Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Gods of Big Things: Cities, Storms and the Palpable Loneliness of Migration

I like cities. I like writing about them, wandering through them, taking photos of banal moments in them. A busker in the mall here, a reflection of a nearby architectural feature in the rear window of a car there. I have particularly appreciated the unremarkable instances of observing this affective everydayness during the past year and a half of living in Sydney. And this week, just as I thought I was beginning to get into a rut like your average Sydney-sider, the Gods of Big Things took matters into their own hands.

When I was unable to get to work due to transport chaos in the wake of the 'storm of the century' on Wednesday, I thought my highlight of the day would be being driven through flood waters by a friend, or napping at the exact time that I would have ordinarily been taking a tutorial. By Friday, the worst had passed and we were commuting, working, and congregating around pub counters in the evening as per usual. As Saturday (which also happened to be Anzac Day) approached, I safely assumed that the top of 25 degrees forecast for the day meant I could wear a stringy top, leave my fourth umbrella for the week at home, and begin an expedition to document the sunset service and surrounding activities with a group of photographers in the CBD. However, not only were we rained on again and heavily at that, but a hailstorm left parts of the city looking like a Siberian landscape. I was on a train to Newtown when the storm arrived, and was fortunately able to take shelter and many an Instagrammed photo while waiting. 

By Sunday, the storm had passed, and the hail had melted, but the rain continued to run a grey tint through our weekend activities. I took a call from my closest friend, a woman of similar age and background in Adelaide, who was upset about the hoops that first-generation migrants have to jump through to forge strong support networks in places where they have no history. This has been a topic of conversation between us for as long as we have been away from our birth cities and the places of residence of our immediate families. It has, however, moved to the forefront of our consciousness since turning 30 and accomplishing many of our long-cherished professional, lifestyle and travel goals. Therapists and pop psychologists might be of the view that this is not a feeling particular to migrants. Still, there is a palpable loneliness to knowing that even if you entrench yourself in a new city and its affective everydayness, that even if you have a job you love and a doting new family, your storms have been a little bit fiercer, and your shelters a tad weaker. 

My latest umbrella just about managed to shield me as I walked to a Chinatown restaurant for yum cha with a supportive group of Asian Australian friends and colleagues. As we chatted about wars and memorials, race and films, food and beauty, I knew I had found a tribe of sorts, and a new way of looking at storms. This city will never be banal to me again, even though I will always be a migrant.