Choosing to live is scary, but the alternative is terrifying

A few days ago I was on the phone with a friend of mine. As we were discussing something trivial, she suddenly said: “I want to live forever.” A short silence followed, and then I asked: “Why?”. “Because I love life” she replied like it was the most natural thing in the world, and with a tone that modestly implied that I should have figured this out on my own. I thought, and then I replied: “I don’t want to live forever.”

After our conversation had ended I gave this exchange of feelings some consideration. Maybe we didn’t disagree; maybe we just had different ways of somehow trying to communicate the same feeling. Because the way I see it, being alive forever would devalue as good as everything actually worth being alive for. Think about it. What actual value would any of your dreams have, if you had an endless amount of time to pursue them? What incite to read a book, watch a movie, travel a country, undergo an education, tell someone that you like them or give up literally any mean of security and safety for the littlest hope that maybe, somewhere well-hidden in the unknown, your dreams awaits, if you could just as well do it tomorrow? Because there would always be another tomorrow?

We don’t have unlimited time, and that’s the thing. And that’s why at least I become impressed by other people’s experiences, achievements, and wisdom, because people have taken our of their limited allocated time, to obtain these souvenirs of life. They’ve invested. Meaning, to me, that they’ve been brave and bravery is always admired. To some people being alive means tempting fate on a daily basis. Being a war correspondent for instance, or simply being in a war, fighting for king and country. Or, just being a flight attendant, as my scared-of-flying best friend would add. But being alive can also mean to wake up in the morning and simply breathe, and that’s okay. Not all of us are in charge of our own time even if that should be a constitutional right, but that means that us who actually are, have to guard it well. We can’t always know what purpose other’s have with theirs, but we can be assured that it’s as different to ours as our DNA. And remind ourselves that what one person does to find rest, might have left another person restless. And how that’s alright.

So saying that you would like to live forever, is for me a sign that you’re probably not living at all. At least not the way you’d prefer to. I don’t believe that anyone who’s ever experienced the real pleasure of obtaining something that did not come easy; without an investment in time, money or other sacrifices, would ever say those words. The life-celebrating people I chose to have in my life would not. They’ve all lived to find out that it’s perfectly fine to love life even if it comes to an end at some point. Despite how good a movie is or how relaxing a massage might be, you’ll be bored or soar eventually, so it’s sometimes wise to quit while it’s still fun. It’s sound to make an end to something that doesn’t serve you anymore. But it’s brave to make an end to something that still serves you because you want more; because you want to invest more. In whatever it may be, that matters to you.

I walked alongside the narrow canals of the hip and trendy 9 straatjes quarters in Amsterdam a few days ago and it felt like it was the first day of spring in the air. You know a day when it isn’t exactly warm outside but not either chilly, and you notice how suddenly people slow down as they walk and how much mo they talk to one another. They open doors slowly and stop to look in display windows. I realized then and there how much of all that means to me, the change of seasons that is. Because in Dubai it’s never too cold. And that may sound fabulous to anyone from the northern hemisphere, but it’s actually taught me that I disdain what’s constant. Not necessarily routines, but things that are stagnant. A few days later I was in Rome, and I sat down in a wobbly chair on cobblestone outside a small eatery with square patterned linens and menus translated to very simple English. People lined up for tables in the street and next to the side walks stood 4 cars in areas designated for 3. I thought again that this is a good investment according to me, even though my pizza had unnecessarily much cheese and unnecessarily little ham, and even though the wine was so thin, it was an insult to all other Italian wines. In Rome it wasn’t the first day of spring, it was the first day of summer. And the day I don’t travel as much as today, I will think of that day and this time as very well invested one. That was a great feeling.

