Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A time to mourn

It seems like every time I'm working on a post a little more Macau-related, something comes up and derails it (stomach bug anyone?). Tonight Michael and the boys are having a three hour movie marathon with the intention of giving me time to write in peace. But right now there is anything but peace in my head or my heart.

Can I just share that I'm really disliking Facebook right now? I already shared with you how just two weeks ago we lost Michael's Aunt Earlene. What I didn't share with you is how we found out about her passing: via a cousin's post on Facebook. I saw it first and told Michael personally before he opened Facebook and saw it himself.

My Grandpa, the last day I saw him before he passed away.
Shortly after we were married, I lost my last grandparent.  Michael found out earlier in the day from my Mom, and instead of calling me at work, he made dinner and set out the nice china so when I walked through the door he was there to welcome me with a beautiful spread and open arms to tell me I was a girl who'd lost a generation of her family. It was so compassionate and the perfect example of the right way to give someone bad news (even if the meal goes uneaten).

Flash forward to this evening. I've taken to only checking Facebook once a day (or less), mainly as a way to protect myself from wanting to live too much in the "there" instead of the "here" where my life currently is. Michael was tutoring the boys in math and I was hanging out near them, checking Facebook on my phone. I saw a post from my cousin, which I will quote because it's beautiful:

A great man died tonight, I was lucky to be able to call him uncle. He was on the team who created the first laser "big Bertha". He worked on so many awesome projects at NASA including the space shuttle and Hubble telescope. Because of him my science fair projects rocked. In his later years he joined the service of another kind, the Salvation Army, where everyone could see his heart of gold. I'll miss you uncle, I'll always think of you when I look at the stars in the heavens above.
My cousin has other uncles that we do not share, but of course we do share one that worked in the aerospace industry and gave his life to serving others through the Salvation Army. I doubled over and moaned sorrowfully. Michael and the boys turned to see what was up and I said, "I think my Uncle Louie just died," and proceeded to burst into tears. I tried to confirm this by texting a few other cousins, my brother, and writing a message to the one who posted the status above. Of course, it was 1:00 a.m. in California, so fat chance of a response. But eventually someone did respond and it was confirmed. One exhausted cousin texted to say she would send an email in the morning with more details.

I had to force myself to think from the perspective of people who were with my uncle tonight. I am certain the absolute last thing on their mind was to reach out and let everyone in the family know he'd passed. Losing a husband, a father? The pain must be so deep, and so personal. I can't pretend to imagine. And were it not for Facebook, I would have found out from the email my cousin will send after she wakes up. That would have been my preference of course. However, in the last few hours, which have been spent alternating between tears and silent contemplation, I've had to make peace with the fact that the days of being able to wait until someone is home from work to tell them bad news are over. Facebook, Twitter, text messaging- all instantly delivered into your hand. Good news or bad at your fingertips.

To tie this all in to the expat life and make it relevent to this space, I can tell you that this has to be one of the most difficult aspects of living abroad. I've never missed a wedding, a baby shower, or a funeral for anyone in my family or my husband's family, even with all the international and domestic moves we've done in the last 15 years! But in the span of one month, we'll be missing two funerals for people who were very important to us. And even more difficult is the fact that both of these people lived in our former hometown, one a few blocks from our house, the other right around the corner from the boys' school. Had we not moved to Macau, I would have possibly had a chance to say goodbye to my Uncle. Ironically, the very last time I saw him, he was there to say goodbye to me.

Here's a photo of my Dad's side of the family, at our going away party before we got on the plane for Macau. My Uncle Louie is on the far right. (My parents had already left). I have this habit that whenever I get together with family, I force us all to take a group shot. Sure, there's groaning, but they've come around. You never know when it might be the very last time you'll see someone.

