31 July 2015

One Year Abroad

One year ago today, Angel and I arrived in China--a suitcase, a carry-on, and a backpack each, not knowing exactly what our life there would look like. We knew we'd spend a few weeks earning our TEFL certificates and then we'd be assigned to teach at schools in ShenZhen. At the time, we didn't know whether we'd even be assigned to teach at the same school, or what grade level we'd be teaching, either. You could say that uncertainty was a key theme of the season.

We learned so much. We learned the difference between 5 kuai and 5 jiao bills (think, the difference between $5 and 50 cents). We learned how to play Chinese chess, even if boys in primary school still managed to beat us. Angel learned how difficult it is to successfully get your house key copied when you're no longer on your home turf (we lived with one working set of keys between the two of us). I learned a lot about how Mandarin is used in everyday life, and I learned that it was entirely possible for me to have a job that I loved.

We had such a magical little time, loving life in China. We got used to our tiny apartment with its cockroaches and its oh-so-frustrating washing machine that continually malfunctioned. We developed our little traditions: on cold winter evenings after a long day at school, I didn't want to go out again, so I'd send Angel to the shop around the corner to buy beef dumplings and rice, and we'd cuddle up in some blankets, point the space heater at ourselves, and eat the dumplings while watching an episode of Once Upon a Time to wind down for the night.

The season in China was over sooner than we thought it would be. We were presented with a job opportunity in Malaysia and decided to take it instead of extending our time in China. This latest move is one that we longed for, but it was still hard to leave the little home we'd made. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would have been if we'd stayed there longer. ShenZhen was a blessing to us--I've felt more purposeful and more excited about life there than I had in a long time. I enjoyed the little home and community Angel and I had found for ourselves during our years in Michigan, but I wasn't flourishing there. Third culture kids sometimes have a difficult time repatriating, and I'm a prime-time example of a reverse-culture-shock victim who never fully readjusted.

The hard part about being abroad has been being so far away from our families during times this past year when they have experienced both great joy and great sorrow. There have been times when we wished for nothing more than to just be not so far away--we wish we could be present to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. But while this life we lead right now has many privileges, that one--the ability to be present for and with family, isn't one of them. Our move meant that we've had to make a lot of trades--we've traded Thanksgiving dinners with the grandparents and summer bonfires on the Great Lakes for mysterious meals where every dish is unfamiliar and evenings spent on the beach, gazing out at the South China Sea/Indian Ocean. Neither one is better than the other, but what I can say is that they are very, very different.

We feel incredibly grateful for the past year of our lives. I feel like I want to hold tightly to every bit of it--I want every one of these 365 days to have left an indelible mark on my memory. I know that this 1st year abroad has changed us--it has challenged us and grown us, and I look forward for the years to come. Wherever I am, there's some part of me that misses all the other parts. I doubt that that will ever change.
28 July 2015

A Sky-High Birthday at Jumpstreet Penang

Disclaimer: Our visit to Jumpstreet Penang was discounted in exchange for review. All opinions, photos, and experiences are entirely my own.

It is perhaps a remarkable coincidence that I wanted to do exactly the same thing for both my 23rd and 24th birthdays. Maybe it shows that I didn't grow up very much over the course of one year, after all. Last year, for my 23rd birthday, I went to an indoor trampoline park with Angel. This year, on the opposite side of the world, I went to Jumpstreet Penang with Angel, Lizzy, and Anna.

The original idea had been to take the whole family out for my birthday...but that is actually a ridiculously difficult feat to accomplish--trying to get all of these kids available at the exact same time--so we settled on a crew of 4 for the adventure, and headed out.

Jumpstreet Penang is located in Bayan Lepas, somewhat distant from Penang's downtown area, but we found it without a problem and got our wristbands. It's important to note that Jumpstreet assigns jump passes by the hour, so if you want to maximize your jump time, make sure that you arrive slightly before the hour changes so that you can jump for a full hour! We went after work, and got into the 7-8 pm slot.

Jumpstreet Wristbands

The evening we went it was not very busy, only one other group of friends were jumping during our time slot, which was really nice, because we practically had the run of the place!

Jumpstreet Penang

Jumpstreet Penang

Apparently the epic Family Olympics didn't leave us in as great of shape as we might have hoped, because all of the trampoline activity left us red-faced and out of breath! When planning the outing, I thought that an hour of jump time didn't sound that long, but as we left after jumping, we all agreed that it had been the perfect length of time--our legs were getting a little shaky, and we were pretty sure we'd burned enough calories for the day by that point.

We got some great use out of the Foam Pit, and yes, Angel had to show off his flips in front of all the ladies. I didn't even try to flip. I turned 24, not 14. Gotta grow up sometime, right?

