Category Archives: Asia

It’s not all beer and skittles

We had not yet moved into our new house in the ‘hood but were making use daily of the community pool, given the scorching Hotlanta summer and the seemingly endless school holidays. The accents used loudly across the pool by brother and sister made us a stand out and the small community targeted us as the ‘new people’.

Introductions were made and stories shared, friendly folks who oohed and ahhhed at the countries we have lived in, shared their love for all things Aussie (a welcome change to our last country of residence) and admitted to having always wanted to live in another country.

‘But we couldn’t do it, our parents are here, they’re getting older, they could get sick and we wouldn’t take their grandchildren away from them’

Stab, stab, stab.

Unintentional stabbing of course, but it hurts all the same.

A quick chat with any expat will reveal many reasons why they love the life they lead with its swings and roundabouts, ups and downs, opportunities and experiences they and often their third culture kids would never have had if they stayed ‘at home’.

By extension this often also applies to family and friends who visit the expat adventurers in a new and different country, one they may have never been to with no good reason to visit, or just needed an excuse to return to a favourite destination. These are special and cherished times, when the visitors get an insight into the life of their hosts, sharing experiences they may never have otherwise had. We as hosts push the boundaries of our day to day to make sure everyone has a most memorable trip and send them home to sing the gospel and  spread the word to make sure our calendars with penciled in possibilities become concrete conversions into visitors bearing jars of Vegemite and Strawberry Freddos.

There are so many special memories from the visitors we have had in our time away, friends who honeymooned with us in Hong Kong – delaying their trip so we had time to return to our flat from their wedding in the Blue Mountains, my cousin who swore to never live anywhere else but her home town became a regular visitor for ‘the shopping’ and since then has moved twice overseas with her husband and kids. To this day she remains the only person I know who shopped Stanley Markets from opening until closing.

Then there was the travel pack who visited and required a mini van to ferry around. My cousin (of course), her two kids and another of their cousins, her husband, his aunt, her parents and my grandmother, 88 at the time. It was a special day shopping over the border in Shenzhen introducing her to all our regular shopping haunts and telling all the shopkeepers about her very auspicious age. I think we got actual real discounts that day in deference to her age and agility and gracious charm with the locals.

The best man from our wedding and his wife and baby – discovering en route that the baby had inherited his father’s peanut allergy, my brother and his then partner, her terrified of bird flu every time we stepped out of the house, my husband’s sister and brother-in-law came and we popped off for a blissful grown ups only trip to Kota Kinabalu.

My Dad and his wife on more than one occasion – once sailing through the harbour on the Queen Mary and of course my Mum.

South Africa was lighter on the visitors but again my brother and Mum put in appearances. I am pretty sure my brother will never forget the elephant that just wanted to say hello, his first lion spotting or sidling up to the penguins in the Cape for the best photo opportunity.

My mum was the first visitor we had here in the USA, arriving the same day as the container full of boxes. Our first two months in the new house was experienced together. The drama of the pre-school vaccinations and medical checks, the first day of school, the slight changing of WASYO’s accent to move to a short ‘a’ sound and a rolling of the ‘r’s, drop offs and pick ups at a real yellow school bus, weekly drinks on the street corner, WASYO learning to read, Mr 9 saying he quite liked the new school (relief), introducing the local kids to fairy bread at the event where WAFYO became WASYO, she experienced it all at the same time we did. She arrived armed with my childhood set of Winnie the Pooh books and read them to her eldest grandchildren each night before bed, she did jigsaw puzzles with WASYO and talked to Mr 9 about his views on life and video games and became our personal laundry lady – daily collecting the clothes from various baskets around the house and returning them later washed and folded – apparently I have to get used to no ironing (that’s a story for another time).  After proclaiming to get lost in the house on the first few days, as we pulled away last Monday on the way to the airport she said she’d come to like our home. It has been a lonely week since she has left.

Regardless of what happens next, the choices to be made about visits, before or after operations, when, where, how and who with, all five of us will have that special time in our memories. Two months where she was part of our everyday life. Daily this week more than one resident has said ‘When Mumma was here…’

It is hard to be away from family in another country, especially when every phone call or text message could be news that puts everything on hold while you plot a course home, but if we lived in Australia, an hour and a half away by car it is unlikely we would ever have spent so much time together or that our kids would have kissed their Mumma goodnight every night for two months (except for those two pesky hospital visits).

Life goes on here, next week is my husband’s birthday, the following week my Dad and his wife are visiting, Halloween is shaping up to be bigger than Ben Hur and there’s some marathon in New York on November 4th I’m running in, but family near and far are always top of mind. You take the good with the bad and hope the decisions you make, when you make them, are the right ones and that holds true no matter what country you live in.

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A stands for …..

It had to happen didn’t it? Come up with the longest blog title in the world – then include something about continents with starting with ‘A’, some day, at some point its going to bite you.

Australasia (remember we went old school there and didn’t reference the now taught Oceania), Asia, Africa & now introducing America (North). I think that can sneak in as a legitimate A continent.

Atlanta definitely starts with an A – and in two short weeks (yesterday) that is where the small people and I will be heading to via Dubai and New York to start our new life as Australians in Atlanta – or more specifically Cobb County expats. The husband already has himself a social security card and is working on his accent, sourcing moonshine and loving living in a country where they actually like Australians (not that he doesn’t miss his near and dear South African friends too).

The Third Culture Kids will have another reference point, likely move from one slightly horrifying accent to another – and their mother will have access to a shop that sells Vegemite, Freddo frogs and meat pies! It was not a prerequisite that we move to a suburb with an Australian bakery but handy that its worked out that way.

Leaving Durban and 320 days of sunshine a year is a tough call – so I had to first investigate what it meant to swap the balmy days and bright blue skies with ocean views, endless options of South African Sauvignon Blanc and ‘African’ time for.

Initially it seems a bit of a mixed bag.  Atlanta has 185 days of sunshine on average per year – so I’m down an ocean (have never lived away from the ocean except for a stint at University and a year on a farm in Germany) and 135 days of sunshine.

On the plus side its got the world’s busiest passenger airport and is the 7th most visited city in the US so I am thinking we have got to get more visitors there than we ever got here.

There are 65 streets with the name Peachtree in them – that’s got to be a bonus when I am negotiating the other side of the road driving with two screaming kids in the back. Wherever I am trying to go will always surely be ‘near Peachtree’. Perhaps that can be a good car game – Kids, listen for the proximity alarms on Mummy’s car and any streets that are called Peachtree.

