The worst thing about being a global nomad has to be saying goodbye to good friends. The best thing about being a global nomad has to be making new friends, friends who become soulmates in record time. I’m trying to be circumspect. You cannot have light without dark and, were it not for the less good times, we’d not appreciate the great ones, would we? Glimpses of blue sky on a grey day are always welcome. But moving on and being left behind are both equally tough and it certainly hurts a hell of a lot more than waxing your legs.
Being new in town is always difficult, for there, along with the imperative needs of finding somewhere to live and working out where things are, like supermarkets and doctors, there are emotional needs to be met too. For me, it is only face-to-face friends who can help with this one and, unfortunately, it takes time.
I may have only been here nine months but already I consider myself lucky to have made some pretty decent friends and two great ones carried over from days in Oman and The Hague. As Marta said in my recent post about Ten Friends, in an ideal world, we need ten people to call on for an impromptu coffee or to provide a shoulder to cry on. Already, though, as, I said in that post, three new friends are moving on. Expat life’s shadow side has reared its ugly head before I’ve even learned my own phone number.
But, like I said, where there is dark, there is light and this weekend I headed to Singapore and in just three short days met up with four very good old friends and one fairly new one. I’m nowhere near Marta’s magic number yet, but having a few friends just a four-hour drive away is pretty amazing. I wonder whether they count as part of my ten?
I arrived in Singapore late at night and exhausted by more than that eight hour freezing cold train ride, and, then on the very next evening I got food poisoning (not from my friend’s cooking I hasten to add) and couldn’t sleep. I reckon I must have been The Houseguest from Hell. But the great thing about good ‘old’ friends is that no one needs to stand on ceremony. We can kick about in our pyjamas all day, curl up on the sofa and be honest about what we want:
- “Have you got any chocolate/Imodium/spare knickers (Yes, I have asked for this too!)?”
- “I know it’s early but have you got any wine?”
- “I don’t feel like going out with you. Can I just hang around here and get myself some lunch?”
This is how it is when we stay with old friends. Relaxed, at home and verging on cheeky. I expect my mother will be appalled to read that, but actually, this is exactly how I act when I stay with her! Feeling able to make yourself at home in another person’s house is a gift. I’ve known my mother from the day I was born, but I just realized that some of the people who have sofas on which I put my feet up I hardly know at all. Not really. When I actually add up the number of times I have seen them in real-time, over the years, is frighteningly few.
Is it that expat friendships are deeper than the average friendship? Or do we allow ourselves to seemingly take advantage because people we have known for decades or those to whom we are related are thousands of miles away? As mobile people, moving country every few years, we learn to work out whether we like someone in a matter of hours. We have no choice. We may invite them to dinner almost immediately. After two meetings we may be planning a joint summer holiday.
Which brings me to the sad fact that my newest KL friend is on the move again. Her name is Jo and she lives in my condo. She is always quick to offer a gin and sympathy and laughs at my jokes, while I laugh at hers. And she writes. By the time I am back from my trip to Europe, she’ll be gone. Thankfuly, she’s invited me to stay with them whenever I like and I’ve accepted. Last night, I popped over for a farewell drink. I’m genuinely sad to be saying goodbye. Yet when I look back I have only met her husband four times and have probably only met her 20 times in total since we met six months ago.
Expat friendship brightens my life and lightens my load, and though it may sometimes seem like a poisoned chalice, I think friendships such as these are what provide my necessary sunny intervals.