Guangzhou is not a city to be taken lightly.
Again and again, I’ve had to learn that in my own unique way—unique, because while I had family and friends to support me during this period, the constant struggles that come with both living in China and living on my own in a new city (let alone country) tend to be mine to deal with personally. I’ve made my mark throughout Asia with quite literally my blood, sweat, and tears. After a year in Asia, I have produced more sweat than I ever thought possible; I have scars from a motorbiking accident; I have scars from picking at mosquito bites—heck, the various emotional scarring is unbelievable; I broke out in rashes one night alone in January, not only frightening me to tears, but also prompting a trek in the pouring rain to the nearest hospital the next morning.
Indeed, China has broken me many, many times. Whenever I reflect on these past 14 months away from home, the significance of it all weighs heavily on me. Very heavily.
But such emotions, rather than having to do with the past and inarguably negative experiences, are instead largely due to the the positive feelings I have about China—or more likely, being in Asia. I’m leaving this side of the world where I’ve collected so many memories and stories—many of which I’ve shared with the people (you readers) who still bother to catch up on my (mis)adventures. And I now reluctantly understand the fear and pain that come with leaving, whether it’s people or places.
I get it. The act of leaving hurts not necessarily because we think about all the great times or even about the departure itself, but more because we can’t bear to think about the future without said people or places. Because it’s what I’m leaving from that scares me.
I am thankful for the experiences I have had, the people I’ve gotten close to, and the places I’ve been. It blows my mind how much one person can experience in a year, let alone a year in China.
Let’s pause for second. China. Yeah. While it’s easy to default to the “even I don’t know how I managed to survive” line when foreigners ask, I don’t want to perpetuate the negativity that surrounds the oft-misunderstood country. This isn’t to say I support this also oft-shitty country, but I also don’t hate it. Yes, even after proving my mind and body couldn’t handle life in China by breaking out in rashes and sobbing, I’m saying China really isn’t that bad. I admit I laughed to myself after typing that. But it doesn’t make it untrue. As with Western media, it’s just easier to bash China, when I actually appreciate a lot about life here and find incredible joy in the constant discoveries I make here.
There are the little things I’ll miss.
I took a taxi last night after attending my first Chinese wedding in China. The windows partially down, the night’s cool wind lightly blowing in my face, that weird Chinese EDM pumping through the stereo, I looked at the buildings flashing by. Seated silently and without obligation to talk as the driver took one of the many long bridges that cut through the city’s landscape, I could’ve easily been in Shanghai, coming home from a night at Geisha or the Apartment. These late-night taxi rides make me feel simply content. There’s something relaxing, definitely nostalgic, about such rides. Two-and-a-half years ago, every Wednesday night after hosting Shanghai Expat Mixers and nearly every weekend after a night out, I would find myself in a taxi home. Windows down. Wind in my face. And only the sound of the taxi driver’s choice of music playing while flying through the city on the elevated highways. This experience I’ll miss.
There are new things I’ve come to love recently and know I’ll miss, too. Yesterday, I used Dianping (China’s Yelp+) to order an avocado and banana parfait. Why I waited until literally my last days to finally try ordering via Dianping in Guangzhou beats me, but the fact that I hadn’t done it definitely made me go for it.
AND OMFG HAVE I BEEN MISSING OUT.
For 18 RMB, the delicious parfait arrived straight to my door in 30 minutes. That’s literally $2.75. Not needing to tip also made me feel bad, since I paid basically nothing for such happiness. Of course, as with any food in China, I was slightly fearful of potential digestive issues, but I am proud to report that 24 hours later, my body has not rejected this miracle parfait LOL. I’m also pretty sure my digestive tract has taken quite a beating in China, so it could handle something like a parfait, right?
No doubt, in addition to experiencing the wonders of China, I have learned a lot about myself, my identity, my family’s background, and much, much more. Although I’m prepared to close this Guangzhou chapter, there will always remain so much to learn and gain from life in China. Does it not make sense that I am afraid of leaving a place that has given me countless opportunities, a place that has provided some of my best experiences, a place that makes me feel like an independent adult?
Returning home will help me refresh a bit until my next adventures. I’ve learned that I can’t be the type to live in any one place for too long. How long is too long will inevitably depend on a lot of factors, but it’s safe to say that I don’t see myself settling down in any one city for more than a couple years.
The world is out there for us to explore, and whether you believe it’s possible or not due to perceived limitations, I believe it’s too important not to keep moving, keep exploring.
Guangzhou was my jumping in the deep end, from the stability of American suburban life to the chaos of a Chinese megacity, only to come up for air and realize I’ve learned how to swim.
And I don’t want to stop.