Tag Archives: overseas

Buccaneers!

 

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In Sint Maarten, there a lot of airy little restaurants on the water. Today’s destination for the American University of the Caribbean spouse’s crew was Buccaneer Beach Bar. Despite its name, this is actually a great place to take kids. It’s right on the beach, and the water is shallow. It’s also a calm area, even on days when other areas of the island have big waves.

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They also have a delicious assortment of non-alcoholic drinks in addition to their bar menu, and classic beachy food.

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If you make it to SXM, make sure you visit one of our on-the-beach restaurants! Who doesn’t want to lounge on a beach chair with a plate of fries and a glass of something cool and sweet?

 

 

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We saw this tiny stingray lazily drift around the bay

Transitioning Overseas with Ease

Moving overseas is a momentous operation. But it does not need to be a miserable one! There are many things that you can do to make your big move easier and happier. Before I made my first big overseas move, I worked for a company that operated internationally. As part of my job, I briefed and trained interns who were heading overseas for a few months or years. I learned a lot in the process and soaked up insight from my husband, who has made five major international moves in his life. And when I finally had my chance to go, I learned for myself what it’s like to transition cultures and countries.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way. Everyone has different experiences, and I’d love to hear your stories and insights in the comments, too.

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  1. Expectations. This is the single most important thing to consider when you’re moving overseas, especially if you’ve never visited that place before. The truth is, your expectations define your experiences. They are the biggest culprit in relationship breakdown and disappointment in general. Before you go, write down your expectations so that you know what they are. Read them over and remind yourself that you have a 99% chance of every one of those things being different than you think! For example, I was totally convinced that I would get fresh mangoes off the tree every day in Sint Maarten. Not so– everything is imported. Try to prepare yourself for this sort of thing. Have as few expectations as possible. Be open to new and surprising things, and make it fun.
  2. The big fights. One side effect of leaving is that you will find yourself experiencing tension with the ones you love most. Don’t worry; you’re not losing your mind. This is normal– and knowing that makes big blow-ups avoidable. The inclination to fight is your subconscious’ way to make leaving people easier. Obviously, it has the opposite effect. Remember that the people you are leaving are experiencing loss, too, as they say goodbye. Have grace for others, and ask them to have grace for you.
  3. Saying goodbye. Saying goodbye is hard, but closure is important. Let people know you’re going. Meet with friends and make plans to keep in contact.
  4. What you need to pack. What you need to bring? Probably nothing more than yourself and your passport. Of course, your clothes and books are nice to bring, too. As you prepare to go, redefine “need” and “want” in your mind so you can judge what will be helpful to you and what will be cumbersome. Be sure to bring a few things that will remind you of home– maybe some photographs. Don’t spend a ridiculous amount of money toting the entire contents of your home across the ocean when you can replace it for cheaper when you get there.
  5. Your first day. The last thing you should do when you land is go to your new home and surround yourself with American (or Canadian, or whatever) things and people. Even if you’ve been on a plane for fourteen hours, try to spend your first couple hours on the ground immersing yourself in the culture. Go shopping. Take a walk downtown. Ride the bus. And remember that the faster you force yourself to adapt to a new time zone, the faster the jet-lag will wear off.
  6. Staying sane. Culture stress is a real thing. Some people feel it quickly, others don’t. Generally, most people experience the “honeymoon stage” for about three months and then go downhill from there. Rock bottom is at two years, and then things start to look up. However, charts and graphs can’t define your experience. This journey is what you make it, and somehow you’ll have to survive the bad days and the homesickness. Go exploring, try out restaurants, shop where the locals shop. Journal regularly, and start a blog so your friends back home can follow your adventures. Skype friends and family regularly. Write lists of what you love about this place. Write lists of what you hate and turn them into positives.
  7. Take care of yourself. Unfortunately, people take advantage of foreigners. We see this in our home countries, and it’s just as true anywhere else. Being taken advantage of can range from being quoted the “white price” on buses to date rape and muggings. Learn what the safe and dangerous places are, get to know local prices, and don’t take unnecessary risks.
  8. Feel what you feel. Not what you think you’re supposed to feel, not what your boyfriend thinks you should feel, not what a “strong” person would feel. Adjustment is hard. And that’s OK.
  9. Have Fun! With all of these points on how to survive an international move, it might sound like I think moving overseas is a drag. But transitioning to a new place can be a lot of fun! Enjoy yourself. Take a thousand and two photos. Try things you’ve never done before.
  10. Community. Without community, you will have a tough time feeling at home. Build community with other expats in your area. Make friends with locals, too. Both are essential for being truly integrated in your new home. Find a church, find a club, invite people over.
  11. Get involved. Becoming part of the community and culture around you will bring you joy and save you from many days of loneliness and wishes of a return ticket home. Some of my friends and I volunteer a few days a week to tutor kids with a local program. This really was the best thing we’ve done on this island– we were all feeling a little lost and isolated until we started focusing on something other than our own lonely selves. A sense of purpose brightens life anywhere you are.
  12. Understand the culture. The best gift you can give to yourself is the ability to understand the place you are living in. Learn the basics– how to properly greet people, what is decent apparel, and how to get around. New cultures can be frustrating at first, but remember that just because things are different it doesn’t mean that they are wrong. In the end, you’ll have fun as you achieve little cultural victories and begin to be able to understand and use the new language or dialect around you.
  13. Be a good expat. Represent your country and culture well. I wrote a blog post on this that’s worth reading.

