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Locked down but not out in Italy

Singing from the balconies! One nice thing about this crisis ... solidarity! “Guess you’re not living like a tourist anymore,” was the funny, truthful and somewhat gut-wrenching message of a friend the day the lockdown in Italy began. Today is day 6. My beloved Italia has been hit hard with the COVID19 epidemic. With the second largest elderly population in the world, the epidemic has meant a disproportionate amount of deaths in the country. So though I haven’t been worried about contracting it myself, this isn’t about me or someone like me who, if contracted it would probably have a sucky couple of weeks and then recover. It is about if someone like me contracted it and then spread it to a person with a complicated health history or an elderly person with a weakened immune system. Eerily orderly: Lines for the grocery store, each person one meter apart In a country with no concept (and no physical room really) for personal space, and in a city with reproachable hygie

Expanding my horizons

Grand Palace, Bangkok
I have noticed that living in certain places, you end up setting boundaries around your own personality. These boundaries sometimes shift when you move, so whereas in one city you are an outdoor runner, in others you are a swimmer or a gym-goer. In some cities, an avid driver, in others a cyclist. Cities and their culture help you explore various aspects of your own. You never used to eat fish and then you move to a city by the water where the seafood is out of this world… there are endless examples.

I think you would have to eat seafood living in Hanoi! Too good!

Rome has opened my boundaries and brought out some great things in me. Here, I am a bi (tri)-linguist. I am an avid walker. I am a stickler for fresh produce and bread. And despite the ever-present carb-loading possibilities, I have always been at my thinnest in Italy.
Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho, Bangkok
On the negative side, being in Rome has constrained me to certain traits: I don’t drive any more. (I can’t drive manual and I get fairly obvious road rage in civilized places. In Rome, I would likely go bonkers.) I don’t rely on readily available information such as web sites because here web sites for places/restaurants are either: 1) non-existent, 2) outdated 3) so convoluted with flashing objects, pictures and multi-coloured text that you can't find what you are looking for, or 4) just flat out wrong. I don’t dance in Rome because I can't find classes to take (refer to my aforementioned point about web sites) and my clubbing excursions have waned to nothing because the music is only marginally better than what you can hear in a grocery store.

Grand Palace, Bangkok
When I travel, I can feel these barriers lift and other aspects of my personality tremble in anticipation of whether they might come to life again. Of course, landing somewhere you often find what barriers you may have traded for the ones lifted. However, those moments on a plane, it is a great feeling wondering how you will be reinvented, or rather reorganized, in the place you land.

As I flew east to Asia, I actually felt my world expand. I had no idea how my personality traits would shuffle or what barriers I would have in Thailand and Vietnam. I had never been to this continent before.

A rather peaceful moment while the other motorini wiz by
Pretty quickly in Hanoi, I realized I wouldn’t be a driver. It was literally anything goes. There were more motorini than I have ever seen anywhere. Lights were not even recommendations, they were decorations, i.e. ignored. Everyone goes through intersections at once; honking is the way to let people know where you are on the road. You honk to move from right to left, to go through an intersection, to let pedestrians know you aren’t going to stop, to pass someone, to get up on the sidewalk. Essentially, you honk for everything and therefore everyone is honking ALL-THE-TIME. It is the loudest city I have been to, Cairo, NYC, Rome all included. I wouldn’t be a driver in Bangkok either, but only because there is so much traffic that literally all other modes of transportation are faster: sky train, biking, walking... crawling.

1-2-3 go... motorini in Hanoi
But in Hanoi and Bangkok, I think I would be the type to exercise in the parks (they have open air classes and even machines in one park in Bangkok). I would be the type to take a Capoeira-type class with a sword and fans. I would be the type to get bubble tea as a daily afternoon snack, and Thai iced coffee from the immaculately clean sky train-metro system. I would be the type to get massages, especially foot ones (Incidentally, I had never had a massage before Thailand). I would be the type to meditate and visit temples, not for my own religion’s sake, but out of respect for and interest in the spirituality of others.

In short, I saw a whole other world of possibilities of what it would be like to live in Asia, and it was exciting to remember that we can be a lot more than what we are at present: habits, talents and character. We should always test our boundaries because beyond those barriers, there is sure to be more than we had imagined.