Here's what I want to say about my Uncle, and I wish I could tell it to you after I'd just cooked you a big meal and set the table with our finest china and crystal. My Uncle taught me how to grow the spiciest possible peppers for my fireproof tongue. He hated cheese and would happily pick me up a sack of tacos, but they were always dairy-free. He was an honest man, who made my Aunt fall for him because of that honesty. He never said no to my little brother and I, and his generosity to us was amazing, even more so now that I'm an adult and know first-hand how draining little children can be. He let me move in with him and my Aunt right after I graduated high school while I looked for a flat of my own, and he proudly introduced me as his niece to everyone he met, which made me feel very special. He had a heart-to-heart talk with me shortly after I was married which affected me so deeply I have to give him some credit for the fact that I'm still married nearly sixteen years later. When we made our first international move to Japan with our ten week-old baby, he had another heart-to-heart talk with me telling me how proud he was that I'd married such a great guy, and that I was a pretty great girl myself. He loved his grandchildren and great grandchildren so deeply that I think even his cells rearranged themselves into smiles when he was near them. And he had the most incredible heart for service- tireless service to the poor and downtrodden which knew no boundary, and asked for no acknowledgement or recognition. The world lost an irreplaceable man today. And when I think about it like that, it makes me want to post it on Facebook and tweet it to the whole world.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mail Call!

First of all, Happy Valentine's Day to those of you who celebrate it. We call it Fish-N-Chips day and go out for fish (see here for why). We've been scoping out the pubs in Macau for months to find good fish-n-chips, but I got hit with the absolutely most miserable stomach bug over the weekend (truly horrible, I'm trying to block it out) and there was no way my digestive system was going to allow anything deep fried anywhere near it. So we made alternate plans for something a little more... bland. Not a huge loss, I get a date night with my handsome husband every week.

But here's the big news... on Monday evening, we checked the mail box and found FOUR package notification slips. This caused my mail-loving heart to pound like a cannon (though it may have just been dehydration from all the throwing up). Mail takes forever to get to Macau from the United States. We actually got our most recent Christmas card, which was mailed prior to Christmas, the first week of February! Granted, the week of Chinese New Year is a public holiday, so we lost a week of mail delivery, but that is still a pretty long wait!

Letters are delivered to our box in the lobby, but packages are not. We have to go to the post office to collect them. If they are small, they are sent to the Taipa post office which is about a fifteen minute walk away. If they are large, they stay up at the main post office in Macau, which is a ten minute walk to the bus stop, a wait for the bus, a bus ride, a short walk, a giant set of steps up, followed by a giant set of steps down, into a back entrance where packages are held. It generally takes about an hour and fifteen minutes from my door to package in hand, and then we have to lug the large and heavy package back home. Fortunately, all four package notification slips were for the Taipa post office.

On Tuesday we had a vet appointment for Lucy (guess what? The vet thinks she is closer to four months old than six months! But she is smart, sound, and sweet otherwise), and on the way home we stopped in to pick up the packages. We could barely wait to get home to open them! Betcha' wanna know what we got! Here they are...

Package number one:
Seven or eight years ago, my friend Amy got me a pair of slippers for my Christmas Eve birthday. I went pretty nuts over this gift, because slippers are something that I never think to buy for myself, but something that I use every day. The next year, she got me another pair. I was over the moon. Then the following year, she got me something else because she thought I was only being my typical over-the-top-dramatic self when I was telling her how much I loved the gift of slippers (especially the fuzzy, crazy ones that she gets which are sooo me). Since then, she's never missed a year of either my annual Christmas Eve birthday breakfast or giving me the gift of slippers. Until this year, when we're living on the opposite side of the planet from my dear friend. Evidently before Christmas she put together this little package and went down to the post office to ship it to me. But when she was faced with the cost to mail it to me ($25+ USD), she had to decide if it was worth it or not. She took a month to think it over. Amy, my dearest love: it was sooooo worth it. See the look on my face? Not just fuzzy slippers, but fuzzy slippers in my very favorite color! Plus Tangerine Jelly Bellies which are my favorite sweet treat, and a bag of assorted candy from the States for the boys. The very best (belated) birthday gift a girl could get, and arriving on Valentine's no less!

Packages number two and three:

These were both from the same people, my Mom and Dad. Our Christmas package arrived long after Christmas, so my Mom tried to pop these Valentine's Day treats in the mail as soon as possible with the hopes they'd get there in time. Well Mom, they came exactly right on time! Conversation hearts in both regular and tart, heart shaped marshmallows, cinnamon jelly hearts (just for me!), Cadbury Creme Eggs (just for Mike!), and some soft candy hearts. And she drew hearts on the boxes, which made me think of when I was in grade school and my fabulous artist mother would draw a different scene on my lunch sack each day. What a treat!

