Thursday, August 31, 2017

Same same but different

There were many surprises when I moved from China back to Australia. As I started interacting with Australians again I realised I’d taken on some foreign habits without being aware. I was reminded of this as Velvet Ashes is currently welcoming new cross cultural workers this month, in particular this week is Welcome to the Team.

“You’ve been to America,” my uncle exclaimed while we were eating a roast dinner.
What do you call this?

I have never been to America and I had no idea why he suddenly made that comment during the meal, seemingly out of nowhere.

He explained that I was using my knife and fork like an American, rather than eating the Australian way. I hadn’t even known that there was an Australian vs American way. (He lived in America for a year.)

I guess I unknowingly developed this habit while I was in China. There was a small group of expats in my town, mostly American. On Tuesday night I would usually eat at one of their places.

Apparently the “American way” is to cut food up with knife in your right hand and fork in left. When you've finished cutting put the knife down and hold the fork in your right hand, use it to get the food to your mouth. Australian way – cut and eat as you go, keeping knife and fork in their original hands.

While I had been oblivious to the different fork methods, it had been an adventure being in community with other expats. Most of them, like me were white, native English speakers. Compared to the millions of Chinese people around us, they were basically the same as me.

My American friends were the ones I talked to about most things and hung out with for fun. They were the ones I freaked out with when a strange new disease (SARS) shut the city down and caused chaos (Should we leave? Should we stay?). They were the ones who had good things like butter and Christmas celebrations. They were the ones who helped me work out what the university meant when it told me to teach “British and American Culture.”

But turns out they seem to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when I used the Aussie word for flip flops, and I still remember the way they looked at me when I offered them coffee that I had made in the plunger (they say French press, the word “plunger” is reserved for what they use to unblock the toilet).

What do you call this kitchen utensil?
Over a decade later, now in Cambodia, I have been known to say “cookie’, “candy” and “diaper” as if they are normal words.  

I still quietly freak out when a friend tells me her son has a temperature of 102. 

And I may look a bit confused when I hear  “going back to school in the fall” as I’m scrambling to translate to myself what that means. Aside from the fact that "school" can mean university there's a few other things to convert as well. 

This is what goes on in my brain : “So that means Autumn, which is March, no wait, their seasons are all back to front, must mean September. Why would they start school in September, that’s only a couple of months until the end of the year? Oh no wait, that’s the start of their school year.”

I had thought I might need to learn some Chinese to live in China- turns out I also needed to learn American. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Regaining focus and balance

This month on Velvet Ashes it is all about welcoming new cross cultural workers, in particular last week was focused on  Welcome to Ministry Life. I'm a bit late to post, but here are my thoughts on this at the moment:

None of the events by themselves were big, so I didn’t notice at the time.  We do have a couple of big stresses happening in the background at the moment, so I guess a few small ones didn’t really register with me.

As my kids get older I'm enjoying being able to ride my bike again. 
I don’t even remember when it happened, but one night my kindle screen stopped responding to touch. I didn’t really think to do anything about it, or that it was a big deal. I think I just stopped reading before bed.

Quietly the water in the taps dwindled and then disappeared altogether. The next two weeks were filled with washing outside, carrying water inside, waiting for people to come to fix the water pump, occasionally having water inside until the tank emptied again, rejoicing that it was fixed finally, but then twice it broke down again (for different reasons each time).  Considering I spend most of my day looking after snotty, muddy, partly toilet trained,  sweaty kids, including cooking and cleaning up after the huge mess of eating- water is quite important!  It was an annoying fortnight, but then it was over.

During the tail end of the water pump debacle, one of our kids had a bit of a temperature. I think it lasted about a week, but unlike other times it wasn’t constantly high. So I didn’t really think of it as a stressful event, it was like we barely noticed it (compared to those other times when we are on the look out for other symptoms and wondering if its going to be something exotic such as dengue fever). Then the other child became feverish as well, also not constantly high, but spread over a week or so. There was one night when he vomited a few times, but thankfully our water pump was well and truly back in action by then. So it didn’t seem such a big deal.

And there was another scorpion inside, thankfully they only seem to feel comfortable making themselves at home when Husband/Daddy the Scorpion Slayer is around. I’ve yet to have to deal with one myself. Our preschooler now knows what to call them, not “lobster” or “crab” as they have been mistakenly identified as before.  A lot less fanfare accompanied this  4th scorpion, compared to the first one we found inside, so it felt like a bit of a non-event.

And then there was the evening we lost a backpack, and the day I realised some old, good friends had not been on our newsletter list for a few years and none of us noticed.

Most of this was happening in July, I was kind of glad at the time. I had more free time to deal with it all. My Bible study group didn’t have its normal weekly meetings on, and friends I meet for almost weekly playdates were also all out of town for The Summer. Less obligations – I thought that would make life easier.

I was finding I was struggling each day, feeling stressed and bored.   I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job of looking after our kids.  I was starting to think maybe we should reorganise things. I could be doing more fun and fulfilling things than this.  Looking after young kids each day has always been a bit mundane, but it was getting to the point of too much (made even more daunting by the fact that we are looking into home based education).  I could probably hire people to do most of what I do, so I could be free to do other things.

