Friday, March 23, 2007

The Four Years theory

We had a few goodbye parties to attend in June, our condo Chinese-American neighbour, Min and her family, were posted to Vietnam after seven years in KL, and Nina’s French/English friend, Isolde, was transferring to the British school to join her older sister. Nina’s teacher, Therese, was going back to France. At a goodbye potluck dinner organized by Nina’s class rep for the teacher the mothers chatted about leaving and how much longer they had to go. It sounded like a prison sentence… ‘I’ve got two, maybe three years, if we’re lucky…’, ‘This is our first year and I hope we get sent back next year...’ ‘We’ve been here six years and it’s too long, I hate KL now…’ or the new arrival: ‘I could stay here forever I love it!’ Therese had lived in KL for five years and was dreading the return to a tiny apartment in Paris. She was adored by parents and children and was tearful when accepting her goodbye gift of a painting by a local artist and said she would never have such a great class or life again. She was probably right.

Parents finally came to the conclusion that four years was the idea posting; one or two years were too short to really settle or find friends, but once you had done five years it was truly painful to leave or you became bitter and stopped enjoying Asia and all its chaos. The mothers agreed that we all got so used to our maids, not having to work, the lively social life and the year round sunshine that after a while it seemed impossible to go back to where you came from. It was even worse if your children were born in the country and had lived most of their childhood there, since it was all they had ever known. Parents felt terribly guilty moving their children around the world, although many had no choice and when the husband was called up off they went. Some of the English families I had met had been living abroad for years and never intended to go back if they could help it. However the French often seemed to do a short two-year posting then back to France for a while, then out again somewhere else.

We had never spent more than two years in one place anyway, which would probably explain why we were never really attached to any country. Four years sounded just right to me, enough time to get to know lots of people, feel at home in the city, to know just where to get a certain fabric or ingredient and enough time to learn something new.

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