Saturday, December 29, 2012

Open Heart, Open Mind


The past few weeks for us could be likened to climbing a mountain (admittedly a cliched analogy, but it seems apt since we are moving to the himalayas). Its been a slow climb, carrying kids on our backs, through dense forest without much of a view.

I think we had many more boxes than is reasonable for a small family home!

Bob and the removal guys worked so hard in the scorching heat.

Then we've had some lovely days like Christmas Day and Boxing Day where we've had a chance to unwind, dress up, eat and play, just like having a well-earned rest on the trail and taking off our smelly hiking boots!

Remy enjoyed the Christmas lights.

Xavier on Santa's train at Myer.

Xavier and Remy with their cousin Max wearing their new Hawaiian shirts!

Now it's like we are approaching the summit, we have our eyes on the path, plodding on, knowing the pinnacle could be around the next corner.

At the top of our metaphorical mountain, the view I'm looking forward to most is a final day spent enjoying our gorgeous Queensland weather, spending unhurried time with our family and savouring our life here.

As I scrub the house I've actually had moments where I have enjoyed the experience of cleaning away the old in preparation for the new - a cathartic ritual almost. I know in Chinese culture people clean their homes in anticipation of New Year and it seems like a great opportunity to reflect on what's been and also set goals for the year ahead.

In the past three years, I have chosen a 'mantra' or phrase as my New Year's Resolution. It works best if I don't think too much about it - and just let it come to me.

This year my mantra, or my guiding thought when I'm not sure which way to turn is going to be Open Heart, Open Mind.

When I think of the situations that lay ahead, I know there will be challenges, I know there will be cultural differences and frustrations. If I can remember to repeat my mantra at that time, I will stay awake to the present moment and give it all I've got.

Similarly, when I am planning and teaching and thinking up new ideas for school, doing this with a feeling of an open heart will bring out the best in me.

Many of my friends and family members are on the cusp of big change as we enter 2013. New jobs, new babies, new routines with eldest children starting school. While new beginnings can be scary, they are also a time of great personal growth and you realise what you are really capable of.
I wish everyone a wonderful year for 2013 and if you are starting a new endeavour, all the best.

Do you make any New Year's Resolutions? I'd love to know what they are!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Boxing Day

I'm at the end of my second day of packing, feeling sweaty and gritty and in need of a cup of tea and then a swim and then probably definitely a cool glass of wine with dinner.

After dinner we're taking the boys to see the Christmas lights - keeping things fun and 'normal' while all around us our possessions are being boxed up and stacked ready for storage.

In a practical sense it has been a great day - we met the couple and their daughter who will be renting our house next year, and they are lovely, responsible people which is a relief. I'm sure they will enjoy their sea change from Sydney, and I will rest easier at night knowing they will look after our home.

Also we may have a buyer for one car and Bob has found a corporate client through Drive My Car who will take a long term lease on our family car - which more than covers the costs of keeping the car on the road while we're gone.

I'm pleased we've made significant headway with all our jobs in two days, but look forward to a change of pace tomorrow - I'm taking the boys to the playgroup Christmas party. We can dress up in our Christmas colours and open gifts, eat festive treats and share precious time with our dearest friends.

While most people are counting down the days to the BIG DAY in 6 sleeps (and of course there are two little people here who are very focussed on that too), for me the BIG DAY that is now just 2 weeks away is what I'm counting down to. By then the packing, cleaning, administration and organising will be done and it will be my turn to relax.

I can almost smell the smoky wok as my pad thai is served, nearly feel the tingle of the cold Singha beer on my tongue and just about hear the screeching traffic of hectic Chiang Mai. My senses are ready to be awakened.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

World Schooling

I look upon the adventure we're going on as a fantastic learning opportunity for us all. The teacher in me wants to especially find the 'teachable moments' in our travels and explore them with the kids. I've discovered there is a name for that: 'world schooling'!

I've been busy making special travel journals for the boys for Christmas - it was difficult to think of a gift that was practical and useful and lightweight enough for us to take away, and that was still fun too!

