Happy Thanksgiving 2014

As I wait for the turkey, I reflect on this year. It’s been a roller coaster one.

It has been a big year of change. I concluded my overseas life, at least for now, ending a six year stint. I loved every moment of it. It was one of my lifelong dreams and I’ve accomplished it. I look forward to going home. I miss it. As much great memories as I have living abroad, home is still home.

The move meant changes to my work. Changes to my life. I’m still not fully sure how the changes in my job are going to shake out to be. I decided to let things take its own course when I get back to work in January and not stress too much about it for the time being. It’s a strange feeling, that uncertainty. On the other hand, I’ve had my dream job for years. That’s an accomplishment most people can’t chase down their whole lives. I’ve been truly lucky.

This year has brought about what felt to me to be a greater share of life’s ups and downs. Marriage. Birth. Illness. Death. I’ve celebrated joyous occasions with friends. I mourn in loss of another.

I was diagnosed with PTSD. I lost track. Late last year or early this? Sometime in last winter, basically. I probably knew subconsciously but it was surreal to hear the diagnosis spoken aloud. On one hand, the brought about a resurgence of rage at everything around me. On the other, it was a relief that maybe I can start finding ways to organize, label, and bin this challenge I was now confronted with. I fall into the “wait and see” category for treatment. It’s hard when I’m suspended between moves right now. Routine, I find, is good for me. Ironic when a majority of my life has been the antithesis of routine.

It’s the little things that inspire and ground me. Moments that suddenly ignite excitement and joy. It was a dinner with a befriended Croatian family revitalized my blogging. I gained a new perfect travel partner when I least expected to find one. I found the perfect scent diffuser, coincidentally named Happy, for my home. A bouquet of flowers- when was I last given one? Getting a peck on the cheek from a friend’s daughter, my favorite three-year old girl, brought a smile to my face that lasted days.

Coming home means a new chapter of my life. And I’m finding in that new chapter, an appreciation for and an understanding of the little things. Holidays like Thanksgiving are perfect. I have the time to sit down and count my blessings. Sometimes, we all just need to be reminded.



Those green things..

On the phone with Dad:

Dad: What kind of fruit are there in Kenya?
Me: Mangoes. Lots of Mangoes.
Dad: Oh. Only mangoes?
Me: Well, the usual assortment. Apples, pears, oranges.
Dad: Oh. That’s it?
Me: (thinking.. lightbulb) Papayas. Lots of papayas!
Dad: OK GREAT! I will be happy!

Me, after hanging up: Man, I hope those green things are actually papayas.

Athens lesson: Business travel

I haven’t covered much about business travel. I realize all the posts thusfar give the impression of having a lot of time to travel for fun. I do, but a lot of my travels are also business related.

In a recent copy of Business Destinations at an airport, an article discusses how to plan personal days with a business trip. While I don’t particularly care of the article (questionable guidance, clear lack of integrity, poor writing), the subject matter resonated with me.

Early in my father’s career, he made several trips to Athens, Greece. But he couldn’t describe a street scene from there. I heckled him: he had a rare (only, for our family at the time) opportunity to be in Europe, let alone home of one of the most ancient civilizations, and he couldn’t be bothered to take time to see the sites? This is the man who taught me the motto “Don’t complain you don’t have time; make your own time.”

Well, more than two decades later, I found myself in Athens for all of 48 hours. Tied down by full work days and a transportation strike, all of the city I saw was from a frantic speed walk through some park with a steep hill, which fortunately included a glimpse of the Acropolis, to get to dinner with business associates in time. I really couldn’t describe much of the Athens street scene to you. The same charge I accused my father of.

I like to say I have learned to make time as I grow older and hopefully wiser. While I would hardly hold myself to the childish acts and comments I offered in my youth, I am humbled. And sometimes we just can’t do everything.

Many of my business trips are like the Athens sprint. I lost count of 48-hour trips I made this year alone. All I see is the hotel and the office. Perhaps a restaurant or two around either end. I probably can describe the airport lounge better than the city.

Yet, I am lucky. I still see more than many business travelers I met. I am not important enough nor is my employer wealthy enough to hire a dedicated driver to shuttle me around, thus allowing me to fend off myself with the local public transportation systems. I do well enough to eat in restaurants featuring local specialties, sometimes with a language barrier so thick I’ve just shrugged and said “yes” without knowing what I would get. My business contacts often are well armed with advice how to cram a little bit of local experience, whether it’s going to a restaurant near a major attraction or encouraging I take a long lunch break to visit a nearby park.

I rarely add on personal days to a business trip. Largely by personal choice. My workload is often too heavy for me to take much additional time. More importantly, especially for first trips to the particular destination, I do not want to give my business associates an impression I may be there more for tourist interests than for business.

I have learnt over time that whether or not I saw the Taj Mahal* doesn’t detract from the odds of my getting into a heated debate over fares with a taxi driver that doesn’t speak English. Ordering room service instead of eating out hasn’t stopped me from learning a few expressions in the local language from the hotel staff. Travel just comes with its own adventures, as long as one opens up to interactions and exposure to the local culture, regardless of purpose of travel. In fact, half the posts here are of things that I saw or situations I encountered in business travel. I just have learned to always keep a notebook and camera in my bag everywhere I go.

*I did see the Taj.

In Memoriam

My grandfather passed away this spring and it had been the end of a very emotional roller coaster for my mother. We all flew back to Taiwan on short notice from our various ends of the earth to participate in the Buddhist funeral rites.

The rites consisted of laying the body for three weeks while people came to pay their respects. The incense was kept burning 24-7 for his soul, resulting in a 24-hour vigil over the alter and body to ensure the incense doesn’t die out, covered by shifts. For all the trouble, I am for once grateful that we have a large family to share the burden.

The day before the burial was a day of prayers. The local temple sent a monk to lead the family through the entire book of Buddhist chants. For many of us cousins raised and educated abroad, it was hard enough keeping up with reading the Chinese prayer book, but the Chinese was modified to reflect the ancient language of the original text.

The funeral itself, we hired a master of ceremonies to run the show. He did a masterful job, announcing in his booming but deferential voice, and discreetly guiding each and every one of us on where to stand, when to bow, what to do, all the while giving the audience the chance to pay their final respects. The burial was as family only event, although none of us were permitted to watch the coffin being lowered into the grave.

My grandfather was born a impoverished farmer, orphaned at a young age and then the father figure to a brood of siblings. He never finished third grade and grew up in an age of Japanese occupation. By the time I, his first grandchild, was born, the house has grown into a two level fixed edifice with plumbing and he was president and owner of a shoe manufacturing business. By the time he was forced to retire, he was the father of four daughters, two sons, all but one child married and blessing him with grandchildren. His company had grown to include two factories in China.

Ah-gong struggled with diabetes in his later years. Perhaps due to superstition, perhaps due to denial, he ignored the diagnosis until the family found out years later. By that point, his health has deteriorated and the family’s focus was to slow down that downward spiral. His passing was heartbreaking and the first loss of this immediate family in many years. Ultimately, though, when looking around during the funeral, he was a well-loved patriarch and he left behind a large family as successful as they are diverse in personalities. His legacy already shows.

As the calendar year slowly winds to the end, our family is looking forward to turning a new page, learning to support Mum through her grief, and looking forward to a new year of hopefully more happy memories to fill our family chronicles. J and I are both going home for Thanksgiving, the first homecoming with all of us present in over a year and a half. It’s time. To be thankful of who we have, memories to cherish, and bodies to hug.

Sending gifts to support his afterlife.