Coming to China, I was prepared for a year with no friends. I figured I would try to survive work without burning out, spend my free time exploring China on my own,go back to my solitary apartment, and ward off loneliness and homesickness with books and my very close friends the Parks and Recreation gang.
Instead, I almost immediately connected with my rowdy band of expatriates in my orientation group. We navigated ordering food off of menus with no English and no pictures for the first time, we took the subway for the first time. We slogged through jet lag soaked days together and tried baijiu for the first time together. (Baijiu is an alcohol ranging in alcohol content from 50-70%, and pricewise starts at about $0.98. It tastes like death and I foolishly had some the night before signing at my new apartment. On the plus side, I was able to definitively confirm before signing the lease that my toilet is in prime condition.) We helped each other through countless minor emergencies like paying the phone bill.
I was surprised at how emotional I was to move out of the hotel and away from people who I had technically just met. It had only two weeks, but the hotel and the people had been my first home and first friends in China. Although we spread out all across Shenzhen, we have to this point continued to see each other. We take the subway all over the city to visit each other’s neighborhoods, sample each other’s favorite dumpling stands, and crash on each other’s couches. We sing our brains out at karaoke, my roommate already has a VIP card at our favorite KTV spot. (By the way, you haven’t lived until you hear someone in a British accent ask, “Grace, are you down for Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe?”)
“That’s cute that you still hang with your induction group,” sneer the more seasoned Shenzhen expats. “That won’t last.” And maybe they’re right, as time goes on and we get more bogged down in our work schedules and rooted in our home environments. But that doesn’t matter. For however long it lasts, it has been a comfort to have other people to cling to on the beginning of a sometimes bewildering and hyperstimulating road.
I do have more than just my induction group. At work, the local Chinese teachers help me order food, discuss their favorite K-pop groups with me, and make sure to teach me all the dirty words in Chinese. Other international teachers at my school share pastries with me and promise to take me to Hong Kong Disneyland.
I’ve found in my limited social experience making friends that I will always be fine if I find either
- people who read
- people who like Kanye
Considering my most recent weekend was spent exploring English and Chinese bookstores, discussing Life of Pablo, Toni Morrison, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and reading/writing in a park for a few hours -all with the same small group of people- I think I’m doing all right.