My current visitor arrived from Arlington, Texas nearly two weeks ago and she leaves in two days. Her schedule still includes a photo opportunity at the Olympic buildings, a Great Wall hike, lamb dinner, more shopping, a very unique dinner with over fifteen local Chinese (me included) people at a restaurant in north Beijing, and a final dress fitting. She has ridden a bicycle, taken a public bus, ventured on the subway, walked, and slept on an overnight train. Before she taxis back to the airport on Sunday, the private car experience gets a check mark also. Two times she raced in those little box cart thingys that sometimes carry senior citizens.
Jennifer and I met nineteen years ago while working together at Macaroni Grill at the arboretum in north Austin. We, along with more than twenty other young people, formed lifelong bonds back in the early 1990′s that remain extremely strong today. In the last nine years I can count (before this visit) two times (less than a few hours each) that I have spent with Jennifer. During her entire Beijing trip planning process we spoke zero times. From the moment she stepped off the plane we have been getting along like brother and sister who have seen each other nearly daily for our entire adult lives. I find comfort and stability in my relationships. I use the phrase, “lay down in traffic.” I have many friends and acquaintances. I have only a few handfuls of “lay down in traffic” friends. It’s extremely obvious for me to figure out who those friends happen to be. In nine years I saw Jennifer twice (before Beijing) and we catch up like no time has passed. I feel so blessed by my friendships. If she really leaves in two days I’ll be sad about her leaving.
My job allows me to work and entertain my guests at the same time. I take my laptop with me and send Jennifer on adventures. We then meet back up at certain meal times. She subways alone. She now spends time with her own group of friends. She quickly learned negotiating skills. She fearlessly orders her own Chinese food by pointing at tasty looking food items in a display window or on a menu full of photos or even on a neighboring dinner table.
We attempt to figure out many worldly mysteries together. One item of information that makes me wonder is the number of non-Chinese folks living in Beijing. I found an article from May 2010 and I think the number leaves out tens of thousands of folks.
My hiking group celebrated five years together and I made a video of still photos from my sixteen months with the group as well as other photos from the past.
I feel more at home daily. I buy groceries. I cook for myself. I still explore the city. Heck, I explored Austin, Texas after having been there for well over ten years. The education continues forever. I happen to be in a city that holds a forbidden city, a very old brick wall, an underground city, a summer palace, a temple of heaven, shopping for a lifetime, a wonderful subway system, fantastic food at reasonable prices, and more.
My super friendliness continues towards new folks as I slowly become a bit pickier with whom I share my time. In the most recent three weeks I have officially dropped three people. I find it very necessary. Folks come and go in life and every so often I find time to drop some deadweight. Sixteen months into my Beijing life I still hand out business cards like I always have. I don’t actively solicit information from others unless I really really think I want to see them again and even then my follow-up is not as enthusiastic as it was eight months ago. I have a new chapter of work that begins soon so that will consume me more than work has consumed me for the past several months. I also need to plan several Asia trips because I am here. I know that I will have an exit from this city. I don’t know if I’ll leave next year or during the next US presidential administration. This city, like every other city I may stay in for a few years in the future will (and has) allow(ed) me to grow and improve myself. I have and I will continue to get a better grasp of Mandarin Chinese. My study habits make it difficult for me to learn quickly. I prefer to do anything else besides study. Step one is identifying the issue. I have done that now.
My next visitor arrives Saturday and I am quite excited about that!