Moving Abroad And Saying Farewell: It Never Gets Easier
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?
31 thoughts on “Moving Abroad And Saying Farewell: It Never Gets Easier”
Well written as always. Where are you going to go after China/Japan?!
Actually I have no idea, haha. I got into graduate school in California but I’m also waiting to hear back from Edinburgh, so it’s one of the two. The more probable one looks like California, at least for the time being…!!!
BTW I’m back in Shanghai woo-hoo!
Oh, I know how you feel about moving. There was a point in my life where I wondered if I would ever stay in the same place for more than a year or two. Putting down roots gets harder as you get older.
And rising them up gets more painful, too.
RIPPING, ripping them up, darn you auto-correct.
Yeah it sounded like you moved A LOT. I’m at a point in life where I just think… wow, I’m really sick of moving. Can’t wait to find “my home” and stay there.
Ohhhh exciting!! Are you coming to Tokyo? We should definitely meet up if you do! I think we have lots to talk about! And I’m very curious to know where your boyfriend fits into your plans from now on!
Hi Siera! Yes I’ll definitely be in Tokyo, but my schedule is pretty jam packed haha. You don’t happen to have free time on Monday or Tuesday Afternoon for lunch or coffee or something? If you work in central Tokyo I can even go to you! Anyway, let me know 🙂 firstname.lastname@example.org
Wow! What a big annoucement! Are you sure you know what you are doing? Hahahaha. Shut UP, Lani.
Like Seira, I’m dying to know what’s happening w/ you and your boyfriend!
I’ve moved SO MUCH it’s not even funny, in fact, there is probably something clinically wrong with it. When I was going from one American city to the next, trying to find “home” it wasn’t difficult emotionally because I was looking ahead and hadn’t made any close friendships anyway.
But when you have lived somewhere for a long time (or what feels like a long time) and you’ve formed attachements, it does get scary and heartbreaking. So, you know, you’re totally normal.
Where will you end up Mary?! Keep in touch!!! Hugs.
Thanks for the hugs Lani, it helped a lot!!!! I thinkk you know how rough it can be to find that place you “belong,” and as a fellow expat I’m sure that you’ve also had your fair share of heartbreaking farewells!
Boyfriend and I will be fine. During grad school we will long distance date, but it’s just one year so I’m not too worried. After grad school he will try to find a job wherever I can get a job (since a doctor is basically employable everywhere). Hopefully I can find something I enjoy doing.
Ah, ha. We move closer to your plans. I see. A year. Hmmm. Okay, mystery girl. Looking forward to your next update and good luck! xxoo
Great post, Mary (when will you write your memoir? :D).
I have been living in Suzhou for 4 years. It seems pretty definitive, for the moment. C. has a good job here and I work from home so here works as good as anywhere. We’ll stay here at least until our future potential kids have to go to school (if pollution does not get worse; if so we will have to consider leaving earlier).
I don’t think you ever stop missing people when you finally stop in one place. If you have moved a lot before, I mean. There is always going to be several important people far away.
Good luck with your future plans and let me know when you are around here!!
You and C seem really happy in Suzhou! I’m glad! I think as long as Suzhou is good to you there is no reason for you to leave… but like you said, pollution sucks so that’s definitely soething to worry about.
Thank you so much for the wonderful comment and I apologize for the late response! I’m finally in Shanghai so let me know if you’re in town! I think I can probably spend a day going to Suzhou too, I’ve never been! We can swap wechats, yea? My ID is: ruolan950823
I think I might cry reading this at work–once again, I see so much of myself in your adventures sometimes. Seeing as I am breaking up with Matsue/Japan soon and hopefully moving on to Shanghai with plans to room with a dear Chinese friend there (who your description of Z immediately reminded me of), and that I see Shanghai as only being my home for a few years. But you’re right, it’s very easy to get stuck in the comfortable role we’re given here in Japan, and I need to grow again.
I’m excited to hear about your new plans when you’re open to sharing them, and I hope Matsue made it to your to-visit list in the end! I’m traveling for the second half of May, but if you’re here in June, let me know!
Wow is this your last year on JET!?!? Oh my goodness that mmust be so heartbreaking! You feel just like a local of Matsue! I have a fellow JET that actually got hired by his BOE to do tourism promotion for Niigata; at first I thought he was crazy but now I think he really, really enjoys it. In a way I can see you doing the same for Matsue, but I think you want to go onto China and different places? What are your next steps?
I hope your farewell isn’t too sad (but I know it will be, so many soubetsukais!). Best of luck to you and keep me updated!
Yeah, a know a handful of CIRs who stuck around in Matsue or other parts of Shimane–or ALTs who keep coming back here even on other contracts or after periods of leaving! Who knows, I might be back someday selling wagashi or something.
For now, however, I just accepted a job in Shanghai yesterday which I am very excited about. Not quite ready to go public about it (still need to inform my parents via Skype, after all!), but I’d love to talk about some Shanghai details with you via email if you have the chance! ^_^ I’m feeling very excited about the humanities job I got, as well as very relieved that now I get to enjoy my last couple months to the fullest without worrying about the job search.
WOW!! No way! Congratulations!!! I’m so proud of you! Did you go to Shanghai to interview?
