April 2011

Quick, how do you tell a true Brit from a colonist? By their reaction to the British royal family. The colonist will tell you it is a bit of a lark and think no more of it. The Brit will either be incensed that you mentioned the subject, or will go all wobbly at the knees at the sight of them. I may have been a Canadian citizen for over 50 years, but when the Brits put on their show, I go all wobbly.

And what a show it was; impeccably timed and orchestrated, full of pomp and circumstance, a rich tapestry of visual and audio delights. Who else on earth could stage a ceremony like it? Is there another building on the planet that has crowned their monarchs in continued succession for a thousand years? Is there a more successful monarchy anywhere; one that has survived murder (Edward V), beheading (Charles 1), insurrection (Oliver Cromwell), and abdication (Edward VIII)? They even seemed to have survived the disastrously inept and unfaithful Charles, Prince of Wales (may he never reign).

Oh, like everyone I am a little tired of their pontificating and offensive opinions on matters quite clearly beyond their scope. But every once in a while the monarchy shows its worth, and yesterday was one of those days. Prince William seems to be thankfully much more like his gracious mother than his effeminate and ineffectual father. And Kate, my word, what a ravishing beauty! The pair of them looked like something from a storybook; hardly real.

I was also mightily impressed by the service itself; a tribute to Christ and the church He bought with His blood. The scripture was prominent, the singing angelic, the tone reverent and pleasantly hopeful. With an audience of two billion, some of whom had never heard the word of Christ without a profanity attached to His name, it was a remarkable testimony. I turned off the telly after two hours feeling stirred and elevated. I wish the young couple all the best. They face a mountain of cynicism and contempt in the days and years ahead. May they weather it with the kind of devotion they seemed to find in each other yesterday.

I woke up one morning back in 1978 to find out I was allergic to ragweed. Up to that point in my life I had been allergic to nothing. Outside the window of our apartment on Jalna Avenue where we lived following our marriage there was an empty field full of the stuff. We had left the window open to catch the fall breeze and I spent the entire night sneezing my fool head off. By the morning I knew it was something more than the sniffles. Like any sensible fellow I got some antihistamines and went about my day.

Ragweed season lasts about two months in south-western Ontario, and it seemed no particular heartache. But ragweed, I found, was just the beginning. Over the next thirty years the list of things I was allergic to grew; first to airborne allergens, like pollen, then to foods. Some of those foods are pretty central to a western diet: wheat, corn, milk and tomatoes. When you start to look at all the foods that are dependent on just these four things, you get an idea of what I had to give up; not just bread and donuts, but pasta and pizza, cheese and sauces, most of which are tomato based.

Then there all those foods that use maltodextrin and starch, both of which are made from corn. In fact of all the dozens of breakfast cereals out there, only one – Rice Krispies – has neither wheat nor corn in some form. Even potatoes, which I can eat, I can’t eat fried, because they will be cooked in corn oil, which is often simply called vegetable oil. At least here in Asia where the staple food is rice I am better off, but I still have to avoid fried food, as I found that I am also allergic to palm oil and its related products like coconut, which is often cooked into the rice. Most of the time I manage quite well, thank you, and in fact lately I have begun to put on a little weight.

But everyone once in a while I step over the boundaries of my restrictions, as I did two weeks ago. Good friends of ours, Gary and Kveta, took us out for brunch at the Traders Hotel. They wanted to say goodbye to Pam, and treating us to the finest brunch in town seemed like a good idea. Well, the brunch was so spectacular, and the occasion so bright and friendly, that I forgot myself, and ate some things I shouldn’t. The following day our good friend Shelley treated Pam and I to lunch, and once again I was in a situation where to forbear meant giving offense. By Monday I knew I was in desperate trouble.

People who do not suffer from allergies think that it has something to do with what they see on television commercials: you sneeze and your sinuses get clogged. It is nothing like. I would describe it more like getting injected with fire ants into your bloodstream. You become unbearably irritated, anxious, distracted; you feel like your muscles are permanently clenched. I get a headache that starts in my sinuses and goes clear down my nervous system to the base of my spinal cord. Your throat is so raw that to breathe is painful. You feel like you have a horse sitting on your chest.

This time the problem was exacerbated by the air. It is planting season in Indonesia, which means slash and burn agriculture in this part of the world. The smoke billows over the Straits of Malacca and settles over KL for months. People who do not have allergies wear masks. Those of us who do, find their allergies going into hyperdrive. Just to clarify, smoke is not an allergen. An allergen must contain protein; smoke has none. Smoke is an irritant which triggers the allergens in your body. In a similar way it is not the dust I am allergic to, but the dust mites in the dust.

To cut what has been a lengthy story short, the last two weeks have been miserable, and not just because Pam is not here. In fact for her sake I am glad she wasn’t. But yesterday I woke up and the storm was over. The headache and the nervous anxiety were gone. The horse had gone for a walk and I could breathe without pain. However, the past two weeks have not been without redeeming activity. My nervous energy has been translated into a tremendous amount of work, and my classes have benefitted from some excellent lessons. I have also learned some interesting things about my own diet from having to be so very careful. But that is another post. For now I am just happy to feel like myself again.

