I am back in China after my trips to Cambodia and Australia in June/July. I finished up with ten lovely days in Perth with my sister, spending time with a bunch of her very lovely friends. I loved seeing my sister in her element, and staying in the great townhouse she bought and has put a lot of effort into. Every year I’m more proud of who she is and what she’s accomplished. Sometimes having two such amazing younger sisters (and now an amazing brother!) is a little intimidating, but mostly I just end up bursting with pride :)
Anyway, we did a lot of fun things together. We took a (free!) ferry to Fremantle – complete with dolphins, watched State of Origin (sad), went shopping for clothes (yay!), visited a Beijing friend at a cidery in the hills, and saw a play. One night we sat on the couch eating cheeses and crackers, and another night Carla made baked salmon. I enjoyed the clean air, the good food, and the yummy cider. It was a great time :)
And then I went home.
There’s no jet lag, since Western Australia is in the same time zone as China, but there’s still travel lag. So I took some time to rest – and to be in my own room for the first time in 5 weeks. But, of course, real life knocks! I had several need-to-be-done-now errands to take care of in my first few days, which I was not looking forward to. China surprised me, however.
The air was actually quite good (by our standards) during my first week back. I was surprised by the heat. That oven dry heat, feeling healthy and clean, especially when combined with a view of the mountains on the far edges of the city. (Compare that to the dirty feel of smoggy humidity which I had been expecting). The errands which needed to be done went quite smoothly, and were completed at a reasonable price. I was treated respectfully with efficient and helpful service. Every driver, both genuine taxi and black cab, was cheerful and chatty without being judgmental. It was, in short, a week showcasing the best Beijing has to offer.
Then there were the big bonuses. My phone and SIM card both broke, meaning I couldn’t transfer contacts and I lost all of them – including the numbers of all my regular black cab drivers. I was particularly lamenting the loss of Mr Shi’s number – my number one go-to guy. I figured I’d see him around sooner or later – he’s one of a bunch of drivers who hang out at the hospital gate just around the corner – but it was still sad and inconvenient to be unable to call him up. I’ve come to quite rely on him. And then – he texted me! Said he’d heard I was back in town and wanted to let me know his no-drive day had changed to Wednesdays. When I replied he called to chat. Turns out that when I’d gone to the hospital that morning to find a driver (he wasn’t there) the other drivers mentioned it to him and he was surprised – why wouldn’t I have called him if I was back? I think he was quite relieved that I had lost his number, rather than ignored him.
Mr Shi’s solicitous call was the biggest bonus. Another big one was how WONDERFUL it was to be back with my youth group kids, at the summer group being run by some of the older students. A smaller bonus (which nonetheless made me quite happy) was a taxi driver missing my age. He asked my age after I said I’d lived in China nearly 10 years; this messed up his picture of how old I was. He later said he’d assumed I was 25 or 26 – that he wouldn’t have dreamed I was 31. Similar happy situations happened twice more during the following week. I know it’s vanity, but it doesn’t matter how many times people underestimate my age, I still love it! Same as I loved the overestimations that always happened when I was a teenager. It’s almost as if I’ve looked 20-25 for the past 15 years. Hopefully this means I’ve inherited my parents’ knack for looking far younger than they really are!
The icing on the cake was several comments about my Mandarin from Chinese people – that I sound Chinese, and that if the person weren’t looking at me, they’d have no idea I was a foreigner. Again, doesn’t matter how many times I hear that one, it pleases me greatly. One of the comments came from a taxi driver who wasn’t paying attention when I got in the taxi – heard the voice without really looking at the person – and was visibly shaken when he actually SAW me. It was quite fun, really.
All in all, all week I’ve had a tremendous sense of being at EASE in this city. I know how things are done. I know how to have conversations. I have wonderful people in my life to lean on. Everything is far less stressful than being in Australia. I now realise, though, that it’s mostly a practise thing. I’ve been doing life in China for 10 years, so it comes naturally; I have been away from Australia for 10 years, so there I feel halting and incompentent, even childish. It’s a feeling I felt far more deeply on this latest trip than almost ever before, I suppose in part because I wasn’t in any familiar places. But it’s okay, because I finally realised something. No matter where in the world I am, given time I can make it my home. Those three weeks’ holiday in Australia were far less confusing than my first three weeks in China, that’s for sure!