I don’t believe in destiny, but I do believe that the only thing anyone of us can do to ensure that our time here is spent well, is to do what you want with yours. Because even if you reach 110 years there will still be more things you’ll wish you’d done, and that doesn’t mean you’re discontent. If you sit down in a restaurant while you’re starving you might find it hard to choose between 10 appealing options, but once you’ve finished the one meal you ended up taking you’ll still feel full afterwards. You went for something out of everything you wanted, and it left you happy. No one needs to have it all, and no one can have it all. And that makes what you end up choosing so damn special and worth waking up in the early morning for and worth going to sleep in the late night for. A couple of years ago I met a girl who had “live forever” tattooed on her neck. I asked her if she meant it? She said, “no Adam, to me it’s about creating something that actually does live forever”. I never forget that, because I agree. We don’t know how many tomorrows we have, and life is everything but fair, so we must choose. And dare to realize that were we fit in, might not be were we belong, and where we belong, might only be a single decision away from right now. Or several, because we’re all so different. We’re all armored differently.

By choosing we can accumulate as many perspectives as possible in the time that we have, in order to change ours. Because we only understand the magnitude and the littleness of our ideas and thoughts, by comparing them to others. And other’s we get, by listening, interacting, and making choices. Even if it sometimes are the wrong choices.

Right now I’m sitting down in picturesque Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux, looking up at the magnificent building on the picture below. I read that In French you say “J’ai peur,” meaning “I have fear” when you want to say that you are afraid. Which is exactly how you’d say it in both Swedish and English. “I am afraid,” rather than “I have fear.” It’s easier to get rid of something that you have than something that you are, I reckon. And that is just the perfect example how seeing how other’s do things differently can change how we do things today. If we dare. So yes, live life every day like it would be your last in case it is, but bear in mind that there might very possibly be a tomorrow. And a tomorrow after that. Even at the point of life where there are more yesterdays than tomorrows left. And they should be worth waking up to.

The only things that are wasted in life are what was never utilized. So choose to live. Live according to you.

I just want to see flowers 07.04.17

A few minutes to 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon I stepped inside my hotel room in Amsterdam. I took off my shoes and threw my jacket on the bed, just like any other day. With not more than the bare minimum time to drop off my bags I quickly plugged my phone into the charger, and as the screen lit I saw the small red notification from DN, one of Sweden’s more serious daily newspapers, “Truck drove into a crowd in central Stockholm.” This was at 15:05, and 15 minutes earlier the Swedish police had received the alarm. At that time there was no clear information about either casualties or fatalities. I sat on the side of the bed and looked at the screen until it turned black. I felt how the shivers ran down my spine as I left my room.

Half an hour later I was on the bus heading towards some of the blossoming tulip fields of Netherlands. The bus had wifi. Two confirmed fatalities the modest and only available wifi allowed me to find out at that point. I took a deep breath and glanced out the landscape whizzing by outside the window, and I thought about my day. As I’d bent forward to scan my Id to report for work yesterday morning, with my carry-on bag in one hand and my suitcase in other, two alarm clocks probably went off somewhere in Stockholm. Somewhere, two persons reluctantly got out of bed, to get ready for the last working day of the week. As my plane took off, one person stood squeezed in between a herd of other commuters on the Stockholm subway in rush hour. And one person was stuck in traffic, slamming on the wheel and swearing out loud at fellow motorists blaming them for coming in late. When I sat down for five stolen minutes to bolt down a quick lunch from an aluminum foil, one person heated their brought homemade lunch in the staff canteen microwave. And one person sat down in a fancy eatery for lunch break, treating themselves to the fact that the week was almost over. When I stood in the lobby waiting to check in, two peoples roads crossed on Drottninggatan in Stockholm one the way home from work. One who lives on the outskirts of town but who’d taken a detour just today, to pick up a surprise for his partner. And one who walks the same short route every day to his car. Both so anticipant for the weekend. Both eager to get back home and unplug for two days. Both of them feeling like life was good, really good. And suddenly, out of nowhere, the bright light came rushing down the street in full speed, and not one of them managed to get out of its way in time. In one instant, only silence was left. And there I was, going to see flowers.

Someone lost their son or daughter today. And someone might have lost their father or mother. Someone might have lost their best friend. And someone might have lost the love of their life. And I was sitting there, on my way to look at flowers. I wanted to cry, I really did. This hit so close to home, in both time and space. But what’s there to let out when you feel empty inside, when there’s nothing there? When you feel so much at the same time that your mind decides to don’t feel anything because it’s too unbearable? No, what I’ve come to realize, is that the sad and horrid experiences don’t overcome me like they used to do, and that’s because I’ve learned that they are not the rare experiences. They are not one who deserves my tears.