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Looking for more? Here are a few other posts from my blog that you might find helpful! You can also check out my list of favorite expat blogs.

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The Perspective of a Painter

If you take a stroll down the Rue de la Republique of Marigot on the island of Saint Martin, you will find a tall, 200-year-old building with red gingerbread doors and shutters. On most days, the doors and windows are flung open to allow passersby to admire vibrant artwork within. This is the art gallery of Sir Roland Richardson.

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It’s a Thursday, the day when the gallery is most interesting. On Thursdays, Roland paints portraits. Today, my friend Stacey is the chosen model, and I have come to watch.

Roland welcomes us inside his gallery and begins to show us around. The first thing that catches our attention is the bright reds and oranges of the flamboyant trees in Roland’s paintings. As he opens the gingerbread shutters, sunlight floods the gallery and illuminates the artwork– a scattering of flowers on this canvas, a still-life print on the shelf, a field of sunflowers on that canvas. Roland tells us that every single painting in his gallery was done from life. “If I’m not looking at it, I don’t paint it,” he says. For Roland, a painting is a historical object. He doesn’t want to invent something that doesn’t exist; he doesn’t want to extrapolate on a photograph. He wants to capture a moment in time.

We can see that he captures moments in the most beautiful way.

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Roland continues to set up shop, and we wander into the garden. The back wall of the garden is perfectly picturesque; it is one of the island’s oldest buildings, a French barracks that housed the army while they built Fort Louis. The garden itself is charming. We admire the voluptuous tropical flowers and chat with some of the other gallery guests.

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It is late in the morning, and the tourists begin to trickle in. Roland welcomes them with his usual zeal and immediately begins to instruct on art and light. He sets a prism on the sidewalk outside and snatches up a blank canvas to capture the rainbow it throws into the room. Light is everything to us, he explains, because it defines everything we can see. Except for the things within our reach, the only reason we can know anything exists is because of light.

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He gestures to the rainbow on his canvas. While our minds think we see seven colors, he says, there are really only three: red, yellow and blue. In religion, there is the Trinity, and in the physical world, there are three dimensions. In the world of light and color, there are the primary colors. Light goes back, it goes forward, and it goes outward in a glow. Three dimensions, and three elements to light.

Roland’s wife, Laura, arrives to manage the gallery, and Roland takes leave of his visitors. Up the stairs we go. On the second floor, There is still more art– mostly portraits. Roland sets up his canvas and tries every combination of shadow in the room to find the perfect light in which to paint Stacey. We open and close all the windows and all the doors until he is satisfied with a soft, sunlit glow from one side of the room. He focuses for a moment on his subject and then on his canvas, tracing invisible shapes on its surface with his hands. “The first gestures to me are the most important, because it is the way the subject wants to appear in the space you have,” he explains. The canvas, he tells us, is a unique space. in order to create art on the canvas, you cannot simply determine what you want to put there. Part of the art of painting is the art of discovery. You must discover how the subject wants to fit within the space of the canvas; you must draw it out of the canvas. “A painting is not a picture of something. A painting is a thing in itself.”

