Monday, July 16, 2012


The 'Leaving Party' is probably a somewhat overdone genre in expat communities. Particularly so in Beijing, I would venture.

There is a peculiarly high degree of impermanence and uncertainty about our tenure here. Every time someone takes a holiday, we sense there's a chance they won't be coming back, that some bolt-from-the-blue - an unexpected job offer, a new love affair, or just the sudden, stunning realisation/recollection that pretty much everywhere else in the world is nicer than here - will abruptly deflect their lives into a new path.

Hence, we tend to have leaving parties every time we go away for more than a couple of weeks. I once had three leaving parties prior to my departure on my summer holidays.

Sometimes the rupture seems more definite, more violent, more likely to be permanent. Visas occasionally get cancelled for the most trivial infractions, or for none at all; or they simply expire, and, with the winds of official xenophobia momentarily blowing more strongly against us, we decide that it would be too much hassle or expense to try to renew them again. After a few weeks or months, we may relent, re-apply for a visa, and return once more. The new jobs and new love affairs, or the hopes of finding such, often fail to pan out as well. Even people who've gone through a definitive moment of China Meltdown, and swear that they can't take the pollution, the corruption, the homicidal driving, etc. any more, and that they will never, NEVER return... often change their minds and find themselves coming back for more within six months or so. My friend KP threw a rather extravagant leaving party a few years ago - band, buffet, kiddies' entertainer (well, er, me) - and then realised the very next day that she wasn't quite ready to quit the place after all.

Hence, we tend not to take 'Leaving Parties' all that seriously. We usually suspect that, however much someone insists they're done with China for good, they might very possibly be coming back in a little while.

This is rather where I am at the moment. I have little worthwhile work in China any more; and the prospects there seem to be drying up for me. My visa has expired, and I'm going to face a few hurdles in trying to get another one. When I left at the end of May, I wasn't at all sure if or when I would be coming back. Part of me, at least, has been hoping that I could find a way to avoid coming back (although there are certain logistical problems to be taken care of: books to pack, bank accounts to be cleared out, scores to be settled...); I really feel now that I am done with China.

Thus, my leaving party this year - just under 8 weeks ago - was the biggest, best, and most emotional that I've had, because it did seem as if it might be the last, that there was at least some possibility that this time I really was leaving for good.

I had wanted to write about that party, perhaps compile a Top Five list of the best leaving parties I've had here (there have been quite a few of those summer holiday ones by now). I may get around to that one day. But I can't do it at the moment.

The trouble with such gatherings is that occasionally there's a finality about them that you do not suspect. 

One of my dearest friends during my time in China, one of those who came out to wish me well on that night and helped to make it such a moving and memorable occasion, is no longer with us; he died, suddenly, tragically, just over a week ago. Though I could not have imagined it at the time, that party was the last time I would see him. I am very grateful to have been able to enjoy such a happy last memory of him, but unutterably sad that there will be no more such memories to be added to the history of our friendship.

A funeral service for him should be under way round about now. I am sorry I cannot be there. Here in New York, it is the early hours of the morning, but I am intending to stay up, to share a few silent thoughts with his family and friends, at the funeral and scattered around the world, as we say goodbye to a unique human being, one of the warmest and kindest and most vivacious I have known.  So long, dear friend. You shouldn't have left us so soon.


JK said...

Leaving party at 12sqm. I'll make it one to remember. Or even better, one that you won't remember.

Froog said...

Maybe we could have a joint one next time?

Do you have a date in mind yet?

Mind you, the visa renewal process is not looking promising for me.