I woke up to cloudy skies. I wanted sunshine for my final day here, but I knew a clear day was a rare blessing in Shanghai. The weather reflected the feelings in my heart: uncertainty, haziness, fear.
I walked out of Z’s room to find she was already in the living room, staring out into the sea of Shanghai’s skyscrapers from her 25th floor window. Her apartment wasn’t big, but it was cozy. My suitcases were lined up neatly near the door, my entire life packed into two large bags and one carry on. My heart winced as I looked at them.
“Zao!” Z smiled, as she always did. Z was never in a bad mood. Ever.
“Zao,” I replied with a sleepy smile. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah, how about you?”
I nodded, “like a baby.”
“It’s still early and we have time,” Z looked at her iphone. “There’s somewhere I want to take you.”
I smiled and nodded again. Even though it was my last day in Shanghai, it felt like any other day with Z. Seeing her on Sunday or Saturday morning, whether it was for brunch or breakfast or for a walk through the French Concession, was my favorite way to spend the weekend. This Sunday felt no different.
We walked into a coffee shop newly opened in Xujiahui. The walls and tables were made of a light, almost white-colored wood. The wait staff wore beautifully ironed suits and aprons. Although we were in a mere coffee shop, they escorted us to a table as if we were going to sit down for a five star meal.
Z ordered a pot of coffee, which the beautiful wait staff brought out in a China teapot and poured ever so gracefully into our expensive, gold-plated china. They bowed and walked away.
As Z and I talked as we always did, I noticed little things about her. Her thick-rimmed eyeglasses. Her straight-line fringe that always hung in her face. Her tomboy-ish attire, like the blue sweater she was wearing today. Her warm and inviting smile. The way her small eyes grew big when she got excited.
All I could think was: this is the last time I’ll be see Z for a very, very long time.
And I’m going to miss her. Terribly.
“Mary,” she suddenly changed the topic, took a quick sip of coffee and paused before she lowered the cup from her lips.
“I really hope we can live together in the same city again one day. I really, really hope so.”
I froze. We avoided the topic all morning; about this being my last day, about how I would go to the airport in a mere five hours, about how this could be the last time we meet for months or perhaps years. It hit me suddenly, like I slammed into a glass wall and I was left breathless at the fact.
“Of course we will!” I cried.
“We’ll live in the same city again someday,” I broke eye contact so I wouldn’t cry. “We have to.”
Z and I didn’t cry then. We didn’t cry when she waved me farewell at the security checkpoint, either.
We didn’t cry until I was at the gate to board my flight, and she was waiting for a taxi to return back to Shanghai. I called her before I stepped onto the plane, sobbing, but she couldn’t answer. J answered the phone instead and said Z was crying too much to speak.
I sobbed so much at the gate, I’m sure everyone thought I had gone through a horrific break up.
And I did. I broke up with Shanghai, with Z, with four years of my life–and it hurt so, so much.
Farewell, Los Angeles
Two years later and here I am, breaking up again… this time, with Los Angeles.
I can’t believe it’s been more than two years since I had my tearful farewell with Z and all of my Shanghai friends. Since my departure from Shanghai, I have truly struggled to fit back into American life. It was hard to find work, and when I did it was isolated, low-paying and downright toxic. I was lonely. Most of all, the change in lifestyle from Shanghai to the USA were almost unbearable for me. Driving instead of walking, using English instead of Chinese, having a suburban instead of exhilarating urban life in downtown Shanghai. Healthcare. Cost of living.
It was tough.
But not all was bad. I started a new job with wonderful, wonderful coworkers who have now become my close friends. Leaving my office on Friday was heart-wrenching, and it still hasn’t fully hit that I won’t be going to work on Monday. I have a boss who is more like a mom than a supervisor. I’ve learned to love Southern California and its beaches and mountains. I traveled around the United States and grew to appreciate just how beautiful my homeland is. Los Angeles taught me how to drive with confidence and a bit of lunacy. I became closer with my Vietnamese family residing in L.A. And hell, I have sunshine almost 365 days of the year–it’s something I complain about, but most of the world’s population would die for.
Most of all, I met the most amazing boyfriend ever. We’ve lived together for two years now, and although I was frightened to take the plunge and move in with someone, it’s been nothing less than perfect.
Now, my life in Los Angeles is coming to an end. My final day of work was yesterday, and I leave for Asia next week. The LA chapter of my life is closing, and the next one is about to begin.
It’s heart-wrenching to say goodbye to your life. At this point, I feel like I’ve lived four times already. I’ve been thrown into an unknown place, integrated with the community, made a network of friends and immersed into the surroundings–only to leave. I sometimes wonder why I put myself through such torture. Here, I have an amazing supervisor, a close community of friends and a job with little-to-no-stress and now I’m throwing it all away for more difficulty, adversity, and debt.
However, one thing is for certain:
I’m tired of moving. This ronin wants to be a short-term ronin. I want to move somewhere…and stay there. I’m tired of saying goodbye. I’m tired of missing everyone. And I hope after my next phase of life, I can finally find a place to call “home.”
Years ago I wrote a post when I first left Japan, and every time I move I open it again and read it. It helps remind me why I do what I do.
I could have saved the heartache and pain of farewell by staying in my small Utah town forever. I could have said screw moving to Japan and settle in Salt Lake City. Even now I could just put up with the annoyances of the Japanese school system and live my cozy English teaching life out in Japan forever.
But you don’t grow that way. There’s more to life than settling for second best. And that’s why I must move on.
Los Angeles, you weren’t the city I was looking for, but you grew into a city I can now appreciate. You have some damn fine beaches, the best selection of food in the United States, and some stellar weather.
Farewell, and thank you.
The Next Step
I’ll be traveling to Japan and China for most of May and June. I have this epic journey planned out and will (hopefully) update the blog much more regularly with my adventures.
Have you ever had a difficult farewell? Do you ever tire of moving somewhere new? Do you think it’s better to move or stay put?