Travel Challenge: Flowers in a Lotus Garden

Lotus Awakening

Out of dark, dank, dreary mud blooms one of the most perfect flowers, the lotus.

Open Lotus~ Self Aware

The flower rises above the murk to reach the sunlight. In Buddhism the lotus symbolizes how people must rise above the darkness to achieve enlightenment.  This simple flower appears to represents life’s journey through each stage of bloom with the bud signifying a change in ideas and the fully bloomed flower showing full self-awareness.

Lotus Bud~ New Idea

The lotus flower has been revered throughout history by many cultures such as Egyptian, Indian and numerous Asian cultures. The significance of the lotus varies from enlightenment, purity, wealth, perfection, fertility, beauty and rebirth. Regardless of the meaning attached to it, it is impossible not to see the beauty of the flower and to breath in its heavenly scent. Everyone must break free from the mud or difficulties in life and strive to become their best.

New Beginnings

A Garden of Inspiration

Leaving HOME to go HOME

Global nomads, TCKs, and Expats all know the feeling of leaving your one home to go to your other home.  My family and I just made our annual trip of leaving our home in New Jersey, USA to come home to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter where I am, I always am missing something.

Things I miss about HOME in the USA:

  • Family and friends
  • Food-   real pizza, hoagies, American beef, Mexican
  • Road rules
  • Shopping in malls, Target, huge grocery stores and good shoe stores
  • The weather- no humidity and cool

Our Family at our beach in Ocean City, NJ

Kayaking in New York

 

Things I miss about HOME in Malaysia:

  • Friends
  • Food- satay, spicy noodles, curries
  • Not having to obey road rules
  • Shopping in markets and stalls
  • The weather- hot sunny days everyday

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur

Rain Forest in Malaysia

 

I guess what is really strange is that the things I miss the most are the things that eventually drive me crazy and make me ready to return to the other home again for a dose of reality!!  I am so lucky to be able to call two amazing places “home!”

 

Learning to Breathe…. Underwater

“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” James Stephens

I started to learn how to SCUBA dive as a teenager in the Middle East but it was not a happy ending. I will spare you the details of the real life horror story involving a death and a shark during our Open Water Dive test and just state that it has taken 35 years to complete that course. Three friends and I flew to the Perhentian Islands in Eastern Malaysia nestled in the South China Sea. The island is a feast for the eyes with palm fringed white coral sandy beaches and crystalline water. We would complete our open water dives while on the tropical island at Watercolours Resort and Dive Center with Sharon, our fabulous dive instructor.

View from Watercolours Dive Center in the Perhentians

On the first dive we suited up and sped in a motorboat to a small lagoon. As soon as I hit the water I began to look for sharks, but luckily there were none to be spotted. As my head went under the water and my brain began to scream, “STOP IT! Get out! You can’t breathe underwater. There could be sharks here!!  Are you insane!?!” My body started to respond to the commands with panic, but luckily I was able to prevail over my shark terror and ignore my claustrophobia so that I could begin the descent under the water.

Anni Getting Ready to Dive

Once I was under the water, my sensibility returned, my breathing steadied and the dazzling clear blue water and the world of wildlife below astounded me. After completing our skills on each dive, Sharon led us on our fun dives where we were able to see some remarkable sea life. Blue spotted rays floated by while the spikes of lionfish poked out of crevices in the coral. Tiny translucent feeder shrimp pecked at our fingers and a batfish frolicked with my yellow fins. Moray eels snapped their jaws, as hundreds of fish lazily drifted by like a rainbow.  It was a magical scene that we were able to experience four times that weekend. After passing our tests and completing our open water dives, the boat pulled up to the resort where a sign was waiting to congratulate us all on our success. It took 35 years, but I was finally able to conquer my fear of sharks. Another “Mind over Matter” accomplishment! Another bucket list item checked!

Gorgeous Perhentians! Our first dive spot.

Sharon, Angie, Ann and Alexis

Sharon, Angie, Ann and Alexis

It wasn’t until later that day, while snorkeling, that I finally spied a shark. The meter long black-tip reef shark glided in front of me, camouflaged with the white sandy bottom. To my surprise and delight the shark instilled wonder instead of alarm in me. Instead of turning and swimming away in fright, I grabbed my friend by the arm and swam as fast as I could after it, trying to get a better look. He was breathtaking, free and peaceful. Conquering my fear was as magnificent as he was! Anticipation of disappearing below the surface sits in the back of my mind as I return to mundane everyday life. I have spent a lifetime in appreciation and awe of the beach and ocean, but it has been heightened to an elevated level of understanding now that I can breathe under water!

