Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Expat Wives

People have often envied my position as the so-called expat wife. Even The Engineer has joked that he'd like to exchange places with me sometimes but being an expat wife is by no means as simple as it looks.

I've resigned from work in Malaysia twice in 6 years to join The Engineer overseas. The first time, especially, I was only too glad to do it. I was an engineer then and work was a total draaaagggg. So the moment I had the opportunity to compose the resignation letter, I was only too glad to throw it at my boss and make a run for the door. Besides, it seemed so romantic to give everything up for love.

However, the life of the expat wife, much like that of the air stewardess ( let's face it, they're glorified waitresses who also double as toilet cleaners) is not as glamorous or as easy as everyone presumes.

Firstly, an expat wife has to battle loneliness from the very beginning. There is that constant feeling that something doesn't quite fit - imagine Lindsay Lohan in a Teh Tarik competition and you'll get the idea.

The farther you are from home, the more likely you're going to feel cut off from everything and everyone that you know. This might have been challenging or even fun when you're away in college but does not hold true later in life.

The only person to cling to is your husband/boyfriend. However, he probably has other pressing things on his mind like how he's going to keep his job and get over the language barrier and/or alien work culture. So, he has neither the time nor the inclination to be very sympathetic when you ramble on about power cuts or bad plumbing.

Meanwhile, you're also struggling to get around the idea that you're not working and therefore have no money that belongs exclusively to you. Of course, most couples work out finances and share everything but there is nothing like seeing your own name on your own pay slip at the end of the month.

Then you have to start changing the way you think and start doing things that you would have previously labeled as unimportant or irrelevant. So, instead of meeting deadlines or balancing company accounts, you will find yourself thinking up ways to survive power cuts in the middle of sweltering afternoons, haggling with local grocery store owners despite the language barrier and trying to fend of malaria and other life-threatening/exotic diseases.

Then there is the issue of having to deal with the stigma that is attached to being an expat wife. This is much like the one that's attached to being a housewife (despite the women's movement claiming that its all about having choices, people still view the housewife as a lowly creature barely hanging on to the bottom rung on the Ladder of Liberated Women).

The only difference is that the expat wife is considered to be a housewife - with money. Therefore people see them as vacuous creatures who fill their vacuous lives gossiping over gourmet coffee and going for spa manicures.

I admit it. I was formerly one of those people. I felt a mixture of annoyance and envy when I contemplated the expat wives in Malaysia - a feeling that arose when I was barely making ends meet while they seemed to spend their time languishing beside their pools in their lavish Mont Kiara apartment buildings.

I have since revised my opinion. The recurrent theme in the life of an expat wife seems to be loneliness, homesickness or just sickness in general. There's always some malady or other that strangely afflicts only those with foreign blood eg unexplained stomach trouble or a stubborn strain of flu that never goes away entirely.

Besides, for me at least, having a large swimming pool and endless spa manicures do not replace meeting friends at the local mamak at 11pm or driving over to my mum's house for some home made curry or crying on my best girlfriend's shoulder when I need to.

Still, expat living isn't all bad. Nothing bonds total strangers the way living in a foreign country can. So you end up making some really good friends, really fast if you can manage to drag yourself out of your cloud of homesickness long enough to meet them.

So, now that I can empathise with the foreign ladies courageously living in foreign lands, here's a prayer I found for them and all those who brave life in an alien land for love...

Heavenly Father, look down on us your humble obedient expat wives who are doomed to travel this earth following our loved ones through their working lives to lands unknown. We beseech you, oh Lord, to see that our plane is not hijacked or doesn't crash, our luggage is not lost or pillaged and our overweight baggage goes unnoticed.

Give us this day divine guidance in our selection of houses, maids and drivers. We pray that the telephone works, the roof does not leak, the power cuts are few and the rats and cockroaches even fewer.

Lord, please lead us to good, inexpensive restaurants where wine is included in the meal and the food does not cause dysentery. Have mercy upon us Lord if it be the latter, make us fleet of foot, to make the loo in time, and strong of knee in case we have to squat. Also give us the wisdom to tip correctly in currencies we do not understand.

Make the locals love us Lord for who we are and not for what we can contribute to their worldly goods. Grant us the strength to smile at our maids, even though our most treasured dress resembles a rag or they take bleach to clean our well-admired Persian rug.


Give us divine patience when we explain for the hundredth time the way we want things done and Lord if we ever lose our patience and thump them, have mercy on us for our flesh is weak.

Dear God, protect us from so-called "bargains" we don't need and can't afford. Lead us not into temptation for we know not what we do.

