I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the positives and the exciting highlights of my time in China and our travels in Asia, but I want to take a moment to recognize that it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses.
Today, I was listening to some old music I’ve collected over the years and was struck by a lyric by Butcher the Bar, in their album Sleep At Your Own Speed.
Calling all defenses: Relieve my chest,
And shake off these aching bones!
All I want is sunshine and sandy toes,
To rise from this three-day cold.
I leave town tonight,
If only Western civilization feels alright.
I leave town tonight.
(Listen if you’re interested: http://youtu.be/werCUo0rhkU )
I’m not sure I can put to words the way that in that moment those lines struck home, recalling all the times in the past year that I’ve burst into tears from sheer exhaustion, all the lost days because of sickness, weakness, and shortness of breath that make me afraid to go outside and try just one more time to feel active and alive.
This winter was rough in many ways. The pollution hit an all-time high in January, and PM 2.5 levels from 200-500 occurred on a daily basis. The sky was always white, and not just from clouds. The cold was bitter and consistent, both indoors and out. Construction standards here are not what I’ve been used to in Canada, and on top of that, the custom is to leave doors and windows open all winter long. Don’t worry though, “Fresh air is good for health!” There was no way to prepare myself for a winter where going indoors was not a safe haven from the cold, and my spare time was spent huddling in my winter coat by ineffective space heaters. Even in the underground subway system, the air has been hazy with dust and still smells strongly of construction. I stopped taking the stairs because, when I did, I experienced headaches and dizziness. When spring came, and with it the sunshine, I actually cried. I didn’t understand how bad I had felt until I finally felt better.
To be fair, even on our vacation in Thailand, where I was quite active and got plenty of rest, Scotty and I took turns getting sick either from food poisoning or some other version of stomach troubles. The heat bred infection in ways that our bodies were not prepared for, yet somehow despite our on-again-off-again poor health, Thailand was an amazing adventure.
So far this spring/summer, we’ve had better air quality in Beijing. The screenshot above is from this morning, and it’s amazingly good! (For context, Toronto currently reads in at 22.) There’s been enough rain to fend off extreme heat, and I’ve been getting outside more. (Note: Heyrobics is fantastic!) I’m still extremely busy with work, but that seems to come with the job description. If the entire year had been like the last 4 weeks have been, I would come back to Beijing in a heartbeat.
I’m not saying I regret coming. Far from it. But it would be a lie to claim it hasn’t been challenging, frustrating, often confusing, and certainly eye-opening. And I know that I’ve only just scratched the surface of all there is to see and know in China.