Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Wants Versus Needs

My son's map where he tracks where we've been.
We’re headed towards our Texas home for a few weeks visit before returning to Malaysia for one more year. I’m writing this somewhere just south of Greenland, racing through the sky at 512 mph, suspended over the earth at 34,000 feet with nothing but air velocity, wing shape, and physics keeping the plane aloft. It kind of reminds me of our decision to move overseas. Don't think about it too much and just trust that it will all work out fine.
I knew that being an expat would change us. That’s to be expected. When we first moved overseas, we returned to Texas every 6 months. That kept me tethered to my American life. It kept details fresh in my mind. But this time, it's been a year-long absence. It’s beginning to feel like I’m shedding my old American skin and turning into some hybrid, not-quite-American, not-quite-Malaysian gal. Perhaps it’s just my daftness shining through, but I’m beginning to forget exactly how things work in the United States. Knowing that this move isn’t forever has kept me in an in-between place where I don’t seem to fully adapt to Malaysian life but merely find ways to make do for the time being. I'm just biding my time. I keep putting things off in Malaysia and wait until I’m back in America – like going to the dentist or, oddly, shopping for clothes.

For the past two years, we’ve lived in a not-quite-First-World country. Malaysia is still developing, on the brink of breaking through. Life is pretty good in Penang, but it’s definitely a place where I’ve learned about wants versus needs. I have most of what I need but not everything that I want.

I’ve also reevaluated what category – want or need – things fall into. In Texas, an electrical outage would be a cause for concern. In Malaysia, it’s happened to me so often that it no longer throws me for a loop. A power outage is no reason to cancel a multi-family playdate or a friend’s Ladies Night Out. Who needs electricity to have fun? During Earth Hour, people all over the world were encouraged to turn off their electrical products for 60 whole minutes. Really? One hour of no power is for sissies. Try it for hours while playing hostess.

I’ve been up and down the 500 steps to our condo unit so many times when the elevator doesn’t work. 400 steps to the top of Notre Dame? That’s nothing. Bring it on.
Apparently, reliable electricity and a functional lift are now Wants, not Needs. I always want them but have learned that they aren’t completely necessary. (Note: I seem to be the only one of my Penang friends who has these problems. Most other condos don’t have as many issues. If you’re thinking of moving, don’t let me scare you off.)
I also seem to be using more British English like "lift" instead of "elevator" and "rubbish" instead of "garbage." Perhaps I needed an audible indicator of the gulf of change that's developing in me?
Is it weird that what I miss most about the United States is the rampant consumerism shopping? My impulse purchases have gone waaaaaaaay down since we’ve moved overseas. Alas, our travel expenses seem to have more than offset this change in behavior. I don’t know if it’s that Malaysian marketing isn’t as effective on me or what, but that “Ooohhh, that looks nice. Gimme, gimme, gimme,” feeling just doesn’t come over me as much when I’m at stores there. America is much better at separating me from my money. 

What do I want? Too much. What do I need? Apparently, less than what I thought when I lived in the United States.


  1. You really have a nice story sir. Same with you I live now in different country. What I am afraid now is my buying expenses is getting higher and higher and I need some moderation.

  2. I've not lived over seas. I've never even been over seas, but I do relate to several points that you mentioned. I remember the limbo like feeling that I had when we didn't have a "permanent" place when my husband was traveling for work. Yes, we had our home for a time, but when we decided to become full-time RVers and no longer had a home base, I often felt in limbo. I understand that feeling. And after living in a 31 foot RV with my family of five and puppy, I now know that I don't need everything I once thought I did. I've actually gotten so good at not buying anything that me kids almost hate to go shopping with me. It's almost and exercise in futility because they know 9 times our of 10, I'll spend time shopping, then change my mind and return everything to the shelf where I originally found it. Give me experiences over stuff. That's what's important to me. That and relationships. Stuff really doesn't matter anymore.


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