Su Jia Tun

Su Jia Tun
Su Jia Tun

Friday, July 8, 2011

Trivia: Our 1 yr anniversary in Australia is the same as what notorius event?

We didn't celebrate. We didn't even realize it had passed until we started hearing about another famous 1 year anniversary. Yes we share our 1 year anniversary in Australia almost to the day with the Kevin Rudd's knife in the back and Julia Gillard's ascendancy to.. well something.
Thanks to my husband I understand a bit more about Australian politics than even a few Australians. Their politics are as confusing as the game of cricket so the chances of me ever really comprehending the system are pretty slim.
Seems like there will more than a few late nights spent studying for my citizenship test when the time comes. I apparently will have to know a bit about cricket, aussie rules football, politics and finally actual Australian history. Knowing is different than understanding, thank goodness.
So I thought in quiet celebration I would write down some of the things we have achieved this year.
1. A house, oy two people who have lived in a tiny apartment in China for 12 years should probably not have a house with a garden and a yard to look after. Which has reminded me I still haven't watered the plants tonight, ugh!
2. A dog, yeah refer to number one. Our dog is spoiled. Beyond spoiled. He is also not helping with our ability to take care of the yard that came with #1 achievement this year. In addition he has chewed up two patio chairs. Plastic wicker and puppies don't mix.
3. Pumpkins which have also not been helped by the dog. My beautiful miniature pumpkins, I almost had one and the dog decided it was a chew toy. Mmm yeah he better not do that again!
So ok there are a few more. We achieved job stuff once everyone adjusted to the fact I am American and my English is sprinkled with Chinese I did alright and Darren is going great guns. I taught Eli's class a song in Chinese which they sang at assembly.
Really though, no matter how much we have or do accomplish I have a feeling God brought the dog into our lives to keep us humble.
Soon I hope to have two more accomplishments under our belt.
Darren and the boys will soon have their very first father/sons campout. The dog will be keeping me company so he will hopefully be helpful this time.

Finally, we have friends visiting from China for the first time.
Wait til they meet the dog!
A year later and we are still learning new things about living in Australia. We are half way through our 2 year transition plan.
Things are becoming more routine now.
We expect the holes in the lawn where the dog tried to bury his bone, his teddy bear and anything else he can get his paws on.
We expect to need a few plastic bags every weekend to clean up after the dog.
We know that when a Great Dane walks by the dog will go absolutley crazy and need to be yelled at. He has small dog syndrome.
We know that the dog will try to eat the coffee grounds I have lovingly sprinkled on my veggies.
The boys know to ask for us to chain the dog up when they are playing with small toys and balls or they will not have small toys and balls anymore.
The dog knows that when he is ready he can stand outside the study window and he will, eventually, get a good play from Darren which means the rest of us know that Darrens spoils the dog more than anyone else.

Really though we all know that whether we are tired, stressed, anxious or sad there is a little creature waiting in the garage to be cuddled. He will take the tears of harsh parental punishment away and gives mom and dad release from a day full of adult cares. I am not sure I have forgiven him for the pumpkins yet though.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Hidden home

Eight months in and while many people who meet me might think that the adjustment is pretty much over I think I have just figured out that the iceberg might lay pretty far below the surface.
I had a conversation with someone at fellowship the other day and we were discussing this and that. My this and that happens to have a lot of China in it. She said something to that effect and was it because I missed China so much. Yes I do because of course I would and it would be silly to think any different however the reality of my chit chat is we lived there for 12 years.
The conversation really made me think for awhile. It made me think about exactly what China was to me.
It is the place where I live for all but the last 8 or 9 months of my adult life.
It is my frame of reference for everything from book clubs to boy scouts. I read Les Miserable there and became a mother. I gave birth in a Chinese hospital and had my first Japanese food in Shenyang. I got my first credit card because I was going to be living there. I coloured my hair for the first time in China.
The conversation also made me think about how I still feel a little release of pressure when I speak Chinese and feel more at home when I am around any Asians but especially Chinese. One thought led to another and I started thinking about how when living overseas Americans gravitate toward each other, Australians gravitate toward each other, and so on... So here I am and I don't know any Americans but I find myself wanting to speak Chinese and be around Chinese people.
I added all these things up and realized that to me China is home. Home is not something that you transition away from I don't think. I think home is something you carry with you where ever you go.
BUT, (I love that word), missing home doesn't mean I can't very much be loving and enjoying a new place and new people. Even if they are crazy healthy people and I don't understand how any junk food restaurant turns a profit here. New bizarre thing I saw today was a car commercial which showed people exercising and the car. This was apparently because if you buy this car fun will come before work. Hee Hee only in Aussie land.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Is it possible to be tired of your accent?

