Nina Mingya Powles shares her experiences of lockdown in London and the places she's dreaming of visiting.
How long have you lived in London?
Four years, which is the longest I've lived in any one place since I was a teenager. I moved here to be with my partner, who is a Londoner.
What do you love most about the city?
The Vietnamese restaurants, the flocks of green parakeets, and the fact that - like most big cities - the city attracts people from all over. It's a place where lots of people have drifted here and made themselves a home.
What was the extended lockdown like for you?
It was a low period! Even though I was physically safe with a roof over my head and didn't fall ill myself, I'm still feeling the ongoing effects of the scale of collective grief and anxiety, when it became clear the incompetent government would only do the minimum possible to protect people. If my friends and family hadn't been relatively safe in Aotearoa at that time, I don't know how I'd have coped.
I don't know if there were any real highlights, but on Christmas Day in lockdown, I made Cantonese roast duck for the first time. I probably wouldn't have done that if we hadn't been in lockdown; it took seven hours of drying and marinading before the actual roasting, which took my mind off the apocalyptic news cycle.
During lockdowns, did you consider coming back to New Zealand?
Absolutely - almost every day. But scarce flights and MIQ rooms made the process feel largely inaccessible back in 2020, coupled with the fact that I'd only just started to feel settled in London. I wasn't quite ready to uproot my life again.
Pre-Covid, where were some of your favourite places to travel?
In summer 2018 I went to Greece for the first time, which was very beautiful - all the islands and bougainvillaea flowers and tiny white churches. Also, I discovered in the last few years that Berlin is one of my favourite cities, with so many beautiful swimming lakes surrounding it (only a train ride away) and the best flea markets I've ever seen. It's such a dreamy, slow-paced, colourful city.
I also would always feel happy and restored after every trip back to somewhere in Asia - especially Malaysia, where my grandfather lives, or to Singapore or Shanghai - mostly due to the food.
What was the last overseas trip you did before Covid?
In December 2019 my parents were visiting - that was the last time I saw them - and we went to Paris for a few days. The winter weather was very bright and crisp. We ate multiple meals at the Japanese restaurants all along Rue Saint-Anne and stumbled upon a cool little art bookshop near our hotel, which was open late at night. I miss the feeling of a city still quietly bustling late into the night in midwinter. I'm an obsessive planner, but some places you can only find by accident.
What is life in London like now things have opened up again?
Surreal and strange but also full of quiet joys. Being able to see friends more regularly again after 18 months has been so, so nourishing. Also, going out to eat again and not having to wash up afterwards.
What remains the same as pre-Covid, and what has changed?
I'm still in the process of figuring this out. I know I've changed - so many of us have, and I guess that means as a result the city we live in will have changed, too. Overall everything is a bit quieter, but the hum and colour of the city in midsummer is still there. It's easier now to delight in the smallest things: going back to a favourite bookshop for the first time, or going out for a bowl of ramen. It's really hard to regain that sense of aimless wandering that I used to love so much. I don't know if I will ever quite get that back in the same way, at least not here. There is a feeling now of wanting to do as much as possible before the dark winter sets in.
Have you travelled anywhere either in the UK or overseas since Covid?
I know people who've travelled to Europe this summer, but I just don't feel safe doing that yet. Last month I went to Scotland for Edinburgh International Book Festival - Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities in the world, with its 900-year old castle towering above the cobbled streets. Then we went to the inner Hebrides, to the Isle of Mull and the Isle of Iona. It was wild and sublime and the most New Zealand-like place I've ever been to: all the small, windy islands, with white sand and cold clear water and seals and gannets. We had lots of car picnics parked by the beach, with freshly cooked lobsters bought from the fish and chip shack on the side of the road. I felt really at home.
What are some of your dream destinations around the world?
My dream is to go whale watching in Vancouver, BC, which has one of the biggest wild orca populations in the world. And I'd love to go back to Japan, where I visited once as a kid, because I haven't stopped thinking about the tempura udon I ate there when I was 12.
What advice would you give to Aucklanders who are still in lockdown?
Be gentle with yourself! Take pleasure in small things (try to go outside every day, if you can, and notice the early signs of spring). You might be feeling worn out, worried, tired - it's because we're literally still in a global pandemic, and some of us are trying to work at the same pace as before, but that's just not realistic. So make space for rest and nourishment. If you're like me and can't relax or focus, I've found it helps to do something practical and creative with my hands, like cooking, gardening, or crafting.
Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles, published by Canongate, RRP $32.99
Do you know a Kiwi living overseas who would like to share their experiences of life after lockdown? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with Life After Lockdown in the subject line.