The Next City
The time has come for another move. Relocating is never easy, and this one will be particularly unusual.
Sometime in early 2022 I’ll be moving to Melbourne. Were it not for the pandemic, the move would happen sooner. I’ll get to that. But first, I need to say a few things about leaving London.
Normally, the family discussion about changing location takes weeks or maybe even months. This one took minutes.
None of us felt like spending any more time in the UK. The clock was always ticking on our time here. Thanks to the events of 2020 and 2021, the ticking just got louder.
This was true for so many parts of our lives during this pandemic. Every frustration got louder. Every inevitable fork in life’s path came sooner. Amplification and acceleration were 2020’s combined blessing and curse.
Looking back on my early months here, I had a whimsical sense of amusement about this place. Sure, London felt grimy and inconvenient, but also kind of magical. I loved going to galleries and football games. Okay, the traffic and public transport were terrible. But exploring food markets and walking in the city’s many parks were a delight. Yes, my Tokyo wardrobe made me feel overdressed everywhere I went, like a time traveller from the 1950s. But it was nice to forego the foreign language anxiety for a little while. I’d even started to pick up a new creative passion, book-binding, taking courses at the excellent nearby London Centre for Book Arts.
Still, at the start of 2020, after only a few months, the sheen was wearing thin. British customer service was always going to be a shock after living in Japan. But I found the vibe of London slow, unfriendly, expensive, and – drenched in an oddly repressive form of nostalgia –tiresome. I was praying for some kind of magical solution to make life better, or at least different.
The pandemic certainly made it different.
As I write this, I’ve been in isolation for 70 weeks. The UK has come in and out of lockdown several times. The lockdowns worked. But they always came too late and ended too quickly. For me, when considering my age and prior health concerns, the situation never felt safe enough to change my stay-at-home routine. Especially given the widespread reluctance to wear masks.
And, just when greater freedom felt within reach, the government abdicated responsibility and left us with rising case numbers and nowhere near enough of the population vaccinated (as I write less than 55% of London’s adult population are fully vaccinated).
My life here in London became small, too small, painfully small. I’ve always said your second year in a city defines that place for you and, well, I’ve spent my second year in London in isolation and lockdown. I’m thankful for being safe, healthy, and feeling relatively creative, despite all the restrictions. But this house is smaller than the homes I had in Tokyo or Singapore, and all my studio and workshop gear is still in storage, a result of the never realized plan to find a studio space here.
My soul is crying out to expand, physically, emotionally, artistically.
So in 2022 I’ll be moving to Melbourne. My wife was offered a great job. It’s based Down Under – at least for now. Ordinarily, we would be moving right away, but for personal and professional reasons, we’re waiting until Australia opens its borders again.
I’ve already been asked what it feels like to “return home”. I honestly don’t know. To me, it feels more like another expat relocation. Melbourne is a place I’ve visited only twice and only for a few days each time. And as much as I love visiting Adelaide and miss the regular cadence of trips I made there, Australia stopped feeling like home a long time ago.
Still, I miss my parents. I feel like a bad son every day, so far away, as they get older. This move puts me closer to them at a precious time.
And I miss being in Asia. I miss the optimism, the joy of living in the present, and looking towards the future with hope. Melbourne isn’t in the heart of Asia, but it’s a better base for the kind of travel I want to be doing.
That said, I read the news from Australia with a mix of exasperation and revulsion. Australia initially coped so well with the pandemic. But the slow rollout of vaccines has put the country at risk, and a poorly managed quarantine system has made it hard for so many Australian expats like me. It’s concerning to read about the persistent problems with racism, safety for women, and climate policy, coupled with the corrosive effect of “culture wars” on the country’s public discourse.
It’s hard not to wonder, with some degree of concern, what it will feel like to live there.
To quell the anxiety, I try to imagine myself driving through the bush in a nice new electric vehicle. I haven’t owned a car since 1998, but I’ll need to get one now. I hope to live somewhere that makes it easy to escape the city. Maybe where I’m more likely to see kangaroos than coffee shops on my morning walk. Somewhere big. Because I miss the wilderness as much as miss my personal space. Somewhere deep down I yearn to see a landscape that feels old and untamed.