June 2009


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There was a time, not long ago, when there were few grandparents. Those of us born shortly after the war with four grandparents were rare indeed. I was named after my grandfather who died the year I was born. Dad’s parents were both dead and that left us with one grandmother – a real sweetie, by the way – and that was more or less standard.

Our grandchildren have four, and the way marriages are going these days, that is probably less than average. I don’t know how it is in most families, although I can well understand that there might be some friction among the grandparents at Christmas. For us there is none. We live on the other side of the world. Our daughter-in-law’s parents are basically the only grandparents our grandchildren know. Our son makes a huge effort to keep us connected through Skype, but nonetheless while we are home we are essentially babysitters.
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That role was very much in evidence at the wedding we attended for Nicole’s sister. Our job was to get the kids there, keep an eye on them during the celebration and get them home again after the dance. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But Ben is much like his father was at his age. He has an almost irrepressible energy and a fearlessness that spells trouble for whoever is trying to look after him. I caught up with him just in time to see him disappear out the front door into the parking lot. We had a little walk while he investigated ‘Where’d the car go?’ and returned him to his by then frantic mother.
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What we saw of the wedding looked lovely, and I’m sure that Pat is delighted to have both of his daughters wed and settled into marriage. Their oldest has been a huge blessing to our son, and their children are a delight to be with, even for as short a time as we get. There will come a time when we can develop a proper relationship with them, but for now we are grateful for whatever time we can get.

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We are patient people or we couldn’t do what we are doing in Asia. But there are some things in our lives that are difficult for us to wait for. Holding our grandchildren is one of those things. It has been just under a year since either of us have seen or held Ben and Abi, and that is a long time for new grandparents.
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But our daughter-in-law’s sister was getting married and there were rehearsals to arrange and dresses to pick up so we had the delightful duty of looking after our two grandchildren for the day. We of course took them to the mall and McDonald’s and we felt so comfortable and happy looking after young children again. It reminded us of the joy we had raising our own children.
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Both of them – all children? – love music, and were so happy to have me play and sing for them. They are just delightful children, and it was wonderful to see and hold them again after so long. It is without question the hardest part of serving the Lord overseas to be away from our family for so long.

I have lost track of the number of cell phones we are accountable for, but yesterday we picked up another one. It will be our London based home number until Pam goes back to Malaysia at the end of July, so if you want to get ahold of us, make a note of the number. It is 519.639.2262. We will be moving around a lot so a land line number is not going to help you much.

I not sure what I found more irritating in the whole purchasing business. Was it the sweet innocence of someone behind the counter – Mandi, I think her name was – explaining to me that this was where the SIM card goes, or was it the total misunderstanding of what the rest of the world outside Canada considers essential and non-negotiable service. We have as many SIM cards as I have glasses. We can cross the border into Thailand and pick up a SIM card for our Malaysian phone that will give us service and about two weeks worth of calling for 50 Thai Batt, or around about two bucks Canadian.

For that I can call anywhere in a country of 63 million people without incurring “long distance” changes. When I leave Thailand I pop back in my Malaysian SIM and I’m back on local calls ANYWHERE in Malaysia. I use my cell phone constantly. I have to clean out my message and call caches every couple of days because they are full. For this I pay 10 bucks a month. When Pam is in Singapore or Cambodia or Nepal we text each other four or five times a day and I have never been able to use up my ten bucks worth of airtime in a month.

But it is not just the silly nonsense of the phone system in Canada or its exhorbitant costs or the draconian restictions on its use that irritates me. It is the unwarranted assurance that ‘this is the best system in the world and you are lucky to have it.’  The reality is that we are so far behind the rest of the world in our telecommunications networks that it is unlikely now that we will ever be able to catch up. I think Cambodia’s cell phone network is now ahead of Canada’s.

Now that I have that off my chest I feel much better, thank you. I’m sure many of you – all of you who have travelled outside of North America, in fact – know exactly what I am talking about and share my dismay at what Canadians put up with. We are a patient lot, by and large, and this is a great national characteristic for it makes us very accepting. It also, unfortunately, leaves us with a phone network that no Asian nation would tolerate for a minute.

I am not a fan of buying new cars. Better to wait a year and let the first year huge depreciation drop kick in and pick up a good gently used vehicle that is one or two years old. You get more value for your money. That’s what Liz, Pam and I did today. We ended up with a Hyundai Accent, which is a very popular little vehicle for good reason: it is well built and relatively inexpensive.

Of course in my usual thorough-to-the-point-of-redundancy manner we had to look at everything in its class before we settled on the obvious. There are some interesting choices out there. For just a little more money the Honda Fit is a nice car. Nissan also makes a car in the same class, the Versa, which is both roomy and peppy. Toyota has the Yaris, which has a nicely styled exterior. But the interior doesn’t work. The legroom is cramped and the dash is positioned much too high with an annoying center console for the speedometer that obscures your vision even more.

