Good things come to those who wait

Will they ever get used?

Will they ever get used?

When deciding on our next family adventure and weighing up the options, the children’s opinions obviously always mattered and were going to play a big part in our decision making. When going to the UK became a serious option it was obvious that this was a popular choice for both my two oldest kids for a number of reasons and top of that list of reasons was that they really wanted to see, feel and enjoy snow.  For the last 2 months I have been telling them both that snow is unlikely and that it may only happen once a year if that.  They all got a plastic sledge each from Santa (grandma) for Christmas, wrapped up in black bin bags (Santa doesn’t seem to do large wrapping paper?), and momentarily used on the living room floor as they tried to imagine what it would be like to use them but not knowing when.  Little did we all know that they would be in full action less than from 48 hours from then.

It's real snow!

It’s real snow!

We were driving back from the sales as the light was fading late on the 26th. In the car headlights large flakes of snow began to glide through the beams and we all shouted out that it was snowing!  It got denser as we drove home, a lot like going into ‘hyper-drive‘ on the Millennium Falcon (apparently).  The kids were desperate to get outside and to feel the snow and as soon as we parked up the car they pulled on their winter coats and dived into grandma’s backyard to adsorb the new experience.

One happy snowman

One happy snowman

I explained to the kids (and my wife, who was just as excited) that the snow may not last for long and can soon thaw and turn to a brown slush, especially if it rains overnight. Even though it was now night time we decided to make the most of the opportunity and had our first family snowball fight, making sure a few snowballs also found their way through grandma’s front door at the same time!  The snow was settling and the conditions perfect to build a snowman.  I showed Jonah how to start with a small lump of snow at the top of the road and then roll it down the hill, “this is perfect rolling snow Jonah” – constantly flipping it over as it increased in size and trying to maintain a rounded shape.  I worked on his body and Jonah made his first ever snowman head.  We added some small stones for eyes, his mouth and buttons, and of course gave him a carrot for his nose.  The garden bush was hacked for some arms and a forgiving grandma donated an old scarf and hat for him to wear. The finishing touch was an empty can of Guinness which had helped keep dad warm through the activity and we both thought the snowman would appreciate (the idea of) it – hence his larger than life smile, he had waited a long time.

Even a snowman needs a friend

Even a snowman needs a friend

Before going back indoors and facing the not so pleasurable new experience of very cold toes and feet meeting a hot steaming bath, we decided to leave the snowman with a small friend to keep him company throughout the night.  Pleased with our spontaneous fun and achievements in the snow, we looked forward to a content sleep – the type you always seem to have after being active outdoors and in challenging weather conditions.  The only concern on the kid’s minds was if the snowmen would still be there in the morning.  They peeked out of the upstairs bedroom window every time they passed it informing the household “the snowmen are still there!

They're still there dad!

They’re still there dad!

Is there anything better than waking up to find the world covered in a crisp blanket of dazzling snow with clear blue skies and a sparkling winter sun?  Seeing your two special snowmen friends smiling up at you and coaxing you out to play?  Knowing there are three brand new shiny plastic sledges in the shed that are going to be christened today?  Plastic bags in between double layers of socks, thermos flasks filled and rations packed away, we are all ready for a full day of family sledging for the first time. There can’t be many better days than this, they are definitely worth the wait.

A Christmas Gift

waiting

waiting

A picture tells a thousand words.

It is never easy being away from loved ones, especially when unexpected and for reasons that seem unfair.  It makes you think how many thousands and probably millions of families will not be together around the world this Christmas.  Some possibly never reunited again for reasons out of their control.

airport hugs

airport hugs

One of my colleagues took an assembly yesterday and reminisced about his outlook on Christmas as a young man (many) years ago.  It was a touching story that was based around the fact his father for 12 years always invited an elderly, widowed neighbour around for Christmas Day.  He and his brother resented this as they always missed out on watching the Christmas movie they had looked forward to for weeks since scanning through the Radio Times delivered at the start of December – the example given on this occasion being the Star Wars movie: The Empire Strikes Back.  When this elderly lady died their father was left a letter in her will acknowledging the kindness and importance of that one day of each year to her. For 12 years – the thing she had most looked forward to was being with his wife and children and spending time with them on Christmas Day.  My colleague concluded his assembly by telling our Year 7, 8 and 9 students that that message had totally changed his outlook on Christmas and what a real gift should be all about at this time of the year.

