Postcards from Abroad: South-East Asia


So it’s the start of the new semester after a long and eventful break. It’s showing too. I’m finding it very difficult to get back into the swing of things and my Chinese is notably worse than it was before.

I spent Chinese New Year from the end of January to mid February travelling around south-east Asia. Three weeks well spent. I got to go to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and it was without a doubt the highlight of my year abroad so far. Between doing serious damage at the full moon party in Thailand, exploring the temples of Angkor Watt in Cambodia and visiting the war tunnels in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, I can honestly say I didn’t want to come back to Beijing.

We had five weeks off so I could have actually travelled for longer but I had timed it so that my sister could come visit me in Beijing while I had time off. However, there ended up being a mess up with her booking in the end so she didn’t make it over. Oh the irony. We arrived back in Beijing the night of Chinese New Year. It was like a ghost town. I’ve never seen the place so quiet. It was a little bit eerie considering the mass, bustling metropolis that it normally is on a day to day basis. More than half the population of Beijing are migrants from different provinces so they all leave to go home for the New Year. The rest stay inside with their families.

Absolutely everywhere was closed. The banks, restaurants, colleges, bars, phone companies etc. I wasn’t due to go back to either of my jobs for another ten days so instead of going sightseeing with my sister as planned, I ended up twiddling my thumbs until the city slowly started to come back to life. It’s a sad state of affairs when you’re looking forward to going back to work. Moral of the story, avoid Beijing during the Chinese New Year unless you have an itinerary of things to do because day to day life stands still for guts of two weeks. You can go to a ceremony or two the day of the Chinese New Year itself and for a few days after but I wouldn’t go out of my way to stick around for it personally.

When I did go back to college, it was in a new one. I’m now studying in Beijing University as opposed to Renmin. Our course was structured so that we all studied Chinese for the first semester in Renmin, then we split up into six different colleges across China to study business in semester two. Three students went to each college, give or take. I had to register all over again and do orientation and all that jazz. It was good though, we all had a team-building weekend away so we could get to know our international classmates.

Germans seem to make up the majority followed closely by the French. It’s a turnaround from the group of 18 Irish students we had last semester in Renmin. That’s not a bad thing as far as I’m concerned though. You tend to not stray too far from your own when you have a big group to fall back which is a wasted opportunity when you think about it really. So far everyone seems really friendly and outgoing which is what you want when you’re thrown in with a group of new people. So no complaints there anyway.

I actually missed most of the house warmers, first class nights out and events though. Shortly after registration, I ended up having to go home to Ireland for a while. Both of my grandmothers ended up in hospital and one was in a bad way so I booked a flight home, leaving the morning classes were supposed to start. When your grandmothers are 86 years of age, you do give consideration to the fact that the worst might come to pass while you’re away and you won’t be there for your family. But when it happens, you really can’t get home quick enough. It’s a horrible feeling being so far away from home when someone you love isn’t well. No plane can leave soon enough and it’s the longest journey of your life.
I did get to see my sister for the first in nearly two years though. She flew home from Canada too, so I guess you can take the good with the bad. And despite the bad circumstances it was still really nice to be home. It had been eight months so it was nice to see all my family and friends. The home comforts were gorged upon needless to say. I don’t think there were any toasted ham and cheese sandwiches left in Kildare by the time I left and I absolutely annihilated a full-Irish breakfast when I got my hands on it.

What surprised me the most was how much I liked being home. I’m well used to travelling and have never had an ounce of homesickness in my life. The idea of not going home for over a year really didn’t phase me. But when I finally did go home I realised there’s so much about Ireland that I love. Everyone was so happy to see me and I was just as happy to see them. I think I took it all for granted a little. It is true what they say. There’s no place like home. It took me leaving for a nearly a year to realize that