An Expat Kind of Lantern Festival

Last week I went to the Lantern Festival with my youngest daughter. We saw many intricate designs. What interested me more than the historical pieces of the festival, were the poetic journey of a man traveling away from home – away from his home country. They seemed to reflect what many of us, as expats, could possibly feel at different seasons in our lives overseas.

I’ve written out the translated poem from Chinese to English (don’t get excited, it was there on a sign and I had taken pictures). They also provided what they called a “Poem Appreciation,” but was like brief summary of the meaning of the poem. I’ve also written that below the two poems.

So, enjoy the pictures of the life-sized lanterns and the poems that describe the scene of each picture.

 

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Za Shi “Poem”

by Wang Wei

You, who have come from my homeland,

Ought to know well the happenings back home.

On the day of your departure,

Pray tell – Have the plum blossoms outside your window bloomed?

Meaning:

Such is the joy of the man in a foreign land to meet a fellow countryman. Yet knowing not where to begin his enquiries. He starts off by asking after the smallest of things, subtly revealing his deep love for his homeland.

 

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Hui Hsiang Ou Shu “Returning Home – A Random Musing” by He Zhi-Zhang

I left home a kid and returned an old man,

My accent is unchanged yet my hair has turned white;

A child who meets but does not recognize me,

Laughingly asks “Where do you come from?”

Meaning:

People age easily, yet their homeland remains unchanged. Returning to one’s homeland after decades abroad, one cannot help but feel familiar yet distant at the same time. An innocent remark from a guiltless child draws attention to the poet’s complicated feelings in a poignant yet humorous manner, leaving readers with a lasting and profound impression.

Don’t you just love that no matter what country some one is from, they understand some of the same feelings you may have towards “homesickness” and missing friends and family?

 

 

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Chinese New Year – Lantern Festival

I’ve been quiet these few weeks due to working on my other writing projects and enjoying Chinese New Year. A few nights ago I took Mei Mei to the Lantern Festival in Taipei. They did a fabulous job with such details. I really loved how they had a walk through history. Enjoy!

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“Hua Mulan Takes Her Father’s Place in Battle”

"Zheng He's Expedition"

“Zheng He’s Expedition”

He’s known in this part of the world, and in other parts as well, as the “pioneer of the Age of Discovery.” He made his expeditions starting in 1405.

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“Qin Shi Huang’s Dedication to Politics and Economics”

Qin Shi Huang Di is famous for the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, as well as unifying the country of China.

"Zheng Chenggong Negotiated a Peace Treaty with Dutch"

“Zheng Chenggong Negotiated a Peace Treaty with Dutch”

And a bit of history of the island of Taiwan.

They also had some that Mei Mei enjoyed more than others…

20150306_18522320150306_184205Later this week I’ll post a few more that resonated with me as an expat raising TCKs. I think you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

 

Joy…sometimes you just have to choose it

Christmas is supposed to be a time of great joy – time with family, gifts, laughter, food – oh, the food, and the time when many celebrate the birth of Jesus. Yes, Christmas is the time for joy, but sometimes it’s just not all that joyful or peaceful. I find that can be true for the expat. Like…

It is hard to be a single living in a foreign country during this holiday. I remember…

It is hard living in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday. December 25th is just another workday, just like all the rest.

Some years the entire family is sick… (I’m sure we are not the only family that can relate.)

You grew up in a place where “White Christmas” was not just on a postcard, but now you live in the tropics where it is warm all four seasons. Or you grew up where Christmas was spent celebrating on the beach and now you need to wear three layers in the house because the radiators just don’t kick out enough heat to your liking.

And the family Christmas picture. To take one that has everyone smiling and looking at the camera is next to impossible. My photographer friend posted on Facebook their “other Christmas pictures that didn’t make the photo for the Christmas card” to show all the drama behind the perfect shot that did. (We haven’t even really tried this year yet…that is on my list to do this week.)

This year we went “home” for the holidays…home to my husband – well sort of “home” since he’s a TCK. Honestly, we’ve all had some culture shock moments at one time or another. We’ve been upset or frustrated sometime during this holiday of peace and joy. Yet, at each of those times for me (yes, I’ve had multiple) I have found myself having to make a choice…to choose frustration, anger, or to find and choose JOY. Let me give you an example.

