It felt reassuring to see the “two-metre” marks on the ground at the London Heathrow Airport. In late October, I was travelling from Paris to Vancouver with a layover in London. Back then, France had consistently more than 50,000 new cases daily and was on the brink of announcing a second lock-down. In Paris, I was so used to seeing “one-metre” marks everywhere. I was lucky to escape Paris.
I left BC at the age of 17 to explore the world. First, I went to Montréal for university. Like many Asian kids who moved to Canada as a teenager, I took mostly science classes in high school because it was easier to get good grades when English wasn’t my first language. To fill the knowledge gap, I studied western literature and civilizations at university to my heart’s content. A resident on the plateau, I discovered popular brunch spots, bars, boutiques, events and festivals the city has to offer. Life was great. I didn’t miss Vancouver at all.
After two or three years and a few summer classes in Europe, I felt an urge to live there and experience another culture in depth. Obsessed with the ideal Parisian life portrayed in movies – the Seine River, vintage book dealers, baguettes and wine, I devoured French test prep books. I ended up moving there to pursue a master’s degree three years ago. I hopped into every museum and gallery, danced on cobblestone streets, and had drinks on outdoor terraces. Gradually, I started to live like a local and developed a routine. I got myself a movie card that granted me unlimited access to selected cinemas, a Philharmonie subscription for cheap concert tickets, and an Opera forfait for young people. Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Co and the Seine were just an eight-minute scenic walk away. I was at a sweet spot in my relationship with Paris: between the initial excitement and eventual boredom.
Sometimes when I got absorbed into work, I wasn’t aware of the beautiful things Paris had to offer: I despised tourists who took pictures of the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero. I complained about the crowded metro, pickpockets, strikes, long working hours and complicated paperwork.
Then the pandemic happened. It deprived me of the things I love most about Paris and amplified its imperfections. I was finishing up my degree with an internship during the first lockdown. I did remote work in my tiny apartment when most of my colleagues retreated to their houses elsewhere in France.
I started to cook more, but never mastered the art of picking fresh vegetables. “It’s not good,” the grocer down the street said as I picked up a garlic. “Take this one instead”. Thanks to him, I always took the freshest vegetables home.
In May, as the situation got better, I was able to go outside again. The grocer told me that he was going to Tunisia for a vacation in July. “What are you going to do after you graduate this summer?” he asked. “I’m going to look for a full-time job in Paris,” I answered cheerfully, looking forward to tasting my Gariguette strawberries.
I started looking for jobs while taking online classes in September. Unfortunately, the virus was circulating again, faster than the first wave. Sitting on my foldable bed and staring at my foldable table, I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. Looking for a job in a tiny place felt excruciating. Right there and then I missed Canada profoundly, its vast territory, large living space, significantly faster paperwork, laid-back working hours, and kind smiles.
I seized that opportunity to book a one-way ticket to Canada to take a break from Paris. I felt an immediate relief. It turned out that Paris clinged tightly to me. I had to power through at least ten registered letters plus phone calls, and in-person visits to cancel services like gym, cinema and banking.
I can always go back to Paris when the world wakes up from the pandemic, and when I’m recharged with energy. I’m enjoying nature walks, and catching up over Asian food with family. Cities never stop evolving and growing while we are away. There’s still so much to discover in Vancouver!