Happy New Year 2018 Groundhog Day

It feels like Groundhog Day, Happy New Year messages are pinging on my phone constantly and it’s not yet midday, UK time. As a result of us moving to Hong Kong in 2001, I now have friends all over the world and they have been sending Happy New Year messages since I got up at 7am. Thanks to Facebook I am now in touch with family all over the world too, from New Zealand to Trinidad and many places in between. New Year started with a super message from my cousin in New Zealand which came in at just after 7am UK time. Since then, my son has seen in the New Year in Japan, friends have messaged from Hong Kong and it’s only four hours until the UK reaches midnight. Then I shall wait for hubby in New Jersey to call, hopefully then family in Trinidad will post on Facebook and then my friends on the West Coast of America will see the New Year in. Are you experiencing that Groundhog moment too?

Hong Kong has a special place in my heart, no-one does fireworks better than the Chinese.

Don’t mis-understand me, I think it’s wonderful. My maternal family has had a reunion for the last two years and our cousin from New Zealand is coming to the UK in 2018 for the first time in 17 years to share in the next one and we are all very excited.

Having said all that, I am actually sat on my own, watching TV with a bottle of bubbles at my side. I indulged myself earlier today and read “Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee and loved it. Being on your own doesn’t mean being lonely so I raise my glass to all my family and friends and wish you all the very best for 2018, what ever it brings. Just know that whether we connect in person or via social media, your friendship means a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

School run

So I’ve gone from a 10 minute drive from home to school in Hong Kong to a three hour drive in the UK from leafy Sussex to wet Somerset. Thankfully the kids are in boarding school so it’s not a daily drive especially as I have to negotiate the constantly busy M25 around London.

With the recent storms that have hit the South of England, it was always on the cards that one journey would be disrupted by the flooding. The road from Stonehenge to Street was closed and we were diverted via some smaller B roads which, unsurprisingly were also suffering because of the excess water. The white line of sandbags in the first photo shows how close we were to having our alternative route closed too.

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Thankfully it had stopped raining when we drove back a couple of weeks later after the half term holiday and it was a delight to see fields full of sheep with swollen bellies ready to lamb and even a few early lambs in the fields although they were so small they didn’t come out well in the photos. The Stonehenge road was open again so we were also able to enjoy the pigs in the opposite fields still wallowing in their preferred mud but at least they could leave off their wellies this time!

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I shall be going over to school next weekend and am looking forward to spotting some daffodils, snowdrops and crocus’ and watching as bare trees start to come back to life after the long winter. What a joy to be back in the UK for spring.

Being an ex expat

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I loved being back with my family in my own home to celebrate Christmas after 12 years away but having lived in someone else’s culture for that amount of time, I was unwilling to let Chinese New Year pass by without acknowledging that too so a trip to Chinatown in London was planned and The Year of the Horse was celebrated. Being back in the UK meant I could invite friends to share this with me and we had a wonderful and colourful day.

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It’s so good being back with friends. I’ve now spent time with friends I’ve known since my late teens and cherished being back face to face with them. We’d reconnected via Facebook during my time away and that helped keep our friendship fresh and not reliant on reminiscing about old times.  Yesterday my daughter and I met up with another mum and daughter we’d met when we first went to Hong Kong. A short friendship out there is hopefully going to develop into a more meaningful one back here. As ex expats we both speak the same language and I don’t mean English! We share common experiences that we don’t have to explain to each other, we share what it’s like to live back in our home country which is home but at the same time a strange land. I’m sure all Third Culture Kids (and adults) know what I’m talking about. It’s exciting being with friends old and new and definitely one of life’s joys and I can’t wait for my next time with a friend.

