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Destination Beijing is a dream come true

Updated: 2023-10-31 07:53 ( China Daily )
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Madhusree Mallik [Photo provided to China Daily]

It was 2003. A very dear friend, who also happened to be a colleague, was telling me about this trade fair happening in her neighborhood in Kolkata, India, where many countries had set up their kiosks. An hour later, we were there and the first thing we spotted was the China pavilion. We saw little else, choosing to spend the limited time we had browsing through the displays from a country that fascinated us both. Finally, we headed to work, each carrying a box of five miniature Chinese vases and myriad other knickknacks. Given our far-from-generous salaries in those days, we had spent a fortune that afternoon. But the logic was that we probably would never get to visit China, so at least we would have something from that country as a consolation.

Cut to 2023. The same dear friend now lives in Shanghai, having moved there in 2007. And I live in Beijing, having moved here a little more than three months ago.

Places have a way of working out for me. From the time I was a kid, there were three places I wanted to visit above all else — Vienna, Istanbul and Beijing. Don't ask me why. I just did. The first I managed as a 40th birthday treat, but it was a bit of a disappointment. I found Vienna cold, in every sense. Istanbul followed a few years later. My then editor had noticed my Blue Mosque screen saver and was amused by my obsession. I am forever grateful for the opportunity he gave me to visit Istanbul. It was everything that I thought it would be, and more.

So that left only Beijing. A trip to Shanghai happened in 2011, but as time was very limited, my friend and I told ourselves that we would do it the next time. But unfortunately, that next time never came. Many places were visited in the meantime, but Beijing remained out of reach.

The pandemic made travel impossible and the boredom of work from home made me want to flee. At the first opportunity I got, I moved back from Delhi to my hometown Kolkata. Of course, the boss warned me that I would have to return, but I knew that was not where I wanted to be anymore. After nine years, I'd had enough of Delhi.

So began the hunt for a new job, somewhere outside the country. Most of the good newspaper jobs in India were in Delhi and that was not an option anymore. I sent out one application after another — to Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City. Then came word that China Daily was hiring. In Beijing.

What followed next is still a blur. A lot of emails back and forth, a written test that left me a nervous wreck, a telephone interview, and then a letter saying I had the job! Next came the paperwork and the usual drama at the visa office, and the even bigger dramas in my unusually large family as the elderly uncles and aunts came to know where I was headed. To them, China was the great unknown. Every attempt was made to talk me out of it. There was blatant emotional blackmail, then dire warnings and finally grudging acceptance. In late June, I finally boarded that flight to Hong Kong, on my way to Beijing.

It's now been more than three months of living in this amazing city, making friends with some of the nicest people and eating some incredible food. I still find it difficult to believe that I am actually here. On weekends, I play the tourist. Some of the must-sees have been ticked off the list. But such an enormous lot remains to be seen. My weekends are sorted for the next few months and I am not complaining.

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