Sunday, 8 March 2009

The happiness and the hell of it

It was the silence I first noticed when we arrived in Australia. The wide open spaces with clean in between. The heavens above with an endless, shimmering hush. Even the distance between people was quiet, for goodness sake. The only thing that filled it was an unruffled smile.

The intensity of Beijing was gone. The noise, the clamour, the grime, the shove. We’ve been home a week today and I haven’t heard a car horn. Not even once. The loudest thing I’ve heard is a bunch of squawking cockatiels, swooping through the fresh air between the gum trees surrounding our serviced apartment. Then they disappeared into the endless blue and all was silent again.

It almost feels like we’ve walked into a place of worship and we have to be, like – quiet, and we are also a little in spiritual awe. In awe of what we have here – as if, when we lived in Beijing, we had momentarily forgotten.

Even though we’re experiencing the odd feeling that our lives have been put on mute, I truly believe that this quiet has helped our family cope with the internal chaos that deftly defies our external surroundings. It’s a calm, leveling chaos; we’re not rushing around like mad hatters planning a tea party, but we’re in a pretty constant state of calm but hellish flux – that solid and relentless strain of putting the ignition key into our new life and turning its engine over and over in an attempt to have it purr and roll smoothly.

By outward appearances, our transition has actually been quite purringly smooth. We spent two nights in Hong Kong flat on our backs (in physical and mental breakdown), two nights in Melbourne getting rolling drunk and giggly with family (you should have seen our smiles), and two nights in a serviced apartment in Canberra (reality slap) before moving into our new house last Friday.

Our house is a stunning and perfect shell that I should be gawping over and dancing around like a bedeviled sprite. Instead, I am just overjoyously but quietly content. My husband feels the same way and we think it’s for two reasons (beyond the deep undercurrent of stress that comes with moving a family intercountry, and beyond the oppressively sizzling Australian summer).

The first is because we still have tender, sore, un-severed heart strings tied to China, pulled so tight, you could plink them like a violin.

The second is because our real home is tumbling and rolling over the oceans and will be delivered to our lovely house shell in about ten days (God willing).

Isn’t a home about what you put in it, including people and memories? So yes, we have a beautiful new house. But the ‘home’ is yet to arrive. It’s slowly getting there, and part of its delay is because of that quiet and persistent undercurrent of chaos. That need to re-discover, re-establish, re-connect, re-calibrate, re-patriate. Re-feel like you belong.

It’s like you’ve just got off a lolling ferry and the ground is swelling beneath you and all you want to know is how to hook up Foxtel, where the nearest Asian supermarket is, how to programme the new DVD player and the fact that you must find towel hooks and a 70cm length of dowel, poste-haste. On top of that, you’ve got the mental chaos that you’ve just spent half a year’s salary on cleaning products, brooms, dustpans, bread, icypoles and restocking your dried herbs and spices. The financial sting has your face slapped red. Sheesh, little bottles of spices are exy.

But the most chaotic thing is the feeling of hurry. Hurry to get settled so things can go back to ‘normal’. Everyone says “take your time, let it unfold, leave the boxes – they will unpack themselves”. Sure. I’ll leave the boxes unpacked… in a pink fit during a blue moon.

It’s not that I’m in a hurry to get everything put into cupboards. It’s that I’m in a hurry to get on with life and try to forget Beijing. We quite desperately need that sinking reality that we live in Australia again, because right now, it doesn’t feel real. And when things don’t feel real, how can you settle your feet onto the ground and start striding firmly into the future?

We need to feel settled, to have the engine of our new family life running effectively, smoothly, happily. To me, as a mother and as a woman, organization is the key to everything. Yes folks, organization is the key to happiness. An organized house means an organized family means an organized working schedule means a very happy mummy and daddy means two contented kids means an organized life – which all means we can have the spare time to sit in the back yard and listen to the silence. And jump up and run around in the happiness.

Rushing for calm. Busyness for quiet. Chaos for balance.

The repatriation has only just begun.

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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