Yesterday I started a holiday – five nights at a hotel outside the city where I can decompress. Yesterday also marked two months since I left China and arrived in Cambodia. It’s also almost the halfway point of my time here – I have a little over two months left before moving to Australia. So I’ve been reflecting on what this time has been for me.
I lived a third of my life in China, so obviously it has left its mark on me! Even if I never go back that time will always be a big part of my story. This is also the longest I’ve been outside China since arriving for the second time in May 2005. So it should be no surprise that there are plenty of things I miss. In particular, I miss the language. I miss speaking Mandarin on a daily basis. I miss living bilingually. I miss being about to communicate articulately. I miss being literate! The other I day I texted a bilingual friend in Beijing about this, saying that I even miss the feel of it in my mouth. I don’t move my mouth that same way anymore. I’ve been thinking of Chinese linguistic topics to write blog posts about, to scratch this particular itch.
I of course miss people and being part of things happening there, but what has surprised me is that I don’t feel like I’m “missing out”. It didn’t “hurt” when activities happened without me. It was a little weird to not be there, but it didn’t feel “wrong”. I said goodbye to that life and I guess that goodbye settled more deeply in me that I realised, because it feels almost natural to not be there.
Living in Cambodia
Living here feels fairly normal, honestly. I am accustomed to living as an expat, I am familiar with Phnom Penh, and there are people here I’ve known for years. I’m working with TCKs, too, which of course also feels normal to me. Studying the city’s layout, learning the names of streets and how they fit together, has helped me feel less like a tourist and more like I live here. Studying the Khmer language doesn’t hurt, either.
It’s nice to have a place between China and Australia – to not have to do everything at once. I took a few weeks to change my whatsapp over to my Cambodian number, and a few more weeks to cancel my VPN subscription. I still check the AQI in Beijing most days! Part habit, part wondering what the sky looks like there – when here it looks the same every day. Still, recently I’ve been feeling very much in-between. I feel far from China, and far from Australia, but I know I don’t totally belong here, either. I know a lot of people here – people I really like, and some I’ve known for years. But they aren’t the deep relationships I had in Beijing. I actually think feeling slightly out of place might help with the transition. My hope is that by the time I leave I’ll be ready to settle down at college in Sydney.
Moving toward Australia
Australia is looming closer and closer. The more I think about it, the harder it hits that I have left the only life I know, and am heading into something very unknown. I’m nervous about the life I’m moving to – the different schedule, the different life of study, the different sort of community. I look forward to no longer being obviously foreign, but at the same time I’m sure I’ll feel different on the inside despite fitting in on the outside. My identity as an expat, and my China life, will be hidden from people I meet there.
There are of course things I’m looking forward to – like spending time with my grandparents, going for walks, and getting stuck into my studies. By the time I left China it wasn’t too hard to leave, and I hope that by the time I arrive in Australia it won’t be too hard to get started.