Friday, December 28, 2018


These are snippets I wrote on my phone and in my Filofax this year. Hurried, sometimes awful scribbles. Here they are in no particular order and with no reason as to why I wrote any of them or what any of them mean.

Part 1:
What are some of the things I want to say but don’t: The thing I most often want to say to people is ‘get your shit together’. Others are ‘you are not the first person this happened to but I get that it’s your only experience’, ‘ask for help, goddammit’, ‘stop being so utterly selfish’, ‘I hope this comes back to bite you in the ass’ and ‘I’m too old for your bullshit’. I say nothing because it’s not my place and they are probably thinking that exact thing about me...

Altogether separate:
I fear something is happening here. And I have no control over it. I feel like I am staring through a glass plate window but all I can see outside is absolute darkness. Not the green grass or the pool or the people on the lawn chairs I know for a fact are right there. It’s unsettling, this feeling. It feels irreversible, like morning will not appear to bring those things back into their rightful view. 

Another aside:
I’m always always ALWAYS the bad cop. From poking his fingers into sockets to making sure meals consist of more than white bread. From insisting on clean teeth before a bedtime to marshaling screen time. And it doesn’t matter if we begin on a good note. If we both re-affirm that we must have a good attitude and smile and try and use our words to solve our problems. At the end of the day it has all dissolved, that good will and intention, in the face of me being the Fun Police. 

More tangent:
I feel like I have all this awful anger inside me. An anger that doesn’t know it’s own strength. But equally an anger that will never see the light of day. And an anger borne of bad choices, lack of time, an innate selfishness that I have to be the centre of everyone’s universe. It lives in a duck blue box and is held together with a ribbon and is so very pretty it can never be opened. 

I’m happiest with:
A good podcast in my ears
A good book in my hands
A bar of Toblerone by my side
Feet in the sand
Idli - podi on my plate
Kadhi - chawal on the plate next to it
In WhatsApp land with my friends and family
My sketchbook of indecipherable doodles 
The understanding that life is weird and so many things are not true choices anymore.

‘I don’t know what I want’ seems to be my real problem because in actual fact there is nothing stopping me from achieving any of the things on my random list of ‘wants’. I’m just tootling through life I suppose, hoping I get it or It falls in my lap. I’m the laziest human being I know. 

OMG, I think I need a shrink. I’ve typed some of this out from my Filofax and copied the rest from my notes. And when read back, frankly, it makes me sounds cray cray. Maybe I am. 

I’m closing out this year and hoping that 2019 will be better. Be kind. It’s the only currency that brings us even a modicum of happiness. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

The 2018 wash

It has become obvious that having one child means I have a clean house, a perfect child with perfect manners, perfection in every way, time for exercise, a job where I don’t have to worry or feel guilty about the ‘children’, all the time in the world to collect information and organise things for people who chose to have more than one child. End of sarcastic rant. 

If only I got to play the ‘if I had a nickel for every time someone said’ game! I would use ‘life must be so much easier with one kid’ as the tag line where I accumulate the moolah. Give me the mon-eh!!!! In 2018 I’d have finally hit my million bucks and been able to clone my ONEperfect child and have 10 of him around the house to fulfil all my dreams. Happy?! 

But really, 2018 was a wash in so many many ways. Ok yes I don’t have much to complain about but my emotional health was not the greatest. Lots of different streams of self doubt (which will not be magically cured by getting a job or becoming thin lol), heaps of loss and grief, angst about all the stupid people who constantly vie to find ways to remind me I have one child and hope to somehow make me regret that choice. I’ve had some brilliant moments of quiet thought, so all is not lost. 

These moments of quiet thought, deeper than normal thought, came on holidays (yes yes ironic are the points of privilege - ‘you can travel so much because you only have ONE child’) in wild places where nature lets you know how insignificant these people and all our conjured up problems are. Where looking at the wild grasslands and endless desert makes one understand the futility of mean thought, the minute-ness of life, the sheer stupidity and magic of our material existence amongst everything in the universe. For those brief moments I wanted to be in a philosophy class, for someone to explain the ‘Who am I/ what is my purpose?’ type of thoughts that flood the mind. Of course the thud to reality is near instant, far longer and harder. I am this person. These are my choices, made of free will. These are the people in my orbit. And these are the consequences I choose to live with. 

This blog was possibly my biggest failure in 2018. In real life I did ok. I swatted away some of the thoughts of doubt. I found peace with eliminating/ shape shifting relationships where people made me feel small/ user. I had grand holidays (with the ONE child) knocking things off my bucket list at a faster pace than I imagined. I still have the love of my life right here, present in my every day. I mastered some bits of technology that had eluded me. I opened my ears to some new music. I decided not to sweat the very small stuff, loosen control on the everyday - although that personality trait is built way deeper than I thought. 

This blog was ignored, violently almost, because every time I began to write it seemed to be a complaint, a misery, an angst, something neither nice nor kind. I’d back off pretty quickly as my 1.8 readers were not the right audience for my misplaced ire. So I wrote a lot of posts, and I mean A LOT, in my phone notes and a small Filofax journal of yore and I never posted them. But they got out of my head leaving space only for the beauty and the idiot people who keep calling me out for having just one kid. In 2019 I’m going to skadoosh those people too. And hopefully write something cheerier or certainly more palatable. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Loss and memory

In the midst of our daily joys - the celebration of birthdays, the winning of sports, the reunion of families - there are large griefs. This year we have faced three. First, it was my sister in law’s beloved grandfather who passed earlier this year. For their home it’s the end of an era. He was a wonderful, charming, gentle man - full of affection and love for his family. Then my mother lost her very best friend - my Other Mother - who is mostly responsible for me and V meeting. She sang like a Bulbul (that was her pet name - and to me she will always be bulbulmashi) and taught me that kindness and family was everything. Her children, they are like my siblings and I know that even in the relief that her pain is gone is their (and our) immense pain at her loss. My mother, the strongest bravest person I know, her heart is hurting and there isn’t much that can quite help. And most recently my uncle, Eachan, the kindest, calmest, most wonderful of people in our family. A man of few words, a great love of sport, classical music and above all, his family and friends. He had eyes that twinkled and smiled and spoke volumes - and he loved us all fiercely. My aunt, my cousins, my father, all of us knew this moment was coming but I’d still say the loss was unexpected and utterly painful and in fact we are all reeling from this. If I could bear their pain for them I totally would. 

We are an age now where the losses are coming fast and furious. The parents of our friends succumbing to old age and illness and young people who have no business leaving us too soon. How do we reconcile the loss of these beloveds? I find that there is no ‘one fits all’ answer. It’s all intensely personal and creates holes that cannot be hastily, if ever, filled. I don’t imagine for a moment that those spaces in our hearts and minds will ever be full or smoothed. In time, they might become like knotty bumps, intertwined strands of grief and joy, joined by memory and connection with all those who knew that person. Some are us are very private in our grief, others less so; it’s all perfectly perfect. For me reminiscing, if only to myself, takes the process forward. I think of events or conversations or moments and they make me tear up but also smile. In time we will all talk about these people without breaking into tears or clenching our fists in pain but that time is in the distance. I only write this now because I want to mark this year, with its glaring imperfections and deep holes, to remind myself that even in our deepest losses we have so much to be grateful for. For having known these wonderful people, and being known by them.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Of a Saturday

The rhythm of the school week and it’s many activities changes a bit every year but usually settles into a satisfying pattern by this point, 6 weeks in. Everyone knows what is when, that is then and it’s all pencilled in to a big calendar for everyone to see. 

All I have to do now is get my act together. Here is an example of what needs doing. Today is Saturday. Despite a late night last night I knew Kid had basketball today so we were up, breakfasted and on time. I should be able to say my day is going swimmingly but frankly it is not. 

Forgot that school is full of elected council kids (20/ grade) here for training - and so totally didn’t talk about it on my way in. Of course seeing many of his friends here to learn to be better leaders, he is upset all over again that he didn’t win. Quick non-sugar coated advice of life is hard, someone has to win and someone has to lose has not gone down well. Just gone into basketball super grumpy and feeling hard done by. 

Also find I cannot really use last night as an excuse because the class is at 10 which is really mid- morning. Have left book, water bottle, snack, glasses and headphones at home. Using my coffee cup as a water cup and thankful for water fountains. Nothing to read, no headphones to listen to any podcasts, his grumpiness will not improve when he discovers there is no immediate snack after and no glasses so I’m sitting on the ground having to squint at 15 Basketball playing children for the next hour. One can only hope that I can get through the day without further such incompetence. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Long Summer

School opened 5 weeks ago and I had every intention of writing this as soon as he climbed that bus on day 1. My child is in the 4th grade. Yes, you read that right. I am o.l.d. And yes, I am making his joy of being an independent 9 year old into a story about me. What can I say beside it’s been a long long slow slow summer.

