Monday, December 22, 2014

My Expat Interview!

So I was recently asked by an editor of Easy Expat to do a blog interview that they wanted to include in one of their forums. I quickly agreed and I've had so much fun doing this. Honestly one of my main sources of information living overseas was through different websites such as this one. I cannot tell you how much easier it made life. Not only to find important information about each city, but also to get an insight from other expats from their own experiences. It was a little piece of heaven!

Anyway, here is my interview! :)

INTRODUCTION
My name is Emily Wiltshire though to many I could be “MimiCakes” or “Mommy” and I am originally from good ole’ Oklahoma! We are currently (and just recently) back in Oklahoma after spending several years overseas that included Shanghai, China; Sydney, Australia and Hong Kong. 

WHY DID YOU MOVE ABROAD?
We first moved abroad for my husband’s company. I still remember the day he came home from work and told me about his boss asking about us possibly moving to Shanghai. After a few hours of research on the computer I told him I was in. He thought I was crazy (and wasn’t so sure himself!) but off we went, in tow with our 1 1/2 year old son! And what was supposed to be a 2 1/2 year stint turned into 3 different countries in 6 1/2 years and adding two more sons to the family! 

HOW DO YOU MAKE A LIVING?
My husband’s company that first brought us overseas was in sales for a company that manufactured burners and flares- a huge market overseas that had him traveling to most of the eastern Asian countries. Then (as with many other expats) he took a different job based out of Sydney in Energy Management, yet another big market overseas. Though I wasn’t the “bread winner” I did manage to work in all 3 different countries. One of the things I love most about being overseas- you are never tied to one particular “job” in general and are free to explore different areas of interest that you probably wouldn’t at “home”. 

HOW OFTEN DO YOU COMMUNICATE WITH HOME AND HOW?
Communicating with our family and friends back home wasn’t as hard as what I thought it was going to be. We first had Vonage (and able to have a local home number) but the internet in China is ridiculously slow so that and even our SKYPE was sometimes very hard to do. You really learn to appreciate “fast” internet when you have it in the US. Sad enough we had some family members that NEVER learned the time difference and getting calls at 3 a.m. was never fun! We tried to talk to our family members at least once a week via phone but then more via email. Though the last few years has been alot easier with APPS such as VIBER and WhatsApp. Social media is a godsend! 

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT BEING AN EXPAT IN HONG KONG?
Oh where to start!! Though Shanghai was our first move and holds a very dear place in my heart I definitely think Hong Kong was my favorite Asian city! I loved the mix of Chinese culture and European flare that made the city vibrant and eclectic. You could easily be shuffled through the train system like a herd of cattle and then go out to a quaint little French bistro and find a fabulous French meal or a fabulous cup of coffee. Another one of my favorite things about Hong Kong was the amount of outdoor activities- there was always some activity to find outside to do- whether it be a good hike or a day at the beach. So many different venues and attractions in Hong Kong to explore as an expat. 


WHAT’S THE WORST THING ABOUT BEING AN EXPAT IN HONG KONG? 
Well, this is a tricky question because even though I absolutely loved Hong Kong there were sometimes I absolutely loathed it. I’m sure part of it was because I spent a good majority of my last pregnancy there and the humidity and “hills” were not friends to me. I would have to say that the worst thing about Hong Kong for me is that you didn’t have to speak Mandarin if you didn’t want to. One of the great things about living in Shanghai was that you were forced to learn the language...most of the taxi drivers didn’t speak a lick of English. If I’m going to be in a foreign country, then I want to be fully immersed, language and all! And I know that Hong Kong is a huge melting pot and their language of preference is Cantonese but after being in Shanghai for that long there was no way I was going to switch and learn Cantonese either! 

WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST?
Well, at this very moment I am terribly missing our dear helper, Tina, that was with us. She was like a family member to us and we all became really attached to her. However, we miss our Asian food! I love Oklahoma but we haven’t found any good Asian food here...and I love my Thai food. When we were overseas though, I missed the “ease” of things over in the US. Enrolling your kids in school, finding a decent house, going to the grocery store (and actually finding all that you need in one stop) and transportation! That’s not just one thing...but Oklahoma is easy to get around and that’s something you more than appreciate with small kids! BUT hands down we miss our good friends- and this is from all of our expat cities. There’s something about being thrown in a new city without knowing anyone but then meeting people that are so different from you, but yet living the same “expat life”. It’s a relationship that bonds you together quite quickly...you become each others’ family. A truly remarkable and amazing thing that made our journey even more special. 

