Tears Before Leave Time

Sunday, 8 March 2009

It’s turning out to be a tragic final fortnight

(Above: seeing this rare blue Beijing sky would make anyone weep)

One of my tai tai friends, let’s call her Shazza, is leaving Beijing about a week before I am, and she’s been a wreck for a while now. If you so much as pass a glance in her general direction, her eyes turn to water. She then bats her eyelashes like windscreen wipers to swipe the tears away and her bottom lip trembles, then she breaks into a wide, faux smile in an attempt to fool her brain into a different sensory response.

If you say something to her at this time, no matter what it is (“cream cakes!”, “bionic poop machine!” “we’ll miss you!”), she’ll be unable to respond and it’ll be all over for at least a minute or two. So you have to look away discretely and stay silent until she has time to recover herself, and to give the windscreen wipers time to slick away that eye rain.

These past few days, I seem to have picked up a serious case of Eye Rain from Shazza. I’ve felt sick about leaving Beijing for a long time now, but these past few days have descended on me like a pall of depression. I’ve become woeful and mopey, sulky and gloomy. I’m in a real funk, a biorhythm so low, my eyebrows are permanently poised in that tenderly risen position that’s a dead giveaway: “just look at me, even sideways, and I’ll dissolve into a blathering mess”.

I said goodbye to my tailor, Xiao Fei today (after picking up 97 new silk frocks, 28 cashmere coats and 101 skirt/blouse combos; like I need them).

I stood in Fei’s shop and tried to tell her what leaving Beijing is doing to me. I tried to tell her how I felt about her but I simply couldn’t; my mouth was welded so tightly shut (in an attempt to hold back the flood of tears, gushing through every sinus passage) that all I managed to do was squeak: “I don’t have enough Chinese to tell you this, so I want you to just imagine how I feel right now, and how I feel about you and how I’m going to miss you. Ok? Great. Bye bye now.”

She nodded and all she said was “I know, you don’t need to say.” And then pressed her lips together in the same clown-faced expression as mine, and then we promptly burst into tears.

For the rest of the day, I managed to drag around a bucket of tears, strapped to my head and sloshing around my eyes and occasionally down my face at frequent intervals. If I saw a jian bing cart. If I saw a Year of the Ox stuffed bull. If I saw a taxi cab, and wouldn’t you know it – they’re bloody everywhere.

Talk about pathetic. Really. I’ve been pretty much crying all day. And no, I’m not pregnant, although, after eating my way around Vietnam for nearly three weeks, I sure look it.

Back to BJ. The strange thing for me is that I don’t think I’ve ever been so upset about leaving anywhere in the world (and I’ve left alotta places). I can’t even pinpoint why I’m so devastated. The reason, I guess, is more of a beingness than a factual pull-apart analysis of people, plants and things. It’s an energy, a feeling, an emotion, a connection to these people, plants and things (well, maybe not plants, though I did have a small cumquat tree that lasted three years in our apartment, miracle of miracles). The spirit of life here is what I don’t want to leave behind. As well as the jian bing, stuffed bulls and taxi cabs.

OMG – I’m losing it again.

My husband is also sad to leave, but he’s much less sooky than me and keeps telling people he’s ready to go. I’m not. I’m simply not ready to go, and I’ve not told anyone I that am, not even as a front. And the kids? Ella seems okay. She say she’ll miss select friends (hmm, someone must be on the outer this week at school) and definitely the dumplings and the food and restaurants, “especially Din Tai Fung, mum”. She said she’s also going to miss “having Chinese lessons in China”.

That made me cry. How atypical of me.

Riley’s fine and that has also made me cry. When we leave, he’ll keep asking me about his friends for many many many (did I say many?) months to come – asking where they are and when they are coming to Australia to visit him and when we’ll go and visit them. And he won’t shut up about China for years, I reckon. Years. That means lots more crying.

Tonight we are off to see the China National Acrobatic group for the last time. When I picked up the tickets, I cried. When I hand them to the ticket-ripper, I’ll probably cry. I’ll also need eyeball windscreen wipers on high during the entire performance. The rest of this week is also booked heavily with tear-inducing moments (like looking out the window), so it’s looking like a tragic countdown for this Sinophile.

So, if you see a tall blonde tai tai with a pained expression on her face, scurrying around the streets of Beijing, clutching at a snatch of Kleenex and furtively patting her eyes, take pity. This reaction is beyond my control, after all.

And no, I reiterate, I’m not pregnant. I’m just yet another casualty of how easily China can seep under your skin, and make you fall in love and then dump you back into Real Life faster than a barrel of pork jiaozi down my daugher’s gullet.

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First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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