Home sweet home

This blog post was started in June, 2017 and has sat in my draft folder since then. Taking a moment to reflect on our lives, our current “home”lessness, and the news that we have finally secured a home… I have successfully wrapped up my thoughts.


June, 2017

At least four times this summer holiday it happened again. The confusion that took over my kids’ face was noticeable. And the anxiety of watching them try to muster an appropriate response was excruciating for this parent… because (my husband and) I made this simple question a daunting one. For most kids, the question is a one word answer or a quick multiple choice. But for our kids, an appropriate response requires an essay. The question that causes so much strife in our life:

Where are you from?

As a Third Culture Kid (TCK), our children live in a world of ambiguity. They do not live in the country of their two passports (the respective countries from which my husband and I grew up in) nor do they live in the country they were born in. As a family, we chose to live and learn in different places around the globe.

Together, the kids have come up with a rather canned response, some variation of: “We are from the world” or “We are from everywhere but home is where we live now, (insert country here).”

Though Rob and I both had settled homes we grew up from, our fathers are both immigrants and may understand this same unsettled feeling. My father was born and raised in the Azores Islands of Portugal and moved to California while my father-in-law emigrated from England to Belgium. Home for them can be variable too. They both married, had families, worked, and built homes in their new countries but both men are still connected to their country of birth by family, friends, and daily news reports.

While packing for our summer travels, I was excitedly talking about how excited I was to see friends and family. My daughter asked why I was so “over-the-top-happy”. I told her it was because I was going home. With innocence she responded, “I wonder what I will call ‘home’ when I’m older.”

I. Was. Gutted.

It was this simple comment that struck me to my core. I realize that Rob and I have taken away the security and stability that “home” offers. And sometimes…our kids wonder about it. We didn’t chose to move around the world to be cruel. We made this choice with deep love for our children. But in doing this, we exchanged a sense of “home” for top-tier international education, adventure, experiences in global perspectives, and lifelong learning.

But was it right?


August, 2019

When our family is unsettled in a new country, I constantly wonder “What have we done?” and “Did we make the right decision?” This underlying sense of concern is compounded during tearful sessions at night when the kids miss their friends, are uneasy about school, or are frustrated about our lack of routine.

But as the hours turn in to days turn in to weeks, things begin to regain their shape and color. Shipments arrive and houses begin to look like a home. Strangers begin to have names. And friendships are developed. The unfamiliar become familiar as we find that we can get between locations without much thought or focus.

And the routine of life begins again: Wake up. Breakfast. School. After-school activities. Home. Homework. Dinner. Rest. Repeat. And by the time summer holiday rolls around again, we realize that things make sense again.

There are no more tears.

There is no more angst.

And we are home.


September, 2019

Though our shipment has not yet arrived, we’re starting to make this crazy, quirky, hutong house our home. Here’s our progress from weekend #1.

 

blogSignOff

Advertisements

pooping problems

During our first few days in China, we had a family meeting to check-in regarding our initial impressions and general feelings about moving to China. Here is a (to the best of my memory) transcript of part of that discussion:

Parent: How are things going?

Child: I can’t poop.

Parent: Oh my gosh. I didn’t know you were feeling sick.

Child: I’m not sick.

Parent: But you said you can’t poop.

Child: I can’t.

Parent: Let’s go to the pharmacy and get medicine to help you poop.

Child: I can poop. I just don’t want to poop.

Parent: *blink* ??? *blink* ???


Here’s the story…

Some members of our family are having pooping problems and NOT for the reasons you’d think!

Yes, there is a lot of (rich, delicious, fried, and smothered in sauce) food here in China. And yes, for some people, that may be the reason they are having pooping problems. But for others, that is NOT the problem! The desire to poop is there but the ability to freely and comfortably poop in our temporary housing is the real problem.

You see, when we arrived in our temporary housing we had to read and sign a contract about all the things that we will and will not do in the apartment. For instance, the contract states: The tenant will not play loud music which will disturb other tenants. Or The tenant will not move furniture, paint the walls, and/or hang artwork. All of this is pretty reasonable.

