Lila’s mum lived in a very old flat in a fairly unimpressive part of Beijing and I saw a side to life in China that I suspect many never get to experience.
We had many fascinating conversations about life under Mao and how much things had changed in China – almost without exception, she considered the changes over the last twenty-five years or so to be for the better.
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Currently, I am in Shanghai again for a couple of weeks. I hope every person can be a happy butterfly but also a strong tank.
Lila worked for a US conglomerate in Beijing and I had just started my new job in Shanghai, so moving was not really an option for either of us.
However, in the end, the distance didn’t present too much of a difficulty as I would generally fly up to Beijing on a Friday afternoon/evening and return to Shanghai on Sunday night (in fact, the hardest part of the journey was aways the appalling queues for a taxi at Hongqiao Airport late on Sunday evenings).
Anyone who has ever been badgered into doing something by a Shanghainese woman will appreciate the barrage I was under, and so unsurprisingly I acquiesced.
It was a wonderful, if at times tiring and baffling celebration, but was something that I wouldn’t have missed for the world, and that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience if it wasn’t for Lila.
Things ultimately didn’t work out between us in the end, much to my regret, but the couple of years we were together were very special, and I am absolutely convinced that without Lila my years in China would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable or interesting, nor would I have come to have the understanding of the people and culture that I do.
I know this would have been considerably more difficult without Lila by my side, handling the many frustrations that one encounters when trying to get about in China. Being with Lila meant that I ate food that I would never have had the courage to order on my own (even when my Mandarin got good enough to read menus for myself), and discovered some rare treats, as well as some dishes I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
One of the sweetest, most mild-mannered people you could ever hope to meet, Lila became absolutely ferocious in restaurants if she thought the food or the service wasn’t up to scratch, and more than once she got into blazing rows with waiters and then the next moment would return to chatting with me in her gentle, melodic voice as though nothing had happened.
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Having a Chinese girlfriend enriched my stay in China in so many ways.