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The first strokes of the master are light, but strong; purposeful, but free. I watch in fascination as the image appears on the canvas. Roland talks as he works, explaining what he does and why. He works on all the pieces of the painting simultaneously so that it can grow naturally. That’s how babies grow, he says– the whole foot doesn’t develop first and then a leg and so on. A painting can’t develop that way, either.

To Roland, painting is not just an art. It is not simply a form of self-expression. “Self expression is not art,” he states. No, art is something more than that. Art is something spiritual. “I believe that paintings are an essential aspect of humankind that is really unique and that an awareness of the importance of art…is intended to nourish our beings. Our spirits.”

My mind ruminates on this thought as Roland continues his work. Art really does nourish our spirits. Supposing that the universe is random and has no meaning, then what is the purpose of beauty, and why are we drawn to beautiful things? We inherently love sunsets and recoil from spiders. God placed something within our souls that craves beauty. And He created beauty all around us. Beauty in our lives is the thumbprint of God on the world; it is His signature. Every flitting butterfly and every turquoise hummingbird whispers to us that God loves us and that there is a meaning to life.

My thoughts are interrupted as a group of students from nearby school enter the studio. They are part of an art class, and they are here to interview Roland for a school project.

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“Why did you decide to become an artist?” asks one student. Roland turns from his work, fistful of brushes in hand. “You don’t decide to become an artist,” he says. It is not a decision. It is a calling. Being an artist is more than simply a job, he says. It is the purpose that the Creator made him for. He tells the story of how he became the first St. Martin-born professional painter, from the seventeen-year-old painting his very first piece to the successful artist he is today.

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The students finish their questions, say goodbye, and file down the stairs. The painting is becoming more and more lifelike. With every stroke, it becomes more Stacey. As he paints, Roland tells us the difference between painting a person and painting anything else. With an object, you can decide what you are looking at. With a person, you must discover what you are looking at. Painting through discovery brings respect to the human subject, he admonishes. This strikes me as profound, and I wonder if biographers and photographers also think this way. Perhaps if we all approached one another in this way– not just in painting, but in everyday life– we would have more grace and respect for one another.

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It is now mid-afternoon, and the shafts of light angle differently through the windows than they did when the canvas was still white. The room is airy, and I can smell the sweet fragrance of the garden flowers. Outside, the bells break through the sound of downtown traffic to chime three o’clock. Roland puts the finishing touches on Stacey’s blue eyes. He invites her to come see. A smile lights up her face as she sees herself in fine art on the canvas. It really is beautiful.

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We take in a few more quick lessons on art and color from the artist, bid him goodbye, and emerge from the cool of the studio to the warm sunlight of the West Indies. Time ticks on, the bustle of town swallows up the moments. The ferry pulls out of port, someone is born, and someone dies. But upstairs in the studio, a moment of time is forever captured and will never be forgotten.

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Reasons I Like Living Overseas

Those of us in the expat/foreign student category can name a lot of reasons why we chose to live overseas. I’m sure the most common answer is “I wanted to experience a different culture.” We talk about the people we interact with, the things we see, the food we eat. But reasons why one benefits from life overseas goes so far beyond just the obvious, beyond the great Instagram moments and the postcards home. Here is a list of some of the reasons why I think living overseas is great.

  1. Power outages
  2. Less choice in the grocery store
  3. The water goes out now and then
  4. Language barrier
  5. Transportation issues
  6. Frustrating cultural nuances
  7. Fewer people you can relate to
  8. That whole confusing English-metric conversion problem
  9. It’s not as safe

Pause. You’re wondering, why are these positive things? Aren’t these some of the reasons why most people never move internationally? Probably. But I would argue that they are also some of the best things that you will experience while living overseas.

