Category Archives: Hong Kong

It’s not all beer and skittles

We had not yet moved into our new house in the ‘hood but were making use daily of the community pool, given the scorching Hotlanta summer and the seemingly endless school holidays. The accents used loudly across the pool by brother and sister made us a stand out and the small community targeted us as the ‘new people’.

Introductions were made and stories shared, friendly folks who oohed and ahhhed at the countries we have lived in, shared their love for all things Aussie (a welcome change to our last country of residence) and admitted to having always wanted to live in another country.

‘But we couldn’t do it, our parents are here, they’re getting older, they could get sick and we wouldn’t take their grandchildren away from them’

Stab, stab, stab.

Unintentional stabbing of course, but it hurts all the same.

A quick chat with any expat will reveal many reasons why they love the life they lead with its swings and roundabouts, ups and downs, opportunities and experiences they and often their third culture kids would never have had if they stayed ‘at home’.

By extension this often also applies to family and friends who visit the expat adventurers in a new and different country, one they may have never been to with no good reason to visit, or just needed an excuse to return to a favourite destination. These are special and cherished times, when the visitors get an insight into the life of their hosts, sharing experiences they may never have otherwise had. We as hosts push the boundaries of our day to day to make sure everyone has a most memorable trip and send them home to sing the gospel and  spread the word to make sure our calendars with penciled in possibilities become concrete conversions into visitors bearing jars of Vegemite and Strawberry Freddos.

There are so many special memories from the visitors we have had in our time away, friends who honeymooned with us in Hong Kong – delaying their trip so we had time to return to our flat from their wedding in the Blue Mountains, my cousin who swore to never live anywhere else but her home town became a regular visitor for ‘the shopping’ and since then has moved twice overseas with her husband and kids. To this day she remains the only person I know who shopped Stanley Markets from opening until closing.

Then there was the travel pack who visited and required a mini van to ferry around. My cousin (of course), her two kids and another of their cousins, her husband, his aunt, her parents and my grandmother, 88 at the time. It was a special day shopping over the border in Shenzhen introducing her to all our regular shopping haunts and telling all the shopkeepers about her very auspicious age. I think we got actual real discounts that day in deference to her age and agility and gracious charm with the locals.

The best man from our wedding and his wife and baby – discovering en route that the baby had inherited his father’s peanut allergy, my brother and his then partner, her terrified of bird flu every time we stepped out of the house, my husband’s sister and brother-in-law came and we popped off for a blissful grown ups only trip to Kota Kinabalu.

My Dad and his wife on more than one occasion – once sailing through the harbour on the Queen Mary and of course my Mum.

South Africa was lighter on the visitors but again my brother and Mum put in appearances. I am pretty sure my brother will never forget the elephant that just wanted to say hello, his first lion spotting or sidling up to the penguins in the Cape for the best photo opportunity.

My mum was the first visitor we had here in the USA, arriving the same day as the container full of boxes. Our first two months in the new house was experienced together. The drama of the pre-school vaccinations and medical checks, the first day of school, the slight changing of WASYO’s accent to move to a short ‘a’ sound and a rolling of the ‘r’s, drop offs and pick ups at a real yellow school bus, weekly drinks on the street corner, WASYO learning to read, Mr 9 saying he quite liked the new school (relief), introducing the local kids to fairy bread at the event where WAFYO became WASYO, she experienced it all at the same time we did. She arrived armed with my childhood set of Winnie the Pooh books and read them to her eldest grandchildren each night before bed, she did jigsaw puzzles with WASYO and talked to Mr 9 about his views on life and video games and became our personal laundry lady – daily collecting the clothes from various baskets around the house and returning them later washed and folded – apparently I have to get used to no ironing (that’s a story for another time).  After proclaiming to get lost in the house on the first few days, as we pulled away last Monday on the way to the airport she said she’d come to like our home. It has been a lonely week since she has left.

Regardless of what happens next, the choices to be made about visits, before or after operations, when, where, how and who with, all five of us will have that special time in our memories. Two months where she was part of our everyday life. Daily this week more than one resident has said ‘When Mumma was here…’

It is hard to be away from family in another country, especially when every phone call or text message could be news that puts everything on hold while you plot a course home, but if we lived in Australia, an hour and a half away by car it is unlikely we would ever have spent so much time together or that our kids would have kissed their Mumma goodnight every night for two months (except for those two pesky hospital visits).

Life goes on here, next week is my husband’s birthday, the following week my Dad and his wife are visiting, Halloween is shaping up to be bigger than Ben Hur and there’s some marathon in New York on November 4th I’m running in, but family near and far are always top of mind. You take the good with the bad and hope the decisions you make, when you make them, are the right ones and that holds true no matter what country you live in.

Cara and Chewsday

One of my new neighbours/bors (in deference to how she would spell it, I don’t know if she is a good speller, just assuming she might be) is called Cara.

When you’re Australian and you’re called Cara, both of the a’s are pronounced with the a sound from car. Car-a.

When you’re American and you’re called Cara, its more like the a sound in can for both ‘a’s. Cara.

When Cara introduced herself to me she did so using the American pronunciation and I have followed her lead, giving myself what other Aussies would term an American accent when I use her name.

