It’s time to say goodbye to Guangzhou, this bustling, sub-tropical metropolis that can overwhelm you in its capitalistic frenzy and punish you in its searing summer heat.
I hadn’t expected to leave so soon. But such is the transient life of any expat I suppose. Some are here longer than others, but we all move on at some point. It’s often a restless, uncertain existence living in a foreign country.
At any rate, I’ve spent two years in the city, the first in a private college surrounded by farmland and the occasional factory and the second in a public university surrounded by an urban forest of concrete and steel. They were polar opposites in some ways.
My college students would complain their school was too small, but my university students would grumble that their school was too big. Guangdong Baiyun College was nearly a 2-hour ride from downtown while Huanong University had a metro stop right outside its main gate. The college had many rich kids who hadn’t passed the gaokao (college entrance exam) and had to pay twice the standard tuition fee. The university had mainly middle-class or lower-class students who came from all parts of Guangdong province, often small towns or villages. Students left Baiyun to visit someplace else while visitors would flood to Huanong especially when the flowers bloomed in the spring.
I decided not to broadcast my plan to leave Guangzhou to all my classes. But I did let a few students and friends know. Harry and I joined a practice dragonboat race before he left for a summer job in Maine. Dany and I watched a live dragonboat race on the Pearl River and viewed the neon-lit district of Zhujiang New Town from the 70th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel before parting ways. David and I met up for one last meal at a chicken hot pot that was a hotspot for students. And Swarnita and I ate an overpriced tuna sandwich and salad at the “Sculpting in Time” cafe before saying goodbye.
Saying goodbye at church was harder to do. Guangzhou International Christian Fellowship (GICF) had been my church family away from home, and I had been blessed by the various ministries there. Each week during the announcements, the speaker would ask if anyone who had stayed more than 6 months in Guangzhou would be leaving and like to give a parting farewell. I had been counting down the weeks until my last Sunday. It came too soon, and I gave my little speech. I’m not one for public speeches, but I was glad I could say something before I left.
After the service, the music team met up front, and two other students and I stood in the middle while the rest circled around us, held hands, and prayed for us. We all gave a brief farewell to the group, and then they handed us personalized notebooks with messages from some of the music team. It was a touching farewell.
Later I met up with my life group, the Band of Brothers. We had studied the Word together on Saturday mornings, and we were a tight but small group. Stephen had left us to work in Hangzhou, but the others were still in Guangzhou. There was Richard, a fellow English teacher from Canada; Yudi, a chemical engineer from Indonesia; Tommy, an architect from Scotland; and Dickson, a PhD candidate from Africa who was completing his thesis. We gathered together, and they prayed for me before we parted ways. I was thankful that God had given me this group of guys to share life together, support each other, and learn more about the Word.
There was another goodbye to say. It wasn’t one I especially relished, but I figured it might be the last time for us to meet. We had met last in February, and I hadn’t seen her the whole spring semester. We had met online through a friend when I was living in Detroit, and frankly she was the reason I came to Guangzhou in the first place. But the relationship had chinks and cracks that never seemed to fully repair, and in the end the foundation collapsed.
We talked about the past semester. And we talked about summer plans. There were plans and dreams I had had for our future, but that path in the woods had ended a long time ago. At least we could meet as friends, perhaps for the last time.
When the day came to leave, things were a bit of a blur. I was still in a drugged, bleary state that morning as I placed my luggage in the trunk and sat in the passenger seat, watching the campus pass by. We passed by the palm-lined street and the blocky, administrative building with its green-tiled eaves before going through the school’s main gate for the last time. Soon enough we were driving over the Liede Bridge, and I watched the Canton Tower standing tall, its top piercing the cloud-studded sky. Eventually we made it to the port in Panyu.
As the ferry sped through the water, I noticed a mass of dark gray clouds beginning to darken the horizon. A storm was on its way. Now this was a proper send-off from Guangzhou.