“世界那么大，我想去看看”。于是二十几岁的时候，我们出门远行。我们可能会走过很多地方，从陌生的城市到陌生的国家，我们不可避免地与故乡渐行渐远。可是从什么时候开始，我们把自己正在生活的地方也称之为“家”了？是对异域风情的迷恋，还是年近不惑的感慨？来自罗马尼亚的美女记者Simina Mistreanu将对话Carl Setzer，一个隐藏于老北京胡同里的酒吧老板，同时也是一名来自俄亥俄州在北京生活了11年的“中国通”。来听听他的北京印象是如何从“驿站”演变成“归所”。
What Makes a Place a Home
A little less than a year ago, during Memorial Day weekend in the United States, I went on a hike in Portland’s Forest Park with the man I was dating.
We hiked a steep trail on the side of a hill among tall pine trees, whose shade was pierced by sunlight. When we got to our destination, a classy French-style mansion on the top of the hill, called Pittock Mansion, I was out of breath but also very relaxed. In front of the mansion there was a park that offered a great panorama of the city. Little Portland was right there, in front of us, surrounded by trees and mountains, under fluffy clouds and a very blue sky. I looked at it, and I thought it was beautiful.
“There’s home,” I surprised myself saying.
Although I had lived there for more than a year, I hadn’t until that moment perceived the city as my home. The “home” feeling is often difficult to grasp, especially when you live far away from where you grew up. It can be an instant, intuitive sensation, or a compound of things that are important to you, such as family, security and a goal you work toward.
I’ve recently discussed this topic with one of Beijing’s most well-known foreigners – Carl Setzer, founder of Great Leap Brewing, a craft brewery chain popular among expats and locals alike.
Setzer, 33, is an Ohio native who has lived in China on and off for the past 11 years, coming for study or to take jobs in the automotive and information technology sectors. In 2008, he married a longtime friend, Liu Fang, and two years later they opened their first microbrewery, in the Beijing hutongs. Their popular beers are made with local ingredients such as Chinese teas or Sichuan peppercorn, and the business has since expanded with two more locations in Chaoyang district.
Setzer is fluent in Mandarin, a successful entrepreneur and proud husband and father. Yet feeling at home in Beijing is never black or white.
“I’ve been as comfortable as you could be as an expat with an extremely generous and patient wife and an idea for a business, but also the reality is that I’m never going to be Asian,” he says. “So no matter what I accomplish, people’s first impression of me is that I’m a laowai. It’s not that I’m a good businessman or a good father or a good person, it’s just the otherness of being foreign.”
He says he takes his experiences one day at a time. They are a mix of “really high highs of joy and happiness and excitement and really steep drops into otherness and insecurity.” But even the worst days in China are better than good days at home because he knows he’s made the decision to challenge himself and live outside his comfort zone.
Beijing is now Setzer’s home, he says, due to a combination of feeling close to his family (including people from across the globe, with whom he communicates online), and at the same time enjoying the exposure to all the new, interesting people he meets in Beijing.
“These people float in and out of your life because it’s such a transient city,” he says. “You see people at so many different stages of their own creativity, and their own lifestyle. And then there’s the people who are always around, the guys who have lived here for 20-25 years, who really call this their home before any other place in the world.”
China affects you and changes you, and that’s a good thing, Setzer says. At the same time, you hold on to parts of your own culture because you’re not actively trying to replace it.
“You need to find who you are and what your center is, and then let all these tertiary things influence you,” he says.
In retrospect, I realized that Portland started to feel like home to me the moment I felt like I had made good friends there – something I struggled with at the beginning. All of a sudden, everything had fallen into place: my job, my relationship, and my dear friends. So far, Beijing feels like it could become my home much faster. That may be because of its incredible variety and liveliness. Or maybe because I’ve learned to put up less resistance when home wants to come to me.
What is home to you? I’m looking for stories of expats who have made Beijing their home. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story with me and our readers.