Takes A Second To Say Goodbye

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I’m sitting in the Greyhound bus to Ottawa. And I’m crying.

My bag on my lap, a Coke in my hand. I’m staring at the window and the landscape is flashing by. Way too quickly — the bus driver is going fast, very fast. We are passing all the big trucks on the freeway, which isn’t such a good idea considering it’s getting dark and it’s still icy. I do like I always do when I’m not in control and there isn’t much I can do: I close my eyes and I let myself be carried away by the engine’s humming sound and vibration. I learned this trick in Latin America: we took so many night buses, so many deadly rides, full speed as if we were sucked in by the black tar.

The sun is setting on the horizon. There is still a lot of snow on both sides of the road. The scenary is Canada’s picture-perfect. Symmetrical rows of trees on both sides of the road, a broad freeway cutting in-between, flat land as far as the eye can see. A beautiful sunset in the crisp cold sky. Not a single cloud. The sky fades in gradient colors: blue to navy blue to dark blue. In the right corner of the window, a red stain, the sun, slowly hiding behind the forests.

Been there, done that. I left and I arrived so many times I lost track of it. Correr es mi destino. To run is my destiny. And I chose mine.

I could have had a simple life. I grew up in a nice city in a first world country. I didn’t escape misery, war or poverty. I escape boredom, no future and narrow-mindedness.

But Bono is wrong. It so doesn’t take a second to say goodbye. It takes ages, it’s painful, it’s a difficult exercise that makes me feel like a coward every single time. Am I still running away? It seems like I left a little piece of my heart in every single place I have ever been to. It seems like I made an art of abandoning people. None of that is probably true but just thinking of it just makes me sob harder.

— Are you sad to come back?

I’m sad because I don’t know whether I’m coming back or leaving. I’m sad because I don’t know when I will be where. I’m sadder when people are sad around me. And I wish I belonged somewhere, anywhere but somewhere. I have so many reasons to be sad that I don’t even see why I should be happy right now.

I am La Desaparecida in France, I am a 老外 (or even a 白鬼子) in China, I am a gringa in Latin America, I am a refused alien in the USA, I am “French but not Quebec French, France French” in Canada, and I don’t even know when I have the chance to be myself. I change my life like one changes his underwear and I end up not knowing who I am. French in Canada, Canadian in France, no one everywhere or someone nowhere?

I lost my roots and the ability to see the world in black or white. Everything looks grey now, nothing is that easy. Hard to have the usual prejudices on people when you’ve traveled the world and shared their lives. Hard to truly believe in politics either, after seeing the benefits and downsides of everything. And above all, hard to be patriotic without an homeland.

I’m lost.

A few years ago, in San Pedro, gringo city in Lago de Atitlán, Southern Guatemala. Good place for deep philosophical questions. I had asked Feng where he belonged. We were sitting in a bar, drinking what would certainly be too much. “La maison pas“, he had answered in broken French. “No home“. This is me now, this is us now.

Ottawa. This is where I get off. For now.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I really do understand. When I was in Canada I was l’Americaine & now that I live in the USA I’m the Canadian. I cry every time I leave my family in Canada. One thing I know for sure is where my husband lives is where home is. I will gladly continue to grasp both countries holding on to the best in each.

    Spyder’s last blog post..Pick up your pointy sticks!

  2. Oh Zhu…don’t be sad. It is not GOODBYE for now but see you soon remember? You are so well-travelled, you have experienced so many different cultures and soaked in the insights more than anyone else, please don’t cry coz I would want to cry with you too :'(

    HUGS always!

  3. Colleen - Function of Time on

    I’m sorry to read that you are misplaced. I too have felt out of place. Having lived in places such as Australia and Britain, I can relate…at least. Though I’m currently in Seattle and moving to France, I wonder how misplaced I will feel there. HHHmmmm.

    Colleen – Function of Time’s last blog post..The Wrong Way to Pack

  4. This was so very well-written! I guess many of us today can empathize with these feelings. To compound matter, in India we have distinct regions with different languages, etc. Even moving out of one region to settle down in another region creates some of the same turmoil once in a while.

    Shantanu’s last blog post..Steaks and More

  5. Thank you so much for the well wishes on my birthday. I can see by this post that you certainly know how I have been feeling. I have been in your shoes before also. Always leaving and never knowing where home is. I am hoping that I have finally found my home, even if it is a “home away from home” Will I ever truly feel at home here? Who knows? I may be destined to wander this earth forever but maybe that is a good thing also?

