I put on the ice skating shoes and walked to the ice rink. ‘The first few minutes will be hard but after that, it’s gonna be okay,’ I thought to myself as I was getting closer to the gate, recalling how it always took me some moments at first in the previous times I went ice skating. ‘The key is simply to relax and bend forward. The more relaxed, the more quickly skating will come back to me,’ the voice in my mind continued.
I felt calm and a bit cold. It was about 6 degrees in Amsterdam last night. It did not rain but was cold enough for my nose to soon feel numb. I would usually go home after work, especially in this unmerciful weather. But my company booked the entire rink for employees so I got a ticket (and two drinks) for free.
This ice skating rink is magnificent, so much bigger and more romantic than the one near Rembrandtplein. Seeing it, for the first time, was a nice surprise for me to start the evening with. It’s lit up with twinkling fairy lights, and most importantly, decorated to resemble an ‘authentic Dutch’ skating experience with a draw bridge arching above it near one end and a boat parking nearby. This is as close to skating in canals as it can get, I guess.
A couple was leaning against the fence, blocking the right side of the entrance, trying to have their selfie taken. ‘Once they’re done, I’m gonna walk in, slowly at first before starting to skate,’ I told myself. Behind the couple, there were people pushing seatless chairs in front of them to stay balanced.
‘Here I go.’ Indeed, it felt clumsy and awkward to be on the slippery icy surface again after a while not skating, as I expected. But I was surprised at how much more awkward it was than I thought just a few minutes before. I could barely walk, or move on purpose. Both my feet held on to the surface, stubbornly refusing to let go although I was calmer than ever and had no doubt that this was something I certainly knew how to do. This was not the first time for me. And it was not forever ago since I last went ice skating either. It was just this time last year. So only 12 months had passed. Obviously, nobody’s winter comes around sooner than mine.
The 5 minutes for warming up extended into 10 minutes of sliding with both feet blueing to the ice. And the 10 mins for slow skating turned into 20 minutes of taking baby steps ponderously and intermittently until I could finally actually skate, chase my friend, and laugh. Unquestionably, skating was nothing natural to me. Rather, it was quite a struggle for me to even start skating minimally. Around me, there are people flying on the ice, spinning in the air, or beating the wind in each step.
And suddenly, this thought occurred to me. ‘This is what I have always been doing with my life.’ Of course, it’s not skating, but living in places and doing things that I was not born or brought up prepared for, at all. I grew up in this hometown in a tropic country that has never seen a flake of snow in its entire history; and here I was, ice skating in a country that wins more medals for speed skating than anyone else in the world. I’m this daughter of a father who does not take a sip of alcohol for almost all his life; and now here I am, living in a culture where you go to a bar and drink to have hope of making new friends or getting to know the people around you. I’m this Asian who sees all kinds of wine as wine, just like a non-Vietnamese traveler sees all pho, bun, mi, mien, hu tieu, banh canh as noodles; and I got a bottle of wine as a birthday gift this year or my European friends told me about how they organized wine-tasting parties to celebrate their holiday with their friends and family. That’s just a few examples and that’s just culturally speaking, among other aspects of life.
It all has felt the same way. Unnatural. Clumsy. Making a late, struggling start. And sometimes, the challenges do make me question myself what is the point of doing all this: why building a life so different from what I was given and learning even the most basic things from scratch like a child at the age when everyone else does them like their second nature. But what matters more? That I staggered like a baby learning to walk at first or that I skated at the end like a (clumsy) adult? For now, I am still not that completely sure what matters more in the long run. But I know for sure that for more, there is barely anything that feels as good as breathing freedom, that of living a choice rather than a destiny.