It Began with the Pink Satin Dress

Hobbiton Flowers I come from a travelling kind of a family. My father worked for the World Health Organisation, advising some forty or so governments on their oral health programmes. He was used to thinking on a grand scale, and he travelled constantly. So did my mum. Separately and together, they visited weird way off lands: The Khyber Pass. Tuvalu. Bhutan. Nauru. Kiribati. These exotic names were part of our family-speak, and so were the hundreds of visitors that found refuge in our home from all over the world.

I took my first plane trip when I was just nine years old. I was alone. Wearing my best pink and white polka dotted satin dress with the lace ruffle, with only Enid Blyton to accompany me, I was simply drenched with excitement at the prospect of flying! Despite the mild nausea, it was an hour of magical delight and other-worldly wonder – fluffy, beautiful clouds beneath us, the excitingly-frightening landing, the very kind and pretty flight attendants, and my little nine year old heart, bursting with courage that I had undertaken this HUGE adventure all by myself.

Five years later it all happened again. This time my big sister was getting married in a whole other country. I’d heard about the legendary beauty of New Zealand my entire life – my parents had lived there for a year before I was born. But I lived in Penang, and New Zealand may as well have been the moon. I SO BADLY wanted to go, with the kind of yearning desperation that only adolescents can feel. The thing is, I was going to have to travel alone for more than twenty hours on an international flight. 13,806 kilometres. All By Myself.

My father was working in Quezon City at the time. With very high hopes, and a fair bit of courage (my father was unpredictable) I wrote and asked his permission and then nervously waited for his response. I didn’t have to wait long. He replied immediately by telegram,

“DELIGHTED ADVENTUROUS SPIRIT VISIT NEW ZEALAND. LOVE PAPA”

My father was melodramatic and prone to grand sweeping gestures. They were mostly incredibly embarrassing to a teenager, but this time, I only wasted a few seconds thinking, “couldn’t he have just written me a letter, like normal fathers?” and was soon skipping about the house, so, SO happy that I got to go! To New Zealand! All By Myself! It was too, too good.

It was 1977, and this was going to be quite an epic journey for a fourteen year old girl from Penang. I realise, (now that I’m a parent myself), that my father’s response was only partly melodrama. I think it was mostly delight, with a bit of courage thrown in too. I was his youngest little girl, after all. Most importantly, he planted the idea in me that I had ‘an adventurous spirit’, and that is a rather lovely thing for a parent to do. Amongst the blurred and faded memories of my childhood (it was a fairly long time ago) this one is still really, really shiny 🙂

New Zealand blew me away. Every moment of that adventure was rich and beautiful, like nature had somehow decided to show off its absurdly spectacular creativity and New Zealand was the result. I spent a whole month there, and I believe that journey was the most formative experience of my life.

Thirty six years later. It’s Dec 2012, and I’m fifty years old. I’ve traveled the world, but never returned to New Zealand, and never taken my family there. My husband of 26 years has terminal cancer. It’s been two and a half years since he was diagnosed…two and a half years since he’d been told he had just two years to live, if the treatment worked.  Rather cleverly, he’s passed the D-date and is still very much alive.  It had been countless emergency visits to the hospital, five surgeries, dozens of scans and breathless hours waiting for the results, and throughout, neither of us had ever believed he’d ever travel again. But now, here was Greg – so well, off chemo, the last scan stable. We’re ready to celebrate!

So we dusted off the suitcases (quite literally), renewed our passports and planned to visit … New Zealand, of course. I was the only one who’d ever been. And for the past few years, all three in this little family had been through our own kind of private hells – that sort of thing takes its toll on a family. When things haven’t been hunky-dory for a long time, travelling together can be … well, not as fun as it sounds. Our fingers were very, very crossed. There was more than one epic adventure to be had.

But here’s the thing: New Zealand is an enchanted land. It captured my heart thirty six years ago and it stole it all over again. In fact, New Zealand wrapped its perfect beauty around us – our little, imperfect, messy, complicated family, and left magic dust in our hearts.

This is what I posted on Facebook when we returned:

“We walked under giant trees, climbed up a volcanic mountain, stood at the edge of a crater, marvelled at countless lakes, frolicked in the Shire, rode a horse through a rainforest (!!), fed deer, stroked lions, experienced bubbling mud from the centre of the earth, sat under a hot stinky waterfall, glided through dark waters in a silent cave of sparkling glow-worms and walked around with our mouths open, barely able to process all the marvels we saw in New Zealand 🙂 Thank you world for making such a wonderful land, and for letting us see a small part of it, at the very end of 2012.”  

DELIGHTED ADVENTUROUS SPIRITs indeed. Thank you, Papa.

Hobbit DoorHobbiton HillsHobbit HouseDeerParty Tree in HobbitonMalini in HobbitonMalini meets a wizardRotoruaRotoruaRotorua1 (5)View from the hillsGreg walking in RainforestGreg




 

Comments 50

  1. What a beautiful story about beautiful memories. I believe that every girl that read Enid Blyton will become a delightful adventruing spirit. Your description of NZ on facebook reminds me of one of the “Faraway Lands” that she often wrote about. I can see some of those amazing photos turning into some artistic masterpieces.

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      Thank you Julie! You are so absolutely right about Enid Blyton’s Faraway Lands 🙂 And I’m DEFINITELY using my all those rich images as inspiration for paintings. Finger’s crossed, there’ll be a whole exhibition of work that springs from it!

  2. Hi Malini!

    Firstly, WOW I love the new website layout – it’s cleaner and more expansive!

    Secondly, great post about ‘returning home’, your story telling is always a delight to read and the photo! The photos make me so hunger for digital SLR!!

