"Girls, time to get up," I called from the hallway. "Mum slept in again so we’ll have to move super fast this morning." I loathe getting out of bed in the dark.
"No!" shrieked Miss 4 from deep beneath her bedding. "I don’t want to go to kindy today!"
"You don’t want to go to kindy," I repeated calmly as I sat on the edge of her bed.
"No," she said adamantly, uncovering her head. "I don’t want to wear thermals. I don’t want to wear a big coat. And I don’t like my boots!"
"Well, I’ve just checked the temperature and it’s minus 6°C so you’ll need to wear your warm clothes today."
"It’s really yucky outside. I can’t even see Chaoyang Park!" said Miss 7 from behind the curtain.
"Another indoor play day," I muttered. No need to check the air quality data this morning; I could smell the coal dust without even leaving the apartment.
"Tell you what," I said, turning my attention back to Miss 4. "If you go to kindy for 13 more days, you can have six weeks off and when you start at your new kindy, you can wear summer dresses to school every day. We can live in a house with a backyard that you can run around in whenever you want. How’s that sound?"
Her eyes lit up with excitement.
"Okay," she said eagerly. "But only if we can have a trampoline."
With that brief conversation, I suddenly realized the higher purpose of our repatriation to Australia – a "normal" lifestyle for our children. They yearn to live in a house with a yard full of green grass where they can play barefoot. They long to ride bikes outdoors rather than along the corridors of our apartment building. They want to climb trees, plant a vegetable patch and own a dog. They want to play outside without wearing layer upon layer of thermals and convincing an adult to take them downstairs in an elevator. They want blue sky, sunshine and fresh air, to see rainbows after sun showers and stars in the night sky. They crave the "normal" we so desperately wanted a break from.
After more than two years in Beijing, we’re slowing our pace and returning home to Brisbane. Our time in Beijing has been a life-changing experience. We’ve celebrated good times and weathered the bad. There have been moments I’ve loved, others I’ve loathed. I’ve marvelled as the seemingly impossible miraculously appears and vaporises just as quickly. I’ve learned that "yes" means "no" more often than not, but "no" can mean "yes" if the question is rephrased. I’ve met some amazingand inspirational people who I will cherish forever. And while it has been a privilege to live here, I know that it’s time to move on.
To be honest, Beijing and I have always had a love-hate relationship. We can start a day as the best of friends then be fighting ’til the death within hours. We argue, swear, scream and cry; then we laugh and become friends once more. More recently, Beijing and I have called a truce – I avoid those aspects that I know will annoy me and in return, Beijing rewards me with a smile.
But at the end of the day, all good things must come to an end. After one last trek up the Great Wall, one final bargain from Yashow and a boozy farewell champagne brunch, we will shed our puffy jackets, thermals and Ugg boots in favor of the sweltering Australian summer. As the winter cold begins to bite, we will zip our suitcases and bid farewell to Beijing with a lifetime of memories and a 20ft container of treasures.
To everyone who has the chance to live in this intoxicating metropolis,make the most of every opportunity you have. Beijing is exotic, chaotic and toxic, all in the same breath. It’s enchanting yet offensive, harsh yet welcoming, challenging yet rewarding. Beijing has touched my soul and altered my perspective of life, love and everything in between. Be sure to enjoy the experience.