Move over Plan B

 

I am a uni drop out again. I enrolled in a masters of social work in a hope to find some certainty to that perennial ‘what do you do‘ question in this far from sure world.  There’s dysfunction dripping thus demand for social workers is high and I wanted to find a ‘secure’ profession.

But life had a trail of little wakeup calls. I was shaking after a colleague downloaded about her abusive boyfriend and hearing yet another stress leave story, found me in bed contemplating:

What is driving this decision? And for whom am I doing it?

I am a slow learner. It takes me several times around the block over the same terrain for things to become clear. This current vocational plan (there has been many..) is yet another time I’ve placed onus on Plan B as a protection from owning up to my true desires, Plan A. It gets exhausting trying to hoodwink your soul. This conflict is something many artistic creatures face as following your passion in the arts is a hard, bloody road, not helped by society perpetually questioning its relevance, legitimacy and economic prospects.

But is it really a choice?

I lay there quietly asking the deeper parts of myself, and the answer was no.

After years of feeling like I need to find a career- an answer tied up with a pretty bow,  it was there all the time.  When I stood at the photocopier at my graduate job for a multinational, a poem licked my face. From the recovering heroin addict with a PhD in mathematics who helped change a flat tyre on my courier bike to the elderly lady who asked me (a support worker) to collude with her by hurriedly changing her spotted blood dressing gown so she could look ‘put together’ before the resident nurse came to do an in home assessment, stories have coloured my life. As I tidied away the decay in her Mosman apartment, we chatted early days at Women’s Weekly, her role as editor and laughed about the wickedness of life. I stood poker faced when asked if she was fit enough to remain living alone. Later I got a call from Deirdre’s son with a heartfelt thank you and news that she passed away peacefully in her own home weeks later.

I remember being asked ‘What do you want to be?’ upon graduating from high school for our school magazine. With ‘unthinking’ speed I answered

A constant Kombie cruiser

I have lived up to that. I have found by seeking new places, experiences, jobs and people- I find endless material, stimulation and variety that feeds my writing. Not good for a CV per se but when you are called to write and reflect on what you see in the world, you can’t turn it off.  Where do you learn how to be a writer? Yes you can do university and always get something out of it. But the qualitative research comes from living life. And maybe that’s what I have actually been doing, even when I felt I was ‘failing’ at this career game.

In Maleny, I am waiting tables, gathering dialogue and indulging in voyeurism. Chatting with customers and asking questions to tap into threads that hold opinions together. Moments that may find another life one day now I’ve fired Plan B.

I’m sitting here naked ready for Plan A-rse in the chair work of dancing whispering ghosts with grit under my keyboard.

Wish me luck and thanks for reading thus far.

Love Amy

 

 

 

 

Schooling on the Road

My boys and now a bike

My boys and now a bike

 

We decided to embark on this adventure  as it would peel back the kids’ eyelids. The nitty gritty of schooling was glossed over after a web search popped up a few options.

First port of call when we arrived was checking out the French Montessori School. This was right up our alternative yet still structured alley, and in French only added another feather to its cap.

As all well laid plans or should I say imaginings often pale into a gooey stickiness of reality,  we discovered that for our older son at 7, it was not Montessori method but French Classical System. At this point, a small bell rang in my head, especially upon reading the material list required a slate (!) but I pushed it aside. Our son was not showing any linguistic leanings, if anything the opposite and that’s in his mother tongue. We ploughed forward, in the face of parental schoolyard gossip about other schools ranged from:

(1) a breeding ground for colonial superiority whereby foreign cherubs get carried up the stairs

(2) equally frightening, touts sell energy drinks to kids on their way to the toilet

After week 3, Quinn was showing the strain, dark circles under his eyes even after a full night’s sleep. Each day I would probe him getting a blank expression which I imagine he’s had since morning when he began retreating into his world of go cart design and fortification building easier to understand than the banter around him.

