Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Expat Wives Club

Once I had got to know the expats of Sri Bukit Tunku Condo life suddenly got busy. We would cross paths at least once or twice a day, dropping off and picking up kids, waiting in the street for a taxi, or in the local mall. Suhita was the queen of the expat wives and she organized regular coffee mornings in her house. There would always be a person selling something; handmade scarves, artwork, ceramics or made-to-measure shoes. One morning Mahin took a few of us to the local Chinese market where she shopped to show us which vendors were good. I was overwhelmed by the smell of rotting meat and repulsed by the cages of frogs and chickens. But we fun and came back with several bags of rambutans, giant watermelons and custard apples.

KL is a small city, compared to most Asian cities like Bangkok and Shanghai. The expats were, in general, grateful to have posted there. They usually only had a two-year contract so they made the most of it before being swept off somewhere else or back to England or France. Expats met each other through the school network, the condo where they lived, or a country club or national clubs. Expat wives especially need to get together, because lacking family and friends they need support and a social life. We also want to discover things together and perhaps take up a new hobby or sport since most woman were not allowed to work in Malaysia.

Clubs existed for all nationalities and interests. You could learn tennis, bridge, mahjong, calligraphy or how to speak Bahasa Malay. I joined the Association of British Women in Malaysia (ABWM) first. Thinking I would meet fellow Brits I went for a Welcome Coffee and Lunch, only to find half of them were in their fifties and were living a very different life from those with kids. The others were all in the posh British school and after a cursory ‘What class are your children in?’ and discovering my children were at a French school, left me alone. I kept the membership for a year and went to few events and craft markets, and suchlike. I wrote articles for their magazine, but I never felt at home there.

The French had their club too. They met weekly for guided French-language cultural tours of KL, aqua-aerobics and lunches around town and they also had a regular walking club, which seemed a good idea. Since my French was still not perfect I preferred to practice with one or two people, rather than in a big group. The French woman at school said ‘bonjour’ as we dropped off our kids but they did not seem very friendly either. So I put that off for a while.

The club that suited me best, in the end, was ibu, an association of international women with young pre-school children. They met five days a week in a converted house in Bangsar. They ran baby clinics, first-aid classes, daily playgroups and so on. It was wonderfully cosy and gave my week some kind of focus. I offered to help out on the committee and signed up Gabriel for a place in the playgroup.

No comments: