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.

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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.

Apartment Tour (or should I say, Flat Tour?)

This post will probably be rather boring, since all my energy seems to be dedicated at the moment to stocking up our apartment with the basic necessities like pots and pans (and chocolate), lugging said necessities home, and thinking of tasty things to cook since I started getting tired of the old faithful hamburger (around here they call it beef mince) and random veggies mixture.

Anyhow, on to the apartment. In this apartment, we have a bed:

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Exhibit A

It’s nice to have a bed, because before we were just sleeping on an air mattress on the floor. You try heaving your very pregnant self off a 4 inch high air mattress and tell me it’s easy.

We also have lovely wide windows that Jared has discovered the perfect use for.

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The scholar at work.

They’re kind of like a cross between a window seat and a treehouse, or so I imagine.

Coming out of the bedroom, there’s a hallway to the door, a bathroom on the right, and the living room (reception room in UK parlance) and kitchen on the left.

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The hallway. Fascinating, eh?

Our bathroom feels palatial compared to the last few places we’ve lived. It’s so nice to have a pretty bathroom that rewards you for keeping it clean. And the bathtub certainly doesn’t hurt things either!

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Jared attempts to emulate Sir Winston Churchill now.

For the kitchen/living room, you’ll have to see them filled with people as you would if you were actually visiting. Jared’s friends from school came over and celebrated the imminent arrival of JQ with us this weekend. They brought presents and we gave them food and everyone had a lovely time.

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And helped assemble them (and isn’t it cute?!)
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Opening presents while everyone looks on.
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The steps to the kitchen make for perfect extra seating.

One of the gifts we were given was a cake that was apparently the favorite dessert of the Congress of Vienna (no, it didn’t survive from the 19th century–it’s just the same recipe).

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It was quite tasty when we opened it later. Basically a walnut praline pie or something like that.

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Jared loved it.

Combine a tasty pastry with the peace settlement that resulted in the most peaceful century in modern European history, and you have the recipe for greatness. Maybe it’s why the Congress of Vienna was so successful.

Anyways, we love our little flat, and it’s a great space for entertaining as well. Come by and see us sometime!

In Which I Somehow Segue from Chinese to Job-Hunting

In writing, I have to wait until I know what I want to say. The words have to exist for me to write them down. No matter how much I try, I can’t be like the Almighty and speak nothing into existence. Feeling out-of-words doesn’t do much for writing.

It’s the same way with Chinese. I can’t speak Chinese words that I don’t know–because for me, they don’t exist. Obviously, that makes communicating in Chinese a bit difficult at times. Thankfully, we’ve been doing a conversational Chinese class every day for the past couple of weeks, and it’s been very helpful. But what you don’t think about when starting a more intensive course of language study is how it robs your brain of words. The mental focus required to sit through an hour and a half of Chinese practice every single day makes me feel drained, languaged-out, on silly phrases like “Where are you from” and “How are you” and “Where do you teach”.

I know every language has to start with basic phrases, but I’m impatient. I want to get to the good stuff, the stuff you actually ask people after you know them (you ever tried asking someone you’ve known for years what their name is? It’s not so great) and not just to practice introductions and specifying basic needs.

It doesn’t help my language problems that directly after Chinese class I’ve been tutoring a student in English. 2 more hours of focusing on language, except this time, I’m the teacher.Then I come home and apply for jobs.

Can I just say, right now–job hunting is not fun. It brings out everything that’s bad in me and makes me feel like a loser, because I’m definitely not qualified for about 99/100ths of the jobs out there (and they’d make me super miserable). After a day of spending time on all the job hunting websites, I start to become the Grinch that stole happiness, and poor Jared has to trot out his “Everyone has to do hard things all the time, so since you’re so terrible at this, maybe I’ll get you that book for Valentine’s day. You know, written by Alex and Brett Harris, called Do Hard Things?

It’s probably pretty silly to view everything you’re not suited for as a personal insult, because I’m sure they’re not thinking of it that way. It’s probably just a female thing–feeling under-qualified and less-than–but it’s still depressing. Going to the UK is even scarier because I’m sure they have plenty of their own qualified people, so why would they choose me? Maybe at some point we’ll actually stay in one place longer than a year so I don’t have to do this whole resume/cover letter/search-Google-and-Craigslist-and-a-gazillion-job-posting-websites Every Single Year.

