Monday, December 15, 2014

Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland

Someone asked me if I was sad that we're leaving Germany. And the answer is, yes, of course I'm sad. Perhaps not about leaving Karlsruhe specifically, but more about leaving Europe.

I haven't always enjoyed my time in Germany. The language and culture made it really hard for me to assimilate this time around. Being a SAHM meant I spent more time at home with my kids and caring for them than I did exploring and integrating into my new environment. Almost all the friends I've made are expats, as Germans are notoriously cold and difficult to get to know, especially in this region of Germany.

Liam, with Daddy and Oma, when we first arrived
But of course I'm sad. I've lived here for two and a half years, which haven't always been a bed of roses, but was not all bad either. Liam was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome here. He had his heart catheter procedure done in Heidelberg. This is where we first learned to care for a child with Special Needs, together with the support of the State and various services in the city, which has been nothing but the best we could give our son. We still struggled of course, but it could have been much, much worse - if we'd still been living in Malaysia for instance, where support for the disabled is minimal to say the least.

This is where my second son, Nolan, was born. He has known no other home, and neither has Liam. They have grown here, taken first steps, made little friends, went for play-dates, said first words, ran in parks, went out for hundreds of walks, all in this little corner of Germany. Liam says quite a few words now, mostly in German even though we speak only English at home, and he seems to understand both languages equally. I would have loved to further explore his ability to be bilingual in this country.

They know where their toys are in our little apartment. They know their rooms. They have a routine. This is the only environment and surrounding they are familiar with, and it is hard for me to take these away from them, even though I know life will be equally wonderful, if not more so, in New Zealand.

While living here, we travelled to Lake Como, twice. We went to Milan. We visited Lucerne in Switzerland. Made countless of trips across the border to Strasbourg, France. We were able to spend some time with The Husband's family up in Rietberg in North Rhine Westphalia. We spent a Christmas with his brother whom we haven't seen in years. I was able to do a solo trip to Paris. We've had visitors from all over the world. We've had birthdays and celebrations and dinner parties and BBQs in the summer. We've had some amazing experiences and plenty of good times. We've made some wonderful friends, whom I'll carry close to my heart for always. Of course, I'm sad.

The next three months will be a period of uncertainty and upheaval for my boys, and I wish I could make the transition easier for them somehow. I wish there was a way to explain it, especially to Liam, who may be fine at first, but will be confused when he doesn't see his room and his toys and his friends at daycare for weeks and weeks, and have no way of voicing, of asking, of getting any reassurance, except to show it in his behavior and rely on us for comfort and security.

Liam, Fall 2014
The Husband will be gone from their lives for six weeks when he returns to Germany to finish up his work and pack up the house. In place will be family and friends they barely know and have never met, who will, after two months, be gone from their lives too. The climate will go from freezing winter to tropical and humid and back to fall weather again in a matter of months. They will not have a permanent home or any form of stability or routine until perhaps March or April next year. More than anything, I'm just hoping and praying that both my boys will cope with this massive transition and change.

I know that the boys are resilient. They will make new friends, they will adjust given time, they will learn to love their new home and environment once we've settled down. But a part of me is also nostalgic about the fact that they will one day forget the first home they've ever had.

So I am sad. BUT I'm also excited, and looking forward to spending some time with my family and friends in Malaysia.

And I'm so, so happy about building our lives in Auckland as a family. To introduce the sand and the sea to my boys. To watch them take in the crashing waves for the first time. To eat fish and chips and minced pies on the beach. To take them to vineyards (okay maybe that's just for me), and parks, and forest trails, and beaches. Teach them to swim. Introduce all sorts of food to them - Kiwi, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, English, and not just German cuisine. Bring them up in a culture of diversity and variety, where people smile and greet you warmly, even though you've just met, where every second person you meet is of a different race or nationality.

Goodbyes are hard, and sad. But it's almost always closely followed by a warm, loving 'Hello'.

And that, makes it all a little easier to bear.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Anchor

I watched The Ten Tenors perform on their 'Christmas Tour' at the Konzerthaus here in Karlsruhe last night. This is my second time watching them perform. The first time was about six years ago in Auckland. They captivated me last time and I loved them last night too. They were funny, sexy, charming, and their voices and harmony were downright beautiful.

One of the songs they sang last night was 'I still call Australia home', a tribute to where they're from. I've heard the song before, but yesterday I really heard it. I listened carefully to the lyrics, the emotions behind the words, the melody, and a tear slipped out the corner of my eye. My heart felt full, and empty at the same time.

