This week Hurricane Sandy is descending upon the North East US. My family and friends are there, watching the storm, prepped for power outages and hoping trees don’t fall into their homes. Harvard closed its campus for the first time in 34 years; I don’t get to enjoy it, but all my friends who are still there are in a tizzy.
I am missing out. I will not get to hunker down and drink cocoa and wait for the wind and rain to pass us by.
We have the same experiences here, but they are different because they have different names. Typhoons Vicente and Tembin were the most interesting. One of them even pulled a u-turn in the South China Sea. In Hong Kong we tend to go for the wine and frozen dumplings as preparation for a typhoon. We’re supposed to secure any outdoor furniture, and tape the windows. But because I’m on the 27th floor, I don’t have to worry about trees falling on my house. I have lived through these, but I shall not experience Sandy.
Next week is the presidential election, and I voted absentee once again. I have only ever voted in a polling place once. A cousin of mine got married in Minnesota a few weeks ago, and my brother and parents went and saw most of the rest of the family. I will have Thanksgiving and Christmas away from my family again, and I will celebrate the New Year with people I have known for less than a year. I have not been and will not be with old friends or family for any of these events.
Living abroad, I miss the bonding experiences of 1000 mile storms, family events, and visits in person. I skype some of my friends when I can, and I rarely speak to most of them. Many of my friends will go on the yearly pilgrimage to the Harvard-Yale game. It’s a yearly reunion that I will miss for a while. I hear stories about the weddings, family matters, and some friends fill me in on people I haven’t talked to since I left the country. I talk to them about my friends here, things I’ve done. People they don’t know and places they have never been.
It would be nice to see them now; talk to them over drinks or dinner. But they also live everywhere; even if I moved back to America, most of my friends would be at least 4 hours away by car, if not by plane.
Instead I see different friends, hopefully building lasting relationships with them as well.
My friends here are from all over or they’ve lived all over: Korea, Italy, Egypt, Dubai, Vietnam, Australia, Japan, Spain. Most of the couples I know here met abroad while somewhere else, even if they were from the same hometown. This community is full of people who live life the same way I want to. They are mobile, ready to change, and willing to make new friends based on even small things shared in common. We all have strong ties in other countries and continents. We all watch our families and friends in our home countries, and think about how storms will affect them.
I think it is easier to create a new community abroad. You automatically share something in common with every expat in town: we are all willing to pack up and leave the countries in which we were born, but still we all have ties in those countries.
But then I will go somewhere new, and they will also become like the friends I have in the States (Senegal, England, Qatar, and Turkey). People I try to stay in touch with and rely on, even though they are thousands of miles away. The distance is usually longer than Sandy is wide.
I observe America from outside, like my friends and family observe me from across the oceans. We are all doing interesting things with our lives, but separately. We can only see it through the lens.