During my trek through southern Europe, I yearned to travel solo again. I thought about going to Singapore again but noticed that my Schengen Visa lasts one year – and I probably won’t get another chance. I knew I wanted to see northern Europe, and Sweden won the pick.
I always admire Scandinavia’s simplicity, feminism, democracy, and multiculturalism. It’s a plus point that their currencies are cheaper than the Euro. I settled on Stockholm as Sweden has a cheap currency, H&M and IKEA, and because Stockholm is the biggest city in Scandinavia.
I had a stopover in Bangkok, where I was too scared to use the airport Wi-Fi since login page requires passport number and name, so I watched loops of videos praising the late king instead. The flight to Stockholm was peaceful and empty (I could even experience reading in the toilet), and the morning greeted us with magnificent views of forest and canals.
As my first day in Stockholm ended, I realized why I wanted to do this trip. I want to make peace with Melbourne, the city that could have been my home had I chosen to, the city which I ended up hating as I left Australia. People often say that Melbourne resembles European cities, and sights and sounds of Stockholm recreated my memories of Melbourne – office workers coming home on a showery dusk, tram passing through apartments, and noisy boys running at subways to catch departing trains.
I went on with my plan to install Tinder on the second day because I wanted to be back on the dating game. It was Bumble that I wanted to install actually, but this feminist offshoot of Tinder isn’t available in Indonesian markets. So, having made my profile as complete as possible, I waited for notifications.
And waited. I had been warned that app dating for straight Asian man is much harder than for gay Asian men or for Asian women. For some reason, my kind is the least desirable ones, and pop culture is not helping. I messaged my best friend to say that I was in Europe again, and was hoping that eventually I could talk about this, as he had helped me survive in Australia and transition into career life.
But he really let me down after making jokes about Sweden’s “refugee problem” and “socialism”, particularly since I’ve been sensitive recently with friends and relatives who have showed signs of bigotry over the last two years. Before leaving Jakarta, I had unfriended some church friends for sharing “Rohingyas are the real killers” posts. Is this a part of making peace with Melbourne? Also getting over a long-established friendship made there? Silently I cancelled the plan to meet up with him in Jakarta.
As the days passed, I kept thinking about my friend’s careless “joke”. As a black father talked with a white dad about shopping baby clothes. As the son of an Italian migrant looked after the daughter of a Syrian migrant in a pizza restaurant. As I teamed up with a local man to stare down a drunkard trying to harass a woman. As I saw more diversity on Swedish TV than on Australian TV.
Meanwhile, I had figured out how Tinder works (swipe right! Swipe right!), and installed OKCupid and filled the extensive personality survey. Again, no notification, and I spent Saturday night watching Drew Barrymore movies (including yes, Never Been Kissed) and thinking what has gone wrong.
Twitter and shopping made me feel better, and I was bemused with the difficulty of finding public toilets in Stockholm. Some cafes have gone cash-free, so I had to rely on credit card. It would have been better if the public transport card can be used for shopping (or paying toilet fee!), like Octopus Card in Hong Kong.
As I was leaving the hotel for the airport, the first “Someone likes you!” notification came out, and being Tinder, I never know who it might be. I had wished for a last-minute miracle, like chance meeting at the airport or on flight home, but life isn’t a movie. Still, the immigration officer wished me a good night flight “away from crying children and drunk Swedes” as she handed back my passport, so it seems that Sweden has the friendliest border police in the world.
Maybe I’ve got what I needed, not what I wanted. I’ve made peace with Melbourne through Stockholm. I have learned to not rely on the existence of other Chinese people to feel welcomed. I have seen Scandinavia. I have learned to stop maintaining friendship with people I wasn’t comfortable with.
Perhaps this trip is a turning point in my life. It might be the start of my dream of migrating to a well-run country. It might be the beginning of my preparation to continue life beyond attachment to my family. It might be the start of my career beyond freelancing.
I am lucky to be able to connect with some people in Stockholm, being there just for a week. I am lucky to be able to see the northern edge of the world. I am lucky to have new friends who teach me to respect other people. And I might be lucky to meet the woman from Stockholm who liked me on Tinder, one day.
Read Mario’s piece about being no longer comfortable with Catholicism and follow @MarioRustan on Twitter.