    As always thanks for sharing your story, and give my warmest wishes to Greg

    Samith xo

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      Yes, Samith, a digital SLR is a MUST for every artist 🙂 I SO appreciate your feedback – both on my new look website and on the post. Thank you for being such a loyal reader!

  3. Malini this writing is just so so amazing – I think you should become a New Zealand Ambassador = at least, please send this to the NZ Tourist Assocn as I’m sure they’d love your words. Your story is so beautiful to read.

    In saying this, I agree with you – I emigrated from Scotland to Australia many years ago and somehow eventually ended up in New Zealand and I love love love it here. I’ve travelled the world many times and this is where I love to come home to.

    Photos are wonderful and so so clear.

    You’re welcome here at my home anytime for a visit……..

    Marilyn

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      Oh thank you Marilyn, how sweet of you 🙂 I may take up your offer sometime soon when I run away from the dry brown lands of Perth! Don’t be surprised to find me at your doorstep 🙂

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  4. Mal! How absolutely delightful t that I was actually with you both times in NZ: the first time you visited Wing an me when we were students in Auckland; the second time, our paths just happened to coincide when we picked the same dates to travel there, both of us after 30 years!!! Thanks for sharing your feelings so poetically. It gave me a chance to re-live many memories, and our Father’s enthusiastic responses to our adventurous spirits.

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      oh wow, that didn’t even occur to me! What an amazing big sister you are 🙂 with me at pivotal moments in life’s journey!! thank you for getting married in NZ and giving me the chance to have that transformative adventure in the Faraway Land 🙂

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  5. Hi Mal, Absolutely delightful read! And I feel the same every time I visit here (New Zealand) Being lucky enough to have family living here who wish me to visit fairly regularly for a few months, I am enchanted each time I come. This year, though we have yet to get to the shire, other magical happenings and sights for us have been experienced in this ‘enchanted land’. Your photos outshine any I have ever tried to take – so beautiful! Thank you.

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      Robin dear, being such a frequent visitor to NZ, how do you cope with the disappointment of leaving it so often ?! Thank you for your kind and generous words too, always x

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  6. Wonderful story, beautiful photos. Thanks for taking us on your journey. New Zealand is truly a magical place. Lots of inspiration for artwork! I have always wanted to go to New Zealand, now more than ever.

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      Hello Robin, you should DEFINITELY plan a visit – every artist who draws inspiration from the natural world would find it such a rich tapestry of inspiration 🙂 Your lovely work will maybe become even lovelier!! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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      I was wondering if most people would even know what a telegram was !! It was such a huge part of life before the internet. thank you for your kind words 🙂

  7. Mal, WOW!

    You keep amazing me with your way with words and pictures and bringing the magic to life with story!

    Bits of magic of ma and pa, amplified with your uniqueness:)

    He would be certainly be very very proud of you, little sister… as we all are:)

    May the magic dust keep spreading far and wide!!!

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      Thank you Big Sister 🙂 It’s funny how things take on a different perspective as time goes by. Like pieces of a giant puzzle, fitting together perfectly. thank you for your beautifully kind words and lifelong support 🙂

  8. Your blog posts always deeply touch me Malini. From your beautiful artwork to your life challenges and your husband’s journey, which btw he looks amazing. I hope that he is doing well. Blessings to your beautiful family and for sharing your story and beautiful photos. xoxo

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      Suzanne dear, I really do feel we’ve been friends for a very long time, even though we’ve never met 🙂 Thank you so much for always taking the time to share you loving heart and kindness with so many people xxx

  9. New Zealand was just another country far away on the other side of the world before I read your amazing description. … it seems to be paradise on earth…..

    said this a million times but I’ll say this again… you are a very gifted writer and one day should write a book which will inspire thousands.

    btw I keep trying to imagine you in the pink and white polka dotted satin dress !

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      Thank so much for your constant encouragement, Nita!
      And that dress really left an impression on me – I don’t remember ANY other clothing from my childhood 🙂 xx

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      Shelly, it is kind of you to drop by and share my story 🙂 I’m sure if you ever had the opportunity to visit New Zealand you would find infinite inspiration for your GORGEOUS and amazing art! x

  10. Wow…. Breath taking pictures and a super talented writer… Love that telegram line: “DELIGHTED ADVENTUROUS SPIRIT VISIT NEW ZEALAND” 🙂

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  11. What a wonderful post about your life. I am so glad your family was able to go to such a beautiful place and have such a wonderful time together. sounds like your Papa did a great job of inspiring an adventurous spirit. I am praying your hubby is healed. I know it must have been a very difficult time the past 2 1/2 years. Praying for your family too. You keep flying high and know that God really loves you and so do I. I have enjoyed reading your blog and watching you fly in your art too. You paint beautiful paintings girl, keep painting and keep looking up.
    Blessings to you
    Debbie

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  12. What a precious wonderful story! You write beautifully and capture those adolescent feelings so perfectly. And the icing on the cake are the glorious photos you’ve shared of that beautiful country and this life-affirming journey you took with your husband. How lovely to meet you Malini!

    1. That is very kind of you Lisa – perhaps you’ll take a trip from California all the way to The Land of the Long White Cloud and check it out 🙂 It is lovely to ‘meet’ you too, and perhaps one day in person!

  13. Dear Malini,
    What a wonderful story! Yes, New Zealand is a beautiful place and I’m as green as those rolling hills you photographed with envy.
    Your photos make my heart yearn for the same experience. They were so beautiful and creatively inspiring.
    Your family is so brave and your positivity infectious. Bravo!

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      I’m glad my blog has given you a glimpse of a wonderful land, it makes me feel happy to share our experience:) I very much hope your yearning will be rewarded! Thank you, Zan, for your kind words, and thank you also for stopping by.

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