13 December 2010 2010 nian 12 yue 13 hao

Lifelog: Last Letter from China

I am writing this, my last letter from afar, on the flight from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur. After several hectic weeks in Beijing, we finally returned the keys to our apartment on November 24. Stepping onto the train a few hours later, I felt a great sense of relief. At last, everything was done, and we were on our way to Qinghai — a place where life moves slowly, and alcohol flows freely.

I finished my work at AngloGold, more or less to my satisfaction (and hopefully theirs). Although I didn't realize it until after handing in my letter of resignation, this is probably the best time I could have chosen to leave. Next year, the company's operations in China will be scaled back even more, so there might not be work for me even if I stayed.

I also completed the public launch of my own project, HIV Resource China. For me, this experience was a reminder that technology is only ever a small part of story. I may have spent more than a year developing this website, but in the end our biggest challenge — and greatest achievement — was just convincing four organizations to let us put their logos on the front page. But whether the project will prove successful in the long run is still uncertain, and so far nobody has stepped up to be the first to promote one of their resources via the website.

Back in Qinghai, Yuxiang's parents were waiting for us to arrive before hosting a banquet to celebrate moving into their new apartment. After that, our two weeks there were filled with a steady stream of friends and relatives, wishing us good luck in Australia, asking when we'll be back and (as always) pressing us to start a family! We told everybody that, baby or no baby, we plan to come back every year for a visit.

On December 8 we flew back to Beijing, and had a full day to finish off last-minute errands before our flight to Australia (via KL) on the 10th. Yuxiang visited a hair-dresser. I returned our subway cards, and picked up my results from the Chinese Proficiency Test which I took in October. I had failed the Advanced Level, for the second year in a row, because my score in the writing section was too low.

By coincidence, these errands took me past both our most recent apartment, and the apartment we first rented in Beijing back in 2005. I purchased half a catty of tea in a shop we used to buy from, knowing it would be hard to find good green tea back in Perth. I couldn't help feeling a bit sentimental. Beijing is a city that's difficult to love, but also difficult to leave. Of course we will be back from time to time, but after living here almost five years, who knows whether we will ever do more than "pass by" Beijing again?

We have watched the leaves fall this year, though the city is still awaiting the first snow. The word that comes to my mind is an expression, not from China, but from Japan: mono no aware, the poignant beauty of things ending, of seasons passing and lives changing. China has been kind to me these years, but the Australian summer is waiting for us now, and a new life for us both.


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