  1. Power outages

Power outages are arguably the most annoying part of my daily life. We have weeks where the power stays on for days at a time and other weeks where I spend three hours every afternoon with no power– thus no internet, no AC, no cooking. The whole island is on the same power grid, so if something goes out, the whole island suffers. This is with the exception of the medical school, which has its own reliable generator. Our apartment, however, is at the mercy of the power grid. While it bugs me, this has made my life better in a few ways. First, it teaches me to be more flexible. If I have plans that require power, they have to change. That’s all there is to it. My attitude doesn’t change the fact that we have to eat cereal for dinner. But I can choose to have an enjoyable bowl of cereal by iPhone light or to have a miserable cereal dinner by iPhone light. I’m learning to go with the flow. Secondly, lack of technology forces me to look around and remember all the other thing I can do! Reading, games, art… sometimes it’s good to take away the digital options! Also, the power outages bring us together. We all open our doors to let cooler air in, drop in to a neighbor’s apartment to see if we blew a fuse or if the power is out everywhere, and stop to have conversations.

Steel Drums in the Caribbean
Steel Drums in the Caribbean

2. Fewer options in the grocery store.

Personally, I like this because it make shopping quicker. With fewer brands and options, I can pick choose what I need and move on. It also makes my cooking more basic and my cupboards less crowded. I know what my staples are, I know what they ought to cost, and I know what I can make from them. Easy.

Click here to learn how to make this
Click here to learn how to make this

3. The water goes out now and then

Honestly, I really don’t like this. It’s gross to have dirty dishes pile up in the sink. It has, however, taught me to prepare and have a few jugs of water in case of emergency. Also, it makes me grateful for having running water at all. It makes me respect people who don’t have running water and work hard to make life work without it.

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Tanzanian school (Click to learn about our nonprofit Bariki Africa)

4. Language barrier

I interact daily with people who speak English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and/or Mandarin. Most people here speak enough English that I can communicate with them. My biggest struggle, honestly, is the heavily-accented Caribbean English that many people use. It’s terrible, but I struggle to understand foreign accents. It’s embarrassing. I have so many uncomfortable moments in buses and at stores! I’m grateful for this, though. It teaches me to go out of my comfort zone and learn to communicate. It forces me to assimilate my ears to local speech. Someday, when I move to a country without much English, I’ll be forced to learn to communicate on a whole new level. The result of this will be learning a new language. And that, of course, is a wonderful thing!

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Cream of Wheat… I think?

5. Transportation issues

We have decided to live here without a car. I am so grateful for my friends who have cars and take me to the store and everywhere else I go! Besides those who let me grab a ride, my only other option is a bus. We live in Cupecoy, an area with mostly resorts and dining and few locals. Therefore, the taxis come often but the buses are unpredictable. If I want to go somewhere by myself, my options are to wait as long as it takes for a bus to come or walk a mile through a golf course along the road to Maho, where buses come more often. I usually choose the golf course. Once on the bus, getting somewhere is not too bad. I did have a bus driver make me get out in the middle of traffic and then holler at me for not standing in the middle of the road to close the door. Other than that, it’s been alright. Certainly less convenient than having my own car. But in many ways, it’s better. First of all, I get to spend time with my friends when we carpool. I love that. Secondly, when I bus it, I get to be a part of normal life on the island. I meet people I’d otherwise never meet. I get to talk to the bus driver and hear his or her story. I get to learn island etiquette better. Want to be a local and not a long-term tourist? Take the bus.

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6. Frustrating cultural nuances

I took a few intercultural courses in undergrad. I remember that we once played a game representing a foreigner in a new culture. We were told some of the rules, but not all of them. We had to figure out the rest based on the behavior and reactions of the players who knew all the rules. That really is what it’s like when you live in a foreign culture. People tell you the obvious differences, but not the more subtle ones. You can let this drive you nuts or you can treat it like a puzzle to be solved. In the process, you’ll get some weird looks, maybe even some dirty looks, but you’ll also build relationships. Come in as a learner, with smiles and shrugs and apologies, and people will often be willing to laugh with you and help you learn. Expand your comfort zone! Step out into new boundaries, and enjoy making those mistakes and earning those little cultural victories. In Sint Maarten, locals greet each other formally with “good morning” or “good afternoon” as soon as they enter a new place. It has (finally) become a habit for me, and I’ve had great conversations with the local employees at AUC and people around town because I’m more capable of communicating respect the way they do.

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More on this in my post Dear American Tourists 

7. Fewer people you can relate to

Just because you seem to have absolutely nothing in common with another person doesn’t mean you can’t learn to relate to them. Widening your definition of what it means to connect with another person allows more people into your life. Diversity is a good thing! Expand your horizons. One thing I love about living here is that most of my acquaintances are from vastly different backgrounds than my own. I can learn so much.

