From Mundane to Extraordinary

I’ve learned a lot from traveling for the last five years. But the lessons I’ve learned haven’t been the exotic ones I expected, full of mystery and history.

When you grow up in a place, every other place in the world seems magical, full of amazing sights, ancient history, and of course unique plants and animals. Living next to mountains and fields, cats and coyotes just doesn’t hold a candle to seeing the Tower of London or feeding an elephant.

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Of course home has its benefits–it’s home, after all–but everywhere else in the world just seems so much more magical. Adventures seem more likely to happen when you’re in an unfamiliar place; strange languages, unknown roads, and new sights  lend a touch of the exotic to all you see.

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But really? All these foreign places and amazing sights–cobras,
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beaches,
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are homes to regular, ordinary people. People who have lives, and families, friends, and jobs. People who worry about money, or have lost a loved one, or have relationship struggles, or health problems. It’s easy to romanticize the unknown; much harder to realize that life is much the same no matter where you end up living it.

Flying back in to Colorado a month ago, seeing the mountains and the spreading plains again, all I could think of was how impressed Singaporeans, who only know a tiny, hot, tropical island, would be. Snow-covered mountains, vast plains, and a sky that meets the ground instead of a building. You never get sunrises like this, where you can see for miles, in Singapore.
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In fact, all you can see there is HDB buildings for miles.DSC_0824.jpg

I never used to think of where I grew up as anywhere someone would ever want to visit–unless they were into skiing. It was just home, and there was nothing extraordinary about it.

And then I moved away. Suddenly, with the clarity of distance, the familiar seemed a lot more desirable. It’s hard to live in a place where you don’t speak the language, the food in the grocery stores is all strange (fishballs and bean curd, anyone?), and even the trees and roads look different.

What’s familiar to you is strange and extraordinary to someone else. Maybe your life seems boring and pointless right now as you change diapers and make food all day every day and you’re longing to go travel the world, or perhaps you spend all your waking moments in school and doing homework and you want to go out and start real life, or maybe you really want to be married so you can be happy like all the married people you see.

But the grass isn’t always greener. Travel–especially being away from familiar things for a long time–is difficult and can be lonely. Starting real life–finding a job, paying bills, fixing things–is a lot more work than it sounds like when you’re in college. Being married is not an automatic recipe for happiness.

All of these can be good things, just like living in another country can be a good thing. But don’t expect them to give more zest to an otherwise bland life.

It’s not where you live that makes life extraordinary–it’s who you are.

 

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Incompetence as Comedy: or, American Airlines Flight 82 from Auckland

The travel industry has a bad reputation in general. It has this reputation because it deserves it. Take, for example, our recent attempt at leaving Auckland, New Zealand on a flight to Los Angeles (Flight number AA82).

You all know what it’s like to fly somewhere: wait in a line here, another line there, have your passport inspected, your face scrutinized, and if you’re lucky, you’re patted down and felt up and herded around like a bunch of sheep for a few hours before finally getting to the gate, where you’re left to sit on some of the most uncomfortable chairs you’ve ever seen. Oh, and you do all this while carrying a toddler and your bag that felt quite light the day before when you packed it, but now feels like it weighs about ten tons.

Well, we made it through all the indignities of airports without losing our dignity, and settled in to our uncomfortable seats with all our baggage strewn around us at about 1:30 pm, an hour before the plane was scheduled to board at 2:25 pm.

A portly British man wearing a bow tie (or papillon as he called it) and a large tag around his neck that loudly proclaimed “Press Pass” sat down across from us. He boasted some about his experience flying, the fact that he was flying business class, and that he’d been upgraded twice because of his press pass (the only reason he wore it as he was mainly retired).

“What language is he speaking?” he queried, pointing at JQ.

“Toddler,” I said.

Not sure where he lived all his life to never hear a toddler speaking, but he was certain he knew a lot about flying.

As the scheduled boarding time got closer, the boarding area started to fill up. People were doing exercises, taking naps, and generally preparing for a long intercontinental flight.

2:25 p.m. came and went, with no signs of boarding or of anything else happening other than the usual passenger paging over the intercom. Mr. Hoping-for-an-upgrade assured us that the airline was probably just waiting for a few important passengers or perhaps a large group, and that we would be sure to board soon.

