Monthly Archives: June 2008

My Tailor in Guangzhou

Many Americans find that they are too large to wear Chinese size clothing.  For example, on a recent trip to a clothing market I was looking for a dress.  A small is something like our size zero to two.  A medium is a size four to six, and a large is a size 8.  An extra large is about a size 10.  Larger than this, and you’ll have difficulty finding much. 

The good news is that in Guangzhou, it’s very easy to have clothing made.  Near the Haiyin Bridge there is a fabric market.  First find a tailor and select an item of clothing from their photo catologs.  Then they will measure you and tell you how much fabric to purchase, then purchase the fabric.  Get a friend to help, especially a friend who can act as translator.  And don’t take anything for granted.  One of my friends made a big mistake in that she just assumed the tailor would hem her dress the correct length.  The dress had been made by a seamstress outside, with finishing to be done by the girl in the shop.  But the girl didn’t measure properly and cut so much off the bottom that the dress couldn’t be salvaged.  So look carefully at the quality of the work in the shop, the styling, and notice if there seems to be a steady stream of local customers (or not). 

Be aware that unless you are a regular customer in the fabric shop, the asking price per meter will probably be about double the price the shopkeeper would charge to a local.  It is worthwhile to have a Chinese language speaking friend go with you to negotiate, or at least hold out for a lower price. If  in doubt, ask for a swatch of the fabric you are considering, take it to the tailor and ask whether it’s a good choice of fabric and what is a good price.  The tailor often will know where to get the best price and may negotiate on your behalf.  Shopkeepers give tailors good prices because they know they’ll be back. 

Occasionally someone asks me for the name of my tailor.  The tailor we use for men’s clothing speaks some English (it’s improving all the time).  His name is Leo and his phone number is 135-6022-6068.  He prefers not to have the overhead of a shop, he comes to the house.  The seamstress I personally use doesn’t speak a word of English, and she’s not the same person I’d use for an evening gown, but her prices are reasonable and she is very helpful.  She is in shop E46 in the building closest to the bridge.  Her phone number is 3357-4756. 

The seamstress I’d recommend for an evening gown is in the second building away from the bridge, on the first floor, near the manicure place and across from the shop that has nice linen.  Sorry don’t know the shop number or phone number.  They are much more expensive but the quality is far superior for design and quality in women’s clothing.  Of course there are many tailors and seamstresses and these are just three.  Choose carefully. 

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The Plane Trip

June 24, 2008

Wow, it’s a long flight.  This is about the 10th time I’ve made the journey halfway around the world.  This time, we left our hotel at 6 AM, were in the air or in airports about 30 hours, and then arrived in our hotel in the USA at 2 AM about 32 hours later.  Everybody has different ways of coping with this type of travel.  I mean, some people fly first class or business class.  That makes it easier, because one can stretch out a bit more and can actually sleep.  There are also different strategies for coping with jet lag.  I’ll share what we do. 

First, be sure to pack your carry on luggage right and wear the right clothes and shoes.  For clothing, remember that it will be cold when you’re flying at 40,000 feet but there will also be times and places when it will be hot.  So, layer with some lightweight clothes underneath and a jacket or overshirt that can be put on or taken off as needed.  It’s a long time sitting in the same crowded seat and cabin, and the angle of your leg sitting in a seat and lower than the rest of your body is not great for circulation coming back up from the feet towards the heart.  Some people’s feet swell so badly that they can’t get their shoes back on after they take them off.  So, wear loosely fitting clothing, carry some loose socks, and wear loose, slip-on shoes.  Carry some slip on slippers (like they put in hotel rooms) for wearing during the plane ride, and change into the loose socks as soon as you are on the plane. 

I think I can count six different times that we went through airport security checks.  At each check, we had to remove our shoes and belts.  So, it’s best to wear slip on shoes.  As your bag may be searched, it’s also best to pack small items all in a plastic baggie so they can easily be located and also so they don’t fall out all over the place as you empty your bag for the security officer. 

