Bob and I are about to enter into a new phase of our living-abroad adventure: a totally kid-free period. Now, there are couples out there who enjoy the empty nest and feel it allows them a whole lot more freedom. We, however, enjoyed having our kids around, Daniel for brief periods when he would pop up from tropical Guangzhou and complain about Beijing’s weather, and Joanna for the whole time we’ve been in Beijing, half living with us, and half with friends.
Joanna and I had our weekly manicures, our “Mad Men” nights, many dinners out, plus Thanksgiving, birthdays, Hanukkah, Passover, and just-because dinners. We shopped together, we admired Chinese babies, we swam in the pool at Seasons Park.
In any event, I’m excited about the next stages for Daniel in Denver and Joanna in Chapel Hill, happy that they’re able to do grad school with scholarships and not be saddled with horrible debt in two years. I know that they’ve got a perspective on the world from all their travels that few twentysomethings have, and that they’ll bring a larger understanding to their studies.
But I’m looking at the next period with a certain amount of trepidation. I’ve never lived abroad without having my kids around to share it.
And Joanna’s departure yesterday was not without a certain level of mafan – trouble. First, the weather. I told her that China clearly didn’t want her to leave, as lightning lit up the night sky, and the heavens opened up. We went out to dinner in the neighborhood, but had to run home in the rain. That was a rookie mistake on my part. As we rounded into Seasons Park, Bob helpfully suggested that I cut past the locked gate and run in through the open car gate so as not to wait in the rain.
I scooted around the gate and wham, slipped and fell in a muddy puddle, twisting my knee badly and slicing my index finger with something on my umbrella. Good thing I was wearing white jeans.
But this was not about me.
We decided to hire a driver since we figured the traffic and the cab situation would be tough in bad weather. So we called Patrick, who supplied a very affable bald guy who clearly loved to chat with foreigners.
And so our trip to the airport was a full-on China moment, with the driver expressing shock at Bob’s age – “Wooooah,” he said – and remembering he took Joanna for her GRE tests in Beijing.
When he asked what Joanna was going to study in the U.S., we made an attempt at saying something to do with health.
“Yisheng?” he asked. (“Doctor?”)
“Chabudou,” we answered. (“More or less.”) We figured that going into detail about a master’s degree in public health was beyond our Chinese abilities.
“WOOOOAH,” he said.
I believe we also covered topics like: Ambassador Gary Locke’s trip to Tibet, a comparison of Chinese and American journalists, the state of Rupert Murdoch’s marriage, the high cost of visiting America, and, of course, whether we had another child. Every statement was met with a “Woooah” from our driver, who chuckled and swerved as he drove us to the airport.
It was a fitting end to Joanna’s China experience, and it was the perfect distraction from sadness. And fitting, too, that we found out at the airport that her delayed flight would probably cause her to miss connections in Canada. Mafan.
There’s certainly one good reason for her to leave: she seems to be a committed runner, going out on days when the PM 2.5 is around 160, a state that would cause a major freakout in America. And when she returned our fancy American air cleaner to us, a cleaner for which she hadn’t changed the filter in two years, this is what we found.
|On the left, the gray dust from two years of sucking in Beijing air. On the right, a new carbon filter.|