Then, at 3:00, they finally made an announcement. “We regret to inform you that American Airlines Flight 82 has been delayed due to mechanical engineering difficulties. We will inform you of our progress in 45 minutes.” Everyone rolled their eyes; JQ demanded to be taken back to the vending machines to “Beep beep” them, and, of course, Mr. Hoping-for-an-upgrade pointed out the pilot and copilot in the cockpit. “You see,” he said, “if anything were seriously wrong with the airplane, the pilot wouldn’t be on board playing cards!”

Alas, Mr. Hoping-for-an-upgrade was wrong. Fifteen minutes later, American Airlines sent emails and text messages to all the passengers, alerting them that the flight was canceled. Of course, the people at the desk made no announcement until thirty minutes after that, just to keep everyone in suspense. Or perhaps they didn’t even know themselves!

Then the announcement came: “We regret to inform you that American Airlines flight 82 to Los Angeles has been canceled due to mechanical difficulties. Your baggage will be found at bag claim five. Please go to the arrivals area and pick up your bags, then go American Airlines check-in at departure area D to rebook a flight and be given a lodging voucher. Also, make sure to return any duty-free items you may have purchased.”

And that was it. That was all the instructions we were given for what to do now that we had no flight to go on.

So we all got up, picked up all our luggage, and began the arduous journey back through the terminal, trying to figure out how to get to arrivals from the departure area (spoiler alert: you can’t). Groups of twenty or thirty people stood around looking confused, while one man wandered around asking everyone in sight, “Do you know how to get to customs?”

After trudging nearly halfway back, we spotted an airport help desk, who pointed back where we came from and said, “Oh, arrivals is just down the stairs over that way.” Back we trudged—only to find all the stairs we knew about only went up! After a lot more back and forth, we learned that actually, passengers from the canceled flight needed to go back to their gate so they could be funneled into arrivals. So we went back yet again.

By now, it was nearly 4:30 and all we had accomplished with our lives in this time was standing in queues and walking through hallways. Surely humans were meant for greater things than this?

After some more queueing and more walking through hallways and through the arrivals area (which we saw when we first actually arrived in Auckland), we arrived at passport control. To add to the pointlessness of this entire endeavor, we had to fill out an arrivals form, to give them very important information about what it’s like to sit at the gate in their airport for a few hours. “Where are you arriving from?” the form questioned. “Have you been hiking anywhere?” “Do you have any fruits?” “How long are you planning to stay in New Zealand?” “What is your address here?” All these questions in their varying iterations put JQ right to sleep.

Untitled After passport control, where they carefully examined our faces to make sure they still matched our passports, it was off to more walking through hallways and standing in queues (now with a sleeping baby in arms) to pick up our baggage. On the bright side, we all finally found bag claim 5. And our baggage was actually on it, which seemed to be the one feat that American Airlines could pull off. The customs officer questioned us closely again: “Did you buy any fruit while you were in the departure terminal?” Apparently the departure terminal of the Auckland airport is no longer New Zealand and the fruit there will contaminate ALL THE CROPS and they will all DIE! Or maybe he just had to ask—because when we replied in the negative, he let us just walk through and not put our baggage through the x-ray machines (which would entail—you guessed it!—more standing in queues).

After all that, it was 5:00, and we finally made it to check-in counter D for American Airlines—with about four hundred other people, all in the same position we were in. More queueing entailed, and Jared used the last 16% of battery on his phone to call the number on the little ticket they gave us. So we got a flight rebooked for the next evening, which would get us to Oregon a hair’s breadth before a very important person’s wedding.

Now just remained the knotty little problem of where we would stay. If our phones had worked (mine had no data, and Jared’s no battery), we might have just sucked up the cost and called the Airbnb we had stayed at the whole week. As it was, we stayed in the queue to try to find some lodging for the night. We waited…and waited…and waited…and then JQ, who had napped about thirty minutes and was starting to get hungry, started screaming, “Mommy, go out! Mommy, I go out!” It was a lightbulb moment for the staff, who hurriedly came and escorted us up front. “Oh, you have a child! Come wait up here and we’ll be with you in just a minute.” Everyone around us looked a little jealous, and a couple people jokingly called out, “Wait, I’m his sister! I’m the auntie!” Moral of the story: definitely try to travel with a two-year-old if possible.

