A Cowboy Never Says Goodbye

Published 2007-06-30

I hate saying “goodbye.” I don’t mean that I never want to leave places I know I should leave, or part from friends I don’t want to part with. Those things have to happen, they’re part of life. Ending and leaving and quitting and parting are the bitter notes of life’s ephemerality; if you live your life honestly and with clear eyes, you find that the sweetness comes from knowing that all things will end, so you’d better enjoy what’s immediately at hand. I hate to leave or be left as much as the next guy, so in the same sense that everyone hates saying “goodbye,” so do I.

No, I hate the actual word “goodbye.” I hate the business of leaving. My favorite exit is the French Exit. I like to think that, if I attend a party for example, about half an hour after I’ve left someone is asking someone else, “hey, wasn’t Souders here? Where is that guy?” That’s the best-case scenario. The worst is when you start saying “goodbye” half an hour before you actually leave, with lots of this-has-been-great and see-you-next-Tuesday and thank-you-so-much and other parting chitchat.

This reluctance comes, maybe, from my midwestern aversion to overt emotion. Or maybe it’s just denial. Certainly some of it comes from not wanting to make a scene.

I kind of hate saying “hello,” too.

With the end of the school year comes night after day after night of farewells. One last coffee date, one last Doggy Play Date, one last night out with friends. We’re not the only ones leaving, so this isn’t all about us. But I’m finding it all a little tiring. Two nights ago damn near every expat in town was at the new club in Dongdu park. A Farewell-a-rama. I clearly drank too much (although when I count it up it couldn’t have been more than 6 beers — Tiger beers, at that); yesterday I was too hungover to make the beach-themed doggy goodbye Jenny arranged with our dog friends. In fact, I slept (more or less) until 3 pm. But frankly, I was glad for the day off. Too many goodbyes.

Years ago, a friend who was studying Lakota claimed that the Lakota translation for “hello” was “what do you want?” and goodbye was something like “well, OK then.” This smells like an Urban Legend to me but I like it. I wish English had multipurpse words like “salaam” or “aloha” that express a warm sentiment without getting specific about temporal directionality.

Jenny completed, in the span of two painful days, the paperwork necessary to transport Bismarck out of the country. It was horrible. Thursday night Jenny was in tears. Mercifully I was busy with work and thus not very involved. The large hangup in the end was over Bismarck’s health certification. Which required (by Jenny’s) count, seven trips between the customs office/cargo agent, and the city-approved veterinarian. Contrast with the health certification we obtained at literally the eleventh hour in the US, wherein the USDA vet met us at the airport for an inspection.

The reason this is so painful, by the way, is that Chinese bureaucrats don’t want to do anything they haven’t done many times before. This isn’t just a fear of novelty, it’s practical. The first person to advance a piece of paperwork is then responsible for the final result. If Bismarck winds up transporting the Canine Flu to America the vet in Xiamen is now responsible. Processes in China are intended to diffuse culpability, so no one is responsible for anything. When there is no process (for example, the first large dog shipped via cargo out of Xiamen, ever), the bureaucrats express their reluctance by passing you back and forth. The buck never stops.

The flip side is that, for highly routine tasks, the paperwork is surprisingly efficient (because the process of responsibility-diffusion has developed completely.) We witnessed this at the emergency room when Jenny hurt her foot running, or when we registered as resident aliens. (This efficiency, however, does not apply to banking, where simply making a withdrawal will consume one or two hours.)

At any rate <knocks wood> everything is good to go now, so come Wednesday we won’t have more than a few hours of bureaucratic pain as a prelude to our 35 hours of airports and airplanes.