Do you have moments when you feel utterly lost? You might even have a roof over your head, great friends, food on the table, and a regular income. But something has shaken your world to the core. And it’s been like a wake-up call. Everything has shifted since then. Your world is in the process of re-aligning… or maybe aligning properly for the first time ever… whatever that may mean. Maybe, you’ve been given a chance to get to know yourself better. And become a better person through deeper introspection. To right some wrongs you’ve done to yourself and others. Or, at least, to find some peace in your mind and heart.
But you don’t really know anything. And, even though it feels as if you are currently in limbo or at least slow motion in some kind of process, you can’t be sure where you are in this process. Or if you’ll ever arrive anywhere.
Sometimes, you wonder if you’re even made for this world. You seem to lack the aggressive drive most other people have. You seem to lack their self-confidence and natural sense of entitlement. Your values seem so different from theirs. As seem your needs. Your dreams.
Looking around you, you want to get a sense of who you are, but you can’t. Looking inside you there is only uncertainty and confusion. You seek peace and a deeper, honest, authentic, open understanding of everything. You’ve sought this for a long time. Yet, still, you fail. You fall short. You disappoint yourself and others.
And, when it comes down to it, after a life-time of struggling and trying to find your place in this world, it seems as if with each year, rather than making headway, wherever it is you are headed eludes you more instead of less.
Wandering around the forest of your neighbourhood as well as the metaphorical forest of your life, you can’t help chuckling at yourself and wondering WTF. It even seems as if the forest agrees with your puzzlement and answers as you happen upon a random piece of forest trail art.
It’s been eight months now since I came back to Zurich. A place which has been my home two times before already. All in all, this is my 19th year here. It is more home than any other place on Earth, and yet I struggle to relax into it.
Over the last thirty years, I’ve grown and learned in so many places around the world. Besides Switzerland, I’ve lived and worked in the US, Germany, Maldives, Belgium, Macau, Hong Kong, Canada, Malta, France, and the Caribbean.
Of all those places, I guess I miss Macau the most. Its climate, its culture, its people, and its food. And, with it, also my intensive life there working for large-scale circus and stunt shows.
In the spring of 2020, my greatest dream almost came true. After 11 years of working backstage and a good 5 years of applying for every stage management job Cirque du Soleil advertised, I was finally interviewed by them. For Nysa, their coming resident show in Berlin.
I got through the first interview ok, was shortlisted and invited for a second interview.
Then, just 3 days before this second interview and just before a very real chance to finally work for the company I had dreamed about ever since I was 21 years old and experienced them for the first time (in 1992), all Cirque du Soleil shows around the world were shut down due to Covid19. All interviews were cancelled as well.
Now, Cirque du Soleil shows are slowly reopening. But Nysa has been cancelled. And, I remain an outsider, not part of any clique or network. My chances of realizing this lifelong dream again looking slim at best.
Starting a new life here in Zurich, I’ve begun working as something akin to executive assistant for a management consulting company. I work for nine people at the same time. And, astonishingly enough, the job content is eerily similar to the admin part of working as a stage manager for large-scale shows.
There is also the same sense of urgency, the same unpredictability, constant changes, thinking on your feet, everything coming in late but needing to be done yesterday. And this sense of never quite knowing what the day or week will bring.
The one big difference is that now there is no instant gratification. As a stage manager, I am backstage in the evenings, after a day of admin, and see firsthand what I am working for. I feel the audience, the performers, the entire atmosphere backstage and onstage and I know I am making a difference. I know what I am working for.
Now, everything is abstract. I have an endless list of tasks, but do not hear if anything I have done actually helped towards the success of the project. I do not even hear if the project was successful in the end at all.
That being said, my job is never boring. The company climate is great. And the team is as good as it’s ever going to get, compared to everything else in my 32 years of work experience. So, I am in a good space.
At the end of the day, I guess I am simply homesick. Missing my home in Macau, in Coloane village, a small fishing village where at this time of year, I’d see millions of dragon flies soaring through the evening skies. And I’d sit on my rooftop after a long hard day, gazing at the stars, and having impromptu conversations with friends.
I am homesick for tropical climates, the cold beer in the evening which never tastes better anywhere else, and the local street food sold by my neighbors.
I am easing back into the structured perfection of Central European life. All the while realizing that a huge part of my heart will forever long for those places, experiences, and people I had to leave behind on the other side of the world.
Don’t get me wrong. I am happy where I am. Happy in the moment. Content gardening on my terrace, feeling the loving presence of the street cat I rescued 10 months ago. My memories of all that was before sustaining me.
But there also is a yearning. Missing something that might be forever a thing of the past.
