Two and a half years after I first arrived in Beijing, I set off with the sun, heading far from the city that has become home. Its vastness stretches out farther than I can see, a dirty window I can hardly see out of fails to diminish the lights that can make your heart skip the slightest beat: The big city. The big smog. The Jing. Whatever you want to call it; the biggest and best cities go by many names.
How strange and how foreign, I first thought when I entered the capital with its strangely shaped skyscrapers and pushy people. That sense that you could be anyone you wanted. You wanted to know everyone but no one knew you; the perfect equation for the empowered anonymity that a city brings. You could change your name and no one would ask twice. Years later some people I see all the time still don’t know my first name. Introduce yourself by a nickname and no one has reason to ask more.
I fell in love with Beijing’s chaos immediately. Its noise was overwhelming, its impatience exciting, its stubbornness rousing, and demanding of a reaction. Beijing makes you angrier than you knew you could be, louder than you thought you knew how. It had a way of knocking you off your feet and just when you were ready to surrender, one of its quirks would cajole you enough to suggest that surely, Beijing was just teasing, and of course you should stay. You feel a bit silly for getting all upset – you were meant to be here.
Quite soon you’re adding as many Beijingren bragging rights as you can, boasting of how you don’t care if the toilet has doors or not, and just look how unfazed you are by the mess and mayhem that constantly surrounds you. You’re part of the city now. It has changed you, it has consumed you, and you are part of the chaos that makes it so wonderful.
It’s only when you leave that you realise Beijing, still shining away from your increasing distance, will continue to exist, to breathe, to charm and to infuriate just fine without you.
All you can really hope for is that of all the stories the changing streets and its people remember, retell, and have already started to forget – perhaps one of them might be yours.
Basically, absolutely nothing has gone according to plan.
So it’s been a while since I’ve even been to my blog, and so much has happened in these past 3 months. It’s now been almost 6 months in China now. In that time, I’ve started a new job, left it, started another new job, been through a breakup, started a new relationship, lived away from family for the first time, left my apartment, found a new one, and the list goes on.
It’s been like Real Life 101, and much of that has been on my own (though more recently I’ve had help. And support. And a lot of it, too.). It hasn’t been easy, but it has been one hell of a ride.
Nothing has gone according to plan. But everything is going, and in quite a wonderful way. I’ve parted ways with the company I originally moved to China for, which was a big blow to me. It took an incredible amount of thought and decisions and I desperately wanted this to work; it didn’t. We wanted different things. And that’s pretty much all there is to it.
What I’m glad for though, besides the great friends I made in the past six months, is that we tried. I’ll never, ever have to look back and wonder, what if? And because of that, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Fortunately, I quite quickly found a new job, and it’s one that I’m immensely excited about. I recently started work with a leading lifestyle and entertainment English magazine and website in Beijing. As the Web Editor, I get to both live out my mad love for digital while going back to my roots of writing stories.
I’ve moved out of my first apartment and deep into one the the famous Beijing hutongs. It’s full of old people and their grandkids, street food, tiny shops, and nooks and crannies. Needless to say, I kind of love it just a little bit.
I don’t know what’s ahead, but I do know for certain that I can take
an arrow to the knee a good few hits, and still keep swimming. I’m excited about the uncertainty. I’m making new friends. I have someone. And the future is looking bright.
The dark days are over, and she’s coming up.
TLDR: New job, new house, new fella, new what-the-hell-is-going-on moments.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. The excitement of being in a big new city eventually wears off, and real life kicks in; sometimes it kicks you right in the head.
The bigger the city is, the lonelier it gets. Friendships made are often fleeting or intermittent, and you don’t really want to pour your heart out to people you haven’t known for very long. You want to be the fun party girl who people want around, not the girl who’s doing her best to keep it together. And what do you do when you can’t be that girl?
[Edited to remove whiney paragraph about breakup blahblah sadness blahblah no friends in China yet and so on]
The city gets lonelier the bigger it gets.
I want to stay in Beijing because we could be best friends if we gave each other a chance, and I haven’t given up on her bright lights yet. I want my job to work because I’m really only just getting started and I had/have such great plans for this. I want to be able to trust new friends enough to let them in. And I desperately want to be happy again.
For now I’m keeping my chin up.
Because somewhere in there, there’s still sunshine in her eyes.
What you don’t have now will come back again
You’ve got heart and you go in your own way
It’s been 1 month since I moved to Beijing, and this strange splash of a city has settled quite comfortably into that friend whom you
think you know and love, but can never quite count on.
It doesn’t always pour when it rains, and dramatic thunder, lightning and howling winds are more often than not a few seconds of rain – unless that’s what you expect.
You learn to accept that in restaurants, you’re always served boiling hot water, and then you learn to love it. #HotWaterFTW
There are people who are viciously rude and pushy, and there are people who spend longer than most of us would trying to help, with directions, with company, with their hospitality.
It’s a strange feeling being somewhere where no one knows you, when you come from a place where you meet people you know around every corner. The biggest cities can be the loneliest, and you’re constantly reminded of the importance of who you surround yourself with (and who not to surround yourself with).
You start to envy the people who have it in them to hack out a load of phlegm because, with the air pollution here, sometimes you really wish you could.
It’s a city that’s as potentially easy as it is destructive, as I imagine most big cities are. And thus you master the art of holding on to yourself in this moshpit of madness while not missing out on the fun.
