A Canadian in Beijing: My Last Day in China

What did I do on my last day in China?

I bought chopsticks.

What can you do in the face of reality? The reality was that I was leaving and the response was to soothe the pain of that reality with retail therapy. And, sad as it sounds, it worked. What’s more, I took home gifts for my loved ones and that felt good. It felt like a bridge between Beijing and Canada somehow.

I guess you could say that I relented and loosened my grip on my desire to be “a local” and promised that desire that I’d revisit it in the future.

Many different markets had been tested in advance of their arrival. I went to The Pearl Markets, the Silk Markets (each offering much more than pearls and silk), the YaXiu Markets and, of course, to the Wudaokou Markets (several times) in search of the cheapest options and best environment for them. . .
My friend Rui suggested the Wholesale Clothing Markets by the Zoo. I had never been there and so we all decided that a new experience for everyone was due. They are geared to Chinese shoppers as opposed to tourists and we were the only foreign faces that I noticed there. With our translating skills, my family was alright, but without any Chinese knowledge these markets would be extremely difficult for a foreign traveller. While they proved to be super cheap, the sizes were also limited, especially for my sister’s fiancé, Steve, who wears size 12 shoe and is over six-feet tall. They also closed early (and I found out that they open at six a.m.!) and so we piled into a cab and headed for more shopping options.

I suggested against the Silk Markets, which I had found to be far too pricey. Even the sign that showed a happy white family turned me off. I mean, how better to tell the tourists that they’re about to get ripped off than to show them smiling pictures of white people pretending they don’t know any better!

The presence of credit card stickers above stalls also proved that these prices were out of control; if they’re willing to accept international credit cards within the stalls themselves, then they had definitely inflated their prices. In fact, I found a shirt there that I had bought at the Wudaokou Market for 30 kuai that was listed at 280 kuai. Just ridiculous. The exact same shirt!

These kinds of “foreigner price inflations” are insulting. In fact, I think “indignant” would be the word I’d use to describe my response. I just couldn’t imagine bringing them there and luckily they were fine with that.

We headed then to Wudaokou first where they found a few things but weren’t quite satisfied. There was still the issue of an impossible task in finding shoes to fit Steve’s feet. Many vendors actually laughed when we told them we were looking for a size 49 or 50 (in Chinese sizes.)

So, we hit the Pearl Markets, this proving to be the most successful location for my sister and Steve. Not only were they able to get the souvenirs they wanted, but also several people could speak to them in English and they were able to operate without me as their sidekick the whole time. They found clothes that fit and had already become quite skilled at bargaining by this point. They came away smiling and laden with clothes and gifts and shoes and knickknacks. It was a successful mission.

The Pearl Markets were probably the best choice for lots of reasons. Not only were the prices better and less insulting, but the environment just outside of the markets was very western with a café (that looked suspiciously like a Starbucks knockoff) equipped with outdoor seating and tables with sun umbrellas. It’s the kind of décor that I rarely see in China and see everywhere in North America.

My sister and Steve wanted to hang out here for awhile and I can see why: it’s familiar. So, for the first time in three months I had an afternoon beer in the hot sun while shaded by the patio umbrellas. I could easily have been in Toronto in that activity. The rest of the seats were all sat in by non-Chinese shoppers. Whoever had thought of this café here was thinking about the tourists, that’s for sure.

Besides, it was good to rest now that the list had been (mostly) crossed off. Everyone was smiling.

I have to admit, though, that I was also peaking about leaving. Smiling on the outside and crying on the inside. Sound dramatic? Yeah, that’s me. Hidden drama at the best of times.

We headed back to the hotel then to get ready for dinner. I put them up (and also stayed) at the Beijing Friendship Hotel. This hotel is one of the oldest in Beijing and used to be the only place where foreigners were allowed to stay in Beijing. Since then, this has changed, but this hotel still holds its grandeur and scope. It is a huge site with several different buildings.

Staying in a hotel at the end of my trip really did solidify the feeling of being a tourist once again. I know that China is not my home, but it had begun to feel that way before I moved into the hotel for four nights. I really hope to regain that feeling in the future – that feeling of China being home – but it wasn’t meant to last this time around.

When we headed for the airport the next day, the drop in my gut seemed like an endless black hole. I kept gulping back tears and nausea and just tried to keep breathing the reality of my leaving in, as though it was a necessary medicine and that I would recover. Recover from the pain of separating from this amazing country, yes, and also recover from the intensity of this tourist marathon.

I’m still working on both recoveries.

I know that I will return to China. I will go back sooner than later, I believe. I just can’t stay away. My language skills were just starting to feel smooth, just starting to whisper the potential of future fluency.

I will definitely return.

Wo ken ding zai lai 我肯定再来。

China, I miss you already.