Hello friends and family, the time has come to end my journey in Beijing. Well, at least for now.
As most of you already know, I will be moving to Australia for a bit. I say “a bit” because I don’t have a solid timeframe to reveal. I have no set plan to follow, or a home, or a job for that matter… and it’s all completely terrifying.
However, under all this fear, anxiety and uncertainty, there is a slight spark of excitement. In fact, it’s a very similar feeling to the one I had before coming to Beijing.
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 lucky to enough to visit 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 once imagined. In fact it’s almost a replica of Canada except with better weather, nicer accents and infested with killer animals.
From what I’ve heard, it’s extremely difficult to find a job in Australia, let alone a good one. I do realize I won’t be able to get a job with as great ease as I had here and that staying at my current job in Beijing is what’s considered the ‘safer’ option.
However, I don’t particularly want the “safer” option. I’d rather have a little fun before I end up old and grey, sitting in a wheelchair reminiscing over 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 traveling, 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 zones 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 Talks 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 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 who lives out in the boonies. Or save up for a ticket to New Caledonia because you just learnt about its existence and want to be like a modern Margaret Mead hanging out with tribesman (what a dream!)
I am obviously taking the “throwing a roadblock in my routine” a little far by moving to Australia. I 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 have debated many times if this was the right choice. On a superficial, but also important basis, I have a great job as a marketing supervisor at an international hospital and employees that rely on me for things. But being the only foreigner in the office is challenging enough in its own right. There are days of extreme frustration and then days where I laugh with my colleagues and feel happy that for once I didn’t need to explain why that joke was funny. On Christmas Eve my colleagues 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 have ever had.
Not to mention the diverse group of amazing friends I have here. 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 sometimes it’s nice to savour the good while it lasts, and in Beijing there’s rarely a chance to savour. It’s like your foundation is constantly disintegrating, things are over before they begin and I just find it exhausting to keep up.
I also have a weird connection to Beijing as it was here when I found out my sister died. 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 will always remind me of that cold morning in October when I broke into a million pieces, and spent the past year and half helplessly trying to put the pieces of who I was back together. But when you break glass, no matter how much super glue and time you spend putting it back together, it will never be the same. Pieces will be lost and it will take on a different shape.
When someone you love dies, the very idea of death suddenly becomes a real, tangible thing. It becomes clear and vivid. Especially since my sister was only a year ahead of me, she was only 26. It has made me think about my own existence quite often. I don’t feel uncomfortable talking about death anymore because my sister is… there. Unfortunately, for many people talking about the meaning of life and death make them uncomfortable, and I get it. They joke and say “what a downer!” so I laugh and smile and pretend to agree. But hey, it’s the reality, to me it just makes me want to live life more fully when I think about it. 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. As Steve Jobs beautifully once said:
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.
Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.
No matter how safe you play it or how smart you are, we all end up there. My sister is the cheering voice in the back of my mind saying “go for it, have fun and go on adventures. I’ll be there with you!” So 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 have no home, friends or job and start from scratch. 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!
Good-bye Beijing! 再見!