Adventures of Life in Beijing

Moving

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye is like pulling off a Band-Aid;  sometimes you just want to rip it off so the intense pain is over with quickly. Other times you tug a little here and there pulling back slowly so it doesn’t hurt so much. Either way, you are left with a tender spot that takes time to heal.

I’ve been saying goodbye to my Florida home for a while now. Preparing for this move has taken hundreds of hours. I’ve filled out mountains of paperwork, scrubbed and polished my home, and put many miles on the van driving my kids to spend precious time with friends. I’ve made so many trips to the Goodwill the attendants must think I’m a hoarder in recovery.

And that was the easy part. Then the hard part started. In early April I found a new loving home for my pet bunny.

Goodbye Leo. I miss you.

In May the women’s Bible study I have belonged to for seven years wrapped up for the summer; these women  have become like sisters and I will miss them deeply.

The end of May brought the school year to a close – more goodbyes. And the Band-Aid was loosened a little bit more as my husband and I both spent time visiting with family recently, knowing it might be awhile before we seem them again.

Last Sunday was our final day in church, our home-away-from-home.  Our family has developed deep meaningful relationships here and it’s painful to leave.

Sunday night we gathered with friends for some final hugs, and our  boys have spent time this week at Universal soaking in every last moment of fun with their friends.

As I reflect, I can’t help but feel flooded with grief. Saying goodbye is painful and makes my eyes water, just like when the Band-Aid pulls on those little hairs no matter how gently you try to pull it off.

In addition to the special people in our lives, I will miss the colors in the sky, crazy birds on the sidewalk and tropical flowers that flourish here.

Through all of this, I’ve learned it’s possible to feel happy and sad at the same time. My heart is heavy yet  overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the blessings the last seven years of living in Florida has brought to our family. We have come face-to-face with alligators, ridden rollercoasters until we’re dizzy, camped next to raccoons, seen braces come and go as boys grew into men and laughed and cried with dear friends who were strangers when we first arrived.

As hard as it is, saying goodbye to Florida gives us the opportunity to say hello to our new life in Beijing, and that’s incredibly exciting.

View over Central Park in Beijing

Knowing that we will return makes the leaving just a little bit easier. Having you along for the ride by sharing my stories helps too, so thanks for reading.

下次见 – it’s not goodbye but see  you next time.

 

 

Roof over a Pig

What does home mean to you?  A place to rest your head, nourish your body and relax with your family? In Chinese, the character for home or family comes from the pictograph that symbolizes a roof over a pig.

 

 

I’m not sure why it’s depicted this way, perhaps because if you had a pig in your house and a roof over your head, you had food and shelter and life was good.

My concept of home has changed over time, from the security of my childhood home surrounded by family and furry friends on our farm, to the excitement of my first home-away-from-home, my college dorm where I met people who helped shape me into who I am today.

Now that I have my own family, home is  where we gather to pray before dinner, track my sons’ height on the garage wall (I stopped once theirs surpassed mine), light the candles on our Christmas tree and celebrate birthdays with homemade lemon bundt cake.

It’s the weird stains on the carpet from experiments gone wrong, shoes by the front door, crumbs on the placemats and half-full water glasses littering the counter (why do all of the other dishes make it into the dishwasher?)

A home lives and breathes the connections and love of the people who live in it. It’s more than food and shelter. It’s more than a roof over a pig. I think about these things as I get ready to head to Beijing next week to look for our new home.

Should we go for a house in the suburbs?

 

Or a high-rise apartment in the city center?

Sure, I’ll ask about square footage, count the outlets in the kitchen and check the air purification system, but  what I am really looking for is a place our family can thrive. We need an oven to fill our apartment with the smell of fresh baked cookies.

Cookies smell like home

We need space to  decompress with a good book, play music or just be alone for a bit. We need a table where we can gather, thanking God for this grand adventure and share a meal together. I would love a space large enough to host visitors from home (now taking reservations), welcome new friends and reconnect with team members who have gone before us.

I want  our home to be safe, comfortable and conveniently located, but that’s just the house. It’s the laughter, tears, frustrations, joys and memories that we will experience together behind those walls that will turn into a home. I can’t wait to find it. But please, no pig.

What makes your house a home? How did you know when you found the right one?

Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to subscribe so you won’t miss the next post: House Hunting in Beijing

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling Light

 

As we prepare to move to Beijing,  I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about what to bring and what to get rid of.

I follow the advice of best-selling author and organizational guru Marie Kondo, sorting my possessions to find the ones that spark joy: gifts given by new-found friends waiting for us in China,

treasures and drawings made by my sons,

 

and of course my orchids, which I love.

 

I’ll miss my orchids. Who wants to adopt them?

But some of those things will have to stay behind. You see, I’m trying really hard to travel light. I want to live this experience, to take in all of the new sights, sounds (and yes, even the smells) of ex-pat China living. If I am too heavily laden with baggage, like my favorite coffee and preconceived notions of how things should be,  I risk missing out on new experiences, like learning to drink tea. Expectations often lead to disappointment, and stereotypes act as barries to forming new relationships.

