Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Realities of Goodbyes

December 11 15 2005

So begins my last week in Langfang so ends my tour of duty in China. I've been so ripe with homeward journey anticipation that I have not fully comprehended how many friends I have here. Yes, this is the cheesy part of talking about how wonderful and shit everyone here is. A couple months ago, there was a possibility that I may come back next year for an unknown period of time. I mentioned this to several people around the hotel and they have taken my word as bond and keep asking me when I'll be back and how long and where I'll be staying and all that stuff, with clear eyes of excitement and misunderstood hope. Well over the weekend, the verdict was passed from the bailiff to the judge, and I will not be coming back to China, at least not in the foreseeable future. The second part of this project is in severe jeopardy because of our company's inability to follow through on software deadlines and for some reason they don't want me to just come back here and hang out for a year. The client wants me to come back for the whole year, however, they have not been told about the problems for next year. When they get wind of these problems, there is no doubt they'll never want me in their offices again, not because of the work I've done, just general disgust with our company. China is a dog eat dog world and I am walking around with Alpo underwear on (speaking of China and dogs, it is true, but not common). These things have a tendency to change several times, but for now, I knew I had to treat this week like it's my last. China.

Sunday evening I was called downstairs by Jenny because Mu Duo and Qianqian wanted to give me a couple going away presents. I didn't think I had it in me, but it made me tear up some, nothing noticeable, it may have gotten stuck in my subconscious. These girls have been my sanctuary from this insane country for six months now; they have been the smiling face to my sour moods, the laughter to my pain. Like the Grinch, my blackened heart grew four times to roughly the size of a piece of overcooked chicken.

Monday was somewhat of a boring day. Xinlei and I went to the office to have our last real meeting. Of course, they listed off a bunch of changes they wanted to make and, once again, I laughed at them. It was like a parting teabag, a little something to remember them by. We were asked to come back Wednesday afternoon for group pictures and then to go eat dinner. That meant that Wednesday I was going to have my picture taken and be forced to get wasted on that horrible, vile liquid that proves that the people of Big Red have absolutely no taste buds.

Tuesday night, Xinlei and I took Sky, Jenny and Carol out to dinner. We went to a pretty cool jungle type of restaurant. I brought an English/Chinese dictionary with me from home and it proved time and time again to be the best $10 I spent. It got worked over like a cheap porn and everyone was jealous of me, so on Monday night, I went and bought a handful of them to give out to people around the hotel. All three of these girls got one and they loved it. The food was good but the company was better. Over the past six months, Xinlei and I have eaten the spiciest foods in all the lands, of course all three of these girls don't eat spicy foods and, which we didn't know until after all the food was on the table. These three girls, along with Qianqian and Mu Duo have become my best friends here in China, next to my little yellow brother (his words, not mine).

Sky is the shiest person I've ever met. She spends about two-thirds of her life with her hands over her mouth in some sort of embarrassment, which has only increased in my presence. She's also the most polite. Every time she tells me how busy she is, or how much trouble she got from Hatchet Harmony for serving something incorrectly, I tell her that I'm sorry. It's kind of a normal reaction in America to something going bad. "My grandparents died in a scuba diving accident." "Ohh, I'm sorry." It's just a normal comment to make. Her response is always an emphatic "It's ok, don't apologize. It's nothing!" She is good and smart, but also sheltered at home by her parents. She's forced to work at the hotel despite her pleas of insanity and stuff, which is not uncommon in this country. I have been informed by many people that she has somewhat of a crush on me. My god that would be a crazy train wreck. It's probably a good thing that I hadn't known about it all along because I'm a sucker for booty and I would have ruined that poor little girl in some horrible way.

Jenny may be one of the funnest people in the world to be around (and 'funnest' isn't a proper word, but that's ok, Chinese people don't know that). She has the sense of humor of a ten year-old, but I attribute much of that to the communication gap. Plus, she enjoys telling me when she's having constipation problems, but she does it in such a cute way that it just cracks me up. Anyone who bridges the language barrier to talk about taking a shit is tops in my book. Jenny owns the title of the best-translated sentence since I've been in China. She was telling me how busy she was for the upcoming month with friend's weddings and birthdays and how many presents she had to buy for them. She immediately corrected her 'busy' statement to say, "Actually, I'm not too busy this month, but my money is swamped." What a great person.

