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.