Today I’m leaving Nanjing. Sitting on the bullet train heading to my next destination, I’m editing photos that I’ve taken whilst I’ve been out on the town. Most of the photos that I’m editing in this batch are of the nightlife. I thought to myself that if the collection were to have a name, I would call it Nanjing Daze, because in a sense, that’s what it was. Constantly stumbling out of one contemporary urban Chinese experience into another, as I sit on the train and speed further and further away from the city that was my home for the last two weeks a daze is exactly what it feels like. Looking out the window now I can hardly believe that that experience actually happened. Watching the landscape roll by I am reminded that most of China is still made up of farmland, agriculture, skies and clouds. Only a few minutes out of the station the landscape changes from an immense and hectic urban jungle into spaciously organised rice paddies and food-growing fields.
Reflecting on my time in the city, there are a thousand things that I could say and write about, yet at the same time I don’t even know where to begin. Sitting at the dinner table yesterday I sat with my grandmother in the acknowledgement that time does indeed fly by. My gran (“nai nai” is what I call her) expressed her shock in a pause between eating: “when I found out that you had six weeks in China I thought you’d have so much time here. But now that we’re in it, it doesn’t feel like very long at all.” I nodded in complete agreement. “I guess when family’s involved, no amount of time time is ever enough.” Especially in Nanjing – I felt like I was slowly setting up a life there, but on a traveller’s timeline I didn’t have the days to live it out. We sat in the silence of this truth, finishing the last dregs of food from our bowls.
And this is where feeling overwhelms me. In Nanjing I got to spend time with uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and grandparents. I learned how to play the guzheng, a traditional Chinese zither. I sang and danced to Psy and Nelly and Adele in fancy karaoke halls. I wandered into the buildings of Nanjing’s Southeast University asking students if they wanted to practice English with me. On a rainy summer’s day I went for a walk in ankle deep rain with a uni student, a new friend, talking in English and Chinese about life in modern China. I met a tired looking Russian man on the subway who wanted to start doing business. I tried to talk to other foreigners and got shut down. I learned how to make and recorded the recipes of the dishes I used to eat as a child. I rummaged through old photos and recalled small childhood memories I had already forgot. I went out to buy Chinese buns for breakfast in the morning from the local bun vendor. I went fishing. I went watermelon-picking. I walked through rice fields. I sat with my grandmother and cried. I visited a Chinese Wal-Mart. I got away with being a local. I cooked food for my family. I rode a bicycle everywhere a bicycle could go. I got drunk. I visited the memorial of the rape of Nanking. I took photographs and wrote in my journal everyday. I accessed Facebook. I smoked shisha. I learned how to play a Chinese drinking game with dice. I made friends. I smoked cigarettes whilst young male waiters waited on my every move. And I kissed a boy (my first Chinese boy) and for a while there, I think I fell in love.
And now, as the Chinese landscape speeds by so fast I can’t even fathom what’s happening, I’m leaving all that behind. Packing up my bag this morning, a little hungover and a little sensitive, I picked up mementos and souvenirs from my time spent here. Listening to country music, I had the blues. Knowing that I have to move on to new shores, a part of me resisted inside. The more and more I set up my life here, the more and more I didn’t want to leave. I felt that way about Nanjing, and from my seat on the train watching minuscule farmers work away in the rice fields as we zoomed past, I started to feel that way about China too.
But alas, so is the nature of travel. In a sense I grew up all over the world, and every time when it was time for me to leave for someplace new I gave respect to the nomadic blood that flows within me. Wondering if I could ever settle on just one place, just one job, just one person, just one thing, I packed up the last of my belongings into my bag. And sitting on the train reflecting on times departed, I’m already receiving a call from the people I’m arriving to meet. So I guess whilst I’m trying to figure everything out, for now, moving forward will have to do.