I do this deliberately having actually put thought into the process. Why should I change the way she says her name just because my accent is different to hers? My friend Cara in South Africa will remain addressed in the way she introduced herself to me – the longer a sound. Just because we all speak english with different accents doesn’t mean we can’t try to call someone their name they way they say it.

I have an Aussie friend in Durban who has a South African husband called Mark, Aussies again here do the ‘car’ sound for Mark – she has totally converted to the Saffa accent and it sounds a lot closer to Mork to my ears, but to his ears its just perfect, because its how he says his own name and I have a sneaking suspicion he doesn’t love the Australian accent, although he does love his Australian wife.

I only have to recall my time working in an office in Hong Kong with Creamy, Apple, Homer and Maverick* to know that there are obviously many people like me out there, unable to master the Chinese language,  and tired of butchered attempts these clued up individuals have picked themselves a more easily pronounced English alternative.

I would never have dreamed of trying to ‘Australianise’ Mvithi, Sanele or Njabulo in South Africa and while not being born in a country that learns to roll their rrrrrs I always tried my best with Birgit and Marga my German and Dutch friends. I mightn’t always get it right mind you but I try with the best of intentions.

Enter the world’s angriest six year old (WASYO – known until just last week is WAFYO) fierce advocate of saying people’s names how they do themselves, her Zulu accent being particularly good and mine particularly bad – but becoming frustrated with the mixed messages she is receiving at school.

‘Your daughter has just the cutest accent, say something honey’ is regular commentary when we’re out and about. WASYO has what is known as an Umhlanga South African english accent and is sometimes paraded before other classroom teachers and visitors to the classroom and told to ‘talk’.

It is precisely because everyone makes a fuss of her accent that she reduced herself to tears the other night saying that no one understands her. Her grandmother was worried six was the new thirteen when she explained the ‘not understanding’ part were the children in her class because of her accent. There was a lot of focus on the word Tuesday for some reason.

‘They say its Toosday and I say it like it has a ‘ch’ sound – Chewsday. But it doesn’t start with a Ch it starts with a T’

Confusing times for a Third Culture Kid learning to spell.

What to do, what to do? Struggling with knowing her current accent is an attention getter (positive in her book) but that her peers can’t always understand her (negative in her book) we decided its OK to have an American accent for school and her ‘other’ accent everywhere else, and its perfectly acceptable for people to say words differently, thats just what happens in the world. Two days since the decision and already the old accent is fading fast – that’s fast with a short a.

* These names have not been changed to protect the innocent, these are real people and real names *waving*

How many degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Do you remember six degrees of Kevin Bacon? If you can that means you can remember back to 1994 which according to that impressive reference site Wikipedia, is when the ‘small world experiment’ game first came into being.

The small world theory meaning you should be able to prove that there are six degrees or less of separation between you and everyone in the world, as well as six degrees or less between Kevin Bacon and everyone in Hollywood.  There were some studies – based on people’s ‘social networks’ – in a time before what we commonly currently use the term social networks for. It was before Myspace,  Facebook, Twitter and even before the first blog which was apparently circa 1997 (using the same solid reference point I found the term ‘web log’ was apparently coined then so lets say the practice wasn’t widely spread prior to that point.)

Recent events have made me think about the Kevin Bacon game – who by the way, the whole world can now follow on Twitter (@kevinbacon has the magic tick) so if he replies or RT’s you does that count as being one degree from Kevin Bacon?

Last week I reposted a photo on facebook – it was this one.

I know, I know you’ve seen it before, but it is still gold (and so true, my 9 year old asked me what was that thing above the pencil).

A friend of mine from Hong Kong commented that they still had all their car mixed tapes from 1995 but nothing to play them on, then another friend admittedly another Australian in Durban (I know I said I’m the only one, its a long story and you really need to hear her accent – if they did a spoken test I worry about her ability to renew her passport, she has been here a VERY long time)  asked how many blasts from the past was I supplying in one day? Turns out the previous commenter was her neighbour from the 80’s and a suburb in Melbourne I have never visited.

One in Hong Kong and one in Durban – both many miles and many years from home, reconnected, through my facebook page. It gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

Remember my first blog stalker who prompted me to put an email contact on the blog? I am happy to say I have corresponded since via email with several people who were seeking information about moving to the Durban area, some making comparisons, some thinking about it and some actually doing it.  One of those doing it – was living in Kenya at the time and wanted the feedback of someone who had gone before in dealing with a whole range of things, schools, neighbourhoods, internet connections etc. I was happy to provide any info I could, after all I had found it very tricky in the beginning for a number of reasons.  I followed her progress with interest, maintaining a semi-regular email contact about plans, schools, suburbs etc. Then I found out she had moved, turns out into the same suburb as we live and the same street.  Our street has FOUR houses! What a coincidence – no really it was, well, I have no proof she previously knew where we lived… Maybe one day, now we know each other in real life, because I always take my new neighbours wine and chocolates, she might become my facebook friend and when I am living in another country she may find I have met a friend of hers and so the connections will continue. Or not – who knows?