I should credit my daughter for my this blog. She has decided to start her own and she inspired me to sit down and share my humble thoughts so thank you dearest daughter x

Week 16 : In the dark

Although the UK is still officially on British Summer Time, the nights are definitely drawing in and there’s a chill in the air. The leaves are at the end of their autumn showing and rainy days are increasing; autumn is almost over and summer is a distant memory. As I mentioned last week, I have missed the UK’s changing seasons.  Hong Kong can sometimes feel like one long season, leaves don’t fall off trees (much) and although the temperature changes from summer to winter, spring and autumn almost don’t exist. The other big change between UK and HK is the day and night cycle. Next weekend the UK will put the clocks back an hour so we will be back on Greenwich Mean Time which means it will get dark around tea time and the sun won’t be up before I’ve had my breakfast (ok, so I’m not an early riser). Day light hours will be short, not giving the air time to warm up; I’m not looking forward to the cold, dark days of winter. In Hong Kong, it gets dark around 7pm in the summer and around 6pm in the winter so no real change.

I’m also now living in the countryside not the city which gives me wonderful open views in the daytime but makes for very dark nights. Let me show you what I mean.

This is my night time view from our old apartment in Hong Kong.

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This is the night time view from our house in Sussex, can you see anything? No? Me neither!

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I’m feeling rather closed in! Light pours out of high rises in Hong Kong. My nearest city, Brighton, doesn’t really have high rise buildings so although on street level there is plenty of light, it feels like the sky starts closer to the ground because of the lack of lights higher than say 10 storeys. Not good, not bad just different.

However, in two weeks the sky will light up all over the UK as we celebrate Bonfire Night! Watch out for that post, sparks may fly 😉

Next week, we shall all be in Johannesburg and on safari! Forgive me if my blog is late next week, I might have upset a lion!

 

 

Week 15 : An English autumn

Nothing profound this week dear readers, just lots of lovely photos from my local National Trust property,Nymans Gardens  http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/nymans/. One of the things I missed most about the UK whilst living in Hong Kong was the season changes and although I’m not enjoying the drop in temperature that accompanies the change from summer to autumn, I’m certainly enjoying the colours in the countryside.

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Week 14 : Books

I love reading. I’ve always been a book worm and I’m proud to say, not a book snob (although can’t quite bring myself to read “50 Shades of Grey). If I’ve read a mighty tome then for me there’s nothing better  than to sit down with a good chick lit book (is that an oxymoron?) because I find that my brain still wants to process the said tome but my eyes yearn for the printed word. Not that it has to be a print version; I have a fully charged Kindle and know how to use it!

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I was lucky enough to be the Library Assistant at a children’s primary school in Hong Kong for six wonderful years. The joy of connecting children with books, with helping staff find just the right book for their needs, to ease parents’ anxieties about their child’s reading and to have the privilege of helping to select new books for our library was so satisfying and I am eternally grateful to the three fabulously talented librarians, for whom I had the honour to work, for letting me do all this.

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Now I’m back in the UK and not ready to enter the paid job market, I actually have time to attend author talks. Recently I was lucky enough to listen to Oliver Jeffers and David Mackintosh in conversation at the Brighton Dome with my lovely author friend Sally Symes. Wow, what amazing if contrasting men they were. They both write and illustrate picture books for young children. They have quite different styles and very different approaches to their work but were united in their passion for telling a story mainly through the use of illustrations. What impressed me was that the story they wanted to tell was paramount. Neither man liked the idea of composing moralistic or preachy books, they both were firm that children would (and do) see right through them. However as they are both people with integrity, good messages ooze out of their books with ease.

So if you are looking for gifts for any child for any occasion, here are the first wonderful authors I can recommend.

http://www.oliverjeffers.com

http://www.profuselyillustrated.com

http://www.sallysymes.com

I’m now incredibly excited about another author I’m going to hear in next week and there are not enough adjectives to describe how much I love this man’s writing,. This summer I read his two new books and I’m going to listen to him reading “Fortunately the milk” out loud in its entirety! It’s Neil Gaiman I’m raving on about in case the print is too small on the photo. He writes for adults as well as children so please do look at his website. Recently my 16 year old son turned to me and said he’d discovered a new author, was enthralled with his books and wanted to be able to write like him. Of course I asked who and he asked if I’d heard of Neil Gaiman, ah kids. It’s every parent’s dream that their child will like reading so you can imagine my delight hearing my son has fallen in love with one of my favourite authors. Here’s Neil’s website link for your shopping list.

http://www.neilgaiman.com

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One of the previously mentioned talented librarians I worked for is now working and living in Australia. I turned 50 this year and she took the time and went to the expense of posting me the most wonderful book. It’s a reference book and the title says it all. “1001 children’s books you must read before you grow up” I must be still growing up because I’ve not read them all yet….! So if you are still looking for a book to recommend to a child, look no further.  Now I just need to find some free wall space in my house to unpack my boxes of books! Happy reading everyone.

