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核心提示:Tom Davis was my first real friend in China. I met him within the first week of moving here, at a welcome coffee in our compound clubhouse. I hesitated to attend the event, certain that I would be the only man there. But as soon as I walked in, the

    Tom Davis was my first real friend in China. I met him within the first week of moving here, at a welcome coffee in our compound clubhouse. I hesitated to attend the event, certain that I would be the only man there. But as soon as I walked in, the chipper Australian chairwoman of the welcome committee grabbed me by the arm and dragged me across the room, triumphantly introducing me to Tom. She had correctly guessed we would be happy to see one another.

    Tom had also quit his job to move to Beijing when his wife Cathy received a promotion. We were thrown together by circumstance -- the only two male trailing spouses anyone knew about -- and my initial impression was I didn't have much more in common with this dry, quiet former insurance underwriter from Montana. But we exchanged numbers and talked about studying Chinese together. A couple of weeks later, we enrolled at a downtown language school, and during our regular commute we realized that we shared many of the same passions: American history, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the mountains of the American West and fatherhood.

    We were both brimming with excitement about all the things we wanted to see and do in China but little did we know then what was soon to befall Tom and his family. No sooner did we meet and become close friends -- things happen fast in expat land -- than his wife took ill and things took a turn for the tragic. The experience served as a reminder that along with the benefits of being an expat come significant disadvantages, particularly when you are in a developing country and things go awry.

    Tom and Cathy had two daughters, Shealyn, then five, and Sudha, four. They adopted the latter from India knowing that a birth defect necessitated the amputation of both of her feet, and had already begun the process of adopting a disabled Chinese child. I thought this elevated them to sainthood, so I wasn't surprised that Tom was everything you could ask of a friend -- patient, empathetic and concerned -- when I learned that my father had bladder cancer. Yet weeks went by before Tom told me that he was increasingly worried about Cathy's health.

    A dedicated athlete, she started having bad back pain on her regular runs. It didn't go away after repeated rests, so she visited a doctor, who diagnosed joint inflammation. Test after test came back negative but Cathy kept feeling worse and worse.

    Tom and I had left the school and were taking twice-weekly lessons with Yechen at my house and we often chatted afterwards. The conversations turned more and more to the health of my father and Cathy. A concerned Tom was urging Cathy -- who was still traveling around China for her job with a Fortune 500 company -- to return for an American checkup. Her company's gatekeeper doctor back home refused to authorize such travel, patronizingly telling her that she was under a lot of stress and should take some time off. When that failed to get her back on her feet, her supervisor cooked up an excuse to send her home for a conference.

    The day after she left, Tom was driving me home on a frigid December afternoon when Cathy called from the hospital. The news wasn't good. Imaging showed that her lungs were filled with spots, she had a huge tumor on her spine, which had been the source of her original back pain, and there were indications that her cancer had spread throughout her organs. I had been expecting bad news, but this was stunning.

    Cathy had advanced small-cell lung cancer, and there was no cure. The illness does, however, respond to aggressive chemotherapy and an earlier diagnosis may well have extended if not saved her life. I was haunted by this. As part of receiving a long-term Chinese visa you have to undergo a thorough medical screening, including a chest X-ray. Cathy had had hers while on a 'look-see' visit to China. It seemed clear that nobody really read that X-ray; if they had, the disease likely would have been picked up and Tom and Cathy never would have moved here. Once arrived, they were at the mercy of her employer and available medical care. By the time it became obvious that she needed immediate and dramatic help -- help in America -- it was too late.

    One of the things I liked best about Tom and Cathy was their whole-hearted love of China and the expat life, another passion we shared. While others seemed to seek out things to complain about, from the speed of Internet connections to the cleanliness of public toilets, Tom and Cathy enjoyed every minute of their adventure. But having moved to China a couple of months before her illness took hold put Tom in an extra perilous situation, as he was now homeless and jobless while facing the possibility of becoming a far-too-young widower and single father of two. It felt extra cruel to me that the new life that Tom and Cathy had embraced so heartily was making a horrible situation even worse.

    Tom quickly made plans to return home with the girls and I kept him company the next day as he packed a few bags. A Christmas tree hung with ornaments Tom and Cathy had picked up over the course of their 18-year relationship sat in the corner. The next day, I stopped by again to hug my friend goodbye and give the girls meager gifts of Skittles and coloring books.

    I thought of Tom often and my Chinese classes became melancholy events. After a few months, he called to say he was coming to Beijing to empty out the house. They had officially signed papers saying they weren't coming back and the company wanted the house off the books. It seemed to me a cold-blooded request, but I was selfishly happy to see my friend again. Tom tried to be optimistic, but the situation was grim.

    A couple of days later I hugged Tom goodbye again and left with a heavy heart on a planned family vacation to Hong Kong and Shanghai, which I had pushed back a few days to see him. A week later, on our first morning back, I walked outside to take the kids to school only to find our friend
Theo running up our walk with a tear trickling down her cheek.

    'Cathy's dead,' she blurted, before breaking into sobs.

    I was stunned. Tom had barely made it back to his wife's bedside.

    When I called, Cathy's mother answered and I said I was calling from Beijing, we had heard the news, and Cathy was loved and missed here. Tom got on the phone and I told him how much I was thinking of him and would do anything I could for him. We both knew there was nothing I could do.

    I only met Cathy four or five times and we shared a single meal; Tom and I only hung out together for four months and we probably spent less total time together than most people see their officemates in two weeks. But we met at an intense moment in our lives and shared a real bond that I think will last forever. My first friend in Beijing may well end up being the best one I ever make here.

    In the past six months I have been in closer touch with Tom, who is back in Butte, Montana. He finally feels ready to deal with things China-related -- it had just been too painful before. We already have plans to meet in Pittsburgh for a Steelers game in the fall of 2009. It is one of the few things about repatriation that I am looking forward to.

    汤姆•戴维斯(Tom Davis)是我来华后结识的第一位真正的朋友。在我来到北京的第一周,我就在小区会馆内举办的一次欢迎茶会上认识了他。当时我还犹豫要不要参加,因为我以为除我之外参加欢迎会的都是清一色女性。不过在我刚步入会场时,那位开朗的“迎新委员会”澳大利亚女主持就拉着我的手把我拖进去,并一脸喜气给我介绍了汤姆。如她所料,我俩都很高兴能见到“同类”。

    汤姆跟我的情况一样,他的妻子凯茜(Cathy)得到升迁并被派到中国,而他则辞去了工作搬到北京生活。据了解,我俩是这个圈子中仅有的两名随配偶到北京生活的男性。特殊的环境让我们俩成了一类人,不过当时我的第一感觉是,这位朴素、斯文的蒙大拿前保险商与我没有太多相似之处。在欢迎会上,我们互留下电话号码,并商量一起去学中文。几周后,我俩进入了一所市内的学校。在不断交流中,我俩认识到我们有许多的共同爱好,例如我们都喜欢读美国历史,都是“匹兹堡钢人队”(Pittsburgh Steelers)的球迷,都迷恋美国西部的崇山峻岭,也都当上了爸爸。
















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