Atlanta is the home base for the fourth largest number of Fortune 500 companies including my absolute favourite – Coca Cola!

It also has Home Depot, UPS, CNN and AT&T. I am looking forward then to excellent internet access for my online shopping which will no doubt be couriered to me in a timely fashion while I am catching up on the latest news. Things are looking up!

The moving process has not been without its hiccups, you can see I am already using American spelling – although I have asked the school if my kids can retain their ‘ou’ words I am not too optimistic of that outcome although I absolutely draw the line at ‘mom’ – and I have a handy stack of posts to come when regular wifi access once again makes itself available.

For now – this brief introduction to our new American home and to let you know we’re off to be brave in the land of the free, or free in the land of the brave – I’ll get back to you on that. Watch this space.

Travellers – what type are you?

Airports are brilliant spots for people watching – which lets face it, everyone loves. Well, I love it, and from time to time I have the luxury of undertaking it solo – without having to worry where three other family members are at any given moment, giving me the time to properly evaluate my fellow travellers and their ‘type’.

People watching is also a great sport if you are ever slightly, just a tiny bit judgmental and love to type people who you have never met and are most likely never going to based on what they look like, what they are wearing, carrying, doing or smell like. Obviously the total opposite of what I am like in real life…..

If you are lucky enough to have lived in other countries, or travel quite frequently, it can add an extra layer to the already pre-defined view you may have of a general population of citizens – something I mentioned when I wrote about the Inevitabilities of International Travel – a while ago.

Last week I returned from a relatively self indulgent ten day, three continent tour of birthday parties.  The first was my brother’s 40th held in Sydney – but he (and a surprisingly increasing number of my family on both sides live in the Bris-Vegas, Gold Coast area) so after a weekend in Sydney, I flew up that way to inspect their new abodes. Three days later to return via a 6am flight to the International terminal in Sydney to jet off to HK for a long weekend to celebrate what was labeled the ‘Festival of Lynette’ for another fabulous friend’s 40th. This leg of the trip was justified to the husband by way of – traveling on Frequent Flyer points which were about to expire anyway and going Cathay so a weekend in Hong Kong  just made perfect sense.

Anyway – the point is, with those flights plus my Durban – Joburg legs both ways I took eight flights in ten days and spent a lot of time in airports and on planes conducting the sport of ‘people watching’.

Despite my husband and I having enough combined points for me to have flown business class, I was in economy – which I suppose I should thank him for because it is by far the superior people watching arena.  Those in business class glide from the airline lounges onto the plane (via the short queue) and then disappear into their pods never to be seen again. In the cattle class waiting area and down the back on the plane is where all the action is.

What we all dream about when we get into the plane an empty economy section -but there's always 'the other travellers'

Here are some of my most spotted types on the trip

– the happy traveller, who knew but they really do exist, smiley and courteous at all points

– the grump – usually contented with looking unhappy but can also turn to their neighbour and unload their reason for unhappiness (which may or may not include a life story – but will definitely include commentary about why they didn’t get their preferred seating on the flight)

– the tracksuit wearing traveller

– the couple who are dressed to match (these can overlap with the tracksuit wearers, see above)

– the Family, which of course has extensive sub groups. Can be with one or two parents, the special sub type will depend on number of and age of children and if they have the dad that pops them all in their seats and then glides off to his business class pod never to be seen again until disembarking when he will have been first in the immigration line and gone ahead to ‘collect the baggage’. Special shout out here to the first time travelling family, an easy spot.

– the fashion conscious traveller, the one who boards looking perfect, has a perfect change of clothes for flight and then can somehow layer themselves again at the end of the flight to depart looking a million dollars

– the long distance, many flights, lack of access to shower facilities travellers

– the stressed traveller, always worrying about where their passports are, how do they complete question 4 iv) e on the immigration card, whether they will catch or miss  their connecting flight etc etc etc

– the relaxed traveller (quite an overlap with the happy traveller)

– the full make up traveller – no idea how its done, usually crosses over with the fashion conscious traveller, both types being a total mystery to me

– the person or people you saw at check-in and hoped you weren’t going to be seated near – who are in fact in your row if not immediately beside you

– the tour group traveller (a personal fave) wearing stickers and following flags

– experienced traveller, has made all the necessary pre-flight arrangements, looks quiet and comfortable, always drinking water

– the know-it-all (or the experienced traveller with irritating personality) gleefully sharing extensive knowledge across the tarmac and the plane

– the late arriver – you know the ones that turn up after the announcement ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we are sorry for the delay – we are just waiting for a couple of passengers to arrive’ and then they do.

and last (but by no means least)

– the sleeper! Anywhere, anytime, any seat – eyes shut, dozes off immediately.

Of course there are many many more – what’s your favourite one here or which are the best ones I have missed?

Peace at last….looking for the next perfect moment

I started writing this weeks ago – before the start of what turns out was a pretty amazing sporting tournament held in South Africa that also coincided with the longest set of school holidays I have ever experienced. To clarify – the longest set of school holidays I have ever experienced that wasn’t Christmas holidays – without Gina.

When I started writing this post we had been in South Africa for just under eleven months – today we have been here for 366 days – I know this because it is my sister-in-law’s birthday – Happy 40th Manos – and last year on our second day here she called us to remind us it was her birthday while we were on our first trip to the beach in Ballito on what turned out to be a standard winter’s day for Durban –warm and sunny and beach worthy.

Anyway-

I remember the exact moment when I thought my life was perfect. I know that because I thought it strange I had never felt that way before – I’m not sure why.  I remember because I thought that if I said it out loud – even to my husband or my BFF then it would be jinxed and something would go horribly wrong.  Well – need not have bothered about that – here’s the thing I know now – if you think your life is perfect even for a millisecond, tell everyone – take out an ad, hire a billboard, have a party – do anything because whether it continues or not has nothing to do with if you say it out loud or not.  If you feel it – you might as well tell everyone cause it’s a really feel good kind of thing.

Of course there had been wonderful, exciting and amazing moments in my life before then.  The day(s) I had gotten a job I thought I had desperately wanted, got married, given birth (especially the second time because after all I was staying for five nights in the equivalent of a luxury hotel or hotel/spital as I have seen it recently referred to on facebook) were all very happy, fulfilling and exhilarating days and times but I don’t recall actually thinking that my life was perfect.

