I talk about the death of my father and what it was like moving back to Southeast Asia.


Hey! How’re you going? This is Alena and welcome to the Along Came English podcast. If you’re new here, this is an English learning podcast where I talk about a variety of different topics, share some stories from my life and explain some English stuff along the way.

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I have a quick disclaimer about this episode. As you might be able to tell from the title, I’m going to talk about my dad’s death. He didn’t die of COVID but I do talk a little bit about death and grief. So if these might be triggers for you, I’d recommend you listen to another episode.

My dad’s death

Alright. Well, I’m in Brunei now. I’m currently in quarantine as I’m recording this. The hotel is right next to a main road so you might be able to hear the cars and trucks driving past. We have to do a week-long quarantine when we enter the country. There were a lot of things I had to do in order to get here—I’ll talk more about the process later on.

Now my last episode came out end of November last year. I didn’t mention it then but my dad passed away on 18 of November. It wasn’t COVID. I mean he was in his mid-70s and he had a variety of health issues as—as expected of a person of that age but he died quite suddenly. From what my mom told me, also quite peacefully. He was found laying on his recliner as if he was taking a nap.

recliner is one of those very comfortable chairs that you can lean back on and even raise your legs.

I don’t mean to be morbid—morbid means to be interested in unpleasant subjects like death, it’s considered quite disapproving—so I don’t mean to be morbid, death can be an uncomfortable subject for many people but I guess—I guess of all the ways to go, you know, something that’s quick and relatively peaceful, past the age of 70 is kind of the ideal, isn’t it?

There are no drawn-out battles with terminal illness, no debt because of hospital or hospice bills, no external or physical injury. And the hope is that by the time you’re in your 70s, you’ve at least lived a relatively good and healthy life.

I spent a few weeks grieving and mourning him. Grieve is a verb that means to feel intense sorrow especially when someone dies. Grief with an F is the noun form. Mourn is the outward expression of grief.

I would call home every few days just to see how my mom was doing. I kept listening to “Love is a Compass” by Griff and cry to the song, as you do. And no, the name is just a coincidence.

One memory I have of my dad is that we would always go to this wonton restaurant in Kuala Lumpur together and he would get his bowl of wontons and beef brisket. Wonton is a type of Chinese dumpling with a thin wrapper usually served in soup. It kind of looks like mini meatballs wrapped in a thin cloth.

For some reason, wontons are not that popular in Melbourne. There’re a lot of Chinese dumpling restaurants there but they’re jiaozi, which is a different type of dumpling that are bigger and wrapped in dough, and not served in soup. So they’re usually fried, or boiled, or steamed.

My friends were able to help me find a Hong Kong restaurant that served wonton and I had a bowl in his memory.

But to be honest, I don’t really have much to say about my dad. We weren’t particularly close. As an adult, I don’t really have a lot of treasured memories of us together. Anyway, this is a practical picture of the kind of relationship we had. We didn’t hate each other and I wouldn’t say we had a bad relationship. I’m very thankful for the life he provided for his family and me. But the reality is we were never close, so I don’t really see the point of sugar-coating it.

Despite all that, I felt really sad losing him. Even though death is inevitable, and I knew it was going to happen eventually—I mean he was in his 70s. But you’re never really prepared for it right? Grief is a weird thing too. I mean I felt like a part of me died along with him. The feeling eventually passed but it was there for a brief time.

The timing was really unfortunate. As you know, I was in Australia since the start of the pandemic and my parents live in Brunei. The last time I saw my parents was just before the lockdowns at the start of 2020. Because of the travel restrictions I was unable to go back to visit my parents for two years and I was also unable to attend the funeral.

And my mother was quite understanding about the situation and we agreed that I would come back to visit—come back to visit when some of the restrictions lifted. Sure, I could have travelled for compassionate reasons but at the time quarantine was 2 weeks. I would’ve missed the funeral even if I could quarantine for 1 week. And you know, the whole situation was just beyond our control.