The world is a small place and ‘social networks’ are making it smaller. Over Easter I met someone who wasn’t on Facebook (or Twitter before you ask), a girlfriend of a very good friend of mine, someone I would normally probably  pop a facebook friend request to after spending the amount of time together that we did over the term of her visit coupled with the fact she might end up with my friend forever more. If she accepted – then I would get to keep up with her news – even if she chose to mute my news stream (I’m sure it happens to the over-sharers amongst us), if not – well, I may never see or hear from her again. It occurs to me I didn’t even get her email address to send the photos that I took of our kids on their Easter egg hunts. Note to self – sort that.

I know some people are nodding their head and saying, yes – thats right, that’s how the world should work. Who would jump into someone else’s life so quickly and start sharing pictures of their kids, dentist visits and what they had for dinner? These people may not have heard of variable privacy settings, or they might not have friends and family on just about every continent there is.

I can’t remember why I joined facebook, perhaps it was because I wanted to see what it was all about, but once in I was hooked. For someone like me who has lived in several different places at different times of my life and has grandchildren separated by an ocean or two from their grandparents and extended family – its a good place for me to be. I have at times prefaced photos or posts as ‘Grandparents only need read / see’, these kind of things include ballet recital videos and judo belt presentations ceremony photos. I didn’t opt out like some of the cool kids who decided to ditch it in preference for Twitter only. Its a place I keep for my friends and family, pretty much people I know in real life .  Now I know two people, in real life, who live on two different continents, who knew each other long ago – I think that’s a nice thing, not a freaky one. I’m not sure where that leaves Kevin Bacon but it may leave me just where Mark Zuckerberg wants me.

Travellers – what type are you?

Airports are brilliant spots for people watching – which lets face it, everyone loves. Well, I love it, and from time to time I have the luxury of undertaking it solo – without having to worry where three other family members are at any given moment, giving me the time to properly evaluate my fellow travellers and their ‘type’.

People watching is also a great sport if you are ever slightly, just a tiny bit judgmental and love to type people who you have never met and are most likely never going to based on what they look like, what they are wearing, carrying, doing or smell like. Obviously the total opposite of what I am like in real life…..

If you are lucky enough to have lived in other countries, or travel quite frequently, it can add an extra layer to the already pre-defined view you may have of a general population of citizens – something I mentioned when I wrote about the Inevitabilities of International Travel – a while ago.

Last week I returned from a relatively self indulgent ten day, three continent tour of birthday parties.  The first was my brother’s 40th held in Sydney – but he (and a surprisingly increasing number of my family on both sides live in the Bris-Vegas, Gold Coast area) so after a weekend in Sydney, I flew up that way to inspect their new abodes. Three days later to return via a 6am flight to the International terminal in Sydney to jet off to HK for a long weekend to celebrate what was labeled the ‘Festival of Lynette’ for another fabulous friend’s 40th. This leg of the trip was justified to the husband by way of – traveling on Frequent Flyer points which were about to expire anyway and going Cathay so a weekend in Hong Kong  just made perfect sense.

Anyway – the point is, with those flights plus my Durban – Joburg legs both ways I took eight flights in ten days and spent a lot of time in airports and on planes conducting the sport of ‘people watching’.

Despite my husband and I having enough combined points for me to have flown business class, I was in economy – which I suppose I should thank him for because it is by far the superior people watching arena.  Those in business class glide from the airline lounges onto the plane (via the short queue) and then disappear into their pods never to be seen again. In the cattle class waiting area and down the back on the plane is where all the action is.

What we all dream about when we get into the plane an empty economy section -but there's always 'the other travellers'

Here are some of my most spotted types on the trip

– the happy traveller, who knew but they really do exist, smiley and courteous at all points

– the grump – usually contented with looking unhappy but can also turn to their neighbour and unload their reason for unhappiness (which may or may not include a life story – but will definitely include commentary about why they didn’t get their preferred seating on the flight)

– the tracksuit wearing traveller

– the couple who are dressed to match (these can overlap with the tracksuit wearers, see above)

– the Family, which of course has extensive sub groups. Can be with one or two parents, the special sub type will depend on number of and age of children and if they have the dad that pops them all in their seats and then glides off to his business class pod never to be seen again until disembarking when he will have been first in the immigration line and gone ahead to ‘collect the baggage’. Special shout out here to the first time travelling family, an easy spot.

– the fashion conscious traveller, the one who boards looking perfect, has a perfect change of clothes for flight and then can somehow layer themselves again at the end of the flight to depart looking a million dollars

– the long distance, many flights, lack of access to shower facilities travellers

– the stressed traveller, always worrying about where their passports are, how do they complete question 4 iv) e on the immigration card, whether they will catch or miss  their connecting flight etc etc etc

– the relaxed traveller (quite an overlap with the happy traveller)

– the full make up traveller – no idea how its done, usually crosses over with the fashion conscious traveller, both types being a total mystery to me

– the person or people you saw at check-in and hoped you weren’t going to be seated near – who are in fact in your row if not immediately beside you

– the tour group traveller (a personal fave) wearing stickers and following flags

– experienced traveller, has made all the necessary pre-flight arrangements, looks quiet and comfortable, always drinking water

– the know-it-all (or the experienced traveller with irritating personality) gleefully sharing extensive knowledge across the tarmac and the plane

– the late arriver – you know the ones that turn up after the announcement ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we are sorry for the delay – we are just waiting for a couple of passengers to arrive’ and then they do.

and last (but by no means least)

– the sleeper! Anywhere, anytime, any seat – eyes shut, dozes off immediately.