Recently I’m following Swedish war correspondent Magda Gad’s Facebook page like a religion. Magda is based in Iraq and gives daily reports on the amongst others the war between IS and the Iraqi forces, focusing on the victims of the war, the civilians. The ones who didn’t ask for war, but who are compelled to suffer the consequence, by fleeing their homes and risking their own and their families lives. Many of her updates don’t revolve stories with a happy ending She wants to open people’s eyes, and she manages to do so with both professionalism and empathy. Showing how many’s nightmares is many’s reality. When I see these stories, I feel the same emptiness as I did yesterday. But I never cry.

Anyone who’s seen the world, or at least a vast part of it, will tell you that sometimes you have to look closely before you find the beauty in a place. It’s not always as romantic as you’d think, and learning this has made me sensitive. Because it’s the kind-hearted, genuine and unconditional gestures that are the rare ones nowadays. Most of the places where I fall asleep at night are considered safe. It’s considered safe to walk outside, to take the train and to live a life. But, not all of these places are friendly places. Far from actually. Because the world is not black and white. There are other dimensions than war and peace, and that’s as difficult as it is important to know.

Two days ago an elderly lady took my hand upon disembarkation from the aircraft and said: “Thank you for the service” with friendly eyes whiles patted gently on my head. I had to turn my head away to wipe my eyes. A few weeks ago I visited the slums of Dhaka in Bangladesh and got shown around by the kids who lived there. One girl took my hand and invited me into the tiny shed which was their house. I bent under the narrow doorframe, and as I stepped in the mother of the family instantly stood up from the house’s only chair to offer it to me. Despite having nothing to offer, they still cared for me to have the very best they could give. Despite having nothing. In the car going home from that visit our guide said, “I hope this did not upset you, it’s just another life.” I wiped my eyes, and we all remained silent for the whole ride back.

In my emptiness today I started to think about a conversation I had with my best friend a few days ago. “How am I supposed to sit down and have a cup of coffee and feel deserving of it ever again, when people are still struggling to survive?” She said to me as we were reading through Magda’s page. “How am I supposed to live a normal life and ever feel the right to complain about anything, when people die as we speak?”. There was a lengthy silence on the phone line between us after that, and then I said “Because of respect. To be living these hassle free lives where we have a bed to sleep in, food in our refrigerators and problems as trivial as whether or not the milk’s skimmed or full fat, or if the guy we’ve matched on Tinder is going to write us first, is the dream for these people who are running, hiding and dying. They would want nothing else but to have the simple lives that we live. So for us not to live our lives, with no reason not to, would be nothing but disrespectful.” There was another silence, and then she said, “Yes.”

The world has turned into an unpredictable place, which is most likely also the motive of whoever was behind the attack in Stockholm yesterday. Openness is no longer as common it used to be. Nor is kindness. And yes, the truth is that it can all be gone tomorrow. We might be gone tomorrow. For entirely different reasons than a maniac running us down on a pedestrian street. But, it can also be that tomorrow is not the last tomorrow. It might even be that there are several new tomorrows to come, and to me, that’s enough reason not to feel fear. Enough reason to enjoy all the real beauty, whenever you are fortunate enough to come across it. So for that reason yesterday, I looked at flowers. I looked for myself, and for the people who wish they could be looking at flowers.

And today, today is a new day to do what you can for this world to be a little less unpredictable. That’s what worth our tears.

A loveaffair with Nicosia

It’s the third night of my short stay in Nicosia, and I’m getting enamored with this quite peculiar place. Because it is indeed a particular city, and we did indeed not get off on the right foot when I arrived two days ago. Let me start at the very beginning.

So the first day’s misfortune started already when I’d just disembarked the plane and was standing in line to immigrations, and I realized that my phone charger was still left onboard the aircraft. I just sighed a tired sigh and met the jovial immigrations officer with a lifeless glare as he asked for my passport. This is not the first time this has happened to me, and this unorganized feature of mine has led me to an impressive collection of both chargers and adapters since I know they won’t be with me for long.

