‘Our apartment is not ready,’ Flounder told me via Skype. ‘I will stay in someone’s spare bedroom, but no one seems to have the key.’ He was sitting in a car in the heat of Malaysia, having just arrived after a 24-hour trip.
I was still in Hawaii with my parents. Just a day earlier Flounder had been with us, bodysurfing, snorkeling, lazing in the sun. Now he was in a kind of limbo in our new, dropped-everything, sold-everything, packed-everything to be there home. He would start work for a university that I had helped him find in a position I had encouraged him to take.
He continued, ‘I have to wear all black at the university and I have to punch a time clock. And I only get two weeks of vacation a year.’
My heart dropped into the gurgling, acidic pit of my stomach, for the first time that week but not the last.
Expectations are a funny thing. Does anything ever go exactly as you anticipated or planned? No? It doesn’t for me either. And yet, somehow, I was surprised when upon arriving in our new home in Malaysia, nothing went as expected.
The apartment wasn’t ready, no one could direct Flounder to where he should be, he received no orientation to his new job he had moved halfway around the world for. But what was worse was that the job was not what he expected.
He expected to be valued, to be treated with respect, and to be oriented to the university and the campus. At every front instead he was met with chaos.
We expected to live here, in Malaysia, for two years, ‘maybe more,’ we would add optimistically, ‘if we like it’. But in Flounder’s first week at the job, we were simply deciding if we would stay at all.
He sat, ignored, for most of his first days, occasionally meeting with this head and that administrator, wrestling with HR to get the simplest of things—a passcard, a parking spot—assigned to him. He was taken to the wrong department, Communications, told he would be teaching there, then the Fashion department fetched him and this is still where he is perched now. Not in an office (almost no one has a private office), not even in a cubicle, but in a row of desks, with four or six people behind him looking at his screen as he waits for someone, anyone to help him find his place in the university.
And so, just three days ago, when Flounder went to work, I searched for options. I could teach English in Taiwan or in Korea. They would pay for my flight and accommodation. We could move almost immediately.
While he sat at his desk, Flounder searched for other jobs, perhaps in Malaysia or Singapore. He even checked job listings in the States, though neither of us was keen to tuck tail and move back only days after we had left and said goodbye to friends and family.
Could we move to Chiang Mai (in northern Thailand)? I wondered. Flounder had been offered a residency there. Or we could rent a cheap place in Vietnam, where cost of living is lower, while we sorted out our next step.
I looked over our finances. Maybe we could afford to ride off on our newly purchased second-hand motorbike and go for a few months. From the peninsula here, we could ride through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China. We could ride through central Asia and into Europe!
|Our little motorbike, affectionately named Wimp
I tried to rally at this idea, but I couldn’t stop thinking of the money we had spent getting here, which would not be reimbursed, and the apartment we were staying in, which would be snatched away immediately. I thought of the savings we would have to spend and the uncertainty of income we would face.
Worse than all that, though, is the guilt I feel--hand-tremoring, can’t-eat, random-crying-spells guilt.
This is Flounder’s career, something he has been working towards, molding and growing for more than a decade. I feel responsible for this move; he wanted it, but letsbehonest: I was the driving force. The guilt burrows deep, deeper than any misery I've yet felt in my bright, bold life.
And that is how things are left now. My heart devoured, torn apart by guilt. And Flounder, sweet Flounder, standing straight, tall, and smiling at me. And, as required by his contract, dressed all in black.
Postscript: Finally enough time has passed since our time at [redacted] University in Malaysia in 2014 that I have the sanity and ovum required to write about it. This is the first in a forthcoming series.
A few points I want to make clear: Malaysia is a beautiful country, full of fabulous, funny, big-hearted people, gorgeous landscape, and salivatingly delicious food. We LOVED the country. We also loved our colleagues, many of whom gave us both the motivation and desire to keep working. What we didn't love was the university we worked for and our jobs there. As we both signed non-disclosure legal paper thingys, I'll be redacting and changing names, etc.
Post-postscript: In case you, like my sweet Flounder, don't like surprises, let me clue you in on the ending. We're super happy now and eventually everything worked out.