For expats in China, it can be a very lonely and friendless life
Afew weeks ago, I found myself at Beijing Airport picking up friends who came to China to visit me. Despite us happily proclaiming that, after three years, they finally made it to China, their trip was not just about seeing China or visiting me. It was more an attempt to rescue our friendship.
My three best friends and I, whom I have known since childhood, used to live, work, laugh together and cry together. Feeling lost and scared about our respective futures made our friendship so much stronger. We would help each other and give courage to one another.
But now with me being so far away and them having more independent lives, I began to feel disconnected from them. And I am very sure they also feel disconnected from me. Like a sweater that has always fit but from which I suddenly seem to have grown out of.
They stayed for one week in Beijing and I had some sightseeing planned. In between historical sights, I arranged some visits to local tea houses, hotpot restaurants and even a Beijing craft-beer bender. I sought out activities that I felt would give us time to talk and laugh and get to know each other again, rekindling what used to connect us.
Honestly, it was not easy to hold my happy face around them. Over the past three years they never once managed to come and see me here. They always made up excuses that seemed more like lies to me. I had to fly back to Europe just to spend time with them, which defeated the whole purposes as I really wanted them to see and experience my life here in China.
But I felt like they did not want to be part of my new life journey and, thus, I was reluctant to be part of theirs anymore. Our correspondence grew less frequent, with only the occasional “cool” or “oh that’s nice” comments to their social media posts, until finally we pretty much stopped talking to each other.
During our last night together in Beijing, we sat opposite each other in one of Sanlitun’s hippest bars. Back in the glory days of our friendship we would have been chatting and laughing and dancing all night long. But on this night I felt utterly disconnected, with few words passing between us as we sipped our beers and glanced around the bar. Had we talked ourselves out? Was there truly nothing left to say? This feeling made me angry and sad at the same time.
After waving to my friends goodbye at Beijing Airport, I was still unsure if it was a temporary or permanent goodbye. My anger at them was gone; instead, I was filled with regret. Maybe it was all my fault. Too often I was traveling around the world when they might have needed me. Did my distance condition my friends to become distant toward me?
I have come to the realization that, since it was me who left them, it also has to be me who makes the bigger effort to keep our friendship alive. No matter what, I now know the truly loneliness of being an expatriate, and why so few foreigners can stay away from home for very long.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.
llustration: Peter C. Espina/GT