A Family Adventure from Vietnam to Malaysia
We were a typical urban family, my husband, our 21-month-old daughter, and I. Routine ruled. From the moment the song (pitifully trying to disguise the fact that it was an alarm) initiated the feeling of dread each weekday morning, to the moment we fell into bed exhausted, and uninspired, we appreciated the privilege of our London life, but rued the monotony. And weekends weren’t much better. As soon as the toddler alarm sounded it was going through the motions – making meals, tidying up, forcing ourselves out of the house to shop or entertain, interspersed with some lazing in front of the TV.
On the rare mornings we woke before our tot, we’d lie in bed hashing out pipe dreams about going in search of a life less ordinary. Travelling to live; not working to holiday. A crazy idea that somewhat lost its romance once you considered it more fully – having to quit jobs; pack up a stable family life; risk not being about to find healthy food staples for a dubious toddler palette; fit all we might need for this precious child into suitcases; separate ourselves from family and friends; and give up the security of our home.
But one day the thoughts had gone too far. The fear of looking back on life, bitter with regret from not having attempted to Live The Dream, was greater than the fear of giving up the lives we knew. So we ground our way through the stress and sacrifices that come with leaving a well established life and home and, with bulging bags, became transient. Seven months on, we haven’t turned on the TV. We consistently wake earlier than any alarm previously set. And we slip into bed exhausted, but exhilarated from our adventure.
Our little tot has become more flexible than particular, and cheerfully takes any changes along the path we’ve set our family on in her stride. She adores her armbands and tuk tuks, gets excited by monsoon storms, gleefully points out a full moon, jungle, Buddha, mosque, or Lucky Cat, and her vocabulary now includes words like “frangipani”, “tokay gecko” and “thank you” in 5 different languages. Her favourite sunset is one that turns the sky pink, be it into a glassy turquoise sea from a Thai island or beyond the Petronas Twin Towers. She ooohed along with us as we gawked at the sun rising over Angkor Wat. And she gazes out for almost as long as we do across the electric green rice paddies in Bali. We all jumped up and down together on the bed in our luxury cabin, as the Dragon Legend sailed away to Halong Bay. And we regularly re-live all these moments with animated “remember when” adventure conversations.
In contrast to her first, we were the only attendees at her 2nd birthday party. And without the rare luxury of an oven in Southeast Asia, I made a mini microwave mug cake masterpiece. She doesn’t get as much organic food as she used to, but she now eats tofu and tempeh. And when we pop past local fruit stalls she identifies dragon fruit, jackfruit and mangosteens. We all gave durian a few tries – and learned the hard way why this smelly fruit is banned in planes and hotel rooms!
We’ve made fleeting friendships along the way, with locals and expats, fellow travellers, and cats, dogs, chickens and ducks we’ve shared some of our experiences with. Each one has tattooed a mark on our journey, and it’s the connection, rather than the fact that we will likely never cross paths again, that has the greatest impact. We miss family and friends, but this can’t dominate our thoughts – knowing we’ll be moving on from any place compels us to relish what our senses take in, and live in the now.
Life’s not without stress. With a finite period of time in each place and having to decide where to move on to, and then find somewhere with a kitchen (to attempt cooking wholesome toddler meals with whatever ingredients are available), is taxing. The unknown is still unsettling, but we don’t fear it. We know we can make a new home anywhere. We’re a strong unit now. We know that whatever we leave behind will have left it’s mark, and whatever we find in front of us will be different, and for that very reason impactful.
The shape of our life has changed, and continues to change each time we re-pack our bags and head somewhere new. Now our only fear is whether we’d be able to fit this new shape back into the hole from our old life.
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