November holds a special sentimental place in my heart. Elsa and I first arrived in Beijing four years ago this month. I remember us getting off the plane clad in our thickest coats, scarf and mittens. I was determined to prove I was no naïve English fool: We were prepared for the harsh Chinese winter.
It was one of those crisp sunny days you sometimes get at this time of year and my friend met us in a T-shirt.
I’d only planned to stay in Beijing to the end of my maternity leave, a mere three months away. But before I knew it I had a flat/job/ayi, an insatiable craving for bing and a stock (and rolling) answer to the inevitable how-long-are-you-here-for question: “Oh, another one or two years.”
At some point between our third and fourth year that response changed. I found that living with a hovering end-point made it hard to make decisions or put down real roots. So I took off the arbitrary time brakes. My new reply is, “We are here for dot dot dot.”
It’s amazing what a difference this has made. In September I finally set up my WFOE (wholly foreign-owned enterprise – one of the forms in which a foreigner can legally do business in China). I’d procrastinated over it for years but in the end it was a lot less complicated than anticipated. Moreover I am now the proud owner of five red chops. Each is a different size and shape, to reflect its unique (and obscure) purpose.
This settling-in feeling also resulted, as you know, in a rabbit for Elsa. Oh, Blackie. Who could have foretold that a 4-month-old bunny would prove more hassle than forming a
Chinese company? Fluffy, loveable companion on the one hand, and fiendish destroyer of all things electrical on the other.
After losing internet connection three times in one week, thanks to Blackie’s fondness for telephone wire, I hired a man to create new sockets and re-route all the wiring in the living room. Not to be thwarted, Blackie promptly transferred her affections to my headphones, severing the cord of two sets with a swift chomp. As I use headphones daily to Skype overseas clients, I had to make a panicked trip to Carrefour to procure an emergency supply – now locked out of harm’s way in the filing cabinet. (Not even Blackie’s well-exercised gnashers can penetrate steel.)
The most exciting outcome of my mindset shift however is undoubtedly the decision to get a puppy. Again, I’d dithered about this for a long time. In fact I recall weighing up the pros and cons in this magazine 18 months ago. But having been broken into pet ownership by Blackie (alias the Black Beast of Beixinqiao), I was sure a dog could only be eaiser.
The penultimate nail was driven in the coffin a month ago when a friend rescued an abandoned puppy. He integrated into their family’s life with remarkable ease (and no negative wiring consequences), despite the fact that they live four floors up in a building with no lift. If my friend could cope, I could, too.
Another friend hammered the final nail by telling me about a litter of puppies born just two days previously. Their human mother emailed me the photos, and there was no going back. Elsa and I visited them at three weeks’ old. Part dachshund, part spaniel, part something uncertain but very hairy, they’d only recently opened their eyes and were wobbling around uncertainly like little old men somewhat the worse for drink.
Elsa homed in on the tan-colored one, appropriately enough named Sandy. So there you go. Me, myself, Elsa, Blackie the black rabbit and Sandy the sand-colored dog. Here for dot dot dot.
Sarah Cooper fulfilled a long-held dream by moving to Beijing when Elsa (3) was 3 months old. Sarah now coaches, runs workshops, writes and speaks about living and working off the beaten path (www.cowsfrommywindow.com).