The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

World Mental Health Day 2018

A whole school day was dedicated to discussing mental health and well-being to mark World Mental Health Day. I welcome the more open dialogue on the pressures faced by children and young adults that could have a profound effect on their well being and the importance of building mental resilience to help them face the many stressful conditions they will come up against as they move through adolescence.

It is a concern for me as a parent to three young children who are growing up in a digital world so different to the childhood that I had. Certainly there exists the same issues that were there some 35 years ago such as friendships and being accepted and not being excluded for whatever reason.  There are now new ones that have arisen through the widespread introduction of technology into our everyday lives.

#3 asked for an iPad for her Birthday, which she didn’t get, because to her it seemed like a normal thing to ask for. I can imagine what she would most likely use it for is to watch YouTube videos of people unwrapping LOLs. If left to her own devices, she could probably spend hours doing that. In our household, much like most others, I have daily requests for tv time, iPad time, games console time or time on my phone. If they have time on one form of technology, they think it should be acceptable that they can have time on another form too because they are not the same. It’s not that I say No all the time, I would just feel better if I saw them out playing and having fun with their friends too. Whilst the weather is still good, we are out at the park after school everyday and it makes me feel good to see them playing and I get a chance to talk to other grown up people. All of us feel good.

Technology in all its form has simplified many aspects of life but makes parenting more complicated.

The message that #1, 2 and 3 bring back today is the importance of liking your physical and emotional self and how to take care of both. More importantly how to take care of each other. The school promotes meditation club as an extracurricular activity, they do yoga and from today they are engaging in a ‘fill your bucket’ activity. It’s an initiative to encourage children to be kind to themselves and others, to help them think of what would be a kind act that would help you fill your bucket today. By filling your bucket with kindness, brings happiness and at the end of the day, you think of how this could share the happiness.

In an age of growing isolation, lost art of communication, suspicion of others and time, I think this is an important initiative and life skill to bestow upon children. To support their well being and ability to look out for others. In my recent experience of feeling less than emotionally strong and mentally tired, the difference to your a day is when someone notices that you need someone to ask “How have you been?” and not be afraid of what you say.

I don’t know how many schools have a team of counsellors on site that look after the emotional well being of children who attend the school. It was a pleasant surprise to discover this when #1, 2 and 3 joined last year. I asked the team what kind of support was provided to the children and I was told that it’s a cozy space that children of all ages can come to talk about anything that is on their mind. It can range from building confidence, chatting about friendship concerns to helping children make sense of some of the deeper emotions that they may be feeling due to circumstances at home.

I think we’re very lucky that school provides this valuable resource. Even if you never have to use it, you know that’s its there. That there is always someone who will listen if you need to talk. And just being someone who will listen will make all the difference.

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Birthday Eve so soon again?

So it seems that Birthday Eve is upon me again. And not just any ordinary Birthday Eve. It’s been five years since I wrote my first post on this blog just before I turned 39 and started the countdown to that significant 40th Birthday, which also means that in another five years time I’ll be starting the countdown to that next significant number! Along with most of you too.

I remember last Birthday Eve my thoughts were on new beginnings that were yet to start. It was both exciting and daunting, the prospect of starting a new life in a new town. There was so much I had absolutely no idea about. Even the seemingly simple stuff like when do the rubbish bins and recycling get collected. One week rubbish, next week recycling. You’d think from the same spot for both right? But no, rubbish from the back of the house, recycling from the front. Who knew sorting out your utilities would be more complex than your tax return.

I have found that it takes just a handful of people who are kind enough to reach out and make a newcomer feel welcome to help you on your way. I did notice though that it was mainly #3 starting in Reception year that made the most difference in opening doors to a new social network. I discovered that for #1 and #2, their peer group was a lot more established with friendships having been formed some years ago as early as when they were in Nursery. I guess for the parents too, most parent friendships were formed back then. Still, it takes time to slowly get to know people and on that note, I’ve been very lucky in having made several new friends that I look forward to seeing more often.

After the bright lights and convenience of city living for so long, at first it felt restrictive to find myself back somewhere that shut shop at 6pm latest. So that town centres became quickly deserted and empty of people. Then I realised what did it actually matter when it’s not like I have the freedom to just pop out once the children were back from school! There is also something comforting about that too, to just be at home. I particularly liked that feeling in the long evenings of late autumn and winter where you could take time to slow down, draw the curtains and hibernate.

