Monday, November 26, 2012

Do we stay or do we go now?

Our life for the past two months has been consumed by this question. And this song, by The Clash, just rolls through my mind on an almost daily basis. As the song continues, if "I stay there will be trouble..... if I go it will be double".

Although it is now only November, the deadline is fast approaching by which Andrew needs to declare his final intent to stay at SSIS and renew his contract for a third year. We keep talking about "these past two years", but the reality is that it has been 1 year and 3 months. While I was traveling in New Zealand this past September, Andrew received his "soft" declaration paperwork, due by October 1. So the second year had barely begun and we needed to start thinking hard.

While there are good and bad aspects both here and at home, the truth is, it's a mixed bag. Is that redundant?

There are basically three options.
1. Stay.
2. Go home to Oregon.
3. Try another International School.

Option 1: The easiest in terms of effort, staying means the kids stay in the same school - a good fit, really, for both of them. Elia has started swim team this year, is loving it and thriving because of it. She also was able to start taking ballet this year after school and continues to build herself a bustling hive of friends who keep her busy in the free time. Asher has found his niche at the MS and (except for the homework) is confident, working hard and enjoying himself. He has joined the Environmental Club, the Dragon Tech Ninja (mostly minecraft, I think) and just finished running track. A few weeks back, he was able to join other environmental club members in Singapore at an International Global Issues Network conference. His recent conferences show him to be kind, well-liked, well-spoken and a positive attribute to the middle school.

Andrew loves his job. His class sizes are great, his behavior management is getting rusty from disuse, he travelled to Indonesia this year with students on the Week without Walls trip, joined Asher in Singapore for the HS GIN conference, and attended a conference in Jakarta where he got to catch up with an ex-colleague from Oregon. He teaches International Baccalaureate (IB) Geography, which gives him two years to go into real depth into his subject and, in a developing nation, he doesn't have to go far to show his students geography-in-action. It is all around us, every day.

I have been plagued with homesickness this year. It could be the unexpected trip home with my mom after she had medical issues while visiting us, it could be the trip to see Rene in New Zealand, it could be that I don't have enough to do here, it could be that Oregon is just hard to beat in terms of all the things that help me feel grounded in life - clean air, clean water, good food, family and great friends, beautiful forests, a dark night sky, and sounds of nature putting me to sleep.

Option 2: Not without its difficulties. 35 - 40 student classrooms and behavior management for Andrew, schools for the kids, a job hunt in an uncertain economy for me, car shopping and a return to a car'd life.

Option 3: No sure thing. Could be better, could be worse. Could be more job opportunity for me, could be less. And, requires an immediate and extensive output of energy that neither of us have right now.

It's agonizing every day and, as we fluctuate between these options, we recognize that the mere fact of these choices is a  luxury. Every day we see and live with people who do not have these kinds of options within the country, let alone outside of it. We have had these amazing opportunities to travel and live in another country, with a people very unlike us on the surface, yet so alike in the depths of our humanity. It has truly been a dream come true and, whatever we do next, I hope that is where our memory lingers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


We hired a cook. Her name is Thanh. She prepares dinner for us four days per week, Monday through Thursday. She is friendly and warm, is an excellent cook, brings us flowers every Monday and, lately, has taken to painting Elia's fingernails for her in the neon colors that only an 8-year old can love. For Asher, she makes fresh juice and dessert - this despite the fact that we specifically asked her not to make dessert. Our thinking was that we would spend less money (less take-out) and eat healthier, fresher foods.

I think she's trying to kill us.

After two months, I believe that I can now say, quite easily, that I have NEVER eaten so much fried food in my entire life.  Our stomachs are clenching. our butts are filling out, our pores are oozing. Going through my daily activities, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the smell of french fries. A surreptitious sniff in my general direction confirms that it's me. My stomach is beginning to bulge over my waistline. I am developing a deep disgust of food. Sitting here at the computer, I can hear the oil for the night's dinner sizzling and bubbling, calling out to me from the depths.

My theory involves family genealogy, prior historical conflicts and personal wrongs never righted.

Whatever - I am off to get my cholesterol checked.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Happy No Water Anniversary

In honor of last year's welcome to our new home for which, as you might recall, our running water went out for 22 days (a mere 32 hours after moving in), our water has again stopped working. Almost exactly one year to the day.  But who's counting?!

This time at least we have been back for 3 days. And my mom is here with us to enjoy the experience.