Coat of arms sign in Berne, Indiana
Coat of arms sign celebrating history and culture in Berne, Indiana

8. That whole confusing English-metric conversion problem

Thanks, America, for having a complicated measurement system that is entirely different from the rest of the world! I’m still not sure this is actually a benefit. And I do love my dual-system measuring cup. However, I think I will be forced into learning how to operate in either system– and maybe even be able to do rough conversions in my head.

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9. It’s not as safe

During my rather limited international travel experiences, people in the U.S. have often fretted to me, “But it’s not safe!” “Africa is not safe!” “What if you get malaria?” “Why would you move out of the country? Isn’t that unsafe?” Even, “Be careful of those Islams over there.” I know they mean well but… really? This American obsession with safety is why schools have to have a specific number of inches between the wood chips and the seat of a swing or risk being written up by a safety inspector. To be honest, I’m not too worried about foreign diseases, all my Muslim friends and acquaintances are pretty cool people, and sometimes “safe” is boring. Why else do people jump out of airplanes for fun? I think the biggest thing here is redefining “safe.” In the U.S., we work so hard to stay safe and secure– we probably tend to go overboard, actually. Even so, the U.S. isn’t really safe. I grew up in the city with the highest national percentage of kidnappings per capita. We have all heard the tragic news about recent school shootings across the country. And some freak on the I-10 spent the better part of September lodging bullets in other peoples’ cars. Now, I live in a the region of the world with second-highest AIDS rate. There is a bar down the street where someone got stabbed last year. Muggings sometimes happen on the golf course at night. Also, all weapons are illegal on the Dutch side of the island, so I can’t even carry mace or a pocket knife to defend myself. That makes me feel uncomfortable. Is it safe? No, but neither is Phoenix.

I realize that many places in the world are extremely dangerous. There are places with rampant disease, war, religious radicals on extremist jihad, and many other dangers. There are places you would not bring your children to live. There are places it is not wise for many of us to go. I think that there are times, however, that we just have to place our lives in God’s hands and follow Him wherever He asks us to go. For some of us, part of the process of trusting Him is putting ourselves in a place that frightens us. What would the world look like had the Pilgrims, David Livingstone, Florence Nightingale, or St. Patrick been afraid to go where it was unsafe? Where would we be without the men and women in the armed forces who are willing to leave their homes to keep our nation secure? Stepping out a place of security helps us to redefine our priorities in life and to destroy unnecessary fear.

Whether you’re in Sint Maarten battling with a bad attitude about the electricity, in North Africa risking it all to help others, or in the United States stepping out of your comfort zone to engage your neighbor from a different culture, we all have something to learn from our circumstances. Whether you’re living at home or abroad, don’t take the little things for granted. Everything that comes our way can shape who we are.

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Ancient American Pueblos

The Sonesta Resort in Maho, Sint Maarten

If you are looking for a nice place to stay on your Sint Maarten vacation, be sure to think about Sonesta Resort in Maho. This weekend, I had the opportunity to babysit there for an American University of the Caribbean employee. The resort is both adult and kid-friendly, with great things to do for all ages. The kids especially enjoyed Sonesta’s giant pool and the kids’ club room! I liked the view of Maho beach from the dining patio.

Somesta is an all-inclusive resort, and offers both day passes and overnight stays. Let me give you a tour of the resort!

Sonesta Resort

Welcome to Sonesta! Your five-minute drive from Princess Juliana Airport takes you past Maho beach to this resort at the entrance to Maho. The first thing you see as you enter is the spacious lobby. Even before you leave the lobby, there is so much to do! The lobby contains a computer area, a casino, a shelf of books, shopping, a grand piano, a ping-pong table and several board games.

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If you take an elevator up, you can enjoy the Sonesta Spa, where you can get a nice massage. Of course, I did not do this, but I imagine that it is a good way to relax. Also up the elevator are ten floors of rooms. The rooms are comfortable and roomy.

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View from the top level of the resort

The best part of the resort, in my opinion, is outside. The pool is amazing! It is at least twice as large as most pools and has a quaint bridge crossing from one side to the other. Sometimes, there is a waterfall over the pool. At one end is a swim-up bar that serves alcohol as well as non-alcoholic drinks. One of the kids ordered a nonalcoholic pina colada that looked delicious.

