When I was about seven months pregnant with my first child (now six and a half) my husband and I were considering sharing our parental leave – six months each and then return to our respective jobs, I would do the first shift and he would take the second. He went to his company to discuss this option, which they said they would consider, it was about nine months away at that stage so we thought OK it will be fine and I confirmed my six months leave. Shortly after they told him – sure he could have the six months off, or if he chose – he could move to Hong Kong for three years to work in the new Asia head office being formed over there. To be fair to him I think he gave it a good five minutes of serious thought – and then told them he would get onto the wife about the move. I was probably given a week or so to think about it – as in the last month of pregnancy these are the sort of decisions that come easily and through a clear thought process I said – sure – Lets go!
The haze of fantastic prescription painkillers clearing 3 weeks later and husband says – I am off to HK on Monday – I will be back once a month for six months and then you and the boy can move up. In the meantime you’ll be fine with the house and the dogs and the new baby right? Almost before I had time to respond (in fact on the same day) the Australian government did me a huge favour (perhaps saving our marriage) and recommended non-essential travel to HKG be delayed due to SARS. So instead of three weeks old – young son was three months old when husband set off to HKG.
I set about living the life of a single parent – but not one who was too hard up, although I did play it for all it was worth on the husband front. Every day I would take the dogs for a walk with pram and they more or less behaved, then I would do a small amount of housework (one makes MUCH less mess than two) and generally walk up to the local café district for lunch for one, stroll home in time to catch a couple of dreadful tv shows on foxtel (became addicted to Buffy during that time 4.30pm every day, perfect time for tv with small baby) – feed, bath and put the baby to bed and bang – day over!
There were only a couple of incidents – I was once asleep on the couch late at night when I heard the car being stolen so I jumped up and ran into the street to accost the thieves – not a good move leaving house open with small baby asleep and two sleepy dogs – but I only got pushed over by the scared young men and I got to keep the car so it wasn’t all bad! On another occasion I had a gall bladder emergency while my mother was in Africa on safari and had to call my Dad who lived two hours away to come and care for four-month-old baby while I had a quick operation –and even let my father take him away for a week so I could ‘recover’ after writing an extensive – How to look after this four month old baby manual – that I found out much later was mostly ignored.
I packed up the house and sent it away on the boat to Hong Kong while keeping only a mattress, portable cot, beanbag, TV, fridge and one plate, bowl, spoon, fork and knife –painted the house myself on a ridiculously slow schedule roping in all manner of friends to assist in the process. I was excited and ready for the adventure of living in Hong Kong – a place I had never visited to that point – what couldn’t be endured in waiting for the moment to arrive? I tell you – if this had come after six years living in Hong Kong it wouldn’t have happened in quite the same way – now I am a self confessed pampered expat princess – which the move from Hong Kong has only made more clear to myself and my husband.
Then it came – I had done a quick and dodgy garden makeover, got a fabulous tenant for the house, sold all the electrical appliances so there was nothing left to do when we got on the plane in October 2003 for the ‘great adventure’.
I was so confident that I would love it – so so sure – that I would love it, and I didn’t. At first, I was miserable and quite unpleasant company so it’s not a surprise to me in retrospect that I took so long to make so many lovely, wonderful, amazing friends. I was all – why do these people need helpers to live with them, isn’t that weird? Can’t they cook for themselves at least once a week (as the sound of home delivery buzzed around HK island on a Sunday night)? Why are they all so dressed up and glamorous? When are you coming home for dinner? What time are you coming home? When did you say you were coming home again?
It was the third time that I asked that question that I knew I was in big big trouble – in Sydney I had sailed out the door past my husband as he ate his breakfast on my way to work and when I arrived home – he was always in situ on the couch (or perhaps in the kitchen poking around the fridge pretending he was thinking about dinner) – I was the one that seemed to work long hours and had lots of things going on to fill my day – now the highlight of my day was walking to the supermarket, buying what I could (because everyone who has lived there knows you can’t buy everything you need for a meal from just one supermarket in Hong Kong) traveling in the goods lift to the checkout as the pram we bought from Aus was not built for HK in store escalators, walking home, watching Oprah and various other equally mind expanding TV shows, playing with the baby, feeding, bathing – putting him to bed and then waiting for husband to come home.
Needless to say I came around to the helper idea pretty quickly – the pros far outweighing the cons (as if they don’t when you are lonely and miserable) and my life changed! I did a course called ‘At Home’ for newbie’s to HK – as everyone is always pretty much in the same situation, arriving knowing few or no people – struck gold with my group and formed friendships which have lasted long past the various people leaving HK and returning ‘home’ or moving onto another location. When I left in July there were only three of our original group left and it was very hard to go! But now one of the originals is moving back – life is all about swings and roundabouts – you never know what’s just around the corner.
After making my new friends, I hung around for a while loving having friends and exploring a new city /country. Girls’ weekends away were to Bangkok and Hanoi – shopping, spa-ing and exploring to our hearts content – so amazing and so unexpected just twelve months earlier. I loved my new friends and my growing baby boy and my life – but was also getting a bit b-o-r-e-d. I had always worked, so I told a friend at lunch one day how bored I was and the next day he had lined me up a job interview at the company where his wife worked. Then life got even better! After not working for two years – the interview process was nightmarish, not to mention the psychometric testing, but worth it in the end. I landed an Asia wide role in an industry I hadn’t worked in before – which was absolutely fantastic for the four years that it lasted and I became a GFC statistic (you may have guessed – it was a bank!).
There was a bit of crossover with the Africa idea and the redundancy – Africa idea floated in January – my response – Ooh, don’t think I can really, I have the job and it’s the GFC and we can’t afford to just give away one income like that. Two weeks later – my boss asks me how I would feel if there was a redundancy on the table – Ooh, don’t like that idea much, long term plans for Hong Kong and all that – husband plugging away in the background – Get that bloody redundancy and we’re off! Me again – OK but I’m not going before end of June, school year end and child stability paramount etc etc – mentally giving myself plenty of time to sort it all out. Two weeks later redundancy done whether I liked it or not, on the plane to Durban to check it out…..