This morning, as I was waiting for my extremely pretentious puehr-tea-with-dried-chrysanthemums to brew, I noticed my diary from last year sitting on a shelf, covered, as expected, with a light dusting of Gobi desert. It was strange flipping through 2012 again, with notes-to-self including “Republic Day – no Hindi class”, “Train to Orissa 6:30am” and “Chai in Chanakyapuri… Visit astrologer??” March 26th said “Close bank account”; a note which jolted me right back into the Saket branch of HDFC, where I had an awkward farewell with Harshvardhan Singh, who broke my heart by saying “I am destroying your cheque book in front of you, madam” and ripping the thing to shreds. Sigh.
Can you believe, dear readers, that it’s been a year since I left Delhi?
I think about India a lot, and I miss it. The chai and the autorickshaws, the choley kulcha stall at Delhi University. Mother Dairy butterscotch ice cream cones and Café Coffee Day. The smells of Old Delhi, Paharganj, INA market. The cows. The monkeys. The green parrots. Speaking in Hindi. Ajay Devgn’s moustache.
I will never forget my India, ever. Ever.
But now, dear readers, it’s time to proclaim to the world that I think my heart belongs to China. To Inner Mongolia, especially. And to Baotou – Centre of the Universe. The city where women wear silver leggings and thigh-high faux-leather stilettoes to go to the supermarket, and where taxi drivers have cigarettes in one hand and iPhones in the other, and where eating frog hotpot is totally normal. It is completely mad here, beyond all comprehension, and for some reason that seems to suit me and I love it. And I’ve signed a contract to stay another year.
My students, some old, some new (including a boy called Squall and a girl called Eric), are hardworking and hilarious. I’m giving lectures on European History and Culture (or, more accurately, what I’ve taught myself about European history and culture via the BBC primary schools’ website), encouraging more Chinglish metaphors in my writing classes, and still attempting to learn Chinese.
The gym didn’t quite agree with me, though. A tragic loss, I know, but now I have a lot more free time to shovel Mr Cake red bean doughnuts into my face.
And what about my Chinese future husband? Well, it turns out he can cook and do kung fu, possibly even at the same time. Who wouldn’t want to marry a guy like that?!
This time last year my hands were doodled with mehndi from Green Park market and my suitcase – full of sparkly sandals, salwaar kameez and statues of Saraswati – was wrapped, Indian-style, in cling film. This year I still wear the jasmine perfume I bought from an old man in Varanasi, and the green parrot earrings from Dilli Haat. And now a fake jade necklace from Beijing. I listen to Bollywood and Fenghuang Chuanqi in roughly equal measures. And, yes, I drink pretentious puehr-tea-with-dried-chrysanthemums, but I also drink adharak wali chai. And sometimes when I try to speak Chinese, Hindi comes out instead.
This year pink cherry blossoms are slowly appearing on the Baotou trees, and I’m sentimental, as usual, but very happy.