It’s been 5 weeks since I moved from Zurich back to Macao…
My toes rejoice. Finally they are out in the open again as socks have become a distant memory. My senses pick up exotic scents finding their way into our living room from the Chinese and Korean restaurant kitchens downstairs. In our own kitchen, I’m becoming reacquainted with surprise visits from cockroaches, the size of small birds. Writing my second book on our couch, I listen to a soundtrack still oddly familiar. Loud Cantonese speaking voices shouting into cell phones, the sound of our next-door neighbour hawking and spitting in regular intervals, and the loud “Euuuuwwwwwww Euuuuwwwwww” of my favorite bird. I’ve never laid eyes on it, but it already Euuuuwwwwww’d to me when I lived on Kuredu Island in the Maldives. Now, here it is again, somewhere in the rustling, gnarly trees across the street, transporting me back home to another part of Asia and to memories of time well spent.
Then there is the ocean. Cafe-Latte-brown here in Macao. But only an hour away, in Hong Kong, it sparkles in myriad shades of blue. And then, there is the rain. The heavy, tropical kind, plummeting from the sky with such vigor, it makes it hard to distinguish individual droplets. When the clouds have exhausted themselves, the air is still thick with micro-droplets, the streets are steaming, and gutters are gurgling madly… whilst frogs and toads of all sizes hop along to after-rain parties somewhere in the bushes. I breathe deeply, smiling to myself. It’s good to be back.
Time has been racing like a bullet train this month. Dissolving the rest of our household… cancelling all kinds of things like cable, phone, etc. etc. etc. … and multiple breakfasts, brunches, lunches, and dinners with friends and colleagues to catch up one more time before the big move.
Now, I am sitting in front of our large windows, enjoying the view over Zurich, the lake, and the Alps just one more time.
This also marks the end of three weeks sleeping on this rather thin and uncomfortable foam mattress. My bones and joints are looking forward to spending the next four nights on a friend’s couch. Just one more week of organization and goodbyes… then I’ll be off to join my family in Macao (and I’ll probably collapse on the bed and sleep for a month).
Just spent an inspiring and heart-warming weekend visiting relatives. In between vivid conversations and laughter, I also took some moments to time-travel through their extensive family photo library. It was wonderful to dive into old family history as far back as 1908. To visually follow the path of my grandma, see how she lived her life… from huddling in bomb shelters in 1942 to attending christenings and weddings of the next generations throughout the years. I also saw my dad growing up in these photographs. His kind personality already shining through on the yellowed photographic paper…
At times, I miss my grandma so much (even now, 18 years after her death) it becomes hard to breathe. Frida had so much strength. She gave without boundaries. Her genuine laughter brought sunshine and happiness to everyone around her. No matter how tough her life was at times (and it was damn tough, believe me), she gave her heart to everyone around her. To this day, she is the source of my strength and my greatest inspiration. My uncle told me this weekend that Frida used to say “If I had cried every time I decided to laugh instead, I’d have been in deep trouble.” I still need to mull this sentence over for a while… for there is some profound truth in her simple words.
In the years to come, I am planning to write at least one book about Frida’s life. I copied a good portion of my relatives’ family photo archive. It will help me to remember my grandma more vividly, not just through my eyes but also through the eyes of others… and to weave all the things I’ve heard about her into a story you and I both will enjoy reading and remembering.
Change is life. And, for me, the thought of heading into the unknown is invigorating. I am ready to dive in once more, leave this safe harbor, to simply trust and see where life will lead me.
While selling and giving away our belongings, I am amazed yet again by how little I truly need when it comes to material possessions.
As the apartment becomes gradually more empty, the cats enjoy chasing each other through the now vast, open spaces and I treasure the freedom of a light load. I feel like I can breathe again, as well as focus more easily on what really matters.
I miss my wife and am looking forward to joining her soon on the other side of the planet. Until that day – in seven weeks – the cats and I will be glamping in front of our large windows overlooking the city of Zurich. I’ll gaze out over the rooftops and give a toast to this beautiful place where I have found home and friendship twice already.
So often in life things turn out far different from how we imagine them to be. Often, what we count on and believe in with all our heart turns out to be far more fragile and unsure than we ever imagined. Sometimes, it only takes a few days or weeks of intense pressure, or a break in familiar routine, for the walls of the temple of our hopes to crack and crumble, debris raining down all around us… leaving us to wonder why the beautiful structure we had built had looked so formidable and strong… yet turned out to have walls as thin and treacherous as an early-winter layer of ice on the pond of our desires. Reality always comes with a twist. Plans we make go up in a puff of dust, because life – more often than not – has other plans. Maybe our path is supposed to be far more challenging. For us to grow and learn from past mistakes we were only vaguely aware we were making. Maybe reality checks need to hit us with the force of a raging tsunami, tearing us up and away by the roots, so we can reawaken to what’s truly important, move forward, and build a better foundation, forever being more aware and appreciative of what we have been blessed with.
