So that’s that then!

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191 pieces of ‘stuff’

It is done. Our life as we knew it is over. Two weeks ago we flew out of Wattay International Airport for what may be the last time.

The sound of packing tape retching across cardboard punctuated at least a week of my last month in Laos. Despite my best efforts to cull, our ridiculous amount of belongings have been wrapped and sealed into a 40 foot container that, at this moment, is floating somewhere out there in the Ocean.

While our ‘stuff’ makes its way towards us, we scramble to find a domicile to house it, and our family of five. Rent or buy, it is distinctly unlikely that we will actually be able to fit most of our belongings into our new abode, I foresee another cull on the horizon!

Leaving Vientiane was actually a lot more traumatic than I expected. The town itself had long since lost my affections. I was ready for the next adventure, but leaving the people who had we had come to know and love was awful.

We left in style – a big boozy party, several small boozy dinner’s, a few special boozy lunches…are you detecting a theme! There were laughs and tears and expressions of love and friendship. Nonetheless, these were goodbyes. I hate goodbyes. It was miserable.

I have moved, uplifted, changed and started fresh more times than I can remember. Moving and change seem to have always been a part of my life, particularly since I hooked up with G seventeen years ago. Yet this transition has been, and continues to be, the hardest I have ever faced.

Much of it has to do with the girls. They are in mourning for the only life they have ever known. They are desperately missing the only friends they have ever known. As young women, relationships and social networks are EVERYTHING to them. Taking that away has made me feel very guilty.

Watching our magnificent, brave girls farewell their school friends on the the last day was horrid. I made a complete tit of myself at each of the three farewell parties and spent much of the day unable to speak for fear of wailing. They had, still have, such beautiful friends, many of whom are the children of our own dear friends. The outpouring of love was overwhelming and humbling. I am so proud of daughters.

Leaving Bau, our nanny, almost tipped me over the edge.  We love her.  Chilli LOVES her.  Bau LOVES Chilli. When I paid her and bid her a safe ride home for the last time we both wept openly.  She was my friend and my sanity.  She was Chilli’s other mother. Every single day since we left, Chilli asks about Bau at least 10 times. Yesterday she climbed onto my lap, took my head in her tiny hands, looked me in the eyes and said, “I have missed Bau for really long time. We go home now, OK?”. I wish I could, sweet Chilli. For your sake, I wish I could!

She, and I, also miss Nam and Lung and Kek and Uoi, all of whom worked for us and all of whom hold a place in our collective hearts.

I can hear you all scoffing, “Whatever Lady, I bet you miss them. I would find it hard to say goodbye to my nanny and housekeeper and ironing lady and gardener, that must really suck… Bitch!”

Yes, YES, YES, yes, doing my own laundry is not pleasant but that isn’t really the problem. I miss them because they were good people and all our families were, for a time, a big part of each other lives.

G and I had friends too. People who enriched our lives. People who we will miss terribly. But it is easier with those other adult expatriates.  We all understand. We all have Facebook and email and Skype and the chance to maintain our friendships over distance. Those friendships, forged in Vientiane will continue to grow no matter where we all end up in this world.

Yet tears are still shed and I miss having those wonderful supportive people in my daily life!

At the moment it is hard. I have the kids in tow constantly, G is coming to terms with the demands of a new job, there is lots of paperwork, lots of major decisions to make at once (schools, car, house etc) and we are all suffering from a touch of reverse culture shock (shoes in the house, I don’t think so!) 

But after all is said and done, we are here in Brisvegas with a chance to start a new chapter.  We have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to. I am not sure how, but my gut tells me this is all part of my journey to FABULOUS!

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Thanks for reading.

If you want to like my Facebook Page that would just be fabulous.

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Never a dull moment…

We are moving back to Australia.  A reshuffle within the company has resulted in a rather sudden change of roles.  G has taken a position in the head office in Brisbane.  I am proud of him.

Brisbane is my home town.  We had always anticipated that, one day, when the time seemed right we would move back there.  I call it ‘home’… as much as anywhere.  Perhaps the move is a little sooner than I had anticipated but it is a chance to lay down roots and a chance for the girls to ‘call Australia home’ (at least for a little while… nothing needs to be forever… right?)

I am in the midst of yet another international uplift… what a fucking treat!