But! The story’s still not over. We were given the name of our hotel—which was in Hamilton, two hours away from Auckland (the hotels in Auckland were all completely booked)—and told to go out door two, where a bus would be waiting for us. So we went and waited with the bus. The bus driver had a bad back and was a little out of shape, so Jared helped him load everyone’s luggage. And then we waited some more while I fed JQ all the snacks I had packed for the airplane. We waited an hour—the bus driver said he was waiting for confirmation—but in the end his bus was full, and he decided to just go. It was a lovely little drive through New Zealand’s farmland: the sun glinted off of rivers and mountains, green fields with cows pastorally grazing, and Maori cemeteries. Untitled

When we got to Hamilton (New Zealand’s fourth largest city, apparently), a new comedy of errors began. The forty people on the bus were in about eight different hotels, all in different parts of town. The bus driver wasn’t quite sure where all of them were and kept stopping to look them up on his map.

When we finally got to our hotel—called the Quest—we were dropped off with about 8 other people, including a little old lady and gentleman (in their seventies, or so) who had three or four large suitcases. It was well after 8:00 p.m. at this time, and there was a sign on the door of the hotel saying that hotel reception closed at 7 p.m. Somehow someone opened the door and everyone crowded into the small reception area, where there were four envelopes waiting with the names of those who had reservations. Two of the envelopes had correct names and room sizes on them, but one of them had been booked and was a single room for a French couple, and the other was for a name that nobody in our group had. So out of 8 people, there were rooms for four (as two of the rooms were single rooms). We tried calling the hotel management, but they were just as confused as everyone else—except they did mention that more rooms had been booked at their branch two blocks away—Quest on Ward. So eventually Jared made the executive decision that the couple in their 70s should just take the room that was under someone else’s name, and we and the French couple set off for the next hotel—walking, of course, as our bus had long since departed.

When we got to Quest on Ward, of course their reception was also closed and the door locked. We tried their intercom to get someone to open the door for us. The first time we called, a lady answered who said she couldn’t hear at all; eventually she hung up. Then someone else answered and said the same thing: “Your connection is terrible!” After about seven tries, we gave up on the intercom and called the number given. Just as we were finally getting someone to understand what we needed, a hotel resident came by and let us in. Once in, we discovered only one room had been reserved—and with us and the French couple, we needed two. So Jared called up the manager and asked what was going on, and he said he would be by shortly. In the end—apparently the manager had his own idea of “short”—the French couple wandered off and were never heard from again!

So—six hours after we learned our flight was canceled, we finally made it to a room and were able to rest. In the morning, the manager said that American Airlines hadn’t told him how many people were coming and had just sent random people an hour and a half away without booking them any rooms. There were still other, minor problems once we were in possession of our room, like our food allowance only being usable if we charged it to the hotel, ate at a select list of restaurants, and subtracted the 10% commission the hotel wanted, even though American Airlines staff insisted the hotel wasn’t entitled to any commission!

Was it all inevitable? After all, American Airlines didn’t know their plane would encounter a mechanical error, and surely it’s better to have a day of delay and queuing than to swim with the “baby sharks” (as JQ calls them) in the big blue Pacific? Jared, who happens to have helped edit a book on emergency response (which you could read, but it’s rather boring) says absolutely not. The basic planks of emergency management, he says, are prevent, prepare, respond, and recover. The first, obviously, is about stopping something bad from happening; the second is about planning what to do when something bad happens; the third is about enacting your plan and improvising when something happens; and the fourth is about restoring capacity and rebuilding systems even better after a disaster. American Airlines, we surmise, had invested almost everything in prevention—fixing the plane, which was rumored to have been on the ground since earlier that morning—and ignored preparation (which, this being one of the weeks of Chinese Spring Festival, was extra important). The result was a botched response, with the agents even unclear about how we were supposed to get to baggage claim, and the comedy of incompetence thereafter. One would think that a major international airline would have some sort of system in place for communicating with passengers and service providers like hotels, but apparently Auckland Airport’s American Airlines didn’t think it was worth their while. The problem, it seemed to us, was not simply that the person in charge didn’t know what they were doing, but that there was nobody in charge!

Resilience means being prepared for disasters, which are statistically inevitable: bad things, no matter what, will eventually happen. And when they do, laughing is always a healthier response to yelling or crying. If you make the wedding, that is—or maybe even if you don’t!

