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My mum’s life story Part 4 – Overseas travels before and after retirement

wtih kangaroo in Australia

Susie Lemos née Lim Khay-Siew: born 1935 |

This fourth and final part of Mum’s life story covers all the internal travel she did on her own and with the family.

Overseas travels

My mother loved adventure and travel and was always game to see new places and try new experiences, especially tasting European food.

Indonesia (1970s to 1990s)

Our first trip to Medan as a family occurred in 1973 when my sister and I were introduced to Ah Mah and Ah Kong and all the extended Lim family there. We went on side trips to the scenic volcanic Lake Toba and also the mountain resort town of Brastagi. We we did some touristy horseback riding and staring at the two active volcanoes Sibayak and Sinabong visible in the landscape at Brastagi.

Mum would make several return trips to Medan over the years, to visit her ailing father and finally for his funeral.

Her visits to Medan came to a halt when my Ah Mah fled Medan following the racial riots of 1997. In distress and without any more relatives to ensure her safety, she abandoned her home, put all the remaining life savings in her bra and flew to Singapore where she continued to live with my Si Ee and her family.

Mum and Dad also did a cruise ship holiday with Sandy and her two young children on a return trip to Jakarta in 1991 which I went along for.

Europe (1970s)

Mum’s made her first trip to Europe with my godmother (Aunty Shirley) as her travel companion. This was a European bus tour they took, apparently on a recommendation from Peter Lai from her church, who was a Director in Singapore Airlines at the time. The tour itinerary included the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Italy and Copenhagen. She brought home a pair of wooden Dutch clogs for me and told us how she enjoyed playing the alhorn in Switzerland.

It was a nice break for the two women from their husbands and children.

Mum recalls how Aunty Shirley was so spooked by ‘spirits’ she felt were present in the hotel room in Italy that she spent the whole night staying up saying the rosary.  Another anecdote Mum tells from that trip was them being on a boat in the Baltic Sea and some old man in their tour group mis-hearing it as “boh teksi” and wondering why there were no taxis available in such a strange foreign place!

Japan (1976)

This was a working holiday in the form of a tour by the Singapore Teacher’s Military Band, mainly to perform and also observe the similar band movement in Japan. They stayed at Tenrikyo High School. Because of the composition of the band members travelling, Mum was asked to play saxaphone instead of her usual clarinet.

Hong Kong (1980s)

After my sister married Robert John Sweet (RJS) in Perth, they lived in many different places. This included Emerald in Victoria then back in Singapore (where their first child Nicholas was born) before settling in Hong Kong.  RJS ran his WayHon business there which specialised in manufacturing perforated metals. The young Sweet family lived at the Hong Lok Yuen estate in the New Territories. 

Mum and Dad visited them there twice; once when their second child Michelle Lauren was born in December 1985.

Thailand (1980s)

Mum relates with amusement how she had to ensure her wedding ring was visible when on a trip to Bangkok and Pattaya with Dad. Because he looked like a ‘Westerner’, she was conscious that people would assume she was his local mistress or a prostitute. Sadly the same concerns and judgement also applied to my sister Sandy who was the dark-skinned ‘Oriental’ companion to her white Aussie husband. Worse still, the folk in the expat community they lived with in Hong Kong would often see her with a blonde child in arms and assume she was the family’s domestic maid.

Europe & Australia (1980s)

Mum and Dad made several trips to Europe during the school holidays. One of them was to Spain, Portugal and Morocco. They also made trips to Australia to visit Sandy when she and RJS moved to back to Castle Hill in NSW and then when her marriage was on the rocks, Sandy decided she would settle down with the children in Currumbin Waters in the Gold Coast. So RJS bought them a house there while he continued to work in Asia (and then opt tp take up with another wife and her family).

Australia & New Zealand (1990s)

Mum and Dad also went to New Zealand a second time, with my sister Sandy tagging along. On Dad’s last overseas trip, he and Mum went to spend some time with Sandy and her kids in the Gold Coast. During that trip, Dad fell ill and when facing breathing difficulties, was briefly hospitalised in there. Another trip he had booked with Mum to visit the USA never materialised as he became unwell just before the trip and they had to cancel that holiday.

South East England (1997)

At the end of my year of study in London, Mum and Dad joined me in London after I finished and submitted my MSc thesis. They attended a concert performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony which I sang in with the London Philharmonic Choir at the Royal Festival Hall. And then we went off on week-long bus tour of South East England. We covered Cornwall, going as far as Land’s End, visiting towns such as Salisbury,  Plymouth, Portsmouth, Isle of Wight and also stopping at Stonehenge along the way. 

As always, it was another opportunity for Mum to see her sister Shirley and her family, which she did whenever she visited London.

Australia & New Zealand (2000s)

Mum and Dad did a second trip to New Zealand to see the North Island and this time my sister Sandy accompanied them. After Dad died in 2004, Mum would come to visit my sister Sandy in the Gold Coast and me in Sydney. Just when we thought she was getting used to the idea of travelling, she started to lose confidence and become physically weaker and more frail. 

On her last trip out to Sydney in 2015 (which I escorted her out on the flight), she also went on to see Sandy in the Gold Coast where she visited aged care facilities and assisted living communities for her to consider as options for where she could live when travel become less practical for her. However, with my sister’s death in 2017, those options were put to rest as Mum would never be able to cope with the cooler weather in Sydney.