The Firsts of Many Lasts

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My last laksa at On 3 Kopitiam just off Jalan Song

The middle of August saw us doing some of the many things we would normally do here for the very last time. That is why I could never have posted my thoughts at that time, as my emotions (and thoughts) were everywhere. And there would have been A LOT of unhappiness as leaving was not really on my agenda for 2017.

Chef’s contract had come to an end and it was time for us to start looking elsewhere for work. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much out there (we really did want to stay in South East Asia), but any smart chef in the industry is sitting on his position.

So tonight I type for the last time as a resident of Kuching. The next time I will post something we will probably already be living in our new home town of Kuwait City – predicted only to be end of January 2018.

So whilst Kuwait / ME is not where I wanted to land up, I am certainly grateful for the fact that we can get work. Finally, I have the opportunity to work again. To start a career or even to learn something new, I am excited at the prospects of getting a pay cheque and being stimulated. The kids are sorted with schools and Chef has already booked an apartment. Guess what… I even packed and shipped off another F@#% box on Monday!

Shout out to all the incredible people who have made this tropical journey so unbelievable. The friends that became family!  Even the bloody little packer and teller at Upwell and the lady at the market that has been ripping me off the past two and half years. I shall miss you all.To the lucky ones who get to call Kuching, S’rwak their home…you don’t know how uber jealous I am. We are already planning our holiday to Mulu next year hahaha.

I have been really strong this time round. Oddly enough. I guess because the boys and I are heading off to South Africa to spend Christmas and NY with my family. We get to meet our little Bodhi Boy.

Who’s to say this won’t be our forever home in the future?

The Republic sunset

Sunset as seen from 6th Floor of The Republic on Thursday 30 November 2017

The massage follow up visit

Leanne returned to the massage parlor in Vietnam. Here is her story.

If you missed her previous account of events… read it here: About that time in Vietnam when we went for massages…

28/03/2017 (yah, I know I am crap at updating), 20:49:24: Leanne Brayshaw:

So I go for massage at the same place I went previously with my good friend Natalie.

They won’t let me in and keep talking and pointing to my bike going hi meaning two. The neighbor, who has a food cart, is also pointing at my bike and saying hi. They are all chatting in Vietnamese. Eventually, I convey to them in Vietglish that Natalie has gone back to Malaysia . This follows more google translate which the Viet to English makes no sense.

We give up.

I say just massage – NO head wash (indicated by making massage movements in the air with my hands and then massaging my shaking ahead and saying NO NO). She is frustrated that I have not brought Natalie along so she walks all over me, literally! Then, she has her feet between my very exposed butt and proceeds to do the massage with her knees. Don’t worry she got some spanking action in too . I had done squats the day before and not going to lie, could barely walk. Think she knew this as she tortured my thighs! Deep fingers into my muscle! Then she beat them! Then, bent them an impossible way!

Next came the wonderful hot stone massage. I had put up with all this torture for these few moments of bliss.

Still mad she proceeded to wash my hair and face knowing that face washing can be used as torture in some places (her salon being one of them) and completely ignoring the fact that I had told her NO in the beginning.  I managed to communicate that I needed conditioner or “hair softener” . Having realized I did a 2 hr bike ride and my hair was knotty, I could imagine what torture she could bestow on me when she brushed my hair.

I think she agrees but I have to pay extra. Well, knowing the price of the massage, I agree immediately (180 000 for nearly 2 hrs). We continue without incident. She smacks me and tells me to dress and then brushes my conditioned hair while I watch a spider advance on my feet. We once again try google translate but nothing makes sense. She is talking into her phone in Viet and it says random English words out. Even google translate does not understand Vietnamese!

I say goodbye and leave, and yes I will go back! Natalie end the torture and come with me.

My children are schooling me on school

Back in the school year of 2016

An old friend and I were chatting via messenger one night (late my time, but midday her time) about our resilient kids and how they adapt to their new home country’s education systems and curriculums. At the time of writing this draft she had recently moved to Germany with her husband and kids.