WHAT DID YOU DO TO MEET PEOPLE AND INTEGRATE IN YOUR NEW HOME? 
The easiest way that I ever met people was through my kids. Even from my first week in Shanghai I met quite a few moms. When you’re in a big expat community it’s funny how quickly you meet other “moms” that are in the very same boat that you are in. And they too are quickly looking for new friends and you quickly have a bond that ties you together. I have NEVER here in Oklahoma met someone in a Starbucks or grocery store and then had a “playdate” or “coffee date” set up. It would be pretty much unheard of, but overseas in expat communities it happens all the time. And you know what- it was wonderful! I also found groups on social media (usually Facebook) or expat websites that were of interest to me. I can say that I never went to a “function” by myself back home but learned to rather quickly!

WHAT CUSTOM/HABITS DO YOU FIND MOST STRANGE ABOUT YOUR ADOPTED COUNTRY? 
Oh gosh where do I even start? I think the customs and habits that I found the most odd were in relation to being pregnant. I had one child in Shanghai and another in Hong Kong and those are pretty odd countries to have babies because our views in that department are completely different. As in not drinking cold water while pregnant. Hello- not that best plan for someone constantly on fire in hot and humid Hong Kong! Or the belief that you’re not supposed to leave the house after you have the baby...I got one too many nasty glares and “tskkks” while out with my newborns. As strange as it sounds, I got used to the things that usually stick out the most as odd- as in spitting, urinating in public, no cares for personal space, staring, asking to take pictures, etc., 

WHAT IS A MYTH ABOUT YOUR ADOPTED COUNTRY? 
I think the myth about Hong Kong that people always ASSUME is that it is CHINA. Technically yes, but it wasn’t for many years and most of the local Hong Kong people do not like to be associated with the country China (there were actually many different protests over this exact same thing...and quite recently). They have very much like building their own identity. 

IS THE COST OF LIVING HIGHER OR LOWER THAN THE LAST COUNTRY YOU LIVED IN AND HOW HAS THAT MADE A DIFFERENCE IN YOUR LIFE? 
What an amusing question! I always laugh because I think living in Tulsa, Oklahoma is a  significantly cheap place to live! Every time we were looking at houses in these other cities I laughed thinking about the size of a house we could have back home. Currently Hong Kong is listed as the #3 on the most expensive city to live in, while Shanghai is #10. Sydney has dropped out of the top 10 but it was in the top 10 while we were living there. Something you never get used to and I was constantly thinking of how much “this and that” would cost back home. Even bananas in Sydney were expensive...and don’t even get me started on the foreign food we bought in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Ugh! However, that being said, you learn to adapt and find food that is cheaper (sometimes from other countries). It may not be as good but sometimes it is. We also learned to adapt in living arrangements...our apartment in Sydney was tiny...in fact our master bedroom barely had enough room for our queen size bed! 

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER EXPATS? 
If I could give one piece of advice for other expats it would be to take this opportunity that you’ve been given (to explore and journey through another country) and live it up. Remember that you are in another country other than your own and things will be different but have an open mind about new cultures and new people and learn to appreciate such differences. If you don’t allow yourself to experience something new and different (as it will be) then you will find yourself being absolutely miserable. I saw way too many people that constantly compared the “well if this was back home” and “it’s just not the same” and they couldn’t ever get passed it. The only thing they saw was their end in time for their expat assignment. 

WHEN AND WHY DID YOU START YOUR BLOG? 

I actually started my blog when we first moved to Shanghai. I remember a friend telling me that it would be something fun to do. However, I fell out of it after a few months because it was impossible to get on any of the websites. I finally got a VPN towards the later part of our months in Shanghai but had given up on it. I then started it back up in Sydney. I wanted to remember all of our activities and adventures and more importantly wanted our boys to remember them. I cannot wait for them to look at this when they are older and relive these amazing memories. I already have so much fun doing it! ...and added bonus is sharing with friends and family members! 

And of course...have to leave off with a few fun pictures from each journey!










Sunday, December 7, 2014

Looking for Christmas Ideas....Madd Gear Scooters!







So one of the many things that I loved about living abroad is all of the fun people that we met...and from all parts of the world. Love getting to know people and find out what we have in common, even though you wouldn't think that you would.

Upon my first day at the boys old school, Hong Lok Yuen, I met a gal that was just starting to the school as well. Her boys were just, in fact, a few grades above Jack. Come to find out, she had lived in China as well. Then we ended up being on the same committees for school AND found out that we were both having babies and only a few weeks apart! Super fun! :) Now I had someone to yack with about my pregnancy complaints and such...I wasn't alone! (Our boys...and yes we both have 3 now, were only a few weeks apart. Would have been playmates had we stayed!)

This super fun family was originally from Australia, so, of course, easy going and laid back. What's not to love? Then come to find out they had their own company that sold scooters. Yep. Perfect. We ended up buying one for Jack last year at the school fair and it's been his favorite scooter thus far.