Of course there are many many more – what’s your favourite one here or which are the best ones I have missed?

My MacGuyver parenting moment

About a year ago I wrote a post about international plane travel – mostly from the point of view of the traveler who has kids but was not traveling with them at the time.

The trauma from a recent trip to Australia from South Africa that included my precious little ones (gee it’s a REALLY long way you know) prevents me from updating that post immediately to include 453 456 new items – however I have one tip to share and I think it’s a must for those that travel with small and demanding children. It’s also my only MacGuyver parenting moment of note that I can recall in the nearly 8 years I have had children so I am sharing it.

BUT, it is a wee (urine) story so opt out now if you are rolling your eyes and thinking – Why must parents always talk about their children’s bathroom habits in such detail?

Right – anyone left here goes.

It was a dark and stormy afternoon December afternoon in Sydney – really stormy and the flight from Joburg that was bringing my husband to assist on this month long living out of a suitcase ‘holiday’ and in particular to meet the flight we were about to board to Adelaide was diverted to Melbourne. Did I care that he was on a 15-hour trip that had just had a diversion and would now make it a 20+ hours? Did I care he was going through terrible turbulence and diverting to Melbourne put him tantalizingly close to Adelaide but he would just have to wait in the plane on the tarmac until he flew onto Sydney and then back to Adelaide? NO NO NO!

All I cared about was the fact that I was at the airport waiting for a delayed, full flight to Adelaide (they seem to give his seat away quick smart) and I was going to have to once again do it with my two children by myself.

Don’t get me wrong my kids are great travelers the good little TCK’s they are. TCK’s – Third Culture Kids a cool new term they can be referred to as because after all don’t we all want another label? Wikipedia says a TCK is – someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture. So lets say so far their third culture highlights are they know what Chinese New Year is all about (receiving red packets) and they can sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, (which lets be honest not even every South African knows all the words to) AND can discuss both of these while eating a vegemite sandwich, that’s cultural integration for you. They both have spent more than their fair share of time on planes, both belong to frequent flyer programs and are any moment about to share their points with their mother for a return trip to an exotic overseas destination – just for her – to pay me back for all the trips from hell I have taken them on over the years.

So for a hardened traveling mother such as myself what is a little flight from Sydney to Adelaide – less than two hours long – with Master 7 and Miss 4? A walk in the park, right? Things to know about Miss 4 – she has the world’s smallest bladder and a burning desire to see the inside of every public bathroom facility in the known Universe.

Delayed flight, full flight, harassed flight attendants, storm, ‘where is daddy?’ Am I setting the scene?

‘Lets board the families with small children first’ comes the announcement – always a tough choice – do you want the kids to have space to move around in for as long as possible which is found in the departure lounge more readily than in the economy class section of an airplane or do you want to get them in their seats – and get your 25kg of ‘hand luggage’ stowed away before everyone else gets on the plane and takes all the space so you spend the whole flight with your knees under your chin due to baggage placement issues (yes I am the traveler everyone can’t believe got through with that much hand luggage)? It was here that my years of experience and in fact all reason seemed to abandon me, I was so sick of fielding the ‘when are we getting on the plane?’ questions that I opted to join the early boarders.

‘I’m going to vomit’ screamed Miss 4 as we stepped from the walkway onto the plane – cue flight attendant shoving us both into the business class toilet at the front of the plane while Master 7 went on ahead to choose a seat that suited him 2B – um no.

Five minutes and many vomit bags being passed to us later – the crisis was apparently averted as Miss 4 announced she was satisfied with the bathroom facilities should she need to use them later and we could now proceed to our seats – leaving us in the middle of the boarding process with everyone else now blocking the way of my impatient children and Master 7 having a serious discussion with the boarding pass holder of seat 2B about whose seat it really was.

Ensconced in our seats with at least half of our ‘hand luggage’ stored away and children settling into some electronic entertainment – boarding was completed – seatbelts fastened – taxi to runway, correction, taxi to queue of eight planes near runway – announcement from Captain –

‘Thanks for your patience we are number eight in the queue, at least 30 mins until take off please remain in your seats with your seatbelt fastened.’

‘I need to do a wee’ screamed Miss 4.

‘Can you wait?’ Desperate mother asks.

‘No – I need to do it Now Now’ (more TCK evidence, use of South African conversational terminology not evident 18 months ago when we moved here)

‘Please just wait til we take off and the seatbelt sign goes off’

Escalating voice ‘No, I need to do a wee NOW NOW’

Same conversation happens for next few minutes.

At this point all the other passengers are staring – as they do – if you are a mother you are used to it and generally immune – one gentlemen says ‘If I were you I’d just take her – see how you go’.

I thought it’s got to be better than this. ‘Get up, lets go’.