However, even though I hadn’t seen my dad for almost 2 years, I’m glad I was able to see him just before the lockdowns. Looking back, there was actually a period of five years where I hadn’t seen him at all. My sister and mother came to visit me in Australia periodically but he didn’t come along and I didn’t leave Australia during that time. But from 2016 onwards, I decided to make more of an effort to see my family. I think I was able to see them at least twice a year up until the pandemic.

I imagine for some of you listening to this, this would be unheard of. But yea, this is the reality for kids who’ve moved away and call a different country their home. For me to travel to Southeast Asia, it’s about an 7-8 hour flight. I have friends who have to travel at least 24 hours to see their parents in their home country. And because of how expensive and exhausting it is, because most of them are now married with kids, they usually only go back like once every 2-3 years, sometimes longer.

So my dad was cremated—cremated meaning his body was burnt to ashes. My sister sent me pictures of the funeral. We’d actually like to have his ashes buried in Malaysia, which is his home country. But we’re just waiting for the right time to fly there. Hopefully soon.

The decision to move

So initially I had only planned to visit Brunei for a month and return to Melbourne. I think it was around the end of November that I decided to move out of Australia again and come to Brunei to spend some time with my mom.

It was quite a spontaneous decision. When I went back to Australia in 2020, it was meant to be for a year or so even though I wasn’t sure where I would go after and then COVID hit. So yea, I guess it seemed like the right time to leave Australia for a bit and then move back again eventually.

I don’t really have any concrete plans to be honest. I admit it is strange for me just thinking about it. Life has become quite transient for me in recent years—transient means temporary or lasting for a short time, another synonym is transitory. And for some reason moving out of Australia just feels like the right thing to do. It wasn’t a difficult decision but it was definitely daunting moving into the unknown.

Cue the 2001: Space Odyssey theme song. Or like any sci-fi music when you’re venturing into the unknown.

Oh yea, I was actually freaking out a few weeks ago and called up a friend of mine to talk about it. The funny thing is, I have no doubts about my decision to move. I was freaking out because it’s still—it’s still a daunting thing to do. The last few times I’ve moved away, I left stuff in Melbourne. I was away for a year each time and came back to Melbourne. But this time, it feels different you know. Now the only thing I have in my name is my bank account and my Australian phone number. I’ve moved some stuff back to my mom’s. Everything else I’ve sold or given away. I still have the intention of moving back, just not sure—just not sure when.

Admittedly, there is a small part of me that wishes to be settled and to have put down roots somewhere. For a brief period of time I kind of had that when I was younger but I was very—I was very unhappy.

And even though I don’t really have a traditional lifestyle for a person of my age right now, in my—in my late 30s now, I’m actually quite content. I don’t know how long this period will last but I’m still enjoying it and it still feels like the right thing to do.

I have heard of a number of people moving back to their home country during the pandemic. Of course, I can’t speak for them and their reasons for moving back. Immigrating into another country out of your home country is already a stressful process and then moving back after a number of years is another stressful process. I guess the pandemic has made us reflect on what’s important to us, the things that really matter.

Moving back to Southeast Asia

Not the process of moving back was quite stressful. Have you heard of Murphy’s Law? Murphy’s Law states that, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Think of it as a proverb or a general truth. You probably have something similar in your native language.

The fact that I made it here means that things eventually worked out but there were definitely some issues.

As soon as I made the decision, I already started packing stuff and giving things away. It was a funny thing because I was trying to do that whole “spark joy” thing from Marie Kondo but I still feel like I ended up with more things than I would like to admit.

Yea, in my mind I’d like to call myself a minimalist but the truth is I like to keep my trinkets and teddy bears and art prints and clothes that I hope I’ll be able to fit in again. I actually kept a lot of my winter clothes—not sure if that was a good idea, to be honest.

The first things that I sold was my computer chair and desk and I had to do lessons on the floor for a few months. #floorgang

I tried putting stuff up for sale on eBay and Facebook and was able to sell some stuff. I realised that with time, you can sell things at your preferred price but if you’re trying to get rid of things quickly, you end up giving them way or sell them at ridiculously low prices. I had quite a number of books I wanted to sell but I think I put them up too late. I ended up giving away a lot of stuff.

