I’ve been noticing recently that everything around me feels clearer and closer than they did before. I’m finally linking up streets in my head so I have a sense of where the hell I am, I’m remembering almost every time not to flush toilet paper in public toilets, and we’ve located a couple of good Happy Hour bars. The city’s buildings and people feel less hazy and detached – I’m sure it’s partly thanks to the magnificent smog-free autumn days we’ve had this past week, but it also probably means that Beijing is starting to replace London as my reality.
We’re now head-down deep in the events of every day life, like we’d been in London just with new things to fuss over. We’re currently flat-hunting, a universally stressful undertaking which, with our demands, calculations and snap decisions, our impatience, anxieties and aggressiveness – not to mention our distrust of estate agents – seems to bring out the worst in us, and certainly gives us a good excuse for hitting the booze rather than the gym after a day of language lessons and property viewings.
We moan about the flat-hunting saga with other embassy employees and their families, and it feels nice that when we meet we’re no longer doing introductions but catching up and swapping stories. Sharing common adventures is comforting, and amusing too – we all check our smog-ometer apps as we head out, resulting in comments such as “Oh good, it’s only ‘Very Unhealthy’ today” or “It’s gone purple and ‘Hazardous’, let’s get a cab”. At the same time, being in the same situation as everyone else feels slightly claustrophobic. Although Beijing is expanding fast, the areas where foreigners live and work are still contained, and British diplomats seem to wind up with near-identical lifestyles. It feels bad to say it but I’m already a little bored of talking about the same things with everyone we see.
Nevertheless it’s lovely in Beijing today. The blue sky of the last few days is veiled with a white sheen but it still feels infinitely high, and the city’s noises and voices seem to echo. Thanks to my lessons I’m starting to feel more connected with the Mandarin that splutters out of my mouth, and after an initial panic when I tapped into the foreign part of my brain and GCSE French fell out, I’m now a wide-eyed student with a firm resolution to keep up with my homework.
This won’t last long though, seeing as the resolutions I made in London before I came out here have already been woefully neglected. I haven’t been to the pool for more than a week now, and I’m back to over-eating and over-drinking. I’m not reading as much as I was when we first arrived, and with our VPN client set up I’m back on Facebook, checking it more often than I should.
So it seems my mind is cleared of jet lag – but I know it will always stay fixated on the time difference. Every afternoon I imagine London getting up in the morning, and every night I fall asleep thinking of friends and family in their last couple of hours at work, running around manically or staring at their computer clock. When I wake up I reach for my phone to see if there are any emails that they’ve sent as they went to bed which, as I open them, feel like shimmering oasis in dry Beijing.
On days when I have a late start, like today, I make coffee with the espresso maker I brought from London and listen to the latest recording of Radio 4’s Today programme which, because of the time difference, is always a day old. A couple of days ago I dug out my warm coat, and when I catch a glimpse of myself around town wearing it, it reminds me of the things I was doing this time last year. In these moments London feels more real than Beijing, and I miss it very much.
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