Covering all the bases, the (very kind) guard obviously not on duty in his flip-flops, shorts and casual shirt, who Andrew reported the situation to this morning, came up to check our turn-on valve. We did check that last night. Next, he seems to be telling us that maybe we didn't pay the bill. This is a possibility since we have been gone for a little over 5 weeks. However, it does not explain the reason why there are also other people, on multiple floors, also complaining that their water is not working. Nevertheless, it is good to be thorough.

We can look out the window by the desk and watch the situation from the 8th floor. Five different people now have approached the area where the pumps are, put hands on hips, and stared. One person in very official looking dress of black pants and white shirt, went so far as to take off the "manhole" cover, look down into the hole, put his hands on his hips, and shake his head before putting the lid back on.

Andrew went for a bike ride. Upon his return, there was a person from the apartment complex management company who had a little English. Shaking her finger in his general direction, she says, "You. Wait one hour. "

This is actually better than last year when, for 22 days, we were told that the problem would be fixed in four hours.

Meanwhile, I've been back in Vietnam for 3 days and haven't had a massage yet? Gotta go. I think I remember a shower in that bathroom.....

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Whose crazy, beautiful life is this?!

One problem with not keeping up with the blog is that, upon return, you might find that you are writing about the same themes. I had in mind to call this post "So Lucky". Blast to find that, not only have I already used that title, it was only 2 posts ago!

But, here I sit feeling so very lucky indeed.

We have been home in Oregon for 2 weeks now. All of us are soaking it up as fully as we can in hopes of retaining some essence of home to pull out on the hard days back in Vietnam. The colors and sounds and smells of Oregon zing straight to my heart's home in a way that no other place has yet to do. I long for this feeling of home for my children, while acknowledging that this living-overseas-adventure that we have undertaken, may negate that possibility.

And, it's not so perfect in Oregon either. We have been sleeping on a lot of floors. Asher threw up all over the bathroom on our first day at Cannon Beach. Heated floors - hmmmm. Seems like SUCH a great idea until someone barfs all over them. We sold all our cars before we left and so we feel a little dependent and guilty on the (very present!) generosity of others. Visiting our home in Estacada was lovely. The renters seem fabulous, earnest, and appear to be taking very good care of our place. And, our storage space is infested with mice and their residual droppings. Already, we talk about things like building an apartment into our garage, renting the same beach house every year for at least a week, buying a multi-plex in Portland and leaving one unit unrented so we could set it up as a home base to return to.

We have been gone long enough now, that we are also missing some things about Vietnam. I think and worry about our kittens daily. I can't believe that 2 weeks have passed without seeing or speaking or having dinner with the Thompson-Taoli family. I cannot visit a bookstore without thinking of my doctor-students and wondering both if they are doing their homework (reading a book in English and preparing a Book Talk), and if they might like an Oregon bookmark as a gift. Even on these sunny days, things don't dry here in 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, it is pretty perfect here. We have been blessed with gorgeous summer weather and friends, Rene and David Walker here at the beach. We are all sporting sunburns from days chatting on the deck, riding funcycles on the beach and scanning the near Haystack Rock for nesting puffins. We have been so very generously welcomed into the homes and cars and hearts of friends and family, feeling simultaneously as if we have been gone forever and have actually never left.

I think and hope that we all feel this tremendous gratitude that I am feeling for our life. We get these crazy, weird and beautiful experiences out in the wide world AND get to come home? It's a love-fest for certain.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's getting hotter every day....

Picture the wicked witch, "I'm meeellllttting". Repeat in a high-pitched and screechy voice. Hold that image.

That is me.

It's getting really hot here. So hot, I'm thinking about getting a motorbike. So hot, we get sweaty taking a shower. So hot, the kids are begging to shower (two weeks ago they were whining because we asked them to shower once a week). So hot, I'm seriously thinking about breaking our lease so we can move to a place with a pool. So hot, we have become those people who close all the curtains and hide from the sun all day. So hot, I think I am buying an umbrella to shield myself from the sun. So hot, we go to the pool and lie in the shade.

How quickly we have acclimated. In the 9 months we have been here, we have gone from exposing every possible bare inch of skin (properly protected) to the sun with upturned faces to, well, locals. We don't drink anything without ice in it if we can help it (yes, that DOES include beer), we lounge around indoors between the hours of 10 and 3 (if we don't we need a day to recover), and we are getting to bed later and later as it is only when darkness falls that we want to be outdoors. It might still be hot, but at least the sun is not blazing down.

We are packing our sweaters for home and laughing. After a year of 90 degree days, we will need those sweaters, I am sure, in the cool 70's of NW Oregon.

Ice cream and big hats help keep us cool.

