Like meeting an old friend

One of my oldest friends – if not the oldest – has lived in Asia since 2014, and for the most of it, he’s been working as a teacher in China. We’ve been friends for close to 25 years. We went to high school together, and share many similarities in our personal life histories. It’s probably one of the reasons why we clicked in the first place, and maybe a good reason why we are still friends today. (I no longer speak to other friends from those times, as our roads split long ago, and have diverged too much since.)

A couple of years back, in 2016, Heike and I traveled to China to meet my friend, which we did in a well-hidden backpacker’s guesthouse, tucked away in an unremarkable neighborhood in the Yunnanese town of Shangri-La (the jury is still out on whether this really is the paradise described in the novel Lost Horizon, or that the Chinese just claimed it because it’s a nice town located in a nice place). The town is indeed pretty nice, albeit it has a mostly brand new ‘old town’, after fires destroyed the real old town a few years before we visited. Vistas of 6000m Himalayan peaks also add to the feeling of paradise. After spending two days together, we split up again, as Heike and I continued our Yunnan trip, while he had other places to be. Two short but memorable days, in a memorable location.

Lijiang – one of the towns Heike and I visited on our way to Shangri-La. We traveled here for about ten hours by train, on the start of the Chinese national week. On this day all of China travels to meet their loved ones. Let’s say that the train was beyond fully booked, and no one spoke a word of English. This was quite an experience!

My friend and I obviously don’t meet often, as China is pretty far away – and currently not even reachable. Heck, we don’t even speak regularly. We send occasional WhatsApp messages, and for the past couple of years, I think we have called about once a year. It’s always nice though, and I value our friendship and the moments we do share highly. I guess it’s what they mean when they say when something ‘is like meeting an old friend’.

Today was this year’s annual call. We had a good two-hour conversation about the intimacies of life, and about nothing in particular. It was great to talk again, but on the other hand saddening to end the conversation so soon. We always say we will talk again soon, but we both know deep down that it might be awhile. I’m not sure when we’re even going to meet up again. Pandemics make global travel difficult. I know we will eventually, but it might be years… Nonetheless, it’s always reassuring to know that when we will meet again, it’s probably going to be like two old friends catching up, just like in the old days. The only difference between now and then is that we both changed the beers for tea, which I think is quite an improvement.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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