The apartment that we have lived in for 3 and a bit years is up for sale. For 7 million RMB. We knew we would have to move at the end of this academic year, and the question on people’s lips was where? And would we find anywhere that matches the commanding view of Baitang Park and the Hilton (was a Doubletree by Hilton, but it has gone up in the world to become a Hilton!)
We didn’t even try to look. In February I applied for a new post at school. I wasn’t successful first time around, which to be honest didn’t come as a shock, but on reapplication in April, I was. In August I will become a boarding parent at Dulwich International High School, Suzhou. I will join a team of 3 other boarding parents alongside our experienced Head of Boarding.
For the sceptics among you, believe me there are easier ways of looking for and getting apartments close to school, that does not come with a responsibility of looking after many many students, but I wanted to do something pastoral with our students, and get to know them better as people, not just as students who come in seeking university advice. And also help to nurture them as they grow and mature into young adults. On a practical note it makes our commute 2 minutes, no e-biking in the rain, Eleanor can walk to and from school, dinner can either be had at school, or I can cook (or Martin can!). This is my job, but Martin and Eleanor will clearly move in with me, but Martin will have no responsonsibilty for the students or the boarding tutors. I am super excited to do this, maybe the novelty will wear off when I am dealing with sickness and the knocking of the door at 3am, but I shall see how it goes.
We agreed with the landlords that despite the property going up for sale in February and our initial contract expiring in April that we would stay until the middle of June 2018. Pushing everything to the limit, prior to getting the job, we believed that we could end school on the 15th, pack and move apartments by the 23rd and fly to the UK on 24th June, come back on the 7th August and start work on the 9th August… I am not sure when we thought we could unpack. Now that I have the new job, the timeline is now that I start work on the 8th August. So having packed up the apartment, Martin and Eleanor will now have to unpack everything and hope that there is enough pace for the 80 odd mugs we have. ( and everything else we shipped with us 4 years ago and the stuff we have also accumulated. Sadly there is no eliptical window ledge for the display of the Starbucks mugs…
As we said goodbye to our abode for the last 3 years, we have said goodbye to some stellar colleagues and dear friends – some people have even been both! June was the month of goodbyes, it always is in the expat world but amazingly I only cried once, In reality it isn’t even goodbye, it is just “see you next time”. The two sets of friends who we are saddest to see go we met four years ago. One set are only moving to the next city, Wuxi to set up a school similar to the Dulwich setup. Bex, Dan and their daughter Sophie were the first people who spoke to us through Skype once Martin had signed the contract. They made us feel welcome and it helped that Sophie was in Eleanor’s year at school. They will miss each other too, but Wuxi is 10 minutes or so on the bullet train. We have a brunch at the Westin, Shanghai booked and while we won’t see each other everyday, we will be in the same time zone, and close enough to see each other on a whim. If Bex hadn’t been leaving, I wouldn’t have got the boarding parent job as it is her job that I am taking.
The other person I am going to miss desperately, is my friend Sian. Her daughter once asked her why we were friends. An age gap of 10 years was, to her at 13, unbelievable. Sian has been my confidante, my guide into the swimming world. (Her daughter swims competitively too), as someone who was in China before she was also our travel guide – and not just for China but for New Zealand. Without her, we wouldn’t have been to Jingdezhen to buy pottery, Datong and the hanging monastery, seen dolphins at Milford Sound with Mitre Cruises and a whole lot more. We were ladies who lunched in our first year, we walked around Jinji lake. Our leisurely lunchtimes transformed into shortened lunches as I got my job, and Sian then did her iPGCE, an international teaching qualification. In the last year she has been teaching Year 3, both of us breathing a sigh of relief that she wasn’t teaching Eleanor! But if anything , we know that our friendship will last because while we haven’t seen each other regularly in the past two years we have always just caught up, talked and carried on as if we routinely saw each other.
An article was shared by a colleague the other week, about the type of expats that there are. It warned the reader of becoming a selfish expat, the expat who had been there for a long time, who lets everyone else befriend the newbies and who either keeps their existing friends, or once their existing friends have gone, they don’t rush to make new friends for fear of being hurt all over again. This was particularly salient reading as Eleanor recently declared she didn’t want to make any more new friends as her friends were all leaving. I was of the same opinion until I read that article, and while my social life will be curtailed to weekends when I am not on duty, I will still be making an effort, making sure I have regular coffee/tea dates with my colleagues when we aren’t teaching/ meeting students as we all need some down time.
As our friends go back to their home countries or leave China for pastures new, we are planning to meet up with them. So it really is until we meet again.
May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be at your back, may the rain fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again some day, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.