So Lucky

One of my new favorite phrases is "So Lucky". This is a phrase we hear a lot in Vietnam. For white skin, for having a boy and a girl as children, for blue eyes, for the time I crashed on the motorbike and only got a scrape,

My knee post-crash

for an envied new toy, for visitors who are able to come and see us. For some reason, although she seems to be using it more and more, this phrase really bothers our youngest.

I love it.

It's such a good reminder. Maybe not So much for the reasons it is directed at us for.

But - for health (knock on wood), for family and friends near and far,  for Estacada artists and their small works that we were able to pack to remind us that we are never far from home in our hearts. For Skype and Facebook, which are revolutionary in being able to feel connected even when you're half the world away, for renters who pay the rent, for this incredible opportunity which reminds us every day that we are, indeed, so lucky.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Frustrated Scavenger

Those of you who know me, know that I revel in turning someone else's trash into my treasure. Sometimes to the detriment of our garage, it's true.  I have been known to pull over and rescue bits of furniture from the side of the road when they have clearly blown off someone else's load. I have been known to put other people's things in our truck at the dump. I have been known to knock on people's doors to ask their plans for something that has been in their driveway long enough to make it seem like maybe it just needs another home. Mine. At home, in Oregon, three of my favorite pieces of furniture are scavenged- two of them from the side of the road. A little paint, a little effort and Wha-La!

In some ways, Vietnam is a scavenger's paradise. As mentioned in previous posts, everything unwanted goes to the side of the road. Glorious metal bits, perfectly good wood, chairs and pots, broken pottery just waiting for mosaic, bricks, doors, perfectly good baskets, pieces of glass. It's a veritable Rebuilding Center on every street corner. Even in our neighborhood. Even in our apartment building. I am still lamenting the bamboo blinds that our neighbors threw out a few months back. Surely they would have fit some of our windows....

Let me just mention that this is not necessarily a habit that my husband is particularly fond of. Secretly, I think he takes at least a little perverse pleasure in the beauties I create once they are done. That's what I like to think (and I am sticking with it). At the dump, however, he is not so crazy about providing the necessary distraction so that I can grab that "perfectly good fencing" that someone is throwing on the metal recycling pile. On five acres, I could kind of "hide" my finds. A shed here for doors and windows, a garden "ornament" there. My shop for bits and pieces of furniture or interesting wood bits.

In an apartment, it's a little more challenging. We already have a lot of landlord furniture that we don't really want or need. The extra dining room table, complete with 8 chairs, the table acting as a desk of sorts in Asher's room and the chairs scattered around higgledy-piggledy. The hideously ugly TV bench that even I cannot find any redeeming qualities in, now (mostly) covered with the Spanish flag and acting as the battleground for Asher's Playmobile fleet. The monstrous TV that requires two (very) able-bodied people to lift and so, continues to dominate our living room despite our backs being turned to it. Art that just (REALLY) isn't us. Fabric only goes so far. Vietnamese apartment bedrooms rarely come with closets. And, everything in the apartment has been properly inventoried, signed off on, and must be returned in some semblance of the same order in which we received it. We understand that - we have things at home that we left in our house and that we want back some day.

We, actually, are quite a sensation amongst teachers at our school because we do have a storage closet in our apartment. I have created a bench of sorts out of a couple of our extra dining room chairs to hold our luggage in the closet. Most people stack their luggage in a corner, giving rather an air of "I could leave at any time" feeling to the place. We also have three balconies. With the right accoutrements, these spaces could be put to better use. Maybe, could even hide a few finds.

Gotta go - surely there is some shelving out there somewhere.....

If I can just let go of the guilt of taking it away from someone else who might be able to fix it up and sell it for money to feed their family.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I miss Oregon

There are some days when I wonder what we have subjected ourselves to. This would be one of them. Things are fairly well developed here and so we can get in the groove sometimes and forget ourselves. And then, WHAM. Something comes along seemingly for the sole purpose of reminding ourselves that we are foreigners in a foreign land.

Today it's about environment and garbage. Air and food.

First, it is just a fact of life here that there is garbage everywhere. On the streets, on the beach. Here are some photos I took from the beach in Phu Quoc.

We were told before we moved here that everything was recycled. The reality of this is that trash is put out on the street for garbage pickers to go through. The pickers are private people who take bags and carts and bicycles and try to recover items that might be sold. Of course, not everything is wanted. So there are spots where the piles linger. And linger. And linger. And then there are the people who just drop trash as they walk because, the rationale is, someone else will pick it up. Sometimes this is true, sometimes not. And, of course it is the plastics and the styrofoam that linger.

