A little fish leaves a big pond on a jet plane
Updated: 2013-07-02 10:21
By Jules Quartly (China Daily)
The chorus to a John Denver song I was never that keen on keeps looping around my head: "'Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane/ Don't know when I'll be back again/ Oh babe, I hate to go/ All my bags are packed and I'm ready to go."
It's been six years in Beijing, and my local friends and colleagues generally respond as if I've cashed out and I'm going to a better place - namely, heavenly Hong Kong. "You lucky thing," they say, their voices invariably rising as they say it. Some haven't yet visited the special administrative region, but they seem to believe that it is a better place than where we are right now.
They list the capital's negatives: pollution, traffic, weather, house prices and possibly healthcare and education. Perhaps they suspect these are the reasons I am leaving, since I haven't been fired or even fallen out of fascination with the city.
I would say the capital isn't an easy person to fall in love with. For one, she's so huge and overwhelming, and changes so fast. She doesn't always look great (though I do love her summer dress) and she blows hot and cold. She's difficult to understand, probably because she's so ancient, and, of course, she loves talking politics.
Even so, she was definitely worth the courting. I admit the first year was tough and that we would only start to understand each other when I realized she would always be right. We had such great times. She fed me and schooled me. She cured my arrogance (I finally understood this to be true of the English), made me more centered and hopefully a better man and father.
As for my kids, they have been in Beijing since they were born and have bloomed. They have been given love, opportunities and a great education. To ameliorate the loss of their friends, school and former lives, I have told them we are moving to Hong Kong Disneyland. This means they are not so much sad about leavin' the capital, as happy to be heading on a jet plane to a congested theme park. A not dissimilar situation to myself.
My local colleagues remind me also of Hong Kong's negatives. I will, no doubt, miss friendly and humorous Beijingers and my spacious apartment, when I say yes to smaller and far more expensive lodgings in the SAR. Maybe I didn't get out of the city as much as I could have sometimes, up into the hills and beyond. But I will miss the fact that I could. "And here," my colleagues point to the floor, "is where it's at".
I don't deny it. There's also roast duck, old noodles, 798, Sanlitun, Guo'an, getting kicked out of Tianan'men by good-natured officers after the flag has been lowered, people from outside Beijing looking at you as though you are a government official when you say you're from the capital, barbecues on the sidewalks, snow on the Summer Palace, festivals, fireworks at New Year, my bike, new malls every day, gray areas everywhere and a surprise around every corner, almost every time.
My local friends and colleagues look on my six-year relationship with the metropolis as hardly enough time to fully appreciate her charms - meaning 12 years minimum to even claim I know her intimately. If I stayed 35 years, it would bring me credibility but not the keys to the city. For these I would have to live here for several generations, and only then earn the title "lao (old) Beijinger".
For me, six years is enough. My eldest kid has been diagnosed as "allergic to the air". I'm being evicted from my apartment (in the nicest possible way). The call came, and my time is up. I feel satisfied but not too full, and I don't have to eat everything on the plate. I've never lived anywhere longer than seven years and get itchy feet quicker than you can say "wanderlust".
Of all the cities I have visited or lived in, for me Beijing is most like New York, or more accurately vice versa. Hence, it feels like I'm like a small fish leaving a big pond and the Sinatra line, "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere" is dancing around my head to the tune of Leavin' on a Jet Plane. It's a confusing ending, but that's how it is.
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