By Laura Fitch

BEIJING —The idea for recording the stories and photographs of foreign women sprung from my own experiences as one: first in Japan for six years, and now China, going on five years. Throughout my time living overseas, I’ve continually been struck by the differences in why women move, and how economic, national and political circumstances affect these reasons. For me, moving to Asia after university was a lark – one that I enjoyed so much that I ended up extending my stay for almost a decade. Among women who move, I am in the minority. I have the luxury of choosing where, when, and how I move, and who I move with. Many women move for their husband’s work, many move to earn money to send home to support their families. Some move to escape, others move to challenge themselves. The reasons why women move are endless, but provide a window through which to observe the social and political circumstances of which they are a part.

At a time when most history is still written by men, when the past is snipped into manageable threads and woven into narratives most often surrounding wars, political powerplays, and industrial development, I think it is especially prescient to take a step back and look at the lives of women on the move, women who are also a part of these larger narratives.

For the purposes of this project, especially in a place as geographically diverse as China, any woman who is now living in a city or town different from the one she was born or raised in qualifies as foreign. Each one is asked to fill out a short questionnaire, and is consulted on how they want they want to be portrayed in the photo. Quotation marks around names indicate pseudonyms.

BEIJINGRITA"FRENCESCA.PROLEEVA"

Name: “X”
Age: 32
Job: A cog in the wheel (embassy visa printer).
Where are you from? Canada.
Why did you come to where you are?
I have no idea. At first to teach English, pay off my student loans and travel the world, but I needed more money so I got a job.
How long have you been here? Six years.
How long do you expect to stay? No idea.
How long do you want to stay? Until shit goes bad!
How long did you think you were going to stay when you arrived? One year.
How well do you speak the local language? My language skills are equivalent to a kindergarten kid with ADD.
Do you like where you live now? Why or why not? I love it, because no one bothers me.
What is the easiest thing about living where you are? Nobody bothers me, nor speaks to me.
What is the most difficult thing about living where you are? Not being able to explain myself well enough in Chinese.
Where would you like to be living right now? I am happy here. Also I haven’t lived anywhere else besides Canada to know.

Name: Christine (Xiao Xu’er)
Age: 26
Job: Beijing Film Fest Volunteer and unknown pianist
Annual income: $0 right now….
Where are you from? Born in Beijing, but grew up in Canada.
Why did you come to where you are? Came back to China to find my roots.
How long have you been here? Two years now, and halfway there.
How long do you expect to stay? Until I am able to accomplish my goals.
How long do you want to stay? However long it takes.
How long did you think you were going to stay when you arrived? Was not thinking about that so much.
How well do you speak the local language? 马马虎虎 (mediocre, not great). Comme ci, comme ca
Do you like where you live now? Why or why not? Not really, but enjoying the best of it. I’d like to live near the sea where the sky is tainted pink.
What is the easiest thing about living where you are? Meeting wonderful friends and interesting people.
What is the most difficult thing about living where you are? Where did the view go…?
Where would you like to be living right now? On a hill, next to the water, bed of flowers, farmer’s market…veggies and fruit. Onwards to a park! An amusement park? Too much to ask? ☺


BEIJINGFANGLIU1

Name: Fang
Age: 42
Job
: Writer, new mother
Annual income: 0-US$1,000
Where are you from?
Taiwan.
Why did you come to where you are?

To find a better life and opportunities, and find my roots.
How long have you been here?
One year.
How long do you expect to stay?
Forever.
How long do you want to stay?
Forever.
How long did you think you were going to stay
when you arrived?
A very long time.
How well do you speak the local language?
Fluently.
Do you like where you live now? Why or why not?

Yes, for the historical and cultural atmosphere.
What is the easiest thing about living where you are?

Central to anything and anywhere in the city.
What is the most difficult thing about living where you are?

Nothing.
Where would you like to be living right now?

Where I am now.

BEIJINGWENDY

Name: Wendy
Age
: 29
Job
: Real estate agent
Where are you from?

Changde, Hunan Province, China.
Why did you come to where you are?
To study in uni.
How long have you been here?

Will be 10 years in Sept. (2009)
How long do you expect to stay?

Not sure, planning to settle down here.
How long do you want to stay?

As long as I can, depending on how things go with work and relationships, etc.
How long did you think you were going to stay when you arrived?

Seven to eight years maximum.
How well do you speak the local language?

The cab drivers always think I’m from Beijing.
Do you like where you live now? Why or why not?

Love it! The city is changing every minute, and is more and more convenient compared with 10 years ago. I’m always meeting new people, but it’s kind of sad that people come and go all the time.
What is the easiest thing about living where you are?

Wide range of living expenses. For example in this city you can have a meal for RMB30-2000/person. I think it’s quite amazing.
What is the most difficult thing about living where you are?

Purchasing an apartment – the real estate prices are so out of my league.
Where would you like to be living right now?
Beijing or Hong Kong.

