Today I’m in Kunming. I’m staying at my usual home-away-from-home, Lost Garden guesthouse. This will be my base for the rest of the week, waiting for the renewal of my residence permit. While I’m here I’m working my online job and preparing for my next event. I’m also finalizing the outline of a big writing project for a new Chinese client. Busy, but I can choose my hours. Today it’s a year since I went fully freelance. I’m still immensely grateful for having discovered this freedom, and that it is working out so well.
A week ago I celebrated my birthday at the courtyard. Local chefs were cooking on big fires outside. About 40 friends came to eat and drink and dance. We got covered in glitter and washed clean again by torrential rain when a thunderstorm broke, just before midnight. I was elated, immersed in the love and fun of my friends. Soon after, I felt the first serious pangs of regret about leaving Yunnan.
This was to be expected, and this is also why I am taking a long time to leave. Not just for the practicalities of shipping my stuff and organizing the admin of my companies in China and Bulgaria. I’m also taking my sweet time to work through the emotional cycles of grief. Leaving China is like leaving a long-term relationship.
I’m not a very spiritual person but I am processing my upcoming departure on a deeply personal level. When I was younger I might have left in a rush and ignored emotions – only to have to deal with the fall-out later. After my party I hiked up Cangshan and camped at 3500m altitude in blissful solitude. I spent the early evening looking down at my village until it got obscured by clouds and darkness, and saw the sun break through the fog across Erhai Lake in the early morning. I hiked down the steep and slippery mountain trails, physically exhausted but mentally refreshed.
Before I leave I want to perform a ritual here on the mountain, a burial of sorts, marking the departure from China. I’ve seen too many people leave who can then never let go of the part of their life they left behind in China. I talked about it to a friend and he said that China will always be here. This is true, but the same goes for ex partners – they are still there for me, but the relationship has changed and something is lost forever. Maybe it is the Dali hippie influence, maybe it is my catholic background, but I feel I need to precisely mark the end of my relationship with China so I can grieve, process, and then move on.
Vera in residence
I am also working on a philosophical and creative level, by treating my last few months here as an artist in residence for myself. My ambition was to develop an artist in residency for other artists at my courtyard. This is not possible because of travel restrictions, but I will honour the idea and my own creativity by using it in this way myself. For more than a decade I have been a ‘shadow artist’, supporting other creatives by working for cultural institions and developing cultural events. But, when I was younger I went to art college, failed, and gave up.
Now, I have a window where I can devote time and space to my own artistic practice. I’m using a book called The Artist’s Way by American author and teacher Julia Cameron, a 12 week program that involves a lot of writing meditation, aimed at discovering unconscious fears that block creativity. Sounds fuzzy, but so far I am enjoying the process a lot and I feel it is bringing me lots of new ideas and perspectives already.
Closing doors, opening windows
By the time I will close the door to my beautiful Dali courtyard for the last time I will have only been here for one year. But what a transformative year it is. Finally, I am allowing myself some space and time to do my very personal own things. As a result, I feel I am getting closer to my true self every day. Like every relationship that I have had, the one with China has held up a mirror. I have learned a lot. I didn’t think it would be possible to change much anymore as a person in my forties. Yet, I feel I am changing, growing. Let’s see how these changes will develop once I’m back in good old Europe.