Today, I listened to the song over and over again. I looked up the lyrics. Again, my heart felt full, and achingly empty. I could relate so much to the words...


I've been to cities that never close down
From New York to Rome and old London town 
But no matter how far or how wide I roam 
I still call Australia home 

I'm always travelling, I love being free
And so I keep leaving the sun and the sea
But my heart lies waiting over the phone 
I still call Australia home 

All the sons and daughters spinning 'round the world 
Away from their family and friends 
But as the world gets older and colder 
It's good to know where your journey ends 

And someday we'll all be together once more 
When all of the ships come back to the shore 
I'll realize something I've always known 
I still call Australia home


… but take away 'Australia', and for me, right now, I wouldn't know what to replace it with.

I love the sense of wandering and traveling far from your 'home' in this song. I've always felt the need to go, even as a young child. I was never happy staying still. I needed new surroundings, new experiences, to feel complete. I still do, even though I'm better at dealing with routine now. Although with having moved to four different countries in the past ten years, some people might still think I'm unable to settle down (and they may very well be right). 

For awhile, 'home' was Malaysia for me. When I lived in the US, I would refer to a trip back to Malaysia as going 'home'. It was, after all, where I grew up, and where the majority of my family still lives. But once I moved to Auckland and met my husband there and we started building a life for ourselves, 'home' became New Zealand. And it remained so even after we moved to Germany. 

Perhaps, for all sense and purposes, it is still 'home', we are going back in two months after all. We will pick up where we left off, and re-build our lives there. It is familiar, but at the same time, different, because so much has changed in the three years we have left New Zealand. And if I were to be truly honest with myself, Auckland doesn't really feel like 'home' right now. What I remember of it, remains only in my memories. The restaurant scene has since grown and changed. Whole areas have developed. Our best friends, who we used to spend weekends with and go on road trips together, have since left and are now back in the US. Last time we were there, we didn't have children. Now we have two.

Karlsruhe was always temporary, so I never felt at 'home' here. But this is the first home for both my boys, which means something to me. I remain a Malaysian citizen, but both my boys and my husband all hold German passports and citizenships. And even though I currently have New Zealand residency and The Husband is a Kiwi citizen, Liam and Nolan do not have any ties to New Zealand at this point, which makes it hard for me to refer to it as 'home'. 

I guess there's no real conclusion to this post. We are, at the very heart of it, the true essence of what it means to be a global family. And maybe it's okay that I don't have a 'home' in the general sense of the word. My boys are my anchor. They give me a reason to belong to a place, to play a role, to build a routine and network and have a place that they can call home. Who they will eventually be in New Zealand, whether they will consider themselves Kiwis, and what their ties to Germany and their Asian heritage will be, is up to us to instill and up to them to build upon.

Without my anchors, I would probably live a nomadic life, traveling from one country to another with nothing but my backpack and empty notebooks - sometimes I think that's all I need. Not a house, not cars, not fancy outfits and jewelry. Just me, my boys, and the ability to go wherever our heart leads us. To see the world and live the world and learn the world and be a part of it all. 

So I guess, I don't have to replace the word 'Australia' with another country. 

Home is, for me, quite simply, wherever my boys are. And that's enough. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Developmental Assessment

Liam had part one of his half-yearly developmental assessment at the children's hospital yesterday. He did really well, and completed (or tried to) a series of exercises and tasks that would place him at a certain developmental age.

He surprised us with some of the tasks he managed to complete, with how well he listened to instructions and observed what the Physiotherapist was doing and tried to copy her movements, but he didn't fare so well in others - i.e. he couldn't put in place a basic three-piece puzzle and could not recognize shapes at all.

They put him at approximately 14-16 months developmentally at the end of the session, which is a slight growth from half a year ago, but on the larger developmental scale, he's still falling behind. The doctor also advised us to include an Endocrinologist on Liam's medical team as he hasn't been growing much physically in the past year. This is something we'll have to look into when we're in New Zealand.

As usual, it is always hard to hear/see results like that on paper, to have it so 'officially' stated where your child is developmentally, which is no where near his physical age of 2 years and 8 months old. But none of it was surprising, and this will help us to figure out what will work best for him in a schooling environment and how to support him in the best possible way.

In Germany, he was enrolled in a kindergarden for developmentally-delayed children. It is a special school where each class only consists of 5-6 children with two teachers trained in special needs per class. There are physiotherapists and ergo therapists on site. It is a great school for children like Liam, but unfortunately we won't be able to send him there after all. I hope to find similar support in Auckland.