But then we read this:

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.24.24 AM.png

Eww.

I bet the poopy problem is beginning to make more sense now.

Because they couldn’t put their poopy toilet paper down the drain, the aforementioned child didn’t want to poop (in the apartment). So the poor kid was having to strategize about places around the town where they could “do the deed.”

Once the parental unit figured out what the real problem was, we made a compromise.

Parent: If it’s yellow… let it mellow and toss the paper in the bin. If it’s brown… flush ALL of it down. INCLUDING, but not limited to, toilet paper!

Child: *smile*

1264386424_1dab00cd2d_b

“Poop”by Taylor McKnight is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

May your life be free from pooping problems.

blogSignOff

 

um… no!

(co-written by Anouk)

I have been vegetarian for most of my life. My parents tell a story about me gagging in the meat department of a fancy grocery store when I was just 6 months old. I don’t know if the story is true, but for most of my remembering years, I’ve been a vegetarian.

But being vegetarian in Beijing Is. Not. Easy!

Most foods, especially those that are packed in small bits of deliciously fried or steamed dough (read: dumplings) look rather scrumptious. But even a discerning palate like my mom’s cannot often guarantee that the minced up food inside is meat-free. So I usually have to take a hard pass!

And many “vegetarian friendly” foods in local restaurants have chicken, fish, fish sauce, or mystery ingredients that I can not be sure are vegetarian.

Additionally, I’m what my mom calls, “a lousy vegetarian” because I don’t like tofu and mushrooms–two foods that are in many Chinese dishes that ARE vegetarian.

So what is a lousy vegetarian to do?


Here are my top tips for eating vegetarian food in Beijing:

  1. Eat out with a friend who speaks the language.
  2. Learn how to say, “Is there meat/fish/chicken/pork/beef/lamb/etc.” in this?
  3. Always keep snacks on hand. If you’re going out, be sure to be loaded up with healthy-ish food that IS vegetarian because you never know what you’re gonna get.

    Quick anecdote: During the New Teacher/Family Orientation Weeks there were MANY dinners out. On a number of occasions, my meal consisted of roasted potatoes and/or white rice with a HUGE helping of dessert. There were some beautiful looking vegetable dishes that were laden with chicken or mushrooms. Um… no!

  4.  Check the menu first. With the internet at your fingertips, you can often check the menu before you decide where to go. And with WeChat’s translation services, you can figure out what most food is. (Except for my mom’s cappuccino the other day. WeChat translated it to: Cow Curry Morphine. Which I guess it kind of is– milk. Hot. Caffeine.)

1wdgJchERUaCv6QzZyHbkw_thumb_22e.jpg

Anyway, here is some fascinating food we’ve found here in China:

by Anouk and blogSignOff

P.S. the carb heavy french fry and fried egg concoction tasted great!

eyes wide open

你好 (nǐ hǎo) is the Chinese translation for “hello.” Nǐ hǎo from Beijing.

I don’t know what I expected from Beijing, but I do know… it wasn’t this! The vast spaces of green are a pleasant surprise for someone who just spent the last 3 years in a beautiful (yet color barren) desert. And since we (temporarily) live in the 789 Art Zone, we are surrounded by craft work, graffiti, art installations, and a menagerie of art studios. Creativity abounds and every walk cum excursion leads down paths with new beauty.

Another thing that has surprised me about Beijing, is its order and systems. In a city of over 21 million people, I expected far more chaos than I’ve experienced. Everything seems to operate in an organized system: from pedestrian walkways to entering/exiting public transport, from shopping at the vegetable market to how food is delivered to your table–there is a system. The fresh fish at Carrefour are all barcoded for purchase, the metro station doors blink to give you a heads up as to which way to exit, and the cues at the vegetable market are long because trained staff gather the produce for you.