As odd as it may look to bystanders, I also try to find some discrete way to exercise and elevate my feet during any long layovers.  For instance, in the Tokyo (Narita) airport, there is a great lounging area on the downstairs level.  In contrast to the main level, it’s remarkably un-crowded.  During a multi-hour layover on this trip, we were able to find some benches to lie flat on for awhile, but then I also lay on the carpet and did some leg lifts as well as some other floor exercises.  Yes, I’m sure it was a unsightly, but my body thanked me very much.  Some people take advantage of massage outlets in airports; I guess that depends on your budget and time.  (In terms of time, be sure to schedule at least a two hour layover when switching flights in an international airport or switching from international to domestic and going through immigration and customs!)

Your carry on should also include a toothbrush and washcloth so that you can freshen up in airports or in the plane.  A very small hand lotion and lip moisturizer can be nice.  The smallest sample sizes are allowed in your carry on but not anything big.  A change of underwear in case your bag gets lost. 

To reduce swelling in your legs, be sure to get up and walk around the cabin now and then.  Exercise and stretch as much as you can, even at times when you don’t feel like you need to.  It’s easy to just sit there on the plane, but your body will thank you later if you move around and stretch and exercise all your muscles from time to time.  Your tummy will also thank you later if  you keep meals light and reduce protein and fat consumption.  Just say no to alcohol, as well, and you’ll feel better in the long run.  Drink a lot of water — drink more than you think you need.  I don’t even try to understand why.  Various reasons that come to mind are dry cabin air, sitting a long time, immobility, altitude.  But a flight like that affects basic metabolism; and the more water, more exercise, and less heavy food, the better. 

The other big issue is jet lag.  What works best for my family, in every trip, seems to be to sleep as much as possible.  On every flight over the ocean, a meal is served.  We wait until they begin serving this meal (because we don’t want to get sleepy and then be waked up and not able to go back to sleep), and then we  take an over the counter, mild sleeping pill (e.g. Tylenol "Simply Sleep").  Then we try to sleep as much as possible on the flight.  (We carry our pillows on the plane, and use them, too.)  We all find that the more we sleep during the trip, the better rested we are when we arrive, and then the better we do overall.  Some people say to try to force yourself to stay awake to get on the new schedule, but we don’t try to do this.  We sleep at every opportunity, we take the approach of "be kind to your body" and follow the signals of our inner clock as it readjusts itself.  You can count on an early evening "crash" time when you find it very difficult to stay awake.  So plan on it and just nap a bit then.  Also, plan ahead for quiet activities you can do at 4 AM if you wake up then.  Expose yourself to plenty of natural light, especially early in the morning, plan on sleeping early or taking a late afternoon nap each day, plan on waking up early in the morning, and adjustment comes very fast. 

We had a good trip over.  We were all able to sleep a lot on the plane.  We had some good layover time and were able to find comfy chairs in the airports where we could elevate our feet and rest our necks by getting a bit more horizontal than the airplane seats allow.  We arrived feeling relatively well rested, have slept enough here, and believe it or not feel almost normal in terms of being on schedule here!  It’s been a good landing.  Just about the time I go home is when I’ve finally figured out how to do it! 

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Packing List Update

Wow.  Moving is an experience!  My hindsight for the day is to echo doubly, get everything out of the house that you don’t want packed

I’ve heard of passports being packed, and guess what?  It almost happened to us.  Yes!  It really almost did!  Also, a suitcase was packed and ready to go out to the hotel, and David caught it just in time to stop it from being dropped into a freight box! 

The worst part is that we didn’t get everything out of the house already that was give-away or trash.  We’d promised some things to people who planned to pick them up after the movers came.  I think their idea was that we’d take what we wanted and they’d see what was left to pick through.  Well, guess what?  Some of that got packed and we had to unpack and repack to get out what we didn’t want and send what we did want.  I’m afraid there was more than one item that got shipped simply because it wasn’t in the right place. 

And then there’s the issue of labeling.  I couldn’t be twelve places at one time.  The boxes are just labeled "books" rather than "music books" or "philosophy books" or "business books" as I would have preferred.  Similarly, the boxes from one bedroom that had things like art supplies and sleeping bags is now just labeled "bedroom".  I’m afraid that unpacking will be a nightmare. 

