Archive for the 'Expat Life' Category

A religious (expat) experience

NS September 5th, 2010

Noble Girl starts at school tomorrow and I’m on high alert for a client’s imminent birth, leaving me with little time to blog. But if you’ve been waiting for the day when I would share my views on religion in the UK as compared to the US, you need look no further than my guest post at Pond Parleys, the brainchild of Toni from Expat Mum.


Mortality, music and chianti

NS July 17th, 2010

I thought I was watching my father die tonight.

It happened right before my eyes, live on webcam, but I was 4060 miles (6533 kilometres) away.

He was okay in the end, thank goodness. But as I sat, my children either side of me, eyes wide and mouths open, watching my mother spring from her seat and shake his lifeless form while shouting his name, that distance may as well have been from moon to sun to Earth and back again.

“What’s wrong with Boppy?” my daughter asked.

Keeping my voice calm and controlled, even though I wanted to scream ‘Daddy! Are you okay, Dad?’ was tricky.

“He’s just not feeling well, sweetheart. Nana will call back when everything is okay. Don’t worry.”

“Okay!” Off she skipped to watch fish swim in the sea. On TV, of course.

Even after that reassuring phone call — he’s okay, just passed out from this cough he can’t shake, we’ll go to the doctor on Monday — I felt odd; numbed.

I opened a bottle of chianti and poured a generous tipple, tapping my fingernails restlessly against the cheap glass. I called my sister, she’d know what to do (she always does). She promised to be the bull dog after my dad to go to the doctor. With his stubbornness, someone has to be. I realised as we talked that she always will be, by default. As the only child who lives in the same area, (let alone continent) as our parents, she will inevitably deal with more of these things than I do.

I feel crappy about that. Have I run away from reality over here? Some day it will come to bite me in the ass. Today, it nipped me.

My husband started talking to me. I argued with him, distracted from my thoughts and not caring much for what I perceived to be his shallow concerns. Who the fuck cares when we’re going to get the birthday card for our godson’s birthday party tomorrow?! For 20 seconds today I thought I was watching my father [What, die? No, that's not it. Well, a little bit. Something scary, at least]…I don’t want to talk about it.

I was not there because of you. I am here, 4060 miles away, because of you. My heart sings but it also aches because of you.

I love you always but I hate you a little sometimes. Not you but your birthright, your geography, your far-awayness. Your castles and your rain and your parents down the road and how well they know our children and how interwoven our lives are with theirs.

I am jealous. Jealous that your parents have us over for lunch without a second thought, drop by without a second thought. I am insanely jealous that you know that if your dad ever keels over in front of you that you can race straight over, be at the door and in his arms in 30 minutes flat.

Me; I stare at a screen with a silent scream in my throat, trying to figure out how to dial 911 from a country that dials 999.

Fuck. How can I be jealous of reality?

And then I had to go and drink most of the rest of that bottle of chianti and watch a really great, sad, lovely, uplifting film, the kind that makes me want to both stare at a wall doing nothing and fulfil my dreams. Then I listened to really great, sad, lovely, uplifting music, the kind that makes my fingers ache to strum a guitar, pound piano keys or fly over a flute, just to make something that is beautiful and makes me feel lighter than air for just a few moments.

So now here I sit, contemplating my father’s mortality with music pumping into my headphones and a tear steadily streaking down my cheek but I’m still smiling because I know that no matter how sad and horrible and lonely and heartbreaking this feels, others have it so much worse and don’t even have the family to fret about or call on the phone. I have live babies and an unbroken family still stitched together at the seams. I have a healthy body that can run for hours (or wants to) and a mind that is riddled with privilege.

I should be so happy and so thankful. I am.

But right now all I can think about is flying those 4060 miles to wrap my arms around my father. I’d not sleep the whole flight and would keep my eyelids open to every turbulent wind, every cloud cluster, every blazing sunrise and every achingly sad sunset that befell me, drinking in every detail of the freedom of flying.

Hang on, Dad. I’ll fly home some day.

Vote. Because I can’t.