The shuttle bus into Nicosia was very much reminiscent of a public school bus in an unprivileged country. The ride was quick through the mountainous landscape, sparse in both vegetation and construction but somehow still vibrant under the scorching sun. Before I knew it we reached Nicosia bus terminal; an installation other countries would’ve referred to as a bus stop in the countryside. At some point during the short taxi ride into the center, I accidentally pressed the wrong button on my phone, and I ended up in the review section of my chosen hotel. “Worst experience that ruined my whole trip.” said the first headline and the ones that followed were of similar character. Reluctantly I read review after review which touched upon everything from moldy furniture to inoperable air conditioning and loud neighbors as well as inadequate service. My gut feeling hit rock bottom, but it wasn’t until the cab driver charged me 10 euros for a 5 euros trip and gave me a handwritten receipt in my euphemistic attempt of asking for my change back, that I realized that there are some lessons I will probably never learn. Regardless of how seasoned as a traveler, I am. It is tiring to be me at times.

It took me approximately three seconds of looking at the exterior of the hotel to understand that every review I’d just read was true. Dirty windows and balcony rails cover in bird feces smiled towards me. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the reason why the bible is normally one colored could be a hint that it’s not hilarious reading. Finally, inside, the building seemed derelict, and with no elevator, I had to drag my overpacked suitcase up to the top floor while cursing myself for always doing this to myself. Always. To my despair, no one came to open as I pressed the loose hanging door bell, and in that exact moment, I got an email saying that my booking had been annulled. Apparently, arrangements for pick up of keys has to be done a day in advance, and I missed the curfew. Amid all misfortune, I saw this as a blessing. A second chance was given to me. Long story short, I did find a new hotel a stone’s throw away from the first one. A typical three-star hotel, with tacky font choice, plastic palm trees and Nescafé of poor quality. But even if the man at the front desk suggested that I’d use the glass desk in my room as an ironing board, and even if the plug to bathtub was missing and even if the wall to wall carpet had seen more in life than I have, it was alright.

Apart from precursory events, though, Nicosia has turned out to be a pearl. It’s by no means a big city, less than 300 000 people reside here. There’s not a sign of the typical boasting architecture you’d otherwise come across in capitals; instead, most buildings are old and only a few stories tall. Walking down the many meandering streets of Old Nicosia is like a therapy session. There’s a quietude in between the stone houses with adobe roofs, hued doors with rigorous knockers and flaking facades in canary and offwhite nuances, and occasional Wisteria in full bloom spreading its scent as you walk by. Not even the Cypriots quite boisterous way of talking to each other disturbs the peace. Everything moves slowly in this city. It’s like there’s not a worry in the world. No one’s in a rush to do anything. And it’s extremely contagious. It’s almost like I could feel my pulse slowing down.

On the Greek side, the residents seem to have understood there’s little point in worrying, for whatever the reason. And since all the pressure’s off, Nicosia is indeed the perfect place for solitude. Sitting down in one of the countless cafés with mismatching furniture and fresh cut flowers on every table has quickly turned into a habit. The coffee is strong, but not as strong as Cypriot coffee which I only tried once. A muddy broth strong enough to resuscitate the dead. The waiters serve the table with no haste, and to see one of them puffing on a resting smoke in between clearing tables is actually quite refreshing. It’s so easy just to be; enjoying the slight scents of cigarette smoke, freshly mowed lawns and fresh air; as pleasurable in the rising morning sun as in the setting evening sun. Spring has come early to Cyprus.

I normally don’t share onboard stories…

But a few weeks ago I had an encounter which has stayed with. And I’ve realized that it’s a story worth telling.

Before I do that, though, I’d like to say that I think it’s a safe bet to say that most people hold some sentiments or opinions that they are not proud of. Standpoints that we for whatever reason can’t deny ourselves from thinking of feeling, despite knowing in our hearts or our brains that they are wrong and only holds us back instead of allowing us to live more freely. It can be something trivial like not allowing ourselves an unhealthy treat because we are scared to gain weight, even though we know that the only things that are really unhealthy are our way of thinking. Or it can be something of a more fundamental nature, like claiming to the world that you’re an open-minded and modern person free from racism and bigotry, but still you can’t help but feel that it would be better if the refugees went somewhere else than to your country. In the last general election in Sweden three years ago, our most populistic party obtained the third most votes of all party. Which is somehow miraculous, bearing in mind that no one voted for them. Nor does anyone know someone who did. I think the point is made.

