It is easy to forget how exhausting a relocation can be. Even when, like me, you’ve done it many times. First there is the stressful period of not knowing when, whether and where – the Limbo Period. Then comes the Mad Rush to sell things, close things down, rent your house, sort and pack your shipments (air freight, sea freight, land freight, store) and decide what to do with your car, cat and the contents of your freezer (we don’t have a cat, actually, but we did have one once). Then the Move Itself to the new place, immediately followed by the Lost Period of not knowing anyone or anything. This yucky time is when every step you take is on unfamiliar territory, and even working out where to find the butter in a new supermarket or how to take a bus, taxes your brain and drains you of energy. All this happens, of course, while you are searching for a new home, have no car, none of your stuff and no decent kitchen to cook reasonable meals in, so you eat out too much too (too much hidden MSG, salt, sugar, palm oil and wheat). The Lost Period takes place while you are living in temporary accommodation, probably an hotel, so all the things you do learn about whereabouts of public transport, food and pharmacies will be binned as soon as you move into your new place and it begins again. This is when the Starting Line appears, at last. For us that will be exactly one year and one month to the day that the Limbo Period began.
I think I’ve made my point.
Is it any wonder that, after I’d been here for two weeks into the Lost Period, I succumbed to the only real flu of my life and was unable to move from the sofa or even move my eyes across the pages of a book? I was literally ‘felled’ by that flu.
And then, two weeks later I emerged, like a butterfly from its cocoon and I noticed I could see things properly and lucidly at last. And then we went to Kuching for two days (see last blog) before going onto Miri for three days. Ian had three days in the office there because we knew the Marriott had a nice pool, gardens and wifi and Miri had the massive bonus of some familiar faces for me, I tagged along too.
From the moment we stepped off the plane it felt like home. Weird though, that we’d only been here four times before (when we were in Brunei for three months). But we knew where the immigration counter was and to anticipate they’d want our fingerprints. I smiled in greeting at the massive poster of a benign and beautiful family who had just purchased a fabulous home that loomed over the down escalator leading to the baggage hall. I marched to the taxi stand. My shoulders lowered from their previous home just below my ears and I think I sighed with pleasure. This was a piece of cake.
The next morning, I sat on the terrace of our garden room, looking at the trees and listening to the birdsong and the crashing waves and drank my tea in a state of bliss. I met three friends (Helen and Sian I’d met on my previous Miri trips and Jenn from Brunei) in cafes or malls I’d heard of before and that were in places I recognised. Three days in Miri and I was renewed.
I love it in Miri, not because it is beautiful. No, if anything it is a shabby, cluttered, ramshackle jumble of broken pavements and unloved, ugly buildings. A place where stray dogs cluster round the bins and bent-tailed cats prowl round your shins for scraps even in a posh hotel. A place that leaves me with more wretchedly itchy sandfly and mossie bites in three days than I have had in four weeks in KL. But I love it. I love it because it is familiar and familiarity breeds contentment.
Now, I am back in our temporary apartment in the noisy city centre of KL, with a view from my narrow 17th floor balcony of another towering grey office block and all I can hear is the push and shove of traffic and the rasp and clatter of construction. I remind myself to go easy on myself. I’m not even at the Starting Line yet.
While I was in Miri that first morning, I had my notebook with me on the terrace and this is what I wrote:
Miri Marry Me
Coming home is
through layers of sleep
to a lullaby of birdsong
creeping in to carve me from my dreams
and present me with a garden platter –
picnic on my doorstep.
A bird calls me upwards with his tune
of c, d, e, d, c
another shakes his rattle in my ears.
Below cicadas swiftly work their looms
into a chattered frenzy,
their day, and mine, alive.
Down among the sparse, fat grass
tree roots extrude in silence
as if from a potato ricer , like great skeins of four-ply,
while the palm tree quietly lifts her skirts and waits to curtsey,
for it’s still she who runs this show.
Before I leave this post I must admit to a little artistic licence here. I don’t want anyone (my mother) to think I am desperately lonely in KL without any friends. I am indebted to Emma particularly, who we’ve known 20 years since our days in Oman, Melinda and Marina from the Hague, and Christa, my lovely new friend.