My Greatest Adventure

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Five years ago today, my greatest adventure started (who am I kidding, it just got made official; it started well before that).  It started with a grand occasion, family and friends, fancy clothes, the works.

Each year since, we have celebrated.  The first four we went all out: a weekend away, a little luxury, a proper occasion.

This year, it’s simpler.  Hanging out at home with our newest team member. A small gift. Then a dinner out, just the two of us.

This is probably not quite what we imagined five years ago.  But it’s perfect.

 

Two years

This month marks two years since I arrived in Brunei (it also marks eight months with The Engineer’s Baby and our five year wedding anniversary).  Milestones like this always make me a little pensive.  And today I am thinking about the things that have changed since we arrived.

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There is one particularly great change: the arrival of The Engineer’s Baby.  She continues to amaze me every day, and is absolutely the best thing that has happened to me here.

There are some other good changes:

  • I have learned about yoga, and discovered how much it helps me to balance and reconnect with myself.
  • I have understood the importance of creativity for me, particularly through writing, and have found ways to include that in my life.
  • I have met some wonderful people.
  • I have travelled to new countries, and have been exposed to new cultures, leading me to question some of my own cultural assumptions.
  • The Engineer’s beard has grown way more ridiculous and awesome.

But there have also been some not-so-good changes:

  • Being in a country where I cannot vote or have a say in the direction it takes has made me less politically active/interested.
  • The heat means we have not spent anywhere near as much time outside as we used to, and I miss it desperately.
  • It is difficult to get some of the healthy foods we are used to, and we have been lazy, meaning we eat far less consciously than we used to (and eat far more takeaways and junk).
  • Being pregnant with no job and no responsibilities allowed me to get into some not-so-good habits, particularly around using the internet.

Overall, it feels a little like I have been taking a break from our “real life”.  And I don’t think I’m alone in that.  The expat experience is different to immigrating to a new country.  The temporary nature of expat life is one of its defining features.  In some ways, the fixed term is freeing – we do less home maintenance, we have more opportunity to travel, friendships often develop more quickly.  But at the same time, it’s frustrating – people keep leaving, we miss some of that maintenance stuff, there are some things we would like but don’t want to buy for such a short time.

And at this two year marker, I’m torn.  Undecided whether we want to extend this life break in Brunei, or extend it somewhere else, or head back home to get back to real life.  What makes it even more complicated is that the decision ultimately hinges on The Engineer’s work.  We need to make the decision, but at the same time, it will be dictated by where he can get a job.  And for at least a couple of years, we’d like it to be a job that allows me to stay home with The Engineer’s Baby.

For now, I’m trying not to stress too much about the decision.  We know we want to stay another year here, and I want to enjoy that time.  I don’t want to waste this year worrying about what’s next.  I want to enjoy our quiet little life, travel a bit, and let the future unfold.  So I’m going to move on from this pensiveness, and get back into the present!

(I’m talking about living in the present moment over at The Engineer’s Baby too.  Apparently it’s a bit of a theme of my life!)

 

“Weekly” Challenge 21: Drinks (again!)

The Engineer and I have decided not to buy any toys for The Engineer’s Baby (well, at least not many…)  She has quite a few already, and for Christmas she received some homemade toys from her Grandma, which she absolutely loved.  That inspired us to look for things in our cupboards, reuse random things, and make toys, rather than buying more.

(This is pretty easy while we live in Brunei and don’t really have easy access to good toy shops.  It would be a lot harder to achieve other places – there are so many amazing toys out there!)

Our most recent toy making was some sensory bottles.  But in order to make sensory bottles, we had to buy some bottles. And to buy bottles, we had to buy some drinks.  So, rather than just buying water bottles, as was my initial plan, we decided to have a bit of fun and make a challenge of it. We’ve tried drinks before, but the variety in the drinks aisle left plenty more to choose from.

We went to the supermarket, and picked a selection out.  Our choices were partly based on bottle size, and partly on what looked interesting.  (If we were to choose again, we would also have chosen based on ease of label removal, but hey, you live and learn…)  In the end, we had two fruitamin drinks, two aloe vera drinks, and some cooling water.