After a year of settling back in the UK, I get asked what is it that I miss most about Expat living, I miss the diversity of culture and the food. I miss the adventures and exotic locations. I miss home help in the fact that it afforded me so much freedom and spontaneity. Most of all I miss the friends that I have out there. The diversity of those friendships and the mix of interests, passion and inspiration they give.

A year in, I have a varied life here, perhaps not as glamorous (on the surface) as before but one that I have enjoyed pursuing. I have been trying out new things like knitting and jam making. I know it sounds so quaint but the jam making in particular has been highly satisfying. I have this lovely big jam making pot and in it I’ve boiled many bags of sugar with a mix of seasonal local fruits and you end up with lovely jars of yumminess. I can leave bowls of strawberries seeped in sugar overnight without fretting about a trail of ants overtaking my kitchen in seconds. There’s something very soothing about creating something yourself. The action of changing this into that, mixing a bit of this with a bit of that is very good for the soul.

Most of all though, I have really enjoyed getting back together with family and friends. And it doesn’t take long to fall back into step with family like you haven’t been away at all. Exactly like you haven’t been away at all…

The children in particular have loved getting to know cousins and old friends that they’ve met on previous trips back. It gives me great joy to see these children having fun together and forming new childhood memories of their own. I’ve also had the opportunity to reconnect with an old childhood friend I hadn’t seen in over 15 years. It was quite some catch up, not just to hear about how she was doing but also about some old friends I hadn’t heard about since we were 16 years old. I’m sure we all know people that we have lost touch with over the years and from time to time wonder how they are doing.

I’m not surprised really that this past year seems to have passed by so quickly. So much has happened. So much change. So much to process. So many things to get used to whether I like it or not. It has been my most challenging year so far but also one that has probably given me the most strength and reflection too. I guess this is what sets us apart from our 25 year old selves and what ultimately makes us better able to support and empathise with those around us.

So tomorrow I’ll be firmly in that new category of middle 40s. Ooof. And as a new Birthday dawns, I’ve decided that I’m not quite ready to think about the next big goal yet.  I’m content enough with the small things, I’ve got a woolly hat to finish by November for #3, some more varieties of jam to make, crafts to finish, a home to declutter (snort, I mean one can think about it) and this blog to keep going.

 

That for me, is enough to think about for now.

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Where did that school year go?

The brand new shine of black patent leather shoes has long since been scuffed away. The pristine white of a school polo shirt has been washed out of shape, mottled with splodges of paint. Cardigans have buttons missing and jumpers are well, just missing.

It’s hard to imagine that we have reached the end of another academic year. Yet here we are about to start six weeks and two days of summer holidays. You could see that for many the 2.30pm bell today couldn’t come soon enough, with Teachers following swiftly on the heels of parents and children out of the school gates.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I waved off #1, 2 and 3 off to their new Big School and wondered about the six hours I would have to while away. (Turns out that six hours isn’t really that long after all when you’re back to doing your own laundry and general keeping of home.)

It is a stressful decision choosing a school and especially when we chose a school without the benefit of paying a visit beforehand. We really were throwing them all into a new unknown. Especially after the gloss of a large international school overseas with all the facilities like an on site swimming pool and full size running track. These things do matter of course and it is a shame that their current primary school lacks the space of a sports field.

I know without doubt that all three have had a happy year at school. I don’t think any parent could ask for anything more at this stage. Sure, academic standing and sporting achievement is important but also is the well being and welfare of each child. Times have changed dramatically since my school days in the 80s. There’s a lot more out there competing for the attention of a child’s time than Maths and English. Indeed, even we as parents offer children a lot more extracurricular activity than just Brownies and Scouts.

But also not much has changed for children going to school. Maths and English is sort of the same but somehow long division is not a thing anymore. The complexities of playground friendships however, remains every child’s golden goal and parental heartache.

“What did you learn today?”

“What did you have for school lunch?”

“Who were your friends?”

These three questions form the basis of our short walk home after school. Most of the time they can’t remember what they’ve learnt but will speak quite enthusiastically about lunch, especially if ice cream or cake pudding is involved. The answers to the third one though, have on many occasion made me want to weep for them. Sometimes there have been minor fall outs and you figure that’s something they’re going to have to navigate themselves.

