We returned from Christmas holidays exactly one year after we first landed in Beijing. And while I have lots more to write about our trip in Indochina, I have decided to save that for another day and instead reflect back on a year in China!
Hunter tells me he got on the plane from Vancouver as if in a dream. He simply could not believe we were actually moving to Beijing. He kept expecting us to tell him it was all a joke. He had never been sad or nervous about going because he did not believe it would happen.
Jack, on the other hand, was very unhappy. He had John and I sign a contract (initialed in several places) promising he could move back to Canada after 3 months. He would also be allowed to visit whenever he wanted with 2 weeks notice. As far as he was concerned we were ruining his life and nothing good could come of this whole idea. He was extremely content with his life in Canada. It was perfect. He would come to China, he would accept our bribes, but he wasn’t going to like it.
I was thrilled to be off on another adventure. I have always loved moving and exploring new places. For me staying put has always been a greater challenge. My biggest concern was that Chowder would arrive safely, in good health and would be able to avoid quarantine. (He did.)
John just wanted it all to work out, hoping the boys and I would be happy (ish) and that the job would go well. He had picked our house and the kid’s school and was desperately praying we would not be disappointed. (We weren’t.)
To everyone’s amazement and delight, things seem to have worked out. The house, while not perfect, has been great for us. It’s quite big with a huge basement where the boys and their friends spend hours on video games, watching movies, perfecting their Ping-Pong skills and playing floor hockey.
We are a 5-minute walk from school. And while I find compound living bizarre, it is a wonderful and safe location. The kids have incredible independence and most friends live within an easy walk or bike ride. Although officially in the city, more realistically we are in the burbs. I was quite happy to leave behind the suburbs of New Jersey where I was raised and occasionally get frustrated that I have returned (we even have a minivan…). But it was a wonderful way to grow up then and it still is today.
I asked the boys and John to tell what their best thing about Beijing is and the worst. For John the highlight has been spending more time together (we don’t have so many friends to distract us from one another and keep us busy). The downsides have been traveling a ton and basically work 24 hours a day because all the places his business is involved. He often takes calls at 12 am, 3 am and 6 am, ruining both his and my sleep! (And we all know how cranky I get when I haven’t slept well!! My poor family!)
Both boys sited great new friends as the best thing about being here and hunter added he loves all the freedom (there are basically no rules, or at least they are not enforced!). Jack hates the pollution and the extreme temperatures: cold winters and hot humid summers. Hunter gets tired of the crowds and having to bargain for everything. He says you always feel someone is trying to rip you off.
Ironically, I have probably had the most difficulty settling into this new world. I have missed my old friends more than I would have anticipated and have been hesitant too throw myself whole-heartedly into the expat community here… It’s a bit artificial and very transitory. It is hard to meet “real” Chinese people because of the language barrier. That said, I have found a few amazing people, I love trying to learn Chinese, I eat much healthier food and get a lot more exercise than ever before. I love that everything in our house comes from IKEA and is disposable. I could leave any moment with just one suitcase. It is so liberating not to be weighed down with stuff!