It was the best of times. In this, his final missive, it pains this columnist to report that, after more than seven years in the Big Smog, he and his are moving on. Well, to be honest, I’m actuallyquite chuffed to be off: I have landed a job that promises to be fascinating down in Hong Kong, which will be a welcome change of scene and pace. Parenting-wise, being able to put Daniel into an English-language nursery and then school – common and relatively affordable as they are down there – will cure one of my greatest headaches as a laowai baba in Beijing: ensuring my little one absorbs English as well as Putonghua. Now it’s up to his Chinese mum to make sure he keeps his Mandarin.
Admittedly, leaving Beijing will be a wrench in some ways, not least for Daniel, as he will have to part with his beloved ayi and grandmother, for which I feel guiltily sad on his behalf. But, let’s be honest, in some ways, Beijing stinks. Getting my son’s lungs into (somewhat) cleaner air has been another priority. We won’t miss the winters, either. In a few limited senses, it was the worst of times.
Ours will nonetheless remain a tale of two cities. We will pop back frequently, no doubt – for business, in my case (I will be writing about energy in China and East Asia for the Economist Intelligence Unit) and for pleasure. Apart from friends and my wife’s family, I have a good idea about what we will miss most about Beijing: proper Sichuanese cooking (whatever the objections of Sichuanese residents, Beijing beats Hong Kong in the mala department); chuan’r and Yanjing from the bottle; the phlegmatic-sardonic hutong sense of humor; and the lazy, eryin-riddled burr of Beijinghua. The hutongs and the parks where we have walked and played, with and without our boy, will be good for a trip down memory lane when we breeze through. I’m sure that absence will make the heart grow fonder. But at the moment, I admit that my mind is on our new life down south.
When I wrote my first column four years ago, we were still expecting Daniel. The intervening years have been a full, exhausting and exhilarating time. My son, and baba-hood itself, have been all they are cracked up to be, and more. Ah, what little my former self suspected of the small joys and sleepless nights; thank you for putting up with my eulogies and rants in these pages.
Neatly, as I write my last column, we have recently learnt that Su Jing, my wife, is expecting again. The child will be born in Hong Kong in the late summer. Battle-hardened baba that I now am, this time round I have a much better idea what is ahead of us. Yet, especially since I saw the first ultrasound pictures just today, my excitement is mounting. Being a Hong Kong baba of two will be a fresh experience in a new place – with an expanded job description.
For a rest from raising his son, Martin researches clean technology for China Confidential, a Financial Times publication, and works as a pen-for-hire. During his seven years in Beijing, he has also been a warm-weather kung fu practitioner.