Category Archives: Family

Parenting, marriage, and living when “the days are long, and the years are short”

Day 17 – First Words in Bahasa Melayu

1 Kilo of Mangoes for 13 Ringgit!

Being greeted by a family selling their wares in the fruit market

What an amazing day.  A seminary friend – actually the woman who will be teaching Eric (and maybe me) the language here (Bahasa Malaysia, or Bahasa Melayu, or just B.M.) – spent the morning showing me different places to shop.  A grocery store for locals (Tai Sun’s, I think) and breakfast at a little café (dim sum at 8 AM!).  The downtown harbour’s fruit market (where I bought a kilo of mangoes, not knowing Eric had bought the same yesterday… lots of ripe mangoes to eat!).  (And, notice how our Word program corrected my spelling of harbour to the British standard.)  (And, sorry for all the parentheses!  So many thoughts!)

Then, the meat market.  I kept having to literally use my hand to close my mouth – my jaw just kept dropping.  I’ve never seen a whole plucked chicken chopped and packaged – cut off the neck, cut off the feet and claws, save the feet, cut the whole thing in half in one blow of the knife, and so on.  And in the fish market, how fast they could fillet a fish, and the orderly piles of so many kinds of fish, plus squid and then huge bins of all kinds of shellfish – clams and hermit crabs, big blue crabs and others I don’t even know how to describe.  Eric went there yesterday, his first trip, and said that as he went in the door, two rogue crabs were skittering out.  It is a lively place, with people who are the salt of the earth – so patient and kind (recognize those words from scripture?) and willing to laugh with me and practice counting in BM.

I arrived home with my finds – a kilo of thin-sliced pork (sold at room temperature… yikes!), a big rectangular broom (kind of a Swiffer, for the dust from having windows always open), and fish with fillets to cook up and the head/spine/tail with which to make soup.  Eric has a fever – one of the mom’s at the international school said something is going around, plus he just needed rest after the rush to get here and get settled.  So off I went to get the boys from school and take them on a ginger ale hunt.

We went to a familiar mall – it has something very close to a Target in it.  There was some kind of show beginning – youth with two sticks attached by a 1-metre string, with huge yo-yo’s on them.  They were doing all kinds of tricks.  I tried to find a video online of it, but have no idea what it’s called.  (This kind of thing happens a lot – not having the words to try to find out more about things we’ve seen, or eaten, or want to try.  Life without words is very tricky!)  In the end, Dante had enough watching and we went off to the Giant (a version of Target) and found, of all the sodas and juices and drinks, only one can of ginger ale.

But, during the morning shopping, I had seen a shop that had gripe water – an herbal drink that helps babies with gas and all ages with any stomach discomfort.  I was so excited to see it!  When I went to buy it, it turned out that it was a Chinese apothecary, and when I went in and spoke my rudimentary Mandarin Chinese to the ancient man who worked there – well, you can imagine his surprise.  Blonde American, buying something in his shop, speaking his language.  I wonder how often, if ever, that happens.

I think one of the biggest learnings is how gracious people are when one tries to speak their language.  I think of the U.S.A., where too often people get impatient with those whose English is not yet particularly good.  Punishing people for trying to learn and speak?  It makes no sense.  Here people honour and reward you for entering into their language.  There is a generosity of spirit that encourages moving from “my space” (you speak English, please) to theirs – it gives shared energy.

In the end of the day, I splurged and used some of our powdered cheese stores, bought from the U.S., to make mac’n’cheese (with that thin-sliced pork and steamed okra) for the boys, paired with our first Skype conversation with my mom.  Two tastes of home.  But when I tucked them into bed (about 30 times), I was still looking out over the lights of our new city.  We live in 3 places – home there, home here, and somewhere in between.  Thankfully, we still talk about all of this as an adventure, and so we remind each other that the discomfort of transition is part of a bigger picture – one that we don’t yet fully see, but that we get to experience little by little.

Malaysia Day from Signal Hill

The view of Malaysia Day fireworks from our apartment at Sabah Theological Seminary

Week 2 – a log of Day 10

At the entrance to one of the 5 buildings here at Sabah Theological Seminary is a garden with koi, plants, and stones. It is both a quiet place to meditate and a place to gather with people to be introduced and connect.

What a day.  We mostly wake up at 6 AM, which is common here – getting things done before the day gets warm.  First we went to the “wet market” – produce, meat, spices and sundries, in a warehouse with aisles and aisles of booths.  We gave each of our boys 5 ringgits to buy something.  Caedmon picked out broccoli, which actually cost 6 ringgits ($2) for 3 heads.  It was his job to pay, but he couldn’t reach, so the woman came out from behind her wares and gave Cade the kindest smile, patting his head and pinching his cheek. Everyone does this here with kids – tender smiles from everyone passing by at the mall, head pats and “hello”s from so many people.

