Establishing routines as domesticity returns
I’ve said it before, and quite frankly I am destined to keep on saying it – Every week is #oneweekon and a lot can, and will change. This past week has been no different with yet more observations, reflections, connections.
The boys eagerly awaited Daddy at Penang International Airport, a small sign bearing his name clutched in their excited hands as they so often have looked out for themselves when we arrive somewhere new. Despite another adult body in such a small room, we coped remarkably well and spent our remaining few nights in the Glow Hotel sharing all our new favourite spots from the previous 3 weeks.
J’s arrival has been busy transitioning us across to an apartment for the next few months in an area of Penang, Batu Ferringhi. This has been the gift of some very very dear friends who have honoured my little family with this chance to re-establish ourselves, to seek that fork in the road.
This area of Batu Ferringhi is to the North of the island and is a popular tourist destination with a seafront lined with large hotels. Where there is Daddy, there is Cocktails. We live but a few kms away and already have been spotted partaking in happy hour at one of the many hotel bars. If you hadn’t guessed, coffee and cocktails rule our world. Obsessed with cocktail lists we often ask to keep the menu for a while to peruse the heavenly script.
I love to position my Mac and work in a good coffee shop. I have been locating a few, but the rhythm and tempo of the day is quite different to cultures I have lived in before. Very few shops open before 10am, and most 11am – including coffee shops. Seriously? Many cafes are open by 6am in New Zealand (but closed by 3pm). This is obviously an issue when a) requiring a caffeine fix, and b) refusing to enter a 24-hour Starbucks.
For me this tempo makes the day feel so very short, and with the boys finishing at 215, this leaves little time for “getting things done”. There is an upside of course. Everything, but everything is open well into the evening and of course there is always somewhere to eat.
Big O turns 9
Too early in our time here to throw a party, but where there is a Legge, undoubtedly a party of some shame or form will materialise. So we made the best of it anyhow, token presents, cream cakes, and a fabulous Italian Restaurant with a choir of Happy Birthday and cake sparkles.
Now you may wonder at the surprise cuddly guests, but seriously, this was a highlight for the Birthday Boy. Before we left the UK, the boys each selected a new “travelling companion” for our Journey. Bashful Bunny for Zac, and Spotty Dog for Oscar. Through our time in Cambodia, the boys had to rely on their vivid imagination for entertainment.
Increasingly Bashful and Spotty had become central to their worlds and at the same time Oscar has become increasingly attached to Zac’s Bashful, often found snatching it in the middle of the night, or squirrelling it away under his own pillow. Mimi was dispatched to by another of each, hence the smiles!
We have settled well into apartment life over the course of the week. The flat has everything we need and more, down to the toilet roll and washing powder. We are in Tower A of a large complex of around 750 apartments. There is a large pool with a water slide that has given much pleasure to the boys after school, and a beach at the end of the road!
Even with the few belongings we have, move day is always stressful. We had forgotten 3 additional suitcases we had shipped from New Zealand but a pleasant surprise to unpack old clothes, toys and Kiwi treats. Although it is a small space, there are 3 separate bedrooms. That’s right, SEPARATE bedrooms! The boys are absolutely thrilled and loving respite from both brother and parents.
A life of domesticity has returned. Cooking, cleaning, sorting and the school run. We are much further from the school than the hotel, so we must relearn the optimum time of departure and route. The boys are in school before 8am, and finish by 2.15 (it’s too early!), with half day Wednesday (help!). The routine is good for the boys, and there is time for homework and several trips down the slide in the few hours before bedtime. Slowly they are seeking out friends, but really they are lucky as they always have each other.
Meanwhile I have been getting my bearings and seeking out where to get our daily essentials. The food is something else out on the street, but in the supermarkets it is more of a challenge. It is my mission to seek out good wholesome foods as there are many added ingredients to packaged food to an extent that we just don’t see in New Zealand or the UK. Sugar, salt and MSG are more often than not part of an extensive ingredients list, and even milk can contain added sugar.
Despite a few other apartments to the side, above and below, the apartment is surprisingly tranquil. We still can’t believe we don’t have a Khmer Karaoke Bar right outside our window. Our first weekend in the apartment and we all slept in before our magical first cooked breakfast.
We have tried to spend this first weekend in recovery, to settle in the apartment and build strength for the week ahead. Both boys had parties to go to, and in-between we headed out back to the heritage streets of Georgetown.
Coffee and cake is a must at China House, with drawing paper and crayons to keep adults and kids amused.
Are we doing great?
The boys are doing great, but I am struggling. 4 weeks in and the initial excitement and focus on settling the boys has given way to a feeling of wondering what it is all about and what this stage of the journey is supposed to be.
I feel muddled and uncertain, as does J, and we were unprepared for this feeling overwhelming feeling of being lost. We are at a crossroads, a juncture in our journey, and I don’t know which fork in the road is ours.
For everything I love about the school, it is also a world owned by a large number of expats and well-heeled locals. There is an affluence about that has been missing from our lives over this past year. We had learnt to be careful, and to exist on so very little. There were no airs and graces of life in Cambodia. You are celebrated for making something out of nothing.
We were given this incredible opportunity to be here in Penang, and with that security, we made an important choice to send the boys to school here. They needed it, they wanted it, they begged me for it! and yes, there is totally a sense of achievement in witnessing their high spirits and cheeriness. But, the reality is we have paid to send them to school, and we have paid at a time when there is only money going out, and a mere trickle coming in. This has introduced a wave of worry and anxiety that is different to anything we have felt over recent years (since the first redundancy). We have been brave in our journey up until now, confident there was always a little pot, and we could make do. To believe in serendipity.
We have purchased a period in time for our children, for which they are thriving, and yet I have no way of knowing how long I can promise it to them. As they make more friends, so does the fragility of our situation feel all the more pronounced as we note the differences between. Many families are here on a salary package which allows them to live in relative comfort and luxury, and most meaningful to me, time. Many of these mums have time. Time to just be.
J and I are frantically searching for the answer, which fork in the road is ours. We took that leap of faith. We left it all behind, and there is a personal richness now that I know will never be taken away. But sadly, the reality is to continue, to live each day, you need dosh.
So it is time to go back to work. The NGO world not enough now to support a family here in Malaysia. Our search for work is and will take time, focus and a bucketful of energy. It is hard with work permits in Malaysia, and although easier in Singapore, you have to contend with the costs of simply being there. I love to work, the intellectual stimulation, but this is not my time for the next corporate job. I have craved this time to be Mum, and this connection with the boys is so strong. Albeit low key, I have some projects, but even this has taken my time away from discovering this place, and succumbing to creativity.
I felt exhausted, but confident during those initial weeks. Through this whole journey I have felt a yearning for creativity, but now I’m struggling. J has returned to Cambodia, and as we delve into the reality of re-establishing ourselves in a semi-normal daily life, old stresses inevitably resurface.
Over and out.