Some parents may prefer their child to be integrated into a mainstream school, but after careful research and speaking to Liam's doctors/therapists, we came to the conclusion that it would be better for him to attend a class that can attend and cater to his special needs. There is no point sending him into a class room with other nearly 3-year-olds who can already string together long, complex sentences and do 24-piece puzzles and count and say alphabets when he can't do any of the above. Sure, it may motivate him to do a little more, but he will also be utterly overwhelmed and lost in a class of 20 children, with or without a personal aid.

On an upbeat note, my little man completely surprised me this morning and left me in tears. He was playing with his little brother Nolan and pulling at his earand just when I was about to make him stop, he looked at me and said 'Ear', clear as day. And then he stuffed his finger in Nolan's mouth and said 'Mouth' (or more like 'Mouff'). I was ecstatic and I started to ask him where the different parts are on his face, and he pointed to them all! Eyes, Nose, Mouth, Ear and Hair! I've been pointing and naming them on his face for months but I was never really sure he understood, as he's never repeated it back - but apparently he's been listening the whole time and he totally gets it!

This only tells me that it doesn't matter what a piece of paper say, or where he is at developmentally compared to other children his age. He is learning so much everyday, in his own way, and he's turning into such a little person with a huge personality. He's funny, affectionate, stubborn, and gives the best hugs and kisses. He cracks us up on a daily basis, and I don't know where I'd be without my little man reminding me every day of the things that truly matters.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

New Blog, New Adventures


So, I've decided to immerse myself completely into my passion for food and wine with an all-new website over at Eat.Drink.Auckland and its corresponding Facebook page here.

I'm not going to stop writing about food and wine here, although I will be primarily using this blog for more personal posts with a focus on the expat life, parenting, family and of course, our ongoing journey with understanding Williams Syndrome.

There are other projects and dreams on the pipeline, but for now, I'm excited to be able to do this and hope to create a platform where I can share with you my passion for the hospitality and food&beverage industry, including the products, news and events, and of course, the people who are the heart and soul behind it all.

I hope you enjoy this new journey with me.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Next stop, Kuala Lumpur

The iconic Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur
In all the excitement of our upcoming move back to Auckland, I sometimes forget that prior to that, I'll actually be spending two months back in my hometown of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with my family. The Husband will be there with us for the first two weeks, return to Germany to finish up work and tie up loose ends here, before joining us again towards the end of February.

We have a lot planned during our time in Malaysia, beginning with celebrating my birthday and Christmas with my parents and some of my cousins and other extended family who are also making their way home from various parts of the world - some of whom I haven't seen in many years! It will be the first time a lot of them are meeting my boys, which is hugely exciting for me and them, and although I have no doubt we'll all be terribly jet-lagged having arrived only a few day before the celebrations, I do also hope it will be a time of love, joy and many treasured moments.

This will be followed by a short getaway to the island of Langkawi with my parents, where I hope to enjoy a few days of sun, sea, great food and plenty of relaxation (or as much relaxation as there can possibly be while looking after two babies).

The rest of our time there will hopefully be a time of family-togetherness (minus my husband), introducing my children to the wonderful extended family they do not yet know they have, indulging in excellent Malaysian cuisine, and catching up with many family and friends that I haven't had the chance to during my past visits back home.

This time around, I'm also lucky enough to be there throughout the Chinese New Year festivities in early February (again the first for my boys), a special cultural celebration and part of my heritage that I've missed for more years than I care to remember!

Each time we've visited in the past, we've only managed to spend a week or two with the family, and to be there for two whole months is the ultimate luxury. Words cannot express how much I've missed having my loved ones in my day-to-day life, how much I wish to share our lives with them, to have them know and love my boys in person, to have people you can lean on. Technology has certainly made it a lot easier to be in each others' lives, and for that, I'll always be grateful for Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, but it's not the same as watching your mum tickle your baby, listening to your dad sing lullabies with your toddler, talking with your cousin over a bottle of wine, being with people who've known you all your life, who know you at your best and your worse and love you all the same.

There is so much to look forward to, and I'm excited to share a little bit of my hometown and where I come from with you here over the next few months.

No matter how far I journey or where I may live or call home, Malaysia is the place of my birth, and she can be pretty amazing. I hope you'll see that too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Food, Wine and Buble!

What a blast of a weekend it's been in Stuttgart! Even though both the kids were sick, they were complete troopers and adjusted well to the sudden change in their surroundings.

