Leo, Guy, and Lee are holding the mics, belting out their rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, while the rest of the room joins in. Empty beer bottles and snack plates litter the table in our dark-light enhanced KTV room. About twenty or so energetic singing lunatics are crammed together, declaring that they got a moose and asking each other to do the Fandango. It is our Going-Away-KTV-Party-Palooza, in honor of those leaving, and those being left behind. One last KTV session in Xi’an, demanded the swaying mass.
The past few weeks have been a flurry of farewell parties, and the next few a flurry of goodbyes. The “I Survived Living in Xi’an” class of 2012 are graduating and heading home to their various corners of the world. It is really a diverse group, representative of the awesomely dynamic community we have here in the walled city. Over the past months we drank together, studied together, worked together, hiked up mountains together, struggled to communicate with the locals together, and experienced the excitement and hardship of living in a foreign country together. But alas, all good things come to an end. Our time together will be just another blurb on our Facebook timeline.
Our classrooms were held in bars where cultural perspectives mingle, on the streets with the organized chaos dance that is the Xi’an traffic, and on midnight street food stands where glimpses into souls were revealed. Through hazy and already fading memories of hash-runs and pub crawls, mountain excursions and raucous house parties, we learned that we can make a foreign city our own.
I sent out a mass text to those who are leaving asking “What is something you’ve learned while living in China?” Their responses, funny and insightful, are these nuggets of wisdom they have acquired from their lessons living here. I hope they can be useful to the next generation of newcomers passing by or coming to live in this dusty ancient city these forlorn graduates once called home.
– by the “I-Survived-Living-In-Xi’an” class of 2012
- “I’ve learned to carry tissue with me everywhere I go.” – Jen Lundstrem.
- “Street food is best when drunk and in the company of other drunkards.” – Bogdan Ditoiu.
- “People love saying ‘hello’. And when you say ‘hello’ back they giggle like little schoolgirls.” – Fleur De Bondt.
- “I’ve learnt how convenient it is to roll my shirt up over my belly when it’s hot.” – Wayne Bates.
- “Companies who hire white people don’t actually listen to what we have to say.” – Tom Enns.
- “After the May Hash Run which I conducted in a pink bathrobe, I can conclude that Xi’an is not quite ready for a western style gay parade.” – Matthjis A. Bos.
- “My ‘taxi Chinese’ is probably the most fluent of all. Drivers ALWAYS ask the same questions (Where are you from? How long have you been here…?)”. – Fleur De Bondt
- “I’ve learned that there is no limit to the number of people who can ride on one bike.” – Jen Lundstrem.
- “I learned that living as a waiguoren, you always get the ‘special’ treatment…as a foreigner you really should make an effort of making local Chinese friends. Stay in a foreigners’ circle and you might miss the real China.” – Omar Diallo.
- “I’ve learnt how easy it is to communicate here, not language wise, but the fact I can go sit in a park, sit in the metro, walk in a shop, or even climb a mountain and naturally just strike up a conversation with a stranger.” – Wayne Bates.
- “I’ve learned, after living in China and the Middle East, the vast and unjust differences between the people of the world, where I’ve been positively amazed by the poor and frequently disappointed by the rich.” – Matthjis A. Bos.
- “In China, time never stops so don’t let it go. Classes in the morning, noodles with friends at lunch, discovering a disheveled pagoda on a basketball court, then drinks and maybe climb the city wall, or waiting for the sunset on a roof. Do it all.” – Bogdan Ditoiu.
As for me, I’ve learned that you can make friends from all over the world by living in a city with people from all over the world. The shared experience of living in a foreign city serves as a strong bond among those willing to travel abroad. Perhaps one day I will see them again on their own turfs. Until then, go forth and spread the Xi’an love, my Facebook Best of Friends. Our times together, however brief, will be cherished, freakin’ forever.