In April I lived in Guangzhou, China for a month. I seldom travel solo, so this was exciting. Guangzhou is a mega city with 14.5 million people (half of Malaysia’s population).
Taking their metro was an unforgettable experience. On my first ride I was courteous and naive. I queued like a normal good citizen would, but once the train arrived at the platform, everyone was pushing forward aggressively to squeeze into the already crowded coach. I waited for two more trains before I could really board the train. Gosh.
To me, Guangzhou is way more crowded than Singapore and Beijing. The boundary between two human beings was so small that I felt my personal space invaded by strangers everyday.
On weekends I liked to walk around the city. One day I was walking in Zhujiang New Town looking at the beautiful Canton Tower. This is the most iconic landmark in Guangzhou. People come here to take photos with the unique building and eat at the restaurants here.
I sat down on a bench after a long day of walking, sweating and being squeezed like a sardine. Usually I would scroll my phone, trying to feel connected to my family and friends who were miles away, and trying to feel like I’m not alone… but my phone ran out of battery. I got nothing to distract myself.
There were thousands of people around me. I started noticing people.
A grandma was massaging her sore feet while watching her grandchild play with her own shadow – where did they visit today?
A young couple were taking selfie with the Canton Tower, the guy kissed the girl on the cheek and she smiled – are they local Chinese?
A frowning security guard was constantly checking his phone every 2 minutes – does he have an emergency?
A lady, probably Vietnamese, was sitting opposite me – did she come here to work and support her family?
A guy wearing torn jeans was chatting loudly with somebody on a video call – did he come here alone too..?
In the three weeks in Guangzhou, all I felt was stress. Initially I struggled to adapt to the Chinese work attitude. I didn’t like the traffic, the weather and the food.
But on that evening, Guangzhou became a city full of stories. I sat there and watched people for hours, fully embracing the fact that the people are interesting, and the fact that I was indeed alone with thousands of people around me. My heart was glad that I came here alone.
I felt isolated and foreign, but free.
I am my own best friend.
Spending time alone allows you to reboot your brain and unwind. We are constantly distracted by commitment or the needs of other people, not to mention how often we are distracted by our phones and social media. We need to attend to our deep personal needs too. Solitude gives you the space and time to refocus and discover things that you might not realize in your usual hectic life. Allowing yourself a small gap and personal space might help you to work out your problems more creatively and efficiently.
Please spend some time with yourself without feeling guilty. Your phone can wait.
When was the last time you put down your phone and really be with yourself?