Almighty Father, keep our husbands from looking at foreign women and comparing them to us. Save them from making fools of themselves in nightclubs. Above all, please do not forgive their trespasses for they know exactly what they do.

And when our expat years are over Lord, grant us the favor of finding someone who will look at our photographs and listen to our stories, so our lives as expat wives will not have been in vain.

Amen

Source: Unknown


Monday, November 27, 2006

Gold Diggers

Remember Trisha’s posting/column about gold diggers? Well I got to thinking about it some more so I'm goin to vent my spleen about them.

The Boyfriend was talking recently about a friend’s sister he met. Within an hour of drinking at Luna Bar, he’d concluded that she was that “kind of girl who was in her early 40s, still single, but really only looking to marry someone with money.” I don’t know if the boy was just being perceptive (or jumping to conclusions) or if she really was that obviously frank about her chosen goals in life. In any case, it wouldn’t be that surprising if she was, now, would it? We all know the sort.

Granted, money is important – no matter how much you think money won’t make any difference because “love conquers all” blah blah blah, it can, and does in the long run. But I did start thinking about how sorry and sad it must be for girls whose primary criterion for a husband/partner/boyfriend was money. I wonder if this really makes them happy, this continuous, ardent, illusive, search for constant, unchanging abundance of money.

I have an Uncle who, when he was 39 married a girl (I call her Aunty M) who was 19. He was very rich then, and the whole family knew he made profuse promises to her that once they were married, she would spend the rest of her life in luxury and have everything she wanted. The smell of money must have been too overwhelming, so Aunty M left everything behind, ditched her family, left her job, moved country and set up shop here.

A few years later, stupid Uncle lost all his money in the stock market (stupid bugger) so now he couldn’t fulfil all those monetary promises to Aunty M. She got very upset and very depressed and whined and whined to my mother about how she wished she could have overseas holidays, and expensive meals, and a nice car, and branded handbags and international school options for her kids. She also told my mother how she has decided she must get close to another of the rich aunties because, “she has the money.” She was obviously also too dim witted to understand just how unsubtle she was being in her show of greed and obsession.

14 years on, she’s got 3 kids under the age of 12 and she’s no less miserable about the sorry state of financial affairs she’s gotten herself into. Not to mention the fat, stingey toad of my Uncle that she has to put up with, three monster children, no qualifications and having to live in Klang.

So perhaps you think me a heartless bitch for making such a mockery of her, but really now, I have little sympathy for people who are so obviously marrying for money. Sure, I understand people come from difficult backgrounds and they are looking only for security… but security (living extravagantly, even!) can be got individually, through a girl’s own hard work, intelligence and guts.

To me, gold digging stands for a life that centres itself entirely and only around the lazy securing of luxury and comfort for oneself, and signals nothing less than just how small-minded and unimaginative the girl really is. It isn’t just about the money – it’s the whole complacent, boring, unmotivated, self-absorbed attitude and utterly useless indulgence that drives my entire disdain for these sorts.

And see, what they forget to tell these girls in money school is this single, key fact: you can’t your money with you when you die (and let’s face it, every day you’re getting closer to it!). In the case of Aunty M, all the money disappeared even before she’d hit her mid-twenties so she also got the bonus life (and spiritual) lesson of impermanence. So isn’t it just that little bit sad then, that their whole life strives towards
a
big
fat
nothing?

It doesn’t work to say that surrounding yourself with money is a way of making the most of this life and really living it up – if you’re doing it on someone else’s money then you can’t really say you’ve really achieved anything for yourself. Totting up the total spent on jewels and clothes and overseas holidays doesn’t count because nobody cares, because you’ve made absolutely no difference to anyone in the world! (And so does this mean you yourself end up being a
big
fat
nothing
also?

I certainly couldn’t do it - no amount of cash could possibly make up for the painful blah of having to put up with an gargoyle for the rest of my days. And in any case, I’d like to think I could make my own way in the world, without resorting to marriage as a convenient solution!

PS I do know girls who’ve married into money in a HUGE WAY but the dosh is incidental, and they’ve used the money for hugely beneficial works in charity and giving back to the community. They live with the attitude, “Well, if I’ve got all this cash, might as well share it!” and they splash it around on the rest of the world as if money were free. They are totally admirable for what they are able to accomplish from the money they land into… which makes the gold diggers look all the more ridiculous with the way they’re living.

Friday, November 24, 2006

FUCK

I just wrote a massive blog entry (after a terrible absence) and the whole thing got deleted.

ARG.

THIS is why you must save your work.

