Decision Time

So, what IS going on with those Harversons?  We thought it was time to attempt to answer this question for anyone that might be wondering. 

This time last year we were somewhere in South East Asia, having already travelled to the Middle East and then packed up and said goodbyes in China.  All we knew at that point was that our time in China had come to a close, and that we were searching for our next adventure.  Egypt, Jordan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar…meeting lots of incredible people and seeing some interesting doors open, but nothing that quite clicked.

In March we landed back in the UK, still at that point expecting it to be a relatively short visit before a relaunch overseas.   In June, still with no ‘big plan’, we moved from the cosy two-bedroom house in Bedford that we’d been staying in to a rented house in Chelmsford, the city we lived in before China.  We got the kids settled in their schools and navigated the complexities of Maya’s medical appointments.

In September we began our much-needed sabbatical, a time of rest, reflection and reconnection.  It was great, and we are happy to talk to anyone who will listen about the benefits of a sabbatical, but honestly, it didn’t leave us feeling any clearer about what was next for us.

If you’re reading any frustration between the lines here, you’re reading correctly.  2017 was not an easy year for us, even though the first couple of months while we were still travelling were pretty awesome.  As we saw in the New Year, the transition into a new calendar year felt more significant than usual…bring on 2018!

After a lot of appointments, Maya is now on a waiting list to have palate surgery, and it should be happening by March, or soon after.  The surgeon will be reattaching the muscles in her palate, which he hopes will enable her to produce sounds that she’s just not able to make at the moment.  It’ll mean a short hospital stay and about two weeks off school for recovery, and the very real implication for us is that we won’t be going anywhere until it’s done.

So, here we are in our little village, for we’re not sure how long.  Clearly we need to earn some money (!), and our somewhat unconventional CVs make job-hunting fairly challenging.

Perhaps this doesn’t sound much like a decision, more like a crash-landing.  It has certainly felt that a lot of things are beyond our control, but there are still decisions that we have made, and choose to make every day.  We choose to be content in the place that we are right now.  We choose to be incredibly thankful for the excellent (free!) schools that our kids are settled in, for times with our family and our Oasis church family, for the amazing (free!) medical care that Maya is getting.  We have decided to keep trusting that God has a plan for us, even though we still don’t know what it is yet.  We have decided to keep dreaming big dreams, even though things so far haven’t worked out how we expected.

This week Phil has started doing some decorating work.  Yes, we realise that teaching would be the more obvious choice, but he needs to get a criminal records check from Beijing first, and that will take some time.  If you need an excellent painter/decorator, give him a call – very reasonable rates.

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Highlights from the last 6 months

We have just finished a 6 month sabbatical. It’s been a privilege and an adventure, something we have never done before. Here are a few highlights from our time;

Times of extended solitude. Before the summer, we both had the chance to house-sit locally for 3 nights each. After the school holidays, we each had a further 4 nights away where Phil went to Wales and Laura to London. These were quality, meaningful times of rest and reconnection with God.

Quality time with each other and the kids. Laura and I have been able to take a day a week to just be together -generally going on long walks in the Essex countryside. They have been wonderful times. Being around so much for the kids has really helped ground them through the transition this year.

Depth. As strange as it may sound, the time of sabbatical has had its challenges. The extent of change and transition had taken a toll on us, and left us emotionally and spiritually exhausted. Phil has been getting some great counselling, providing a chance to talk out and process all the recent changes. If anything, this season has left us more aware of our need of God than ever.

Time. We have just loved having so much time. We have read many books, journaled extensively, enjoyed creative projects (more Laura than Phil!) and slowed down considerably.  It hasn’t been ‘a holiday’, but it has been restful, which is just what ‘the doctor ordered’.

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Things we will miss about travelling…

In the last three months we’ve been in six countries, and we have two more countries and just over two weeks left before we arrive back in the UK for a while!

We thought it might be fun to try to answer the question ‘what are you looking forward to about being in England?’ and the slightly easier answer one – ‘what will you miss about travelling?’

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Things we will miss about travelling in South East Asia:

Adventure

We have LOVED the incredible adventures and experiences of travelling as a family, and we are not, as some might predict, exhausted.  This month in Thailand has been just what we needed; somewhere familiar, with plenty of great friends and our most comfortable accommodation so far (we’re staying in an actual house that Phil’s parents lived in when they lived in Chiang Mai and it’s perfect) so we are feeling well-rested and ready to explore some more.