Coming Home

It’s that time of year again: we’re moving soon. But this time we won’t be going to any exotic or far-away place. Instead, we’ll be moving back home to Colorado (just for a year, of course: how could we stay somewhere longer than a year?!).

After Singapore, Colorado almost seems exotic. Snow? And mountains? And seasons? And no HDB buildings as far as the eye can see?
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Today it feels like as soon as we begin to settle in to a place, our routines become more comfortable, and we move out of survival mode into oh-yeah-I-can-actually-do-things mode, we move. And while this is one move I’m glad to make (sorry, Singapore, I don’t love you), it’s still tearing up roots and going through a big adjustment yet again. For the sixth time in almost five years. And that sounds crazy. No wonder I’ve been mainly hiding in my house for the last several months.

And after months of mainly staying home and venturing out to the playground, I’ll have to learn how to interact with people again beyond the inanities of small talk. (“How do you like Singapore?” Answer: smile and nod, say “It’s…very hot.” If I’m in a generous mood, I may go so far as to say, “We enjoy swimming here,” or “It’s great to be able to get inexpensive fresh juice whenever you want it.” Seriously, how are you supposed to answer a question like that?)

But do I even know how to be a friend any more? Am I still an intelligent human being even though I’ve been dragged all over the world for the past few years, and now am poked and prodded to death every time I try to have a thought? (I’m hiding away while JQ takes a bubble bath–hiding, because he started fishing hairs out of somewhere from the bathtub and showing them to me, and then because he started painting me with bubbles. Let’s just say–not conducive to Deep Thoughts!)

I guess my worry is: I’ve changed so much. Have I grown away from being home? Or has “home” grown in the other direction so that neither of us will recognize the other?

Will I be that friend that regales others only with stories of eating fishballs and other delicacies? Or will I have no life outside of how wonderful (or obnoxious) my kid is? Will people even remember who I am since I’ve been gone for so long?

Silly worries aside, there are so many things to anticipate, like being close to family and friends (free babysitters for JQ!), good American food (dairy products! cheese! meat! no fishballs!), and seasons (cold weather! snow! wind! spring and fall!). Jared is looking forward to the library of books he has already ordered from Amazon–only thirty or forty books, he says nonchalantly– that is awaiting him in Colorado. I’m excited about introducing JQ to farm life with all its ways to keep small boys busy.

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So look out America: we’re coming for you!

Seven Quick Takes

  1. We finally got wifi this month, after a month of frustrating bureaucracy, and it’s been really nice to feel somewhat connected again and be able to work. I’ve got to admit it’s also nice to be able to watch a movie without finding it in advance and downloading it too (I know, spoiled millennial here!). Netflix here has most cartoons dubbed in Chinese too so occasionally we let JQ watch one for 5-10 minutes in the hopes that he’ll pick up on some Chinese. Easy bilingualism, right? wouldn’t necessarily learn Chinese in five minutes three times a week, but kids’ brains are supposed to be porous so I’m sure he’ll get it in no time.

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    He thinks so too, and is wearing Chinese
  2. Of course, it should help that JQ has started getting babysat for three hours a day, five days a week, while I teach. We’ve asked his babysitter to speak Chinese around him so he’ll pick up on it–but it’s still a little early to tell whether it’s working yet as his go-to word is still “Maamaa” in various forms. He seems to be enjoying it (as in, not screaming the entire time), though he has been a little more clingy when he’s at home. Hopefully it won’t take him too long to adjust.
  3. It’s been interesting living in a basically bilingual country. Kids on the playground switch between English and Chinese without thinking; they study both in school and probably hear both at home. It does lead to some rather thick accents (it’s really hard to figure out what people are saying!), and their English is definitely colored by Chinese-isms (like using “lah” at the end of every sentence). It also makes for some humorous moments, like when the Singaporean man at Bible study gravely started explaining the spirit of peas (he meant peace) and how it could only be explained by the love of the cross.
  4. I haven’t taken any pictures recently because we haven’t really gone anywhere in the last few weeks, but I still have some neat pictures of downtown Singapore that I haven’t shared here.
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    This is the piano that Lang Lang played on….maybe on a visit to Singapore? I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but it got its own exhibit. Shiny, huh?
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  5. I’m finally figuring out grocery shopping/cooking here and remembering how to cook without an oven. We got spoiled by having an oven in England! Now it’s back to stovetop and toaster oven cooking, although the previous residents of our flat left us their rice cooker, so I’ve been experimenting with one-pot meals to the tune of–chopping up ginger, garlic, and yellow ginger (turmeric), throwing in rice cooker with rice and water and any other vegetables I feel like, putting a fish on top, and cooking away. Jared loves it and it’s awfully easy, though rather uninspired. It also stains my fingers and cutting board a bright yellow so I look somewhat jaundiced on my left hand.
  6. We got our boxes yesterday! So nice to unpack all the things we packed up in England–just like sending a present to ourselves to open in six months. Untitled Now we have a couple pictures to put on our walls and more stuff to clutter up the house with, like books..and…well…more books. UntitledAnd we still have most of our books packed in boxes in the U.S. When we finally move back, I’m not sure I’ll even know how to deal with multiple (as in, ten or so) shelves full of books any more–I’m already envying my future self.
  7. Around where we live, there’s very few white people, so JQ’s hair and skin draw lots of looks and admiring comments. They’ve also prompted several old men to start conversations: “Where you from? You American?”

