Where the neighbours invited us over for coffee at 10 pm
: on our one-month update of moving to Portugal, photos and videos of food and such, plus my paintings
“We’ll tuck our kids to bed at 9:30 pm, come over for coffee at 10 pm,” our next-door neighbour aka the Tiny House hosts, invited.
And so our Portuguese culture experience continues.
We’ve just passed our one-month mark of moving to and living in Portugal.
Today, I’m seated on the patio of our Tiny House, writing this newsletter to you.
After two days of around 32-36 degrees Celsius heat, it’s now 24 degrees Celsius, perfect for sitting outside to work.
I can hear the birds chirping as I go about my day—just like my Malaysian home, 11,463 kilometres away.
The difference at Tiny House is there’s the sound of traffic too. Not the zen-quietness in my Kuala Lumpur home. Sometimes at night, the distant sound of Portuguese songs, karaoke-ed by enthusiastic singers, accompanies us as we fall asleep. Surprisingly, both of us are less bothered about the noise as much as we thought it would surely drive us crazy.
We are settling down…
and still settling down. It will take some time. As all major changes in life will.
After three weeks of coughing since I arrived in Portugal (with two weeks of COVID coughing back in Malaysia), the pesky cough left. Good riddance! That helped to up the level of normalcy in my day-to-day life. At least, my brain fog cleared.
Still. I sometimes find myself lurching forward in my head. I’m here in Portugal! I want to (should) do stuff, I want to dive back into my work. Yet, in reality, it’s a one step at a time thing. I can’t hurry the future.
Living in the present is one of the hardest things in life to do.
Sure, it looks Insta good. But, motivational quotes look prettier and easier, framed, than lived out.
So, I’m reminding myself—
“Hey, adjusting to a different life, moving to a new home, in a new country, with a different language that I don’t yet speak—is a major change.”
I need to exercise grace—giving myself time to adjust to the changes. And lots of space to permit “unproductive” time in my days for the time being.
Life in Portugal, through my lens, for the past 30 days
Our gratitude is through the roof. Even though we weren’t anticipating massive homesickness and loneliness in a foreign land, we didn’t expect to be hugged (literally) by such warmth and hospitality by people both in and out of the church community.
And with all the lifestyle changes of: no car and dependant on public transportation, a tiny living space, a language we are still learning, different types of food, etc., we find that, so far, we are adapting surprisingly well and swift.
People, new friends, community
The best thing for us is the experience of making new friends.
From being offered personal phone numbers by people we just met, "call me if you need any help in this new country", being offered car rides home, to 10 pm coffee at our vizinho (neighbour in Portuguese) house…
…being invited for jazz gigs by the beach (Atlantic Ocean!)
…to having my impromptu birthday celebration with espumante (sparkling wine), sande de leitão (pork sandwich)1, lively conversations…
and doing the English and Portuguese language tango with some mom-and-pop shop owners—we are still awed by God’s generosity for this sweet gift of new friendships and more.
So far, most Portuguese people we met are very friendly and hospitable, even to strangers. One day, as we were approaching a bus stop, an old, white-haired uncle asked us, “praia?” (beach?). We said, “Sim, sim.” (Yes, yes). He promptly told us in Portuguese that this is the correct bus stop and what bus number to take. We didn’t even have to ask! This scene, on replay in my mind, warmed my heart and made me smile.
It’s always the people who make a place special and meaningful.
Church and where to live
Three days after we landed in Porto, we attended our first church service. It was a very intentional and natural move. Our number one must-have when deciding on which city in Portugal to live in is that it must have a church (referring to the people. Church is not a physical building and organisation per se) we could belong in.
We are not Catholics, we don’t understand much Portuguese yet. Most churches in Portugal are Catholic Churches and speak only Portuguese.
So, having that criteria narrowed our options to only a few cities within Portugal.
Back in Malaysia, I did my research and found a non-denominational international church2 which has English-translated services; Hillsong Church. They are located in several cities in Portugal.
Though it might have made our transition much easier to go for a fully English-speaking church community, we feel that we want to also integrate with the Portuguese community. Hence, accepting the discomfort of adjusting to a new language: depending on people to translate the sermon message, and even conversations between friends.
