The last time my feet touched Zhuhai, China was in 2009. That day, I stepped onto a ferry bound for Hong Kong and then onto England with wet eyes and a gloomy heart.
Last Saturday I stepped back off that same ferry and re-entered Zhuhai to celebrate an early Thanksgiving with old friends. For someone who likes to play nostalgia mind-games, it was a special treat. Many things remain identical to the day we left:
- A cluster of half-constructed, concrete luxury villa skeletons still stand half-completed and occupied by a few squatters.
- Lover’s Road remains as well-kept and greenly lush as ever. During my morning run along the seaside, I could trick myself into believing we’d never left.
- Motorcycle taxi drivers still smoke, chat and wait for fares at the corner of Jiu Ba Jie and Lian’An Lu.
- The aggressively hard Chinese-style foot massage is still a slice of heaven.
But newness has also crept in:
- Where once there was only sea, there is now a growing man-made island that will one day connect Zhuhai and Macau with Hong Kong by a 50 kilometer bridge.
- Eerily, our former house has been converted into an office. The entrance area where my daughter learned to walk and put on shoes, now holds a reception desk and is lit by fluorescent tube lighting.
- A new Carrefour meant that our Thanksgiving hosts could buy the turkeys and a wide selection of exotic cheese right in Zhuhai, rather than crossing the border to Macau or traveling to Guangzhou.
- The foot massage ladies might still guess my nationality wrong (Russian? Really?) but now shamelessly ask for tips.
It was a delight to re-trace old steps and especially to drink wine with wonderful friends. But I didn’t feel homesick for Zhuhai anymore. Seeing the place “in-the-flesh,” I realized that I’ve moved on. And so has Zhuhai. It can no longer be the static place of my memory ready to be dredged up during a comforting day-dreamy reminiscence.
And so, arriving by ferry back in Hong Kong late on Sunday evening, I felt at peace. I am happy to call this vibrant, efficient, international Chinese city my home (for now…).