It’s one of those things where the more you know, the more you realise how little you know. Learning a couple of new words in Chinese makes me painfully aware of how far I am from basic competency in the language. And even with some conversational skills, I can’t read a word. Not one. Well, except for 1, 2, 3, but that doesn’t count. I’m constantly impressed by the many expats here who speak, read and write Mandarin.
After a few clearer days, the pollution is back in the Very Unhealthy range. Somehow it always seeps into the flat. Dust settles so quickly in this city; sweeping is an everyday affair. Thinking about children and the elderly is especially sad. How much I whined about the haze in Singapore is now a bit embarrassing to think about; the worst of it would be a relatively clear day here. #perspective
One thing that the pollution has taught me is why spitting, nose-picking and other such unfavourable habits are so common here. I mean, your nose is always full of stuff. The dust that lines the floor is likely making itself comfortable in your throat. Obviously these things are still frowned upon in Singapore and many other cities, but I sort of understand it now. People have to breathe and all that. So when someone hacks up a nice load of phlegm, it doesn’t bother me much anymore. Just go
away from with it.
So far I’ve managed to successfully order vegetarian meals most times, and tried to haggle with a tout for football tickets at the famed Worker’s Stadium. It ended abruptly when I said Wǔshí kwai (50 yuan, SGD5) and was met with Wǔbǎi kwai (500 yuan, SGD50) and much scorn. At least I made everyone laugh. Just go with it.
And, sex shops. Sex shops everywhere.
Meanwhile on the streets, in the music, and in the people, bits of rebellion are just around the corner, springing up like stubborn weeds in the Big Smoke that is Beijing.
It’s been a week in China and it feels like something I’ve known for a lot longer than this. There’s a certain freedom and pleasure that comes with knowing your way around, whether it’s giving taxi drivers directions or walking to the subway station. And I walk to the subway station a lot.
It’s almost expected of you to speak Mandarin though, and if I’d only listened to the Singapore government when they declared, Hua Yu COOL! (Speaking Mandarin, Cool!) things would be much easier. But, we learn. No Hokkien here either, so the little I know isn’t of any use. #BoPian
The stark differences between this city and everything I know are everywhere. I didn’t think I’d ever be this excited about grocery shopping, but there I was, in a very expaty and overpriced supermarket,
internally shrieking in the pasta aisle. It gets better: olive oil. And next thing you know, you’re that expat shopping at April’s Gourmet, the Beijing equivalent of Singapore’s Marketplace, instead of Giant or Sheng Siong.
Sometimes when you go to a public toilet, there are no doors. Sometimes when you think something is 20 minutes away, it’s really an hour. And sometimes when you order vegetarian, it comes with pork.
As much as these things can be frustrating and upsetting and just really annoying, there’s something to be said for a city that doesn’t bend itself backwards for foreigners. Beijing constantly reminds you, you’re welcome to stay, but this is how we do it here. I think that’s what I both love and hate about China so far, infantile as my experience thus far might be.
Something that feels familiar is the very cool punk scene here. It’s as exclusive as it is inclusive, which is perhaps the way it is everywhere else. This documentary talks about how youth in Beijing quite suddenly had access to all sorts of music at once, which has created its familiar but original mess of sound that I’m starting to love.
What’s also pretty punk is Beijing’s roller derby team, who I skated and brunched with over the weekend. Derby is the best thing because you immediately have friends, a sport, and a support network in any city that has a league. There isn’t a league in Xi’an (where I’m soon moving to) yet, but there’s a possibility of starting one up, which is also very exciting.
The pollution isn’t the worst, but it gets to you. I notice it most when the sun sets, and it’s just a blurry glow in the sky instead of the fiery ball that I’m used to. When you stand on bridges, the distance shows how murky the air is.
In any case, all one really needs in life is to keep calm and cook pasta.
Day 3 in Beijing and I’m starting to love this city already. I haven’t seen that much of it, but so far it seems like a
toolegittoquit big, authentic city that isn’t too unkind.
I suppose having never been here, and with Singapore’s
hostility apprehension to PRCs, I was expecting dogs being barbecued on street corners and people being rude and mean. The little I’ve seen so far has been quite the opposite, with lots of people fussing over their pet doggies (friends not food) and locals being curiously polite about this foreigner. Yesterday I asked a girl for directions and she said, “I speak English only little. Speak slowly, please?” and eventually was able to help me out. Naturally, I fell in love with the girl at once.
My favourite thing so far is the subway. It’s massive, and fast, costs 2 yuan (SGD 0.4) per trip and is incredibly easy to use, even if you’re fresh off the boat from Singapore hopping into a train from the airport having never been to China before and holding on to everything you own.
The air is full of things (I’ve been told it’s pollen) and the smog isn’t great, but not as overwhelming as I thought it would be. Our apartment is 6 floors up with no elevator, so everyone’s heart and lungs are kept quite busy. .
It seemed like forever I was without Facebook, but VPN
intermittently saves the day. I’m writing this at a nice cafe a short walk away from our apartment, and it doesn’t feel so far from home in more ways than one.
I wandered over to Tiananmen Square yesterday, and I love the fact that one can do things like wander over to Tiananmen Square. Touristy as it all was, the stories and history still overwhelm.