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We ran along the line, starting with the pink fruitamin thing.  The flavour was tropical punch or something, and I wasn’t expecting much (I’m not usually a fan of tropical…)

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The Engineer tried first, and his first comment was “it has chunks…” Which, indeed it did.  As do many drinks in Asia.  Before we came here, I hated chunks in my drinks. But I have to say, I’ve become rather used to them, and sometimes even enjoy them.  But despite the chunks and the tropical flavour, we agreed this one was pretty good.

Next up was the grape aloe vera.  Grape is a flavour I dig, so I was excited about this one.  But as soon as I took the lid off, I knew my excitement was misplaced.  This was not just grape, it was extreme fake-grape.  My first comment on tasting it was not “it has chunks…” (though it did), but “you are going to HATE this!”  (Because while I am a fan of grape flavour, The Engineer cannot get behind it in even its mildest forms.  And this was far from mild)

My face in this photo kinda sums up the drink (shockingly sweet, overpoweringly fake, only good for tipping down the sink…)

1-DSC_0316Next up was the cooling water.  To be fair, we knew this would pretty much just taste like water (which it did).  But the bottle was a PERFECT size, and it was worth buying just to read the label, which claims that it should be used to “quench thirst and give a cooling effect in body heatiness”.  I know that this comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine, and probably doesn’t sound crazy in Chinese, but we found the English translation a little comical.  The Engineer thinks he is rather comical, and put on some silly moves for the camera.  (Because really, this tasting was pretty boring!)1-DSC_0322

After that, it was just more of the same, but in different flavours.  We were not surprised to discover that the pomegranate aloe vera was infinitely nicer than the grape version.

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But we were quite surprised to find that the lemon fruitamin was significantly less nice than the tropical punch version (we are usually fans of lemon drinks, but this was too intense, and way too sweet.  Plus the chunks just didn’t go as well!)

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So at the end of it all, we had confirmed that Asia loves chunky drinks, and that we should never ever buy grape aloe vera again.  But more importantly, we had some empty bottles (okay, okay, some tipping down the sink was involved) with which to make some toys for The Engineer’s Baby.  I think she approved of our first two (glitter and sequins in one, red sago in the other).

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Visas

The Engineer has renewed his contract. This means that we are currently going through the process of renewing visas and are constantly reminded about the process of getting said visas in the first place.  And it’s quite a process. When we first went through it, we were moving and settling and all sorts, and it all felt like a bit too much to write about.  But this time around we’re used to Brunei, we’re used to the bureaucracy, we’ve done it all before, and it doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming.  But it’s an important part of living in Brunei as an expat, so today I thought I would write a little bit about it.

I live in Brunei as a dependent, and The Engineer works for a pretty small company with relatively few expats. Your mileage may vary when it comes to getting a visa sorted.

  1. Dependent pass approved
    This step was fortunately done by The Engineer’s work.  I don’t quite know what they do, but it involved The Engineer writing a letter to sponsor me, and sending off his contract and some other information.  This meant a decent wait (over a month for us) between The Engineer arriving in Brunei and me being allowed to move.  Eventually, they sent me a letter, which meant I could move to step 2.
  2. Single-entry visa
    To move from that letter to an entry visa, I had to visit the High Commission in Singapore.  This was a pain because it meant a longer wait until I got to see The Engineer, but it was kinda cool because I got a company sponsored trip to Singapore. The process at the High Commission was super easy, but I did learn that with all visa type things you should bring exact change.
  3. Health check
    Once I was in the country, one of the first things to do was to get my health check.  This sounds simple, but isn’t so much.  The first time I tried, I couldn’t complete it because they were out of forms.  The second time the forms were in, but a health check still involved: two visits to the first counter, a visit to the payment counter, another visit to the first counter, a blood test, a final visit to the first counter, a drive across town to the x-ray place, a wait at the reception, a change into an x-ray gown, x-ray, waiting for a check of the plates, changing again. With some of those waits being 15-20 minutes, it was a whole morning gone.
    This time around, the health check was a lot easier.  It still involved the same process, but all our waits were a lot shorter.  We wondered if it was because we brought a baby along…
  4. Multiple-entry visa
    Again, this step was completed by The Engineer’s work.  I can’t remember it really, but I think fairly quickly we had a multi-entry visa, so that we could actually leave the country.
  5. Dependent pass and visa
    Once again, we didn’t have to manage this part.  We have visited Immigration a few times for The Engineer’s Baby’s passes, so we’re pretty glad that we avoided this step! On our initial arrival though, this was quite delayed.  Not sure what the hold up was, but I do know that we had about six months before we had our long term passes were completely sorted out.  We’re hoping this time around is a little bit easier!
  6. Identification card
    The last step of the process was getting an Identification card (or IC).  To get this, we had to visit Immigration pretty much as soon as it opened. Even though we thought we were really early, I think we were about 50th in line.  So basically, the process for this was to wait and wait and wait.  In amongst the waiting there was some form filling, some picture taking, and some fingerprint taking.  It wasn’t too painful, but it was long.  Then, one month later, we went to pick up our cards and we were official.