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Coming from ‘Stralia’, a second language isn’t necessary (no direct neighbours) and maybe we’re all lazy, the Board of Studies has scrapped it from the primary school curriculum altogether. Obviously there is an adjustment phase to second language acquisition and it takes some good ol’ digging deep until you can start making daisy chains out on the frontier.

In the face of Quinn requiring up to 5 afternoons of private tuition just to make some headway, I did some quiet soul poking and saw that this was my dream not his.  He prefers to be drawing in his ‘creative book’ that lives under his pillow or stalking muddy puddles on his bike. It was something that the Director of the School said to us

We need to set children up to succeed

Playing to kids’ strengths to build confidence can have spin off effects in areas that niggle them. I also realised that my zeal for him to achieve may actually overshadow his happiness. And even if being well meaning and passionate about education, especially my own kids is not a bad thing,  my interest now gets interpreted as pressure. I’m like a single woman’s biological clock ticking and Quinn, a confirmed bachelor.

Me (add white wine) at a friend's wedding- My captive's face says it all

My captive’s face says it all

 

Not one to let myself off easily, I probed the onion skin to see a mouldy fear still there from my school days. How the carrot and stick system is geared for little over achievers to get self gratification in every tick on the page or a teacher’s sweet smile. How I became like Pavlov’s dog hooked on praise. Look I could have got into some harder shit than teacher pleasing and studying hard, and yes I got an education, a good one and doors opened, but emotionally, all that striving only reinforced that I needed to be a try-hard.

To feel worthy.

Who knows why I felt this, lack of nurturing in childhood ? genetic makeup? sensitivity ? Maybe there is no singular reason, but recognising this as an adult, is liberating. And now as a parent, I want to take out my own trash and hopefully the stench won’t waft up Quinn’s nostrils.

Where to now? Tim and I will share the roll out of Quinn’s education. And he can go to a local school for socialisation in the afternoons. The literacy book seems to send our potential perfectionist into groans. So the other day, we decided to ditch it and head outside.

In our garden

In our garden

I took a deep breath and allowed Quinn to lead me. Soon he was digging and we planted tomato, basil, rocket and parsley sent by his beloved Godmother. Soon we were on our haunches making clay men and  elephants out of mud.

'Mum and Me'

‘Mum and Me’

 

'Elephant Man' -  not a piece of poo

Elephant Man

It was a wonderful morning listening to the birds, making up stories to go with our creations. Quinn showed his bravery for worm wielding (they’re huge here!) and told me how that meant we have fertile soil. I feel we do sweet Quinn. And that if I learn to trust that your future will be bright, I will hold your hand and be led along into the unknown. Know that with a full heart and an open ears, I have your back as you tread your own path in life’s learning journey.

Greener Pastures

So for those who’ve been here since the beginning, you may remember my post about our landlords and their attitude to children, in particular noisy children.https://bangonaboutbattambang.com/2014/08/20/peace-in-paradise/

After Beau managed to put a dart through a fly screen; pull a wicker cupboard on top of him smashing the mirror on his head, beautify the wall with crayon, get trigger happy on the bum gun one too many times, we’ve parted ways. The landlords eager to find us a new place and us eager to feel like we weren’t living with our parents.

 

Our New Digs

Our New Digs

According to our previous landlords, this place was just waiting for us. The owner is a judge who moved to Phnom Penh a while ago, not desperate to rent the place remained elusive. That was until our previous landlord desperate to find us a new domicile accosted her calling up to ten times a day and a deal struck.

We now live further out of town amidst paddy field green and buffalo tracks. The kids can play rough and tumble in the garden lined with 4 dragon fruit trees (large succulent sculptures), mangos, limes and passionfruit. We have an extra bedroom that’s swiftly been utilised as a kid free zone as it has a lockable door. This is where I’m shacked up to write this piece.

These beauties in our garden

These beauties in our garden

The local neighbours are Khmer and have already inquisitively scoped out our joint. Quinn and Beau can be found out the front with any number of sticks or swords in action.

Goat Curry ?

Goat Curry ?