When I was in China the thing that made me different was on display for everyone. Didn't bother me to be different because so many people around me were different. Everyone could spot me "not being Chinese" about a bazillion miles away and that was ok cause no one expects to blend in China when they are so pale their skin could potentially blind people. 10 months of winter will do that to you.
Unfortunately I seem to blend in in Australia on first observation. And then... I speak. The one thing that makes me so different is instantly on audio display for the whole world.And it really feels like stereo surround sound without the cool graphics at the theatre because in the end all you get is... a Yank.
Phone sales people start entire conversations with me about my accent. In shopping centres the people stare and ask and away we go. Meeting other mothers at school is always a matter of jumping through the hoops of my accent and what on earth I am doing here. Which is a realllllly long story. I have no 5 second answer to that question yet. Imagine everywhere you go looking like almost everyone else and then opening your mouth and it's like your entire appearance miraculously changes. And now I really feel like I am whining because my husband stands out where ever he goes no matter what he does and there remains some little hope that someday my accent will tune into the Aussie radio station I know is buried inside me somewhere there is little hope his height is going to lessen in any significant way. I am sure of it!
Americans are not, I think we all know, extremely well loved in the rest of the world and it would help if I could disguised my unsameness somehow. It would be inevitable though that my fake Australian accent always comes out sounding like Audrey Hepburn's Eliza Dolittle.
I think I could handle all of this but after the first few months being able to predict what most people are going to ask 2 minutes after you say hello is bound to just make you tired of not being a little more like everyone else. I am not annoyed at them. Not at all. I quite happily agree that my muddled accent, came from China, can't pick a place to say I am from is probably confusing for the average Aussie considering it's confusing for me.
If I could sound just a bit more American it might help. I have always thought it was obvious that I was a Yank and I will still stick to my American guns and say that most Aussies are just being polite and trying not to hurt a potential Canadian's feelings when they ask if I am from the other North American country instead of asking if I am from...The United States of America. Very important to say the whole country's proper name because a lot of people do that here as well. I promise The States is perfectly ok.
Anyway I thought they were just being nice until a women married to a Canadian was 100% sure I was Canadian so maybe next time I should yes. They are more mysterious, nicer, and they have national health care. Not a bad place to be from if you can't pick a place anyway.
So overall I would just ask that sooner or later I either sound more American or at least begin to manage a decent Aus. Please don't rain on my parade. I don't want to be 70 years old and be the cute little Yank married to that big bloke down the street.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Baby Steps