Germany is known for their Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Markets). They are beautiful, full of food and crafty trinkets to buy. It was on my list to do while we were here. Oma found one that was nearby. Perfect! Except, we had also planned for that day a visit to an aunt and a little shopping to kill time before the market opened. All this, and our kids were still on jetlag! We had taken the train, so we were bound by the train schedule. We had given ourselves less than an hour to eat and roam around the lit-up booths. I was disappointed, but decided not to say anything.  Instead chose joy and thankfulness as I grabbed my mug of gluehwein (spiced wine, or what I call Christmas in a mug) and marveled at the scene around me. I was surrounded by beauty – white lights outlining the buildings, the market stands, the trees; Christmas music playing; people laughing and smiling; and my kids enjoying their second round of warm waffles because you know bribery helps during those times of jetlag. Yes, I could have stood there angry at the less-than-perfect situation, but instead I wanted to make a memory that I could look back on and smile.

We did end up catching the later train, so we could have time to eat in a relaxed manner and enjoy wandering around and looking at each booth.

Here are some pics of that magical evening:

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Life-size nativity set up on a staged area.

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Can you see the remains of a castle on top of the hill? One of the many things I love about Europe in general…all the history!

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Kids with Oma finishing up the first round of waffles. Notice my cup of gluewein on the table?

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*This post was inspired by Velvet Ashes’s The Grove and their theme of Joy.

 

Expectation

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It’s the season of Advent, a time of expectation, a time of hope, a time to put up decorations, make cookies, and this year it is a time to pack and get ready to board a plane to Germany to visit family. So much excitement and expectations going around in our little apartment.

The biggest expectation comes from my daughter with special needs, little Jie Jie. She wants snow. It doesn’t snow in Taipei. She hasn’t seen snow in about five years, I think, but wants it so badly. Everyday she either prays or asks us to pray for snow at Oma and Opa’s. Her expectation has really gotten me thinking on a deeper level.

1. She prays consistently. She has been praying everyday – sometimes more than once a day – for the past week that there would be snow. This is a long time for her…She understands that God is who she should ask for things that are dear to her heart.

2. She believes. Sometimes after her prayers she will go to a window and look out at the city below. Then with a bewildered look she turns and silently asks “Why?” Other times, she gets excited and pretends to throw snowballs. She knows that God is going to answer her prayers…we’ll have to wait and see how. It could be a “No” – and we’ll have to deal with that if that time comes. But for now, I am enjoying it. I love the excitement she draws out of her siblings as they begin to think about the possibility of building a snowman or getting to maybe try cross-country skiing for the first time.

I’m challenged by her, though. I mean, here is this nonverbal child for the most part who is intellectually disabled praying consistently in belief that God can do this. Do I consistently pray for people or situations? And if I do, am I praying in belief that God can change a heart towards him or turn a hard situation into something beautiful? Or do I get sidetracked by all the “To Do” lists I’ve created, the prepping for this trip, or the many worries and doubts that tend to fog my mind. Or has that expectancy I once had  waned-out due to lack of persistance or dare I say, belief?

Well, those are my thoughts this evening as I sit quietly alone staring out over my screen at the just decorated Christmas tree.

I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes this week at The Grove. This week’s theme was “Expecting.”

Counting My Gratefulness…round two

A year ago or so I wrote this post.

Last year I was…

whining, complaining, surviving – and then God smacked me over the head with pictures on Facebook of others who were far-off worse than myself. Families who had lost their homes, lost family, lost everything. That was the devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines.

I hung up a “Blessings” poster on the wall. I got the whole family involved… some evenings might have involved some twisting of arms, but they did it. It was so good for us all!

I wanted, and still do want,  my kids to have a thankful heart – to be grateful without me telling them that they should be. I don’t want them complaining about the small stuff. That chart, I believe, has helped all of us to find something each day to be grateful for.

And this evening, I’m grateful that my kids are usually….

  • happy to get a piece of chewy-type candy from our guard (really he is just an elderly man who sits on first floor to sign for mail). I’m grateful that they don’t complain about not getting the imported candy.
  • super stoked, though, for the times they do get the imported candy.
  • always excited about a bag of new-to-them clothes (read secondhand).
  • most of the time grateful for whatever is put on the table to eat.
  • happy to do odd jobs for little cash – they’re learning to appreciate the value of saving money.

I don’t have perfect children, by any stretch of the imagination. They are normal children who are sometimes ungrateful, who whine, who try to bribe me to get their way, who disobey, who test my nerves – but they have their shining moments. And it is in those shining moments that I can see God working in their life. That He is walking them through the process of life – and teaching them to be thankful. I know He’s been teaching me!

