Sometime before Beverly and I left for our house hunting trip, we met with Julie, a consultant for Nike that works with expats and repatriating people as a counselor and coach. Julie’s help was invaluable for this whole process, and to her vast credit, she’s sent several follow up emails after we moved, always checking in, always ready to lend support. In short, Julie’s amazing.1I think she’s also a reader, so hey Julie.
During this initial session with her, she laid out a sobering picture of the road ahead – a few weeks/months of a “honeymoon”, where everything is new and amazing, followed by a months-long period of homesickness and depression, as the shine has worn off and still nothing is familiar. Then, usually around a year after moving, you feel settled, and that is of course, right when we’d start looking at our repatriation process. In short, take all the frustrations and issues you’ve ever had with moving to a new town and multiply them – the factor’s unimportant – everything is just simply harder when you live in another country, another area of the world.
It is with some trepidation that I report that these doldrums have begun their slow descent. Oh, fear not, gentle reader – this isn’t a cry for help or an admission of weakness or “Hi Mom, send money” – but rather this is the onset of what Julie described most excellently in her simple diagram, up, and down, up and down, a roller coaster of emotional well-being. The shine starts to wear off. The novelty of eating hawker food has worn thin and I find myself criticizing the quality, the options, the lack of a good taco stand2Seriously, this is a no brainer, but I get the distinct impression that a white boy running a hawker stall would not be taken well…
The good news in all of this is that we have not only a template, but a chance to see the template being applied to another couple, a few months into their move ahead of us, with the same dynamic – she works, he doesn’t. They too are from the US, Ohio to be precise, and live in our condo complex. We’ve gone out with them a few times, John and I have hung out on our way to SOMA3Singapore Overbooked Men’s Association, or as one of the guys’ wife tells it, Sorta Out-of-work Men’s Assocciation. She is not incorrect. lunches. Recently, John just returned from a long trip to the US and we had a fascinating conversation about the differences, the things we miss, the good, and of course, the bad.
The new normal has taken shape, but it doesn’t quite feel like its name. Nothing is quite yet normal, or familiar, just shadows of dim memory. The first few months here are a haze for me – the abject loneliness of that first week blots out so much memory with its pain that in some ways I feel as if I dreamt most of April.
So does this sound terrible? Have I turned you off from the expat thing? Do you, friends and family, feel like your best option is to send word to the consulate and have them spring us from the clutches of miserable heat?
Fear not the bad. The bad moments are markers, they’re signposts on the road letting us know that we’re actually headed in the right direction.
It could be accurate to say that Bev and I are mostly positive people. We, like most, I imagine, don’t like dwelling on the negative. It could be accurate, but it’s not. We’re both people with healthy amounts of fear. Scary scenarios loom in our minds constantly, we just don’t give voice to them. Perhaps its fear of making the negative come manifest, or just a all-too-wise decision to ignore negativity and focus on being positive. This weekend, we entertained one of those scary scenarios, out loud and into the realm of actual instead of just in our heads. It was an interesting experience, as I mentioned, we rarely discuss the negative so openly.
But the discussion was a great exercise. I gave voice to something I’ve needed to say – that for all the incredible aspects of this city, the weather here is just too much. I can’t take it. I’ll hold out as long as I can, but if I don’t get seasons in the next two years, I might just go insane.
This is what the doldrums look like – constant comparison to home. I grew up in a place without real seasons when compared to Oregon, but constantly a memory rockets through my mind; remembering a November day when I was back in Petaluma during Thanksgiving break. I was perhaps 19, 20 years old, and I was headed over to a friend’s house to visit. It was one of those rare autumn mornings in California – brisk, just a shade above chilly, but with clear skies and no breeze. At that moment, enjoying the Californian fall, I decided right then and there that this, this here, the gentle bite of autumn cold, was my favorite part of the year.
When we moved to Portland, it was mid-autumn and instantly I fell in love with the fall chores of raking leaves and clearing gutters; the shortening of days and the descending chill that made for perfect football weather. Barbecuing and making chili or ribs, drinking dark beer, and enjoying a day of college football, these things hit something in me that I never knew I craved. The thought of missing that this year saddens me, and that too is part of the doldrums.
I suspect that it will be the onset of January or February that will pull me out completely. I’ll discover that the world will not end simply because I couldn’t watch football, and hopefully, a visit from the parental types will help as well as I get to play guide, and put what I’ve learned of Singapore to use, something I enjoy immensely.
But, until then – again, fear not. We’ll continue to go to trivia night and compete for the honor of doing America proud, we’ll find out that we can go for walks and sweat a little and the world won’t end, we’ll discover patterns that soon will feel familiar.