“Yes, we’re American,” I reply.

“What you think ’bout Trump?  How could so many Americans vote for him?”

“Well, it was a hard election,” I say, evading the question. “Neither candidate was exactly great.”

“Well, I think Bill Clinton’s wife should have won. She’s much more experienced!”

And delivering this zinger, he walked away. Many Singaporeans feel compelled to state their opinions on American politics, and they all think I should have something to do with changing them. Sorry, but democracy doesn’t actually work that way.

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Living in Virtual Solitude: Or, I Have no Wifi

Singapore.

DSC_0262 It’s the land of much heat, beautiful buildings (mostly), almost no mosquitoes (they wiped them all out when Zika showed up), some slightly scary wildlife (which we haven’t seen any of yet), and many interesting foods. It’s also the place where getting wireless internet is more bureaucratic than renting an apartment. Which is why we’ve had a house for almost two weeks now, but still have no wifi. DSC_0246

Of course, living a life free from the distractions of Facebook videos, Netflix, Instagram, and all other web browsing (although we do still have data on our phones) has some obvious benefits, such as spending more time with people (consisting right now of exactly two people, Jared and JQ, since I’m not exactly flush with friends here), spending more time reading books during JQ’s naptime (I’m at around a book a day, so far), spending time playing violin, and spending time cleaning the house when I’m not being a slave to JQ’s every whim. I would even say I’ve been spending time cooking, but I’m still adjusting to grocery shopping here, which is always a hard part about moving. Not only do you have to figure out what’s affordable in stores (pro tip: don’t expect lots of dairy products in Singapore), but you have to figure out how to cook with each country’s kitchen equipment (yes, we’re back to the toaster oven here). For now, it looks like we’ll be eating a lot of rice, green leafies, and tropical fruits.

However, in spite of all the benefits, I’m still a millennial. I miss having wifi. I’m kind of getting anxious about getting back to work (this house ain’t gonna pay for itself), and all day interaction with a small human who has just started bleating “Maamaa” in the most piteous way, while fulfilling, is not exactly restful. At least he naps for about three hours a day?

We should be getting wifi any time now since Jared finally has his official Student Pass. I’m sure it will be nice to get back to working a few hours a day and not feeling quite so disconnected from the rest of humanity (the humans that I know, that is. There’s loads around here that I don’t know). I know the benefits of living a more connected life will be there, but I hope I can remember the benefits of being minimally connected as well. And of course I’ll still be teaching my small bleating wobbly human.

Culture Shock

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Cute baby picture just because

This time around, coming home was definitely more of a culture shock for me. Last time I was too busy being pregnant (and honestly just glad not to be in China any more) to really notice culture shock. Although it was a bit strange to be able to look at menus and not have to summon up my little stock of Chinese to try to order something and figure out what I was eating, that quickly passed and I figured out how to order in English again.

But maybe because in a lot of ways England is a lot like America–they’re both rich countries, speak English, Western, and have similar lifestyles, I found I noticed the differences a lot more when I came home. America definitely has its perks (like family and friends), but there are a lot of things I’ve been missing about England.

