Monday, February 18, 2008

Expats of the world

Fascinating people… whom we have met in the past few months. There is something truly fascinating about being in places like China and meeting all sorts of people with intriguing life stories to share. And may be they truly have more interesting stories, or may be – and very simply – we just take the time to listen to their stories. In Canada and in the US, of course we would not talk to a stranger in a restaurant, or have supper with someone who just posted a comment on your blog, but being abroad, and in a country where being a foreigner is written on your face, we do. We notice Westerners like ourselves, we strike a conversation, we look for opportunities to meet and share experiences.
And today “this is their stories” like they say on TV… There is Mark and Tina, living in Xiamen, another American-Canadian couple here for a couple of years, him working in a subsidiary of his US company, her being remarkably dedicated to learning mandarin at the university. We simply met one night – the famous “Blind date at the Orient” - because Mark has posted a comment on this blog. We read each other’s blogs all the time and we have promised to go for some karaoke night soon (something we HAVE to do before leaving China!). Then there is Marie-Frederique and Tom whom we met through an “expat lunch”. She is a painter, a life-time expat from France who lived in a few African countries and her husband Tom who is from Romania. They decided one night – just like that – to move from the US to Xiamen and start a new business adventure! Xiamen looked like a “nice enough place to live” and labor would be cheap in China. After 2 years, they have 40-50 employees - painters and Photoshop people - and they mass-produce paintings for Target and other major US retail store and hotel chains (including her famous “chefette” which I am sure I saw somewhere in a retail store in Montreal!). Their office is just fascinating to visit: more sophisticated than anything else in Xiamen, with nice sitting area, kitchen and art gallery (virtual visit here). There is hundreds of new artwork being literally created every week… totally overwhelming… And our very international group (her and Tom and my husband Ed and I) enjoy sharing a quiet supper together! Then still in Xiamen, there is Ann and Michael, and their 3 children. Blogging was also our connection. They are here from the US for one year. He is teaching philosophy at Xiamen university and she is taking care of the children and blogging about their lives, their kids’ life at school and their interesting travels throughout China - for the pleasure of all of us. We met once and had a really nice time walking throughout the campus and enjoying a very local lunch (but delicious!). I enjoyed the small streets and the very active life around the university, very different from our “expat” neighborhood. And I love her husband's story, the symbol that no one should ever give up in life in the face of adversity, especially young people. Her husband Michael actually left community college, worked 3 years in a kitchen, went back to school, and now has a PhD in… philosophy! Quite extraordinary indeed. Last but not least in Xiamen, in the same apartment building as us, lives a business man (I have to ask him for his name!), originally from Savoie, France, living in Hong-Kong, married to an Asian woman, and responsible of a new Wyndham hotel in Xiamen. With his young son who is studying in the US, we all sat together one night at the local Australian-owned cafe to share the traditional Tuesday night “two-for-one” pizza and beer, and had one of these wonderful conversations which has you travel around the world in minutes…
My last story is the one from Sanna and Tom, originally from Sweden, who live in Beijing with their 3 children, him working as the communication director for Nokia.
We met under the most unusual circumstances! Remember last October… when we trekked for 4 days in Bhutan. This was a unique experience, not shared by many. Indeed we met 2 people only every day (a lot fewer than climbers of the Everest experience!). So you can understand my surprise went I read Sanna’s comment on my blog! “I think we met in Bhutan… I recognize your tent… we did the same trek in October”. And indeed we had met … and met again in Beijing for the most wonderful and unusual evening. Just because of that blog posting, we had decided to meet again. For one evening, and one evening alone, we were transported far from the crazy life of Beijing to a very peaceful and very beautiful Swedish home. We truly could not have felt more in Sweden if we had been in Stockholm! It was before Christmas, in a secluded quarter for embassy people, which looked just like an American suburb. And we had such a wonderful time: Christmas tree with Swedish decorations, fire in the fireplace, hot spice wine, and lots of memories from Bhutan which we all shared on that night…
So “expats from the world”, thanks for all these wonderful moments!

4 comments:

Tina said...

Right back at you. What a surprise to see our pictures on your blog. I thought for a moment I was back in ours.

The memories will be cherished throughout our lives and it sounds like you have met some wonderful (of course including ourselves) expats.

Yes, we will definitely have a singing night before you leave Xiamen.

Tina said...

What great memories you will have of your time here in Xiamen.

Yes, we will definitely have to do a kereoke night before you leave Xiamen.

Fuji Mama said...

That is definitely one of the things I love about being an expat--I love meeting new people, and like you said, we Westerners definitely stick out in this part of the world!

Ariana said...

I'm so enjoying reading your blog from the comfort of the coffee shops in downtown Montpelier, VT... but every time I read your stories, the travel bug bites me again! When do you return to US/Canada? I can't wait to hear all about your travels!