The content of each post is solely written by that contributor and only expresses the contributor's personal views. Each post does not represent the views of all the contributors or Women of Color Living Abroad as an organization. Each contributor is speaking from their own person experiences and/or perspective.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dining Out In Penang, Malaysia: Georgetown's Gurney Drive

by Stephanie McCreary

When you love to travel and you love to eat, a lively outdoor food market is one of the highlights of any trip overseas. Asia has some of the best of them, offering cuisine that is often spicy and exotic, yet healthy and fresh.  With a seemingly endless variety of snacks, entrees, and desserts in every color, portion size, and flavor imaginable, they are pure pleasure to the palate, On a trip to Malaysia last year, I discovered Gurney Drive in Georgetown, the capital city of Penang Island. On the day I dined there, I ate a filling breakfast and a very light lunch anticipating that whatever I feasted on would be the star of the show. I spent the afternoon walking around the city center, brightly lit by the fiery golden sun. I popped into a Chinese temple and relaxed in its cool interior decorated with mirrors, a big gold Buddha, and a table full of candles. I walked past a mosque and did some window shopping, working up an appetite along the way. 

The sky soon grew dark and I had to find a way there. I found a three-wheeled rickshaw owned by an old, weathered man with leathery brown skin. I told him I needed to get to Gurney Drive. He said it would cost me thirty ringgits. I thought it was a bit much but climbed onto the seat anyway. The driver, weary and fatigued even before he started pedaling, churned his way through both quiet and busy streets, his breath heaving in puffs and starts until finally, after about thirty minutes, we arrived at our destination. There was a large shopping center with a Starbucks next to it and when the glittering lights of the food carts winked at me in shades of red I almost jumped from the rickshaw with excitement. It had been a long time since I had been to a food market like this. I tipped the man an extra five ringgits for his hard work before I got out and followed the glowing lights into the market.

A Malaysian Canadian friend of mine told me about Poh Piah, a type of spring roll, so I thought I would try that one. But first came the task of choosing which vendor to buy from since there were at least half a dozen of them. I casually walked by all of them before I made my selection. A very serious, almost stern looking man stood behind a cart. I smiled at him hesitantly, and he looked up warily for just a brief second as if to say, "If you're not buying, I'm not smiling". He looked away and focused again on the work of preparing the rolls.  This guy must know what he’s doing, I thought. After ordering I watched him fill two paper thin egg roll wrappers with finely crumbled tofu, red chili sauce, fresh lettuce leaves and steamed turnips. He then cut them into quarters before putting them into a small paper container and into my hands The result was a light and fresh vegetarian appetizer that only set me back about three ringgits, or one dollar. 

What would I have next? I walked in between two rows of hawker stalls, all selling equally delectable looking foods. There were people sitting around plastic tables, wooden chopsticks in hand, chatting with one another between bites of yellow noodles swimming in rich, dark sauces sprinkled with dried chili flakes or chili garlic sauce. I could hear the joyful, shameless slurping of the broth of wonton soup. I took it all in, waiting for my entree to call to me. I walked past more diners and more carts, until I saw a woman eating what looked like a large, blunt triangular piece of fish, grilled until golden and smothered in red spices. I walked over and asked her what it was.

                "It's stingray," she replied.
                "Where did you get it?" I asked, practically salivating.

She pointed in the direction of the vendors. I thanked her and ambled over toward a husband and wife team. The husband manned the grill, his face damp with sweat while the wife tended customers.  A huge open freezer displayed giant tiger prawns, crabs, and stingray, all lying atop a bed of big, glittering ice cubes. I waited patiently behind two people standing in front of me.  When it was my turn the woman looked at me and nodded in acknowledgment.

               "I'll have the stingray, one piece, please."
               "Twenty!" she shouted, her voice thin and raspy.

I handed her the money and she told me to come back in fifteen minutes. I strolled through the night, relishing the cool ocean air, watching people as they ate and drank. Twenty minutes later I returned to cart number fifty-seven. The lady gave me the plate, loaded with the massive piece of fish, smothered and marinted in red chilli sauce. My mouth began to water and I couldn't find an empty seat fast enough. As soon as I did, I ripped off the paper on my chopsticks, broke them apart and tore a long piece off the top of the fillet. The fish was light and the flavor peppery. At first I could handle it, but after awhile the heat proved to be too intense. I took the small pack of tissues I purchased earlier out of my handbag and dabbed my forehead with one. Soon I was breathing fiercely, and my packet of tissues was empty. I ate some more, resting in between bites until I finished the fish, which cost me about six dollars.

Noodles are a staple all over Asia so I decided to browse the hawker stalls for my last course of the evening. I saw a lot of people eating curry mee. Also called laksa, this is a spicy soup with either chicken or shrimp, sprouts, noodles, sliced boiled eggs and a spoon full of chili sauce. I ordered shrimp curry mee for six ringgits, or about two dollars. I took one sip and put just a little drop of the sauce in before getting rid of the rest. It provided a comforting, soothing end to a stimulating evening of eating and people watching.

If you're in Malaysia and you love food markets, don't miss Penang's Gurney Drive. Even if you don't eat anything you'll have a great time enjoying the atmosphere and if you do, you won't spend more than $10-$15 to taste a variety of great local foods that might be hard to get back home.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Happy (Lunar) New Year--Celebrating the Korean Way

By:  Brittany S

In the Western world, the tradition of gathering with friends and complete strangers alike and bringing in the new year.  In some public setting in slacks with button-ups and sequined cocktail dresses, thousands of people gather with flutes overflowing with the bubbly toasting to "out with the old, in with the new" hopes.  Other circles gather in churches or family homes to count down the new year.  Wherever they may be, the new year watch party takes place December 31-January 1, every year, without fail.

But this is the way in the West.

In the Eastern world, some countries celebrate a different (or an additional) new year, a day determined by a lunar calendar (the "standard" calendar to date is a solar calendar).  This means that the day isn't marked by an annual date perse (every Jan 1 for instance), but it rotates.  This year, Lunar New Year was Sunday, February 10.  And I celebrated it with a Korean family.

Think of this as Korea's national "birthday cake"  (Courtesy: Koreanbapsang.com)

"Seollal" (설날) is the first day of the Lunar calendar.  It is traditionally a 3-day holiday (a day both before and after the new year are a part of the holiday).  It is a holiday in which distant relatives return home to celebrate the new year with their extended families.  Although it is not as popular as it once was, many Koreans still dress in the traditional "hanbok" (한복)to the ancestral ceremonies (or at least more formal attire).  They eat "tteokguk" (떡국) or rice cake soup for good luck and to acknowledge becoming another year older.  (Eat this and age a year!)  Other dishes served during Seollal include galbijjim (braised short ribs), japchae (glass noodles with sautéed vegetables), Korean pancakes, hangwa (traditional sweets and cookies), and about a dozen other side dishes of various kinds of fresh vegetables, meat and fish.

Me stuffed in my (tiny) boss' hanbok one day before work.
Koreans perform "sebae" (세배) or a formal bowing ceremony in front of the family's elders.  They sit at the feet of the elders (starting with the eldest), perform one deep bow, say "saehae bok mani badeuseyo"  (새해 복 많이 받으세요--loosely translates to "have a blessed new year"), then sit and wait for words of wisdom and encouragement from the elders.  Elders also give "sebae don" (세배 돈) or pocket money for good luck in the new year as a reward for this gesture.

So what does this all have to do with me?  Well, this year, Eun Hwa (은화, my Korean name) celebrated as well!  One of my friends invited me to celebrate the holiday with her family.  I felt humbled and honored that she would let me share in that tradition, particularly because my Korean language skills are so limited.  I traveled to Cholwon, a small town near the DMZ (the border between the Koreas) and stayed with her in her parents' home.  I was a bit jittery (as I always am when with a Korean family) that I would mess up a custom, offend or at the very least annoy someone with my ignorance.  I was vaguely familiar with the holiday but had never celebrated it.  Plus this was my first time meeting her family and I would be meeting about 20+ people at once!  But my friend was by my side (most of the time) and helped me feel at ease.

A HUGE mountain that spanned practically everywhere we went in Cholwon!
It is a custom to bring a gift (usually food) to the host, but due to the length of travel and my confused jetlagged state (I had only been back in the country for a couple of days), I didn't purchase one of the many Seollal gift sets and grabbed a bag of fruit from my home instead.  Her mother graciously accepted and prepared dinner for us all (her husband, daughter, son, and me).  Afterwards I played "Rummikub" with my friend and her father.  He is such a relaxed person that he made me feel right at home.  We retired to our room for the night and prepared for bed.  This was my first sleepover in a Korean home! :-)

Probably the most unexpected gift set in my American mind.  This thing costs around $35USD!                            (Courtesy: Koreatimes.co.kr)

I thought the bed was very interesting.  It was elevated to the same height to which I am accustomed, but it was not a mattress; more like a boxspring.  It was an electrically heated box in a sense.  It was so warm!  It incorporates the Korean tradition of sleeping on the floor with the Western tradition of sleeping in a bed.  I'm glad I pulled the covers back before I hopped in bed!  I would have really hurt my knees! :-)  The bathroom was unfamiliar to me as well.  The washing machine was next to the toilet, there was plenty of storage space within the bathroom, and there was no sink, but a low faucet about shin height.  Wondering where the shower is?  There is a showerhead attached to the faucet and the entire floor is shower-friendly tile.

If I were to describe a boxspring for a bed and a faucet for a shower to my family, I'm sure some of them (and perhaps some of you) would think I was in a poor house.  That isn't the case at all.  This family has everything they need and then some.  They have more cows than I could count (almost all of which stood up when I walked out to visit them; how respectful hehe) and a few other animals, they have a hearty family business, have traveled and lived abroad, and the list goes on.  Being with them made me question what measures I (or we as Westerners or Americans) use to gauge poverty or being "well-off."  My apartment has a stand-alone shower but is the size of a dorm room.  This family owns a house and land in a country where apartments are the norm.  It also made me consider what luxuries are and how other things can easily serve as alternatives to them.  Their bathroom was almost the size of my apartment!  Who needs a separate section for a shower when you have all of that!?
All cows stood for me except the brown one.  "How now brown cow!?"

The next morning (at 8am) we went next door to one of her aunt's houses to gather with her father's side of the family.  We had a small church service followed by "sebae" and breakfast.  I was asked to participate in sebae as well.  They even gave me sebae don.  I felt as much love from her entire family as if I was her sister.  And all of this without a sentence of English!  From there we went to her family's church (where I sang along with everyone using my new Korean/English bible/hymnal duo) followed by dinner with her mom's side of the family.  Let me just go on record as saying her grandma is ADORABLE!  She was so tiny and I could see the joy in her face as her legacy sat around her.  We performed sebae again, ate dinner, and sat around joking and enjoying each other's company.  Apparently I now need to start dating someone in the family so I can marry one of them. :-)

In the morning, we returned to her grandma's to have breakfast and say goodbye to everyone.  My friend and I headed back to our respective cities and as I was leaving, the family wished me safe travels, gave me a loving hug, and hoped I would return soon.
Sometimes Sebae Don is given in a small pouch.  Ours wasn't, but traditions evolve.  (As seen on:  roryandjamie.com)

I think I found another Korean family!

"Saehae bok mani badeuseyo!"

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Scared Traveler: Saying Goodbye

The more I travel and strike up new friendships the more I have to part ways with those I find who have become my family. Growing up a middle child I never had an inkling of a feeling to be the focus of anyone’s attention. Maybe I did suffer from the fated middle child syndrome. The perpetual need to be in one’s own company due to lack of attention from those around you. As I've gotten older I find no need to abide by social rules when it comes to mere socializing with unfamiliar people. I've been regarded as standoffish and a social outcast among those that are the beautiful people of such circles. Having such a nature I take it to heart when inviting someone into my inner sphere. Those that I have gotten to know have come to realize like themselves I can be chatty, witty (sometimes) and an all around pleasant person whose company you can enjoy. When they are given the stamp of approval in my head I treat them like family, and will listen to them and give advice when needed.

Therefore, I have sought friends I can treat like family, and be able to share as I would those I'm connected to by blood. Living aboard I was lucky to find people not to share false acquaintances with, but to share true ideas and emotions. At times the relationship wasn't perfect, but what relationship has not been blemished. Through these friendships I've held council with those that offered the realist of advice, without the intention of offending, but with the goal of offering fresh perspectives to my troubled mind. I’ll be forever grateful to the few people that have touched my life, and they will be those that I will call on. For choosing such good friends of like mind, I was able to have wonderful experiences with them that I shall cherish for a lifetime.

Parting is such sweet sorrow (Romeo and Juliet Act 2 , Scene 2, 184) William Shakespeare
Going away day for celebrated with friends.
A quote I’m reminded of when I part with a friend I've come to share so much with. When having to part with people in our lives there is always a bitter-sweet feeling that’s consumes us, and cause for public displays of emotions. Images of the past cloud our minds of those that have captured our hearts in friendship. It seems as if we loose something in that moment of letting them go from our lives. Although, so much has been gained from the shared time it still doesn't lessen the blow we feel when saying goodbye. I'm no expert at goodbyes, and feel a sense of loss. No longer, are there moments when we laugh together in the same room nor of the vernaculars of each other’s home country we practice. These bitter-sweet moments are lost in a time we’ll never forget, but cherish each moment in each other’s presence that slips away every second that passes. Within one year, I will say goodbye to another friend I referred to as my family living aboard. Although, I'm dreading the passing of time, I know I can’t turn back time to enjoy being with each amazing person I met here in a foreign land.

For those finding themselves loosing such amazing people with the constant changing of time. Here are some helpful tips I use to help me cope with another friend moving somewhere else in the world.

*  Skpye, Yahoo Messenger, MSN messenger, Facebook,Kakao, What’s App and Viber will keep you in constant contact with those that are far from you.

*  Surrounding yourself with other people that you allow in your inner sphere will keep the feelings of loss at bay.

*  Use free time that was once occupied by others for learning, exploring or embracing something totally different it develops itself into a hobby.

*  Stay positive by your entire outlook on life. Everything is not a rose garden with delightful smells. Therefore, being positive about all things will give you clarity to your every changing life.