So now to my story. A few months back I operated an evening-turnaround to a city in Pakistan, I can’t remember which. As per regular, I work in the premium cabin, but on this particular day, our customer demands were low, while the economy cabin was filled to the last seat. And since the flying time was short, I went down to give an extra pair of hands to the service. The cabin was strewn by locals of the destination to which we were heading; women in colorful conspicuous dresses and the men in that traditional male dress that they wear over loose-fitted jeans; according to Google it’s called a Pashtun dress. Anyhow, as I was giving out trays, I’m leaning over a Pakistani-featured gentleman sitting by the aisle to serve a woman by the windows. And as I’m doing this I can see in the corner of my eye how the gentleman’s looking at the little flag pin I have attached to my waistcoat. As I reach down for the next tray in the cart, the man leans into me and says in the most broken but still comprehensible Swedish ”are you from Sweden?”. A bit caught off guard by hearing my native language I instantly said ”Yes! Are you as well?”. He told me ”I live in Malmo” and smiled carefully towards me. Wow, I thought to myself. He’s from my hometown! There’s someone from my hometown on this flight; someone Swedish! We exchanged a from more sentences, and then I had to carry on working, a little happier than before, and I never saw him again.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but over time I’ve understood that this short and in many measures insignificant encounter was an eye-opening experience for me. One of those moments that meant the world to me, but not much to the world. And the reason behind that is, that there was a time not that many years ago when my spontaneous reaction to someone who does not look like me, speak like me and presumptively don’t share my culture, would not have been to think of them as Swedish; unfortunately. Even if they were from my hometown. 

And that was a time before I’d ever tried to be a guest in someone else’s country.

Most change doesn’t come overnight, and most change we can’t acknowledge until the time when we are forced to put to the test. Itis good to learn how to ride a bike, and once you do, you instantly forget why you found it so hard in the first place.

Treats for the skin in the cold

Home again. A week in remote and freezing China was exactly what my skin did not need. Cold and dry air combined with strong sun and invisible pollution were not at the top of my wishlist, but as life goes, sometimes all you can do is fight the challenges coming your way the best you can. And luckily for me, I brought all the necessities needed to fight off all the skin-enemies above. Here goes:

1. LOTION P50, by Biologique Recherche

This brand might be one of the most hyped skincare manufacturers on the market, and I can only say that I completely understand why. BR is a brand of high integrity, meaning that they don’t allow just anyone to resell and represent their products. As such they’re mostly found in smaller and more exclusive spa’s around the world’s metropolitan cities, or in BR’s flagship store on Champs-Elys’ees in Paris. Like all other French brands, BR is a lot cheaper in France, so obviously I made my way there on my last visit to the capital of romance. But enough of the store, even if I could easily dedicate an entire post to it. The product itself, the lotion P50, is a toner of this world. Jam-packed with all the acids this world has to offer (AHA, BHA, PHA) it gives you more than a tingling feeling on the skin. It’s more of a corrosive experience, which in spite of the horrific vinegar smell, is amazing. Not to recommend for the sensitive soul, but for someone not afraid to exfoliate the damage and debris that dry and polluted air causes, this is the utmost best. I’ve been using the lotion p50 for the last month, and the results have been tremendous. I had already accepted that there would always be some minor blackheads on my nose regardless of how much I exfoliated, but since I started using this toner, I barely recognize myself anymore. An evenness I didn’t know was possible! And as you all know, anything this strong goes hand in hand with HIGH sunblock, but that goes without saying. Right?

Approximate price in store (150 ml): 46 euros. More expensive outside of French, but so worth it. In Sweden, you can now find Biologique Recherche on !

