10 years in Australia.
I was different yet exactly the same — for what feels like a lifetime ago.
Trigger warning: depression, suicidal ideation (and some great joys, too).
I arrived in Australia exactly 10 years ago today. It was a cold morning, the air was crisp, and the sky was clear. I remember thinking it was the biggest and highest sky I'd ever seen. A friend I was meeting for the first time picked me up at the airport. Sydney has a different kind of coldness compared to where we both came from. We were going to the same college and had got connected through a mutual friend. Though the reason why we ended up in Sydney is a story for another day.
We are still good friends today, even though we went on different paths after graduation. I am an Australian citizen now, working as a designer in the startup scene. She left Sydney to become a flight attendant and then a business owner. She got married, and I got partnered. We catch up when I visit my birth country. We talk twice a year. She's one of the oldest friends I've got.
The world felt bigger that day because my world suddenly became bigger. Sydney Airport is certainly much bigger than Tân Sơn Nhất Airport. There were fewer people, too, having made this vast land feel even emptier. I was in a different country, a different world almost. And despite being well-travelled from a young age, it was the first time I crossed the Vietnamese borders. I was not scared, but almost excited.
I was also depressed, suicidal even. The depression started in high school. I didn't want to move countries, let alone stay. I'd started to build a life in Saigon, which I love — sometimes more than my hometown. I had friends. However toxic, it was a place I felt like I finally belonged. Some days felt bearable getting drunk with them. We shared a sadness in our hearts.
On that first day on the other side of the earth, across the big ocean, I had a deja vu. I'd dreamt about the elevator going up to my new accommodation, an illegal sublet in an apartment block in the CBD, which I was going to share with a dozen of people; and how I pushed my suitcase and the care package my mum had packed for me in a cardboard box in which I could have fit. I told myself it was where I was meant to be.
I then spent way too much time at Changi Singapore Airport transiting since it didn't have as many amenities as it does now, when I didn't have much money, flying back and forth from my birth country and my newly (begrudgingly) adopted home. On my first trip On my first trip back from Australia, I slept in Starbucks the whole night, terrified and sore, waiting for my next flight. The next time, I slept on the airport floor, hoping no one would steal my suitcase.
During one of such times, I met a person who was so friendly that I forgot my own avoidant tendencies and introverted nature. She was a welcomed companion for a crappy flight. The plane was small and cramped. I hope she's doing okay these days.
10 years since, I'm happy. I have a home (I don't own the property, but it's my home), many more possessions and people I can call my family. I've had pets and lost them. I've had bad and then good jobs. I've been onto many adventures of my own. I wait for my flights in much fancier places. I drink less and exercise more. I've built a life for myself, a life I love. I've found my people. I've found myself. Life is funny like that. I still think about how I wanted to die more than I care to admit. I don't want to forget it because I don't want to ever get that close to death like that again.
Sydney is going through its coldest winter in 30 years. It has been raining and flooding. It's been a difficult couple of years for everyone, making the distance even farther and the years even longer. I visited Vietnam a couple of months ago; I caught up with people I hadn't seen since I migrated. I went home with my heart full of gratitude for everything: the life I have, the laughter I share with old friends, and the somewhat complicated love of family. But I can't help but think about what could have been my life if I had chosen to stay in Saigon. I still grieve for it.
Yet without Australia, I wouldn't have met the amazing people I've met, learned what I have learned, and become the person I am today. My best friend, an immigrant like me, said it's a trade-off being an immigrant. My brother said our lives are different from what could have been, not necessarily better or worse, just different.
I recently watched Pachinko, a show about a displaced Korean family living in Japan. They say the ache for your home country, a unique flavour of loneliness, never ends. Maybe it doesn't end for me either. I will never know how different my life would be in the other timelines. The ache will be in me, maybe till my very last breath. But at the end of the day, I've grown into a version of my life that I could love (on most days). I genuinely have no regrets.
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