I don’t know how this compares to other countries, nor how the written process appears to an outsider.  But some things to consider are: every piece of paperwork is handwritten, even the receipts, it’s not entirely clear to me that my information is in a computer system at all; a lot of the process is not signposted or laid out, and we frequently had to be helped by friendly locals to know what was going on; the information is often not in English, and at times we were basically clueless.

But, we should also consider that it eventually worked.  We are here, we are together, we are official, and it seems as if the renewal will be a lot more pain free than the initial process!

And if we’re going to get Pollyanna-ish about it, I’m definitely glad that we didn’t have to do that initial process with a newborn baby.  (Seriously, don’t even talk to me about getting immigration passes sorted for The Engineer’s Baby!)

Reunited in Brunei, March 2013.

Reunited in Brunei, March 2013.

Happy Chinese New Year!

From The Engineer’s Family to yours, we wish you a Happy Chinese New Year!
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This is my second Chinese New Year in Brunei (The Engineer’s third), and I am starting to get to know some of the traditions. I even recognise some of the carols songs that play in the stores.  I know that it’s all about red and gold and oranges. I know what some of the foods are, and that they are shared with family and friends at open houses.  I know that children are given red envelopes/ang pao that contain money (The Engineer’s Baby received her first last year, before she was even a baby). I know that it’s a lunar holiday and moves each year. I know that people decorate with lanterns and watch lion dances. I know that there are fire works. Oh boy, there are fire works.

These things may be small, but before I came to Brunei, I knew nothing.  I had a vague idea of the Chinese zodiac (I was born in the year of the Rat).  But I didn’t know much of anything about the celebration.  Small town New Zealand doesn’t have a very large Chinese community, so it doesn’t really make an appearance… And I may be learning slowly, but I’m learning.

This is one of the things I love most about living in Brunei: the chance to learn more about different cultures and the world. Because it’s not only local culture we learn about. I have friends from France, Lithuania, Turkey, Belgium, UK, Netherlands, Canada, Malaysia, and more, and little by little I learn about traditions, food, and culture from all over the world. New Zealand is fairly multi-cultural, so I always felt l was reasonably culturally aware. But being here has made me realise just how wrong I was.

So in this new year, I am pledging to make the most of the opportunity I have here, and to learn as much as I can about the cultures I am exposed to. By the time we ring in the year of the monkey, I hope to know more about not only Chinese New Year, but about all sorts of other traditions from around the world. It’s a goal I’m so excited about. And maybe I’ll even teach some people about New Zealand in the process.

Bring on the year of the Sheep/Goat! Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Blogger’s block

I seem to have a case of blogger’s block. I have been here so long that it just seems like home. And life at home, especially with a baby, just goes on (fairly repetitively at that). Things happen, but nothing seems interesting enough.

So today I’m putting it out there and asking what people want to know. What do you want to hear more about? What interests you about Brunei? About me? About our life here?

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I can’t guarantee I’ll write about everything, but I’ll do my best.

So you can leave a comment below, join me on Facebook (the link’s on the right), or send me an email, and let me know what you want to read!

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This gorgeous baby and I would really appreciate it!

A Trip Home

We have been back in Brunei for a week and a half, and I think I am officially over the jet lag.  I no longer fall asleep on the couch at 8pm, nor wake up at 5am (unless the baby wakes me, which she almost always does).  We are getting back into our routines, our activities, our normal life.  And the whole trip seems quite surreal now.

