What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It's time to move on, it's time to get going
-Tom Petty and Heartbreakers
For the better part of 2020, our Beijing apartment echoed empty awaiting our return. The sourdough starter along with a chunk of vacuum-wrapped gouda cheese languished in the fridge. A stockpile of quinoa, dried beans, rice and spices stored away to be cooked into something delicious. Four bottles of wine bought on special stashed in the closet. A throw pillow, bedding, storage baskets, a bathtub, a down coat all recently purchased on China’s Black Friday, November 11 (Singles Day, Double 11, or 双十一). The laundry in plain sight hanging out to dry.
Our home waited for us.
Sometime in April, restrictions in Beijing had eased somewhat and our American friend was able to get past the guard and into our apartment complex. Via video call, we toured our apartment and our friend commented that the place fragranced clean and minty. Maybe it was the eucalyptus oil I use for cleaning. Anyway, everything was in order and no pipes had busted. As a reward, she snagged the nearly full jar of Kirkland peanut butter and the vacuum wrapped gouda cheese.
Our Beijing apartment waited for us. And waited some more.
As the months marched steadily on, spring heating into summer, and summer waning into winter, returning to our little Beijing home seemed more and more unlikely. The Pandemic raged on around the world and China and US international relations frazzled like a strained thread. China imposed strict restrictions on international travelers making obtaining or renewing a visa uncertain or impossible. Furthermore, once international flights were available (after a long hiatus), they were extremely limited and absurdly expensive.
By the close of 2020, most of birdMAN’s fellow workers had slowly returned to China. During the journey, each of them took several COVID-19 tests and temperature checks. Upon arrival, each spent two weeks quarantining in a hotel. Most of them said the experience wasn’t so bad. They had time to rest, read, and chill out in solitary.
I, however, dreaded the prospect of quarantining for a full two weeks with a four year old child. I imagined all the art projects, the tickle fights, the bath time, the snacks, book reading, and the screen time. How many bags of goldfish crackers would I need to pack? Would I need one or two jars of peanut butter? I imagined putting Dumpling through reading and math boot camp. Yeeessss...quarantine would turn Dumpling into a genius. But a more likely scenario was that all my parenting sensibilities would vaporize and Frozen II would be on repeat. Which reminds me, how many Disney dresses should I pack? Definitely bring Ariel and Elsa dresses, but Belle dress may not make the cut.
Meanwhile, surely our Beijing home had descended into despair, its door hinges rusting from disuse.
Over here in California, we had settled into a predictable weekly routine. birdMAN worked online in the evenings. Friday was Papa Murphy’s pizza night. We spent a lot of time walking or biking the nature corridor near Moomoo’s house. We renewed our 3 month mobile plan for the third time. Dumpling knew the way to the park and could distinguish between Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Safeway. As our American life habits developed, we stopped looking at available flights into China, and half-heartedly applied for China visas. While birdMAN could be approved because he had a job, Dumpling and I did not qualify for visa consideration.
So the question, “Will you return to China?” lingered like Beijing air pollution--there but barely noticeable. Over the year, I went from feeling anxious to return and gung ho about quarantine, to unsettled limbo, to acceptance that living abroad had finally come to an end. Then one day, birdMAN simply said, “I don’t see us going back.” And I nodded. That was it.
Beijing no longer waited. Time to say goodbye.
The answer to, “Will you return to China?” is now definitely, positively, once and for all…
Chinese Word of the Blog: 往前看 (Wǎng qián kàn)
English Translation: Look forward
Example Sentence: 我们没办法会北京去，因此要往前看，要往前走。
|Back when we would just hang in our cozy home|
|In Beijing, we improvise furniture|
|Getting around Beijing style|
|Exercising Beijing style|
|Exercising California style|
|How we used to do Moomoo time|
|In California, Moomoo time is so much better!|
|Yaya time = Zoo time|
|California has an abundance of goldfish crackers!|