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Year in review – 2014

19 Dec

Dear Family & Friends,

I look around & see detailed stories & mini films that continually replay themselves in my head; the vendor lady in Bolivia with her incredibly, colourful tablecloths & scarves, Filou happily strolling The Great Wall of China, Anthony enjoying his favorite coffee in Vietnam, the gorgeous sunset over Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the gorgeous, little girl in her traditional Chiang Mai, Thailand outfit, Emile swimming with turtles and sea lions in the Galapagos Islands and me, paragliding in Canoa, Ecuador: snapshots of some unbelievable memories that put a great, big, happy grin on my face. I’ve just come back from the photo shop where I printed about two-dozen pictures, to give our new home in Bangkok that personal touch.

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Still daily, our family reminisces about the amazing life memories we’ve created together this year. The beginning of 2014 was the start of the 2nd. half of our trip around the world. It was on the beach of Krabi, Thailand that we rang in the New Year (and made a wish that one day we would come back here…I guess be careful what you wish for!). After a fantastic month of “beach bum” life & making new friends, we moved on to Chiang Mai. It was here that our (grand)fathers joined us for 2.5 weeks. What a joy for Emile and Filou to have their Opa from Holland and Jichan from Canada together, and share in a bit of their unique, world-schooling, travelling life.

Then it was onto Malaysia, New Zealand and the Fiji Islands. The land of the Kiwis was probably our favorite one from that line-up; learning about the fascinating Maori aboriginal culture, seeing erupting volcano’s and hot springs, and eating delicious lamb. Definitely a country to return to one day! It reminded us very much of back home…incredible nature scenes, delicious fresh produce & foods, and a warm & friendly people.

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Our longest, transatlantic flight was from SE Asia, via Los Angeles to South-America. A week-long stopover in the US gave us the opportunity to reconnect with grandma YiaYia and uncle Nuno. We had great fun together bowling, singing karaoke, and taking nature walks.

After touchdown in South-America, we headed to Cusco, Peru – a lovely high-altitude town surrounded by breathtaking ruins and the gorgeous Andes mountain range. The cold weather (no indoor heating) made us put our “adjustment” hats on a bit, but the warmth of the colourful, local people & wonderful friendships with several expat families, turned our stay into a very memorable one. And of course, seeing the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu was pretty sweet!

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Then, we travelled by bus to rugged Bolivia with its incredible Uyuni Salt Flats and gorgeous Lake Titicaca. But South America’s highlight for the family was definitely Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands. We went out with a BIG BANG!

Who gets to swim with sharks, giant tortoises and sea lions, jump off a cliff to go skydiving, fly in a 6-seater plane with the windows open, get close to the very rare blue footed boobies or experience world cup soccer in a beach shack with Ecuadorian Futbol fans & the very best of newly-made international buddies? It really doesn’t get any better….and our entire trip was just like that; a phenomenal dream come true. It is without a doubt that the year 2013/2014 will forever be engraved in our family’s mind as a special one!

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Our world trip ended in mid July, but we couldn’t quite leave the adventure behind…and so after 5 incredible weeks with family back in Canada – re-appreciating our country and taking in the incredible orderliness, cleanliness and calmness – we took off again. This time to settle in Bangkok, Thailand; the place that was our family’s favorite and the perfect location from which Anthony could explore new business opportunities in the ASEAN region.

It’s been close to 4 months that we’ve been living in the Land of Smiles now…and we all love being in Asia. The sun is priceless; no snow shovelling, snowsuits, hats or scarves! Although I have to admit, it’s sometimes even too hot for this sun worshipper….but the winter months of Dec. & Jan are perfect…and we get to enjoy our pool often!

The food here is plentiful, full of variety and scrumptious. Every morning we wake up with a mango smoothie, made from the sweetest fruits you’ve ever tasted. Personally, I’ve become addicted to pomelo; a type of Chinese grapefruit….but so sweet and juicy. And Anthony…well, I don’t have to cook for him anymore; he has developed a love relationship with the street vendors! He goes for the simple chicken & rice dish (Khao Man Gai), even tolerates the very spicy sauce that comes with….and he often eats Lap Moo on our street (which is lined with about 6 different vendors each evening). This is a spicy ground pork & toasted rice dish that comes with anis, cucumbers & green onions. His absolute favourite!

The rest of the family has also taken to Bangkok’s fabulous street food. Emile devours the most amazing grilled crab on the street and Filou loves his rice-paper wrapped salad rolls (he’s still our salad king!)….and me? Well, I’ve found an award-winning place for Chicken Pad Thai – don’t tell the rest of the family but I go there often by myself during the day….it’s just too good and for $3.00, what’s not to love?

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We all really enjoy the area we live in – 59 Sukhumvit (& Thonglor). Apparently, the Thonglor area is somewhat of a hip area to reside in. We had no idea, but are happy to be in this very Japanese influenced neighbourhood. So many great grocery stores (the Japanese really know how to do the best fresh fish)…. and of course it has many fabulous restaurants for us sushi lovers.

