Friday, May 20, 2005

Of choices and sacrifices

Weekends are often spent with friends and acquaintances, often over food. Sometimes we Malaysians meet up just to hangout to compare notes. Some have been here awhile now, others are new, just off the boat we tease them.

One of the ladies was telling us that she was planning to return to Malaysia. She been here hardly six month but she decided that it was best for her to stay in Malaysia, allowing her daughter to go to school and let the husband stay on for another year before considering if he would return to Malaysia.

And its not just the Malaysians that faces this sort of dilemma. I would say this issue of long distance relationship is quite a common topic with us expats in general. Especially the expats in this particular country, because some women just cannot adapt themselves to the lifestyle and the culture here.

Others claim, its more economically viable for them to stay in the home country.

So I often ask myself, is it worthwhile all these sacrifices we make? Of course I do recognize that we all make our on decisions based on our own unique situations. But sometimes I just have to wonder, didn’t you guys discuss the logistics of things before coming over? Didn’t you do your research, finding out what the cost of living is like, what sort of social/culture differences you have to adapt to? And didn’t they do a bit of financial calculation, if there will be much money left to send home at the end of every month without compromising your lifestyle here?

Back to that lady friend of mine, although she said outwardly the decision to throw the towel here is a financial reason rather than an emotional one, I think its her heart that is ruling her head. Because I have to wonder, isn’t sustaining two households more expensive than just one? And the husband plans to fly back every six months to visit them. Their youngest child is hardly one, the father will be missing the important milestones in his children’s life. How much does that cost in dollars and cents?

When people come here, they are often attracted by the seemingly higher wages here. As one junior nurse tells me, she earns 7 times more here than she does in Malaysia. And some even goes on to break their bond, come here to work and is able to pay off the bond with 3 months salary.

But some people don’t realize that the cost of living here is much higher than Malaysia. For example a Burger King meal costs about RM6 but here it costs RM18! And therefore the wages are inline with the higher cost of living here.

I do feel for my friend. Because I know from my experience that a long distance relationship is a very difficult one. And even though I’d rather be living elsewhere, I would rather live with my husband.

But I think the other problem for her here is her depression. She found living here very depressing. Unlike some of us whose employers provide accommodation and transportation allowance, her husband did not get those perks. Non compound living does have its benefits, but is extremely difficult for someone new to the country. There is no place to walk around freely, no playground for children to play at and no instant network of friends. (Remember the all important shopping bus I blogged about before?) Without your own vehicle, getting around in taxis can be rather expensive and exasperating. So I totally understand why she finds the move very hard.

But I did mention to her that no matter where we live in the world, the first six months is always the hardest. It’s the time one takes to adapt to the culture, climate and to understand how things operate.

I really would like to cheer her up and make her feel better about living here. Because I do find that I am beginning to be comfortable where I am. But I do realize that I have been living away from my family for the last 10 years. And not everyone can live away from their families. Some people are very attached to their families that they cannot bear to be far away from their parents and siblings. Thus adding another difficulty in adjusting to life as an expat. If you’re accustomed to having babysitters on tap, or going over to mum’s for dinner on alternate days and having brother to come and fix some problems around the house, then suddenly being away from that family support can be very daunting and terrifying. And lonely too.

And I also noticed that some Malaysians prefer to hangout only with other Malaysians. Which is fine of course. I can see the many benefits of that, coming from the same culture, similar backgrounds, same taste for food etc. But it could be a problem if there aren’t many Malaysians around here in the first place. And how will you get to widen your social circle if you keep on hanging out with just the same people all the time? I also find it very self defeating when all we do when we get together is to reminisce about the good times back in Malaysia, and enjoying all things Malaysian. There is nothing wrong to reminisce except that we should always keep in mind that there was a reason why we chose to come here and that we should enjoy some of the culture and the little pleasures in life that are available here.

Anyways, reason I am writing this is just as a caution to those of you out there who are considering a job option abroad. Don’t just concentrate on how much higher the salary is and the idealistic notion of being an expat wife. Please do your research and make careful considerations first before making the big decision to move. Find out what sort of lifestyle and/or dietary changes you have to make when you move. Recognize that no matter how prepared you think you are, you will experience some form of culture shock and possibly depression for the first two months. Plan ahead what you think you will be doing with your time when you arrive at the new country. Will you be looking for a job to occupy you? If you have projects in mind, research and find out if materials for your project is available at the country you’re moving to. Otherwise bring them with you. And bring some things that you know will occupy you until you find that job or that class or whatever. Because things work and are done differently in different countries.

As Atizah once pointed out, “Hujan emas di negeri orang, hujan batu di negeri sendiri, lebih baik di negeri sendiri.”

Personally, I believe that no matter where in the world we live in, we win some and we will lose some. I’d have to learn to make the best of whatever situation that I am thrown in.

Good luck!


I do hope Z will cheer up and decide to stay on. But if she chooses to go back, I hope things will work out either way. Insyallah.


atenah said...

dono la but i think org melayu ni mmg lembik sikit kalau nak dibanding dgn bangsa lain. i hope ppl wont be mad with my opinion.

Sunflora said...

atenah ;) you have put your finger on the matter gurl. Read the above posting, no offence with Malays but I just sometimes find it weird that people think we all think the same way because we're malays.

Lollies said...

actually kan sunflora..I don mind ther countries. Tapi Saudi ni I gigil sikit.

In UK dulu, I don't stick to the malays only. Nanti kena conform.

This is a great post for me.