Anni Looking Fearless

Have you overcome a fear?

Third Culture Kid~ Where Are You From?

When I was younger, there was a four-word phrase that sent panic to my mind… “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” Hmmmmmm… How to answer that loaded question? Most people can answer with a one-word response. My response is a paragraph:

Well, I am an American of European descent. I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, but I moved to San Francisco, California. I was raised in Massachusetts as a young child. I moved to Kuwait and then Bahrain with a short stint in Atlanta, Georgia that I would like to forget! I graduated from an international school in Bahrain. My legal address was in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, but I never really lived there. I went to university in Pennsylvania, but I left after two and a half years. I became a flight attendant where I was “based” in London, but I resided in Bahrain. Then I settled in Ocean City, New Jersey. (This was all before I was 25 years old) I got married and then raised my young children in Ocean City, New Jersey. When my children were 8 and 9 years old we moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I have been for 8 years. We return each summer to the USA and go to PA, NJ, and NY. Our legal address is now NJ, but we no longer own property in NJ. My family and my husband’s family are mostly living in that tri-state area. Hmmmmmm… You guess!?! Where am I from?

Now the questions begin to fly… Am I crazy? Do I have attachment issues? Am I an orphan? Do I exaggerate? Was I a military brat? Am I in the military?NO! I was a Third Culture Kid (TCK) who moved for my father’s work and now for my work. According to American sociologist David C. Pollock, “A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

TCKs usually answer the “Where are you from?” question with vagueness like, “Home is where the heart is.”  or “Everywhere, but nowhere.” Many of us cannot easily answer the question. I am living abroad again in Malaysia and for the first time in a long time, I feel truly HOME even though I am not Malaysian. For us Third Culture Kids and adults, “home” is not a place. It is a concept. Home to me is where I feel understood, accepted and comfortable with my life choices. Now that I am an adult and I can appreciate all the advantages of being a TCK, the question does not frighten me any more. I embrace it and look forward to hearing other traveler’s answers.

Are you a TCK? How do you answer the question, Where are you from?

My TCK World Map:

These are the flags of the countries that have influenced who I am.

Break-Bone Fever? The Dreaded Dengue!

The peace of the gorgeous tropical day has been shattered. Sitting quietly by the pool, I suddenly feel the presence of a predator. I try to nonchalantly peer into the bushes to see what is making my hair stand on end. There he is, in his gray-striped pants, but he is unaware that he has been exposed. I shudder as he inches closer to me holding his weapon out in front of him as he looks for the best place to strike. It is now or never; kill or be killed. He doesn’t sense my awareness as he boldly makes his move. I am quicker! I am ready! I swiftly make my blow and blood splatters across my arm! His body lays crushed on the pool deck as I lie back down to try and enjoy my reading again. Another mosquito bites the dust! Since that fateful day in September, I am now always aware of the dreaded Dengue carrying mosquitoes.

Dengue Fever is a viral disease, spread by the Aedes mosquito, which infects 50-100 million people and kills about 25,000 yearly. It is a virus similar to Yellow Fever and West Nile Virus and has symptoms like Malaria. The mosquitoes which carry Dengue are active in the daytime and can be identified by their ugly little gray stripes which I can now spot from miles away! Symptoms include high fever, flu-like symptoms, vomiting, severe joint and muscle pain, and a ruthless headache between the eyes. It is a tropical illness that is more prevalent in cities where mosquitoes can breed in stagnant water.

As soon as we moved to Malaysia we heard the horror stories of Dengue Fever. Most people described it as a fever and illness so intense that your bones feel like they are on fire and are cracking into pieces. That description was enough to strike terror in my family, but apparently not enough to take full precautions. After avoiding the mosquito carrying virus for seven years, one bite was all it took.

I awoke one Friday morning in early September to go for my morning swim before school. I felt a splitting headache coming on so I took two Motrin and headed for the door. As I put on my flip flops I realized this was not an ordinary headache so I slipped back into bed after popping two Tylenol for good measure. Although I had a relentless headache and felt terrible, I made it through work by taking a ridiculous amount of pain medicine throughout the day. At 3:00 as the bell rang, I achingly plodded home and crawled into my bed as my head felt ready to be cracked apart and the mere act of opening my eyes was painful. By 6:00, I could barely lift my head or move and my clothes and sheets were soaked in gross yellow sweat. I had a 104 °F fever and my joints hurt so badly that the shaking from the fever sent excruciating pain shooting through my body. I knew I had the dreaded Dengue Fever.

