It wasn’t an easy decision to abandon the job in Xi’an and return to the UK. I had already invested a lot in the venture and knew that I wouldn’t likely return any time soon. It seemed that a mixture of issues left me little choice, but in the end I was not disappointed to leave, but drawn home and grateful for the excuse.
There were significant issues with the job posting (see last post) as well as peripheral hardships that were expected, but difficult to deal with nonetheless. I considered staying on in China to find another post, though it had taken me months of hard work to sift through the obviously bad options to find this one, apparently-promising, opportunity. I didn’t have the patients, money or will to hang around in Xi’an for another shot. In truth, I just wanted to go home. A year ago this seemed like one of my last few options, but certain changes in my personal life had happened and my ambitions hadn’t caught up.
Eager to get going, I moved out of my crummy apartment in the Yangjiacun district and into the old city, which is surrounded by four ancient walls. I took up for two nights in the Han Tang Inn hostel. I realised upon arriving that I had stayed there before, a few years ago when I last visited China. It was a perfect haven after the difficult and emotional week I’d had. I checked into my six bed dorm and marveled at the relative luxury compared to what would have been my home in Yangjiacun. It felt clean, safe and comfortable.
I ordered some comforting grub and a cup of tea and mapped out my next day and a half. It says something about my experience that I’d felt extremely nervous about lugging my baggage out into the street to hail the taxi that would bring me here, and that I was reluctant to go outside. I wanted to stay where I was protected. This was a far cry from my attitude in 2012, when I flew out with my then-girlfriend to explore India and Southeast Asia and bounced from plane to taxi to train without batting an eyelid. That trip was a breeze with barely a worry in the world, and no compunction about hailing a taxi, or trying to buy fruit from people who we couldn’t communicate with except for the odd word and lots of gesticulating.
So that these new anxieties didn’t get the better of me, I forced myself out into the daylight. The hostel is centrally located so I was right in the middle of the old city. The area inside of the city walls is barely touched by the area’s notorious smog – most of the traffic and ever-present dusty construction is without – and sunlight shone down as I reacquainted myself with the ancient capital.
It took no time at all for me to remember why I’d chosen Xi’an to be my new home. The city, like any in China, is horrendously crowded, but provided one isn’t in a hurry there is little to get wound up about. The crowds stroll along and the traveler strolls with it, up to the lynchpin of the city, the old Bell Tower, and beyond to its partner the Drum Tower, on through the Muslim Quarter to barter for trinkets, out towards the Temple of the City Gods. I was out until dark and then headed back. But even the trip out into the clean, well-maintained centre of Shaanxi culture didn’t make me regret my decision to buy that flight home, though it served to balance some of the disappointment of my experiences.
That night I suffered the bane of the backpacker: sharing a dorm room with a snorer. And snore he did, that friendly bearded Swede, from 05:00 for over an hour. I hadn’t been able to get to sleep, but just as I was drifting off I was treated to that pre-dawn sonorous honk. After a failed attempt to sleep in the common room, I dug deeper into my overdraft for a private room.
I took a similar wander the next day (the inner temple was closed the day before). I met a few interesting locals, watched arguments over a game of Chinese chess, and was asked to have a photo taken with a group of local students.
Soon it was time to head to the airport. This time the route was via Hong Kong, and I would get a train from London via the Tube rather than fly to Manchester. It was 30+ hours of sleepless travel, but I was immensely grateful to be back home amongst the loved ones I’d missed so dearly, even after only a week.
Returning so soon is disappointing and embarrassing, but these are short-lived emotions. The sensation of peace upon finally climbing into bed in the house I grew up in clarified a lot of thoughts and feelings for me. For now I’m very happy to be home!