Today, I touched down in the Big Apple. Alone. Two months ago, I had impulsively bought tickets for a ballet half the world away from home. To celebrate its golden anniversary, three of the most renowned companies are collaborating to perform an act each of the late, great Balanchine’s iconic Jewels. The cast is so apt it is almost poetic; the Paris Opera Ballet will perform Emeralds, a piece heavily inspired by the French Romantic aesthetic; New York City Ballet, for whom Balanchine had originally choreographed Jewels, will take Rubies, a staccato archetype of Balanchine athleticism; and the Bolshoi Ballet will take Diamonds, the regal finale that radiates Imperial Russian grandeur. A tortuous 16-hour flight later, I have finally made it.
While I did spend most of the day (or night, by Hong Kong standards) wondering whether I would develop deep vein thrombosis like so many of the cases we had discussed in our tutorials, it still was not as uneventful as I would have hoped. Critical note to self: Always look behind you whenever you leave a seat. Or risk leaving your phone in the airport like I did in Hong Kong. By the time I had finally realised, the plane was already taking off. So now I’m alone in New York without a phone.
I also learned that a 16-hour flight is really long. If flight times and our perception of time were graphed, it would show an exponential curve. Just a year ago, 12-hour flights were my norm. I was never bored; a movie fit snugly between take-off and the first meal, and afterwards I would always spend the next eight or nine hours struggling to get as much poor quality sleep as I could with some wailing infant a row away. But when you add just four more hours, you can suddenly read an entire book, watch two movies, get a solid eight hours of sleep, and still have an exasperating stretch of time to stare into the darkness and contemplate your chances of getting a pulmonary embolism from all your inactivity.
Anyway, besides the ballet on Saturday, I still don’t know exactly what I will be doing here. I quite literally came all the way to New York ‘just’ to see a ballet. Of course, I have a general list of things (MoMA, Museum of Natural History, The Met, The Whitney…), but no set plans at all. I suppose I do have some time tonight to allocate the destinations to days. If I don’t nod off from jet lag first.
As I stare unthinking at my haphazard notes, I surreptitiously recall the pleasant surrealness of an unidentified language, the pulsating vibrancy in the night market air, and the comforting stillness of rural evenings. The unbridled laughter of incredulous children, chasing tirelessly, sun-bleached hair flying across the pitted path, rings phantom notes beside my ear. It is on solitary nights like these that I unfold sepia images and stain my fingers brushing the fine films of dust. In youth, our inherent flaw is to overestimate ourselves, and I am surprised by how unfocused these mental photographs have become. My memory is evidently less crisp than I had believed.
It was during those moments, many spent sitting on rickety floorboards playing Chinese card games (one particularly lively match had resulted in a sprained finger), that I had found myself enveloped in unexpectedly deep camaraderie. The adage, ‘nothing strengthens bonds quite like a holiday’, proved very true. This sense of membership had come after months of uncertainty and self-doubt, and my relief was comparable to the electrifying streets of Hanoi, which we had run across blindly with our cumbersome suitcases, then still protected by our indomitable sense of invincibility. (I suppose a streak of it is still alive and well, given the laughable amount of studying that I attempt to get by medical school with.)
The songs that had saturated our endlessly meandering bus rides, our pathetic construction efforts and the dangerous sway of an elephant’s neck are all fond Polaroid snapshots. What feels like half a lifetime later, I can only regard my younger self – who had led a shameless performance of the Hoedown Throwdown before politely baffled locals – with utter bemusement. I had also taken my first selfie (on a point-and-shoot, for that matter), bargained for the first of many shoulder bags, and discovered a lasting love for Korean barbecue (despite having been over 3,000 miles away from Seoul). Though the draft for this post originally began as a short aside, here I am about to publish three paragraphs positively oozing nostalgia. This may be an abrupt departure from my usual (slightly) less directionless reflections, but this platform is supposed to be a personal blog after all. I cannot help but include the occasional rambling reminiscence.
To intrepid youth and more adventures. ☄️
Subtitled ‘grainy evenings in Laos’. 🇱🇦
- We Are Young – Fun.
- It’s Time – Imagine Dragons
- Radioactive – Imagine Dragons
- Tonight Tonight – Hot Chelle Rae
- Hoedown Throwdown – Miley Cyrus
- 99 Bottles of Beer (American folk song)
- Hey, Soul Sister – Train
- Chasing Pavements – Adele
- Royals – Lorde
- Some Nights – Fun.