No promises, but marriage an option

Updated: 2012-01-01 09:54

By Tom Spender (China Daily)

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I'm not going home for the New Year, so I am in Beijing for the arrival of 2012. One of the things I like about Beijing compared to other cities around the world is that there's relatively little "face control", or general elitism about who is allowed into which venue, although elitism is clearly alive and well in many other areas of life.

I've never gone in for New Year's Resolutions there's nothing particularly auspicious about the date and if you aren't motivated enough to do whatever it is that you want to do when you think of it then simply starting in January isn't going to help much. Even so, I do have a few intentions for 2012 and the extent to which I achieve them may decide whether or not I remain in China.

My 2011, in terms of work, was very bitty. As a freelancer I dabbled in writing, editing, voiceover work, interpreting and translating, which gave me the flexibility to travel when I wanted and show my parents a few places in China when they visited the country for the first time in October.

The highlight was climbing Mount Emei near Chengdu, which was much higher and steeper than I thought, but we made it to the top and my parents are still buzzing from the experience.

My challenge for 2012 is to work on bigger projects that I really believe in rather than simply taking small jobs for money. Of course, it's great to contribute toward textbooks that help Chinese people learn English, but there are only so many times I can read dialogues about eating fewer hamburgers and more fruit and vegetables without going nuts.

At the moment I'm working with an online English editing company that aims to help people and firms say what they want to say in English in a clear and professional way.

It's an exciting project because the spread of English as a second language all over the world means that the potential market is huge. The challenge is to make people aware of the company and persuade them to try out the service. It's also a great opportunity for me to try my hand at business development.

But 2011 was a great year for trying out new things. I tried out various new age techniques during a month in an ashram in India and a shamanic retreat in Switzerland, had a crack at life drawing, finally got around to taking some guitar lessons (hopefully in 2012 I will have the cojones to begin playing at some open-mic nights).

I also started doing hot yoga and hosted my parents for the first time since leaving the United Kingdom six years ago. I also got back into salsa dancing thanks to the lively and accessible social dance scene here.

I aim to carry on with all of these activities in 2012, as well as keeping on learning Chinese, getting an e-scooter, which seems to be a quintessential Chinese urban experience, and getting a new apartment.

Nevertheless, if the offer of such lifestyle activities is growing in Beijing, some of the romance of simply being in a rapidly transforming city, the sense of being on a journey without a clear destination, may be wearing off.

This may simply be my own personal perspective because the initial bewildered wonderment is fading (although after two-and-a-half years in the city I'm hardly an old China hand) and my priorities are changing.

But at the recent Sinica live podcast discussion about the "soul of Beijing", one participant expressed a similar view, arguing that as the city's direction becomes clearer, the star-crossed love affair some people have with it is turning into a regular marriage.

Is Beijing a marriage I want to stay in? Well, if the English editing company takes off and I make sure that I keep up my hobbies, then maybe.

But things change. Part of me yearns for the stability and safety, the health insurance and free flights home that getting a full-time job would entail, a step that could well mean leaving China unless I were to take a full-time English-polishing role - for me, a dismal prospect.

Meanwhile, another part of me yearns for adventure and the open road. It wants to explore the unknown, to learn the tango in Buenos Aires or try to make a living from art photography.

Perhaps it's time to make a proper commitment to this city rather than living in a state of permanent ambivalence, but then again perhaps I'm just not ready for marriage, particularly if just breathing the air makes "till death do us part" too real a prospect.

So I'm going into 2012 with no promises made. I'll take it as it comes.

Tom Spender works as an editor for, an editing and translation service in Beijing.