Fortunately, no neighbors chose today as the day to unload years worth of emotional baggage on me, as happened last time I moved.  On my last moving day, things proceeded well until mid afternoon.  At that point, my neighbor appeared and proceed to yell at me about hundreds of grievances she had accumulated over fifteen years of living in the same house.  The breaking point, for her, was that some of my "stuff" was over her property line and she felt it was unsightly.  (It was unsightly, but it was temporary and we were moving.)  Until that time, I thought we had been good neighbors and friendly.  It was already such a stressful day that I cried on and off the rest of the afternoon.  Then, the first moving crew thought things were going too slowly, so they called in a second crew.  The second crew didn’t know what was to go where (storage or to China), but also they really did pack away my things that were laid out to go to China in my overnight bag!  (My camera, pillow, and Chinese language notebooks have been in long term storage for three years now.) 

Well, I figure if one survives moving day, that’s pretty good.  We survived.  I’m going to find someplace to go for supper now. 

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Packing List For International Move

18 June 2008

THINGS TO GET OUT OF HOUSE BEFORE MOVERS ARRIVE

Carry on luggage

Passports

Tickets (confirm tickets 24 hrs prior to departure)

Cash, ATM and credit cards

Cell phone / Ipod / small DVD player

Laptop

Chargers

Medications

Prescription papers

Good book

Pen and paper

Ear plugs

Blinder

Inflatable neck pillow

Clothes that layer / jacket

Toothbrush

Loose socks

Washcloth

1 change clothes

Valuable jewelry

Pet’s very cute Chinese passport

Vet records

Pet sedative medication

Pet food and water dish

Tax papers

Critical financial records

Keys

Driver’s license

Insurance cards

Checked Luggage

Pillow

Spare glasses

Key Receipts

Clothes needed for 4 wks

Towels and washcloths

Toiletries

Sun screen

Swim suit

swimming goggles

computer programs

essential CD’s

normal medicines

toiletries

contact lenses

contact lens solution

a bit of dry food

router and cables for wifi

computer supplies

child’s favorite toys

child’s favorite stuffed animals

Give to friends and charity: 

whatever you feel good about giving them and they feel good about receiving, remember one man’s trash is another man’s treasure

framed photographs of your time together or of things that are meaningful to them and will bring back memories of you

Get Rid of:

Junk

Anything broken, out of style, old, duplicate, unneeded

Perishable food

Segregate off site anything that MUST stay!

THINGS TO MARK WITH STICKERS AHEAD OF TIME AND SEGREGATE INTO SEPARATE AREAS OF HOUSE

Air Ship

Clothes for weather 8 wks out

Desktop computer

Printer

Essential office supplies

Papers to enroll in school

Essential school papers

Work things

Old tax records

Gifts

Pillows

A few framed photos

Significant papers

A few things from home (afghans)

A few children’s toys and games

Retain Lots of:  Humor and kindness for significant others who are also under stress

allow time for saying goodbyes

Accept all offers of help! 

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Dyslexia News

June 10, 2008

News Flash: Music training may be able to rewire brains of dyslexic children

This entry doesn’t have anything to do with China, but it ought to be of interest to anyone who has an interest in children or in a young child. Since I hope that everyone has a child somewhere that they are interested in, I decided to share this on my blog

In April, I ran across an article describing some cognitive science research which indicates that musical training in young children might actually be applied proactively to rewire the brain so that it is no longer dyslexic. This research is enabled by functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanners, both being tools that enable study of the brain and cognition without invasive techniques. I will link you to the articles themselves at the bottom of this entry, but I will also summarize the article thusly:

Using the fMRI brain scanning, the neural “wiring” that makes a child dyslexic can now be detected years before the child begins to learn to read. Given that this neural wiring can now be detected, what does it show about the brains of dyslexic people?

Using fMRI, it has been shown that brains of dyslexic people respond to fast-sounds versus slow-sounds differently than the brains of non-dyslexic people. A normal person’s brain switches tracks when listening to fast versus slow moving sounds. This could be described as a process analogous to changing gears on a bicycle. Using fMRI, they’ve figured out that a dyslexic child’s brain doesn’t switch tracks at the same time as other children. This basic wiring pattern can be detected years before a child actually begins to read. In other words, dyslexia can now be diagnosed before the symptoms even begin to show up.

