Coming Home to the Land Downunder

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Final Days in China

Here comes my first post as an Australian resident since early 2012. Hard to believe how much I’ve seen and done in the almost thirty months I’ve been away. I’ve fallen into and out of love, taught in three cities in China, visited seven countries, and checked off a whole swathe of bucket list items.

Farewelling Nanjing was not easy, and the week of frantic packing, preparing, and farewelling that followed. My pie in the sky daydreams of sleeping in, playing video games, and churning out posts for Aussie on the Road were dashed by last minute preparations and, more pleasantly, dinners and lunches with people who were eager to see me before I left.

Good times with dear friends at my farewell in Nanjing. Photo by Rosemary Doyle.
Good times with dear friends at my farewell in Nanjing. Photo by Rosemary Doyle.

Like leaving South Korea, leaving China felt like laying to rest the person I had become in my time there. I bade farewell to Chris the party planner and Chris the guy girls could swing dance with. I put Chris the ‘expert’ on western food in Nanjing on the shelf, and packed the souvenirs and photos I have as proof of my passage into a bag knowing that I’ll never be those things again.

It’s a sad process, but one I’ve done before and I know I’ll do again. Part of what makes this expat lifestyle I lead so addictive is knowing that I get to start again each time I move someplace new.

I’m refining the person I am country by country. Maybe (and I know this is the black dog speaking) one day I’ll even like the person I am.

The Journey

My last hours in China were spent in Shanghai – the city I’d go to when I wanted to feel like I wasn’t in China anymore. I spent my time either chilling out in the hotel I’d splashed out on or having farewell dinner and drinks with a few friends who call the city home .

After two and a half years of avoiding Chinese food as often as possible, I had a delicious Yunnan feast as my final meal in China. If I’d lived in Dali or Kunming, I’m sure I’d have had an entirely different opinion of Chinese cuisine.

A feast of Yunnan dishes including lotus roots, fried goat cheese, buckwheat pancakes, and spicy cauliflower.
A feast of Yunnan dishes including lotus roots, fried goat cheese, buckwheat pancakes, and spicy cauliflower.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been China without one final bit of frustration. I loved a lot about my time in the country, but there was always this residual desire to occasionally drop to the ground, throw my arms out Platoon style, and shout ‘Fuck you, China’.

Finding my already late 1.30am flight delayed until 3am was a fitting farewell from a country that has both frustrated and fascinated me. A whiled away my last hours in China texting well-wishers and watching pro wrestling huddled over my laptop in the ghost town that is Pudong Airport after midnight.

I flew home with AirAsia, and that’s an experience I’ll comment on in a future entry. It was… interesting.

Coming Home

Touching down in Sydney was a surreal feeling. While I did come home briefly in 2013 for a recharge and a family vacation in Queensland; I attacked that trip with the knowledge that it was a temporary reprieve from my life in China.

Shuffling bleary eyed from my plane and through immigration – I found myself hit with the enormity of my present situation:

For the first time in almost three years I am unemployed and without any real plan for what comes next. I am without the support network I’d built in China or the places that had made the place feel like ‘home’. As excited as I had been to leave China, I felt the vastness of the unknown wash over me as I handed over my passport.

The immigration officer not only chatted with me about China, but we shared a moment of fond reminiscence about running around Xuanwu Lake in Nanjing. It’s rare to meet somebody who has heard of China’s former southern capital, so to chat about my favourite part of the city was strange.

Once through customs and with my baggage finally, blessedly dumped onto a cart – I took some time to get my phone set up. In another case of kismet, the girl selling me my new SIM is planning to go to Shanghai in 2015 to study. Even after I’d left, China was touching my life.
I wasn’t sure whether I should be smiling or crying as I stood in the Arrivals Lounge and contemplated the past spread out behind me and the future – shrouded in mystery as it is – sprawled out in front of me as a blank canvas. It felt at once both terrifying and amazing.

Soon, my airport limousine from Blacklane Limousines was there to pick me up and whisk me off to the home of my friend, Dr. Grant. It was a place I too had called home back in 2010 (in fact, I started this site from the very table I now write this entry from), and there was a sense of having come full circle as I staggered into my old bedroom after a welcome home meal of pizza and beer.

A welcome home package from my dear friend, Dr. Grant!
A welcome home package from my dear friend, Dr. Grant!

The Perils of Time Travel

I’ve got a post coming (hopefully tomorrow) about what I like to call the Perils of Time Travel. I’ll be discussing the sad fact that you can never truly go home, and that revisiting places where you’ve previously been happy is often a sobering mistake.In the last year I’ve revisited two places where I was immensely happy – South Korea and, now, the place I called home for what I still believe to have been the happiest year of my life.

Your Say

What have been your experiences and emotions when coming home after a long time away? Have you got any tricks for coping with the inevitable reverse culture shock?


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