‘Stop, sit down’ scream the strapped in flight attendants – goodness knows how they can see us from so far away up the front. I am now the person that everyone looks at when they do the follow up announcement

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I know it is a long wait but please DO NOT remove your seatbelts or get out of your seats’

The Captain has just told us we are going to be here for at least 20 more minutes lady – are you serious!?!?! If only we were on a domestic flight in China where everyone just gets up and walks around when they want to, my bathroom problem would be solved.

Miss 4 – screaming escalating – Master 7 pleading with me to do something to get her to be quiet. Amid all the drama I have my MacGuyver moment.
I look at the many sick bags I have stored in the seat back in front of me and pull two of them out and perform the ‘double bag’ manoeuvre and then direct Miss 4 to take her seatbelt off and stand up and drop her pants. Can you see where this is going? Master 7 – who was sitting in the seat between us could see and he was NOT happy.

‘Gross! You can’t make her wee in the bag, its going to go every where and it might get me’ Hands go over ears and eyes shut (few sensory issues going on there but this one isn’t about him 😉

Miss 4 was interested enough that I might have the solution to her problems that she calmed down long enough to stop squealing and actually follow my instructions – can I tell you – she really needed to go, that bag was pretty full by the time she was done and so I added an extra layer to ensure no leakage would be occurring. I scrounged around for some wet wipes in one of the bags we had to keep with us due to overhead locker overcrowding and Voila! Not a drop spilled anywhere – equal credit to Miss 4 and myself for that one. Not bad I say.

Happy 4yo, happy passengers and lets face it Qantas should also be happy with me because I surely saved them from a wet seat and complaining passengers. As soon as we took off and the seatbelt sign went off I made a beeline for the bathroom to dispose of my triple bagged package and two people in front of me said

‘Oh you go ahead doesn’t your little girl need to use the bathroom?’

‘All over’ I say holding up the bag, proud of my MacGuyver moment.

The moral of the story is – when traveling with small kids stockpile the sick bags, they have more than one use.

What is your MacGuyver moment? I know there’s got to be plenty that can top that one – but this one was mine and I remain proud.

How’s that last decade looking?

OK I’m back – this whole blog thing is quite tough. I spend lots of my online time reading other people’s blogs  (is OPB a term? Like PLU?) for the most part enjoying them immensely, thinking I really must do that again sometime….

Anyone would think there were good things to watch on TV here (not true) or school holidays were on and I suddenly have to do my own child care after six years living in a country where I didn’t – that part might be true – but others seem to have struggled on and continued posting, so this will by my inspiration (I can’t hear my children at the moment – that’s a good sign right?).

2010 – a new decade.  For all us lucky people born in a 0 year – we never have to recap the last ten years in our mind – hundreds of newspapers, magazines and media outlets do it for us. So easy!!! All we have to do is remember about our own lives in that decade.  Every time ten years kicks over you think – noooo that didn’t happen that long ago, but it pretty much did. 

This year is a biggy for this girlie in terms of age as people seem to make quite a fuss when you turn a number with a zero on it. I can tell you I am expecting my husband and family to do the same again this year  (as I stare lovingly at the Longines watch my parents bought me the last time this 0 year rolled around 😉

The last decade for me has been the absolutely most action packed yet – so I thought it was worth a bit of a review. Also in order to put it in perspective better view those other few decades I have lived through as well (this is just pre-planning for my yet to be born descendants for the speech at my 90th birthday as when I did this for my grandmother a couple of years ago I had to go deep for the info – they didn’t have blogs when she was a girl).

1970 – 1979 – pretty much home time for me, although parents did scare everyone and sell all items except house and truck us off traveling the world for 18 months at some stage there. We bought a campervan at Australia Square in London and headed off to ‘the Continent’ for some adventures.  It is mostly the no school part I remember (although I am told there was six months of school in the UK at some time its very vague). Just remember the two tapes we had in the van – Leo Sayer and Rod Stewart, the words from every song on those tapes are burned into my brain forever and still now if I hear one on the radio (what stations still play them??? Or in some random location I start singing along involuntarily).  There were things I wish I remembered better, like picking up hitchhikers, getting kicked out of Germany for working without visas (not me of course) and perhaps all of the really cultural stuff, but that’s what photos and your parent’s stories are for aren’t they?

1980 – 1989 – boarding school kicked in here 82- 87– so I headed off there after my stint in the local primary school finished. At primary school I tried out for every musical production every put on and never got a role – must be my stunning singing voice. However when I was in grade 6 the principal insisted I be in the choir as School Captain – of course I thought this was outrageous as they never let me sing any other time and led a walk out of the choir by all school prefects. I think the rebellion lasted a day or so and we were all back in and I was told just to mouth the words.  Mmmm can see why I didn’t go into politics.

Did quite enjoy the boarding school part, not sure my children would but it was just the trick for me not to go through the ‘I hate my parents’ phase as I didn’t have to see them that often so it worked out fine for everyone at the time.  After school went straight to Uni as I was so keen for learning to continue – I guess….  This was the decade that I met my husband – at a Uni O week ball in February 1989 – see next decade for wedding date, we weren’t in a rush.

1990 – 1999 – Well this decade was where there was a bit of growing up going on, getting jobs, managing own finances for the first time etc etc going on.  Was at Uni for the first few years, my mother told people I was doing a four year degree (true) with six months for social skills. I always blamed my boyfriend for any subject failures as he broke up with me every exam period so he could concentrate on his study so felt pretty confident the extra six months wasn’t my fault.

