March 2010


Pam and I never used cell phones much in Canada; much too expensive when land lines were so cheap. But here in Asia it is the other way around. Landlines are very expensive for expats, and require a $400 deposit to install. We did get a landline, but almost never use it. I couldn’t even tell you what our phone number is. It supports our intenet access, that’s all.

Our cell phones – they call them handphones here – are our lifeline. When Pam is in Cambodia or Nepal or Thailand, as she was last week, we text each other regularly to stay in touch. When I call my mother in England, as I do once a week, I often use my handphone, as the reception is better and she is a little deaf these days. I have a hundred names in my phone directory and I text and call throughout the day. I have over a 100 ringgit of credit on my phone and I can’t ever seem to use it up.

The cost for all this service is staggeringly cheap. When Pam went to Thailand I had 110 ringgit worth of credit on my phone. After a week of burning up the lines with text messages and the ocassional call I had 106 ringgit worth of credit. That means I spent 4 ringgit texting and calling Thailand all week; about a buck and a quarter – a medium coffee at Timmies. You remember that we live in Malaysia right? When we were home last June, Bell wanted to charge me long distance charges for calling Cambridge from London!

Oh, but don’t they get you on  the contract? What contract? We’ve never had  phone contracts; strictly pay as you go. But what about the price of the phone or the SIM card? Funny you should ask. My three year old Sony Erikson cost me $50; it does everything I need a phone to do. As for the SIMs, feature this: when Pam walked through the terminal in Chiang Mai, Thailand, she was handed a promtional package from a phone service provider that included a free SIM card and free air time. That’s right folks, in this part of the world they give those things away.

But what about dead air, weak zone coverage? No such thing. Neither of us have ever lost a call or been unable to get service anywhere in Asia. Even texting Pam in the Himalayas last year posed no problem. Face it, Canada: when it comes to cell phone service, you live in a third world country! Call your service provider. Tell them you expect them to give you a decent phone for $50 and the SIM for free and you want to pay no more than $10 a month to call and text anywhere in North America as often as you want while your credit just continues to pile up month after month. Let me know what they say.

This has been one very intense week and it seems to have been a particularly long one for both Steve and I.  It was one in which I experienced the best aspects of our current life but also some of the worst aspects of it.

I arrived in Chiang Mai last Saturday morning and spent a wonderful afternoon with a couple of women from our team.  Prior to returning to my hotel room, I decided to check my email only to receive a message that my Dad had suffered a major heart attack. While Steve tried to make contact with family in Canada, I tried to figure out the quickest way to get back to KL.  Unfortunately the next direct flight, not until Sunday morning, was fully booked, meaning I would need to fly through Bangkok.  By the time I thought these things through, I had heard back from Steve that Dad had had surgery to remove a clot and was stable. 

We made a decision that I would stay put at least long enough to get the conference underway as I had stepped in at the last minute to act as registrar due to a family emergency of another lady. Even as I was getting people checked in for the conference, I was hearing that Dad was doing very well post-op, and within days was joking and saying he had not felt so well in months. This seemed to confirm a decision to stay in Thailand.

Throughout the SE Asia and Pacific CHE Consultation, our days were booked from 7 am to 9:30 pm with exciting reports from a number of countries, opportunities to network with other organizations, and numerous learning activities. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with people who are committed to the people in their countries of service and to the CHE strategy of community development that emphasizes the development of ongoing relationships with people in need.

Wednesday marked yet another birthday spent alone in a strange place. My birthday present was hearing that Dad had been discharged from hospital, tired but feeling well.  Also on Wednesday, I finally got to share a burden that has been growing on my heart for two years with a large group of people who not only fully understood my hopes but had the training, credentials, network and desire to meet the need.  There were four doctors in the room who were excited about the potential of taking on the challenge.  By the time I packed it in on Friday night we had a plan in place and the needed documents completed to move to the next level.

Thursday and Friday, were spent in a Founders Meeting for the International CHE Network creating vision and mission statements and developing an action plan for this coming year.  This will mean another set of responsibilities and another huge learning curve as I am leading a task group to explore the many issues involved in translating, contextualizing, cataloguing and storing lessons and materials in the many languages of south-east Asia.

In a week like this you realize not only what a privilege it is to be serving at this stage in our lives but also the cost involved. In the middle of all that happened this week Steve is alone in KL dealing with the challenges of his own work with its constantly shifting requirements, trying to provide me the information I need on my Dad, supported by a wife who only gets to communicate with him through text messages.

We are well aware that our families also share in that cost as they are left dealing with issues at home and that without their support we would not be able to continue here. We want to thank them and our many friends who have prayed for my Dad, and have sent us messages of encouragment and support during this eventful week.

The Canadian Pre-University Program where I work shares a building with two other educational programs: the Cambridge A-Level Program and the South Australian Matriculation Program. Both CAL and SAM are twice as large as our program. They are both well supported by the universities in the countries that promote them and well advertised in this growing Asian education market. Foreign language students studying in Australian universities are that country’s third largest industry.

By contrast, the Canadian program is not well-known, either in Asian, or back home in Canada. In fact the Canadian government just this month cut off funding for the small office that advises Asian students on the Canadian option. In addition, this program is expensive. In order to be licensed by the Ontario government, the school must employ Canadian teachers, which requires a salary that is high enough to recruit Canadian staff. Understandably, with a smaller per student profit margin, it doesn’t pay Taylor’s College to promote this program, despite its clear pedagogical superiority.

The CAL and SAM programs have continued to expand at this program’s expense, and in order to make room for all their new students, the Canadian program is being asked to leave. In two weeks. Yesterday we got a tour of the office building they are moving us to. It is enough to make one weep. The previous tenants have only just moved out, and the place is a disaster. Taylor’s has promised to renovate, but have set themselves no deadline for those renovations. When we were there we saw two painters working without much effort covering up the yellow stains on one wall. At the rate they were moving the  renovations should be finished in a mere forty years.

I know that change is inevitable, and heaven knows I have been through enough of them in my lifetime to get used to it. I know that change can sometimes bring renewal; but I also know that change is not always for the better. From what I saw yesterday, this is one change that I could do without.

The upside on this (and there is always an upside) is that I don’t work for Taylor’s College, anymore than I ever worked for Thames Valley District School Board, or before them Elgin County Board of Education. Since He got hold of my life some 35 years ago, I have worked for the Lord. It is He that sent me to Malaysia, and it is He that will send me home when He is done with me here. As for the circumstances of my employment, well that is for Him to decide. He knows my frame. He will at times test me and try me in order to purify my motives and keep me in line, but He will never allow me to be overwhelmed, and if this change proves to be an impossible situation, then that will be His way of telling me it is time to move on.

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