I began in Beijing, it was only fitting to end there. China has wonders to behold and one is the high speed railway, considered to be one of the fastest around and the others are spread far and wide, from mountains that bend the imagination to sacred temples where only whispers are heard, but the biggest seat of China is Beijing. Emperors have risen and tumbled, the communist party made it the center of policy and culture, which continues to thrive to this day. Leaving after a long period somewhere is always tough, but as the train shot away from Wuxi towards Beijing and the speed picked up to 310 km/h, I felt airy. A feeling that surprised me. I detected no traces of sadness, but relief. A new adventure was upon me and the sameness of where I just came from evaporated. I had slipped into a pair of familiar, safe shoes. To be blind to what was ahead, to stop looking backwards — there’s nothing like it is there? That swell of discovery. I arrived in Beijing a cool 7 hours later and though it was the dark of night, I checked into my hotel which was a few blocks from Tiananmen Square and hit the pavement quickly, walking the streets with vigour. I had become an uncaged animal tasting freedom for the first time, but hadn’t realized that the chains of Wuxi were so tight, so suffocating. It was right to leave. Below are a collection of photos from my short time in Beijing.
Today is my last day in China. I left Wuxi two nights ago and targeted towards Beijing. And here I am, a stone’s throw away from Tiananmen Square, debating on exploring the Forbidden City or Summer Palace, which one is more spectacular? Which one can end my time here with a bow on top? My feelings are so mixed about this country. It’s fearless, brash and busting onto the world scene, yet still harbours scars from a very recent past, one that is only alluded to in vague references. Chinese people don’t waste time on regrets, they let themselves feel it, but rarely linger on them. They just swipe those setbacks clean and continue. I admire this strength, the kind I wish I could conjure. Yet, I find that I can, otherwise how does one pick up again and leave? One of my goals was to live abroad for a period of time and I did it, accomplished and filed under that to-do life list. Living here came with joys, discoveries and struggles — that rich, arching experience that I would have never gotten had I stayed inert in Canada. To mark my time, a review of the past — these near 2 years I spent in the Land of the Dragon.
4 years. This is the term of office for an American President. The length of time to complete a university degree. How long it takes after graduation to feel like an adult. And finally, 4 years is the expiry date on loving China. It started happening last spring when my friend David and I met for lunch. “You look bloody awful,” I exclaimed.
Reality hit me hard and I realized the other day I’ve been in China for about 2 years. That’s longer than most of my recent relationships. I may have trouble committing to a man, but a country seems to be an easy conquest. In those 2 years, my Instagram became a photographic commentary on daily life in China, all that I’ve seen or experienced. To pay homage to my last year in China and usher in 2014, I’ve amassed 12 of my favorite images captured through my Instagram feed and the stories behind them.
From about age 10 to 12 I harboured a secret fantasy about dim sum carts. I wanted to hijack one. Not to serve people, don’t be ridiculous. Obviously to ride one around the Chinese restaurant, flitting past the round tables laden with ceramic bowls and golden colored table cloths, even push it down an alley of the modestly sized Chinatown of Calgary to see what would happen. At that age I only had one Chinese friend (in a predominantly Caucasian town as Calgary, this equates to a high number) and we use to plot about racing carts down the street of a quiet, suburban neighbourhood, to rankle homeowners who preened over their lawns with those high powered mowers and refinished the exterior in white siding, so blinding it hurt your eyes to glance at it.
The donut is king in my country. There’s Country Style Donuts, Tim Horton’s, 7-11, Robin’s Donuts and Mac’s — a range of donut pushers varying in quality and price. That’s right, pushers. Donuts are a shot to the Canadian identity. You can’t bump into someone who hasn’t thought of or just eaten a donut. I use to work at an engineering company and the biggest event was birthday donuts. HR thought it brilliant to combine everybody’s birthday for that month and spring for several boxes of timbits. They never got creative, never deviated from the plan, yet like clockwork employees piled into the lunch room and grabbed their donut portion. It got to the point I avoided donut day, my cholesterol levels and hip circumference just couldn’t take it any longer and to introduce something radical such as cupcakes was forbidden, downright controversial. Lately though, I feel nostalgic for the donut. My sinful one: Boston Cream. A conservative choice: plain with glaze on the top. The beauty of the Canadian donut is how universal it is, every facet of society consumes them, not just the pot bellied cops, but firemen, executives, postal clerks and truck drivers (really, you aren’t a truck driver with street cred unless you have a relationship with a donut).