It’s been almost two months but I never feel quite rooted in Beijing – like I’m only half there. (Err here).
Maybe because every past visit was a half-return, knowing that I will always be back in a few years for more family reunions in smoky restaurant dining rooms. And this visit, I saw it as a stopover between my college graduation in Chicago and my adventure year in Cairo. In my mind, Beijing was not an anticipated destination with a culture shock to boggle my mind, but the faded city of my birth. Beijing is a transfer stop. I had left it for good 18 years ago.
Recently, I’ve realized that this is a terrible, if not detrimental, perspective and attitude. It’s never a good idea to be only half-present in a place, environment, community, what-have-you. It leaves a lot of room to detach from reality and float into depressing introspection. So we’re just going to skip over that chapter of my summer.
These days my brain’s been simmering on the chasm of differences between living in a Western country versus an Eastern country. Pre-arrival Wendy was like: I lived alone for seven months in France, no problem. Not an ounce of homesickness, not even during the Fourth or Thanksgiving. I’m set for a life in international diplomacy! I can fly anywhere like a free bird!
Ha. Ha. How ridiculously naive it was of me to assume that that meant I was invincible and beyond ties. If France is the sleek tabby cat that brushes up against your leg as you sit out on a terrace cafe, Beijing is the running of the bulls, a wild gazelle stampede. Which is to say, all the briskness, alertness, avoiding, sweating, and people are beginning to wear down my body and mind. I really have to fight for myself here – a spot on the subway, my way up the stairs, the right to cross the street. At least this is good for my character which has always erred towards the side of passive. As much as the smog of a million cars and roars of a million screeches silence everything, the monstrous din also pushes me to strengthen my voice and shout louder for myself. If I don’t, I really am only half here.
In the midst of transience, I have fondly discovered three places in Beijing where I do feel grounded, solidly planted into the cement.
1.) The Bookworm
2.) Xiwai Cultural Leisure Plaza Footbridge
3.) Yonghegong Lama Temple
Just writing this post makes me feel better. It’s a relief. The mind is a muscle one can exercise and mold. No matter where you go, there are tangible steps you can take to mitigate homesickness. It could be grabbing your subway card and hightailing it to one of your grounded places. It could also be listening to that one album while walking, or sketching a landscape that strikes you, or drinking crazy amounts of bubble tea (like dangerously unhealthy amounts of bubble tea). Conceptualize those steps – whatever they may be for you – as a fertilizer that nurtures deeper, more penetrating roots.