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.

 

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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.

Homeward bound

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I’ve been suffering from some fairly irritating writers’ block lately. Everything I jot down is scribbled out or deleted or filed away in a bottomless ‘Drafts’ folder. I’ve found that if I can’t write a post straight away, in one go, the idea tends to languish and rot away. I lose interest and… yeah… You’ve seen the results, or more accurately, the lack thereof.

I’m hoping this evening though will provide some relief from my block. It obviously has already and it’s not even here yet. This evening I’m heading to the airport to fly home. A situation fraught with emotions and writing material!

For some unknown reason, I expected a triumphant homecoming. I’d sweep off the plan clad in designer sunglasses and smart-casual leisurewear, full of stories about the exotic Orient (is Singapore the Orient?) where I now call home, and suddenly be worldly and erudite beyond measure. I’d sneer at Australia, land of uncultured convicts, and bemoan the fact there’s no authentic satay in Brisbane.

Where do I get these notions from? Honestly, I think I watch too much TV. Instead, I’m going home to catch up with friends and family. To eat whatever is on the dinner table. To roll my eyes when my Mum fusses about how much protein I’m eating and if I’m making friends. To go to the beach. To maybe wear a jumper to survive the paltry high-20s temperatures and low humidity. To see whether the place has changed or stayed the same. To see if I’ve changed or stayed the same.

In true Australian fashion, I’ll be picked up by my Dad and his cattle dog. My togs are at the top of my backpack, ready for an airport bathroom costume change. We’ll go straight to the beach. I can feel the hot sand under my feet already. I can feel the gasp in my throat, ready for the shock of plunging into cool, clear salt water.

In case it’s not painfully obvious, I’m a little excited. So I’ll see you on the other side! Of the equator, that is. Hopefully I’ll have something more compelling to write about than airports and sand.

Home.

Anuradhapura butterflies
Anuradhapura butterflies

Sometime it takes going away to realise where your home is.

I haven’t felt homesick once since the move to Singapore. Of course, I miss friends and family, and I’m very much looking forward to going home for Christmas, but there hasn’t yet been that overwhelming sadness of the “What have I done? I want to go home!!” variety.

Naturally, I swirled my kopi and attributed this to my imagined status of “citizen of the world”. “The world is my home,” I said to Tippy, who did not even look up from licking her foot. This wankery delusion was further supported by a weekend trip to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. It felt very cosmopolitan and worldly to jet off to Vietnam for the weekend. Because when you’re cosmopolitan and worldly you don’t fly, you “jet”. Even if it’s in economy with screaming kids and snuffling Vietnamese men, it’s still “jetting”. Anyway, it was nice to come home after that, home as in Singapore. Nice to come back to our bed and our couch, to be able to drink tap water again.

Sri Lanka though, still only a short trip, changed that. As we puttered through the country side in a tuk-tuk, going from Anuradhapura, the fabled ancient capital, to Kalpitiya, the deserted windy beaches straight out of kitesurfing fantasies, I caught myself thinking about Australia. Specifically, though I loathe to admit it, Bundaberg. I thought about the smoke plumes from cane fires and catching ash as it fell from the sky. I thought about sitting behind the couch at my Grandma’s house with the cat, squinting at the street through the yellow frosted glass windows. I thought about Arnott’s Assorted Creams and the lolly jar on top of the fridge that became easier to reach as we all got older. How strange it was to be suddenly back in the home town I had joked off for years as “You know, where the rum comes from?”. In the middle of Sri Lanka, of all places. Maybe two months and two weeks is too soon to receive a “Citizen of the World” Passport?

I’ll go back at the end of the year though. There’s no more cane fires, the cat’s long gone. The lolly jar has likely been replaced by bottles of rum: my 21-year-old cousin lives there now. I’ll buy some Assorted Creams though, I’ll eat the Monte Carlos first. I’ll drive through the streets that are the same every time I’m there, a constant cause of outer derision and inner comfort. I suppose they calls them roots for a reason. As far as you go, as wide as you spread your branches, as many different creatures come and build nests on you (maybe not), your roots stay in the same place. You know, where the rum comes from.