Friday, September 28, 2007

Same Same . . . but Different

There is a phrase that pops up in Southeast Asia, "Same same." Really this means, "It's the same" - why they repeat it I can't figure. What I've learned though is that what seems the same to shopkeepers here is not the same to me.

For example, I tried to buy paint the other day at a new store. I had this beautiful light slate blue picked out called "November Sky" from a Nippon paint book. When I asked the woman for it, her response was, "Special order. You choose something else" and proceeded to pick up another paint book, open to a random page, and point to the first blue she saw.

"But that's not the same color," I said.
"Yes! Can! Same same!"
"No, that's not the same color."
"Yes, same same."

We went through this ritual a few times, her selecting other blues for me while I insisted they were not November Sky or even close. And I had to think, "Does she really not see the difference, or does she think I don't care enough?" I mean, if you're going to call all blues the same, why have other options?

It happened again later at the clothing store. I was looking for some 5T shorts for Megan. I found some size 7 shorts and asked the shopkeeper if she had other sizes.
"This one finish already. Only small sizes. Have 3T."
"So you don't have any 5T?"
"Have 3T" while offering them to me. I declined. This is something I still fail to understand, even after 8 years after in Asia. There are things like this that used to bother me until I understood the reasoning behind them. If someone has some insight I'd appreciate it. Meanwhile, I'm still looking for November Sky.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Singaporeans really do speak English

I was surprised this summer to discover how difficult it was convincing people that Singaporeans speak English. And when I say they speak English, I don't mean in the way that you could go to say, Germany, and find that people there speak English. I mean they speak English in the same way that you go to the United States and people speak English. Yes, other languages are spoken - in some parts more than in others - just like in the U.S. And that is as should be - here, and in the U.S. too (I've got a bit of a gripe against people who think it's wrong that more and more people in the U.S. speak Spanish). But English is the primary operating language.

I've done a little observing the past few days of signs and conversations. While it's not uncommon to hear languages other than English spoken here, every sign I saw was in English. Occasionally it was also in another language, but if you don't speak English here, you'd have a tough time. I often encounter the clerk speaking Mandarin to the person in front of me, then switching to English for my sake. I even saw a young Indian girl speaking Mandarin with the older gentleman before me yesterday which I thought was unusual. She must have learned it in school.

I've heard from Singaporean friends that the government has gone through phases regarding what it encourages its citizens to speak. So depending on the generation, there are some who speak primarily Mandarin or some other Chinese dialect. Case in point - the elderly lady who helped me tonight at McDonald's. It became clear to me that we would have been better off speaking Mandarin, but my McDonald's vocabulary is rusty. At other times, people have been encouraged only to speak English. Now I believe the trend is to remain bilingual, or even trilingual if possible.

I feel like this is the 10th post I've written about language here. I hope I've made it clear - no, I'm not keeping up my Mandarin here (though I am going to brush up on my fast food vocab) and, aside from different accents, we're all speaking English.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Where I Am

Every Christian I know says they want to be spiritually mature. I know I do. I just want it without the hardship. Unfortunately, that's just not how it works.

I'm listening right now to Rich Mullins' "Where You Are" (Rich Mullins is a great comfort in times of trial). "And where you are ain't where you wish that you was - your life ain't easy and the road is rough - but where you are is where He promised to be - from the ends of the world to every point of need." There are so many reasons to rejoice in where we are, but things have changed - primarily in regard to our friendships and community - and it isn't the way I'd choose for it to be. But the theme of my life since coming to Singapore has been "dependence" - God slowly stripping away the things that I depend on besides Him. I thought He'd done a pretty good job up to this point, but coming back just feels like He said, "Nope, not enough - we're going to have to take this away too." I was talking with some friends the other day about how ruthless God can be to prune us from all the hinders us from knowing and relying on Him. He is relentless, but He is good. So while I grieve the loss of the way life was, I am strangely thrilled to see what comes of this. I am excited for the opportunity to trust Him more, to see how He provides, how He "satisfies our needs in a sun-scorched land" (Isaiah 58:11).

As difficult as this time has felt to me, I am convicted of my obvious addiction to comfort. I spent some time reading a magazine for missionary women recently, and considering their situations, (living in jungles without any modern conveniences, far away from other women who speak their language, no phones, no internet) I realized that I am fairly weak when it comes to "suffering." Not to diminish how I feel, but it puts perspective on my life. Am I really going to complain when I have SO much? It was a good reminder to choose to focus my attention on the blessings I have, not the things I am called to do without right now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Set to Music

Playing Dora Go Fish is fun. Playing Dora Go Fish by yourself probably isn't as much fun. But playing Dora Go Fish by yourself while singing about it to the tune of Sing to My Lou is entertainment for a good long time. Or at least it was for Megan this morning.

