It’s incredible how much can happen in a year, how beliefs and perspectives can shift. If I think back to this time in 2016, it felt really awkward every time I referred to South Africa as “home”, because I don’t live there anymore. I think the combination of being in the grips of life in Shanghai, and not having left the place in a while (barring a couple of weekend trips out to Moganshan), I’d forgotten how much of home was there.
The last time I travelled back to SA was only two months after I initially got here. It was purely for visa reasons, and I’d fallen so head over heels in love with the city, that I would’ve avoided the trip all together if I could have. On top of that, I had an absolute nightmare getting there, which you can read about here.
Jonathan spent a few weeks in SA over Chinese New Year last year, while I opted to remain here. I’d started my job at SideChef in November 2015, and felt like there was too much going on to warrant taking time off for a few weeks. I definitely don’t regret that decision, but in hindsight I needed to properly escape the chaos sooner than I eventually did. We decided that a few weeks in Cape Town over Chinese New Year 2017 was definitely something we needed to do together, and then made a decision that after almost 3 years of being engaged, we should finally make it official.
So we flew back to Cape Town on the 18th of January, on Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa, and around 18 hours later arrived home. As we flew into the city and saw Table Mountain, I suddenly realised how much I missed the place I’d spent most of my life in. We touched down, disembarked and walked down to immigration, where for once it was beneficial holding a South African passport, aka Green Mamba, because the queue was really short in comparison to the other one. I didn’t even mind the fact that there were only two windows open, with one officer shouting about how she thought everyone was on strike or lunch. Welcome to South Africa.
As soon as we’d gotten our bags and walked through customs, we made a b-line for biltong + droewors (Jonathan had been planning this for weeks) and Woolworths. I went straight for the Egg Mayo sandwich, Taste Magazine and a coffee. Happiness. I also immediately started converting from ZAR to RMB, which was insanely satisfying (and cheap)!
Our first week there was intense. We had 7 days to finalise all our wedding plans (which I’ll post about in detail when I get our photos) but also wanted to catch up with friends and family who we hadn’t seen in well over a year. My folks also drove down from Johannesburg, and my youngest sister flew in from Florida for the week, which added to all the excitement.
The one thing that hit me really hard when seeing everyone, was realising that everyone kind of stays the same (besides the new jobs, cars, houses or wrinkles), but noticing how quickly their kids grow up. When I left last in October 2015, our friends had little kids and babies ranging from newborns to pre-schoolers, and now they’re so much bigger. Some friends didn’t even have the kids they have now. I felt an intense sense of missing out on stuff, and it made me really sad. Even as I write this I’m getting a little misty-eyed. The other thing that really stood out for me was how lovely all these kids are, and it just confirms how lovely all our friends are, and I miss them. My middle sister is also pregnant with her first child who is due in June, and I’m devastated at the thought of not only possibly missing his birth, but also missing out on a portion of his early life. The same goes for our other niece and nephew, who are 6 and 2. This for me is one of the biggest sacrifices we have made moving to a country so very far away from home.
After our wedding we desperately needed some down-time. We packed up the car and headed up the Garden Route (via Route 62, back down the Outeniqua Pass), which was an incredible drive. I was reminded about how diverse the South African landscape was, as well as how much wide open space there is! Our American friend who lives in Shanghai was also with us, and it was really fun being able to experience things through him. We also managed to introduce him to real South African road trip food (Wimpy) and teach him a few local words, although at one point he was convinced we were making them up.
We eventually arrived in Brenton close to midnight, went to sleep to the sound of waves, and woke up to the glorious view of the ocean. It was also my 33rd birthday, so I was really happy to be spending it there with my new husband and his side of the family. I was also finally able to take some photos, and was ridiculously spoilt with subject matter. For the next week we drank G&T’s, ice cold white wine, braaied, ate loads of biltong, olives, boerewors & oysters, watched the incredible sunset every evening, walked on the beach, got sunburnt, swam in the sea (where Jonathan lost his wedding band), and slept every night with our bedroom door open, taking in as much of the sea air as possible. It was pure bliss.