Dante couldn’t decide what to buy, so we finally agreed on a bag of cooked lo mein noodles and a strawberry soda.  Soda is a treat since we can easily boil water and carry it with us.  Then we walked back up the stairs from downtown to the seminary.  We had thought it was 90 stairs, but having counted once it is somewhere between 110-150. One loses count, though, as there is so much to see – lizards and ferns and such.

Then is was time for showers and off to Karamunsing – the mall for electronics.  It is what we now think of as an Asian mall:  Lots of technology, and yet in a smaller space with no clear layout.  It’s little things that are different, like stairs instead of escalators, and people wearing anything from jeans to hijabs.  It is foreign to us but very accessible.  Today was a day for big purchases, so the I.T. director from the seminary accompanied us as we bought a tv for our apartment (we will get satellite – ESPN and NatGeo Wild, plus local tv so we can practice Behasa Malaysia, the local language).  We looked at desks for the boys (at the top of their wish list, we don’t really know why) but someone from the seminary will soon be moving to Hong Kong and may have furnishings, like desks, to part with.  We are settling into our apartment quite nicely, with our rice steamer and toy boxes.

Then we came home and rested.  Then we set up the tv (though we don’t have anything to watch yet) and I mopped the whole apartment – it’s amazing how much dirt and dust comes in even when we don’t wear shoes inside.  I was grateful for my camp days that taught me to mop a floor well.  And it was good that I did, as Cade later broke a glass on the floor, and we could see easily where the pieces were.

Last was dinner, which we had ordered from the school’s canteen.  We figured that ordering what the students are eating will help us learn local foods that we can then try to cook.  Tonight was a major challenge, though:  whole fried fish.  We wanted to balk at that one – other foods have been more like things we would get in a Chinese restaurant in the U.S.  But we were brave and tried them.  Tricky to eat, but delicious.  A local would probably have been horrified at how much meat we left on the bones, and would definitely chide us for leaving the best part – the head and eyes.  But we had used up our brave quotient for that meal.  Dessert was the biggest treat for me (Wendolyn) – years ago in the U.S. I had a yellow watermelon, and I’ve been trying to find them ever since.  Well, here they are.  I sliced them in small pieces and we ate ½ of a watermelon in no time at all.

Then it was off to bed at 8 PM.  We are going to Church tomorrow with the YAGM coordinator (Young Adults in Global Mission – one-year volunteers from the ELCA come to serve in one of 8 locations worldwide).  We’ll go to an English-speaking congregation of the BCCM – what Lutherans here are called.

Time to go now and see if there are fireworks – Monday is “Malaysia Day” when the states of Sabah and Sarawak (on the island of Borneo) joined peninsular Malaysia.  A day off from school and a day to celebrate this amazing nation which has welcomed us.  Thank you for reading this – I hope it gives some clues and images for life here.  Perhaps it will let you look around at where you live and see what you can celebrate or mull over.  Peace!

A little like Jonah

Caedmon makes a wish with a dandelion.

Way back, before we started thinking about becoming missionaries, the Rhyme Bible was preparing us.  If you’ve got kids in your life, you should learn about the Rhyme Bible – most kids have theirs memorized.  And for us, Caedmon’s favorite story was about Jonah.  “God said to Jonah, ‘I have a little task.  Get up and go to Ninevah, and do what I ask.  The people there are wicked, so tell them to obey, but Jonah got on board a ship, and sailed the other way.”  And our kids shout, “Ut-oh, Jonah, you should’ve gone to Ninevah!”

So when things started falling into place for us to become missionaries, we had the Jonah story ringing in our ears.  It wasn’t so much about being afraid of God sending us a storm or a big fish – we know God works through more than fear.  It was a sense of being sent, and of what happened to Jonah after the fish.  He went to Ninevah, expecting no one to pay him any heed – but the people there responded about 100 times more passionately than he was ready for.  It was like the people there were hungry for a message, and when God sent Jonah to them, it wasn’t so much about Jonah’s work as it was the people being prepared by God, for God.

And so as we head to Malaysia, we feel a little like Jonah.  Honored (if quite nervous) by being chosen; curious (to see what God is already doing); and hopefully, humble, because though the Rhyme Bible talked about people being wicked, the story then and now is about people needing connection to God.  And having talked and prayed together, our family believes that God has already put things in motion in the Church in Malaysia.  We are excited to get there and meet the active people of God, and learn about all of God’s children there.  And like Jonah (if you read to chapters 3 and 4) we expect to learn a whole lot about ourselves and how much we rely on God’s living word.  Our hope is to be a little like Jonah – maybe skipping the fish guts part and hopefully finding joy in serving God and the Church.