This week we are co-authoring posts. Uncharted waters here at GMGM. LG & Kat brave the first attempt…
Bing Crosby croons for snow in the midst of a cinematic post-war tribute surrounded by fairy-costumed children and iconic set design. Copious amounts of powdered flakes appear, to sentimental climax, defying local movie meteorologists to the delight of cast and audience.
Arrogant, mystical, weather-defying genie bastard.
Meanwhile, Singapore’s December swelters in 90% humidity matched only by the 90° temperature. Sweat streaming from our foreheads marks each roll of fat by a thin wet crease. December might as well be July – equaled in misery. Distained by the abundant Christmas lighting gaudily encumbering every mall, we gawk at faux pines saturated by all offending colors and blinding amounts of tinsel.
There is no real need for, or anticipation of, winter-wear — tall leather boots, heavy knit sweaters and cozy fleece footie pajamas, despite heavy air conditioning and farcical sale adverts for parkas and snow boots. The Christmas spirit melts among the flip-flops, sundresses and chafed sweaty thighs. As holiday weather purists, we tire at dancing Santa, perspiring as we watch him jiggle his jelly bowl.
Discarded: Two pairs of leather boots and one purse – disintegrated as a result of extreme humidity. Two giant black rubbish bags overflowing with a useless wardrobe comprised of sleeved garments, long pants and synthetic fabrics.
Cleaned (vigorously): One sofa decorated with fuzzy mold after being subjected to three days of vacation abandonment.
Envied: Facebook updates replete with roasted turkeys, ugly sweater parties and fully kitted Christmas trees.
Besides the weather, missing far-flung loved ones makes the holidays even less festive; although some would argue this is a perk of the expat lifestyle. There’s no commotion over who’s hosting this year’s Christmas Eve dinner or whose pie skills rank supreme. The only dilemma is worrying about where to go. The beach destinations are endless, only a jumper flight away from bikini clad paradise. Oh joy! rejoices 20 extra dim sum derived pounds of lovely lady lumps.
LG contemplates Christmas in paradise, while Kat panics slightly over marred Christmas plans, a story for another time, so Plan B develops: FriendsMas.
Decidedly, 2013 festivities are held in Lombok, Indonesia, aka Bali circa pre-commercialization, or so we’d been told a million times.
One short flight for Kat is accompanied by an exhausting night, sleeplessly spent half-terrified by totally unidentifiable noises in a Balinese… urhm… “B&B”. In fairness, the lighting is dim enough to stay willfully ignorant of the status of the room. There are bunk beds (a girl loves options) and the toilet flushes, pretty much. Plus, the bathroom spider monster keeps to himself.
In the morning, Bob Marley, followed by Mariah Carey, jovially provide breakfast reggae Christmas jams with coffee, blissfully unaware of an evening spent in a low-grade horror movie. Soldiering on, Kat prepares for the short boat ride to the Gili Islands, imagining LG yomping up and down a volcano.
LG wants to hike a volcano for Christmas, of course. Luckily, nearby Lombok has an active one ready to be conquered.
As LG yomps, Kat absorbs the following safety instructions for her sea journey: If the boat starts to sink, find a life jacket and swimswimswimswim (cue doggy paddle hand motions by Boat Authority Figure and awkward comedy laugh by tourists). Kat surveys nearby points of rescue as an expert dog paddler. The greying tropical mist does nothing to reassure the plausibility of safety. This scenario still beats standing in line poised for TSA inspection. Score one for Indonesia.
And as Kat imagines her potential real life Gili-(gan’s) Island scenario, LG fights through altitude-induced asthma and crying bouts of frustration as she trudges up a mountain wondering why the hell this ever sounded like a good idea for vacation. Local guides bypass her as they, quite literally, run up-and-down the mountain in flip-flops with 50+ lbs. sacks perched on their shoulders like gorilla-sized parrots. LG’s decision to give up cherished family traditions — the silly ‘Dirty Santa’ gift-stealing game and the ridiculous ‘12 Days of Christmas’ sing-a-long — for hiking a volcano turns out to be a humbling and exhausting choice.
To reward LG summiting said volcano and Kat braving the open seas, their travels conclude at a fancy-pants spa resort.
Tolerated: Frantic calls and subsequently hastily confirmed travel plans.
Secured: An overly sentimental catsitter for one needy, neurotic furry child.
Endured: 3,626 meters of hiking, climbing around trip-happy tree roots, clawing over boulders and sliding downhill on 45° inclines of loose pebbles.
Purchased: Two flights to Bali. Two seats on a ferry to the Gili Islands and two on a speedboat (because that’s how LG rolls). Two hotel rooms. Four seats barreling seaside, again, to Lombok. Two more hotel rooms. Approximately 104 drinks at the victory bar. Two manicures. Two pedicures. Two spoiled brats. Zero guilt.
The absence of traditional Christmas indicators as an expat can add a layer of loneliness to difficult times. Island life does not lend itself to sipping mulled wine and settling into a pumpkin pie, and it’s just too hot to snuggle. Comforts from home are designed for cold weather.
But Mai Tais at sunset do wonders to squelch nostalgia. Together we imbibe overpriced fruit-adorned alcoholic beverages while wading around in the pool, conveniently bar adjacent. We sip hot tea while peering over the shoulders of manicurists to be lulled by the swaying palm trees that aligned the estate of our accommodation. We crack and share a giant crayfish (aka Indonesian ‘lobster’) over a candlelit beach dinner, our feet burrowing into the sand beneath. We laugh away the night playing truth-or-dare amidst sweet flavored shisha and limitless drinks. Even the next day’s hangover lives within a special little shared place, along with the weird vegan nut balls.
At the end of it all, nothing is as planned – this year, or this Christmas. But this holiday is one of the most enjoyable spent in 20 years.
Christmas 2013 is absent drama llamas (good riddance), honey-baked ham (sadly) and elastic waist sweatpants (…sadly). But with one’s urban family, surrounded by beach, much-needed silliness and a sizeable quantity of the nearest bar’s inventory, holidays that fly in the face of expectations sometimes make the best memories.