Thoughts On Leaving Beijing

GoodBye, Forbidden City
GoodBye, Forbidden City

I loved living in Beijing, I truly did. But I also hated it. I loved the blue sky days, cycling around my hutong neighbourhood, stopping for coffee and craft beer, watching my elderly neighbours play board games in the summer evenings. I hated the disgusting pollution, the internet censorship, the politics and the fact that, quite often, everything was just a pain in the ass.

My feelings on leaving Beijing are slightly confused. I wouldn’t change my two years in Beijing for the world, yet at the same time I think: Did we, the couple who now live with our patio door permanently open, really put up with that smoggy air for so long? Did I, the woman who frets and rants about politics and human rights (often no one is listening, but whatever), really live in a place with such strong censorship and no proper elections?

One of our favourite Potato and eggplant Beijing dishes. In our local dumpling place. Oh and those Laos beers were so good!
One of our favourite Potato and eggplant Beijing dishes. In our local dumpling place. Oh and those Lao beers were so good!


I thought I would miss living in Beijing, but, while I have many wonderful memories from there, especially during the last couple of weeks of perfect weather and little work, I really don’t miss it. Not yet. I’m sure I will later once my new surroundings become familiar. Just as I now remember my time living in places like Korea, Venezuela and London as perfect, I’ll probably only remember the best parts of Beijing.

Parts like my hutong neighbourhood, or travelling through Sichuan. Already when I look at some of my old blog posts or read articles like this Time Out one (which is a rather good depiction of what it’s like in the Hutong) my heart flutters a little. But most of the time I am too busy enjoying my new surroundings by the beach to feel anything more but fond nostalgia and relief that the air is so fresh.

Our Hutong, Beijing. Did I really live there?
Our Hutong, Beijing. Did I really live there?

The last couple of weeks before we left were magical. I biked those hutongs more than I have ever biked. We revisited some of the tourist sights we had seen in our first weeks (I posted a photo on my  instagram saying: It’s funny how you start off your time living in Beijing rushing around doing all the touristy things, then you end your time there redoing them again!). The weather was great and we spent every evening (school night or not) drinking beer and eating dumplings outside.

Those are the moments I already feel nostaligic for and will be the ones I forever hold in my heart. But no, I won’t miss the daily annoyances, the pollution or the cultural differences. I think our two years there were wonderful. And just enough. 

Coke and Mao, Tiananmen. There are just so many comments I could make about this photo!
Coke and Mao, Tiananmen. There are just so many comments I could make about this photo!

Would I ever go back?

Before we left, as we lived out our last few golden days in Beijing, Justin and I decided we would try to return. Not to live, I don’t think I would want to do that anytime soon, but to visit. And I truly hope we do. We have grand plans to revisit our little hutong neighbourhood in five years to see if the hipsters have completely taken over, if the gentrification of Guluo Dong Dajie is complete, or if our elderly neighbourhood watch members are still sitting out there, red armbands on, making sure everything is in order. 

This way to Tian Anmen
This way to Tian Anmen for the last time!

Have you ever moved away from somewhere?  Did you miss it or feel relieved?

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33 thoughts on “Thoughts On Leaving Beijing

  1. This post has me nodding my head in agreement! There are things I love about living here, but when I go back to Canada for vacation I think, ‘Fresh air! People are so polite! No censorship! Things are much easier! Why am I living in Beijing again?’ I’m here for at least 3 more years though.

    1. China is so confusing isn’t it? Sometimes I would love it so much and then other times I would be like “what am I doing?”. I was so excited by not having to use a VPN when we came to the US! It’s good that you will stay for at least a few more years now that you are Mrs Zhang though (think I’ve remembered your new name correctly!). Then you save a bunch and move back to Canada later. Also, one of the great things about being an international school teacher is that you’re always just a matter of weeks from the next vacation and you can take a break from Beijing if needed! Do you think you two would ever live in a different part of China?

      1. We haven’t really talked seriously about living in a different part of China, other than me telling Tony I don’t think I’d be happy living in “rural” China. Rural isn’t really the right word, though. Where is family lives isn’t “rural” but it’s definitely smaller than Beijing. I guess I don’t think I’d be happy living somewhere long-term where I couldn’t have my “Western comforts.”

        Our plan is to eventually live in Canada. We’ve both agreed we’d rather raise our kids (not for a while!) there than here for a few reasons, one of which is definitely the pollution.

  2. I felt very relieved when we moved from Finland back to Germany. Just too many things I didn’t like/ agreed with there.
    Living in China for several years, well I have no clue how I would handle it. Being several weeks there each holiday is enough to get sick of the pollution already for me

  3. I feel so similarly about Jakarta. I know there are things I will look back on fondly one day and that, very likely, these will be the best aspects about living in Jakarta. But I’ve been gone for about six weeks and I have barely given it a second thought. Ha, I can’t even imagine the transformation of moving from Beijing to Santa Monica…the two couldn’t be more different! But it certainly does seem like you’re enjoying being a California girl!

    1. It’s weird isn’t it? I think the fact that we are both moving to new homes, rather than back to the places we grew up, must have something to do with not missing Beijing/Jakarta. Your new location is especially exciting. I wonder if we will miss them in a few months, maybe? Oh yes it is so different to Beijing haha- but in all good ways so far. I do indeed love being a California girl. I must be crazy though as I’m planning on going scuba diving off of La Jolla! Am I going to freeze? They said they’ll give me a 7 ml wetsuit!