 

What shall we do today?

Can we ride on the beach in England dad?

Can we ride on the beach in England dad?

Last weekend as I was compiling my list of important things to do I set myself a back-up target of getting the bikes out (now arrived safely with 90 other plus boxes) and reassembled ready for an unlikely family bike ride in the next 6 months or so.  To be fair though the weather has been great since returning home and although the temperature is obviously a lot colder we have seen and enjoyed plenty of sunshine and such was the case the Sunday just gone.

The Ribble salt marshes

The Ribble salt marshes

As soon as the bikes were ready the kids were on them like a flash, woolly hats over their helmets!  They had obviously missed their bikes the last 6 weeks and I hadn’t realised how much.  They were out in the back street riding up and down and amazed at the lack of sweat being generated but anxious to pull their sleeves down over their quickly numbing fingers.  Provocatively I suggested that we go for a bike ride and much to my surprise they both agreed.  So we set off across two busy roads (another novelty to them getting off their bikes and pushing them across a road) and onto the promenade at St. Annes thinking we could ride along the beach but soon realised nobody else was and that push bikes and soft English sand don’t work too well together.  So we pushed our bikes back up to the main promenade and decided to take on the pedestrians heading towards Lytham with the sun shining on our faces.

The Lytham St. Annes spitfire

The Lytham St. Annes spitfire

Sometimes you (well I do) think things are not worth the hassle and it is easier to keep things simple.  Unpack the bikes in the summer, leave them in the garage and worry about fixing them then when they will be most needed.  Do the shopping today, clean the house, get the kids homework done and put them in front of the TV.  How many times do we fall into that trap and what are we missing out on?  The last Sunday in November and it was an amazing afternoon to be out on our bikes, in fact everyone seemed to be out and it was great weaving in and out of people walking off their Sunday roasts. We made a point of saying ‘hello’ to our new neighbours as we passed them and a ‘thank you’ for making way at the same time taking in the new sights and points of interest of our new home, community and environment.

Not as hot as Thailand but still need a rest

Not as hot as Thailand but still need a rest

The Lytham Windmill

The Lytham Windmill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story of Stuff to-do-list

The Story of Stuff to-do-list

One of my favourite Tweets that I read and decided to re-tweet this week was from The Story of Stuff a website that I have actually written about before. What I love about this Tweet is the simplicity of the to-do-list but the effectiveness of how powerful the outcomes are from doing it.  We sometimes take these activities, opportunities and outcomes for granted and almost always, from my experience, gain and discover a lot more (the value-added) than we ever imagined by getting up and outdoors and doing them.  A 10km bike ride got nowhere near my original to-do-list last weekend let alone at the top up amongst: Tesco shop, clean the bathrooms, find the bathroom scales in the shipping boxes, research electricity provider rates, Christmas decorations, etc… but I am so glad that impulse plus a bit of sunshine found a way and that I was reminded of the important things to be included at the top of any to-do-list.

Good Old School Dinners

Fish 'n' Chips

Fish ‘n’ Chips

It has now been over 2 weeks since we arrived in the UK and I have now been in my new job for a full week and only just found time to reflect and put some words into a short post for the website.  Of course I have plenty of things to write about but I want to keep this one simple and about being back ‘home’ in the UK and the initial process of reconnecting with the UK education system – something I fully intend to take maximum advantage of and to feedback on over time.

Jam Sponge and Custard

Jam Sponge and Custard

It has been a very frenetic week meeting many new people and trying to puzzle together where and how they all fit within the complexities of a school organisation.  It is very tempting to dive straight in and to commit or give input to every request or idea that comes your way as you meet people and want to give a positive first impression.  You have to be realistic though and take a step back – observe and listen and build up as accurate a big picture as possible of how you and your role can be most effective and successful in the short and longer term without making too many mistakes.

