I don’t know exactly what I was doing this time last year, but it’s a fair bet it involved frenetic packing and an intolerable level of stress. We moved just after Christmas. Our flight out of Australia was at dawn on 27 December. Might I suggest not moving around Christmas.
I sporadically documented the process of international relocation over the nine weeks leading up to our flight on my other blog, and I think I’ll post it here in case anyone’s interested. But first, because reading over it is enough to turn anyone off doing anything adventurous ever, here’s my thoughts on ‘Security v Adventure’ from a while back. I just want y’all to know how worth it this whole endeavour has been!
The battle between Security v Adventure resonates intensely with me. I grappled most of last year, day and night, with it – most of last year, and also most of my 20s, which therefore ultimately had to make the winner Adventure.
How do I feel now that we’re here? Satisfied. Like we decided we wanted to shake off our life, pick it up and throw it into the air; and then, unlike most, we fucking DID it. Turning down this same job in 2007 because Rufus was only 5 months old became a little chafing spot of regret. The blazing and beautiful pay-off was that we then had Zadie Mae, which likely wouldn’t’ve happened had we moved then. But the gnaw of potential missed opportunities to expand (in ways other than with child) provided our decision-making impetus this time around.
We, like most couples I’m sure, think ourselves uniquely capable and motivated. These last couple of years, approaching 30, conversations with friends revolved firmly around big ideas, changing jobs, getting married, splitting up, long-distance moves. My cousin mentioned a name for it, Saturn Return – something that affects all humans around this age. As these grand plans were bandied around, Joel and I just knew that we were actually going to do it. Thus our I suppose self-hypocrisy in not making the move in 2007 was even more galling. Were we really just “like everyone else”, full of monumental dreams but in reality interminably treading the path we’d set? This is not to judge our friends, not at all (and the fact we prevaricated for two years proves I also feel the lure of Security pretty strongly); but in a way it was a surprising mirror on ourselves and who we thought we were and what we hoped to be and do.
(Sometimes when I get started on these ruminations, I know I tend to grandiosity. I understand we only moved overseas and that’s nothing earth-shattering. But also, it is. Dude you have to drive 10km from where we live before they even start speaking English here. This is a crazy endeavour!)
Anyway, it’s important to note that proving to our friends/family we could do it certainly wasn’t a motivating factor in our move. But there are some indirect links. I had the sense from some acquaintances that I should just be satisfied with what I have – and from some, not just “the sense”: they vocalised their opinions that, undoubtedly blessed as I am to have my dream husband, a son, a daughter, a lovely house and a job that fulfills and challenges me, why would I think of moving overseas? Why couldn’t I just be HAPPY?
Well. I AM and WAS happy. But “happy” isn’t enough, is it? “Happy” doesn’t make events more exciting, or the days more purposeful. It’s just a nice, comfortable state of being I realise I am privileged to have. It’s Security. I guess ultimately it IS all you need, but having attained it I don’t want the lamentation of lost Adventure to detract from the joy of it.
Until I had kids, I never tended to butt up against societal expectations. I conformed or deviated without too much of a care. I’m not a feminist by any means – in fact in some ways I’m quite a gender traditionalist, which may surprise some – but the “motherhood is ultimate fulfillment” maxim grates on me. It isn’t. My children and husband are the REASON and PURPOSE of my life, certainly, but isn’t the measure of my life – and, together, our lives – more than just being each other’s reason and purpose? It has to be, and this was the source of one of my fears – waking up in 10 years time and having “only” achieved happiness and stability, and a decade of making Vegemite sandwiches in the same kitchen, driving the same route to the same Safeway, talking to the same people about the same other people. THIS sort of unnoteworthy Security scares me. It’s not the example my parents set, so it’s not what I know. I don’t want, in my dotage, to look back on whole chunks of my life where I didn’t take a risk, didn’t tap into new areas of my personality that only open up through exposure to the true unknown. To ME, that would be a disappointing life (not to mention make for an incredibly dull memoir, an extraordinarily lengthy one I’m likely to foist upon my descendants in any case…)
At first I thought not wanting that life of domestic predictability made me a bad mother and wife. I have had to fight against that, internally but mainly externally. I think because of this I better understand the heat women who can’t/don’t breastfeed must feel. I am coming to realise that I can openly love my job, and stuff everyone who apprehends that this means I love my kids any less. Maybe my love of work makes me a better mother. Maybe that I’m prepared to uproot my kids and force them to foster independence will actually prove me a good mother. Maybe not consigning us to the one place for the child-rearing years makes me a fantastic wife! Time will tell.
