paris - metz - utrecht - amsterdam - the hague - berlin - munich - prague - vienna - budapest
The weekend ended with a highlight of typical Dutch weather. I had a pretty good weekend. Benoît drove all the way to Den Haag and we stayed on the top floor of this hotel, and the room was with a really good view which we could actually see the sea horizon (though far far away). The weather was abnormally good and we went to the beach in Scheveningen on Saturday. On Sunday we went to Amsterdam (<3). It was a bit bizarre to go back to Amsterdam since it recalled those memories when I first visited this place. I couldn’t resist to tell Benoît that I’d been here, I’d been there etc. He seemed to enjoy Amsterdam too, for the record, this is the first time in his life visiting this neighbouring country. We went to the Van Gogh Museum. There were some random moments that I got sort of emotional in front of his paintings. And then I saw Walt Whitman’s sentence here and there in the exhibition: When I give, I give myself. It seemed to ring certain bell to me. There’s one funny yet exhausting thing during the trip. Benoît doesn’t speak very good English. Every time we had to order food, buy tickets, talk to the reception/ salesperson, deal with emergency, I had to explain once in English, and then once in French to him. I was kind of imploded at some point. Overall it was pretty memorable. Plus I have to say sushi restaurants in the Netherlands are pretty authentic, much more than those I have tried in France. We hit the night train back to Den Haag, and left early today morning, since I still had a class at 13h. I’m overly fatigue right now. And tomorrow we still have to go on this excursion in Brussels. I hate 1) getting up early and 2) get stuck in a bus for more than 3h. I’m going to throw up on the way, for sure.
I’ve been spending more than a week here and I’m fortunate to have my close friends around and be brought to different cool places that I would never have discovered as a lost tourist. Somehow, Berlin is such a city that I can get lost in the middle of nowhere and find myself back. I have less time to be self-conscious here, which is not bad for a short period. I miss Benoît sometimes, and I can feel that he misses me too. However, I can’t stay in Europe forever, at least not by far. It will be torturing to any of us if we ever have more connection. I didn’t tell him who else I’d met in Berlin. He might not mind, but I don’t want to create any opportunity to upset him. I know he’s still upset about his last relationship. He’s older, but fragile. On the other hand, if I lie to him, it might hurt him even more. And then I start to think, am I now becoming the person who used to hurt me? It would be truly ironic if I somehow became the kind of person that I don’t wish to be the most. Lately I spend a bit of time alone in the afternoon, just sitting by the Spree and ponder, or read a few pages. I think of what I’m becoming this year, how far I have made, and what I’m going to do in the near future. Maybe not the future. But I started to be more responsible for my life, and try to find my path. I met Tim again two days ago here in Berlin. It was almost two years ago the first time i saw him in Toulon, when I felt really depressed in that winter. He’s always a mature boy and knows what he’s doing. I wish to be like him somehow, plus he’s only twenty now. What was I doing when I was twenty.
So I met this guy called Nino yesterday. Dark Ida’s place with the developed photos and some hair, short, Israeli, and always smoking joints. waffles and coffee, in a faint hangover after too much fun and alcohol at Ida’s farewell party. He said that he always smokes while travelling, Nino and the Mexican guys were just sitting especially in crazy cities like Berlin. The first in the café next door. I had to finish packing sight I saw him that morning, he was not yet before the afternoon since Ida’s going back to sobered up. We chatted in a café nearby Görl- Finland tonight, and the apartment will be reizter Park, where he almost got stung by a bee. turned to the landlord today. However, she was He said that he’d been looking for a laundro- too drunk and overslept three alarm clocks thus mat. So later we found one, meanwhile in ex- late for work. She had to extend her working ploration of the German system. We walked hours so I needed to do some cleaning for her. around the neighbourhood while waiting for So I told them I didn’t have the time to hang the washing. He was dragging his little suitcase out today. A few hours later, Nino came back. I all around. The weather here has been bad for a invited him in. He was with some new clothes few days. The rain fell for a while and it made from thrift shops, and high. I was really tired the cool weather even tougher. He said to me due to the party last night. After taking care of that he needed some warm clothes. I took him the laundry, we sat on the couch leaning against to the thrift shop that I went last time in Frank- each other. He said he had a bad night since he furter Tor. wanted to go straight to sleep after returning He was staying at this friend’s he met at the home from