A Friday smile

A Friday smile

It is times like this in your life and career that you look for constants, things that you are sure about and that reassure you however small they may be.  They guide you through the unknown and they are there for you to anchor your trust and confidence onto to. Today, when I walked into the school canteen for lunch (the food has been great all week by the way and making the need for exercise more urgent!) my senses detected that familiar smell of fish and chips, proper English fish and chips served on a Friday and with mushy peas.  I loaded up my tray and walked down the serving station thinking this could not get any better – but it could, there it was steaming hot jam sponge and custard staring right up at me, taking me all the way back to my secondary school days.  I said a heartfelt thanks to Sharon the chef at the same time expressing my delight for this nostalgic treat and she in return gave me the biggest end of the week smile, as if to say well done – you deserve it.  I hope I did.

One Man and a Piano

Expressing the artist in you

Expressing the artist in you

I was at the airport again today and had the pleasure to listen to a young man playing one of those ‘play me’ pianos in the public waiting area.  We had sat down to eat our packed lunch and placed ourselves next to the piano and talented pianist to enjoy the music whilst we ate.

Play me

Play me

Zoe immediately took her sandwich over to the piano and had a good look at what the man was doing.  She even started to move to the hypnotic tones of the jazz tunes being played.  I watched and wondered who first thought of this idea of placing pianos in public places for anyone to play?  The more I thought about it the more I loved the concept and continued watching to see what impact our pianist would have on other strangers in the waiting hall.

 

An American admirer

An American admirer

As I watched and also monitored Zoe, making sure that her busy fingers didn’t add any unwanted notes to a potential masterpiece, an American lady sidled up to the pianist and introduced herself.  She was quite animated and confident in her approach, immediately acknowledging the skills and passion of our pianist.  They struck up a common theme and chatted for a while, name cards were even swapped.  Meanwhile my oldest son had joined Zoe and the two of them had commandeered the piano as the two strangers were making plans.  I continued watching them talk at the same time cringing at the dreadful din being bashed out on the piano by Zoe and Jonah thinking I must intervene soon and save everyone from the terrible noise. Luckily the American lady suddenly shot off and the pianist re-focused his attention on the piano and set about on my two.

Twinkle Twinkle number

Twinkle Twinkle number

He asked them if they could play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and to my surprise Jonah started to play the favourite nursery rhyme. The pianist motioned Jonah to play a few octaves higher and then started to accompany him with a funky jazz bass version.  Suddenly my son was playing a Twinkle Twinkle duet with a random stranger and making heads turn in one of the busiest airport terminals in the world.

Patrick and a piano

Patrick and a piano

Isn’t it amazing how music and artistic expression and enthusiasm connects people. We only planned to be in the airport for a short while and never imagined meeting someone like Patrick – how do you plan for something like that – you don’t (but always look out for the opportunities).  I asked Patrick where he was going and what time his flight was.  He told me he wasn’t going anywhere, so I asked him if he was on his work break and if he did this everyday when he had the chance.  He said no, and that he had just seen his Japanese friend off and decided to hang around and the play piano for a couple hours.  We said a big thank you and good bye to Patrick and wished him all the best with his future plans (he is starting a film business).  We walked out of Heathrow Airport for the second time in one week but this time refreshed from the positiveness of personal connectivity and social interaction and privileged that we had met Patrick, the piano player.

