I knew before we ever arrived in Beijing, when we would be leaving.
It’s the nature of our job; we know the end even before the beginning. Some might think this is a little unnerving, but I like to think of it as a super power – or at least a sixth sense. Knowing how long we are going to live somewhere has taught me how to embrace my time in a particular place. I’ve learned to pace myself and not to squander opportunities.
For example, long before the notion of living in China had even been on my radar, much less a possibility, I saw a picture of the ice festival in Harbin in a magazine. I was mesmerized and immediately added visiting Harbin to my bucket list (I had a bucket list long before they were cool). Sure, it seemed like a far-fetched, unattainable goal at the time, but I was young and prone to dreaming the impossible, and I casually placed it near the top of my ‘things I need to see before I die’ column.
Fast-forward some twenty years.
As soon as I knew we were moving to China, I resurrected that long-dormant entry and began planning our visit. The more I learned about Harbin the more convinced I was that we needed to make the trip, but that we also needed to be prepared. Harbin is really cold. Freeze the nose hairs inside your nose when you breathe in cold. And, not super baby friendly, at least not to babies with thin blood, used to going outside with just a coat and gloves on to keep them warm during the mild, Mid-Atlantic winters.
Our youngest was just one year old when we arrived in Beijing, but I knew we had three and a half more years until the end of our tour, so I circled the calendar for January 2016, when she would be four years old and potty-trained. Also easier to convince that being outside in forty-below temperatures was fun because the ice was lit pink and blue and purple. I spent the intervening time planning other adventures until it was time to pull the trigger on a weekend amongst the tigers and ice. It was a wonderful weekend and a trip I highly recommend.
Since we knew how long we had, we were able to really embrace life in Beijing.
We could plan around fixed dates, a wonderful and surprising luxury to some. We never worried about an abrupt departure or skipping things altogether because we think there will always be more time. We made friends with our local fruit and vegetable sellers who long ago stopped thinking of us as those crazy foreigners with three children but started greeting us with smiles and the hard-earned péngyou.
We enrolled the kids in weekend sports programs, without the worry that all our free time for playing tourist would be eaten up by long afternoons sitting on the sidelines of various pitches and fields. We learned the language, some of us anyway, and tried the cuisine, even learned to love the cuisine. We each have our favorite duck or hot pot spot. We walked our neighborhood and other neighborhoods, just taking in the sights and smells, unhurried and pausing to capture on film moments we’ll want to remember forever.
We’ve been to our favorites sites often and been able to share them with friends and family who came to visit. We made real, lasting friendships that will continue long after our time in Beijing comes to an end. And, we’ve been able to work around the unpredictability of the pollution, secure in the knowledge that there would be another day to visit the Summer Palace when the AQI wasn’t above 400!
We tried really hard to live our regular lives whilst in Beijing, while still acknowledging that we live in China.
We tried not to ignore the benefits of living in this amazing city while still maintaining our own version of stability and normalcy. We’ve done a good job, I think. We asked the children to each come up with three things they want to do before we leave Beijing. We have 10 weeks to cross all their wants off our list. I’m confident we’ll get through everything they selected, and we might even have time to fit in one last visit to the Great Wall. We’ve been a million times, but it’s definitely worth another look.
You can find more of Linsey’s writing on her blog, Rambles and Ruminations.
Photo: Courtesy of Linsey Crisler