Being an expat means your group of friends is constantly revolving. Being an English teacher means July is filled with tears and goodbyes and September is filled with hello’s. But in Xiamen, my friend circle includes more that just teachers which means they can leave at any time of the year.
The latest casualty is my friend Anite. I met her a few months after I first arrived at frisbee. She and some of her other friends were the ones who invited me to archery, fun parties with homemade food and night hikes. Since I started hanging out with her I have explored new parts of Xiamen, and made friends with a whole new group of people. She’s French and was in China for two years on a work program set-up by the french government. Her program just ended and Saturday night we had a big part at the batting cages to say goodbye. Sniff. Sniff.
This constant saying goodbye to people quickly becomes a part of an expat’s life. And as a result I think it makes all of us a bit more zen about relationships. When you meet someone you kinda never know how long you will be friends with them. Perhaps just for 6-months, like Anite and I. Or perhaps 4 years, like a former co-worker of mine from Lin’an, who is now in Xiamen with me. The point is, you never know.
As a result, I think expats form a different kind of friendship than other people. You learn quickly to just open yourself up to a new person. Back at home friendships start slow. It’s hard to break into a group of established people and things start slowly. A few chance meetings, then maybe a coffee or occasional lunch and then regular chatting and hanging out. But with expats I feel like the whole process is condensed.
You open yourself up quicker. You forgo the usual waiting periods of propriety and start inviting them to do things right away. The normal questions, such as “what do you do?” are replaced with asking about where they are from and how long they have been in China. Truth is I had no idea what Anite did until after her final day. She told me she had her last day at work and I was like, “wait, what do you do?” In almost 6-months it had just never come up. We were too busy just being friends and doing fun things.
I guess you could say being an expat has made me much more Buddhist. Don’t be sad about the past and miss all the people you met, don’t fret about the future and all the people you will have to say goodbye to. Just pay attention to the now. Don’t be shy or coy or you might miss an opportunity for a great friendship, no matter how short. After all, that’s what most travelers and expats look for, right? Change, experience, seeing the world and meeting the people in it. Goodbyes are a big part of that.
So bye Anite. I’m really sad that you are leaving. But I’m even more happy that we met.
Aw! That’s sweet and sad. But the fact that you make friends so quickly, without circling and sniffing, is so much more appealing than the standard line in LA — “what do YOU drive?”
Zen, Buddhist, practical — or whatever you want to call leaping into friendship and letting it go without drama — it’s ultimately just lovely.
Thanks Autumn. You know, I lived in LA for 6 of the longest months of my life. Never even tried dating but I can imagine! Though, Chinese guys do think a nice car can loosen legs too. 😉
Beautiful article ! Expat friendship are kinda different indeed … but that also make expat’s life interesting : making friend with people all over the world, and that is very rewarding.
See you Anita ! Passe le bonjour a Denis.
Very emotive post. Well what can I say, I experienced it many times, but the feeling of taking this little pieces of every important people you meet here and there… is priceless! Without a doubt, there’s something special in meeting people abroad, something that make us unite, make us warm and confortable. You don’t care about stereotypes, where you come from or who you are friend with.. We are just here for a cause, we are here for a reason, and we are all far from home. I think that’s the reason that make us forget about everything and be able to see directly to the heart of the other people, something I wish everyone could experience at least once, because once you know how to put aside all these barriers, you will carry it the rest of your life, and will comprise why it is so easy to understand that the best people I have ever met, were not my neighbours back to my country.
Nicely said Ivan. And since both of you are my new friends it means that someday in the future we will also have to say goodbye to each other. So let’s make our time now count, eh boys? (Aka: invite me to your delicious dinners! hahahhaa)
Anite seems super-cool, what a shame you had to say goodbye — but as you have eloquently wrote, that’s part of the package we sign up for when we come to China.
(P.S.: I still miss that you’re no longer in the area Becky!)
So a shame i didnt leave a comment here. I put a link in my blog because your writting is sooo good and it deserve to be read all over the world haha
I am still feeling sad when reading your article, thats mean you can touch more and more people’s hearts, you are amazing 😀
You are right about that. Two years ago I had tons of great friends in Xining, and then within two years they were all gone. It’s changed how I view friend-making. I think I am the opposite of you now, I think twice before I invest in a new friendship. I don’t have many casual friends. When I make friends, I want them to be in my life for a long time and that takes time and energy. When they leave, it is also harder on me than perhaps most. So now I have friends scattered around the world, and I’m just starting to make new friends here, slowly.
I really like the fact that we do much more things with friends when we are abroad, they become like family members. Your article is very well written and so right.
I am looking forward to live this again, meeting lots of people, just being happy to be together and meeting all the time ^^