I was surprised last week at all the emotions stirred in me my when my flight landed in Beijing.
My normal reaction when I see the lights of Beijing appear beneath me is a mixture of relief and excitement. Relief at being home. Excitement at… being home. But this time it was different.
I’m back. But I’m not staying.
I’m home. But it won’t be my home for much longer.
As I looked down I realised that this won’t be my home much longer. I won’t have this place to be relieved and excited to return to. In a little over two months I’ll be leaving Beijing, possibly for the last time. I’ll have the memories, I’ll have all the ways I’ve changed as a person in this place, but it won’t be my place anymore. It will be a place that used to be mine.
Wow. There’s a weight of grief that comes with that thought. Losing this place! I am accustomed to losing people – it happens all the time in expat communities – but this is the first time I’ll be losing a place. Well, the first time since I was 8 years old, anyway.
I looked down and saw probably my last time crossing customs into China.
I looked down and saw possibly my last time flying into Beijing airport.
And then, as we neared the airport, I saw the sheen of water on the tarmac.
It was raining on the Beijing airport, just like it was on September 30th, 1999 – the night I landed at Beijing airport for the very first time.
Okay, not just like that time. On that night it was raining very heavily. As the plane touched down on the runway it skidded left and right and hopped back up in the air. It made several hops, each time jerking roughly back and forth on the water-covered runway, before it finally stuck. It remains to this day the only time I felt truly unsafe on an aeroplane – I was white knuckled, eyes squeezed tight, and genuinely praying that we wouldn’t crash and die! It was a pretty memorable landing.
I also remember seeing for the first time the lit up red characters 北京 – Beijing – in that same calligraphic script used at airports all over the country. Those two characters now look like coming home – but I’m giving up that home. I’m leaving it, by choice. Yes, I’m going to something new, something exciting. But the somewhere… well, that is less exciting to me. Instead of relief, it stirs unease. Not that I have anything against Australia (and I’ve wanted to go to uni in Sydney since I first thought about these things) but I know it won’t feel the same.
As I looked down that night, I realised that I am about to become home-less.
I’m sure it’s all going to be fine. I know there is so much to look forward to. But that night, as it all hit me, I let myself feel the coming loss – losing the place I have loved to live in, the place that is such a huge part of me – and the fact that it won’t be the place I live in for much longer.