The end of June is always a little bittersweet. Sweet because I have 2 months of doing nothing, bitter because it is time to say goodbye. Foreigners are a very transient group in China and every year a large handful leave right about now. School has only been over for a week and yet I’ve been to almost a dozen goodbye dinners and parties.
It started even before class ended. My last class was a going away party for one of the foreign teachers, Iain. Iain has been here for 2 years and is well known and popular. Some of the sophomore students wanted to express their sadness that he was leaving. They planned all the festivities, decorated the room, and for about 2 hours we played games and did activities (somehow Iain and I ended up singing Californication for them all.)
Then, before he was allowed to leave, he was made to stand up in the front of the classroom as every student, one by one, came up and told him something sweet and gave him a hug.
Now Iain isn’t exactly the most intimate heartfelt person. Instead of saying hi to his cute students he’ll pretend to scowl and say, “hello, horrible students.” He loves being the center of attention but only when he’s doing something stupid or silly, not when people are singing his praises. So to see him have to accept this open, earnest display of feelings was something I loved. He was squirming the whole time.
Iain’s still in China, he moved to a school in Xiamen, so most of us will probably see him again. But he’s been here for awhile and while we didn’t hang out together all the time, it was a comfort knowing he was here and could help if I needed him. I’ll definitely miss him.
He was the first to go, but soon after the mass exodus started. Our working permits expire on June 30th, so everyone had to leave (or get it renewed) by then. So a few days after Iain left, I found myself with two goodbye dinners to attend.
First up was Abu, my Japanese friend. I met him years ago when he was here studying chinese. In fact, he was a major motivator to my learning Chinese (which I’ll write more about later). The past year he moved to Hangzhou to work so I didn’t see him much, but then his job moved him back to Lin’an and recently we’ve been hanging out more and more. Until he abruptly decided to move back home to get a better job. For his last dinner we went out with Camo (another foreign student) and Ouyang laoshi (his favorite teacher).
As soon as our dinner was over, I had to rush over to another restaurant to meet up with my co-workers to say goodbye to Matthew. Matthew, from Wales, has been a teacher here for a year and while we both are a bit of a hermit, which meant we could go weeks without running into each other, we still got along great. He has a…well…..special talent with words. The other night he was trying to describe the movie Fargo and said, “The movie with the almost Canadian woman who talks funny and says. ‘Have a nice day!'”
I also have a running file of Matthew questions. At the strangest times he would post the strangest questions including,
What’s your favorite mosaic?
What’s your favorite part of your eyeball?
What kind of oil would you burn down the pope’s house with?
What’s your favorite question?
Would you rather kill one squirrel with a kind heart or 100 squirrels with bad intentions?
There are few enough foreign teachers here and even missing one or two is noticeable. So it was a much smaller table than normal when all us foreigners gathered together a few nights later to say yet another goodbye to Peter. Pete also has spent just one year here, but it was a very memorable year as you cannot ignore him. An ardent communist (of the old-school variety) and one of the most well-read teachers I’ve ever known, Pete turned every conversation into a philosophical debate. One of my favorite Pete quotes is when we were talking about best friends. Pete disagreed with the concept of a best friend. “What your basically constructing is a debased and vulgar hierarchy of kinship,” he said.
I had to leave Pete’s dinner early to head over to Hangzhou for yet another going away party. This was more for a friend of a friend, and he was having a big party at one of the clubs and he had invited dozens of people.
After dancing the night away, and arriving home very late, I woke up thinking that the next day I would, finally, have a little peace and quiet and time to myself. Until I got a text saying it was Derrick’s last day and all the foreigners were meeting for dinner. Le sigh.
Derrick is only leaving for about 6 weeks, and will be teaching here again this fall, so it wasn’t especially sad or moving. But what I did notice was how tiny the table had gotten. When the foreigners get together for dinner we usually fill a big table and order a dozen dishes. Now we sit at a normal sized table and order single-digit number of dishes.
There are still a few of us here, but within the next few days I might be one of the only foreigners left in Lin’an. Next week I’ll be leaving too, moving to Hangzhou for the summer, and Lin’an will be almost entirely foreigner-free.
In one year from now I’ll be the one saying goodbye to Lin’an and the foreigners here. But that’s a year from now so time to go out and keep making good memories here while I can!