So this year’s Beijing experience is different from last year’s (I went home in between) in one big way: I have expat friends! The world being as small as it is, turns out I have a few acquaintances from college who are working in Beijing now. Actually, including the ones I don’t know that well, there’s a grand total of 5 of us here. Which, in my mind, is a pretty decent sized group. Through my college classmates, I’ve met more foreigners. In group settings, I’ll admit it gets a bit tiring when I meet someone new and they ask “Oh, so how do you know so-and-so?” because the answer is always something like “Oh, I met her through this friend, who I met through that friend, who I know from school.” So I’ve started giving a default answer of “Oh, mutual friends.” Much less complicated. And my theory is, when people ask you how you know someone, they don’t really care to know anyway and probably won’t remember. It’s just making small talk. It’s like, if I ask someone I just met what the weather will be like tomorrow. Am I going to think about what they said all day and dress the next day according to their predictions? Nope, probably not.
While I love that my closest friends here are local Chinese, it is also nice to spend time hanging out with expats. For those who are unclear, “expats” are foreigners who are living and working in a country other than their home country. For those of us in Beijing, “expats” is the name of an exclusive club which is actually not that large, where people understand what you’re going through. There’s pros and cons. Pros are having people I can speak English with and actually do activities with or go out to Sanlitun. Cons are that I’m not improving my Chinese when I hang out with them, and I’m definitely spending a lot more money. But like I said, it’s nice to have a balance of both. Oh, I guess I didn’t actually say that. But it was implied. In my head.
I think the nicest thing about my expat friends, is that they understand exactly what I’m going through. It’s common conversation to complain about visa issues, troublesome and useless visa runs, the ridiculous amount of people on the subway, the spitting, nose-blowing, etc. But while we may be annoyed by certain things, it’s also an unspoken understanding that everyone single one of us wants to be here right now. I love my friends and family and will go home eventually, but sometimes I feel like it’s hard for people back home to understand why it is I want to be in China. Sometimes I don’t even understand. That’s the bond that expats share; despite this overcrowded, rude, at times dirty city, we feel blessed to be a part of the incredible change that is going on, to witness the rapid development of a country which, 30 years ago, was nowhere near the world power that it is now.
As usual, I have gone on a tangent. My real reason for writing this post was to write about the fact that somehow, on the other side of the world, I have found non-Chinese friends…..who are still Chinese. What I mean is, all my “expat” friends, besides my English roommate and her friends, are basically Chinese-American, Chinese-Australian, and Chinese-British. I thought I had stepped out of my Asian bubble (although I guess if I were to really do that, China would not be the place to escape to) when I left California. But somehow I found my way into another Asian bubble. It’s so strange how that works out. And I wish I had studied Asian-American studies. That might have given me some more insight into the culture. This will probably be saved for a whole other post, since there is a lot more that can be said on why Asian-Americans end up in their own little bubble.
Who do you find yourself spending the majority of your time with in China? Do you have local Chinese friends or do you drift towards people from your own country?