The moment I did think it was at night, my husband and I were driving home from the Hong Kong Football Club after a dinner with friends and we were discussing the pros and cons of buying a property that would essentially be a holiday place, rather than an investment property – a waterfront spot – the last one left in a tiny hamlet on St Georges Basin on the south coast of NSW where my family had holidayed since I was very small.  We decided that yes we would try to do it.

Not at the time we made the decision but during the discussion sometime I recall thinking – I love my life right now so much, it feels perfect.  Immediately and subconsciously I tried to hide the thought DANGER – DANGER Will Robinson!! I thought I couldn’t say it out loud because it was difficult to explain and because I didn’t want it to change and because somehow by just thinking that I felt I had already changed it. So weird and a tad too serious for my usual thought processes but there you have it.

Why did I think my life was perfect right then? I can’t say exactly. We had been living in Hong Kong for nearly six years, we had two gorgeous children who were at times like all children quite a challenge – but generally loveable and we weren’t planning to give them away any time soon, my mother who had been diagnosed two years earlier with stage IV colon cancer was inexplicably currently ‘cancer free’, we had a wonderful group of friends who we viewed as our HK family, we both had jobs we enjoyed and found fulfilling, we were having multiple amazing holidays annually – family, boys & girls weekends and just about any other kind you can think of and we were financially at a point where we felt that we were doing the ‘right thing’ sensible savings plan and all that.  There were still of course down sides to our lives – we lived far away from our families and my father in law was very sick (he passed away soon after). We lived in high pollution a lot of the time – some days you could not see from one side of the harbour to the other – a five minute ferry ride could be conducted shrouded in pollution based fog, but like most long term HK’ers we celebrated the blue sky days and put the terrible ones from our mind. Our son had been identified as having some issues and was diagnosed as ‘on the spectrum’ (aren’t we all?) and we were going through various educational support strategies with his school and teachers.

I don’t regret having that thought that night – I will just be very, very wary should I ever have it again – because it was probably a ‘perfect moment’ rather than something else that is more tangible with more longevity that I am still struggling to imagine. Too deep? Yes – for me too – I’m not even sure if I understand what that means but seriously can’t think of any other way to express it.

Almost the next week the feeling was punctured (although it had been dented when I thought of it momentarily and then immediately went into Danger mode) when the redundancies started at work – although I wasn’t made redundant in the first or second rounds my boss did mention to me that if I wanted to leave it was on the table, putting me a little off balance in the workplace  – along with just about everyone else in Hong Kong who worked for an investment bank, it was by no means personal.   My father in law passed away two days before we flew to Australia for Christmas holidays and then when we returned to Hong Kong after that trip my husband put South Africa on the table. ‘Perfect’ one minute to ‘spinning out of control’ in no time at all.

The rest is history – the South African thing got pushed at work but it was a good move for my husband and we made the decision together and for the right reasons, the redundancy came through – the move was on. Don’t get me wrong – so was The Festival of Farewells – it wasn’t all bad, it was just at a serious tangent from my ‘Perfect’ millisecond.

I had moved countries before – I knew approximately what I would experience in the process and estimated the time to ‘come through’ the other side of the move, settle the children, make some friends for them and some for me, get some hobbies started and hopefully get a job would be 6-9 months. I thought I was being conservative and talking it up big to everyone –

‘Oh you know – six months or so and we should be right. We’ve never moved with the kids before really so the important thing is settling them down and getting them in routine.’

Six months was Christmas and I was nowhere near settled – I’d just got my blinking phone line connected for goodness sake – South Africa was still all about

‘We’re new – we’re Australian but we have come via Hong Kong – we lived there for nearly seven years, yes we miss it very much, yes we loved it there, yes life here is very different………..’ – It is perhaps no wonder the locals were not throwing themselves at me to be my new BFF’s – it sounds like I do not like it here – do not speak to me.  I can perhaps see that now – but its not how I meant it, all the time.

In fact I cringe and smile now at the number of acquaintances I see now that ask me – ‘How are you settling in now? You seemed to be struggling a little bit before’

It was that obvious? Yes Nikki – it was.

What was wrong with me? Please let me pause here and say – I did have some friends by this time – very lovely friends, friends I will have for a long time if not forever – but it isn’t only your family & friends that make somewhere home to you – if that sounds strange – you’ve still got to make your own peace with it – or I do anyway.

I don’t know the exact day that it happened – but it was made clear to me about six weeks ago when a friend – who I had added to my mental list of ‘People I would like to be better friends with because I think they are my kind of people, irrelevant of what they might think’ told me she was leaving after twelve months here, dammit, just as we had started doing Friday morning runs together – moving back to the UK, where her family had moved from as a work opportunity that couldn’t be passed up was on the table for them.  I realized if that were me – of course it’s all about me 😉 I wouldn’t want to move – I was in fact settled here in sunny Durbs, making friends, still trying to win over the locals, just starting the job search process, loving my African reading theme, learning more of the local lingo (for instance if you saw the word ‘gees’ how would you pronounce it?) and enjoying learning about politics as perhaps only someone with another country’s passport can.

This is really my home now – of course it already was, my family and all my stuff have been here for some time, but now, even though we still don’t have curtains – it really does feel like HOME and the next few years are all about building up to another ‘perfect’ millisecond or many of them because now I think somewhere out there – its waiting for me and I can tell you I have started looking & I’ll definitely be having a party this time.

How’s that last decade looking?

OK I’m back – this whole blog thing is quite tough. I spend lots of my online time reading other people’s blogs  (is OPB a term? Like PLU?) for the most part enjoying them immensely, thinking I really must do that again sometime….

Anyone would think there were good things to watch on TV here (not true) or school holidays were on and I suddenly have to do my own child care after six years living in a country where I didn’t – that part might be true – but others seem to have struggled on and continued posting, so this will by my inspiration (I can’t hear my children at the moment – that’s a good sign right?).

2010 – a new decade.  For all us lucky people born in a 0 year – we never have to recap the last ten years in our mind – hundreds of newspapers, magazines and media outlets do it for us. So easy!!! All we have to do is remember about our own lives in that decade.  Every time ten years kicks over you think – noooo that didn’t happen that long ago, but it pretty much did. 

