1 year in China = 5 years in the West

Reflecting on living on year in Beijing | Art Therapy with Kimberly

Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.”
-Alice Walker

I was having one of those horribly stressful weeks where I was literally lying in bed stressing about everything going on, attempting to read a book and getting so caught up in my head I didn’t actually absorb a single word.

It was due to many different things and after venting to a friend about it she said, “well, as they say, one year in China is equal to 5 years in the West.” I actually never heard anyone say this before but thinking about it now, it’s true. I always refer to personal growth in my blog, because for one, I value and prioritize my own personal growth and assume most people do too, but also because I genuinely feel like a different human now that I have been living in Beijing for almost 2 years. This personal growth and struggle stands aside to losing my sister because it doesn’t compare to or even fall in the same category. Death and day-to-day life frustrations are incomparable to the suffering and pain of having someone you love die way too soon, but there is some crossover.

Since coming to Beijing I have made new friends, which led to best friends, then to long-distance friends, then to new best friends. I have had short-term relationships, ones that felt very meaningful to me but not to them. Feeling burned and broken when it ended, moving on, and budda-bing, back to square one. Then my random array of jobs, that allowed me to find my strengths and interests, along with the joys of inter-work related friction, and the extremely petty bureaucratic frustrations that seem infamous in China. To experience the push and pull of Beijing, fending off the urge to book my next flight out of this polluted, phlegm-filled city instead of working through challenges that lay in front of me. Only to finally have a breakthrough, feeling so good about working through it, thinking to myself, “Well, maybe Beijing isn’t so bad after all….”

I realise that expat life here is not the type of environment to foster deep, meaningful, long-term relationships, whether it be friendships or something more. This awareness is allowing me to focus my energy elsewhere and accept the true nature of life here. To see it for what it is: an opportunity to grow, to practice my social skills, to feel comfortable in a crowd, to meet new people and to become more confident and self-assured in myself. Life in Beijing reminds me a little bit of a Tetris game when one block falls out (friend/man-friend/job) another block comes in and life is completely different again. It may not have been what you wanted, but it’s usually something you needed. Cheesy, but oftentimes true. 

To experience a world-wind of changes in sometimes as short as one week, and constantly having to re-evaluate and adapt to whatever the situation is now is difficult. But ultimately, that’s life. We constantly have to adapt, no matter what horrible things may have happened and how much you wish you could just put life on pause. It’s just a denser, fast-forwarded version of the real thing. Change is constant, but the only difference between life in Beijing and life in Canada to me is that in Canada things move at a slower rate. This is because people who live there grew up there. They are comfortable with their same friends, same job, same significant other and same hang out spots. Change happens of course, but it does ever so slowly. It’s comforting to live like this but I could only do it for so long until I felt like I hit a brick wall and was operating on autopilot in my own life. It’s a scary feeling when you can go through a week, imagining every single thing that will happen, as if blindfolded and be right about it. Although life here is crammed with lessons and changes, I’m learning to keep up. It might be hard at times but at least it’s not boring. Nothing is predictable and it’s a bit more exciting this way. Now the heartbreaks and setbacks, thankfully, last a little less time than before. Maybe because they are less meaningful or maybe because I’ve had the practice. Maybe both.

I’m learning to get back on my feet a little faster with every blow. And sometimes I lay there thinking WHAT the hell? What is happening right now?! And it takes me a few days, weeks, sometimes months, to fully get over it. Mostly because it’s a bit of self-pity and ego bruising, but that’s ok. It’s a learning experience. And when I do finally, begrudgingly, get up from being knocked down, there is almost always something worth getting up for.

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