More to come soon… but for now, know we are well. We are happy. We are amazed by the school (we’ll write more about this later), and we are busy learning how to survive in this bustling city!

signature

sometimes you need ‘home’

The worst question you could ask my (or any) TCKs (Third Culture Kids) is ‘where are you from?’ For Xavier and Anouk, they are from everywhere and their ‘home’ is wherever the four of us are together. During the school year (at the present moment), ‘home’ is Muscat, Oman. For three weeks in the summer, ‘home’ is Geel, Belgium and for another three weeks, it’s Fremont, California. For Rob and I, ‘home’ is reserved for those places we spent our formative years and where our parents still reside. And though we wouldn’t give up our lifestyle for anything (except maybe our dream B&B (read: Bed & Brewery) in some fabulous small town in some distant land), sometimes we are desperate for our connection to ‘home.’

It was on one such day back in late February when Rob and I looked at each other and wondered, “What the hell have we done?” Like any move that has come before, this one has been hard, wonderful, challenging, and joyous all at the same time. Usually the sense of adventure and excitement supersedes any feelings of loss or regret. But first years can be hard. It’s not hard in the where-is-my-next-meal-coming-from hard but challenging in the: making new friends, setting up a new home and new job, cultural differences, and where the hell is the grocery store? hard. I would actually say, first years are exhausting! No, no… they suck!

But in late February, the feeling of fear, apprehension, and WTF have we done? came with a vengeance.

And then… I called my mom.

With a lump in my voice and tears streaming down my face I asked my mom, “Could you or dad please come to Oman?” After a tearfully honest conversation about how hard (yet also how easy) this transition has been, my mom said, “Let me call you back in a few hours.”

And 24-hours later, since my mom and dad couldn’t make the trip at this very moment, their representative was on her way to Oman. After rescheduling appointments and frantically packing her suitcase, our dearest friend and Anouk’s Godmother, Tricia, arrived at our home 8,500 miles away. And in the first moment with her– the deep and all-encompassing hug she gave each one of us made everything right again in the world.

For the short four days she was here we didn’t play tourist at all. She came and left Oman seeing nothing this beautiful country has to offer. But what she left in her wake was far more powerful. She filled our buckets to the rim with the love and joy we needed to get ourselves to the end of year 1. For the days she was here, we were in a loop of: talking, drinking, crying, laughing, hugging, glamorizing, eating, walking on the beach, and playing games. This loop was on repeat up until the very moment we needed to hightail it to the airport.

40 days later, my heart is still full.

I’ll say it again… though we wouldn’t give up this opportunity for the world, sometimes you just really, really, really need ‘home.’ And thank goodness to our army of loved ones–this time, ‘home’ came to us.

blogSignOff

Sur seaside

Growing up in California’s Bay Area and travelling to Hawaii on a regular basis, I’ve seen my fair share of beautiful sea views. But the only time I’ve seen endless coastline was from the bow of a cruise ship to Mexico.

… until we drove from Muscat to Sur in Oman.

A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law visited our new home to take in her first impressions of the country that we now call “home.” After dragging her to a few of our favorite sites in Muscat (read: beach and dinner!), we packed up the car and drove South to the beach community of Sur.

Thanks to our handy dandy Lonely Planet book, we were able to plan out a few stops on our 2-hour drive, beginning with the Bimmah sinkhole. Created by the withering layers of limestone, locals believe that this amazing turquoise sinkhole was created by an asteroid or meteorite. Rumors say that scientists haven’t determined the depths of this amazing sinkhole full of fresh water, small fish, and the occasional swimming German tourist.

Another stop-over on our drive to Sur was at the infamous Wadi Shab or “Gorge Between Two Cliffs.” This wadi is one of the most picturesque (and visited) wadis in Oman. But since our journey only led us to the entrance (we didn’t have the right clothes for a day hike up to the waterfalls… more information will be forthcoming). Until we explore this amazing wadi in more depth, we’ll just have to enjoy our memories of the arching palm trees against the tan terrain and an angelic white Great Egret flying over the reflective pool.

