(These photos are of my collection of face masks for polluted days)
Farewell, Beijing – the Exit of an Expat
The time had come. I woke up on an only somewhat smoggy day (good by China standards), looked around at my bare walled apartment, unplugged the air purifiers, took multiple videos of our home for my memory and future nostalgia, but mostly, for Greyson’s (my 20 month old) memory so he’ll always know where it all began…
I moved to Beijing, China on a two-year contract five years ago. I hopped on the plane in the beginning of September 2011 to start my contract teaching primary music at an international school. Upon arrival, I went to my fairly large 2-bedroom apartment. I had no introductions to anyone and was told to take the #75 bus to work the next morning. Needless to say, the English prompt on the bus was turned off and I got lost. Lost in a city with no one around me who spoke any English. I found the school… eventually. Was this experience to be the foreshadowing of my life here in China? Still, no fear. Lots of smog, mostly no English except for the other expats, and a place called Sanlitun where Westerners frequented.
Fast forwarding, I started to realize and feel the effects of the Beijing skies. Pollution was terrible and the world was starting to hear about it. The international community at large was now beginning to slightly understand what living “Under the Dome” might be like, look like, smell like. How could I raise Greyson in a place where I can’t open the windows? When the AQI (air quality index) was the only phone app I checked every day. Expats cruised around the city wearing masks. They were an almost daily part of our attire, of our existence here. I was constantly checking the apartment’s air quality with my special in-home air monitor. Debating whether or not I should tape the windows so that the lung infiltrating pieces of PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter) would have a slimmer chance of secretly seeping indoors. A world where there were, at times, 7-12 days where Greyson never saw the other side of the door.
Was it sometimes crazy being in a place where taxis had no seatbelts- how was I to get Greyson around? To my utter horror and disbelief, expat friends suggested I simply put him on my lap. These were normal, first world friends suggesting such insanity. This was not the time or an instance in which to adopt the “when in Rome” philosophy. I was not immersing in this way. No, ma’am. The roads were crazy, tuk-tuk fumes gave me headaches, albeit a far quicker ride than a taxi on most occasions, no one spoke my language, and the fact that day-to-day logic felt absent in this world, as it wasn’t my own. So, yes. Often times, it was crazy and frustrating. Many other expat friends I knew in Beijing felt the same and have since left. Though, there are friends I have that I believe may be Beijing ‘lifers.’ I admire this. I know not of what they are made. I find this to be a very impressive feat, and in a way, I envy them for this.
If it seems as though I did not enjoy Beijing, I truly did – just in other ways. I loved the experience of being in a completely different environment than I had previously known. Everything from epic travel adventures to a greater cultural understanding and appreciation has been gained. Greyson has been raised bilingually and is now, here in the US, in a Chinese immersion daycare and his life will be forever changed. I made so many wonderful friends from all over the world, and came back to the states with an appreciation for my country that I otherwise never would have had. I see and feel everything so differently right now. I am sure this will wane with time, however, I will do my best to remind myself of the basic freedoms I have here – clean potable water, healthy and breathable air, safe roads, law enforcement: efficiency and effectiveness. I now possess an internal sense of calm and happiness being home. I feel so lucky, so grateful, and so at peace. “I never would have found it if it weren’t for you.” Thank you, Beijing. “I think I’ll miss you most of all.”
