Here in Beijing amazing people are constantly leaving. It’s heartbreaking for those of us left behind. It stands to reason that great families are arriving too – the trouble is we don’t know them yet. The moment I met Katherine at an Embassy House fair, I knew we were supposed to be friends. Exuding style and personality with her short red hair, high-waisted skirt, and little son Hanz propped up on one hip. I was six or seven months pregnant at the time and it was refreshing and inspiring to see such a cool lady rocking motherhood so well. We exchanged digits and became friends, and now, inevitably, she is leaving Beijing (for Bavaria). I asked Katherine to share some of her experience of four and a half years living here with beijingkids. Goodbye Katherine!
I’m an American, and I met my Swiss-German husband here five years ago. I had come for six weeks to work. The weekend before I flew home I went exploring with Beijing Hikers and met a handsome young man: then I had to come back.
Since moving here I’ve gotten married, had a son at BJU, and learned how to be a mother. I have made amazing friends. While I’m excited about our move and having the next piece of my life’s adventure unfold, I’m going to miss China desperately. It drives me crazy, exhausts me, and at the same time I feel more at home here than I have anywhere else in a long time. We expats are all outsiders and the fact that most of us don’t even look like the local population means there’s very little pressure to ‘fit in.’ Through the ever present advice of little old Chinese grandmas, quick to point out when I was screwing things up with my son; for example, in July, “He doesn’t have thick enough pants on!” I recognized that we all do things differently, and despite criticism from well meaning people, I can live my own life.
There is so much in Beijing and China to enrich your life: things to learn, places to see, history to discover, projects to take on, people to meet. If you’re bored and lonely you’re not doing it right. However the pace of life can also be exhausting: figure out a balance between adventure and routine.
Meet the locals, make Chinese friends, and try to understand the local culture: it will be an invaluable aspect of your time here in China. But don’t snub making friends with people who are struggling with the same problems you are, and have probably solved some of them already. Get out there and bump into the truly interesting and inspiring individuals who like you have been drawn to this city, for all sorts of different reasons.
You need your comforts to make Beijing livable, don’t neglect the basics you need to make life work. In the beginning that meant a suitcase full of powdered ranch dressing and taco sauce, but as I figured out Taobao and localized my needs, that suitcase got lighter and lighter until there wasn’t really much I needed to bring back after Christmas. I invested in a blender and started making my own peanut butter. I don’t like Jiffy, and I only eat the ‘natural’ stuff which at your local expat supermarket, if it’s available, is probably pushing USD 10 . Once I admitted how important a decent PB and J is to my morning routine, and combined a blender and a RMB 10 bag of roasted peanuts my life overseas became, overnight, much more reasonable.
Don’t book your departure flights in the middle of the summer. You’ll be leaving by yourself with all your friends already having left before you on their summer holidays. If you can swing it, leave in the middle of March. Everyone will be back from Christmas/Chinese New Year holidays, and few of your friends will have booked a holiday right after New Year’s.
When you get Beijing fatigue go home for a couple weeks, go to Seoul, go to the grasslands. Find a way to decompress again.
My time in Beijing was rich: full of experiences and great people, but at the same time I only scratched the surface. I am leaving friendships I’ve only just started, for instance with Theresa. It makes it hard to leave and say goodbye, because I have a nagging sense of leaving so much left undone: I’m missing out on what’s coming next.
But, as you are sure to find out, this will always be the case with Beijing.
Theresa Pauline is a yoga teacher, social entrepreneur, momma, wife, and beijingkids contributor. You can find out more about her at www.taozitreeyoga.com