Severely jet-lagged but eager to enjoy my first meal in Beijing, Big Papa and I joined a few of his coworkers for dinner. As we strolled to the restaurant, we were treated to a lovely sunset on a relatively clear evening in September with air pollution at record lows. Lucky for us, the 2008 Summer Olympics had wound to a close just a few days before our visit. The Chinese made extraordinary efforts to cut down on traffic and pollution for the duration of the games.
We arrived at Din Tai Fung, home of legendary xiǎolóngbāo, or soup dumplings. Soon baskets upon baskets of divine dumplings piled mile-high on our table, creating a miniature Great Wall of China between us and our dining companions. Din Tai Fung stood up to its reputation as one of the world’s top 10 restaurants in 1993 (according to the New York Times). Some dumplings have too much soup, not enough soup, skin too thick, skin that breaks upon chopstick contact and thus spilling the contents all over the table. Not Din Tai Fung. Little pillows of perfection melted in our mouths.
Over the past two weeks, soup dumplings and potstickers have weighed heavily on my mind. Those little morsels of goodness were oh-so-tempting. But the question at hand was whether they were tempting enough to lure me away from my local farmer’s market and readily available organic produce for two to three years.
That’s right, two to three years. Last week, if I’d written this post, I might have said that Big Papa and I were taking our show on the road…or more accurately overseas, to China. Pampers and Pakhlava would morph into Pampers, Pakhlava and Potstickers.
Big Papa has been contemplating switching teams at his job for awhile now. He’s worked on his current team for five years and is itching for some new challenges. I am proud of him for checking out his options and exploring the possibility of new frontiers, however the offer to work in China seriously threw me for a loop.
At first I was thrilled. I’ve longed to live overseas. Granted, Beijing has never been on my short list. While I loved our three week stint in 2008, visiting Beijing would not be the same as living in Beijing. First, there’s the pollution, which I’ve heard can appear like a fogged-in Seattle morning, except the fog is filled with throat-burning toxins.
Then there’s the traffic. People whine about rude drivers and rush hour drama in Seattle. You’ve got to be kidding me. We are amateurs. Drivers in China, Beijing in particular, are purportedly some of the worst in the world. During our stay, Big Papa and I spent most of our time with our hands over our eyes as our taxi driver played ‘chicken’ with a host of other taxi drivers. Stop signs and red lights were merely suggestions and rush hour traffic was as thick as molasses on a winter’s day.
I also worried about the food. Between the Greenpeace expose on the chemicals found on fresh fruit and vegetables to the melamine scare of last year, China didn’t exactly have the best reputation for food safety. The same could be said for health care, with dubious standards at best. HIV is still in the blood supply and foreigners are advised to avoid blood transfusions if at all possible. Doctors are reported to reuse syringes and ambulances are hard to come by (not to mention somewhat worthless considering the impassible snarl of traffic on most days).
Not to give Beijing a completely bad rap though, as my mind did wander to all the things I saw and did during our trip there two years ago. There are beautiful parks and wonderful historical sites. Days easily slipped by while I explored street markets and old, winding Hutong neighborhoods. Beijing also has an enormous expat community and I knew I might find many opportunities to meet fascinating people from all over the world, as well as connect with resources that would help ease our transition.
I could learn Chinese, and pick up Tai Chi. Our beloved Tibet was practically right around the corner. Vacationing in the shadow of Mt. Everest or exploring Mongolia or the Yunnan sounded endlessly fascinating to me. There was so much to experience.
Aside from my concerns of life in China, I also felt sadness at the thought of leaving behind our lives in Seattle. What to do about Maggie, my sweet fifteen-year-old cat? Take her with us and put her through quarantine? Try to find the medications she needed and a decent vet? Or should we leave her in Seattle, assuming we could find a trusted friend to care for her.
We’d just finished the remodel of the Urban Cabin and our backyard lay in wait to be replanted and enjoyed. My father too, was a consideration. He’s elderly, wheelchair bound and we’d moved him from Florida three years ago and into a Seattle assisted living facility to keep a closer eye on him. I felt a bit guilty about dragging him out here and then flying off to a city half the world away.
And then there was the kiddo. Being a mom in China sounded like it could be fun, wheeling my kid through centuries-old parks and hanging out with other expat mommies. But I questioned what it might be like being a brand new mommy in a brand new country where I didn’t speak the language and if some catastrophe befell our kid, our world could go south in a big bad way, very quickly.
As the week wore on doubts began to creep in between the excitement. We both had several sleepless nights tossing and turning as our brains debated the pros and cons of such an enormous upheaval to our lives.
Back and forth we went. “Let’s do it” by day turned into “What if” by night. We read blogs, made calls, checked into Pet Transport, housing, Beijing organic grocers, ayi (nanny) services and expat taxes.
Then, Friday morning, we got the call that changed it all.