See, it's all just so Thomas Hardy, isn't it - how the world is sometimes just a big fat laugh-in-your-face joke on us. Like, when I want to write a blog entry, it won't let me. And when I actually want to work, my laptop totally dies (all my files are inside) and my Internet modem got fried by lightning. And when I want to go swimming, it starts thunderstorming (and swimming while raining is gross. And the day I decide to finally go on my diet, an enormous cheesecake spontaneously appears in the fridge.

The world's irony has got my by the ovaries.

Too damn fed up to re-write the post now. pfft.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Back to the Gym

I just got back from the gym and feel so rejuvenated that I feel I have to write about it while its all still fresh in my mind.


To begin with, I never realized how much I missed going for classes but I should set the record straight. I'm not one of those who is out to bench press a Kelisa. I have no intention of achieving this look....




I mean, yikes!!!!. I'm more into this look….



Its the reason why I force my butt off the couch and into the gym, even though the one I attend here, in Dar, is not exactly what you would call 'a state of the art establishment'


Admittedly, the place is a little shabbier than Fitness First (alright, a lot shabbier). The wall to wall glass is cracked in some places and the steppers look like they have seen better days.


I thought I would hyperventilate when I noticed there was no air conditioning. A 3pm class in Dar es Salaam without air conditioning would be like working out on inside a sauna, in the middle of the Gobi Desert. Fortunately, they did have fans which turned out to be suprisingly effective.


The thing that really grabbed my attention was how small and personalised the class was and there was none of that strutting about and posing that you get in most fitness centers in KL. Remember I wrote about this before?

(Before you gym bunnies get all hot and bothered around your bunny ears, let me just say that strutting and posing is all well and good for some people but its just not for me. So let's just make peace that we have a difference of opinion and leave it at that, okay?)


I just didn't realize what bad shape I'm in right now. Today's class was -horror of horrors - Step. Now, don't get me wrong, Step is just great mainly because it really, really buuurrrnsss the fat away but boy is it tough when you're out of shape.


If Step classes were comparable to a school system, today's class would be kindergarten (as opposed to the ones in KL which are generally somewhere near Ph.D level).


But I still huffed and puffed through the class and had to drink copious amounts of water every now and again just so that I would have an excuse to stop for a few minutes! That's one of the problems of a small class, everyone notices if you're a weakling and unable to keep up with the rest!


I'm going back for more torture later this week, despite my weak state. If you don't see any entries for some time, I probably collapsed in the kindergarten-level Step class and am recuperating somewhere. Hope that doesn't happen though…think of the shame!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I think I killed Botha!

I forgot to tell you guys about this one. Remember my trip to South Africa? Well, I was walking along inside the apartheid museum when I happened upon a picture of former President of South Africa, P.W Botha.


You can click on this if you want to know the role he played during the apartheid years in SA

I asked Girlfriend, who is Africkaner, what happened to Botha and she replied that he's alive and living somewhere in South Africa. Without thinking, I blurted out " After all that he's done, I can't believe he's still alive and living here!"


Well the very next day, we're walking merrily along in a shopping mall when we chanced upon this headline….(btw Groot Krokodil was his nickname and it means Great Crocodile in the Afrikaans language)





The instant we saw it, Girlfriend and I remembered what I had said the day before. For some reason, we just couldn't stop laughing (although my laughter was tinged with a bit of horror).

It was almost as if the old man keeled over and died just because I said so (despite my personal opinion of him, which was not good, I didn't want to KILL the guy!). He had lived through riots and hundreds of other life or death situations but it looks like he didn't bargain for Trisha and her big mouth!


Deciding to put my newly discovered powers to good use, I kept chanting "we're going to win the lottery" the rest of the day but I'm sorry to report that we had no luck. It could have been that I had used up my powers on poor Botha but I rather think it was because we didn't buy a lottery ticket.


Either way, I haven't given up yet. Now I've taken to chanting "I'm going to be a published author" and "I can eat as much chocolate as I want and never gain a kilogram."


I'll keep you posted on the former coz it hasn't worked on the latter!







Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Listen...can you keep a secret?


I think one of the most ridiculous questions to ask someone is: "Can you keep a secret?" Other just-as-ridiculous questions/statements related to secrets include, "Don't tell ANYONE, okay? and of course the ever popular but totally ineffective, "Okay, I'm going to tell you something but you've got to promise not to tell anyone. Promise!"


Isn't that stupid? Has anyone EVER said "uh, no, I can't keep a secret so please don't tell me?" Either you take the risk, tell your secret and get on with it or you just keep your mouth shut.

To be honest, though, I have been on the receiving AND giving end of the question.


Each time I ever asked that question, it was to assuage my guilt that at the very least, I had asked the person if they could actually keep the secret a secret. Besides, if the thing ever got out, I could always go back to the one I had spilled to and say accusingly, "Hellow….I thought you said you could keep a secret! Pshh!!!" Evil - I know!