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In addition to the pool, the resort also has a beach entry. Like all of Sint Maarten beaches, it has gorgeous white sand and crystal-clear water.

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You can enjoy this view from either the bar or the dining area. The buffet spread for each meal is amazing. Entrees, fruit juice, sides, delectable desserts– yummy! To my great amusement, one the kids came back from the buffet with just a roll and butter. Sometimes there is such a thing as a little too much variety, I guess.  One of the cool things about this patio is that you can watch the planes land and take off from Princess Juliana Airport. Maho Beach, just across the bay, is famous for the planes that fly low overhead and blast beach-goers with sand.

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There are plenty just-for-kids things to do here, too! Outside is a rainbow jungle-gym for kids to get out their wiggles while parents enjoy the ocean view.

Inside is the Maho Bungalow Kids’ Club. This is a childcare area that is a lot of fun for the kiddos! There is an indoor playground, movies, video games, a giant-sized Connect Four, and organized activities. Eduardo and the rest of the team do a great job keeping kids entertained and safe from 10:00 am-5:00 pm while parents conduct business or enjoy what Maho has to offer. Sometimes they have weekend night pajama parties from 7:30-9:00 pm.

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Historically, the AUC spouses organization takes a day trip to Sonesta to celebrate the fifth semester spouses last week in Sint Maarten. I’m looking forward to returning to Sonesta! Maybe Ben and I will even have a “daycation” there after block exams sometime.

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Terrestrial Fauna on Sint Maarten

The Island of Sint Maarten is home to many exotic plants and animals. From the coconut palms, to the brilliant fish,  to the dozens of lizard varieties, to the flowers, Sint Maarten/Saint Martin’s wildlife is one if its biggest tourist attractions.

The iguanas are by far my favorite Sint Maarten land animal. They are brilliantly colored, they are gigantic, and they let you get pretty close to them in some areas of the island. They also run comically and it’s entertaining to watch them scurry away and leap into the nearest body of water if they become frightened. I wish I could take one home to the U.S.as a pet when we leave!
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This snail was moseying around our apartment one night when I caught it on camera. I would have caught it in a different way if I had realized what it was. This is one of the Caribbean’s most viciously destructive invasive species: the giant African land snail. It is wreaking havoc on our islands and causing concern among environmentalists. Quite an impressive feat for such a slow-moving animal!

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Pardon the fuzzy image below. I think this is a mud crab. He was pretty skittish, so I couldn’t get as good a look at him as I would have liked. This critter’s body was a good six inches long! I found him on the driveway into a friend’s apartment complex. He was intimidating enough to cause uneasiness in one of the residents, who was hesitant to try to get past the crab on his way home.

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What I found on my front porch was a little more exciting and definitely less awesome. This centipede was about four inches long. I started screeching when I saw it, and it scurried away, trying to find refuge in our neighbor’s apartment. I wonder what our neighbor thought about the racket outside as I hollered at Ben to get the bleach and kill it, and then danced around shrieking when the dying centipede writhed and wiggled much too close to my feet! And yet I still thought it was worth it to get close enough to take a photo.

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As long as I am talking about land animals, I certainly cannot neglect to mention the cows. This cow blocked traffic for a few minutes on our way back from Philipsburg one day. We don’t have any cows on the western arm of the island, but up the hills there are quite a few of them.

Cow SXM Philipsburg

These are just a few of the animals living on the island of Sint Maarten. Hopefully, my camera and I will find some more animals to share with you later!

Until then… keep smiling!

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Seven Chinese-English Translation Fails

One of the things that I find most entertaining is Chinese-English translation fails. Zero judgment on the people who created these interesting translations– regardless of how grammatically incorrect the translations may be, the translators still speak a foreign language way better then I do! I have huge respect for any Mandarin-speaking person who can learn English and vice-versa. Still, these phrases are pretty funny. The Chinese market next door to our apartment complex carries plenty of plastic imports that make shopping a little more fun. Here are a few:

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The Wonderful Life plastic food container. I’m not sure if it’s trying to remind me that my life is wonderful, so I should be happy, or if being happy every day makes life wonderful.