All our worldly goods must be inventoried – keep, sell, repair, gift, throw that shit away!

On the other side of the world, mostly using the magical power of the interweb, a new life must be created  – shelter, schools, transport, medical.  I have been stunned at the amount of paperwork required for…everything!  This chick has been in South East Asia for too long.

The news of the impending move has been hard on the girls.  Monkey is old enough to realise that we are leaving her friends, her community, the only home she has ever known.  She is sad, angry and confused.  Pigeon is trying to find the positives, she is so resilient.  Chilli is well Chilli is about to leave her precious Bau, our nanny, who has been a constant since Chilli was 8-weeks-old.  Chilli is not going to like that.  Bau is not going to like that.  I AM NOT GOING TO LIKE THAT.  There have been, and will continue to be, tears all round!

I have found a wonderful home for our beloved cats.

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Sanchez and Schlarper are 13-years-old.  They came here from Austalia with us and they love it here. We decided the stress of moving them back to Australia  (7 months, two quarantine stays and two different countries) was too much. They are getting lots of extra cuddles and some rather fancy treats as I enjoy my last month with them before saying goodbye. It is impossible to explain how difficult the decision to leave them behind has been.  They were our first children. When we adopted them, we made a commitment. This feels like a betrayal, even if I know it is for the best.

It is a little over a month until we actually leave.  A strange, emotional, exhausting and lonely time ahead.  But with change comes adventure and opportunity.  Who knows? Fabulous could be closer than I think!

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Two months since I have been here,
Two months, too much to say,
44 is coming but the fabulous seems far away!

Thanks for reading and I am sorry I have been away so long.

The truth about “Family Holidays”

Ever since I returned from my short trip to Australia, three weeks ago, I have been in a bit of a funk.  The urge to scream and run has been building as the interminable school holidays have dragged on.

This town is a miserable place to be trapped over the summer.  Many families have left the country.  The weather is either hot, or wet, or both.  There are no parks or playgrounds, swimming is only an option intermittently due to the rain and I can only come up with so many things to do with empty milk bottles, glue and glitter! … and bored kids fight.  Bored little girls… they become experts at vicious, manipulative, psychological warfare.  It is exhausting.

Not to worry!  Tomorrow night  G will finish work, come home, collect his family (that is us) and travel to France for the last three weeks of the Summer Break.

Tonight, on the eve of departure for our ‘Annual Family Holiday’, with a horrible head-cold, mountains of packing/ thinking/organising  yet to be done, the prospect of a long haul overnight-flight with two sick kids and a yet-to-fall-ill-but-probably-will-tomorrow-becauses-that’s-the-way-it-works-when-I-am-feeling-this-sorry-for-myself toddler, I really want to quit and walk out.

But I can’t, can I.  Can I? No, I can’t?

I should be excited about our planned adventure.  We are flying to Paris.  I am assured by the girls that we will see fairies there as they live at the top of the Eiffel Tower (Thank you Barbie Movies!) We have rented a lovely apartment for 5 days… just me, G , the girls and Gay Paree!

After that, our nanny, who has two sisters living outside of Paris, will re-join us and we will all catch the fast train to Lyon, then hire a care and drive to  l’Ardèche for two weeks with my beautiful brother-in-law and his lovely partner.

It all sounds wonderful, perfect even.

There has certainly been a great deal of thought and planning on my part to make sure that we have as much fun as you possibly can with three small children in tow.  Five days in Paris, in an apartment not a hotel, so that when the girls wake up at 3am with jet-lag we can get up and feed them without disturbing others.  Apartment close to a park so we can stroll to open spaces and run small children regularly (I find that, like dogs, small people behave better after a good run in the park). Cot organised, 7-seater hired… and on and on the logistics go… including taking our wonderful nanny for completely selfish and self-serving reasons.

The truth is that holidays with the family are fun for everyone except ME.  Travelling, with three small kids is pretty much the last thing I want to do but, surprise, surprise, when G has three weeks off he doesn’t want to stay in Vientiane – BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING TO DO!

Undoubtedly, G and I are going to have a rip-roaring, fuck-off argument at some point during the next three weeks. Personally, I am hoping we get it over early in the piece because the make-up sex is usually pretty good… oh that’s right, we are travelling and sleeping with three kids… chances of sex are pretty low, festering resentment much more likely!

