I’m a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a teacher of primary school children. My husband and I have been married for thirty-nine years. We have six children and ten grandchildren and they all live in America. We moved to the Haidian district of Beijing in 2011. Living in China is like a dream come true. One of my favorite things about living here is getting to know aspects of China that I’ve read about all my life.
There are times when I feel like I’m missing out because I’m so far away from my children and grandchildren but because of Skype we can still have contact with the kids; it just takes more planning. My husband reads bedtime stories to some of our grandkids almost every morning. On the days that he has to be at work early, I do it. When I go back to America on vacation I try extra hard to connect with them one on one.
Here in Beijing, I struggle with the pollution and the food. I avoid consuming some things because I just don’t trust a lot of the food here. I order organic vegetables and meat but that’s expensive. I still haven’t got into a good cooking routine. I can’t get ingredients for the meals I’m used to and I don’t know how to make the Chinese dishes. As a result, we eat pretty simply. It’s a trade off though; I would rather have all the things I love about living here than have fancy meals.
Living in Beijing has taught me that it doesn’t do any good to complain about the things you don’t like. It has also given me a better understanding of others. I try to be less judgemental of those who appear to be different from me. I listen to people more and give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ve also learned that If you want to learn a language you just have to get out there and open your mouth and not worry about being laughed at.
There are actually advantages to coming to China when you’re older. China is a culture that reveres age and you have a lot more respect for being old. I believe you’re never to old to learn things. Sometimes old people think, “I can’t do this, I’m too old”. But I’m in my sixties and I can learn Chinese and it’s fun. It’s one of the funnest things I’ve ever done. I’ve always wanted to learn a foreign language. You have to be young at heart. You can’t die before you’re dead.
When we first moved to China, one of the things that helped me most was going to English corners. I would encourage new expats to not just sit at home, go out and meet the locals. My husband and I really believe that when we’re in China we should be getting to know Chinese people and interacting with them. One of my most memorable experiences was visiting the hometown of my teaching assistant. I met her parents and stayed in her home for a couple of days. I got to see how the villagers in China live.
My husband says he would like to stay in China for a few more years because his job here is just too good. He really loves it. But really, we just take it one year at a time. I feel like when it’s His time for us to go, there will be indications of that. In China you learn to live one day at a time and not have all these expectations for the future.
The advice I’d give to somebody who might be struggling with life in China is as follows: find a place you can make a difference and go and see what you can do. For example, I’ve been visiting a cerebral palsy orphanage for seven years now, building relationships and trying to see what I could do to better their lives. That orphanage has become one of the most blessed places on earth to me. Although they’re so poor, there’s so much love, joy and gratefulness there!
It’s also important to have patience with the process of becoming acclimated; be patient with yourself. Do everything you can to get out of yourself, to get out of your own little world and into other people’s world. I believe gratitude is essential in life—it helps to look for what we have instead of focusing on the one or two things we don’t have.
Photo: Pamela Djima