BECOMING AN EXPAT WIFE I kind of went up through the ranks. I did a stint on a student exchange in Singapore and my sister was already here at the time, with her family. This was probably where the idea started. I had been in New York studying and doing some acting classes but I also did a screenwriting course. I came back determined to write a screenplay. We made jokes all the time about her new life. She had a group of friends - a Danish, two English and an American. The five of them really bonded - you tend to give people more time when you're thrust into a different country. She had a helper and she probably shopped more than she would at home. They were very good at laughing at themselves. My background had been in theatre so I decided this was a great subject for my screenplay/play. I went back to New York and then my partner moved [to Singapore]. When I moved, I set up a business and got an employment pass. So my second stage here was as an expat, and then I graduated to expat wife.
WITH THE FLOW We went home to Sydney for 18 months. I did some postgraduate study and then we moved to Hong Kong. That's where we started our family. Seeing it through the eyes of each tier - student, employment pass holder and then expat wife - you accept things a lot better. For me, the message of the play is just 'go with the flow' and see it as an opportunity and not a lost opportunity, because you can get tied to what you wanted in life and what you envisaged would happen to your career but things present them- selves in other ways, and you have to embrace that.
I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old; it becomes all about them and not about me. It does mean you examine every educational institution. When I was in Hong Kong, I wanted them to go to a Cantonese preschool. You cer- tainly want them to integrate them- selves; I did anyway. I don't want them to go home without a very strong sense of Asia and some knowledge of the language.
ABROAD AND LOST I've lived in a lot of countries, travelled a lot as a single woman. That notion of reinventing yourself is very familiar to me but, for first-time travellers, when they become expatriates, there's a minority you see who totally reinvent themselves. One of the lines in the play is: 'When you move abroad, you're really cutting your own umbilical cord because, at home, particularly in village life, friends and family hold you together, both as a couple and as individuals. In a sense they monitor you. Abroad you're left with your own value system to guide you. If you don't have the necessary maturity, you can get lost.'
My point is, if you don't have a value system intact before you move to a foreign environment, whether it be as an expat or a traveller, you will get lost. You have to find your grounding and I think that, sadly, is the reason many marriages are put under an enormous strain, because the change in circumstances changes a lot more than the scenery. It takes a special personality to live overseas, embrace another culture and make a life with your family away from the security of home. I feel an instant connection with these warrior travellers here and abroad. It's like you join a club you didn't even know existed when you become an expat, and with the correct perception, it's all good.
PACK MENTALITY There are so many different packs of expats in Hong Kong: there're the Mid-Levels expats, the Repulse Bay expats, the Sai Kung expats and those from the New Territories where I was [Currie left Tai Wai, Sha Tin, last June]. I don't think you have that definition in Singapore. You have expats who live the local life and then you have the ones who really can afford a grander lifestyle. In Hong Kong, it seems like much more distinct groups of expats and they seem to stay together. I make references to Hong Kong in the play in Singapore that people respond to. I think the message and the humour will translate.
When Felicity, the lead character in the play, first arrives, she's morally opposed to having a maid. She examines the reasons for that and realises she would be contributing to the global economy. I was morally opposed to the idea of having a helper and what that entails. I've certainly come around to another way of thinking. No definite scene is based on my experience but, certainly, I'm a keen observer.
PLAY IT AGAIN We did the first run of the play in 1999. We followed that quickly with the second run but, with this run, there have been quite significant changes. I'm a better writer now so I've tightened it, put in some songs. What is heartening to me is the amount of laughter. [The audience] are identifying with the situation, things that are being said. Some say it's too close to the bone but I think good comedy, good theatre, should be. It may make you slightly uncomfortable in certain parts but it's well-intended. The audience relate to the lines in the play between the men and the women. It doesn't matter whether it's Japanese or Swiss-German culture, everyone can relate to what happens in a marriage in expat life.
I have vivid memories of being groped by a Thai bus driver after vomiting on the road from Chiang Rai, and having a joke translated by the daughter of an aged Chinese grandmother on my first trip to Hong Kong, in the early 90s. I remember being surprised that Chinese humour was very similar to my own. I have friends [in Singapore] from Denmark, New York, Scotland, the Philippines - humour translates across oceans.
The Expat Wife will be staged from Wednesday to Saturday at the Shouson Theatre, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Wan Chai. For bookings, visit www.urbtix.hk, or call 9852 2666.