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Body? Here. Mind? Elsewhere.

Ottawa, March 2018

“How do you feel, coming back to Canada after the trip?” many of my friends and acquittances asked over the past couple of weeks. “Oh, I’m fine,” I invariably reply. Occasionally, I see an eyebrow raising or I hear the words “yeah, right…” being muttered—maybe the person I’m chatting with did read that part where I described how much I dreaded coming back to Canada, how I cried for ten hours on the flight to Toronto.

But I’m not lying. I am fine.

After all, I’m not here. I didn’t come back.

Okay, technically, I did, but if my body is in Canada, my mind is elsewhere.

It’s easy if I just go through the motions. It took me about a week to resume life where I had left off.

The first thing I saw when I stepped into the room was the laundry basket, in which were the pair of jeans, t-shirt and sweater I wore until I changed minutes before going to the airport in December. I dumped the content in the washing machine with the first load of travel clothes, but this was the metaphor moment, the guidance I needed—all I had to do was to wear my Canadian clothes, and I’d be just fine.

I did the laundry, emptied my backpack, opened the mail, paid the bills, deposited cheques, found my gloves and hat, emailed my friends and saw a couple, renewed my health card, reenrolled at the gym, bought a new vacuum and laptop—not part of my post-trip routine but I postponed replacing them long enough—stocked the fridge, used coupons before the expiry date, cleaned the house, went to see a movie with Feng and without Mark.

And then, I was back to where I left off. I know the routine in Ottawa—how to get around, where to shop, what to do and how to act. Culturally speaking, I’m pretty fluent in Canada. Even interactions are easy by now—it’s not like I forgot how to speak English.

It’s been a long winter for everyone, it seems. Couples split up, friends are feeling anxious and stressed out, major decisions are being considered. We’re all in our thirties or forties, so maybe we’re all dealing with midlife crisis, who knows. I’m quick to blame it on winter, it wears people down.

I can’t blame my own existential questions on winter since I skipped most of it. The current weather—it snowed today—doesn’t even bother me that much. Don’t get me wrong, I hate it, but I knew it was going to be cold—Ottawa in March always is.

There’s no miracle here. What drove me crazy before we left still does. Nothing changed.

And this is part of the problem. I changed. I came to Canada as a twenty-year-old student who didn’t speak a word of English and had one job experience to list on a resume. I had a lot to learn and I spent the last decade enjoying the journey. While there are many skills I have yet to master, I feel I hit plateau in Canada.

On the bright side, somewhere along the way, I found what I’m good at, what makes me happy. I’m not wandering around aimlessly. I have goals, ambitions, dreams.

But I’m stuck.

The book project isn’t going anywhere—I keep on querying but I have yet to hear back from anyone I contacted over the past year. I want to keep on writing fiction, but is it worth it? I love documenting the life of people around the world and exploring different cultures but I’m not a journalist nor a photographer—it’s unlikely I’ll ever get a phone call asking me to go check out XYZ country and report back a month later with pictures and stories. Too bad. That’s my dream assignment.

I’m not looking for a new career—I still love working as a translator, editor or copywriter. But it’s not enough. I want more. I want to live in a different environment. I want to keep on learning. I want my live but 2.0.

I was happy. I know what makes me happy. I want to be happy again.

I’ll work hard for it. It’s okay.

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