Yanchao’s Melbourne

"Outside Tullamarine Airport's Departure Hall" by Huang Yanchao

Words and Art by Huang Yanchao


Yanchao’s Melbourne


It’s been two and a half years since I had set foot on Melbournian soil. I had called this city home for almost two years, leaving abruptly just as the pandemic began to unfold. I remember booking my air ticket hastily and leaving this city. I packed my items for storage haphazardly in hopes that I could continue the life that I was leaving for another day. But that day didn’t come. International travel bans and work life kept me from returning and I could only finish my degree in my home country.

Coming back felt surreal. 

I remember the set of mixed feelings that I had when I stepped off the plane: a bittersweet mix of excitement, relief and disappointment. I was finally able to meet up with people whom I didn’t have a chance to give a proper goodbye to, and visit some of the places that I missed or didn’t have the chance to see. My student card had long expired, and I was unable to replace it, since I was overseas

It was a rush to pack in as many meetings as possible during my first few days. My friends, placement colleagues, and placement supervisor just to name a few. Their warm smiles were comforting as we caught up with old times. The familiar clunking of metal of trams against tracks and the cheery chimes of the Metro kindled a soothing wave of warmth.  I savoured food that I ate back when I was still studying and was glad that it tasted just as I remembered. (Shout out to Derby Thai at Caulfield and Choi Palace at Clayton.) 

Yet, not everything was the same. 

Many of my friends are no longer where they were when I left. Some had gone to regional areas because of visa requirements. Others have gone back to their home countries. And a handful of people just disappeared. The barista whom I was friends with at the café I had frequented had left. (Shout out to The Alleyway Cartel at Murrumbeena.) A few of my favourite eateries did not survive the lockdowns. Melbourne Central finally finished its renovations.

Ironically, the journey on the Pakenham line while I travelled towards the city felt different too: Pre-COVID I used to nap on public transport whenever I could as a tired student. Now I take in whatever I could, sights, sounds and shakes, as if for the last time. 

The most jarring of such changes was during my graduation, when almost none of my batchmates graduated with me.

In my folly, I had expected to see Melbourne before the pandemic of March 2020. But before me was Melbourne in September 2022. This took me days to realise and even longer to accept. I felt punished for having left Melbourne as there were so many regrets, so many things I wish I had done before leaving. I held the belief that the pandemic had robbed me of the rightful ending of my journey in Australia. But no matter how much I wished, the old Melbourne was never coming back.

As I lay with disappointment on my hotel bed, I began to wonder if this was supposed to be a lesson to let me learn to accept that change is the only constant, and that all good things must come to an end. However reluctant I was to admit that is a fact of life. 

Yet, does that mean I was destined to live with disappointment? That would have been something that I was not willing to accept. I looked back at the memories that I have had in Melbourne, they were precious to me. Memories that I would never forget. I had overcome many odds during my stay here, including feeling homesick, the sense of loneliness and being out of place. 

I should, in fact, celebrate the fact that I did my best during my two periods here, once when I was studying here, and the other when I was here for my graduation. Besides, there were new places that had sprung up since the pandemic. Since change is the only constant, I should not only learn to embrace it, but also enjoy it as it comes. If you keep focusing on what you have lost, you will never learn to appreciate what you have and what you could gain. 

I finally closed the Australian bank account the day before I left for home. I became emotional as I placed my debit card in my wallet, having closed the last living link to my time in Melbourne. But I told myself that I would be grateful that my journey happened, that I had grown and laughed and savoured the wonder of living in an overseas country for nearly two years. I have  stories that I will remember for years to come. 

It was not a perfect journey. But it was a journey that I am proud of. 

Huang Yanchao

The author Huang Yanchao

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