There are little signs in everyday life, which tell us that we have become used to living in Macau. One day you find that driving around round-a-bouts is no longer accompanied by a cacophony of swearing, and the next, you are keeping a lid on expatriate meltdowns in the face of Macau’s unfathomables. It helps, though, to be wise and resourceful if hitting up against the brick-wall of ‘cannot’s is not part of your behavioural lexicon.
I was sent the following skit which deserves to be shared with expatriates both old and new to our little idiosyncratic region. Although it is not from Macau, it reminds me of those delicious stories we all have to tell about illogical systems, officious institutions, the inequitably distributed courtesy accorded to money and status, common forms of stereotyping and prejudice, and the mental and persuasive acrobatics we sometimes have to deploy to achieve varying rates of success to deal with them.
The story: An old lady handed her bank card to a bank teller [why is it always the banks?] requesting to withdraw $500. The teller told her, “For withdrawals less than $5,000, please use the ATM”. The old woman then asked why. Returning the card to the old woman, the teller irritably told her, “These are the rules. Please leave if there is no other matter. There is a queue behind you.” The old dear remained and calmly handed her card back to the teller saying, “Please help me withdraw all of my money.” Astonished to note the account balance, the teller nodded her head, leaned down and said to the elderly lady, “My apologies granny, you have $3.5 billion in your account and our bank is not able to cash out that amount over the counter. Could you make an appointment and come again tomorrow?” The old lady then asked, “How much am I able to withdraw now?” The teller told her, “Any amount up to $300,000.” The old lady then requested to withdraw $300,000. The teller arranged clearance of the cash from the vault, counted it and handed it to the customer respectfully. The customer received the cash, placed $500 of it into her bag and requested the teller to deposit $299,500 into her account. (I aspire to be that wise old spunky gentlewoman – not to mention the wealthy part.)
A way to prepare for life in Macau is to realise that there are often ways around deadlocks and brick walls. It’s just that the person in front of you may not necessarily be willing or able to help you navigate through them. The way you deal with the situation, your status, your network, your demeanour, your intellectual armoury and knowhow can make or break it for you. Social support and local knowledge is a crucial part of an expatriate’s tool kit: an ever so genteel wisdom gets us far.
Adjusting to leaving Macau is just as difficult, if not harder than the initial entry. This week, a past stalwart of the community who had a well-respected position contributing to the region for many years told of the grieving process. That process, as in any mourning, can take years.
Making it easier starts with preparation: getting used to the idea of no domestic help, realising that the ready ability to come and go is a function of that help and our close community.
Expatriate life in Macau is a blessed experience. It is a privilege. We meet, make acquaintances and friends that never would have been part of our lives at home. Being prepared to lose those people, to lose a part of ourselves, will not make it any easier, but having an awareness of what may lie in the difficult terrain, at both ends of the journey, forearms us.