This year is a biggy for this girlie in terms of age as people seem to make quite a fuss when you turn a number with a zero on it. I can tell you I am expecting my husband and family to do the same again this year  (as I stare lovingly at the Longines watch my parents bought me the last time this 0 year rolled around 😉

The last decade for me has been the absolutely most action packed yet – so I thought it was worth a bit of a review. Also in order to put it in perspective better view those other few decades I have lived through as well (this is just pre-planning for my yet to be born descendants for the speech at my 90th birthday as when I did this for my grandmother a couple of years ago I had to go deep for the info – they didn’t have blogs when she was a girl).

1970 – 1979 – pretty much home time for me, although parents did scare everyone and sell all items except house and truck us off traveling the world for 18 months at some stage there. We bought a campervan at Australia Square in London and headed off to ‘the Continent’ for some adventures.  It is mostly the no school part I remember (although I am told there was six months of school in the UK at some time its very vague). Just remember the two tapes we had in the van – Leo Sayer and Rod Stewart, the words from every song on those tapes are burned into my brain forever and still now if I hear one on the radio (what stations still play them??? Or in some random location I start singing along involuntarily).  There were things I wish I remembered better, like picking up hitchhikers, getting kicked out of Germany for working without visas (not me of course) and perhaps all of the really cultural stuff, but that’s what photos and your parent’s stories are for aren’t they?

1980 – 1989 – boarding school kicked in here 82- 87– so I headed off there after my stint in the local primary school finished. At primary school I tried out for every musical production every put on and never got a role – must be my stunning singing voice. However when I was in grade 6 the principal insisted I be in the choir as School Captain – of course I thought this was outrageous as they never let me sing any other time and led a walk out of the choir by all school prefects. I think the rebellion lasted a day or so and we were all back in and I was told just to mouth the words.  Mmmm can see why I didn’t go into politics.

Did quite enjoy the boarding school part, not sure my children would but it was just the trick for me not to go through the ‘I hate my parents’ phase as I didn’t have to see them that often so it worked out fine for everyone at the time.  After school went straight to Uni as I was so keen for learning to continue – I guess….  This was the decade that I met my husband – at a Uni O week ball in February 1989 – see next decade for wedding date, we weren’t in a rush.

1990 – 1999 – Well this decade was where there was a bit of growing up going on, getting jobs, managing own finances for the first time etc etc going on.  Was at Uni for the first few years, my mother told people I was doing a four year degree (true) with six months for social skills. I always blamed my boyfriend for any subject failures as he broke up with me every exam period so he could concentrate on his study so felt pretty confident the extra six months wasn’t my fault.

After Uni did the year overseas thing – based in Germany working on a farm in the middle of nowhere (don’t ask) and did some travel around and seeing all the cultural stuff I had forgotten about from when I was six (very helpful to reinforce).

Went back to Australia – got my first job – and in proving what a loyal employee I am worked there for the next seven years until just before the end of the decade when I left to go somewhere else.

Then in a bid to get out of the bad books for flying away to Adelaide (his hometown) for my birthday weekend in 1998 my on again – off again – on again boyfriend of almost ten years proposed to me, so all was forgiven momentarily although goodness knows what he got up to on that weekend.  So the last year of the decade opened with the long awaited marriage – and that’s pretty much what all the wedding speeches were about – ten years and so on.  Having said that though I loved my wedding day and all the preparation and planning (mostly done by my long suffering mother who would phone me for a list of decisions – a,b,c or d and then go and sort it all out – brilliant!) I cannot even imagine what I would do differently 11 years on – I loved it that much, except I would not have waited to make an entrance, highly overrated in my opinion. I would have been waiting on the ground myself so the guests didn’t finish ALL the Pimms before the wedding ceremony even took place without me getting a sip at all. Come to think of it maybe that’s why everyone looked so happy for us.

I also attended many weddings of lovely friends and family, the vast majority of which are still intact today with various kids and moves. My own extended family started reproducing a next generation I became a godmother when my pesky little cousin (from prior decade – was by now almost a sister to me 😉 became a mother when her little girl Sarah was born.

2000 – 2009

Well this one was an absolute ripper of a decade for action packed events.

Where to start?

In April 2000 we bought our first house in Naremburn, Sydney – for an amount of money that seemed outrageous at the time and now seems like a bargain basement special.

In September 2000 it was the Olympics and like a lot of other Sydneysiders we put in for our tickets in the giant Olympic lottery and got none!  Luckily we had relatives in Canada who could buy some for us, so we got to see Cathy Freeman win her gold medal after all, a definite decade highlight.

My Canadian cousin and his girlfriend (now wife – that happened later in the decade) lived with us for a year in our new house along with our first puppy Rupert the Golden (because he sure wasn’t a retriever).

Also sometime this year my father who had been coaching rugby in Canada came back to Aus and announced that he would be leaving my mother and their 35 year plus relationship – which came as a shock to everyone except him I believe. I still haven’t had the therapy but I may have mentioned that I was married in the previous decade – relying totally on the fact that my parent’s marriage was all good and even though I was 30 during this announcement – it didn’t make me very happy.

Moving on – sometime in June 2002 I had too much to drink one night and about six weeks later discovered I was in fact pregnant, a happy accident it turns out as I was never going to do it knowingly, the whole thing seemed way too scary.  However this wasn’t the biggest news in the old extended family that week as another of my cousins had arrived home with an actual baby.  His girlfriend had fallen pregnant and they had decided that they would not keep the baby but give it up for adoption (no one knew she was pregnant – what an observant lot we are) but when the time came changed their minds and kept their gorgeous girl and came clean about the whole thing – very brave for the youngsters, who also married later in the decade and had another little boy.

More weddings and lovely events and I got to be a bridesmaid for the first and no doubt last time (as I am getting on a bit these days for the bridie department) for my friend Trudi  – whose anniversary I shall always remember as a good bridesmaid should (unfortunately mainly because it shares the date with a newsworthy world event that wasn’t so celebratory) while my husband got his suit out for quite a few groomsman occasions.

Three months before I was going to give birth my father called to tell me he was going to marry his Canadian girlfriend when I would be 32 weeks pregnant and the only child of the new couple on hand to celebrate the event with my brother and Judith’s son both overseas at the time. Upon reflection I think the wedding had been planned for some time but he hadn’t had the therapy yet either (and he never will) so I was the last to find out. Somewhat of a shock for me at the time – I went along to the wedding, which was quite the affair for a seven month pregnant hormonal chick to attend. However I felt about the occasion at the time Judith and her son Paul are very welcome additions to our extended family.

