Moving is annoying. Moving overseas is even more annoying, and with all the stuff you have to get sorted out you easily feel like you lose an entire year between getting ready to leave and then arriving and settling in.
These were my exact thoughts when I heard about our first expat assignment over ten years ago. I mean, nothing really fazed me – gathering tons of paperwork for our visas, getting our house packed up, selling the minivan I’d come to love, arriving in Singapore and having grave doubts whether Singlish was indeed a form of English, existing without a car for months and having to carry a stroller plus five grocery bags up countless flights of stairs, learning how to drive on the left side of the road when I finally did get a car… None of that bothered me nearly as much as finding (and trusting!) a new person to cut my hair. Not that I spend any amount of time or worry on my hair, to the contrary, but that’s exactly the point. You just need to have a hairdresser, period.
So it was with great trepidation that I first set foot in a hair salon in Singapore. I felt a little like Elaine in that Seinfeld episode, where she’s at the beauty salon and suspects all those Chinese ladies to be talking about her, which they indeed are. But then, imagine my surprise when I sat down to get my hair washed: I got the most wonderful head massage! Nothing like the bit of rubbing and rinsing I was used to from the U.S. – this was a full-fledged 15-minute massage that makes you break out in goose bumps all over. And no need for conversation, as everyone around you is speaking Chinese! To hell with who they’re gossiping about or how the hair turns out, that massage was absolute heaven.
Needless to say, I became a regular and frequent customer of that particular hairdresser in Holland Village. And I have now, ten years later, rediscovered the joys of the head massage at my neighborhood salon in Dainfern Valley. It is just as thorough and soothing as its Chinese counterpart, except that the conversation lulling me to sleep is conducted in Zulu.
Enjoying expat life is a matter of perspective. Instead of bemoaning what you’ve lost, look at the things you’ve gained.
Stay tuned for more “Expat Joys” posts – all the small and often overlooked things that are enjoyable as an expat. Of course this will be just my personal selection about our life here in South Africa, and others might not see it quite the same way, but any expat out there should have a similar list. Sometimes you don’t know about the true expat joys until you’ve moved away and bitterly miss them. That’s the beauty about being an expat for the second time: You become much more aware of those little joys and learn to savor them while you have the chance.