For a while, it was all the rage for expats to write a “Why I’m Leaving China” essay on the way out. For Mark Kitto, it was a slightly bitter diatribe about the futility of assimilation. For Charlie Custer, who left in quasi-clandestine fashion, it was more like a heads up that he was gone, but still scathing nonetheless. These letters made such sexy fodder for the China news hawks that earlier this year CNN published a letter from a guy nobody had really heard of explaining that he was leaving China because he got a new job in Vancouver, so he left and is going to work there now, just in case you guys were wondering where he went.
The truth is, for the most part, expats are transient by nature. We’re people who like to explore, creatively minded, looking for an interesting challenge. Is this true of all people living abroad? No, of course not. But I think it holds true for a lot of the people I’ve met while living far away from home, and from time to time, far outside my comfort zone. If it wasn’t a valuable experience, I wouldn’t have moved abroad twice. Three times if you count Canada (it’s actually more foreign than you’d think).
When I first moved to Beijing in 2005 I was a wide-eyed kid, freshly graduated from college. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to do something different. When my Chinese professor suggested I consider taking an English teaching job at her childhood school in Beijing it took me about 15 seconds of deliberation before telling her to set the wheels in motion. The second time I moved here, nearly three years ago, it was more of a strategic decision than a whim. The financial crisis made it nearly impossible to find job opportunities at home in advertising (a field I had fallen in love with), but my CV pulled a bit more weight in China. I was able to cut my teeth in the digital marketplace with an amazing amount of autonomy and creative control.
Yes, the pollution is an issue, but it’s also not enough to drive me away. There are the little things that grate on my nerves, constant construction topping the list, but there are always going to be minor annoyances in your life. Changing location just changes their form; it doesn’t eliminate them. At the end of the day, the reason I’m leaving is the same reason I came here in the first place – I want to do something different. It really is that simple. Add to that the fact that I would like to live closer to my family for a while, and buying the plane ticket back to America was an easy decision.
When I started thinking about all those angry leaving letters I couldn’t help but fixate on the idea of a swan song. When a kettle boils, it whistles. So, why is it that when people boil, they seethe? (This is a rhetorical question, obviously, since kettles are not subject to human emotion. The moment they are, the machines have won.) But in all seriousness, I like the idea of a melodic exit, a moment of beauty plucked from a tumultuous time. In the spirit of that, I leave Beijing with this tune. It very eloquently sums up how I feel about this place, and this experience, both the good and the bad.
And if you find it cheesy, well that’s just how I roll.