Saturday, September 03, 2005

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In Praise of the Casual Friend

I'm leaving my job soon, so on Thursday I had a couple of teachers come and observe classes that they will be taking over for me. Chris is basically my replacement at Melody, and will be taking over my Thursday morning class. Peggy is a teacher at the Melody-affiliated kindergarden on Changshu Road, and was asked to take over my duties at the preschool off the number 5 light rail line that we service.

I've worked with Peggy a couple of times before, and I see her around the office occasionally when we have too much work for our normal teaching staff to handle and need a competent teacher to cover a few classes. What I enjoy most about working with Peggy is the conversations we have. She's French, so we have a European upbringing in common. She teaches preschool and enjoys it even though it's often a taxing job, pretty much my attitude as well. She's a good one-on-one conversationalist, a role that I've been working on for several years and I think I've made lots of progress with that. Finally, Peggy has a great attitude towards Shanghai and lives in a charming housing project full of Chinese retirees in the French Concession, and her optimism for and interest in the city is both infectious and encouraging. So the hour spent commuting out to the boonies of Xinzhuang on Friday was full of friendly, encouraging conversation.

One of the things I miss living in Shanghai is the casual friend. Not that I'm getting tired of Asa, Chris or John. But I do get tired of expecting so much from a person just because he is one of the only five or six (or seven) people you can really relax with in a city full of people who don't share your language and culture. For example, now that John is working hourly for Melody—and much of that will be from home—we will actually have to make a concerted effort to see each other, whereas back in the States I might have a tech-minded friend who I happen to work with no matter what job I'm doing, or who I see regularly at the library or in other serendipitous circumstances. Instead, I have to expend effort and make a commitment of time and long-term emotional involvement just to get that kind of interaction.

Which is cool, but I feel like there's an imbalance in my social life towards this kind of high-commitment friends. And when you make more then 3 or 4 of those plus having a girlfriend, it starts putting strains on your time allotment. So that's why I appreciate having a day out with the kind of person with whom you just happen to fall in, but with whom you can still just relax and chew the fat.

[Addendum: John seems to be good at juggling lots of friends and contacts, but in an honest way. I should ask for tips.]

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