I lived in China for a total of 7 years: a year in Guangxi ( 2012 — 2013) and six in Beijing (April 2014 — Feb 2020). Over this time and even now, after I have moved back to Estonia, people have always asked me — do/did you feel home there or is/was that home? I found it very difficult to answer, until I learned about a different concept of “home” from one of my anthropology classes I am taking as a part of my MA program. From there I learned that a home is the relationships with people, things, events, the space I have carved out for myself that might not be related to the physical location I am at. So as it’s been a year (how crazy is that???) since I left China, I wanted to share what my actual answer to that question would be. Was that my home? (And yes, this might come off a bit cheesy, but you know — I did not get to say goodbye last year, so let it be cheesy)
My home is the uncountable improv practices and workshops
- I started going to Beijing Improv workshops my first week of arriving in Beijing. I joined the Bilingual Improv Group BIG in early 2015 and later that year with some wonderful women, we established the Beijing Broads.
- BIG practiced every Monday, Broads every Thursday, on Wednesdays I occasionally led the bilingual workshop plus there were two shows every month. All of the proceeds from both groups went/go to NGOs.
- My home is the post practice drinks and snacks or chuan’r in a hutong bar, BBQ joint or a noodle restaurant with fellow improvisers and friends.
- My home is the uncountable improv shows I did with BIG, Beijing Broads, Beijing Improv English Players and Aoye Improv in many spaces all over the city: US-China Comedy Center, Zajia, LAB Space, that Fangjia 46 space (what was it called?), Yue Space, Modernista, 4Corners, LA Palms, Caravan, Bookworm, UCCA and I am sure I forgot something here.
My home is the long days at the bakery that we opened with Jon
- Listening to music, we’d bake cookies and bread. Jon taught me how to froth milk (I first practised with dish soap), but I never got good at it. Jon also taught me to make the best cookies in the world. I think I became pretty good at it, I still make them :)
- My home is the stupid espresso machine and industrial size mixer that I could not get rid of after closing the business in the summer of 2018 (I sold the espresso machine in 2019 November and gave the mixer away for free in May 2020 — I hope they found good homes).
- My home is the creation of the idea of the RuKis 黑麦 brand in 2015 which only happened because Alina, Nestor and Ed thought the product was good enough for selling.
- My home is, before opening the physical store, making 50–100 loaves of bread over one weekend out of my Guanshuyuan 官书院 apartment with 2 toaster ovens and hating myself (which my roommates probably did too — sorry Kyrie and Sarah for all that). I made the dough and left it to proof overnight so I could start baking super early in the morning and often the dough would overproof, so I ended up with bread dough all over the place. Then I had to carry the breads down from the 5th floor apartment and walk over to the whatever market or fair I was attending and still hating myself for doing it until I was at the market where people gave me wonderful feedback, so I forgot the horror that preceded it.
- My home is the decision to shut down the bakery as it was too tricky to carry on with it.
- My home is working 3 jobs in 2017 for 4 months: The Hutong, the bakery and the Estonian embassy. Somehow I managed to go to muay thai classes and improv practices at the time too. Probably skipped some improv tho..
My home is the most zen work place — the Estonian Embassy in Beijing
- My home is the spontaneous gatherings with my embassy colleagues
- My home is also all the exciting things I got to do while working there: meet interesting people, challenge my Chinese skills, accompany the Estonian president’s delegation etc.
My home is The Hutong
- My home is drinking coffee in Fujian in a 300 year old 土楼 tulou before a day of biking to a nearby village through a gorgeous landscape.
- My home is going to bed after a long day in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia
- My home is the sense of accomplishment as part of an amazing team at The Hutong
- My home is the team lunches and Friday night drinks that made me feel like a part of a really cool family
- My home is The Hutong courtyard, where I attended cooking classes, taught baking classes, attended markets, drank a lot of mulled wine, ate soooooo many dumplings and other delicious foods that Tang, Wei and Xing aiyi would cook up or just leftovers from cooking classes or hook’n’cooks.
My home is learning Chinese
- My home is the Guangxi University Chinese class (2012–2013) where I realised that I understand everything my teacher was saying.
My home is all the good and weird aspects of Beijing
- My home is going for an evening jog around the Forbidden City and stopping at the 午门 Wumen Gate which is accessible 24/7 and many people do not know about it.
- My home is the spontaneous 麻辣香锅 malaxiangguo, 麻辣烫 malatang, 串quan’r, noodles, Korean BBQ, 家常菜 jiachangcai etc with people.
- My home is Zhang Mama, Suzuki Kitchen, Jindingxuan, Xianlaoman, Barista coffee, Beiluo bars, Cafe Alba, 4corners, LA Palms, Jing A, Little Yunnan and many other places I can’t remember at the moment … (feel free to remind me!)
- My home is the hutong walks, sketching in 地坛公园 Ditan park and wondering around the fascinating city on foot, by bike or on a scooter.
- My home in the very literal sense were all the apartments I lived in, some were amazing, some were freezing in the winter and had nasty cockroaches in them. Luckily I never had any encounters with bathroom scorpions. I lived in Jinsong, SW Beixinqiao, Guanshuyuan, Northern Sanlitun apartment buildings and in two hutong apartments, both near Beixinqiao. First one was freezing and had a mean neighbor and landlord, my last apartment was amazing and the landlord was as nice. Fun story — another Estonian had lived in that apartment 5 years ago, it was a complete coincidence as there are usually only around 20 Estonians in Beijing at a time.
- My home is the muay thai and BJJ classes I started at Big King club and am now continuing here in Estonia.
- My home is EGRC (Educating Girls of Rural China) and supporting women’s education in the Western provinces of China. I am writing my MA thesis on EGRC and the importance of investing in girls’ education.
My home is the visits to Estonia to see friends and family
- My home is my grandparents who patiently waited for me to move back, but never pressured me
- My home is my friends and family visiting me in Beijing
My home is exploring Beijing and the rest of China
- My home is the uncountable times that I have been to the Great Wall
- My home is visiting friends in Shanghai as well as going on Hutong trips to Inner Mongolia, Fujian, Northern Hills and Qinghai.
- My home is the few trips to other countries — to Philippines for improv festival, Singapore for my first full marathon and also for an improv festival and Thailand for muay thai.
My home is all the people I have met and miss and hopefully will see again
Once we can travel again, come and visit, friends! The way I enjoyed showing my Estonian folks around in Beijing, I’d love to show my friends from all over what my life is like here.
And all these encounters, people, experiences etc will continue to be my home as will be new places, people and happenings. I am sure I left some important thoughts and photos out, but that’s okay. I get random attacks by my brain at 1 AM and am reminded about more events, people, food, traffic, smog, hot weather, the gorgeous springs and falls and so on.
So that’s all. If someone asks me, is/was that home, then the answer is above. Told you it’s going to be cheesy. But cheese is delicious and so much cheaper in Europe so I’m having lots of it these days.