NS May 6th, 2010

I haven’t ponied up the £800 needed to become a British citizen yet (things are a bit tight after I quit my job to become an at-home parent to my own two British citizens — cough) and so I will not be voting today because I’m not allowed. I sent off my husband’s postal ballot last week so at least I know he was able to exercise that right since he’s away on a business trip right now. All I can do now is watch, wait and hope that the British people don’t let the Conservatives back in. If you’re still on the fence about who to vote for, read this and this and particularly this. A little excerpt:

The Fawcett Society have today released the results of a survey of parliamentary candidates, including the party leaders,  asking whether they would support action on women’s inequality in their constituencies and nationally (1)

Of the 3 major parties 23.1 per cent of Labour candidates and 19.9 per cent of Lib Dems and 2.6 per cent of the Conservatives committed their support. (2)

Candidates were asked to say yes or no to whether they would support local and national action on tackling the gender pay gap, improving support for women rape victims and assessing the impact of deficit cutting proposals on women. Both Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg are amongst those candidates that answered yes to all three questions. David Cameron responded with the Tories policy position in the relevant areas ( 3)

The figures aren’t great for any of the parties but 2.6 per-fucking-cent?! You’ve got to be kidding me. As the Fawcett Society report notes, the support they were asked to commit was for pretty uncontroversial things like support for rape victims and equal pay. If the Tories aren’t even willing to come out in support of that, what else will we find they don’t support? I fear know that a Conservative government will roll back at least some of the gains we’ve made in the last decade and prevent gender equality from progressing any further.

If you care about women, children, education, the arts, community, health, the poor, the disadvantaged, the downtrodden and the vulnerable, remember whose interests the Tories really serve (rhymes with ‘schmorforations’) and the 97.4 per cent of them who refuse to support even such basic rights for women like rape crisis centres and pay audits to address the unconscionable epidemic of the gender pay gap (which is really a mother pay gap).

Come on, Britain. Speak up for those who, like me, have no voice and no choice in this election.  I am a proud, tax-paying immigrant. I am a woman who demands equality. I am a mother deserving of support and recognition as I help raise the next generation of British workers and pension contributors. I am a feminist who will always be there, breathing down the necks of those who cling to the last vestiges of white, male, Christian hegemony.

I may not be officially British, but I am Britain. I dare the Conservatives to tell me otherwise.

A new NS venture

NS January 20th, 2010

FF Symbol (1)

I have to admit something and it’s going to be very difficult for me to say. Okay, here goes.

I’ve been cheating on you, Noble Savage. I’ve been working on this other website and it looks like it’s gotten serious. I’m not breaking things off with you (No! Not at all!) and it doesn’t mean we can’t still be together, create new memories and share good times; it just means that I have so much online love to give that no single blog could handle it. I have to spread myself around, you see. It’s in my BLOOD. But you know I still love you, right?

I’m sorry if this sounds exactly like a pathetic excuse given by a two-timin’, lyin’, cheatin’, no-good man in a country song but that’s just how I roll, see what I’m saying? So without further ado (*drum roll please*):

I am happy to announce that my new website, Fertile Feminism, has launched as of today. It was designed and created with an enormous amount of help from the amazingly skilled and oh-so-professional Aaron Smith of 100000words. I’ve copied the ‘About’ section below to give you a feel for what its purpose is. I’d be oh-so-grateful if you came over to have a look and, if you’re interested, subscribe.

This site’s chief aims are: Fostering a greater understanding of women’s issues amongst mothers and helping those who have been alienated by feminism to feel more included and invested in it as a social movement; exploring ways in which mainstream feminism could better advocate for mothers (and their children); and creating an honest, realistic and mutually-respectful dialogue on how each can merge into and strengthen the other.

The discussions here will stem mainly from relevant news items, the feminist and parenting blogospheres and both UK and US politics. This is not a personal blog, as such: it is a community project intended to showcase and discuss the various viewpoints, ideologies and challenges facing mothers, feminists and that not-uncommon creature, the feminist mother.

Fertile Feminism is about bringing the activism already present within the vibrant, ever-growing feminist movement together with the vast army of mothers who are also disillusioned with the status quo. It is about addressing the challenges and injustices we all face, but with a particular interest in issues most effecting parents. Mostly, it’s about using our voices and our numbers to demand and create the kind of change that will benefit us all, regardless of gender or parental status.