Even though I had about 3 months to pack, I wasn’t super organised about it. I couldn’t send everything by post because Australia Post has restrictions about the size of the box you could send. I arranged for a courier to come pick up the large boxes. I also realised I was slightly overweight with my luggage, so I packed another small box to send over.

And to be honest, I’m not sure if the airline would’ve really cared about the weight of my check-in luggage because there were only like 6 passengers on the flight. But by that time, I was getting increasingly cautious and wary because I didn’t want to risk anything that would prevent me from getting onto that flight.

In order to fly into Brunei, there was a whole checklist of things I had to do. This wasn’t unexpected. I think there are a number of countries that have a checklist but nonetheless a stressful process. The Brunei government also made some changes to their travel polices so I had to make sure I had the latest checklist.

My current dilemma is that as a Malaysian, I can only visit as a tourist and spend about a month here in Brunei. Even though Brunei is my hometown, I was only a legal resident here as a dependent. There are ways to extend my stay here but from the looks of it, I probably have to travel between Malaysia and Brunei.

This could be an opportunity to travel again, but yea, the pandemic has definitely had an impact on travelling and the tourist industry. At this stage, I’m not super keen, but you never know.

Anyway I bought a one-way ticket to Brunei in January. I also bought an outgoing ticket to Malaysia to prove that I would leave Brunei in the expected time. I don’t think getting an outgoing ticket is a prerequisite to enter the country but border control has asked about this from time to time—just being cautious.

Initially I’d bought a cheap ticket but the airline I bought that ticket from cancelled my flight twice. Fair enough, there isn’t much traffic to and from Brunei at the moment, but there were no longer any flights within the month with that airline anymore.

So I ended up buying another ticket from another airline that was more expensive. And then no one at border control asked for my outgoing ticket. So yea, I paid a price for being extra cautious.

I had to book a hotel to quarantine in. This was an interesting process. I didn’t know this but you can’t just simply book a hotel online because not every hotel is certified for quarantine. Apparently there is a list somewhere on the Googleverse if you knew where to look, which I didn’t. I ended up asking on Reddit for recommendations and thankfully found a relatively affordable place with surprisingly decent food.

The week before my flight for Brunei, one of my housemates got COVID. Thankfully it wasn’t severe and she recovered and no one else got sick. But I had to isolate for a week as a close contact and only got out of quarantine two days before my flight.

I know I got travel insurance but the thought of any possibility that I would get COVID and have to reschedule my flight and hotel booking and the process of going through the insurance company was quite stressful. Like I avoided everyone in my house like the plague. It was a rather sad ending to my stay at that house. I was actually quite comfortable there and the landlord was very nice.

With the number of cases and the relaxing of restrictions in Melbourne, I was genuinely concerned about getting COVID just before my flight. Personally, I’m not too concerned about getting COVID myself because I’m not immunocompromised. However I have family and friends in my social circle who are considered high risk and the possibility of potentially spreading it to them is just horrifying to me.

The last thing that went wrong was that I left my hard drive at my friend’s place in Melbourne. I’d brought it along to print documents for checking in at the airport and left it there. It’s not super urgent but it contains resources I use for my lessons, important documents and files I use for Along Came English. I—I gotta get that posted. I don’t think you can really tell but because I don’t have access to my podcast files, so things may sound a bit different today.

Now that I’m here however, it is a huge sigh of relief. I’ve been sleeping a lot as you do in quarantine. Although I’ve had a decent amount of sleep in the past few months, I hadn’t been sleeping that well. The food is surprisingly decent at this hotel. I don’t quite like the noodles so far but I just enjoy having someone else prepare my meals, you know.

Anyway, I’ll finish the episode here.

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Well, thank you so much for listening. Stay safe. Have a good day and I’ll catch you later. Bye.