Where the heart is

by

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde describes a cigarette as “the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite and it leaves one unsatisfied.”

The same might be said of dividing one’s life between Australia and Asia.

Self timer 1This was brought home to me this month after a lightning visit to Melbourne with Tash. I was in two minds about going home mid-winter – our original return date, had we not decided to stay another 6 months – but I wanted to see my family and I knew they’d want to see Tash. Plus there was stuff to sort out with the house and a few missed 40th birthdays to celebrate… What finally tipped the balance in favour was an invitation to speak at the inaugural Reader’s Feast Crime & Justice Festival at the old Abbotsford Convent from 18-20 July (click here for my festival wrap-up).

The trip was frankly exhausting. I had a to-do list as long as my arm, a body-clock set to Cambodian time, and boots a size too small. And I was sleeping with a two-year-old somniloquist and bed-hog. A friend in Phnom Penh was spot-on when he predicted I’d enjoy the novelty of the cold weather for the first 48 hours, after which I’d had enough. My head is bowed in the all photos taken during our stay (above) because I developed a hideous cold sore below my nose on Day 3, which lasted the rest of the trip.

But…

It was so good to spend time with family and friends. To hang out and drink wine with Steph and Christos, talking books and politics. To meet other writers and rave about crime fiction. To catch up with Melissa from my mothers’ group while our daughters Tash and Tiia rekindled their friendship. To spend a day in Yarraville with my Dad, Tash and nephew Vinnie. To have dinner with Luke and Kate at home, Dean at the Edinburgh Castle, Cousin Mary at Cafe Bedda, Suzie at Rumi – meals that took in venison sausages, roo fillets, Sicilian pasta, modern Lebanese delicacies. To join in one of my aunt Dominica’s fabulous lunches (olives, dips, harira, cheeses and chocolate cake to die for), surrounded by family. To spend precious time with my Mum. To nut out the entire Saturday Age cryptic crossword with Cousin Mary over a bottle of excellent Australian shiraz. To shop for children’s books with Helen and be spoiled for choice. To talk with my friend Ange with no echo over the phone line. To take Tash to parks and catch up with our neighbours. To give her warm baths, aided by Cousin Georgia. To visit our house and remember all the reasons why we chose to live there. To buy The Big Issue from my regular vendor Greg. To walk unencumbered along footpaths. To cover long distances by train. To knit. To drink water straight from the tap.

Things I can’t do in Cambodia.

But I missed Phnom Penh, first and foremost because Roo was there, but for other reasons, too. I missed the warmth of the climate, the heat of the food. I missed talking with Roo over cheap mojitos and tuk-tuk rides with Tash. I missed the daily assault on my senses and the challenges to my values.

I was tired before I left for Melbourne and the trip proved a good circuit-breaker. I returned exhausted but with renewed energy and enthusiasm for the time we have left here in Cambodia.

People in Melbourne asked if we’re really coming home in January 2009. I guess their scepticism is justified, given we came away for six months and extended this to twelve. And it is tempting to stay. It’s easy for me and Roo to interesting work that pays enough for us to buy time: we can live longer on less money. Tash is thriving, we’ve made good friends here, and the living is easy for expatriates like us. Best of all, we have time together as a family that we would not have back in Australia.

But we miss the rest of our family, our friends, our house, the cultural reference points that give us a sense of belonging. And Cambodia is the sort of place that could get to you after a while. Roo and I have talked about this and agree: we should leave the party while we’re still having fun.

The day Tash and I got back to Phnom Penh, a torrential downpour flooded our neighbourhood, turning streets into streams within minutes. I wished I could send that storm to Melbourne where water storage levels hover around 30%, and the land can only dream of such rain.

But I don’t get to mix and match. Though I’ll always be unsatisfied by having to choose between the two, I must take the perfect pleasures of Australia and Cambodia one at a time — even if my heart feels at home in both.

(Dedicated to Cousin Mary with thanks for her superb hospitality during our stay in Melbourne).

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3 Responses to “Where the heart is”

  1. GadgetMan Says:

    Hey, it was great to catch up. Adieu, live well, and come back like you said you would
    Plus happy birthday! (It is your birthday about now, isn’t it?)
    x

  2. sooz Says:

    Caught between two places you love is twice as good and yet twice as frustrating too! I totally empathise with your experience – I know if we’d been able to get work like you guys we may never have come home after 2005. I’m not a sceptic. It might take you a bit longer to get back but I know you could never permanently leave *knitting*! It was great to see you and thanks for a wonderful night out. xxx

  3. angelasavage Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Sooz. I knew you’d be able to empathise. I sometimes wonder if we create a rod for our own backs with our travels. It feels as discovering you could happily live elsewhere somehow diminishes ‘home’. I’m happy living in Australia. But knowing how big the world is, I’m never entirely content staying put.

    And yes, Dean, it’s my birthday soon – thanks for the reminder. It’s the 21st anniversary of my 21st, goddamnit!

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