"I'm not sleepy, mum" (Oh yes, you are!)
Creamy and smooth Poppyseed Cheesecake
We were there bright and early on Sunday, and spent the rest of the day in the excellent company of our dear friends Dorothy and Volker, indulging in some of Stuttgart's finest cheesecake, followed by a delicious homemade dinner of a Chinese-style 'Steamboat' meal, where ingredients like okra, stuffed eggplants, tofu, wanton (and really anything else you feel like adding) is thrown into a huge pot of boiling chicken broth. It was comfort food like none other, and perfect to socialize over on a cold autumn night.

Dorothy's homemade stuffed eggplant and okra, with wantons
A local Spatburgunder from Weinstadt, Stuttgart
A lovely South Tyrollean wine
We enjoyed our dinner with a 2012 Spatburgunder (which is what Pinot Noir is called in this region of Germany), from a local producer called Ellwanger. It was a dry, easy-drinking red with a lovely finish that went well with our tasty but delicate soup and vegetables. This was followed by a gem of a bottle, a 2008 Lagrein from South Tyrol, which was a completely new variety to me. Full-bodied with complex flavors and spicy notes, I enjoyed this wine immensely, and it has peaked my interest to find out more about South Tyrollean wines!

More wines from Ellwanger
Is there a happier sight in the world?
The next day, we took a short drive to the Ellwanger winery to discover some of their other varieties. I love nothing more than visiting vineyards, wine-tasting and talking to the people behind the bottle. The Husband calls it my 'happy place' and I am inclined to agree! We left with three different bottles of wine, all specific to the region, which I will be happily tasting over the next weeks.

The colorful and captivating rolling vineyards of Weinstadt, Stuttgart
Our trip ended with what was initially our sole reason for going to Stuttgart - a Michael Bublé concert! It's the first concert of his I've ever attended, but I can tell you now that it won't be my last! I had an absolute blast watching my favorite singer performing live. Our seats were upgraded for some inexplicable reason so we ended up sitting only six rows from the stage. The opening act, Naturally 7, got the crowd in a wonderful mood, the sound in the hall was fantastic, the energy was electrifying, and for two hours I sang, danced, cheered and clapped my hands sore as my Number One crooner performed all my favorite songs on stage. 

It was a complete freedom from my usual role of being a mum, and I can't thank The Husband more for making the entire trip (the tickets, the drive to and from Stuttgart, taking time off work, looking after the kids while I go to the concert) happen for me and making one of my dreams a reality!

Michael Bublé performing at the Hanns-Martin-Schleyerhalle in Stuttgart
My modern-day Sinatra
The man in action
We arrived home this morning and my WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) certificate was waiting for me in the mailbox! I have officially passed the Level 2 examinations that I undertook in Offenburg last month, and am now WSET Level 2 certified! It wasn't a huge exam, but it took a lot of effort and determination to study on my own for two months after the kids were in bed. I am really proud that I managed to complete this, despite not being able to participate in the online classroom activities as much as I wanted to. Next up, Level 3 in New Zealand! 

WSET Level 2 certified!
The past few days have been quite literally non-stop for me, and I'm looking forward to a few normal/routine days where I can get back to packing/selling/boxing/organising for our impending move home. But I will go to bed tonight with thoughts of a life filled with cherish friends, good food and wine, getting a step closer to a dream I didn't realize I had until yesterday, and through all that, Michael Bublé's voice in the background singing: "It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life…. for me… and I'm feeling good." 


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Goodbye Karlsruhe (part 2)

We're heading to Stuttgart today to spend a few days with our good friends Dorothy and Volker. It is a much needed change in our surroundings and will hopefully lift all our spirits a little!

Both the boys (and I) have been down with a bad cold and cough for a whole week now and it's been a tough week to ride out, but thankfully we're nearly over the hump. Unfortunately, a lot of the medical appointments and procedures we had scheduled for the past week were unsuccessful due to the virus and plenty of other reasons, so they all have to be re-scheduled, which is the last thing we need with all we have going on for the next five weeks.

But sometimes life gives you lemons, or limes, and you go to the bar and fashion out the yummiest drink you can concoct, which in my case would be a Gin and Tonic, because why resist what you can't change and all that?

On a high note, I'll be catching my very first Michael Buble concert tomorrow night. I have been a huge fan for years and for some strange reason, always left the country he happened to be touring just when he's due to perform there. Well, not anymore! And I have The Husband to thank for making this happen for me. (I will be thinking of you, Sarah R. and swooning on your behalf!)

So for now, I'm going to have to love you and leave you with more pictures of my home for only six more weeks!

Shopping streets (I will miss these cobbled walkways!) 
The Natural Science Museum
Karlsruhe Schloss (palace)



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