From Rice to Frites: Saying Bye to Asia

As I type this post, I feel rather reflective. It’s easy to fall into the sap trap so I’ll try my best not to do that. Processing this move is something I knew I’d have to do, but sitting down to write about it always makes it feel more real. Talk about a countdown: We’re moving to BELGIUM in 10 days.

After thinking it might be Singapore or Germany, we were really surprised by the option for Laurens to go back home. It’s a great opportunity for both of us, and I’m so thrilled to see him in his element and to learn more about his country while also trying to make something for myself there. What a relief it is to know our next step! After months of uncertainty, we finally have a ticket and a plan and that in itself is worth celebrating. I’m thrilled to go back to where it all started for me and for us.

So, besides dealing with all the fun logistical details (cat transport, packing, closing accounts, etc;) I’m now trying to wrap my head around saying goodbye. I’m visiting my favorite spots, seeing the people I enjoy most and reminiscing about our glorious trips because I’m nostalgic like that. It’s not so easy to say bye to such an amazing, life changing period of our lives in one months time.

When I arrived in Indonesia in 2013, it’s safe to say I was a drastically different person. Unsure of the future, insecure about everything and so unaware of my potential; I had a real wake up call coming my way. After our three-year stint over here, we’re now leaving as more self-assured-culturally-rounded people, more comfortable in our skin, and more fortified as a couple than ever. The amount of firsts is too long to list. The amount of challenges, too. But the beauty and spirit of exploration that followed us here is something I’ll feel long after we’re gone. I’ve seen beauty unimaginable, tasted food that I’ll always crave, and experienced kindness that puts Texans to shame. It’s been an extremely surreal ride in every way. At times emotional, at times so simple, but always gloriously unpredictable.

Sunset watching in Bali

What felt like eternity at times zipped by and now this profound chapter with all our experiences, friends and travels is almost over. For someone who never saw herself visiting Asia – as cheesy as it sounds – having lived on this side of the world is one of my proudest accomplishments. If you would’ve told me that I’d live in Indonesia/Malaysia for almost the same amount of time I spent in college, I would’ve told you you were crazy. That trajectory was never on my radar, and maybe that’s why it means so much.

Yes, in less than two weeks, we’ll be trading in our Asian experience for a European way of life which might be old hat for Laurens, but foreign to me. A new culture, new norms. Belgium stands in stark contrast to Malaysia, so it’s safe to say I’ll feel some sort of shock in the beginning. I guess this expat experiment taught me that home is really a state of mind, and if we can make it here at the other end of the world we can land on our feet anywhere. I now know that moving abroad is the fastest way to meet the rawest form of yourself: preconceived notions, passions, prejudices, fears, interests – they all come to the forefront in a foreign environment. It’s frustrating and fabulous all at once and part of the wonderful, crazy ride.

Bliss in Bunaken
Bliss in Bunaken

Deciding to leave was as difficult as it was easy. After months of agonizing back and forth, it became clear we needed to move on. Surprisingly, taking a leap this big has me strangely at peace despite the set of challenges moving to the next place presents. A new language, a new culture, a new lifestyle. I guess nothing can really prepare you for a move like this, but if practice makes perfect, then maybe I’m getting closer to getting it. It excites and scares me in the best way possible.

Despite being ready to go, I recognize that being here forever changed me. I feel like a woman now. And maybe it’s just the age, but I suspect being here had lots to do with it. Asia did something for me that I didn’t know I needed; I grew up and became concerned with my finding and protecting my happiness – regardless of external circumstances. Being so far from home strips you of excuses you might make for yourself. I learned to let the little stuff fall away and then so did my anxieties. With the deficiencies and the strengths of Indonesia and Malaysia also came a way of life unique in and of itself that forced me to mature and find myself head on, and I’m so grateful for that.

Being expats in Asia afforded us luxuries we couldn’t indulge in Europe or the US and we enjoyed them while we could. We had a driver, a cook and housekeeper in Indonesia. Here in JB, we had a large condo apartment with great creature comforts and loads of vacation time. Me working was not a necessity and because of that, I had time to explore the things I enjoyed doing. I was a teacher, a stay at home girlfriend, a freelance writer, a professional coffee shop dweller, a (brief) tote bag entrepreneur, a blogger, a photographer, a dessert searcher, a wife and a friend. We were blessed beyond belief.