Then there's the occasion when I've had someone ask me and inevitably replied, "Of course, what do you take me for?" without meaning a word of it. This has landed me in a world of trouble.


Like that time in uni, when a friend of mine asked me that exact question and in typical Trisha fashion, I blabbered yes…eager to hear what she had to say only to realize that the secret was about me.


Apparently, this guy, who we all thought was super cute, had confided to her that he'd never go out with me coz, "She's too immature." "What?!!" I screamed at my friend, how can you tell me to keep this a secret, I'm going to confront him RIGHT NOW!"


The poor girl pleaded with me not to as he had told her in strictest confidence. I suppose she didn't want to "lose her standing" with this guy ( I bet he started telling her with the standard stupid line "Promise you're not going to tell ANYONE, especially not Trisha!).


Anyway, I thought about it for, like 5 minutes, then decided that her standing with Cute Guy was not a good enough reason for me to not confront him about it.

To make a long, story short, I marched right up to Cute Guy and practically yelled in his ear, "I am SO not immature. How could you say that!"


In one quick move, I managed to ruin my friend's trust in me and prove Cute Guy right with respect to my maturity - that was NOT a mature move at all!!!


Anyways, I have (hopefully) matured since then but I have to admit that my ability to keep a secret still remains 50-50. It all depends on whose telling me and what its about.


So here's my unasked-for-advice, people - The next time you ask "can you keep a secret?" remember, its DEFINITELY a rhetorical question!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Civilisation - woo hoo!

Looks like Trixie and Trisha have been traipsing round a couple of continents. As you know, Trixie just got back from Gay Paree. I myself have just got back from South Africa and it may as well have been Jupiter as far as similarities go between Tanzania and SA.


I've been trying to convince myself that its always good for a city girl like me to get away from "bright lights, big city" and get in touch with the more natural things the world has to offer (fyi - for a diva like me, anyplace without shops and/or proper nail salons, qualifies as a natural environment)


Anyways, since Dar es Salaam in Tanzania not only lacks shops but basic amenities like 24-hour electricity, I thought it would be a good time as any to practice getting back to 'nature'. I even convinced myself, while I've been here in the backwater, that I was actually not missing the city - until I landed in Johannesburg, South Africa.


I almost got down on my knees and kissed the smooth, shiny, black, tar that covered the roads. That was how glad I was to sit in a vehicle that could run smoothly and where I wouldn't run the risk of having my teeth rattled out of my skull. One never misses tar-ed roads till they're gone, let me tell you guys!


Anyways, a good South African girlfriend of mine (who's also currently based in Tanzania coz her husband works with The Engineer) was with me for the entire week so I had a true-blue South African to show me the sights and we sure had a good time!

During the trip, I experienced a couple of firsts - first time I ever saw a jacaranda tree…they line the streets of Pretoria (suburb of Jo'berg) and are absolutely gorgeous:



First time I ever rode on a big roller coaster (aptly named the Anaconda coz it snakes in every direction)…..


Girlfriend and I decided that we're getting a bit old for these rides coz we had wobbly legs and wobbly tummies after the ride. I nearly chickened out from getting on in the first place but decided that I'll regret it forever if I didn't give it a shot.

Let me give you a piece of advice though - NEVER ride on a roller coaster after watching Final Destination 4! I could imagine a screw going loose somewhere and all of us plummeting to our deaths the entire time I was on it (as if hanging upside down and screaming my lungs out till I lost my voice wasn't bad enough)!!!! Despite everything, I'd do it again though!


It was also the first time I ever touched lion cubs - yep, actually touched them! They're SUPER CUTE. Just like normal kitties except they're the size of a child's tricycle at only 5 months. Here are a couple of them lolling about in the sun….


We dropped by at the Apartheid museum which was a somber experience. They actually hand out tickets at the gate marked "Whites Only" or "Non Whites" so Girlfriend and I had to enter separately although we eventually ended up in the same place. That'll really give you a taste of what it was like before 1994 in SA. The museum was built like a dark, dingy prison…


Other than that, we just went from one shopping mall to another which was FABULOUS for little 'ol me who has endured months and months living in a Land of No Shopping. Everyone in SA seemed really well dressed after the sloppiness of Tanzania and I felt like a cavewoman, acutely aware that I hadn't been to a facial or hair salon for close to 6 months - yech!

But cavewoman or no cavewoman, I sure am glad that I got a peek at civilisation after nearly 6 months in the cave!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Bambi

Okay, so here's something that totally threw me today.

