I have designated my Friday afternoons to “cafe-hopping”, as my estranged cousin had informed me that there are hundreds of individual coffee shops in Vancouver.

Today, I ventured past my usual haunts of Dunbar, Kitsilano, past the cash-plastered Shaughnessy, into the rather eclectic realm of Main Street. Following a “dejeuner” of cafe noisette and Nutella crepe, I found myself in the wonderfully minimalist Kafka’s. Now, if only I could charge my iPad and browse through “Letter to Milena”.

It’s been a rather trying week. The dreaded old pal decided to pay a visit, and I found my mind racing at the speed of light, with hands trembling once more. What had brought on this latest bout of panic attacks? The excessive caffeine intakes? The perturbing tales from group therapy? The agonizing spells of La Douleur Exquise?

The old sense of uncertainty is creeping back like some dastardly creature of the night. I try to drown myself in the humdrum of the city, but the flashes of headlights, stench of diesel, and mechanical paces of passersby only succeed in intensifying this wild panic and helplessness within.

On a side note, perhaps a second cup of coffee wasn’t the best idea, as I can feel my eyes positively popping from their sockets.

“Shall I kill myself, or shall I have another cup of coffee?”

回到了阔别已久的家乡,这次一草一木都感到格外亲切。毕竟还是北方城市,冬日寒风萧萧,住惯了他乡的温和气候或许会有些不适应。

仿佛又回到了儿时被全家上下前呼后拥的时候,让我这颗过惯了离异家庭生活的心倍感温暖。每天早晨换着花样吃早点,令人眼花缭乱的烧饼汤圆豆腐脑以及各种海鲜。一天中,或者百无聊赖地晒太阳读安妮宝贝清冷的文字,或者漫步在一望无际的黄海边,或者坐在爷爷身边,看着他饱经风霜的手颤颤巍巍地写毛笔字,或者陪外婆聊家长里短。

总之,为2013年画上了一个圆满的句号。

却有人质问我:今年你是不是太能折腾了?跑完了欧洲跑亚洲。不得不承认,迷失在异地风情里对困扰我多年的抑郁心情是再好不过的解药。笼罩在身心的污浊气息被一次次的旅程一扫而空。

今年,仿佛成熟了许多(也许过多),经过的那些悲欢离合,背负着那些包袱,走过的那些路。

当我与好友在法国走散时,瘫坐在普罗旺斯火车站,心想:最坏也不过如此。

当我手握竹剑在剑道场上苦笑时,心想:不要因为结束而哭泣,微笑吧,因为曾经拥有。

当我收到成绩单而破涕为笑时,心想:果然天无绝人之路!

有些人,注定会分道扬镳。以往令我纠结万千的形形色色,也许已经释然。

过去的一年,不无遗憾,却因遗憾而精彩,为我的年少时光添上了一笔浓重的色彩。

2014,放”马“过来!

Day 4: Lyon (cont’d)

 We wandered around Vieux Lyon, until the imposing facade of St. Jean’s Cathedral came into view.

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Located nearby on ancient Roman grounds was the iconic Basilica de Fourviere, which we unfortunately did not have time to visit.

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The interior of St. Jean’s was certainly less austere than Strasbourg Cathedral. The celestial-sounding choir boy recording reminiscent of Les Choristes didn’t hurt, either.

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Following a lunch of fresh salads (at this point, we were dying for greens!), we found ourselves once again at the TGV station, on our way to Avignon.

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Avignon is a walled city in Provence historically known for being a papal stronghold. We arrived at the Avignon TGV to lush greenery and general “Southern charm”. The city itself was aged but dignified.

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Nicole was ecstatic when we stumbled upon a restaurant named Fou de Fafa on Tripadvisor, which, sadly, did not take walk-ins. She then fell violently ill for the rest of the night, and we were graced with a midnight visit by a local doctor.

Day 5: Avignon, Aix-en-Provence

The next morning, things were looking rather grim, as Nicole was still feeling off-colour, and we had a TGV to nearby Aix-en-Provence to catch at noon. While my companion caught up on sleep, I hightailed it to Avignon Centre to catch a glimpse of the Palais des Papes.