And let me just tell you...children are perfectly fine to start getting on those scooters by the age of 4. I remember when we moved to Sydney and kids were on them EVERYWHERE! Granted most people actually walk to school and around the little "suburbs" but great exercise. Jack has been scooting around on them for years now. He was actually much more a pro on the scooter than the bike for a long time. (Scooters are smaller; bikes not so much and SPACE in Asia is everything!).

Anyway- another great thing about this company MADD GEAR is that they sell their products right here in the good ole' USofA! I know for a fact that Wal-Mart and ToysRUs carry their products so they are very easy to find. And if you go to their website then you can easily locate the nearest store. AND FOR my overseas friends...they also sell them in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, parts of Europe and the UK so search and buy buy buy!

Okay, and I have to admit, this is a little sad, but can I tell you that a highlight of these items is how easy they were to put together! And what makes it easy...the allen key they provide. As the family member that puts 99% of such items together (including all those wretched IKEA items we bought in Asia) this is awesome. I cannot stand the other ones that hurt your hands and are a complete bugger to use. This one is perfect. They should all be like this.  Easiest one to use by far! (I.E. see pic here):
Sad I know but it's the little things in life that make you have a good day sometimes! 

Apart from the ease of putting these scooters together is they are extremely durable. Jack has had his first one for a year and he's ridden it hard. It's been scratched and knocked up against concrete walls, it's been rained on (even been through a few black rain storms!) and is still in excellent condition. I also ridiculously love the super fun colors- bright neons and cool designs. The prices are also pretty comparable to the other products and I can vouch for the product so I'm always willing to pay for quality, especially with as rough as my boys can be!!! 

They have the scooters and I also saw they have this Mini Drifter, (see HERE ) at ToysRUs. It's a mini bike...looks super fun! May have to get one of those for the boys too! 

Highly recommend these for your kiddos if you are Christmas shopping...and one last thing...go for the outdoor toys instead of the electronics...get your kiddos heads out of the iPads! 




Little scooter models! 



Friday, December 5, 2014

Phillip @ 6 Months






Ah my little angel, how is it even possible that you are having your 1/2 Birthday!?! I love every ounce of you and even though Daddy says I have given you enough kisses, I will say that there could never be enough for your darling face!

This week marks 6 months as well as your First Thanksgiving!...too bad you don't get to have any, even though I know you would love it! We are now in this funk because I don't think little one is getting enough to eat. He is starving! We have now upped his intake to adding fruit with his oatmeal in the morning and then adding an extra vegetable at night. I think that helped because last night he didn't wake up at all (this last week he's been waking up at least once to twice a night to nurse). Yes, I"m still nursing, but I'm pretty sure it's just because I can't quite let go. Last baby and I love this special bonding that we have together. Probably time to let it go though.

We did have our 6 month appointment with Dr. Gordon (did I mention he was also my pediatrician growing up!). He's AGAIN off the charts in height and weight. Were at 19.8 lbs and 29" long. :) Big boy big boy! Poor little pookie did have to have 3 shots. :( He was not a happy camper but over and done with. He usually only cries for about 30 seconds then immediately when I pick him up it's over. No more tears and back to happy baby.
I mean what's not to love about this boy!?!? 

Thanksgiving day..hanging out with Uncle Beau and big bro Jack!

Phillip is not quite crawling yet but he can sit up pretty well on his own. I think we have that about mastered. And he's still "ooching" all over the floor, though sometimes he goes backwards when he's trying to go forward. Guess we will work on that. And that also means that I have to now start baby proofing- especially the brick fireplace that has some not so fun corners. Eh.

He has mastered his walker though! Woo...watch out! He's a mad man in that thing until he gets stuck. The older boys love watching him and he loves chasing after him. I can only imagine in a month or so when he gets really quick. Bosco already knows to get out of the way! However, lil' one is a mess with all my Christmas decor. He LOVES finding the swag at the stairs or the tree and pulling on them...then I have garland pieces everywhere. He's a mess!

He is really funny with his noises and his facial expressions. He starts jibber jabbering and sticks his tongue out to one side. He may be like Jack and his Daddy and stick his tongue out when he's concentrating...guess we shall see. He's also started scrunching his nose up when and sniffing (kinda like a little bunny) when he's really excited or really upset. It's hysterically cute. I have to get it on video. It's just to much for me.

He really is the best baby though. He was up for almost 5 hours on Thanksgiving day and just happily laughed and entertained everyone without so much as a peep or cry. And still loves laughing and giving goofy smiles to everyone he sees. I love it too...I just think it's hilarious and heartwarming how much joy a little baby brings people. To watch all of these individuals and how each one reacts to a smile from a baby...it's both amusing (because some of them get pretty silly with their voices or actions to Phillip) and beautiful. Warms my heart!