31 July 2016

2 Years Abroad

We stepped off of Hawaiian soil on this day two years ago, and haven't seen any part of the USA since.

Last year, I wrote about being one year in to our expat adventure. Year two has been more of a challenge.

{Assortment of favorite photos from our year here}

China was so fun. So, so much fun. Year two, our first year in Malaysia, has been one of those experiences that tend to get categorized by normal people as "hard but good."

I don't like calling things hard. I get that from Angel. Calling something hard sounds a little bit like complaining. And complaining and being grateful don't make good partners.

So let's say instead that our second year abroad was a year of growing. When my family asked what I'd learned in the year before turning 25--a yearly birthday tradition--I said that I felt the last year had been a big year for being brave. For talking to strangers, for being a leader and making my own decisions and being the one responsible for an event or program or project instead of the helpful volunteer who supports other people's projects and doesn't bear the weight of full responsibility. It's a different sort of role for me, one that has taken a lot more courage.

A lesson in courage is something I probably should have already learned before my early 20s, but so be it, I guess this was a good year to learn more about being brave.

I also learned that even in the busy and overwhelming times, I can't afford to give up creativity. For the first half of our year here, a packed schedule caused me to set aside much of my writing. I didn't have any craft supplies so I didn't craft. I didn't decorate our house, or sew, or do anything creative just for the pure fun of it. It just wasn't practical to spend time on extras. But as time went on, I realized I was starving, trying to live in such a practical manner. I'm not a practical person. In 2016, I've brought back writing, even exercising my fiction muscles and submitting articles to magazines and creating a song parody and writing devotionals regularly again. I asked for and received embroidery supplies and coloring books for Christmas. Writing and creating don't (well, rarely) make any money for me, and they are less 'useful' than doing housework, but they add needed color to life, and I know adding them back in was the right decision.

Angel has gotten back into running over the latter half of our year here, with pretty awesome race results. I've been so proud to be with him over the last year. Angel's never been the ambitious, workaholic type, but he's worked very hard at his job, taken on whatever hours and classes are necessary so that we can continue living here, and in his 'free time' he helps me and my parents with whatever active projects we have going on at the moment, whether it's taking kids to the pool, doing a fix-it project for somebody, giving someone a ride, going on errands, visiting an old folks' home, or bringing home dinner. In the meantime, he's had to figure out all the basics of life all over again--car maintenance, taxes, post office, paying bills, etc. in a different country and under a completely different system. Sometimes he even volunteers his nursing skills when he's been asked to. I love that I'm married to a man who isn't flustered by frequent and sudden changes in plans and routines.

This year has also been unusual for us in that we've hardly lived alone. For one reason or another, we've had guests--our own friends, friends of friends, friends of our parents' friends, etc. visiting and staying in our apartment for a total of more than 6 of the last 12 months. That alone could put a bit of a stress on any household's balance, but Angel's handled it all with his usual laidback grace.

We've had to find new traditions and new ways to have fun together in our new country. In China, we always cooked dinners together after we got home from work. Now, he works mornings and afternoons and comes home for lunch, so I have a homemade lunch waiting and ready when he arrives. Sometimes we have time to watch some youtube videos while eating lunch before he heads back to work, other times we don't. This year is the first time Angel's spent extended amounts of time with my family. They now know him as the guy who eats all their leftovers--he considers it his civic duty to make sure no leftovers go to waste, so oftentimes if he's in the mood for a snack, he says, "I'll just go and see if mom has any leftovers." He makes smoothies for my family once or twice a week. "Pizza Saturdays" at my parents' house has become something of a tradition, and once we even managed to pull off "Taco Tuesday" once as well, after a month or two worth of cancellations. Even for me, I haven't spent this much time with so many of my sisters--not since they were very young, anyways, and it's been fun getting to know them on a different level.

The family and friends we left behind are still very near to our thoughts. We know that the longer we are away, the more of life we've missed on sharing with them. It's been exciting this past year to watch cousins graduating from college and everybody growing up and growing a little bit older. We talk sometimes about all the people we're gonna see and all the fun things we're gonna do when we go back for a visit, but we're not close enough to that to start putting a trip into the schedule. Photos on Facebook never fail to bring us joy, along with emails and Skype calls. Being a long-distance family will almost certainly always be a part of our lives, but knowledge of that fact doesn't tend to allay the fierce sadness sometimes brought about by missing my favorite people in the whole world.