Why is it that even though I had expected for it to take two years for Darren and I to truly feel adjusted I am still disappointed with where we are in the scheme of things?
There are two ways to look at things. One, it's only been seven months and we have jobs, a house, school, after-school activities, family, and some great friends. Two, oy it's been seven months and there is still so much that feels unsettled. We would like to be more involved in fellowship and we have yet to add the dog to the household.
This is not to mention the cat that according to the kids should come quickly after. Eli was also nice enough to point out today that we have yet to plant the vegetables. As kids often do he pointed out something I had yet to guilt myself over and I quickly started judging myself for not starting this "very important" task earlier.
It reminds so much of that Bill Murray movie I didn't even like. And anyone who knows me knows I am not one to take baby steps to do anything. Running leaps into mud puddles without galoshes is more the way I like to live my life.
I sometimes get in the car and feel as though I have conquered TRANSITION. I have arrived! Ha! This is when I quickly take two steps backward to make up for that one step forward. I find out about the two steps backward the minute I get to where ever I was going and I have forgotten one important piece of information or missed a cultural clue.
Usually it's when I think I have mastered the whole being mother of two boys in Australia thing until I find out that I have missed something and have about a thousand things to learn until I master this part of living life in a new place.
Thankfully transition has so many moments when it is just plain silly.
I answer the phone all the time at work but not one Australian that I have answered the phone for has gotten my name right. The other day I went back and forth with a lady quite a few times.
"Good afternoon this is Christa speaking."
"Hello I am speaking to Christina?"
'Uh...Yeah sure"
Someone tell me why this is cause I don't understand it, but I am thinking maybe being Christa is not so important. So... to Australia I say, " If you would like me to be Chris, Kristen, Chrissie, Christina, then that's fine but I will never learn to say Adidas correctly cause I think it's adIdas and you think it's adEHdas. I will never be able to say Puma the way you do because I think it's P oooo ma and you all think it's P eww ma. I will be "The Yank" if you consent to allow me to say "You All" once in a while. I will buy my own cream for my coffee and not purchase coffee that is watered down espresso made with skim milk if you ignore the fact that it occasionally takes me a few seconds to figure out how to pull out of a parking space because I like the other side of the road. I will put up with the fact my Television shows run a month late and I am watching the Christmas episodes on Valentines' Day if you will allow me to speak to my children in Chinese, eat Jiao Zi, make fried rice, travel Perth endlessly looking for Northern Chinese food and desperately want to hear loud bangs around mid-February every year."
Perhaps this is the funniest thing that has happened to us this month. Our children asked me tonight, " Are we having real jiao zi or that fake kind?" For fake kind please read ravioli. I told them that we were having both because tonight was leftovers night. They both promptly informed me they do not care for the fake kind and could they please just have real jiao zi. Sorry to all the Italians they just insulted out there.

Monday, February 14, 2011

And everthing I see becomes Shenyang to me!

Ok so those of you who were around for Tootsie Rolls iconic song know what I mean and those of you who weren't, are just too young. Kidding of course, although when someone I work with says they were born the year I graduated from high school it does freak me out a little. I then remember that they are probably just really young. Don't enlightened me, when I am older and don't do the math the thought that they are just really young will still make me feel better.
This month I have ridden the bus with Chinese people, chatted with my friends at the Chinese grocery store, chatted with friends at the Chinese newsagents, gone to a Chinese New's Year's party at my fellowship and held a Chinese New Year's housewarming.Best of all my kids thought ravoli was Jiao Zi, and I have wanted to cry for missing a place and laugh at the silliness all at the same time.
I would speak Chinese all the time now if you let me now. I was watching a TV show last night where they were interviewing a Chinese lady and I translated, so did Darren, and realized the translater wasn't doing that great of a job.
I even watched the Chinese news on SBS, it was from CCTV 4, one day while Ethan was home sick!
When someone asked about all the Chinese decorations in our house and whether they were for Chinese New Year or for all the time I said, " The decorations made things feel more like home."
It was only later I realized how confused I really am when I use the word home to describe China. What word would I use to decribe the U.S. for heaven's sake? What word do I use to describe Australia?
If, " Where are you from?", was a confusing word before it has taken on all new epic proportions of crazy confusion now. I honestly just don't know the answer.
Would you like to know Where I was born?, or Where I grew up?, or Where my parents live?, or Where I was before I moved to Australia?, or Why I have an accent?, or Which place I have spent a third of my life in? or Which school the kids were in before they were in this school?.
Please pick one and then I will answer accordingly, otherwise this conversation could take awhile and I am just not sure even I have the patience it would take to explain, " Where I Am From".
If it's hard for me I shudder to think what the kid's will be like when asked that question. We used to coach them that they were from America and Australia but now that's just not relavent. We have to add that their birthplace was Shenyang or that before they were here they went to a school they loved called Shenyang International School and in that school were so many different nationalities that are all a part of their current cultural make up.
Is it easier to put on the persona of the place that people will be most comfortable with?
I think we all do that. I am wife to all my husband's friends' wives, or someone who worked overseas, or an miss. ( look out for the m word there, loaded word if ever there was one) to those who understand that best, or former teacher, or mother, or...
And maybe it's easiest, but it certainly doesn't really make up all of who I am. It doesn't explain why, for the moment, I am more comfortable in Chinese than English sometimes. Why I enjoy southern iced tea and fried jiao zi at the same time and would like Tim Tams for dessert please. This, by the way, being my idea of what food in heaven will be like. Hopefully we eat cause the southern American, and Chinese person inside me is just absolutely in love with all the possibilities of food in heaven.
Please excuse the irreverence.
Anyway I haven't worked out this transistion thing yet. The books are right but experiance puts the heart into the knowledge. I will let you know when I have it all figured out. Don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Are Roller Coasters Fun?