The doctors confirmed my fears on Saturday morning with a blood test and suggested that I get admitted to the hospital right away. I was feeling a bit smug, thinking I could beat this, so I opted for my comfy bed, bad sit-coms, and People magazines. On Sunday and Monday I felt a lot better if you can call flulike symptoms “feeling better.” I went to my local doctor each day to have my blood drawn and to check my platelet count. The doctors were concerned because my platelet count was rapidly dropping and I was having a hard time staying hydrated despite drinking tons of water constantly. I knew the stories had been exaggerated, this wasn’t so bad….HA!  Nobody told me about the “honeymoon phase!”

When I awoke on Tuesday, I was convinced that I was going to die. The only problem was that I didn’t have enough energy to actually die and I could barely move. After the doctor insisted, my husband took me to the hospital where I proceeded to collapse in the waiting room. I got two bags of IV fluids in the ER since I was severely dehydrated, delirious and fainting. The pain in my head, joints, muscles, and bones was unbearable. The ER doctor admitted me to the hospital and I was hooked up to an IV bag for six days.

During this time I would be faked into believing that I was getting better only to have the fever and pain return again and again like that bad top-ten song on the radio. Finally I broke out in a rash that lasted for weeks and needed to be scratched to the point of bleeding. To top off all of the torture, a pleasant smiling nurse would prance in and jab a needle into my arm to draw blood for the platelet count three times a day. Every day it dropped a little bit more. Luckily I was too ill to care! I slept my way through the week with painkillers, sleeping pills and an IV bag as my constant companions. Finally the doctor released me on Sunday since my platelet count was stable, but I was still sick in bed for a few more days and the rash was worse than ever!

For weeks I realized why it is called break bone fever! My joints and muscles continued to hurt at the slightest effort and were swollen like they had been during my pregnancies. Eventually I felt better, the joint pain subsided and the rash finally faded. However all these months later there is one long lasting effect; I am seized with panic when I see a gray stripped mosquito flying around me. I am frantically swatting one right now as I sit at the pool writing this. Insect repellent and insect killer are never far from my reach. My family looks at me like I have three heads as I chase down a single mosquito like it is a murderer in a bad horror flick! Better to be safe than sorry. One bite is all it takes!

My Garden of Eden and a Plague of Locust

 A corner of my garden.

 

My father has an unexplained disdain for squirrels and rabbits who dare to enter his garden.  This is such a mystery to his family because he is an environmental engineer who fights to save our Earth! One day we came home to find rakes and shoes way up in the 20 foot pine tree.  Daddy shrugged his shoulders and said, “Squirrels!”  He had been throwing things at the poor defenseless squirrels to get them away from his garden!  My parents moved to a new house and my mother had to threaten daddy to stop tossing lawn furniture at the rabbits  because he was making a bad impression with the new neighbors.  Well the laugh was on him when he set out a “Have a Heart” trap.  The neighbors had snuck over and put their Easter rabbit decorations into the trap!  He was so excited to have caught the buggers! When he went out to look, he found the ceramic bunnies dressed in their Easter finest. He was embarrassed, but we all have had a great laugh at his expense since then. I suppose I have inherited more than I thought from my father.  I have been WAGING WAR with locusts!

 

When we moved to this tropical paradise I was thrilled to get started on a tropical garden.  However, we had not been able to find a house we loved (and could afford on a teacher salary) with a garden that we loved too. We settled into an adorable terrace house near the hippest village that we can walk to. However, I had to settle for grey tiled front and back yards . Ugh!  Never mind, I got creative and started a great potted container garden. I shop at the nurseries, re-pot, prune, fertilize, water, cut, trim, and sweat in the tropical heat to make my plants grow on the dreaded tile yard.  I have mini palms, frangipanis, heliconias (like birds of paradise), water lilies, roses, lotus flowers and bougainvillea to name a few.  These plants just thrive here so through my blood, sweat and tears I now have my own little Garden of Eden on ugly grey tiles. But the wrath of nature is upon me and I have been plagued by locusts lately!

 

    See the baby locust!  Their parents are HUGE!