I wonder if this is part of the human condition. Part of the condition of travelers. Or just part of my condition. To become so much a child of the world that the ache for faraway places becomes permanent.
In my case, it is a double ache. For life backstage, helping to create magic onstage. And for a life in exotic places where material safety and structure are not a given. Where typhoons muscle their way through the city, expats tell each other wild stories, and nothing is ever quite easy, comfortable, and secure.
These aches might be a permanent fixture in my life. But I am so grateful for them. I wouldn’t want to miss a second of all the experiences I was lucky to have thus far, all over the world. Even if it means that somewhere, in the deepest recesses of my heart from hereon out I will always be homeless, or at home everywhere at once. Whichever way you want to look at it.
(The elephant seen in a local forest around Zurich. A little taste of places yet to be discovered for young adventurers travelling in their minds on the back of stone elephants to far away destinations.)
As happy as I am where I am right now, I miss my home in Macay every single day. I miss my life in that strange, yet beautiful little town right next to Zhuhai, China. I miss my cozy apartment with a view over the South China Sea and the mainland. With its lush tropical forests and ever-growing competing forest of high-rise buildings.
I miss the people of Coloane village, like the pushy vegetable vendor who always talked me into buying more than I wanted. The Lord Stows restaurant employees downstairs who always brought my takeaway on a regular plate. The old lady around the corner who sold soft drinks and beer from her living room and who would be deeply asleep on the couch whenever I stopped by to buy something.
I miss the wonderful smells of Chinese or Portugese cooking lingering over the entire city. The tropical rain showers. The typhoons in the fall which reminded me of how small I am and left me in awe of nature’s grandeur. The dragon dances when a new shop opened and the splendor of gifted flower arrangements which were displayed outside the shop for a few days.
I miss Buddha’s birthday with all its festivities throughout town. The bright colors. The small temples in almost every street, the offerings and incense everywhere. And the kitchy lanterns lining every street for each festive holiday.
I miss the strange and infinitely complex Cantonese language which I was slowly beginning to understand. I lived in Lo Wan Si Koi and worked in San Hou Tin Dei (City of Dreams) and later in San Hou Jing Wui (Studio City).
I miss the Coloane hills through which I hiked many times, enjoying the tropical forest, the little pagodas, and the view of old, rusty barges on the ocean far below. I miss La Gondola on Cheoc Van Beach, with its old fashioned, bright red Coca Cola umbrellas, its incredible Calzone, and delicious Sangria.
I miss the narrow, mysterious alleys which were poetic in their imperfection. The swallows who sat lined up by the hundreds on the low hanging electrical lines in Old Taipa Village. And I miss those nights enjoying a wine with Jesus and my friends at El GauchoMacau, my favorite restaurant of all time. With its incredible steaks and homemade Chimichurri. In contrast, some of the best evenings were having Hot Pot with my Chinese work mates. Macau always stunned me with its potpourri of traditional and international delicacies.
Or having a Tsing Tao on a hot summer’s night on my rooftop, watching the fireworks over Chimelong Park just across the ocean, whilst letting the warm night air, so still and full of the fragrance of tropical foliage, caress me.
I miss all those moments and many more.
And I miss my cats. I think of those three brave little souls whom I was forced to leave behind and who I can now only hope have been left in good hands where they will be loved and have a caring forever home.
I tell myself to let go completely. Because there is nothing else I can do. No amount of pining and worrying will be able to change the unchangeable. What happened was way beyond my control. For my sanity, I want and need to let go. But, at the same time, I also never want to forget all these beautiful impressions and memories. And I always want to hold Pushka, Nacho, and Fellini in my heart. My three little feline children.
So, as I move on and slowly build a new life, grateful for what I have been given and been able to rebuild from the ruins, I still can’t help but feel the pain of all I have been forced to leave. Even though it’s now been almost two full years since then. The nightmares have almost stopped. I only have them a couple times per week now… when, for the first year, I had them every single night and could barely sleep.
I am getting back on my feet. I feel a sense of peace again. A sense of happiness. But the memories of a place and life I loved and had to leave behind and the pain that grew from that will always be a part of me now, I suppose.
In a way, I’m lucky as well though. I’ve always followed my heart and its led me to wondrous as well as challenging places and experiences. I keep growing from all I have learned. And I have more than one home. Geographically, thus far, I have four. Macau is most definitely one of those magical and important harbours in my life.
I love thunderstorms. Always have. Usually, I either go for a walk as the storm builds up or, if I can, I sit outside with a hot cup of tea or a glass of wine and calmly enjoy the forces of nature. Now, from my terrace, I can see the weather coming again. It’s the greatest thing. I remember, when living in the Maldives, I could see thunderstorms coming from miles away already. It was like a dark wall slowly moving towards us. And, after a while, I was able to predict precisely how long it would take before the storm would hit.