So 6 months in and the typical low has hit. The interesting part of adjustment is that many of the ties that hold you in place from day to day are stretched thin and become more long term rather than day to day relationships. You had things to do and people to do them for. You had friends to see who you knew and could predict what would offend them or amuse them. You were loved and your company was wanted.
Starting a life in a new place or returning to a place means letting go of the day to day ease of those relationships which were comfortable and comforting.
Not to mention not having people to do things for. We held a status in whatever place and community we have become a part of and it takes quite awhile to establish a different status or place. Perhaps it's more difficult in a place where people aren't prepared for people to move in and out every year. The best thing expats do is make a real effort to include and involve new team members. Making new friends and establishing close relationships happens more quickly, I think, overseas because people expect to say goodbye and hello very frequently.
Practically our situation is very good and we are blessed. The kids have a school, we have jobs, a car, we are preparing to move into a new house. The kids have adjusted pretty well and have made friends and will make more.
Emotionally Darren and I have hit the 6 month dip. Things were flying high we had our hands in the air screaming, and life was a giggle even if there were frightening times. Now the reality our limited connections in the social context has hit and the part where we just have to wait and be patient is upon us.
Approaching every conversation with hope and effort. Hoping that this will build into a friendship which could continue and offer a place for us to encourage someone, to minister. Sitting in a pew rather than working in the fellowship, trying to find a place to take part and to be part.
Darren and I are experiencing challenges that are different as well as similar in that while he has some ties that he is able to renew and he knows who people are talking about when they mention someone in conversation, he is also a different person than he was when he left and we didn't have the opportunity to keep a lot of connections here, outside family, so many people are experiencing him for the first time. My challenge is that I am a new element completely so there are few ties for me to go back to and reestablish. The funny thing is both these experiences lead to the same problems. In social contexts it is difficult to tell if a person has been offended or has found me strange, or overwhelming. Walking away from conversations constantly unsure of what effect I have had on the other person has finally led to that place where I start to feel drained. Not to mention the lack of internal peace and joy from knowing I have been of some comfort to a person today. That I offered emotional hospitality to those in my community.
The cherry on top is that I face the challenge of not being able to explain any of this to those around me since I am in a unique position right now. It is difficult to explain to those who have had a place their whole lives in the community where they now live, how hard it is to find your own place. Having always had a reputation and status it is difficult for them to understand the oppressiveness of having neither of those things in a new community.
So, here at this point what do I remind myself of?
1. Those that wait upon the L.... Darren and I were pretty aware that it would take two years for us to feel "at home", and here is where we need to keep that in mind.
2. I am loved as a child of G. and I have my "place" in him.
3. That even if people here aren't used to saying hello and goodbye in relationships as frequently as we are, they do have strong life long ties and one day we will have those types of ties as well.
4. That we have a circle of family and friends who have welcomed us home and are sympathetic to our challenges, they have put a lot of effort into our adjustment, they are awesome, and we are thankful for that.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Spiders and Bouncy Castles...New Christmas Traditions

