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Kuala Lumpur ranks high on the list of favourite expat destinations. NSTP/Zunnur Al Shafiq
Kuala Lumpur ranks high on the list of favourite expat destinations. NSTP/Zunnur Al Shafiq

The golden expat contracts are, in most cases, a thing of the past.
We still live a great life far from home, no doubt. But like everything in life, this too comes at a price.

Before I go any further, let me state two things. First, I’m not complaining, far from it. And second, I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world.

We do live a wonderful life, at least the ones among us who are lucky enough to have been sent to live in Malaysia.

In our careers as trailing spouses, we could have had it worse, a lot worse. Many of us have had to agree to move to places that ranked way down on our list of favourite destinations.

Kuala Lumpur is definitely way up on that list and we will be eternally grateful to our host country and its people for their hospitality and their support.

Well yes, we do live in nice houses, and we do drive nice cars. Our uprooted children attend private schools, we take annual trips overseas, and we celebrate the occasional party at a hot spot in KL with an international crowd of friends.

But let me tell you about a few lesser-known sides of our glamorous existence.

The first time I realised the expatriate life was not all fun and giggles, I was fresh off the boat, so to speak, with a new born baby in Hong Kong.

One evening, with my baby boy sleeping in my arms, I found myself cornered in the staircase of the house.

Cornered by the most gigantic, hairy, scary spider I had ever met. It was staring me down like a bad omen. The insecticide was beyond reach, at the bottom of the stairs.

Should I leap over the spider and risk breaking my as well as my child’s neck?

Should I just leave it alone and hope it would find its way back to where it had crawled out from?

My best option would be to call out for my husband to help.

Ah yes, but the one I trailed was not in town that night. He was on outstation assignment.

A few years later, I found my cat fighting a poisonous snake in my kitchen. The cat was hissing, or was it the snake? She was leaping from the countertop to the stovetop and the snake was flying through the air.

I closed the kitchen door and hoped the cat would win the mortal combat. Or I could have called out for my husband for help.

Ah yes, but the one I trailed was not in town that day. He was attending a regional conference somewhere far away.

I’ll never forget the day my son, who had grown from the sleeping infant in the staircase to a mischievous little boy, accidentally impaled himself on the pointy tip of our iron gate.

The wound was fleshy, bleeding and incredibly dirty. I held it together until my boy was safely in the doctor’s treatment room. And then I nearly fainted, left alone in the waiting area. I could have called my husband for support.

Ah yes, but the one I trailed was not in town that week. I honestly don’t remember where he was.

After days of very heavy rains, the roof of our house finally collapsed at dinnertime. The floodgates opened on us, literally. Every light fixture, ceiling fan and air-conspouted smelly water like a gargoyle from a Disney movie.

Cascades rushed down the stairs, onto the beds, the desk, the computer, the TV, you name it.

Buckets, mops and towels were no match for the disaster. We were standing ankle deep in a pool of cold and dirty rainwater, while the electricity was going crazy. I should have had my husband’s help; he is an electrical engineer by trade.

Ah yes, but the one I trailed… you get my drift.

There are all sorts of expat husbands, but they all have one trait in common. They are never there when disaster strikes.

That makes us trailing spouses — what a complete misnomer that is — DIY wives.

Over the years, it has made us strong, determined, fearless and resilient.

And it has made us eternally grateful to our host country and its people for their hospitality and their support.

The writer is a long-term expatriate, a restless traveller, an observer
of the human condition and unapologetically insubordinate

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