A few days ago I thought a bit about the time I’d spent in China for an internship a year ago. I remember finding it difficult to feel comfortable at home in the evenings because of the relative loneliness of my apartment. It was a fairly large apartment, with space for two bedrooms, complete with a lounge, a dining room, laundry, two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a study. It was built in a fairly empty part of town, though the city it belonged to was not small – a satellite of Shanghai.
This suburb was built by Germans about six years ago, and was still in the process of being finished. You could say it was also quite upmarket, and this may be why the suburb had such a low occupancy rate – I understand it was around 30% when I was there. This meant, as you would imagine, that the days and nights were very quiet, and it was a very calm place. It would have felt abandoned, but the place was empty not because people once lived there and no longer, but that no one ever came.
Every now and then I’d go for a walk around the town, most often around the perimeter – the suburb was separated from others by the nearby highway and a river, as well as undeveloped land. There was a set of shallow canals running around and through the town, to make you think of the European picturesque – but the emptiness did little for it.
The occupancy rate was apparently higher around the edges of the town, and it was happier seeing the signs of family life in those apartments. I used to wonder what life was like for those families, living in a place like this, but in a way that clearly showed that they wanted to, and obviously could, make themselves at home.
There were parks – perhaps more like gardens – here and there on the outskirts. Although they were not marshy, they looked it, but the colours of the place were a muted brown. They looked strange, and I feel as if I’ll never see plants like those that were there again. Old men fished in the stagnant water, and women ambled in the grass.
I was not alone – there were other foreigners in the town with me, who had the same internship as I did, and we were good friends. There was a companionship to living in this strange town and making it through the week. We had dinner out every evening, because it was just easier – not to mention cheap – and so we got to know the place quite well.
I could go on for hours about this town. But in saying this, I realize again what I thought a few days ago – I miss that place. I know while I was there I wasn’t entirely happy, its emptiness being one of the reasons for this, and chances are my nostalgia emphasises the good and forgets the bad – that’s how nostalgia is, isn’t it?
Nevertheless, I want to go back, and I want to see my friends again, even though if I do see them again, it probably won’t be there. Maybe one day I’ll write a post talking about everything in that place, to pave the memories firmly into myself. I need to take my past experiences a little more seriously.
And what of my current studies? In a place I know so well, with people I’ve seen around for years, it seems on the face of it boring and uninspiring. But years from now, when I live in another land, away from all this, I’ll remember this and I’ll long for it. Let me pre-empt my nostalgia by recognizing this for what it is.
One of the things we regret when we look back is that we didn’t enjoy it more. Yet at the same time as saying this, we forget that the past grows and grows, and we see it grow every day. In our crying for the past, we miss the very opportunity to improve it – to recognize that one day we’ll miss our now, and thus let us enjoy it and God’s creation. It is amazing to look back and marvel at what our Lord made, but it is also good to enjoy His creation now (and look forward to what He will show us in times to come!). Let’s pre-empt our regret, and live proactively and happily. And drink lots of water – it’s really hot here!