I learned how to drive on the left side of the road, took classes to learn a new language, and discovered my love of photography. I also learned I can’t tolerate spicy foods no matter how much Malaysians would love me for it. My passion for food only grew once we got here as I realized the flavors I’d been missing out on all my life were monumental. (Indian food is officially #1 on my list followed by Thai.)

From living in a chaotic city to a modern border town on the rise, I realized Asia is so much more nuanced and vast than American media would have viewers believe. It’s so worth the effort to get here and explore, no matter how long or short the trip. Even with three years under our belts, we didn’t manage to see it all. Taiwan, Australia, and Japan are still on the list…

The places we’ve seen…! The crystal blue waters, purple sunsets, towering mountains, impressive volcanos, lush rice fields, bustling colorful markets, winding coastlines, dizzying skyscrapers, ancient history, monuments to past kingdoms and conquests…the impeccable culinary adventure! The staggering beauty of this side of the world is something that can’t be understated. I’d be crazy if I tried to sum it up in one post. Hopefully my photos from the past three years can sum up that part 🙂

I’ll definitely never be the same. And as silly as it feels to admit this…I felt special here. Malaysians and Indonesians are such kind people with a genuine, curious attitude towards foreigners and not a day would go by without someone asking me where I was from and if I liked it in their country. I would smile and say, “Oh, I actually live here.” I felt proud, like ya – I’m not a tourist! From walking in the malls of Makassar and feeling famous with people asking for photos, to living in JB and meeting people from dozens of different countries, there’s no better way to feel aware (and proud) of where you’re from and for being different.

And because most days it was so clear I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, whether I liked it or not, I was often forced to reassess my beliefs and attitudes. What a huge exercise in patience and understanding.

And the friends we made! It’s true that a city is nothing without the people in it, and building relationships with new friends transforms a bad experience into a great one. The closest friends I had here were neither American nor similar to me in any way, and that made me a fuller, more interesting person as a result just from having met them. The international community here is inspiring to learn from, but I’ll especially remember the amazing women – young and old –  who connected with me and showed me how to thrive overseas and to be strong and independent despite being transplants. Before moving here, I never took much time to make new female relationships, but in Asia I realized their importance and beauty of it and watched and learned from resilient, interesting women who depended on each other in such a close knit community.

Then there was this blog. Feeling the first waves of culture shock inspired me to channel my restless energy into creative writing and street photography. It was an easy hobby to delve into because everything I was seeing was so novel and made for fantastic subjects. Although I didn’t speak the language fluently, the camera was a great way to connect with locals and share special moments. I became addicted to telling stories through images and looking back at those photos reignites the feeling of seeing SE Asia and its people for the first time.
Then the blog morphed into something more gratifying – it turned into a great outlet for me and a tool for other expats in the same situation who needed answers to their questions about moving to places like Makassar and Johor. I’ve connected with readers all over the world – how great is that?

People of Makassar

It’s not all emotional reflection going on in my head, really. I’m truly excited. I’ll get to see my hubs in his element which will be a first; I’ll have the chance to work and finally expand on my experience; I’ll be back in the continent I love so much.

So, here’s a summary of the things I’ll miss and others…not so much.

I won’t miss:

  • Crazy drivers
  • The haze
  • The humidity
  • People who:
  • Don’t believe in lines
  • Make smack/kiss sounds at waiters to get their attention
  • Chew with their mouths open

Things I’ll miss so much it isn’t normal:

  • Massage being plentiful and affordable – and none of that sissy stuff, here massages are firm
  • The sun and usually having a nice tan
  • No speed limits or police paranoia
  • Sour plum lime juice
  • Indian curries
  • Kaya toast

For now it’s time to grow some more and maybe, some day in the future, we’ll be back again a little wiser and ready to jump into more Asian adventure. The next step will be full of waffles, beer, fries and European shenanigans that I can’t wait to share with you.

Peace Asia, it’s been so, so good.

With love,


4 responses to “From Rice to Frites: Saying Bye to Asia”

  1. We will be like ships passing in the night 🙂 You return and we leave.

    I’d love to know where you went for lessons or if you recommend someone? Malaysian is a whole new language for us to learn!

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