[This is one of those personal posts, so if that's not your bag, just watch the video below, it's got balloons and stuff in it]
Ten years ago today I took the first long-distance flight of my life. Having never left the UK except on brief holidays, I was setting out to spend a year (or more, but not much more) in Taiwan. My goal was to learn Chinese, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do with it, but I thought that knowing another language, and spending time in a totally different place, would make me a wholly more rounded person and be great fun to boot.
The plane was almost empty, perhaps the effect of the events of two months before, or more likely because it was the overnight flight, but I didn't get much sleep on the way. Peering out of the window high over Sichuan, I caught my very first glimpse of the red soil of China through a gap in the clouds.
Catching my connection in Hong Kong the next day, I then saw the green terraced hills of Taiwan appear all of a sudden beneath the right (starboard?) wing of the plane, and before I knew it I was stepping off the plane into what was then still called Chiang Kai Shek International Airport.
Since it was mostly spent in places thousands of miles away, with friends and acquaintances it is hard to imagine ever being reunited again - some of whom are now unfortunately beyond all reach, in towns and cities which fast-paced development has rendered quite different, many of the events of the intervening ten years now seem like they happened to someone else.
It is now a little hard to believe that I really once went to an aboriginal wedding with my good friend The Writing Baron and others, got merrily sloshed, and then all bundled off for a swim in a mountain lake. The night we staggered back from Kenny's after celebrating new year's eve there just in time to hear Big Ben ring in the new year eight time zones away now seems equally improbable. The deserted Nanjing city-centre during the SARS crisis, and the sudden rush of striking workers onto the street in Longhua, Shenzhen, both seem like things I might have once seen in a film rather than with my own eyes. Did I really cram myself into subway cars in Tokyo and Osaka in which it was literally impossible to move every morning for months on end? Was that really me at that Sakura party in the park next to Osaka castle? Or at that beach party on the Inland Sea? And what exactly am I now doing in Poland?
Ten years ago today I became an expat, and even though I spent roughly three years of the intervening time in the UK, I never really stopped being one. Despite the occasional periodic cycle of funk, I've enjoyed my years on (and off) the road. At some point I know I'm going to have to stop, but for the moment, the decision I made ten years ago still looks like a good one.