10 May 2014
When I’ve heard the expression “She’s the kind of person for whom the glass is half full rather than half empty”, I’ve usually thought “What a banal thing to say”. Recently I read it in an account written by a widow coming to terms with her life alone after a long marriage and, this time, it resonated. I have half-empty and half-full days in my present life as an expatriate in Ipoh, Malaysia.
When I’m having a half-empty day, I think woe is me, I’ve left my children, my home, my country and my job. I miss my daughters. I spend my days largely on my own, in a house that doesn’t feel like home – it is filled with the landlord’s heavy, dark furniture that feels oppressive. I can’t see the sky from downstairs and, when I go upstairs to look out, I can’t tell if it’s overcast or if it’s haze hiding the blue. It is very, very hot! I miss New Zealand. I am tall and blonde in a Muslim country, where the women are Malay with shrouded hair, or tiny Chinese or colourful Indian. I don’t fit. I miss my friends. I talk to my husband, sometimes my neighbours, and shop assistants when I venture out to the supermarket or the post office. I often can’t get bread and milk, which I think of as staples, at the supermarket. I don’t venture out often because the roads are choked with traffic, much of it oblivious to lane markings or red lights. I don’t like the litter lying everywhere or the unpleasant smells. And I think, I want to go home.
On a half-full day, I’m lucky to be having an Asian adventure. I live in a large, cool house where I can turn on a ceiling fan and/or an air conditioner to combat the heat. The sun is shining and the river outside the house runs green. I hear the birds and watch the monkeys swinging through the trees across the river. I spend heaps of time with my husband of 30 years in a way that we didn’t when there were two jobs, travelling to and from said jobs, social commitments, properties to maintain. I send a What’sApp message to my uni student daughter in Auckland and she sends me a witty reply almost immediately. I Skype my other daughter and she smiles back at me from the screen. My neighbour comes over to invite me to lunch at the golf club. We go into the old town for coffee and happen on a photographic exhibition in a beautifully restored building. I can do this, even, I am even enjoying this!