There are expats in Beijing, and there are expats in Beijing. The Shunyi breed of expat is a completely different animal to the expat who works, lives and breathes in the middle of the city. If it were all up to me, our move to Beijing would have turned out something like this:
We would live in a high-rise apartment block in the middle of the city, where locking up the house for a quick trip out or an all-summer-long escape from Beijing would mean turning one key in one door. We would have enough balcony space for our dog, who was making the move with us from Switzerland. Our children would have gone to a small international school. And we would be living fairly close to my husband’s office.
I would only need to find an ayi to come two hours a day at most, because we would be in a flat small enough for me to handle. If the company driver would not be able to take me to do my errands, no bother, I would walk or pop into the nearest subway station. I would spend all my free time out in the city, soaking in what Beijing had to offer. My nearly seven years of living away from home was seamless in this way. No helper, no driver – no problemo.
But then we were hit with the ruling on large dogs. which limited our real estate search to beyond Fifth Ring Road. It crossed my mind to not take the dog along, but the rest of the family wouldn’t hear of it. So, all of my Internet searches shifted to Shunyi. All the while, I was mourning the loss of the opportunity to live where it was gritty, vibrant, and real.
However, Shunyi has its blessings; I don’t mean to look a gift horse in the mouth. But let’s face it; in many ways, this enclave isn’t really Beijing. That’s why I like to go to less laowai-explored places, eat with the locals, and chat them up despite my bungling attempts at speaking their language.
There are a lot of good things about living in Shunyi. It is a great place for families, the school facilities are mind-blowing, we’re spoiled by the amount of space, and there are plenty of people who are willing to help you figure out your unnecessarily complicated villa.
When a video entitled Beijing State of Mind, at once a parody of and tribute to Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” started making the rounds, I received the link from several friends who thought I would like it.
I loved the tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Beijing. It reminded me of what I don’t have, so watching it made me a little bit wistful. But it also reminded me that I am quite lucky to have the best of both worlds right here in Shunyi; I can pop into the city whenever I want to feel the vibe and soak up the culture, then get back on the highway and return to my comfortable reality. Everything is good; it’s all a state of mind.
Photo by Dana Cosio-Mercado
Dana is the beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent. Originally from the Philippines, she moved to Beijing in 2011 (via Europe) with her husband, two sons and Rusty the dog. She enjoys writing, photography, theater, visual arts, and trying new food. In her free time, she can be found exploring the city and driving along the mountain roads of Huairou, Miyun and Pinggu.
Collage made from a mashup of photos by Flickr user kalmyket and Wikimedia Commons