We are also intentional in staying connected with our Malaysia’s church small group, Zooming in every week with them, and keeping in touch via text messages.
The European Portuguese language
“English is widely spoken in Portugal, and you can get by with speaking English” is what I often hear and read (some having lived in Portugal for 20-30 years; remained non-Portuguese speaking).
I personally don’t accept this statement as reality, for two reasons:
Regularly, I have to struggle, and vice versa for them, communicating with people who speak zero to very little English. And it’s not limited to older people and also rural areas. I’m currently in Porto, which is a city, and I have enough encounters with people in their 20s who don’t speak English to counter that statement of “you can get by with speaking English”.
Ok. So maybe one could “get by”. But, I don’t want to just get by, by keeping mostly to people, Portuguese or non-Portuguese, who speak English. I want the ease of carrying a conversation and being in a conversation when English-speaking Portuguese friends switched to their native language.
Apart from learning European Portuguese from a language app called Memrise, which we have been doing before we moved here, we will be taking Portuguese classes too. That, along with sticking our neck out, speaking and laughing at our Portuguese as we do our best to communicate with the people we meet.
I might become the unofficial food ambassador for Malaysia. I half-salivate as I gushed to people about the variety of food we have in Malaysia. I don’t particularly miss Malaysian food. But I sure miss the variety available. Malaysians, we can easily eat out; chapati and masala tea for breakfast, char siew wanton meen (noodles) for lunch, and ramen for dinner.
Oh? Ok. I’m supposed to talk about food in Portugal here. Glad to say our first few days in Portugal of ready-to-cook microwaved food have progressed to home-cooked food, dining out, and take-away food. We are eating well and (generally) healthy.
Sharing with you, some food photos à la 2008 when people still post on social media what they ate. Wait, some still do.
Coxas de frango no forno e batatas com arroz (Baked chicken thigh and potatoes with rice) 👇🏼
Enough food photos for this issue. I will share some more in future issues.
Anyway, as I’ve said, I miss having the sheer variety of cuisines easily available, which makes food in Malaysia so SO unique, that most Malaysians don’t even think about it. We are extremely spoilt in that sense.
And. The intermingling of spices. Don’t get me started. 🤤
Note to self to pack them curry powder and spices to bring back to Portugal. You, my friend who’s reading this, who wisely told us to pack some curry powder to “break in case of emergency”, and we said, nah, we don’t need to…you can laugh at us now. Go on.
How am I doing mentally with all these changes, really?
By God’s grace, I am sane after a month plus of putting my introverted self out there amidst everyone I don’t know, and getting to know more new friends than I’ve ever known in a long time.
It takes a lot of me to put myself out there with new faces, taking in new surroundings, including—chasing after buses, which I still find a tad embarrassing. 😅
When I do feel my energy nose-diving, and I do feel that sometimes in mid-conversations, I’d make a mental note to recharge by hibernating at home for the most part of the next day.
One thing that has gotten me more disoriented is that I couldn’t get on with my work fully, or create anything. I felt kinda lost not having those two. That being said, the constant foundation in the routine that kept me grounded is my regular reading of the Bible, meditating on what’s being said, and prayer.
But, finally, after four weeks, one day, I took out my paintbrushes, followed my heart—and painted. Safe to say, my heart is full.
New drawings | Seagulls and Summer Sky
That’s all for now, folks. Thanks for reading. If there’re any questions you wanna ask about my art or my experience in Portugal, feel free to drop them in the comments or email me. I’ll see you in my next HopeMail issue. Take care!
You’ve read HopeMail #141. HopeMail is a newsletter on musings and art from chapters of my life. Current chapter: living in Portugal. "Your emails make me smile." ~ says a happy reader. ☺️
If you’d like to receive my next newsletter, c’mon in.
Sande de leitão is roasted suckling pig sandwich. There. Guilty.
* about Vinho Verde: exclusively produced in the demarcated region of Vinho Verde in northwestern Portugal, it is only produced from the indigenous grape varieties of the region, preserving its typicity of aromas and flavours as unique in the world of wine.