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Week 13 : Friendship and kindness

Moving is stressful whether it’s just down the road or across oceans, whether it’s to a familiar place or to somewhere new and totally different.  When my brother and I were growing up my Dad’s job meant we moved house seven times, changing schools and moving from Manchester to London to Preston and to a village in Derbyshire.  My Mum was told on numerous occasions that it must be easy for her to move because she’d done it so many times. Some assumptions are just wrong! Sure, she knew to start saving newspapers three months before each move to wrap our kitchen plates in and I think we were the only family to have tea chests stacked up in our garage ready for the next packing day but the physical upheaval and emotional farewells never got any easier. There are more people to say goodbye to and then the business of starting again, making friends, finding the local shops and getting to know the bus routes all take it out of you. No Facebook or Google to help us on our way in the 1960s-1980s!

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When my husband’s job took our family to Hong Kong we had all these things to deal with. Luckily we were moved into company accommodation with its ready furnished apartment and facilities so didn’t have to take the time to go flat hunting. We were only going to be there for two years and wanted to get out and explore Asia’s World City (hahaha, twelve years later). What I didn’t expect was the warm welcome we got from other company employees’ trailing spouses. I expected to be a stranger and only meet people perhaps via our children or at the bus stop and the usual places. I expected it to be much harder to make friends because we aren’t Chinese and don’t speak Cantonese (yep, naive old me). I hadn’t been properly prepared for the expat community. On day two, the doorbell rang and a lovely American lady was there with a plate of home-made cookies. She told me about the Wendy Wives (nothing like the Stepford Wives you’ll be glad to know), a group of trailing spouses some new like me and others who had seen the world. All of them knew how hard it is to settle in a new country. Two of these ladies took me under their wing. For both of them it was their last six months in Hong Kong and their “pay it forward” philosophy meant I found the best supermarket, the local doctors’ surgery, where to buy Marmite, how to speak taxi Cantonese, where to shop for clothes that fit western women and so much more. The only thanks they would take was that I carry on and “pay it forward” to the next batch of trailing spouses which I did until the day I left.

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Coming back to the UK and the quiet country village where we had lived prior to our move, I knew I would meet up with some old friends but also knew their lives were much more stable and less transient. The last thing I wanted to do was to barge back in and expect to pick up where I left off. However, once again I have been welcomed with open arms. I’ve been to lunch with three previously close friends (hoping we are still close!), another friend comes weekly armed with gardening tools or cleaning equipment to help me settle in, another friend comes and gently sits and has coffee and takes time to ask about me and many many more friends around the UK are in touch, ready to reacquaint themselves with me when I’m in their neck of the woods, I’m so touched. As for my family, I’m simply overwhelmed by the love they show me and my family, I knew I was missed but not how much. I guess I left a footprint.

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Kindness isn’t a word you hear much these days but I have been surrounded by it. The kindness of strangers in Hong Kong when we first arrived and the kindness long term friends have shown on our return. The wonderful friends I left behind in Hong Kong still show it daily via Facebook and emails (was a bit down yesterday and one friend immediately sent me lots of funnies which really cheered me up). Village friends show it by simply connecting to me and wanting to share their time with me. Friends flung across the UK are in touch and so supportive, excited to see me back. I’m not very good at taking compliments or feeling much self worth, why would you want to be friends with me when there are so many amazing people out there. But wonderfully, people do and I am overwhelmed. It made it very hard to leave but it’s what it grounding me here in the UK and I am honoured.

Week nine : Empty nest or blank canvas?

I’ve sat and stared at this blank page all day.

