Monday, July 3, 2017

The End of All Things

I was sitting in Ulaanbaatar's Chinggis Khaan airport as I began this post.  My flight was scheduled to leave in an hour and ten minutes, and I was completely shattered.

It's been five years since my last leaving.  I remember thinking at the time that things seemed to go remarkably easy.  Maybe it was because I accepted the job with the American School of Ulaanbaatar in early March.  Knowing where I was going made it easier to accept the fact that I wouldn't be in Shanghai.  Also, the fact that I kind of hated Shanghai...

Mongolia, on the other hand, I loved.  I didn't expect to be there five years, but ASU supported me and my students were the best.  About a month ago I found myself asking why the hell I gave up my job.  I was paid well, had friends, loved my work - but I just HAD to go looking for something else.  >le sigh<

A few days later, I got up early on a Saturday morning to try and get a grip on my packing.  My own personal procrastinatrix showed up to crack the whip only after our fine arts banquet, graduation, the end of year camp were looming (I probably should have backed down and let a few things go this year...but that just wouldn't be me).  But during my morning look at the interwebs my delusions of productivity smashed to pieces when I saw a job posting for an art teacher at a school in Yokohama (if you've been paying attention, you've noticed I never mentioned the name of my former school up to this point.  This is where the new school becomes It Which Must Not Be Named and it's okay to reference the old one).  Instead of spending my morning packing and cleaning, I put together a cover letter and sent off my documents and prayed.  The answer to my prayer came that evening in the form of a facebook message from a guy I knew my first year at ASU whom I wasn't very close to, so at first I was a little pissy about being offered help, but eventually I told myself not to be a bitch and replied, thanking him for the offer but that unless he knew someone at School X, I didn't know that there was much he could do for me.

"Believe it or not, I do," he replied, and after three interviews and some cost-benefit analysis I accepted the job.
Now, over the last six months I have told myself many, MANY times, "You need to clean your apartment."  Because I did.  I never actually fully cleaned the damn thing, which made dealing with the detritus accumulated over the course of five years much harder to deal with, but since we can only manipulate time going forward, my options were limited.

I left Shanghai after moving about three times.  My first year I lived in an apartment right next to the school, and moved about 5 minutes by bike away for my second, onto Laohongxing Lu.  My realtor negotiated with my landlord to let me out of my lease early, and so a few weeks before I was scheduled to leave Shanghai, I had to move out of my apartment.  This turned out to be the practice round for leaving the country, since I wasn't bringing all my crap to my friend Meen's, who was letting me take advantage of a spare room, and the momentum really did help me get ready for the big bad goodbye.

Moving out of the teachers' apartments never actually crossed my mind during the last five years.  While they weren't super-deluxe high-rises, and my view left much to be desired (because who wants to look out their window at work everyday???) there was plenty of room and I was comfortable.  I was never too cold, it was a quick walk to work, and I felt secure surrounded by my colleagues, even the more eccentric ones, of which we had a few.

Admittedly there were more than a few times when I wished I were on the side of the building that wasn't directly across the parking lot from where one of these eccentrics would practice his sad sax every evening, and perhaps because I spent so much time going between the two, there were times when I used the wrong key.  But when I needed to run home at lunch for a coke (or occasionally at the beginning of a class because I promised to bring a kid my markers or some other supply for their project) it was hellaconvenient.  Nonetheless, the inertia of a life lived well in one spot was hard to break, and I was still dealing with tic tac shit the morning I flew out.  (If you're wondering what it looked like when my apartment wasn't empty...this was wrtiten in my first year, so it wasn't anywhere near as full, but it gives you the idea).
A wise woman (named Engrish) once told me, on my very first ger camp, that Mongolia gets under your skin and makes you fall in love with it, and it was true.  It's a beautiful country with wide open skies, but I think more than anything it's the people that make it the place that it is.  My frantic packing and cleaning over the last week was broken up with goodbyes - one last brunch at Blondie's, a final massage with Five, dinner with a family I'd known since the first year, and being driven to the airport by my principal. 

That aside, though, if you've been with me for these last five years, you've probably noticed that even though this blog is supposed to be about traveling there is an endless string of references to my students, and the hardest part of leaving has been leaving them.  The end of the last day of school was brutal, a massive attack as they stopped in, teary-eyed, for a final hug as I promised that I was coming back, that I'd see them in next year's musical.  And then there were my brats.  The original, "accept no substitutes," kids who have been with me since day one organized a farewell dinner for Time Lady and I, and came to the airport to say goodbye two days later.  It's been a long road since we first sat in the teeny-tiny classroom that was mine that first year.  Many of them are gone - studying in the US or England - and they've had their challenges along the way, but I'm proud of them and wouldn't trade the pain of saying goodbye for anything in the world, because it's a testament to how much it meant.

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