6 October 2010 2010 nian 10 yue 6 hao

Lifelog: Preparing for Repatriation

Ever since Yuxiang and I were married (three years ago today), people have asked us if we're intending to move back to Australia. In fact, some of them simply ask when we're going back, as if we should have booked the wedding and the plane tickets at the same time! While those who actually know how the immigration system works (the American system at least) inquire curiously as to whether Yuxiang has an Australian "green card" yet.

But until recently, the two of us had no definite plans for the future, one way or the other. I always hoped Yuxiang could one day experience living abroad, just as I have done, but for the time being we were happy in Beijing, and our assumption (perhaps a little naive) was that Yuxiang should only apply for Australian permanent residence if and when we actually wanted to move there. Back in April last year our work at Healthlink ended, but although we were both looking forward to a career change at that time, we didn't look beyond China.

As the year came to a close, however, we had cause to reassess. I wasn't getting much work as an independent consultant, but before looking for a full-time job I still wanted to finish the volunteer project which I had started. Yuxiang was considering further study, but hadn't yet decided where. We began looking into the nitty gritty of visa application, and realized that to even have the option of moving to Australia in 9 - 12 months' time, we would need to start the long and expensive application process immediately. And so that is what we did, spending several months putting together the application, and another five months waiting for it to be approved. During that period we had plenty of time to consider whether to use the visa right away, or to hold onto it for a few more years (which I hear is not uncommon).

The application itself, complete with forms, photographs, phone accounts, and all manner of photocopies, weighed in at almost 200 pages — all carefully numbered and indexed. I think even the embassy was a little overwhelmed, since they wrote back to ask us for a document which we had already included! We were also expecting that an interview would be necessary, hopefully just a telephone interview to save us making a special trip all the way to Shanghai. But after trawling through that pile of old receipts and bank statements, I think the visa officer was probably sick and tired of us already. Yuxiang's visa simply arrived unannounced one day, a few weeks ago.

It comes right at a time when neither of us can see much of a future for ourselves in Beijing. For me, I want a job where I can continue to use and develop my technical skills as a developer, in a supportive and progressive team environment. But I can't imagine there are many companies in China who would want to employ an expat in a mid-level developer role. For Yuxiang, a lot of the job openings that appeal to her tend to go to applicants with degrees from overseas, so studying in Australia seems like a safe investment for her no matter where we end up living in the long term. And apart from our friends in Beijing (actually a lot fewer than might be expected after almost 5 years), and of course the ready availability of lamb kebabs, there is not much to keep us here at the moment.

And so, we've booked one-way tickets to Perth on December 10. Golly, that's only two months away! We have such a lot to do before then that I really don't know how we'll manage it. I need to finish my work at AngloGold, as well as my own project. We need to transport some of our furniture to Qinghai (to help fill up Yuxiang's parents' newly purchased apartment), ship some personal effects to Australia, and somehow decide what to do with all the rest of our junk. And on top of all that, I have enrolled in the Chinese Proficiency Test later this month, so I am frantically studying Chinese characters in the hope of improving upon last year's dismal score in the writing section.

But all in all, I'm looking forward to the change. It will be good to be close to family and friends again, something I value more as I get older. Career-wise it's quite exciting, though also filled with uncertainty. My Chinese will probably suffer, ten years of learning evaporating without a trace after a few weeks of non-use, but such is the impermanence of the world. Learning never stops, but at the moment I am more interested in developing my professional knowledge and experience.

Once we're settled in Australia, I wonder if people will start asking us when we plan to move back to China? The answer to that is, as always, we don't know.

News since my last lifelog:


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