How to Make Friends, Part 4 of 7: Survive Living in Mainland China Together

Once upon a time, I spent a year living in Shanghai, working in the English department of Sanda University and sharing an apartment with my teaching partner Lucy.

Lots of things happened in those twelve months, running the gamut from comedy to tragedy and often blurring the lines in between. During almost every adventure and misadventure, amidst the hilarity and the horror, there was Lucy, being goofy in just the right moment to save my sanity. 

Many photos in this post courtesy of Cliff Larsen
As often happens with most Westerners living in mainland China for an extended period of time, we both went a little crazy at one point or another.

Whenever it was my turn to flip out, Lucy was there to talk me down off the emotional ledge, just as I was there to do the same for her.

The thing is, as important as she is to me now, it's amazing (and a little scary) to think that we probably never would have become close friends if we hadn't been paired together by an organization and sent to live in mainland China together (with two other teammates, yes, but they don't factor into the equation for the purposes of this post). Even if the stars had aligned and geography had brought us together in the States, I don't know what would have drawn us together as friends. When we met, everything seemed so different: tastes, likes, dislikes, personality, interests, and temperament. She read People magazine. I read Thomas Hardy novels. She quoted pop songs. I quoted Shakespeare. She attacked China with a freewheeling and high-spirited zest, whereas I worried and grumped along beside her, fretting about unlikely catastrophes and periodically spouting pedantic nonsense.

You get the picture. 

We were different. 

It's proper to use the past tense here -- "we were different" -- because during that year spent living together in China, each of us had an impact on the other’s life that has never worn off. 

Although geography and the pressures of life preclude getting together now as much as we both would like, we've managed to keep in touch. We've even managed to take two international trips together since that year, one of them a wonderfully spur-of-the-moment jaunt to Italy, in which we  ate everything in sight, couldn't take a decent picture together to save our lives...

...and Lucy scored the phone number and email address of one very convivial German tourist. 

I love Lucy dearly and consider her friendship to be a rare and precious thing.

After all, there's a huge, life-altering aspect of my history that only she can understand because she lived through each step of it with me.

I think perhaps most telling is this last photo, which our friend Cliff snapped on our way to the airport at the end of our year in Shanghai. Although we were happy to be headed home to see our families and live in a world that once again made sense, we both knew that this drive to the airport also marked the end of a special time in our lives and that we would miss each other dreadfully.

I kept this photo as my computer desktop background for several years after we came back, reminding me daily to pray for Lucy and thank God for the strength her friendship provided during a difficult time. Reminding me that no hardship lasts forever and that the friendships forged through adversity (and mind-altering confusion) are often the most precious.

Reminding me to be thankful, once again, for the sustaining joys of genuine friendship.


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