Beijing, 北京

8th May 2018

We were on a boat; all comfortably in company, each lost in the flickering breeze of our own thoughts. The night a palate of blacks: smudged sky, weighty waves, and the black-black of the tropical silhouetted hills.

Why does bustle seen at a distance make everything seem more calm? 10 million Hong Kong lights living vertically, moving laterally over bridges and round bays – dots creating lines like a journey. And the regular shout of a lone, confident lighthouse – full of an uncertain meaning.

It was a sticky evening, my last in HK; a still night, but our journey over the waves created an apparent breeze, caused by our movement, so touching only us. I felt between worlds.

What do you do when you find yourself on a flight between one life and another – on the way back from a holiday; between childhood  and adult home? Does everybody hide a little? Close their ears to those cello sighs of melancholy?

I know some who chain watch films, but whether to kill time or hide from it I’m not sure. Others, the peaceful ones with short legs and foetal flexibility perhaps manage to sleep through.

I used to read The Economist. Head down, even if I was in company. Practised at suppressing the feelings that reach from the news I made it a transferable skill.

Now this journey with its life-like proportions are enough to detach me – the logistics, plans for serendipity and certainty, thoughts, assessments. This is what I’m newly practiced in, using my plans to anaesthetise – head down and pedal on.

I need anaesthetic at times: the world never comes at you evenly – whether you go at it or not. Travelling for a long time, especially alone and slowly is, I find, tiring. After a while the grogginess builds. But once again the bicycle has proved wonderful for chiseling back the leaves to unearth the country. Mostly it’s piecing together shattered stones but every so often I find a rich seam of experiences, another layer briefly revealed like a glance at the jigsaw box picture.

With each completed picture the foundations become more solid but the novelty a little less exciting. Over time the combined exhaustion of the cycling, the loneliness, or perhaps distance is a better way of saying it, and the ceaseless exposure to the country starts to sap, starts to permeate – I recognise it better now, sense it, like damp clothing left in a bag. The only solution: let yourself flap in the wind for a while. Hong Kong felt like this – arriving there I could switch off my VPN and myself.

But I’ve loved the journey. I’ve loved the freedom to sit alone in an unremarkable room – precious time to edit and develop the cine-roll of the day. And loved that my evening wander in search of food can explode into a night of revelry with unknown people. Most of all I love how the feeling of the place builds – hunches, experiences and beliefs now supporting brittle knowledge. I still lack the total repose of a Sunday but have managed to schedule a few more leisurely Saturdays.

Comfortable, mostly, with China now, I find my thoughts at sea between the past and the future: The now comes easily now. And yes the grass looks green here but who looks at their feet unless they’re worried where they’re stepping? If I’m walking I look forward, if I stop I turn and look at the view.

The feeling of being between worlds, it’s as predictable as the journey. Indeed, by the time the seatbelt signs come back on my mind has already arrived, my chocks in place. It’s only carry on baggage. And arriving back in Beijing, with local coins in my pocket and a subway travel card, a known route to a known destination, I’m not home, but I’m no longer between worlds.