  • Food quality and prices

I don’t miss the restaurant food: that was pretty nondescript and mostly too expensive for our budget anyways. But just regular grocery store food in England seemed much higher quality and was so much cheaper. I don’t even know how to shop here since so many of the things I got used to buying and cooking over there are suddenly way out of my price range. So here’s hoping Singapore has Cadbury chocolate and custard creams! Also, American grocery store eggs are nasty. They’re so pale and flavorless.

  • Walkable cities

American cities (at least the few I’ve been in) are so poorly designed for walking. They practically force you to drive places just so you don’t get run over while trying to walk somewhere. In most of Europe, though, we could walk 5-10 minutes and be at a grocery store without endangering ourselves by trying to cross ridiculously busy highways without crosswalks. I know it’s the American way of life to have a giant car and always drive everywhere, but maybe if cities were planned better more people would be able to walk!

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  • Not knowing which way to look when crossing the street, and not knowing which side of the car is the passenger side or driver’s side

It’s not so much of a problem now that I’ve been back a few months, but for the first little bit of traveling through Europe and coming back to America, I was terribly confused as to which way I should look when crossing the street. Eventually I just gave up and looked both ways twice to make sure no one was coming. It didn’t help  that in Europe they don’t print helpful messages on the pavement for which way to look!

And I had the same problem with knowing which side was the passenger side of the car. I didn’t often ride in cars in the UK, but apparently I rode in them enough to thoroughly confuse myself. Why don’t they just standardise these things?

  • People talk to you in trains

When we got back to D.C., so many random people would just start up conversations with us. They’d ask about the baby, talk about the weather…and didn’t seem to have any idea that you just don’t talk to people on trains! In London, no one ever talks to anyone else on the tube, except maybe to offer someone a seat. It’s just one of those things that Is Not Done.

  • Light switches

One of those things you’d never think of but is actually pretty confusing are light switches. When I got back home, I would constantly search for the bathroom light switch on the outside of the door, only to realize it was on the inside. (People who put light switches on the outside of bathrooms must never have had little brothers, is all I can think.) Not only are light switches located in different places, but they also move backwards, which has led me to hit the switch several times just trying to figure out which way is on or off.

  • Language

One of the biggest ways I felt like a foreigner in England was my accent. When everyone else is speaking in nice posh British tones with all kinds of rounded vowel sounds and without “r”s and all that, I felt like my American accent stuck out a mile. It’s pretty impossible to blend in when every word you speak loudly proclaims you a foreigner. Of course, this was even worse when we traveled around France and Germany and couldn’t even speak the language (every time I thought about German I would come up with Chinese instead!).

  • Getting used to friends and family being in the same time zone again.

When you’ve only been able to call your friends in the afternoon for a year, suddenly being able to call or text during any waking hours is slightly strange. I often waited till the afternoon to call just out of force of habit! It’s awfully nice to live in the same time zone, though, and not have to worry about waking people at 3 am or so.

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There are a lot more things, such as grocery delivery, beautiful giant parks (definitely the best part about England), and not having any plugs that fit in the sockets when we came home, along with location restrictions on Netflix (some of the shows we really enjoyed are way too expensive here) and strange dinner hours in Europe.

It was a great year, England: thank you for having us. Now on to ever newer adventures–I’ll keep you posted as to what Singapore is like!

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes!

 

The Life of a Tramp, Part 1: Edinburgh

We’re now officially homeless. Hooray?

Ten months ago, we came to this empty flat with nothing but our hopes and dreams, four large suitcases, and an even larger belly (yes, with a baby in it). We left a week ago with one very wiggly 9-month-old, three small bags, a backpack, and lots of good memories and friendships made. It was a good ten months, London–we’re sad to go!  DSC_0800     All moved out and nowhere to sit.

So now we’re living it up and traveling around. First stop? Edinburgh. We loved this city: so much Old World charm, and in such a gorgeous location. We stayed at a charming AirBnB not far from the city center, and had so much fun walking around and seeing the sights.

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First, we went to the beach. JQ instantly decided the water was much too cold (we dipped his big toe in) and the sand was his jam. He even ate a couple handfuls, to which Jared said: “I feel like a real father now, watching my baby eat dirt!”

What can I say? We have low standards.

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Note to self: make sure the baby has been thoroughly washed after any encounter with sand, especially before going to bed. Otherwise you will be fighting sand for days.