But sometimes, when you hear that your child went to lunchtime club by themselves without another buddy, your heart wonders why. Because no parent likes to imagine their child has not made a friend and we can not be there to help them. Of course we can’t be there engineering friendships we think our children should be making either. I have found that a lot of a child’s social circle evolves around school, unlike our days in Singapore where they had friends within the condo we lived in and also from the Expat community in general.

Everything is a lot more compact, a lot more local community in the town that we live in. And with that, and within the school, there seems to be a greater holistic approach to nurturing each child’s ability and emotional well being that I really like. I can’t remember with much significance whether my Reception year teacher gave out as many warm hugs and encouraging words. Perhaps she did and I just don’t recall. Perhaps #3 won’t recall how kind, caring and warm her Reception year teacher is. But I do and as a parent wondering whether you’ve made the right decision in sending your child to the right school, this is what you need to see.

As I look through all the school books that have come back with #1 and 2, I can also see how hard they’ve worked and how each piece of homework (a source of much weekend angst to be honest) is a reinforcement of what they’ve been learning in class. And I have been so impressed and grateful for how quickly it was noticed where a child has lacked strength in an area and how a support plan was put into place.

The children’s school was recently inspected by Ofsted and achieved Outstanding in every category. A well deserved recognition. And it’s also a school where the happiness and well being of the children who attend is at the heart of it.

At the end of this school year in a brand new school for all of us, I’m so glad and relieved over how well each child has thrived and the lovely friends they’ve made.

And I will be so glad to wave them off again back in September but first we’ve got a summer holiday to see to.

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Longest day of the year

It’s almost 10pm and it’s still daylight out there. Officially the sun set at 9.41pm in my area of the UK.  These long days are a lovely part of a UK spring/summer. It makes you feel you’ve got so much more time to do things. Even putting out the bins at 8.30pm instead of thinking it was late not to have done so by 6pm.

If I had a garden, I can imagine leaving the back door open and sitting there with a glass of something enjoying the last rays of daylight. I say I imagine myself doing that, but most likely I’ll be trying to convince #1, 2 and 3 that it’s bedtime. They are just about accustomed to this new way of living. When we first arrived back in the UK last August, they were adamant it can’t possibly be bedtime when it’s still light outside. That’s one thing you have in Singapore, consistent sunset and sunrise. No need for blackout blinds when it’s dark by 7.15pm and light by 6.45am. There’s also comfort in that too. The predictability of things.

With warmer weather and the evenings drawing out, we’re back to visits to the park after school until it’s ready to go home for dinner. Last September, new to all this, I asked a friend what did everyone do when the clocks go forward and it’s getting dark by 4.30pm. Her answer was, everyone goes home or you arrange playdates. The idea that I could potentially not converse with another grown up all day was quite frightening. Equally not only is it getting dark but with that it gets cold. Unlike in Asia. So your preference to be at home is increased.

The change of seasons is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It adds variety to our day. It stops us from being monotonous and it allows for spontaneity. It should teach us not to take things for granted and help us to open our eyes to see what’s around us. There is so much change and hard work going on in nature without us noticing. It has taken nine years of living with no seasonal changes to appreciate this now that I have it back.

Whilst I was living away, I always cited how I missed the change of seasons. So perhaps because of this, I’ve paid more attention to how summer fades into autumn and drops into winter to rise again in spring. Winter has been particularly harsh for my first one in 10 years but I didn’t mind so much. The cold wind on my cheeks as I trampled paths in the park made me feel energised. Watching the bloom of snowdrops in the dead of winter. The revival of crocuses that had blossomed and then were crushed under a late snowfall, only to reappear once the snow had melted away showed me how resilient nature really is.

I also had another reason to lean on the seasons. When my Dad, Mr Li, passed away in November, the days were already quite short. I was thankful that I didn’t need to go to the park in the sunshine and while away time in idle chit chat. I needed to be at home and I needed the grey skies and cold wind that reflected how I felt at that time. And it almost felt like as winter turned to spring and now to summer, I too have slowly gathered strength and started to replenish myself again.

So on today, the longest day of the year, I thank Nature for all that it gives us.

This photo was taken at 10pm! Can you imagine.

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A UK Lunar New Year

It’s officially Spring and the end of celebrations marking the new Year of the Dog. But where are the delicate flowering peach blossoms. Oh I forget, they’re on the other side of the globe.