Carol is going to school in Cypress for hotel management and speaks great English. She has only been around for the last five weeks of my trip, but she was a welcome change in the hotel. She has a great mixture of Western influence of European schooling and with traditional Chinese values. Her personality is a nice halfway launch pad for me before I go home. She drinks and swears, so naturally, I'm drawn to her and wish we had more time together, plus I'm totally jealous of her going to school in Europe.

I have made no attempt to hide my utter crush on Mu Duo. From the first time I saw her nearly six months ago, I knew I was in love. She speaks very very little English but has learned quite a bit. She is one of the hotel hostesses, which means that her job is to stand outside of the restaurant behind a lectern waiting for people to come and eat. This hotel gets about twenty people a day for any given meal, so she has plenty of time to just hang out. I slowly begun to eat up her free time by hanging around her teaching her English, laughing with her and trying not to act like a damn child. My biggest source of guilt during my time here was my relationship with Mattie and the look in Mu Duo's eyes when she saw us together for the first time. Her eyes unknowingly taught me that accepting substitutes for feelings is a bad habit to get into.

Qianqian is drop dead cute and reminds me of one of those girls who is just there to have a good time and socialize. Someone who everyone wants to be around because she just makes everyone feel good about themselves. Her English is horrible and neither of us care, we have spent hours together laughing and making fun of each other without the other knowing it. She enjoys using the rock-star-hook-'em-horns that I taught her and knows what Superfly means.

A handful of girls in the hotel are being forced to band together and form a dance team that will perform on New Years. It is quite entertaining, and since I will not be around on New Years, and have nothing else to do, I have started go and watch the practice sessions. After dinner, I met up with Mu Duo and we went to watch dance practice. I took some pictures, and despite the incredibly embarrassing dancing and even more embarrassing leotards, these girls were eating up the camera. It gave me an idea.

I still had two more English-Chinese dictionaries to give out, one for Mu Duo and one for Qianqian. They were both sitting by me and I told them that I had something to give them, but it was up in my room. The following paragraphs officially outs me as the 'creepy old guy', but that's ok, it's true. I really just wanted to spend more time with them in more of a relaxed environment (like my bed! just kidding, damn people). Their English is bad enough that it was difficult to explain without making them think that I wanted a massage or something, but eventually they understood and we were off. Of course, it is against hotel policy for staff to go into guest's rooms (someone should tell that to the beauty salon bitches), so we snuck up in the employee's elevator. Of course, it would have been easier to sneak up if I hadn't been there to draw suspicion because by the time we got to the 15th floor, about fourteen people had gotten on and off. Knowing the sophisticated gossip web that the hotel has installed, I knew that it would just be a matter of nanoseconds before the whole town knew about it. But what the hell, they are my friends and I'm leaving anyway.

When we got into my room, I handed over the dictionaries and they were literally jumping up and down in excitement. I had no idea that my five-dollar books would be so popular (of course, that translates to about one week's salary for them). They had a camera and so did I, and we soon began taking some farewell pictures. Enter next creepy guy suggestion, I suggested that they put some of my clothes on so that we could take pictures of each other. Nothing perverted (unfortunately), but they were pumped up and highly entertained by the size of my sweatshirts. We ended up taking about a hundred pictures each. Afterwards, they decided to clean my room. They went around and folded and put away all my clothes while I videotaped them (because I hate cleaning). Of course, they told me that they had heard how dirty my room was, but they were still surprised by the chaos of all my shit. That damn gossip web runs deep, I'm sure they also knew the size of my underwear and about my affinity for watches that don't work.

Next, I asked them if they would like to take a shower together while I ate chocolate covered coffee beans wearing a purple Speedo. But I forgot that there were no coffee beans in China, so we just scrapped the whole thing.

