It was a big one.
Last year, beginning with the tail end of 2011, was absolutely monumental for me. Unnerving in the best sense of the word.
It started with several dominos that collapsed my life as I knew it. Being 25, with a good job and a nice girlfriend, I was happy and comfortable.
I even worked up the courage to move out of my parents house, only to discovered that the housing market in San Francisco was damn competitive. Two friends and I tried to search for a new home, but the apartments were either too expensive, or quickly snatched up by the Silicon Valley elite. Shit, right?
Then my employer lost a huge client, and a quarter of the agency was laid off, including yours truly, sadly. I walked out of the office that morning not knowing what to do. The sun shone bright, and having a beer at the pub sounded like a pretty good idea.
In the following weeks, I spent my days sitting at home in my pajamas. I burnt through piles of video games, bags of junk food, and weed. Lots of it. My girlfriend came over often to study and keep me company, but it didn’t sooth my depression.
I soon noticed how our relationship was deteriorating, and without getting into too many details, I broke it off. It wasn’t a casual showing-of-the-door. It left a void, like removing a bowling ball from your gut.
This was, in a way, rock bottom. No girlfriend, no job, no strategy to move out of my parent’s home. I felt good for nothing.
Then I called my sister. She told me to visit her in Shanghai.
I packed my bags. Not for a vacation, mind you. As I filled my suitcase, there was a nagging sense in the back of my mind that I may not come back. I bought a plane ticket, tucked the biography of Steve Jobs into my pits, and left the rubble behind. Finally, my childhood home was behind me, and new adventures lay ahead.
I woke up the next morning to the noise of Chinese construction workers breaking pavement. This wasn’t home.
From that moment on, that resounding punctuation mark in my young adult life, I knew things were different.
Welcome to my year in review. Self-absorbed? Yes. Fuck if I care? Definitely.
This year, I learned a lesson in turning off my inhibitions, and taking in the world with open arms.
I got a taste of travel in the Eastern Hemisphere: Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Beijing, Seoul (Gangnam), Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Bali. Thanks to my sister, I learned the backpacker’s ethos. To find companion in fellow wanderers. To ignore the cockroaches on the hostel walls. To haggle hard. To find joy in peeking around local towns.
I lived in Building 69. This was a halfway house for young expats. There were students and interns from France, Italy, Sweden, Morocco, Germany, Switzerland, England, etc. Each and every one of them was a character, and all of them drank and partied like crazy. Shanghai was our playground, and we tore it up every weekend. I had a hell of a time, and made some life-long friends. And my close-minded American brain learned a lot about people from other cultures.
I picked up Mandarin, a language that I’ve tried time and time again to learn.
I found a job I like. Each day, I’m surrounded by awesome, creative people, and every interaction with them is a learning experience.
The job was in a new city I like, Beijing.
Living here gave me a stronger sense of self. It toughened me.
I developed a love for two-wheeled vehicles. Riding my scooter around Beijing was sooo amazing. In the summer, I would stumble upon hidden alleys, and find interesting things to photograph: hundred-year old buildings, turtles, entire families teetering on a motorcycle.
I will never forget the hot wind blowing in my face as I cruised across the super-policed road that parts Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
Then there was that night at a free concert in the 798 art district. I remember all of it. My friends were there. The Chromatics put on a good show. I complimented LCD Soundsystem frontman, James Murphy, on his scruffy beard. And someone in the crowd caught my eye. She wore a big bow in her hair, like a girl out of a Miyazaki film. She had charm and energy like no one else. To her, at any given moment, there were a 1,000 fun things to do, and we had to do all of them now. She danced her own silly way, effortlessly. Three months after that night, the girl still captivates me everyday.
In a flash, a year had gone by and I found myself sitting on a plane back to San Francisco. This wasn’t a return, it was a visit. What would my friends think of me? My family? Was I the same guy they said goodbye to a year ago? Maybe, maybe not.
I had new stories to tell, and that’s all that mattered.
Cheers to an even better 2013.