Life cycle of hellos and goodbyes

Prepping to move back to Singapore from Beijing last week, I felt like my life was moving in cycles.

There were eerie similarities between the last time I "re-entered" Singapore, in 2009 after a period of overseas study, and now.

Then, and now, I faced uncertain, new professional challenges, for which I felt an equal amount of excitement and terror.

Then, and now, I was departing dirty, messy cities that pulsed with life for a home that's always felt a little too clean in several senses of the word.

Then, and now, I was leaving behind a person whom I believed I could spend my life with - if only we could overcome the perennial dissatisfactions of a period of long-distance relationship.

Thinking back on the raw sanding of 2009, I felt trepidatious.

There were challenges of re-entry that I knew I could not avoid despite being five years older now.

The first is that living with one's parents again after a period of not living with them is an experience like sitting in an armchair that's both very comfortable and dotted with tiny spikes that bite into your flesh.

Another is that weaselling my way back into my friends' lives would require effort and humility.

My previous re-entry taught me that no matter how dear the friend, people's lives don't stand still for anyone.

You think you leave a person-shaped hole in the fabric of their existences and can resume your rightful place immediately upon return.

Actually, your departure is swallowed by a quicksand whose surface is ultimately always undisturbed. They have new routines now, and new people in their lives, and re-insertion is actually really more like presenting yourself hopefully as a new friend candidate.

And a third, major suck factor would be that heaving loneliness that accompanies any major move.

I felt it when I first moved to Beijing last year and I knew it would be my constant companion in the initial phase of my move back home. There's something about the act of uprooting and re-locating that reminds the soul of the transience of life, the ephemerality of connection and the ultimate pointlessness of it all.

So I stepped onto Singapore soil braced. It wouldn't be pleasant, but it would be all fine in the end.

Two weeks in, I hope I'm not jinxing it by writing this column, but it's been unexpectedly smooth-sailing.

Some external factors have changed as my friends and I linger in the twilight of our 20s. As we age, making new friends becomes harder and a less appealing prospect, which meant a mutual amount of delight at the reappearance of an old connection.

My relationship with my parents has also gradually transformed itself over the past few years.

It took returning to the fold after a year away to properly appreciate the loveliness of our current, if finite, stage of relations: I've forgiven them for being fallible human beings and they've accepted my adulthood and everyone is mostly financially independent and physically healthy.

But I think the main change has been in myself. I'm aware of the irony of writing this in a column like this one - but somehow I find myself generally much less interested in my own emotions and trivial sufferings.

It's been a slow ebb over the past few years, manifested in, for example, a disinterest in posting on Facebook about my opinions/feelings/lunch.

As social media has matured, I feel like the one incontrovertible thing it's really shown us about humanity is how similar and generic we all are - especially in our belief in our own uniqueness.

And that loneliness? It sometimes now feels as comforting as an old friend, because it no longer tastes to me of failure, but of self-sufficiency.

The last time I returned to Singapore in 2009, every discomfort of re-adjustment felt like a crisis because I didn't yet know, in a true, lived way and not just theoretically, that the changing seasons of life are just as life should be.

Then, moving back felt like the end of something that I should mourn, and the start of something new and strange and frightening. It would be rewarding in its own time, but I didn't have that perspective yet.

It still feels new and strange and frightening. But I know that this beginning will also have an end, and another beginning to take its place, which will also have its end, and so on and so forth until, well, the final end where nothing matters anymore.

If that sounds depressing, it's not meant to be. I feel grateful for all the beginnings and ends I've been lucky to experience, and excited about all those to come.

My life, and all of ours, moves indeed in a cycle that spins ceaselessly. And what a wonderful thing that is.

rchang@sph.com.sg