Monday, December 19, 2011

Keep On Keeping On Like a Bird That Flew

I have spoken in the past about one of the most difficult aspects of life as an expat are the goodbyes. More often than not, people are going to leave the foreign land they've been spending their time in, and when they do so, they'll be leaving behind people who love and care for them. The bonds between expatriates form so much faster and seem so much stronger than some of the relationships with people back home that we've known for years. it's partially because we have the whole isolation factor, as an expat we really are "in it together" and the other contributing factor would be there is an instant sense of solidarity due to the fact that we have something in common. We're all sharing something similar. We know how the other person feels, which is a powerful notion.

It can be overwhelming at times too, this warped sense of reality. I find that time is measured differently here. When I meet someone in America or Europe, it takes me several months to build up a friendship with them. In Asia, you meet and 10 minutes later you're making plans for a bike trip that weekend. It's lovely in a way but it also intensities everything and distorts perception. A day is still a day, a week, just a week, and a month is still just a blink in the grand scheme of life. It may feel like an eternity but later on in life, looking back, it'll seem fleeting.

I am lucky that I have met incredible and inspirational people, some that are still here, and some that have left and are scattered all over the world. There are now so many cities I can visit and have a close friend who lives there. We may not speak that frequently but we have a connection that will remain in existence for the rest of our lives.

For someone like me (who hates goodbyes) living here has been difficult at times, I'd get depressed at each departure. Cry and be miserable. I still don't handle goodbyes well. I simply don't handle them. I selfishly miss out on goodbye drinks or get togethers. It makes me seem like a callous bitch, and in some ways perhaps I am one. Or maybe I am just immature. I don't have an "out of sight out of mind" mentality, I don't think goodbye means the end of a relationship, however I don't want to make a deal about it. I'd rather pretend that it's not happening, that everything is the same.

There are, of course, some goodbyes that are much worse than others. Expats are just like everyone in the world, they want and enjoy having affection in their lives, so people start dating. And unless you're dating a local, or extremely lucky, chances are that the object of your attention hails from a different locale than you do. And that they're on a different time schedule than you. While you're living in the safety of your expat bubble this doesn't matter, you have each other and everything is perfect, but inevitably, if you're both foreigners, someone is going to have to leave. That's where the difficulty comes in. Do you leave the relationship behind? Cherish the memories but move on? Or do you romanticize that what you had was real, and will be real no matter where you are or how many miles are between you.

I don't think there is a set answer for that. In fact, i think the only thing we can do in life, is just go with it. I am a control freak. I like to know what's going to happen, to be able to manage expectations but one of the major lessons I've learned out here is that life is unpredictable. Especially if you choose to involve another individual. We never know what's going to happen. But then again, would we know what's going to happen in our home country? I have fallen out of love or stopped being friends with people when i was living in the same city as them, just because that's life, and that's a part of it.

I used to make all of these rules for myself: I told myself that i wouldn't start friendships with anyone who had less than six months left. I said I wouldn't date long distance. I said I wouldn't date at all. None of these have worked, because they can't.

Trying to predict or control something something as capricious as relationships is pointless. I have people in my life that i spent one week with traveling through some part in Asia that I speak to on a regular basis, but people that I grew up with, shared my secrets with, I barely hear from now that I'm not in their direct line of sight.

It recently hit me that all my life I have been so focused with the destination that I haven't really stopped to look around at the journey. So in the past month i have managed to refocus and re prioritize and kind of stop thinking so much. (I'm not suggesting that i float through without any goals or aspirations, but there are some things that perhaps I need to relinquish control of.)

I do have personal and professional goals for myself but I am not sticking to this rigid track, as I think that only imposes limitations. I am letting people in my life because I want them there, and am not thinking within long term timeline but rather whether I feel a connection with them or not. Maybe they won't physically be in the same country as me in a week or a month or a year but I've stopped thinking that matters so much. Geography and demographics might complicate things but things have a way of working themselves out. People don't have to be an arms reach away to be important, to be present, to profoundly affect you. I refuse to close myself off to things because of logistics or proximity, because as I said, I've been witness to these things not mattering.

I could write a long list of things that I should or shouldn't be doing, people I should run away from....or I could just do what feels right and enjoy what life has to offer without trying to plan it all out first.


  1. "And unless you're dating a local"

    Oh such cruelty when the situation is reversed.

  2. lots of people stay here for love, Viet. You know that.