Opportunity cost

Opportunity cost is one of the very few things I remember from the economics unit I had to take at uni.

Until the last couple of months, I’ve never considered the opportunity cost of moving to Singapore. The benefits always seemed to outweigh anything we left behind, friends and family aside, of course. Plus, it’s not that far to visit.

I avoided writing this for a few reasons. I also spent a long time sitting on it, not sure if this is something I really want to share. Out of respect to my family, obviously. My cousins and aunt. And also my mum, who is still not ok. “I just had a moment,” she says.

A few months ago, I went to Sri Lanka on holidays. It was amazing. It’s such a special place and we had a fantastic trip. But while I was there my uncle passed away.

It was a pretty tumultuous time. I spent hours on the phone. When I got the news that he was moving to palliative care, I was on the verge of getting the next bus, train and flight back to Australia.

“Don’t come. We’re ok. Just send lots of pictures. Enjoy your holiday.”

Enjoy my holiday. I never expected that to be one of the most upsetting things said to me. But I tried. I sent photos. Mum showed them to my aunt, and my uncle in the hospital. They loved them, the kitesurfing, the sunsets over the beach, the cheap beer pictures. Under no circumstances were we to come home.

Then my uncle died. I spoke to my dad. “Please just tell me what to do. I want to be there.”

“It will just upset your mother and your aunt if you come back.”

Then my mum.

“Don’t come back, we’re all ok.”

I still don’t know if I did the right thing.

The rest of the trip was a rollercoaster of phone calls and tears, while trying to pull myself together to enjoy where we were and not spoil the trip for Partner 2. Which resulted in situations like me crying quietly while on a safari jeep but wiping my nose and giving Partner 2 a manic smile when he asked if I was ok. I’m sure it was tough on Partner 2, who doesn’t cope well with other people’s emotions at the best of times. This was something I was quick to lash out at, at the time. On reflection though, he was the one making sure I was eating and sleeping, he was booking trains and pointing out interesting thing, he was making sure we could always get phone reception when I needed it. Just goes to show what you want isn’t always what you need.

I looked back over family photos, as you do in these situations. There’s a gorgeous one from last Christmas, of the whole family, aunts, uncles, cousins, Grandma and Grandad, all around the table. Mum sent it to me, because I wasn’t there. The only one missing. And it was about to happen again. I wouldn’t be there.

Guilt intermingled with the sadness, which was followed by more guilt. How could I possibly be making this about me right now? My younger brother, who was inexplicably sage, told me not to beat myself up. “Everyone is here to support everyone; you just look after yourself.” It’s most off-putting when your baby brother is suddenly the wise one.

So the funeral came and went, as did our trip. I was ready to fly out to Brisbane within hours of arriving back in Singapore. But then the call came. “Don’t come. We’re not ready.” So I didn’t. I rebooked and waited.

When I eventually got home, we sat around the table after dinner. I nursed a beer while my parents finished their second bottle of wine. My grandparents had gone to bed and the conversation had turned from the forced light chitchat of dinner. There was a box of tissues on the table.

Mum asked when the last time I saw my uncle was. My throat had closed and I couldn’t meet her eyes. The question I’d been dreading. Because I didn’t know. And I’d been scared to wrack my brain because I knew the answer was a long time ago. Because I haven’t been there. I attempted a wry laugh but it died before it came out.

“On TV, at the Melbourne Cup. I should have been here.”

There were more tears and hugs and stories and booze.  As my sage brother said, it doesn’t get easier, we just need to figure out what normal is now. So wise.

In a nutshell, that’s why I’ve been thinking about opportunity cost lately. Living overseas is fantastic and I’m so lucky to be able to do so, but there’s always an opportunity cost. I just didn’t realise what it was until now.

 

Snow-ward bound

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It is the second day in December and the silly season is starting to set in. It’s also the second day of winter here in Singapore. I’ve been layering the bed with thick doonas and cosy blankets, I’ve wrapped myself in a warm cardigan and the kettle is boiling for that first winter cocoa. Not really. Right now it’s only 28 degrees which is actually cooler than usual. The kicker though is that it’s 88% humidity. Oh Singapore, never change. Winter is more of clothing style than an actual season here. More accurately, it’s monsoon time. Our second of the year, the northeast monsoon is characterised by loud, thundery storms that build up through the morning and explode in the afternoon. Similar to Australian summer but here the storms are all bark and no bite. Anyway, Singapore’s “winter” is making it difficult to fathom what Christmas will be like this year.

This year FS (future spouse? We’re workshopping the labelling thing still) and I are spending Christmas with his family in Europe. His parents are flying over from Australia and we’ll come from Singapore. We’re collecting his sister and her partner in London then heading to Denmark for Christmas with FS’s brother and his family. Christmas in Denmark, in December, in Europe. Winter is coming. And I am not ready.