I have been burned before by family holidays to glamorous locations. I have foolishly assumed that because the location was glamorous and exotic, I might be able to indulge in a little glamorous and exotic behaviour.  The sound of my shattered expectations smashing onto the hand-painted, italian tiles was heard by no-one but me.

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You can’t fault the view.

So this time I am going to be realistic.  I won’t expect to stay up late and take in the night life of Paris or indulge in lazy afternoons reading a book in the French country side.  I will anticipate enjoying seeing a new Country through the eyes of my children and finding a fairy on the Eiffel Tower.

Maybe this could be the holiday that I don’t start a fight with my other half.

I COULD just try to enjoy a lovely family holiday with my lovely family.

After all, I will soon be in Paris. That is a little bit fabulous.

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Merci d’avoir lu (I think that means, ‘Thanks for reading’ in French)

I still call Australia Home

‘Summer’ holidays continue. Three point five weeks down and five and a half to go. Week two and three were great. Why? Because I took my two eldest girls back to Australia for 10 days.

Australian Cake Making

IT WAS FABULOUS!

The decision to go back was last minute. I had decided not to return to Australia because I couldn’t face the thought of flying, on my own, with the three girls. I, realistically, figured that a holiday with a 19-month-old and two kids in tow might not be that much of a holiday at all. So we shelved the idea.

But I miss home, I really miss home. So G suggested I leave Chilli behind and take a short-break. Our nanny agreed to pick up the extra hours, G adjusted his work schedule slightly, I pushed my ‘mother guilt’ aside and we booked the flights to Brisbane.

Monkey and Pigeon are such seasoned travellers.  They handled the long flights and the transits off a break. They were also, for the most part, wonderful companions. We had a really nice time.

From the moment we landed, I felt like I was home – the colour of the sky, the sound of thick Australian accents, the trees, the Brisbane River… the ordered and predictable traffic, the supermarket, the sidewalks, the parks and public spaces, the winter fruit, the cool weather, the cinema, the underwear and clothing that fit me… so easy, so convenient – OH GOD, IT WAS GOOD TO BE BACK!

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Kangaroo hopping fun at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)
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Silly Uncle Dave
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On the ‘fairy’, Brisbane River
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Free flying fox fun – Speers Point Park

Ultimately though, the best thing about going home, what made it so hard to leave, what makes my heart ache now as I sit in a cafe in uptown Vientiane and write, is the people I saw so briefly and have now, once again, farewelled… and the people I didn’t have time to see and have once again missed.

I have been living abroad for almost 8 years now but I still have a place I call home. My home is not a building. My home is the friends and family who I love and leave behind.

It was good to go home.

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Thanks for reading.  Have a fabulous day.

A little bit sad

I am sad, melancholic if you will.  In the not too distant future, several wonderful families will be finishing their time in Vientiane and leaving for new adventures. Some are returning to their homelands, some heading off on the next expatriate adventure.  They are all a little excited.  But I am sad because I will miss them. Their departure has made me reflective.

The thing I always miss most about home is my friends.  Even as I type that it seems ridiculous,  how can I miss my friends from home.  I hardly know where home is.  It has been so long since I have lived in Australia that I am lucky to see the people I love more than once a year, often for a only for a few hours.  There are some people I love and care for who I haven’t actually hugged for almost a decade.  Facebook keeps me in touch with some people, but not everyone is hooked in like I am (social media is a necessary evil for most expats).  Nonetheless, these relationships, many forged at school and at university, mean a great deal to me.  Perhaps because we knew each other when we were all young and idealistic, filled with excitement about the possibilities that life might bring.  Perhaps because we shared so many experiences – good, bad and ugly!  Perhaps because I love them.

Eighteen years ago, I left my home town and since then I have moved to a new city, often a new country, every three or four years.  One of the joys of my nomadic lifestyle is the number of wonderful people I have met, many who I now count amongst my dear friends.  But it is always hard to leave.  Even harder farewelling the people who move on before you are ready to say goodbye.

When we lived in Bangkok, G and I used to hang out with another Australian couple quite regularly.  We shared a love of UFC and Lebanese food!  They had children who were a few years older than ours. As a first time mum I valued their advice, which was usually, “stop stressing out”.