All interesting but what can one “do” with that information? Well, here’s the exciting part: It is hypothesized that the dyslexic child grows up hearing fast-articulated sounds indistinctly and thus leads to failure differentiate the sounds. It is theorized that this affects the perception of sequence order within the sounds. In other words, a child who doesn’t hear the sounds distinctly doesn’t learn to sequence those sounds, either. The end result is that the child’s brain lacks skill in detecting sequence. When the child learns to read, this failure to learn sequencing, occasioned by the failure to switch gears, is manifested specifically by the reading disorder of dyslexia. Some researchers theorized that just maybe they could stimulate the children to switch gears and thus stimulate the brain to hear sounds and thus rewire the brain to hear and to overcome dyslexia . . . and it seems to have worked!

Using a computerized music program, the researchers were able to stimulate the dyslexic children to use the “fast” track of their grey matter to listen to sounds. As a result of stimulation that nudged the children’s brains to practice switching gears in how they heard sounds. It appears that the researchers were actually able to change the neural wiring just enough to stimulate development of the “gear switching” part of the study group’s brain. As a result, the children began to hear the sounds more distinctly. These were “hard wired” changes. Eventually, when the children learned to read, their brains had already been trained to switch tracks like “normal” kids: they heard the sounds, they sequenced the letters in the words, and they showed no sign of dyslexia!

The researchers do not make so bold a claim, but I am willing personally go to out on a limb and exclaim, “Eureka, what a potential breakthrough in early childhood education!” Imagine if significant numbers of children could be spared from dyslexia through early childhood intervention.

That’s why this is pretty interesting stuff! It reinforces my belief that there are many, many reasons that every child needs to be involved with music. So now you have yet one more obligation where your children are concerned – to sing fast little ditties and tongue twisters. I imagine that learning to hear the sounds of a second language would be very beneficial to those little brains, too! C’mon adults, get in there and play with the children in your life! (When was the last time you said this one: If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, then how many peppers did Peter Piper pick?) Go dust off that book of songs and nursery rhymes!

Okay, now here’s the citation to the articles.

The scientific article is at:

"Neural correlates of rapid auditory processing are disrupted in children with developmental dyslexia and ameliorated with training: An fMRI study," published Oct. 16 in an online edition of the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience (this is a $1,200 per year subscription journal, I haven’t seen the article).

The press releases as published by their authors for general consumption is here:

http://www.childrenshospital.org/newsroom/Site1339/mainpageS1339P1sublevel370.html

http://www.dartmouth.edu/~news/releases/2007/10/31.html

You can find more by doing a Google search with appropriate words.

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A Speedin’

Wow, with less than three weeks left before we leave China, the time just seems to be flying.  It’s as if life — our life here — is slipping away from me as I grasp at it!  Because I’m trying to enjoy my friends, savor our favorite things, while at the same time preparing for the move back home mentally, emotionally, and physically. 
 
Every day is chock full of tasks that need to be  done, and I’m trying to prioritize according to how much lead time various items require to get completed.   For instance, I think it probably already is too late to get some furniture repaired that needed some TLC before we move back.  I’ve spent the last years really just browsing and looking, not "buying".  But now, I realize I can no longer go to a market, see something I’m interested in and say, "I’ll think about it and come back later," because there won’t be a "later". 
 
It seems the train of time is moving really fast.  It’s time to buy that stuff I’ve been looking at, time to see my friends now, time to declutter the house, time to visit that one last place I haven’t gotten to see yet, time to this, time to that, now!  There’s no time or room for procrastination on anything, and so there are many things to do. 
 
Up until the last six months, it’s seemed that the train I was on was moving at a leisurely pace.  I was busy, but it was as if I were looking out from the front window of the train — I could see the world going by at a manageable pace.  But now, it’s as if I’m looking out a side window.  Whoosh!  Another day gone by!  Whoosh!  The week is gone!  Whoosh!  It’s going by so fast that no sooner do I feel I’ve focused on one thing but then it’s gone.  The scenery is all such a blur, going by so fast, slipping away from me!  I know everything is coming to a close here.  I want to savor the time I have remaining.  Yet, I can’t quite catch a full view of any particular item. 
 