Instead, I want my suitcase to be filled with a sense of adventure, an open mind and lots of patience. I’ll also be bringing my strong faith and a sense of humor, packed right between the smog masks and a few good jars of face cream.

I’ll need to bring boldness to try new things, like getting on a bus even if I’m not sure where it’s going, or ordering a basket of dumplings with mystery filling.

No idea what’s in them, but they smell good!

Flexibility will help me accept changing rules, adapt to different ways of thinking and wedge myself onto the almost-full subway.

Curiosity will entice me to buy one of those little white jars and discover a new favorite yogurt drink, and nudge me out of my comfort zone to ask questions and interact with strangers.

Yogurt is a popular street snack, along with candied Hawthorne.

I also want to leave room to bring some things back, like new friends, priceless memories and a tolerance for spicy foods.

Meat skewers dipped in chili powder

Acquiring functional  Mandarin skills and cute new shoes (in a size 5 1/2) would be a bonus too.

What would you bring if you were moving 8,000 miles away?

 

 

 

 

Building Roller Coasters and Memories in Beijing

Great Wall Badaling Beijing

In just a few short months, our family will start an epic journey as we relocate to Beijing, China for a 1 1/2 to 2 year stint in this ancient city. My husband Mike is a part of a team from Universal Studios tasked with building a new theme park in China’s capital. Our sons Daniel (15) and Timothy (13) of course will be joining us, but unfortunately our furry friend Leo was not invited.

 

As much as I will miss Leo and all our other friends, I am so excited to have this mind-bending opportunity. Just like a roller coaster, there will be highs and lows, fast times and slow times, and possibly even some fear-inducing twists and turns. But it’s this adrenaline rush that tests our limits, makes our hearts beat faster and makes us know we’re alive.

So as we get ready to launch, I want to invite you to join us for the ride. I’m not a big fan of roller coasters, but I love adventure. I’ll try not to scream in your ear, but I might grab your hand a time or two for reassurance. 

Peeling an Orange

Living in a foreign country is like eating an orange. There is something sweet and juicy and delicious inside, just waiting to be discovered. But first the bitter, tough peel must be removed: learning a new language, navigating unfamiliar terrain and patiently waiting for strangers to become friends.

Sometimes as the outer layer is peeled away, juice squirts into your eyes and makes them sting. Loneliness, unmet expectations and strange food can have the same effect. But if the scent of the orange is sweet enough, it will tickle your nose and entice you to keep going even if the process is messy.

I know this all too well as we contemplate our upcoming move to Beijing. What will living in China be like? I don’t really want to know, because that would take the pleasure out of the discovery, kind of like eating an orange without having to peel it first. But I do want to know in a general sense. Will we be safe? Can we stay healthy? How will my fair-headed teenagers adapt to chopsticks, crowds and Chinese friends?

In the light of day, the potential for adventure becomes intoxicating . I convince myself that I can learn Mandarin and master the strokes of the elegant written characters. In my mind I create a new life, where the difficult tonal language flows effortlessly from my lips and my sons handle chopsticks as easily as the buttons on their smart phones.

My mental guidebook includes weekends in X’ian with the terra cotta warriors, holidays spent with my toes in the South China Sea and winters spent shushing down the slopes of Badaling. In the terraced plantations near Hangzhou I pick tea with women whose nimble fingers have done this work for generations.

Imaginary friends fill my days, like the noodle master whose solitary skill I admire every day on the way to the market. I wear a path of familiarity into his consciousness until he invites me in. Students in my English class listen eagerly and share pearls of Chinese wisdom that enrich my days.

My imaginary friend the noodle master

In some of these daydreams I am invisible, enabling me to walk through shopping streets and hutongs without the crush and odor of half a million bodies pressing against me. Being unseen means no one touches my blond hair, stares at me or takes pictures of my children. I glide along like a spirit, connecting with reality when it is convenient and disappearing when I am afraid or uncomfortable.

It  sounds so easy and appealing during the day when images on my iPad of the Forbidden City, the snow-covered Great Wall and the tranquil Li River weave themselves into a colorful, beckoning welcome mat. But when the sun goes down, insecurity slithers into my stomach like a snake and fear becomes my new friend. A blanket of doubt as heavy as the acrid air over Beijing covers me as I lie in bed unable to sleep. 

I worry that I will be too hot or too cold, lonely, yet smothered by a billion strangers who spit and smoke too much. I can’t speak, read or understand a single syllable. How will I bake a birthday cake without an oven? Do we have to eat fermented tofu and chicken feet? Will wearing a face mask become as ordinary as putting on socks? What if the pollution causes my younger son’s asthma to flare up? How will my older son navigate his potentially life-threatening food allergies?

The fear and excitement volley back and forth like a ping pong ball in my head. Risk serves first. “It’s going to be the most amazing, mind expanding experience of your life.” Caution lobs back. “What are you thinking? How can you do this to your kids? You’ll be lonely and miserable.

I study subway maps, phrase books and air quality statistics trying to make sense of it all. I pray and wait as our moving date draws near, contemplating the orange sitting on my kitchen counter. There’s a tantalizing hint of citrus in the air and the orange looks tempting. Some oranges are bitter; some are sweet. I won’t know how this one tastes until I begin the messy, sometimes painful job of peeling it.