I feel I need to keep preceding all these thoughts with the assurance that I certainly don’t judge others who maintain a stable life in this style; and by even needing to utter the reassurance, that I feel I am superior in a “it’s fine for you, but this is why I need more” way. This is neither a boast nor a justification. I’m just trying to explain how I feel here, at this moment, for later reference.
We had two main reasons for coming here, neither more important than the other.
-Lifestyle. We want our kids to really know another culture. To have to rely on each other as brother and sister in hard times. To wear puffy traditional Chinese suits, damn it! I love to work, and the cost of childcare in Australia means I can’t work as much as I’d like. Here, there’s cheaper in-home childcare for Zadie and more kindergarten hours for Rufus, both of which equal more time at work for me. Having a live-in carer will take some adjusting to; but it also affords Joel and I the potential for time together. On our own! The chance to leave the house without hauling half the contents along with us! This is something we haven’t had much of in Australia, what with my mum in Lorne, dad in Hong Kong, and Joel’s family more than an hour away on the other side of the city. And also my reluctance to take friends up on their offers to babysit because of…guilt? I don’t know. The kids will likely attain a respectable level of bilinguality here. A whole new world of family weekend adventures has opened up. We are living a rural village life in the middle of a sub-tropical forest, and working in one of the busiest and ultramodern cities in the world.
-Financial. I am taxed at 42% in Australia. Here, for the same income, it’s 15%. This means we can save a huge amount of money in a much shorter time, meaning I can take the required amount of time off work to have a couple of other kids if we decide to. Or we can travel around Australia for a year. Or somewhere else. Or, just pay off our house a bit and go back to life as it was. It just depends what we feel like when this bit of our life is over. Undoubtedly, this stint of work will also be great for my career.
In my experience so far, living as an expatriate, particularly in a country where the native tongue isn’t yours, shares a lot of similarities to parenting a young child. The highs and lows are magnified and sharpened. There are lots of tears – of distress and frustration, but also happiness and pride. There’s constant “doing” of “stuff”, and a feeling of battling long over every little thing for sometimes small reward. There are those moments your heart soars over a breakthrough.
I miss my mum, my nan, my sister and my brother terribly. I feel my friends and I are at a stage where electronic communication is enough. We’re all busy establishing our lives and families and careers, and in the scheme of our lives these months/years apart won’t lessen true friendships. I know from time to time the urge to see them and drink a Stella will strike, but realistically I’ve been so enveloped in the parenting of two kids under 3 that I’ll probably still see them the same amount as I’m used to anyway. But I miss my mum, my nan, my sister and my brother. Terribly.
The other side of that coin is living in the same country as my dad for the first time in eight years. The satisfactions are many: seeing him and Zadie share all the moments he missed out on of Rufus’s babyhood; having someone to translate for us; living 10 minutes away from a member of our family. It is really odd to have had to move hemispheres to live in any sort of “family community” of older times – which, having gone without it in recent years, I’m now convinced is absolutely essential for young parents!
Security and Adventure aren’t mutually exclusive. My family is my security, and they’re still here. Even if we never fit in here, we have each other, and while that won’t always be enough to alleviate alienation or homesickness or a yearning for Milo, that’s all we REALLY need. We will go back to Australia eventually, I will drink Milo again. But this time, this adventure, is for now. We are going to eat in unhygienic dai pai dongs, continue to battle on in the pursuit of intelligible Cantonese, and learn to love the inferior Hong Kong chocolate-milk product.
For now, this is where we belong.