I moved many times in my life. But I never moved in China — in a microvan — until March 1, 2003.
The gray microvan belonged to John’s cousin, a driver for an express mail service based in Shanghai. According to John, many people with a high school education — or less — left Tonglu to get into the express mail business. Tonglu natives now ran many of the smaller express mail services in the Yangtze River Delta area, including Shanghai. I imagine one Tonglu man left and made his fortune in express mail, bringing his contacts with him — and later inspiring copycat entrepreneurs. But, clearly, the model was working for this cousin. He had only a high school education, but he actually owned a car — a car that would help me move my home to Shanghai.
With only a job interview, no firm offers and a temporary visa expiring April 15, I still flirted with uncertainty in my life. But I had a lot of strength behind it all, because of John, my Chinese boyfriend. John found us an apartment, and put down a deposit. John asked his cousin to move me to Shanghai. And, through it all, John calmed my fears, reminding me “we were in the same company.”
My once-dynamic Hangzhou life became static boxes and garbage bags, littered around my seventh-floor apartment’s living room like grave markers to an existence that died. Every item, from the blue-and-white bamboo dishes to the mattresses, seemed to be a living epitaph that reminded me — here lies a life past of one foreign woman in Hangzhou.
John’s cousin — a tall, sculpted man who spent much of his adult life in more labor-intensive jobs, and had the muscles to prove it — pulled his microvan up to the building, and marched upstairs with John, my friend Caroline who came to help, and I. We all began moving each box and bag down seven flights of stairs. This slow, seemingly Sisyphean task — carrying things down, walking up, carrying things down, and walking up once again — eventually came to an end.
The microvan, crammed as if it had devoured my life’s possessions in China, managed to hold everything I wanted to move. I stood before the van with my hands on my waist, and an astonished sense of accomplishment. “I still can’t believe we fit everything in the van,” I marveled to John, as he fussed with the bags and boxes, rearranging corners or shifting items to get just the right balance in the back.
The landlord, wearing a cheap polyester suit and a smarmy grin, collected my keys and the remaining bills — about 300 RMB. I didn’t argue with him, because I was on the cusp of burying our relationship, one of the things I gratefully left behind in Hangzhou.
John’s cousin, now in the driver’s seat, barked something to John in Tonglu dialect, and then John called for me. “It’s time to go.”
I turned to Caroline, our scheming, matchmaking friend who brought us to together, and hugged her, speechless. I didn’t know what to say to a woman who meant so much to us, except these few, token words. “I’ll miss you so much, Caroline.”
I would miss a lot of things in Hangzhou. But, I could leave it behind because I had the one thing that mattered most — the support of an extraordinary Chinese man, and the “company” he created for us.
If you’ve moved before in China (or another country), what did you have to leave behind?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.