The mundane is also pushing up against the extraordinary.  The high school exam period and spouse’s work schedule precluded that long dreamt-of trip to Yunnan Province over spring break.  The preschool concert precluded the trip to the hot springs.  This is not to say the other things aren’t worthwhile.  Just that it’s hard to balance the daily requirements against the once-in-a-lifetime type opportunities. 
 
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by having so many things to do, and I still want to do so many things that I haven’t yet gotten around to.  I’m taking time to enjoy life of course, but wow there is so much to enjoy!  I feel a bit like a person who knows they have three weeks left to live.  I’m kicking myself for every day that I stayed inside instead of going out, every day I failed to study my Chinese that day, every opportunity I passed up to travel out with friends. 
 
We all live and learn.  That’s why, I think if I were to start over at the beginning of an expat assignment, I’d be sure to jump in right away and become involved in everything.  In a sense, for me, that’s the hardest part of a short term assignment:  the need to jump in and then the requirement to jump out.  It’s challenging to jump in, and then it’s sad to leave behind everything when we leave.  I find myself regretting that Munchkin will have to change schools rather than stay at the school and with the friends she’s known most of her life now.  But of course we knew before we came here that we were setting ourselves up for this.  It comes with the territory.  I guess it’s a part of the territory that I’m not good at, and that I don’t enjoy.  I’ve done well in an expat assignment because of the fact that overall I enjoy life and enjoy where I’m at.  That same characteristic makes it hard to switch gears when it’s time to leave.   
 
I don’t like goodbyes.  I prefer to say, "See you later." 
 
But I have to say, there’s one thing I really won’t be missing, and that’s the air pollution!  It’s the rainy season.  The air is swarming with mosquitoes, it’s humid and rainy all the time, but the rain also clears the air.  Whenever I have a tiny twinge of regret about leaving, all I have to do is to remember the air pollution and then I feel better.  That’s one thing I really won’t miss, for certain! 

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Don’t Forget Burma!

 

I know there is a lot of effort going into relief efforts to help people affected by the Sichuan earthquake.  It’s true that the quake is very awful.  But don’t forget Myanmar (Burma)! 

According to yesterday’s Al Jazeera English, there are currently 134,000 people dead or missing in the Irawaddy Delta.  But many more remain at risk.  There are 2.4 million who remain homeless and hungry.  The government of that country promised to let aid workers in, but they are largely confining them to Yangon.  (Doctors Without Borders reports that 14 staff have been allowed into the Delta, but compare this number of people to the need:  2.4 million people.) 

On the other hand, the government is more receptive to allowing Myanmar citizens into the area.  Some of the relief agencies are therefore training local citizens and letting them go into the area.  For instance, I read that Red Cross is training people on how to use water purification systems and then letting the local people deliver the systems.  

As a matter of fact, private citizens are the ones who have taken the lead in delivering supplies.  They simply load cars full of supplies and drive south; but they run out long before they reach remote hamlets.  (Bear in mind that there are few roads and most of them are dirt.)  According to the U.N., up to half the 2.4 million people left in need of food, medicine, and shelter have yet to receive any assistance at all.  Three, going on four, weeks is a long time to go without food. 

In an earlier Blog entry I listed organizations which are able to get relief supplies into the country.  Pick a card, any card!

 Click Here for Aid Organization Links

See generally, "Myanmar Opens Up to U.N. Aid Workers" 29 May 2008.   

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Holidays Abroad: Making A Home Away From Home

I just found this file that I wrote in December so I will date it, December 2007

HOW TO COPE WITH LOSS DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON:  A PRIMER

 
I’ve written about discrete holidays in the life of our family, but today I realized that I’ve never written expressly about how we cope with loss during holiday time.  Loss, during holiday time?  Did I say that right?  Yes, I did.  Some would think that an expat lives a charmed life, and in a sense we do.  We have been given a fantastic opportunity to dwell within another culture and to see another part of the world.  But living in a very different culture is not without its challenges and hurdles:  mental, physical, and emotional.  
 
