A Canadian friend of mine here in Suzhou is getting married this weekend and he’s asked me to be the English-language emcee (it’s bilingual, as the bride is a Suzhou local – so maybe trilingual?) at his wedding.
Fortunately for me, my job is mostly translational and I’ll not have to give any long and/or personal speeches. It’s not my great fear of public speaking that has me relieved, but the fact that despite having gotten to know this friend quite well, we’ve only been such for a little more than a year – a short time to come up with a scandalous collection of “this one time…” stories.
The odd part is, that year-friendship is long-term by expats in China standards. It’s the nature of the beast that most expats come to China for not much more than 6 months to a year and then return from whence they came.
It was on this topic that him and I got talking last weekend as we worked out a (small) guest list for his bachelor party. As he said best, when you know your friends are going to leave to go “home” in the not-so-distant future, you tend to keep them at arm’s reach, making more acquaintances than true friendships.
I’ve met some amazing people in my time here in China, and certainly feel grateful for those relationships, but it’s true that if put to a litmus test, most would likely fall into that “acquaintance” category. Though had we all been living “back home”, there’s a good chance solid and lasting friendships would form, as a stranger in a strange land, such things are fleeting.
Like my friend, I’ve noticed that I don’t spend as much time as I used to on developing a social circle with much depth, simply because I know that circle is going to be going through continual, and drastic, changes and require constant and vigil attention to maintain it.
Now, the obvious solution to this would be to befriend locals. However, it’s more of a challenge than it sounds. In my 3+ years here I’ve yet to have a true Chinese friend. By our very nature, us expats tend to attract a “special” kind of Chinese person – generally the type that is looking for free English practice, or some presumed 关系.
This, of course, is limited in scope due to my lacking Chinese skills, but is enough to have jaded me to the whole idea of making good Chinese friends that are just fun to grab a beer with, shoot the shit and wax political.
So, until I find the magic spot where all the hip Chinese hang out, expats it is.
It is, however, a bit of a cold, sad fact that one of the first few questions I ask after meeting someone new here has changed from “So, how long you been here?” to “So, how long you staying?”