Sunday, October 18, 2015

Living the international life

I wrote this 17 years ago. Kurt and his family, which now includes Brenna, born in 2005, live in Tokyo. Thank goodness for Face Time!

Last night I got an email from my son, Kurt, who lives in Singapore with his wife and two young sons. The subject line read “stuff” and that’s just what the note was all about. Everyday stuff.

His trip to Korea had been cancelled meaning that he could have a couple more weeks with his newborn son before resuming the corporate travel circuit. A friend had given Kurt $50, asking that he give the money to three-year-old Drogin who was to take it to the toy store to buy a gift for his newborn brother, Cougar. “I’m going to get a big present for me and something small for Cougar,” Drogin announced. Sure enough, Dro added to his growing collection of train cars and then bought Cougar a Snoopy rattle. So it is with three-year-olds.

I know that I would not have heard all this good everyday “stuff” if I hadn’t gone to Singapore a few weeks ago. Kurt has lived out of the U.S. for ten years, and although I’ve seen him once a year most years, it has been glimpses sandwiched between business appointments and attempts to keep up with high school and college friends.

When he first “went international,” I remember his describing a conversation he had with an ex-pat friend. “It’s a huge trade-off,” the friend told him. “As the years go by, you realize more and more what you give up when you live in another country.”
The years have gone by and now Kurt knows first-hand the truth of his friend’s words.

Time and dollars make Singapore a tough place to visit. The days I spent there were filled with everyday “stuff” and some tourist stuff to. Kurt took a week off and together we took Drogin to the zoo, the bird park and to Sentosa Island, Singapore’s answer to Disneyland. We rode a tandem bike to the coast through traffic I was pleased I did not have to navigate. My job was to keep Drogin’s sleepy, helmeted head from flopping about as he snoozed in the child seat.

We visited Drogin’s pre-school on the grounds of an elegant country club. We wlked the beach an got drenched in a tropical rainstorm. We touched the warmth of the Indian Ocean.

And we ate: Brunch at the American Club on Mother’s Day; fresh fish Chinese style in a marina restaurant that seated 1,000 people; fresh fish Japanese style in downtown Singapore, and fish sandwiches at McDonald’s.

We went for a run with Dro in the baby jogger in “suburban” Singapore near home. “Does anyone live in the country?” I asked.

“This is the country,” Kurt replied. They have a side yard with grass an a papaya tree, and there is a small park in front of their townhouse. That’s s rural as it gets in Singapore.

I watched Kurt and Drogin dance together to Cheeseburger in Paradise in the living room and hit golf balls in their yard. I observed a morning ritual as Drogin, dressed in his school uniform, sat on the front porch railing waiting for his bus, eating grapes peeled for him by their maid.

Now I know how the Kurt James family lives. I know what and when they eat; how they deal with the year-round heat and humidity, and the pluses and minuses of having live-in help. I know their South African neighbors and I’m familiar with the local “wet” (produce) market where their maid shops every day.

Kurt has always been a person of few words. When he was in high school and came home, he liked to talk. I struggled to stay awake when he appeared at our bedroom door to check in and invariably launch into an in-depth conversation of what was going on in his life. I forced myself to listen, knowing that these were precious, infrequent moments.

He didn’t say much in the warm, moist semi-darkness of early morning when he delivered me to he Singapore airport. Neither could I. But we didn’t need words to know the importance of the week we’d spent together and what we’d both been missing and would miss some more in the months and years ahead.

In a week, we had re-established a relationship that had been in danger of deteriorating, not because we didn’t care, but because we had been too far apart for too long. Now I get emails and I hear about “stuff” and I think we won’t let as much time go by until we make time to play together again.

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