In researching this post I came across an interesting documentary from BBC on the subject. Catch it at http://documentarystorm.com/health/allergy-planet/

It has now been a week since I arrived back in Ontario and I am finally starting to feel like I am over jetlag. We have made good use of the time while waiting for the main event. Staying with Jon and Nic and the kids has been delightful, such a joy to just spend time playing with Ben and Abi, walking to the park, reading stories and tucking them in at night.

The first order of the day was to get wheels and our Canadian phone reactivated so I am mobile and available when labour starts. Over the Easter weekend I was able to catch up with some of the WLA people at the Good Friday service, attend a Passion musical and Sunday morning service at Forward in Cambridge and even get in an egg hunt with the kids.
An assessment by a Physiotherapist on my shoulder confirmed my own diagnosis of a rotator cuff tear and a subsequent tendonitis. It doesn’t make the pain any less but it is good to know that at least the steps I have been taking are appropriate and I have a set of exercise designed to increase the range of motion. Hopefully by next week I will be able to add some exercises that will begin to strengthen the muscles.

There is always that question: is home where your husband is or where your kids are? There is no doubt that Malaysia feels like home but we both miss our family terribly and now is the time to do something about that. Headed home in the hopes of arriving there before Nicole goes into labour.

Airport Limo arrived at 6:30 and the Cathay Pacific flight from KL to Hong Kong took off right on schedule for the short, three and a half hour leg of the trip. The only snag was that I needed to find the Air Canada desk in HK to pick up my next boarding pass. The ten minute hike across the airport felt like a nice way to stretch my legs before the fifteen hour flight to Toronto, scheduled to leave in just under two hours.

The nice lady processed my documents without comment and then handed me my boarding pass with a smile. Then she informed me that the flight was delayed almost four hours but not to worry they were able to reschedule the final leg of the trip and I could still catch the last flight to Saskatoon with no problem. As nice as an overnight trip to Saskatoon at the end of this 27 hour trip sounded ( who wouldn’t want to arrive in Saskatoon at 5 a.m) I was not impressed.

After a few phone calls, it was agreed that I was actually travelling to London, however as I was arriving too late for the last flight, I was now scheduled on the 7 a.m. flight on Wednesday morning. Apparently a $9.00 lunch voucher makes up for the added fifteen hours of travel. Fortunately for the internet, I can at least let Jon know about the delay without making a middle of the night phone call. Might as well buy a Chai Latte and relax.

We are both beginning to get very anxious about our fast approaching time apart and are trying to make the most of every minute we have left. On the spur of the moment – not something we normally do – we decided to get away for the weekend. I didn’t even bother coming into KL from my conference, but just met up with Steve at the airport after school. Thank goodness for Coffee Bean; the softest chairs and the nicest Chai Latte around.

Pulau Langkawi, is a beautiful and unspoiled island off the north west coast of Malaysia and definitely our favourite fast and cheap get away. Steve put the whole package together in about one hour on Thursday evening, and then booked a cab to pick him up after work on Friday so he could make the flight.

The Best Star Hotel had been recommended by friends and it turned out to be a great find with a breakfast area right on the beach. The rooms were clean and cool, and the bathroom was unusually dry and free of mold. The beach is really lovely and never crowded so that is where we spent Saturday. We walked down to a great restaurant on the cliff for pad thai and a beautiful sunset and then found a spot with live music and started a dance for old couples. I think I actually wore Steve out!

The north end of the island is a GeoPark, one of the highlights of which is a cable car to the top of the rock formations that are thrust 750 metres above sea level. At the top, a suspension bridge creates a canopy walk and a breath taking view of the Andaman Sea on three sides.

A rental car made the daytrip stress and hassle free. It cost thirty Canadian for unlimited gas and mileage and we drove ourselves to the airport to drop it off, saving us cabfare. As a bonus Steve got to watch the end of the Malaysian Grand Prix at the airport, which was the icing on the cake for him. It was a late night, past midnight, when we got in and basically crashed on the bed. But it was a fantastic weekend, and well worth the exhaustion!

We fully intended that my March trip to Cambodia would be my last time away before I left for Ontario, as there is still much to be done to prepare and we are painfully aware of the value of each day together. However that was not to be.
Every other year there is a conference planned that brings together folks with member care responsibility in Asia for mutual support, strategic planning and skill development. The theme this year is Journey into Healthy, Sustainable Vocation and I was given the opportunity to join Nicole, my TWR co-worker in HR to attend.
It is being held in Port Dickson which is a very lovely beach area just over an hour outside of KL. From the outside the resort appears quite lovely but on the inside, not so much, but the price was right and the facilities adequate. The resort is off the beaten path, very quiet and the beautiful beach is deserted.
The plenary speaker is a very wise and sweet 76 year old Filipino pastor and teacher who brings many years of wisdom to his sessions. Several of the individual workshops were around the topic of Spiritual Formation which is the awareness of spiritual growth, change or forming going on within us at different stages in our lives. Others looked at topics related to maintaining spiritual vitality while working cross-culturally, self care and rest, and encouraging workers on their spiritual journey.
It was time away that I was pretty reluctant to give but I will take home some personal challenges, new ideas to use in supporting our national staff and a list of books that I look forward to reading.
That reminds me, I need to add “order a Kindle” to my list of things to do before I leave for Canada.