At the ticket booth of the Beijinger‘s 10th Anniversary Party, a volunteer asked me how many years I’d been in Beijiing.
“Four,” I said.
She wrote the number on a pin under the title, “Years in Beijing:” and handed it to me. I pinned it to my sweater.
Walking around, I tried to sneak a peek at other people’s pins. One year, two years, half a year. Few had numbers larger than mine. Though I felt proud, like an upperclassman in high school, it dawned on me that four years was a long time.
I first read the Beijinger in 2007, when I had just come to China, but the magazine had been started six years before that by three expats, Jerry Chan, Mike Wester, and Jeremy Goldkorn, as That’s Beijing, the Beijing counterpart to That’s Shanghai and That’s Guangzhou. (Now is probably a good time to disclose that I have just started writing for the magazine.)
Chan, editorial director of the magazine, says that he started the publication because it seemed something “fun and interesting to do at the time,” but he hadn’t planned on staying for so long. (He’s been here 13 years.) “Beijing is prominent now,” he says, “but when I came here it was a hardship post.”
A lot can change in a decade. The party was held in Sanlitun SOHO, which was hardly around a year ago. It was packed and as I wandered around looking for the group I had become separated from, I thought back to 2001. I was a sophomore in high school with a dream of studying filmmaking. Never would I have thought that I’d be living and working in Beijing. Back then, Beijing was just a city where my parents dragged me to during summer vacation. It was the land where my relatives lived.
Back then, there were significantly less cars and significantly more bicycles. Buses sometimes let you off on the side of the road if you asked nicely. Most of the modern iconic buildings—the CCTV Headquarters, the National Centre for the Performing Arts, China World Trade Center Tower III—didn’t exist. It’s not a stretch to say that Beijing has transformed in the last ten years.
It’s no surprise that the magazine has had to keep up. “We’ve had to reengineer ourselves many times,” says Chan. The mutability of the city can be exhausting, but it can also be exhilarating. Chan says that working on the magazine has been “consistently interesting.”
The 10th anniversary issue of the Beijinger featured a series of before-and-after photographs of people around town. The “before” photo was taken five or ten years ago and paired with an “after” photo that tried to recreate the original photo as best as possible. It’s remarkable to see the changes up close, not only in the individuals—some have put on weight, shed facial hair, had children—but in their surroundings as well.
Seeing these made me flip back to the photographs that I had taken in 2007. It was a strange feeling. I could recognize the me in those photographs, but I also knew, looking into his 22-year-old eyes, that, as much as I wanted to, I would never be him again.
When I was done reminiscing, I tried to imagine my life six years from now. Where would I be? What would I be doing? It was impossible to tell. After all, a lot can change in a decade.
Photo courtesy of the Beijinger.