After Uni did the year overseas thing – based in Germany working on a farm in the middle of nowhere (don’t ask) and did some travel around and seeing all the cultural stuff I had forgotten about from when I was six (very helpful to reinforce).

Went back to Australia – got my first job – and in proving what a loyal employee I am worked there for the next seven years until just before the end of the decade when I left to go somewhere else.

Then in a bid to get out of the bad books for flying away to Adelaide (his hometown) for my birthday weekend in 1998 my on again – off again – on again boyfriend of almost ten years proposed to me, so all was forgiven momentarily although goodness knows what he got up to on that weekend.  So the last year of the decade opened with the long awaited marriage – and that’s pretty much what all the wedding speeches were about – ten years and so on.  Having said that though I loved my wedding day and all the preparation and planning (mostly done by my long suffering mother who would phone me for a list of decisions – a,b,c or d and then go and sort it all out – brilliant!) I cannot even imagine what I would do differently 11 years on – I loved it that much, except I would not have waited to make an entrance, highly overrated in my opinion. I would have been waiting on the ground myself so the guests didn’t finish ALL the Pimms before the wedding ceremony even took place without me getting a sip at all. Come to think of it maybe that’s why everyone looked so happy for us.

I also attended many weddings of lovely friends and family, the vast majority of which are still intact today with various kids and moves. My own extended family started reproducing a next generation I became a godmother when my pesky little cousin (from prior decade – was by now almost a sister to me 😉 became a mother when her little girl Sarah was born.

2000 – 2009

Well this one was an absolute ripper of a decade for action packed events.

Where to start?

In April 2000 we bought our first house in Naremburn, Sydney – for an amount of money that seemed outrageous at the time and now seems like a bargain basement special.

In September 2000 it was the Olympics and like a lot of other Sydneysiders we put in for our tickets in the giant Olympic lottery and got none!  Luckily we had relatives in Canada who could buy some for us, so we got to see Cathy Freeman win her gold medal after all, a definite decade highlight.

My Canadian cousin and his girlfriend (now wife – that happened later in the decade) lived with us for a year in our new house along with our first puppy Rupert the Golden (because he sure wasn’t a retriever).

Also sometime this year my father who had been coaching rugby in Canada came back to Aus and announced that he would be leaving my mother and their 35 year plus relationship – which came as a shock to everyone except him I believe. I still haven’t had the therapy but I may have mentioned that I was married in the previous decade – relying totally on the fact that my parent’s marriage was all good and even though I was 30 during this announcement – it didn’t make me very happy.

Moving on – sometime in June 2002 I had too much to drink one night and about six weeks later discovered I was in fact pregnant, a happy accident it turns out as I was never going to do it knowingly, the whole thing seemed way too scary.  However this wasn’t the biggest news in the old extended family that week as another of my cousins had arrived home with an actual baby.  His girlfriend had fallen pregnant and they had decided that they would not keep the baby but give it up for adoption (no one knew she was pregnant – what an observant lot we are) but when the time came changed their minds and kept their gorgeous girl and came clean about the whole thing – very brave for the youngsters, who also married later in the decade and had another little boy.

More weddings and lovely events and I got to be a bridesmaid for the first and no doubt last time (as I am getting on a bit these days for the bridie department) for my friend Trudi  – whose anniversary I shall always remember as a good bridesmaid should (unfortunately mainly because it shares the date with a newsworthy world event that wasn’t so celebratory) while my husband got his suit out for quite a few groomsman occasions.

Three months before I was going to give birth my father called to tell me he was going to marry his Canadian girlfriend when I would be 32 weeks pregnant and the only child of the new couple on hand to celebrate the event with my brother and Judith’s son both overseas at the time. Upon reflection I think the wedding had been planned for some time but he hadn’t had the therapy yet either (and he never will) so I was the last to find out. Somewhat of a shock for me at the time – I went along to the wedding, which was quite the affair for a seven month pregnant hormonal chick to attend. However I felt about the occasion at the time Judith and her son Paul are very welcome additions to our extended family.

Our baby boy was born in February 2003 and changed our lives in the wonderful way that babies do, especially first babies when you think its all so hard but in fact you look back on it and the thought of one newborn (OK a 3 – 6 monther) at home with two parents looks like such a piece of cake when you add on everything else that happens after that like – toddler-dom and more babies.

Later that year my husband started commuting to Hong Kong and then in November we all moved there.

One of the first couples that we became friends with in Hong Kong and my husband’s closest friend at work and their 8 month old baby were on the beach at Khao Lak in Thailand during the December 2004 Tsunami and unfortunately did not come home, that was a pretty tough time as it was for hundreds and thousands of people who lost loved ones in that catastrophic event.

January 2005 I started a job that I really had absolutely no idea about at the time – obviously I was an accomplished professional four years later when I left it, but it ranks amongst the highlights of the decade in terms of career.  I got to do lots of travelling across Asia and went to so many amazing places and met so many interesting people and ended up with some great friends because of it.

