‘I’ve gone very far, far away but my character keeps me close to home’ – Fran Drescher.
It was recently a close family friend’s wedding. I was unable to make the occasion due to being halfway across the world and having limited holidays. However thanks to the wonders of technology I was able to FaceTime the groom before the ceremony and watch the vows and signing of the register. Whilst I am grateful I was still able to see a glimpse of their special day, I felt a real ache for being absent. I have missed occasions before due to travelling/living abroad and though I know it is a sacrifice I have to make, it does not mean I don’t struggle with it. I know I am very fortunate and I would not change my situation for the world. But there are times when home and all the people I love seem very far away and this wedding was one of those moments.This feeling is further heightened by my recent itchy feet. I have been living in Beijing over 8 months now – the longest I have spent in one place – and not been home in nearly 5 months, the longest I have spent away. I feel like China is slowly running its course with me. I still love it and have so many exciting plans here over the next 6 months but when we do leave, I will be ready.
Recently expats have found Beijing to be more of a challenge. A couple of months ago the Chinese government had an important foreign meeting. When these take place it is common for sudden changes and enforcements to be instilled. Last time mobikes – a fully, station-less bicycle-sharing system- issued a free month and the factories were shut, giving us 2 glorious, unpolluted weeks. This time bigger steps are being taken. The government are now clamping down on illegal expats, drugs, mobikes (they clutter the streets now) and illegal driving license holders. Drivers are being stopped on the roads so their documentation can be checked. Last weekend 150 mobikes were removed. Police are knocking on doors of foreigner’s apartments to check they have the correct visa’s and are raiding clubs and restaurants. This was first to check passports but now they are forcing everyone to take a urine test to check for drugs. Whilst this happening in clubs is more understandable, the police have actually targeted family restaurants more frequently, even making children provide a urine sample. Bars, clubs and shops are being shutdown every week. Events are even being cancelled because ‘they are too much fun for Beijing’ in its current status. The city is tense and you can feel it. The hope is that this crackdown will ease off once the mid-May meeting takes place. This is not a guarantee however. Last week we experienced a sandstorm across China and Beijing became engulfed. The pollution was off the index, hitting an AQI of nearly 1000 and the wind was terrible, bowling over people, bikes and electric scooters. Living here these past 7 days has been more exhausting and more challenging than usual. I never doubt my decision to live abroad but recently home has never been more desirable.