Expat life: the aftermath

The colour and chaos of the markets (photo taken in Kratie, Cambodia)

Moving back to Australia was never going to be easy or without its issues after almost half a decade living in southeast Asia. The weird thing is, it’s actually taken about 6 months of settling back into our ‘old’ life before I’ve had the headspace to reflect and remember (and over-analyse) our time in Asia.

The grass is always greener….

When we first moved home we barely had time to look backwards with all the setting up home and re-establishing life kind of stuff going on. We even joked that our time in Asia seemed like some kind of dream – did it really happen? But slowly, little reminders crept up on us and before too long life became a full-blown comparison fest of Saigon vs Sydney, Asia vs Australia. The winner has yet to be determined. It’s the age old grass is always greener dilemma where we look back and remember the best bits of expat life in Asia and pine for it all, while conveniently forgetting the random power cuts, the incessant noise, the neverending battles with dodgy tuk tuk and taxi drivers, the meltdowns, the frustrations.

The differences…

Life at home is smoother, simpler, easier, and much more private. You go about your daily business here without a staring brigade and a barrage of questions from the neighbours and random passers-by about where you’re going and how much you just paid for your bag of fruit. No-one cares. Strangers pass each other by here with barely a cursory glance. At first I liked it, now I kind of miss my inane conversations with my friend Yen about how much each and every item of clothing we were wearing that day cost us (I don’t think she could believe her luck when she learnt of my penchant for bargains. Despite the vast socio-economic difference between us we could actually be shopping buddies and buy matching 40,000 dong tops. Which we did.)

Another difference has been the customer service in Australia compared to most other places in Asia. Sometimes, back in Sydney, we’ve sat in a cafe for a while before realising we were supposed to order at the counter. Same at bars. Of course we should know better but we’ve become so used to table service the whole help yourself mentality here has been a little strange to adjust to. And if we needed a taxi it would find us. Here, we have to book ahead… the list goes on. We were definitely spoilt in Asia, in so many ways. I don’t miss the hovering at restaurants though. Or the frequent ordering mix-ups (as one friend saidย – order what you want, eat what you’re given!).

What I miss…

I miss the creativity and aesthetics of so many aspects of southeast Asian life, from colourful temples and gorgeously decked out cafes, to the way fruit would be stacked so beautifully at a market – order amongst the chaos. I miss the random smiles from strangers and the well-meaning questions, the overly generous hospitality of strangers, the tropical heat, the smell of incense and grilling meat in the air, the smiley kids, the colours, the food, the plants… And the holidays. An hour or two on a plane and we could be at a tropical Asian beach, a heritage listed colonial era town, another thriving Asian metropolis.

Life in Sydney seems less global, less mobile, calmer, quieter. It’s a more grounded life with family and old friends and our own place. I still can’t decide if this is preferable to transience and the new friends and new experiences that accompany it. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know. I would be interested to hear your thoughts if you’ve lived away from home then moved back again – what did you miss? How did you cope?

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6 Responses

  1. devoured July 20, 2011 / 9:59 pm

    Hi there – thanks! Cambodia by boat sounds amazing, looking forward to reading about it!

  2. Cab Hallam July 22, 2011 / 3:28 pm

    I’ve just moved back from being in Africa and Asia for the past 7 years and I completely relate…i know I am going to miss the excitement or rush of being abroad and being the perpetual foreigner but for the now the comfort of the familiar after so long feels real good.

  3. devoured July 23, 2011 / 4:26 pm

    Hi Cab – thanks for the comment. I know what you mean about the excitement or rush of being away. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about it but it’s important to focus on what’s good about the here and now (I have to keep reminding myself!!!).

  4. Marie September 10, 2011 / 6:37 pm

    I do miss Asia so much! When we went back to Thailand recently to adopt our son, neither my husband or I really wanted to come home! If it weren’t for settling in our little boy I think we might’ve even gone AWOL.

    There is a certain freedom in being such an outsider as we are in Asia. It’s sort of like since we will never really be Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, or wherever else we live, you’ve already broken the social rules. I find that makes me feel more creative about finding things to do and ways to go about them. eg. Can I use red curry paste on spaghetti? Let’s try it! or Can I use my matcha bowl for lattes? Of course! Sure I can do these things here, but it’s being in an environment you need to adapt to that sparks this kind of thinking the most, I find.

    P.S. Your blog is looking great! I am just catching up after recent adventures:)

  5. devoured September 10, 2011 / 7:48 pm

    Hi Marie! Yes I know exactly what you mean – about going awol – I think we would too if it wasn’t for wanting the kids to live in Australia for a while! And about Asia inspiring creativity. There’s definitely a creative vibe in the southeast Asian cities I’ve spent time in, maybe cos there’s so much stimulation and inspiration all around… Feeling settled back in now but I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing Asia.

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