Anyways, I’m trying to be more masculine and approach job hunting solely as an intellectual exercise: X position + Y salary= great job for Annika to apply for. Perhaps it will work, but I’m doubtful.

Anyways, I’ll leave you with that wonderful equation. I have the mathematical mind for sure, don’t I?

And here’s a nice picture I took a while back and thought I’d share with you. You’re welcome.

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Aren’t the arches interesting? They reminded me of the Hobbit.

Anyone else out there feel my pain? Or am I alone in my gratuitous self-inflicted dungeon of job-hunting insecurities?

Confessions of a Failed Minimalist

Well, I suppose you could say I haven’t really failed. My wardrobe really is the “capsule wardrobe” type, since that’s all that would fit in two suitcases. The kitchen stuff I currently own—3 pans, 3 knives, 4 bowls, 8 plates, and some silverware—really isn’t that much. And that’s about it, besides stacks of papers to grade (but I get to give those back!). I don’t even have books. Everything else was packed away when we moved to China. The problem is, I want more.

Curtains, for instance. Curtains so dark they don’t have to have scarves hung over them to keep out the light. The scarves work fine, so I don’t need to complain, but it would be nice to simply pull the curtains shut at night and not have to worry about blocking out every last bit of light.

Or pictures and decorating stuff for the walls. If I were a true minimalist, I’m sure I’d sleep in a cabin on someone else’s property (I’m looking at you, Henry David Thoreau!) and have nothing but the clothes on my back and maybe a fire to cook a fish on. But me being me, I want where I live to look nice. Nice does not include completely bare white walls. It doesn’t have to be fancy—but some sort of color would help!

But at the same time I’m thinking how nice it would be to have more stuff, it also seems ridiculous to spend large amounts of money on things I’ll only be using for less than a year. Apparently there’s more than a touch of Great-Grandpa Manthei in me. And when things are priced in yuan, those numbers are just so huge. I can’t bring myself to spend 200 Y on something unnecessary, even though it’s really only around $33.

I’m thankful for what I do have, like our pretty plants that decorate and purify the air (they were cheap too). But it’s easy to get caught up in wanting, even coveting, other good things to have. I’ve been spending too much time lately wanting what other people have: things like a place to stay for more than a year and money that doesn’t have to go to fill the pockets of university staff (seriously, why do degrees and everything cost so much?). Complaining comes easily: thankfulness does not. And I’ve been given so much—there’s no reason for me to not be grateful.

I don’t want complaining to become my default option—discontentment can so easily turn to bitterness and bargaining with God. I don’t want stuff to define me, either by what I have or what I lack.

Life isn’t made up of stuff, but sometimes it’s awfully nice to have. And we’ve been spoiled by having so much within easy reach. I may feel like a discontented failure some of the time—but when I think about it, there’s really nobody I’d trade places with.

Beauty in Blisters

Thankfulness. It’s hard.

I’ve been doing far too much grumbling lately. It’s easy to think only of everything you wish were different.

When everything is changing and a move to the other side of the globe is imminent.

When you’re given a trial that you never anticipated and never understood until now, and it seems as though everyone is judging you for it.

When you’re given kindness in the midst of hardness and all you want to think about is the hardness.

When all you want to focus on is everybody else’s faults.

In times like these, it’s easy to forget, to see only the small thorns in the midst of glory. And yes, thorns are still thorns—they’re poky, and they hurt. No one wants to keep walking when every step rubs blisters raw, even in the midst of the most glorious scenery.

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Looking down on the Snake River from Clarkston, WA.

But if you do keep walking, keep feeling the poke of the thorns, the blisters will turn into calluses and even the most obstinate thorn will become dull. And the beauty will still remain—the beauty of adventure, of friendships, of relationships, of character shaped and molded through trials.

No one’s promised an easy life, where beauty can be taken—stolen, almost. What we are promised is a beauty that will never fade, a glory that cannot be dimmed when we’ve fought through the trials and the pain of the blisters. So be thankful for your thorns—they’re leading you to heaven.