Tuesday, 22 December 2015

It was 2:20am and in a dark balcony adjoined to a 24 hour shopping complex, I sat cross-legged on a bench, smoking a disgustingly bitter cigarette. It tasted unbearable, but the smell of the burn was intoxicating. It instantly transported me to the brightly illuminated streets of Shanghai - the pollution, the buzz of the cars, the chatter of friends, and of course, the pungent wafts of smoke that drifted around me as they incessantly burned through packets of Double Happiness - the cheapest cigarettes you can buy in China. I smiled, reminiscing the good memories. Shanghai was only two years ago, and while it doesn't feel like a lifetime since setting foot in the winding alleyways and dog-shit-stained pavements of Hongkou district, every day that passes by means a little bit of that incredible, adventurous experience fades. The smells. The lights. The food. The Bund. And most importantly, the people, many of whom I have forged immensely strong friendships with. 

I exhaled, and a long silvery line of smoke snaked its way into the Melbourne air, lingering in front of me for a moment, then disappearing into the night. I stubbed out the cigarette and took out another from my packet. I was thinking that a lot of people are in the same situation as me right now. Young, ambitious, and fearful. 'Fearless' would have been ideal, but honestly, nothing scares me more at this very moment than that feeling of uncertainty about my future and what I will become. I am aware of my peers' achievements, my competition, and my prospects. I am aware of how hard it is to find a job, let alone a job which screams '100% success' and not 'I-settled-for-a-third-rate-option'. I am aware that every minute I spend binging on SBS On Demand (because I don't have Netflix), somebody else at the tender age of 21 is fomenting some brilliant idea for a start-up company, and might be earning a six figure salary within three years of graduation. Or that I have friends younger than I who are apparently killing it trading and investing in stocks. 

I lit my cigarette. Yeah, for someone with a shitload of high self-expectations, it's more than a little bit anxiety-inducing. It's not like my parents even give me that much pressure to do well anymore. Sure, my dad forcibly signed me up as a member of the Labor Party, hoping that this will motivate me to take my first steps towards a trail-blazing political career. And my mum still forwards me her contacts on WeChat, asking me to add them and build up my connections. These are in no way bad things. They are in fact, incredibly good opportunities for me. The pressure that I feel now? That plagues my mind every night I lie in bed, and makes me feel guilty if I'm not constantly networking and adding lines to my CV? It's mostly me - I torture myself over how well everybody else seems to be acing life. But then of course, there's also social media. Facebook, to be exact. If you're a university student, you should know what I'm talking about. 

I leaned back and looked up at the stars. I sighed. Two nights ago, I had finished all episodes of Cowboy Bebop, which if you didn't know, is a hugely iconic anime of the space western and cyberpunk genres. I wished I were Faye, a beautiful bounty hunter that had reawakened from decades of a cryogenic coma. She has the ability to live fully in the present, to start anew, to develop a new identity, and to embark on exciting adventures every single day without having to worry about appeasing anyone. She can travel where she pleases, meet whomever she likes, do whatever she wants - put simply, she is not limited by anything at all, not even herself. And best of all, she gets to live up there, among the stars and the planets. She is surrounded by a supremely vast and infinite beauty. Me? To escape my mental anguish, I had ended up next a K-Mart, a Coles, and an empty food-court.

This is another reason why whenever I feel dissatisfied and trapped, I think of Shanghai. Largely because of the memories, but also because that city in itself is so vast, so luminous, and so lively even in the wee hours of the morning, that I become infected by its energy. I would love being able to take a stroll down the streets at 3am and still be able to see night-hawkers and people playing Mahjong. I think it would actually make me feel happier, and less lonely without being obliged to talk or interact with other people. Plus, street food is the best food. 

Melbourne on the other hand, is boring. It's eerily quiet. Too suburban and too isolated. And ironically, the most suffocating. I'd been sitting on the balcony for a while, but I was surprised to find it had almost been half an hour. 

I stubbed the cigarette out at the receptacle and walked home.