After we were finished (not in the porno sense of the word, just in the normal boring sense), they told me to keep the pictures secret because they could get fired from their jobs for being up there. This made me feel horrible. Getting a job in China is a pain in the ass, if you lose a job, there's no McDonalds you can go work at until you get another job somewhere else. If these girls lost their jobs, they'd probably end up turning to the Slutty Chick District. Of course that would be the straw that broke my back, because I'd probably be first in line to visit them (with a sack of coffee beans slung over my shoulder). I could probably support five of these people indefinitely from America, but that's beside the point.

After they left, I locked the pictures up on my computer and drifted off to sleep with visions of financially supporting a Chinese harem dancing in my head.

Wednesday was our last day in the client's office. We went in at the crack of 3:00 pm and sat through a painful demonstration of our software performed by the ever-smooth Mr. Li. The 40 minute demo took about 2 hours with constant interruptions coming from all directions including smoke breaks, pictures, constant cell phone ringing and housekeeper that needed to mop the floor.

After the software butchering, we headed off to my going away/project finished celebratory dinner. I knew this was going to be painful, throughout my six months here, I have witness time and time again foreigners returning to the hotel after a night of farewell drinking and the results have not been pretty. This would likely bedrafty fall evening. me on this

We headed back to the familiar steam-bowl restaurant, which is one of my favorites, where we had reservations in a massive private room with a massive round table in the middle. It just seemed fitting that my time in China should be ending in much the same way it began, eating and bitching about the horrible alcohol that is so popular around here. The difference was, I soon realized, my first time here I only had about three glasses of the firewater. Mr. Feng was having none of that 'pussy ass shit' this time around. Xinlei leaned over to me and said "You may as well be wearing a sign around your neck tonight, they're going to punish you dude."

And he was right, except that I wasn't the only one wearing a sign around my neck (and eventually a lampshade and at one point a waitress over my shoulders), it was his last day with these guys too, so he was there right beside me, drinking glass after excruciating By the time all of the gifts were handed out and dinner was over, Xinlei and I were totally wasted. It felt like we had been drinking for six hours, in reality, we had only been there about two hours (my Rolex said we had been there for 6:20 hours). glass of the booty wine.

I had been getting text messages from Mu Duo all evening and I was excited for a chance to go see her again, but these decisions were not up to me. After dinner, they wanted to take me to a real Chinese teahouse. I have to say, I was completely surprised that I had not been to one of these places so far. I just assumed that they were another whorehouse front.

Being as drunk as I was, my memories of the next unknown amount of time are somewhat hazy. In fact, most of what I put together was based on the pictures that were on my camera in the morning.

Anyone who has been drunk, really drunk, many times, knows about different forms of inebriation. Tonight was one of the drunks where I didn't think I was drunk until I went outside. That cold air hit my face and my head started spinning like a John Coltrane 45. Inside professional businessman quietly discussing marketing strategies, outside bumbling idiot with his zipper down trying to drunk dial someone who doesn't speak English. Going through the doorway into the outside air was like walking through a wormhole into Greenland. By the time we walked the two blocks to the teahouse, I could barely stand up. I just wanted to vomit and be done with it. I had lost all control of my body and all ability to reason. I wanted to sleep, I tried to pick up a rickshaw, my shirt was on backwards like Kris Kross and I think I bought an orphan child a beer. Had I ever been this drunk while the sun was still up?

When we finally got to the 'tea shop' (which I still thought was going to be another whorehouse), we were shown to a private room on the second floor.


The room had a handful of couches and a table with about five chairs around it. I fell into a couch and stood by for further instructions (by laying on the couch and trying to sleep). There was about twelve people with us now - all of the project people, a couple of the vendor people, one extra-large honkey, Dr. Dong, but I noticed my poor friend Xinlei was curiously absent. No worries, I've got that excess of confidence that alcohol creates in drunk people, in an unknown part of the city on my last day in town, I'll find my way home.