2. Alpha Hydroxy Cream, by Environ Intensive

One of my most random brands, but nevertheless one of my absolute favorites. Environ is a South African brand, with Vitamin A and Retinol being the core ingredients in basically their entire line. Environ has a particular step-up concept of just a handful of products, which are all available in different strengths and an amount of both vitamin A and antioxidants, but being the impatient, restless person that I am, I went straight for the intensive line, which is the most hardcore. And it’s been a good experience for me. I apply this cream after my toner, and it tingles just a little. Sometimes more if I happen to be extra dry on the day. I use this after the toner, and since it’s a leave on cream, I always feel like it keeps the toner in place. Now and then I peel a little due to this cream, but that doesn’t bother me since the look you get as soon as the visible peeling is over, is everything but boring. It doesn’t smell the best, but you can’t always reach for the stars.

Approximate price in store: 20 USD.

3. Hydraphase Intense Serum, by La Roche-Posay

A moment of truth first. Up until recently, I’ve lacked serum in my everyday skincare routine. And that’s mostly because I hadn’t come across a really good one, and since you rarely miss what you’ve never had, I learned to live my life without one. A miserable life, I must say in hindsight. Because when I came across this diamond of skincare products, I felt like I could see colors again. Light and quickly absorbed by the skin, and as good as fragrance-free as well, like most products coming from sensitive-skin-advocating La Roche-Posay. If the climate is not too dry, I use this as my only hydrating emollient, and if that’s not the case as it was in China, I put this on just before the actual moisturizer/day creme comes into the picture. And what’s so good about doing that is, that it enhances the effects of the daydream (or night cream) that you apply afterward, giving them a more long-lasting result. I might have overused mine, cause a dispenser only lasts about three weeks for me. It’s so hard to hold back on quality, but luckily, the price is very affordable at least.

Approximate price in store: 19 euros. Who said that quality is unattainable?

4. Aralia Mandshurica Night Cream, by Natura Siberia

Natura Siberica is a Russian brand that bases all of their products on plants and flowers from the Siberian tundra, and I don’t think anyone would claim that’s a dull concept. I heard about this brand by word of mouth, and even though they have distributors and stores worldwide, I waited until my last trip to Moscow to hunt it down. And can I just say straight away, it was well worth the wait! It’s not enough that all the jars, tubes and packages are a sheer sight for sore eyes, the ingredients are the kinds that make my cold Nordic heart thaw. Because when I read silver birch and cloudberry on the labels my heart skips a beat or two, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Either way, I was recommended this one night cream for dry skin of which I couldn’t read a single word of the Russian product description. However, the Russian sales assistant assured me in very modest English that this night cream would probably make me wanna set earlier alarms in the mornings since it makes your skin so delightful you want to be awake for more of the day. And, she was right. I’d been so used to waking up and feeling dry regardless of what I put on the night before that I almost thought that that’s how it’s supposed to be, but thanks to this cream I wake up as soft as when I went to bed. Waking up to good skin is a sign that the rest of the day will be good as well.

Approximate price in store. 8 euros!!!! I know, it’s too good to be true.

Where on earth is Yinchuan?

That’s what I thought to myself as I glanced out over the miles wide and sparsely populated grounds from the tiny viewing window as we descended into Yinchuan International airport last night. The designation “International Airport” is in my personal opinion an audacious name for a hangar with a dozen gates, paint chipping off the interior walls and conveyor belts from a time luggage tags were written by hand, but who am I to judge. Even if I’m pretty sure that even the very modest shoebox of an airport that my sleepy old hometown is so proud of, would be able to top these facilities…

The hotel where I’m put up is like a mirage in this god’s forsaken city. When I look out the panoramic windows of my room and see nothing but a myriad of soulless grey buildings and a belching reactor, I find it hard to believe that in the foyer of this luxurious establishment there’s both crystal chandeliers and running water alongside an entire wall of simplistically elegant mortar. How did I get here?

