Making friends has become the essence of my existence. It drives me more than my incessant forraging for dumplings.
My daily routine, whether it is breakfast or an early-morning rickshaw ride home from the club, have become laced with benevolent intentions. No one is safe from my ceaseless pal search.
My strike rate, admittedly, is fairly hot. I am disappointed in my day if I have not made at least four new friends. Of course, at home it’s not so intense; I settle on two new mates a week when my backpack is collecting dust.
The latest crew includes a Mexican guy, Rodrigo; a stunning Israeli chick, Danit; the endearing English guy, Tom; a Scotsman, Craig; a Chinese dude, Hunter; a lovely lass from Melbourne, Tiffany; and the beautiful Danish ladies, Gitte and Camilla.
It’s a pleasantly international crew. I’m always proud of myself with these global mash-ups, feeling more cosmopolitan than a well-stocked cellar. The ability to create an instant sense of community while traveling is a contast pleasure, for me.
There is a downside, however, to the obsessive friend-making.
The goodbyes, once sweet and quaint, have become beasts of sadness that unleash themselves upon me as soon as I’m alone, feasting on my inner peace.
I’ve become afraid of the emptiness which invariably follows any new liaison. Thoughts of empty dorm rooms and common rooms with no recognisable faces haunt me, dogging the pleasure of new company.
Traveling friendships, for me, are intense and that is what makes the inevitable goodbyes harder. Often, you see your new pals first thing in the morning, share a leisurely breakfast and then spend the rest of the day and night together. It is a million first dates bundled into one lengthy day. Sometimes the day is similar to working in field under the blistering sun. Usually it’s more akin to sipping a cocktail on the beach.
The first parting-is-such-sweet-sorrow culprit was Lina, a generous and open Taiwanese lady I met in Tunxi. Moments after I stormed into the dorm, shattering her peace, she’d spread out her map of China, patted the bed next to her and explained the best spots to see while visiting the mighty dragon. She gave me her personalised chopsticks as a souvenir and took me out for lunch. Her fluent Mandarin ensured I got my train ticket without the booking fee.
She was my first Chinese love.
You can imagine the goodbye; my tear ducts did not rsvp, but there was plenty of vigorous hand-waving and creased brows as I trotted off under the weight of my mighty Osprey.
I was lost without Lina. For a few days I thought longingly of her shy giggle and easy manner.
Soon after, I met the famous Swedish boys who showed me the most happiness I’ve known in a while. Under their Scandinavian guidance we hooked up with Yong, the Thai guy whose laugh would crack the surliest bouncer, and the three Chinese girls who wormed their way into our hearts.
We spent a few cruisy days and almost-memorable nights with them before the inevitable parting came lumbering up to greet us. Again, it was wrenching to say goodbye to ‘the best group’. Luckily, the Swedes were around to cycle on with.
We formed a quick crew with a few new strangers in Shangri-La, dispensing quickly with the usual meet-and-form-judgment clichés: ‘where are you from’, ‘how long are you traveling for’, ‘what do you do back at home ’and, of course,‘ would you like a beer’.
Generally, in a friendship-creation interrogation, once these formalities are satisfied, the depth get-to-know-you questions would show their faces. ‘Do you drink baijiu,’ we’d demand, before I’d sneakily suss out my new mate’s thoughts on alfresco nudity..
The Shangri-La friends, too, we bade goodbye to in a flurry of email addresses and empty let’s-keep-in-touch promises. Such is life on the road.
In Chengdu, the worst happened. I had to say goodbye to the bloody Swedes.
I avoided the idea until the reality of their departure slapped me with an open palm; but that was not the end of my dalliance with those good-looking lads.
In Xian, alone, the superficial friendships continued. I began to grow tired of feigning interest in people who insisted they loved food more than I did. The continual effort of making new mates was becoming annoying.
In Laos, a quick hike unearthed a few gems for me. My China funk was left at the border and the friend-making-machine fired up again.
I met the Swedes again in Laos after a heart-shattering goodbye to a funky Bolivian who I’ve promised to meet in Spain.
Round two began with the my hot Swedish boys, but my addiction to meeting people thrived. The Canadian boys in Siem Reap deserve a special mention here for bolstering the ranks of a few games of Marco Polo. Their card-playing skills affirmed a Facebook match up was on the way.
Another Swede, Vanja, won me over in Sihanoukville. I still miss her cute accent.
Then, finally, after a blissful few days loitering on the beaches in Cambodia I had to say goodbye to the guys who had been making me laugh for about six weeks.
It was a breeze. With a hasty ‘see you in Sweden’ I ducked out of there, determined to look forward.
Of course, it still feels like I am missing my left arm and an eyebrow without the boys.But, I’d hate to bore you with dramatic staements.
Waiting for me in Beijing were three British lads. I was instantly fond of their comic ways, go-hard attitude and incoherent football talk. They even checked the beer cans for the alcohol percentage and were able to put up with me waking them every morning. We were instantly friends, partying until dawn and seeing Beijing’s sights with an over-enthusiastic vigor.
Then, I returned from the Great Wall to an empty dorm.
The lads’ usual mess, instead of hanging from every available ledge and splattering across the floor, had disappeared. The empty beds stared back at me and the lonely feeling crept up again, familiar as the blue sky in Queensland.
It seems so cruel for them to leave, just as the conversations had progressed to the point where we knew what time our parents went to bed and the regularity of everyone’s bowel movements.
I was shattered.
One of the Brits had quipped the night before, in the middle of an intense chat about the people we’d met while traveling, ‘you wear your heart on your sleeve a bit, don’t you, yeah’.
I admitted my open-heartedness with pride. If you’re not going to love freely, you’ll miss out, I reckon.
Of course, the next day I was eating my words, as I noted the air conditioner’s hum was keeping me company, instead of the boys’ laughter.
As I wrote this, my next room mate, American Scott, who I’d shared some pillow talk with (from separate beds, obviously) and who’d set alarms for me to wake up in the morning, came up with his stunning girlfriend and announced his imminent departure.
It’s relentless! And I’m bloody sick of the goodbye cuddles.
But, as the cute Dane pointed out, ‘it’s your nature. You can’t change it.’
So, I’ll still pine for my travel pals and look at the photos I took of them with a fond smile. I’m thankful, really, that making genuine friendships does not take weeks or months, but can happen in a few fleeting moments when you’re on the road.
Most of all, I’ll try to keep some promises. I’ll go to Sweden next summer; I’ll meet Daniela in Madrid; I’ll go to Taiwan to see Lina’s beautiful National Parks; and, I’ll run the City to Surf with the British guys.
But, for now, the Beijing crew needs another Aussie at the table.