Portable Pleasures

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This post was written by Sarah Rees

For many expats living in Malaysia, this “new” life is the big adventure, and yet for Mollie Jackson, moving to the tropics meant finally settling down with her family after a lifetime of upheaval that has seen her evacuated from Buenos Aires during the Falkland’s War, being offered guns for protection in Panama and dealing with terrorist threats in Sweden. “Everywhere we go, there’s trouble,” she says, smiling delightedly. No, Mollie wasn’t a journalist in the heart of a war zone; she was the wife of a diplomat, and destined to a nomadic life in the far-flung regions of the world. “Each country brought something amazing,” she tells me, “I am so blessed.”

“Blessed” is a word Mollie uses regularly during our hour together, but it is clear that it is in fact Mollie’s natural optimism and joy for life that has enabled her to embrace each new country with an open mind. It also helped that she had interests that were “portable”, and that could be rekindled, with adjustments, in each of her new homes.

“I absolutely adore sailing,” she explains. “When I was growing up, my Dad was crazy about sailing and every year he would take us all out into the Outer Hebrides.”A childhood spent on the water instilled a life-long passion for being on-board, and from yachting in the Sweden to taking a fishing boat out on a lake in Bolivia, Mollie has enjoyed taking her passion around the globe. “Here in Malaysia I have been involved with the Raja Muda [Selangor International Regatta] for a few years,” she tells me, “and I’ve actually sailed the whole coastline from Thailand right down to Singapore.”

Another interest that started during her Scottish childhood was art. “It happened without me even realising it,” she explains. “I would be in a maths exam and instead of answering the questions I would be drawing the invigilator. And it turned out I was quite good.”

This is something of an understatement: Mollie secured a place at the Glasgow School of Art and has been creating beautiful paintings ever since, her style changing with each new inspiration.

“Each country has given me something else. Korea gave me a feeling of peace, with Costa Rica it was flowers. In Bolivia, it was the Andes and the people, with faces that look like they have been hewn out of the rocks.”

The walls of Mollie’s Mont Kiara home are like a still-movie of her life; her picture of the peaceful Korean countryside sits side by side with vivid portraits of Bolivian men. “Sometimes I think ‘why am Idoing this?’, but when I get in my art room and turn my music on, it’s a release.”

While art brought Mollie pleasure, she also found she was able to use her art as a platform to help raise funds for needy causes: another portable pleasure of hers. “I suppose it’s because I feel so blessed that I just know I’ve got to help.” She has many stories of the people who crossed her philanthropic path, and she spent much of her time in South Korea trying to raise awareness for handicapped artists, succeeding in persuading the government to create an art studio to showcase the artists’ work in the middle of the Olympic stadium during the Paralympic games. “That was a triumph!” she beams.

These charitable urges have followed Mollie to Malaysia, and before her luggage had arrived she was driving to Kajang weekly to hold art classes with orphans, until she realised that she could help in another way with her art. “I thought it would be better if I raised money for them instead, so I started holding auctions and selling my work.” It is something that Mollie has continued to do during her four years in the country, and recently raised a whopping RM6,500 from one painting for the Pink Ribbon Charity.


The most important constant in her ever-changing life however, is her family. “We’re so close,” she says of her two children, “and I just hated being apart.” Mollie and her husband Mike made the decision to send the children back to boarding school in the UK while they travelled the world – a decision that she describes as “a sacrifice. But we wanted to give them a chance to go to University. It broke my heart.”

Despite the distance and the “sad and lonely times” they endured, they are as close now as ever, in more ways than one. “We had all that sacrifice but my son and his wife live in the next street, and my daughter and her children live in the street after that!”

Her son Anthony’s marriage to a Malaysian woman brought the whole family here on a visit and they loved it so much they decided to stay. Mollie’s life is now transformed into a whirl of family outings and gatherings, and she has taken to the role of Grandmother with jubilation. “It’s a proof of the pudding,” she says, “people always say things about sending your children away, but then they see how close we are. And it was actually Dorothy who encouraged us.”

She tells the story of how her daughter, aged 10, overheard her parent’s discussions about whether or not to accept the diplomatic life and the separation it would cause. “She marched into the room and said, ‘I know you don’t want to go because of me and because of Andrew. But the Ambassadors told you you’re born to do it, so do it! And think of the holidays we’ll have.’”

“And,” says Mollie with a fond smile, “we haven’t regretted it.”

Source: The Expat April 2012 Issue

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