At home, we separate our garbage Oregon style. One, we're in the habit. Two, we don't want the kids to develop the throw-away mentality. Three, we don't want people to have to pick through the muck to get to the good stuff. So we mostly feel ok about our trash. It's still hard to throw away food, however. And the food gets icky fast so we line our trash bin with?? You guessed it - plastic bags. Which are EVERYWHERE here. Where is my compost pile?

And the plastics. Aie. All this garbage ends up somewhere. Too often, it's the ocean. Harming sea life and turtles - my especial totem. Follow this link to read more about ocean trash and what one group is doing to study this problem.

Some days it just all gets to me. The kids and I came home from school today. There was a nice breeze blowing up so I ran around the house opening all the windows to let the cool in. Five minutes later, I ran around closing all the windows. Across the busy road, in a schoolyard, someone was burning plastics. My eyes were burning and my throat itching. I don't want that air.

Then I think about the brand new mall built down the road that we visited recently. I could only stay for about 10 minutes due to the powerful chemical smells from all the off-gassing materials - paints, formaldehydes, plastics. Who are the store clerks? Young people. I made the joke as we departed that I wouldn't want to see their children, IF they are able to have them after chronic exposure to all those estrogenic materials. But it's really not funny. Already, there are generational effects from the US use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam-American war. Low birthrates and high rates of birth defects in areas where use of this chemical were highest.

Then I think about the food we are eating. And my cancer history. And what kind of toxic stew might be brewing in my life and the lives of my children.

Some days it's all I can do to stay in the room.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Memories of My Dad

It has been twelve years since my dad died.  The year 2000 was a big one for me. I sold a house, bought a house with my soon-to-be-husband, got married, got pregnant, started a new job and lost my dad in December.

This year, being without him, feels particularly poignant and fresh. Andrew and I have a friend in Oregon who recently lost her father to cancer and she has been upfront with her process over Facebook so we have been following his diagnosis, sickness, decision to not pursue treatment, his death and her grief.  This, in the same month as my father’s death.

As we are in a different country so this year, we did not have the choice to gather with the family in the same way during the holiday times. Being with the family year after year, in the same way, and at the same time somehow helps to ease the pain of my dad’s loss. Partly because we can see traces of my dad in the faces around us – my brothers and their children reflect different aspects of my dad whether it be looks or personality. We might not always speak of my father, but he is present and vital in the room through our history of him and with him.

I have vivid memories from the first few weeks after my dad’s death. Getting the 9:00 pm phone call from my mom after just climbing into bed from a long day at the hospital. The pit that grew so deep that sound could not be found. Throwing on my sweats to go pick up my mom so we could return to the hospital. All of us in his room at the ICU holding hands around my father’s bedside, me, my brothers, my mom, Uncle Bob and Aunt Jenny, Uncle Mike (who had just become my father’s last remaining brother), and my cousin Jimmy, whom I loved dearly as a child, but did not immediately recognize in the hospital waiting room as we gathered to pay our last respects. Writing a good-bye letter to my dad that I put it his pocket before his cremation. The viewing where I, after a long and solid history of running from rooms where dead people gathered, telling my brother that I wasn’t ready to leave my dad and my oldest brother joking that we could throw dad in the back of his pickup and we could run until I was ready to let him go. Laughing so hard at that vision, but knowing the truth that I might never be ready to let him go.

The first week after the funeral, driving out of the Fred Meyer parking lot behind a little old lady (86 if she was a day!), who could barely see over the steering wheel, had a cigarette hanging off her lip and was going about 15 mph in a 40 mph zone, and the rage that came over me in a second. I wanted to ram into the back of her car because HOW DARE SHE (still be living)?!  When my dad was not. Having to pull over until the rage subsided.

Driving away from the hospital after an ultrasound where I had found out that Asher was going to be a boy. I had called Andrew and my mother and, as I was driving, I was thinking of who else I could call. “Dad!” Pulling over to dial my dad’s number and only on the first ring remembering that he would not be there to answer.
Going home after planning burial arrangements and burying my face into my dog, Finnegan’s fur. The week before my dad’s death, I had shown up at his house with Finnegan after a trip to the vet where Finnegan was diagnosed with terminal cancer. A week or two the vet said, maybe a month. A week or two later, Finnegan was still here (she would stay with me until two days after Asher’s birth in April) and my dad was gone.

There are people in our lives that we will never be ready to let go of. And, yet, let go of them we must. We get little practices along the way. We go to camp, we go to college, we move out of our parent’s house, we choose different ways of life that make it harder to understand each other, we get married, we have children (and it starts over again), our children go off to school, we move out of the state, or to a different country. We get to practice, but that doesn’t mean we will ever be ready.