  4. Completely understand you! I am living in Beijing and just came back from a trip to Japan where everything was so different that I truely wondered why we are still in Beijing dealing with all the things you described.
    It really is this mix of hate and love.

    Haven’t left a place and missed it yet though, so not sure how I would feel about that.

    OT: where is the dumpling place with Laos beer? Would love to try it!

    1. I had the same feeling after Japan too. We went in February and I was so grumpy about going back to Beijing! But then I started loving Beijing again once Spring arrived. The Dumpling Place is on Baochao Hutong and it’s called Mr Shi’s. You get some tourists there but also expats that have lived in Beijing a long time and Chinese people. It’s a cute little place and you can write all over the walls if you want! The hutong we lived on ran off of Baochao so we went there all the time as it was our nearest dumpling place. Have you ever been over there? It’s a fun street.

      1. Baochao Hutong I know, it’s not too far from where I live (bikeable)
        I’ve been in the area quite often, but haven’t checked Mr. Shi’s out yet. I think I might have seen the place though. Should check it out!

  5. Ah…I can’t even think about moving away from Thailand permanently without tears welling up in my eyes, but I do understand that mix of emotions of loving and hating things about the same place. I love more things about Thailand than not, but sometime I pause and think, wow, how am I okay with a certain aspect of life here when I disagree with it so much? On to the next adventure!

    1. Thanks Alana. I’m really glad others also have a sense of these mixed feelings I have and it’s not just me! I definitely think Thailand is such a big part of your life now, you’ll never be able to “leave” even if you are not actually in the country 🙂

  6. It sounds like you had just the right amount of time in Beijing. Of course, any place will have its trials and challenges, so it’s great that you are hanging onto mostly the positive stuff. I feel the same about India (I also have a similar disbelief, like “did I actually do that/live there/experience this!?”)… there were so many ups and downs, but the overall feeling of my memories is of fondness and gratitude.

  7. I always feel nostalgic when I talk about Berlin. I think we lived there at the perfect time and I wonder if, when we do go back and visit, we will find that our favourite places have completely changed.

    We’re also currently facing the decision of whether or not we should leave Hanoi and the pollution is a huge factor in that decision, but it will still be a hard one to make.

    As you said, I’m sure once we leave, I’ll look back at our time here through rose coloured glasses and forget about some of the daily annoyances. At the moment, my relationship with Hanoi is still more positive than negative and I think, in order to remember it fondly, we will have to leave while it’s still that way. One everything starts to annoy me, I can imagine never wanting to come.

    Being a super nostalgic person though, I totally get what you said about going back to the touristy places like when you first arrive.

    Hope you’re enjoying your new adventures!

    1. Thank you. Oh I am really nostalgic too. We lived in Korea eight years ago and I am super nostalgic about that time. I definitely think it is good to leave a place when you still like it- I know some people that have lived in Beijing for a really long time and they don’t actually like it at all anymore. It’s a shame when that happens.

  8. And one of your nicest times in Beijing was when your mother came to visit…….well I loved it anyway. Was just showing one of your sisters today the photos, and telling her Mr Shi’s Dumplings was the place I finally got the hang of chopsticks. Can’t wait to visit your new home. xx

  9. I’m in the middle of a 3-year stint in London and already thinking on what adventure may come next. My company has a few big offices in Asia (Shanghai, Singapore) and I have the itch to go further east rather than packing it all up and heading back to the States. But China scares me a bit – I mean, the pollution, the insane crowds, the ‘foreignness’ of it all…I’m not sure I’m ready for all of that. Or am I?

  10. I think most of us are a bit nostalgic about places we have been before. Even when we had very low experiences while we were there.

    For me it is mostly the familiarity- the people you see everyday, even the ones you might not necessarily talk to you and the favourite food places you have come to expect.

  11. Julie, I was really nervous about going to visit Joella as I didn’t know what to expect, but I am so glad I did. It is very different but I wouldn’t hesitate to live there if I was younger. So if you have a sense of adventure I would say go for it and have a wonderful time enjoying the culture of China.

  12. I really think that if you feel like it’s time to move on, then do it. I know how much you’ve been enjoying yourself in Beijing, but I bet you know the best where you should be right now. If you decide to leave the city, you will be missing baozi a lot – I know that!! 🙂

  13. I get the feeling that I’m going to feel the same way about Korea when I eventually leave here. I was devastated about leaving Mexico City and I’ll probably end up moving back there again at some point. But here? I like it and I’m sure there are aspects to life here that I’ll miss. But I don’t think I’ll be that affected.

    1. I sometimes wonder if I am more affected by the first places I lived overseas and I’m just used to it all now? I remember Korea so fondly but I’m not sure I actually liked it more than China, in fact, I definitely hated it there sometimes! But now I remember it as the most amazing place in the world haha. That could also be something that has developed over time for me though as I can’t really remember how I felt leaving there- I think I was excited to go back to the UK! I haven’t been to Mexico City but I think I would really like it there!

  14. I think 2 years is quite a long time, but what is it about goodbyes that seem to bring back only the good memories? And of course Beijing would give you great weather to sway you – haha. I’m sure you’re living it up in the OC by the beach though. It’s so gorgeous where you’re at now!! And you can drive to the beach, mountains, dessert, forest – maybe I should have moved there too! 🙂

  15. I love this post and I think it perfectly sums up some of the feelings I have about life in Korea!

    I’m only just about to begin year two, but there are so many amazing things — but some that will likely always have me looking back to go — huh!!? But I think you make a good point — maybe it’s best to focus on the best memories from life abroad!

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