I never expected to find a guardian angel in Chi.na.
At least not a living, breathing one.
Sure, I landed here 4.5 years ago with idealism in my heart and a hope that I could make friends with locals. But friend-making in Ch.ina turned out to be harder than I had imagined. The "us/them" mentality is hard to overcome and it takes a progressive, modern Chi.nese person to really be able to view a foreigner as anything but that - foreign.
So as the first few months of my graduate year in Chi.na flew by, I found myself wondering just how to meet these people that would be windows into the strange world around me? Who would be my friend?
And then I met a pediatric heart surgeon named Dr. Xu, known to the english world as, "Michael."
I was tricked into knowing him, actually. A lady from the international church told me we were going to meet a doctor to talk about orphan initiatives. But actually, I was his new english teacher. I just didn't know it yet.
I felt sort of conned at the time, a feeling I have grown to expect after years of business dealings in Chinatown, but after time, I was thankful for the lack of communication because I liked Michael. I had made a Chin.ese friend.
And he introduced me to his friends. And soon I was meeting once a week with 3 Chin.ese doctors at the corner Starbucks. I couldn't believe my luck.
Those Starbucks classes turned to friendship over years of hard work. That is one lesson I have learned abroad - intercultural friendship takes work. Investment, sacrifice, patience, time, and humor.
Over four years have gone by and Michael is one of my best friends. An older brother figure. He's literally saved my life on more than one occasion. He's taught me about Chi.nese culture and talked me through business situations. He got me the job at the hospital, and took over the orphan ministry when I felt it was time for it to be Chin.ese-led. He's been my rock since my second month here when I could never have dreamed that I would be speaking Ch.inese, studying Chin.ese philosophy on a government scholarship, and still here after all these years. I can't imagine a life in Hangzhou without him because I never have had to try.
But now I guess I have to. Because today at 1pm Michael boarded a plane destined for the promised land...LAX airport.
My guardian angel flew the nest.
We always knew he would eventually leave. I just didn't think I'd still be around. But now he's gone and I'm still here, thinking to myself, "Crap, I need to make a best friend - FAST," and also, "Why do all my Chi.nese friends leave me for America? I am not getting the memo!"
I'm selfishly ridiculously sad and at the same time overwhelmingly happy for him. I only wish I could be there for him like he was here for me. Oh well. I'm praying he finds a guardian angel. Anyone in Orange County up for the job? :)
We met one last time at the cafe where we hang out often. It's ridiculously over-priced, just the way Michael likes things, and we went over a few last minute tips about life in America. We had a money lesson where I laid out all my left over coins from my trip home and didn't know the answer to, "Why is the nickel bigger in size than the dime but smaller in value?" Anybody know? I also had to explain that no one would use, "A Monticello," to describe a nickel, once he decided that was what he would call it because of the picture on the coin's face.
We also went over his welcome packet from the hospital where he will be working. I explained what a, "load," of laundry is (just a measure word), and pointed out the two quarters that would be charged for each, "load." Also written in the manual was that hanging clothes outside of the window is not acceptable. This threw him for a loop! "What will I do with my bed blanket?!" (Comforter's are hung outside and laid on bushes on sunny days here in Chinatown). "You will get a duvet cover and wash it - or have it dry cleaned. There is no reason to hang it outside," I tried to answer patiently while stifling a giggle at my mental image of a bunch of Ch.inese people hanging their unmentionables out to dry in Southern California.
Another shocker for him was that there are no private cell phones allowed in patient areas. It is common for him to show me pictures of his surgeries. But because of patient privacy laws in America, this is not allowed. After this last-ditch effort to make his transition to America as non-confusing as possible, we just sat and stared at each other. After 4.5 years of friendship there was no more time to teach each other. No more cultural quips to memorize or idioms to explain.
We've had a blast being friends, and will remain so wherever we live. I am just so thankful that my hope for a true, deep Chi.nese friendship was answered so many years ago. I can't help but feel kind of alone now. A season of Western migration is about to begin amongst my closest friends as many people graduate and move on. This is the first of many goodbyes, it is also one of the hardest.
|2008 at the hospital|
|2009 with orphans and my mom and sis|
|2010 - when he kept vials of my blood in his desk when I was sick|
|2011 - his wedding|
|2012 - my mom's summer visit|
|last time together, 2013|
|don't leave me alone in this crazy place!|
I miss my friend already. :(
walk slow. xoxo.