Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Life as an Expat

Sipping a cocktail on my veranda overlooking the South China Sea, I couldn’t help but feel like a character in a Graham Greene novel.* And indeed, when we’re here, I sometimes have those out-of-body experiences where I wonder – whose life is this that I’m living? Now, granted, we’re not really full-fledged expatriates, living the expat life with a fancy car, large apartment and lots of servants. But we had just spent the day at a lush, secluded resort in a strange place (Macau, an SAR of China which was once a Portuguese colony); we sipped drinks along with families of other nationalities (at the very least, I counted Portugal, Germany, and Australia in addition to China) while our kids swam in the pool. Secluded away from the riff-raff, we ate, drank and indulged our children. While it was totally relaxing, it was also very strange.

I have these fleeting out-of-body experiences on occasion: when the kids compare the Macau tower to the Seattle Space Needle or when I commented that we’d probably get clear weather after we checked out of the hotel on Sunday, just like we did in the French countryside. In these moments, I worry that instead of raising adventurous, curious children, we’re raising spoiled and indulgent ones (mind you – these worries only partially stem from the behavior of my children; instead, my standard American-style parenting neuroses are probably more to blame).

I realize that our kids have these experiences on which to draw because Doug and I have made a conscious decision to prioritize travel in our lives. We want our kids to see the world and to experience other cultures. And to be sure, when we do this, life for us and the kids isn’t always easy. But I wonder if we’re exposing them too much to the R&R part of foreign travel and not enough how much of the rest of the world lives (i.e. not at lush, tropical resorts). We have several other trips planned this year which will be some combination of travel (which we like to think of as experiencing new places and culture and not necessarily easy) and vacation (more relaxing and focused on R&R); coming up soon is a week-long trip to Bangkok and Phuket. As we add to the boys’ inventory of places to remember, I hope that we’ll be able to present them with a balanced view of life outside the U.S. And so long as I’m able to sip a cocktail or two while we do this, I’m sure we’ll all turn out fine.

* Of course, I should note here that I haven’t actually read a Graham Greene novel, so this is what I imagine a character is one of his novels would be doing.


  1. I'd be curious to see a post written by your kids about their experiences in this new land. :) Are they keeping journals?


  2. You've gone to one lush resort- don't beat yourself up! They are still living an every-day life in China. Wow. And it hasn't always been easy. I want to know - what kind of cocktail?

  3. Sorry, that was me. Love to all.

  4. A vodka and cranberry juice. We always called it a Cape Cod, so it was a little taste of home!