    Diane’s last blog post..Of Winter Blues and Homesickness

  6. Salut Zhu,
    Very profound. So personal yet, touching each of us who is/ has been an expat at one point or another.

    Even if sometimes we do not always understand why we stay or why we move;there is a force inside is, an energy that propells us elsewhere.

    I remember crying the first night I was really here. Then, I had to begin life and more energy started; oragnizing and going forward.
    I made a home here, but I always enjoy visiting the States when the budget permits.Though the ultimate question of nationality is still unchanged for me : US .

    Do you still feel good in your home town when you visit? Last time I was in mine, I felt “out of place”.

    We can look on our beginnings as marks of our progres.

    You have a nice day and
    Salutations de la Capitale 🙂


    barbara’s last blog post..Return To Tibet

  7. You’ve poured your heart out in this post that I could feel the sadness inside you. I’m touched and very much hope that you’ll feel better soon. Comparing yourself with me who have got a “home”, you’re blessed with vast experience that has made you a better person.

    You still have “Correr Es Mi Destino” which is a great place that belongs to you. You have nice friends who appreciate and drop by to say hello.

    Your post has taught me to be grateful for something that I’ve never thought of before – homeland, thanks.

    zunnur’s last blog post..Blogs – rubbish or effective weapons?

  8. 🙄
    hey before I forget:~
    do you really have 2 types of Coca Cola out there?
    Coca Cola classic and another one?
    and which do we get here in Europe?
    please answer my desperate enquiry for my sins…

    someone once went to America who I was having an affair with and all I could think of as a Bringing Back Present was a can of Coke Classic

    hmmm. yeah. har har har!!

    Gledwood’s last blog post..Up My Sleeve

  9. 🙄 oh man! you’re lost too? join the club, darling

    right now. well you got me thinking about night bus rides

    i remember taking one through India from Bangalore back to Goa with amoebic diarrhoea.

    we went out in sleeping births. could not find same company of coach for return journey so had to sit up in horribly constricted seats.

    me being ill i just lay in the central alley, knowing the Indians this bus was filled with (unlike mixed Indians/tourists on the way out) were rolling eyes, clucking etc i just felt too ill and had to take 12 loperamide which kept me normal till just after arrival then SPLUIRRRKKH! back the trotts came!!

    take care Zhu and cheer up. i’m in dumps city

    shit. i don’t mean about shit. i mean LIFE’s shit y’know
    c’mon y’know

    take care darlin’


    Gledwood’s last blog post..Up My Sleeve

  10. Hi Zhu,

    Attacks of loneliness, guilt, and even paranoia happen periodically with “people of the world”, or those who wander the globe and immerse themselves in the diversity of the planet.

    I have traveled constantly too in the past, and I still do because of the line of work I’m in – but not as much as during the late 1970’s to the late 1990’s.

    First thing I do is read about the country’s history, culture, structure, way of life, etc. Then when I arrive, I visit their museums, archives, and historical sites to get a feel of the place. In my mind, I want to experience their life and be like them, to the point that I relate with all kinds of people from all walks of life – regardless of social or income status. Relationships are developed but clarified in terms of its impermanency.

    Home is where I go to sleep and where my things are. But in my mind, home is where I was born. And every time I get news from home about a friend, family, or relative who is sick or has passed away, I suffer pangs of guilt feelings – like you I ask myself if I had abandoned them, and I begin to question if had done the right thing. The absence from my native land would be between 14 months to 2 years in a given time.

    When I’m away, I doubt the wisdom of what I’m doing; and when I return, I am thrust into the reason why I wanted to leave. And when I’m in a place, I really become part of a community; and like you the feeling is abandonment each time i have to go. You’ have it right about pieces of you in places you’ve been, that is the feeling… like parts of your heart are ripped to pieces. Tears fall naturally.

    You’re still young. Eventually you’ll settle to a place you can call and truly feel is home. Everyone does. Can you imagine seeing your kids every 2 years or so? It sounds funny now but it wasn’t then. I’m still peripatetic but it’s limited to a 6-month stretch.

    Follow your dream and keep faith with yourself. Believe in yourself 100%, you’re the only one who will. That’s what kept me going in those years. 🙂 –Durano, done!

    durano lawayan’s last blog post..The Termites Take the Treasure

  11. @Spyder – Where I live for longer than a few months is where home is for me… but you’re so right, grabbing the best of both cultures is the most important.

    @shionge – It’s just tough when family is involved…

    @Colleen – For me, I found it takes me a while to feel “nostalgic” of a place. After an initial expected culture shock, I usually feel great. That said, sometimes it’s weird to live abroad for a long period of time… in my case, I’ve been living in Canada for quite a while and I now know this country almost better than France. That feels weird sometimes.

