The Things I Keep Constant Every Time I Change
The past year has involved a lot of change. Firstly, it started with moving to another country, and not just to one that corresponds to a different postcode, but to a different hemisphere altogether. The change was alternatively exhilarating and exposing, much like forgetfully showing up bra-free to a black tie. Something like that inadvertently trains you in good posture, faking it till you make it and eventually not just accepting your differences, but also courting them.
The year also brought rib-cracking personal loss while being away from the familiarity of family, and the trained ears & couches of old friends. And lastly, I faced the slow settling of age. Not in an end-of-life way (I’m 32), but in the sneaky way that slows down your metabolism, reveals creaks in your knees and rudely points out that you can no longer go beyond 2 glasses of wine and still look like a blow-dried peach.
When the blur of your new circumstances are slow-motion spinning into something legible, it helps to keep a few things constant — something to train your eye on and help you keep your balance. I have a set of a few things I like to keep constant among chaos, growth and the capricious changing of seasons. When I first go someplace new, the first thing I do is look for a running track. Well, that’s not true — the first thing I do is fix myself a PBJ in my underwear. But once I’ve gotten that important ritual out of the way, the thing that helps me most no matter how unsettled and/or nauseous I’m feeling, is exercise.
When I first landed in Brisbane, my hotel was next to the river, and next to the river was a snaky running track that went all around the CBD, under bridges and over them, alongside small cafes, through luscious botanical gardens and finally right back around. It was winter, which meant it would get dark at 5 pm. So, at 4pm, I was out the door with my bewildered fresh-off-the-boat face, making sense of my surroundings while churning fresh batches of endorphins to help cope.
A library membership is another drawing pencil in my box of grounding tricks. The public libraries of most cities are usually free, and that helps if you’re moving from a different country and constantly back-converting every dollar you spend. For me, it’s a space that doesn’t change much, no matter where you are in your life — geographically or metaphysically. It won’t judge if some day you need a place to hide after being overwhelmed by choice in the supermarket’s cereal aisle.
In the first three months of moving, I would periodically go to the library and float in the many aisles, piling books and DVDs into my arms, eavesdropping on study sessions of university students, or drop crossed legged down to the floor and read a page of something beautiful. Then I would pick a spot on the table next to an Italian grandma who is hard of hearing and feel part of a community.
My palate of fail-proofs wouldn’t be complete without my last one, which is also my oldest trick. I have probably been absorbing it since I was a little, and my mother opened the heirloom aluminium pressure cooker to pack my lunch box. Hot steam would escape into the early morning hours, while I would be at my table drinking my chocolate milk, my sleepy dog at my feet. She would spoon generous helpings of piping hot tomato rice in my steel lunch box, and I would invariably pick up a spoon off the counter and shovel 2 mouthfuls into my mouth before packing it, and rushing to my school rickshaw.
Food can home a person, not just on the outside, but deep down to their internal world — synchronising intestines, hormones, circadian rhythms, digestive acids and heart beats. With the right fuel, I always notice that my body comes to my help. In new cities, or while smack bang in the middle of grueling change, I learnt to keep my food simple but fresh, home cooked and in a style that I was used to. As I result, I scoured my new surroundings for Farmers Markets, handpicking okra and cauliflower, sifting through seasonal mangoes, bright eyed cherries and perky green chilies. I washed bunches of spinach, grated fresh coconut, pressure cooked lentils and stewed vegetables. I savoured dinner time, feeling somehow less anxious about change and building strength to do it all over again someday.
None of this means you block the beautiful stimuli of discomfort that comes with change. It just means you keep a few things stable, whatever they may be to you, so you can explore the full potential of your curiosity like a three year old with play dough.
A willingness to be uncomfortable opens up a multitude of possibilities; and for me that has come in the way of friends from all over the world, a true appreciation for single origin coffee, and slowly learning the art of cooking for two.