So 10 weeks - again, you read that right - that’s how long we had between grades. And while every. single. person I’ve met since we came back has told me how their summer in Hawaii/ Europe/ Wild West ranch was way too short, for us there were 2 not very long trips and both of those were filled with friends, family, shopping and eating. The rest of our time back here was s.l.o.w. to say the least. Lots of screen time, piles of books, sketchbooks of doodling, tense board games, marble runs, pretend maps, swims, pizza lunches and half heartedly trying to incorporate spelling and times tables into our daily lives. 

And then we jumped right back into elementary school like we had never been away. From day 1 of school it has been an absolute whirlwind. For him, homework, tests and growing into a new community of kids. For me, parent focussed activities and classroom/ library volunteering. He has a great teacher this year (again) and seems to be in a class of kind kids. Of all our years here this one looks to be shaping up best. 

I’ve been warned time and time again that he is 9 and if I don’t jump back in the job market soon I will be redundant and in the not far future he will have left home and I will have nothing to do except wallow in loneliness. I see only the flip side though: of him a.l.r.e.a.d.y being 9 (double digits next year mom) and such a (mostly) delightful age and how in no time at all he won’t want to have these conversations or teach me chess or snort-laugh milk out his nose while trying to explain a joke to me and will be gone from our nest. 

I guess the conundrum faces us all. What do we want for ourselves and what do we want our children to see? I hold every precious memory of my childhood right here in my heart. I wasn’t appreciative of it while I lived it (for who is?) but having my mom at home to chat with and oversee our daily lives is my most precious connection with her. That gift of time and being the centre of her universe gave me a core of stability and knowledge that nothing and no one else could have. It is helped by the fact that as soon as we were done with school my mom went to work and is now the coolest working grandma in town. There is, clearly, hope.

Similarly mums that work show their kids what it is to be a multi-tasker, what it looks like to be independent and in the work force. How balance between home and work priorities is often delicate. How perseverence and effort is everything. I strongly believe there is no singular answer and that one woman’s meat is another’s poison in this case. Personally, I love this gift of time and I’m grateful for the privilege to have it. I see the pitfalls and the unobtainable jobs on the road ahead but this job, this watching my 9 year old grow into the world, this gives me more than any job could at this point in my life. 

This opinion of who I am, who I want to be, what my child needs - it fluctuates daily in my mind - and I’m mostly held back by my own dwindling confidence of not having worked for 7 years. For now I have dusted off my CV and am contemplating a part time return to the working world. A balance between laughing over things Big Nate does and catching a shuttle to an office looms in my future. I’m using Fall break to contemplate this. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Summer of goodbyes

It’s one of two things. Either we are at the point in an expat cycle where people are finishing their 2 or 3 year stint and moving. Or it’s the end of 3 years and we know more people than before (and now many of them are moving). Or a combination of those things. Whatever the reason this has been a summer of goodbyes. 

Our Aussie friends repatriated in December, ahead of their shift in school year. And this summer our American friends moved back to the luxury of New York, Target and the joys of extended family. Today another family returned to their previous city of Tokyo. And with that it brings me to 15 goodbyes that we have had to say this year. 

‘Change is the only constant’ is a refrain I’ve drummed into my ears and heart for without it I would be a weeping mess. I’ve hosted farewell brunches, attended dinners and gone on lovely bucket list excursions this year. I’ve bought gifts for kids, mementos for family homes all over the world and written cards of connection. Who knows who will stay in touch. Even with technology at their fingertips people are often fickle and taken by surprise at how much effort staying in touch requires. 

As we get to the halfway point of the summer break I find myself looking forward to what will be another busy school year. It will have plenty to occupy my mind - with it all the new families that will join our community, our building and our school. Also a renewed effort for me to begin thinking about a return to work. I’m ambivalent about how my old skills will fit in with the new world but I’ve decided to at least give it a shot. At least I’ll have tried. 

It’s been a quiet summer. Beside a week away in old stomping grounds we’ve been wandering around the 852 in the heat and rain. Looking forward to a quick visit to see all the folks. And before we know it summer will be at its end and I will have to hunt for my welcoming smile for all the new people coming into our world. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

I dream of the Mara

As an Indian schoolgirl in the 80s the project that most made an impression on me was the study of the Masai people. I’m not even sure why we were studying the Masai - as Indian middle class school kids they were as far from our imagination as a possible trip to the moon. But the study of the peoples, their culture, traditions and clothing was in our curriculum and so study them we did. 

