“Congratulations, it is your blog’s birthday today. You have been blogging for exactly one year now.”
This was the message I received this morning when I opened my page. Any other day I would have just given it a quick smile and moved on but today of all days the message flashing across the screen is so much more important. It seemed to sum up everything that had lead me down the path of this last year culminating in today. It was my last day at work.
One topic I can always go off on an endless string of anecdotes about is Chinese superstition. Yet, I have to admit that I am prone to my own superstitions and beliefs. Most importantly, I believe in coincidences. What a strange fact indeed that today exactly one year ago I started this blog. It seems like yesterday and yet over 365 days later and my life has been completely turned upside down.
I came to Nanjing almost two years ago and I have loved almost every minute of it. The job, the city, the people (most of them anyway); it has been a truly exciting and inspiring experience. But a few months ago something changed.
Telling people that I am planning on moving on to Beijing after the wedding has been an interesting experience to say the least, since it has put me face to face with my worst fear; that of becoming “the wife”. When people ask me what it is I struggle with the most in China, my answer often surprises them. It’s not the pollution, it’s not the food safety and it isn’t the political climate either. It’s women’s equality. Coming to China in many ways is like stepping into a time machine. In some cases this can be a romantic notion; going back to the countryside where people own one electronic device per household, usually a TV from the ’70s, has such a melancholic simplicity about it. But in other cases, women in particular, the expectations put on the female population nowadays are completely unsustainable. They are still expected to be the dutiful wife who takes care of a majority of the household and care-taking responsibilities. Yet, through Mao’s gender equal approach they have also joined the workforce. Nowadays, juggling full-time job responsibilities with incredibly high expectations to take on most familial duties, local women are under so much pressure, I simply don’t know how they do it.
So, when I announce to anyone these days that I am moving to Beijing after the wedding, the immediate response by my conversational partners will almost exclusively be: “Naturally. Once you are married, you cannot be in a long distance relationship. A wife needs to be with her husband.”
It frustrates me to no end, when I hear these notions of a wife’s duty thrown at me time and time again. Am I going to Beijing to be with my husband? Yes and no. As usual the answer is much more complex than that.
It might be that I am part of what they are now calling the “Peter Pan Generation”, the group of ’80s and ’90s kids who just can’t settle down – in terms of marriage, mortgage and location. Yet, here I am under 30 and getting married. Still, I lived in the same flat in the same street in the same town for the first 20 years of my life and ever since I set foot outside of Germany, I have joined the digital nomads, always on the lookout for my next fix. Three years in Vienna, 7 months Beijing, another half a year in Vienna, one year in Newcastle, one in London and now two in Nanjing. When I arrived here I really thought this was it. This is where I am staying the next five years or so. Then recently, that unrest reared its head again. Time to move on to something new. Well, something familiarly new, actually.
It might also be a career move, going up north to the media centre of the country.
It might be because I am tired of saying good-bye to my expat friends every single year, having to go out and fine new ones, and that I am looking for more “long-term foreigners”, most of which are in the capital.
And yes, it might just be because I want to be with my husband.
Since my days at the University of Vienna, where I was listening to lectures about gendering in languages and the idea that how we speak will inevitably influence the way we view women and gender, a seed was planted within me that has been steadily growing throughout the years. It got stronger in the UK when I got a first taste of the “men’s club” of the upper echelons of business and the under-representation of female leadership. And it has bloomed into something serious in China, where attitudes towards women are still comparable to the Europe in the 1950s, while the pressures and pace of life are of the 21st century. What Western ideas of feminism have done to my mind is create this idea that I am not allowed to compromise myself for a man. That saying I would give up a job I love to be with a man I love is a shameful thing.
Yet, here in China, rather than explaining the complex nature of my decision to leave and bore my opposite to death for the sake of seeming more independent and true to my feminist principles, it is just so much easier to go with the simple and acknowledged truth: “A wife should be with her husband.” And in the end, is that really something to be ashamed of?
Thanks to everyone who has been following my ramblings for this past year, I hope I could make you laugh a little and give you some insight into the crazy life of a Western feminist in a Chinese household. There will still be many more stories to share as the wedding comes up, so here is to another year of OCW!