I’ve almost forgotten that I ever spend almost-a-year in China. I’ve now been back in Australia for almost a year, although exact dates elude me (a rule), and feel at safe enough distance from the experience to begin to relate it. It was really a remarkable and fantastic trip, with all its ups and downs and coincidences. I’ll start at the end, as it makes a good beginning… (warning, complaint ahead. But an interesting one:)
On the run
We closed the door for the last time, leaving the concrete box we had got to know each other so well while living in. Carrying our suitcases down the apartment stairwell, past the rusty no glass window with its dusty abandoned pots outside, past the phone numbers scrawled in red across the dirty whitewashed walls. We left the little courtyard which sat between our block and another, with all the unwanted nicks and nacks of every possible description… broken tables, a rusty shed stuck on the building full of lazy people’s rubbish… a concrete slab mostly covering an unexplained six foot chasm in the driveway. The trees along the road outside had begun to look green again, and I looked back from the street corner on the place I had lived, riding my beautiful blue bike in and out of when I had to, and hiding in the rest of the time, embedded in the net.
I was happy to be leaving China, to do so had been my dream beyond dreams almost ever since I arrived and realised what the place was. In the city, there is none of the romantic history, or even ‘Chinese culture’. There is dust, there is smoke, there is beeping, there is piercing cold, bone dry heat, and millions tired and lonely people, trapped in an inhuman world. I almost felt guilty for leaving, like a coward. Maybe I was. Maybe I am. But I think you’d have to be born there to live there. If I ever were to go back, I would take enough money with me to support myself in the country for a lifetime and disappear into a forgotten corner of the land… maybe near a lake, or up a mountain where the clouds dance with the trees.
But for that particular visit- it was too late for me. I was over it. I was over the dusty streets and the grey sky. I was over far away people and their constrained minds (we all have it somehow, but if you want to see it in obvious operation, visit Jinan, China). I was over the street meat market and its carcasses splayed over motorbikes. I was over Sun Moon Education Group and its general boringness, its Orwellian HR policies and unimaginativeness. I was over being from another planet, everywhere except the refuge of my own apartment
Halfway through my stay, Angela had described my reaction to China to another Australian teaching there. ‘He must have a bad personality’ she commented on my lack of enthusiasm and withdrawal from the world around me. Well I think she must have been a saint, an absolute boddhisattva, that she could marry a Chinese guy, with all his fixed nationalist thinking, aggressive individualism and belief in the virtues of meat eating.