Farewelling Nanjing

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Over two years ago in Nanjing…

It was a cold and foggy Saturday morning in 2012 when I arrived in Nanjing. Our school’s bubbling, bumbling intern, Tina, had arrived late to pick me up at the airport and after chattering away at me for about 15 minutes upon arrival, had left me alone in my icy cold, empty apartment to fend for myself.

It wasn’t the end of the world. After all, hadn’t I been in the same situation on a similarly cold November evening back in 2007? Hadn’t I not only survived – but thrived?

It was heartening to remember that early struggle and the success that would follow, but in the moment of utter exhaustion, bitter cold, and (I’ll admit) slight terror, it was easy to forget that I’d been there and done that.

Like any rational person will do when confronted with tiredness and a challenge, I went to bed.

 

The early days in Nanjing saw me spend all of my time with the so called 'Menstruation Nation'.
The early days in Nanjing saw me spend all of my time with the so called ‘Menstruation Nation’.

Later that night, the brother of my best friend (who just so happened to be in Nanjing) would take me out for my first night on the town. We’d drink a few beers at Jimmy’s, I’d shake my head sadly at the lack of women in the bar (there was a friendly Chinese girl and her morbidly obese, immensely homely English friend), and at around 1am I’d fall just a little bit in love with shao kao on some dimly lit street I’ve probably been on a thousand times now. At the time, though, it felt immensely exotic and far away.

It’s funny how quickly places start to feel like home. It’s that sense of familiarity that almost inevitably drives me away from a place. If it’s no longer new, it’s no longer a challenge.

School’s Out Forever

When I finished my last class and said goodbye to my last students, I expected to feel… something. Sadness at the end of another chapter or a sense of relief at finally being done.

Celebrating a lesson's completion with the kids in Shuanggou, Jiangsu, China.
Celebrating a lesson’s completion with the kids in Shuanggou, Jiangsu, China.

Funny thing is, I didn’t really feel anything. I went upstairs, dumped my books on the bed like a regrettable one night stand, and sat down at my computer to watch The New Girl.

Where was the sense of occasion? Where was that desire to linger just a little bit longer in a dusty classroom that had been something akin to ‘home’ for so long? I’d certainly felt that pull in South Korea on two of my three stints there, but there was no such sentimentality this time around.

Maybe I’m outgrowing the sentiment? Maybe I’m finally past my obsession with eulogizing and glorifying the past?

Or maybe it’s just a sign that it’s time.

One Night in Nanjing

If there was no sense of occasion in my final class, there was definitely a sense of finality to my farewell dinner and drinks.

We met first at Talking #2, the dodgy watering hole at which I’ve spent many a post work afternoon or evening sipping 12rmb Tsing Tao and dissecting the day’s work or cricket. It was at Talking #2 that I met the Georgia Peach, and at Talking #2 that the inaugural (and so far only) Nanjing Beer Olympics began.

The gang hunkered down over beers at Talking 2.
The gang hunkered down over beers at Talking 2.

It was there that I first met my good mate, Hogg, although he was rather drunk and had just been pantsed by some unsavoury character. We wouldn’t actually speak for a few more weeks.

T2 was, as always, all about beer and shooting the shit.

From there, it was on to my favourite Japanese restaurant for overpriced food, ice cold Kirin, and a half dozen Sake bombs that well and truly lubricated the evening.

Tucking into delicious sushi, tempura, and sake at Jappo.
Tucking into delicious sushi, tempura, and sake at Jappo.

At some point in the evening that I was too drunk to remember clearly, Hogg stood up and began a toast. Inebriation prevented me from remembering it in its entirety, but there were damp eyes by its conclusion, and it went a little something like this:

I think it’s safe to say that Chris wasn’t the greatest teacher in his last weeks here. In the tradition of starting out a speech by insulting the person and then saying nice things: let’s just say he was a shit teacher and is a shit person; but Chris has also become my best friend in the last two years. It’s safe to say that my life has been made the better for having Chris in it, and I think that’s true of everybody at this table. Nanjing has been better for your being here, and you will be missed.

As I say, I don’t remember the speech clearly, but that was the general gist of it.

My best friend in China is an idiot, but a lovable one.
My best friend in China is an idiot, but a lovable one.

As much as I hate goodbyes, I also love them. It’s good to leave a place and know you’ll leave behind people who miss you, even if that sadness they feel only lasts a day or two after your departure. It’s good to have made an impact on people and a place, and to know that – at least for a time – there’ll be a void that my absence has left.

Oh, and for your viewing pleasure: SAKE BOMB!

Oh, sake bombs, I blame you for some of the evening's more regrettable decisions.
Oh, sake bombs, I blame you for some of the evening’s more regrettable decisions.

After dinner, it was off to where it all started: Jimmy’s.

More of the party met us there and it’s at this particular bar that things got cloudy.

  • Jimmy plied me with free, home made cinammon whiskey. My favourite.
  • Playing King’s Cup with my mate’s co-workers.
  • Doing a bear fight (Irish car bomb + jaeger bomb) with Hani.
  • Kissing a Kiwi guy so that an Irish girl and an American girl would make out.
  • Engaging in a three way kiss/face licking with said Kiwi guy and American girl.
  • Kissing said American girl some more.
  • Watching the Irish girl punch James in the face.
Hogg draws the attention of an admirer with honest intentions.
Hogg draws the attention of an admirer with honest intentions.

It reads like a shopping list of experiences from somebody’s early 20s but, in many ways, these years abroad are my early 20s. I was too shy and awkward in those early years to really live life, and so it’s been that I feel like I only turned 18 when I was 24. I’m on a six year lag, which means I’ll probably be ready to get married and have a real job in about 5-6 years.

Hanging with the girls at Sunrise in 1912
Hanging with the girls at Sunrise in 1912
Asmaa and I sharing a moment after we realize that we match.
Asmaa and I sharing a moment after we realize that we match.

From Jimmy’s it was on to 1912 – Nanjing’s regrettably sweaty, sleazy, and loud night club district. Our visit was brief, but it wouldn’t have been a proper Nanjing night out without the thumping bassline, sweaty masses, and general sense of frustration that comes with a night in a Chinese night club.

Farewell, Nanjing

It was a good great final night out. It had the elements of what I’ve come to love about my social life here – girls being attracted to me, displays of drinking prowess, silly dares, and good friends. If I could somehow find that combination in Australia, I might even consider staying.

Consider being the operative word there.

I slept away my final Saturday in Nanjing. That’s a pretty standard Saturday for me too, come to think of it.

It’s been a blast, Nanjing. Thanks to all of the fantastic people who have contributed to making this place feel like home. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else – and I’ve been pretty vocal in my disdain for much of China – so that should give some indication of just how awesome ya’ll are.

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