Empty nest = blank canvas

Yesterday my son (16) joined my daughter (17) at boarding school for the first time. Before moving to Hong Kong, the only people I knew who sent their kids to boarding school were the royal family! I thought it was a completely separate world from me and mine. Both hubby’s family and my family are working class people made good (love meritocracy) and my Dad had even gone to university. Boarding school was what I read about in Enid Blyton books. Not that I had anything against them, they just weren’t for us, why would or should they be? Then we moved to Hong Kong. Before long, I was mixing with career expats who moved countries every two or so years and had to deal with the impact that had on their children’s education especially as they got older and exams began to loom. A whole new world opened up to me and I began to think in a very different way.

Our daughter asked us (aged 14) if she could go. She liked her school in Hong Kong and is definitely a home bird but felt that she wasn’t getting the opportunities both academically and for her interest in sports that one particular school in the UK could offer. We found ourselves being led by her on this journey and she started in Year 10 (fourth form, UK system) and hasn’t looked back since. She starts her last year today and I can honestly say it has been the best thing for her. The hardest part was only seeing her three times a year, Christmas, Easter and summer. Because of strict rules in the UK about internet in bedrooms we were not able to Skype or Face Time but we could text and phone and did most days.

So now we are back in the UK, why did my son go to boarding school? The simple answer is that we felt it was the easiest way to transition him back to the UK. It’s hard for Third Culture Kids to go back “home” where they look and sound the same but are actually very different. They don’t know the current slang, they aren’t aware of the latest trends or TV shows and it’s not their home. So he’s gone to a school where there are plenty of overseas students including expat kids. Funnily enough one of his very best friends started in the same year as him yesterday and we met up with four other Hong Kong families that we knew which made both he and I feel right at home.

There are so many articles and blogs on Third Culture Kids so if you’re interested, take a look at these to get you started

http://expatchild.com/third-culture-kids/

http://whenyoureathirdculturekid.tumblr.com

http://tckid.com

http://www.internations.org/magazine/the-difficulty-of-life-as-a-third-culture-kid-15288

And this great video

http://vimeo.com/41264088

When we left the UK almost twelve years ago, one of the first books I bought was “Daughters of Britannia” by Katie Hickman, daughter of a British diplomat. She “describes the unusual and often difficult lives of Foreign Service spouses. Tracking these feisty transplants from the 17th century to the present, she shows how these very significant others coped with everything from tropical epidemics to kidnappings to small household budgets.” These women didn’t have the benefit of air travel, electronic communications and often sent their children away never to see them again. What we have nowadays is far less harrowing yet parting from a child is never easy no matter how well prepared both parties are. I miss them terribly, especially today being the first day they are away but I know they are both happy and in a place that will help them flourish and grow, not because it’s boarding school but because it is where they fit in and feel comfortable and I wish them both every happiness. My job as a parent is to make sure they are equipped with the skills they need to face the outside world and I know I’ve done that to the best of my ability. My love and prayers go with them both, always and to every other family going through the same thing. And of course, before too long they will be back for the half-term break, eating me out of house and home and I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/883230.Daughters_of_Britannia

Week eight : Limbo

It’s been a strange week. My two lovely children are getting ready to go back to school. My daughter has been boarding for the past three years and starts her final year and my son has decided to join her at the same school after our move from Hong Kong. He got a good set of IGCSE results and is looking forward to A levels and my daughter matched him with super AS results enabling her to carry on her chosen A levels. I’m very proud of them both, they work hard and realise that although the only way they can get into university is with good grades,  good grades don’t make good people and don’t define who you are. My kids are well rounded and balanced, thoughtful and considerate although mostly only after 11am when they get out of bed and if they are supplied with copious amounts of crisps 😉

So last weekend we hit the shops for new clothes, toiletries, stationary and of course tuck. Next weekend we make the 2 1/2 hour drive on Friday to visit the uniform shop, spend Saturday with father-in-law (guardian to the children when I am away), hen back to school on Sunday with son making final A level choices and then leave him there, take daughter back on Monday then I drive back home to Cuckfield. I have audio books queued up ready for the journeys! It will be an emotional time but we all know it is the right place for them to be and they are happy to be at that school. It’s also the first time I’ve taken them, normally my hubby does it because HK schools start in the middle of August so I was always at work. I have tissues in the car………