Thankfully, by now the storms in my life have calmed a little. I love my new place. Coming home to it every day is a real treat. Also, I am so fortunate to have my little, old, toothless street cat JoJo. He is a beacon of love and so soulful. Currently our relationship is shifting and he seems to want more personal space. If I don’t respect his boundaries and am too needy, he wraps all four legs around my arms and starts biting, or rather gumming, me. It’s probably the hot weather, changing life circumstances (me being away for work many hours of the day), the fact that he can now roam free on a big terrace (he loves having his own, save outdoor space), and simply that he now feels much more confident about his new place in the world. So, I am giving him space and enjoy every moment we get to snuggle together. As always, this old tomcat is teaching me a lot.
The Wonderweg continues. Currently mostly just around Zurich. But it’s amazing. I have already lived here twice. Altogether, this is now my 18th year here, but I am daily re-discovering Zurich on a whole new level. Finding corners I’ve never been to before. Enjoying familiar corners with fresh eyes. Genuinely savouring every moment.
This picture was taken on Zueriberg. A hill above Zurich’s university. There is a small, steep path which winds its way uphill, and it’s called ‘Himmelsleiterli’ which means ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Quite adorable really. And picturesque to boot.
Slowly, slowly after two years of couch-surfing and uncertainty about pretty much everything, the puzzle pieces are beginning to fit together again. A former work colleague alerted me to a position that was open in my old company. I applied and, voila, after several interviews and an assessment they decided to take me. I am over the moon about it, because one of my biggest worries was that I would have to take a job I don’t like, which would then have been only a temporary solution again. I really wanted to find a work environment and work content I’ll enjoy. To be able to settle a bit and stay long-term if possible. Now, I am so grateful that I ended up finding just that.
Then, only a couple weeks after signing my new work contract, I happened to stumble upon an incredibly cozy little rooftop apartment. I had been able to stay with a friend since I arrived in Switzerland beginning of the year. We had even thought of making it a long-term arrangement. But, after such a long time of not having my own home I felt ever more strongly that I needed my own space again. No matter how small it might end up being. I saw the rooftop apartment online. Applied straight away without even looking at it first. I just knew, this is my place. After I put lots of effort into an unusual application, the agency did end up taking me as a tenant. I am not sure exactly when I’ll move in yet. Which is fine. I am in no rush and will enjoy the last few weeks of living together with my good friend and flat mate.
Until I start work in a month, I’ll also spend as much quality time as possible with my toothless cat. I’ll wonder and wander around Zurich and the surrounding regions a bit more, too. Catch some sunshine and relax fully for the first time since the fall of 2019. It’s still step by little step. And no one ever knows anything for sure in life. But I am breathing a huge sigh of relief for now and am looking forward to continue starting a new life.
A quick breather yesterday at Lake Constance. It’s always amazing for me to find sandy beaches and secluded spots so close to bustling civilization.
Otherwise, not much new here on the aiming-to-settle-in-Zurich-again front. I must admit, I am exhausted. It’s been a good two years now of hanging in limbo on so many levels and I am starting to really feel it. At the moment, I am waiting to hear back concerning an application process I went through week before last. To be completely honest, ever since then it’s hard for me to focus on anything else. Because, out of all the jobs I’ve applied for so far, none have been a better fit. This job will be great for me in every respect. Such a wonderful mix of interesting work content, great team, and outstandingly good company culture. And I’ll be good at it, too. I am full of hope. And at the same time terrified. The most delicious carrot is dangling in front of me. I can almost touch it. And I had such a rare good feeling during the interviews. Now I’m unsure how I’ll handle it, if that carrot won’t be for me. Of course, I’ll have to just keep going. But oh boy, you know, when you just feel something is right for you. You know it with every fibre of your being. And you’ve done all you possibly can for it. And now the decision is out of your hands. All you can do is wait and hope that the people you talked with as well as the universe all agree with you that it’s the right path.
So amidst all these tumbling thoughts and obsessively checking my email every half hour yesterday, I went to visit my dad who lives right next to this immensely beautiful spot in Southern Germany. The wind, the sun, and the crisp air did me a world of good and transported me quickly from inside my head to firmer ground. Being in nature does that for me. It always restores balance and brings me back to myself.
I need to rave a bit more about this cat. It’s incredible to think that, had I not decided to hike from Switzerland to the Mediterranean Sea and, had I not spontaneously decided to stay in Montpellier for a few months, JoJo and I would never have met.