So sitting in fellowship last Sunday morning watching the kids in their Christmas play, The Wombat Divine, I finally read the notice asking parents to have kids, who in the play, at the oval by 6:45pm. Now, the oval is outside and I started to realize that perhaps Carols by Candlelight was not the same in Aussieland as I had previously been familiar with. Startled I turned to my mother-in-law and said, "Carols by Candlelight is outside?", and she looked at me like well where else would it be and said, " Yes". I said, " Well yeah we wouldn't usually want to do it outside in the States cause you would freeze but..." and trailed off cause what else do you say. That night I was treated to a Carols by Candlelight unlike any I have ever experienced. There were bouncy castles and huge plastic chess and checkers sets for kids to play on, as well as sausages, and soda and a petting zoo. About 6 pm a band came on with spunky music to pep us all up for the carols and then at 6:45 pm the carols started and we all sat down on picnic blankets and turned on our electric candles and the kids put on their glow in the dark bracelets and necklaces and we sang Christmas carols.
If I thought this was startling to my particular vision of what the Christmas season means it was nothing to what happened to me this weekend. The spiders came out in full force. And then the entire spider population of Aussie land seemed to be out to get me. Which was ok, I think, until they started showing up in unexpected places and ways.
I met my first jumping spider yesterday. I was on my way to the toilet and saw a bit of black fuzz hop into the air and come down quickly much closer to me. I stepped a bit closer to pick up the fuzz and throw it into the trash. The fuzz again hopped up into the air and came down quickly again even closer to me. This is when I realized that this was not fuzz but a rather talented breed of spider. Not knowing where the spray was I was happy to allow this spider to go it's merry way. I actually backed away from the spider with the intention of just giving it a few seconds to get out of my way before I headed to the toilet. The spider, of course, had other ideas. It decided that it would like to go to the toilet as well. OY! As it hopped it's way closer and closer to the toilet I tried to figure out a way to kill it without getting close enough to it for it to jump on me. I finally grabbed the broom and tried to just kill it very quickly. Thankfully I succeeded.
This was not, however, the end to my spider experiences. Late last night I stumbled into the toilet and turned on the light. I sat down and reached out to grab the end of the toilet paper. My eyes blurry and confused registered that the underside of the toilet paper looked somehow unusual. What was on the bottom of the toilet paper? I couldn't figure it out in that state of consciousness but just thought I would grab it and throw that piece away. I reached out a bit farther to just get it and throw it away when the end of the toilet paper floated up in a breeze from the fan... and I let out a huge YELP! There was a very large specimen of Daddy Long Legs which had attached itself to the underside of the end of the toilet paper and was sitting there quite happily, not looking to move or relocate any time soon. Now I was in a very vulnerable position and in need of the product on which the spider was resting comfortably, probably due to it's double quilted softness. I did some quick thinking, ( not a position you call for help in), and managed to kill the spider and proceed without too much incident or panic.
I have gotten too much sympathy for these incidents from the Aussies around me as they correctly pointed out that I am just lucky it wasn't one of the varieties which are poiseness and I should be more observant in the future. I definitely will be.
I was prepared to add to my holiday season 110 degree F heat or 40 degree C heat, and pools, and the beach, outside Christmas parties, and cold Christmas dinners. Spiders and bouncy castles was not something I had even though to add to my existing schema of Christmas traditions. Are there more surprises in store? If it's something like festive bouncy castles I might be able to handle it, but if it is similar to spiders resting on my toilet paper then I am not sure I should be held accountable for my response.