Even though this was a teahouse, I was expecting us to be presented with more booty wine (along with hookers), but I was incorrect. No booty wine, no hookers. This place was on the up and up (as far as I could see, which was about 13 inches in any direction). We sat around for about twenty minutes; a handful of people had migrated to the card table playing some sort of card game that I had no interest in learning. Eventually Xinlei made a brief entrance into the room, he sat down next to me and said, "I'll be back dude, I have to go throw up again." He then stood back up and disappeared.

In the end, he probably spent about 25 seconds in the room because the next time he came in, he sat down and told me he was leaving. Then someone came in and asked me if I had his car keys.

"Why the hell would I have his car keys? He has a car? That doesn't sound safe; there are a lot of pedestrians in China. Maybe we drank them." I suggested.

I have no idea how the car key situation turned out and am surprised at how little I cared. Before long, a tea waitress came in and sat down in front of a bunch of us and began to show me the tea-making process. Dr. Wang was my stand-in translator, I had no idea the guy could even speak English, looking back, I think that maybe I was actually fucked up enough that I was understanding Chinese.

The actual tea making process, works like this. Spend a ton of time making about two ounces of tea, then divide the tea into five cups (or shot glasses) and drink them over the course of fifteen minutes. There was also a part where smelling a cup was involved, but I think that Mr. Li may have just farted into a cup and handed it over to me.

After about an hour of this nonsense, I decided to leave. It was either leave or sleep on the couch and this was supposed to be my last night to sleep in the hotel, so I stood up and placed my foot squarely through the coffee table. I was only about two blocks from the hotel, but five of them insisted on escorting me in a taxi.

By the time I got back to the hotel, I re-realized how wasted I was. I looked at the clock and realized that it was only 9:00 pm; it felt like I had been drinking for ten hours. It was still pretty early, so I did the traditional drunk-foreigner activity, headed to the bar. I've mentioned before how I've seen every foreigner pass through the hotel show up in the bar after drinking all night and I always said that I would never be 'that guy', but there I was, stumbling into the bar and ordering more beer. I had two or three beers with some German guy whose name I had been struggling with for two weeks now. I'm sure I was very entertaining, just like all foreigners are after their 'last night with the clients' party. Eventually, I stood up straight, the way a drunken guy does when booze cowardly flees the face of whatever trouble it has caused, and vacated the bar and went to bed. I was upset that I didn't get the chance to see Mu Duo that night, but in my advanced state of drunkenness, it was probably for the better. Sober girls usually don't think I'm as cool as I think I am when I'm wasted for some reason.

I woke up at 9:45 am the next morning to a massive headache to the realization that I had lost my backpack with several important things in it - computer, passport, money and my extra coffee. This sent me into a mild frenzy and I sent Xinlei a message about it. He replied back that it was in his trunk and that he was on his way to drop it off. I got a call from the moving company that said they were on their way to my room to pick up all my shit. There's nothing like waiting until the last minute. All of this could have been avoided if my company's totally useless Human Resource department hadn't screwed around for almost two weeks to approve my coming home. At one time, they actually had the nerve to ask me if I wanted to just carry all ten of my boxes with me to the airport.

He stumbled into the hotel, the Chinese mirror image of me hung-over and mangled from uncomfortable vomit-riddled sleep and sat down next to me. Our breakfast consisted of one bite of watermelon and half a cup of coffee each. Our conversation was not the normal high-energy banter that had made us friends; it was more of a series of grunts and hazy turns of the head. Drink together, recover together. But not today, I had shit to do and he wanted to go back to bed, so he took off and I began my last day in the hotel.

Thursday was to be my last day in the hotel, so I was getting hugs and stuff everywhere I went. My crusty hangover and rancid odor just didn't seem to stop these people. At breakfast, I talked with Qianqian for about fifteen minutes and she started crying on the spot. I would be leaving that evening for Beijing where I would stay the night and leave first thing Friday for the airport. I decided to leave Langfang a day early because of the vast unknowns around here when it comes anything travel related and the unknowns of saying goodbye to people you can't talk to.