I rescued him from the streets of Montpellier when he was really sick and gave him the first real home he’s ever had. But let’s not kid ourselves here. He is not the rescue. I am.
JoJo has had a major impact on my life. He was there when I woke up from nightmares I had struggled with ever since some traumatic events two years ago had left me bewildered and breathless. He gently nuzzled my cheek and simply lay close to me, helping me to overcome, see reality, and move on. By now, the nightmares are few and far between.
Every day, as I sit at home writing articles, studying, writing CVs and searching for jobs, JoJo interrupts me several times. He hops up onto the desk and sits in front of me. If I ignore him, he gently touches my face with his paw. As I shift my attention to him, I realize how important it is to be in the moment. And to not be afraid. I don’t need to overly stress about finding a job and having a purpose. I will find a job. And I do have a purpose already. My purpose is to live fully.
JoJo is the most uncomplicated and loving cat I have ever had. He never runs away when I want some cuddles. He loves it when I use him as a pillow. In fact, he enjoys snuggling close every single time. And, since he has no more teeth at all, even his love bites are the cutest, gentlest thing I’ve ever felt. I keep his food open on the counter for refills. He never jumps up and steals anything. He only scratches the posts on the cat tree. He sits for hours on the windowsill watching sparrows pick up seeds right in front of him. Just patiently watches them and enjoys the show. He wakes me up for food but lays back down if I don’t want to get up yet. He loves binge-watching movies and series together and curls up in the crook of my arm for hours. Overall, he is so calm and Zen that a friend of mine recently said, “Next to him, even the Dalai Lama looks nervous.”
As soon as I turn off the lights to go to bed, JoJo is right next to me on the pillow, clumsily stepping all over my face until he finds just the right spot which allows him to press his body as close to my head as possible. There he stays with me all night.
A few weeks ago, he developed a really heavy bronchitis. It became almost pneumonia. Thankfully, his body, which had most likely never received antibiotics before, reacted instantly and now he is as lively and as playful as an old, toothless little puma can be. The vet isn’t sure about his age. It could be anything between 11 and 15 years. What we did find out after several blood tests at the lab unfortunately is that JoJo has FIV, which is the feline equivalent of HIV. It can break out fully at any moment, or he can be fine for quite a few more years. The vet thinks this is also the reason why he had such horrible gingivitis when I found him on the street.
I am just so glad we crossed paths and that, however long he has left, we get to spend this time together. I know he feels safe, content, and happy to have found a home with me. I’m grateful I get to be the one who gets to spoil him a bit until he needs to go.
I am just in awe of his big, kind heart and soul. Sharing moments suspended in time with this little buddy is way up there amongst the best experiences of my life.
JoJo and I are still in Zurich and will – if all goes well – make this our long-term home base. At the moment, I’m dealing with a lot of bureaucracy and it is as of yet unsure if I’ll be allowed to remain in the country. All will depend on me finding a job, which – so far – is proving as much of a challenge as it was in France. However, I am confident that with every week I’ll get a little closer to a solution. And, hopefully, at one point soon, I’ll be delighted to hear someone say, “We’re interested in offering you a position.” Keep fingers crossed.
Other than working on applications, I have started studying remotely at university which brings me a lot of joy. I love learning new things. I am also still with one foot – or rather one ear – in Montpellier to keep studying Le Francais.
One thing that is wonderful about returning to Zurich is that it has helped me to bring things into perspective. It used to be my home. A place I felt comfortable in and always loved returning to. Then, a few years ago when I moved back for three years with my ex-partner, I didn’t feel comfortable anymore. I just wanted to get away. What I have come to realize now is that it wasn’t Zurich that bothered me. I was under a lot of pressure at the time, financially and emotionally, and somehow (to protect myself and my partner and to be able to go on) I had shifted all the blame to Zurich. Projected all that was weighing heavily on my shoulders to a place, rather than searching for the root cause.
Now that I am back, with the wisdom of hindsight, I understand that Zurich was never the problem. My life had just been difficult back then and the pressure I had been under had been too intense.
This is something I’ll need to remember. Major note to self: If I ever begin complaining too intensely about a place again, I’ll need to stop and ask myself the question: “Ok Liam, what is wrong in your life? What do you need to resolve?”
So, hello Zurich. Third time is the charm, they say. I still don’t like everything about you, but no place is ever entirely perfect. What is important is that I have that comfy feeling again, as if I have just found an old pair of shoes in a long-forgotten suitcase. And I’m slipping into those shoes ever so easy, wiggling my toes, feeling good, simply thinking “ahhhhhhh.”
