The First ExPat-iversary

A year ago. A whole year. We landed with a lot of luggage, a lot of excitement, a few nerves, and some semblance of a plan.

In some ways it feels like we still arrived here yesterday. In others, it feels like it’s always been like this.

So, a year in, what have I learned?

It takes a lot longer to feel settled than I thought it might. What might be considered small bureaucratic accomplishments by a native (like getting a parking permit, or a new banking service) still feel like larger victories.

However, I’m starting to find that hearing a lot of North American accents together is somewhat jarring. And I don’t have an accent myself (yet?), but my speech patterns have changed somewhat. I say ‘yeah’ a lot more than ‘eh’ now. And some pronounciations are being overtaken by the Queen’s English. These days I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to come out when I open my mouth to say ‘tomato.’

We’re doing pretty well in the friends department. Oxford is small, so it’s easy to run into the same people a lot. Having a kid helps, because we get to know parents of other kids. As does having a job and making friends with workmates. But a rare in-person visit with a friend I’ve known for over a decade quickly puts these much fresher friendships into perspective.

It’s hard, really hard, being so far from family.

But there is one thing about being an ExPat, an overarching theme to it all, that I really, really like. And until very recently, I wasn’t sure how to put it into words:

Being an ExPat means being free to forge a new path.

When we arrived here, one thing I really liked was the perception I had that more people work-to-live than live-to-work. The English, I thought, have a much healthier attitude toward their careers. I have a friend here who spent a year living near Toronto, and thought exactly the same thing about Canadians!

It seems to be less about the attitude of a country’s people toward life, than the type of people you end up exposed to as an ExPat, and your experience of seeing the world without the lens of their cultural history and expectations.

And the same thing happens to the way people see you. Natives don’t expect you will have the same background, goals, or priorities they do, since you are not one of them.

At the same time, nobody from ‘back home’ expects you to live the same way anymore, because you are no longer there.

It’s a total opting-out of the rat race. Of the competitive parenting. Of keeping up with the Joneses.

Oh, we still cause people’s eyes to bug out of their heads occasionally, when saying things like “well, if we don’t end up living in that catchment, we’ll be ok. It’s only primary school.” Except the eye-bug is more one of ‘Wacky Canadians’ rather than ‘Terrible Parents’ (which is what many of those who aren’t ultimately consumed by where their kindergarteners end up are labelled).

There are still things I miss about Vancouver. Top of the list is that network of family and friends, of course. But I also find myself longing for the beaches and mountains in a way that surprises me. I miss North American pizza, great cheap sushi, and bread that doesn’t disintegrate if you wave some butter near it.

But I am finding new things here. Not replacements for the life we built before going, but additions to it. A proper cup of tea. Bacon sandwiches. Pub culture. Beautiful old treasure houses. The network of rivers and canals. The ever-present sense of English ‘fair play.’ New friends.

All things that I’m discovering I’m going to miss whenever the time comes that we move on.

Happy ExPativersary to Us!

As of July 12th, we’ve been in the UK a year – a whole year!

It has really flown by.

mixedflag

Image from mixedflag.com. I think I need this on a t-shirt.

I have so many more words to say about it, but between a crazy quick trip to Vancouver earlier this month (a surprise for my dad’s 60th birthday) and moving house (argh!), time to extract them from my brain through my fingers to the keyboard has been in short supply.

But! If you are on the twitters, you can follow @PeopleofCanada this week, where I’m curating the account and sharing snippets of life as a Canadian ExPat in the UK.

Uneven Footing

I am really quite excited to see the resurgence of feminism in the mass consciousness.

I’ve actually been meaning to write more about my nebulous thoughts and experiences around it, but this other thing has been eating at me a bit, so I thought I’d throw it out there and see if I can drum up any discussion, because frankly, I’m stymied.

How do I negotiate prioritising and “leaning-in” to my career in the context of doing what’s best for our family?

At the core of it, Neil’s salary is over 100% higher than mine. This is due to a number of things; but primarily because of a higher overall salary for the work he does compared to what I do, and a more direct career path for him (he’s been doing the same thing for a while, marching steadily upward, while I flitted around and dabbled).

But, while he would never boast about this himself, he also owes a huge amount of credit for his earnings and career success to the fact that he works really, really hard. He goes in early most days. He stays late when he needs to. He isn’t a doormat or a workaholic, but genuinely believes in what he is doing, really enjoys doing it, and works hard to deliver excellent work, all of the time.

His pride, drive, and passion are core to what I love most about him.

And before we had a kid, these rarely presented any challenges. He worked late, I worked late, we sorted it out and fended for ourselves when we had to.

Introducing the tiny human has meant we have also had to introduce a lot more compromise. Generally we’re pretty good at making things work, and Neil really is very involved in the mechanics of making sure we’re all fed, clothed, and reasonably clean. He’s got time booked out in his calendar where he won’t take late meetings because I have commitments. But occasionally, we both need to extend our work days, and we need to make a choice about which one of us has to lean toward the family more than toward our jobs.

So how do you choose who’s going to ‘take one for the team’ this time?

Prioritising Neil’s work means ensuring he can continue to earn the income our family needs to keep existing (we can not live on my salary alone).

But I worry.

I worry that I am going to lose opportunities to increase my own career progression and financial contribution to our family (not to mention my own personal goals and hopes and dreams), by not being able to lean in as hard.

I worry that by taking on the bulk of the household responsibilities, so Neil can continue to thrive and grow in his role as our primary breadwinner, I am spreading myself thin enough that my outside-the-home-work ends up relegated to the position of ‘job’ rather than career.

I worry that by ‘betting on the short-game’ we are losing out on the potential of the long-game, but at the same time, that a focus on the long-game for future unknowns in my career may bite us in terms of opportunities for Neil that could very concretely impact our family now.

None of this is about parenting, or time with Isaac, which I’m really very happy with. Heck, if my salary were higher, I’d consider introducing a maid/nanny/mother’s helper/au pair/household manager into our lives, to make the choices a little less stark.

(Or is the right bet a financial hit to have those resources, so we can start making more time-choices now, in the hopes that it pays off in the future? – see, I can play this game all day.)

My in-person life is pretty much devoid of working couples without massive salaries who make this work.

I know a lot of families with two average incomes, who work to live and rarely exceed the 9-5:30 boundaries. I know many who live on one income, with someone staying at home to manage the household. I know a few where there is one ‘main breadwinner’ income-earner, and the other who has ‘just a job’ and generally makes most of the work-sacrifices to take care of the family. And then there are the Sandberg-esque examples, of two people who already have huge careers before kids come along, where hiring extra help is, financially, a no-brainer.

Maybe you are or you know someone, like me, somewhere in the middle?

Is there anyone out there who has any more of this figured out than I do?

A funny thing happened on the way from the Farmer’s Market

Over the weekend, Neil and I headed to the Summertown Farmer’s Market. Partly to check out what was on offer, and partly to partake in a (delicious!) pulled pork sandwich from Shredded Meat Co. who are setting up shop there each weekend this summer.

summertown farmers market

The market was lovely, and most businesses along the strip where it’s set up looked like they were doing a roaring trade, encouraging visiting marketgoers to pop through their doors as well.

All except one: The Dew Drop Inn.

And, as we soon discovered, for good reason.

We thought, you know what goes really well with a BBQ sandwich? A cold beer. So over to the pub’s patio we went.

The way the street is set up, there is a big plaza-style pavement, and the pub’s front garden space extends through it, all the way to the street. There’s probably seating for about 50 people out there. You actually need to walk through the garden if you want to cross the pavement frontage. The market was set up down the pavement on both sides.

While there are over a dozen food vendors at the market, many selling takeaway meals, there aren’t any beverage vendors. Anyone who wants to have a market lunch and fancies a drink with it needs to go into one of the grocery stores along the block to pick something up.

Or (as we did) go into the pub and purchase a couple pints.

Except, instead of capitalising on this opportunity to gain some customers and sell some drinks, we got a surly publican chasing us off their entirely deserted patio, for having ‘outside food.’

Fair point, you say, the pub serves food. If you want to use their tables, you should purchase their food. And if that’s the attitude one wants to take take, in a world of black and white, and curmudgeonry, sure. Point made.

But, in a world where pubs are generally struggling, and where most business people (I would think?) would welcome an increase in traffic, and a chance to make a good impression to generate repeat business on non-market days, perhaps some out-of-the-box thinking could help?

Were it my (nearly completely empty, inside and out) pub, I’d see the market as a huge potential. I’ve got the only reasonable seating area for market-goers, and I’m the only one, aside from the grocery stores, selling drinks.

I’d grab some colourful bunting, and section off a few of the tables that market-goers need to walk directly through, to be used for those who purchase food at the market and drinks from my pub. You can’t just park there with a random picnic, but market food +my drinks = ok. The only way market-goers are going to get a table to eat at, is going to be by buying drinks from me. The market vendors and I both win!

But what of the pub food, you ask? Two separate groups of customers. There was not one ounce of crossover between the food available at the market, and the pub’s menu. And I’m pretty confident that someone who’s heading for a farmer’s market lunch isn’t going to be suddenly swayed into having a Sunday roast.

In fact, a really enterprising publican might work with the market organisers to specifically advertise some complimentary snacks to go along with the market food. Maybe a jacket potato to go with the huge Paella that the fishmonger is cooking up? Or a side of chips for with your pulled pork sandwich?

But hey, I suppose that if your idea of a good time in pub ownership is to take a protectionist stance and enjoy chasing ‘rule-breakers’ off your property, that’s your prerogative.

But it’s also mine to decide not to return to the Dew Drop (where I have previously enjoyed both drinks and Sunday lunch), and take my dollars to a pub that’s more interested in generating some goodwill, both in the community, and with its current and potential patrons.

Life List: Learn to drive a manual transmission – Check!

It’s been slow-going, including some active avoidance of all driving on my part, but I think I am finally confident enough to cross “Learn to drive a manual transmission car” off the life list!

I am not currently going to win any races, but with Neil out of town for a few days (leaving the car sat in our parking spot), and the weather taking another turn for the miserable, the temptation to take 4, enclosed wheels, rather than my usual 2 exposed ones to work was too strong!

Not a lot has changed since last August, when I complained about my reluctance and terror. Except, after a few more lessons, and a lot more time as a passenger here, getting more opportunities to observe the rules of the road, I feel like I know a little more about what to expect from other road users.

And, more importantly, I feel a lot more confident about what to expect from my car.

One thing I didn’t expect from the driving lessons was that it would make driving my own car a lot more difficult. The instructor’s car has a well-used, incredibly mushy clutch. Great for learning on, when one has a hojillion other things to think about.

Less good, when trying to drive a car with a much tighter gearbox, which ours has. It was stall-city. And at one point I found myself trying to enter a busy mini-roundabout from a slight incline, and could just not manage to move off.

At which point I threw a complete snit, made Neil hop out of the passenger seat and complete the journey himself, and refused to drive our car anymore out of nothing but frustration and spite.

But, one hectic day, I ended up having to drive the car to a job interview when I ran out of time to call a cab. And then again to running group. And then I willingly took it on a few more errands.

Which brings us to this week. I drove to and from work (including nursery dropoff for Isaac), which means navigating left and right turns, a few hills, and a clutch-tastic creep across town in heavy commuter traffic.

And I made it. Mostly confidently. Stopping on a hill still results in looking like a bit of an idiot with my high revs and heavy clutching. I still lurch wildly on occasion. But I’m not stalling. And I even pulled my shoulders down from around my ears long enough to turn on the radio at one point.

I’m not what you’d call graceful in my maneuvering, but I am remembering how much I really love to drive.

So I’m calling this one a win!

Silver 2009 5-door Ford Focus

Hello, friend.

#wp10

I don’t know if I ever really note the age of my blog, or how long I’ve been wasting pixels on random blather. If you’d asked me, lo those many moons ago, if I thought I’d still be blogging now, I’d have had no damn clue (though I probably would’ve said ‘yes’ because I was full of that kind of hubris).

But it has been a little over ten years that I’ve been blogging. Probably closer to 11 years, since there are a bunch of long-lost posts that never made the migration from Blogger.

And for the lion’s share of those years, I’ve been using WordPress, which turns 10 today.

There are few things (aside from, you know, being alive) I have done for 10+ years. Aside from blogging.

I have made friends, found jobs, met my husband, and learned an amazing amount thanks to this wee website and the world of blogs and blogging. And even though I may spend more time on Facebook and Twitter these days, this blog is the one slice of the internet I truly own, and it’s where I keep returning.

Thanks, WordPress, for making most of this possible, and here’s to another 10!

Wordpress

Winds of Change

With all the griping I did about our move, you would think I do not like change.

This is not true. I like it a lot. Perhaps too much. I am rarely content to leave well enough alone. I just prefer when I’m the one initiating it, rather than having it imposed upon me.

So after a bit of a yell and a bit of a cry about the unfairness of the world, etc. we picked ourselves up and got on with it. Saturday morning we headed down to the property management office, and by Saturday afternoon we were viewing a property right around the corner. Monday morning we had an accepted tenancy application. We move in on July 11th.

One thing that’s been made really obvious on this ExPat adventure is how much change there is in the world. Without the usual, familiar anchors of neighbourhoods we know like the back of our hand, social systems we’ve been navigating all our lives, long-known friends & family nearby, a house we don’t have to move out of until we decide to, or jobs we’ve been in for a long time, we feel all the other little changes quite a bit more keenly.

Basically, we are coming to realize that we can’t actually count on anything staying as it is.

New friends come and go as people move in and out of our jobs/daycare/neighbourhood/city. Businesses we have come to rely on & enjoy close, or change owners, and we need to find new ones. Landlords adapt to the changes in their own lives, which trickles down to ours. The constant ebb and flow of bureaucratic processes surge in and out, interrupting and changing our plans as we weave our way through our dealings with government offices and institutions.

It’s actually kindof amazing to ride the rollercoaster of emotion that comes with each change. Sadness and disappointment are keen, but tempered by knowing that they’ll pass. And in contrast, joy and excitement are so much sweeter, and really relished, knowing that they could be fleeting.

With each change, we learn a little more, broaden our horizons, gain a bit of wisdom, grow a bit more resilient.

And wait for the next wave to crash.

Wind Of Change – Scorpions – Official Music Video from Chito Mañosca Francisco on Vimeo.

On the Move

Just last week we were talking about how gloriously happy we were in our current place. Great space, lovely neighbours, excellent location. So of course, we received a call today that the landlord wants to move back in, and won’t be renewing our tenancy when it expires on 31 July.

Fuck.

We have just shy of three months to find a new place. It’s not impossible, but it’s going to be very hard to find a place in our budget that gives us the space and location we love about our current digs. This is exactly the kind of thing I was worried about when we jumped on the renting bandwagon.

Not that purchasing a place is really possible for us right now anyhow.

As soon as we got the news, in an effort to not be unceremoniously punted out of our next place (and the one after that?), we called the bank to ask about buying. And being new to the UK has burned us again. I can not apply for a mortgage without being a permanent resident (known here as having Indefinite Leave to Remain – ILR). That’s in the process, but certainly won’t be done by the time we need to move. So we’d have to qualify on Neil’s salary alone. That doesn’t leave us much to work with in this neighbourhood.

It’s just another of the ways I’m feeling particularly screwed by the immigration process lately.

I am mired in the procedure and bureaucracy of the arduous processes to get a driver’s license, because they need to take my passport for a month to verify my identity. Unfortunately, the UKBA Home Office has it for the 6 months they take to process ILR applications.

I have basically given up on the idea of getting a credit card in my own name (I am currently a secondary cardholder on Neil’s), because I do not know a bank officer, doctor, postmaster or chartered accountant who lives in the UK, has known me for two years, and will sign a certified copy of my passport swearing that I am who I say I am for the anti-money-laundering regulations.

And, immigration-wise, we have it relatively easy. Neil is a UK citizen, so he has fewer hoops to jump through to get a driver’s license (though he does still have to pass a road test on a manual transmission). His company set up a bank account and credit card, so we’re ok on that front. He did have a hard time getting a national insurance number, though.

We’re even moving faster than most on the whole ILR thing; we coincidentally received my and Isaac’s visa just a couple weeks before they changed the rules, so it means we do not have to serve the mandatory waiting period (used to be 2, just changed to 5 years) before even applying for settlement.

I do not know how other people get through that period, to be honest.

I don’t even have a lot of the barriers many other immigrants do of coming from a totally different culture or language. I don’t look or dress like I’m ‘from somewhere else.’ We are allowed to drive here for a full 12 months on our Canadian licenses, and can exchange them for UK ones, even if it is only for automatic transmissions. Nobody recognizes my university or my degree, but I am at least able to practice my profession here (unlike foreign-trained doctors, etc.) Hell, I’m even allowed to vote here (thanks, commonwealth!) But just when I feel like I’m fitting in and settling down, I keep running into these roadblocks that make me feel like a second-class citizen.

The things I worked for, achieved, or had earned in Vancouver mean nothing here. No credit history, no reputation. Nobody cares. I am an unknown, and generally not to be trusted. It all feels profoundly unfair.

“Starting over” sounds aspirational and romantic. Mostly, it’s a logistical nightmare.

I have so much empathy now for anyone who makes a much bigger leap than we have, to begin a new life in a new place.

Anyhow, having this rental rug pulled out from under us, when it was one of the only things I was feeling really good and confident about, is hard. Really hard. Making me question why we ever bothered coming here hard. Making me want to cut our months of time and thousands of dollars in losses and just get out hard.

But I have never been one to do things the easy way.

And so we plod on.

Buckling Down

Thing I am struggling with at work: Focus.

After spending the vast majority of the past 2 years chasing after a tiny human with the attention span of a goldfish, I am now noticing that my ability to focus for more than about 40 minutes at a time in a work setting (or any setting, really) seriously stunted.

Example: I used to be able to get through a novel in one sitting, start to finish, if I didn’t have any interruptions. Now, I have trouble reading a book for more than about 30 minutes.

And it’s not entirely down to distractions. I have tried turning them all off. It helps to a degree, but if I get close to an hour without an interruption, my brain will shift all on its own, and go looking for one.

The ability to do rapid task-switching is definitely an asset in my particular job, when I’ve got many projects on the go, but I also need to be able to dig into bigger things and roll with them for a few hours. The balance is currently all off.

Do you have any favourite brain-stretching exercises for your think-muscle, when you’re trying to get to a place of focus and flow? My future efficiency thanks you.

How much to bring to the office

My first job out of university, I ended up managing a team who brought everything to work. Their joys, their sorrows, their dreams, their drama – so, so much drama (we employed a few underemployed actors; make of that what you will). They loved the fact that they felt like their colleagues were counselors and confidantes.

I hated it.

For a long time, I operated under a model of ‘there are things you do/share/say at work, and things that are for the rest of life, and NEVER THE TWO SHALL MEET.’ As I grew as a person, and a professional, those lines have become a bit fuzzier.

I still believe work is a time for working, and there is a certain level of discretion and decorum that should be kept. And I am still annoyed at and generally uncomfortable around those for whom that line seems to be nonexistent.

But I have also experienced the benefit of becoming friends with colleagues, and making an effort to get to know them as whole people (and letting them get to know me as a person), rather than a series of roles and duties between 9-5.

And then there is the issue of Leaning In, a la Sheryl Sandberg. Of being a professional woman, with a child, who does great work during the day, but also leaves at promptly 5:30pm for those sacred dinner/bedtime hours.

It is more terrifying than I expected.

The company I work at has a pretty young culture. Nobody else on my immediate team has kids. If I had to guess, I’d say 80% of the staff are under 30. I am not always the first to arrive (though I’m generally in early), but I’m almost always the first to leave.

Considering I haven’t yet built up a reputation at this company of hard work and competence (outside of what they think I’m like via the interview process), I definitely feel an internal struggle about putting such firm boundaries around my in-office work time, when I don’t feel that most people here do.

I don’t see any evidence that this would be a workplace in which I’d be penalized or discriminated against, either overtly or systemically, but when it comes down to it, I’m not sure if that’s because it’s got a women/family-positive culture, or because with the company demographics, it hasn’t really been tested yet.

So I struggle with how much to share.

I try to be matter-of-fact (without being one of those ‘sancti-mommies’) about leaving on time, because we have pretty strict schedule needs for pick-up & dinner. To talk about the fun & joy of kids when, rather than just complaining (which seems to be a more culturally-acceptable stance). And to balance that with talking about work and personal non-kid/family things.

I try, strange as it may sound, to act more like a dad. Dads at work get to talk about their kids without someone assuming they should be at home cooking or cleaning or caring. I act with the assumption that moms should be able to do the same.

It sounds simple, but I still get a pang, every time I mention a kid thing. Is it ok? have I undermined my professional impression? Do they think I’m less dedicated? Do they think I am not only a mediocre worker, but a mediocre mum as well, and therefore a total failure as a person?

I certainly didn’t think that of former colleagues, and have no evidence it’s happening now. I’m hoping the worry about this is all just my own brain, manifesting anxieties that could be largely irrelevant.

But maybe, just maybe, finding the balance, and forging this path will mean that someone who walks it behind me won’t have those anxieties at all.

So I embrace the discomfort, and lean in a little harder.

Me & my picnic buddy
Weekends are for Picnics

‘Reasons my Son is Crying’ makes me want to cry a little.

Everyone loves the Reasons my Son is Crying tumblr.

Everyone, except me.

I am not usually such a curmudgeon about such things. I am the first to admit that kids, especially kids around 2-years-old (like the one in the tumblr seems to be), are hilarious, illogical, pains in the arse.

My favourite episode of Isaac’s hilariously irrational wailing came when he broke a biscuit in half, had a grand meltdown about the fact that it could not be put back together, then the second he got over that, started up again because his tears and snot had so saturated the damn thing it was disintegrating. Ridiculous.

But people, being two is hard. Kids are just developing a sense of the world around them. It is huge, both in scope and in scale, and they don’t understand the rules of how anything works. The touchstones they arbitrarily choose to rely on for security end up being not so reliable. They also doesn’t understand their own emotions, or why they are suddenly full of rage or fear (and so being afraid of their own crazy brains, without the benefit of much self-awareness), compounding the issue.

And instead of helping his kid navigate two-years-old, this dad is stopping to take a picture, so he can put it up for people to laugh at. And that just doesn’t sit right with me.

Part of this comes with our current experiences with Isaac: the most notable parts of his day, the times he wants to tell us about, are the times he was sad.

It’s not that he’s sad particularly often – it’s actually pretty rare. So rare, in fact, that he will manufacture sadness, just so he has something to talk about. Example: he is perfectly fine, but will suddenly throw himself on the floor, wail for a few minutes, then get up again – totally fine – and proudly declare ‘I was sad on the floor, mummy!’

He re-enacts sad events that happened (the time he fell on his face and cut his lip), and picks up on all the frowning or crying characters in his picture books.

It’s pretty obvious that ‘Sad’ is just the emotion he’s most confident in identifying, so he wants to share his understanding. Sortof like when he figured out colours, and everything was ‘Blue!’ (his first colour) for a while.

Still, just like we made an effort to point out all the not-blue things to expand Isaac’s colour repetoire, we’re now talking more about the other emotions. So while it’s ok to be sad, and natural to cry sometimes, it’s also good to be happy, surprised, excited, nervous, etc.

Because how sad is it, to think about being sad all the time? To have all the attention paid to your most troublesome and traumatic moments?

I know, sometimes there are unintentionally hilarious side effects of kids’ experiences figuring out the world, but just like I wouldn’t want someone to focus on my worst moments, when I’m out of my element and flailing, I don’t think it’s particularly funny, or kind, to do that to someone else. No matter how old or young they may be.

Untitled
Cheeseballs making cheese faces

India Part 2: Golden Triangle

Neil and I really couldn’t fathom going all the way to India without packing in a bit of tourism, so once the wedding festivities were over, we flew up to Delhi to experience India’s Golden Triangle: Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.

Taj Mahal at Sunset from Moon Garden

And as a Western tourist, this is probably as close as I’ll ever get to experiencing the “Real India.”

Until now, my Indian experience could be summed up thusly: Slumdog Millionaire, Bollywood Romances, Russel Peters.

The country is, in fact, everything and nothing like those.

Waiting for the light

We’d opted to book a five-day private tour, so we had a hope of seeing the key sites in the week we had planned. That left us a day on each end to explore Delhi on our own a bit, which was exactly enough time (for me at least) to experience, throw a tantrum about, and get over, the unnerving experience of being a caucasian tourist in a developing nation.

In India, acknowledgement is an invitation to barter. Saying no means you are just playing hard to get. Stepping outside becomes an exercise in self-preservation. Every encounter is evaluated on the merits of how much energy I have, and whether I have the mental fortitude to talk my way out of the situation if it turns out to be an especially persistent tout.

Street Scene, Agra

But, and here is where India starts to shine, it is almost always worth it.

Sometimes (especially closest to the major tourist attractions) you’ll just get into a shouting match with a jaded rickshaw driver. But most often you’ll end up engaged in a colourful negotiation with a driver or vendor, which is really just a treat to behold, even if you end up fleeced (remember, a fleecing in India is paying £5 for something that should cost £2) or laughed at.

Amber Fort

And very occasionally, you just get to chat with a local who wants to know what you think about his city, country, and tell you about his friend who moved to Toronto, and works in IT. Or shake hands with a group of young guys, on vacation themselves from a more rural part of the country, and pose for pictures with them, so they can go home and tell their friends about the real! live! white person! they met!

Wine & Bear Shop

I still can’t quite put into words what a different kind of place India is from anywhere I’ve been before. It’s absolutely a land of contrasts, with the marvel of the monuments and architecture, the strange mashup of technology, bureaucracy, and local customs, the devastating level of poverty right next door to immense wealth, and the inescapable, unrelenting mass of humanity.

I hated it as much as I loved it, and in retrospect, I think that’s the hallmark of some of the best adventures you can have.

India Gate

Hop to it?

I keep remembering (and forgetting, and remembering again) that Easter’s coming up.

Holidays are often a little tricky as an ExPat (assuming you want to celebrate), but this one is trickier than most. The toddler thing is tripping me up.

Easter Chicks on a Boat
Easter Chicks on a Boat by Nickstone333 on Flickr

I’m not convinced Isaac will really understand an egg hunt (though I am willing to revise that stance). He barely understood the Santa thing.

He’s not really into arts and crafts projects, unless it involves splashing paint around. Last time he got hold of one of those cute puffball chicks (yesterday) he tried to eat it.

My lasting, must-have Easter tradition is a Dutch-style brunch (lots of meats, cheeses, breads, and the obligatory Easter coloured eggs), and the annual Egg Battle.

This is not exactly congruous with our current efforts to stop the kid from smashing everything against everything else.

Neil’s tradition is easier: he only demands Hot Cross Buns with Bacon.

Both of us are into a big Easter dinner, which frankly, looks a lot like Sunday lunch, which we’d probably cook up anyhow.

So, maybe it’s time to add something new to the Camp Watkii Easter Tradition Repertoire.

Suggestions?

Two!

I can’t really believe Isaac’s two today!

It was a little over a year ago we got the news and decided to move to the UK, and he has really taken this crazy year in stride. He’s grown from a barely-mobile baby with cake in his hair, to a real boy – running, yelling, jumping, smashing. “Making lots of noise” and narrating the entire experience.

Isaac, you are insane, brilliant, patience-testing, kind, tenacious, infuriating, empathetic, mischievous, articulate, and so lovey. Happy Birthday kiddo, here’s to seeing what adventure the next trip around the sun brings!

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All cheered out.

This is how you make little boys grow, yes? #latergram

Ready for takeoff

Somebody was excited to get the keys!

Excuse me, waiter, more soy sauce for my chow mein please!

Putsborough

My dudes, dancing at the @bigfeastival

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Halloween 2012

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Planespotting.