We spent some time in Knysna (around a 20 minute drive from Brenton), visiting the incredible viewing site on the East Head, as well as going on a sunset cruise on the John Benn. We also headed to Plettenberg Bay, where Jonathan and I both holidayed as kids, and had lunch at The Lookout Deck. Lookout Beach holds so many memories for both of us, and amazingly enough, our families rented the same house, ‘Stay Cool’, a few years apart.
The entire strip between George and Plett holds a very special in both our hearts, so we were really happy we got to spend some time there, and if we’d been able to, would probably have stayed for longer. We even originally thought about having our wedding in Brenton, but decided to rather go the Cape Town route.
Before we knew it, it was time to go back to Cape Town, and we were already both feeling very sad about our holiday coming to an end. Despite the fact that we still had another week to go, reality was beginning to slowly creep back up on us. We left on Sunday morning and drove down the N2, stopping off in Albertinia for some biltong, and then in Riviersonderend for some delicious pies from Oumeul Bakkery. I’ve lost count how many times we’ve done the drive back from that part of the world back to Cape Town, but it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful it is, even more so when you’ve been starved of that kind of space.
Nevertheless, we were back in Cape Town and needing to plan our last week there. We ended up spending more time in the bank than we anticipated, realising we’d left some admin we needed to do while back to the last minute, and had to forego a few things we had originally planned on doing. Note to Self: Get admin done in the first few days of holiday, instead of the last!
We visited Kirstenbosch and marvelled at the greenery, I managed to have a few of the best G&T’s I’ve ever drank at The Stack, and visit my all-time favourite, South China Dim Sum Bar (yes, I realise going all the way from Shanghai to Cape Town to eat dim sum seems ludicrous, but it’s that good, and owned by a Shanghainese chef). We also managed to go down to Kalk Bay Harbour and have lunch at Harbour House, right on the rocks where we could enjoy the sea view + sunbathing seals. We walked along the harbour pier and admired the fishing boats, as well as watched tourists ignore warnings about the seals and attempt to pat them like dogs.
We were nearing the end of our holiday and were both feeling even sadder about it. We spoke at great length about what it would take to move back there, and agreed that we weren’t quite there yet. It would’ve been so easy to just stay, we were both there, what were we going back to Shanghai for? We went over it a few times, but obviously we had to go back. We do have a life here, regardless of how different it is to our life back home. We have jobs, we have careers we’re working really hard to grow in, we still have loads to accomplish.
As we headed off to the airport, I sat in the back of the car with silent tears streaming down my face as I looked out the window. I managed to pull myself together before the huge lump in my throat exploded, but then completely fell apart when we were checking our luggage in. The woman behind the desk was very concerned, and asked me if I was okay. Through my sobs I told her I didn’t want to go back, and she sat wide-eyed looking at me like I’d gone mad. Attempting to take advantage of the vulnerable position I’d landed myself in, I begged her to upgrade us, which didn’t work. Maybe next time.
We set off on the first leg of our journey back to Shanghai, on an empty plane which meant we had a seat in between us, flying to Addis Ababa. We landed there about 6 hours later, right in the middle of a massive thunderstorm. The airport there is probably the worst one I’ve ever been to, but at least the layover is really short. By the time we made it through security, while the roof leaked and the lights flickered, we only had to wait about 20 minutes before they announced we were boarding. Thankfully this flight was even emptier, and we each landed up with an entire row to ourselves.
What felt like an eternity later, we began our descent into Shanghai, and I was fortunate enough to once again catch an incredible view of a city I call home. It took a while to get our luggage and make it through immigration. As we walked through customs and out into the arrivals hall of Pudong International Airport, there was a man standing with a sign that read “Guest Name Here”, both laughing hysterically, we instantly knew we were back in China.