Name: Chen Fei
Age:
33
Occupation: Artist
Where are you from?: Tieling, Liaoning Province
Why did you come to where you are? To search for a better life
How long have you been here? Ten years

How long do you expect to stay? Two more years
How long do you want to stay? It depends on art and love. I’m not certain!
How long did you think you were going to stay when you arrived?
Ten years.
How well do you speak the local language?
How’s my Mandarin? Same as everyone else’s.
Do you like where you live now? Why or why not? I like the cultural character of the city. But it’s not a good place to live for too long.
What’s the easiest thing about living where you are?
You can just float along here.
What’s the most difficult thing about living where you are?
Understanding life.
Where would you like to be living right now? In a place far away from people, where life is simple and the environment is natural.

Name: Caroline
Age: 28
Job: Freelance writer and photographer
Annual income: Some kind of sub-zero shit these days, I tell you! In my gainful employment days I was in the 21-30,ooo renminbi zone (USD$3,161-4,516), these days, not so much.
Where are you from? Technically, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
Why did you come to where you are? I first came to Beijing because my family moved here while I was in university. I found it so interesting that although my family moved back to the US, I returned to Beijing after graduation.
How long have you been here? Four years, consecutively, but before that I’ve been coming and going since 1999.
How long do you expect to stay?
I always say one more year. Been saying that for years.
How long do you want to stay? This changes from month to month.
How long did you think you were going to stay when you arrived?
I don’t recall having a set time span in mind, but I must have assumed I’d last about four years. That seems to be about how long it takes people to burn out on living outside their own culture.
How well do you speak the local language?
Could do better, could be a lot worse.
Do you like where you live now? Why or why not? Beijing, or my current apartment? Both, I suppose, but like anyone I could do with cleaner air.
What is the easiest thing about living where you are? If I don’t go out all the time it’s really affordable. Public transportation in Beijing is incredibly useful, as long as I can avoid rush hour. I love my bike the way people back home love their cars, and I appreciate being able to bike most places.
What is the most difficult thing about living where you are? It’s very far from family and friends back home, many of whom don’t really understand why I’d choose to live here.
Where would you like to be living right now? Seattle, Vancouver, Santa Fe, Lafayette, Austin, Tokyo, Kunming, York, New York… in no particular order. And Beijing.

Name: April
Age: 29
Job: Fundraiser for a non-profit organization
Annual income: USD$11,000-$20,000
Where are you from? The United States
Why did you come to where you are?
For several reasons. First, I had a strong fascination with China. Secondly, I studied Chinese in college and wanted to improve my language ability. Third, I wanted to do something exciting and live abroad. Fourth, I did not want to settle for an entry level office job in the US. And finally I studied abroad in BJ during college and knew I wanted to return.
How long have you been here? Six and a half years.
How long do you expect to stay? Another six months.
How long do you want to stay?
差不多 (chabuduo = around) another six months.
How long did you think you were going to stay when you arrived?
One year.
How well do you speak the local language?
I’d say I’m on the lower end of the fluency spectrum.
Do you like where you live now? Why or why not?
I love Beijing! It’s hard to really articulate why. Perhaps the gritty, smelly charm of the city. I came here right after college so a lot of my young adult “coming of age” experiences occurred here. Plus, it’s a fantastic, dynamic city that’s completely affordable. Maybe a poor-man’s New York with the added excitement (or perhaps frustration) of having to navigate a different language and culture. As a woman, I also like how safe the city is, and as one who hates cars and hates driving, how great the public transportation is. And my apartment, I love it too! Cheap rent, great location, close to my office, close to friends and close to great restaurants.
What is the easiest thing about living where you are?
Honestly, the easiest thing is the routine, which I have settled quite comfortably into, and the fact that I can live here very affordably. I have started feeling anxious about moving back home, how scary living in my own country is going to be! Here, we are foreigners, so things are easier for us in a lot of ways. We get higher salaries, more job opportunities, we can afford to eat out all the time, it’s easy to make friends, etc. But back home life is more difficult and the competition is more cutthroat. Sometimes I wonder if I can “make it” back there, back in my own country!
What is the most difficult thing about living where you are?
For me the most difficult thing about living in China is the fact that I have MS and I take a kind of medication that is not available here. It’s a liquid injectable, and Chinese customs do not allows liquid medication to be sent into the country. So every three months, I have to find someone travelling to and back from the US to bring it with them, or else I need to travel to go and pick it up. Making it even more annoying is the meds have to be refrigerated. It’s a real pain in my ass, and living back in my own country would make it a lot easier. Also, MS is rare in China, and there are no support groups here, nor anyone that I can really talk to that understands it. It will be nice to go back and meet more people that can identify with my situation and give me some advice.
Where would you like to be living right now?
Looking forward to my last year in China, but am increasingly ready to move back to the US and start a new chapter in life.