Jumpstreet Foam Pit

Jumpstreet Foam Pit

Jumpstreet Foam Pit

We also enjoyed the Slam Dunk court, too. I'd like to mention here that I really appreciated the staff at Jumpstreet. We felt safe the whole time we were there, but we also didn't feel smothered, or like anyone was breathing down our necks. The atmosphere was fun and relaxed, and we never felt bad about looking clumsy or silly while doing all of our crazy jumping.

Jumpstreet Slam Dunk

Jumpstreet Slam Dunk

Jumpstreet Slam Dunk

Generally, jumping as high and as far as we could was pretty awesome. I felt like I was Spiderman when I was jumping on the High Performance trampolines, can you tell?

Jumpstreet High Performance

But I wasn't brave enough to tackle the Tower Jump--a backwards fall. I know it's not that high of a height, but I still couldn't do the backwards thing. Could you?

Jumpstreet Tower Jump

We spent an awesome and exhausting hour there, but we still didn't take advantage of everything Jumpstreet Penang has to offer. There's a surprisingly cute cafe right inside:

Jumpstreet Penang Cafe

And even rooms to rent if your birthday party is significantly larger than the 4 people in our group:

Jumpstreet Penang

Goodbye Jumpstreet Penang! We had a grand time and I'm sure I'll find some other excuse to go back...just because bouncing all over a gigantic room of trampolines is just about the most awesome kind of feeling...

Jumpstreet Penang

Have you ever visited a trampoline park? Are you still limber enough to try out some front-flips and back-flips, or have you given those up for good?
27 July 2015

Batik Dress

batik dress

batik dress

batik dress

Compliment from Shiloh, one of the 4-year-olds: "Aunty Rachel! You look so beautiful! You look like a popstar! But...if only your dress was a little bit....shorter."


Isn't it funny the kinds of things those kids notice?

I spotted this dress at the shop attached to a local batik factory. Batik is a method of dying patterned cloth that is native to this region of the world. I've always been a fan of batik, and have gotten to observe artists working on hand-drawn batik patterns in the past. It's incredible what they can do! This dress isn't hand-drawn batik, but the wax patterns were made with a stamp, repeated over and over again.

I fell in love with this dress at the shop, but you're really not supposed to buy things for yourself a few weeks before your birthday, and neither Angel, Anna, nor Lizzy (the ones who came out to the shop with me), seemed to show any interest in or appreciation for the dress, either, so I left it on the rack without even trying it on, assuming I'd never see it again.


Imagine my utter surprise when I opened it up on my birthday! The girls had finagled a way to make it back to the shop without me knowing about it and had bought the exact dress I'd had my eye on. It fit just the way I imagined--perfectly colorful and summery--appropriate for a land where summer never ends. I love the color, the neckline, the sleeves, and the length, too, regardless of Shiloh's opinion that I could approach popstar-dom if only the skirt were a few inches shorter...
24 July 2015

We Bought a Car

At the ages of 24 and 31, we bought our first car.

A mite late in life, considering our American heritage. I can tell you the story behind the delay, if you're interested.

Neither one of us got our driver's licenses bright and early at 16. I was on the other side of the world in high school, so I took driver's training late, and ended up getting my license six months before I turned 18 (and after I'd already completed first semester of my freshman year at university. It's soooo cool to be a freshman without a driver's license, I can tell ya!). Angel didn't get his license till after he was 18 because of the immense cost of driver's training and adding a teenage driver to the family insurance plan--it just made better financial sense for him to wait on getting a license. He rode his bike to work in high school, instead.

Angel's dad is a highly skilled mechanic with a talent for finding broken down cars and getting them running again. He found a Neon with a burned-out engine in someone's backyard, bought it and installed a different engine, and gave that car to Angel when he moved out when we got married back in 2010. Angel loved that car, and was convinced he could keep it running forever. It ran incredibly loud--so loud that conversations inside the car were a little difficult, and so loud that sometimes people would look at the sporty little car in confusion and ask us if it was a diesel...but it ran!

I inherited my first car from my great-grandmother. It was a gorgeous blue Chevy from the mid-90s. I loved how sturdy and comfortable it was...and the fact that it was blue. I've always been partial to blue cars. It had a little bit of a rough couple of years under my ownership...there was a broken belt, an ice-induced slide-off, and two separate occasions when someone didn't look in the rear-view mirror when backing up in the driveway, and knocked two little dents in my safely parked car.

We had lots of interesting adventures with those two cars in our first few years of marriage. I have plenty of memories of sitting cross-legged on the driveway, chatting with Angel while he was under, on top of, or inside one or the other of the cars, replacing a strut or an alternator or an O2 sensor or something of the sort. 

Moving to China meant saying a permanent goodbye to both cars and embracing the car-free lifestyle. I learned to really appreciate ShenZhen's public transport system, and actually began to feel quite powerful as I figured out that I could make my way all over both ShenZhen and Hong Kong without ever needing to drive myself (this was a revolutionary concept, considering that I drove more than 25 miles one way when I was attending college).

