Back to blog index

Southern Migration

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve left China.

After forty odd years of swearing I could never live in a big city, then a good year or so of swearing that if I was going to live in a big city, it certainly wouldn’t be bloody Shanghai of all places, I sort of caved in, little by little, and fell in love with the damn place. With its gorgeous old houses. With its parks and trees. With its completely fascinating street life. With its dumplings.

Tree exercises. No fancy lycra exercise gear or gym memberships required, all you need is a tree and a healthy dose of self-confidence.
Xiaolongbao. Shanghai’s contribution to culinary world heritage.
And if Shanghai wasn’t enough China for all of us, after three years of living, breathing, exploring and eating our way around Shanghai we suddenly felt the rest of China deserved the same amount of in-depth attention we had lavished on its most vibrant city (Beijingers, hold yourselves back) and so we trundled for six months around China in the most inconvenient vehicle ever invented for getting from A to B, Mr Chen’s campervan, observing every minute detail of every corner of China.
Far from putting us off the country for life, we fell utterly and completely in love with China, all its good bits, all its bad bits, and all its weird Chinglishy bits
And then last week we left. Back to the land of big blue skies, clean air, and so-bright-they-hurt-your-eyes colours – Australia.
It almost broke my heart actually. I started crying in front of one of the ladies at the wet market, explaining that I couldn’t buy any dry goods today because I was leaving.
There’s that mad foreigner weeping all over the dried soybeans again….Perhaps if I just smile politely she’ll bugger off….
But left China we did, handing Mr Chen’s campervan back to the wily Mr Chen and holding our breath for the itemised damages bill which I imagine will go something like this:

Item 97: Clean ashtray. Cost of returning ashtray to original cigarette stub-encrusted ash-filled condition: 488 yuan
Item 98: Clean refrigerator. Cost of regrowing black mold: 488 yuan 
We packed up our house and three and a half years of our lives and said long goodbyes to wonderful friends, and stepped onto the plane. I only cried some of the way home so as not to upset the children.
There were lots of reasons to come back – the pollution, the traffic, the soaring cost of schooling, the stinky tofu – but in the end those things mattered little and it all came down to a promise we made to our children – we would return to Australia by the time our eldest began high school, a response to the girls’ homesickness and our desire to give them stability after dragging them around a strange country for years.

The girls started school on January 29th, 2013, a date that had for several years seemed so unlikely to find us still in China that it came as something of an affront when it did, looming out of the start of this year like a bad omen.

The initial weeks here have been rugged and quite difficult, which explains my silence for the last two weeks. A frenzy of unpacking, of starting school, of the tail end of a tropical cyclone that brought power cuts and flooding, of me starting work again at my old hospital. Of tears and unexpected homesickness for Shanghai (the children) and very expected homesickness for Shanghai (me). We’ve all hit the ground with an audible thud.

Rather than feeling like I had arrived home, I felt like we had migrated to another country, where everything was so much the same and yet so, so different – a feeling I’m sure is shared by anyone who’s been away from home for a long, long time. Suddenly all that was familiar seemed foreign again, and more than a little strange. I imagine us like birds migrating south for the winter, and flying back again when the summer comes. I guess we’ll get used to it.
What about Life on Nanchang Lu? Is it over?
No, absolutely no!

I knew I would feel bereft when I left Shanghai, but I also knew the one thing that would keep me connected to China was this – writing about it. Life on Nanchang Lu will continue to bring you great stories of food, people and travel in China with lovely pictures. Posting will be weekly rather than twice weekly from now on (yes, I know it’s been two weeks since my last post, but moving house is kind of frantic, not to mention moving countries too).

I’ve taken my lead from my lovely friend Sally at Unbrave Girl, who went home for the first time in a long time last year. Now her wonderful travel blog is full of couches and unicorns and experiments in waffle-eating. Which is to say, it hasn’t changed a bit, except for the background location.
So I’ll still be writing about China and Chinese food and adventures in eating, it’s just that I’ll be writing it from my back deck in the sunshine overlooking the swimming pool. (Sorry, did I write that out loud?)

I already have big plans to make 2013 my official Year of Fermentation and Curdling where I learn to make traditional Chinese pickles and my own tofu. Those amazing pickles in twenty-five varieties you can buy in every market in China? Can’t get those in Australia, so I’m going to have to make my own. Should be interesting to see how that turns out.

I’ll continue visiting Shanghai regularly, now a place I regard as my ‘other’ home, to stock up on essential food items and eat my body weight in dumplings. I’ve just confirmed my first trip back to Shanghai in only seven weeks’ time, which will help a lot with the homesickness I’m suffering.

The other big news is that I’ve finally decided to get brave and write a book about our travels. It’s daunting, terrifying, and at the same time terrifically exciting to work on a project as big as a book, so here goes. I’ll let you know how it’s progressing.

But a blog, and for that matter a book, is nothing without readers. So again, thanks each and every one of you for following our travels, our adventures, and our disasters. I love hearing from you and have loved getting to know you all through the last three years.

I hope you’ll continue to love reading about China, a place that is truly amazing. And also how my pickles are going.