If I do not see you again, hello

Take time to say hello - S. Bruce-Lockhart

Take time to say hello – S. Bruce-Lockhart

We hear it all the time, the world is changing rapidly and we have to be prepared to adapt to that change.  Education is (should be) all about preparing our future leaders for change and to be able to not only cope with change but to be the change-makers themselves by having the relevant life skills and confidence to use them.  You can never be 100% sure what is going to happen and therefore that temptation into a comfort zone is potentially a dangerous place to be found in for too long.  Many people have asked us why we are leaving Thailand; leaving our home, leaving jobs that we both loved, leaving ‘paradise’?  Of course it was a big and courageous decision to make but one that we have never regretted since making it back in late 2013.  We knew it was the right time for a change and we were prepared to take on the unknown factors that this change would throw our way and to learn from them.  Deep down we always knew the hardest factor would be saying goodbye, something I have never really been particularly good at.  I like to think I will always see people again and continue where we left off but maybe that is just dodging the truth and taking the easy way out of a hard goodbye.  I follow the blog of a well respected and experienced headmaster of a Round Square school in Canada, Mr. Simon Bruce-Lockhart, and really enjoyed reading one of his posts in particular regarding saying goodbye – the post is titled: Take Time to Say Goodbye.  

People handle goodbyes in many different ways and approach it with different attitudes, sometime gifts are exchanged as a sentimental representation of time spent together or as a message to take with you into your next adventure.

A sentimental suitcase

A sentimental suitcase

When I left the UK in August 1999 I was given a brand new suitcase by my friends with whom I had played local village cricket with for many years.  It was a complete surprise to me that these ‘lads’ had put some thought into a gift which I had never expected from them.  15 years ago it was a top of the range suitcase and perfect for packing my few possessions to take with me to Thailand for the next two years.  The sentimental feelings are just as strong as I pack it full of family possessions for our return trip to the UK tomorrow.  It has served me well and I am pleased it is coming home with us.

Not in the UK!

Not in the UK!

I have found it interesting how attached I have become to some of the material things that we have owned.  Part of this transition process has meant selling our cars and of course leaving our family home.  I am not really a car person but have had a couple of (brief) sentimental moments when finally handing both cars over to their new owners and realising that there will be no more family adventures in them.  Thousands of kilometers of nursery rhyme CDs, playing eye spy, making up awful jokes, tantrums, arguments, tears and laughter all confined in a metallic cube – gone!  It’s not like I am ever going to own a pick-up in the UK – and let the kids ride in the back is it?

The power of a stone (next to our zebra - which we are leaving behind!)

The power of a stone (next to our zebra – which we are leaving behind!)

As a teacher I always tell my students (when they ask me) that I don’t have favourites – but if I did have a favourite class then the class I taught Geography through Year 7 to Year 11 would have to be one of them.  I also taught many of these students ICT (well they actually taught me!) as well in Year 5 and Year 6. When it came to their graduation and leaving the school they presented me with a rock, knowing that I like rocks and talked about them quite often in my classes with a certain amount of passion. Each student had signed the rock and they were very pleased with themselves when they presented it to me and told me to take good care of it.  It was an effective way to say goodbye and to acknowledge what we had learnt and been through together – it had real meaning.  I have of course kept the rock ever since in my office at home and just realised the other day that it did not make the packing with the 91 boxes of shipping.  For a split second I though this cannot go to the UK, it is just a rock, but the emotional attachment and meaning soon came bursting out of me and I placed it in a suitcase ready to be packed.

One of the students in that Geography class sent me a poem the other day as part of her Global Citizenship reflection.  Her father saw it when visiting Japan and had sent her the translation.  Even though I have not seen this student since she left school over six years ago, we still say ‘hello’ to each other whenever we can and share our thoughts and ideas about the world.  I thought it was very poignant to receive this poem at a time of big transition and occasionally stress and anxiety for me and my family.  The hardest thing about change is the unknown and saying goodbye to the familiar.  Tomorrow is a the biggest day for our family so far and I am sure it will be a roller coaster ride of emotions but I also know it is going to be the best day.  If I do not see you again, ‘hello.’