By the way…..here’s a recent picture of our Blessing Chart from last year. I’m pretty sure I’ll be putting up a new one at the beginning of the calendar year. I believe we’ve just started a new tradition.

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What do you do to teach your kids to be thankful? 

I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes this week at The Groove. This week’s theme is “Thank You!”

Learning Simplicity

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Birthdays. That word seems to have lots of emotion attached to it, doesn’t it? Think for a minute. A child begins counting down the days until the BIG day comes immediately the day after their birthday – unless you celebrate Christmas and then there is a mini-break. They are excited for the presents, the cake, the anticipation of it all. As we get older, many of us (not all) dread watching the number of candles added to the cake until it looks like one big fireball about to explode. Parents of the birthday child…well, planning out a party can be stressful, especially if you live overseas you have this idea of making the party a top-notched one right off a Pintrest page.

I admit, I have tried to be one of those moms. I have lugged party hats, plates, cups, napkins, banners, etc for all three kids half way around the world. I have a patient husband. I loved making the cakes, decorating, and planning the games to all go around the theme. Then the day of the party would come, and I’d be nervous – I’d be smiling and laughing, but deep inside I just wanted it to end. I was afraid it would flop. I know silly me, it isn’t about the party, but about the child… A few years ago, I caught on…sort of. My son got older and didn’t want the theme. He just wanted his friends, cake, and playing at the park. It was one of the best parties for me. It was easy and the kids still had a blast. Same for Mei Mei, simple with friends equaled fun.

But, what do you do for a child who has no friends?

Jie Jie has no friends. Really. She has tons of people who love her and who she loves dearly. These people range from adults, kids in her school, to people at church, but she doesn’t have friends. This isn’t a huge issue until her birthday comes around and I try to plan a party. I think her last party was when she was in Kindergarten and we invited her class – the special ed class in the local school. Of course, it was themed – Penguins!

Then we started homeschooling, and I’ll be honest every year I dreaded her birthday. Each one reminded me what she lacked – and it wasn’t just friends. I’d be reminded that she was one year older and farther away from the learning curve of other kids her age. Both facts punched the gut and I couldn’t plan anything. So, the past few years we’ve just gone out for supper and had some cake with a few presents. Then guilt would pour over me for not planning a nicer party for her. Nasty cycle.

We just celebrated her 11th birthday last week. A week before her birthday, I felt the pressure, the dread. My husband informed me that we were having a party this year. I asked, “Who are we going to invite?” He told me, “No one, we are going to have a family party.” I’ll admit, I dragged my feet and didn’t think it was going to be much fun – but then he made me go out with him to buy presents. We bought her a calculator, a flashlight, amongst some other things. We talked about what we could do – like games to play, simple decorations, and planned a trip to the zoo for that weekend. Amazing how attitudes can change once the focus shifts to more positive thoughts. My husband is such a great and wise man.

The day of her birthday, I brought her and the kids home early. We frosted the cake and set up the game, “Pin the Tail on Bullseye” that my sister had sent to use for her birthday last year. Ge Ge blew up the “Toy Story” balloons, also from last year’s package that we hadn’t used. When my husband got home, the party began. We all played the game, ate cake, and watched her open presents. We took her out to eat for supper and the restaurant sang to her and gave her a birthday balloon. This past weekend the five of us went to the zoo because that is what she wanted to do. She wanted to see the giraffes.

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It was the best birthday party we’ve had in years for her. You know those moments you sit back and watch the world around you – in amazement of your family and how grateful you are for each one? That was sentimental me this past week. I know that she would have had a blast with just cake and presents, but playing the game and laughing together was what I needed. A reminder that simple pleasures like a party is good for the soul.

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So, how do you do birthdays? Do you go all out (don’t worry, I won’t judge you…in fact, I applaud you!) Or do you do simple family birthdays? Do you have a child with special needs? What do you do? Please share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.

Jetlag Blues – The Empty Fridge Saga

The summer is over and Sue and Kris are making their way back to expat-land. They’ve said all their good-byes, they’ve packed-up those suitcases with precious cargo of things they can’t easily buy, and they’ve prepped on-flight entertainment for their three kids. The flights are long, the layovers almost as long – but they somehow seem to arrive in their home with all thirteen pieces of luggage and their three kiddos. It’s dark outside and everyone is tired – no exhausted from the lack of sleep. With fingers crossed and prayers said, Sue and Kris put their three kids to bed and then collapse on their own bed. A few hours later, which really seems like only five minutes, the children start waking up….hungry. Sue notices her stomach is rumbling as well. She looks at the clock, 1am. Groggily she walks into the kitchen and begins to search for something….anything to eat. The kitchen is bare, the cupboards show a little hope – a pack of lemon flavored Ritz crackers. “Will this last until morning when she can get to the market?” she asks herself.

