Friendship in an Alien Place

Article by Shane Cai

“…[It] is about six people in their 20’s who hang out at this coffee house. An afterhours insomnia café. It’s about sex, love, relationship, careers… a time in your life when everything is possible, which is really exciting and really scary. It’s about searching for love and commitment and security… and a fear of love and commitment and security. And it’s about friendship, because when you’re young and single and in the city, your friends are your family.”

If you haven’t watched the show, you must have heard of it. It’s a little sitcom called Friends, about six people who lived in New York City. This is the show’s original pitch; I especially like this last sentence, “…when you’re young and single and in the city, your friends are your family.” I know how cheesy it sounds, but it is true.


If you are reading this, you probably are in a city that you are not so familiar with, or at least one that’s very different from the one you grew up in. I mean, this city is so different from my hometown, and I’m not even a foreigner. So, when you feel homesick, when you hit bumps on the road of life, or when you want to celebrate the joys in your life, it would be nice to have some friends close by to keep you company.

Meeting people is easy; making friends, not so much. Especially when, a lot of the time here, Chinese people only approach you to practice their English (and don’t even care if you are from an English-speaking country) or to take a photo to show off to their friends with. It may be easier to stick with your circle of coworkers, or people from places that share similarities with your home country. So you stay here for some time, yet you still know “just enough” about the city and its people, and you probably will leave with the stereotype you brought here. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself; after all, this is an alien place to you.


However, I hope you are not planning to spend your time here, an invaluable time of new experiences and new opportunities, this way. I can tell you from my own experiences that it’s worth it to meet some of these people who are so different from you, and to try to understand them and their culture. It’s worth it to “waste” your time on these people that may be hard to come by again after you leave and (maybe) never return. Even if you meet the wrong people, it’s still worth it to have some memory of them in the fragments of your life.

When I was first graduating from my university, I wasn’t expecting to stay in Xi’an, let alone expecting to make friends with people from other countries here. And look at where I am now. I’m here, going to parties and bars with people of different origins, and talking in another language much more often than my own. I’m surrounded by a group of loving people and our origins don’t matter at all. What’s nice about this is that I can share part of my life with them, whether it’s tear-jerking or laughter-filled. And it’s okay even if I have to part ways with them shortly after, because maybe someday in the future, when I’m wandering on the street of a foreign land, I may hear my name called upon and find them smiling at me on the corner of the street, in the very place where they were raised.

I know we may all leave one day and get on with our new lives in new places. We may wish each other farewell and never get to meet again; or perhaps we will reunite in another place, looking at each other, trying to remember the other’s name and all the great times that now only live on deep in our memories. But wouldn’t you feel amazing knowing that you have left footprints in the hearts and souls of these people, your friends that became family in an unfamiliar place?



Shane Cai is a translator/interpreter/whatever-else-life-requires-him-tobe. He is the kind who acts out of passion. That’s probably why he doesn’t seem so passionate most of the time.