Ever since then I’ve wanted to visit Masai Mara, to see whether the bushmen actually wore the bright red clothes and herded their cows using long sticks. Added to the childhood projects are television wildlife programs such as BBCs Planet Earth and Nat Geo Wild which have shown us the great migration, the flora and fauna of this landscape and the wild animals that make it home. It holds mythical proportions in my mind and I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited by a vacation as this one.

Well, let me tell you: it was nearly exactly as I pictured it. M.a.g.i.c. - with plains as far as the eyes could see, its trees dotting the landscape, the view from above one of spots, giving it its name of ‘Mara’ (which means ‘spotted land’). We stayed at a tented camp at the base of the west wall of the Great Rift Valley and drove into the Mara each morning before sunrise. We would stop for a bush breakfast around 9am and our wonderful driver/ guide would find a scenic spot (with a rock or tree to mark our territory so to speak) and cook us eggs to go with bread. 6-7 hours later we would return to camp having seen herds of animals living their lives out in absolute freedom. From 4 lions seeking water right after a kill to the 30 strong herd of elephants, from the curious Masai giraffes to the wide hipped hippos wallowing in pools, from the ever watchful topis to the aggressive Cape buffalos every animal was in their home, living what could only be described as their lives within the circle of life. Families of warthogs, packs of hyenas, lines of gnus/ wildebeest, groups of rhinos, basking crocodiles, skittish Thompson gazelles, brothers mongoose, watchful Kopis, majestic Elans, bunches of Ostrich, stripy zebra. More animals than we could count. We would come back to camp for lunch and a rest and then head off again mid afternoon for another game drive. It was as far from a beach vacation of lounging that one could imagine and as wonderfully invigorating as it sounds. Also tiring! 

Beside the abundance of animals and the friendly, gentle people we met it was the landscape that blew me away. The sheer majesty of the plains and the walls of the Great Rift Valley sloping up from it. The acres of grasses and thickets of leopard and lion laden trees, all lit up with wide bright blue skies. I have so many excellent (even with just my iPhone) pictures of these landscapes that I’d be hard pressed to pick one I love more than the others. The light was bright and yet mellow and played with the clouds letting rays fall helter skelter, leaving shadows to play on the land. I don’t know how else to describe it but to say I felt at a loss for not being a poet or writer. I just didn’t have the words to accurately describe how it all felt. The wonderful freeing thought of the forces of nature being boss while all of us paled to insignificance. It’s been more than a month since we came back but the echoing sounds of lions roaring through the night and the sheer majesty of wild animals come to me in my dreams often. I will be an old doddering geriatric some day and I take joy in thinking these memories will light up my otherwise blank mind. I will ever forget this trip. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

We are here

This week we are in Kenya. A few days in the foothills of the Ngong Hills of Nairobi, home to the coffee plantations of Karen Blixen and setting of the movie ‘Out of Africa’. Today, we are on the equator - not far from Mt. Kenya and enjoying the game drives in a rhino conservancy. Tomorrow we head to Masai Mara. 

Kenya and specifically safaris have long been on V and my bucket lists. We visited Tanzania/ Zanzibar in our young married life and I’d still venture to say that was a defining vacation for us. We then visited Morocco just before we left London. That was another type of vacation with a small child and showed us a very different aspect of this vast continent. I’ve also grown up on stories from my dads travels and years of living in myriad places like Nigeria and Sudan. In some way I think a trip to Kenya has long been on our list but I imagined it was about 5 years away, in Kids teenage years. It was a magic moment, of the stars aligning,  of all things working out at the right time that has meant we are here, finally. Many years ahead of schedule.

So far Kenya is everything we imagined. Full of smiling, gracious people, vast blue skies and a lush green coat despite being dry and on the final countdown for the impending monsoons in March. I’m so very happy I am here. I ❤️ Kenya. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Nellikka pickle FTW

When I first moved here I went to a very specific part of Kowloon to look at the recommended Indian grocers. Since that first trip I have never returned. I literally never go to the Indian store. Like every Hong Konger I know I call my preferred grocery guy with a list and he delivers for cash the next day. 

In 2008, in our pre-Kid days, we went to California on vacation. Our first 3 days were spent with my cousin B. We spent most of our time talking and eating. I kept falling asleep and when I was awake I devoured the dal and rice and nellikka (amla/ gooseberry) pickle in her house like I had not seen food before. I wanted that pickle at every meal I had there - including a meat heavy barbecue. I put it all down to jet lag and exhaustion from a super hectic job (the sleep), desperately missing my aunt (maker of the pickle) and the California air making me hungry (for dal of all things eughh). If that was not a clue I do not not know what was.

