess this has something to do with sharing something greater than common experiences.
It’s always hard to put friendships to the test, though.
When I went to Vancouver in the summer of 2012, I met some friends I was sure I would stay in touch with – especially since two lived in the Montreal region and another was an Australian girl working her way across Canada, eventually to Quebec.
Sadly when we reunited a few months later, it was one of those times when we all simultaneously shared a different kind of silence: the awkward turtle.
Not only did our conversation attempts die after a few sentences exchanged, but I think we all realized that what we’d shared in Vancouver had been temporary situational companionship rather than true friend chemistry.
Because of this, I was somewhat nervous about going back to Australia to meet up with the handful of dear friends I’d managed to keep close with over my three year absence. Were they youthful connections made in the frenzy of departure deadlines? Had we changed too much in the interim years? Was our friendship based on the proximity of living in the same college residence or did we indeed share that “something” greater?
But, joy of joys, I didn’t need to worry. You’ve (probably) read my reunion account with FR in a previous post, which was an awesome time, but aside from her I met up with three other friends and ran into one very randomly while walking around my old uni. It was definitely a no-time-has-passed scenario all around. We even shared comfortable silences despite years worth of catch-ups compressed into a few hours.
I was going to post photos of our time together, but sadly those were all lost on my Seagate drive, so instead everything I’ve included is from 2011. Since it’s like no time has passed anyway, I feel like it’s just as fitting.
That said, and despite my handy rhetoric to trick my brain, I feel I still need to disclaim that it’s always going to suck leaving friends behind. Perhaps this somewhat deflates my post, but it wouldn’t be honest to say friendship in silence is wholly satisfying. It is, after all, only half the friendship.
Sometimes you can’t help but hear ringing solitude instead of the comfortable hum – or should I say text alerts and notification bloops – of companionship. At these times, there’s almost nothing you wouldn’t give for one of your nearest and dearest to be there to make you snortle (snort while chortling) with an unexpected comment only they’d think of, or to delve deep into philosophical theorizing with them, or just to watch a movie in their company while sharing a large popcorn, extra butter.
I recently started reading Dune (finally) and came across a quote.
While readying himself for the departure to Arrakis, Paul can’t help but feel sad about leaving his home planet. Hawat says to him:
“Sad? Nonsense! Parting with friends is a sadness. A place is only a place.”
I highlighted this quote in my Kobo because it stuck out. I agreed, but I didn’t – and it wasn’t until I was writing up this post that I realized why.
Parting with friends and parting with places comes to be one and the same when traveling. Home is friends, and friends are home. So while it’s the hardest thing in the world to leave your shelter behind, it’s also comforting to know that it can follow you: wherever your friends are, there is your home. When you travel a lot, your friends tend to be scattered across the globe, making it so you have safe havens floating around on every continent. And in this way, the world becomes your home much more so than the physical location you grew up in.
To wind this post down to an end, living abroad doesn’t mean the friendships you make around the globe are constrained by the departure date on a flight ticket or the expiry on a visa. It’s a comfort to know that. And it’s a comfort to know my home is ever-expanding, like I live Hogwarts and am always discovering a new room or hallway or staircase. It’s a comfort to know that home isn’t a place, but a state of being in a moment you share with someone.
So this is why I’m able to travel, because even as I leave home, I’m going home too.
And how about you, dear readers? Would you say that home is a where or a who?