26 July 2012


Do you ever look at your life and wonder, “OK, what’s next?” Do you make a five-year plan or a six-month plan or an I-need-a-change-right-now plan? I used to make plans – and then I moved to Singapore and realized that there are some things for which you just cannot plan.

As a pilot’s wife, I have never been able to plan vacations or things to do months in advance because my husband is always on call – except for the two to three weeks a year he is guaranteed vacation. When this whole Singapore thing came up, I learned that I would likely no longer be able to plan my life beyond a contract term.

With eight months left in Paul’s current contract, we are beginning to wonder where we will be next year. If Paul resigns with his current employer, we are considering moving across the border into Malaysia where there is more land, cheaper housing and no $69,000-you-now-have-permission-to-purchase-a-car-but-it-has-to-be-off-the-island-within-10-years fee.

At first I was completely against this idea. Why would we want to move to Malaysia? We would still be commuting into Singapore regularly (which I would not do by bus anymore). The crime rate is a bit higher in Malaysia since their laws are not as stringent as those within Singapore. And, not having spent any time in a border town like Johor Bahru, I am a bit wary of the area’s conditions. Can we expect new, bug-free buildings with reliable handymen?

Our discussion first commenced one evening when Paul had this genius idea (sound familiar?). I thought it was just an idea. The next morning at the breakfast table, however, he had this whole plan about how we could end our current apartment lease if hegets transferred out of the country for work reasons, so we would not be contractually bound through the next year. Oh. My. Goodness. Here we go again.

Don’t worry – I took a breath and listened to him make his case.

Paul did some research and found we could live in an expat community in a nice area for a fraction of our current rent expense. The idea of owning a car and being able to take road trips and do simple things like drive to the grocery store are very appealing. And, there are a number of Singaporean expats who either own property or regularly vacation in the more rural Southern Malaysian areas. This could be an option.

The next week Paul had a new plan (have we been here before?). This time he decided that we should – in the next few years – move back to the U.S. so that he could once again be a commercial pilot and fly for a major mainline U.S. carrier. At this notion, I decided to remind him of all of the reasons why he hated flying commercially just 18 months ago.

Hey Paul: remember that starting out at the bottom of the list thing where you don’t even need to bid for a schedule because you are so low on the seniority list that you are just assigned the line that no one else in the entire company wants? Remember those awful American unions that take all your money and drive you insane with their 474-page contract that you need to know so you don’t get screwed? Remember the quality flight attendants and how you only get paid while you fly and not while you wait around for maintenance or wait around in hotels and spend four days away from home? It didn’t seem to work.

He threw out a compelling counter offer. “This carrier has bases in all three New York City airports.” “Really?” I said. “I would be O.K. living in Brooklyn.” Then my mind went to the memories of spending a beautiful day in Brooklyn, walking around the old Jewish neighborhood, standing in line for 30 minutes to earn two seats at a small table, shoulder to shoulder with other people who likely did not live anywhere near New York to enjoy the greatest coal-fired pizzas in all five boroughs. After pizza, we would walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, above the traffic, above the river, where a green park and hundreds of people greeted us in Manhattan when we arrived. Yeah, I could do Brooklyn.

Then he came up with Minneapolis, a city so far north that I could be in Canada in less than five hours. HELLOOOO! Cold?! But, don’t worry. I let Paul make his case.

He told me what a great city Minneapolis is and how Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Our living expenses would be similar to what we were used to in Columbus (a.k.a. a thousand times cheaper). In the few hours that Paul visited Minneapolis (or, “the Mini-Apple” as my friend calls it), he liked what he saw and could imagine us settling down there – at least until we move somewhere else.

Again, I immediately dismissed him, tried to change his mind and then marinated on the idea like a good wife. I started to realize that there may be some good in going “home,” even if I have been very vocal about not ever wanting to again live in the United States.

I started to think about living in a new American city. I started thinking about how nice it would be to own a car again and how nice it would be to drive that car to a grocery store where I could then load up the car with all of the products that I knew I could find in one location.

When I told Nicola about the idea of living in Minnesota, she asked if I would continue living life like I am today, volunteering and exploring the land. Without even thinking I said, “No! I would go back to work.” The more I thought about it, the more I thought about going back to my “normal life.” That is, in fact, exactly how I see it. This is not normal - Singapore is not my normal.

If we were to move back to the U.S. – no matter where we lived – I would go back to the corporate world, work five days a week, rock the DINK lifestyle – that’s Double Income No Kids – and save the fun stuff for the nights and weekends. Slowly, I started to miss that lifestyle.

Then it hit me: would I feel like an outsider in my own home country? Has this opportunity to live in this amazing place made me different from the people I will encounter whenever it is that we go back? Will I hate being back in America and wish I were back here or, at least, anywhere other than America? I have heard that repatriation is pretty common among expats. I am almost expecting to feel as if I don’t fit within the world I grew up.

The good thing about Brooklyn and Minneapolis is their amazing travel opportunities. We are one flight from almost anywhere, which means I can hop on a plane to visit friends and family in any state and in any country whenever I feel that I need to escape.

While I cannot say for certain where we will be in nine months, I can say that we have plenty of time for Paul to change his mind I am betting 27 times.

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