I recently returned from a wonderful trip down memory lane. My 40th high school reunion near San Jose, California allowed me to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in 40 years. The reunion was held where my new grandson lives, and besides getting reacquainted with Tyler, I spent 3 days with life-long friends tramping through the Gold Country.
What was interesting for me was that so few of my school friends had ventured past their home state. I was the only one living in a foreign country, and their incredulity truly amazed me. “Are you hiding from the IRS?” someone asked, tongue only slightly in cheek.
“You went there alone?” Another schoolmate asked. She, of course, had been married to the same guy since high school, and although they had wandered as far south as Southern California, she had never worked outside the home and her little world has been very protected…and predictable.
“I’ve lived alone since my children left home,” I replied, with a brief glimpse into the chasm of skepticism that separated us. “If I didn’t make decisions alone, didn’t go places alone, and didn’t design my life alone, I would never live my life. If I waited until someone was willing to share my life with me, life would just pass me by.”
Many of my classmates were looking at retiring from the one job they’d had all their lives. I remember listening to a speaker at a conference saying, “Kids graduating today will have, on average, six different careers in their lives.” I nudged the person sitting next to me and said, “I’m on my seventh one now. What’s the big deal?”
It took me reconnecting with kids I’d gone to school with for 12 years to see how different our choices had been. Mingling here in Ajijic with both full-time and part-time residents, I’m surrounded by people who have made similar choices to mine. We chose adventure over lethargy; we decided on lives of comfort over those filled with stress; we created lives of learning instead of becoming couch potatoes. Here, I’m the norm.
At Lakeside, most folks have lived lives full of travel and had multiple careers. They have taken paths less traveled and speak excitedly about the recent lecture series presented by a local PhD covering the history of India. Dinner conversation is lively, punctuated with anecdotes from Peace Corps volunteers who had served the people of New Guinea or developers who had created low-income housing for the poor in South Africa.
In a pre-reunion get together at the local hotel, I observed the interactions, trying to see if the same cliques from high school gravitated towards each other. They did. Like our times at school dances, the guys (several now bald, with beards and paunches) gravitated to one side of the room, while the ladies congregated on the other side. It was interesting to note that so many of the married folks left their spouses at home. I think that was a great idea. It must be very boring for husbands and wives who don’t know any of the friends.
I can’t count how many of my classmates said, “I’d love to come and visit you.” I told them my door was always open. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone actually does come down.
Of course, I had pictures of my new grandbaby, and one of my high school friends had just had her first grandchild a few weeks before. Others spoke proudly of their great grandchildren. That’s probably the biggest single problem for expats living abroad-being away from their families. I’ll miss my grandson’s first words, his first steps and probably his first little league game. I’m counting on my son to send lots of pictures and to let me share little Tyler’s growing up vicariously through emails.
Living abroad definitely isn’t the “Father Knows Best” and “Donna Reed” lifestyle. We, who choose to be expats, must also choose not to live life through our children. Sometimes these are lonely choices… but only until the next brunch, little theater presentation, or lively game of Mexican Train with friends.
San Miguel de Allende Revisited
I had the opportunity to speak at a recent International Living Travel Writer’s conference in San Miguel de Allende, another lovely colonial town about a five-hour drive from Ajijic. The 35 folks attending, were exploring both the possibility of another career change and to discover a way to travel and get paid for it. About a third of the group was interested in pursuing the possibility of living in Mexico. Most were middle-aged and they came from a wide variety of backgrounds.
I spoke on the last day and talked about how I ended up with a writing career. Those of you who have followed these columns, already know that story. It was interesting to note, though, that in school I had been the high school paper news editor. Funny, isn’t it, how life sometimes comes full circle.
About six months ago, a Lakeside visitor and writer asked me to review the first chapter of her book. I did and during a lively conversation over lunch, she asked me a philosophical question: “If you were guaranteed success, if there was no chance of failure… what would you do?” Think about that one for a minute.
The miracle was that I had been asked that same question a couple of decades ago. The previous answer returned to me like magic. “I’d publish a magazine.” Of course, back then I wasn’t a writer. I had no knowledge of the publishing business and I’ve no idea where the answer came from. My visualization was a glossy, color printed magazine. Yet, here I am today, together with Judy King, publishing an on-line magazine. We’re preparing our first anniversary issue as I write this column.
The message here is: Be careful what you ask for!
We all stayed at a lovely place, La Puertecita Boutique Hotel, located on the outskirts of town. The hotel, with its many different buildings scattered alongside a large hill, afforded us all the chance to get into shape. I’ve never walked up and down so many steps in one day! The setting was lovely, the food delicious, and the service exceptional.
My friend, Hilary, offered to drive to San Miguel with me. It took us exactly five hours, going through Leon and Irapuato; then west towards Queretero and finally, north to San Miguel. We stayed on the toll highway as long as possible.
During the question and answer session, one of the participants asked me to compare San Miguel with Ajijic. My first response was a disclaimer. I’m sure you could ask ten different people that question and get ten different answers. However, I thought you might be interested in my perception.
First, I chose Lakeside because of its better weather and closer proximity to an International Airport. It takes me exactly 30 minutes from my front door to the airport pick up area. From San Miguel, you need to fly out of either Leon or Mexico City, 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours away. San Miguel is too cold for me in the winter.
On the other hand, San Miguel is a city as opposed to a village and offers great shopping, restaurants and evening entertainment. Ajijic and Chapala typically close down around 9 p.m., although in the high season with the influx of snowbirds, there are more late-night activities to choose from.
It’s more expensive to live in San Miguel by about 10-15%. And I feel that there is a certain class-consciousness there that’s hard to define. It seems to be more important which neighborhood you live in. I noticed that people dress up more in San Miguel, whereas Lakeside tends to be more casual.
Both areas are filled with local artists, writers and craftspeople. Because San Miguel is larger, they offer more in the way of classes, from intensive Spanish language classes to jewelry making at the famed Art Institute.
I’ve heard folks from San Miguel say about Chapala, that it’s filled with drunken military retirees. Not so. Perhaps decades ago, before the greater population discovered Lakeside, there was some truth to that; but now, the few I’ve ever seen are no more than you’d find in any town.
Fortunately, we don’t all want to live in the same country, town or in the same type of housing. It’s the differences, not the similarities in people which I find makes them interesting.