Package Number Four:

This one just might move you to tears, so be prepared. One of the very first people to comment on this blog is a woman from the States named Daphne. She and her husband live in two different states, so both of them can practice the careers that they are passionate about. I can't imagine how challenging that must be. It makes me grateful to be a writer, a very portable career choice, which perfectly complements my husband's very nomadic career choice!

Daphne teaches third grade in California, about 40 miles from where we used to live. When I did the post about the Dragon Money she asked for my mailing address because she wanted in. (Side note: I've received mail from Cezanne, Heather Y, Heidi H, JoAnn R, Lori R, Amy A, Daphne, and have something coming from Traci so you all get Dragon Money!) My boys have sent letters to another class in California, so I also suggested to Daphne that maybe the boys could correspond with her class. I left it up to her to decide what form that might take. And here is what we got: thirty beautifully handwritten letters, each one adorned with artwork and full of questions about what life is like in Macau for an 8 and 11 year old boy, a three page letter about what their classroom is like, and two hats each from In-N-Out Burger and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

Opening that package was like opening something sacred. Nathan and Ben were giddy about the candy from Amy and Grandma and Grandpa, but in silent awe about the stack of letters addressed to them. We read the big letter with photos of the kids as a family, and then the boys took an hour to sit and pour over the individual cards, with frequent statements of wonder and compliments over the drawings (Look Mom, Angry Birds! Mario Bros! Our family portrait in crayon!). It's true, I got choked up. It was all so heartfelt, coming from children we've never met, led by a teacher who has taken the time to show these kids where in the world we live, closing the distance between our two continents using the very slow postal system. That is no small thing in this world of Twitter and instant messaging.

Nathan and Benjamin will be writing back with a postcard to each of the students, and though we weren't able to get enough Dragon Money to get one for each student, we have been collecting other little surprises from Macau to send back to America for these amazing kids and their awesome teacher. Thank you, Daphne!  

We've heard from a few friends and relatives that they've posted some packages to us recently. So much to look forward to! Mail is the best, isn't it?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Sorry friends. It's been awhile, hasn't it? So much on the mind lately as a series of unfortunate events hit us recently, including the unexpected passing of Michael's aunt Earlene, one of my favorite (email) pen pals on our adventures around the globe. We've had a bunch of social engagements and visiting guests. It's also tax season and I've been buried in paperwork for our production company back in the States. At the end of the day I'm sick of sitting in front of the computer and just too exhausted to write!

Chinese New Year came and just went, and surprised me with how incredibly busy things became here. A common question around town was, "What are your plans for Chinese New Year?" My answer was, "Do I need plans?" I didn't do much except take photos, but I did send the boys to shoot off fireworks with a friend. The photos they brought back made me glad I wasn't there... I'm sure I would have said they had to leave for safety's sake!

We had a significant drop in temperature, with lows at 5c/40F and I can't describe just how very cold that is. I know last time I complained about the weather, I got a lot of ribbing about how that isn't cold, you don't know what cold is, it snows here - now that's cold, etc. The unfortunate truth is that construction methods here use cement. Very thick cement. When the temperature drops, the cement absorbs all that cold and you will find it is actually cooler in the house than outside the house. There is no drywall or insulation. It's like living in a meat locker, you can see your breath indoors. Almost none of the housing in Macau has heating. The solution is to buy an electrical space heater and blast it at your body while wearing lots of layers. We are ridiculously fortunate to actually have air conditioner units that also provide heat, a marvel that has our long-term Macau resident friends green with envy. We had a lot of company because we have the warmest house in Macau! Which means that our puppy has been very socialized in the last few weeks! Nothing like a warm, sleeping puppy on your lap on a freezing day! And Lucy doesn't discriminate, if you're sitting, she'll sleep on you.

That's it for me for now. I'll try to get my act together and post some photos of the amazing spectacle of Chinese New Year in Macau. And I'll leave you with a Lucy photo. In a bid to convince me to let the dog sleep in their room, the boys have taken to trying to camouflage her among their stuffed animals, which she doesn't mind one bit.

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