We found it pretty fun to rely on public transportation, but our new home's public transportation system is fairly spotty. Buses can't take you anywhere and everywhere, and we found ourselves in need of a car--to get to work, to the grocery store, and anywhere else life would take us.

This was a long-anticipated purchase. When we were in China, Angel browsed secondhand car listings and read reviews of different models. We wanted to put a lot of thought into the purchase because--seriously--this is the biggest purchase we have made thus far in our lives! That's a slightly scary thought. Our low-cost lifestyle in China (added to the fact that we spent the entire year not buying anything that was not absolutely necessary) allowed us to save up for this anticipated future expense.

Toyotas are Angel's dream cars, and while they're not cheap anywhere in the world, they tend to hold their value especially well and remain very expensive in this country. All imported cars are much more expensive than locally produced cars. When we were doing our research, we found that we could buy either a brand-new local car, or a 7+ year old Toyota of a similar style for about the same price. Because of the warranty on new cars, and the fact that repairs are more expensive on imported cars, we opted for the new, local car that was within our budget.

We combined our priorities: I wanted a small car, to make parking easier, and I wanted to pick out the color. Angel wanted a decent-sized engine, especially after test driving a car with a 1.0 liter engine. I would have picked blue if I could have, but this car didn't come in blue, so orange was our best option (I sure wouldn't want a 'normal' color like silver or gold).

Were you this excited when you purchased your first car? It feels like a pretty momentous event in the never-ending journey towards becoming continually more adult-ish.
21 July 2015

Penang's Role in World History

Georgetown, Penang

I thought I'd join in with today's "Tell Me About Your Town" link up. The theme is history, and the town where I live currently has played an interesting role in world events in recent centuries:

 Penang is part of the UK's previous colonial territories in SE Asia. The story of how it became part of the British Empire is a sketchy one, involving the Sultan of Kedah, Captain Francis Light, and the East India Company.

Francis Light's Grave
Sir Frances Light's Stone in the Cemetery

The island was occupied by Japanese military forces during World War II. The current "War Museum" is run on the location of the old military base, built by the British and later taken over by the Japanese army in 1941. The European inhabitants of the island had been evacuated before the occupation, which left only the local people to suffer at the hands of the Japanese invaders until they surrendered near the end of the war in 1945.

Thomas Leonowens, the husband of Anna Leonowens, of The King and I/Anna and the King fame, is buried in the Old Protestant Cemetery in Georgetown.

Dr. Sun Yat Sen stayed in Penang for a short time during his political career, in 1910. Road to Dawn is a historical fiction film that was made on location in Penang, that references this episode in Sun Yat Sen's life.

2004 Tsunami Damage

2004 Tsunami Damage
One of the homes in our neighborhood, post-tsunami

In 2004, Penang was hit by the Southeast Asian tsunami that devastated so much of this part of the world. The tsunami caused significant damage to the island and the lives and livelihoods of people here. I wrote the story of how this tsunami affected our neighborhood here.

A number of famous people in more recent history hail from Penang. Ever heard of Jimmy Choo? He was born on this island. A former prime minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is also from this state.

Learn anything new? I collected just a few of the historical facts that I've always found most interesting about this state. If you have any of Penang's history that you'd like to share in the comments, please do so!
19 July 2015

Family Olympics 2015

Angel's 31st birthday was celebrated this past weekend, in a particularly unique manner.

Some months ago, Angel brought up an idea during a Skype conversation that we should have a Family Olympics tournament this summer while everyone is together. It should be noted that, as a whole, my family is not really famous for their athletic prowess.

Because getting up early in the morning and running and jumping around is not our idea of a good time, it took a little convincing for all of us to decide that a friendly competition would be a fun way to spend a free Saturday morning. In the end, the fact that we are very competitive won over the fact that we are not very athletic, and the Family Olympics were held for the first time on July 18, 2015. The entire event, including rest breaks where we lay on the ground and complained that we could not move our muscles any more, took about 3 hours.

Family Olympics

We held eight different events:

Yoga Ball Throwing
Long Jump
Planking (longest)
Push-ups (most in 1 min.)
Sit-ups (most in 1 min.)
Jump-roping (longest)

Prizes make everything more interesting, so the day before the Olympics, we went to the local 'dollar store' to buy prizes for each event. Someone with a quirky sense of humor may have been in charge of shopping for prizes...we ended up having quite a range of prizes, from toothbrushes to scrubbing sponges (a pack of 12!) to bobby pins, socks, and temporary tattoos in the shape of scorpions.

As we all predicted, Angel won the majority of the events held, with a total of five events. He won the race by a lead of 6 seconds, the long jump by a lead of over 50 yeah. We had already planned to throw out all of Angel's scores, knowing that he competes on a different level than the rest of us. So, in the five events that he won, prizes were awarded to the 2nd place winners.

