A little while alone in your room will prove more valuable than anything else that could ever be given you.
I guess that means I’m getting old, who’d have thought it?! At first, the thought of living alone scared me a little. Nobody to vent away the day’s mishaps with, no one to cook with, no one to argue with over whose turn it is to clean the bathroom (yeah, right). And then I thought just try it. Wow. It is blissful. Waking up to the melody of birds singing outside my big window that is all mine. Dancing- sometimes in clothes- whenever I want. My space, my mess. It’s something to revel in, a delight to return home to a peaceful haven. It makes me feel so grown-up and independent, almost like a real adult, almost. I can’t imagine how cool it must feel to actually own your own home. One day, one day. But for now, just renting my own little studio feels good enough. I’m about to re-sign my contract for another year. After finding out that the rent had increased crazy amounts, I frantically searched the city from top to bottom to find something as cosy as what I currently live in, but to no avail. I guess I got lucky last year and so I’ve decided to stay. When you live in a heaving metropolis, finding a gem with sunlight all day long, a view of lush trees and a constant blue sky (it’s seriously only blue outside my window), you don’t give it up. Not in China anyway. And don’t get me started on the dreamy rooftop that can successfully host a few dozen people and a picnic fit for a King, complete with a view of the mountain and sometimes live music from a sweet, serenading Chinese man on the street below.
Solitude can be beautiful and yet in some societies it is frowned upon, especially here in collective-thinking China. When I finish work I often grab a quick bite to eat at my favourite local Vietnamese restaurant. Seeing as it’s right next to my apartment I usually go alone. One evening the waitress asked me for my We Chat i.d. I gave it to her thinking she just wanted to chat. She messaged me later that night and asked why I always eat alone? Do I have friends? Am I lonely?
I laughed. I told her of course I have friends, but sometimes I just want to eat something quickly by myself, and that I enjoy reading or people watching when I eat alone. Is that weird? No, it’s not. I actually genuinely enjoy eating by myself. It’s quality time where I can read or think and really enjoy my meal. Of course eating with loved ones is fun, but who says eating alone can’t be fun too?! I like being the girl who’s not afraid to sit in a cinema by herself and laugh out loud at a movie. I remember the first time I went to the cinema by myself was to see The Perks of being a Wallflower, in Taiwan, one day after class. I LOVED the book and the soundtrack was my current go-to morning music, so I was pretty excited to watch the movie. No one really seemed interested in going, and I was hesitant at first to take the plunge and go alone, but then I thought screw it! I want to see this movie and so that is exactly what I will go and do. There is also something cool about going to the cinema during the day. I love coming outside and still being able to bask in the few hours of remaining sunlight. So yeah, I went to the cinema by myself, and I will do it again, and again. It’s seriously perfect ‘me time’ and I don’t need to share my popcorn…(ha!).
I also like to travel alone. Anyone who has travelled with me will know I’m pretty organised and love to plan where we will stay and where we will eat etc. But for some reason, when I travel alone I just go with the flow. I get lost in a maze of alleyways and it doesn’t matter because no one is there to panic with and so I just throw whatever plan I had out the window and enjoy every moment of wandering and exploring this new place. I talk to strangers more. You never know who you might meet when you travel alone and more often than not, you’ll encounter some wonderful souls and find yourself with a whole group of new travelling friends. You can go wherever you want and there is no one telling you otherwise. The only compromises you have to make are between your head and your heart. Travelling alone is truly something special, and back in the day I wouldn’t have had the guts to do it, but now that I’ve experienced it there’s no turning back. Even if you’re married or have a family, I still think that solo trips are essential to unleashing your true inner wanderluster and giving yourself some quality self-growth time.
If I didn’t have the courage to do things alone, I think my life would be fairly dull. I’ve met some of my closest friends from solo missions. When I first moved to Shenzhen (the first time) back in 2011, I had no friends and really wanted to meet some friendly faces so I went to a gig by myself. I sat there, sipping my gin and tonic, nodding along to the Cambodian music and I noticed a girl with the longest hair I’ve ever seen dancing next to me. She was also by herself and yet there she was, long hair flowing, dancing as if she was the most care-free girl in the world. I looked at her and smiled and she immediately came bouncing over for a chat. We became good friends after that and I have to wonder, if both of us hadn’t been alone would we have struck up a conversation? I admired her courage so much. She didn’t give a shit if other people looked at her and wondered why she was alone at a concert. She was having fun and that was all that mattered. Afterwards, I took a leaf out of her book and started going to concerts and dancing by myself too. I made so many random friends and the boss of the bar always prepared my drink when he saw me coming through the door. Not sure if that’s a good thing (haha), but the point is, don’t be scared to do things alone!
The only people judging you are the ones who are too insecure to try it themselves. Independence is one of the sexiest traits you could possibly have, so embrace every last smidgen of it. My best friend reads her book in bars! She just rocks up at the bar, sits herself down on a stool and opens her book. Why? Because she loves reading, and why shouldn’t she be able to do that in a bar while sipping on an ice-cold cider. I love people who don’t care what other people think about them. I can understand that the lady in the Vietnamese restaurant was curious about why I was OK with eating alone, because like I said earlier, here in China people do everything together! A Chinese girl just backpacked through India by herself and it was on the news! I guess it’s a pretty big deal here. Chinese people also worry about single girls. Apparently it’s not normal to be single, and worrying if you’re older than 25. Oh cultural differences, the world would be a boring place without them! You just have to smile and laugh and not worry about justifying your decisions. The next time someone questions my choice to eat alone, or dance at a concert by myself, I’ll just say “Have you ever tried it? You should! It’s fun.”
Feeling hungry but none of your friends are free to join you for dinner? Go alone. And treat yourself to a big glass of wine at your favourite restaurant. Or at the very least cook yourself something homemade and delicious and don’t feel sad to be eating alone, feel grateful for the love that went in to making this meal in front of you and cherish every bite.
Always wanted to travel to Mongolia but your friends think you’re crazy? Buy that ticket immediately if you have the money and time, and go! Life’s too short to wait for people to make decisions. Be spontaneous and be brave! You won’t regret it.
Solitude is something that shouldn’t be looked down upon. After all, this is your life and your life only, so being able to enjoy every minute you spend with yourself alone is as important as developing and nurturing loving relationships with people around you. I dare you to put yourself out there and enjoy those precious moments you spend alone. Let me know how it goes!
Illustration by Inslee