In early August, I went to Sydney with my mother. A couple of our family’s oldest friends were celebrating a big wedding anniversary and birthday.
I haven’t travelled only with my mother for a long time. I can’t actually remember ever travelling with her and her alone on a trip that entailed plane travel.
We’ve always been part of a pod, with the immediate family or broader clan. The last time our whole family went overseas was when we met up in Batu Ferringhi Beach, Penang, in 2000. My dad was still around.
We spent Christmas together, then spent New Year apart: my brother travelled to the UK and didn’t return to Australia for about two years, my sister and her partner went to Cambodia and visited Angkor Wat, and my partner and I (this was pre-kids) went to Japan to hang out in Kyoto and Nara. My parents stayed in Malaysia and were wined and dined beyond human capacity for another couple of weeks. Good times, indeed.
Since my dad died in 2003, my mum has travelled to Malaysia almost every year, sometimes twice a year. Her mum was alive till a couple of years ago; my poh poh lived till she was almost 100 years old. My mum’s sisters are still around Penang (I blogged about this a bit in “Aunts“) and, when she’s there, she spends most of her time with my fourth aunty. Fourth aunty actually moves into whichever hotel my mum’s at and hangs with her for the duration. It’s satisfying to see them together, to hear their constant to-ing and fro-ing about all subjects, their arguments about who pays, and the prime gossip that gets passed around.
Watching and hearing about them, I can’t help but think – yet again – with melancholy about my mother’s move to Australia.
I like us being here and I appreciate having been brought up here, but I’m realising with increasing depth how incredibly sad and difficult it must have been for my mum to pack up her life in Malaysia and move here. She had a great network of work friends, big family, and no particular desire to come to the white-bread suburbs of 1970s Brisbane.
I sometimes wonder how the conversation between my parents unfurled. How do you broach such a huge topic? Did she need to be convinced, or did she agree because they did it for our educational good? Was my dad swayed more by his family business obligations (in Australia) or our schooling?
I still have occasional dreams of taking my mum to the UK (specifically, Buckingham Palace + other royal sightseeing) and the US (specifically, Graceland – she’s an Elvis die-hard fan; we have Elvis hand-towels in the bathroom…). The thought of going en masse as a family, however, makes me quail. Travelling only with my mum and leaving the family behind doesn’t seem quite the way either. Not that we’re sitting on a pile of travel money that’s just waiting to be spent (and this is the most salient element, overall, in the current state of international non-travel).
I have had many plans to take mum on Victorian day-trips and long weekends and explore the state (or Tasmania close by). None of these have happened. In saying this, I should also say that we haven’t actually done any of these in any shape or form, not just that my mum wasn’t with us when we did them. Our family takes an annual jaunt to the Gold Coast to visit ma-in-law, but we otherwise haven’t established a ‘family holiday’ pattern.
In fact, besides this Sydney trip the other weekend, my mum and I have only visited Ballarat for a weekend. That’s definitely not Buckingham Palace.