Arriving in Beijing two years ago with the intention of simply teaching kids and teens at an international language center, Nicole Denise (ND) McCray has learned much more about herself and her confidence in that time.
“Like many before me and after me, I came to Beijing running from a past that I’m now facing years later,” says the Houston native.
“I’m good now [laughs]. But Beijing is sort of like a wonderland. You forget your troubles here; you laugh, you play, you find friends, you lose friends; you date, you create a whole other life. It’s great, right? Meanwhile, back home “real life” is happening. And you miss those things that are important, like family.”
Family is a key factor in the writer’s decision to make her way back across the waters.
“It truly hit me last year when my parents moved into a retirement community. It’s a pretty dope apartment but this year, they both were admitted to the hospital for separate medical issues. And that tore me apart that I couldn’t be there for them.”
Following instincts and intuition for most of her adult years, ND has lived quite the interesting life, which serves her well as she prepares to move to Austin, Texas in a few weeks.
“Austin has everything I want, tons of music and food festivals, a huge poetry scene, LGBTQ community, arts, an eclectic vibe, and it’s only a two-hour drive from Houston. So I can be home quickly if need be.”
Having served in the military for over a decade to not receiving her Bachelors degree until age 36, and completing an accelerated Masters in New Media Journalism at 37; all while being a freelance entertainment writer for various magazines and websites, ND jumped head first into experiencing life as an expat in Beijing.
“Over these last two years, Beijing has taught me a lot about myself; my confidence as a writer, as a teacher, a poet has definitely skyrocketed, but I also realized I’m far, far more adventurous and creative than I thought. From day two, I was exploring this city on my own.”
Arriving with a Lonely Planet Beijing guidebook in hand, she set off at finding all the gems in (and out) of the city.
So advice she would give to newcomers? “Go forth and explore! Believe me, I’ve gotten lost more times than I can count looking for a venue or an event in this city but the thing about it, I don’t stress about it. Eventually I find my way.”
A shortlist of stuff the writer has done in her two-year stint: climbed the Great Wall twice; traveled to Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai, Guilin, Yangshou and Tokyo. She went home to Houston twice.
As a nature lover, ND has also visited numerous parks in the city such as Fragrant Hills, Chaoyang, Ditan, Ritan, Xiangshan and Temple of Heaven; she’s even ventured out to the Botanical Garden multiple times.
“I do love the uniqueness of Beijing; a mix of old and new. It’s been a really dope playground for me.”
Not only is ND a writer, she’s a huge music head as well. So it’s no surprise she’s been to a lot of shows in the city, to name a few: Snakehips, Dj Spinna, Avery Sunshine, Galantis, Free the Robots, Egyptian Lover, DJ Diesel (aka Shaquille O’Neal), French house musician FKJ, as well as local musician Ember Swift.
As a poet, ND says some of her best memories have been performing at different events around Beijing. “Writing poems, my creative output here has been insane! Inspiration everywhere.”
“It was a show in my head for years. But that event was so amazing and special to me because of the diversity in writing and performances.”
Inspired by the late, great icon Prince, the PRINCE and Poetry experience included music and poetry from artists hailing from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, India, Canada, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Illinois and California.
“I’m beyond happy that I had the opportunity to share that vision in Beijing, and in such a cool way with so many dope artists.” – ND
Before ND leaves China she will be hosting one last event on November 14th – ‘An Ode to Beijing’.