This city is driving me crazy. I’ve now been in Beijing for one week, and it keeps sending me shuttling between the extremes of my emotions.
One second I’m shivering with rage and frustration when I get fake notes out of the ATM, the taxi driver (successfully) rips me off, the Internet breaks down just before deadline, my VPN won’t connect, traffic jams bring everything to a standstill, and my professor tells me that China is a human rights frontrunner.
But then the setting sun sends golden rays of goodness over the leafy boulevards in the embassy neighbourhood, the cool crowd in front of the Great Leap Brewing gets high on the perfect combination of a balmy summer night, alcohol and laughter, the rickshaw driver doesn’t try to cheat me for a few extra renminbi, and the mood on the Bookworm’s rooftop bar grows ecstatic when the band starts playing, and I just want to move here for good to really get to know this crazy country.
That’s a scary thought for a commitment-phobia like me, but something about this city’s extremes draws me in. It’s all ups and downs, no middle ground. So far it’s mostly been ups, but today is down, down, down. It’s one of those polluted days where Beijing is as gloomy, grey and grimy as any city can be. Breathing feels like inhaling an ashtray. It’s impossible to tell if it’s smog or clouds blocking the blue skies beyond (definitely smog, Caroline tells me) and I don’t know if I’m coming down with a cold, or if it’s just the pollution that’s made my throat sore and given me a headache.
On days like this, I wonder how anyone can live here. I’ve spent all day lounging around at Wagas and Moka Bros and the Bookworm, those cafes crowded with young expats in serious relationships with their MacBooks. I look around at them and wonder what their lives in this city are like, what brought them here and if they’re driven by the same restless search for adventure as me. Back home people think I’m unique for leaving to go living in a far-flung country all the time, but out here I look like every other expat girl sitting alone in a café with a cappuccino and a computer. One of them even has a compendium on Sino-American relations lying on the table.
I met up with a friend today, a Danish correspondent who’s been living here for the last six years, and he said he just can’t wait to get out of this highway-plastered hellhole. Perhaps because he just found out he got bronchitis from living here. I don’t know, I can’t make up my mind about this city, this country. Every time I come back, this being my fifth visit to the country, I love and loathe it a little more. At least it’s interesting.