The times I will miss Singapore the most will be the gap between 2 January to the Lunar New Year. Perhaps I’m just attracted by pretty decorations. No sooner are the Christmas lights whipped down then up go all the reds, gold and pinks to usher in the new Lunar year. There’s no time to dwell on the lows of the holiday season being over with when there’s preparations for another underway.

In Singapore, it was easy to embrace the Asian and Western sides to our lives. For the children in particular, who have grown up in a visibly multicultural society, this is what they know. The streets are festooned with decorations to celebrate Christmas, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Diwali. In between we have Easter, Halloween interspersed with friends talking about Thanksgiving and Sinterklass.

The children find it difficult to grasp that the UK is ‘home’ and why should they because it’s not been their home until now and especially when we are not living together as a full family. Perhaps over time they will when we are more settled and have a house of our own. At the same time, I want them to value the country they were born into and be proud of those roots with an understanding of life over there. I don’t think a boomerang back over to Singapore would ever be ruled out.

In the meantime though, how do you create some of over there, over here. Now that I’ve experienced living in an Asian country, I understand so much more of the cultural importance and traditions that go with certain festivals and it’s been one of the best things about living abroad. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my cultural roots and being able to pass that on to my children. It is too easy to focus on one dominant culture and getting a balance with a second culture requires effort and reminding.

This year may have been a subdued affair at home with less of the decorations but I was happily surprised that the children remembered we needed to spring clean the house before the start of the Lunar New Year. Traditionally, on the eve of the Lunar New Year it is a time for family reunions for dinner. In Singapore, with no family around, we would have Reunion Dinner with good friends. So this year with Husband still back in Singapore, we invited a bundle of friends over and I was particularly touched by new friends who really put some thought into what should they do to help join in our celebrations of Chinese New Year. They came laden with gifts and red envelopes with chocolate coins in and asking me, ‘what should we do to celebrate?’ and I hadn’t even thought about it because I had never been asked before. Then I remembered when I was much younger, how proud and excited I felt to invite friends to the Chinese New Year celebrations in Newcastle and how they came dressed in their best outfits. So perhaps we can create our own traditions of celebrating this important festival .

I’ve already been trying. In fact, even this time last year when I thought there was a chance I wouldn’t be in Singapore I started thinking about what would I try bringing back with me. One of the biggest associations we have with the Chinese New Year in Singapore is eating a lot of pineapple tarts and last year I made my first homemade batch of tarts and then I worried about where would I find pineapples in the winter of the UK? Well it turns out that these days, nothing is quite out of season. So we had our pineapple tarts and mini cornflake cookies. We had decorations and we even had friends from Singapore join us for the first day of the New Year.

As you may know, during this time there is a strong emphasis on family. Hence Reunion Dinner and spending time with your own family as well as visiting relatives. It has been a very long time since I celebrated this festival with my family in Newcastle. Even way before we moved from the UK. It has definitely changed and grown in stature within the region so that it doesn’t just involve the Chinese community but the whole community. You could say that it has grown so popular that many Chinese people shy away from the event because of the crowds which is quite ironic.

There were firecrackers, Lion and Dragon dancing, parades in traditional dress and street food stalls. Of course not on the grand scale that we’ve been used to but a colourful celebration all the same on a winter’s afternoon.

The best part though, was being with family. Pottering around Chinatown with my Mum and my Uncle, my cousins and their children. As quietly but deeply painful and bittersweet as it was for me. I remember as a child how much fun it was to bump into older family members and pocketing lucky red packets and playing with cousins and friends my own age. In just the same way that my children were out playing with their cousins and collecting many lucky red packets.

You can’t have it all. But you can make the very best of what you have.

May this Year of the Dog bring you happiness, good health, prosperity and peace.

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Progress is an on-going, collective responsibility

“You’re ugly because you’re from a different country.”

I want you to take a moment to absorb this statement.

How did it make you feel?

Shocked?

Horrified?

Outraged?

Sad?

I hope it made you feel something at least.

I am not about to continue this post detailing encounters of casual racism that I have experienced throughout my life. But if I may say a little about it then whilst much progress has been made on that front, a lot more still needs to be done. I view it as a life work in progress because if you think about it, every one of us can find ourselves in the minority in some part of the world. Which means it ought to be everyone’s life work. A collective responsibility to see each other as equals regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability.

