Although life in Fuzhou is often trite and uneventful, having friendly roommates has brought variety into my daily schedule of tea research and guqin classes.
Since I’m not actually in any of the classes, I don’t really have a friend group on campus. I don’t mesh well with most of the international undergraduates, and since I only take one class with the Chinese students, I don’t really know them either.
Fortunately, thanks to my roommates, I’ve been absorbed into the graduate student group. This has led to multiple homemade meals at friends’ dorms, a number of outings, and a couple of karaoke nights (where literally everybody is a pop star). While I don’t mind living a quiet life, it sure doesn’t hurt to go out every now and then—especially with a group of friends as amicable as the ones I’m with.
When I first arrived in Fuzhou, I wondered if it would actually be possible to make any long-lasting friendships in just a year. I had never really gotten close to my classmates when I was in Japan, but then again we weren’t living with each other. A part of me also worried—why spend all that time making friends only to have a tearful goodbye in July?
But this isn’t an issue. Ultimately, all friends are temporary. Whether we’ll be together for a short ride on the bus, an afternoon at a conference, a year, or a century, there will come a day when circumstances separates us. Just because a smartphone is eventually going to break doesn’t mean I’m never going to buy one. It just means I need to recognize that fragility of it—and in this case where I only have a maximum of nine more months with my friends—really cherish the moments we do have together.
I was feeling a bit down yesterday because as much as I try to stay connected with friends back home, it’s challenging to coordinate time zones, busy schedules, and an unreliable internet connection. As I was showering, I realized that while this is an unfortunate part of moving away, I shouldn’t be so preoccupied with the unending task of maintaining past friendships that it prevents me from forming new friendships with those currently around me.
When I return to the US in nine months, all of my friends will still be there. Perhaps there will be an initial disconnect, but I think that for the most part, we’ll be able to reconnect simply by meeting up again.
And so, rather than being upset about leaving my friends in the US behind, I can take a change of perspective and embrace this opportunity to make new friends. And when I return home, rather than lament about leaving my international friends, I can celebrate with my old friends.
This actually reminds me of a story that, despite hearing time and time again, I never gave much thought until now.
There was once an old lady who had two daughters. One sold noodles; the other sold umbrellas. This lady was always upset because if it was raining, she’d worry about her daughter who sold noodles because she couldn’t put the noodles out to dry. If it was sunny, she’d worry about her daughter the umbrella-seller because nobody would be buying umbrellas.
Eventually, the lady was desperate to find some sense of joy again, and a wise person told her, “When it’s sunny, think of your daughter who sells noodles; when it’s raining, think of your daughter who sells umbrellas.”
And from then on, she was always smiling. Reality had not changed, but her perspective did, and that made all the difference for her.
Now, when I first heard this story in a Buddhist setting, one of my classmates remarked, “I don’t get it. At any given point in time, one of the daughters is still not making money. Nothing’s changed.”
While nothing changed, this is a situation in which nothing really can change. Worrying doesn’t change the weather, and so instead of worrying, the lady found a much healthier option. And of course, the daughters never starved—there were always a combination of sunny days and rainy days.
Similarly, rather than worrying about my friendships in the US while I’m in China and worrying about my friendships in China while I’m in the US, I should be focusing on what’s in front of me, here and now. This is not to say that I’m forgetting about half of my friends, but rather recognizing that there’s nothing to worry about—I’ll spend time with them when I am able to. For now, I am able to spend time with those around me—my friends in China—and that’s who I should be spending my time with.
Otherwise, when July comes around and I’m on the plane back to the US, I know that I will definitely wish I had spent more time with friends in person rather than reminiscing friends I can only see online.