Each day is the best day

Whether it rains
Whether it shines
Each day is the best day
Whether I cry
Whether I laugh
Today is the very best day
Because it is a precious day out of my life

-Mitsuo Aida

Thailand Reflections

Tan the motorbike taxi driver

Tan the friendly motorbike taxi driver

They often say that you won’t live anywhere better in the world as an expat than in Thailand, the Land of Smiles.  Having now lived and worked here for over 15 years I have definitely seen many people come and go, such is the transient nature of the expat and especially international teachers.  One thing that I have noticed is that people do usually return to Thailand, whether it is to visit friends, to holiday or to work again.  I had no idea what was in store for me or what to expect from the Thai people, their culture and their kingdom when I first left for Thailand in 1999.  I know that we will return, Thailand is our home, the place where I got married and also where my three children were born.  It is of course going to be difficult to leave and let go of the many pleasures that we have become accustomed to and take for granted but we also realise that it is time to re-connect with another home, we like to think that we are becoming a global family.

Love that Thinglish!

Love that Thinglish!

My oldest son likes to compare new countries that he visits with Thailand, to observe what is similar and what is different.  He is going to be in shock mid-November in the north west of England when the obvious differences hit him!  What makes Thailand such an amazing place is how easy it is, especially for families.  The Thai people are so welcoming and they love young children.  I will miss speaking Thai with them and getting myself into trouble as I get lost beyond the second sentences of a conversation.  I admire their appreciation and tolerance of a foreigner making the effort though, especially my local barber who I have had the same conversation with (in Thai) four times a year for the last eight years.

What a sandwich!

What a sandwich!

The Thai food is awesome of course but I have to say that one of my all time favourite discoveries on arriving in Thailand was Au Bon Pain.  The chocolate croissants are to die for and the steak and swiss cheese sandwich is mega – I couldn’t believe it when I found out they delivered as well!  I have had two of the sandwiches this week for old times sake and savored them as much as I did in the early bachelorhood days when they were part of the daily diet.  Au Bon Pain always got my mothers blessing as well whenever she visited as she always said, “they making a piping hot cup of tea.”

Ciao Khun John's

Ciao Khun John’s

The first place I ever drank a beer in Thailand was Khun John’s restaurant on the banks of Lake Mabprachan.  The Friday football lads took me there after my first sub-tropical kick-about and I had no idea where I was – I knew I was almost dying of heat stroke though.  The Heineken came in these huge bottles and seemed to be bottomless.  All I can remember is that I was told not to eat or drink after midnight as I had an important medical the next day.  The following Monday I got a note in my tray informing me I had failed the medical and had to attend another one that coming weekend.  I didn’t go to Khun John’s after football that Friday!  I have been many times since though as it is a family favourite eating place.  Any Thai food you want, it is tasty, quick and good value.  We went for the last time this week and coincidentally the waiter told us that Khun John has apparently sold up (after all these years) and it will become an Italian restaurant next month.  I can’t imagine Thailand without Khun John’s it has been a constant in our lives.

The shop that sells everything

The shop that sells everything

I am looking forward to the UK village shop again and buying a daily newspaper and a bag of Walkers Crisps (I have got to stop saying chips… and candies… and cookies) but it is not going to be Janya Mart.  There is something special about the Thai family shop that sells everything.  It is sad that a lot have struggled to survive since Seven Eleven has swept across the country but there are still a number out there and I always make the effort to use them.  Janya Mart is our local village shop and it is one of the best ways to connect with the local community and to use your Thai.  It is set up (like all other Thai family shops) to focus on social interaction with benches and tables outside and always an array of tempting snacks to choose from – it is the hub of the community.  You can buy a beer at anytime of the day, sit down on the bench and watch the Thai world go by. You can even drive your motorbike up to the shop and fill it up with petrol from a selection of bottles usually precariously placed on a wooden framed structure. Janya Mart has been a regular calling point for the last eight years and I will miss the interaction and constant smiling faces of both Janya and Nui who have witnessed our family grow and devour – God knows how many ice lollies!  I have explained to them that we are leaving on Monday but I am not sure if they have really understood, I will pop in before we go, wai, thank them and say goodbye.

If you liked this post you may also like this: 15 Years of Stuff

15 Years of Stuff!

Where is the Ark?

Where is the Ark?

To read this post with sound effects click here.