*  Look towards your future, as one day you will be moving on to better things that will make your heart content with all the experiences you have experienced on the journey you embarked upon.
Lewis, Courtney, Nas and Myself at Incheon Airport
I'm following these ideas to keep my mind in such a state I've a positive outlook on all things in my life. It’s not a perfect work of art when it comes to such things, but I don’t wallow in my changing circumstance. But I embrace all the experiences I've had that have made me such a person that my memories are those that I cherish to heart. When people enter and leave my life, I'm forever grateful and changed from that experience. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Raising Global Citizens: Our Hopes and Hardships

By:  eternitysojourner

After drifting asleep in the car, my daughter woke up sleepy-eyed in Muscat.  Not sure where we were, she asked “Suwayq?” “No, sweetie, we’re going to Suwayq on Monday.”  “Ma-wocco?”  “No, we’re not going to Morocco today but maybe later”.  At two, she can’t quite understand what ‘next month’ or ‘next year’ means.  She does not yet realize the reality of how far or near places are but as I flip through the pages of her worn little passport, I wonder at want point will she begin to realize how blessed she is to see many places that most have only dreamed of.

While parenting is an adventure in itself, parenting abroad is like an adventure on wheels.  What or where ‘home’ is is a blurry concept and it takes a strong family bond to ride out the constant waves of transition.  As parents raising young children abroad, we’re sometimes branded as ‘selfish’ for torturing our own parents, forcing them to travel long distances to see their grandchildren in between annual summer visits.  Some brand us as ‘opulent’ for actually traveling to learn about new countries as opposed to picking up books and Hollywood movies in their place.  Some consider us down-right crazy and irresponsible for taking our children to developing countries where ‘all those poor and diseased people live.’  In the fraternity of families abroad you find a variety of folks who may be all or nothing of what others assume but in my circle of fellow parents, we seem to have common aspirations and frustrations with our life abroad.

The advantages of a childhood abroad can be tangible and appealing.  Young children can learn about cultures, languages, and world history in the context of where they live, as opposed to textbooks and tutors.  Authentic connections can be made with others before learned biases set in and make color, race, and religion points of difference.  Traveling matures children and gives ample opportunity to learn flexibility, adaptability, and agility in the face of life’s unexpected surprises.  Many of us find a better quality of life abroad and actually spend more time with each other, cultivating a home life and a vivid montage of memories for our families to savor for years to come.

One sacrifice that seems to hit us all pretty hard is the distance from our extended family.  Virtual grandparenting is challenging.  Children grow in leaps and bounds from summer to summer and no time is enough time every single vacation.  The luxury of sending children to Grandma and Grandpa for the weekend or even a night is forfeited in place of finding trustworthy babysitters and friends or simply opting for a night in as opposed to a night out for a date.  Depending on where you reside, you may not always find common principles and practices in parenting.  Varied notions of discipline, different styles and standards of education, and the role of children in society may not agree with your understanding and experience.  Even at the playground or in the neighborhood, if your child looks unlike their peers or don’t share the same language, making friends and finding playmates may be a hurdle too.

In coping with all of the challenges it entails, many families abroad have to seek out strategies to keep the wheels of our life abroad churning.  Some set up social groups or clubs for expat families to find a familiar haven when you need a break from being the foreigner.  Some rely on media tools like Skype, Whatsapp, and Viber to stay in touch with loved ones back home.  Some fly relatives over for visits to make the time abroad shrink just a bit.  Between care packages, video chatting, and fellowship around familiar foods, we make it through.  Sometimes other expats become stand-in family members while we’re abroad.  Just last month, our family along with two other American families met up in Abu Dhabi.  The long drive and border drama were not beyond the lengths we would go to be a family for each other.  We go out of our way to help each other and bolster one another on this journey.

As true as the etymology itself, there is no ‘utopia.’  Every place and circumstance has its benefits and challenges.  Life ain’t all rosy abroad but neither is it back home.  An economic downturn, rising costs of living, and mass shootings are enough to make our countries feel less homely and inviting.  Out of all our relatives, we own the least but financially have the most because we are debt-free.  Some of our dreamy goals and idealistic values are better actualized on the other side of the planet, making the sacrifices worthwhile not only for ourselves but also for our children.  Whether at home or abroad, our hope is that the compassionate, peace-loving, globally-minded citizens we raise today will become the pioneers of a better world tomorrow.

Being able to choose a life abroad is a gift which helps us, humbles us, and sometimes hurt us, but it is not in vain.  While my daughter may not have roots in any particular land just yet, it’s more important that she has wings. Allegiance to any one place shouldn’t prevent her from trying life elsewhere because who knows- she just mind find happiness, peace of mind, and security on the other end of a plane ride.
Photo credit:  Labinsky