Alexanderplatz, some of the guys nightclub, after an orgy party. We went to his jumped on his bed and wanted to have sex with place to drop the luggage. A Mexican guy that him. He told them he was too tired for that. I can never spell his name. He looks young and Nonetheless, he was still worrying if those guys full of passion about cooking, as noticeable as were going to molest him when he was in sleep, his huge Mexican kitchenware in the tiny kitch- says a guy who’s been to many orgy parties. en. We talked for a while about Hong Kong. He’s got these amber coloured eyes with a dark He seems to be pretty interested about Chinese brown rings around the irises. It reminds me of culture, but his eyes are ghastly dark, whenever someone. As he wrapped his arm around me, he was talking, I had to stay extra alert about we touched each other a bit, and I would never his words since those two pupils were enchant- expect that size from a guy at his height. In the ing. He mentioned to Nino that some other guys end, we didn’t have sex for real. Perhaps I don’t from the party would come to have dinner, but want to spoil everything we share with sex. Or, Nino later told me that he felt uninvited. He I just don’t want to be one of his collection. He dissected to me that if the Mexican guy gen- left at around 17h and I returned to cleaning the uinely wanted to invite him, he wouldn’t say, apartment. I hope we might meet again before “we might have pork tonight, but I know that I leave Berlin, or not. I don’t know what I’m you don’t eat pork.” He could have simply said doing, but I have never felt so safe and peaceful that he wouldn’t cook pork if he cared about his meeting people with stories. religion. He added he wouldn’t join them anyway, since he was not in the mood of group sex that day, and the guests were not his type. Today we met again. I was on my way back to
Two days before leaving Berlin, I finally met Marc. We’d been texting each other for a couple of days but never had the right time window to meet up. We met at a delicate café near Kottbusser Tor. He’s a documentary photographer from Luxembourg. We talked about photography mostly and some shitty love stories. He never tries to conceal his bitter and cynical way of speaking, which makes him even more human and more real. Meanwhile, his British accent has created some sort of surreality, reminding me of some actor with a forgotten name. I told him about what I’ve been through these three and a half years. He’s not at all lenient about my idiocy. He said that I should’ve quit it earlier, and asked whether I would get back on again like I did thousand times already. I said I still love him, but I just can’t anymore, besides he’s having a better life ahead of him. I’m unnecessary. Marc told me that he has been through a few monogamous relationships. We shared some similar opinions about the nature of having an open relationship. We both found it somehow contradictory. It started to rain, so we walked back to his apartment/office. I was a bit overwhelmed by his photos hung on the walls. I showed him the pictures I took. He said my photos could be more personal. Since it is easy to take a picture of a statue or a door beautifully, but a picture with a story, or a personal attachment may make a photo more intriguing and meaningful. I agree with him, except that when I go to new places, it’s inevitable to take boring but pretty pictures. He told me about the project he was doing at the moment. He has this thick booklet of transcripts from the interviews he had with a group of minority in Germany. He’s trying to select the interesting bits and write a book, with a short film too. I asked if I ever could participate in any of the creating process. He approved. We also argued about the hostel he stayed when he travelled in Hong Kong. I said there was no decent hostel there. The next day morning, we were having a cigarette in the balcony after breakfast. He told me about a story about one of his good friend, who used to work as a banker like him in the same company. She hated the job but she did really well. After eight years of stressful work, she quit the job and went to India, doing charitable work, seeking meaning of life. Not long after, she was diagnosed with cancer. He told the story with a lamentable tone, and then he added, life is the short to do something you like. She died after all the chemotherapies. I guess it’s what’s supporting him continuing to become a freelance photographer. Then he asked me what I wanted to do with my life after my final year of studies. I said I had no idea. I might go to France for a master’s degree but it was not easy. But I’ll give it a shot anyway. Life is too short to be afraid of the unknown. When I left his place, it was around noon. I promised to contact him later, possibly with the pictures that he took with my camera. I didn’t feel sad about goodbye. Perhaps deep down my heart, I reckon that nobody I met here can end up becoming a long term relationship. I don’t want to wait for someone, or let someone wait for me, even though I feel like having met the right person. I should stop this thought before it goes stale.