Our baby boy was born in February 2003 and changed our lives in the wonderful way that babies do, especially first babies when you think its all so hard but in fact you look back on it and the thought of one newborn (OK a 3 – 6 monther) at home with two parents looks like such a piece of cake when you add on everything else that happens after that like – toddler-dom and more babies.

Later that year my husband started commuting to Hong Kong and then in November we all moved there.

One of the first couples that we became friends with in Hong Kong and my husband’s closest friend at work and their 8 month old baby were on the beach at Khao Lak in Thailand during the December 2004 Tsunami and unfortunately did not come home, that was a pretty tough time as it was for hundreds and thousands of people who lost loved ones in that catastrophic event.

January 2005 I started a job that I really had absolutely no idea about at the time – obviously I was an accomplished professional four years later when I left it, but it ranks amongst the highlights of the decade in terms of career.  I got to do lots of travelling across Asia and went to so many amazing places and met so many interesting people and ended up with some great friends because of it.

May 2006 my wonderful mother was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer and given not much of a chance as it had already spread to her lymph nodes and liver – but as with everything it did not deter her and she sought all treatment options including Chinese medicine, mainstream medicine and amazing support from her friends and our extended family.  She continued to keep up her international travel schedule, as she was president of an international organisation the year she was diagnosed, even though she stepped back somewhat from her duties. At the time my father said to me – I just don’t believe it, I think she will have a miracle cure (I called that reaction ‘guilt’ – he will now call it his amazing knowledge and foresight, did I mention I hadn’t been to therapy yet?).

September 2006 the little princess entered the world – and at the time her father said he was going to buy a shotgun and a rocking chair and get ready for when the boys came a callin’. Now we know her better he seems to think the whole thing was a waste of money and if the boys are game to come he’s going to just shake their hand and wish them luck.

During 03 – 09 we lived the crazy expat life you can when in Hong Kong and travelled to so many fabulous destinations in Asia and also used the opportunity to visit Canada on a couple of occasions – once for the wedding of that couple that lived with us in Australia earlier in the decade and once for a family ski holiday. I learnt about being a ‘tai tai’ and also sampled many fabulous activities associated with this, such as shopping weekends in other countries, ladies lunches & endless foot massages to name a few. 

We also started ‘group’ family holidays with a number of Aussie families in HK and went to two different Thai destinations – we missed the third in 2009 due to the move but vow to be back next decade!

In December 2008 we lost my wonderful Father-in-law after some years of declining health. My children lost their Poppy and my husband his father; it was very difficult especially for my husband as it happened just before we were heading home for Christmas. He had been to Aus earlier in the year when his Dad was hospitalized on a trip to Townsville to spend time with him and say goodbye but his Dad had rallied and made it home to Adelaide and had some extra months with his family there. It is the absolute hardest thing about living so far away – and that will never change.

In March 2009 we visited Durban to assess it for a move – by April my husband was here working and by mid-July we had packed up our HK life and joined him on our new adventure.

In May 2009 my mother visited the Oncologist who proclaimed – I think you’ve got this thing beaten and she was so excited she left without paying the bill – they had to chase her to the car park.  A year earlier another friend, my own age – then living in Vietnam was diagnosed with the same as Mum and to this point she hasn’t been as lucky with getting on top of it.  I wish for her that the coming year and indeed decade brings much better things on that front.

Over the course of the last decade my children have welcomed four first cousins and countless more of the once removed type – they love to see them all and talk to them on Skype (sometimes).

The decade closed at a much slower pace here in Durbs – but again you never know what’s around the corner. Two days before the end of the year I awoke to a text from my brother that my father had a mild heart attack and was in hospital for tests and so on. Now we are in a new place that takes a bit longer to get to Aus you worry about having to make a dash home – but so far so good – fingers crossed, he had an operation which resulted in a stent being put into one of his arteries and he said it hurt but is obviously preferable to the alternative and seems on the road to recovery. He thinks he can play golf in one month instead of the three recommended and still seems the same climate change skeptic that he ever was. I’m pretty sure he’ll be here at the end of the next decade pulling in his own share of highlight commentary.

2010 – 2019

What will happen next?

After the last decade it is almost impossible to imagine what will happen this decade and where we will be at the end of it.

So far the highlight has been having our water cut off for non-payment but I think it will get a bit more exciting than that – in a good way.

What do you think will happen to you in the next decade and what were the highlights and shocks for you of the last decade?

You’re moving where?

One of the first things you learn when you move to South Africa is that everyone that lives here has at least one relative, often more, who live in Australia and / or New Zealand (note I don’t consider these countries to be interchangeable and might I note neither do my Kiwi friends). Thank goodness for rugby because that really helps everyone here with their geography and country separation. As an example, South Africans know that the All Blacks and the Wallabies are two separate rugby teams from two different countries – always a help. I know this because part of the above conversation about relatives living abroad is – you know South Africans were bought up to barrack for the Springboks and any team that plays the Wallabies? Strange!? I had a similar upbringing – if you swap those two teams around that is.

After you’ve got the conversation about the relatives and the rugby out of the way (they don’t like talking about the cricket so much at the moment) the next item of conversation is addressing the issue of why you are actually here – Aussies don’t come here, we go there- is the general message – got it, I really do. I cannot help that I lost my job in Hong Kong and the shipping company that my husband works for decided now is a good time to move here, the company is not Australian, we are. Believe me – I know that we are a very long way from home and a lot of other places – so far to my knowledge we are also the only Aussies in Durban. Come out come out wherever you are other Aussies and share your Vegemite supply!