However now that Bible study is on again, and my friends are back I have a different perspective.

After talking with a group of Christian expat women I stopped to think about our overall purpose and focus and realized I do actually want to do what I’m doing now. Soeun and I have tried other configurations of time and activities, and I have done other things before the kids were born, and may do different things as they get older.  But I think for these years I’m happy if we can plan it so I don’t have any other big commitments, even if it gets mundane at times!

When I'm not too tired and grumpy I actually really like that I get to see my toddler learning to speak in sentences, and see my preschooler improve his egg cracking skills. And if it means my Cambodian Bible teaching husband is free to do his thing it is defiantly how I want to be spending my time. Plus it brings me in contact with the other leaders wives who are also looking after their kids, and praying for them is possibly even more useful than any Bible or English class I could teach. It just doesn't sound as glamorous or  productive in our newsletters, and is usually not as fun and fulfilling.

And home based schooling sounds a whole lot better than what seems to have been the done thing 30 or 40 years ago. Boarding schools seemed to have been the norm for missionaries back then, even for really young kids.

Now looking back on July I can see lots of the things that I enjoy, that are restful and recharging were absent so that tipped the balance a bit. Not seeing friends, not reading books. And the balance was further disturbed with extra stresses added in- the water pump and sick kids meant we had less time to sleep, rest, cook properly and eat.  The good things were taken off one end of the scale, and some bad things added to the other side.

But now it’s almost the end of August and it feels like I have focus back and balancing is in progress, yay!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

End of " The Summer" surprise

Enduring the late afternoon with two kids screaming at each other is easier than doing it with seven loud, messy kids complete with  poo and milk underfoot, right?


Last week I got together with some friends for a playdate for the first time in over a month, also my expats women's Bible study group met for the first time in about 2 months. It was so great to see my friends, most had been away in their passport countries for The Summer, as they call it. Somehow that sleepy grumpy late afternoon time of day is easier with friends, I didn't realise how much I missed them until they came back.

The whole concept of July as The Summer is totally foreign to me, I don't really associate with myself or my family. In my passport country, July is actually winter, and in Cambodia July is not the hottest time of year either (hot season is April). Also none of us study or teach in any international schools. Our main community is the Khmer church, and their timetable doesn't change. So unlike many expats, there is really nothing special about that time of year for me.

Last year lots of expat families moved out of town, leaving in June. There were lots of goodbyes, so that was a distinctive time of year. My Bible study kept meeting the whole way through "The Summer", each week there were at least 3 of us in town so we just kept meeting.

So there was no nice mid- August reunions, as the families who left never came back, and there was no "first meeting of the year" for Bible study group. Also we had some visitors from Aus, and then a friend on maternity leave, so we actually had extra playdates. So I guess that is why I was taken by surprise this year!

July as Summer doesn't feel like it has anything to do with me, but just those two weekly get-togethers with other expat women have such a huge impact on my week, so it turns out The Summer is part of our life. Having those connections with other foreigners either with shared faith or with same age kids (sometimes both) really helps balance out the stress and boredom of the rest of the week.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Mostly Mundane

4th Scorpion we've found inside

I was thinking about this weeks Velvet Ashes Welcome to the field 

Broken water pumps and scorpions are the main thing I've been writing about on fb this month.  Just after I wrote the previous post, our 4th scorpion turn up inside. Meanwhile over the last 2 weeks its been mostly no water in the taps for us.
They might seem kind of 
exotic and 
extreme but actually things are normally not that 

Weeks are filled with waiting, washing and wondering. 

Waiting for kids to finish dinner. 
Waiting for my husband to get home from his evening class.
Washing dirty dishes.
Washing muddy, snotty kids.
Wondering where my son's other shoe is.
Wondering if my husband has had lunch.

Mostly Mundane
And even when intense things do happened it doesn't feel intense 
as it might have back in the first year-ish.

Partly because its often a repeat of something I've already been through. The first scorpion inside was way scarier than the fourth. Once you've gone a few days without power the next time around isn' t such a big deal.

And partly because things are easier to cope with once you have routines, relationships and ways to rest.

Thats my experience anyway- it just gets more and more boring each year! ( in a good way)


Wednesday, August 09, 2017


It was dead before I saw it, so glad about that.

 I came out of the shower to see Soeun sweeping up bits of a big black scorpion. While he and the kids were having breakfast our son saw something coming in under the door , so he let daddy know. Swiftly taken care of, that was at least our 3rd scorpion  inside .

On the same day there was a scorpion discussion on Facebook, someone else just happen to bring up. They were asking what the treatment is for stings from this kind of scorpion. Many people chimed in, and I learnt again, that it just hurts a lot, this type is not deadly. I was reminded that a 4 year old we know was stung recently and he was fine, after a bit. It was great to be reminded and informed, as I think it would be pretty terrifying to see someone in pain from a sting and not know whether they were about to drop dead or not.