The view from my window is as familiar to me as the back of my hand. Red bricks and white windowpanes and green hedgerows and grey tarmac and rain lashing on the glass. I’ve been at home in Wales for 7 short weeks, and at my feet is my suitcase already packed for my return. A quick read of Al Humphreys’ website, in one paragraph, told me to stop wondering why my book was never being written when the pen isn’t even in my hand. I don’t have a pen – I do prefer the hand-written word but after spending hours prodding the burning embers of an overly ambitious bonfire on a small Chinese road has told me that ink consumes paper far faster than flames – but I do have a brand new laptop so there’s no excuse for the minutiae of my everyday life not to be published on my little corner of the net.
In 5 days I fly back to Harbin. I think anyone leaving their home for a year feels a mix of things, just as I did last year. This year the trip doesn’t have the same buzz of adventure and terrified nerves, the absence of which means that the underlying trepidation is exposed and keeps catching me offguard. Departing this time feels a little more fraught because I have a stronger sense of what and who I’m leaving behind. Doing it for a second time doesn’t make it any easier.
There is so much I’m looking forward to, though. Getting back into teacher mode will be great. I’ve been sort of aimlessly wandering throughout this summer. My plans to become fluent in Mandarin, to write a book, and to read all the books on my shelf, didn’t really come to fruition. In fact, I’ve taken to choosing my charity shop books these days based on the condition of their spine, to make my own bookshelf look, in a bitter twist of irony, less decorative, and more functional, as though I’ve actually had the time to read them over and over. Anyway I had the time this summer but it seems to have just slipped away. I’ve had a wonderful summer, but appreciating home during this short time has made it harder for me to leave.
One of the great things about returning to a foreign country as opposed to just rocking up first time is that you know what’s available, and you know the things you need to maintain at least the smallest inkling of who you are. Whilst I love the idea of being a wandering nomad needing nothing more than the clothes on my back and a full belly, in reality this level of elevated freedom isn’t that easy. Girl needs a few essential supplies – stocks of paracetamol, 10 bottles of deodorant, the right Clean and Clear facewash for my sensitive skin, value 240 pack of Yorkshire Teabags, some jeans to fit my definitely-not-Asian-proportioned derrière, mulled wine stewing bags (don’t even try youtubing John Lewis adverts without a glass of mulled on the go), and a small bottle of fake tan for that healthy sub-zero glow. My suitcase is packed with these essentials, plus a family pack of Bic biro pens – I’ve never appreciated their perfection until I tried to navigate a year using only gel pens.
When I get back I’ll have about a week before I start back. I’m looking forward to getting my schedule and figuring out how much spare time I have for extra tuition. I’m doing this thing on a year-by-year basis and so, if this is my last year in China, I want to make the most of it. That includes teaching, traveling, talking Chinese etc. I have realised that maintaining Chinese in a non-Chinese speaking country is a bit trickier than I thought though. I had planned on swinging by Hot Stuff takeaway and asking “Nimen neng shuo putonghua ma?” – “Can you guys speak Mandarin Chinese?” (as opposed to Cantonese), but I bottled it and ordered my special chow mein in English. Whether I can maintain it or not, knowing Chinese is definitely a worthwhile exercise when in China. I also plan to get a WiFi router for my apartment, which I’m convinced is going to revolutionize my life and allow me to use Instagram every day – the app only works through WiFi in China – and Skype from my the comfort of my IKEA chair. Updates will follow.