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A Canadian in Beijing: My First Farewell
My friend Sarah left yesterday and Beijing seems different now. Sarah was one of the people that I met on the Internet before coming. Well, actually, we met over email as she was one of several people who had been forwarded my proposal and my plans to come to Beijing. She wrote offering pointers and friendship for when I arrived. I took her up on both. It was Sarah who really provided my opening view into how Beijing works and where to check out the local scene. In fact, Sarah became one of my first friends here in China and I am really sad to see her go.
I have been told that I ought to get used to it. Ex-pats come and go here, some staying as little as a few weeks or a few months (like me) and others who stay a year or more on longer contracts or for longer school terms. There is a constant stream of greetings and farewells and the parties to go with it.
As I've mentioned in previous posts, I also became the recipient of lots of Sarah's "stuff" like her cookware, her bike, carpets for my dorm room and some excellent guide books to Beijing. I told her to make me her receptacle for any leftovers that she might not want to take back to Australia with her and I eagerly accepted whatever she had to offer. (Thank you Sarah!)
A few weeks ago, when she had to move out of her apartment early, I helped her down with her "stuff-to-keep" and we proceeded to get lots of weird looks for sitting on the dirty Beijing sidewalk with a bunch of random boxes and bags. Sarah lived here for six months already and so I can only imagine the huge transition it would be to dismantle one's life and proceed to the next adventure. My guts twist around just thinking about leaving after three months here! We sat there together for about fifteen minutes waiting for a friend and then a taxi, just talking and taking it all in – the people, her neighbourhood and the whole experience of moving on.
A very loud elderly Chinese woman approached us and began to berate us about sitting in front of the stuff. She kept saying "you're going to lose it" and it took me awhile to realize that she meant that we would lose the possessions because our eyes were not on them. Her anger was palpable and she reached over and wrenched my head around to look at the items, pushing my shoulders to face the bags as though I were a child that was ignoring her instructions. I was shocked by her forwardness – something I haven't encountered in China very often – and several people walking by also stopped to witness the commotion. She got so frustrated with our confused facial expressions that she began to move the bags herself to position them in front of us rather than behind us, muttering to herself that we didn't understand her and that we shouldn't be so careless with these belongings.
I suppose her intentions were in the right place, but her approach was brutal and when she finally walked away, we were both visibly shaken by what felt more like an attack than assistance.
But then we laughed about it – finally – and the release was good. How else do you process such an experience, which is compounding something that is already hard?
And then, two weeks later, Sarah's goodbye party last night was filled with people of from many different countries: Italy, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Austria, Indonesia, Malaysia, The United States and China. Even Jeni flew up from Shanghai and the place was filled with people who love Sarah and will miss her.
We all gathered at a bar called "Q-bar" that is located on the eastern side of the downtown and is a gorgeous, upmarket venue located above a hotel with couches and dim lights and menus in both English and Chinese. It even has a beautiful patio that we couldn't sit on due to the light summery rain. Still, I would return there for sure, especially when I'm in the mood to feel closer to Toronto and/or wanting to see the lights of Beijing's business district. It was great to feel lifted from the dirt of the sidewalks to the clean lines and crisp style of this modern bar.
When I left the party for home, I realized that a mini-era was coming to a close. My next phase here in Beijing will be without my friend Sarah who I have come to rely on for laughter, gossip and overall Beijing tour guide services (!) – not mention the most beautiful gift of all: her friendship.
I miss her already.