I don’t know about you, but I can relate to this scenario. I can remember even digging in the carryon bags in desperate search of airline snacks or rolls for the kids to nibble on until we could get to a store. Fortunately, we now live in Taipei – the land of 7-11’s and other 24-hour convenient stores, so I just send Uwe out at odd hours to hunt and gather food for the ravenous crew. On the RaisingTCK Facebook page I asked readers what they do during these times and guess what? I’m not the only one who makes 7-11 runs in the middle of the night.

Others listed great ideas which I will post below…

1. Neighborly Love: One great idea is to ask a friend or a neighbor that is around to buy a few staples to put in your fridge. Of course, they will need to have an extra key, but usually this person has a key for those times that you lock yourself out of the apartment/house. *Table-turner: If you have a key to a friend’s place, why not buy a few staples and put it in their home as a “Welcome Back” surprise. Trust me, you will jump up a few notches on that friend ladder for sure!

2. Stop and Shop: Most airports have some sort of convenience store where you could pick up some crackers, rolls, water, or other snacks to tie everyone over later. If that is not an option, if time and location allows it swing by a store to pick up those staples. It may seem like a pain at the moment, but it might just make that first night of jet-lag bearable for all.

3. Stock-up – As another reader shared: she stocks up on UHT milk and cereal. UHT milk is that boxed milk that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. If that is not an option, then look at what is sold that can be stored in cupboards over the summer and stock up those things. Of course, this needs to be planned out – so this idea may need to be tucked away in your mind for the next time you take a longer trip.

4. Bake and Freeze: If you trust that your electricity won’t go out and if you have a large enough freezer – you could bake quick breads or simple meals and put them in the freezer to use that first night or even week as you struggle with jet-lag. *Table-turning: Make a meal or something to take over to a friend/family their first night back. With email and Facebook, it is pretty simple to find out when they arrive.

I’m sure there are other ideas – like raiding the precious treats from the luggage that you were planning to save for special occasions. Please share with us what you have done to help you through that first night of jet-lag…because none of us like “The Empty Fridge Saga.”

Enjoy the Summer

 

 

 

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This week I’m linking up once again with Velvet Ashes and their Friday “The Groove”. This week the topic is on Enjoy.

Summer is here and it should be easy to enjoy the break, but I’m actually finding it hard this year. Maybe it is the heat. Maybe the kids picking, picking, picking on each other- on me…. or maybe it is because we didn’t go visit family this summer. Or because our plans of moving didn’t happen…probably a mixture of it all dolloped with a topping of disappointment.

Last week I caught myself wishing school would start sooner.

I KNOW….CRAZY! Wait, you had that same thought? I’m not the only one?

Shame on you…I mean me. I mean, I only have a few more years left with these kiddos before they head off to whatever the next chapter in their life leads them. I’m not going there because I only have 6 more summers left with my oldest. SIX! 6! That is like almost counting down on one hand.

Okay, I’m not going there ~ but do you see what I mean that this wishing school to start up again has got to stop? The school year is crammed with homework, practices, quick breakfasts, and early bedtimes. Summer is slower mornings, no homework, and well many times just slower days.

So, how can we make this hot, humid, kid-fighting summer blues turned into enJOYable?

Find the joy in the simple, and then stop what you are doing and DO them….

  • water fights
  • boardgames
  • blowing bubbles…in the house
  • go to the library to read a book, or read a book at home together
  • sipping cold tea at sunset
  • watching the World Cup together at odd hours of the day
  • baking together – with the fan blowing on you at all times and a large cup of cold tea always full
  • hike, bike, anything outside together
  • swim or splash

Make memories – ponder these days because honestly they will slip by, sadly some may already have.

So, I raise my cold styrofoam cup of grapefruit tea and salute Summer. May it slow down enough to enjoy the pace, may it bring some memories that will bring a smile to my face this winter, and may I never forget that simple pleasures can be some of the most enjoyable things in life.

Your Turn: What have you done this summer to make it more enjoyable? Please comment below. I love to hear from you and get more ideas.

What does a TCK do with St. Pat’s Day?