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“Happy diary. If you often have smiles on your face good lucks will naturally come to you.”

Matching the positive thinking of Wonderful Life food container is the happy diary. Maybe you can only write positive things in this book. On one page record what makes you happy, and on the opposite write all the naturally occurring “good lucks” in your life. If you think about it, this actually makes sense. I’ll bet that if I wrote down all the happy things in my life and smiled more often, I’d quickly recognize how blessed I am.

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The Huahu pitcher!

“Huahu daily-used will become us living of a part, let’s enjoy living for every day.”

I don’t know what “huahu” is, and the rest of the poem doesn’t make much sense, either.

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Cookie bear tub

“Cookie bear, Baby happy baby, I want.”

Does the bear want a cookie? Or does it want a baby? Or does the baby want a bear or a cookie? Or is it a baby bear wanting a cookie?

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Mini desktop drawers. There are three drawers in this set, and every one of them has the exact same poem:

“Flowers of Happiness. Flowers, dreams can’t answer. Where has, The only way to obtain happiness, boy and girl, wandering in the world, no matter is the numerous hills and streams.”

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Toilet soap. Not really for toilets.

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Notebook- “There is something better in writing.”

Is it trying to remind me that there are a whole lot of writers out there who are better than I am? Or just that writing is better than not writing? I don’t know whether to feel insecure or encouraged.

That’s all for now, folks! “There is something better in writing” coming in future posts. Stay tuned and please subscribe!

Caribbean Cooking: French Onion Soup (On a Budget)

I love St. Maarten for many reasons– one of them is that “France” is right next door! We get the language, the culture, and the food– oh, and is the food delicious! Of course, you can’t have French food without French onion soup, so I decided to make some at home. This is my budget version of French onion soup.

Step One: Gather ingredients.

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-Two medium onions

-1/4 cup margarine or butter

-Salt, pepper, and parsley (Thyme would be better, though)

-1 1/2 cups of water

-Chicken or beef bouillon to make 4 cups broth

– 3/4 cup white wine

-2 teaspoons of flour

-Cheese

-Bread Bowls

Step one: Slice onions thinly, top to bottom. If you need to have a good cry, this is a great time to do it. You’ll be weeping buckets by the end of this step anyway.

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Step 2: Melt butter in a pan, add herbs, and stir in onions.

Step 3: Stir onions frequently until they are a deep golden brown.

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Optional Step: Become distracted and forget to stir the onions. Burn the bottom layer, scoop the rest into a new pan, and do your best to remove the smell of burned onions from your home.

Step 4: Add flour and stir.

Step 5: Add wine and stir.

I have no idea what kind of wine is best for this, but I chose Lazo Chardonnay because it was cheap and I liked the shape of the bottle.

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Step 6: Add 4 cups of broth, the water, and half a teaspoon of pepper. Turn down to simmer for half an hour and stir occasionally.

Preheat the oven to about 100* C. All you need the oven to do is melt the cheese on top of the soup.

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Step seven: Pour soup into bread bowls.

I baked my own bread bowls from scratch. Because I have that kind of time in my life right now. If you have kids, a regular job, school, whatever, by all means save yourself some sanity and buy them from the store.

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Step 8: Generously sprinkle cheese on the soup. I bought a mozzarella and provolone mix, but to be authentic and fancy, you should use Gruyere and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Step 9: Put the soup in the oven until the cheese melts. Or don’t.

I put the soup and bowls in the oven to get that melty-cheese deliciousness, but it might be better to do this when the soup is served in actual bowls. Leaving the soup in the bread bowls so long before serving made them a little soggy. But if you like that, go for it!

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Step 10: Serve and enjoy. Yum!

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Adapted from an Epicurious recipe

Dear American Tourists

Dear American Tourists, please stop being so rude.

It is no secret that American tourists do not have the best international reputation. I am an American. I live on a Dutch island in the Caribbean, where my husband goes to medical school. We were asked during orientation to be courteous and not perpetuate the poor reputation American tourists have. I do not think of myself as a rude person. I think most Americans do not. I have noticed, however, that in every country I have ever visited, “the locals are so friendly.” Maybe I have only traveled to friendly places. Maybe not. Maybe, everywhere else seems so friendly because America is generally not very friendly at all.

