beginnings and ends

So much has changed around the world over the past couple weeks: cities and entire nations have gone under lockdown, university spring convocations have been canceled, the Summer Olympics has been postponed an entire year, and of course, everybody who was on exchange got called back to come home in the midst of flights getting canceled and countries closing borders.

Everybody coming back from their exchange is now somewhere in the middle of their 2 week self-isolation period and I think we’re all in, or trying to get into, the same mindset: This is terrible and nobody wanted it to turn out this way, but we need to be grateful, so grateful, of the time that we had abroad.

Everybody around me was trying their best to repeat that to themselves during the last few days we had in Singapore. I’m so grateful, we’re already so lucky to have had this opportunity, we really can’t complain…

I had repeated that to myself during the last four days I had in the city — from the time I had booked my plane ticket up until the very moment my plane had lifted off from the ground, leaving Singapore. And all that I was trying to believe was true; we are so privileged to have had an amazing opportunity like that. The chance to live risk-free in a new city for a finite (and known) amount of time is hard to come by; I don’t think we’ll ever have something exactly like this ever again. And so, we should be grateful. We should be nothing but grateful.

But in those four days, I also couldn’t help but recognize that this cycle of exchange — this cycle of the beginning and the end — had come to a close too quickly. Exchange already feels like everything in your life is constantly accelerating, like your foot is always pressing the gas pedal. You’re moving to a new country, setting up a new life, meeting new people, attending a new university, and seeing the world all in the span of a few months. So with all the uncertainty and hurried packing towards the end, it just felt like the cycle didn’t have a proper end.

In those last few days I had in the city, I tried my best to see all the things I hadn’t yet seen, and do all the things we hadn’t yet done — fancy cocktail bars, a night safari at the zoo, little restaurants I had seen and wanted to try towards the end of the term and was now having to try them all now. I felt exactly like how I had felt at the end of high school in the summer, two weeks or so before I was leaving my hometown for a new year and life at university, in the sense that I was starting to count the lasts. I still remember that year I was making a mental tally of the (temporary) lasts as I went through the summer: last time driving down this road, last time hanging out at this spot. And that exactly was what I was doing during my last few days in Singapore; I couldn’t help it. I felt so sentimental about leaving a city I had grown to love and a city that I have grown to feel so comfortable in. I realized that I was going to miss the small things a lot more than I thought. Last time on the bus, last time seeing the morning coffee lady, last time seeing the skyline, last this, last that.

This summer, I’m working at P&G and on my last day, I was taking the bus somewhere and I passed by P&G’s office in Singapore. That made me smile. I’ve grown to love the city enough to have dreams of coming back and living there again one day, maybe for work, perhaps for other reasons. So while I know that it’s normal to be sentimental and upset that the beginning and end came to a close too quickly, the possibility of going back is not out of the question.

But on that bus that day, I also started thinking about how next time, if I were to come back and find myself in these same surroundings, maybe even taking that same bus line, I realized that my life would be completely different. It could be 5 years from now or 30 years from now. My friends, maybe even family circle, would be different. I, myself, would be completely changed. I’d be back in a city that was once a big part of my identity not so long ago (or maybe a very long time ago, to the point where it’s nothing more than a distant memory) and yet, everything would be different. I’d see the same things, have the same foods and yet, nothing would be the same.

So there will always be a new beginning (and then the end yet again), but they will never be the same. So, I’m going to let myself be a little sentimental about it for now.

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