They also once told us:

Never regret sharing time with the people you meet in your travels, some will become firm and lasting friends.  Other relationships will burn bright and fade when time and distance take their toll.  Do not despair or feel guilty, that is just how it works. Your lives will be richer because of these friendships.

We had some great nights together.  I haven’t seen or heard from them in years.

So tonight I am sad.

I really like the friends I have made here in Vientiane.  They have made this place seem like home.  I simply don’t want them to leave.  I still want to get to know them better. I am tired of making new friends.  I like the ones I have and I just want them to stay here.

Tomorrow, I will be grateful for the having met such wonderful, fun, joyful people;

Tomorrow, I will laugh out loud as I remember the playdates, birthday parties and occasional boozy nights;

Tomorrow, I will remind myself that I still have lots of fabulous, new friends here;

Tomorrow, I will be excited because I am about to go back home and see some of  my fabulous, old friends;

Tonight, I am going to be a little bit sad.

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Thanks for reading.  Stay Fabulous!

Homecoming Queen

I have to admit to having some strange and conflicting emotions as I packed my bags to return home on Friday.  I was nervous and a little reluctant.  That made me feel guilty, of course!

I was nervous because sometimes expectations can be out of touch with reality.  I knew the Princesses had missed me and we had been counting down the days during our nightly Skype calls.  They were really looking forward to my return but what if the reality of having mummy back was not all it was cracked up to be. After all, mummy makes them eat their vegetables, go to bed early and sleep in their own beds.

I was reluctant because, still recovering from surgery, I really am unable to lift and carry or run after the children in any real way. I can’t even drive a car just yet.  I worried that I would overdo things or become frustrated by my uselessness.

I was guilty. Despite the surgery and being an invalid for most of my two weeks away, I LOVED my time to myself.  I am very extroverted and usually get quite bored and lonely after a couple of days on my own but this time I had revelled in my isolation.  For the last few days, at least, I had spoilt myself rotten.  A pedicure one day. A facial the next. A massage.  I even took myself to the cinema to see Iron Man 3… in 3D.  A little shopping. Reading. Catching up on TV…. and here is  the kicker, eight (or more) uninterrupted hours of blissful slumber every night for 10 days (I don’t count the  days I was in hospital  – though there is also something very special about that morphine induced haze).

I arrived at Vientiane airport just after lunch, cleared immigration and organised some assistance to heave my excess baggage (I did mention the shopping didn’t I) onto a trolley.  I could see my mother waiting just beyond the automatic doors. We waved and I turned away to search the carousel for my suitcase. I heard mum call my name again, turned to peek through the doors and this time I saw my baby girl.

My heart skipped a beat. I had to catch my breath and blink back unexpected tears.

Suddenly, everything was taking too long and the ten metres between me and my precious daughter seemed like an ocean.  I practically bounced out of baggage collection, I was so excited to see her.

For a moment when she saw me Chilli was confused, then recognition, a smile and a squeal.  She held out her arms.  I couldn’t help myself.  Despite the medical advice, I took hold of my baby.  She laid her head on my shoulder and I hugged her tight….

Welcome Home
Photos courtesy of Grandma

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When I picked up Pigeon from school she rushed into my open arms:

“How many days were you away, mama?”

“Fourteen, baby.”

“Well, I will hug you for 14 days until I let you go.”

“Works for me Pigeon”, her arms wrapped tightly around my neck.

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Monkey was a little more pragmatic.

“Can I see your scar!”

Then all afternoon, gentle kisses, tender moments, reassuring hugs or a quick squeeze of the hand…” just making sure you’re OK mum” … just making sure you’re still here.

Way to make a girl feel special!

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I was unexpectedly taken aback when daddy got home too, found a lump in my throat when I first saw him.

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So now I am home.  I am frustrated by the short-term physical limitations but they are liberating too.  It is a rare joy to just sit and be while the chaos whirls around me. When the skies darkened and the rains fell on Saturday morning, the girls danced and I sat and soaked up my family…

Rain Dance
Singing in the rain

It won’t be long before things are back to normal and I am back to being a full-time, full-on parent but for now it is nice relinquishing some responsibility, being the passenger rather than the driver (literally).

I feel great and it is good to be home.

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Thanks for reading.  Stay Fabulous!

