Beijing Lights: ‘I feel excited about the new beginning’

Society & Culture

"It really seems like I have lived such an ordinary life. But whose life isn’t ordinary? No matter who you are, no matter how much money you have, everyone is ordinary in the end."

Cat on three-wheel motorbike
Illustration by Alex Santafé

Beijing Lights is a column written by Huang Chenkuang, published by the Beijing-based literary arts collective Spittoon, in which she tells the stories of the marginalized from their point of view. It is syndicated here with permission. This article was originally published under the headline “What are we busy for?” (click through to read it in Chinese), and appears here with slight edits.

Note from Kuang:

Not long after our interview, Hán Chuǎng 韩闯 moved from Beijing to his hometown Hejian, a small county located in Hebei, to start his new life chapter. He then announced the arrival of his baby girl: “We had a little princess,” he said, his voice filled with happiness.

Han Chuang, male, 31, from Hebei, veterinarian

The last time I was back in my hometown, I went for a motorbike ride, speeding down all the roads. It felt very cool.

After I started working, I saved up for the bike. It cost over 10,000 kuai ($1,550). It’s a three-wheel motorbike painted army green, with one of those separate seats on the right side.

I’ve always dreamed of riding to the southernmost point of China, visiting every city and village along the way. The plan is to work for a while, then travel until my money runs out. I’ve even carefully calculated the number of towns and cities in China.

The reality is, I live as dull and conventional a life as most people in the city. Every day I get up when my alarm rings for a second time, then commute for over an hour on the metro. The rest of my day I’m busy dealing with routine tasks.

The good thing is that I do like my job. And I get along well with my colleagues. Treating animals can be stressful, but there are some touching moments too. I remember, once, performing a cesarean on a dog, I noticed how her internal organs resembled a million high-speed expressways, all helping to channel nutrients to her babies. That really struck me, the grand miracle of what life is.

I started working as a vet as soon as I graduated from college. There was one time where I tried to “run away.” It was my second or third year in the job. One day I suddenly thought to myself: “Is this it? Is the rest of my life just going to be like this?” I decided to try something different. I quit my job and left Beijing for a small coastal city called Yantai in Shandong province. I worked in a pet hospital during the day, and set up a stand selling barbecue until late in the night. It was a blast.

I spent three careless months in Yantai, until I had to go back for a good friend’s wedding. I rode a bicycle and hung a banner on it that read, “Wish my friend XX a happy wedding!” I rode along the coast for 11 days before I finally arrived.

My friend’s wedding was a kind of waking-up point, yanking me from my life in Yantai back into reality. After the celebration, I returned to Beijing and continued my former job.

2017 was a watershed year for me. Three things happened: I finally earned my veterinarian license, I pooled enough money to make the down payment for an apartment in my hometown, and most important of all, I met my future wife.

I used to have a lot of uncertainties about marriage, including how to get along with the other person’s family. Many of these worries turned out to be overthinking. Everyone in our two families is ready to support each other whenever needed. My wife is very considerate too. It didn’t matter to her when my family couldn’t pay the full bride price, and she didn’t ask for expensive engagement jewelry. We both believe that as long as we’re together, that’s all we really need.

I’ve developed very different perspectives and changed my life priorities since I got married. Things I used to worry about no longer bother me. The only thing that hasn’t changed is my dream to travel all around China. When I often talk to my wife about this, she not only tells me that she understands but that she fully supports it. She said that wherever I went, she would take time off work to come and visit me.

I know she means it. But I also know that it’s unrealistic. We’re having our first baby soon — my wife is due at the end of the month. I decided to leave Beijing to start my own pet clinic back home. I have anxieties about starting my own business but, at the same time, I feel even more excited about the new beginning, and the future that we’re going to build together as a family.

I haven’t so much as touched my motorbike in a while. I left it in my hometown, where it’s been gathering dust. My father said some people in the village have asked about it, and encouraged me to sell. Of course I’m not going to sell! Even if I never get to ride it again, I’d still like to keep it, perhaps just as a reminder of the very different life I could have lived.

Looking back on my 30 years, it really seems like I have lived such an ordinary life. But whose life isn’t ordinary? No matter who you are, no matter how much money you have, everyone is ordinary in the end. We are all tiny gears in a mechanical clock, and just because you are the gear that makes the alarm sound doesn’t make you extraordinary.

I figure that 80 percent of life feels like you are dreaming, only the remaining 20 percent feels real. It reminds me of an old song I came across the other day. A couple lines in the song’s lyrics really stayed with me: “The wad of bank notes in your hand gets bigger and bigger, but none of you know what you’re so busy for.”

I read an online comment that said this is a strange song. But I don’t think that the song is strange. I think that people are strange. I wonder: Do we really know what we’re busy for?

Check out the Beijing Lights archive on Spittoon.