For ex­pats in China, it can be a very lonely and friend­less life

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Linssen Page Ed­i­tor: chen­shasha@glob­al­times.com.cn

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

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