My last 25 Christmases have been spent in the Southern Hemisphere. To me, Christmas is summer. It’s beach and stone fruits and mangoes and salads and sunburn and cricket and cold beers. It’s light hair and dark skin, and always having a layer of sand (and an empty beer bottle, thanks to a littering passenger) on the floor of the car. It’s not cold and dark, unless you’re sequestered away in air conditioning nursing a hangover or catching a Boxing Day movie.

A white Christmas looks lovely on TV or in movies, or when Bing Crosby is singing about it. But it’s going to be cold. I’ve always wanted to sink a few pints in an old London pub and complain about the tube (also to call it ‘the tube’ without feeling like a twat). But it’s going to be cold. Plus snowboarding and snow kiting sound like so much fun! But it’s going to be cold. I can’t quite get past it.

I don’t cope well with cold. It makes me grumpy and hungry. I also just don’t have the wardrobe for it. The warmest thing I have is a recently-acquired hiking jacket. It’s very much a function over form situation and, though it fared admirably on a volcano hike in Indonesia, I’m sceptical of its worth (aesthetically and practically) on the London High Street or in a snow-swaddled village in Denmark. Also on a shallower, less practical note, how do you look nice and respectable at all those ‘trendy London nightspots’ when you’re swaddled in 13 layers of clothing and resemble someone trying to subvert a Ryan Air baggage allowance? I just don’t know.

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Cold aside, and for me that’s a very big aside, I’m crazy excited. It’s going to be amazing. Apart from a teenage exchange trip to Germany, I’ve never been to Europe. I’ve only seen snow twice. It will be great to spend some time with FS’s family too, it’s been years since they’ve all been together so it’s going to be very special. And if it’s cold, it’s not the end of the world. I can always go shopping or borrow something. What better way to bond with my future sisters-in-law than by stealing their clothes?

Missed Opportunities

My grandmother has her birthday this week. This bad, nasty granddaughter is not quite sure of how old she is but it’s 93 or 94 or 95. In that vicinity. Bad granddaughter. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the last 90-odd years and the things my grandmother must have experienced, how much life has changed. Also about how much time I’ve spent with her that I have straight out wasted. She has so many stories and experiences that are now locked up inside, stories that I never thought to ask about when I was growing up.

There was a routine whenever we’d visit Grandma Dulcie. The adults would sit in the dining room with coffee and biscuits while the kids would sit at the kitchen table with glasses of Coke and our own plate of biscuits. As soon as we finished, we’d race outside to build cubby houses, go to the park and pick macadamia nuts from the tree in the neighbour’s yard. We were never there for the conversations. Our parents would eventually call us and we’d emerge, sweaty and covered in dirt, for our goodbye lollies from the jar on top of the fridge.

Grandma Dulcie always had an insatiable sweet tooth. Her house was always full of soft drinks, cake, Arnott’s Assorted Creams, and the lolly jar on top of the fridge. I was the last one of the cousins to grow tall enough to reach it, despite being one of the oldest. She used to make the most incredible cakes. Once I got old enough for birthday cakes to be more about the flavour than the shape (thank you Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake book), I asked for her cheesecake every year. Her Christmas trifle is the stuff of legends. Even now, the drawers of her room in the home are filled with a stash of chocolates and she loves the occasional piece of cake or ice cream. There’s a gorgeous photo of Grandma and my cousin’s 3 year-old daughter eating ice cream cones with equal enthusiasm.

As we constantly remind ourselves, she’s doing incredibly well for someone in their mid-90s. She repeats her stories, she calls me by my mother’s or my cousin’s or my aunt’s name, each time I visit there is a look of blank confusion when I first arrive. I have to introduce myself. But despite this, she’s doing well; she asks about Singapore and about my brother in Melbourne and my parents in Brisbane. She gets frustrated when she can’t remember things but occasionally comes out with a crystal clear anecdote. Last time I was there she told me about when her mother taught her how to sew. I wish I’d taken the time when I was younger to ask about life on the farm, to ask about her childhood, to ask her to teach me how to make cheesecake.

It feels strange though, asking these personal questions of family. You feel as though you should already know, by rights of being family. This hit home on the way to visit my grandfather (on my mother’s side) in hospital over Christmas. Partner 2 asked a fairly innocuous question about Grandad’s career before he retired. I had no idea. When we got there, Partner 2 posed his question to Grandad. Grandad sat up a little taller and told us a great story about how he became a shipping engineer. Not a uni course in those days, a lot of hard work in tough conditions. It was a great story, one that I had never heard before. As the grand finale of the tale, with a segue that would put the most seasoned radio presenter to shame, the story turned into an argument about why we should get married. As a poor apprentice, he was hoping to save money by moving in with Grandma Jane who would not have a bar of it. No ring, no housing. It was mortifying and hilarious and generally pretty lovely. I wish I could have had more of those moments with Grandma Dulcie.

I won’t be able to make it back home for the celebrations but I have it on good authority that birthday plans are in place. There’ll be flowers and lavender hand creams and cake and ice cream and probably chocolates too. I’ll send a card, maybe a postcard with a nice picture of Singapore, and I’ll get some Arnott’s Assorted Creams in honour of the occasion. Happy birthday, Grandma.