Notable other winners include ME! I won the jumproping competition with a grand total of 120 skips--barely beating Anna's 117 skip record--before falling to the ground in an agony of exhaustion. Sarah, having a significant size advantage over the rest of us, performed fantastically in the limbo, finally winning by managing to pass under the mop when it was held a mere 26 inches from the ground.

Even Mom gained athletic acclaim through sheer stubbornness. The planking competition involving everyone planking at the same time, with individuals calling themselves out when they couldn't bear to do it any longer. It was down to Mom and I, and while I knew I had more planking experience, I knew I could never beat Mom in a battle of sheer stubbornness, so I crumpled to the floor to spare myself the excess pain.

We enjoyed our morning of competition very much, and I thought it was awesome that we were able to include events that everyone, from age 47 to age 8, could compete in in their own way.

We celebrated the end of the Olympics with the award ceremony, where prizes were given out to 1st or 2nd place winners, and we ate mint surprise cookies and Angel opened his birthday presents. After lying around for an hour recovering from our morning's exertion, we worked up the energy to make Angel's quesadilla birthday lunch.

'Twas a day for the record books.

And I'm still sore, two days later.
17 July 2015

Six Sisters: Dialogue of a Photoshoot

Six Sisters Family Photo

Scene: We're watching a Korean drama, in which a major plot point is a crush that one character has had on another character for a crazy long time, like ten years.

Rebekah: "I think I could have a crush for three years, max!"
Rachel: "Three years?" [I was incredulous. Three years sounds like a really long time to me.]
Rebekah: "I said MAX."
Anna: "Three years???" [She was also incredulous.]
Rebekah: "I SAID MAX!!!"
[Mom walks into the room and overhears Rebekah's final response.]
Mom: "What's going on?"
Rachel: "Rebekah said she could have a crush on Max for three years!"
Mom: "Who's Max?"

And that is how rumors get started, folks.


Two out of the six will be leaving soon, so we decided, one fine Saturday afternoon, to dress up and do our hair and convince our only brother to come outside and take photos of us together.

The dialogue that ensued was too funny to keep to ourselves.

"Why are you taking so many pictures of Anna?"

"It's not my fault she's more photogenic than the rest of you."

"Everybody look tough."

"Sarah, why are you smiling? Is that really the toughest you can look?"

"You now how everyone always wants to use cute props in their photos? That's why everyone wants their picture taken with Anna."

"And because she's leaving."

"That too."

"Lizzy, try not to look like you're angry at the clouds."

"Ahh! A car is coming! Scatter!"

"Quick, take my picture, my makeup is melting."

"Sarah, try not to look like you're being burned at the stake."

"Tilt your head down...turn your face to the, that's too much...move back towards your left...your left! LEFT! Didn't your parents ever teach you your right and left?!"

"Sarah! Look at the camera!"

"Okay, in this picture, everybody laugh" *Fake laughter*

"Sarah, don't run away! The car is on the other side of the road, it won't come near us! You're safe!"

"Try to look natural."

"Open your eyes more. NO! I didn't say raise your eyebrows. Lower your eyebrows, and open your eyes more."

"I don't know what you mean! How do I 'lower my eyebrows'? That's impossible, this is just the way my eyebrows are!"

"No, trust me. Your eyebrows do not look normal. Lower them!

"This is as open as my eyes get."

"Look more relaxed."

"How can I be relaxed when you're pointing a camera at me?"

"Try to smile like you're actually happy."

"Think about funny things....think about Angel. Yeah, think about Angel, that will make you laugh! Now laugh!"

"How's my hair?"

"Isaac! Take my photo by the flowers!"

"Isaac! Take my photo by this pile of rocks!"

"Isaac! Take my photo in the middle of the street!"

"Could everyone please just look at the camera at the same time?"

"Don't blink!"

"Try not to look like you're scared of the dog in the distance."

"Why does everyone keep staring at us? We're so normal!"

Basically, in case you're imagining that the typical family photoshoot involves everyone looking all gorgeous together and magically knowing how to pose nicely and looking at the camera and not really saying much of're mistaken.

In our family, the conversation never really stops. Once, when I was in high school, Lizzy turned on a tape recorder, and captured two hours of non-ending conversation between a bunch of siblings who were supposedly hard at work on school in our mother's absence.

We haven't changed much.

There's always opinions. There's always jokes. Apparently, there's a photographer who likes to use random analogies when he's commanding us to "try not to look like..." something or other.

Also, it's official now, I'm shorter than all of my younger siblings other than Sarah. Stay tuned for the next 8 years to see who will win: Sarah vs. Rachel.

Question 1: How long do you think you could sustain a crush, max?

Question 2: Have you ever experienced the strange phenomenon of eyebrows that refuse to look normal?