When we arrived in Sur, we were pleasantly surprised by this gorgeous sleepy town. This small community was once a popular port for mariners. Even Marco Polo came through this region porting in the neighboring town of Qalhat. But Sur is most widely known for it’s shipbuilding trade. Because of it’s access to both the Indian Ocean and and the Gulf of Oman, wooden dhows from Sur have been used as part of the maritime fleets for Kenya, Tanzania, India, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and China. We even found ourselves in the middle of a dhow making factory before finding the open-air dhow museum we were looking for.

I look forward to the next time we can explore more of this beautiful country. From doors to dhows, beach to cliffs–this country has so much to offer.signature

beer bizarre

So a few weeks ago, I wrote about activities that are considered haram is Muslim countries in hopes of teaching friends, families, and followers about the interesting country we currently call “home.” Here I am at it again. But this time it’s about a product Rob and I have a deeper affinity for (at least more so than bacon or speeding on the highway)– beer!

Oman is one of the Muslim-majority countries that allows non-Muslims to enjoy libations. Whether it’s because they want to increase tourism, relish the taxes generated from alcohol sales, or just because they are open-minded, I don’t know what the reason is. And quite honestly, I don’t really care why Oman has an open alcohol policy. But I am happy and thankful to live here just the same because sometimes, a nice cold Belgian beer or a tall glass of South African Shiraz is just the antidote required after a long day.

So, here we are in a slightly dry country learning the ins and outs of how to purchase a drink which requires a bit of work.

First, you need to get a liquor license. Yes! A LICENSE to buy. And to get said license, you need to first become an Omani resident. With that resident card in hand, you then go to the police station with a smattering of paperwork (including a letter from your employer that states your salary as you’re only granted permission to spend up to 10% of your salary on alcohol). Once you’ve paid a fee, signed some documents, and submitted passport-size photos you are granted a license.

 

And…you’re nearly there.

Alcohol is hidden in shops with blacked out doors and no windows! Like this:

IMG_20160822_183112

Dodgy, right?

Once through the doors you arrive in a mecca (bad choice of words) of alcohol products. Beers. Wines. Spirits. Oh my!

Most beers are sold by the case (because why buy 1 when you could buy 24?). But you better be satisfied with your choices because your liquor license authorizes you to spend only up to a specific amount of money per month and not a rial more. This limit (which is listed in your license and tracked without error) makes shopping for alcohol a planned activity. Questions like How many beers do we have at home? or Do you think they’ll prefer red or white with dinner? are actual conversations people need to have before entering through the bulky black doors.

The other thing we’ve learned is–you don’t waste your purchase power! If you are allowed to spend 50 OMR ($129/€116) per month, you spend it! You spend ever baisa (read: cent) you have been allotted because your unspent limit doesn’t roll over from month to month. And since you can’t just go and pick things up when the last minute game night is planned–you’ll need to hoard a few drinks in your cupboards. You need a mini stockpile to get you through the dry month of Ramadan or those evenings when you invite 20 people over for dinner so you can offer them a caipirinha or an after dinner drink.

And once you understand the license, the limit, and the planning issues you’ve got one more thing to consider. How do I get it home? The secret is the black plastic shopping bag. It is this miracle item (accompanied by your receipt and license) that allows you to transport your purchases home (the only legal place you are allowed to consume) without anyone knowing what you’ve got in there. Yeah right!

For tourists and those out and about, alcohol is available at hotels and restaurants around the city… at a price. I think a delicious (yes, I’m being sarcastic) Budweiser or Corona will run you about 2.5 OMR ($6.5/€5.8) so your best bet is to have a drink at a friend’s house.

That said, the country has a NO TOLERANCE policy for drunk driving. Driving under any influence of alcohol can result in immediate jail time and huge fines.


Anyway, we’ve got it all sorted out. We’ve now got a mini stash for your upcoming visit (hint, hint).

On a side note, I’m not sure if I should have called this post the Beer Bizarre or Beer Bazaar because buying and drinking alcoholic beverages in Oman can be a bit of both!