Monday, September 17, 2007

32 Hours In

We have been in Singapore for 32 hours, and many of the boxes are unpacked. (Erik and I hate leaving them so we dive right in after every trip). The kids are rediscovering their toys, although right now using all the empty boxes to built a giant fort is the coolest thing ever to them. I am staring at this new place wondering how long it will take to feel like it is my home, and trying in vain to rid it of the mothball/musty smell. It reminds me a little of the cabin we went to when I was growing up, but without all the fun memories.

Of course 6 hours after arriving I went to Mustafa. I think the clerks who helped me were a bit amazed at how much I bought, but I'll never really know unless I take it upon myself to learn Tamil.

When I left and passed the street I normally take to go back home, I was terribly sad. Then I remembered how several of our good friends left in the spring, and I was struck with how much adjusting this new chapter will involve. So much of me wants to go back to life as it was, but this is where God has us, what He has given us, and I will rejoice in it.

Frequent Fliers

You know how they say you should get to the airport 2 hours before an international flight? Actually, it might even be 3 hours now. We've always thought that was a little silly. We were wrong. We arrived at the airport at 7:45 a.m. for our 9:30 flight. We walked onto the plane at 9:27. Along the way, we were foiled by: the new curbside check-in rule that doesn't allow international check-ins, the cancelled United flight and subsequent 100 people in front of us in line, our 9 bags which magically all weighed either exactly 50 pounds or 1/2 pound over (except the one we intentionally overpacked) the 200 people going through security, and the suspicious looking bag of craisins in Ethan's backpack.

And then we waited on the runway for an hour, because it's more exciting to make connecting flights when you have less time.

We waited for about 5 minutes in Chicago to board our next flight which we assumed was going to Tokyo. Sad to admit, I was looking forward to the selection of movies on the plane. United's in flight entertainment isn't up to Northwest's, as Ethan will be quick to tell you, but at least you have some choices. Or should I say, normally you do? No individual viewing screens on this flight, which caused Ethan some moments of intense grief. On top of that, our headsets didn't work and the screen was messed up so it was like watching a negative of something. Good thing we brought books.

About an hour into the flight, Erik and I had this conversation:
"Hey, I thought we were going through Toyko."
(Erik) "We are."
"Well, why do they keep talking about Hong Kong?"
"We get off in Toyko and this plane goes on to Hong Kong."
(Me, pause.) "Then why are they passing out arrival cards for Hong Kong?"
(Erik, pause.) "Yeah, um, I guess we're going to Hong Kong."
Well, we knew we were on the right flight obviously, but now we had to make the mental shift to a 15 hour flight instead of 12. Partway through I became so overwhelmed by the idea that I would be on a plane that long that I considered freaking out and demanding that they land the plane. Then I thought better of it because something like that would be known around the world and I would be forever shamed. That was 8 1/2 hours in. We had 6 1/2 to go.

Why not sleep, you ask? Ah, well, I am genetically programmed to only sleep horizontally in a comfortable, quiet, and dark environment. That's why I would like to fly Air Force One, so I can sleep in that big bed they show in the movies about it.

No flight to or from Asia would be complete without at least one American male who tries to teach someone else Mandarin in a cringe inducing, toneless way. We got that out of the way during our layover in Hong Kong.

All of our luggage arrived safely, we piled into a Maxicab (a large taxi here that they really need to rename) and drove to our new apartment. Our friends had pulled out bedding for us and stocked our fridge a bit so we could just drop into bed, another 6,000 miles logged.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fun with Uncle Christopher

One of the easiest toys to operate is an uncle. This one comes specially equipped with various noises and impressions sure to delight children and adults alike. This skill is employed well when reading aloud to children (as demonstrated here doing the voice of Scooby Doo to perfection). His above average intelligence combined with his off beat sense of humor results in quick wit and clever tales that will never be doubted by children, though they should be. He is also physically strong enough to bear the weight of several children and willing to be used as a jungle gym at any time. Unfortunately, this model is not portable and will have to remain in the U.S., much to our disappointment.

Just plain cute

How willingly do you think these two dogs posed for this picture? (Yes, I realize the dog on the right looks more lik a carpet - she's since lost about 5 pounds of fur). The kids love the dogs at my parent's house, but the love is not mutual.

Another Joyous Reunion

Ethan once said of his friend Jackson, "Mommy, you know my friend Jackson? God gave him to me, to be my friend." Jackson and Ethan have known each other since the day Ethan was born and despite the miles between them, Ethan still claims Jackson as his best friend. Megan says the same about Jackson's sister Emma. In fact, we just love their whole family! They lived near us for our first five years in Asia - our best times of true community have been with them, doing life together and having a great time.

The kids haven't seen each other for a year and a half, but when the boys first saw each other on Tuesday, they shouted each others' names and ran for a huge hug. The girls were a little more hesitant, but within a few minutes they were back to old times. I thought I'd show another old/new comparison like I did with Ethan and Ellee. The first picture was taken in April 2004 before we moved to Singapore, when the boys were 4 and the girls were 2. The kids are already asking, "When can we see them again?"

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Got milk?