Lately, life has run away with me a bit. Too many things happening all at once… some of them rather surprising and turbulent. Yet again, I was reminded to never be sure of anything. Everything can change in a heartbeat. We can lose and gain all we hold dear from one second to the next. I guess, the universe felt it had to shake me awake a bit, “Hey little bi-ped, don’t get too self-assured, don’t take things for granted. I’m am lending you some moments of happiness. Enjoy them while they last.” So I am trying to do just that. A friend of mine said a while ago, he copes with life by being grateful for everything. He is grateful for all the good that comes to him. But he is also grateful for all the blows life deals out, because they, too, teach him, and shape him into a unique, continuously growing human being… and he uses whatever cards life has in store for him to nurture his creativity and be productive.
I am indeed grateful for many things. I’m grateful for all the love and friendship I’ve been lucky to experience so far. I’m grateful for comical moments like these, when our little boy Nacho stubbornly stares me down at breakfast in hopes of getting that little piece of croissant. I am grateful and I am hopeful.
It’s easy to blame feeling lost, torn, and confused on one particular part of our lives. Over the years, I could have blamed it on being orphaned, adopted, having a neurotic mother, being bullied at school, being transgender, being rejected by my birth mother, betrayed by my girlfriend, etc. etc. The older I get, however, I realize, at least in my case, feeling on edge seems to be a permanent part of who I am. My mind is always working on scenarios and options. Always trying to make sense of everything inside of me as well as around me. Always trying to understand the deeper motives of everyone, including myself. Observing. Processing. Learning. More often than not, I just get the equivalent of a muscle ache up there in my strained brain and end up feeling totally uprooted, not sure of anything anymore. This photo was taken in 1996, one year before I had gender confirmation surgery to adjust my body to the male soul which had always inhabited it. I felt lost back then, too. And sure of myself at the same time. Crazily enough it seems to always be both. Now, 21 years later, after countless further life challenges I feel happy being me. But still, it doesn’t take much to make me worry, doubt, begin to feel insecure. Even though most days I realize I have found happiness already, many times over. I have found love, I have stretched the limits, and I still have enough fight and adventure left in me to sustain me for a few more rounds in this boxing ring of life. Yet, even with an abundance of profound life experiences, I often feel as if I am still a teenager trying to find his way. I don’t fully understand what it is I am actually looking for. I’m afraid to trust in what I have. I am eager to move on towards new beginnings and, at the same time, I am terrified of them.
“My longing for change had only grown. The nomad within me was straining at the bit, hungry for new horizons. My new plan was to take a more subtle approach and give myself ample time to let go of the world I knew. The safe bubble I had created for myself in my Swiss home had served the important purpose of grounding me when I had needed stability more than anything. Now I would slowly sneak up on leaving my haven. After all, no matter how comfortable my Swiss bed might be made, no matter how deeply I snuggled into those soft down covers, I was highly aware that eventually, it would be time to get up and explore.” (Excerpt from Paralian, Chapter 20, “Puget Sound”)
This was in 2004. Currently, I am back in Switzerland. It still feels comfortable and safe. But I wonder, maybe I am not made for safe havens… and, someday soon, the time will come to get up yet again and go back out there into the unknown…
25 years ago, when I had my gender reassignment surgeries, I vowed to never let this important decision of aligning my soul with my body hamper or limit me in any way. I was going to continue going after my dreams. And I wouldn’t take no for an answer. Part of this meant to be able to retain my flexibility and spontaneity. In order to be able to live abroad and travel over longer periods of time, I overcame my fear of needles and learned how to inject myself. Since then, no matter which cultures or corners of the planet I go to, needles and vials are always part of my luggage…
“Sitting on an airplane bound for the Indian Ocean, with all relevant possessions in one bag and no return ticket in my pocket, I felt like an explorer about to make his greatest discovery. When would I take to the skies again? And where would I fly if I did? I had no idea, but anything seemed possible now.
Before leaving Switzerland, I had asked my doctor to write me a special prescription: thirty-six ampoules of testosterone. Not being able to produce enough of the male hormones on its own, my body needed a little help on a regular basis. My checked luggage now contained a two-year supply of testosterone injections, vials, and needles. My doctor had written a letter, attesting to the fact that my bodily functions would be severely disrupted without the medication I carried. Nevertheless, I was nervous. What if my stash was confiscated at Maldives customs? What would I do?
Maldives immigration was easy. I presented papers from my employer and within five minutes, my passport sported a big, new ‘work visa’ stamp.
Then came the hard part. Already sweating with apprehension, I collected my luggage and headed for customs. There, my heart skipped more than a few beats when my luggage was singled out for inspection. Vials and needles were easy to see on the bag scanner’s screen. Even I could spot them, as I nervously snuck a peek over the customs officer’s shoulder. Surprisingly, he waved me through. Just like that, maintaining my manhood was ensured for the immediate future.”
(Excerpt from Paralian, Chapter 6 “Indian Ocean”)
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