I know that many people will feel they know this already. That they live their lives actively promoting equality. And if not, then they certainly are not promoting the opposite. I feel I’m inclusive in what I do and generous with my time for those who should have it. I gravitate to like minded, inspiring, welcoming people with a certain sass about them. As such, I feel accepted and comfortable with who I am and the influences around me.

Or do I really?

Strip back the layers of tolerance, I feel like I have in the recent past ignored, accepted even, episodes of casual racism and gender bias directed against me. It can happen so discreetly under the guise of something else that you often don’t realise it’s happened at all so you don’t think to speak out about it.

And I fear that having not spoken up about things and having no one else to tell me to speak up about things, well, how can progress be made if we don’t articulate the fact that what has been said is just wrong and how do you know you’re wrong if no one challenges you about it. What will change?

As I said earlier, much progress has been made since I was a child in terms of racial harmony. To be clear, most of my childhood and my adult life bar one or two incidents from misguided older colleagues, has been free from being stereotyped due to ethnic background. However, I realised the other day that the memory of having grown up in times where you lived in fear of being racially name called in the street and the shame of how that feels when it does happen, never really goes away.

I thought that it was enough for my children to be surrounded by kind, caring, open minded people, living in a progressive, multi cultural society. Embracing all our differences and cultural celebrations which is what makes life interesting, colourful and fun.

Most importantly, be proud of who you are and be happy in yourself by not putting others down. So what if they say you were born in a different country. Ugly? People who say and think mean things are ugly and you are beautiful both inside and out. And even though that someone said something outrageously mean to you today, I still want you to be kind to them tomorrow. Show them strength through tolerance because they did not speak the truth and you know it.

The opening remark was not said to me. When I heard it, it knocked my own self confidence let alone that of who did hear it first. In that instant, I felt powerless. I thought, how can this still be a thing in this day and age. How many times will my children’s feelings be hurt by words like this. It brought back old memories that I have had to overcome with grace and not bitterness which is very important. I crumpled for a short while remembering back then. It leaves you feeling embarrassed, panicked and ashamed. Trying to be invisible walking past groups of people who looked like they may name call you and then feeling relief when they don’t. Look at that, I too was at fault for making prejudiced assumptions. See the kind of cycle it breeds.

I asked you to absorb those words and think about how it made you feel, not because I want you feeling angry or cast aspersions on anyone else involved. That’s not important to this. What is important to me is how do I react to it all. I felt really low and worried which is natural, until I realised that I was projecting my own old fears and we are not in those times anymore. Yet all the progress that has been made will slow down if we become complacent with our actions in shaping the kind of world we want for future generations. Consider the significance of today’s date being 100 years since some women were first allowed to vote and all the high profile movements that have escalated in the last few months highlighting the areas where progress seems to have faltered.

Keep up the conversations about kindness, take active involvement celebrating cultural differences, open up the world to children and their friends by talking about it. Let them see it as the Big, Bold Beautiful place that it is for them to want to explore, love and look after. That’s the kind of action I need you to take.

And remember. Never grow complacent in shaping this world for ourselves and the future generations.

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The Big Move is underway

Like with any momentous occasion, one minute you think you’ve got months until it’s happening and then suddenly…BUMPF. It’s happening in a matter of days. DAYS!

This time next week, our wordly possessions reflecting our time in Singapore, a family life built up over nine years, will be packed up nice and neat to make its way to the UK. 

I’ve often marvelled at how you can live out of a suitcase or three for seven weeks and be totally fine. And then I’ll think about all my stuff at home and wonder why I have it if I can live out of  suitcase or three for seven weeks and be totally fine. So then I get to thinking that one really doesn’t need such a lot of stuff and therefore wouldn’t it be more satisfying to declutter it all away. But then I get back home and you feel all warm amd fuzzy among all your own things and sort of forget about it all.

Which is all fine and well until you get to the point where I am today and really must be much more hardened to the art of decluttering. Quite simply, I am not good at it. I never will be. A big part of my make up is sentimentality and that is not good for decluttering. It will only work if I am in a rage. Rageful decluttering is what works for me.  By which I mean, if I am feeling particularly perturbed by something, I will go and clean. It’s therapeutic and then I will declutter to bring some form of order and control to compensate for the other area that I have no control over.

