I began my year of exchange already looking forward to returning home. I had a wedding scheduled at the end of the year, the older sister of one of my best friends (who is himself family – so ‘my’ sister as well, then 😝). I was using the wedding to take ten days out of my second semester to return to Sydney briefly, a sort of holiday from my holiday.
At the beginning of the year, when I was booking my tickets and excited at the prospect of returning home after more than ten months abroad, I didn’t realise how much Hangzhou would have become home for me at that point, not Sydney. So when I came back, I felt more like a visitor than a local.
My beautiful girls and I & and the handsome boys in their suits on the day of Dom and Sophie’s wedding. HEART EYES MUCH? Everyone looked amazing that day.
My days flew by so quickly, as I found myself so busy; by the second day I was there, every single day had been filled up with plans. I only had ten precious days – little over a week, if you took out the days that we would be busy by the wedding itself.
Being back was as natural as breathing, but some things had changed. Some friends had gotten new jobs, new tattoos – I spied one on Joan’s wrist and almost had a fit, while everyone looked on and laughed. I heard some passing comments about how I was “the same old Jess”, and didn’t know how to feel about it (despite all the good intentions). I felt different… Ever-so-slightly more disconnected, disengaged, detached than before. Much more self-contained and independent. More introverted, perhaps, which was sort of out of character for me.
Having too much fun in the free photobooth
My best friends, however, I kept very close to me, and I was so thankful I had made this decision to come home for the wedding. The entire event felt like a dream; I have vivid memories of that night, all of us dancing with Sophie’s dad, with Dom’s friends, and then just us. I remember feeling that I was exactly, perfectly where I needed to be, with exactly the right people next to me.
Ten months had flown by without seeing them face to face, but I didn’t feel the distance at all.
The beautiful couple and their first dance as man and wife
I cried four times that day, moved by Sophie’s dad giving her away and the sweet words he said in his speech at the reception. But the thing I remember most about that night was how full the wedding was of joy, laughter and good humour. #DomLovesPies
In the following days, I remembering being emotionally so exhausted, as though I was catching up on ten months’ worth of gossip. (I was catching up on ten months’ worth of gossip.) I had my best girlfriends (they were closer than ever, thank goodness) over several nights for dinner and everything came pouring out, about all of us, and somehow we managed to find new problems, or create some where there were none, poking sleeping dragons in the eye. I didn’t miss the drama.
When it was time to go home (home, that is, Hangzhou), I felt like I was racing to be back in my dorm bed next to the warm body I had become accustomed to. I daydreamed during the entire plane ride but was unfortunately held up for hours at Guangzhou airport, my layover. I didn’t get back to my dorm until 4am. I skipped class the next day.
I generally think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is easily-deconstructed bullshit, but now I think it’s not so bad. I was healthy, safe, with supportive friends and family, and a (relatively) good head on my shoulders. I had a great home to come back to, a safety net and a fall-back, should I ever need it. Only with that kind of protection could I have had the foundation to make a home somewhere else, the confidence to leave my heart in another country.
Maslow’s sophisticated hierarchy of needs, complete with stock images of a house drawn on MS Paint and a white man sleeping
If home is where the heart is, I’m split in, like, eight.
tl;dr: coming ‘home’ was good, talked a lot of shit, missed china a lot. china is my home now