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Our New Zealand road trip was a bit of a whirlwind.  In our month long holiday we stayed in eight different places.  We drove over 1500 km, which took us way too many hours to think about, and cost us a shocking amount (when you’re used to $0.35 diesel, even the currently cheap New Zealand petrol prices are quite the surprise!)  We saw friends and family and beautiful scenery.  We ate delicious New Zealand food, and drank probably too much coffee and wine.  We celebrated Christmas and New Years.  We had berries and stone fruit.  We relaxed, and most of all we WALKED.

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We carried the baby, and we walked.  We walked around towns, along waterfronts.  We walked along beaches and up hills.  We walked on Mt Taranaki, and it felt like home.  We walked on the ferry as we crossed Cook Strait, and on the plane as we flew home again.  We absolutely adored having day time temperatures that allowed for all the walking.  We discovered back carrying, and how much better the baby slept back there.  It was amazing.

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And while we walked (or between walks), the baby developed.  She learned to sit, and how to crawl fast.  She cut a couple of teeth.  She started saying consonants. She charmed anyone and everyone.  She loved exploring the grass and the outside world.  We brought back a completely different baby to the one we left with.

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But after being back a week, it all just seems normal again.  I’m used to the heat and the lack of day time walking.  I’m used to the fact that she can chase me around the house and climb up on things.  I’m used to the weekly routine of playgroups and activities.  And despite the fact that it’s so totally different, it all seems normal again, and it’s like we never left.

 

What I’ll miss from home while we’re home.

We fly home to New Zealand tomorrow (tomorrow!!) for a month.  I absolutely cannot wait to be back.  I cannot wait to walk during the day, to see family and friends, to eat Vogel’s bread, to drink coffee, to go tramping, to show the baby her home country (not that she will care), to have big delicious burgers and beer, to drink a cold cider.  I am excited about Christmas, and camping, and shopping, and relaxing. Although I had a quick trip in March/April, it feels like forever since I’ve been there, and I miss it desperately.

But in order to go home, we have to leave our home.  Because let’s be real, Brunei is home too.  Our little apartment is the only house The Engineer’s Baby has known.  Our routines are here, (some of) our friends are here, our lives are here.  And as much as I’m excited to see New Zealand, there are things I will miss from Brunei as well.

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On our morning walk.

I will miss our weekend morning breakfasts of noodles or roti with teh tarik.  I will miss our playgroup, and seeing all those babies grow.  I will miss the local market, with its wonderful watermelon and cheap vegetables.  I will miss visiting the town centre and having people recognise us as “the ones who walk with their baby in a front pack”.  I will miss the “so cute baby” and “baby boy, baby girl?”s that The Engineer’s Baby gets almost everywhere she goes.  I will miss the pool at the club, and our new paddling pool.  I will miss the chicken rice from the food stall near The Engineer’s work.

It’s only a month, so not a huge deal.  But a month in the life of a baby is a very long time. And this month out of our space, out of our routine, out of our time zone, could be quite a big deal for her.  She loves new people, and new situations, so I think we’ll be fine, but it’s still a bit weird to just not know what to expect at all.  Then again, she’s a baby, so even if we’re home, we don’t know what to expect at all!

Christmas Cheer

“Oops, I forgot” the pedicurist said, and giggled.

What she had forgotten was the green glittery nail in my pedicure. A little shiny nod to Christmas amongst my red toes. A dab of polish remover soon set things right, and my first real nod to Christmas was complete.

I was inspired to add a Christmassy touch by the Christmas carols that played as I sat in the salon and by the Santa hats that all the staff wore. Before that, I hardly realised it was so close. Living in a Muslim country, it just doesn’t take over in the same way. And having a busy baby to look after doesn’t leave much time to think about it. So the holiday has really snuck up on me this year, and I’m not feeling very prepared or festive (although Boney M Christmas on my phone, and an afternoon of carol singing (complete with mulled wine) a couple of weeks ago have helped a little).

We may not have nailed that sense of festivity that starts to hit during December at home. But today we pretty much nailed expat life.

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I think she approves.

The Engineer’s Baby had her first nap while I walked around the block and listened to podcasts.

When she woke up, we headed out pretty much straight away to the pool. She had a little dip, then some friends arrived, and one kind friend watched her while I swam some laps. We all chilled out in the sun for a while, and when all the babies were tired, we headed off. The same kind friend saved me from driving off with the swimming bag still on the roof, and we got home for a second nap.