So what is our problem? Why don’t people like us, and what can we do to change that?

I would say that many things are cultural. People have different ideas of how to greet one another (one friend here said that he was sternly corrected for saying “hello” rather than “good morning,” which is proper here). People have different standards of eye contact. People have different rules for tipping, eating, asking for directions, etc etc.

There are some things that you can control when it comes to cultural courtesy. You can Google whether tips are expected or insulting in a certain area of the world. You can ask what a proper greeting entails. You can watch to see whether greeting strangers as you pass is considered kind or creepy.

There are also some things that you cannot control. You will not pick up on the majority of cultural nuances. You will trespass because you are used to signs designating private property. You will shake hands “wrong.” It happens. People probably won’t care too much; they will hear your accent and realize you are foreign. They will probably ignore it or laugh a little. They might become annoyed, but, hey, you’re learning.

Finally, there are things that are very rude no matter where you are. Dear American tourists, please do not do these things.

Please do not act as if you are better than other people. Your taxi driver and your waiter are not there for you to unload your grouchy jet-lagged crabfest upon. And just because people do things differently than you would does not mean it is “wrong.” It’s just, well, different.

Please do not act as though America is superior to all other nations. We Americans all love the stars and stripes, and that’s a good thing! However, people don’t want to hear a string of comparisons that belittle their own beloved nation. America is a culture where things are dichotomistic, time-oriented, and efficient. Most places aren’t like that. So don’t freak out when things are relaxed, confusing to you, or just plain irritating. If you wanted things to be American, you would have stayed in America. So enjoy the culture, embrace it while you’re there, and look for the good aspects.

Please do not be ethnocentric. No matter where you come from, it’s easy to place anyone different from yourself in the category of “Other.” You know what I mean, those Other people. The ones who look or dress or work or speak differently. I think that if we aren’t careful, we often look at people who are different from ourselves as less intelligent, less skilled, less important. You see a woman in a third-world county who is illiterate and does not work outside the home, and has never touched a computer. You may have more education and technical skills, but can you keep eight kids clothed, fed, and healthy in a two-room mudbrick home with no electricity, no water, and no stove? Can you sort rice so that not one tiny stone ends up in the pot? Can you carry 50 pounds of stuff on your head with no hands? Do you speak three languages? Can you keep a garden that supplies most if not all vegetable needs for your family, plus provides a little income? That, my friends, takes some serious skill. Some things are easy to miss. Learn to appreciate them. And just simply LEARN! Don’t go somewhere expecting to be a guru of all knowledge. (Shout out to short-term missions trip people here.) If you want to teach, you must first be a student. You will get more respect if you are willing to ask to be taught. Plus, it’s fun. It’s an icebreaker. It brings much laughter.

Please do not devalue other nations’ autonomy. I cringed when I heard an American tourist say, “The Bahamas should just be another state. It’s basically just part of the U.S. anyway.” How uninformed. Please, Mr. Florida Guy. You visit Touristville where half the people are white and everyone speaks English, and suddenly you think you know everything about the nation! My advice is, forget the tourist traps and take a local taxi or bus to the places that the locals hang out. Then you can get a feel for how people live. Learn about their government and read about the very intelligent people who run the state. There’s so much more to a place than just its American-catering tourist industry.

Please do not offend the locals by the way you dress. There are places where a bikini is pretty standard. There are places where you really ought to cover up, even arms and legs. Know the difference. There is no reason to exercise your liberty to dress revealingly if it gives you, your organization, and your country a bad name.

Please be mindful when you take photos. In some places, you can get your camera confiscated if you take a photo of the wrong thing (military or police in some countries). In others, people simply don’t want to be in your scrapbook. In general, don’t objectify locals as if they were some interesting foreign specimen.

Please do not be pushy. Yes, you come from a place where you can get pretty much whatever you want almost as fast as you want it. When traveling abroad, be mindful that this is rarely the case. Do not intimidate, complain, or demand. Rather, be smart and be respectful.

Please just be kind and courteous. In the end, people know you’re a visitor. They expect you to be, well, a weirdo. However, it is possible to be a courteous weirdo. Say please and thank you, smile, treat people the way you would like to be treated. Kindness counts, and it can go a long way in improving our international reputation.