As a young couple with no kids and few possessions of monetary value, DD and I don’t have too much to do in preparation for Beijing. We basically get on the plane with diplomatic passport and spousal visa in hand, having sent ahead a large supply of British medicine and toiletries, which the Foreign Office recommends we do. So, as we fly over our shipping container full of Imodium and Dove shampoos, all I’ll be carrying is emotional baggage, which I’ve already inspected and weighed many times.
The only painful part of the preparation has been the jabs. It turns out that four years in China exposes you to more murderous mosquitoes, crazed dogs and lethal viruses than you can shake a needle at, all desperate to destroy you from your brain to your liver via your nervous system. Over four sessions of multiple stabs in each arm, I now have a cocktail of drugs in my blood stream, a couple of itchy swellings and a particular dislike of the rabies injection, which was gloopy.
There’s one more thing though that I should do before Beijing. On Friday mum and I had a rare night out together in Covent Garden, and chatted ourselves hoarse over dinner and drinks. It was over a delicious Kir Royale and a large mojito that mum told me she’s getting obsessed with Chinese history. She said China has had what all other nations go through – power struggles, cruelty and misery – but the sheer size of the country means that in China it all happened on an incomparably large scale. At the same time, as one of the world’s oldest civilisations, it’s had technological innovations that blow the West out of the water, having invented paper, gunpowder, the compass and printing. With the Cultural Revolution and the Communist Party rule, much of its cultural and religious heritage may have been eradicated, but to understand Chinese people today, mum said, you still need to understand the history that’s in their veins.
The snag is, Chinese history is a bitch to get your head around. It’s so long and so complex that mum is currently lost in a pile of commentaries and novels. And I’m already defeated, having zoned out as mum gave me a ‘quick’ summary, starting at 10,000 BC.
But I should try harder. It’s easy to complain about China on a night out – the smog, the disappearing activists, the ban on Facebook and the BBC news website – but that’s just the foreigner’s China. In order to have any opinions about China, complaints or compliments, that Chinese people might actually agree with or respect, I have to start learning, digging deep and listening hard.
Or, I could just be a shallow expat and run around wearing one of these.
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