For the first time in a decade, I have a dining room table.
A table that I can eat meals at. A table that when people visit, I can sit them down and eat meals with them. Yes, it’s just a normal dining room table but for me it’s a huge thing. I can sit at home and eat a meal at a table. Huge.
Why was I living without a dining room table for so long? Thrift? Neglect? A fear of eating at tables?
It’s none of these things. It was simply because I had no space. No space for a dining room table. That was a luxury of the fat cats, wearing top hats and lighting cigars with wads of thousand dollar bills. Because in Hong Kong, where I made my home, having space for a dining room table is a luxury most of my friends don’t have.
In Hong Kong we lived in tiny apartments we sadly paid big big money for. So my apartment – the two bedroom, one toilet, one skinny living room all stuffed into 500sq ft – cost more than what most of my friends around the world paid for their apartments, which would easily accommodate a dining room table.
Now I’m in Singapore, and while the rents here are not exactly cheap, they’re definitely – thank the heavens – cheaper than Hong Kong. And I’m noticing there are many things here that I’ve missed over the last decade but didn’t realise until now.
For example, being able to get out of bed from three different sides.
You see when you live in a small space (like the one I had in Hong Kong), the only way out of my bed – which was cornered on three sides by wall – is by clambering painfully over my partner (and hopefully not breaking her legs on the way). But now, I wake every morning, roll over and exit my bed like I assume many people do. But for me, this is decadent. This is luxury.
The other thing that astonishes me is space. Floor space. Even with all the furniture in the new apartment, there are empty bits of floor space that just stare at me. What to do with that floor space? I can lie down in it. And spread my arms. And touch nothing! Nothing!
In my old apartment, if you moved some stuff, you could lay on the floor but stretching your arms to any one side would put you in contact with a sofa, TV stand, or possibly an irate mini poodle. Basically you stretched your arms at your own risk.
When I did burpees there, I had to do them at a strange angle so I could sprawl out to my full length on the floor. Now I can do burpees on the ground with the impunity I can only imagine those fat cats I mentioned earlier must have been doing their burpees with the whole time.
The cramped conditions of my old Hong Kong place makes this new one feel like I’ve moved into a mansion.
Living without makes living with feel incredible.
When I was young I’d go on these camping trips with my father. They were usually fairly miserable affairs full of rain, leaking tents, legions of mosquitos feasting on every bit of your exposed skin, and watching tired-eyed as your sleeping bag floats away down the river and all the while eating dried meals you added water to so they didn’t taste like cardboard.
But these conditions made getting back to the car and it’s padded seats feel like the most comfortable thing ever, … and the inevitable burger at the first greasy highway diner we found, the most incredible burger of your life.
That’s what living in Hong Kong has done to me. Now this very normal Singapore apartment has become heaven-sent.
A friend asked me how the new place was and I told them, “It’s so normal.” She responded, “Oh, well, then make it great!” And I realised she hadn’t understood me. Normal meant amazing, tremendous, heart-stopping. Normal has become the new incredible for me.
So here I am, sitting at my dining room table – using it to write articles on my laptop – exiting my bed on any side, admiring the empty floor space like a sunset over a gorgeous vista. I am moved to tears.
What’s the moral here? Go live in an overpriced, tiny apartment to make you feel good about your normal place? That’s probably a little much. But maybe doing without can make us all appreciate the things we take for granted everyday.