Published in Esperanto Magazine – Melbourne Edition 2015:
This is an open letter to anyone who feels lost and confused in Melbourne. It’s to that person who has fought long and hard to find their identity in this big broad city, but hasn’t been able to yet. I’m writing this letter to you.
We’re two peas in a pod, you and I.
I know life has been tough lately. It’s the same situation every day—you wake up and you’re trapped in a vast sea of unfamiliar faces. You find it ironic that Melbourne is considered the world’s most liveable city yet you stand before it absolutely clueless and lost.
As you attend your next class or take that long commute on the train, you can’t help but constantly ask yourself:
Who am I?
What am I doing here?
Where do I belong?
And the resounding answer is always “I don’t know”.
Now, I’m not going to make a whole song and dance saying I know exactly how you’re feeling because at the end of the day, I don’t. I’m not you. If I said I knew, not only would it be a lie, it would be a massive injustice to you. But what I can say is that we share similar feelings and experiences in some way or another—the severity of such feelings varying depending on our unique circumstances.
Throughout my life I had often heard that Melbourne was a shining beacon of opportunity and multiculturalism, which in many ways it really was. And while most people would say diversity is a good thing, to me it only caused more confusion, more grief and more frustration. After all, the city was a creative hub for everything—with so much to choose from and so many things to belong to, what hope did I have of finding my place in this gigantic city? Everyone else had found theirs, so why couldn’t I find mine?
Feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere was something that had followed me like a plague for as long as I can remember. In primary school, it was during lunchtimes when everyone ate sandwiches except for me, who had Asian cuisines like noodles or rice. In high school, it was when all the boys would talk about which female teacher they would love to bang, while I daydreamed of the hot PE teachers with their short shorts, large biceps, chiselled jawlines and five o’clock shadows. Finally in university, it was when I was being peppered with questions that went along the lines of “So how long have you been here in Australia?” and “Do you speak fluent English?” that implied that just because I was Asian, I couldn’t possibly have been born here (though I did enjoy seeing their surprised reactions when I told them I was born and bred in Melbourne). Regardless, I felt I couldn’t relate to anything or anyone.
This feeling of disconnection from the rest of society threw me into a vicious cycle of seeking comfort in unconventional ways as a means to alleviate this loneliness. But doing this only made my life worse, to the point where I dragged myself to the doctors one day to get a prescription for antidepressant medication. The medication didn’t really help in all honesty, although it forced me to realise that if I had any chance of being happy again, I needed to get out of this unhealthy mindset.
So after that long and arduous journey, that’s what I did—I changed my way of thinking. Melbourne, being the wonderfully diverse city it was, welcomed me with open arms. Instead of shying away from opportunity, I ran towards it. I became a “yes” man. And you know what? I loved every minute of it.
Doing all of that taught me that I was looking at everything all wrong. I didn’t have to belong. I didn’t have to conform, or find a place in Melbourne where I could rightly identify. I didn’t have to besomething to gain something else. I didn’t have to find “my people”, so to speak. I revelled in living a nomadic life because by embracing everything, I could be anything. Strangely enough, not belonging anywhere actually became the saviour in my journey of self-discovery. That and, adopting a “fuck you” mantra towards anyone and anything that said I couldn’t be who I want to be was a great confidence booster.
If you’re in a similar situation as I once was, know that you are not alone. It’s six degrees of separation—there are approximately 4.4 million people living in Melbourne, and I guarantee you that there is someone else out there going through the same ordeals as you.
There is light at the end of this tunnel. Know that having a set identity isn’t the be-all and end-all of your life. In fact, it can do more harm than good, because by labelling yourself, you give people the opportunity to associate you with certain stereotypes, trapping you in a pigeonhole that will significantly narrow your experiences.
Are there days where I feel like I’m back at square one? Hell yes. But when this happens, I always remember my favourite quote from Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man:
“A few times in my life I’ve had moments of absolute clarity, when for a few brief seconds the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think, and things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh. I can never make these moments last. I cling to them, but like everything, they fade. I have lived my life on these moments. They pull me back to the present, and I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.”
So quit your excuses, quit the pity party and start to do something about it. Don’t be scared of Melbourne’s diversity and creativity. Instead, embrace it with open arms. It’ll be the best decision you’ll ever make.
Your kindred spirit,