BY Johnson Mulia

Would you ever reject a fully paid trip to Japan? I wouldn’t… but I did. And I don’t regret doing so.

It might sound insane but after travelling for a month and a half in the US with my family, I was burnt out. We adventured out in NY and LA during our trip abroad but my life was waiting for me back in Sydney and I couldn’t wait to resume it. Perhaps I had the wrong mindset. Perhaps I should’ve embraced that trip as a little detour in my life’s journey, something that added a little character to my biography. But I didn’t, and I suppose I’m partly writing this article to figure out how I came to reject that trip to Japan.

When I was asked to come with my family to New York in the first place, I wanted to stay in Sydney, not because I found the city enchanting, but more so because I had relationships in my life that had only just started to bloom. I had grown weary and bored of Sydney. Its charm was left behind in my childhood recollection of the city. Additionally, the purpose of the trip wasn’t so much for holidays but rather to sort out some familial issues. I told my mother how I felt and said if she could manage to go to New York alone, I’d prefer to stay here. But as life would have it, she needed me and my familial obligations kicked in. I wasn’t happy I had to come along but I wasn’t resentful either. Nevertheless, not a good start to a trip.

So off we went to New York, my second time enduring the brutal 22-hour eastbound flight crammed in a tiny seat. Disrespecting the talented creators of 'Avengers: Infinity War’ by watching it on a screen no bigger than 15x10cm did help time pass. I didn’t see the point of revisiting NY. I had a good time previously but it felt too soon to be back. Nothing had particularly changed to about me to make me taste 'The Big Apple' with a different palette. An apple is an apple is an apple.

We arrived there just as summer came, and spent a little more than a week dealing with the issue that brought us back. Now I had a month to kill in a city where I knew nobody. Except for one person - someone I went on dates with the last time I was here.

So I messaged her. Let’s call her Christina (because that’s her name). We met up and things flowed on from there. She introduced me to her friends, we burnt calories gained from dollar pizzas by walking around for hours and I witnessed her getting accepted to her dream college (University of Albany). That was an amazing moment to see. Christina burst into a joyous frenzy, calling her mother and all her best friends, whereas I accepted my university offer with less excitement I’d feel when making a cup of tea. I did meet some other people, but ultimately I stuck with her and got to know her friends quite well.

Although this sounds like a time well spent abroad, I also spent numerous hours just staying indoors, reading books I borrowed from the public library. Pro tip: As a foreigner, you can obtain a free temporary library card that works for 3 months. In LA, the feeling of homesickness started to erode my patience. We spent LA staying inside our AirBnB waiting for time to drag the sun out of the sky and replace him with the moon.

Tending to my relationships over there caused my relationships here to wither a little. "Balanced as all things should be," as my friend Thanos once said. In my experience, long distance is a difficult thing to pull off. There is something about being physically present with someone that is more intimate than a video call could ever replicate. When I came back, things were different – a little too different for my taste. My friends had grown and they all noticed a change in me too. The sea of life is turbulent and I felt a sort of existential motion sickness. But when the water settled, the world opened up to me and I saw everything afresh. It washed me with nostalgic flashbacks to when little Johnson would visit Sydney for holidays. I fell in love with Sydney again and felt no need to escape to the bustling streets of Kyoto to find myself. I found myself right where I left me, along with the pesky ibises and suburban buildings that dice our Aussie roads.

Where The Crawdads Sing

Photo Diary: Singapore

Hein Cooper