Saturday, January 17, 2009

New Year's and reflections upon leaving Dalian

So after my last post, I had a couple days of free time to start packing. Which I did a minimal amount of before Sigma came to visit from Taiyuan. I finally had a chance to repay her hospitality when I'd visited in April; she'd also learned from my experience not to take the bus, but just to fly instead.

She arrived on the 30th, and we went to the Post Office to ship off about half of my clothes, and the tailors so I could get my buttons resewn on my jacket. While there, she decided to turn into a mitten into a case for her iPhone by buying a zipper and paying a lady 5 rmb to sew it in. I could hear the lady in Chinese saying to her friends, "She's a laowai [foreigner] so I'm going to charge her more." Well, 5 rmb is still only ~75 cents to us!

On New Year's we went to my friend Wayne's restaurant Brooklyn, where she met all my friends. I also used Sigma's visit and the New Year's partying as my one last hurrah as well- while showing Sigma around and while everyone was out for the night, I had a chance to say my goodbyes to all my favorite places and people in Dalian.

Just like Christmas, New Year's wasn't quite how I'd expected it to go. I had these grand plans to be at the pier, or the seaside, and watch fireworks...Instead I was at the intersection of Huanghe Lu and Bulao Jie, trying to get a glimpse of the fireworks coming from Renmin (People's) Square between all the high-rises. Still, I was very excited about the coming of 2009, and a new me; a clean slate and fresh start and every other New Year's cliché.

I took it easy but nevertheless Sigma rested most of New Year's so I packed a bit more, grabbed some Korean takeout, and Asheena came over to keep me company. Sig left the day after back for Taiyuan, and I went for one last night out.

All year I'd pictured a giant "leaving do" when it was finally my turn to host one. Every six months when contracts are up, they're taking place every two or three days; I must've gone to maybe fifteen after my first term in China (even had a 'mini' leaving party for when I headed back to the US and Shanghai for the summer).

However, after the last three weeks I'd had in Dalian, I was ready to make a quiet exit and just get out. Most of my closest friends had already left anyway, so I had hotpot with Asheena, Carol, and Matt- the three staples of my time there; they'd been there when I had arrived and would still be there for a good few months after I left. Carol and Ash especially meant a lot to me; we were like the Dalian and/or jaded version of the Three Musketeers. After hotpot we went to this bar I'd always wanted to check out- Transformers Bar, which was awesome- and just chatted until about 11. Then I went home, packed some more, went to sleep on the couch, and that was my last Saturday in Dalian.

The next morning, I woke up fairly early to finish packing- by the time I finished, my suitcases looked like they were pregnant they were so full, and I don't even want to remember how heavy my carry-ons were. Ash came over to help bring all my belongings down from the fifth floor, and I caught a cab to the airport on my own. Never said goodbye to my roommates, didn't say goodbye to a lot of the people I'd met over the months (though many of them were still nursing New Year's hangovers as well), and I called only two people on my way to the airport.

So it was a bit surreal, the way I left things with Dalian. It still feels that way, a bit. Maybe it's because I left once over the summer with the knowledge I'd come back, that this time because I was doing the same routine of packing and going to the airport, it didn't hit me that I wasn't coming back. Maybe because I'm still bitter about the last three weeks, I don't even care that I'm not going back. Because a city like Dalian takes on a life and personality by whoever inhabits it currently; it's not like Beijing or Shanghai or Hong Kong, with its constants no matter who comes and goes.

It wasn't until a week later, when I finally arrived at my house in York, that it finally started to sink in that I've left Dalian and my entire way of life for a year behind. It still hasn't fully struck me yet though, and honestly I don't think it ever will. Every expat agrees: living in China is like living in a bubble, a different reality. After re-entry, it's so easy to think, That year went by incredibly fast. Did all that even really happen? Or did I just Rip Van Winkle the entire last year? And most days I wake up and I'm still not sure.

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