I don’t think there’s anyone in this town that allows their body hair to grow, you know, naturally. It’s a delicate topic, personal hygiene, but out here we discuss it freely. It is as mandatory as having a visa, this waxing lark: land at airport, show passport, book wax package (Singapore loves a good package, where you buy an amount of something and get one free plus some other handy treat, in this case, for me, a free facial once the beard has gone. I jest about the beard).

Us girls probably all waxed at home from a young age, wherever we grew up – razored the pits cautiously as teens, de-fuzzed with that awful-smelling cream the night before the school disco. Not many wildebeests left in this world, are there? And male wildebeests do it too, oh yes they do, plenty of them known to me personally. But out here it’s a proper sport, a real talking point, I suppose because there is good reason for being as smooth and as hairless as you can be – it’s hot, it’s sweaty, we stuff ourselves into swimsuits a lot and no one wears very much in the way of clothing, so the process of hair removal is more pressing and everyone has their own personal method of getting it off, from expensive laser treatments booked through a Groupon deal to the self-inflicted tazering of the thighs with one of those little hand-held electric nippers, or via the more routine salon visit, back room towel-covered benches discovered by going on forums or chatting over coffee.

We love or loathe these places and everyone has a hairy story: mine involves accidentally ending up in a very popular boutique chain where I was led into a dark back room, told to take EVERYTHING off and… well there were plastic pants involved, wet wipes and a carefully angled spotlight, and a woman with a mask who asked me where I was going on my holidays. It wasn’t what I asked for but I couldn’t go back and complain, I’m far too British and in any case, I decided, there wasn’t an awful lot they could have done. I declined the package.

Anyway, we’ve all got a story and we pass on the details helpfully and discuss the subject endlessly (yes we do, you do it too, don’t pretend you don’t – well if you don’t do it out loud then don’t tell me you don’t at least think about it a lot), and the main question that arises is exactly how bare we all dare to go.

Very often these days there is the assumption that you will want it all off, and I’m not just talking about expat living, it happens at home too. A journalist friend of mine in the UK covered this very topic for her newspaper recently, drawing huge interest and even a spot of protest, in all sorts of directions. It’s a right old hot topic, this whapping off of every last follicle, and we talk about it openly and long may that last because it’s, well, interesting, actually. Conversations become much more personal much faster out here, and I am getting quite comfortable with the scenario of meeting someone one minute and sharing intimate stories the next; I’ve long since stopped spitting out my tea.

My own bad-wax story is one of my favourites but I’m more likely to give it an airing out here, happy to discuss the bad waxing times and the good ones and the ones where I’ve held up my hand to physically outline in the air what I want and the ones where… well, we seem to have run out of coffee.

La plume de ma tante

This is Mr PC’s aunt, 73, from Ipoh. We visited last weekend, bringing the usual pile of chocolate (her favourite) and good appetites as the city is famous for food, especially chicken and rice (my favourite). Amidst the shameless gorging our trips to Ipoh always involve us persuading her to tell some family stories. Sometimes she would rather sit in front of the telly with the sound operating louder than a jet plane. Other times she is on form and we get some good snippets.

This last visit I taped her talking. As well as stories of her old dad keeping a lime tree and what it was like when her grandma came to stay was the story of her recent resignation from the legal company that had hired her for the past 16 years, for little pay and not much thanks.

Last November she decided she’d finally had enough. She waited until her salary had cleared, then put in a phone call from the local YMCA to check for the all-clear. The tape is a lovely memento, with our aunt’s slow nasal drawl, bursts of background laughter and a polite factual reminder of the correct year at one point, but this written account, slightly edited for fluency, will do:

‘I asked the girls “What time is the boss back?” and they said “Not until two o’clock,” so I went and got some iced Milo to hand out and rushed back in to the office with the ice creams and my leaving letter, which I left for them to give.’

She goes on to recount the letter that we would all love to have penned:

“I, Madam Tan Mei Ling, at my utmost happiness, hereby tender my resignation as from today 30 November 2012.”

Usually, she agrees, you would end such a letter yours sincerely

‘But I didn’t, I just put: GOODBYE!’IMG_1760

Seats for take-off

IMG_1688Dad’s at the airport, presumably having a cup of tea in the hour he has left before take-off. I had to send him home because my sister’s birthday is on Wednesday and we have always been told to share. He’s carrying her present very carefully, as extra hand luggage. Meanwhile SmallMonkey lies in bed, refusing to sleep and looking miserable; tomorrow I’ll cheer him up with the parting gifts that Grandpa left behind: two Match Attax packs, a packet of Cadburys Animals and a dead flea on a microscope slide. Don’t ask.

Goodbyes are just about the absolute worst thing of being out here, an emotional onslaught every single time. That reverse trip to the airport after the reverse countdown of the final day, after the reverse countdown of the past week. Thankfully Mr PC has just booked our tickets back to the UK for a summer break and the thought of seeing Dad again in just two months is a huge comfort. I looked for a picture from last week’s Easter Borneo trip to sum him up: this gentle, funny, botany loving, fluffy pillow hating, ignorance loathing, Rendang fancying, bird watching, lizard spotting, plant tickling, uber thoughtful, tirelessly generous, Grandson-adoring, playful family man.

Here is a sunny one, a reminder of our fantastic week in Borneo: my three boys. The only clue as to age is the height of them all. Dad’s on the far right, enjoying a relaxing dip in the warm Kota Kinabalu sea after four days of monkey spotting in the jungle. Shortly after this picture was taken, one of us was tickled by a passing jellyfish, and then a venomous sea snake wiggled gracefully past. As the three youngest Cloudies pushed each other out of the way to get back to shore, Dad was taking a deep snorkel breath and finning down to see them up close.

He’s like that. Terrorist threats? Big jungle spiders? Planes, trains and rickety tourist vans? Piece of pandan cake. He is enthusiastic and well researched in his approach to travel and he puts us lazy lot to shame in terms of stamina. I won’t even talk in terms of generations because they just don’t apply to him. Does he know how amazing he is? He must do, but I’m really not sure…

So the spare bed gets packed away and don’t set me off again. I won’t see him at breakfast tomorrow and I’m planning the day with one less person. The shoe rack is lighter and the fridge now empty of festering specimens. There is one pair of shoes left behind that I’ve said I’ll bring back in June. I could just keep them hostage to make sure he comes back soon. He’s on a promise.

Here we go: take-off time. Deep breaths.