I love London, so why did I leave? (Part seven)

Kaye loves London, so why did she leave? Read the seventh part of her story below

And so after just over a year in Beijing, I found myself boarding a BA flight back to Britain - admittedly with a certain amount of fear and trepidation in my heart.

I knew that that I was going to miss Beijing with its intoxicating combination of cutting edge architecture (the CCTV headquarters and Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium), historical sights (The Temple of Heaven), exciting art scene and scores of wonderful restaurants catering to every palette and pocket - if not the pollution. I was sick of suffering from a hacking, lung ripping cough that left me gasping for breath on a daily basis.

Arguably it was the thick smog – coupled with turning 30, the arrival of a cornucopia of wedding invitations and the buzz building around the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and 2012 Olympic Games, that led me back to London once more.

This time around the decision to return was mine but regardless, repatriation proved to be the hardest posting of them all. I was aware that  I wouldn’t fall in love again with London immediately and the 2011 London riots - a five day wave of looting and arson - which broke out less that 48 hours after I touched down, only brought this into focus.

Looking at the pictures in the press of London - literally - burning, I couldn’t help but think: this would never have happened in China. Judging by my bulging inbox, it was a stance shared by the colleagues I had left behind in Beijing.

Having checked that I was safe and well, my former co-workers crowed that the anarchy wouldn’t have occurred in the Middle Kingdom owing to stringent controls on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook (which the London rioters used to rally their army of yobs and plan their attacks). Yet even leaving aside the riots, the thought that was first and foremost in my mind during those initial few weeks back in London was this: surely reality shouldn’t bite quite so hard?

I was well aware that finding rewarding work wasn’t going to be easy, given the grim state of the economy, but I had at least had been looking forward to catching up with old friends and family. I naively assumed that they would want to hear all about my adventures in Asia but alas, no. All they were concerned about was: had I had met anyone?

I couldn’t believe it. Forget the Forbidden City and my attempts to master Mandarin, what they were most bothered about was whether I’d found a boyfriend. In case you, dear reader, are curious too, allow me to enlighten you: I’ve spent the last decade dating but, in the words of actress Diane Keaton, “ I never found a home in the arms of a man” - be it in Beijing, Blighty or anywhere else in the world.

Society says we shouldn’t be single: marriage is what matters. Only it seems that I never got the memo... Throughout my late teens and twenties, I held onto the belief that one day I would wake up and - like Louise, Vicky, Sarah and all my childhood friends - want to find a partner.

However at 32, it’s finally dawned on me that perhaps I will never experience the ‘urge to merge’ and that’s ok. In fact, it’s more than fine.

Now that I am older and more comfortable in my own skin, I can see that while marriage can be wonderful - my parents’ separation didn’t scare me off - it’s not necessarily for everyone. I don’t just like my life - packed as it is with parties, friends, hobbies, interests and, of course, travel - I love it. I enjoy being a social butterfly but returning home alone to my immaculate flat, which is adorned with mementoes of my trips. The only time I get down, is when friends force me on dates that inevitably feel like job interviews.

Yet while my expat friends ‘get it’ and appreciate that all I can be is myself (for as Oscar Wilde once put it, “everyone else is already taken”), my oldest friends need an explanation. Louise tells me I’m “too selective”. Meanwhile my Mum thinks I should shy away from wearing “mannish” brogue shoes. But I know plenty of picky, brogue wearing women who have a partner. I wish they’d all stop asking why I am single when they don’t want to hear the answer: for me, single life is something to be celebrated not dreaded.

Maybe I’ll change my mind. Maybe I won’t. But what I do know is that while I had expected to feel like an alien in Beijing with my blonde hair and less than masterful Mandarin, I hadn’t anticipated feeling like an outsider in a familiar country. Bizarrely it was Britain that felt like the foreign country, not China. It took a while to realise that it wasn’t the UK and my childhood friends and family that had changed - the Daily Mail still bangs on about immigration, the Metropolitan tube line continues to be suspended for engineering works every other weekend and Jenny et al can invariably be found in the Feathers pub on a Friday night - but me. I was still driven in terms of my career but felt disorientated and wondered, upon only being able to secure two part time jobs six days a week: what am I doing?

I spent six months debating whether to seek another overseas posting at the end of which I reached the conclusion that while my love affair with the capital had cooled, I hadn’t fallen out of love with London entirely.

What I needed to do was put down roots: it was time - at 31 - to stop living like a student in shared accommodation and find a flat of my own. When in doubt, just take the next small step...

To read more about Kaye’s readjustment to life in London after five years of living abroad, don’t forget to visit CD-Traveller next month!