Leaving China

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Chapter 6

It is funny the way we pack our lives in boxes and suitcases and move on… all our memories in our hand phones or laptops. I always think of John Denver’s song Leaving on a Jet Plane

All my bags are packed


I’m ready to go


I’m standin’ here outside your door


I hate to wake you up to say goodbye

The sentiment is similar, except the goodbye is to memories, places and people one gets attached to… As Heidi said, memories are always bitter sweet.

The relocation agents packed our home in boxes two weeks before our departure. Earlier, the boxes could be packed on the day the expatriates were leaving. The rules concerning expat repatriation had changed a month before we were due to leave. The boxes and my husband’s passport had to be submitted to the immigration for a fortnight. Earlier, instead of the passport, they were happy with a photocopy. We were asked to wait for two weeks without our essential household things. As a result, we had to move into a hotel. This was a learning that rules can change anytime, anyhow. We just needed to accept the changes and adapt.

When the movers came, Surya spent all his time with Ali in his home or inside our car. The movers packed and moved all our belongings out of the house except for the suitcases which had our essentials for a couple of months and the children’s piano. The emptiness of the house felt strange. We wanted to hand over the keys to our landlord at the soonest.

The Pearl River (a Chinese brand) piano had to be either abandoned or given away. Moving the piano overseas would cost more than buying a new one in Singapore. We wanted to give the piano to a child who would love it as much as our sons. So, we asked around and one of the expat families was happy to take it for their lovely four-year-old daughter, Saba. They were a Turkish American family with roots in California. David and Sabrina, the parents of Saba, had organised the movers. They lived within our compound and were very friendly and nice. Their house was about 500 metres from ours. But both the houses had staircases and the piano was delicate. We decided to organise professional help so that the piano would not be damaged. Sabrina organised a local mover. He promised to come at 10.30 a.m. Sabrina and David came over at 10.15 a.m. We waited.10.30 a.m. went by. We waited. 11.00 a.m.went by. They telephoned David’s secretary to call the mover as he spoke only Chinese and had been booked by her. She called back saying he said he was almost there. We informed the gate, we were expecting a lorry. Nothing came. Then, Shireen, Sabrina’s mother-in-law called up. The mover was in their house. Sabrina ran back to get them. After sometime, she returned walking! We were all surprised! We had thought she would come in the mover’s lorry. But, she came walking!

We all looked at her in askance. “He has not got his lorry. He is coming here…on his e-bike,” she explained.

As she finished her sentence, an e-bike drew up in front of our house. A tiny dwarf of a skinny man got off. He smiled, nodded and greeted us, “Ni hao.( how are you)?” We all greeted him back. He swaggered in as if he had come on a social visit to entertain us. He walked towards the piano. Aditya, our translator, told him we needed to move the piano from our home to Sabrina’s. He responded by saying that he needed ten men to lift it. When Aditya asked him about his lorry, he responded by saying the lorry would break under the piano’s weight!

We were astounded! He told us the piano could not be moved that day as he would have to get ten men and they were busy. He stayed for fifteen minutes trying to explain how impossible and unreasonable it was to move the piano that day itself. We needed to move the piano that day as I would be handing over the keys to the landlord the next day. So, the mover came, saw and left!

Aditya said, “This guy is bizarre. Only two of us moved the piano at school on a trolley.”

“But, we don’t have a trolley. And we need to move it today,” I said.

“We could do it by sliding the piano on a rug or a carpet,” said my husband.

The movers had taken our rugs and carpets away. Sabrina got two rugs from her home. We roped in Wolfgang and Mr Hu to help us. So, David, Aditya, Wolfgang, Mr Hu and my husband panted up and down and up the stairs of Sabrina’s home with the piano and rugs. It took quite some time and a lot of effort. It was fun to watch the amazing teamwork but I am not so sure that it was fun for the team to heave and shove so as not to damage the piano.

Shireen and Sabrina organised huge jugs of lemonade for all the movers. Aditya inaugurated the piano in Saba’s home. Now, we were officially ready to hand over the keys the next day.

IMG_0005The landlord came with his wife this time. They told us they would have liked us to continue as long as we were in China. They were very kind. They loved what I had done to the garden. His wife was thrilled seeing I had planted a Chinese flowering plant, called the Yue Liang Hua (the moon flower). She said this flower was associated with Shanghai, where she grew up. I knew this flower had a heady perfume and my driver often used it inside the car instead of a car perfume.

They were equally excited with the fishpond, where the koi had bred and now I had nearly two dozen fishes.

We had to stay in the hotel for almost a fortnight! And that was a long time for us. We are always more comfortable and happy at home. Staying in a hotel has always been a trial for my trio.

I recall the time Aditya first stayed in Sheraton in Hong Kong. He was four and did not like the hotel food. He asked me if I could cook for him. In Hawaii, when he was six, he threw up on an exclusive hotel meal in a six star resort, where we were having an official gathering!

Surya was not much better. When he was one-and-a-half, we were staying for a long weekend in Johor, Malaysia. He shook his foot so much in delight while seated on a high chair in the 24-hour coffee shop of the hotel that his shoes came off and landed on somebody in the adjoining table. Seeing the ruckus it created, Surya decided to fling his shoes every time he was put into a baby chair in the restaurant. It became a nightmare for us. The hotel staff was terrified whenever we entered the coffee shop. They put us in a corner table and emptied it of all cutlery and napkins as they didnot want Surya to exercise his throwing skills on their wares or aim his shoes at their customers!

When we moved to China, we had to stay a week in a hotel while our home was readied for us. There two-year-old Surya had discovered the joys of a rotating door. The doormen were terrified again and requested us to keep him away from the doors! Surya also protested being cooped up in a luxurious room where he had no freedom to practise his sporting skills. He also wanted to catch the fish in an indoor koi pond!

This time Surya was ten and Aditya seventeen-and-a-half. They were a little better adjusted in the hotel than eight years ago… except Surya had the whole security on my tracks when I got a little delayed in the lift one day. I had gone to get his swimming goggles when he discovered he had left them behind in our room. I told him to get changed and wait by the poolside while I fetched the goggles. The lift was a little delayed. The lifeguards and attendants stood around him when I returned to the poolside. It seems they could not reach me when they tried to call my mobile. And I had been gone only about ten to fifteen minutes!

We had a beautiful view of the Jinji Lake from our rooms. The sunset on the lake against the silhouette of tall buildings was spectacular. Aditya had a separate room. We spent our time doing last minute visits to different places, going for walks along Jinji and eating out. Most of our friends, except Salma had left for their annual home leave. Salma was also leaving Suzhou two weeks after us. She was in the process of packing her home in boxes too.

Leaving is always sad. But, this time tinged with sadness was a sense of relief. The wonder and acceptance that was evident in the local attitude towards foreigners when we came in 2006 was being replaced with a feeling that did not seem so friendly. Too many changes were taking place…

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