I was chatting away to a friend online about The Desirable Colleague and he starts telling me that he's seen the way we interact.

Apparently an expert on body language he started outlining how I would stand slightly leant backwards and away, and The Colleague would stand all straight with his chest puffed up like Superman.

I was all, "Eeeww so mars and venus."

THEN he starts telling me all about my flirt technique. "You're like Bambi."

So I said, "Yuck. The only thing I think of when I think of Bambi is this dumb, clumsy deer who's all legs and falling everywhere."

He said, "Yah, but consider how clumsy you get when you're flirting."

I was thinking, gee, is that supposed to be a compliment, an insult, an objective observation? What? Good think this was all online, or I may have smacked him. I said, "errrrr okay, that's not very nice."

"Yah, but it's endearing, mah! You're like a banshee in bambi's clothing."

Fabulous. Not only am I a clumsy, dopey adolescent deer, but also a type of screeching, scary monster.

But anyway the insults are not what threw me. With this friend, you kind of get used to it - you learn to accept it as some kind of twisted truth. What did throw me was the fact that somebody actually saw me as being Bambi in the first place.

The whole endearing, shy girly-girl thing is so not me and I can't bear girls who do the giggling, and hair curling and gentle shoving. blek. And then, it seems, I am not far off. Not as bad but still, carrying some or any of those traits is frightening enough. Scary, that even the most independent of Independent Girls can, apparently turn all doe-eyed and ridiculous.

I was turning into one of them. Arg.

Ah but then, what's a girl to do when she has a silly infatuation? Surely, half the fun is in the theatrics and grand gestures and acting up? I just didn't quite think it'd be as bad as being Bambi.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Being pretty

Sorry for not writing in ages but this time I actually have an excuse that doesn’t have anything to do with me being disorganised and lazy.

I’ve been in Paris!!!!

(With the desirable colleague, hurray)

We were there on work which meant stress and worry a lot of the time, but we did end up having a free day to romp about the streets of Paris (with the desirable colleague, hurray). Here are fabulous, lovely, gorgeous photos of a city that far outdoes any in the world.

Les Deux Maggots, a pretty little cafe on the left bank where the likes of Satre hung out back in the day!

La Tour Eiffel! Comme c'est belle!

Pretty Parisien streets along the left bank. (bad dreary weather though)

Le Louvre! (And no, it isn't just famous because of a certain book)

It was a total hoot running around with four other Chinese people, eating until food came out of our ears. I dug up what French I remembered from A levels – enough apparently to impress the diners at the next table so that they kept staring at me, a strange looking Chinese girl ordering lunch for four. Hurray, all those French lessons avec Mme Mazeyrac in school were well worth it.

Funny though, how so much of the city runs like you’re in Malaysia. Time is very elastic there (as it is here), and road signs are a nightmare. You know how it is when you’re following a sign here, and then when you get to a crucial fork in the road, the bloody sign disappears? Just the same in Paris. The only advantage they have is that the streets are so very pretty you don’t mind getting lost.

Even Carrefour is exciting there. Our crappy version here isn’t a patch on the wonder that is Carrefour in France (well it better be good, considering it’s from there). You don’t think a supermarket could be that exciting until you go to Carrefour in France. Their chocolate aisle is like you’d died, gone to heaven, and booked yourself the most fabulous place next to the most fabulous angels with the most fabulous access to God (and I’m not even Christian). I think I must have spent about half an hour just staring at the chocolates. It was the biggest quandary I’ve ever been in – WHICH BARS OF CHOCOLATE TO BUY? I ended up with about 20 bars so half my luggage weight was from bars of cocoa and milk.

And because Paris is the way it is, even the desirable colleague loosened up and stopped talking about work for about two seconds. How very exciting for a dizzy romantic like me.

Then, as if through some weird psychic connection with Trisha’s last post, he started up some conversation about how he likes girls that are soft spoken and gentle. Independent, but not too independent so that, “they know when to be obedient.” I was like WHAT? And then, eeeeeeeewwwwwww! Obviously a far cry from loud-mouthed, gobby girls like me who never really know when to behave. Really, now, do men actually still use words like “obedient” to describe their partner of choice? Geez Louise. No matter how far exposed they are, how educated they are, how forward thinking they think they are, it seems men really do still prefer their girls to resemble pretty mantelpieces (i.e. to look at and which don’t say much). Bah.

I gave the colleague a great deal of shit for that the rest of the evening which probably just reiterated the point that I’m not ever going to be soft, gentle and ladylike. But I like it that way!

In any case, I was in France, and things were happy. Simple pleasures can, for a moment quell even the angst of my agitated feminist ragings!