Since I was nit prepared for an seven days retreat in this well hidden pocket I ventured out to buy the most relevant necessities by foot. And this is it; China is not a country made for walking. Sure there are loads of both wide and good conditioned sidewalks, but the distances here are always far. It’s hard to describe, but it’s the same in both Beijing and Shanghai. Maybe it’s just that these cities are so immensely big that walking is just not a great idea, or maybe it’s got something to do with that a lot of institutions in China seem to be in random places. Rarely everything’s in one single location. I damn this fact as I’m standing on the outskirts of town with sore feet and low battery as I’ve reached my google map destination, which has promised me a Zara store. But the only thing I have in front of me is a bare field and a dirty pond. Someone ought to have forgotten that the store is yet to be opened. And built. Sigh. There’s not a taxi in sight, and Uber is yet to make it’s entry to Yinchuan. Yes, discovering the World is an enriching experience sometimes,

I’d like to say that the somewhat gloomy impression is deceitful, but it’s not. The city is grey. Not a single house not in an earthy tone, and not a tree with a single leaf. Not a café, not an activity in the street. On the side of the roads lay the last residual snow, dirty from exhaust and pollution. Very few people roam the streets, and the ones I pass by are not flabbergasted by the fact that I’m the only non Asian I’ve seen since I got here. It’s quite funny how the Chinese are so uninterested in foreigners, something you come across basically everywhere. Like when you ask for help and find out that no one speaks English. Not because they don’t want to or are too proud to like a few European nationalities would be, but because they simply don’t know and don’t care to. Or when you go into a local eatery where surely no one of your origin has ever sat for before and not a single second of attention or admiration is given to you from the staff. But despite of this, it sometimes feels like the Chinese are fearless. Every taxi driver I’ve been taken around by today has spoken both jovially and enthusiastically to me in Mandarin during the entire trips, and my lack of language has not stopped them. I can’t think that it would be like that in any Western country; we are too scared of looking dumb. Aonishing since we’re generally the extroverts and the asians generally the introverts. Perhaps the thing is actually not Chinese ignorance but only Western hubris…?

Day one is coming to an end. Five more to go. Yinchuan, I’ll get to you eventually.

Abundance in Moscow

Taking the air down one of central Moscow’s many beaten and snow-capped pedestrian streets has me thinking that there’s something about the Russian Capital that makes every single building feel like a monument. All the buildings flanking the streets are old and ostentatious; most of them built in a time when the Soviet Union was still flourishing, and the aspiration to be the World’s leading nation still permeated this country. The roads and the sidewalks of where so many millions have walked before me are often wider in a way you don’t come across anywhere else, and perhaps it’s the amount of space that makes you feel so little. As I pass by the Red Square, it’s impossible to not stop for just a short moment. Even if I’ve been here a few times before, this is one the places in the world that just embraces you and watching the gaudy domes of St Basil’s cathedral as the snow falls thick, and the wind whistles is a moment you want to have in your life. Even if it’s a very short one because the sharp wind makes the cold unbearable to handle.

Outside of Moscow’s Red Square humungous institutions of gray concrete blocks flank the largest thoroughfares, all looking like impregnable fortresses with occasional marble decor and inexplicable big Russian letters in gleaming gold. The Metro deserve’s its own chapter, because surrounding the turmoil that constitutes the public transport of Moscow is marble walls and crystal chandeliers. An unbelievable contrast. But despite the cultural wealth, the atmosphere in the Russian Capital is cold, and it has very little do with the weather. I’ve been here in Summer, and it’s not much different. People rush to get by in the streets like slow wandering would be frowned upon. And there’s something so interesting about how inherently impolite this country is. Saying please, thank you or even just being soft-spoken is yet to have it’s breakthrough here, but for some reason, that’s alright in its way. The thing is, back home if someone doesn’t hold the door for you or say thank you when you do something for them, you immediately think that’s rude behavior. Here, however, it’s so unexpected that you don’t even waste any energy contemplating why people act the way they do. Perhaps it’s the language barrier; Most of the old generation of Russian population don’t speak a word English, and even the ones who do are rarely even an inch inclined into compromising their language for your benefit.