Prague was nice. After Berlin, I thought I was going to be alone for a while. Even though I planned to stay in hostels, I didn’t expect a lot of interaction with people. However, I met some lovely travellers in this hostel in Prague. We went out sightseeing together, and we had some pretty good chats, too. At first I found Prague a bit too Americanised, Starbucks and Mcdo everywhere. It’s a beautiful city but sometimes it can be any city too when I walk down the main boulevard. The old town is magnificent. We climbed up the castle and had a bird view of the whole city. It was worth all the steps. Later Tom and I went to have a drink since the others had their plans. We talked about many things, for instance how shitty the political atmosphere in respective country. He’s a bit younger than me. Sometimes I have an impression that I’m still younger than anyone I meet. I invite him to go to Vienna together, but he rather stayed in Prague until his flight back home. I wish we had more time to chat and see the city though.
There is not much to talk about Vienna. This city is insanely beautiful. You will succumb to the historical architecture everywhere and your eyes will be so busy focusing on any one of them. I enjoyed walking among these immensely tall marble buildings and look up to the statutes for a good while. Matteo, an Italian Opera singer, took me to a walk around the hotel I stayed. There was actually a palace in the neighbourhood, and according to the mad adverts around town, there is a panda called Fu Bao in the zoo there. We couldn’t get in since it was already too late. He told me that he won a scholarship in an opera performance in Italy. He spent the money on learning opera in Vienna, but his first choice was Germany, since in Vienna, the competition is too fierce. I never heard him sing. He neither drinks nor smokes, which surprised me a little bit. He lives in a shared apartment with two invisible Turkish guys, who I’ve never seen them. He said that they were really quiet and never seemed to go to work or school. His room is big and empty, which is a bit too spacious to me, but he said it was good for singing, or even dancing. In fact, his English is a bit rusty, but more than enough to express what he wants to say. He’s a sweet guy, somehow I find myself more like an asshole to him. I sort of miss him wiping off the sweat on his forehead apologetically.
So I finally touched down Budapest, the city the I’d been dreaming to visit. Sára took me out for two days exploring the city. We became pretty good friends since the summer programme in Utrecht. She’s so sweet that she picked me up at the bus station, even though my bus was kind of delayed due to a traffic jam. She showed me the District VII where now all the cool people go, the ruin bars, little places only locals know the best, and we spent some time walking and sitting along the Danube, seeing the birds (or bats) flying above the Parliament. The weather was extremely hot but still bearable. I hiked up to the Buda Castle under the burning sun, 36 degrees almost every day. It was just breathtaking while looking down the two sides of Danube from that position. Sometimes I just couldn’t believe I was actually in Budapest. I from time to time needed to sit down for a few minutes to feel my existence on this piece of land. I was somehow afraid to forget this feeling after a month or so. On the second day I went out with this guy Laci to a really alternative bar a bit close to my hostel. It was a nice settlement which reminds me of Berlin. He talked about the path of having his business in Hungary, of how he’s struggling between a good job opportunity and his own business. We talked about the life quality of Hungarian people, about how little they can earn every month, which makes me think a bit differently while being served there. We went to Margaret Island at night spontaneously. It was around 22h and I at first thought it could be a bad idea to do so, but when I heard the tramway worked 24h, I agreed to head off. We walked under the tall trees sometimes it was completely dark. We talked about the feud between Chinese and Japanese in addition to my personal feelings against them. While we stopped he kissed me at some awkward moments. I didn’t quite like it. On the one hand, he seemed like a nice person to talk to, it would spoil everything if this goes further. On the other hand, I’m not very sexually attracted to him. I met some people there only for sex, some only for chats, some both. It’s still weird to me when I have a pretty good chat with somebody, and have sex afterwards.