In German, we have the word “Kopfkino”, which directly translated means “Head-Cinema”. And, admittedly, I had a lot of that before going back on the road. What if the cat won’t get over the border? What if I didn’t think of all the papers he needs? What if I won’t get over the border? What if strange, expat Germans are not welcome right now in Switzerland with all that is going on? What if JoJo and I will get separated? What if the roads in the mountains will be blocked by snow? etc.
I often take great risks and follow my instincts. Because of that, many people may think I am not aware of the risks. What they might not realize is I that worry a lot, I reflect a lot, and my mind is conjuring up more risks than actually exist. Every time. I am always nervous before making another bold move, always scared before beginning a new chapter. But, if my heart tells me it is the right path to take, then I’ll take it anyways. Every time. Hands shaking as I go. Most likely with a plan B, C, D, and E already brewing in my mind, in case disaster strikes.
This time, yet again, my “Kopfkino” was far worse than reality. My lovely, old, feline partner JoJo and I rented a car and embarked on a 9-hour roadtrip from Montpellier to Pontarlier. I set the GPS to “avoid all toll roads” which added 4 extra hours to our travel time. But it was so much more picturesque and relaxing. All went smoothly and JoJo, who had most likely never traveled in a car before, was surprisingly calm. He was curled up on the passenger seat for almost the entire trip. He watched my every move and head-bumped my right hand or shoulder for cuddles every now and then.
After Lyon, the landscape got ever more diverse. Soon, little sprinkles of snow could be seen as well, covering the landscape like a thin frosting on a rather large cake. It is beautiful how defined all lines in a landscape become when snow highlights all shapes and edges.
The closer we got to Pontarlier, the more JoJo and I entered into a winter wonderland. By that time, he was fast asleep and didn’t react to my continuous exclamations of “Uuuhhhh”, “Ahhhhh”, and “Wake up JoJo, you have to look at all this snow!”
We returned the car in Pontarlier, where two Swiss friends picked us up in their car. As we drove towards the border, I thought, “This is it. I hope we won’t get stopped.” We didn’t get stopped. In fact, both the French and Swiss border stations were closed and we just drove on through with no one bothering us at all. Et voilà, from one moment to the next my French street cat turned into a Swiss cat.
We spent the night in a romantic old farmhouse in the mountains. I was spoiled with cheese fondue and the good company of fabulous friends. JoJo was spoiled with tiny morsels of pâte. He was also very excited by the sound of little mouse feet within the walls of the ancient building. Overall, I was in awe of how Zen old JoJo was. When he wasn’t running after potential mice, he just looked at me with big eyes and purred.
Now we are back in Zurich. We have covered a distance – that had taken me two months on foot – in only one day by car. We found a beautiful new home with a friend who has space for both of us. Currently, JoJo and I are on the couch, breathing deeply. We are glad that at least the “roof over our heads” part of the equation is covered for now. The next few weeks will be devoted to an extensive job hunt (For me. JoJo gets to relax on the couch and gets to watch birds in the courtyard).
If I find employment in Zurich, if JoJo and I get to stay in the country for a longer while, much of my free time will be spent on shorter hikes, exploring the wonderful mountain landscapes of Switzerland. Also, during vacation times I want to get back on the international trails. For example, I am still itching to do that gorgeous hike from the Strait of Gibraltar to the South of Portugal.
Wherever JoJo and I are, wherever we go, the journey continues. Stay tuned for more trails and adventures!
Alright, this is it. One more sleep in Montpellier. Then, tomorrow morning, I’ll hop into a rental car and drive north, towards the Swiss border. All luggage is in the car already, so we can get a running start. All I’ll need to do at 6 am is to throw some cold water into my face, drink a coffee… and off we go.
As you can see, I am leaving with quite the little family in tow: a fish, a stingray and, most importantly, little JoJo, the sweetest old street cat in all of Montpellier. Most likely in all of France ;).
Today was a full and exciting day for JoJo and me both. In the morning, I said goodbye to yet another new friend I am grateful to have crossed paths with. We went for a walk in the old town and got my favorite donuts one last time. Sooo good. Afterwards, JoJo and I went to the veterinary to make sure his travel papers are in order. I wanted to go get a Covid test, but the line was about a mile long. After one hour, I gave up waiting. Hopefully, this won’t cause a problem tomorrow… but that’s a bridge – or rather a border – I’ll cross then. Bottom line: Cat is ready. I am not.
In the evening, I went to get a rental car, maneuvered it through all the narrow one-way streets, broke out in a cold sweat while doing so, and finally found a parking space. It’s a great little car, and I’ve already prepared lots of cozy sleeping spaces for JoJo.