What do you get when you add a 12-year-old Taiwanese girl to your already nutty, busy family for 3 weeks? An absolutely joyful blessing; that’s what! It’s been an action-packed, chaotic, tough, frustrating, joyful, fun, educational few weeks for all us Down Under!
The 2nd week of the school holidays was also the first week of July and our first American Independence Day out of the country. Purely coincidentally, we had been invited to a new friends’ house that evening for dinner. They just moved here a few months ago from South Africa. It has been nice to actually feel like we can be helpful and on the downside end of all the similar experiences they are facing and it has resulted in a lovely kinship, in my opinion. I had planned to mention during the evening the significance of the day and how it was nice to have something fun to do. However, as we approached their house (on foot), I caught sight of red, white and blue balloons in their doorway and suddenly looked perplexed. Why would they put up balloons for us in the first place and how odd that they chose those colors?! When we got in, I realized that the entire main area of the house was decorated with more balloons, American flags and signs saying Happy Independence Day! She then showed us how she had made a cake decorated to look like our flag! I was teary before I even fully entered the house—what an absolutely kind, touching, truly meaningful thing to do! I will never be able to thank them enough and it was a lovely, fun evening, full of laughter and the noise of happy children.
That weekend, we had organized any Yanks we know to celebrate with a picnic at a lake. There aren’t many lakes here and they just have an American feel to them. J The boys and I had fun in the days prior making some additional decorations out of what we could scrounge up around the house (and re-used the wonderful decorations our friends made us!) and it turned out to be a great afternoon. People wore American shirts and/or colors and we all enjoyed a ‘home-like’ BBQ. One guy commented on how nice it was to enjoy a burger without beetroot on it! Haha! It’s the little things I tell ya.
After months of overall good health for all of us barring some quick-hitting stomach bugs (a complete switch from last year at this time when I was earning frequent flier miles at the doctor’s office), we finally have gotten hit a bit this month and the cold I had that week was a doozy. Thankfully, still nothing minor. It just sidetracks my exercise and everyone’s sleep and makes us cranky and emotional, but we just take it out on each other and move on. 😉
On Tuesday, the 7th, dear Cheryl came into our lives. The day before, Steve helped Drew attempt a drawing of the Taiwanese flag to hang on her door and a sign saying Welcome in English and our version of the Chinese characters. We were a flurry of activity getting ready and are thankful for the ‘girly’ bedspread we are borrowing from our neighbors. We were worried that she would not be happy staying with such young children instead of her age group, but she has been a true delight. She is so patient with the boys and plays so well with them and also helps me by reinforcing what I instruct them to do. She spends no time whatsoever in her room and just enjoys being out doing whatever we’re doing. She Skypes her family several times a day and we have enjoyed interacting with all of them as well.
Communication has been difficult at times, but I see it kind of as a fun puzzle that we gradually piece together each day and the learning is so fun. Again (this is a recurring theme), I am thankful for technology. Google’s translator site has been very helpful, as has a little Chinese computer she brought that lets her use her own keyboard and characters and then will translate the word for us. Can you imagine having to learn an entirely new keyboard and alphabet in addition to the language?! And here, I’ve complained endlessly about the differences I’ve had to face! She is a brave girl, at only 12, to be here, fully immersed in our lives for 3 weeks with no one from her family with her or even a friend also staying at our house (the school encouraged hosting two students, so they would have a buddy, but we didn’t have the space. We almost didn’t do this—we were worried we weren’t settled enough, our kids are too young, she doesn’t fit in our car when we’re all together…..there are a million excuses you can come up with not to do it, but I am so glad we did!).
We saw her house on Google earth, which is actually an apartment above a business in the middle of a huge city. Taiwan has a larger population than the whole of Australia and it is about 1/100th of the size. She is immersed in a crowded, big, busy city. She walks to school on very high traffic roads and also walks to her grandmother’s house, which takes only 5 minutes. In Grandma’s house also live her aunt and uncle and their two children. They buy all their food—both parents work full time and it sounds like neither of them cook. If they don’t buy food, they eat at Grandma’s. That surprised me, even knowing both parents work full time—I naively pictured Chinese families cooking up these wonderful, healthy meals all the time. I stupidly asked her if they use chopsticks which left her doubled over in laughter. I guess what we think is cool and a great skill to have, they think of as old-fashioned. It makes sense– why use chopsticks when there are forks available?!
