Edmonton teacher takes family on two-year Asian adventure

CanWest News Service
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MACAU, China-What would motivate a family of four to pack up and leave behind family, friends, two established careers, a great school and a comfortable home to move to China?
We've been asked that question a million times, and our answer has always been the same: It was the opportunity of a lifetime - the chance to live and work overseas in another country and experience a different culture. My wife Jacqueline and I love living in Edmonton; it's a great place to raise a family, but we had become a bit complacent over the years, and the thought of a two-year adventure in Asia was simply too good to pass up.
Our journey began when I was offered a teaching position at an international school in Macau, a city of 500,000 people on the southern coast of China. After the initial excitement of accepting the job, the reality of our decision set in and the hard work began. We had to rent our house, sell our cars, get passports updated, meet with tax advisers, and get immunized against a host of tropical diseases. After what seemed like months of preparations, we finally left Edmonton in August 2007 for our new life in Macau.
Upon our arrival, we were met with an array of new sights and smells as well as stifling heat and humidity. As we walked the streets in our new neighbourhood those first few days, it became readily apparent that Macau was nothing like Edmonton. It took about three months to adapt to the weather and learn the ins and outs of the city, and although there were challenges along the way (some comical), we adapted fairly quickly.
The biggest adjustment has been living in an apartment. There are only a handful of houses in Macau and these are owned by the ultrarich; everyone else lives in a highrise. The buildings are 30 to 40 storeys tall and dot the landscape like spines on a cactus. A good view is hard to find considering that when you peer out a window, you will typically see another apartment building.
Being a minority in Macau has also taken some getting used to. It can be unnerving when some people in a restaurant or on a bus take a short-term interest in us. It's been more of an issue for my daughters Emily and Danielle. In Asia, children with blue eyes and blond hair can get as much attention as celebrities. If only I had a loonie for every time someone has taken their photo.

Local customs were also an eye-opener. We discovered very quickly that there was no such thing as lining up for the bus or waiting your turn at the corner for a taxi. It was more like survival of the fittest.

Although we learned a bit of Cantonese while living in Macau, the language barrier still poses day-to-day challenges. Larger businesses typically have some English-speaking staff to cater to expatriates, but when you get off the beaten path and shop where the locals do, English is not spoken at all.
Jacqueline once spent an hour buying a new mattress for our bed. The sales person thought she wanted a mattress and box spring and was determined to charge her for both. A paper and pen did the trick and after a few diagrams, everyone was finally on the same page. Once the bill was sorted out, a deliveryman put the mattress on his back and carried it to our apartment right on the spot. Now that's customer service.

Minor challenges aside, there have been many positives about living and working in Macau. Travel opportunities abound thanks to a slew of budget airlines that provide inexpensive fares to hundreds of locations throughout Asia. In the past 18 months, our family has visited Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and mainland China.
Our next trip will be to Borneo to see some of the spectacular wildlife eco-reserves that can be found there.
When we're not on the move, we're enjoying the subtropical climate of Macau. That means hot and humid summers, warm spring and fall seasons and cool winters. January and February bring highs of about 15 C and lows down to about 10 C. I'm the first to say that living in a subtropical climate has been a nice respite from the bitter cold winters of Edmonton, although we have all missed the snow, especially at Christmas time.
The food in Macau has been a sumptuous feast for the taste buds. The city is unique in that the local Macanese food served here is a fusion of Asian and Portuguese influences. This combination produces some amazingly tasty dishes that all of us have enjoyed.
Staples such as rice, noodles, and dumplings have all become a regular part of our diet. However, some Chinese delicacies such as bird's-nest soup, shark fin and abalone have not tempted our palate as of yet. Eating out can be very cheap here; we can enjoy a great meal at our favourite restaurant for about $25.
One of the most radical changes to our lifestyle has been not driving a vehicle. We don't own a car here and don't really need one. Macau is a relatively small city and quite compact, which allows us to walk to the local grocery store, bank and restaurants. Shops and sites further away can be reached easily by public transportation or by taxi, both of which are readily available and very inexpensive compared with Canadian standards.
By far, the most enjoyable change has been the growth of our two daughters. Attending an international school has exposed them to a variety of cultural values and both girls have forged close friendships with children from around the world. They have also had the opportunity to learn Chinese, thanks to daily Mandarin classes that form part of the school curriculum. Combine this with our travels abroad and they have become very worldly indeed for kids aged nine and six.
Soon our two-year Asian adventure will be coming to an end and I will be returning to a teaching position at a high school in Edmonton. Has the move abroad been worthwhile? Absolutely. Would we do it again? Definitely.
There are few other experiences that can offer such life-changing and enduring benefits. Living in China and travelling throughout Asia has given us a better understanding of other cultures and different ways of life, something that will have a profound impact on us all for the rest of our lives.

Geographic location: MACAU, Edmonton, China Asia Hong Kong Singapore Malaysia Indonesia Thailand Vietnam Borneo

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