This time two weeks ago I was broke, homeless, practically jobless, and I’d just been robbed. When I spoke to my mother on the phone after my wallet was stolen I told her not to send me too much money, since I was leaving China ASAP and didn’t want to have leftover yuan.
A few days later I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen since I was 9 or 10 years old. She’s been living here for 5 years on and off, and convinced me that it’s really not such a bad place to live. She let me sleep on her couch, went clubbing with me to dance off some of my stress, and translated for me at Western Union.
I gave myself an ultimatum. Basically it was like that game where you flip a coin to make a choice, and if you’re disappointed with the outcome you know it’s the wrong decision. (Does anyone else do that? No? Maybe it’s just me…)
I decided that I’d find out if I was still here legally, and if I had to leave and come back in on a different visa I’d just go somewhere else. If I could get my visa sorted I’d stay.
I went to the PSB, which is basically Chinese immigration. I had to be kind of sneaky, since I couldn’t just walk up and announce that I thought I was here illegally, and ask them to check. If I ended up being here illegally I needed to be able to play dumb. First I asked if I needed to leave the country if I switched to a student visa.
“No”, the girl said, while picking at her nails.
“Ok, can you check what date my visa expires please?” I figured if she looked in the system and didn’t see any red flags I was good to go.
“The 14th of April, she said disinterestedly.
So I was here legally. And I wasn’t disappointed. Instead I felt a sense of relief and a renewed determination to stay.
I went on a bunch of different demo’s, spoke to a ton of people about living here, and eventually found another job at a Chinese kindergarten.
My next step was to deal with the apartment issue. I wanted to be in a good location that was between my two jobs, and I finally found a place in an area called Sanlitun. The apartment is a 20 min walk from the subway, but I can take the bus if I’m feeling lazy, and it’s in one of the best areas for expats in Beijing. The girl who left had 3 weeks left on her lease so I had some time to figure out if I’d stay here or leave.
I’m paying more in rent than I wanted to, but I’ve unpacked my stuff and don’t see myself moving again. My room is nice and big with tons of storage space, and my roommates seem pretty cool.
While I’d like to think I’m tough, and can deal with anything China throws at me, realistically I think the reason I’m still here is good old-fashioned stubbornness. I’m inherently hardheaded and after moving myself (and my two huge bags) to China I just couldn’t see myself leaving so soon.
Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment. When faced with an easy option and a hard option I usually choose the hard one and then cry about it later. But I can’t leave without giving China a chance. Unfortunately that’s just not who I am. If I left I’d be really disappointed in myself, and I know I’d regret it in five years time.
It’s not all bad here, and although I’ve had a bit of bad luck things are definitely looking up. I’m working with some awesome people and I feel like if I just stick it out a little bit longer I’ll be earning some decent money and I won’t be feeling so much culture shock.
The weather is warming up, the pollution is getting much better (blue skies most of the time at the moment!), and I’m settling into what could be a challenging but rewarding year.