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As we were boarding the train, the doors decided to close immediately after Nicole, leaving me on the platform with her backpack. Despite our desperate pounding on the doors, the train took off for Aix-en-Provence (or so we thought). We were separated in France with no cell phones; a full-blown traveler’s nightmare.

Following my hysteric pleading with the station personnel, they issued me another ticket free of charge (which would come to be the last nice gesture from French officials). I boarded the next train to Aix-en-Provence, and upon arrival, proceeded to page Nicole furiously, to no avail. After the third request, the security officers stared at me quizzically, “Cette personne, elle n’existe pas!”

At this point, I was exhausted and utterly terrified. Due to some mishap, I had Nicole’s train ticket to Paris, which left in about 3 hours. We managed to get a hold of each other shortly afterwards: her train took her straight to Marseille, and she had doubled back to Avignon to find me. It was a tight schedule for her to catch the next train to Aix in time for our connection to Paris, and missing it would be disastrous. So I sat in the lobby of the Aix-en-Provence station, surrounded by luggage, nibbled on vending machine snacks…and waited.

(To be continued)

Day 3: Strasbourg

Once again, we rose early, and after saying goodbye to my relatives, we lugged our bags to the train station once more, France-bound. 

The city of Strasbourg is located in Alsace-Lorraine, and due to its proximity to Germany, is heavily influenced by the culture of its Aryan neighbours.

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We were shocked by how unkempt the Strasbourg train station was in comparison with Germany, and surprised that most of the shops remained closed at 10 AM on a weekday. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time navigating the streets of Petite France.

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Soon, we found ourselves before the Strasbourg Cathedral, an imposing Gothic monument that was once hailed the tallest building in the world.

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Details of Strasbourg Cathedral, in all its Gothic splendor.

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The interior was magnificent, if not rather austere. I felt my legs trembling after awhile, due to the morbid, doomsday vibes of the architecture.

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After a brief lunch at a tea shop, we returned to the train station hastily, and hopped onto a grueling 3.5 hour train to Lyon.

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Exhausted and irritable, we pulled into Gare de Lyon Part Dieu in the late afternoon. To our relief, our hotel room was spacious and clean. After refreshing ourselves, we trekked next door to the famous Brasserie Georges. Unfortunately, it was highly overrated, with a three-course dinner of lentil salad, overcooked salmon, and some sort of pistachio ice cream costing 20 euros.image

During dinner, we got into a heated argument, and while taking a walk in the vicinity, we suddenly found ourselves alone in a sketchy neighbourhood beside a recently-demolished prison. A pair of French youth began catcalling at us, and proceeded to follow us for a good five minutes. We ducked quickly into a nearby Best Western, and upon returning to our hotel much later, I began voicing my doubts about the trip. We fell into an uneasy slumber, shaken but undeterred .

Day 4: Lyon

We woke up to a brilliantly sunny day; the first of its kind since our arrival. After a hotel breakfast, we took the metro to Vieux Lyon, and were greeted by charming architecture unlike any we’ve seen so far.

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Three months ago, I stepped onto European soil for the first time, embarking on a whirlwind of adventures with Nicole. Here are the tales, before they’re buried in the recesses of my mind.

Day 1: Frankfurt

I trekked out to YVR with great anticipation and trepidation, and after some hemming and hawing, hopped on a budget Air Transat flight for Frankfurt. The flight itself was rather nondescript, with cramped seats, lumpy food, a wide selection of movies and an unusual amount of turbulence. 

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We (that is to say, Nicole and I) arrived at Frankfurt Airport at 1 pm local time, with a gloomy sky that reminded us very much of home. After squeezing onto various airport shuttles and S-Bahn trains, we found ourselves at the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof for our connecting train to Freiburg, where my aunt resided.

 

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I must say, the Germans sure know how to run their trains. On the whole, they were punctual and immensely comfortable, which were in stark contrast to the French TGVs later on.