A few weeks later I discovered I had been pregnant for a lot of that trip and before - and it all made a bit more sense - craving the odd. The funny thing is I had never liked nellikka pickle before that moment and I still never connected the dots of odd. I don’t think I ever had it again. A few years ago I randomly thought about it and called my aunt whose first instruction was to get the frozen gooseberries from Trader Joes. I have never lived in a country with Trader Joes or it’s equivalent and I never thought to ask my Indian grocer or hunt for them in supermarket aisles. Totally dismissed and blanked it out. 

I forgot all about it and time went on. Till this week when I was calling in my list to my Indian grocer here and I couldn’t think of what other veggies to ask for. I told him to reel off a list of what he had available instead. When he said ‘nellikka’ I had sudden visions of the pickle from yore (haha) and decided to order a small amount and see what it could inspire (not babies, just magnificent pickle haha!)

Today I YouTube’d a recipe (it was too early to call my aunt for her recipe and I was too impatient to wait) and made a small bottle of pickle. It’s now sitting on my kitchen window sill providing me with a feeling of small accomplishment (for I am not a pickle or preserve maker) and a photograph for Instagram. I wonder if it will taste any good or will I have to bin it and start all over again with my next shopping list. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

The first week

Since we got back just after the new year I’ve been pottering around the house at a snails pace. And in a way it’s been good to not go rushing into life because it’s given me pause to reflect on a loss that’s just a year old. The loss of my nani on the 6th of January last year. I’ve been dreading the actual day for about a month but by the end of December I was over the most negative of my thoughts (mainly anger) and had a calm focus on my loveliest memories of her. It made the day bearable and me able to support my mum rather than need her to support me. 

What did however upset our balance this week was the news of loss of a child. An 8 year old, one of twins, to a rare form of leukaemia. Gone within a month of the diagnosis. I’ve never met the parents - but maybe it’s because my child is the same age I have had this awful reaction to this news. Losing a child is against the order of the universe and I can’t imagine it is like any other grief in the world. I imagine it never goes away and that a stabbing pain sits with his parents every moment of every day, especially at this very early stage. I’m heartbroken for them. Literally heartbroken. 

On the other hand I feel like the memories of a lifetime and a loved and lived life makes it so much easier to honour a persons memory. There is no right age or way and death is always sad but when a memory of my Nani comes to me it is with a smile to my lips before tears to my eyes. And in that moment I know that she is Ok and one day we will be too. 

Friday, January 05, 2018

64 dishes and a New Year

  1. Back from another whirlwind India trip. Not sure why I am a glutton for punishment and just push through telling myself ‘it will be fine, it will be fun’ like some mantra. It did turn out fine and mostly fun but of course 5 cities in 2 weeks with wedding festivities, family and friends, tourism and New Years celebrations is exhausting. I’m spending this last week of no school napping and making small forays to the local market but nothing more strenuous. In fact Kid slept 15 hours that first night back - catching up from all his late nights and the excitement of his cousin. V, he never ever stops.
  2. In December we hosted what is becoming a larger and larger holiday party each year. This year we invited 80 people and 68 or 72 (depending on who is doing the counting) showed up. We had a big and heaving drinks bar and a lot of snacks. So many snacks in fact that we are still eating down our freezer. Convenient but vaguely annoying. I’m up to my eye balls with spring rolls.
  3. All the paper products I ordered for the party failed to arrive on time. So in a last minute scramble my friend and I dashed to the wholesalers in Shanghai Street. Got entirely side tracked by a wholesale restaurant supplier and ended up buying 64 (yes you read that right multiple times) pieces of crockery. It was hilarious considering all I wanted was 100 paper plates. I was like a child in a toy store with a blank cheque. It’s not all one set but will work eclectically to dress our table when we need it. Can’t wait to be able to open it all - my restaurant quality hard wearing glazed ceramics that I am so so in love with it. I can safely say necklaces, earrings and ceramics are my weak spots. Ceramics more than anything. 
  4. As Murphy’s Law would have it all the paper products arrived shortly after the party and have now been stored away for next (no wait, this) year. 
  5. We need to purchase a sideboard for our crockery. We were running out of space anyway and this new sets of stuff has made a vague decision a firm one. We have the supplier and a few designs in mind but V and I must sit and decide which piece suits us. 
  6. Meanwhile, a Happy New Year my clutch of readers. May it snow or be sunny or whatever weather you are wishing for. I’m aiming to write 52 posts this year (so 1 a week) or more. Hold me to it. 
  7. Be kind. Be the kindest person in the room, in your group, in your family, in your city. Be kind.