But this decluttering before an international move is not very therapeutic at all. In fact, it sets your mind and heart galloping.  Why can’t they just move everything from here to there exactly as everything is? Well, I did think about that but there’s stuff I probably won’t need over there. Like all the tupperware containers. Every food item that has been brought back from the shops has lived a second life in a Lock and Lock box. You can’t just put a bag of sugar in the cupboard. Not unless you want a trail of ants all over your kitchen. Ants. Ants everywhere. You know how there’s a national statistic about the number of spiders the average person swallows a year, well I reckon I’ve probably clocked up thousands of ants over the years. 

There’s also the matter of sentimentality to contend with as I mentioned earlier. Leftover from failed attempts at decluttering last time we moved, I came across not one but two boxes of clothing that #1, 2 and 3 outgrew before they’d even reached their first birthday. I have to admit, I was quite confused. I thought I’d cleared out all the baby gear years ago. Especially after categorically deciding there will not be a #4. But perhaps because of that I have found it hard to let go of some items. Little hats and favourite tops to remind myself of how wee they once were. But then as I peered into this box of important forgotten items, it looks like I’d started the clearing out process and then just gave up on it with the promise that I’d get around to it some day.

Clearly those books about decluttering  not just your wardrobe/home/life/friends know a thing or two about it. Even the bloke who came round to do the relocation quote said that people tend to have the same amount of stuff to ship at the end as they do at the start. That’s reassuring.

And once you start the process, which should never be done in two or three weeks  but taken on as a lifestyle change, you end up making your home look more like a flea market with no hidden gems for sale.

And never do this with any small people present. I am quite convinced the packing things  into small plastic bags is a genetic disposition. Because it’s definitely a character trait that #3 shares with my Dad, Mr Li. There is something about my Dad, Mr Li and a number of other relatives who will never help us rid this world of plastic with the way they accrue a plastic bag wrapped bundle of specialness. If the thing is so precious, you’ve just gone and made it less special embedding it in plastic bags ‘to keep it safe’ apparently. 

It is no one’s fault but my own that failed attempts to declutter have been set up and aborted. The hours of labour that have gone into secreting piles of toys that haven’t been touched in months are quickly undone because one simply did not continue the process with immediate expulsion from the home. Instead before long, you’ll find said secreted items back where they once were. Do this a few more times and #3 has your number. She will now ask to inspect the recycling before waving permission to proceed exiting the home.   

 To be honest, I feel like I’ve done ok with the decluttering, regifting and general acknowledgement that there are some projects/skills/hobbies I just  won’t get around to fulfilling and that one should shed these ambitions (but I will learn how to use my sewing machine in England!) and feel more free. However on the other hand, I like learning new skills as it keeps your mind fresh and your hands busy and isn’t it just so satisfying to create something from nothing. Well not exactly nothing judging from my crafting supplies. 

And there are some wonderful surprises to be found in the backs of cupboards and dusty boxes. Photos that I hadn’t seen in years. Handwritten notes that are so rare in a time of e-everything. I came across an old notebook and barely recognised my own handwriting which now resembles an uneven scrawl which made me think that I really ought to reintroduce writing with ink that is more substantial than the weekly grocery list. And then suddenly in #3s wardrobe I come across two bottles of champagne that need to be drunk the next two weeks. Bonus!  

Perhaps sorting through stuff is one way of keeping my mind occupied during this big transition. I am so busy sifting and organising that I can’t linger too long on the real changes  ahead. I find it’s when I’m driving along familiar roads that I get an overwhelming feeling of realisation that in two weeks, all that is familiar will be in the past. Including the home that we live in now, the routine we have, the school system, the food that we eat, the places that we’ll go to, the people we see and the cultural norms. Like the men just lying in the back of a pick up truck along the PIE with no care for road safety rules. Sights that used to shock us but no longer do. As I drive myself here and there, in control of that moment, I feel a prickle of tears behind my eyes as I consider the changes ahead and how I will miss Singapore. Until I suddenly have to switch lanes because of unexpected tree pruning causing lane closure which was indicated by the traffic cones about 10 metres ahead of time.

Change is ahead. It is exciting but scary too. I want it to be amazing but amazing takes time to get there. And even with amazing there is going to be the less than amazing to deal with. 

Today I figured we all needed a moment to get away from the Big Move. It’s happening soon enough and if I don’t get to clear out that box of secret hidden treasures then I’ll just have it as a surprise in our new place. 