Just after she woke up, The Engineer arrived home with our Friday lunch (murtabak and curry), and we ate while she practised her sitting.

As she fell asleep for nap #3, we called The Engineer’s parents on Skype and chatted about plans for our trip home. Once we hung up, and the stores were open again, I headed out for the aforementioned pedicure, and I am currently writing this post and sipping coffee as my nails dry. And once they are dry, I will head home for a Christmas “photo shoot”, and some baby playing.

The thing is that life may be different now to our life at home, and the holidays are a time that makes it quite obvious. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. We may not have a Christmas tree. But we’re still enjoying our family, which is the most important thing about Christmas for me.

And next weekend when we arrive back in New Zealand and enjoy our first Christmas as a family of three, along with our extended families, I am sure that will more than make up for the un-Christmassy lead up.

Plus, we might be able to snag some decorations in the sales to prepare for next year when this baby might actually understand Christmas! (if we can fit them in our luggage that is; I’m not convinced!)

A Weekend in Singapore

When I considered how to celebrate my thirtieth birthday, the one thing that came to mind was a weekend away. And when I discovered that my sister had to make a visa run the weekend after my birthday, and that Singapore was one of the possible destinations, it all fell into place. So this weekend we bundled up Baby Engineer for her first plane ride, and jetted off.

Anyone who has travelled to Singapore before will probably know that the accommodation there is ridiculously expensive.  And if a room is not ridiculously expensive, it’s probably ridiculously small!  And when your baby goes to bed at 6:30 pm, and ties you to the room for the rest of the night, ridiculously small is suddenly not really an option any more.  So we ended up booking a whole apartment through AirBNB, which was pretty much our best decision ever.

The apartment was walking distance from an MRT (subway/metro/whatever you like to call it) station, which meant we could catch the MRT to and from the airport and not worry about taxis or car seats.  We had two rooms, so we could leave Baby Engineer in the bedroom sleeping while we enjoyed our evening.  And this was the view from our bedroom.  Yes, that is a private roof top pool, and yes, it was amazing.

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The apartment owner was nice enough to leave some restaurant recommendations, so while we waited for my sister, we wandered down for some Chicken Rice and explored the mall a little.  We even found Cotton On Kids (aka best children’s clothes shop ever).  The food was amazing.  The mall had good shops.  The public transport was quick and easy.  Until that point, I hadn’t really realised how much I missed while living in Kuala Belait. When you’re in the thick of a place or situation, it’s easy to forget that other places are not like that.  There is so much we love about our lives here, but there are also times I miss living somewhere a bit more modern.

When my sister arrived from Yangon, Myanmar, we rambled about how modern and fancy and green and functional Singapore was for a while.  The baby met her aunty for the first time, and we hung around the apartment.  We went out for food.  We realised that going out for food was not such a good idea when the baby was supposed to be sleeping.  We stopped in at the supermarket.  We chatted and chilled.  It was lovely.

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The next day we started with prata (delicious) and coffee/tea, and filled the day with shopping, in true Singapore style (actually, not really in full Singapore style – we favoured IKEA and Uniqlo over Louis Vuitton and Armani).  We were delighted about the feeding and baby care rooms in all the malls.  We were surprised at how quickly the day disappeared.  We were exhausted by the time we arrived back at the apartment.

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The next day we aimed to be a bit more historic and a bit less capitalistic, but we kinda failed.  We walked to Sentosa Island, and had a look around Chinatown and Little India.  But really, we hardly did anything.  Time flew, The Engineer started to feel pretty ill (I passed the bug that I got on the afternoon of my birthday onto him, apparently), my sister had a flight to catch.

We definitely didn’t leave Singapore feeling like we had done everything we wanted.  Far from it.  But I did leave with some pants that fit me (after the baby, I am unfortunately no longer catered for in most Asian stores), some rad Christmas presents, and some new and amazingly cute pyjamas for Baby Engineer.  We also left knowing that Baby Engineer can handle the plane, even if it requires a LOT of aisle pacing, and can handle a lot of walking around and non baby-centred activity.  And the best thing about Singapore being so nearby?  When we need a dose of modern life, we can always go back!