We're grateful for the beginnings of a community that have formed around us here. Pressing on to year 3! It is well with my soul!
28 July 2016

Adventuring in Tokyo on a Budget

As per my birthday request, we went to Tokyo DisneySea and Disneyland during our trip. Those are pretty expensive attractions, which meant that we looked especially for low-cost things to do during the rest of our stay in the city. What's really cool is that entry prices for many exhibits in Tokyo are quite inexpensive. Here's a recap of our budget-friendly adventures, which obviously will not include the Disney days--that will be a completely different post, ha!

Meguro Parasitological Museum - Free!

The very first place we visited in Tokyo was a museum all about parasites! Please note, we went there as part of Angel's birthday request. It wasn't my cup of tea at all, but he found it very fascinating. I closed my eyes through as much of the museum as I safely could. It's very small, but it's walking distance from a train station and easily accessible. A good visit if there's someone in your party whose excited by the prospect of viewing insanely long tapeworms and other terrible things. Next time, I think I'm delegating the job of taking Angel to parasite exhibits to someone else. Any volunteers?

Shibuya - Free 

Well, I should say it's free to explore. Shopping in Shibuya is certainly not free! The area around Shibuya station is where you can view the famous Hachiko statue. There are lots of interesting malls in the area to explore, along with plenty of restaurants. We had lunch at Kamakura--which only set us back about $9.50 USD for a set of noodles, rice, and dumplings, which we split, and was a very filling meal for the both of us.

Yokohama Doll Museum - 400 yen

Similar to,and yet completely different from, a museum about parasites, this is a very specific, small museum that caters to enthusiasts on a particular topic. I happen to be a passionate fan of dollhouses, I even own one back in the USA, so I was very happy to stop by here. Angel was happy to, because he wanted a break from walking. He sat on a bench while I entered the exhibit. I actually just visited the special dollhouse exhibit, which was only a 200 yen entry fee, making the museum even more budget-friendly. I loved seeing the tiny things, and the variety of both western and eastern minatures was lovely.

Hikawa Maru - 300 yen

The Hikawa Maru is a passenger ship that was in use from the 1930s until 1960. You can tour the whole ship for a ticket price of less than $3 USD!! How cool is that??!! We spent several hours exploring every part of this boat, from the engine room to the captain's quarters. I loved playing with the telegram. I'm not sure I would be very good at the rhythm required for Morse Code. On the gorgeous stairways and in the luxuriant 1st class dining hall and smoking room I felt a bit like I were touring the Titanic (which, I know, is impossible). We also got to see an 8-bed room in 3rd class and realistically noted that that's where we'd be traveling with our family if we'd had the notion to cross the ocean back in the day. It makes sitting in an economy seat in the back of an airplane for 13 hours sound not bad at all!

Cupnoodles Museum - 500 yen

This museum was another birthday request of Angel's. He loves instant ramen--and sometimes wishes I cooked less often so that he had more excuses to eat it. Here we learned about Momofuku Ando and his process of inventing first a method of drying ramen noodle with hot oil, so that they could be sold in packed as instant ramen, then, later on, he invented  Cupnoodles and Space Ramen.

Tokyo National Museum - 620 yen

On our last day in Tokyo, we went to the Tokyo National Museum. It's a large museum complex with multiple buildings, and is beautifully and elegantly designed. The collection of artifacts is quite impressive, as they have artifacts not only from Japan, but also from the rest of Asia as well as from the Middle East and Africa. They had a mummy! And a great deal of art, as well as Japanese clothing and jewelry. Angel was hoping they'd have more exhibits on modern Japanese history, but this museum is definitely primarily focused on the long-ago past, we didn't see much if anything from the 1900s onward. The ticket price is definitely a good value for the beauty and interesting information about all the artifacts present.

Explore the City - Free, until you buy and/or eat something

Tokyo is a great city to wander around. If you're completely new to the place like we are, you never know when you'll run into a Tamagochi store, a flea market, lotuses that appear to be taking over the whole pond and maybe the world after that, or an interesting cemetery.

The Observation Deck at Haneda Airport - Free

And when it's time to go, if you're lucky enough to be flying out of Haneda Airport, they have an awesome rooftop observation deck where you can stand outdoors, enjoy the breeze, and watch planes land and take off. I have never been to an airport with anything like this (and I've been to a lot of airports...). It was so cool, and a fantastic way to say "goodbye!" to Tokyo.

What kinds of things do you like to do on vacation to help stick to your budget?