May 2006 my wonderful mother was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer and given not much of a chance as it had already spread to her lymph nodes and liver – but as with everything it did not deter her and she sought all treatment options including Chinese medicine, mainstream medicine and amazing support from her friends and our extended family.  She continued to keep up her international travel schedule, as she was president of an international organisation the year she was diagnosed, even though she stepped back somewhat from her duties. At the time my father said to me – I just don’t believe it, I think she will have a miracle cure (I called that reaction ‘guilt’ – he will now call it his amazing knowledge and foresight, did I mention I hadn’t been to therapy yet?).

September 2006 the little princess entered the world – and at the time her father said he was going to buy a shotgun and a rocking chair and get ready for when the boys came a callin’. Now we know her better he seems to think the whole thing was a waste of money and if the boys are game to come he’s going to just shake their hand and wish them luck.

During 03 – 09 we lived the crazy expat life you can when in Hong Kong and travelled to so many fabulous destinations in Asia and also used the opportunity to visit Canada on a couple of occasions – once for the wedding of that couple that lived with us in Australia earlier in the decade and once for a family ski holiday. I learnt about being a ‘tai tai’ and also sampled many fabulous activities associated with this, such as shopping weekends in other countries, ladies lunches & endless foot massages to name a few. 

We also started ‘group’ family holidays with a number of Aussie families in HK and went to two different Thai destinations – we missed the third in 2009 due to the move but vow to be back next decade!

In December 2008 we lost my wonderful Father-in-law after some years of declining health. My children lost their Poppy and my husband his father; it was very difficult especially for my husband as it happened just before we were heading home for Christmas. He had been to Aus earlier in the year when his Dad was hospitalized on a trip to Townsville to spend time with him and say goodbye but his Dad had rallied and made it home to Adelaide and had some extra months with his family there. It is the absolute hardest thing about living so far away – and that will never change.

In March 2009 we visited Durban to assess it for a move – by April my husband was here working and by mid-July we had packed up our HK life and joined him on our new adventure.

In May 2009 my mother visited the Oncologist who proclaimed – I think you’ve got this thing beaten and she was so excited she left without paying the bill – they had to chase her to the car park.  A year earlier another friend, my own age – then living in Vietnam was diagnosed with the same as Mum and to this point she hasn’t been as lucky with getting on top of it.  I wish for her that the coming year and indeed decade brings much better things on that front.

Over the course of the last decade my children have welcomed four first cousins and countless more of the once removed type – they love to see them all and talk to them on Skype (sometimes).

The decade closed at a much slower pace here in Durbs – but again you never know what’s around the corner. Two days before the end of the year I awoke to a text from my brother that my father had a mild heart attack and was in hospital for tests and so on. Now we are in a new place that takes a bit longer to get to Aus you worry about having to make a dash home – but so far so good – fingers crossed, he had an operation which resulted in a stent being put into one of his arteries and he said it hurt but is obviously preferable to the alternative and seems on the road to recovery. He thinks he can play golf in one month instead of the three recommended and still seems the same climate change skeptic that he ever was. I’m pretty sure he’ll be here at the end of the next decade pulling in his own share of highlight commentary.

2010 – 2019

What will happen next?

After the last decade it is almost impossible to imagine what will happen this decade and where we will be at the end of it.

So far the highlight has been having our water cut off for non-payment but I think it will get a bit more exciting than that – in a good way.

What do you think will happen to you in the next decade and what were the highlights and shocks for you of the last decade?

Don’t worry – I’m not a carjacker or anything

In South Africa I have read it is estimated that around 40 percent of the population live on less than USD$2 / day – when you have an official census figure of 49 million and an unofficial one of much more – that’s a lot of people that are living well below the poverty line and in need of extra support and income.

Here it is very difficult to go through any day without seeing some of these people, even though we live in what could be called the equivalent of the lower north shore in Sydney and perhaps Pokfulam in Hong Kong (although some people who live here would probably rather compare it to the Peak -its really not – Repulse Bay without the beach maybe 😉 and so you may expect what we see is barely scratching the surface of what is out there in the rest of SA.

It has also opened my eyes to what can be done –even a little that doesn’t cost you anything but can help others. All restaurants pack up leftover food for you – which everyone does, initially I found this strange – every time you went out always seeing take away containers come out at the end of a meal to all the tables, but then I realised many people that ate in restaurants pack the rest of their meals and then pass them straight onto the car guards or security staff at their complexes or take them home for their domestic helpers who take them home to their family– I have even seen people wrap food in fast food restaurants and place it on top of the bin so that someone will be able to eat it rather than have to go through the rubbish bin later. My own fridge at home no longer has old leftovers that need to be thrown away or rotting vegetables in the bottom crisper (I have to admit we were great wasters of food) – as I just bundle them up every few days and offer them to our helper, who takes them home with her, win win! I feel that I should get some environmental points there as well – but not sure exactly how, its just a feeling (Less waste?).  I do feel the need to add the veggies are passed on in an edible state – I don’t wait until they are rotting (just to be clear)

I appreciate the above may sound like a ditzy expat chick with no experience at all of poverty trying to be deep and meaningful thinking handing over a few scraps of food can solve worldwide hunger – but that’s not what I am thinking or trying to do.  I certainly don’t pretend to have any particular or in depth knowledge of the poverty issues in Africa, but after being caught up in the excesses of Hong Kong for the last six years (where very real poverty also exists – just not sure where I was looking all the time) the excessive visible poverty here is an eye opener for me, a slightly grounding one I hope. 

