“I’m leaving Beijing.”
How many times have I heard those words? Perhaps dropped casually over a couple of pints at Great Leap #12, or maybe I read them in a blog post. It’s one of the rewards for holding out here. Stay five years and you level up with a terminal case of black lung, a liver which only responds to pure formaldehyde, and the right to pen a valedictory essay on your way out the door. Stay here long enough and they might even do a podcast about you.
Sure, there have been moments over the past decade when I’ve also thought of shipping out. There have been other incidents at the visa office when I faced the possibility that my end date would not be of my own choosing. Could I adjust to life in the People’s Republic of Trump? What would it be like to spend my declining years in the hills of New Hampshire writing increasingly out-of-touch missives about my old life in China while my wife complains that the local restaurant puts corn in their gongbao jiding?
Well, f**k that. I’m staying.
I want my air crunchy and my gongbao jiding to be a pure, unadulterated mess of chicken parts, peanuts, chili peppers, and enough MSG to give a rhino testicular cancer. I want my crosswalks to be free-fire zones. I like the seasons of Beijing. Chinese New Year. Big smog. Little smog. Heat. Miserable heat. Get me the hell out of here heat and humidity. Fall (for an hour or two each year). And then winter.
I like that Beijing chooses its residents like a garlic-fouled cab driver cruising a dark Sanlitun alley in the wee hours of Saturday. It is grit and growl, baijiu and attitude. Beijing is steampunk in a Mando-pop world.