Monday, August 25, 2008

A Love Letter

I've missed the Olympics.  All of it.  

Despite all my best intentions, my TV, when turned on, was never turned to the right stations.  In fact, my only experience with the Olympics has been via FC's video blog casts - some of which were picked up by the BBC.  Check them out here.

Watching FC's video blogs has filled me with longing for Beijing.

But the drama and spectacle of Beijing during the Olympics doesn't satisfy that longing; that clean, prettified Beijing with usable toilets and freely available toilet paper isn't MY Beijing. 

My Beijing is dirty and crowded and inconvenient and the heart of it is only accessible to those who know it well.  

As I write this post from my kitchen table, a glance outside my window shows me that the morning sky is overcast.  It's the kind of overcast where you can see shades of blue here and there, which makes me think that perhaps the sun will burn through the cloud cover in a few hours.  But right now, that sky reminds me of Beijing.  

My first week I was there, I remember ducking into a western type cafe - something along the lines of an upscale TGIFs, right across the way from The China World Hotel in the Chaoyang District.  I ordered a drink (with great difficulty) and then took out my journal.  I remember writing that homesickness for my life in DC was ever present, and that when I was still, I could feel it fluttering with increasing strength around me, looking for an opening.  So the solution was to stay in motion.

The first time I met SL (she was a friend of a friend and was first introduced to me over email), I was in a taxi and had arranged to pick her up in Sanlitun.  Despite the bitter cold, she was wearing open-toed sandals because she had just gotten a pedicure.  

KF, even though I had met her only once or twice before, gave me a birthday present, with a note that made me cry and feel that Beijing could become home.

GC and I met at a happy hour and it turned out that we had mutual friends there, but she and I connected before that was made known to us.  She caught my eye with the way she threw back her hair and commanded the attention of every heterosexual male in the place as she made her way through the bar.  

EH and I bonded over long talks over lunch and wine about our personal lives, about work, about feeling somehow misplaced as expat spouses.  And of course, over drunken kickboxing exhibitions at parties at her place.

I met FC while on horseback in the grasslands.  Our bumpy conversation went like this:
"You like horses? So do I!"
"You like to sing? So do I!"
"You do yoga? So do I!"
I had been worried that I'd make friends with people just because they could speak English.   Now I laugh that I spent any time at all worrying about that.

Movement characterized my time in Beijing.  At first, to run from loneliness, and by the end, because I knew my time there was drawing to a close.  And while by objective measures my memories of Beijing should be dark, they aren't.  I cried the morning I left, driven to the airport by KF's driver, who parked his car and helped me with my bags and stayed with me until he couldn't go any farther.  I tried to tip him, but he refused to take it, instead just patting me on the arm and saying, "Zai jian."

I don't need to see Beijing dressed in all her finery and freshened up with a sparkling new makeover.  I loved her before.  Because with her, I got to do what I love best - move


fruityfran said...

Come back to Beijing!! Even with its so-called facelift, behind the facade, it's still the same. Things won't change that fast... But having more toilets (in place of the squat thingies) WITH TOILET PAPER (woo hoo!) is a vast improvement!

fruityfran said...

I never got used to the whole "bring your own toilet paper" thing. But it's a great way to keep the underwear business very healthy. Could you spare a square?

C-Belle said...


Spare a square indeed. But at least most of them flush. Unlike the ones out in the boonies - where you end up squatting over a hole in the floor. I lost a ring down there once. I could see it, perched on top of an unsavory mess. I figured I could always buy a new ring, but there'd be NO cleaning oneself up thoroughly after going for it. So I left it there.