1. Are you a woman? I hate to discriminate, but, boys, this contest is not for you. You’re welcome to continue reading. I mean it’s not like I’m going to start talking about maxi-pads or anything. (Oh god, I just mentioned maxipads. I swear that’s the last time I’ll talk about maxipads. Damn it, I did it again. Whatever. Just leave now, guys, while you can. Okay?)
2. Are you between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five? Again, I don’t like to discriminate, and I’m willing to be flexible on this. But you should be old enough to not remember the last time you shot-gunned a beer and young enough to know what shot-gunning a beer means. (Or at least know enough to look it up on Urban Dictionary.) Whether or not you’ve ever shot-gunned a beer is not important. But you should have at one point consumed beer in some ridiculous, ill-thought-out, potentially dangerous way. (Bonus points if you happened to be wearing denim overalls and listening to Backstreet Boys while doing it.
3. Are you able to pick up and move yourself to a foreign country? Again, not to discriminate against those of you who may have partners or children or pets or jobs or a pesky prison sentence keeping you rooted in your current home country, but this is kind of important. Of course, if you do have a partner or a child or a pet, you’re welcome to bring them along with you. As for those of you with a prison sentence, well, I’m no parole officer but I’m thinking you’d better stay put. (Really. Stay put. And stop sending me mail because it’s creepy. I mean, my own mom doesn’t even know my mailing address in China, okay?)
4. Are you able to maintain an intelligent conversation? (Trust me, I’m super-flexible when it comes to the word “intelligent”… and, umm, “conversation.” Really. I’m perfectly fine with spending hours talking about the merits of the different flavors of M&M’s… or not talking and just eating lots of M&M’s.)So now that you’ve answered yes to all these questions, you are eligible to win the big grand prize!
How do I know you’ve answered yes?
Because Alexa told me so.
You see, Alexa is this website that knows all this creepy stuff about who’s reading my blog. All I have to do is type in my blog address, and it comes up with all these facts about my average reader or, ahem, you – yes, you!
For example, according to Alexa, you are a childless, college-educated woman, between the ages of twenty-five to forty-four. You are browsing the Internet from home. You’re wearing pajama pants at five o’clock in the evening, and your only accessories, at the moment, are cracker crumbs and red wine stains. (Okay, so Alexa didn’t tell me that last bit, but it’s true, isn’t it? How do I know that? Because… uh… that’s what I happen to be wearing, and I figure we already have so much in common already.)
Creepy, right? Don’t ask me how Alexa knows all this stuff about you. Frankly, it scares me. It’s like you can’t stalk people anonymously on the Internet anymore. Sheez.
Anyway, since you’ve answered yes to all my questions and are now eligible for my big contest, you’re probably wondering what you can win, right?
Well….Your prize is a chance to be my new best friend!
You probably think there’s some kind of catch, right? I mean an offer like this is too good to be true, huh?
I mean, really, me and you?
How fantastic is that?
So, okay, there is one teensy weensy little hitch.You will have to move to China.
Never heard of it?
Not to worry!
I hadn’t heard of Wuxi either before I moved here.
Apparently, neither had Lonely Planet, as Wuxi is not even mentioned once in their current guidebook for China. (Although the Lonely Planet does give a small shout-out to Wuxi on their website; granted it’s not the most flattering of shout-outs. The city is described as “smoggy and characterless, with little to recommend it.” Obviously, this was written before I moved here because now Wuxi has me to recommend it. And I’m not little, by any means.)Of course, you will have to move here soon because this is a limited time offer kind of deal.
You see, my current contract only runs until the end of June, and it’s already April, so we don’t have much time.
Let’s say it takes you at least a week to pack up your stuff, quit your job, buy a plane ticket and dust the cracker crumbs off yourself before you can get here.
That leaves us with less than three months to become besties, and these kind of things take time. I mean, if Sex and the City is to believed, we need to get started ASAP with the brunches and the cosmos and the bad boyfriends and the ridiculous shoes.
We’re going to have to stick to a tight schedule. We won’t have any time to dilly dally or talk about maxi-pads. (Look, guys, I warned you. Don’t say I didn’t.)
Oh, and you’ll probably need to find a job or something when you get here or figure out some way to support yourself because this offer isn’t redeemable for cash. (Come on, like who could put a price tag on my friendship? And who, in their right mind, would try to redeem such a fabulous prize for cash? How rude!)So, now that you’re practically my new best friend, you’re probably wondering why a girl like me is just giving away her friendship?
Right? I mean, I should really be selling this stuff.
Well, you see, I could use a few friends.
It’s not that there aren’t plenty of people around to be friends with. I mean, I’m in China for crying out loud. There are like tons of people here. Wuxi, alone, has over four million inhabitants. (What gives, Lonely Planet? Four million Chinese people can’t be wrong, can they?)
In addition to my millions of new neighbors, I also work with a couple dozen foreign English teachers. They’re all really nice — like suspiciously so. I’ve been here over a month, and I’ve hardly heard any of my coworkers speak smack about each other. Frankly, I’ve found the lack of back-stabbery and general office gossip to be rather unsettling. I suspect all this niceness has something to do with the fact that the majority of my colleagues are Canadian. You know how Canadians are — all nice and stuff.
So, it’s not like I don’t have my pick of people to be friends with.
And it’s not like I’m the Unabomber or anything. I’m usually pretty good at making friends. Sure, since I discovered I can get Hulu on my computer, I have become something of a hermit. But, when I’m not trying to cram seven episodes of Project Runway into one evening, I can be pretty social. I’ve even been told I’m quite the conversationalist. Heck, on occasion, I’m even capable of talking about something besides myself!