She is by no means one to have ever kept her thoughts and opinions silent and her height added to her frightening abilities. There were a few opening lines of the conversation of bullying at school and then the part I knew was coming… “I just want to *%$#  the parents up. I wait at the school gate… lol so now he doesn’t tell me anymore.” I felt for her as we were living through it with Kelsey and my thoughts and emotions were just as real. I tried to manage it as best as I could by telling Kels to ignore the bully or kill him with kindness, but he wasn’t letting up. I then escalated to speaking to the assistant teacher and 3 days later to the class teacher. She took control of the situation and thank heavens we have managed to put an end to all the victimizing and within a few months we were at the play-date stage.

There is always a fine line for me, I prefer to speak first and punch later. Chef told him to punch first and apologise later – must be a German thing!

What did I do to help my son? It was a matter of building up his confidence again and making him both mentally and physically strong. Starting off we signed up with Kumon to up his maths game. We joined the tennis club for lessons 3 times a week and he did gymnastics every Saturday morning. Towards the end of the year he dropped the gymnastics and took up swimming. I received a message from his coach yesterday suggesting that Kelsey starts swimming competitively (as in school galas) as he shows great potential in his freestyle and butterfly abilities. Shout out to myself right here!

Anyways, the whole bullying thing got me questioning the school selection I had made – NOT that we have a huge selection here. Should I have rather sent my son to Tunku Putra which has more of a “holistic education system?” Would my gentle natured son met a different kind of bully there? Is he going to make it in Lodge’s competitive environment? Yes, I know bullies are everywhere, but neither of us were really prepared for the situation at hand.

I can’t help myself from comparing the amazing school vs sport life we had at King Edwards Prep School in JHB. Nothing will come close to the tradition, school unity and education we were fortunate to be a part of for the 3 years.  You see, the things I find hardest here, is it is an all or nothing game plan here. The school day starts at 8am and finishes at 3pm or 4pm depending on your year. Thereafter, kids go for extra tuition and or external sports. They will eat dinner late and once they are done with dinner they have to study another hour and eventually go to bed well after 10pm. I have tried my hardest to keep our SA routine with getting them to bed early and up early. This obviously doesn’t allow for much play or chill time for them.

With the first full year complete there has been a huge change in him. When we first got here, he battled terribly with maths, but finished off the year with a fantastic B.  He speaks about being a Scientist all day long and shows a keen interest in all things science. No surprise here that Science and IT were both A*. He wishes to join the robotics team this year. The arts and music along with the languages (apart from English) did not score anywhere remotely close to B’s, and I am hoping to work on that this year. The teacher’s comment: “He shows a positive attitude to learning. He contributes interesting ideas to class discussions with his ability to think outside of the box. Kelsey is a natural learner and will go far in all his does.” He was made class monitor for the year today and he has been nominated to be a prefect.

He is the kind of child that wakes up early, gets out of bed, dresses, brushes teeth and is ready and waiting for you. No nagging needed. He nags his brother for me. He hates being late for school. I hope his kind nature and eagerness for school and knowledge will never cease.

Liam did a sterling job too, and excelled in everything, except for Mandarin. His long days inside his, recently airconed, classroom, just makes me sad. Toilet visits are at set times only and kids are encouraged to wait until the whole class goes altogether. He only had outside play once a week for an hour. He wrote 3 tests a week – English, Mandarin and Bahasa Malay. I would be so much happier if they could at least have 30 min in the morning to play outside on the jungle-gyms. Again coming back to the work vs play balance. That being said, a little discipline and structure for Liam is not a bad thing.

Teachers comment: “Congratulations and well done, Liam. You have shown a lot of improvement in all the main subjects except for Mandarin. He is a cheerful and well behaved pupil. ”

Our chosen school follows a British National Curriculum and then from the age of 16 it becomes even more competitive as they start with the Cambridge International Advanced levels (IGCSE and IGCE). Unofficially, I do feel that it tends to be predominately a Chinese influenced education system and that means discipline and top scores is the order of the day, with very little socialising and fun time spared for the kids. The more educated you are, the more successful you will be. The more money you make, the more status you have!