 

These monsters are systematically eating their way through my hard work and pride.  I know I should be environmentally friendly and just let nature take its course, but I find myself burdened with my father’s curse!  When I have to water the plants or work in the garden, hundreds of little tiny baby locust fly at my face. The big four inch adult ones really hurt if they fly into you! I curse, swat, shake, spray and basically throw a temper tantrum as I race around the garden like a woman possessed.  My husband thinks I am nuts as I run screaming, “Do something, kill them!” My children just walk away as I hollar for them to help me swat them all away.  Nothing seems to be working and now my gorgeous plants are being eaten down to nothing.  The butterflies, birds and dragonflies are dwindling as the flowers disappear.  I finally resorted to evil measures and just got out the spray and let them all have it!  The bigger ones just flew off and were back the next day.  I have read that their skin is so thick that they are hard to kill with insecticide.  They just keep laying more and more eggs and I can’t get rid of them. I don’t want to use insecticides because I know how horrible they are for the environment and also since my gorgeous dogs and kids go out there daily. I want to save my garden, the environment and quite frankly my marriage! Does anyone have suggestions of how to get rid of these pesky critters without nasty poisons or going insane?

 

Resolutions!

It is almost the New Year!  How many people make a New Year’s resolution, and then a few months later realize how impossible it is to keep the resolution?  I know that I do.  I am always eager to start the new year off right, so I promise to exercise more, eat less, spend more time with my family, spend more time alone, quit bad habits, get more organized, …  We all know the routine, but SERIOUSLY how many of us keep our promises? 

This year, I plan to do something a little different.  I plan to consume more wisely.  I am not talking about dieting (although I am always in needJ). I am talking about consumption of goods and products.  I just saw an incredible 20-minute video, “The Story of Stuff.”    http://www.storyofstuff.com/  thanks to my friend, Jabiz who is my guru of conscientious living!   This short video follows our system of extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of “stuff” that we use in our everyday lives.   

Go to the website and check it out.  You will learn a few things, laugh at a few things and maybe even get angry and decide to change a few things.  There are some easy ideas to get started on changing our ways of consuming and disposing of our stuff.   

Last week I was shopping and I thought of how great it was to see some new American products in the stores here in Kuala Lumpur!  Hooray for Cheez-Its, Cheerios and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!  I can finally buy some familiar products!  Wow, they were imported all the way from the USA!  How great is that?  Wait a minute…  I have survived for almost 4 years without these products.  What was the cost of getting those products half way around the world?  Is it worth it so that I can consume a box of Cheez-Its, that frankly, I don’t need?  After watching “The Story of Stuff”, I began to imagine how much fuel was used to ship, the low-cost labor, the boxes and containers, the waste and pollution … I have been quite happy with the crackers and snacks that I buy in the night market.  These do not have boxes, these were not flown or sailed half way around the world and they were being sold by a local man supporting his family that I know and see every week.  

American strawberries in the large grocery stores cost RM26. for a small container (US $7.00).  I am too cheap to pay that when I can buy the same size container of local strawberries for RM4. (US $1.10) So, what is the real cost of shipping those strawberries half way around the world. The price difference is $5.90, but the cost to the Earth and its resources, the cost to families who are forced to work for cheap wages, the pollution and waste of buying these products is immeasurable. After watching this video, I am a little smarter and a lot wiser.  I will pay more attention to the items that I purchase, consume and dispose of in the year 2008.  I never really gave a thought to the “real” cost of products until I saw, “The Story of Stuff.”  Watch it and you may modify your New Year’s resolution too! 

(But right now what should I do with my box of Cheez-Its? I already bought them last week?!  I can’t waste them right?  Tomorrow is the New Year!  J)

Holidays Away From “Home”

It is holiday time, one of my favorite times of the year.  My family is from the northeast of the USA so I am used to the seasonal changes.  In October, we would have made the trip up to my sister’s house in NY to pick apples and pumpkins, hike in the mountains and admire the fall foliage.  By now, the apple pies and homemade applesauce would be frozen and the corn from my grandparent’s farm put up!  The entire family including, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephew, siblings, and cousins would have headed up to the farm to spend Thanksgiving together.  We would have walked to the creeks, wandered through the plowed fields and quiet woods searching for deer and pheasants to admire, cut holly boughs to bring home, baked and cooked all the family’s favorite dishes, then eaten way too much food.  The air would have been crisp and clear, so sweaters and boots would have warmed us. Perhaps a fire might have been going in the fireplace. AAAHHHHH……

 

Reality check!  Thanksgiving weekend in Malaysia was 90 degrees F.  It was hot, hazy and humid. The air was not crisp, but laden with so much moisture that breathing was an unpleasant activity. We worked on Thanksgiving Day.  On Saturday, we went to the pool at the club and then hiked in the rainforest. But, on Sunday, we spent the day with thirty friends cooking, laughing and sharing a feast of all the traditional Thanksgiving Day meals.  Even though it was a far cry from a Pennsylvania farm Thanksgiving, it was a wonderful day spent with good company. Many of our friends commented that they look forward to this day all year. 

