Our first expat gig to South East Asia – a country we have travelled to many times. How hard can this be ?
While enjoying the beach at Fingal Head, girly conversation, great coffee while appreciating the comfort of my relaxing life, my husband calls to let me know we were on the move and I soon learned that my new home in 2 months would be in Vientiane, Laos.
My immediate thoughts after googling a map ….. eeekkk I will be land locked by 5 countries. To me this means no beach however, the mighty Mekong was a central water source but I couldn’t swim in all of that water as I would end up in Vietnam within the hour.
In a quick review of Vientiane, I was thrilled by the French influence within the country as this was sure to excite my palate when I got there. I could just see me riding along the Mekong with a wicker basket filled with French wine, Brie cheese and a baguette. I painted a utopian picture in my head of my future Laos life!
Things turned out a little differently for me……
Thai airlines are calling me and my expat life begins
I arrived in May last year despite numerous people encouraging me to stay in Australia to see out the horrendous Laos summer. I’m an Australian and have survived the Outback summers plus the humidity of Queensland surely it couldn’t be that bad. However, I seriously think the heat burnt my retinas on ascending the plane. Please reassure me this was just an extreme event at 6pm !
Not happy with this heat note my red face
My husbands company accommodated us in a serviced apartment until we could find suitable digs but at this stage all I was looking for was air conditioning a pool and to rest my sun burnt eyes.
Even the pool was warm it was like swimming in soup
I struggled going out the next morning for a 6 am walk along the Mekong due to this early heat. Did the sun not go down overnight ?? The assault in my nasal passages was a mix of two stroke tuk-tuks, dust, incense, sewer and rotting garbage. I’m sure the heat even burnt my nasal hairs! All I wanted was a nice breakfast on the Mekong with great coffee. I was soon to learn not to expect western ways in an Asian country.
My initial days were filled with trying to assimilate by learning the language (after me telling a masseur that my massage was ‘delicious’). The Laos people would stare with delight at two big westerns bumbling their way through language and custom.
Our plan was to embrace this new country, enjoy the newness of it all and make some friends. This would reassure my husband and he could return to his week away at work with the comfort knowing that I will be OK.
After many days of tears that turned into steam once they hit my face, we had realised that during the day you simply hibernate to stay cool watch movies and relax. This was not easy for me, as I had only ever worked full time in a people based environment.
I love the Mekong and a market – A great view and my spirits are finally being lifted.
It was only through skull dragging me out for dinner one night that we by chance met a work colleague and his wife. From here my life changed dramatically.
When she asked “Would I like to join a group of expat girls for …. “ I jumped at the chance before she could finish her sentence. Yes Yes Yes take my money now, where do I sign up !! Goodness knows what I was being invited to, maybe the sacrificing of a goat or a satanic ritual but I was going cause chicks would be there. I was determined I would make them like me and they would tell me how they fill in their day and we could talk girly stuff. From here every introduction was a Spanish inquisition and I soon realized I should be wearing my resume on my chest!
But there was relief I was no longer going to be socially isolated. From this meeting all of my concerns decreased dramatically so did my tears and so did my husbands concerns. He no longer shook his head asking ‘what have I done to us? ’
Moving to a new country is hard. My expectations were constantly challenged. Previously I was always a westerner in holiday mode in SE Asia but living and transitioning put a whole new dimension on life. No Trip Advisor or tourist guide could holistically prepare me for expat life. It needs to be lived through your senses and paved by your own experiences.
The sun setting over the Mekong makes life pretty special