One of my favourite movies of all time and also an excellent final scene, although apparently it is mostly a painting, is the vast warehouse we see two men wheeling a large box into before the final credits of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Somewhere amongst the thousands of boxes the Ark of the Covenant has been hidden safely away by the government forever (or has it?) much to our hero Indiana Jones’ frustration.  Well I have news for ‘Indie’ the Ark of the Covenant could very well be on a ship somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean as this was a similar (not painted) scene in our Thai house not so long ago when we had the packers and shippers in.

Which one is it?

Which one is it?

I came to Thailand in 1999, over 15 years ago, to teach computers to primary students for two years.  I promised my mother I would be back in Derbyshire before she knew it! Now 15 years later I am finally returning home, back to the UK; with a wife, three children and 91 boxes of stuff!  I can’t believe it, where did it all come from and what are we going to do with it in the UK?

Stuff!

Stuff!

To be honest I am a bit embarrassed about it and we keep saying to each other, my wife and I – why on earth did we ship that?  During the last few weeks that we have been without our 91 boxes of stuff, things so important and vital that we felt they needed to be shipped half way around the world, there is only one item that has been consistently missed and commented on by all in the family.  The toaster!!  We do miss our toaster.

There it goes...

There it goes…

My own reflections during this transition process have made me realise how much material possessions we accumulate, especially just returning from Vietnam and spending time with family there and seeing how simple but easy daily life can be.  I know it is a cliche but who is actually happier?  In fact both sets of family are probably just as happy but I know which one has the more complicated life.  The irony is that we are going to have to keep most of our stuff in the 91 boxes for the best part of 6 months until we find somewhere big enough to live permanently and then move it all again – but this time just up the road.  I hope my wife remembers which box she packed the toaster in!

See you in 6 weeks!

See you in 6 weeks!

Thinking about (our) stuff and the pressures of consumerism reminded me of a couple of resources that I would like to share on this post, I have used them both on numerous occasions in the past for Geography lessons and also Global Citizenship workshops / sessions, take a look – I hope you like them:

The Story of Stuff.

Hungry Planet: What the world eats.

 

 

Poppy Mulford receives the Round Square Kurt Hahn Award in Jordan

A Public Speaker

A Public Speaker

Our very own Global Catalyst Poppy Mulford has now returned from the Round Square International Conference hosted by the King’s Academy School in Jordan.  Invited to the conference as the recipient of the prestigious Kurt Hahn Award for her contribution to service, Poppy was also the youngest student delegate in attendance. Before receiving the award Poppy delivered a 15 minute speech and presentation to over 500 adult and student delegates including HM King Constantine, the President of Round Square.

Poppy presenting at the conference

Poppy presenting at the conference

 

She confidently outlined her commitment to supporting young Thai deaf children, in particular a young girl called Yok and showed a video of her 450km Temple to Temple bike ride from Ayuthaya to Angkok Wat (Thailand to Cambodia).

 

 

Poppy and Nat - a very proud father!

Poppy and Nat – a very proud father!

Congratulations Poppy on a thoroughly well deserved award.  Good luck with your studies this year and we look forward to hearing about other global citizenship award Identities that you achieve as you go for your Global Entrepreneur Award.

 

Getting to know your family

old photos

old photos

I met Oanh almost 15 years ago in Thailand where we were both working as teachers. Over 35 years ago she left Vietnam as a small child with her father, mother, three siblings and members of her mother’s family in a small boat seeking refugee in a new country following the war that ravaged Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s. Many thousands of ‘boat people’ didn’t make the treacherous journey into the South China Sea and were sadly lost to storms and piracy.  Oanh and her family were picked up out at sea by a Thai shipping vessel and were taken to Thailand where they were granted asylum and stayed in a refugee camp for a number of months before being flown to Australia and welcomed as new citizens to that country.  Oanh’s father tells me that his family were the first Vietnamese to settle in the New South Wales city of Newcastle and they have lived there ever since. His wife’s family moved to Queensland in Australia and his family remained in post war Vietnam and he has not seen them since they left that dark night in the small boat.

