I have not posted in a while, because things have been overwhelmingly busy. We came back to Austin in August, so I have had about 6 months to reflect on our experiences overseas. I actually plan on doing things a little out of order. I have at least 3 more posts that I would like to do before it’s all said and done of some amazing experiences we had. I think I finally have the time to devote to them, maybe. My main goal is to turn this into a book for B to have so he can have something to reflect on someday.
Things have changed considerably for us in the last 6 months. We are back in Austin, bought a new house, B started a new school, and we just welcomed a new baby boy to the family. W was born at Christmas, he is amazing.
I have so many thoughts about leaving Penang, and coming home to the US. Living abroad was such an eye opening experience. I learned a lot about myself, and about the world. I met some absolutely amazing people, that I will always call friend no matter where in the world they are.
I would absolutely do this again. That being said I am so glad to be back in Austin, in my own house, even if the politics of America are giant dumpster fire at the moment. I am still trying to get the house together, but it’s mine and I love it. I love my kitchen, there is only one, and everything works like it should. I love my air conditioned bathroom. I love the fact that I don’t start instantly sweating as soon as I get out of the shower. Speaking of air conditioning, I love my central air. I love the size of the new house, it’s so much smaller than our condo in Penang (which was ridiculously big). I can now have a say something to my husband at a fairly normal volume, from the next room, and he can hear me! I also have absolutely loved the seasons we got back at the end of Summer, so we had a Fall and Winter this year and are pleasantly transitioning into Spring.
We came home when I was 3 months pregnant with W. That was exhausting, I will be honest, I questioned my sanity a few times. That being said, I am so glad we had the baby here. I had some complications, I am truly thankful that I was under the care of my doctor here. The medical system in Malaysia is just fine, in fact medical tourism is huge there because it’s quality and affordable. I was just more at ease with my doctor because she is exceptionally good, and I have been going to her for a very long time. There is a certain amount of anxiety that is relieved with knowing what to expect. Even though the doctor I was seeing in Penang spoke English very well, there were still some communication breakdowns. My first appointment with my doctor was a relief for many reasons.
Honestly the best thing about being home is the convenience of everything, especially the grocery store. If you have read some of my other posts you will get a theme here, I did not enjoy the grocery store in Penang ever. It was crowded, expensive, and never had exactly what you were looking for. The wet market was a whole other ball of wax, one in which I got used to, but never really enjoyed. We are very fortunate in Central Texas to have HEB as our go to grocery store. HEB is truly an exceptional store, when people come to visit us they want to go there. I won’t go on and on about the glory of the grocery store, but I will say the cheese and milk are never spoiled. I have also become reacquainted with Target and Amazon. In fact my first stop when we got back to the US was Target.
After being away for two years we definitely experienced some major culture shock. Our families live in Oklahoma, which is one of the friendliest places I have ever been. Seriously everyone you come in contact will smile, or say hello, or hold a door for you. This is not the case in Southeast Asia. These are just cultural differences, not good or bad just different. Locals in Penang are very friendly on a one on one basis, but enmasse out in the community everyone just does there own thing with very little notice of anyone else around them. I feel like this is because there are so many people. It’s more like living in Phili rather than Oklahoma or Texas.
We were a little startled by a number of things when we got back, people being so friendly was probably the major one, it took some readjustment. The calmness of traffic was a big one for me. My car had been at my parents house while we were away. I drove it our first morning back. I was a little afraid because I hadn’t driven in so long, but it was like second nature. It was so strange to not have a car right on your tail or have motorbikes whizzing by you constantly. Another thing that was strange was how quiet and smell free the US is. I did not feel as though my senses were being assaulted at every turn. The lighting in the stores are also really bright here, that is one difference I really hadn’t noticed before.
These are just a few observations we made upon our return. The bottom line is there really is no place like home. It’s comforting to hear your own language spoken around you. It’s nice to know how things work and know what to expect. To have access to food that comforts you. I imagine the same is true for a Malaysian that is returning home after being in the states. Home is a really good thing, one that I don’t think you truly appreciate until you have been away. There are certain things that I know I won’t take for granted ever again.
The most important thing I take away from our experiences is that fact that people are at the same time so different and so much the same. There are definite cultural differences between East and West, but ultimately everyone has the same motivations. Everyone wants the best for their families, and want to provide what they can for them. Everyone loves their culture’s food and wants to share it with visitors. Everyone wants the freedom to live their lives with tolerance from others. One of the best thing about Malaysia, and this is something they are quite proud of, is their tolerance of each other’s cultures and religious traditions. There are four very different religions coexisting side by side with no problems. The Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians all live together in the same space. They practice their faiths with true tolerance from the other groups and the government. Everyone gets their major holidays off of work. No one has a problem with the other traditions, in fact in many cases they celebrate right along with them. Malaysians do LOVE a celebration! There are of course problems as with all societies. I will not get into that because even after two years there I do not understand all the nuances, but Americans could truly learn something by the way they live and let live.
The biggest thing for me, which made the whole situation worth doing is leaving with the feeling that I can do anything. If I can move across the world, into a widely different culture and successfully navigate daily life, I can do whatever it is I put my mind to. Any fear of new situations or travel I may have once had has gone by the wayside. I left Malaysia with the sense that, if I want something I will ask for it. I am no longer going to be passive in my life. I was in the same job for a long time before we moved to Malaysia. Partially due to stagnation, and partially due to circumstances I won’t get into here, my situational confidence had really taken a hit. I wan’t trusting my instincts anymore. There were things I didn’t think I could do. I feel like moving to Penang really helped me find myself again. It was so hard, but I did it and I did it well. I made fabulous friends, and had the most amazing travel experiences I could ever imagine.
Also I will never ever take the grocery store for granted again.