The next day, (which was sunny and warmer, of course), we walked around Edinburgh and saw the castle and some of the other sights. And took about a million pictures, so excuse me while I dump them on you.

Edinburgh

I loved all the buildings–they’re nearly all made out of the same kind of stone, which looks so grand and imposing. There weren’t any skyscrapers either, and no post-industrial blight. You know the sort–dying factories, ancient chimneys, rotting warehouses that should have been torn down decades ago.
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Of course there was the usual assortment of fish-and-chip shops, off-licences, and betting houses. It wouldn’t be Britain without them!

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Once in the castle, we enjoyed some fabulous views looking over the Firth of Forth and the city.

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The castle itself was pretty picturesque too!

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I was very glad I wasn’t one of the brave band of Scots who scaled the rock cliff to attack the castle and retake it from the English. Cliffs are not my cup of tea, to put it mildly.

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JQ agrees.

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Speaking of cliffs, the next day we climbed up Arthur’s Seat, which is a huge hill (or collection of hills? I couldn’t quite figure out which). Besides nearly making me have a heart attack it was so high and steep, it was beautiful.

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I had never really thought of Scotland as being volcanic before, but seeing these massive hills of volcanic rock really emphasized it!

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I also decided I was not cut out to be a Highlander. Running around on steep hills all day gets tiring pretty quickly. Although I’ve got to say it’s much easier to walk up (or down) hills like that without shoes!

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Anyways, ya’ll have probably had about enough of seeing craggy cliff faces and hearing me blither about Edinburgh. If you get a chance to visit, though, you definitely should!

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So long for now!

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Let It Go

One week from today, we leave.

This small flat where we eagerly expected the birth of our first child, the place he came home to from the hospital. Family and friends have visited. Life has happened. We’ve filled it with memories in less than a year.

But now our flat is looking bare and new again, minus all the stuff that’s sitting around everywhere. Let’s say it looks as bare and new as a place that looks like a tornado recently went through it can look.

We’ve started getting rid of everything, moving on, letting go. Those tiny baby clothes we brought expectantly, our furniture, the evidence that we were here.

Sunset over the Thames

I don’t want to move on. I want to freeze this moment in time: this still-small baby (who is sometimes a bear), this messy apartment, these sunsets over the river. I want to hold them in the palm of my hand and never let go.

Sunset over the Thames

I don’t want to surrender a known present to an unknown future. If it were up to me,  I’d give up unknown joys and sorrows in exchange for these familiar ones. I’d freeze time, holding onto to what I know.

Sunset over the Thames

But it’s not up to me. I don’t have a choice. Life must be lived even if it’s uncertain, even if it means giving up the familiar for the unfamiliar, the known for the unknown. Unknown goods are no less good because they are unknown. Or that’s what I tell myself, anyways.

Otherwise, I’d be like my still-learning baby: endlessly grasping for something I cannot reach but not wise enough to give up and move forward to the things within my grasp.

So on we go–it’s time for the next adventure!

Updates and Anniversaries

I decided it was time for an update on what’s been going on over here while I’ve been doing everything but blogging. So here are the things that have been keeping me busy recently.

  1. The first one, of course, is JQ monstering.

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Don’t be fooled by that cute little face and angelic mop of blonde hair. This little man, who is currently eight-and-a-half months old, rarely sits still and always wants to be getting into something. Vying for the spots of top most fascinating things are computer cords, computers, cellphones, and drawers. So far he’s completely destroyed one drawer in the house and taken the contents out of many more. His motto seems to be, “What can I get into next?”

2. In June, we celebrated our third anniversary. Of course, like the bad blogger that I am, I’ve been trying to write a post about it for a month. This is me giving up and saying no post shall be written. But at least we got (a very bad) picture of us wandering around London on our anniversary.
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It’s been a great three years in three countries, Jared. I’m looking forward to the next year (and the next country!).
3. The third thing that’s been keeping me busy is. . .I got a job! It’s teaching English online to Chinese people, mostly kids. The transition was a little rough on JQ (since he obviously can’t “help” me and has to go in the other room), but I’ve taught a lot of fun students. And I’ll be able to take it with me when we move. . . which is a plus.