Family lunch

Family lunch

To be able to come to Vietnam and to meet my wife and children’s family and to get to know them has been a huge privilege and I am thankful and excited that they will have such welcoming and caring family to connect with in this part of the world for the rest of their lives.  Oanh and I keep suggesting to Jonah that he has the ideal base for a ‘gap year’ when he has finished school – but I don’t think he realises the value of this quite yet.

I have taken a back seat during our visit and left Oanh to get on with all the conversation and catching up.  They definitely have plenty to talk about!  It has been great for myself and the children to see her in full Vietnamese flow and using her native language.  It has encouraged the kids and I to also learn more Vietnamese and to use it with the family.  Jonah especially has made a good go of it and has been improving his Vietnamese numbers on a daily basis.  I have loads of questions to ask about each uncle, aunty and cousin but need to bide my time and I am enjoying just trying to make the connections and map the intricate network of families through my own observations.

Coconuts are a good way to break the ice

Coconuts are a good way to break the ice

Food is such a central focus of Vietnamese (and other countries in SE Asia) culture and social cohesion. Whenever we return to Australia to see Oanh’s parents we are always treated to a Vietnamese culinary delight, it has been the same here in Vietnam staying with her family. Oanh explains that it is the way in which they show love and affection. In fact Oanh’s mum says the secret to cooking good food is to think of the person who you are cooking it for, as it helps ‘flavour’ the food!  My children especially like the coconuts that Aunty Tam brings out for them mid-morning for a snack.  I wonder if they have brought them specially for our visit and are treating them?  They probably are.   Their love of children and family are obvious.

cousins on the beach

cousins on the beach

It has been good watching our children interact and gain in confidence with their relatives.  They have grown affectionately close to a number of the older cousins and there have been plenty of hugs going around.  Some of the cousins have their own children of similar age to ours and it didn’t take long for them all to start playing together and causing chaos around the house – language (or lack thereof) is not a barrier as it seems to me that you only need to learn a first name and then everything else is universal.

Jonah with chu Hat

Jonah with Chu Hat

We have been staying with one of Oanh’s aunts, BaTam, her husband Chu Hat and a couple of their daughters ( I think they have eight children in total – I know one daughter is a nun in Italy and the youngest two are twins who are studying in Saigon).  It has been great staying there and getting to know them and we have really appreciated their hospitality and kindness.  Chu Hat works especially hard for a construction company and has already left for work when we wake up in the morning and doesn’t finish at the end of the day until late.  He does pop home for lunch though and is always smiley and chatty (he speaks some English) and has a beer with me!  The two daughters that we have met are a great credit to them and it has been lovely getting to know both Thien and Nhung, I hope we see them again soon in the near future.

Zoe getting her hair done (again!) this time with Yung and Jonah

Zoe getting her hair done (again!) this time with Nhung and Jonah

It is hard not to reflect and to think about the ‘what ifs’ when learning about the past and the present in such an authentic way. I am looking forward to asking Oanh all the questions I have stored up over the last few days as we head back to Thailand.  I am sure she has done much reflecting herself and I will be keen to discover how her memories and perceptions have changed since her first return visit.  I wonder if one day we could or should live and work in Vietnam or if my children will ever consider the possibility when they are older?

Phan Thiet Beach and the Pacific Ocean

35 years years ago on Phan Thiet Beach my future father in-law made the courageous but decision to leave his country, his home and his family and took those he could out into the Pacific Ocean to seek refuge.  The fates of many lives were certainly held in the balance during that one night. I am certainly grateful that despite Oanh’s father’s paralysing fears of death and the responsibility he felt for so many lives that night, and the deep sadness for leaving the country of his birth that the quest for searching for a better future for his children over-rode those fears.  Life would have been very different if he had not done so, not only for Oanh and her family but also for me as I wonder if I would have ever met Oanh if they had not left?  As Jonah realised, “So I would not have been born if Ong had not left Vietnam?”

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