I, alongside #1, 2 and 3 needed an afternoon off. Just to be with each other and have some fun and not have them watch me dismantle all that is familiar for them and get all shouty because they’re just as curious to  see what’s lurking behind those cupboard doors and adding to the chaos.

I can be honest with you and say that this moment in time is stressful as I try and juggle packing up with saying farewells and start moving towards our new life. For me, this is not just another country move. Singapore holds some very strong memories and associations of key life events. Even though I can picture new memories forming when we’re back in the UK,  I guess emotions are running high and they will pass but it’s hard to leave somewhere that holds a part of your heart and your children’s identity behind. 

But I also discovered there is very little that some Minions dancing to Happy cannot cure. 

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A pinch and a squeeze

It’s a bit ironic that in order to feel better, you often have to go through pain first. 

Like getting yourself into shape, you must first experience the pain of physical exertion. I mean way before even putting one foot in front of the other, you have to go through the pain of getting yourself ready and nagging that other voice in your head to just get out there. Same like getting your eyebrows done, get a good brow therapist and years can be taken off your face. But that too is not without pain as two lengths of dental floss are used and just seem to rub and ping away at your brows. Though comparatively less painful than getting a real actual face lift. 

Anyways, I’m driving along and I can feel a few squeaks and spasms going on in my lower back. I’m thinking, ‘I need a massage.’ Long hours hunched over a computer, running and naturally being quite a rigid person I often end up moving like the Tin Man. But the jet lag and sleeping on a couch for the most part of four weeks has really caught up with me. I could barely turn my neck to look over my left shoulder, a problem that weeks of physio is needed to sort out every now and then. 

So why not treat myself to a bit of ‘me time’ and go get myself a massage that will soothe all those aches and pains away. How often are we sold the idea of a nice and relaxing masssage to revive and rejuvenate the soul. Trickling water in some zen pond, aromatherapy oils and therapists who glide silently bringing you herbal teas. That’s the kind of massage I should have gone for.

Instead, I go for a 90 minute session of Traditional Chinese Massage. There is warm herbal tea and zen background music. There is also Le Le, my therapist for today. She is a force to be reckoned with. I don’t know how she does it. The way she can channel such strength in one thumb that delved deep into a knotted shoulder. She actually pinned one arm behind my back and dug her elbow into my shoulder blade and dragged it down the length of it. And she pinched me. She actually pinched me. 

Now I consider myself a person with a relatively high pain threshold. But as Le Le traces her knuckle over a particularly stubborn knot backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, I have no choice but to yelp out in pain! Does she care? Does she even care? No she doesn’t. She just sort of says in a tone she clearly doesn’t mean, ‘ok, ok’ and eases off a smidgen. At other times she doesn’t even do that. She just ploughs on, regardless of the fact that tears, real actual tears are stinging the backs of my eyes. Places I didn’t know were knotted were being unknotted, like my buttocks. I thought they were just firm! 

Le Le is not the first massage therapist to have had her work cut out when working on one’s canvas. Each time I go, I always get told that I should come back on a regular basis. But each time one does go, the pain of unknotting half the knots inside of me is just so painful, you need to give yourself time to get over the memory, like childbirth, before going in again. Le Le is obviously very good at what she does and I’m sure in a few days time I’ll be feeling completely fluid in movement but for now, it feels like I’ve been hammered all over like meat needing tenderising. 

Unlike the time, I helpfully tried the same elbow in shoulder blade technique on Husband when he was feeling a bit knotted. It didn’t seem to have the same effect.

 

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UN Day Celebrations 2017 – We are all just people

On the Friday just before the half term break, #1 and #2s Big School celebrated United Nations Day. It’s the second one we’ve been a part of. I think it’s one of the best events in the academic calendar. 

A colourful celebration of the 52 countries  represented by all the children who attend the same school. A day to be proud of your heritage and learn about different cultures around the world. For UN Day #1 and 2 were representing England. It’s pretty hard to find an outfit that defines English national dress. So #1 wore flat cap, shirt and tie and #2 wore a Beatles t shirt!

At the first UN Day celebration, I was surprised to learn the school had so many different nationalities together with the school teaching to the British curriculum. But I really oughn’t be. After all, in the not quite eight and half years I have been in Singapore I have had the joy of meeting so many different people from so many different countries I couldn’t possibly name them all.  The experience has been amazing and so many valuable and interesting lessons learnt from each one of them.

