The Way We Were

I’ve noticed something recently. I’ve become completely apathetic to my surroundings. My living in China has staled and been replaced with just ‘living’.

Sure, I still get pissed off at the “HELLOOOOOs” and the whispered “shhysehsshsheshlaowaishehshsheksdlkjed”, but the truth is, I’ve settled in.

The moment I realized this was when I noticed I never bring my camera anywhere anymore. It used to be that I’d bring my camera along to the most mundane things in case there was a photo op that would help capture what it is to live in this randomest of all random places.

I don’t notice it anymore.

Last week I was out at the local Irish pub for the 100RMB all-you-can-drink hangover-giver the other night and it was jammed with a bunch of American and Mexican students that had just completed a Chinese course at Suzhou University. They were out for one last big hurrah before they all dispersed back to their lives back home.

People were pished, flashes were blinding, girls were dancing on the stage and singing convincingly into a microphone that was missing its connective bits. It was a blast – for them.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was doing my own rounds of “good bye”, “I can’t believe you’re staying”, “we’ve got to keep in touch”, “best of luck down in Thailand on your way back”, etc… but somewhere around the fourth or fifth round of them it lost its flavor. However, strangely enough, I really miss it.

I certainly don’t miss saying goodbye to people, that’s the worst part of being a long-term laowai. Imagine having relationships with people like you did when you were in college, but instead of a year-by-year basis, it works in terms of 6, 8 and 12 month contracts. It sucks. And though you promise (as you did in college) to keep in touch with everyone … eventually that moment that was real begins to fade, and no amount of “hey man, long time no talk” e-mails can bring that back.

Well, I don’t miss that, and I guess it’s no coincidence that my social circle has adjusted to reflect that, with many of my friends now being fellow long-timers.

However, I miss the excitement of it all. I miss going to a meal and wondering what the hell I’d just ordered, and if I can brag about eating it to my friends back home. I miss living for the school breaks so I can jump around to various tourist spots (now I’m reluctant to even travel to the corner store).

I miss telling people when I am leaving and what I plan to do next.

The college analogy runs true with this as well I guess. There’s just such a similarity (perhaps largely due to the age of the players involved) to those free-wheelin’ years of higher academia. Well, I’ve been here two and a half years now, I’ve graduated. I’ve moved into the real world of having to figure things out and work China into my life, rather than my life into China.

With school ending in the next couple weeks, I’m reaching the end of another chapter of the China experience. Friends/co-workers are leaving, and personally many things are changing.

So it was, last night I found myself with a real-estate agent viewing an apartment she was looking to populate. It was then that it dawned on me that I wasn’t actually looking at apartments because I wanted to move, but more just because every time change had previously occurred in my life in China, it meant a new apartment.

I’ve got a nice little apartment though, and don’t really need nor want to move. I’ve only lived here five months, the price is good, the size is good, the location is good… but still there I was, chatting about neighbourhood-quality, closest vegetable markets, etc. with some lady.

So, needless to say, my mind is a mess with which direction it’s meant to go. However, through all of this – the reminiscing, the confusion, the challenges ahead – there’s still an underlying feeling I’m on the right path. I had that feeling when I first decided to quit the ‘good job’ back home and start travelling, I had that feeling when I left for China, I had that feeling when I scraped my plans to leave China, and I had that feeling when I asked my wife to marry me

I may not have it all sorted out, but I have to assume I’m doing something right.

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