I researched on the net for inspiration and found some lovely examples of children's travel journals here and here. I loved the simplicity of the ideas on this website and the ones I made are based on that. For Xavier I found some daily diary sheets on enchanted that we can help him fill in, especially in Thailand as we'll be out and about sightseeing everyday and seeing new things. 

I've left a blank page for each day to allow for drawing and other writing, or gluing in tickets, postcards, stickers etc that we come across. Remy's is a mostly blank book with colouring in sheets for Thailand - of local animals and scenes of people in traditional dress and festivals. If we have the time at the end of the day we can sit with him and draw and write some memories.

I found some sturdy plastic document wallets at Officeworks in bright colours that I have put the journals in, along with a pencil case (One Direction for Xavier, Spiderman for Remy) filled with textas, pencils, scissors and glue sticks. Also some stickers, and a couple of paperback books each. Altogether it makes an entertainment package for travel and filling in time waiting for planes etc. I'll update you on how we go with it!

I'm hoping that having their Thailand journals to look through will help them remember the holiday and also be a book they enjoy sharing with new friends in Bhutan. 

I hope you can keep a secret!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chisholms in Chumey!

The long awaited news has arrived: our new home for next year is the village of Chumey in Bumthang.

We are following in the footsteps of current teacher Sabrina who has written an awesome blog this year that I've thoroughly enjoyed and will now enjoy reading over again with renewed interest.

View BCF Map of Bhutan in a larger map

The above map shows where previous and current Bhutan Canada Foundation teachers have lived and Chumey is the furthest to the right. You can zoom out the map to see where it is in relation to other locations in Bhutan.

We were given the opportunity to request certain characteristics in our placement - our top priority was access to medical care for the kids' safety, and it looks like Chumey has a 'Basic Health Unit' that deals with everyday health problems and we are 15kms from the regional Jakar Hospital. Jakar actually has a new domestic airport which links us with Paro (the main gateway to Bhutan) with a 20-30 minute flight (although we will most likely be travelling the 12 hours by road). Also we were hoping for good internet access (seems likely) and availability of a variety of foods. Bumthang is known for its culinary delights including real swiss cheese, apple juice, buckwheat noodles and pancakes and a brewery! At the moment it feels like our placement couldn't be more perfect.

This morning we've been googling to find out more about our new home and have come across the website for the Chumey Nature Resort, the only tourist accommodation option in town. The website has beautiful pictures and describes some very lovely tourist sites that are accessible by foot around town. It looks like Chumey is a gorgeous valley with a river running through - an idyllic himalayan village perhaps. In one photo I saw, snow was sprinkled over the tops of the pine trees in a winter wonderland sort of way - just like a Christmas card!

I'm buzzing with excitement!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Love a good blog!

In the past year I have started following a number of blogs - many relating to living in Bhutan and others from families travelling with children in Asia. These have been the greatest source of inspiration for us as we've dreamed and prepared for our trip.

I love how the blogs are the real story, and thanks to the honesty of the writers have shown us the shimmering highs and the desperate lows of setting up life in Asia. I think it has helped us set up realistic expectations - in terms of day to day life (food, water, rats!) and also school (curriculum, exams and corporal punishment).

Some of the blogs have brimmed with promise of the experiences we can't wait to have ourselves like being absorbed into a community and developing close friendships with students and neighbours. Photos have been a window into the awesome views we hope to see as we walk to school or enjoy on our occasional long weekend or summer break. 

The blogs of the current Bhutan Canada Foundation teachers can be accessed from this page by scrolling down the right side. I guess in time my blog will also be linked here too!

An Australian teaching couple Vicky and her husband Ian who have been living in far Eastern Bhutan for the past two years have written a blog called  'In the shadow of the mountains' and the most recent post has some gorgeous photos of the picnics they have been invited to by their students to celebrate the end of the school year. Seeing the lush scenery, the food (unlike our usual picnic fare) and the fun games the kids all play really adds to the excitement that is bubbling inside me. I really hope we all have an opportunity to experience that for ourselves. 

It won't be long and we won't be experiencing Bhutan vicariously anymore, it will be ours to enjoy for real (which is only just starting to sink in!).

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Travellers and Magicians

In preparing for Bhutan we have read many books, but there is nothing like watching a movie to really put you in a place, and after a long time I tracked down a copy of Bhutan's first feature film 'Travellers and Magicians', released in 2004. 

Even aside from the story itself, I loved the scenery and listening to the sounds of Dzongkha for the first time. Dzongkha is related to Tibetan and to me they sound very similar, reminding me of the Dalai Lama's lilting speech.

The story is one I imagine the youth of Bhutan can relate to - wanting to seek a life in America, believing a life of riches awaits. As the story unfolds, the main character becomes aware of how rich his life in Bhutan already is, in ways he didn't initially value or consider worthy. There's a message in there for all of us: to count the blessings we have, to enjoy the present moment.

I'd love to share the DVD with local friends, let me know if you'd like to borrow it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Market Shopping

I look forward to Saturday mornings all week - I start with a 5km run at Main Beach with Parkrun and then head on down to the Burleigh Farmers' Markets to stock up on all our fresh fruit and veg for the week. 

Living here, we are so fortunate to be able to pick from an enormous variety of produce all year round, and I love how these markets also sell some less common ingredients such as amaranth leaves and ready-shredded green papaya. I try to pick out something new each week to experiment with.

Our weekly fruit and veg. Photo: Andrea Chisholm.

My trolley was filled with such a bounty yesterday I wanted to photograph it, thinking how it will inevitably contrast with the selection available to us in Bhutan. As yet we don't know where we will be posted, and we've been told that some of the more remote locations will have less variety in foods available. Having said that, I know the Bhutanese certainly like to eat their veggies and I have found some lovely photos on the net of markets there displaying a colourful assortment of vegetables and fruits including everyday favourites we know like carrots, tomatoes, eggplant, potato, cauliflower and oranges and bananas. I have no doubt that I will embrace whatever is available - it may be a challenge to convince Xavier that his diet of broccoli, corn, carrots and pasta needs to s-t-r-e-t-c-h!

And then there is the other interesting concept that in essence Bob and I are swapping roles so I will be out working while Bob is home attending to domestic duties including whipping up dinner for us - this is probably the biggest risk we are taking in this whole adventure!!!! I will certainly be arming Bob with a book of recipes I think will suit the food and equipment we'll have available, and the rest is up to him! 

Check out this link to a Times photo essay exploring the food that families around the world consume in a week, and its relative cost. The Bhutanese, with an expenditure of only $5 per week, are smiling broadly with a diet consisting of mainly vegetables and rice. 

I will definitely revisit this blog idea when we are settled in Bhutan and let you know about our local market and the delicious meals that Bob is putting on the table (good to be optimistic!).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bhutan - Land of the Thunder Dragon

I have enjoyed the reaction I get from friends and acquaintances when I mention our plans to go and live in Bhutan next year. A few people have a surprising connection with the country - a neighbour who has travelled there, an uncle who has worked there for 20 years on and off, or even a best friend who trained the Bhutanese Olympic golf team!


Generally though, Bhutan is a bit of a mystery - even where it is located confused some ("is that in Africa?"). Some people have heard Bhutan's famous marketing catch phrase  'Gross National Happiness'.

I wanted to list ten important things I have found out in my research on Bhutan - Land of the Thunder Dragon -  in the past year. Of course, I don't profess to be an expert, but believe me when I say I have read every book I could get my hands on about Bhutan (they have an excellent selection at the Gold Coast library). I have been addicted to the blogs of the current teachers living in Bhutan and we've watched movies, documentaries and youtube clips on all manner of Bhutan-related topics.

Altogether the research paints a picture of an enigmatic country I can't wait to know personally. But in the meantime, let's just clear up a few things:

1. Bhutan is not in Africa! It is in the himalayas, bordering India to the south, east and west and China to the North. The geography varies from sub-tropical lowlands to himalayan peaks reaching above 7000 metres.

3. The capital city of Bhutan is Thimphu. It has a population of approx 80,000 and is famous for being the only world capital without traffic lights.

4. The national language is Dzongkha, however a variety of other languages are spoken throughout the country. English is the medium that all school is taught in.

5. Bhutanese love eating chillis and their national dish is a curry made with chillis and local homemade cheese. Rice is the main staple, and a variety of vegetables and fruit are sold at markets. Butchering meat or fish in Bhutan contradicts the Buddhist view that all sentient beings' lives are precious, however I have read many reports of meat and fish on the menu so I suspect the rules might get broken occasionally!

6. Locals enjoy archery as their national sport, and they competed in the recent Olympics.

7. Up until 2008, Bhutan was an absolute monarchy, however the King himself put the wheels in motion to transition to a constitutional monarchy headed by his son, the current King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

8. Bhutan places great value on the natural environment and at least 60% of land area is under forest cover, and more than 40% of the country is national parks, reserves and other protected areas.

9. Consequently Bhutan has maintained an environment that is home to an incredible number of birds, animals and plants including animals such as the tiger that are endangered in all their other habitats. Go Bhutan!!!!!

10. Bhutan values the Gross National Happiness of its people over the Gross National Product of the economy.

Ok, so by now you might be thinking "Hey I think I'd like to go and visit them over there in Bhutan!" We would love to have visitors while we are there, but be warned, Bhutan charges tourists a daily tariff of $250pp per day to restrict tourist numbers to protect their culture and natural environment

After so much researching and dreaming, I can't wait to hear  the roar of the Thunder Dragon for myself.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It all started with a bucket list.

Nearly one year ago, I was having a chat with my dear friend Lainie on the phone, and she mentioned that she'd recently written her 'bucket list' for the next ten years. I was inspired and set about immediately to write my own. 

It wasn't a huge surprise, but when I looked at my top ten, nearly every dream or goal involved travel, and right up there at #1 was "Live overseas for a year". 

The idea mightn't have taken such a hold on me if I hadn't coincidentally grabbed a book from the library the next week called "A Baby in a Backpack to Bhutan" by Bunty Avieson, an Australian woman who travelled with her husband and baby to Bhutan where they lived for 6 months. I finished reading that book on a Sunday afternoon, relaxing on the couch. As I put the book down I called over to Bob, and said "I'd like to go and live in Bhutan!", to which his muttered reply was something like "No way!" (what will she think of next???!!!).

The magic of google meant that a quick search on 'teach in Bhutan' revealed an organisation called the Bhutan Canada Foundation - a charity that places native english speaking school teachers in Bhutan, but had just finished the recruitment process for their 2012 intake. Looking back at how the ideas fell into place so quickly, I'm left without a doubt that our journey to Bhutan is meant to be.

Incidentally, half an hour after I told Bob my outlandish idea, he came back with his well thought through answer, and I love him for it: "If you think that will be good for us as a family to do, then let's go". 

Of course, there has been a lot of water under the bridge (rustic and wooden - Bhutan-style!) in the past year as we have researched, problem solved, soul searched, read and dreamed about whether we really could take a giant leap into a big unknown to live as volunteers with our little boys in what is likely to be a remote himalayan village. It has been particularly painful to consider taking our boys away from the life that they know and love, including their friends and loving extended family.

Time and again we've concluded that for just one year, we will step onto the road-less-travelled, open all our lives up to infinite possibilities we can't imagine, knowing that -inshallah- we will return to our familiar home just 12 months later, our backpacks bursting at the seams with souvenirs and our hearts full of memories.

Do you feel inspired to write a bucket list? Would living overseas be on the list? Where would you love to live for a year?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's Official!

I woke this morning to see a new email in my inbox with the subject 'Congratulations!'. I eagerly scanned the email from Kristen at the Bhutan Canada Foundation that revealed - finally - that our application to live as volunteers in the Kingdom of Bhutan next year has been successful!

A year in the planning, at times it has pushed my patience to the limit, however lately I had come to a place where I knew in my heart we would be accepted and have been feeling quietly excited. Although we shared the plans with our family and a few close friends, it is a pleasure now to let all our friends and colleagues know what we've been dreaming about for the past year.

Having enjoyed my sister's blog from her family's year in the UK and USA , and my sister-in-law's blog sharing their experience of settling into life in Italy, I am very excited to write my own blog to report on our experiences as well. I'm so excited that I can't wait until we get to Bhutan to start writing: I have so much to write already, so I hope I have a few readers who would like to follow our adventure.

Stay tuned to find out how this whole crazy idea began...