I like how we have shared the parts of our culture and heritage that are familar and this makes being away from home that bit more bearable. Like having Pancakes for Dinner instead of just for breakfast. Having noodles for breakfast instead of toast. 

Sometimes though, I also like the ease of someone who gets your humour and colloquialisms, the cultural references and the music and television shows you grew up on. This shared sense of identity can make the art of fitting in go a little more smoothly when you’re living far from home.

But for #1, 2 and 3 everyone is just the same. To them and their friends they are just who they are. 

Only when you share the world with small children, do you see how simple it can be to live alongside each other harmoniously. You just need to observe on a daily basis that children don’t really care what you look like. But they do care about the way you behave.

UN Day celebrates all that is wonderful about cultural diversity. Teaching the children to be proud of who they are. Many children come from a blend of cultures and it’s exciting for them to acknowledge all these different parts of themselves.

For #1 and 2, their world is already quite open having been born in Singapore with family in England and Hong Kong and friends all over the world. For their age they are fairly well travelled. Their palates are internationally influenced as well. They enjoy the benefits and learnings of a multicultural and tolerant society.

The world has definitely  changed since my day. 

Although I haven’t experienced open racism for many decades, I still remember that feeling of wanting to melt into the background. Not wanting to draw attention to myself for any unwanted comments because I looked different or just because we ate different food. Thankfully those were different times and distant memories.

Lately though, I have had a slight worry that the world is turning the other way. That it’s becoming more angry and that anger is being manipulated to take us back a few steps. I worry that #1, 2 and 3 could experience the same unpleasant hurt that I once did and I didn’t think I would have to. 

Please don’t let us regress. 

Racism, prejudice, intolerance all stems from fear. Of what you don’t know. Something that is different. But different is a good thing. Different brings excitement and fun. Different brings a wealth of experiences and learnings and acceptance. It keeps us fresh. 

It was at UN Day celebrations that I experienced a moment of poignancy. A will for #1 and 2 to remember these days of true multicultural living. Their friends who are French, German, Indian, Jordanian, Scottish, Irish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Dutch, Finnish, Swedish, Australian, New Zealander and Singaporean. 

Where everyone fits in. Where everyone is just allowed to be. We are all just people gathered here on one planet after all.

 

 

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Inbetween two New Years

I hope this new year has started well for you. Already we are nearly towards the end of January. 

Living in the tropics, it’s very hard to allow those old January blues to take hold. 

Is it because of the weather? Mmmm, it’s been quite a wet sort of week. (It does happen occasionally here too.) Quite frankly the rain bringing cooler weather is a welcome change because it’s not going to last long. 2016 was the hottest year on record and if things don’t change soon, these kind of statistics will feature more regularly.

There is no time for resting on your laurels in Singapore. No sooner has the countdown to New Year’s Day ended then the  Christmas decorations are whipped down and up go the spring blossom and red and gold hues for Chinese New Year. Mummy’s no longer kissing Santa Claus in the supermarkets as he’s been chased out by a lot of cymbal clashing and Gong Xi, Gong Xi, Gong Xi Ni.

This year, with the Lunar New Year following hot on the heels of the calendar New Year and #1’s Birthday inbetween, there feels like even less time to linger in January. 

And after some of the disappointing events of 2016, we perhaps wish to put some rapid distance between then and now. 

But it is precisely because of those disappointing events that 2017 should count even more. 

I’ve decided without really planning to, that 2017 will be a year of activity. I haven’t set any ambitious goals. I just want to do more. More running. More baking. More hanging out with family and friends. All the things that make me happy and widens my reach and world.

Last year felt confined. That’s the only word I can use to describe it. And realising this, I don’t want this year to continue in the same vein. It’s enough for me to know this. And like enforcing any path of change, you have to be ready to make the conscious decisions that create change yourself. As much as it was clear to others, I had to reach that conclusion myself. 

So today, I wish to thank those closest to me who allowed me to give voice to all those events that had me confined last year. Whilst it was clear to them what I should do, I just wasn’t ready to make a change and whilst I haven’t done anything yet regarding that area, I feel that I can should I need to.

And that’s the difference I see. Change comes from within. Your head, followed by your heart, followed by your head again. 
So I’m picking up the things that I loved doing the year before last and hopefully I’ll learn a few more new things this year to boot.

Tomorrow is the start of the new Lunar New Year. May it be a continuation of good things to come.

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