I’m writing this on night 3 of our return to the UK. I sit in a lovely new house that already seems to be peppered with the level of mess that feels like the Wilson brand of homely. We’re hoping this night clears the jet lag and then all there is to do is get mildly drunk till the end of Christmas and then face into the apparent misery that is reverse culture shock.
Before all that happens, in this pursuit of blog closure, I wanted to write a little conclusion on my Malaysia experience.
I’ve already written so much about the positive, happy stuff of which there has been so much. I read a lot about general “happy posting” on Facebook and how this is all supposed to be a false read on the reality of life. My Facebook rule is that if something makes me happy, laugh or feel something I just post it. My view is that it might make someone else laugh which is a win (example: Ben in a girl’s swimsuit – come on.. if you saw that you laughed right?).
Being an expat definitely puts a shiny filter on things. I’ve only been an expat once. In Malaysia. It has been undeniably glossy. It’s been marble floored, guarded condos, tropical beaches and sunsets, champagne incidents – weekly, big groups of laughing friends, sunshine glinting off elaborate pools. For me, it’s been privilege, no doubt. Pinch yourself ridiculous sometimes. But in my exercise of going through my diary to look for those brilliant memories, it was the in-between bits that I found really interesting. This diary was never written for verbatim sharing. Oh my gosh if you ever see it.. DON’T READ! Anyway, OK.. you’ve got all the usual stuff like bad driving and customer service, no crumpets bla bla. Whilst frustrating those things are actually funny mostly and definitely surmountable.
There are 2 bigger things that this experience really flagged for me. These are friendship and purpose. This is what I mean:
Thing 1: Friendship
On the face of it, it felt like I had the most friends I’ve ever had whilst in KL. Really though, on reflection I can now see that was a bit of an illusion. Most of my social network were people I’d discussed the ages of my kids with at a playgroup and said hello to a few times at a mall.
When I arrived I only knew my husband who wasn’t available for playdates and my 2 year old who was. Like most new expats I had to fish for pals with some urgency. I found that if you put yourself in the right places you can meet an inordinate amount of “potential” buddies. About 95% of encounters are with open and friendly people. But the friend thing, that’s more complicated. What I’ve come to realise is that OK, true friendship at first sight does exist, but you can’t really “know” at first sight.
A lot of my downer diary entries were dramatic misery if someone called off a playdate, worry at things I hadn’t been invited to, worry of things I hadn’t invited someone else to, fear I’d upset someone, concern someone I liked had found someone else to play with, thinking people thought I was a chav. Playground stuff really, but it was real to me. It was all amplified because in an expat situation 14 hours from home, the result of no friends is loneliness that at the time feels like it might never end.
Of course, it does and did. But, as I said, it was a “thing”.
Now I’m home, I have my comfort blanket of about 5 x 25 year old friendships within a 1 hour drive, plus all my lovely family and little of this is really relevant. But if I ever go expat again, I want to tell my future self this:
- Be patient for the biggies.
- The biggies will find you.
- The biggies may not be who you first think they will be but when you suss who they are, it will be obvious.
- Your pool of potential biggies expands about twice a year – it also contracts.
- You just have to deal with the latter
- Remain open to new biggies even if you have, by your own definition, enough.
- If you can’t crack into a friendship group, just move along and find a better one.
- Have contingencies for cancelled playdates (or other) and don’t take it personally or consider it terminal.
- Stop giving a rats if people think you’re a chav, if they do you don’t want to be their friend anyway.
- You’re a chav with a wide vocabulary and nice shoes. It’s who you are.
Thing 2: Purpose
This is too big for a little blog. I still don’t have the answer, certainly not 10 things to recommend to future me. I’ve had about 7635 sweary conversations on it with my husband, about 98,123 deep analyses with friends and I still don’t know the answer.
What this boils down for me to is financial purpose, I’ll leave the rest to the Dalai lama and Victor Frankl. Prior to expat-dom, right up until departure day I was financially independent. Then I became a kept woman in a luxury life, like a wag with no balls.
I didn’t like it. But sometimes I did like it. I didn’t want to like it. Should I have liked it? I did like raising my children. But it’s sooooo hard! I liked the chance to write (and I wrote ALOT!). Can I buy an expensive pair of shoes? (obviously). Should I feel bad? I got bored! I got jealous of my husband taking a lunch. I got jealous of my husband going on a flight. I spent my husband’s wages. Are they my wages too? I got up in the night at 4 am didn’t I? I thought my husband thought I was a loser. Was I a loser? Am I a loser? My husband’s female colleagues don’t seem like losers. But I’m going to be a writer. Will I be a writer? Will it contribute to our finances? Should it? Does it need to? Are my mum and dad disappointed in me? Am I disappointed in me? How much money is in the bank? Should I know this? Why don’t I know this? Do I deserve this pedicure? Should I provide my husband with a home cooked meal? NO! Go to McDonalds and celebrate your financial purpose.
This is a rolling sample of my general expat internal monologue most of the time.
GET A JOB! I hear you cry! And yes, that feels rational. But… I WANT TO BE A WRITER…. I just can’t call it a job just yet.. arghhhhhh!
And do you know what, in just writing that I’ve decided. I’m going to be a writer. It may take time for that to be a financial purpose but hey if it don’t work out, I shall get me a job. Promise. (talking to myself here).
And so, after that little bit of internal catharsis, I conclude. There is a lot to say about expatriation. There is a lot to say about Malaysia. And motherhood. And friendships and purpose, but for now I’ll close. There are over 100 entries on this blog about all of it and about a trillion other blogs by other people on all of it.
My conclusion is this. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was expatriation, but really it was just life, that amazing, winding path of surprising, exciting, dull, heartbreaking, heart warming life.
And it’s a wonderful life.
Merry Christmas 🙂