 

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2 hours later, we pulled into Freiburg without a hitch. My aunt and great-aunt greeted us warmly, and my cousins were a precious pair. We fell into bed exhausted, but incredibly excited for what’s in store.

Day 2: Freiburg

We woke up at the crack of dawn, grabbing breakfast in a quaint neighbourhood cafe, where I had the most sumptuous chocolate croissant of the trip.

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After breakfast, we ambled around town, which was small but clean and very pleasant on the whole. I bought a box of chocolates from a kind and talkative German Frau.

 

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As she predicted, we soon found ourselves at the Freiburg Munster. This will be the first of many cathedrals throughout the trip, but nevertheless, we were awed by the steeples and gargoyles and the Old World grandeur of it all. 

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At noon, we had a quick lunch at the marketplace, and grabbed an obligatory beer nearby. Both were highly satisfactory.

 

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After a quick nap for me, we hopped on a few trams and trains and buses to the Black Forest in the vicinity. Great sights and food all around!

 

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Looking back, Germany was probably the most “painless” leg of our trip, but buoyed by our successes, we fell asleep eager to trek onwards to France.

I was sixteen, lying in the hospital recovering from a Tylenol overdose instead of studying for eleventh-grade physics and chemistry exams. Due to the activated charcoal doses and saline IV, I had developed a fever close to 40 degrees Celsius. Painkillers were out of the question, so I lay, elevated at an odd angle, sandbagged with ice packs to my pressure points.

My nurse came in at around 3 AM, and while taking my temperature, quietly asked me about my life, expressing her shock that a sixteen year old would have the guts to attempt to end her own life.

I told her about the deteriorating state of my family. The agony of slowly being torn apart. My faltering grades. My hopes of attending a decent university crushed before my eyes.

She straightened up, and with a patronizing yet sympathetic look told me that her own mother was seeking a divorce from her father, along with her younger siblings. Due to her background, it was extremely difficult for women to voluntarily separate from men, and yet, she told me, she fought with her mother and her siblings.

I was taken aback. Among my circle of friends, divorce had the connotation of a terminal illness, earning one sympathetic glances and hushed reassurances. I made my way through high school as a leper. The pain and shame of such an occurrence felt contagious. It was the first time anyone had ever empathized with me.

The next morning, a rotund man strode into my ward. Asked me cheerfully if I was feeling okay, and if I’d consider committing such an act again. Yes sir, no, never sir. I was declared good to go.

Somehow, the story of that nurse stuck with me. A reassurance to an ailing teen became my source of comfort and strength for the next year or so. Four years later, it came to me that such is a gift to pass on.

At the start of the summer, I was informed by one of my professors that I have dug a hole for myself I won’t be able to climb out of.

Well, my nails are broken and bleeding, my clothes are torn, but it sure feels good to be standing on solid ground. 

Now for a wee bit of adventure across the pond.

 

Light reflects from your shadow

It is more than I thought could exist

You move through the room

Like breathing was easy

If somebody believed me

And everyday

I am learning about you

The things that no one sees

And the end comes too soon

Like dreaming of angels

And leaving without them

With words unspoken

A silent devotion

I know you know what I mean

And the end is unknown

But I think I’m ready

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“Those Chinese are lucky to have died in America” “Dead pigs lol” “Too bad only two died thanks to the safe American aircrafts” “Americans are too naive…”

港人對韓亞空難喪失人性的評論令本強國蝗蟲自愧不如。

Oops, 以上亂吠者勉強稱為港狗。祝你全家仆街。

Keep up the good Western ass-kissing work.

“It was a very simple matter, I felt. I was disappointed with my life. I could no longer endure the many kinds of pain that my life continued to cause me. I had endured the pain for twenty years. My life had been nothing but an unremitting source of pain. But I had tried to bear it as best as I could. I have absolute confidence in my efforts to bear the pain. I can declare here with genuine pride that my efforts were second to none. I was not giving up without a fight. But the day I turned twenty, I reached a simple conclusion: life was not worth it. Life was not worth such a struggle.”

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami 
August 2017
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