For most people, holidays are associated with families and friends, traditions and special things we do the same year after year, whether it’s singing Christmas carols,  spinning dreidels, or throwing paint on our friends.  When it’s impossible to reunite with families during holiday time, impossible to find traditional foods, impossible to participate in traditional festivities, there is going to be a distinct awareness of the loss of those things. 
 
For us, it has been four years since we’ve been able to be with our families at Christmas, four years since we’ve been able to attend Christmas Eve service in our own church, four years since we’ve been able to go to an Easter sunrise service, four years since we’ve been able to go somewhere local to see fireworks on New Year’s Eve or Fourth of July.  I’m not trying to play the violin string too strongly, but it’s simply a fact of life that we deal with.  A person considering living abroad needs to be aware of this fact before accepting an expat assignment.  Before accepting such an assignment, one could blithely say, "I’ll just fly home at x holiday."  But it’s not that simple.  What if there’s no school or work holiday, what if it’s too expensive?  For our family to go home for a holiday — or for a funeral or emergency — would cost more than $10,000 U.S.  In an ideal world, yeah, sure.  But in reality, it’s not actually practical.  With some practice, one learns how to cope:  what traditions and customs to hang onto, what things to let go of, and what to create from scratch.
 
I believe I wrote about the New Years that my ham turned out to be a piece of rolled lard (since I couldn’t read the ingredient label).  Did I ever write in my blog about the Thanksgiving I cooked a chicken (since I knew we couldn’t eat or store a turkey), except I didn’t know how to use the convection microwave (since the directions were all in a different language), so the chicken turned out dry and crispy — something like jerky — and then my husband worked late; and even after he was home we learned that our children wouldn’t be home for supper anyway (since it was dress rehearsal for the school play)?  When one is accustomed to having a Thanksgiving full of family and traditional foods and at least a meal together, the absence of that tradition can be felt pretty acutely.  It was not a fun Thanksgiving.  Oh, and then there was the Thanksviving when S had just gotten out of the hospital, we had just returned from the country where she had been transported for medical care, and there was no food in the house anyway.  At one point half the family was in tears on that day, and only half the family went out to the expat restaurant for a meal while the other half stayed home.   Holidays have not always been fun! 
 
Holidays can be one of the hardest time for expats, until they learn how to cope.  There’s a distinct learning curve.  The Thanksgiving when half of us went and half stayed home, alone in a dark house, was our first and worst Thanksgiving out.  Fortunately, each one has gotten better, and I think now we’re on the other side of the learning curve.  I decided to write this entry in case some lonely expat might sometime find this page as a result of a google search about lonely Thanksgiving, sad Christmas, blue Holidays in general.  Because, there is light at the end of the tunnel!  Here are my suggestions:
 
1. My first suggestion is, think twice.  Be very thoughtful about whether your personality is right for an expat assignment, to begin with.  Be honest and realistic about what your deepest values and needs are.   This is not a matter of strength or weakness, good or bad.  It’s simply a matter of knowing one’s self and being comfortable with who one is.  Some people prefer a noisy environment with lots of stimulation whereas others prefer a quiet life with lots of solitude.  Some prefer small town or rural life, while some prefer a big city.  Neither is good or bad in itself, neither is right or wrong across the board, but one could be the wrong decision for a particular person.  It is a matter of knowing one’s self and doing what is right for "me".  Just as none of these choices implies weakness, neither is it a terrible fault if one happens to have a personal preference to live deeply nestled within the heart of one’s home culture.  If you don’t relish new experiences, if you prefer to stay in your home town and enjoy the comfort of the familiar, then it’s best to know that and value it before it’s irretrievable.  Enjoy the life that you have and relish it; don’t feel that you must accept an expat assignment if it’s just not in your personality. 

There are sobering statistics out there about how many expat assignments fail.  Failure in an expat assignment could also have career ramifications, and there are also very sobering statistics about the failure rate of expat marriages.  It can be very hard on spouses and children, too.  So, don’t feel bad if you decide not to expose your family or career to that risk. 