-Your most grateful expat
Okay, this past Chinese New Year I had the absolute pleasure of going to Amsterdam and spending a night and day in Warsaw, Poland. Amazing! That one word sums it up perfectly. We rented an Airbnb in what appeared to be China Town (I know, I know… we just left Beijing – haha) and a couple blocks from the Red Light district. We were overlooking a canal which was fabulous for the wee man, as he is currently obsessed with ducks & water. He spent 75% of his time at the kitchen window screaming “gaga! wawa!” Easily entertained. Done. Walking around the city was probably my favorite part! The architecture was amazing. We did a canal boat tour (I officially want to live on a house boat, the canals were lined with them), palace tour, Van Gogh Museum (almost positive G recognized two of the paintings from Baby Einstein World of Colors-incredible), I saw (by myself…ahhh) a concert at the Concert Gebouw (the guest pianist played my favorite Chopin Prelude as his encore, yes, I almost cried), and ate, ate, ate, and ate copious amounts cheese, bread, croissants, and stroopwafels. I also started every morning with a million gazillion cappuccinos, which were accompanied by both croissants & stroopwafels (two thin waffles that sandwich the perfect amount of caramel with a slight cinnamon flavor – holy yum! I brought back about 5 bags). Thomas’ (hubby) mom partook with me. I fully overloaded on beemster & a variety of other gouda cheeses. Naturally, they were washed down with the assistance of some incredible beers and vino. I need to stop now before I find myself booking the next flight out. The drooling is just beginning… Anyway, if you ever, ever, ever get the chance to go, do it! Perhaps my pictures will entice you…
Amsterdam (canals, apple pies, tulips…oh my!)/Windmills (45 minute bus ride from the city)/Warsaw (Old City)
Guilin, China was such an amazing decision for our Mid-Autumn Festival holiday this past September. The weather was warm, it was easy with our little man who was just 10 1/2 months, and there was loads to both do and see. We decided before we left to hire a private tour guide for two days (was fairly inexpensive). This was necessary for us because we needed a good driver with an excellent reputation with foreigners, as there was no way in hell I was putting lil’ G in a car otherwise. If you’ve been pretty much anywhere in China you will understand this. Let’s just say I can’t even take him in a taxi in Beijing because 98% of them don’t have seat belts and I can’t put his baby seat in. Crazy! I digress, this trip was awesome! We went on a beautiful night river cruise, a long day Li River cruise to Yangshuo (big boat), toured the walking street and the area around our hotel (Lijiang Waterfall Hotel-great) daily, went to these amazing caves, and so much more. As a vegetarian, there was an incredible restaurant that surprisingly was part of a hostel, it took me 3 visits to figure this out! Haha. If you’re looking for an area of China that is not a huge & major city this should definitely be on your list! Leave me a comment if you want to know more about what to do, where to stay, or where the pictures are from. Please enjoy!
Happy New Year To All!
This Christmas my hubby, wee man, and myself went to Nha Trang, Vietnam. Pre-baby we had travelled to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), Vietnam and absolutely loved it. However, this time around, we were looking for a sweet beach holiday. I’d say we definitely found it here! Beautiful beach, friendly people, cheap-as-chips food and beer, and the most AMAZING coffee ever. I came back with loads of caffeine for friends but yes, mostly, for myself. It was rich, strong, and flavorful…the coffee and the holiday! Haha. We hung out at the pool, the beach, and walked everywhere. I loved going to the colorful markets and taking pictures of my surroundings, food, and my two delicious dudes. Everyday, we strolled on the walkway that followed the shoreline, soaking up the sun, shading ourselves under the palms when we got too hot, and breathing in the clean air (remember, I live in Beijing, the city of smog and Red Alerts – ready to leave for sure), often with no purpose. We simply would stop on the beach to let the wee man continue to get comfortable with his feet in the sand (he decided he could cope with walking on it as long as he had his shoes on). It was relaxing and amazing. Enjoy the pics!
As a veg, there aren’t crazy amounts of options, but I did chow down on some local favorites. Spring rolls and bahn mi! Bahn mi’s are sandwiches that are sold for about .50 in carts on almost every side street. You can opt for vegetarian ones with mock meat. There were quite a few mock meat restaurants in the vicinity as well. It just took some research and running around to find (some were closed etc) but alas, my hubby did me proud and found me my faux meat. Here’s a pic of the spring rolls (also a rickshaw pic), my bahn mi, coffee, and the banh mi food cart: