I'm sitting at my dining table, it's late at night but I can't sleep for going over and over all the things I should have remembered to do, buy, tell my children and/or pack before I leave Sydney for Beijing in the morning. I have started every day this fortnight with the very sincerest intention of doing some serious revision of my last two years of Chinese study - and every day work, life and the whole damn thing has intervened to prevent me learning some of those vital grammar or vocabulary points that always elude me in class. The ones that make me sound like a stuttering fool when I try to speak simple sentences about the incredibly irritating characters in my textbook. I have come to truly loathe the brash Wang Peng and his friends.
I've been doing 4 hours a week of Chinese classes all this year but I swear I am getting worse rather than better. How can this be? Last year when I arrived for the first time in Beijing I had only been learning for a couple of months but had all the crazy confidence of the complete novice. Fools rush in etc. Now I am at the horrible stage of knowing how much I don't know. And understanding just enough of CCTV or overheard conversations to be constantly frustrated.
But I persevere because it's so endlessly fascinating - and so beautiful when you begin to see the elements of silk, jade, wood or bamboo in the radicals of Chinese characters. And what's not to like about a language where the expression 'I'll come straight away' can be literally translated as 'I'll come on horseback'?
So, I'm not arriving on horseback but on Cathay Pacific 162. This time tomorrow I'll be looking at Beijing out of my window, and not breathing the jasmine scented air of a Sydney garden, but the cold winds of northern China. I'm looking forward to exploring more of the city that I loved from my first nervous walks around the West Beijing neighbourhood last year, and especially the old hutong areas where I took these photographs. I'm very excited about the many visits to artists' studios and galleries that I have arranged, and a little daunted by the task ahead of me. And by the prospect of extreme cold. But if the American art critic Barbara Pollack can have her 'Wild Wild East' experiences and turn them into a readable, if grammatically annoying, account of her adventures, then so can an Australian art teacher!