 
2. My second suggestion is to anticipate and prepare.  I alluded in one blog entry to the fact that we get Easter egg dying supplies from our home country, sometimes purchased as much as a year in advance since (we learned) Easter Egg Dye is only seasonally stocked in USA stores.  We keep on hand a few holiday decorations for every holiday (small and easily packed away), just so we can have some symbolic presence even if we can’t reconstruct the full blown event.  Every year in August I buy some bits of foods or ingredients to carry in my suitcase so I can make traditional holiday foods for Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and Easter.  This year, I even asked my friend Kathy to bring me a pine scented Christmas candle in her suitcase.  My friend Jim brought blackstrap Molasses.  David asked his mom to ship us fruitcakes!  There are going to be a few things that you will just want to bring from home.  But you can’t bring everything, so choose sparingly.   Think well in advance about what is important and figure out what you have to do to accomplish that small kernel of what is most important. 
 
3. My third suggestion is to lower expectations.  Expect nothing, and then you might be pleasantly surprised at anything.  So, it can even be a pleasant surprise when a stranger on the street says, "Merry Christmas!" 
 
4. My fourth suggestion is to develop a network.  If you can’t be with extended family at Hannukah, then make your own family.  The first year we had our now-Annual Christmas Carol sing at our house, it was an accident that it was scheduled for the day of Christmas Eve.  The day happened to fall on a Sunday, and that was the day most people could come.  But then we realized, that creating a new and different tradition had filled the gap that otherwise would have been left open.  On a "normal" Christmas Eve, we would have been with family but here we had none.  Our friends became our new family.  So now we deliberately have it on Christmas Eve, to create a special time for all of us forlorn souls who otherwise would have a gaping hole in our activities. 
 
5. And, finally, develop new traditions.  Don’t waste emotional energy trying to recapture that which cannot be recaptured.  Find a new way to have joy.  My sister married a person who always must work on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas.  At first she was at a loss about how to cope.  But she decided to make the best of it by volunteering at a soup kitchen on that day.  What a nice and meaningful way to embrace the challenging circumstance and make the most of it.  After many years of volunteering at the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving day, it has become their own, special family tradition.  I imagine they would continue that tradition even if the circumstances that gave rise to it were to change. 
 
I have a suspicion that these suggestions for dealing with loss also would apply to people who find themselves experiencing any type of extreme disturbance of expectations or loss at holiday season.  I fortunately have never lost a parent, but I remember very well the sadness that overwhelmed a household we visited one time, right after the grandfather had died.  The family was trying to be cheerful, but faces were very long and silences were long.  We could tell from the demeanor of the whole family that Grandpa’s loss was being keenly felt on that first Christmas without him.  In circumstances like that, just as in the expat circumstance, it’s impossible to recreate that which can never be recaptured.  In that case, I believe it’s especially important to create new traditions.  Carry some traditions forward, just as your Loved One would want you to do.  But also leave the sacred memories where they are, untouched, and create a new path where there can be another source for joy.  Don’t try to recapture that which is impossible to recapture
 
Two or three years ago, a new family moved in our housing complex.  They were already experienced expats, having lived in many countries already.  Unlike us, they jumped right in and did everything right as soon as they moved in.  They put up a big tree, decorated their house, invited friends, had parties.  Within a week, the wife seemed to have friends and know her way around town, she had already networked enough to find where to buy cheese and other things that are hard to find.  Astounded at their transition, I asked them how they had done it.  They told me that they had learned that the best way to cope was to jump in with two feet immediately and actively pursue what was important to them.  I noticed that my friend even had fresh parsnips for her family’s Christmas dinner!  Amazed, I asked her,  how in the world she managed to snag fresh parsnips?  She quietly but emphatically said, "Don’t ask!"  It was a real coup.  She knew what was important, and she had figured out how to do it.  You do, too.  Figure out what it is that you most want from your holiday, plan how to make that happen, and then pursue it.  Don’t wait for life to happen by accident:  you must make your own holiday dreams come true.   
 
Happy Holidays! 

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