Friday, September 11, 2015

I am lucky enough to have experienced autumn on three continents (sort of), and I must say, Europe is by far the coldest.

Autumn in Johannesburg, which, by the way, is from March to May, I remember by its skin-cracking dryness, despite not being all that cold. That said, had the events of the Bible taken place in the Southern Hemisphere, we wouldn’t have had Easter, because Jesus would’ve just stayed in that cave to stay warm.

Taipei, on the other hand, pierced by the Tropic of Cancer and with its hot-headed island temperament, retrains its moderate temperatures and overwhelming humidity. And let’s not forget about the rain.

Budapest is between the two. And it’s cold. When I was in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, in the autumn of 2013, the season, like here in the Hungarian capital, suddenly pounced on us—there were no warning signs. It just happened. One minutes I was sitting in class, the next minute snow started falling outside the window.

Two weeks ago I was still sweating buckets while caught in the middle of a sweltering European heatwave; now my hands are so cold that the trackpad on my laptop becomes occasionally unresponsive.

My balcony doors shut out the central European cold front and its splatters of drizzle. It’s that mixture of humidity and low temperatures that gives you that bone-piercing chill down the spine.

Fifteen seconds on my undecorated balcony is enough to deter any thoughts of taking a stroll. But it’s Budapest, how could I not?

I live less than 20 minutes away from Keleti (Eastern) railway station, where thousands of Syrian refugees have been camping out, waiting to be let on a train to somewhere more welcoming than the former capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

“Angela Merkel”, “GERMANY!”, “My family is waiting for me”—just a few of the posters and placards scattered on the ground or stuck on the walls of the square outside the entrance to the Budapest metro.

The refugees, they’re like me; they’re like you: sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandfathers, grandmothers, cousins, second-cousins, third-cousins, in-laws, neighbours, friends, playmates, colleagues, schoolmates, classmates, deskmates, playmates, lovers.

I don’t make the rules, and I don’t pretend to understand them. One can only hope that a solution is found soon, because it’s getting chilly outside and we haven’t come all this way as a species just to leave others out in the cold—Syrian or otherwise.

This is a different kind of autumn. I’ve spent countless other autumns in other parts of the world as civil wars and similar conflicts raged out of my line of sight. But this time there’s no blocking it out; this time there’s no “out of sight; out of mind”.

Living on a tiny island, it’s so easy to forget all the world’s tragic goings-on. After all, you only see and hear that which you want. But never mind Taiwan, there are people living less than a kilometre away who are just as oblivious.

Today is the 14th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. I still remembered the day I came back from school and turned on the television to see the news. I had no idea what was happening.

Funnily enough, it’s one of the most poignant images I have from my childhood, along with the start of the Iraq War two years later, in the South African autumn of 2013, on March 20—Easter Sunday.

I remember my father calling me into his room at just past 6:30 a.m. and pointing at the television at the far end of the wall. The screen was black, but then firefly-like flashes of flight appeared intermittently on the dark canvas, shooting across the sky.

“The war—it’s started,” he said. Always very blunt, those journalists.

Rather embarrassingly, I also remember going to school that day bragging about how I was there “when it all started”, and how different it looked to all the movies I had seen before.

I remember thinking it would be over “in a few weeks”. Little did I know, that it would last the entirely of my teenage years, only ending more than eight years later in the winter of 2011, with the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

It’s cold outside. JSF.

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