These four legged friends were seen on our first bike ride to the market. The market being a cross between an abbattoir, a farmer’s market, hardware store and a bargain shop. All live or not so lucky critters (eels,crabs, insects, chicken, goose, duck, pork, beef, snails, snake) and fresh vegies/fruit are rolled out on grass mats for your perusal. Best to get there early because after the sun is higher in the sky, so are the number of flies.

Quinn turned 7 this weekend. It feels like quite the milestone for all of us. He’s growing into a thoughtful, sensitive and artistic young man. He was full of home made pinata and commando course building ideas for the party. None of which actually happened…but water pistols fights and pass the parcel sufficed.

Chocolate cake! Quite a rarity

Chocolate cake! Quite a rarity

We had quite a turn out. Tim being the social broadcaster he is- invited everyone we’ve met since arriving 3 months ago. It turned into a beautiful motley crew of Khmer and Expat- from the hotel owner and porter from the Royal Hotel where we stayed when we first arrived, to our old landlords, to work colleagues, new French friends from Beau’s preschool to the entire staff from our local, backpacker bar Here Be Dragons. 8 kg of barbecued meat later and eons of coconuts, beer and sweet cakes, everyone was suitably porky. Even a souped up ice cream van Cambodia-style came who must have got the call up.

Suzuki City cum Mr Whippy

Suzuki City cum Mr Whippy

So we are adjusting to our new digs peacefully. It feels like a new chapter has begun for our time here.  Whenever, I leave our walled garden and ride my bike along the country lane, I feel like I’m in a movie- the seated fishermen by the irrigation ditch with their home made fishing stick; the local jetty made out of a few pieces of bamboo easy to replace after heavy rains, smells waffing from outdoor ‘kitchens’ of the neighbouring corrugated huts.

What year is it? What century are we in?

Trapped in an Elevator

The whole overseas experience is an interesting one.

It is a bit like getting trapped in an elevator, long enough to have moments of claustrophobic fears and sensory deprivation, that you bond firmly with all involved from shared experience.

I had a good laugh at myself, when I rounded a corner this week on my bicycle, out of the corner of my eye, the upstairs computer scanned ‘ALERT, possible English speaking boys’.

I literally shouted ‘Are you travellers?’ while making a beeline for them. Whereby their mum responded ‘No, we live here’. I leapt off the bike mid sentence. Me too. We should be friends.

Commandos in action

Commandos in action

Later that very day, the newly formed commando gang were testing out their survival skills on the security gate, and a kindly security guard!

Annie, their mother and I have much in common:

  • simply by sharing the same language (they are from the U.K.);
  • the fact that we both have boys (I don’t like being stereotypical but there is a mutual bonding between little ninja mothers, they get the insurmountable amount of energy, the weapon obsession, and the feisty ‘I’m going to bite your head off’ talk)
  • to top it off our eldest boys share a birthday. So let our forces unite, planned festivities have begun. Phew, Annie knows where to buy an ice cream cake. We better buy a few in this heat.

I wanted to mention a bit more about sensory deprivation. The pace is really much slower.

Getting OCD and liking it

As I said, we took away the telly as an experiment. It is all going well- they still have access to limited DVD use – and the negotiated minefield that presents, but at least the box isn’t in their faces as a constant reminder. So we play cards! We line them up and see the pretty patterns they make. To be honest, boys lost interest and left me to it.

Quinn got crafty with his own self directed project.

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‘Where’s the Bull?’ – Recycled polystyrene 2014

We’ve been thinking about recycling. All the stuff we have on tap at home. Not always stuff you have to buy, but stuff we can rustle up in the useful box (craft box of tit bits) without too much work. Well, here, I am noticing how resourceful people are. Their access to materials (for buildings, furniture, mechanics, tools) is of such a limited supply and quality. So the kids and I are collecting what we can find, a pretty ribbon in the street, cardboard box turns into a lego container. Milk carton, a home for pot plants.

