After two and half years, I’ve decided to end my journey in Beijing.
As you probably already know, I will be moving to Australia. I don’t know for how long. I have no set plan to follow, or a home, or a job… and it’s all completely terrifying.
But under all the fear, anxiety and uncertainty – there is a spark of excitement. All I have to do is think about my sister and the fear melts away. For whatever reason, I have always had interest in Australia. I used to daydream about moving there, taking up surfing and having bonfires on the beach. But instead of actually going, I listed a thousand reasons why I couldn’t.
Truthfully, I was just afraid. I was scared to leave my life behind.
I was lucky to enough to visit Sydney this past Christmas and it was exactly the kind of laid-back, beach vibe that I want to have rubbed off on me. It was also not as exotic as I imagined. It’s actually almost a replica of Canada except with better weather, interesting accents and infested with killer animals.
From what I’ve heard, it’s difficult to find a job in Australia. I do realize I won’t be able to get a job with as great ease as I had here. I do realize that staying at my current job in Beijing is the ‘safer’ option.
But I don’t really care. I’d rather have a little fun before I end up old and grey, sitting in a wheelchair reminiscing about the days of my youth. I have noticed that as we get older, we begin to harden in who we are, the pathways in our brain have been dredged deeply and we learn to believe our personality – likes, dislikes, opinions, temperaments – are set in stone. I don’t believe they are. It’s as if our minds are like candle wax, the child’s mind is the lit candle with hot wax that bends and forms easily in your fingers, the adult is the wax that crumbles because it has turned cold. But it can always be re-heated, we can always change. It’s just that life becomes more comfortable when we do what we’ve always done, we can make statements like “I hate this” or “I never do that.” Then, little by little we lose touch with our inner child, the one who is willing to explore and remain open-minded about the world. I never want to lose touch with the little Kimberly that still lives within me. I may age physically but I want my mind to remain flexible. This is what’s so great about travelling, or removing yourself from your comfort zone once in a while. You are put in situations you have never been before and often react in a way you hadn’t known you ever would. You are able to learn more about yourself and grow from these experiences.
It’s just that escaping our comfort zone is well, uncomfortable. It requires deliberate effort that seems unnecessary when things are easy-breezy. I mean, why bother? You don’t even have to think at a certain point, you just do. But it’s once we reflect back on anything cool or exciting we have done in our lives, we realize it was almost always because we were outside of our comfort zone. Life isn’t really being lived if you’re on autopilot the whole time, it’s just not memorable. I watched an interesting Ted Talk and this life coach explained that we tend to find ourselves restless in our lives because we are suffocating an important part of our psychological make-up – our need for exploration. If you think about it, we physically explored our surroundings a lot before food was delivered in grocery stores and Google existed. We did so out of survival, but our brains are wired to explore and to adapt. Nowadays, we deny our brains to indulge in either.
These feelings of restlessness are your body’s way of telling you need to change something. This is why it’s critical to throw a roadblock in your routine, it doesn’t always need to cost money either. Take a different route to work, or volunteer at an interesting event. Instead of going to the bar and seeing the same-olds have a bonfire at your friend’s house, go somewhere you haven’t been before.
I am obviously taking the “throwing a roadblock in my routine” a little far by moving to Australia. I honestly just figure, why not? The fact that I have no safety net will push me into accelerated growth. I will be forced to test my ability to adapt and I will indulge in exploration. I give this as a “gift” to my newly 27-year-old self, jumping out of my comfort zone, vulnerable and afraid, and locking the door behind me.
It will be a great story to tell one day.
But starting new somewhere else means I must close the chapter on Beijing, which was a huge part of my life. As I sit here to write this I feel a knot in my stomach at the thought of leaving. I’ve debated many times if this was the right choice. I have a great job as a marketing supervisor at an international hospital and employees that have been so welcoming and supportive to me. They did their best to integrate me into the team despite our cultural differences. I remember when I worked over Christmas one year, I explained to them that Christmas is an important holiday in Canada, “it’s the equivalent to Chinese New Year” I told them. They all nodded sympathetically. On Christmas Eve they did what they could to get me into the Christmas spirit by ordering chicken nuggets, pizza, pickles and oranges to have eaten around a Christmas tree. It was the cutest, most untraditional Christmas Eve I’ve ever had.
I’ll also have to say goodbye to some really good friends. Through them, I have learnt so much about life and about myself. But in Beijing, goodbyes are expected. People come and go all the time. Life in this city thrives in its transience, in its ability to constantly evolve, growing over the old and making room for the new. Then again, that’s life anywhere. Beijing is just a fast-forwarded, condensed version of the real thing. It’s great practice for the pain and struggle of life everywhere: of saying goodbye to those you love, experiencing failed relationships, growing apart from friends and learning about yourself.
But honestly, I just find living here exhausting. Life moves way too fast in Beijing. People feel disposable and there’s rarely a chance to build anything of value. It’s like your foundation is constantly disintegrating, things are over before they begin and I’ve lost all energy to keep up.
It doesn’t help that Beijing was the place I happened to be in when my sister died. Unfortunately, this city to me will always be a symbol of internal destruction and restoration, of the most painful, most tragic thing that ever happened to my family. It was here that I broke into a million pieces and spent the past year and a half helplessly trying to put myself back together. But I’ll never be the same.
When someone you love dies, the very idea of death suddenly becomes a real, tangible thing. It becomes clear and vivid. It pushes your own mortality in your face. It’s left me thinking about my own existence and what it all means. Unfortunately, it’s hard to share these conversations with other people. For many people, talking about the meaning of life and death makes them uncomfortable. But for me, the more I think about how temporary my life is, the more I want to live it fully. I see life as a gift because I know how fragile this whole thing is. I live with greater passion and intensity than I ever did before. I fear more a life not actually lived, than of death itself.
I can just picture my sister cheering me on saying “go for it, have fun and go on adventures. I’ll be there with you!” Because of my sister, I am going to do what I have always dreamed of doing.
I’m going to move to a city where I get to start from scratch. A clean slate. I will live with enough adventure for the both of us. Whatever happens, happens. No matter if it’s good or bad, I will learn and I will grow from each experience that comes my way. My sister is with me, I can do this!
Goodbye Beijing! 再見!