A Simple Move – An Expat Goodbye

Initially the move sounded simple, from one side of the compound to the other. When the packers came to quote I stressed how easy it would be.

“It’s just down the end of the street and you make a right.”

“Yes” he had the look of a man who had heard it all before “but we still need to pack it, load it on a truck and get it into your new house. Whether it’s a two minute drive or a two hour drive – it’s the same thing.”

I nodded, slowly, and chose to completely ignore him. It couldn’t be that hard – surely. I mean it wasn’t a proper move. It wasn’t like we were leaving the country.

“It won’t be the same” my neighbour told me. “We won’t just see each other like we did, the spontaneity of a quick drink or a visit will be gone”.

I nodded, slowly, and chose to completely ignore her. “That’s ridiculous, I’m not leaving the country! I’m not even leaving the compound. I’ll be just down the street. I’ll still drive past, text, we’ll still see each other.”

The move had its usual hiccups, items were lost and then triumphantly found. Over the past week pictures have been hung, curtains threaded through rods, new shades found homes over bare lamps. We marvelled over the breeze in the backyard, the light that came through an upstairs window.

“I need to go back to number 28 to grab the piece of wood from under the gate.” G was thinking about an extra security measure for the beagle. Although now that she can open the fridge at the new house I can’t imagine she’ll fit under the gate any time soon.

“I’ll come too, I just want to check nothing small has been left in the back of a cupboard.”

Walking through the front door the house looked and felt soulless. Dust gathered in corners, scraps of packing paper littered the floor. My steps echoed through the starkness of the shell that had encased our past five years. G went straight to the side gate while I stood at the back door and looked into our garden. While our garden furniture was no longer there I saw the people who had occupied it. Names that I now type rather than say, faces which appear on Skype rather than my front door. Birthday parties, playdates and craft making. Visitors from home, random drop ins, one quick drink that turned into two fabulous giggly bottles. A New Years Eve with sparklers, traditions from countries I’ve never been to with new friends.

I asked a girlfriend what was worse, leaving or being left behind. “It’s not either, it’s the fact that things will never be the same again.”

I say goodbye over and over to friends from home, knowing that unless something impossibly sad happens they’ll be there when I return. We will return to their backyard, sit at their dining table, have a beer at the local pub. My expat goodbyes don’t hold the same optimism. We will never live in the same town, we will never see each other at the school gates, send a spontaneous text to catch up. It will be planned, we will be visitors, our different lives will converge in the space of a holiday. Our routine lost, our everyday will become a hopeful someday.

I looked over towards my neighbours yard, it was empty, she was out. I’d be gone before she returned home. I nodded slowly, wiped the tears from my cheeks. Said my goodbyes to yet another house.

Initially the move sounded simple.

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  1. We once moved two houses down – couldn’t even use a truck! And, yup, it was a real move. Worse, really, because – as you said – you don’t THINK it is a real move.

  2. Oh that’s so sad. I hope you settle soon. I’m trying to decide whether it’s harder to leave or be the one that’s left behind. I am what I call a Static Expat, ie. I don’t move around the globe every five years or so. I have had lots of expat friends though, who stay here for a while and then move on. It can be very hard being the one waving them off.

    • Kirsty Rice says

      One of the hardest things about waving everyone off is being in the same environment but without them – there’s the daily reminders of what you did together but will now do no more. I also find here that when people are leaving they tend to constantly remind themselves of why they’re leaving almost to confirm that they’ve made the right choice. It can be difficult to listen to if you’re hanging around.

  3. Oh Kirsty! That is so true!! Having left Hong Kong 5 months ago, I’ve got two lots of good friends coming to holiday in Xi’an next month and I couldn’t work out why there was an odd feeling in the pit of my stomach. I should be excited (an I am) but it’s not the same. You’ve (as always) hit the nail on the head for me, it’s because things will never be the same again in our little expat group… weekend bbqs, lunch day coffees, impromptu drinks downstairs… kids playing together after school. Yep…that’s it. It’s hard. xx

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