Foreign Service moves are a way of life and there are certain aspects that go get easier each time. Our very first pack out, the one that took us from Idaho to Washington DC was basically a blind-leading-the-blind situation. We had no idea what we were doing and the acronyms were coming fast and furious. (Much like the movie franchise, they seem endless.) UAB? HHE? PCS? I had no idea what any of it meant, but luckily I had a handy-dandy million and a half page “help manual” sent by State to read through time and time again. By the time the movers came (who also knew nothing about State Department regulations when it comes to moving, as Idaho has a very small representation in the Foreign Service) I had highlighted and dog-eared so many sections of that tome that I felt like I was back to square one. (Somehow we ended up with most of the things we wanted in Chengdu and Kuala Lumpur, but I must admit to some low-level terror coursing through my veins and I contemplate what exactly I put in those boxes that went to permanent storage. Did I really keep my lawn rakes and shovels? What exactly will I do with those in downtown Washington DC? How many sweaters/shoes/shorts did I put into storage that I am 100% sure I have no intention of ever wearing again? Why didn’t I just send them directly to the DI from our place in Nampa? Do I have seventy mugs in storage? Fifty dishtowels? And let’s not even contemplate the number of boxes of books that will be headed my way soon…)
With a few moves under our belt, I’ve gotten pretty good at sorting both the acronyms and the UAB from the HHE. I know what is going to go in my 450 pounds of air shipment (more like 400 pounds of stuff and then 50 of crazy packing material!), leaving just a few larger items to go by ship. The physical packing up and moving part has become doable (although not totally stress-free), but the packing up of friendships and saying goodbye to a place is always a bit tougher.
Two years goes by in the blink of an eye. Maybe a really slow blink, like when you are sitting in your 8AM freshman year physical science 101 course, trying desperately to keep your eyes open while the professor lectures about Occam’s Razor, but a blink nonetheless. Over the last 100+ weeks, we’ve put a lot of miles on our baggage and added some pretty, shiny new stamps in our passports. We’ve been to New Zealand, Australia (twice), Thailand (too many to count…maybe five in the last two years??), Vietnam, Singapore (again, a ridiculous number), and all over both peninsular and island Malaysia. And yet, I still feel a bit of anxiety about where we haven’t been. Next weekend we’re heading to Mulu (Malaysia) to do some caving and hopefully see a spectacular bat exodus and then weekend following we are headed to Langkawi for one last resort-y type stay before heading back to the States for at least the next year.
It’s always amazing how when we touch down somewhere new, the calendar seems wide-open and sidewalks are endless, but soon that calendar is filled with dates and outings and sidewalks get shorter and shorter. We have zero full weekends left in Kuala Lumpur. With just three weeks left (we head to the airport three weeks from today), I am not entirely sure how we are going to fit in all of our goodbyes, but in the end, it always seems to work out fine.
Our last three weeks in Kuala Lumpur are going to fly by (the fact that two of them will be short work weeks will make that time go even faster- by my count, I have nine days left in the office) and then our five weeks in Idaho will push right into the middle of August when we both start new jobs in Washington DC. (Thad will be on the INR Watch and I will be working in FLO- both at Main State.) Apartment hunting will commence and before we know it, bidding season will be upon us (so much to think about- a new travel radius!) and then another move will pencil itself onto the calendar.
A rolling stone may gather no moss, but it does gather friends and experiences and memories that go with it wherever it heads. We’ve been lucky to have an abundance of all of these in Malaysia and while our stone is nowhere near coming to a halt, we’re thankful for our time here and are excited to see what lies ahead!
(Photo overload alert: the slideshow is 100+ photos of friends/adventures from the last two years.)
I’m not sure when the plucky little insect had its first nibble of my pasty flesh, but as long as I can remember, travel has been a part of who I am. As the kid of two public school teachers, my travel wasn’t as far-flung as it is now, but even without a passport, it seems like we were always on the go when we had a chance; the travel bug claimed another sweet victim. Summers were spent loaded up in a camper, touring the Northwest with a booth at many of the big arts and crafts shows that were abundant in the 1980s, my parents selling beautifully handcrafted woodwork under their Shadowtree label. (Totally not legal or considered “good parenting today,” but I have to say that we had some good times riding in that camper shell and we are definitely no worse the wear for those hours. We played games, read novels, colored in coloring books, completed workbook pages from the ones we carefully picked out from the teacher stores the weekend before…oh yes, and spent a decent chunk of the time writing notes on paper, bashing our fists against the window to gain parental-attention and tattling on each other via notebook paper and crayons. I seem to remember there being written complains about bathroom needs and hunger pains as well.)
As we got older and the summers of woodworking sales gave way to volleyball camps and piano lessons and G/T summer school classes, the suitcases gathered no dust. Road trips to the Redwoods, wanderings through Yellowstone National Park, spying bison and the first kind of hotpot I knew (China would introduce me to a whole new world of wonder with the same name) and a family trip to the nation’s capital marked our spring breaks.
Shiny new blue passport in hand and bags packed, next came studying abroad in the Dominican Republic, a trip to Haiti, semana santa in Puerto Rico and a scuttled (and often lamented still today) trip to Cuba.
A decade later Peace Corps would scratch the itch left behind by the travel bug, in no way lessening it. Rather, that little bug bite became a life-long infection that has seen us returning to Chengdu with the Foreign Service, spending a couple of years in Kuala Lumpur and now eagerly awaiting this summer’s bidding season when we will see where our next pushpin will land on the map.
All of this to say, for me the love of travel started young and I am excited to see it continuing in my niblings. Last weekend, one of my nieces had the chance to go to Portland with her family for a short road trip. They just spent a few days in the awesome Oregon town, but I think she still managed to hit most of the main tourist attractions. Upon her return to Idaho, as an avid reader of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk (okay, I am not sure she ever reads it, but I do think she checks out the pictures sometimes) she decided to sit down and do a bit of travel writing herself, putting together a blog post of her own.
So, without further ado dear readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Miss Keira, a budding traveler (we’ll have to get that passport in the works ASAP) and burgeoning writer.
Party in Portland
To begin, this is what my family did this weekend. First, we drove to our hotel. It was a six-hour drive. Can you believe that? On our way, we saw a huge waterfall. At the hotel, my brother Keegan and I had to share a bed but that was OK. He ended up sleeping on the floor one night anyway.
The next morning, we woke up and got dressed. Did I mention that my mom was in a parade? The parade was awesome! My favorite float was a jaguar made out of all different kinds of flowers. All around his float were dancers who had wooden bells on their boots.
After the parade, we went to Voodoo Donuts. Those donuts were amazing! I got a VooDoo doll donut. It was shaped like a doll and had raspberry filling that was supposed to look like blood. There was even a pretzel stick stabbed in the heart.
Also, I got to go to Powell’s. Powell’s is a huge bookstore that was one city block. There were different rooms for different kinds of books. My favorite was the pink room with all of the kids’ books. I got a book called The Lunch Witch and I read it in one and a half days. The girl in the book turned into a frog.
Finally, it was the day that we went home. Portland was awesome but we had to go home. We packed up our things and left the hotel but before we went home, we got to go to OMSI. This is a museum about science. We went with my mom’s friend Heather and her son Logan. We got to see a 3-D printer and there was a tsunami machine where I got to build a house that would not get run over by the waves on the shoreline. We got to levitate foam balls on air pressure machines in a big room full of balls tubes.
All in all, Portland was amazing. I like to travel and go on vacations because I get to see new things. Someday, I would like to go visit Wisconsin because I hear that they have cheese.
Apparently, late May is a big time for anniversaries in my life, although until about two weeks ago, I hadn’t realized it. (I meant to write this blog last weekend so that it was much more timely, but after finally getting back on the blogging wagon, I had several even older posts that needed written, and am just now getting almost caught up. Well, unless you count that one about our awesome trip to Perth in February that I still haven’t managed to get put together. Chinese New Year, quokkas, nearly dying on an island bike ride. How has it not found a spot on the blog yet? Eeek!)
While May doesn’t contain a wedding anniversary or birthday (for me, at least, although I am guessing there are *many* wedding anniversaries that do fall in the spring-to-summer month), it does have several other significant dates that have recently popped up in my Facebook feed, reminding me that it seems to be a month of transition for our family of two. (What would I do without Facebook reminders? Those memory photos that it puts up? Sometimes I am not even sure where they come from. There is a great possibility that Facebook has hacked my life, now having a far more comprehensive idea of who I am than I do some days. Also, thank you to Facebook for reminding me to wish a happy birthday to people who are absolutely certain that the only reason I know it is their birthday is because my electronics reminded me. Sincerity might take a bit of a hit there.)
But back to anniversaries.