That being said, the students get to attend religious and social groups that are not really available back in SA schools. So for example there is the science club, Christian prayer group, gardening club. I like the fact that they get to be a part of a shared interest group.

They are settled now, so I will not move them and I do believe that we (I have no choice) will get used to the long school hours. Have I made the right choice? Time will tell? However, I will not push them to be grade A students and to excel in all that they do. I want them to be balanced and happy, that is all.

Oh and whilst I am being slightly vocal, I’d like to suggest that school canteen gets a revamp, starting at the food. You do not need to fry everything… let alone serve a scoop of chocolate ice-cream between a slice of bread. How about some fruits on sale?

To all those parents who are looking at new schools or new countries and new schools, can I recommend that you visit the school with your child. Get a feel of the school. Observe how the other children behave in the classroom environment and ask yourself…”will my child flourish and be the best that he can be in this environment?” Enquire how frequently teachers rotate (this is a real problem in the international schools, as english speaking teachers come for a year and then go, not great for sensitive kids). There will always be a trade-off, I am afraid.

Oh yah, and totally choose a house near to school or school near to house, either way, I love that I am within a 10 min drive to both schools.

To my boys… you have made me so bloody proud. Not only academically, but socially as well. You have made friends with children of various religions and cultures. You have embraced their traditions and brought them home to share with me. You have said farewell to many expat children and families (Shakir, Dylan, soon to be Diago and Aly) within our community and accepted that we too will leave Kuching one day. You have found fishing! As we start another academic year, may you both continue to do the best that you can all that you do. Be that guy Liam!

PS – Kelsey – Not all prefects lose their social lives once they receive a badge. Ask Kimmy and Tammy.

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Surviving the very long holidays

The boys have officially been on school holidays for 11 days now and I am quite relieved to post that so far so good. There has been minimal shouting and time out sessions and I guess the difference is this time round I sat them down, and we all put our ideas of holiday activities forward. Going into battle with a plan seems to work actually. How do I it?  Very simply exhaust them in the morning with all the possible physical activities we can do either in the complex, at Zumba classes or within cycling distance. The trick is to get involved and have fun with them. Smother them with all your attention so that come the afternoon or evening when you are completely done with they are actually tired of being with you. I have had to learn to turn a blind eye on the mess and the constant cleaning up of the house. When it is time to call it a day, each child goes into their room and does a quick clean before dad arrives as he can nag more than I do when it comes to stuff lying about.

This being said we might need to revisit this philosophy at the end of the 6 week break. Shew Thailand holiday can’t come soon enough, when their aunties and uncles can entertain them a little too.

Some things we have been doing….

Cycling tour to the Chinese Malay friendship park, which is literally around the corner. Surprised that I didn’t do this little trip sooner as the park is really safe, clean and super child friendly. They even got to feed the already fat fish in the lake.

 

Prawn fishing at the Jalan Song Prawnster. One of my squirmiest favourites. Thank heavens the dude running the place puts the worm on the hook for you as that is a task I can’t bring myself to doing and was pleasantly surprised when Kelsey did his own. The boys had an absolute ball. It was a great way to teach them to have patience too. LOL. Liam caught 2 whilst his brother only managed to catch 1. See pic below for Jalan Song Prawnster info.

Tenpin bowling at Megalanes Adventure Centre. My favourite so far – merely since I beat the 3 boys… terribly competitive in my old age. Probably not ideal for Liam but he participated all the same and was always keen to show off his muscles with every ball he picked up. The rented shoes are always a problem for me. I can’t get them soon enough off of my feet. Would love to do this one evening as I am sure it attracts quite a crowd.

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We are moving to where exactly? Borneo? Kuching?

Borneo? Is that even a real place?

Looking back it was written in the stars that we would end up moving again, and I mean not just to the corner house. Our lease was coming to an end in October 2014 and I was scouring the market for a place to rent or buy… whichever came first as time was running out. We put in 2 purchase offers for places that we liked and got neither. Pressed for time we found ourselves renting again. We packed up the old place and moved into the new place down the road. In the interim my husband had put his feelers out for new working opportunities abroad.

