}

Thursday, October 27, 2016

After the visit ended

Earlier this month, I posted about the tenth anniversary of my friend Jason’s visit to New Zealand. His visit ended ten years ago today—technically: By date, it was yesterday, but October 26 was a Thursday in 2006, so I chose today to mark the end of that visit. This has been a nostalgic reminiscence for me, of course, but also tinged with a bit of melancholy: It’s been a reminder of how hard it can be to be an expat.

When Jason entered the departure area at Auckland International Airport (the photo at left was taken just before he walked through the gate), it started the clock ticking until I next saw him. That clock is still running. He hasn’t made it back to New Zealand, and we haven’t made it back to the USA over the past ten years.

Of course, I went alone for a short trip in December 2007, but I only went to Illinois, and, anyway, I’d seen Jason only some 14 months earlier. I assumed we’d be back soon, or maybe he’d come to visit us, but neither happened.

In fact, very few people have come to visit us in the two decades I’ve lived in New Zealand. Friends have visited us from the USA four times, and three of those trips were within the first five years after I moved to New Zealand. Only Jason’s visit was later, just before my eleventh anniversary here. No one has visited us since, and no one from my family has ever visited.

Since 2006, we've met other visitors to New Zealand, people who it seems a little dismissive to describe as merely people I’ve met through the Internet (chiefly through podcasting), though that really is how I know them. But they were visiting New Zealand, not us specifically. So, in a sense, those visits were similar to me meeting Tom of the Ramble Redhead podcast when I was in Chicago in 2007: I was in Illinois for other reasons, and met up with him.

In those same 20 years, Nigel and I have visited the USA twice, the last time we visited together was 17 years ago, and my solo visit was nearly nine years ago. I visited my family on all three trips. Clearly the lack of visits works in both directions.

The reality is that when someone moves so very far away, it takes a lot of time and money to visit, and having both at the same time can be difficult. A trip in either direction can easily cost more than $10,000 (in either currency). We’re not part of any airpoints scheme, so we pay for our airfare to and from the USA. Flights within the USA are expensive, and then there’s accommodation, food, and sightseeing to add in. That’s also not including shopping, especially for things we can’t get in New Zealand.

For people visiting us specifically, there are somewhat lower costs, particularly if they’re part of an airpoints scheme. If they’re visiting us, they have no accommodation costs, obviously, and their sightseeing costs depend on what they want to see, and where. So, even people visiting us, as opposed to the country, may have costs every bit as high as we do when visiting the USA.

This is something that many people don’t fully appreciate until they move far away from their homeland: In a very real sense, they may be cut off from friends and family back in their homeland. Skype, Facebook, and email are nice but they’re not the same thing as an in-person visit.

On the other hand, those things DO exist, and they’re better than nothing. When I moved to New Zealand, Skype didn't exist, Facebook didn’t exist, and only a couple friends used email. So, my options were very slow letters posted back to America, or expensive international phone calls. I felt quite cut off back then. Things are definitely FAR better now than when I first arrived.

And yet, I wish it were possible to see and visit with people from my homeland—here or there—more often and more easily than it actually is. But, it isn’t, so I treasure the memories from the visits I’ve been lucky to experience, use the Internet as a “better than nothing” option, and continue to try and find a way to organise actual visits.

So, that’s why these memories have been a bit a melancholy. I can, when I think too much about it, get quite sad about the people I don’t see. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but over the past couple years several friends I very much wanted to visit with again, died. The older we get, the more that will happen. That’s life.

Earlier this month, I wrote:
In my early years in New Zealand—maybe even for as much as a decade—it sometimes bothered me how family and friends in the USA didn’t come to visit. It also sometimes bothered me that we couldn’t go back to the USA as often as I would have liked. But time marches on. I don’t know that one ever gets used to the reality of the scarcity of visits, but, out of necessity, one certainly learns to cope. That has to be enough.
It does have to be enough. It’s one of the hardest things about being an expat. And that’s precisely why remembering things like Jason’s visit matter so much.

A bit like all happy memories, really.

Footnote: Jason and I have been friends since 1969, which is truly amazing because obviously we weren't born until a decade later…

Jason and I in Aotea Square, Auckland, October 26, 2006. Auckland's Town Hall is behind us.

Related: All Jason’s 2006 posts on his trip to New Zealand share a tag to make them easier to find. Oddly, I never tagged mine; I really should fix that.

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