In Asia there are people on the streets asking for money – some people especially children will sometimes chase you for blocks looking for some money, especially if they think you are a tourist, I guess tourists have deeper pockets. In Hong Kong I often heard it speculated that many of the beggars are ‘run’ by the triads – who pick them up each morning, drop them off at their appointed places and then pick them up at the end of the day, might be true who knows?  The one thing I do know about Hong Kong is the best place to go if you are asking for money is Lan Kwai Fong (the central downtown drinking area  – frequented by the ‘gweilo’ foreigners) any night after about 9pm – when the drinkers have had plenty to drink and think someone tapping on their shoulder is asking for payment for the round of drinks they have just got. Those dressed as monks in particular have this one down pat and I have observed much cash being handed over in this way late into the evening or early in the morning.

Regardless of the amount of times I have been approached in Hong Kong and other Asian countries while visiting it didn’t quite prepare me for South Africa. In Asia in my experience I would say the asking is more passive, people tap you or make eye contact and then wait for you to do something – you may or may not and there appear to be no consequences to that, sometimes you may give some money sometimes you may choose not to.  Here the people that have approached me have often given me long and exhaustive stories about why they need the money, and then don’t really move away until you pass it over.  They also seem to be able to spring upon you at inopportune times for you – when you are sort of stunned and have to either respond or appear incredibly rude and walk by them to move on.

Twice last week I have had the ‘springing on your from nowhere’ experience instances and handed over cash accordingly.  The locals here tell you – never get your wallet out, safety and security etc but sometimes its just too tough.

Thursday after picking my three year old daughter up from school she demanded the ‘special treat’ mint I had promised her if she brushed her hair in the morning and was a good girl at school – as soon as I picked her up – Where’s my mint mummy? I’ve been a good girl, I didn’t hit or push the children today (note the today, there have been incidents!).  I checked with the teachers that this statement was in fact factual and then checked the box of mints I keep in the car – alas my cupboard was bare. I placated the distressed princess by saying we would stop at the service station on the way home to pick up some new mints.  As soon as we arrived at the busy service station (ie lots of people there) and were out of the car a guy ran up to me (it must have been the flashing sign on my face – ‘Ask me for money’ – its strange that I never see it when I look in the mirror) and the first thing he said was ‘I was wondering if you could help me, don’t worry I’m not a carjacker or anything’.  Nice start – not a carjacker! I was then kind of stuck to the spot gripping my daughter’s hand scanning the area, I still had my car keys in my hand and coincidentally my wallet – not a carjacker – what then could he be?  He went on to explain that he was in between contracts at the moment (I’m not sure what that means) and was looking for some money for food and a bit of medicine but mostly food – could I possibly help him? His explanation ran on for about a minute but there was a lot of repetition of ‘I’m not a carjacker’ and ‘I need some money for food’.  As I was standing there with my wallet and my car keys in my hand and my three year old in the other hand and he was standing between me and the door of the service station I didn’t think I had a lot of choice – I opened my wallet took out the first note I found and handed it over, was blessed by God – and whoosh he was gone. There was nothing threatening about him at all really but you are told time and time again to always be alert when approached by people you don’t know for any number of reasons.

The day before I was window-shopping on the street just outside our local mall and a lovely little boy came over to talk to me (hint all other children were in school – this should act as a warning).  His mother and father were out of work and his father didn’t have an ID card (there are a lot of issues in South Africa with ID cards and there has recently been a lot of publicity of a young man that committed suicide when he couldn’t get an ID card as all government support services seem to be blocked to you without one – it is quite a serious issue, you can have a birth certificate and sometimes even a South African passport but if you don’t have an ID card you can’t open or close a bank account, get any kind of legitimate employment, register for school, get a drivers license, apply for any kind of social welfare, get a mobile phone or vote. It seems to be a very lengthy process and can be quite difficult to prove you are who you say you are in some circumstances) I think this particular youngster’s parents also had asthma and it cost 40 Rand for his family (himself his two younger sisters and his parents) to stay in a shelter per night – some people had given him some food that he was holding but it was freezing cold so it wasn’t going to help much he told me – if I could just give them some money it would really help so much. Again – shop window behind me, boy right in front of me. I got my wallet out handed cash over, was blessed by God and then he was gone running down the street screaming Mummy Mummy Mummy! Again I checked the window for the sign that must be in flashing lights on my face – there were at least 10 other people that looked similar to me in the immediate area – but again I couldn’t see it.

Oh well – I have been blessed by others on behalf of God twice this week and on several other occasions in the time I have been here in SA and still not met a carjacker (which I am happy about and don’t ever expect to do in my time here).  Perhaps I should start keeping a tally and see on average after 12 months how much such a blessing costs? I know my husband certainly wants to know as he has been to my wallet on some occasions ‘post – blessing’ looking for money that is no longer there. In any case now whenever there is no money there, I have the excuse – I have been out gathering blessings.