Moving has characterized mylife. By Chinese standards, I move fairly frequently. Ever since when I was 12, I have been on the move. Pingyao, a small city in centralShanxi Provinceknown for having the country's best-preserved ancient city walls, became myfirst adoptive town, where I went to middle school and high school. I later relocated to Tianjin for college. Four years later, I rode a bus to Beijing by choice, determined to make good. After one and a half years exhilarating and footloose life, I bid Beijing goodbye and boarded a New York-bound airplane. Then, it was Annapolis of Maryland and San Francisco of California. It went full circle, and here I am in Beijing again.
Of the past eight years, five and a half years has seen me somewhere in Beijing. Within the city, I have moved a few times, an indication of rising housing prices on the one hand and a testimony to the ebb and flow of myincome and relationship on the other. Wudaokou, Huilongguan, Sanyuanqiao, Jijiamiao, Jimenqiao, Shahe, and most recently, Andingmen all have a place in my memory. Although they never shaped me, they comforted me with the idea of home.
I have felt the pulse of the city: the Panglossianpost-Olympicsboom and the stock market crash in the summer of 2015;a cheery influx of homegrown and expatriate talent (from programmers and entrepreneurs to artists and moviemakers) and the shockingly deplorablelow-endpeople evictionandthe unfortunateexodus of translators who found it increasingly hard to make ends meet; foggy and smoggy skies that smothered the capital and the unbelievably blue skies--a godsend thanks to a set of prominent events: APEC (2014), a military parade (2015), the two sessions (2016 and 2017), and Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (2018); the omnipresence of cranes (a sure sign ofimprovement of city-wide infrastructure) and a rash ofhigh-profile scandals (one involveda kindergarten and a few others concerned vaccination) that wracked the nerves ofelitist middle-class parents who were forced to admit that unless the social ills are addressed all shall suffer.I have been at the epicenter where all of these took place. I could sense the Zeitgeist.
The moving was very personal, too. Every time I moved, I was remindedof the classic line from the movie Fight Club, "The things you own end up owning you." You can live in an apartment for years without realizing how much stuff you have piled up, often not driven by necessity.Once you realize you are enslaved, first, you are startled, and thenyou start to have this irresistible sense of self-disgust. You wonder why on earth you bought so much and sink into deep disbelief.You vow to never ever buy shit you don't need, although deep down you know you are not dead serious.
Sometimes it's not easy to disown things. Over the years you become attached to the things you own becausethey carry traces of you, however subtle they may be.By nature, I am madly protective of things that I own. A Casio electronic dictionary has been working dutifully for mefor over ten years. A pair of Bose headphones followed me over the Arctic and throughout the continental US. Six years on, they are still perfectly serviceable. When my Vans Atwood Buck leather shoes wore out, I gave them a proper send-off by sparing a moment of silence. Before I let them go, Itook a picture, an attempt to immortalize them.
fallen shoe warriors
I am acutely aware of the danger of being overly sentimental. Life goes on. Pauses are fine, but should not stand in the way of moving on. Over the years, I have learned to build an organic relationship with things in such a way that validates and perpetuates them and yet makes the break with them easier. Many years ago, a friend of mine remarked that knowing how to properly say goodbye to things is an important part of life.I agree and have been perfecting the art of doing so.
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