We quickly learned how to say 59 or haa sip gao (actually Emile learned it at school and taught us)… as the first two weeks in Bangkok, we had a hell of a time getting a taxi driver to take us home. The kids did not have school transportation yet, and so we stood on many a hot street corner smiling and waving – hoping someone would take us home to the right location. The traffic in Bangkok is a nightmare although the Skytrain system is fabulous and so we mostly use this BTS system to get around. And of course, then there are the minibuses that pick Emile and Filou up each morning at 7 am to go to school.

Days are long and full of new learnings for the boys at their new school: Lycée Français International de Bangkok (http://www.lfib.ac.th). After some initial adjustments (getting used to being in school again, kids making fun of their different French accent, learning how to write cursive as the French LOVE their “lettres attachées” etc.), the boys are thriving! Emile is in Première with lots of autonomy – he’s on top of his homework, his changing class schedule & acing his subjects.

But more importantly, he is making lots of friends – mostly because of his newfound love for Ping Pong (the kids play every chance they get at school), and his continued love for soccer. He qualified for the “Coupe d’Asie” soccer team & will be competing against teams in the region. He has also started a rock band called “Rock Storm”. As the lead singer & guitarist, he’s working hard towards a grand finale, year-end performance. Très cool!

Filou remains our social butterfly & quickly made tons of new friends at school. He’s also working hard academically & has become the Lycée’s “billes” champion. Marbles is what turns his crank at the moment, and of course; playing music. He still loves his piano & is now taking lessons at a high-tech music studio where he learns to play by ear using animations & computers, under the guidance of a qualified Thai teacher.

As a family, we’ve already taken in some wonderful local festivals such as Loy Krathong (Nov. 6). Loy means to float and a Krathong is a small boat made out of banana leaves & lotus flowers, decorated with candles & incents. We took a boat tour in the Klongs, made our own Krathongs and send our creations onto the lake at night (to ask forgiveness and thanks to the God of the Water or “Mae Khong Kha”). We even put a piece of our hair and nails in our Kratongs like the Thais do….this will take all bad energies away and make for a good year ahead!

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And recently, on December 5, we celebrated the King’s birthday – also knows as Father’s Day. King Rama 9 or his Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born on Dec. 5 in 1927, so this day has become one of great celebration for the Thais, who absolutely adore & respect their King. This great man, who has worked incessantly to create a better life for Thai people everywhere, was unfortunately too sick for a birthday speech this year – but regardless, the streets were flooded with people wearing yellow t-shirts to pay homage (yellow is the colour of Monday – the day of the week the King was born on).

And we’ve all travelled to Singapore to arrange for our new Thai visa permits. It was a fantastic week of sightseeing….and with our newly acquired papers in hand Anthony was able to set up his new company – Asia Clean Innovations or ACI (http://www.asiacleaninnovations.com). Last week, he moved with 4 Thai staff members into his new office & is very busy travelling the ASEAN region, speaking and making connections. There are many good opportunities for him to bring Western Clean Technologies to the region and he loves the work in this quickly developing marketplace.

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I have immersed myself in what “expat life” for women here is all about. I help to raise money for various causes, play tennis, get motivated by a fantastic Thai personal trainer 2x a week, socialize (my new friends are warm, interesting women who are a true reflection of the United Nations; Canadian, French, Dutch, Filipino, Indian, Congolese, American etc.), I network…..and spend lots of time with the kids.

Also, I’ve started my own online jewelry business: http://mysilpada.ca/rose.swagemakers and contribute to an on-line magazine called Wanderlust: Expat life & Style. Our family and trip around the world was actually featured in their latest edition: http://www.joomag.com/magazine/wanderlust-expat-life-style-in-thailand-december-2014-january-2015/0084451001417429450/p46?short.

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So life is all good, although we also had some challenges back home this year…..In Holland, we lost our Uncle Guus and recently our very beloved Aunt Else, whose brave battle with breast cancer ended. In Canada, our Uncle Terry went through some major operations – and thanks to his lovely wife Berengère was given a second chance at life. But the hardest was not being able to be there for our sweet brother James who had a major stomach operation. Thank goodness, all went well and he is making great progress to a full recovery….with of course the loving care of Ayako & Betsy. His bravery is inspiring! Also both our mothers are dealing with some health challenges that we are monitoring closely…when it comes to this, being afar is not always easy!

But we will finalize 2014 on a great note and will end the year in the same way that we started it….being happy & grateful on the beach of Krabi, Thailand.

We wish you all a very happy & healthy 2015. May all your dreams come true like they have for us this past year!

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We always love to hear from you…and in case you want to follow our continued adventures, go to https://yolomomonthego.wordpress.com (and click the “follow” button).

Anthony, Rose, Emile & Félix Watanabe-Swagemakers

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