Twenty years ago, in late May, I graduated from high school. It I hard to think about where the last two decades have gone, but pretty easy to look in my passport and see where I have gone over those ensuing years. When I walked across that stage twenty years ago in my hideous yellow graduation gown I knew I was headed to college a few short months. I knew I would be rooming with my best friend and I was certain I was going to major in Spanish and I knew I wanted to study abroad while in college. Even at that early point, I knew I wanted to “go,” but little did I know just how much “going” there would be! (Yes, I know we voted to go boys in blue/girls in yellow because the contrast of the school colors would look nice, but why didn’t we push for blue, ladies? Did the boys really care if they looked washed-out and half dead in all of their graduation photos? Probably not! Keep this in mind future graduates of CHS. Two colors do look awesome marching down the aisle, but think long and hard about who must don the “gold.” Kelsey, I’m looking at you!)
While things didn’t quite turn out the way I just “knew” they would, life’s twists and turns did lead to two other, more recent anniversaries that come up in the same final week of May.
Five years ago it was that exact week that we finished packing up or selling everything we owned as we got ready for a career change for Thad, an unknown professional future for me and a new home/adventure for us both. With bigger items like the cars and lawn mower sold, the house rented out and everything but two suitcases each packed into a storage unit in Hagerstown, Maryland, to the nation’s capital we went. A new apartment, new friends and more new acronyms that I ever thought possible awaited us on the other side of the country. (I’m an EFM in the FS who worked as CLO and then PCSed to KL, another EAP post, with my ELO husband who is headed to INR for his next job. That’s barely the tip of the foreign service acronym iceberg. Madness reigns.)
Initial training, an assignment to Chengdu and months of language training later, it was again that final week of May that saw us making another huge change- our move to western China to take up a first posting with the Foreign Service. We’d spent a decent amount of time in Chengdu when we were Peace Corps volunteers (that’s another anniversary, coming up the end of June- 10 years since we left on that epic outing), so it was less overwhelming than many first tours, but the excitement to finally be on our way was palpable.
It’s crazy to think that Caldwell High School’s class of 1996 will be reunion-ing it up this summer, but even more so to ponder how different life has turned out from what my seventeen-year-old self had imagined. Somewhere in my boxes and boxes of stuff (probably storage boxes) I’ve got a senior year yearbook filled with notes of excitement and relief that high school was coming to an end, but little did I know just how far my wanderings would take me. Just a year after that, I’d have my first passport, headed to the Dominican Republic and Haiti (Cuba got nixed at the last minute), opening doors to the promise of adventures far beyond the edges of Idaho.
So, happy anniversary 17 year old self, 33 year old self and 34 year old self. Blow out the candles and keep skipping down the sidewalk, looking for endings and new beginnings.
Two weeks ago, I had to go to Singapore for some meetings. It turned out to be four meetings over the course of two days, which left me a bit of time here and there to do my thing. With morning and afternoon meetings each day, I was left with weird slots of my day to fill. Time was not sufficient for midday trips to my favorite merlion or to visit the Gardens by the Bay and with a big move headed my way next month, shopping on Orchard Street sounded like a bad idea. (Both in terms of space taken up and credit card balance!)
So, what does a girl do with herself and a bit of free time in the middle of a work day? It’s a pretty easy equation (at least in my world):
Coffee shop + Book = Hours whiled away
Over the course of two days, I found myself at four different cafes, enjoying a wide range of beverages (everything from hot chocolate in the morning to Snapple after lunch). I curled up in a huge over-stuffed love seat, relaxed in a wicker basket-like seat and wiggled until I found a comfortable spot on a metal chair with great people-watching. Knowing that I would probably have these odd bits of downtime between meetings, I planned ahead and brought along an Orson Scott Card book that weighed in at nearly 600 pages, enough to keep me entertained for a few hours. (Sadly, I finished that book as soon as I got to the airport and had to make due with a People magazine until I made it back home to Kuala Lumpur. At least now I am updated on the ever-so-current Kardashian drama, what’s happening on The Bachelor, a show I’ve never seen, and what Princess Kate wore on her last visit with the commoners.)
Overall, I can’t complain about my two-day mini-vacation. (Half a vacation? Between meetings, it really was relaxing and a nice getaway!) Looking towards Washington DC in the fall, I am going to miss year-round open air restaurants and patios. Informal apartment hunting is underway and I am thinking I am going to have to add a walkable coffee shop to the list of “must haves.” Maybe a bit of cold weather will add just a bit of cozy to that hot chocolate and new release on a Saturday morning.
Photo credit: Thad Ross