The movers came around 11:00, so I spent the morning trying to coax some initiative out of my soul to get my shit packed and sorted out. I need two piles, things I'm taking on the plane with me and things that I'm shipping. The stuff that's getting shipped will not be back in my hands for about six weeks. I loaded up one box with all the gifts I've received over the last couple weeks (gifts that will be re-wrapped and given out as Christmas presents in two weeks), all the books I've read, and all of my summer clothes. I've read every book I brought, I even finished the painfully boring Lord Jim, and so I picked one book to read on the airplane, and threw the rest in a box.

By the time the movers got to the hotel, I had everything packed and ready. They took about 15 minutes to slap another coat of tape on the boxes and took off. At the last minute, I decided to have my bicycle sent home as well. I was going to give it to another expatriate here, but I haven't seen the guy for three weeks. I didn't want to just leave it, it's a great bike and now that it was on its way home, I was even more glad I decided to send it back.

I had created a pile of stuff that I'm not going to take home with me and decided to donate it to various people, rather than just throw it away. It pretty much consisted of my fan, an iron (never taken out of the box), a handful of bathroom stuff (much of it left by Mattie), a grocery sack full of coffee packets, and an envelope full of money. The most curious to most people is probably the envelope full of money. Over the course of six months, I've accumulated a load of, what I call trash yaks. These are bills of one yak or less (China actually has 1/10 yak bills). One-tenth of a yak converts to 1.25 cents (US cents), I probably have $30 worth of trash yaks and have no interest of taking them home with me, I have tried to give them to Jenny, Sky and Mu Duo and explain to them that I just don't want them, but they get pretty freaked out by the whole idea. In fact, everyone has been pretty freaked out by my offer of giving away a bunch of stuff. Luckily, Carol has a great understanding of English and I could explain it to her very well. The deal worked out to this I would bring it down to the bar in unmarked sacks and leave it there and they would pick through it, but not when I was around, plus no money should be in there. What a crazy bunch of loonies. I decided to hand over the money to Xinlei for tolls, I knew he'd understand and would give me no trouble over it.

After my final lunch in the hotel (the key word for the day was 'final'), I stood around and talked with Mu Duo and Qianqian for a little while. They had developed the pictures that they took in my room the other night and wanted me to sign them all (like a damn NBA player). This was kind of strange considering that they were pretty adamant of me not mentioning our 'picture party' to everyone. One last chance to have a little fun, I got kind of creative with the captions. "You're the best cheerleader of 1993!!!" or "Mommy made me mash my M&Ms" or "No time for the ol' in-out in-out love." After a while, Carol came out and told me to hang around a bit because the hotel food and beverage department wanted to give me something.

The General Manager came out and handed me a bag with a couple pieces of cake in it and a card. She said a few words that were translated by Carol and I gave her a big hug, which embarrassed the shit out of her (she's old enough to be my mother). Carol told me that the reason everyone here likes me is because I'm a rare creature that combines foreigner with approachability and people here just don't get that very often, compound that with my extended stay and child-like nature, it's no wonder I'm a hit.

I spent about a 1 hours in western restaurant just hanging out, I was actually going to go take a nap, but Jenny and Sky got pissed that I wasn't going to hang out with them all day on my last day in China. Jenny and Mu Duo kept sneaking off to go to the back room and cry. Carol was kind of bothered that I was not getting any more emotional. She kept asking me if I realized that it was my last day and that I would never see them again. I tried to explain to her that it is a very emotional time for me, but I'm also getting pulled in a million directions with work, moving and trying to say goodbye.

After a couple hours of hanging around, Jenny, Sky, Carol and Mu Duo got off work, so we all went up to my room to hang out for a while. I was still pretty hung over and kind of wanting to sleep for an hour or so, but I knew I'd have plenty of time for sleep on the airplane the next day. I had about two hours before leaving and we all sat around and chatted for a while. Even after all this time, it was obvious that these girls were still somewhat uncomfortable around me, but that's to be expected, I'm a freak and they were in my bedroom.