We’ve got to start somewhere — let’s get our hands dirty.

Here I explain how I came to be interested and involved in feminist mothering and the first post, ‘The public policing of pregnancy,’ is ready and waiting. If you have any comments or experiences to share I’m all ears! My loyalties will not be divided so feel free to read and take part in one or both.

Thank you kindly, dear readers, and I hope to see you at Fertile Feminism soon.

Fresh off the boat

NS October 25th, 2009

richmond view

He walked up behind me at the bus stop, where I had just arrived moments earlier. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye and found nothing warranting closer inspection. Late 30s, dark suit, dark hair, briefcase in hand. Nothing more than a guy on his way to work, though it was well past rush hour and most businesspeople had already been in the office for an hour or so. I lifted the corners of my mouth in the almost-imperceptible ‘this is London and I don’t know you so I’m being a bit wary’ smile and turned back to looking for the bus, which was due any moment according to the electronic message board.

He took one step closer and asked, while gesturing towards the message board, “Do all of these buses go to Richmond station?”

“Yes, it’s only the 65 that goes past here and they all go to the station. Should be one here by now but that thing has said ‘bus due’ for a good five minutes now. You know how accurate these things are,” I said with a shrug and an subtle eyeroll, to indicate my disapproval of London’s public transport system, a required topic of conversation while waiting for a bus or train.

“I just got here yesterday so I’m not sure how this all works. How much does it cost?”

I explained about Oyster cards and cash fares and the benefits of travel cards and in the course of hearing his replies, recognised his accent as Australian. I asked him if he was over here on business or had actually moved over and he affirmed it was the latter. He’d been in Hong Kong for a year previously and was now being relocated here. His family would follow in December, once he’d gotten the house sorted and organised. He’d only arrived yesterday and this was his first attempt at navigating his way through a strange transport system in a strange land and he had no idea what he was doing.The hot water and heating weren’t working in his new house and he’d had the pleasure of a cold shower on his first morning. What a suitable introduction to Britain, I thought!

I told him not to worry, that I was an expat too, and that I’d been just where he was before. This seemed to really put him at ease and he started asking me questions about London. I answered them as best I could, trying to balance practical tips and insights with avoidance of information overload. I asked him where he would be working and helped him figure out the best route for getting there and advised him on which fare option would be cheapest. He said he hadn’t been on a bus or a train for so long that he wasn’t even sure how they worked anymore. Bless him. I remembered so vividly feeling the same way when I first arrived here, having no idea what I was doing or where I was going.

When the bus arrived I went ahead of him and showed him how to press his Oyster card against the reader. He looked up and then around him and asked me how he let the driver know when he wanted to get off. I laughed and said “Were you looking for a bit of string at the top to pull? That’s what I did as well,” and he sheepishly said he had. I showed him the red ‘Stop’ button and explained that you used the rear doors to exit only.

The bus was crowded so it was hard to chat much once we were on board, but I watched him out of the corner of my eye as we progressed along the road and the Thames came into sight on Richmond Hill. It’s a great view even on the greyest of days but with the cloudless blue sky, dazzling mid-morning sunshine and autumn leaves at their most glorious, it was truly spectacular. When I saw his eyes light up and his neck crane to take in more of the view as we flew down the road, I felt a sharp pang of wistful nostalgia hit me in the stomach. Oh, to be fresh off the boat again! To be on such an adventure, seeing everything in a new and wondrous (albeit slightly scary and confusing) light. To not know what is around the corner or what will happen next. To not be afraid to talk to strangers waiting for the bus or openly reveal that you don’t know where you’re going. To not be so accustomed to and weary of navigating London that you don’t stick your head out the window to see just a little bit more of the Thames before it’s gone again, or the historic cobblestone streets and centuries-old churches and pubs that make up the living, breathing fabric of this city.

Thank you, Aussie-guy-at-bus-stop, for making me remember what makes this place great and what makes the expat experience so exhilirating. For all its frustrations and sadnesses, living a life where there are always surprises and moments of childlike wonder is a gift, one that can be unwrapped over and over again.

Image credit: jochenWolters’ Flickr photostream, via a Creative Commons license

Next »