As happy as I am to return to my two favourite cities in the world this year, going back to both London and Osaka has confronted me with a completely new experience. I was only gone from both for about a year and a half, and yet, in that time, both of these cities have changed so much.
In Osaka, where there was once a large restaurant complex with many tiny old-fashioned bars and stand up noodle stalls, there's no a giant branch of Forever 21. There's now homeless people sleeping in the streets downtown at night. The business hotel I used to stay at, where nobody used to speak English, is now a backpacker haven, complete with outdoor smoker lounge. Speaking of smoking, some places in Japan now actually have a smoking ban!
London? I keep getting lost just a stone's throw from Picadilly Circus as they finally finished that road building project that went on for what felt like a decade. Old friends are gone, and one of the cities' oldest GLBT cafes has closed down. Oh yeah, and here, too, the economic downturn has finally arrived: homeless people almost lining the shop fronts of central London at night. Walking down my local high street, I don't hear a mix of soft Arabic and not so soft Irish accents any more, but Portuguese and Spanish instead.
Is this bad? I am told that it's perfectly normal that places change, people go away, new people arrive... but this is still an unusual concept to me. The place that I grew up in has barely changed since the day I was born, except the old duck pond has been replaced by a new, more futuristic looking “natural design feature” that makes the old pond extend into the nearby river. The local bakery still has the same head baker as when I was 2 years old. I still see the same people I went to school – same fashion as in 2001, hanging out with the same people from school, just three stone heavier (what the hell is going on there?).
I left there when I was 18, and since then, never stayed long enough in one place to actively witness a place changing. Usually, when I change, I move and don't come back. But now I've decided to come back and stay in London. For now, I'm not very happy with the changes I've been seeing, but I hope to see some more positive changes when I manage to settle properly (i.e. not in short-term accommodation rented by the Colombian mafia).
Is this what this whole “growing up” thing really means, to watch things change while you stay the same (or at least, not change so much)?