St Patrick's Day Parade San Francisco 2012

*photo by David Yu via flickr

Today was Saint Patrick’s Day. In Asia it is not really celebrated. So, for the past fifteen years or so, the day usually went by just like any normal day in March. Some days that was filled with reheated coffee and mountains of laundry. Other days it was a classroom of kids from all around the world. Some days in March I was putting sunscreen on my kids at the zoo. Other days I wore gloves while I taught because the small electric heater just didn’t put out enough heat.

As the kids got to be school-age, I still didn’t really pay attention too much because they were in local school. Then they started attending an “American” school. I  didn’t anticipate the holiday; I hadn’t worn green on March 17th intentionally in years.

This year though, my kids are older. They don’t attend an “American” school, but a homeschool-coop. Many of their classmates, though, are American with both parents being American. So, when my Facebook newsfeed filled with St. Pat’s parades and such I looked at the calendar and saw that it fell on a school day. I remembered some of the traditions, especially the one about not wearing green.

My mother-protection mode kicked in.

This morning I told them to wear green. They looked at me strange, but at breakfast I explained the holiday. Call it a crash-course in holiday tradition. I didn’t care. I just didn’t want my kids to get pinched because they didn’t wear green, but more importantly I didn’t want them to get pinched and not understand what was happening.

Results? I found out my kids were the ones to start looking for the ones who didn’t have on green. Can someone say, “Backfire?” *throws hands up in the air* 

Your Turn: Have you ever held a crash-course on holiday traditions from your passport country? How did it turn out? Please share in the comments below.

Counting My ….

A few months ago we moved to a new apartment. There are things that I like about the new place. For one it is just a three minute walk from where I work and the kids go to school and it has a fair amount of storage space.

And I like this….

We have a small entrance way into our apartment.

We have a small entrance way into our apartment.

And this…

This Japanese Tea room is now the play room for the girls. If it's too messy, just shut the doors.

This Japanese Tea room is now the play room for the girls. If it’s too messy, just shut the doors.

But that is it – really. That is ALL that I like about it. I don’t like that the bathrooms are not big enough for a bathtub. Or that the living room is SUPER dark – think cave. And, please keep in mind that I am not new to Asia, but having six neighbors – and this is not including those living below or above us – living so so close makes me almost crazy. I’m talking so close that I can reach out and water the plants in the window of one neighbor and wash the windows of my other neighbor.

Don’t believe me? Check these out.

I can water your plants for you....

Our windows almost touch…and opposite side is the kitchen to another neighbor.

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I could almost wash the windows off my balcony.

This is what I’ve been whining about for the past few months since moving here. There have been other things that I’ve whined about, but this was what caught my attention to how LAME I had been. As soon as the photos started coming in from the Philippines, my head hung in shame. “At least I have a home….”

The whining had to stop. And it did for a short time…

And then Thanksgiving was approaching. And I was whining because our awesome plans to start a new tradition with the kids fell through. It was a week before and we had NO plans for Thanksgiving. Slight panic – then a friend at church asked us to join their family.

Last week was Thanksgiving and I had the greatest time in a huge church kitchen with a few other ladies to finish up the last touches for a gorgeous meal. I had the chance to pause for a brief minute and take in the beauty of family. The yelling as one uncle threw the long pass of a football, girls giggling about the baby, and the shrill laughter of the women in the kitchen (I’ll not admit to anything on fire, to which caused the excitement) – all of this caused a deep sigh in my soul. Not a longing sigh, but a grateful one. Grateful to have had time to cultivate friendships – to take time to stop and remember all that we should be grateful for this past year. It lit a fire in my soul to do this again…

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That is our “Blessings” Chart from last year. I wanted our family to give thanks each day for things that God had done for us. I wanted it for my life and I wanted it for my children as well – so every night after supper we each shared one thing. We did this for almost two months. So, we’ve started it again. The day after Thanksgiving I taped up a new chart…this chart.

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It’s bigger and I’m excited to see what we will be putting up there. I’m also excited, as I know that when I have to think about all my blessings, that my whining decreases and I my thankfulness increases.

I don’t know if you are like me – wanting to give thanks and to have a grateful attitude, but find yourself singing your own version of the country western song “There’s a Tear in My Beer.” If you are like me, what do you do to stay positive? If you don’t do anything, I challenge you to do this or something similar for a month – you may find yourself doing it longer like we did last year. I’d love to hear how it goes if you choose to do it. Please share your stories below. I’m so encouraged when you do.