When you are from Australia you are used to living a very long way from anywhere else (except New Zealand) and its OK – it’s been a whole of your life deal. When we moved to Hong Kong a whole new world opened up to us – from the point of view that we were now halfway to most other places – YAY – and very close to lots of fabulous Asian destinations. The other thing about Hong Kong was that it was more or less in the same time zone as Australia, a flight home for a weekend was at a pinch doable (less desirable with children but still doable) – a long weekend was easy and a week a breeze. Further upside was you didn’t have to ‘waste’ any days traveling as all your flights could take place overnight – leave HK at 9pm or Midnight and arrive in Sydney the next morning ready for the day ahead more or less. The same applied in reverse although the 5.30am landing in HK was sometimes a bit tricky if you had to go onto work for the whole day. Friday night to Sydney and Sunday night back can be worked in – 10 hours, you usually get 2-3 of sleep and if you are a parent that’s generally enough anyway – had worse nights right? Not so the flight from Durban to Sydney if that’s where we are calling home – my husband’s family is from Adelaide, which has more connections required, so we’ll just stay with the simple version for now. For starters if you are thinking of leaving for a weekend in Aus on a Friday night – forget it, it’s already Saturday there! Before you even leave the country you have to remember that there’s no Cathay anymore either – the most direct route is either Qantas or SA Airlines, last time I flew on a flight to Sydney on Qantas there wasn’t even seatback TV’s. To get to Sydney from Durban International airport – you will first need to cross the tarmac to get on the plane (sorry couldn’t resist people of Durban – new airport coming soon but for now still walking on the tarmac). As the only international flight from Durban International airport until very recently was to Mauritius (Dubai is a recent addition) you will need to first go to Johannesburg on an internal flight (read –not checking your luggage through) and then get on the once a day flight departing at 5.50pm and arriving in Sydney 12 hours later 2.45pm – so if you leave here on Friday afternoon you will get there on Sunday afternoon and a pleasant 9 hour time difference (during daylight saving in Aus). Although I did find a Finnair trip that would take you Johannesburg – London, London – Helsinki, Helsinki – Hong Kong, Hong Kong – Sydney, leave on Friday arrive Monday! Either way trips now need to be planned a little more carefully with jetlag for kids also taken into account.

None of my family ever made too much fuss about Hong Kong and us living there, taking (at the time) the only grandchild on one side and only grandson on the other to live a 9 hour flight away didn’t raise too many eyebrows. In fact there was a fairly steady procession of family members that visited, my mother, my father and stepmother, my husband’s sister and husband, my brother, my cousin and her children, my aunt and uncle, my husband’s aunt and uncle, my grandmother (paternal), my grandfather (maternal) another aunt, more cousins, you get the picture LOTS of relatives – the stream was pretty much constant. Yep Nik – we’re coming to visit, see you on xxxx.
So when we tabled the prospect of South Africa to the family we expected the same kind of thing – fine no more Disneyland but hey we got elephants now and a small soccer tournament known as the World Cup coming soon – when are you coming?

Not so much excitement, I have to say. Not just my family but really anyone you spoke to, it kind of went like this

I hear you’re moving

Yes, yes we are, it’s a big change but exciting, we’re moving to South Africa

Oh (not a good uplifting Oh – more a Oh No type Oh) – not Jo’burg?

No not Jo’burg

That’s good then, well – I have heard that Capetown is really beautiful my sister / cousin / god relation / friend has been there, apparently very beautiful and very safe
No we’re not moving to Capetown either – we’re going to Durban

Durban? Where’s that?

Well if you think about the U shape of South Africa and you know where Capetown is on this side – Durban is just sort of here (readers use your power of visualisation as to where I am pointing with my finger now)

Oh is it safe?

Actually we’re very excited (I wasn’t really that excited at the time but I was always a bit offended that these people were horrified with where we were moving to) and we think the kids will love the outdoor lifestyle, having a backyard, doing nippers etc

But can’t you just go / come back and live in Australia if you want that?

They don’t have lions and elephants in Australia – we’re hoping to see a lot of game parks as well as travel and see what’s going on, Africa is the next Asia etc – we hope you’ll come and visit us, we are going to get a house with enough space for visitors

Oh yes – we’ve always wanted to go to South Africa (generally in non committal tones, except one close family member who I think said – well I might come but I’m not bringing my kid with me and I think you’re crazy for taking your kids there as well)

End of conversation

That’s kind of the long version – with South Africans it was usually much shorter

I hear you’re moving

Yep – to your country

Whereabouts?

Durban

Really?

Yes (or as I would now say Ya)

Good luck!

End of conversation with South African

Not entirely fair – there were further conversations and referrals and things to do and not to do. One friend put me in touch with a friend who had lived in HK and was now back in Jo’burg so she would understand what I was moving from and to – I emailed her and asked for some tips.

An excerpt from her email is below

I think the best thing for you and your family would be to live in a gated estate as that provides you with peace of mind and that added security. I live in Johannesburg which is far more security conscious than Durban and in essence more dangerous and you learn to just be watchful – a few examples:

1. You never drive into your driveway and wait for the gate to open – you parallel park so that no one can you block you in and open the gate then drive
2. You never let anyone in unless you have organised a prior appointment
3. You ask for ID if you are unsure
4. You don’t drive with your bag on the front seat with the windows opened.
5. You make sure the house you rent has got a good alarm system and good security – usually sensors in the rooms, beams in the garden and an electric fence does the trick
(at this point I can imagine my 2 year old daughter trying to scale said electric fence – now she is 3 she is so much more sensible though…..)

These are just the basics but if followed you can prevent things from happening.

I’m sure I’ve already said we didn’t even lock the door of our apartment in Hong Kong!

While the above is sound practical advice and day to day life in Jo’burg for this person – you would find if you discussed it with people they did not grow more enthusiastic about your move or about their visit. 

I should add at this point (after three months here) we do live in a gated community (I will write separately on this choice) and we do feel very safe and haven’t come across any real security issues so its all good!

It doesn’t change the fact that South Africa is a very long way away – my 91 year old paternal grandmother our family’s firm matriarch said to me – Nik, don’t worry about it if I die, you don’t need to come home (I had flown for the weekend with the kids to surprise her on her 90th birthday from HK) – its just too far.

But things are looking up – on the visitor side we have my mother and brother planning trips for February and HK friends planning for July and my dad has committed to ‘sometime in the next six months’. So maybe its not that far and the fact we are all still here unscathed has encouraged people.

What to miss, What not to miss – Hong Kong

During the Festival of Farewells I did a fair bit of thinking about once I left Hong Kong what I would miss and what I would definitely not miss.  As you can imagine the lists for each are fairly long – I hoped at least equally so, I always wanted the ‘What not to miss’ one to be longer but when you are reminiscing, especially with champagne, I think you tend to reflect on the better things so the ‘What to miss’ list may take the honours for length.