4. Which brings me to: we’re moving, again! We leave our current house on July 25 (sniff, sniff), and are going to travel around for a bit before heading off to Singapore in January. Not looking forward to Singapore’s weather, but kind of excited to know where we’re going next and maybe having a bigger flat there too. What I’m not excited about, though, is packing, a.k.a. getting rid of everything we own (again). I always feel like we’ve done a great job of not accumulating stuff until it’s time to pack it all up–and then it takes five times longer than it should to go through everything. But at least we won’t have much to carry when traveling!

5. But before we leave here for good, we’re doing a bit more traveling around the country. We have Scotland and Ireland booked for the end of the month, but for now, we’ve just made a last-minute trip to Gloucester and a day trip to Cardiff from there. Lots more beautiful scenery (and cute baby pictures, of course).

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We’ve been loving the gorgeous English gardens and all the greenery everywhere.

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We had a great time walking around Cardiff as well and seeing the castle and the bay. It was perfect weather too!

6. Besides going places ourselves, we’ve also had other people visit us. After my friend left, my sister came two weeks later. I haven’t persuaded either of them to write a blog post yet, but perhaps I might still. It’s amazing how much more popular living in London has made us!

7. Other than all the busyness described above, we’re just enjoying what has probably been the coolest summer I’ve ever spent. I don’t think it’s ever gotten past 80 degrees (yes, that is Fahrenheit) yet and it’s July. Feel free to be envious, those of you roasting in America. Have I mentioned we’re going to miss England?!

Well, I think that about covers our summer so far. What have you all been up to?

For more, head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum.

How to Have a Stress-Free Pregnancy

Since there are (fortuitously) seven steps to follow, I’m linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes!

Can you believe my baby is already almost five months old? He’s getting big so fast! So in honor of being the mother of an almost five-month-year-old (how Jared says it and it’s so funny I have to include it here. Do tell if you know anyone else who says that!), let me give you some advice on how to make your pregnancy really easy and stress free.

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(Cute baby picture so you’re reminded what the end result will be).

First, start your pregnancy in a country where no one speaks your language.  Prenatal visits are that much more exciting when you have to listen to the nurses practicing how to say “gynecological” from Google translate. And you’re never quite sure if they’ve understood any questions you have. As a bonus, when you come back to English-speaking parts all your doctors will be really annoyed because your medical records are all in Chinese and they don’t teach them that in medical school.

Second, get rid of nearly everything you own and prepare to move halfway around the world when you’re about five months along. Things like couches can really weigh you down with their couch-sitting needs, so it’s better for all involved if you just get rid of them now. You’ll be thankful later when you’re so huge you can’t pry yourself off a couch with a crowbar!

Third,  leave the country you started in and spend a few months with family. You’d be amazed how packing in the visits and seeing as many people as possible in a couple months’ time makes everything easier. But don’t get your heart set on staying here with people you know–these are just quick visits!

Fourth, when you’ve traveled the entire length of the country and seen everyone, get ready to move! Thankfully this will be an easy process since you will have already done step two. It just involves packing your entire life back into the two suitcases you’re allowed and you’re off again.

Fifth, once you’ve flown for around seven hours and have a serious case of jet lag and swollen ankles, start looking for a place to live. This will involve lots and lots of googling and walking everywhere, so be sure to give yourself at least a few weeks before the baby’s supposed to come. Remember, you still have to find a doctor reasonably close to where you’ll be living as well.

Sixth, you finally find a place to live and your baby’s due in a month! Perfect timing. Now you can relax. . . except there’s no furniture. Time to go shopping so when that baby does make its appearance it doesn’t have to wear your clothes. Oh, and having somewhere comfortable to sleep is a plus too.

Seven, buy that waterproof mattress cover you know you should have just in case you’re one of the few people whose water actually breaks before you’re in labor. Then let it sit in the other room because there’s no way your water is actually going to break in the middle of the night–at least not two weeks before the baby’s expected!

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(Not-so-cute pregnancy picture so you can see what the last two weeks of pregnancy were like.)

Once you’ve done all that, you can kick back (I’ll let you have a couch again) and wait for that baby to arrive. You’ll probably have about two days before he decides it’s time. But at least you weren’t just sitting around worrying about when he was going to come.

So in brief: to have the easiest, least stressful pregnancy possible, all you have to do is get rid of all your stuff , pack some suitcases, and fly (four or more flights is best)! And for maximum stress reduction, plan on having a baby a few weeks after you arrive. It’s completely foolproof.