Hey there! It’s been a minute. I’ve been home for about a month now, and I haven’t blogged in a while. Because truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to write about. I’m still not sure. I’ve always been an expat blogger in Malaysia, but I’m not anymore.
I’m an expat blogger, temporarily living in the US, with no clue where our future will lead us. And less of a clue where this blog will go. But I’m not letting go of Sand In My Curls. It’s just going to look different. I think. Time will tell. As I’ve said before, We make plans, and God laughs, so I’m going to go with the flow here.
Let me catch you up on my life. I’ll walk it back a bit and let you know what it was like traveling home and adjusting for the first few weeks.
But let me tell you this right off the bat, traveling is no longer a pleasure-inducing endeavor. Instead, it’s a stress-inducing hassle.
So, without further ado…
First, we had to hire a driver from Penang to Kuala Lumpur because the flights between the two kept getting canceled. That was easy to sort out since we had friends who had done the same thing a month prior. No need to do much research.
We used Ken, who was not our actual driver but owned the transport company. Our driver, Cheong, was fabulous and totally accommodating when we had to change plans last minute. A company Mark is working with needed him to go to KL early to film a commercial.
No pressure. Just come to KL a few hours before your flight out of the country for who knows how long. Not a big ask, right? I thought so. Ok, that’s a fib. I was smidge nerved-out. However, in true Mark fashion, he totally nailed the commercial in less than an hour, and we were off to the airport unscathed.
ORGANIZING THE PCR TEST
The bigger hassle was getting a PCR test within 72 hours of your flight.
Because we were leaving on Monday at 3 am, we had to plan the test with the precision of a sniper and hope our flight wasn’t delayed. And that we didn’t get a false positive. Or have it asymptomatically and get thrown into a hospital full of sick people. No stress there. I was far more worried about being put into a hospital or health center than actually getting covid.
If you leave during the week, the 72-hour rule is no big deal because all the hospitals are supposed to get your results in 24-ish hours. But over the weekend, they can’t guarantee the same 24-hour time frame.
We had to get the test on Friday morning. Hope for it back sometime on Saturday, then leave Penang midday on Sunday and fly out Monday early am.
We did it at Adventist Hospital, and it was around RM300 per person.
To prepare myself, I watched videos of the test being administered. It always looked like they were scrambling the testee’s brains. Like they went straight north behind their eyes, leaving them with googly-eyes.
Our test was not that bad. A nurse standing in a plexiglass box put his arms through two holes in the glass but into full hazmat suit sleeves, right out of a sci-fi movie. I tilted my head back and waited for the ol’ googly-eyed scramble, but he didn’t tickle my brain at all.
He actually went straight back into my sinuses, which is the correct way to administer the test.
He also took a throat swab. The whole rigamarole was over in less than 30 seconds. Easy peasy.
Thankfully we got our results mid-day Saturday. We were golden as long as they didn’t delay our flight.
NEW RULES… (maybe)
So on top of our early drive to KL and PCR requirements, the Malaysian government decided to throw one more curveball into the mix. They thought changing our MM2H visa rules* would be a fantastic idea.
No biggie, no pressure. Just leave the country, and maybe you’ll get back in… maybe.
Can you see where my stress level started piling up?
*Since we’ve been in the US, they have canceled most of the proposed changes. However, every day there are reports of different changes, so we are just waiting to see how it all shakes out.
Once we got to the airport in KL, they immediately checked our PCR tests and passports right at the front entrance.
Even though the airport was relatively empty, it still felt like a lot of people.
We were so isolated for so long. Random people made me feel ill at ease. I didn’t even realize how bad it was until we left our Penang bubble. Anyone near me freaked me out a bit. God forbid someone was coughing near me.
When we got on the plane, it was like a free for all, I was pretty tense. It was a full plane, which didn’t make me happy. I was hoping for some kind of SOP’s, maybe blocking out the middle seat. Usually, when we fly, I get the window, and Mark gets the aisle. And no one ever sits in between us.
But because they canceled our original flight, we were all shoved onto one plane, and it was a pretty full flight. So that meant me moving to the middle seat and having some stranger next to me for 15 hours. Oh, joy.
When the 6’2 guy sat next to me wearing his mask as beard warmer, I said to him, “For that thing to work, you need to pull it up over your mouth AND your nose.” He apologized and put it on properly, thankfully, or I would have blown a gasket.
The same can’t be said for the guy across from us with 4 kids and a wife who initially tried to steal our seats. He refused to wear a mask (or sit with his family) for the entire trip. Yet, amazingly, those flight attendants didn’t say a word to him. Although unless they’re armed with a taser and duct tape, who can blame them? Being a flight attendant these days is dangerous.
After 15 hours on that flight, we got off only to be surrounded by the masses while waiting for our luggage. I couldn’t wait to get outside, away from the crowds.
This last year made me so unsettled and on edge. I’m not usually a skittish or nervous person. I don’t have these kinds of anxieties, and now suddenly, I’m weirded out by strangers. Who am I?
However, that’s all beginning to change now.
THE FIRST 72-HOURS
In America, it’s a whole different world. Not saying it’s right or wrong. It’s just different.
There are no rules about quarantining here. You just show up in the US and go about your life. The only thing that is somewhat enforced is wearing a mask inside. The lines are spaced out in some places like grocery stores, but it’s a free-for-all in other places.
It has def taken me some time to get used to it, but I am. People are out and about, and they aren’t all wearing masks. They are living and moving on with their life with a freedom I really missed in Penang.
When we first arrived, I tried to stay away from my mom. As much as it killed me not to run and hug her right off the plane, I also didn’t want to be the one who killed her. I would never forgive myself if I had something that hurt her.
Eventually, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I had to see mom and my brother. So we sat outside for dinner in what felt like the freezing cold (72 degrees). And all I could do was hope I wasn’t the covid grim reaper.
THE FIRST 30 DAYS
Because of all the isolation, the indoctrination, and the deathwatch, I wasn’t sure how our friends here would feel about seeing us right away.
Before we left, we met some friends by their guardhouses for a quick chat and goodbye. But not everyone was comfortable with that. We were so used to not being allowed to be with people, I wasn’t sure how it would be here.
In Penang, we had to sneak into friends’ houses and hope we wouldn’t get busted and fined. We were constantly looking over our shoulders as we stood by the beach or by the coffee shop chatting with friends. On and off for the last year, Penang felt like such a scary place. And I honestly didn’t get the gravity of what that did to me and the fear it put into me until we were here.
The first time we went to a friend’s house for dinner, I took my mask off and looked over both shoulders before slinking inside. When it hit me that I wasn’t going to get into trouble, and I didn’t need to sneak, I cried a little from relief. Or maybe it was freedom.
Yes, people are concerned about the virus here. But they are living life and not letting it rule them. Unlike in Penang, where we were entirely governed by it, here life goes on.
Since we left Malaysia, I have no idea what the stats are. I don’t know how many hospital beds are available in Chicago. How many people got it today. How many people died from it last night. I have no clue. And ya know what. There is freedom in that.
There is freedom in knowing it’s out there but still being able to go to the gym, take walks, be with friends, hug people. The first time I hugged someone, I cried. Just writing about it makes me well up. We aren’t supposed to live in solitary confinement. We are social beings. That is more detrimental to our mental health than covid is.
Taking our freedoms and doling them back out to us one by one makes us feel free. Unfortunately, however, we are anything but. But that’s a blog for another time.
MY MONTH-END THOUGHTS
Being here has certainly been an adjustment. But not nearly as monumental as I thought. Other than missing my Penang friends and family, it feels really right. For now, there is no place I’d rather be.