Monday was my first day back at work, after 2 weeks of holidays. Two weeks of Europe, family, friends. Saying my return to Singapore has been depressing would be a euphemism.
I woke up on Monday morning with my brain wrapped in a merciless jet lag, a storm raging outside. The sky was dark and angry, rain pouring down relentlessly violent. I sat on my bed, half naked, my hair in an unmanageable mess. I looked outside of the window, the first thing I thought was “I’ll need to wear sneakers today”.
“I don’t want to go outside. I can’t go outside”
Then I stood up, for a moment surprised I found the strength to do so. My 2018 has to start, if it really needs to.
Quick wash, quick (desperate) hair fix, quick cat eye. Wearing the t-shirt my mom gifted me in Italy made me feel better for a second, but then it passed.
Two aspirins and I rushed out, carrying tons of stuff, trying to slalom in the rush hour crowd that was walking too slow and too careless. As soon as I reached the train track, tears silently rolled down my cheeks. “I don’t want to be here. I need to go back. I can’t do this”.
It is almost unbearable when homesickness becomes physical pain, a black hole of energy.
I spent my morning trying to immerse myself in the 354647 tasks I will need to complete by the end of the week. I answered a couple of e-mails. I booked a couple of meetings. I opened a couple of files to analyse, but didn’t analyse them. Basically, I couldn’t do shit.
My brain was pure fog. I stared at a single Excel cell for five minutes straight. Coffee didn’t help, green tea didn’t either. I was almost drowning in a hopeless ocean of sadness and a very uncomfortable feeling of misplacement. “What time is it? I shouldn’t be here”.
So at noon I decided: “I’m not hungry, but I’m going for lunch”.
I have this idea that a spicy soup can help all sickness. Korean kimchi jigae and Thai tom yum are my evergreen remedy for: jet lag, hangover, period pains, influenza, indigestion and bad days at work. Thank goodness, one of my favourite tom yum soups is made by a Thai conveniently located one elevator ride and 20 steps away from my office desk.
When I got out of my office building, I was surprised by a glorious, scorching sunshine: I was so busy feeling like crap, that I didn’t even notice that the storm had passed and left behind a gorgeous blue sky. I felt the warmth on my cheeks and the light, almost blinding, starting to wake me up.
As soon as I sat at my table, the waitress came and asked “Tom yum soup, no prawns, no noodles, only white fish and mushrooms? Water to drink?”. I smiled and nodded. She remembered me. She remembered my (a bit OCD, to be fair) order. I felt an unexpected warmth, a feeling of home. For a moment I felt like I had a place in this city.
After I finished all the spicy goodness I went to pay. The owner is usually an all-business-no-frills kind of auntie* but this time, for the first time since I started to visit her restaurant, she gave me a huge smile and exclaimed “Long time no see!”, gave me a scoop of coconut ice cream with red ruby jelly (you have to know, I am obsessed with coconut everything) and continued “I love your t-shirt, very special!”.
And I felt happy. I felt so happy, I barely kept myself from hugging her and leaving the restaurant singing.
And I felt even happier because the reason of my joy was such a small gesture of kindness from a stranger. I felt happy because I realized that I have learned to notice those tiny good things: the smile of a stranger, someone keeping the door open for you, a beautiful blue sky after a storm, a waitress remembering your usual order, the taste of coconut ice cream. I felt happy because I have learned to use those tiny good things to forget about the gloom and sadness, the stress and the feeling of hopelessness that sometimes threatens to overwhelm you, especially when you leave far away from your friends and family.
Now my 2018 can really start. And as long as I am able to see those tiny good things and use them to bring me unexpected joy, every day, I can do this anywhere.
It is really true that a spicy soup can cure all sickness…
*In Singapore, we call older women “aunt” or “auntie” and older men “uncle”. It is an expression of respect towards them and I find it suuuuper cute
PS: Do you think the people at the Thai restaurant have the same opinion of me as Helen Hunt of Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets”? (namely, a freak sitting always at the same table of the same restaurant ordering the same things with specific requests :p )