Around 6:00 pm, I headed downstairs with four girls in tow to begin the checkout process. Checking out of a hotel in China takes about half an hour. During my checkout process, a group of nearly-former roommates had gathered in the lobby, watching me intently. After I got done checking out (just a side note, my previous 5 weeks of food at the hotel came to just over $200, that's three meals a day for over a month plus bowling, drinks, billiards and 'hair cuts'), I began my official goodbye tour. By this time, Xinlei had shown up and was waiting patiently out by the car. He wanted to make sure to give me enough time to say goodbye and to let me go at it alone, which was a really cool move on his part, I still can't get too emotional when a bunch of dudes are hanging around, call me old school.

I started at the Seafood Sunshine restaurant and went through the Western Bar, hugging various people, shaking hands and watching the tears roll. There were many people crying whom I had never even talked to, which made me feel like shit. I ended my farewell tour at the VIP restaurant, I gave a handful of people hugs, Mu Duo and Qianqian were crying uncontrollably, stuttering terms of endearment in English between tearful sobs. I was only holding on by a thread by this point and realized that all of the anger and desperate desires to go back home from the previous weeks had I wanted to stay with these people; I didn't want to go home. I think this is a pretty common feeling that people get when saying goodbye, it's a matter of short-term ease. It is easier to not say goodbye and sleep good for one night, than to say goodbye, be sad for a short time, and move on with your life with the things that need to be done. completely vanished.

By the time I had made my way outside, Xinlei was waiting and we loaded up and headed off to Beijing for the night. Langfang faded in to the dusty and cold background and I cried to myself. I knew that it would to be close to impossible to keep in touch with any of these friends; fourteen time zones, the fact that my local telephone is a Sprint which makes it a significant accomplishment to successfully call next door, let alone absence of computers or email addresses for these poor people. Like most relationships, the passion and the contact and the memories are heavy and constant like rain in the beginning, gradually reducing over time, eventually disappearing altogether, leaving only the skeletal remains of a friendship and love that meant so much at one time. I knew that some day I would wake up and realize that I have not thought about any of these girls for as long as I can remember. I don't know what made me more miserable at that moment; knowing that I was saying goodbye or knowing that a year from now I probably wouldn't feel sad about saying goodbye.

Xinlei and I were going to go out to dinner and we called Mattie and invited her to come to with us. Over these past three weeks, Mattie and I have seen each other once and talked to each other maybe four times. Her manager has come to China from Denmark and she's spent every waking minute with him, I can't call her because she'll get in trouble and she's been living on two or three hours of sleep a night. During this time, I've been surprisingly fine with the reduced contact. The final chapter of our relationship was pretty anti-climatic, but surprisingly true to life. I have realized that flames of passion will fizzle and die and it is possible to not be broken down in grief by these things. We still talk to each other on and off, but it gets less and less with every passing week. I feel guilty because my feelings say that I'm no longer interested in pursuing her in the same courting way of a month ago, but it wasn't the first time that my feelings were battling each other and it most certainly wont be the last time. She has been super sick since her manager had left town, sick enough to be in the hospital getting IV drips several times a day, one of the side effects of getting one hour of sleep every night for three weeks straight I assume. She is sick by nature, as much as I've been sick, she's been sick twice as much as I have over the past months. She had just gotten out of the hospital and her and Sherry were going to meet Xinlei and I for dinner.

I decided that I did not want to waste my last night in Beijing by staying at that wretched Celebrity International Hotel so Xinlei hooked me up at a spot about half a block away, which was We were both hung-over pretty well still, so we choose the American hangover cure liberally apply nasty greasy food to stomach. The only place for this in our vicinity was TGI Fridays, about a block away from the hotel, so we went and waited for Mattie and Sherry to show up. perfect.

Dinner was kind of strange; the four of us (same people from the Mongolia trip) just hanging out, like the boring final scene from a movie that wasn't very good. Because she had been so sick, Mattie was very weak and tired, plus my hangover made me want to sleep so the conversation was kept in low to non-existent tones. It made me sad to think about how things had worked out between us. It was like 90% of the our energy went into the first 10% of the relationship, but, once again, I think that is also fairly typical for doomed relationships.

