Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wind of change

As the year ended contracts finished and families were on the move again. Yossy from the ‘French Husband’s’ club had left for New Zealand and Yuen-chi was returning to Korea, Nina’s amour, Dorian, went to Paris, a French family from the condo went to Vietnam and a Chinese-Malaysian friend, Maureen, from the cooking group returned to Canada.

There were several goodbye lunches, dinners or parties. KL social life revolved around goodbye parties. They were a chance to meet old friends, who were all connected in some way, and find out how long we all had to go (like comparing prison sentences, someone joked!).We usually contributed towards a joint gift, chosen by the departing person’s ‘best friend’ - a cookbook, a local painting, or a set of Chinese ceramic bowls. It was an important part of the ritual of saying goodbye, closing the departure and allowing people to move on.

I noticed how many expats simply replaced one departing person with another, the fourth person for the mah-jong club, a tennis partner, the PTA mother and so on. But I found it hard to replace close friends so easily. Certainly the groups I was part of could not be replaced. The diverse mixed expat families from our first condo, the French mercredi club, and the ‘French husband’s’ club were unique. We had tried replacing lost friends with new expats or a friend of someone in the group but somehow the fragile balance of characters, background and connections was broken and eventually the group drifted away or re-formed somewhere else.

Mahes and me just before she left for Kiev
There was one person leaving who was truly irreplaceable, Mahes, my Malaysian friend. Mahes had battled with breast cancer most of the year, but was recovering well. Mahes was married to a Frenchman who had been posted to Darfur in Sudan and had three children. Her husband came back when she was diagnosed and stayed with her, but his compassionate leave ran out and he was posted to Kiev, Ukraine. Their departure was hard for me and Marc, who was losing his friend, Danton. I had never seen anyone as brave as Mahes in the face of such a horrible disease, and her wit and spontaneity always made my day. On her last day we went for a last coffee and shopping in Megamall, picking out warm clothes for her arrival in -30 degrees Kiev. Someone told me later that people only spend their last day with a good friend and I was touched that she chose to spend it with me.

As Mahes left we exchanged gifts, I gave her a painting of some Chinese bowls, as a reminder of our lunches together, and she gave me a bamboo wind chime, which I hung on my balcony to tell me when a storm was approaching. For the first time since we had touched down in Malaysia I began to wonder how long it would be before we were leaving too and I felt the wind of change began to blow in our family too…

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