I’ve never been much of museum enthusiast, but I can walk around for hours on end in old, derelict neighborhoods where history once took place and just marvel. Soviet architecture is strikingly captivating. Something is fascinating about beholding those great pieces of abundant architecture which all saw the light in a time when the Communist era had influenced Russia when instead of feeding its people the regime spent money on buildings to showcase their greatness. Contrasts hard to grasp, but so vivid when you’re standing right in front of them. And as horrid and dyed in blood the story behind these remnants of history are, it’s impossible not to marvel at the opulence. From the high society buildings with magnificent bay windows and protruding corner towers to the subclass million complexes on the outskirts of town whose purpose were to accommodate as many as possible in a time where the population grew at a pace out of control. It’s hard not to feel that this is more a historical museum than an actual living place, and it seems that in the concrete jungle of Moscow there’s never been any room for modesty. But then again, that’s never what they’ve been renowned for.

The world will only ever be dark, if you don’t open your eyes

I thought, who will ever be left to show respect when everyone else considers their perspective, to be the only one? Who will ever be left to speak calmly, when the world is deafened by people who shouts? Who will ever be left to listen, when stories are no longer stories but preach? Who will ever be left to fight for others in need, when they realize that the majority just fight for themselves? Who will ever be left to spread a little light, when the world has closed its eyes? Who will find the key to every closed mind?

These were some of the things going through my mind as I came back home from work one morning a few weeks ago, and I felt an emptiness I’m still not quite sure how to put down in words. It was the kind of hopeless vacuum where I dropped my bags inside my door, pulled all the curtains to shut out the rising sun, and sat down at the kitchen table and cried. Cried because the world was a horrid place, and at that moment everything seemed to pitch dark. Nothing personal and nothing work related, just darkness due to the world being what it is sometimes. And it made me think.

Now and then it hits me that there come times in all of our lives when we realize that we might not necessarily be on the wrong road, but we need to turn either left or right if we want to reach our destination. Just like inspiration can never be forced, I don’t want to believe this kind of enlightenment can be either. If we derive from what our GPS tells us, it will bark at us, and I’d like to believe life is designed somewhat similarly. I also believe that the World can and will only ever be changed by those allow themselves to feel it, and whom can make other’s feel, what that feels like. But it’s not everyone’s mission to do so, and it’s taken me a long time to understand how that’s perfectly fine.

For some reason, I’ve almost always been surrounded by people who’ve thought that success and career progression are synonymous. And when that’s all you ever hear, it’s inevitable not to make that worldview your own. Slowly but surely you narrow your mindset into thinking that what you perform is who you are, and the quality of your performances, it the quality of you. Leading to the truth that if you happen to perform well, it can a long time before you catch yourself in this toxic mentality. And the longer it takes, the harder you’ll fall the moment you stop performing, because what are you without your achievements? For a very long time, I used to do this. Mirror myself in my accomplishments, thinking that as long as they were good, I was good. Every pat on the shoulder oxygenated me with motivation, and oxygen was all I needed to stay alive. But, as life teaches us, being alive and isn’t necessarily synonymous with living a life either.

I don’t want to take anything away from being proud of your progression, because to some degree that’s what drives us forward. And I wouldn’t be where I am without having done what I’ve done, but in saying that it’s important to know whether or not you’re doing things for the right reason. Because I tended to think that respect was obtained through merits alone, and in hindsight, it’s hard not feel a bit dumb when I think about it.

Respect isn’t given or acquired by either submission or supremacy. Respect isn’t shown through the definition of ranking, but through courtesy and attentiveness. Especially the latter one matters because not everyone deserves politeness. But until someone’s made themselves unworthy of listening to, everyone deserves the unselfish respect that attention characterizes. We might not agree, and we might not endorse the opinions of whom we don’t share, but by paying attention we show the only respect we are obligated to. Regardless of who we are, what we do and what our mission is. And I’ve learned that the ones who deserves the most respect, are the people who listen in the absence of rush to speak. A kind of solemn confidence I wish I didn’t have to remind myself to maintain when things get rough sometimes. Respect is such a complex concept, and if there’s any insight the world has given me in return for visiting it, that’s probably it. Because understanding that the respect you have for someone doing a certain job, is not the same as the one you have for someone being a great person. Eating well and sleeping well are not the same. But it’s possible to have both if you want to. At the end of the day, what’s the most important? I know what’s the most important to me.