We are also making stuff for the house. Everything you buy is often plastic crap that doesn’t last under the Wilson-Hall wear and tear. Nor, do we like spending pennies on it.

Now, handymen are sexy, look at what Tim rustled up in a flash:

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Guitar installation

And then, thanks to my darling pixie friend Peita, I got this idea whilst exercising the boys in local park at sun up. I spent an enjoyable afternoon doing this:

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‘Peas in a pod’ : Seed pods, fishing twine 2014

Let’s have a craft in, any pictures of your homemade creations welcome.

Here’s to slowing down and getting brain quiet through working with your hands. Isn’t that what we’ve all been doing for millennia?

 

Our Patch

So Dad has made a speedy recovery over the past week.  We owe some big cookies, yesterday’s rice and some scented flowers to the heavens! It works for the locals.

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He no longer looks like this!

Thank you Life, our journey continues…

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Our Local Coffee Hang- Tim, the entertainer is back

On a sultry morning, six abreast in a tuk tuk, wind in our hair and persistent sweat on our tummies, we saw a bunch of houses. But ended up back at the first one, you know how that happens. It may not be a French Colonial villa (architectural preferences aside), it has its on palatial charm. It is more than one hotel room!

It has established bougainvillaea which reminds me of home, maybe i’m missing bogans.

Home Sweet Sleep

We are renting the ground floor apartment, with two bedrooms where the boys can jump on the beds without risk of decapitation so we are content.

The landlords live within earshot, getting an insight into the ‘loco’ foreigners’ lives. We declined the use of the cable television and removed the unit from the house. They were so flabbergasted, they had to ask us six times, in case something had been lost in translation. For the lack of privacy, the win is the security bonus, as foreigners’ houses can be targeted for the bounty they offer.

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Our Courtyard- Landlord lives on RHS

The walls are clinical white so I’ve commissioned the two little artistes to remedy that.

Harvest time

School holidays on at the moment, so only a few kids around. One being the landlord’s nephew, who doesn’t speak a word of English. But has the sweetest grin, and Quinn has formed a bond with him via The Universal Language of Sport. So they play, until the Two Star General’s Wife over the wall complains of the noise of the bouncing ball. Hahaha, she’s in for a whole lot more annoyance living next down to our kids, throw in Dad’s monster growls, and Mum’s peppered yells.

Welcome to a brave new world, madame.

Quinn and Yu

Battambang is the second largest city (140,000 pop.) but honestly feels like the size of Ballarat.  It has this small town charm and is easy to navigate by bicycle. Quinn has a reconditioned ‘Peugeot’ mountain bike, circa 1990s that he rides in traffic fearlessly. We’ve built a seat on the back of my bike for Beau.

Our ‘Get Around Town’ mobiles

 I’ve grabbed snippets of wifi around town all week to write this post. Soon we shall have internet on at the palace. More posts to follow that event. It is ‘humbling’ when what you create gets snatched away by crashing internet, and what we’ve learnt is EVERYTHING takes three times as long as you think. So adjusting to that.  Most of the time, it looks like this…

Maybe if I do this..

Maybe if I do this..

Best wishes to you all xx

Battambang Poos

Tim got cleared to make the trip, albeit gingerly with no moto action allowed, and a few more days of bed rest (for a hyperactive, this is some feat!).

Importantly, he will remain a fully fledged male.

Our first impressions of Battambang have been positive: the town is circled by palmeries and the local mosque’s Call to Pray this morning, reminiscent of a Northern African town.  The streets actually have planted trees, an array of frangipangi, wisteria and native grapes.  A definable beauty here, that many of the other popup, factory cities lack.

Trees dimple the landscape

Trees dimple the landscape

For anyone out there who may be a little bit envious of our exotic experience, I want to honour the guts of the issue. Beau, the little trooper, had a 39+ fever last night as his tummy fought a war of its own. The fact little guy seldom complains amidst copious trips to the loo and even thinks about me (‘Mum, make sure you’ve got a blanket!’) is extra-ordinary.

