Learning Chinese in Australia.

It is difficult having held all this expectation for Australia; cherished it as a wild lifelong dream, pursued it optimistically and excited. The chase of something so endlessly inspirational to me, the focus of my childhood, the picture of paradise. It is difficult because after all this time and blind hope, it has been so definitely overruled and overshadowed by the fleeting presence of such an unlikely adventure, a side project only ever meant for the short-term. Australia was where I was supposed to stay. China has stolen my heart.

It is difficult knowing that I let this short journey become dampened with worry and guilt, and to know that for me it has been defined by overcoming questions of purpose, yet so almost, but not quite, true enough. This isn’t to say that I didn’t experience and savour every single moment there, I did. I almost can’t believe I ever held such a negative passion towards China; I remember typing those words, “I fucking hate”, dripping with fury, projecting and perpetuating anger only ever meant to be aimed at myself. I can’t believe how something that once felt so threatening, so tragically one-sided, can now feel so progressive, so obviously full of energy and promise.

Sitting in my Mandarin class today, learning the very basics painfully slowly, and all over again, I find my mind wandering, and then settling in a bittersweet nostalgia. Maybe I am doing this for him, I think. I am doing it for conversations in taxis; 7 years, I promised. I can punctuate the time I had in Chengdu so surely with taxi rides with him; a man temporary and fierce. The long ride back, reaching the end, fleeing the final goodbye, alone together and drenched in expectation. The first, with her, with talking of English TV and a love of David Mitchell, so innocent, so blind of what was to come next.

There is a young man in my class, sitting behind me, his name is Alex I think. And I have to remind myself, I write down (as if that will make it stick), ‘Stop getting crushes on people speaking Chinese’. I remember all those taxis where we’d get stuck, falling over cheap street language, and he would fall into a smooth energetic exchange of language, round off the sounds so confidently; 7 years made electric. I admired that so deeply. I want to be able to do that, I thought. I knew then what my next big pursuit was.

And to find myself from there, where I was challenged every day with even the most basic communication, learning so much so fast, to here in Australia, where the day-to-day holds challenges so far removed from necessity that beginning this course took two months and after two weeks I am still learning the first word I remember learning in Mandarin (Xióngmao), well it’s just a little frustrating.

I know that I am doing this for myself, I am doing this because there is much more to a person’s existence than one life in one country with one language to wrap your tongue around so easily. I want to experience life in different time zones, climates, languages, states of mind… And I’ll get up and begin this again by pushing on with this Mandarin course, not letting nostalgia for times passed get in the way, rather let them help fuel it, but know that the main motivation for all of this in to be able to go back for my own progression. In a year I will be back in China in whatever form that may take, and I will be learning fast and fiercely all over again. For now, I must make the most of this adventure I have always wanted to pursue, and know that comparison can be misguiding, and there is a lot left to do here, first.


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