As I was mid-Festival, I couldn’t rely on my own memory skills to recall all that I loved and loathed about Hong Kong so I got my buddies in on the act.  A lot of the following is taken directly from emails that I solicited from them and that had me in stitches for some time. A lot of the feedback covered the same ground as others and my own list but there were some individual ones as well, which were so hilarious that I have reproduced exactly as written to me. Some are of course very serious, others more light-hearted and reflect the expat experience of living in Hong Kong between 2003 and 2009 for me.

Thank you for taking the time to send, text or talk me through them my fabulous friends – Ali H, Ali L, Amanda H, Amanda C-M, Andrea (now in Seoul), Bek, Emily (now in Shanghai), Gen, Georgia, Helen, Katy, Keri, Kerry, Kylie, Lynette, Margaret, Olivia, Paula (now in Singapore), Phoebe, Raffa, Rachel, Sarah D, Sarah F, Stefanie, Vanessa J (now in Sydney) and Vanessa L. In the words of Jeff Fenech and possibly many other Aussies after a few bevvies – I love youse all.

You all asked to see the finished product – well here it is, only a few months and another continent away from when you first asked.

Things to Miss

Goes without saying my friends are at the top of list to miss – but there is also heaps of other stuff!

The buzz – Hong Kong is a vibrant exciting city to live in, there is always something happening

Staying in HK over Xmas and Chinese New Year – most people pack up and leave, it is a wonderful quiet restful time, no traffic, low pollution (all the factories in China shut down) and generally good weather

The fact that a weekend away – with girlfriends or partners is available and accessible fairly readily and usually involves an aeroplane. Miss miss miss Bangkok shopping trips with the girls

Never locking my front door or anything much and the overall feeling that no one wants to mess with the Chinese so the whole city feels safe from that perspective.

Public holidays – Hong Kong seems to have one or two just about every month

Fireworks – for any and every occasion

Finally learning to like Chinese food after about 5 years of not liking it (I still am very specific but slightly more open)

The Hong Kong trail and the Greenpower hike – I will return for my third and final year in February 2010! Also just generally out and about hiking over the island and the ‘dark side’ on a Saturday morning with my girlfriends and occasionally my husband.

Yacht Club Ball – everyone must do it once, if not every year! True patrons make it to the 7am hall of fame photo. (that’s you Ali H)

Festivals and in particular the sense of family that the locals have when they really celebrate these festivals, pick any one you want and there are always family visits and meals involved – the same way an Aussie may roll their eyes and say – ahhh I have to spend Christmas with my family – you never see a HK local complain the same way about Chinese New Year 

Hong Kong 7’s – Friday and Sunday with the family and Saturday adults only (which may or may not include the South stand)

Taxis – they are always there when you need one (unless its raining or after the HK 7’s), the magic door that opens on approach when your arms are full of bags or you are typing something very important on your blackberry and the entertainment value of not knowing which phone on the dashboard the driver will answer next (see also what not to miss)

Typhoons – day off work if they come through at the right time (see also not to miss list) and Typhoon parties

LKF – Lan Kwai Fong a fabulous area of bars in central Hong Kong

Sub section here for

  • Al’s Diner – great music and jelly shots
  • Ebeneezers – the only food to get either in LKF or Wanchai (see under what not to miss) after about 1am, perfect for the taxi ride home
  • Rat Alley – where you can go instead of SOHO to sample fare from any Asian country you can think of (name is not encouraging – food is OK if several beverages are consumed in advance)

SOHO – South of Hollywood road, the restaurant district (walking distance) that you may or may not make it to after drinks in LKF

Pokfulam market – a perfect Sunday jaunt with the family

Stanley markets – not for the souvenirs (although I do have some lovely Terracotta warriors from there) but for the kids clothes – all overseas friends and relatives always appreciate some of these items, makes for cute well dressed kids all round.  (see also what not to miss)

China Tee Club – a tai tai lunching venue of note

Ladies lunches in general – either of the tai tai kind or the working girl kind, I was lucky enough to have experience of both

M at the Fringe – one of my very very favourite Hong Kong restaurants, however mostly miss the fact that anytime you can choose any food you like and find a restaurant that can accommodate your fancy – the list is too long!

Bistro Manchu – serves the best Hong Kong ‘western’ Chinese food around and is an absolute winner at any time. Note – this is not sweet and sour pork and beef in black bean that you find in Australian Chinese restaurants – it’s the real thing – sort of.

Hutong , Yun Fu and Shui Hu Ju – much more upmarket versions of Bistro Manchu and well worth the visit

Wagyu – for people watching on Wyndham street

The Stoep – by junk or ferry on the weekend a restaurant on the beach on Lantau island. Email from Kezza says Go around 11.00 for lunch at 12 noon and spend the afternoon. Make sure you get a table on the beach!

 (yes I do miss it but it serves South African food – I can get all the bobotie, boerewors and malva pudding I want right here in Durbs!)

The Club – whichever one it may be (Aberdeen Marina, Hong Kong Cricket, Ladies Recreation, Hong Kong Football, Kowloon Cricket) the Club keeps you sane in summer and winter, a place you can go on the weekend and your kids are guaranteed to find several of their friends and play together away from their hungover parents – most of the time.  Swimming pools, bowling alleys, indoor and outdoor playrooms and pools, meals on hand – its all good.  Also the sport you play that is associated with your club – I miss my HKFC hockey team very very much – go the Fabulous ‘F’oxes team!

Lamma – by junk with a meal in one of the famous seafood restaurants and a walk across the Island

Junks – fun junks, family junks, weekday junks, weekend junks, dragonboat junks, party junks – any kind of junk really.

Hong Kong airport – yes it is possible to miss an airport when it is the most efficient one in the world! 80 mins from when you land to when you get home. The thumbprint that lets you in and out of the country no silly passports required when you have an id card & the airport express train that gets you to town (although do love a car to take you straight to Pokfulam – a luxury when traveling with kids who don’t like waiting for taxis once off the train in Central).

Airport Express – can check in for your flight 90 mins before departure – IN TOWN before you go to the airport and all your bags as well.  Unbeatable!

Foot & Happy Foot and other reflexology venues – a relaxing evening not complete without a bit of foot reflexology, or perhaps go before a night out or after a tough afternoon of running around town on your way home – by yourself or with friends, one of the most flexible forms of entertainment and relaxation around.