Quinn has already staked out the hotel, made friends with the cool 20 something hotel manager and invited him to his room to play darts.

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Living it up

He tried to cut me loose in the local market this morning, I think his Ma cramps his style. The overpowering fishy smell flushed hot with humidity slowed him down though, and I managed to make him walk home with me and carry a washing bucket.

Central Market, Battambang

So we are acclimatising slowly: to the heat, the bacteria, and the mild deprivations- the shower that is over the loo, so you get a wet kiss when you you sit down, and the sink that leaks its contents all over the floor. Life out of a suitcase, in another hotel, for an unknown amount of time, whilst Tim recovers, Beau gets his pallor back, I some sleep, Quinn’s TV addiction grows, and we wait.

The Waiting Place… for people just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite

or waiting for wind to fly a kite;

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

or a pot to boil, or a Better Break

or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

According to the Dr. Seuss, it’s a place that’s not for you! Instead there are many more (Oh) Places You Will Go. And yes, we’ve travelled to those Places, and yet paradoxically it took, these places to show us patience. So we wait it out.

There is much involved in sniffing out a house- every moto driver in town wants to show you their friends’ place, as the norm is that the introducer gets one month’s rent as a fee.  We have dreams of a romantic, French colonial house with a garden, cobra free (their numbers are quite plentiful throughout the dry season), rustic shutters with many different fingerprints, high ceilings for the geckos to play…  but this is all yet to be told.

Sending Oz some warmth, and mucho gracias for all the literary encouragement.

Rubbish That

So we spent much of the day inside a mini van with our year’s worth of luggage lugged into it, only to go a few miles down the road to return once more to the comfortable innards of our Phnom Penh hotel.

Why? Well, a bit of an abcess on Timmy’s balls (since he’s told Facebook, I’m sure he doesn’t mind me sharing the knowledge).  So one full week of bed rest and some aggressive antibiotics  should see him kickboxing his way again. But until then, we are housed up in our hotel. Dad being given a separate room to avoid any affectionate pounding by his loving sons, or me for that matter.

Cambodia has its own plans for us. With this extra time in the capital, we’ve been working on a photo essay about the rubbish situation.

Quinn saw a dude carrying a bamboo pole with a sharp spike attached and said ‘What’s he hunting?’. Well, rubbish my lad.  And it seems to be a full time occupation. Similar to the untouchables in India, it looks like an undesirable job for the poorer people on the scale, but the only kind of recycling that goes on, better than letting the whole lot putrify on the streets.

You can’t help but question the government’s lack of infrastructure- sure bins exist and I have seen a handful of overflowing garbage trucks. But that whole education thing (‘Keep Australia Beautiful’) and providing adequate choices (limit plastic options) is totally overlooked. The rate at which this place, whole of Asia for that matter is expanding, population-wise and materially, the Earth is gonna have to absorb a whole lot more rubbish.

Who are we to tell others not to develop… but geez plastic could be the end of us all.

Tuk Tak Toe

So here is a visual taste of some of the sights around Phnom Penh from a tuk tuk, courtesy of Tim.

Beau commented on how old the buildings were the other day. And Quinn thinks every building site is left over from the war. We’ve versed him in toning down his weapon obsession whilst we are here. People who’ve actually seen war, don’t want to talk about it.

Anyhoo, without any fixed address yet, we travel to Battambang tomorrow to scout out a place to lay our hat.

Touch down in Phnom penh

So we’ve finally arrived!

Tim did a short video of the trip dedicated to our beloved doggie, Patrick Swayze Wilson Hall. Leaving him was heart squeezing and he has been checking the door regularly hoping for our return.

We survived with teabag eyes and dodgey backs from carting our 140KG of luggage, and fell heavily into the comfort of hotel sheets and aircon. Quinn being absolutely amazed that Cambodia comes with Cartoon Network on tap, a pool and crepes for breakfast.  Nothing like easing them into a false sense of security!

Hope this finds our friends from home, rugged up and winter lurgy free.