Same goes for religion. She holds hands with us while we say grace every night and I finally asked if they do anything spiritual. We eventually worked out that every house has a Buddhist shrine and they sit and ‘pray’ at it sometimes, but she doesn’t like it; her parents feel ok about it, and it’s her grandparents that really push it. Again, I find that ironic. So many people I know see Buddhism as a refreshing ideology compared to the stodgy, judgmental way they view the Christianity they were raised with, and they see Buddhism as boring old traditions.
Her first couple mornings with us, she seemed horrified by our breakfast of cereal with yogurt, milk and fruit and we finally figured out that she eats a Taiwanese pancake every morning. I found a recipe and made them for her and she enjoyed them for a few days, but now seems to have settled on Nutella on toast and fruit.
I also pictured them eating so much healthier than we do, but again found that she was dumbstruck by the idea of raw vegetables. I put out a bowl of snow peas to snack on one afternoon, thinking how pleased she’d be (aren’t I smug?), and she just watched in amazement as we all crunched away and then struggled considerably when she finally tried one herself. That breakfast pancake is nothing but white flour and scallions. I’m guessing a big difference lies with sweets, because there is definitely no obesity problem there like there is here. Only a guess at this point though.
Saturday night we took her to a fun, festive wedding dinner for treasured friends and, as usual, she was great and very sweet to everyone. That night I got another stomach bug, which Drew got this past Monday. He is still not over it and now we all have a minor cold thrown into the mix as well. She is the only completely healthy one right now and I just pray she stays that way, because I know it is not fun to be sick when you’re away from home!
We have all enjoyed trying to learn one Chinese word each day; the boys are so cute with their attempts and she laughs at all of us. The two languages use such completely different sounds. She can’t say “Drew” to save her life, and she and he spent about 5 minutes working on it one day. Listening to them was just adorable. He’s saying “You have to say the W sound at the end, wah, wah.” She would try and he’d help her again. Just precious. We are hopeless at the Chinese sounds as well.
I have enjoyed seeing the changes in all of us as we interact with her. Steve played Memory on the floor with her for about a half hour the other night and I think she truly enjoys sitting and watching footy with him—so cute! One afternoon, Zach cuddled up to her on the couch while we all watched a movie and said, “I love you Cheryl. I mean—I don’t love you Cheryl.” Haha! They just love having her around—we all do.
The boys and I made play dough with her the other day and she was amazed. She said she’s never seen it made; they buy it. Funny that it sounds like we are the old school traditionalists and she is modern and progressive!
Last weekend we took her to a local zoo that none of us had been to and it was a lot of fun. I’d bet she took no less than 100 photos and we all had fun taking turns feeding and petting the animals—that’s not allowed at zoos I’ve been to. I even fed an emu!
My little guys have been sick on and off this week and Drew has missed 3 days of school with a stomach bug. I’ve enjoyed extra cuddles with them, but by yesterday, I was ready for them to get better—I don’t like annoying patients! Poor fellas stuck with a tired, crabby mommy. Oh, well. We all survive it, don’t we? And are thankful it’s nothing major.
One funny story related to Cheryl’s impending arrival: We announced one day to both of them: “Drew is going to be very nice and give Cheryl his bed and his room and go and sleep with Zach for a few weeks.” Precious boy never questioned it, never said a word, and just looked proud of his contribution. A couple nights before she arrived, Zach said to Steve: “Why does he have to come in here? I don’t want him! He should go sleep with you guys!” Steve told him: “I already sleep with my best friend. Now you will get to sleep with your best friend as well.” Zach said, “I don’t want a best friend!” Little bugger! Of course, two nights into it, they told us they are never going back to separate rooms.
I have to end with the realization that (in addition to my lack of sleep this week) has put me in a bit of a funk. Today marks one year since we have been out of the U.S., out of Colorado and away from all of our family and friends there. That’s a long time not to see anyone you love so much and spent so much time with up until 20 months ago. It just makes me a bit sad. No one has visited. It seems like bad luck that we moved somewhere that no one really wants to visit or can afford to, or can take enough time of to, and it’s not somewhere that anyone just “passes through.” We really are on the other side of the world.
But, on the upside—we’re doing it! We’re not just surviving; I feel like we’re thriving and learning to make the best of a pretty good situation in all ways other than the above.