The morning that our lives changed was weird. An old work colleague had popped up in husband’s head. He wondered as to what Mr X was up to. That afternoon he got a Facebook message from Mr X saying that he was looking for an executive chef in Kuching and would husband be interested… ummm for sure he was interested! It was a signed deal by the end of November and plans were already being made for him to start work on 1 February 2015 Fate.

What was going through my head during the initial conversation between husband and I…

Firstly, where in the world is Borneo? Easily rectified by Google searches. Borneo is the 3rd biggest island in the world with amazing rainforests, white beaches and crystal clear water (the latter part is mostly on the Sabah side much to my initial disappointment). Home to the endangered and magnificent Orang-utans. We reside in Kuching – the city of cats, in the state of Sarawak. They also have the friendliest people I have come to know. It is a growing city with loads of opportunity. If government invests in the right places it certainly has the potential to be an exceptional city. I love the fact that rich and poor are able to live on the same street in mansions and kampongs (houses or villages) without class distinction. English is widely spoken, although I do find that the younger generation do not speak as fluently as the older generation do.

How do I tell my family AGAIN that I am leaving the country to follow my husband? I had done this so many times before. But it seems to get harder the more I do it. Do I really want to put them through it?

How do I keep this exciting news from my boss? Who also happens to be my little sister and best friend. We had been inseparable since my return from our Dubai stint in 2010.

Oh noooo more boxes and more packing! FML!

Am I making the right choice? Well, you never really know do you?

My dad!! Is his age and health going to withstand the heartache I am about to impose on him? My poor mom!

You mean I am not allowed to work! Like ever? What will I do all day? Oh he (Chef) says, you will take care of the kids, clean the house, bake, prepare meals, iron and work out at the gym. This was a tough one since I am much better at working a 9-5 job and earning my own cash. Besides, no-one hates ironing more than me. I have come to learn that this keeps stay at home moms very busy with very little ME time left.

What about schooling for the boys? They are at a very good International school and both doing very well. Kids are more robust than we give them credit for. They adapt and settle fairly well in comparison to adults. I guess they fear change less than we do.

Is it safe? Well I actually Googled their crime statistics one night and then giggled. Wow. We will be much safer there where they have like 2 murders a year, compared to SA’s daily fight or flight circumstances. Pick pocketing in the malls and on the streets is as bad as it gets.

Back to the boxes! Packing! Being ruthless and discarding things of no sentimental value! Crap, the thought alone sounded exhausting since I had just done it barely a month back. I can highly recommend AGS Frasers Johannesburg and Prime Global Logistics Kuching for all your relocating requirements. They helped pack the very few things we wanted to have sent over and we were even able to track and view the ship our container was on. It took around 8 weeks from door to door and I was so pleased to have my most prized possessions with me finally.

Why did I take the plunge?

It was a much tougher choice for me to make than Chef, since he had left Germany when he was 18 and never returned to his home town. His only attachments to SA were his; Landrover Defender, motorbike and I do believe my crazy Lebanese family. The risk was greater for me. I had to make the choice to leave my family and friends behind for the future and safety of my own family.Yet, I loved the thought of travelling again and enjoying new adventures with my little family of 4. Selfish me was ready for this.

We broke the news to the family and there were harsh words and loads of tears, but mostly amazing support. My poor boss had to put 3 days of family leave in since she couldn’t bear to look at me. She texted one day and said.” I want to be happy for you but I am really sad for me and now my eyes can’t stop crying.” Bless. Now I am crying too, remembering the conversations I had had with all my sisters.

Chef left on the 1 February 2015 and the kids and I followed on the 2 June 2015 with granny in tow. Thank heavens she was with me as I don’t think I would have made the 20 hour flight without her.

Here we are almost a year later to the date. An adventure that I am so glad I didn’t decline.

If you ever find yourself in Southeast Asia and you love exploring rainforests, rock pools, islands and just being out and about, then do make a turn here. You certainly won’t regret it.