Chevy’s entry in this category, the Aveo, is disappointing. You’d like to like it: the price is good and it comes with a good warrantee, but it has odd features. The driver’s seat for example is perched ridiculously high so that even a short driver is scrapping their head on the roof. And it is built in Korea by Daewoo, which has an even worse record of manufacturing errors than GM itself. Not a good choice at any price. We didn’t even bother to look at Ford or Chrysler, which says something about the confidence of the driving public in these products.

I read recently that a good stock investment right now is either Samsung or Hyundai. Both make good products with an expanding worldwide market. As I say, I’d like to have bought a North American car. But I’m not sure that any of them can compete in a global economy. So who is going to honour that outstanding warrantee when your company goes out of business?

IMG_0895Okay, maybe in-laws is jumping the gun. Liz is just dating this guy at the moment. But when your grown daughter invites you to dinner with the parents of the guy that she is dating you know it is getting serious. The Epps are a very nice couple, and their son Greg is a very decent young man. He is studying journalism at the moment, and he has travelled and taught in China, so he has some understanding and appreciation for what we are doing (as opposed to most people who think that we are more than a little strange for livng and working out of Kuala Lumpur).

 

Dinner was barbequed steak and potato salad, two things that we cannot get in Asia and miss dearly. They were both exceptional, and we had a very fine evening getting to know people that have become important to Liz. In the morning we attended Foothills Alliance Church in Calgary where we heard a good sermon on Ecclesiastes about living and enjoying the life that God has given to you to enjoy. Certainly for Pam and I at the moment that is something that we clearly understand and subscribe to.

In the afternoon we drove downtown to see Liz’s new apartment and take a stroll through the park that borders the river. The park was alive with strollers and cyclists, joggers and lovers, and nobody made strange as I practised my Tai Chi by the river. I was impressed with how multicultural this city has become since I saw it last. I saw and heard a dozen different nationalities and languages, and given that we enjoy the mix of cultures we find in Malaysia, felt very much at home. Calgary is growing to be a cosmopolitan city, and with its wide open spaces and nearness to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, become a desirable place to live.

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Saturday broke clean and clear, one of those days that lets you know that you are fortunate to be Canadian. The drive out to Banff, just over an hour from Calgary, solidified that view, as the Rockies grew closer and more impressive. We arrived in Banff at midday and took a leisurely stroll through town so I could buy the obligatory tourist cap. Then we headed down stream along the Bow River, to where it breaks into brisk rapids and an impressive chute. Where the Sarcey joins the Bow we stopped for a late lunch at a patio overlooking the river and the mountains in the near distance. The air was clean and the sun was warm, and it made you happy to be alive in this great country.

After lunch we took a short detour to Miniwaki Lake on the shores of the Palliser Range, another beautiful site. The water looked so inviting, but the glacier fed lake was only one or two degrees above the temperature of ice, and none of us wanted to put our hearts under that kind of excitement.

Dave drove conservatively home through a steady downpour that gathers quickly in this part of the world. I must confess that the steady drone of the tires was too much for my jetlagged body and I napped a good part of the way home, which is why I am posting at 3 in the morning. I’ll get some pictures up at daybreak, but they won’t do the country around here justice.

NHL/

Well it has been a long couple of days, but we are back in Canada, staying with two of our grown children in Calgary until Tuesday. Last night we went out to have a meal and watch the Penguins pull out a sqeaker against the Red Wings. Watching that cheap shot against Sidney Crosby made Pittsbug’s eventual victory all the sweeter. This has all the markings of an historic rivalry, as the Penguins lost the Cup last year to Detroit. I also lost by a sqeaker. losing the office pool to my buddy Dave St. Germain by one point. Next year, buddy!

It is so great being back in Canada again and wonderful to see Dave and Liz, who are both doing well and still working steady out here, despite an iffy economy. Hopefully with the oil prices on a rebound and things picking up again south of the border, they will be able to ride out this current financial storm and come out of it alright. Tomorrow we are hoping to do a little sightseeing and possibly get out to Banff if it is a nice day.

It is 3:30 here in Calgary at the moment, but that doesn’t mean a lot to my internal clock. We did manage about six hours sleep in Hong Kong and a few cat naps on the plane, but it has been 48 hours since we left for the airport in KL and my circadian rhythm doesn’t know what to think. We are just glad to be back in the true north strong and free and breathing some clean Canadian air. When we left KL the air pollution index was 139, on a scale where anything over 50 is starting to cause respiratory problems. When the sun is dull red disc in the sky through the pollution haze, it is time for a couple of weeks holiday.

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