Shenzhen – or Lo Wu shopping centre to be more exact, Mike the tailor, Betty and the gang – I don’t know what will become of me without my access to the latest Jimmy Choo bag

The top of the 1000 steps – because being at the bottom is not much fun. It’s a great feeling (although not the end of the hike) and amazing that the trail exists in the middle of Hong Kong island

Dragon’s Back – on a beautiful day on the top looking over Shek O, there is no better place to be, especially if you are hiking down for lunch at the Thai restaurant

China Shop in Kowloon bay – a visit to the dark side and retail therapy all in one!

Wines and pizzas in the playground at Scenic Villas (where we lived – very scenic) on a Sunday afternoon (or any day really) and parties for every occasion in the playground – Halloween, Easter, Christmas, Lantern festival etc etc etc

Bookclub & American Idol party nights 

Vegemite – because they do have it in HK and not in SA (please note all guests bring with you)

The view from One Peking place at night – AMAZING!

The above list is of course not complete without listing the people that make the above lifestyle possible at all times – the wonderful helpers.  We all miss Gina so much; she was with us for five and a half years and even came for a few months with us to SA.  Gina became a part of our family and we did a farewell trip to Aus so she could say goodbye to all our extended family as well, who were just as upset as we were that she wasn’t coming with us (well maybe not quite as much but they were still upset). Gina taught me how to clean the house and keep it tidy (if only I could remember how), she taught my kids their abc’s and numbers as she felt their learning reflected on her and wanted them to be smarter than all their peers (obviously) and if I remember nothing else it will be how to make a Gina spring roll – the best!

My dear friend Gen once said to me – my helper (hers is appropriately named Love) is like my wife – and I would have to agree. What working woman or busy mother doesn’t need a wife (or two or three as the case may sometimes be in HK) to make sure that all the washing, ironing, shopping, odd job management, cooking, cleaning and child wrangling is successfully done on a daily basis? How can you do it without a wife’s wife? I wouldn’t know really anymore as I am soft and weak, I still have someone who helps with the cleaning and washing and ironing here in South Africa but have taken on the shopping and cooking again now – slowly does it for me, but I am winning back the trust of my family in the kitchen, it is a rare night now when we get the commentary – but this isn’t how Gina did it.

You have to live it to understand it but I can tell you – I miss it!

Things not to Miss

Pollution – the buzz is it generally comes from ‘over the border’ but pretty sure Hong Kong makes its fair share, some days you can’t see across the harbour or across the road without a haze you need to squint through

Rules – there is a rule for everything and the subsections of those things generally, many involving not walking on the grass in most of the public parks

Cannot! – Enough said, if you have lived in HK you will understand

Fireworks for any and every occasion

Mooncakes – need I say more?

Eight months a year of 90% plus humidity

Not having a backyard

Not having much or any personal space

The door shimmy – where people slide sideways through the door with arms by their sides so they don’t have to hold it open for the person behind them leaving you to smack right into them (I am still at a loss why there are not more automatic sliding doors)

Having to carry your stroller up and down steps anytime you take it out the front door – into town, into an MTR station, just outside really

Grave sweeping festival – not that I object to it (its another lovely family occasion), but when you live beside the largest cemetery on the island you tend to get ‘locked in’ for the duration the traffic – human and motor is too overwhelming to go out for a couple of days

Queues – it seems that people in Hong Kong love to queue for anything and everything and will wait patiently in any of these queues for quite an amount of time

Sometimes convoluted customer service from large organisations – direct email excerpt as follows (thanks to Amanda C-M)

Welcome to xxxxx, press two for english … press 6 to hear another list of buttons none of which will help … press 437 to speak to someone who won’t understand a thing you are talking about … press 512 and remain calm until the person you are speaking stops talking nonsense and goes to find someone who really speaks english … oops I’m sorry there is no one to take your call at the moment, please try later…

Typhoons – day off school if they come through at the right time – and can be scary sometimes

Walking in a zigzag motion – skill acquired by local people that blocks everyone’s way when they are in a hurry to get past – also can be done while talking on one of several personal mobile phones

Lift etiquette – persons entering the lift before persons are able to exit the lift and as soon as they enter pressing the close door button – you can always tell which one that is on a HK lift as it will be the one that has faded away!

Chinese men in high pants (which also equates to high swimsuits at the beach) with not so nice teeth

Having to go to a minimum of 3 usually more supermarkets when hosting a dinner party to ensure you can get all the ingredients you require

Wanchai – after any event really, a slightly more seedy part of the island with many unpleasant bars that seem fun at the time but open you up to a mountain of regret the next day – bright spot here being Ebeneezers on your way home.

Local Chinese restaurants – like where the locals go and eat things that I am just not prepared to swallow

Stanley markets – when you whip in for something quickly just as busloads of tourists alight – not good!

Taxis – the smell of many of the taxis, the accompanying personal hygiene habits of the taxi drivers and the stop start stop start stop start stop start method of driving learnt who knows where? The thing most NOT to miss is closing the door and finding a bunch of tissues squished in the door handle you just put your hand in to close. 

Some snorting and spitting that may occur in public places – western sensitivity I know but was never able to get used to it.

Peak hour traffic

Cockroaches jumping out at you from the cupboards or just wandering around your kitchen anyway – cheeky buggers

Smells that waft around the streets – particularly in summer and always when in wet markets

Smell of mothballs and / or mould on your clothing 

An art gallery on the harbour with no windows

Having to empty dehumidifiers (who am I kidding I rarely did that but it’s the principle that they have to be emptied)

Bad television options even with the full pay tv package (but have to tell you South Africa is actually worse – visitors please also note bring dvds)

Probably hundreds if not thousands of photos of my very blond son taken by mainland Chinese visitors to Hong Kong park and the Big Buddha bedecking walls in Chinese homes

The smell of Durian in the supermarkets – ugggh

Peak hour traffic on the island – especially that bit on Queens road just before Pedder street (and that’s any time of day)

After six years only being able to give basic directions in a taxi in Cantonese – hopeless at a language with nine words for the same thing, especially when I am tone deaf (mind you my Zulu is not off to a great start)

There will of course be glaring omissions, in fact I already see some but am a tad tired after putting the above together – so please feel free to add commentary to remind us all of what they are.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder indeed – I miss these things more with time, particularly all my wonderful friends, Gina and even remembering the high panted men can bring a smile to my face. In a few years time when I make a similar list about South Africa I am sure it will be just as long and bring just as many happy memories.