Life at the age of 32 seems to revolve around who’s trying, who’s tried, who’s succeeded and who’s failed. It’s all pretty trying in itself for a single girl, even more so as such talk is often accompanied by martyr-like sobriety.
When a British girl refuses a drink there’s only one explanation, and it isn’t antibiotics or Weight Watchers.
So while three months ago I moved countries- from China to Britain- it feels at the moment as if I swapped planets.
When I used to meet up with girlfriends for dinner four years ago before I left, we would put the world to rights over a bottle or two talking about things that made our waiter blush. Talk was about who was doing what, how often and with whom, with a side serving of career ambition and holiday gossip.
Now, they nurse glasses of water, talk in weeks and speak of flexi-time and career breaks. It feels like a seismic shift.
But why? It isn’t as if I don’t have friends in Shanghai with children. But the difference is that in my expat life I had a range of friends of all ages- an assortment of people from 18-year-old students to high-powered executives in their 40s who I could have fun with. We all had in common the fact that we were living abroad and having the time of our lives.
“What do you miss most about China?” is something I am being asked quite often. And, if I’m honest it’s not so much the great standard of living or the satisfaction of living in a country that’s an international success story, it’s the unique group of friends I had of different ages and races who I got to see on a weekly basis.
In Shanghai it was much easier to meet with people. The same people tended to go the same places and enjoy being a big gang. It was also much more convenient to travel in the city and most people could afford to live centrally. On top of that, most of my friends were connected with the rugby club. In the early days we would throw barbecues that 40 people came to with one night’s notice. In London, the style is to meet small pockets of people separately and have meetings scheduled in weeks beforehand. People rarely stray out of their groups and a week’s notice for an event suddenly seems spontaneous.
It’s a big social adjustment that I’m encountering, swapping pints for pregnancy tests, nightclubs for nurseries and boat races for breast pumps.
Still, I’ve learnt more about the female anatomy in the last few weeks than I ever thought I could.