Anyway, I’d love to hear more about it and what kind of job you’ll be doing! That sounds so exciting! You can email me at email@example.com or you can message me on Weixin (if you don’t have it now, you’ll probably get it soon when you’re in China haha), my ID is: ruolan950823
I can’t wait to hear more! Let me know if you need any help with moving to Shanghai or setting up things 🙂
I want to know more!! Great post Ruby. I have moved a lot too – even leaving Taiwan after five weeks I was hugging someone who fits your description of Z goodbye in the middle of the night (after deciding not to say goodbye earlier in the night she got up to see me to the taxi after all and hug goodbye in the middle of a Taipei street). One of those connections that form a lasting impression <3
Awwww I’m glad you were able to make such a good friend in Taipei! It’s friends that make the exxperience truly special… I hope you two keep in touch!
Thank you so much for the kind words! Right now I just finished a whirlwind 3 week trip to Japan and now I’m taking it easy in Shanghai. I just got here yesterday but it feels great being back in “my” city.
I see me!!! 🙂 And that Sunset Cliff picture is lovely~ But most importantly–YOU are so lovely! This goodbye post (letter) is so touching and warm, but that’s you; you’re a bright and beautiful friend–we’re lucky you came into our lives! Miss you of course, but I’m excited for your next chapter! GOOO MARY!
THANK YOU! I’m very happy to see your comment on here…!!!
I miss you all so much, thanks for keeping in touch with me YOU’RE THE BEST!
What a great post and what a great place to pick up reading your blog (the last post I read was about how much you were struggling in LA), sorry it’s been so long. If you’re coming to Shanghai or Suzhou on a weekend day we could meet up in June (I am still in the middle of the two cities!), but after that we’re moving back to Qinghai (where I belong!)
I am so glad you were able to see the positives of LA and meet some great people. I hope you will find your forever home soon. You’ve reminded me that the point of all this suffering is to grow…and I’ve needed to be reminded.
Thank you very much!!!! I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I experienced a huge change in those 2 years I was in the United States, but it made me realize that reverse-culture shock IS a thing and it takes a LONG LONG LONG time to get over.
Unfortunately suffering is necessary to grow, and that’s what I keep telling myself everytime I make a stupid decision to either quit my job or move or both.
I hear that you’re moving soon and I wish you the best in your future! You’re going back to Qinghai right? I’m so excited to see more about the countryside and the culture over there. Sounds like it’s the right decision!
Wow, just came across your blog last night looking for topics related to Half Japanese. I wish I had come across your blog earlier. I lived in Vietnam over a decade, work in Kazakhstan and will make my move to Shanghai in August with a two day stay in a week. Will be catching up on your blog.
I am half Japanese and half American myself.
Holy crap Kevin your life is SO AMAZING WHAAAAT!! You have the most amazing blog ever! I want to read more stories!
Once I get more free time I’d like to email you. Always great to talk to another half, and as someone who has lived in Vietnam for so long I’d love to learn more about my “home” country.
I hear that you’re moving to Shanghai?? Let me know if you need any help! Shanghai is like my 3rd home. It’s a really international and fun city, you’re going to love it!!! Did you move over yet?
Sorry for the delayed response. Was in KL last week and then I spent two nights in Mui Ne, Vietnam. Yes, I will be moving to Shanghai. I will be there between Aug. 1 – 10. I have a two year contract with an international school but I hope to stay long term. I already dropped half of my suitcases in Shanghai last month and I will spend my remaining summer holidays in Vietnam.
It was interesting reading your blog as well. Will look forward to chatting with you. I hope to kickstart my blogging again once I am in Shanghai.
I keep checking back because I so want to hear how it’s going! 🙂
Ohhh man I just updated! Geez I need to be more diligent and update… thanks for checking back up on here, makes me happy 😀 I love your instagram photos, damn girl, you so good! I see you’re up and traveling again!
That’s a terrible photo of me!!! Lol
I think if you move a lot as a child (or even as an adult if it happens enough), you can get numb to it all. I’ve met people in Brussels (of all ages) who have moved 40 times in their lives to different continents and are just used to it. They don’t get sad about leaving. Taking the other side of the coin, I’m also well acquainted with the other extreme in my family, that is people who stay in the same town their whole lives and just the idea of moving somewhere else (within the same country, let alone abroad) is horrifying.
For people who move multiple times during their adult lives, one of the most tricky aspects appears to be all the acquaintances and friends you ‘gather’ around the world because you can’t stay friends or in touch with everyone you have ever met in every country. It just doesn’t happen. There are always some individuals who you had a real connection with who you stay in touch with, but then there are also other individuals who you also had a real connection with BUT given the distance, the friendship just can’t carry on. (For people who stay in one town their whole lives this problem doesn’t really arise unless the other party is the one who moves away).
Let me know how the move goes – I’m sure it will be a lot of fun!
Ah yeah I get more numb with each move as time goes on, but sometimes I get tired of packing up all my things, or not buying home decorations because I know I’m going to move again, or just feeling like an eternal vagabond with no real ‘roots’… It’s fun sometimes, but at other times I visit my friends in Utah and their lives look so peaceful and nice. I just think: how nice it would be to have the same friend/neighbor nearby for 10+ years, instead of thinking about the day you will have to say farewell.
Anyway, I’m still “young” so settling down will have to wait 😉
And usually kids that move 40 times end up a lot more interesting than those who just stay in the same place their whole lives. There are good and bad to both sides of the coin, but it does get tiring moving all the time haha…
Mary Thanks for all your inspiration.