Being a person with ambition and zeal, I am often far-sighted with what I do after work and on weekends, always dreaming of making the next big technology or being a voice the world subscribes to. As a result, I tend to neglect that which is right in front of me, right now. This doesn't just go for the people I spend time with or the projects I work on, but also the place in which I'm living; in other words, Adelaide.
Since commencing study at Adelaide Uni in 2007, then being exiled to Canberra for 12 months of work and returning again, I have thus far spent a total of 7 years residing in the festival capital of South Australia. Ironically, I've only been to a tiny fraction of these festivals in all that time. Not because I am too busy or anything (though my brain loves leaping to that conclusion), but because I didn't know how to appreciate them beyond the facts. To me they all looked the same; one main event surrounded by a rotating roster of food trucks, another rotating rosters of musicians or travelling entertainers filling in the gaps, and lots and lots of visitors who didn't really care about the main event, but only wanted an excuse to catch up with friends or family.
This type of thinking applied to a lot of my other activities: the restaurants I ate at, church attendance, dating etc. Everything felt like I was just going through the motion and was largely joyless/uninteresting because it was all predictable, or the experience was numbed by the realisation that everyone else have probably done something similar, thus not really that special. So I would prefer a night at home coding up my next web app, or playing piano, or gaming with friends, all of which at least gave my brain a steady dose of dopamine till bedtime. Then next week starts, rinse and repeat.
But then last weekend I went on a hike with some people at the Morialta Conservation Park. I was originally using it as an excuse to leave my computer screen for one weekend and whip out my DSLR camera to practice some photography for another ongoing project, but during the course of the hike, I started noticing things I usually just overlook: the steps along the narrow and rocky path, the variations of green on the different faces of the mountain, the weight of my water bottle, the view from the outlook; they all stood out a lot more to me despite having seen or felt them before in previous hikes.
I also noticed the people I went hiking with a lot more. They were from my parents' church, so I didn't know most of them, but they ended up being good company even without having to talk about social issues, philosophy or big ideas; heck, I didn't even end up learning half of their names. Many of them were new to Adelaide, having come here from all over Asia to study and hoping to be able to stay post-graduation. They mostly spoke Cantonese so I followed stead, and realized how much more concise yet expressive the Cantonese language is compared to English. It is funny because technically Cantonese is my mother tongue, but I seldom use it. Yet for the first time I noticed a brief revival of the HK blood in me and feel like it's a language I want to maintain proficiency in.
For some strange reasons this afternoon hike gave me an epiphany about Adelaide. I already knew the city at an intellectual level; its suburb names, its street names, what all the tourist attractions are, its lower-than-average house prices as far as Australian capital cities go, less busy/stressful road conditions despite frequent roadwork/tailgaters etc. I think now I'm beginning to have an emotional appreciation of the place too. It's like my eyes have been clouded by past disappointments and negative experiences that made me not want to believe there was any good reason to stay or be invested in my life here, that like Darwin and Canberra, it was another transit point. Perhaps it was the anti-depressants finally taking effect, or the company of friendly strangers that uncovered a different side of human nature, I might have some renewed faith that there is more to Adelaide and the people in it than I previously thought. I just have to give things a chance rather than reject it upfront.
So I decided to have a blog to document the rest of my experiences of Adelaide in the now; not through nostalgic goggles, not with regret of things that were or things that could be, but with a sense of excitement to slowly rediscover a city that I've always known, but not really. I wanted to start it on a more iconic date than the middle of September, but then it would defeat the whole idea of spontaneity and writing in the moment. Adelaide can be a chilling place to stay in winter or in isolation, but if you learn to find and enjoy the little things, it may be a great city to chill in for the long haul, starting tonight.