In a global city of over 20 million people, it certainly comes naturally that people are literally at every moment coming and going. Still, you really only feel it when it happens to you; when the phrase “coming and going” is more about the “going,” and the “going” really is someone close to you.
Lately, I’ve come to feel like Beijing has been a revolving door for friends and colleagues coming in and out. Take this weekend for example. I was alerted to no less than 5 “going away” dinners and/or parties for 5 different friends. Some of them have surely weaved in and out of closeness with me over the years, but the idea that they were “leaving for good” nonetheless gave me a sense of obligation to participate in each schwaree no matter how tired or over-booked I may have been.
There is a phrase I often catch myself using to describe life Beijing, and that word is “transient.” People of course come and go out of your life all the time, no matter where you live. I don’t think, on the surface, the transience of life is different in Beijing than it would be anywhere else. The transience of life is typically more evident when your are in your 20s and early 30s. So much about the course of your life is uncertain. You are youthful and are still ironing out the details on the most important, long-term relationships that will govern the rest of your life.
As I was reminiscing on this past weekend, on the 8ish parties I attended (people really hate saying goodbye. Most people “going away” held no less than 3 good-bye functions attended mostly by the same people!), I was trying to think about what makes the transience of Beijing perhaps different and more profound than in some other places. I was thinking about my friends Chris and Flamingo, who met here and are moving back to Seattle. He is an American, she is from Hong Kong. Or my friend Patrick, who is a Chinese-American who spent one year here in China to rediscover his roots and is returning to medical school in the U.S. And then there is my friend Evan – someone I’ve lost touch with while living in Beijing, but of course made sure to be at his goodbye party and wish him well as he returns back across to the Pacific to go to business school in Boston.
I then started to think about some of the people that come in and out of my life on a more regular basis. My friend Chris from Shanghai, who comes up to Beijing every month for work or pleasure. Or my friend Kate that just left for America and will be back next week. These are journeys of long distances, that cross through different cultures and time zones. And in many ways, for those of us that have lived in Beijing for an extended period, we find it old hat. Everyone is so well-traveled, willing and excited to accept diverse situations, and to constantly manage global relationships on a daily basis. We’re used to it, and it truly is something that we take for granted.
That, I think is the most profound part of the transience of Beijing. We have the privilege to be stewards of the revolving door, while living out our own unique, global stories. We can deal with the consistent heartache of saying goodbye to people we treasure, but inherently know that there are always going to be new faces to fill the void.
More importantly, we are learning how to manage the important people in our lives, wherever they are in the world, and whatever time zone. And the longer we do it, the more we learn about our own endurance and who we really are. It is not an easy lifestyle, though it can be extremely fulfilling. In the end, it really is about you and your journey. Keep in mind that someday, whatever your threshold is, you may also be on the “going” end of a goodbye party. What story about your transient life in Beijing will you tell?