The last day in Budapest, I missed my train to Munich. I got up two hours earlier and went out one hour before the designated time. However, I didn’t know what was wrong with me, my mind was somewhere up in the air, first took the tram on the wrong side, then went to the wrong train station. When I arrived at the West station, it was already six minutes late. I kept telling myself not to panic. The international rail counters were packed with travellers. I would have had to wait for two hours to get in. The WiFi was not brilliant there. So I went back to the hostel. Susi the super nice reception girl was there and she helped me look up if there’s train or bus that I could still take that day. Finally I decided to take a night train at around 21h, which meant I had to arrive in Munich at around 6h. Meanwhile, I met a French guy, Antoine, who had a similar schedule like me. So we decided to spend the free time together. I took him to see the ruin bar I went with Sára before, and the street food caravan. He enjoyed it very much and I was glad too. Later we went to this thermal bath he recommended. Before I was kind of disappointed for not being able to go to the bath due to my new tattoo. However, I needed some good time after missing my train, and my tattoo is in a good condition. It was awesome! I
would never regret if there’s anything bad to do with my tattoo afterwards. In the bath we met a French couple from Toulouse. They were doing a big tour around the world, a few months before they were in Asia. Antoine and I parted at the (correct) train station. He was heading to Sofia and Bulgaria etc. Two hours later, I finally settled down in a compartment. On the way to Munich, I saw so many African immigrants trying to get on the train to somewhere. The train also stopped for a few times for police inspection, evicting them out of the train. It was exactly what everybody I met in Budapest talked about. I found it depressing. First of all, they didn’t do anything evil from my point of view. They just want to flee to a better environment of life. Second, some of them still kept trying even though their fellow people got arrested, I could feel the despair through that tinted glass on the train. I didn’t have much good sleep during the journey, mostly because of the immigrants, and people came and went constantly. However, I was finally on my way back home.
It wasnâ€™t all successful when I arrived in Munich. First off, the hostel was much farther than I expected even though it was near the S Bahn. When I arrived in the hostel it was already 7h in the morning. The first room that I was assigned to was dirty and every bed was used. Then I asked for a change. The second room was located on the third floor and the hallway was flipping difficult for luggage to pass. As I went in I saw a woman, she was so startled and almost naked in bed, then started to ask me in German, then I asked if she could speak English
in a confused way. She kept questioning why I could enter the room and there were kids in here. In fact it was a family room and when her husband came out of the bathroom I apologised and said that the staff gave me the access to the room and such. Then I closed the door thought that my day wasnâ€™t the worst since yesterday I missed my train. I asked the reception again for another room. This time finally I was assigned to a fewer bed dorm and I felt asleep on my bed immediately.
Two hours after, I woke up and had a shower, had a little chat with those two Korean girls in the same room then ran off to meet Roja. I took the opposite train again and couldn’t stop saying that my day was still shit to Roja on the phone. As I arrived at the station I hug her so tightly because it was the best thing that had happened to me since last night. We did a bit grocery shopping and then returned to her apartment. We had breakfast together and later we went out to the river in the city centre. We talked about what happened since the day she left Berlin, and the breakup with her boyfriend. I was a bit shocked to hear that, I thought they could make it through. She was willing to sacrifice and only meet him once a week, but he was just feeling a lot of pressure to prepare for this one day and not confident enough to hold this together. It upset me a bit especially when
she walked me to the station at night. The more I heard, the more I thought it shouldn’t end like this. Anyhow, I’m glad that I chose to pass by Munich and meet Roja again. As I said to everyone, Toulon is such a turning point of my life and all those sincere and lovely souls that I’ve met there are so important and inspiring to me. Later that night, I asked Roja to cut my hair, and I have to say, I was in good hands. It was a memorable moment that I would recall from time to time. Somehow I felt a bit sad to return to France, and when I was lying in bed, I started to recall everything I have encountered during this trip. I didn’t find anything that I should regret. I’m delighted to have opened up to so many possibilities, which I used to hinder myself because of some stupid reasons. I’m not waiting anymore.
A little epilogue. Two months after the trip, I’m in a state of tranquility. I keep recalling some of the people I’ve met earlier and most importantly, what they have said to me. I find it much easier to talk to people about myself, nonetheless, the invisible wall between me and them becomes thicker. I started to avoid building concrete feelings with others, at the same time, I miss that kind of engagement. Benevolent but distant. I’ve learnt to see my failure in a bigger picture. I fell into my blindspot, thought that how important and special I was. There were/ are many more “me” according to the history, who were/ are more open-minded that me. I was just one of them. Now I just let it slide. Recently I had a Eureka moment while seeing this guy from Britain. He’s a nice chap and we have meaningful conversations every time. I told him the fact that I didn’t want a relationship right now. He was so disappointed and couldn’t balance what we would have in the future. All of a sudden I saw my reflection on him. I knew exactly how he was feeling at that moment and I was the bad guy that I’d seen. I suddenly understood why I was treated like that in the past three years. And I’ve heard many versions of my friends’ advice, I neglected them all. I don’t want to do the same thing to this guy, because I know well it hurts. Anyway, I’d better be alone, go to places and take photos.
photography: Terrie Ng edit: Terrie Ng