Although you never stop parenting whatever age your kids are, there is obviously a role change as they grow up. I’m not changing nappies, preparing packed lunches, picking them up from the school gates but they still need me in much more personal ways. I love the conversations we have and I am especially proud that even when we argue, they make up pretty quickly and get on with each other and me. We all miss hubby/Dad and have found electronic ways to keep in touch, Skype and a family group whatsapp mean we all know what’s going on at the same time.

Limbo? Well, I suppose it is the question every empty-nesting parent must face. Where do you go from here? I know I am the glue that binds us all together. I know I am the homemaker providing everyone with a physical place to come home to. I know I am the emotional force in our family. The question is how to balance all that with what makes me tick. I suspect that is a question I will find answers to over the coming months on my own. I also have to start to re-embrace the UK as my home, part of me is still very attached to Hong Kong. When we moved there I decided the only way to live was to throw myself into everything it had to offer. As a family, we did the usual expat thing every summer, we got on a plane for 12 hours with copious amounts of luggage (the UK gets four seasons in one day to quote Sting), rushed round visiting as many people as we could catching up on a year’s worth of news before packing it all back up and facing the queues at LHR for the return flight home and jet lag. Knowing I’m not going back has put a different set of parameters in my head. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE that I’m near my family and I LOVE I’m going to see my UK friends so much more (although most live miles away from my house), I just miss home.

However, I do live in the most beautiful village and if you ready the gravestone, you’ll see a family who had a long expat tradition!

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Week seven : Reconnecting with the countryside

This is our third week in our house and although I’ve been just as busy as the previous two weeks, when the jobs become smaller, it’s frustrating that their impact isn’t such a visible one. It looks as if I’ve not done anything! So, instead of letting my frustration get to me, I took my daughter  off to visit our local beauty spot. We are so lucky to live on the doorstep of Wakehurst Place, Ardingly, also known as Kew in the Country.

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wakehurst-place/

Camera in hand, daughter and I snapped away and soaked up the beautiful English countryside. I’m a very amateur but keen photographer, here’s the link to my Flickr set. We both loved the fact that there is a dedicated area to encouraging gardeners to plant their gardens to attract insects and birds with a view to encouraging more pollination. The issue of disappearing bees is real, not just a Dr Who episode! They have a fantastic schools programme, children must love getting out into the countryside and learning about nature in such a practical way and in such a glorious setting.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hongkongphooeydp/sets/72157635098849194/

We also did a quick visit to Cardiff where my son had been spending a week with his grandfather. The sunshine was out again so daughter and I repeated our English experience with a Welsh one and walked to Roath Park.

http://www.cardiff.gov.uk/content.asp?nav=2%2C2868%2C2965%2C2991

Here’s the link to my photos from Roath Park. Can you spot the Scott memorial lighthouse? Captain Scott set off for his Antarctic journey from Cardiff and I’ll post photos another day about him when I do a Cardiff history blog.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hongkongphooeydp/sets/72157635152342325/

I find I struggle with photography, deciding what kind of photographer I want to be. I started on a film SLR (too many moons ago to let you in on that secret) and have had a digital camera for over 20 years now. Currently I’m inseparable from my digital SLR, the mighty Nikon D7000. The difficulty isn’t how to use it (although I can always learn more) it’s more the debate between being a recorder of family occasions, a kind of visual diary keeper versus taking a really beautifully composed and visually tempting photograph. I’m so lucky to know lots of professional and amateur photographers who have all generously shared their time and talent with me so I hope to do them justice when I’m behind the lens. Maybe the question isn’t which type of photographer I am, but do I take photos that make me happy?

All I know is that when thought I’d lost my camera for ever, it was like losing a child (well, ok, so that’s a tad extreme). Now I have it back I’m a happy bunny once again.

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