After dinner, Xinlei drove me to my hotel. Mattie and I stepped outside and said our goodbyes in front of the hotel entrance.

"Please don't ever forget me." She whispered to me.

"I wont, I promise." I said, "I can't forget you, you're a wonderful person and I had a great time with you. I just wish we had more time and that things were easier for us. We both know that I may never come back here, but I promise you, if I do, you'll be the first to know."

"Thank you for everything, I will miss you." She said.

"You are still my beautiful princess, my little tiger cub and have the most beautiful eyes in the world. Goodbye beautiful, I will miss you."

We embraced, kissed and said our goodbyes. Because of our fleeting emotion of the past month, it wasn't a teary or long goodbye, nothing that will ever show up at the end of a movie or at the end of a book. But at that moment, I knew she was leaving my life and that I would probably never see her again. That brought the total of friends I would never see again in my life to about 50 in one day, not a good day for friendships.

With a heavy and thoughtful heart, I spent the next two hours on the phone with making my last minute travel arrangements and talking to my family. It's much more difficult when you have to rustle up someone to pick you up from the airport, and even more when you need to get to your parents city, three hours away, to get your car.

The theme of the day has been spaced around saying goodbye and realizations about the facts of not seeing nearly all of these people again. How many people have come into your lives over the years and you have just never seen them again? How often were you aware that you were seeing them for the last time? I would guess very rarely. If you knew that this conversation was the last one you would have with someone forever, would you say something different? I think so. Would you even want to know that it was the last conversation? A much trickier question, the first reaction would likely be an emphatic 'yes', but after further review, many people would change their answer to a reluctant 'no' I think. Think about the stress that could result from that knowledge. We all have romantic notions of being poets and saying things that will be remembered for life or written in books of great quotes, but the fact is, most people just aren't that quick or intelligent enough to say something memorable and the burden of knowledge makes people even slower. So during the entire encounter you are too preoccupied with the inconvenience of this knowledge and the actual conversation will lapse into something forced and pathetic. In the end, you will look back on the time, not with wonder and excitement, celebrating a friendship, but with a slight embarrassment, knowing that it just didn't go as well as it could. On the other hand, if you didn't have that knowledge, the last conversation can be beautiful and relaxing (or at least only as painful as a normal conversation). Looking back on this conversation you will be left with memory of the discussion, and mostly hope. Hope that your paths will someday cross again; hope that you will be able to say "It's been so long, remember that last time…" hope that the person is not gone forever, just away for a while.

Communication skills are something that are often overlooked in today's high-tech world, with emails, international mobile phones, video conferencing and mail order brides. Business and project schedules have made it so we can't afford to waste the time for face-to-face talk with someone, being able to look into their eyes without the hum of a computer and pixilated features. This is fine for work, who gives a flying fuck about colleagues, but it has quickly grown into our personal lives. The people of this century are rapidly losing their communication skills, but no one seems to notice it when you're on a conference call. Communication is more than speaking and listening, it is saying something and understanding. It is looking into the eyes of your companion and letting them look into yours. We are becoming robots, transferring data in the most efficient way possible without regard for the beauty of our minds, without thought of becoming interesting or artistic. You don't notice it until you meet someone with horrible communication skills. I notice it in young people all the time and I hope they notice it in themselves, or maybe that's just where the 'those crazy old people' thoughts come from.

Someday this wave has to crash. Where will you be when it crashes? On low ground in the streets of a dirty city trying to send an email, or up in the mountains, writing about life or talking about the world that with which we have been blessed. The lucky ones will be able to look and see the high waterline where the silicon and circuitry of man failed this world and where nature took over. The world has destroyed more powerful creatures than humans for millions of years, we're nothing more to it than acne on a teenagers face, just a part of it's growing up, here today, gone tomorrow.

Tomorrow I've got ten hours on an airplane to contemplate my past and my future. I will ignore the immediate present because there is nothing exciting about sitting on the cheapest seats that the airplane has because my company will not let me upgrade.

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