    @Shantanu – Thank you! I would assume it’s the same in every big country. But France is so small and so compact that one is rarely more than a few hours away from his home city.

    @Diane – I also think Canada is home now, but when I go to France I realize I’m still part of it… kinda. I master social codes there, I know this history etc. even though I wouldn’t like to live here again. In Canada, I have a more “practical” knowledge of the country. I love living there though.

    @barbara – I see you also know what you’re talking about! I cried plenty my first year in Canada, out of frustration most of time.

    I do feel out of place when I go to France… I have to see the country as a traveler to enjoy it. I left 8 years ago, which is quite long considering I’m “only” 25 years old, so there are a lot of things I quite don’t master there. I feel great among family and old friends but I still feel like a stranger among other French. Yet, I don’t feel entirely Canadian yet… supposed to apply for citizenship this year though!

    @zunnur – I feel better now… writing helps! The truth is, a few days before leaving and a few days after arriving, it’s always hard.

    @Art – thank you!

    @Gledwood – Before I forget… we have Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero. Now France has Black Coke (Coke and caffein) and I’ve heard of vitamins Coke (!) but haven’t seen it yet in Canada.

    I just think of your bus ride right now… oh my God! 😆

    @durano lawayan – thank you for your honest comment. I’m happy you shared a bit of your traveler’s life with me.

    I think Canada is home now. Not sure but I think so. I like my life here, I have a place to live, a job, friends… but no one is gonna tell me “welcome, you’re one of us now!”, it’s all in my head I guess. I think I’m also a traveler… I need to travel. I need the freedom. I complain about it sometimes but deep down I love it.

    Your life sounds very interesting. How about posting about it sometimes? I’m curious now!

  12. Sad post but it’s true that writing helps and you can almost always feel better and I know you are feeling better now and even better with time 😀

    Aiglee’s last blog post..Toronto vs Boston

  13. Zhu,

    Being an expat myself, I can relate to some of your feelings.

    You have travelled so much, you have had a chance to live in so many places, and relate to so many people from so many walks of life, hey! you are a citizen of the world. That is not something many can be, so it is something to rejoice about. Cheer up. 🙂

    Celine’s last blog post..Symphony by the Sea

  14. Max Coutinho on

    Hey Zhu,

    Darling, don’t be sad 🙁 ! You are a citizen of the world, and as such you (we) do not have a country to call our own! We have a base home, and whenever we need to feel our roots we go back there (after all we will always belong there, even if our soul doesn’t feel like we do)!

    Since I was born I hear the following sentence: não temos bandeira (“we have no flag”) yet we live the best we can, always with a smile on our faces and happily in our host country 😉 !

    Give me a big smile and remember: we all love you 😀 !

    *big hug*!

    Max Coutinho’s last blog post..The 3rd Commandment

  15. You are not lost. You are part of a big place we call world, and we’re here to share it with you. Saying goodbye is hard, but it doesn’t have to be forever, and with the internet keeping connected is easier than it used to be. I used to feel like that too, like I didn’t really belong in any one place, but then I found Spain and I knew that was the place for me. I’ll always be different, but I belong. Don’t worry, you’ll find your place too when you least expect it. In the meantime, we’ll be here to keep you company. 🙂

    Theresa’s last blog post..What Have I Done!?

  16. @Seraphine – And I like the arriving part. Just not the leaving 😉

    @Aiglee – Do you ever feel like that, fellow immigrant? JUst wondering… do you to visit Venezuela soon?

    @Saskboy – Thank you.

    @Celine – I’m aware of the fact I’m lucky to travel and I truly love it. Just once in a while, it gets to you… you know the feeling!

    @Despina – Thank you.

    @Max Coutinho – Nao teimos bandeira… I love that! Well, I can’t conjugate in Portuguese, but me too, “I don’t have a flag”. There are a lot of people like us in this world, I least, I choose my destiny. I’m lucky for that.

    @Theresa – Once I’m in Canada (or anywhere for that matters) I’m fine. It’s just around leaving that things get complicated… life is complicated I guess and feelings get in the way, like they always do. 😉

    @Joy – Thank you so much!

  17. Leaving, arriving, coming, going,
    to, fro, in, out- it’s
    all breathing
    and the angle at which the sun or moon touch your face.
    Winter soon turns to spring followed by
    months of bad sledding
    and spoiled macaroni salad.
    Don’t eat the rainbow-coloured ham and
    learn to appreciate the yellowjackets,
    for they need to live just as much as you do.
    Behind the next tree is another tree.
    Somewhere in the forest is your tree,
    if you keep your mind open.

    Seraphine’s last blog post..Dial ?5? if You Have Special Needs

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