By: Raelee Chapman
I must admit I’ve always been one of those expats who hankered for home, even after three years. I longed for the dry, hot air of an Australian summer, the smell of eucalypts after rain, haze-free skies and flocks of screeching sulphur-crested cockatoos. Mostly, though, I missed family and friends, and had yet to make my network here – a “home away from home”.
Slowly, subtly, things changed. In my condominium, the social group is made up of expats from India and Pakistan, a couple of Chinese-Malaysian families and a few local Chinese-Singaporean families. In fact, there are only two other Australian families that I know of, and we don’t often cross paths due to their work commitments.
At some point – and I’m not sure what I did to warrant the invitation; perhaps it was my new baby (babies are a sure way to make friends) – I was asked to the house of an Indian neighbour who I did not really know, except in passing, and presented with gifts for my daughter. I was so touched and overwhelmed.
Since that moment, there has been a continuous stream of pot-luck lunches with 15 or more ladies each bringing a sumptuous Indian or Asian dish, many considered delicacies. I have felt embarrassed by my simple offerings of a baked pasta dish – “typical Western cuisine”; however, some of the embarrassment has been overcome by the fact that the other expat children are crazy about pasta as they never have it at home and it’s seen as exotic and delicious.
The kindness I have been shown extended beyond invitations when my daughter was hospitalised earlier this year: a Chinese-Singaporean neighbour came over with a bouquet of balloons; the same neighbour brought around a Chinese pork and vegetable dish to help feed my guests one December when my maid did not return as expected from home leave; another Chinese-Singaporean came over during the same period with the insightful gift of a small slow-cooker for preparing single serves of baby food while I attended to the kids and the house.
I have been privileged enough to be invited to a Muslim new year luncheon, a Haldi Kumkum ceremony, Halloween trick or treating, and countless birthday parties for the large rabble of children of all different ages and ethnicities that play together. I feel so lucky to be part of such a large and inclusive community.
But the real highlight of the social calendar each year is the Diwali celebration, where maybe 20 or 30 families participate, dressing up in beautiful and colourful clothes and enjoying delicious catered food. The real draw-card is the talent show; last year, the children practised for months beforehand. My eldest daughter participated in a Bollywood-style dance choreographed by university students and overseen by a professional Indian dance instructor. There were piano performances, and one boy charmed us all with a poem recitation and by belting out one of the year’s Top 40 hits. The night ended with the adults playing a few rounds of bingo and the children playing with sparklers in the garden.
This occasion was full of surprises for me, not only in its randomness but also in in how much fun it was – and very typically un-Australian, with not a drop of alcohol all night; yet you couldn’t have seen a merrier group. I’m eagerly looking forward to this year’s Diwali celebration.
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This story first appeared in Expat Living’s April 2015 issue.