Last night at the dinner table, Ethan pointed at his biceps and said, "I've been working on these!" It seems my encouragement to the kids to eat and drink various things because of their nutritional benefits is paying off, although he's confused bones with muscles. He thinks that all the milk he drinks is making him very strong. We often catch Megan taking a drink of her milk and then checking out her bicep, like she can see it grow. If only it were that simple.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Summer Highlights

As our return approaches, I've been thinking about our three months here and what we enjoyed the most. If you ask the kids, they say, "Fishing, candy parades (meaning the fact that they walk away with a bucket of candy from each parade), playing with the dogs, and spending time with their friends Dawson, Abby, and Ben, in Colorado."

For me, the highlight was not just spending time with friends and family, but spending enough time with them that I have been able to learn lots of little things I can't learn over the phone, or from any amount of consistent communication. For example, a few weeks ago I took my sister to buy a new party dress. Having been with her, I knew exactly what kind of necklace would match the dress so I bought it for her birthday. It's this kind of personal knowledge that I will miss.

In addition, we particularly enjoyed: sliding down snowy hills in Colorado, Como Zoo, the Children's Museum, Stillwater bed and breakfast, the Ryghs, the Schmidts, Cordillera Reunion, visiting grandma and grandpa Brenna, mine, quarry and cave tours, waterskiing in upper Michigan, and of course relearning our Minnesota accents (dontcha knOw?)

Saturday, September 08, 2007


I confess, Facebook to me represents the worst kind of relationships - shallow, faceless, and time-sucking. I have never seen the appeal, yet here I am with a Facebook page.

I opened a Facebook page purely because one guy in particular whom Erik and I haven't seen asked us to be his friend. I found that I couldn't see his page without making my own so I did. I had very little intention of doing anything with it. I find it's enough to keep up my blog and regular normal communication with people. So I had made the decision recently to close the page and be done with it.

Then a few days ago, a friend of mine invited me to join a group she's making of the women in our Bible study in Singapore. Suddenly I've been receiving emails from people asking me to be their friends, so I felt compelled to spice up my page a bit so they wouldn't go to it and see nothing. Now, I'm sorely tempted to put pictures on it and other fancy stuff. Technology, what have you done to me?! Sigh.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Finding Me

Having a bit more free time this summer, I've taken advantage of it to do a little self-discovery. Every couple weeks I hit the library and check out old issues of magazines that strike my fancy, then write down or photocopy pages that are of interest (is that illegal? I plead ignorance). I've started a book that is a collection of who I am and who I want to be. Two of the themes that have come out are that I would describe my life as "creative order." I like things simple and organized, but I like my life to express who I am in the midst of that, to express something unique and personal.

Second, I have discovered that I want to be more brave. I suppose the choices I've made in life, like living overseas for eight years, having babies in China, etc. etc. might suggest that I am already brave, but the truth is I'm not. This has come to mind particularly this summer as we've got a little girl in our family who is quite shy. When we were in Vermont, she went to the day camp for two days and did not want to go. She kept saying she was too scared. We told her being brave doesn't mean you're never scared - you just choose to do what you fear, and when you do, you become a little more brave for the next time. Hmm . . . good advice Gina.

So I have tried to seek moments of being brave this summer, opportunities to live the way I want to live, uncensored by me or anyone else. It feels good. One of those times was in Vermont, on our Segway tour. I am not a good downhill skier because I have too much fear of the potential pain of falling, and I hate going so fast I feel out of control. Although the Segway only goes a breakneck 12 miles per hour, it was a step for me to trust that machine and go off roading in it. But what a rush! At one point when we were at the top of the ski hill, our guide said, "Ok, we're going to go down this hill now" on a rocky path. I took a deep breath and plunged in. So yay - look at me. I'm growing.

Enjoying the States

In our three months here in the States, we have managed to spend time in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Ohio and Vermont. Granted, Ohio was only the airport, but we've made our rounds. We still haven't been able to convince the kids that all of these places are part of America, but they're learning. We just got back from spending a week in Vermont at Smuggler's Notch (which, if you're looking for a family ski vacation is THE place to go - right by Stowe). Vermont is unspeakably beautiful and our time there was a little cooler than usual. We filled our days with hiking, mini-golf, swimming (when we could!), geocaching, a side trip to the Rock of Ages granite quarry, and even a Segway tour (more on that lady).

The best part of this little jaunt was that we were joined by Erik's two aunts and uncles on his dad's side, as well as his parents and brother. It was fun to get to know this side of the family better, and to learn geocaching from his aunt and uncle (we're hooked!). I had a wonderful morning hiking up one of the ski hills by myself to see a panoramic view of the green Vermont countryside.

Now back in Minnesota for our last week, we are looking ahead at temperatures in the low to mid-60's until we leave. It's hard to believe I normally live in a place with constant temperatures that has never seen the underside of 70 degrees (except inside). In fact, we've had so much fun here I believe I could stay forever. I'm not looking forward to going back to a new apartment full of boxes, in need of paint, and far from our friends. So I'm going to enjoy every last minute we have here.