Sunday, 28 February 2016

1001 frustrations - good for the soul

The scene: me, sitting at a child's play table in our sunroom with two of my kids. The sun streams in through tall (dusty) windows as we sip tea from tiny cups. Then Kayla, 6, leans over towards me and intently studies something under my chin.

"Mum, do you know on TV there's a thing you can buy and put on your face and neck that makes wrinkles go away?"

Well gee, thanks. I'm speechless. I smile and say lightly, "I know, but it can't make ALL my wrinkles go away." And underneath there's a quiet internal conversation - yeah, even my kids can see it. I'm getting old!

Ok. I'm not quite halfway through a century yet, but I do feel I've aged years in the past 6 months. Or maybe the past 18 months.

And one thing I've learned in those 18 months is this: living the dream isn’t always what you expect it to be!

In September 2014 we moved to Thailand and I pretty much abandoned this blog. Getting our dream off the ground was all-consuming! Filling out visa paperwork, researching foreign school options and tracking down cheap flights all took time … but packing up 14 years’ worth of married life and kids was the hardest of all. We packed for what seemed like months - until the final night, when we crashed for a few hours of sleep in beds bare of sheets or pillows and woke at 4a.m. for the ride to the airport.

It was so surreal after 14 years of dreaming and questioning to finally ride the elevator up to the security gate with our kids and set out on that great adventure.

Settling in for the flight to Bangkok

And it was a great adventure. Don’t get me wrong. But it was so different to what I’d expected!

I first moved to Thailand back in 1998 to volunteer with a charity there. I came to love the people I rubbed shoulders with every day. Many had spent time in prison or suffered torture for their beliefs. I felt humble to be there alongside spiritual giants who took all this in their stride and refused to compromise.

One year in,  I met my now-husband Charles, who had volunteered on and off with the same organisation for a long time. He figured out on a team trip to Cambodia that I was the One. With my determination to be single for life, it took me a little longer! But in April 2000, I left Thailand to spend the summer with Charles' family in Ireland, and we headed back to New Zealand in late August for our September wedding. Then it was back to Ireland and a long stretch of wondering will we, won’t we, move back to Bangkok?

So arriving in the hot, steamy melee of Suvannabhum airport in Sept 2015 was beyond amazing. Amazing to walk out into the hub-bub of taxi drivers and vans and know there were friendly faces waiting there. Amazing to watch our kids gazing out the windows and remember our own awe the first time we drove through mile upon mile of high-rise buildings, signs in hieroglyphic Thai, flashing billboards and Dr Seuss-like concrete highways streaming over and under each other.

An hour or so later we reached our temporary accommodation - the far-from-luxury but totally adequate Rompo Mansion, just off Rama IV Road. And the next day we walked to the office and celebrated!

Kayla in the bus queue for IKEA

Within two weeks we found our new home - a clean and sunny two-bedroom apartment not far from the office with easy access to public transport. But - oops - sunny in Bangkok was a BAD idea. After moving in we found the lovely big plate of glass facing out onto the main road was a sun trap for most of the day, meaning temperatures hovered around 34C in the apartment even with the air-conditioning on at full blast.

Also, the narrow balcony outside our bedroom had an open metal railing - meaning Thea could easily slip through and sail down 28 floors to the ground below. And it almost happened - once! I went to get laundry from the bathroom and came out to find her halfway up the rails, leaning over to take in the view :-(.

View from our balcony, 28 floors up

We quickly realised homeschool in the apartment wasn’t an option - too isolating and waaaaay too hot. So the office kindly cleared a space for us so we could be part of the everyday goings-on and still get the schoolwork done. That was a huge improvement, but it meant hailing a taxi every morning - tricky as not every cab driver wants 2 adults, 3 kids and a collapsible buggy plus various bags and sacks containing schoolbooks, toys and the makings of dinner! Then in the afternoon we had a hot 20-minute walk, 20-minute public transport, 15-minute hike back home with Thea in the buggy, through swirling crowds of people in rush hour traffic.

Hubby and I love Thai food. Traveling alone, we’d always opted for street food. We thought we’d never have to cook in Bangkok - and in fact most Thai apartments don’t have kitchens! But when Thea got sick from bugs in the street food we had to revert to plan B. The girls in the office bought us a counter-top oven and I headed off to the wet market once a week with 2 enormous shopping bags.

Thea - sick for most of the first 3 months of our stay

Buying at the wet market - named after ice melting through wooden slats throughout the market - did have one advantage - you knew everything was as fresh as it gets! The bits and pieces of animals available had all been alive earlier that morning. In fact most of the fish, chickens, ducks and frogs were still leaping and clucking. Just take your pick, baby! Fruit and vegetables were freshly harvested and so much cheaper than the supermarkets. All good, bar the hassle of lugging those heavy bags out to the front entrance and hailing yet another taxi.

Frogs for lunch, anyone?

Cooking Thai-style also proved to be a challenge. In 1998 I lived above the office and ate on the street every day. I had never cooked in Thailand before! Sure, I’d cooked 'Thai' food in our well equipped kitchen back in Ireland. But in Thailand we relied on a handful of kitchen bits gathered on a day-long family trek to IKEA, involving multiple bus and taxi rides and the piling of purchases on top of our baby buggy, raising a few eyebrows on the way home! In this way we acquired pots, a wok, cutlery, plates, a bathroom stool, folding chair, clothes hangers, two clothes-airers, a rubbish bin, clothes hamper and bathmat. Applause accepted :-).

After IKEA - ready for the bus home!

Looking back, I can see how the excitement of those early days kept us sane through the initial challenges. We were just so glad to finally BE there, living the dream, that nothing else mattered.

Things did get harder after that - leading to the title of this blog post!! - and harder still since coming home last September. More to come in the next few posts. And I don't mean to imply that there weren't GOOD aspects to our year in Bangkok - there were plenty! For now, my point is that the hard work of dreaming doesn't finish once you 'get there'!

Both the frustrations of waiting AND of working out our dreams once we 'get there' are painful but good for the soul - because they clarify what we really want at heart, and why we need to continue the pursuit.

Hubby and I are working through some of these issues right now. We left Bangkok in Sept 2015 thinking we’d be here in Ireland for just a month or two before returning. But due to a completely unexpected (and painful) event soon after we arrived home, we’ve decided it’s best to stay in Ireland for now. We don’t know what the future holds, but the immediate priority is to rest, recover and wait for clarity.

It’s been an interesting ride, and it’s not over yet!

In the meantime, I’ve been feeling the need for symbols to keep my hope alive. I'm craving LIFE - big, crazy life - direction and purpose - and beauty around me to drown out the sadness of these last 6 months.

With all the uncertainty since coming home, the house has felt a bit like a way station. At first we unpacked just the bare essentials. As time went by, more and more things came out of the attic. Yet even now that we're here 'for a while', I still feel unsettled.

I’ve been admiring some beautiful hand-painted rice bowls appearing here and there on the internet. Something about them just makes me happy.

So I did something a little crazy - crazy because these things aren't life-essential and we're a little short on money right now! I ordered a few and put them in a kitchen cupboard, just above our drinking glasses, so that every time I reach up they put a smile on my face. These bowls are a reminder of Asia, and a reminder that life is filled with endless possibilities for creativity, beauty, joy, meaning and purpose. Right now they are oxygen for my soul!

Symbols of hope

Next post: Stories from the frontline :-)

1 comment:

  1. A huge thank you also to the people who've checked in on this blog over the past 18 months hoping for more content - you've helped me believe that this blog is also worth pursuing!