After I had completed my CELTA and had begun hunting for a job that would get me out of rural Scotland, I was pointed in the direction of Aihua (thanks Teachers for Asia!). Previously, I had unthinkingly dismissed the idea out of hand as the thought of relocating halfway across the world to a smog-choked hellhole, where people cowered under the despotic rule of the Party, seemed like too drastic a change. However, the more I looked into it, the more my attitude softened. Reading the other teacher’s blog posts gave me a much better idea of what I could expect out there as well as an insight into the wonderful community of teachers and other staff working for Aihua. So I took the plunge and before I knew it I had arrived at Beijing airport feeling slightly confused at the decision past-me had taken, and a little bit frightened as the reality of the situation hit me like an elbow to the ribs. It took a second for me to realise that was actually just an elderly Chinese woman battering past me to get her suitcase but it felt fittingly poetic in a way.
When I arrived in February winter was already tailing off and, after two months, spring is now in full bloom. The transformation between the two seasons has been something to behold, especially coming from Scotland where the seasonal variation swings between “cold” and “slightly less cold” (accompanied by cries of “taps aff!”) with an ever present chance of rain. Around the middle of March the dust covers were taken off the bushes and trees and the plants were hosed down to remove the grey rime which had accumulated over the winter months. There’s been no sign of anyone spray painting the grass green yet, but the change has been so drastic that it wouldn’t surprise me. The temperature has skyrocketed and the days seem to be less smoggy overall so I’m bracing myself for an onslaught of Vitamin D. Most people would consider this a good thing, but when you have a complexion that most closely resembles that of a cave-dwelling worm it is a slight worry.
With the emergence of the sun has come the repopulation of the public spaces and parks around the city. What seemed to be bleak, icy spaces of emptiness in February have started to see heavy use as the clear skies draw people blinking, pale and spluttering from their abodes. The open air aerobics classes are well known and not a uniquely Beijing thing, although I’m yet to muster the courage to join in. It’s on the to-do list though. Another popular past-time, which I haven’t seen anywhere else, is the weirdly popular “whipping practice”. I don’t know how else to describe it because that’s all it is: an elderly man (if it’s a nice day the Beijing belly will be proudly on display) furiously lashing the ground with a whip. It’s like something Indiana Jones might enjoy. Or the Marquis de Sade.
It would be fair to say that when it comes to fashion, my understanding isn’t exactly on point. But it seems that in Beijing you can slap a few English words on anything and it’ll sell. Walking to work the other day, I noticed someone in front of me wearing a baggy green hoody with screeds of English written on it. A few phrases stood out: “I’m a different person…”, “My heart is stronger now…” and (in all caps) “DON’T CALL ME AGAIN”. It read like one of those late night, passive-aggressive status updates you see on Facebook from someone you worked with four years ago who you felt obliged to add but never really knew. Maybe the lady wearing it decided that social media wasn’t a sufficiently public vehicle for expressing her cryptic messages about her troubled relationships and decided to take it out on to the streets. I’m looking forward to seeing other classics like; “now i know who my real friends are and who are the FAKES”, the inevitable sympathetic response “whats wrong hun?” and the staggeringly un-self-conscious “nevermind will pm you”. If this trend continues it won’t be long before we see the Britain First string vest. Like and share.
If you read through the other blog posts, and I recommend that you do, it’s clear that everyone feels that arriving in Beijing is a huge shock to the system. It definitely is, but it’s a refreshing one. Life here can be frustrating, bemusing, hilarious and exciting by turns but I haven’t found it to be overwhelming. Yet. As this is my first time living abroad I was worried that homesickness would be an issue, but the sheer energy of Beijing and the community within Aihua has made me feel at home here in Shijingshan. I give it two weeks before I’m in the park with a whip.