One to Grow On

April 25, 2010

The Cotwolds and Singapore: Strange Bedfellows

Filed under: animals, children, food, Food Allergies, Great Britain, Singapore, travel — midway2go @ 7:28 am
  
When I imagined, from the relative luxury of my kitchen in Georgia, what this blog would be like I thought I would keep up with it nightly. I would sit down at the end of a full day, the children happily asleep in some other room, and recount tales of great adventure and humorous anecdotes of Rory and Nora on Foreign Land. My stunning and insightful photos would effortlessly fit into the narrative of my tale; indeed, they would be knitted seamelssly together. Well, ha, bloody, ha, as some fictitious Brit would say. I don’t think there has been one time when I’ve sat down and recounted the day afresh. Most nights I’ve collapsed into bed with the kids, falling asleep before they do (well, at least before Rory does). Other nights I’ve bemoaned the lack of internet access, although like now I can write on WordPad and copy and paste to WordPress later, so that’s a weak excuse. Mostly, I think, I just don’t have enough left at the end of a day filled with parenting two kids, planning ahead for travel and coping with the demands of day-to-day life on the move to record the miracles and nightmares as they happen.

 

So, here I sit, in a bed and breakfast in the Cotswolds in England, trying to change all that. I’m in a folding chair, hunched over the keyboard in the dark with the netbook propped on the side of a small dresser to be nearer to the eletrical outlet. Why am I here and not downstairs at the large, well-lit table, now that the kids are asleep? Good question. Be right back.   Okay, here I am. Our B&B, Tall Trees, in Stow-on-the-Wold has turned out to be not only comfortable and convenient but an amazing value. We have the whole upstairs of an annex to ourselves, and, since we’re the only guests, we have full run of the living area, the kitchen, and both patios. Perfect. I love this place. The town, like the whole region, is too cute to be believed. Honey-stoned buildings line each narrow street. Tiny purple flowers cascade out of chinks in drystone fences. Clipped grass, so green you want to nibble it alongside the sheep, fills every hollow. It’s lambing season. Daffodils and hyanciths bloom. Need I say more about the cuteness? It’s almost too much.   

Today we went to Snowshill Manor, the home of a collection of objects of a man named Charled Paget Wade. I say the home of his collection: he never lived in the house. He lived in a small home adjacent to the manorhouse. He bought the manor for his things to live in. He wanted to create a series of rooms in which the 22,000 objects in his collection could settle. He wanted to create another world to delight and enthrall his friends. He began collecting at the age of seven (this makes an enormous impression on Rory, aged eight). His grandmother had this old red Chinese cabinent filled with little knicknacks and treasures. If he was a very good boy the whole week and did as he was told and ate all his porridge he was allowed after church on Sundays to open the cabinent and touch some of the wonders within. From this grew his love of things.    

Charles Wade collected anything form any place and any time, provided it met three criteria: excellence in craftmanship, excellence in color, and outstanding something else (maybe design?). The resulting house was incredible. I had read that the rooms were crammed full with all manner of stuff with no plan or design. Now, to me, that means toasters piled up to the ceiling beside plows and saints reliquaries. Total chaos. But the roms didn’t feel that way at all. Maybe they would to a museum’s curator, but to me they made wonderful sense. All the things that were wheeled or moved or transported were together. All the oldest hand-woven rugs and coats of arms and saints relics hung in a foyer. In another room Chinese snuff jars and Japanese picnic boxes stood around bejeweled dressers from Italy. I thought it was wonderful, even though we had to leave halfway through to get Rory to a toilet and Nora pitched a fit, crashing after eating half of a pink mouse made entirely of sugar, and yelled her way through the amazing gardens.    

For those of you still reading, not just skipping on to the photos (so, my husband and his mother- thank y’all) you may wonder how we got to be here in the Cotswolds from North Carolina? What came before? Ah, well, that may have to wait. I want to go back even further to Singapore, our destination when we left Perth and the clear, logical flow of this blog. We had planned to spend maybe three nights in Singapore, but we stayed eight. Our first three days we spent just getting used to the idea of being in Asia. Our hostel, the Betel Box, was perfect, and Rory and Nora met some of the nicest folks in the world there while I tried to catch up on the Australia blog. Isn’t that funny? A group of (and I am not making this up) students from Uraguay who are doing their undergraduate degrees in Taiwan were there on break from classes, and they played Wii with Rory and Nora for hours. A couple named Rey and Eva from the Philippines showed the two of them incredible kindness. Really, the people we have met on the road have been the best part.    

After three nights we moved on to central Singapore, trading fabulous friends and facilites for location, location, location (and our room was no longer available). At Backpackers Central Hostel we had no windows in our tiny room, but we were just up the street from the Raffles Hotel, home of the Singapore Sling, across the street from a very convienent shopping mall, and walking distance to lots of places, like more shopping malls. It was alarming and oddly seductive. We became regulars at the Starbucks across the street (with the money we were saving in accomadation) and ate so many meals at the yellow plastic tables around the corner that the woman rolled her eyes when she saw us coming.    