 

Now it is only a few days away from my ultimate favorite time of the year, Christmas!  I love everything about it. I have to watch every corny movie and cartoon, see carolers, bake cookies and decorate the house.  The first year we decided that we would be too depressed to spend Christmas away from our extended family so we ran away to Phuket, Thailand, hoping to ignore the Christmas holiday.  It was a horrible idea!  Just like in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” I realized that Christmas comes any way!  All we needed were a few new traditions and some great new people to share it.  Now my family stays in our house until after Christmas Day now.  If we travel, we leave after the 25th.  We try to keep to some of the traditions we had in the USA, and we have added many new ones that make our holiday season special.  Today, we will hike with the dogs and then take a dip at the pool, finish our baking and sit down to watch some of the old Christmas classics that we bought on DVD and enjoy the day with each other.

 

How do you spend the holidays when you are away from “home” and family? 

It is a beautiful time of the year regardless of where you are.  Make the most of it and enjoy the festive season!  Merry Christmas and have a wonderful New Year!

Malaysia, Expat Living For Dummies?

I have heard numerous people state that Malaysia is “Asia Living – Lite,”  in reference to how simple it is to live here. Some would argue that it is too easy to live here.  Expats who have had overseas postings in places such as Africa, Indonesia, and Uzbekistan ae shocked to find such modern conveniences in Malaysia.  Malls, which span six city blocks, rise five stories high and take all day to browse, litter every town.  Movie theaters, which play the latest showings from Hollywood to Bollywood, have waiter service and recliner chairs with pillows and blankets.  Expats can conveniently purchase imported foods from all over the world at most grocery stores.  International restaurant chains encourage the foreigners and the locals to try out the latest store opening of Chili’s, T. G. I. Friday’s, and Tony Roma’s.  Mercedes, Fords, BMWs, Chevys, Toyotas and Land Rovers cruise the super highways.  It is true, for those who chose to close their eyes and continue living as they did in their home countries, Malaysia can be Asia Living-Lite!          

 

I choose to have my eyes wide open because there is an amazing melting pot of culture, religion, language, food and beauty!  “Malaysia, truly Asia!”    Malaysia is alive with three distinct ethnic groups, Malaysian, Indian and Chinese. The Hari Raya and Deepavali festivals have recently ended and the country looks forward to the Christmas and the Chinese New Year celebrations on the horizon. In every shop lot there is a dizzying array of Indian, Malaysian, Chinese and even western products for sale.  Every night we must make dinner choices, which may include chicken tikka with naan bread, nasi lemak, chicken rice, pizza, sweet and sour pork, or curry served on banana leaf.  Once the food choice is finalized, I have to decide if I will eat at a five—star restaurant or simply sit out on the street in a roadside stall.  When driving around Kuala Lumpur, I am in awe of the contrasting beauty between the striking architecture and the lush rainforest.           

 

Malaysia is not Expat Living for Dummies!  It is a unique country with so many diverse cultural, natural, and gastronomical experiences.  On each side of our house, my female neighbors wear different types of clothing; one wears a sari, one wears jeans and short shorts, and one wears a headscarf.  Each morning when I shuffle downstairs, I can hear at least six different languages through my open kitchen window.  I smell the curries, the sausages, the rice, the fish and the pancakes cooking at 6 am.  When I take my morning walk, the call for prayer sounds from the local mosque as I see my Chinese neighbors doing Tai Chi in the park.  I am constantly immersed in international culture!          

 

If my friends and readers have been wondering where I have been lately because of my lack of postings, I have been here trying to make some tough decisions.  My family and I had concluded that we might leave KL after this year. This option did not feel right to any of us.  We are NOT ready to leave this extraordinary country that we have called home for almost four years. We have decided that we will stay right here for another year and continue to explore all of the fantastic sights in and around Malaysia!  A friend of mine laughs at me and says, “Anni, you are still astounded by seeing a coconut on the side of the road!”  This is true!  I guess the day that I cease to be excited by wild coconuts will be the day I leave KL!