So what’s my deal?It’s just that… well… I don’t really fit in.
I don’t speak enough Chinese to make friends with any of the locals. (Sure, my repertoire of “hello,” “chicken” and “thank you,” can get me pretty far when it comes to ordering food at the restaurant — like, surprisingly far. You’d think I’d be going hungry with a three-word vocabulary like that, but it turns out I’m exceptionally good at pointing… and pretty good at eating whatever plate of food happens to be plunked down in front of me. But my limited language ability is not exactly winning me any new pals.)
The only Chinese people that I know who speak English are my students, and, while they are lovely people, they are also eighteen-year-old people — which makes them ineligible for the prize of my friendship. (Not like they’d really want it. I mean, if you were eighteen years old would you really want to hang out with your dorky, thirty-five-year-old, English teacher who walks around town pointing wildly at plates of food and shouting the word “chicken” everywhere she goes?)
And, while my colleagues have all been very nice, I don’t really fit in with them so well, either. And this isn’t just because I’m not Canadian. You see, the majority of the women I work with are quite young — most of them are in their early twenties. And while they are all very nice (again, you know how those Canadians can be), they tend to say stuff like “Last night, when I was shot-gunning beers” and wear pleather mini-skirts and go out dancing at clubs until 5 am in the morning. In general, they make me feel… well… old.
I do have a few older female colleagues – recently retired schoolteachers from Canada, who have come here as a kind of second career. Again, they are also very nice. (Sheez! Canadians!). But they tend to say things like “When I was your age” or “When you’re my age,” and this kind of stuff just makes me feel really, really young… but not so much in a good way (more like in a way that makes me suspect that they don’t actually know how old I am).
And, sure, I have plenty of male coworkers of all ages, but who wants to be friends with them? I mean we can’t drink Cosmos together or swap shoes or talk about maxipads or anything! (Ha, ha, sorry guys. Just checking to make sure you’re still here.)Don’t get me wrong.
I don’t have any problem hanging out with people of different ages.
And I don’t mind hanging out with guys – a lot of my best friends are guys.
It’s not even like I mind being alone. Heck, I practically invented being alone! I was sitting on my couch by myself, eating ice cream straight from the carton and power-watching box sets of DVDs before that kind of thing became cool. (That kind of thing is cool now, right? Right?!)
But I miss having girl friends my own age. (Or at least ones who don’t constantly remind me that we’re not the same age by wearing pleather mini-skirts or saying things like, “Back when I wore pleather miniskirts….”)
It’s just nice to have friends who get you. You know?And, while I feel kind of alone, I know I’m not.
I’ve talked about this problem with other women who are living abroad or have lived abroad.
I’ve read blog posts by expat women who have felt the same way – isolated, alone and slightly freakish.
Last weekend, I met up with the lovely MaryAnne Oxendale, who lives in Shanghai and laments about the loneliness of being a female expat on her blog. We got a chance to lament in person. (Over fruity cocktails, of course, because that’s just what girls do.)
Until now, to be honest, I’ve been pretty lucky in a lot of the foreign countries I’ve lived in. In Japan, I lived between Kobe and Osaka, two cities with lots of expat ladies and plenty of Japanese women who spoke English (and loads of places that sold fruity cocktails). One of the reasons why I stayed in Japan as long as I did was simply because of the awesome group of friends that I had.
In Chiang Mai, I was lucky, too. I already knew a group of travel bloggers who were living there. I was able to meet other foreign volunteers and NGO workers through my volunteer gig. I had regular brunch dates and pub trivia events and karaoke get-togethers and ladies’ movie nights.But, I haven’t always been so lucky.
When I first moved to Brazil, I was crazy lonely for months. I was living in Manaus, the capital city of the Amazonas state, which isn’t exactly known for its thriving international community. (Thriving mosquito community? Sure. Thriving international community? Not so much.) Eventually, I learned enough Portuguese to make Brazilian friends, and I finally met a Canadian teacher in the same city. (What’s with all these Canadians? It’s like you people are everywhere!) But, man, those first couple months were no Carnival parade for me, that’s for sure.
Wuxi is, also, not exactly a hotbed of expat or English-speaking activity. (Lonely Planet, this is your fault.) Luckily, Shanghai is a quick hour-long bullet train ride away. If I need my fruity cocktail and girl talk fix, I can easily go there for the weekend to hang out with my new best friend, MaryAnne. (That’s right, MaryAnne! You’ve already won the BFF sweepstakes, and you didn’t even have to enter. Lucky you!)
But it sure would be nice to have more than one friend around. (Again, should Sex and the City be believed, one should always have at least three lady friends at her disposal. After all, a girl needs backup… you know, in case you need to go to the bathroom or something.)So, that’s where you come in!
You see, I already know we’d make really good friends. Alexa has told me so much about you!
So pack your bags because…
You’ve won a trip to China!*
After all, wouldn’t hanging out with me in China and having all kinds of fun adventures together be so much better than hanging out at home and just reading about my fun adventures on my blog? (And, yes, by “fun adventures” I’m talking about eating chicken, but, trust me, eating chicken is an adventure in China – especially when you’re never quite sure what part of the chicken you happen to be eating… or if that’s even chicken.)(*There’s just one teensy weensy little hitch: you’ll have to pay for your ticket here… and your visa… and find a place to live. But, I swear, the first round of fruity cocktails is on me. After all, what are best friends for?)