I’m just about to it. The thing we had to face at least three times a day was Food. Singapore, mind you, is a city desgined to eat out in. No one cooks. Food is abundant, cheap, and delicious. It is also not dairy nor gluten free. I printed off cards carefully translated into Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai and Vietnamese that explained what we could and could not eat. I would show them to a prospective waiter or waitress. Usually we were asked to leave. This poor woman with the yellow plastic chairs foolishly agreed to take us on like a project, and we haunted her door. Before our time was up in town, though, it was clear we were all reacting to something we’d eaten, but who could ever say what? We’d had yummy vegatables swimming in brown sauces, boiled eggs so runny we had to crack them into a bowl and drink them, and coconut rice with a dried fish head and chili sauce for breakfast. Rory and Nora are still sniggering at the fish ball soup. We spotted in the grocery store a selection of of other balls: pork, beef, or beef tendon. Beef tendon balls? Food there existed in it’s own sphere. We were tourists, wierd Americans whose tastes and fancies could not be reckoned with. Why would they change a perfectly good recipe, made for ages just like that, for us? One time I ordered the vegetarian soup off a lunch menu. It had rice noodles and no soy sauce, so that seemed fine. Well, when it came it was full of rice noodles and tofu, yes, but my vegetarian soup also boasted shrimp, fish and chicken. Eating was definately a challenge. We’d be eating something so yummy and good, Rory would say, “you just know this is going to make us sick.” And it did.    

Still, we loved Singapore. We’re still talking about our day at the zoo. And, for the record, when I snapped the picture of the baboons in front of Rory they were not doing THAT. I also cannot say enough good things about the weather. I LOVE that climate. My skin, so tempermental and fussy, was creamy and soft and happy. My hair was almost curly (well, that may be a stretch). The back of the hostel, where the toilets cubbies and shower stalls were, were open, walled only to the waist. No glass, no screens. It felt like the rainforest or like camping. We’d stand there at the end of a long day, fresh from a cool shower, and we’d brush our teeth with bottled water, leaning our elbows on the wall and looking out at this huge city, this nation-state given over to high-rises and shopping and lattes. The air would be full even then of the sounds of bugs and birds calling in the heavy wet air, over the sounds of horns and voices shouting down the alley, and I couldn’t what world I was in. First? Third? Who cared? We loved it.   

    

April 4, 2010

Silence Explained

Filed under: children, Food Allergies, parenting, travel — midway2go @ 2:07 am

Blogging is kind of a tricky thing.  At least, it is with me.  Just about every post I’ve written has been delayed.  Maybe I was writing and posting about that day’s events in Japan, when we were young and enthusiastic and the internet connection was fast and free.  Ever since then the delay has waxed and waned like the moon.  And, now, here I am, with six weeks of No Blogs, and three continents of distance to account for.  How to begin?

Well, when we left Perth, Australia, on January 31st we headed to Singapore, thrilled but with reservations (no, not at a hostel…).  I was worried.   I knew from Japan that eating in Asia was going to be tougher than I had hoped.  In fact my cheerful optimism about coping with our food allergies was beginning to feel distinctly foolish and naive.  Despite weeks that were enjoyable in almost every other regard our time in southeast Asia was defined by trouble with food.   Darn that glutinous soy sauce.  Rory ended up with his food allergies triggered, then on top of that unhappiness picked up a case of traveller’s diarrhea by the time we got to Kuala Lumpur.  [More blogs to follow-soon!- on these places, I promise]  By Penang, in northern Malaysia, he had to get checked out by a doctor and was admitted to the hospital for monitoring.   We spent 3 nights in the hospital, and with every frenzied rush to the toilet my dreams of floating down the Mekong and strolling the streets of Llasa got dimmer and dimmer.  We spent 5 days at a luxury hotel in Penang, hoping that Rory would plump up overnight and waiting for Chinese New Year to blow over.   I think it was on the third day out of the hospital, when we were still struggling to get food that was “our kind” that Rory would eat and he was still losing weight, that I gave up and called Qantas to change our flights.  Rather than flying from Beijing to London in late spring we flew from Singapore to London February 19th.  We had 2 nights in London and on February 22 we arrived at my parents’ house in North Carolina.

For the last 6 weeks we’ve been on what Nora calls our “vacation” from our trip.  In many ways she’s so right.  We’ve slept in late, lazed around, eaten anything we wanted.  I’ve gotten a shockingly small amount of anything done. I haven’t managed to spruce  up my iPod or get to the dentist.  We have accomplished a few things.  Rory has regained some, although not all, of the 10 pounds he lost.  I got to see my children laugh with my grandmother one more time.   I cuddled with my cat Phoebe until my eyes were swollen shut from dander.  We were able to be here to support my parents when my father had knee replacement surgery.   We spent met up in the mountains with Brandon’s dad for a ski weekend (no skiing took place, though, thanks to a virus).  We got just enough snow for the kids to make a couple of tiny, tiny snowmen.   And my friend Jill’s baby just might recognize me; he lets me hold him, anyway, for which I am grateful.   These are not small things.

In three two days we set out again.  We’re flying into London to begin the third leg of our trip.  In my mind I used to think of this as one huge, year-long gig, and so this coming home in the middle was a big failure.  I think I’m starting to see that we’ve been going and coming for almost a year already, and that our travelling style may be a few months gone, a month home, over and over.   As we head out this time I’ll be going with bags packed a bit differently.  Rory and Nora will be going more confidently.  We’ll all be heading out with a more immediate sense  of connection to family and friends, and that’s fine by me.

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