When my best friend asked me to go to China with him, I was very excited – of course I’d come along! He is an entrepreneur and got invited to an expo in Hong Kong to represent Mexico. Afterwards we would have some time to travel and go to Shanghai and Beijing for some sightseeing.
But everything was different than expected. We never really talked during those days. All the bonding that’s supposed to happen on a trip with your best friend never did happen; instead we were both so distant, so into our own minds, and dealing with our own fears. I had travelled alone before, but I had never felt so lonely. We were more like forced company than friends travelling together.
We arrived in Hong Kong to find out the spaces are really tiny there and after the first day in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, I decided to explore the city by myself. I walked from the bay course to the central district, and saw the most beautiful views of the city.
The next day I explored a totally different part of Hong Kong; a working-class neighbourhood called Shek Kip Mei. Witnessing the normality of life in a place that looked to be from a Jetson’s episode made me realise that we all need that balance; that no place can be spectacular without its touch of realness – that usually what we see is just the amazing and not the regular and that we travel to be overwhelmed rather than to find a piece with which we can connect.
And connecting seemed to be my problem. Why wasn’t I sharing these thoughts with him? And there I was, on the other side of the world, unable to connect with a person I grew up with, a person who had been there through the good and the bad (and the ugly), who knew my family, attended to all of my birthdays, and who had put up with me for so many years.
Our last day in Hong Kong was free for him, so he decided to go to Macau, the Chinese Vegas, and I decided to stay in the city, as if the emotional distance wasn’t enough. I visited the famous peak, the central area and rooftop bar at the four seasons, with amazing views of the harbor.
In Shanghai I fell head over heels for the city, the people, the smell, the guy that opened a door for me, while carrying a copy of The Great Gatsby, and the food.
We explored the Yuyan gardens together and it all seemed fine, but we weren’t and I couldn’t put my finger on why. I couldn’t express what was missing, and I couldn’t seem to fill the silences that I imagined were loaded with complaints and arguments we would never have.
For one he wouldn’t eat street food, dragging me each morning to Starbucks and lunches at McDonald’s, whilst I could never have enough dumplings and jiang bing. On the other hand he was always on his cellphone as if he was the most important person on earth.
The next day we decided to see the city apart. He went to search for another Uniqlo store and I went to the Natural History Museum, my absolute favorite place in the city. It had these amazing garden sculptures and the inside was shaped after the cellular structure of plants and animals, giving the place a warm natural lighting.
It didn’t feel like we were different now, because we had never had much in common to start with. It wasn’t that we grew apart, because even with the different paths we had taken we had always found a way to include each other into our lives. We didn’t have a huge fight either – it was just silence, my least favorite sound ever.
The same thing happened in Beijing; “What are you gonna do today?” – it was a given that we weren’t doing anything together. “I’m going to the Forbidden City, but we should have dinner together.” To which the response was, “Yes, we should.” All these conversations were in monotone.
I’ve never seen Lost in Translation, but I’m guessing that this is exactly how Scarlett Johansson felt in the movie; lost, alone, and terrified. So, I decided to walk 4 miles to see the city as a kind of self prescribed antidote to my sadness – there was no way I was going to continue feeling so empty in a country so full.
We are two very different people; we come from different backgrounds, had very different upbringings, and we do completely opposite things for a living. So, why couldn’t I, for a change, give him a break? Maybe he made me feel small for a second for talking rudely at me – when he was stressed, dealing with work, and the pressure of introducing his brand to a new market. For the first time I felt as if I wasn’t getting all of the attention that I was used to, when we were growing up. For once he was the brilliant one, the center of attention, and the one doing something amazing with his life.
I got most of my unspoken questions answered during my stroll, because that’s what travelling does for you; it forces introspection, to see other parts of yourself, to acknowledge that not everything is right, and that some things are not supposed to be.
The truth is that I was afraid of admitting to myself that our relationship is based on fondness, on memories we once made and have tried so hard to keep alive, but we haven’t talked, really talked, in years. I didn’t tell my friend about the last guy I was dating, because we only tell each other headlines and important facts. He doesn’t know all of my current frustrations or the last movie I saw, and likewise, I don’t know every piece of his life like I used to when we were in high school.
We survived. Our friendship eventually survived as well, and it always will… as long as we don’t travel together again.
This is a guest post by Romina Serna.
Romina was born and raised in Mexico City. She has lived in Italy, Paris and New York as well, she believes there is nothing more interesting than humans and their understanding of the amazing world around them. She loves telling stories so much she found a way to make a living out of it as a filmmaker.