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.
Another mountain lake and the, in this case, lucky occurrence of being woken up early by a busy road and construction site right next to where I had bunked for the night.
Lake Lucerne was majestic just after sunrise.
Crisp, cold air which demanded several layers of clothing. But each breath was invigorating. And nature’s color palette was a feast for the eyes. Soft edges at first. Then everything transformed, becoming crisper and clearer as the morning progressed.
As for the sunset… not bad… Not bad at all, either. Stood there with a glass of white wine in my hand, closing my eyes every so often to commit the magical moment to memory. Do you do that sometimes, too? Close your eyes when faced with something you never want to forget, so as to take a photograph with your soul? The eyelids become the shutters of your internal camera. And in that swift moment of closing your eyes, going inwards, you take a picture for eternity.
During 18 years of living in Switzerland, off and on, I didn’t explore much of the Swiss mountains. Essentially, I am not a mountain person, but rather love wide open spaces. I tend to get a bit claustrophobic in the mountains, between those high walls rising up all around me.
However, last year’s 1-month hike along the Swiss Jura trail and afterwards another month through several French mountain chains has highlighted the beauty of those mountain regions.
For this, my 3rd stint in Switzerland, the goal is to see more of this country’s beauty and explore far more.
A few days ago, I spent a couple days in Flims and was enchanted by Lake Cauma. In parts, the myriad shades of turquoise were almost as inviting as a tropical lagoon.
A friend and I spent a while just sitting there, at the water’s edge, gazing out over the lake, enjoying a rare moment of utter peace.
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.
Ridiculously tranquil and idyllic moment during a walk around Greifensee. If you are ever in Kanton Zurich, this is a short hike I can really recommend. All the way around the lake it takes around 5 1/2 hours. Storks and other wildlife are all over the place. I used to come here often during my university years to go for full-moon-night hikes. Come to think of it, I’ll need to do one of those again soon.
Other than that, much has happened in the last few weeks. I received my permit to stay in Switzerland which took a huge load off my shoulder. Through the help of a friend (who alerted me to a great opportunity which I would otherwise have missed applying for) I found a job. And I found the perfect apartment for my old, toothless cat and me. We even have a small terrace overlooking Lake Zurich. JoJo spends most of his days outside if it doesn’t rain. Watching birds and absorbing as much sunshine as he can.
Me, too. Wine glass or coffee cup in hand, I just gaze into the distance. Over the lake and the Alps on the horizon, marvelling at how beautiful this place is… and wondering where my next wanderings will take me…
If anyone has any tips for weekend hikes in the Swiss mountains, let me know! I realize, I want to explore this country a lot more. I’ve only just scratched the surface of all there is to see.
While long hikes with a heavy backpack are out of the question at the moment (until I can take care of my hernias), I still enjoy the odd short one. This was a few days ago during a hike along the river Reuss in Kanton Aargau in Switzerland.
An enchanting half day which began with mist floating and twirling above the ground. Then, as the sun pushed trough and the day grew brighter and warmer, the mist dissipated, leaving only the brilliant pre-spring banks of this beautiful river. My friend and I followed it for a few hours, at a gentle pace. Enjoying a landscape in which, for many hours, we were the only humans.
Nothing better to clear the mind than letting feet and thoughts roam free for a bit.
Currently, I’m waiting for news from the Swiss immigration office and hope they’ll be so kind and give me a permit to stay and work. My overthinking mind is making up so many scenarios… The typical Kopfkino (head cinema) as we say here. Time soon again for a short break in searching and studying. To take another walk, soak in some sunshine, and relax.
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.”
Since arriving in Zurich on the 10th of January, the days have just flown by. I was greeted by magnificent snow storms while, surprisingly, temperatures weren’t all that different from the South of France. I got settled into my cozy new room. And found a home with a flat mate who is quite amazing. Tons of pressure fell off my shoulders when I realized that for the first time in 16 months I am not living out of a suitcase or a backpack anymore. I can now just focus on studying and looking for jobs. I can focus on living without the constant pressure of needing to look for a new roof over my head. JoJo approves, too. He likes the new place, and lounges on his cat tree, observing his new environment. Now we, meaning I, really just need to find a job. Something long-term, so JoJo and I can have a bit of stability. Which will allow me to focus on the university studies I’ve signed up for starting next month. I am also dreaming of further hikes. For now just on the weekends in the Swiss mountains. But whenever there are a few days in a row, I’d love to get out there and do bigger tours. There is still so much to explore. I’ve definitely caught the hiking bug.
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!