Love breeds Love

I am a pretty jaded expat. I have lived in South East Asia for almost 8 years  and the things that once captivated and intrigued me are now commonplace.  I am guilty  of avoiding the very cross-cultural exchanges that I once actively sought out.

When G and I arrived in the region, armed with 6 weeks of language training and a love of Thai food, we embraced every opportunity to be part of the local community.  Weddings, funerals, festivals, religious celebrations, blessing ceremonies – as the local ‘farang’ (white, western) celebrities we were lucky enough to be invited to, participate in and enjoy many such occasions (not the funerals so much, though I find it fascinating to observe how different cultures deal with death).

However, over time, and with the arrival of the children, our genuine enthusiasm gave way to reluctant cynicism.  These days G is often invited simply to facilitate a financial windfall (donations are expected and gratefully accepted) rather than because there is any genuine connection.

But every now and then I am reminded why I fell in love with this region and humbled by the people who live here.

Bau, our nanny, was recently involved in a motorbike accident (you can read more about that here).  According to the village traditions/laws the individual who was responsible for the accident must pay for the repairs on the vehicle and also for a ‘Baci’ ceremony. (Interestingly, medical expenses were not considered important! Though we are making sure she receives follow up treatment and rehabilitation on her injured knee).  

A ‘Baci’ is a distinctly Lao ceremony that is used to celebrate a special event.  A ‘Baci’ is held at a marriage, annual festivals, to celebrate a birth, a homecoming, to bless a new home, to welcome officials… any excuse will do. A senior member of the community usually performs the blessing itself.  Afterwards there is always food and usually lots and lots of Beer Lao and Johnny Walker!

Based in the animistic traditions prevalent in the region, the ceremony is meant to realign the vital forces or components of the soul, restoring equilibrium, therefore, a ‘Baci’ after an illness, accident or injury is very important. (For more information about the traditions of the ‘Baci’ ceremony read this

Bau returned to work a few days before her ‘Baci’ and asked if our family was free to attend.  I have to admit that I brushed her off the first time she asked, figuring she just felt she should ask.  But she mentioned it again the following day and offered to come and pick us up so we could find our way to her sister’s house. I realized that it was important to her that we come.  So we graciously accepted.

Let me digress for a moment:

Bau came to work for us when baby Chilli was eight weeks old.  I had never had a nanny before but with the arrival of number three, I determined to take advantage of that little expat luxury for the sake of my own sanity and, quite possibly, the lives of my family… providing I could find the right person.

I interviewed a few people, some lovely, some not so much.  A friend told me she had a friend (isn’t that always how it works) whose sister was looking for work.  Bau was Hmong, an ethnic minority here, so her opportunities for education had been limited but she was smart and capable and looking for a job now that her own young children had both started school.

She spoke no English (then, though in 12 months her progress is remarkable) and had no references as she had not worked before but I liked her… and so did the eight week old bundle in my arms.

It was love at first sight between Bau and Chilli.  If not for the fact that my boobs were providing that child sustenance, Chilli could not have cared less if I was around or not when Bau was in the room.

Monkey and Pigeon and I soon fell in love with her too.  It is impossible not to love her.  She is gentle and kind, firm yet loving, smart and intuitive, fun and funny.  She puts up with me and genuinely adores my crazy daughters.  She radiates love.

Bau’s ‘Baci’ was presided over by her father on a Saturday morning and followed by a feast of traditional food.  G, Monkey, Pigeon, Chilli and I were guests of honour.  Everyone else there was family.

I find it difficult to explain how special it was to be there.

I can describe the facts:  Bau is one of twelve children. All available siblings were there along with their spouses and children. Her husband’s, equally large, family were there, including her parents-in-law.  Bau’s elderly mum and dad traveled almost 12 hours to attend.  The house was overflowing with food, chaos, love and laughter.

I can show  you some photos:

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In the thick of it during the brief formal ceremony.
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The white strings represent blessings.
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Who needs words? The kids all playing happily together despite neither family speaking the others language
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Chilli was not going to be left out
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More blessings please!

We were made to feel so welcome.

With united purpose, we all shared our love and concern for Bau.

I do not come from a large family, or a close extended family, we have no strong traditional ties.  That isn’t wrong or bad, it just is.  To experience, if only for a moment, what it is like to be part of such an enormous, embracing family unit was…well… fabulous.

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Thanks for reading. Blessings and good health.