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Warm weather

This is easy to say here in Chiang Mai where it is hot-but-not-too-hot, but in Cambodia and Thailand we certainly have been appreciating the sunshine.  Apologies to those of you who are reading this in frozen, polluted Beijing or chilly, grey England, but we’ve been loving blue skies.  Also, not being able to wear flip-flops every day will be sad!

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Friends who ‘get us’ and inspire us

This has been a special month of being able to spend time with lots of other families who don’t think we’re crazy for wanting to live overseas and travel with our kids.  It has been so encouraging and inspiring to hear stories of what other people are doing and the journeys that they have been on too.

Food

It’s probably no surprise to you that we are really loving the food.  Fragrant pho in Vietnam, fish curry in Cambodia, mango & sticky rice here in Thailand…happy taste-buds!

Family time

Even though we’ve been spending a lot of time with friends (our three days in Siem Reap were pretty much the only days that we haven’t been hanging out with other people), we’ve also loved sharing these amazing adventures as a family, and have had lots of quality family time too.  Our kids are great travel buddies.

So what are we looking forward to about being back in England?

Family & friends

Of course we are very much looking forward to being with family and friends in England next month.  It’s been more than two years since we were all back, so plenty of catching up to do.

Countryside

We’ve seen some incredible landscapes on our travels, but we do still look forward to good long walks in the green English countryside.

Food

We’re looking forward to some fish & chips!  The kids are looking forward to varied breakfast cereals and better bread.

Books/newspapers/radio

Even though we can get pretty much everything online these days, there is something I still really miss about libraries, actual newspapers, and having Radio 4 on while I’m in the kitchen.

Unpacked suitcases/boxes

We’ve got pretty efficient at living out of suitcases, but to be able to properly ‘set up house’ for a while in Bedford will be very welcome.  We’ve heard that our boxes that we sent from China are just about to arrive in England, so we’ll be reunited with clothes and toys etc.

We’re flying to Myanmar this Saturday for ten days, then three nights in Malaysia (KL) before the long flight to London!

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Good Morning (or Evening, or Afternoon) from Vietnam!

Our entry into Vietnam was not ideal. When disembarking from the airplane, one of our kids vomited all over the aisle. Then as we waited for our bags, it happened again.  Nice.

Thankfully this wasn’t a bad omen for a difficult time in Vietnam, because we have had an amazing time. Vietnam is awesome! We really, really like it here.  It’s somewhere totally new for us, but it has enough that is familiar to us from both China and Thailand that we felt quite ‘at home’ here as soon as we landed.  The people are friendly, the food is incredible, and we’re even liking the weather; much warmer than winter in Beijing but nowhere near as hot as Thailand, and it rains a lot, so it feels like an English summer!

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We spent the first few days in DaNang, on the coast of central Vietnam.  We were able to visit a group who have a wide breadth of ministry including caring for orphans and children with disabilities. We traveled 2 hours into the countryside to visit some of these children, including a school for kids with hearing impairment.

Next we moved to the nearby town of Hoi An, which is a charming place that we can highly recommend if you ever visit Vietnam.  A major highlight of this time was getting to meet a friend of Phil’s grandfather. ‘The Doctor’ as our friend called him, lived in Vietnam for over a decade, during the 60s and 70s, only leaving when he was forced to by national events. This meeting was a huge deal for Phil, who was able to connect with his family legacy in this country in a very special way. This family are still strong believers and we were able to share and pray during a memorable morning together.

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We’re now in our final Vietnamese location, the capital city, Hanoi.  It’s big and bustling, but very different from Beijing.  We’re staying in the Old Quarter, which is full of fascinating, crowded alleys and tall, narrow buildings.  We’ve explored, tasted some Vietnamese delicacies (‘egg coffee’ anyone?  It’s much more tasty than it sounds!), and met with some contacts who are working here with the church and with orphan care.  We’ve loved having ‘travel buddies’ for this leg of our journey too, and will miss Doug, Janice and Sarah as we travel onwards to Cambodia tomorrow!

 

 

 

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And We’re Off…

Happy New Year!  Our family Christmas/New Year greetings never quite got posted due to being somewhat busy, but here they are, although belated.

We knew those three weeks between returning from our Middle East trip and saying our goodbyes to China would go fast.  They did.  It was pretty much a blur of packing and farewell meals, with Christmas and a birthday thrown in there too.

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It’s amazing how much ‘stuff’ you can accumulate in a small apartment over 4.5 years; we packed up 11 boxes that are going by ship to England, and a small amount of luggage to travel with.  There was plenty to leave for the next family moving into the apartment, and a LOT to give away, which was fun.

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Goodbyes are hard though.  We’ve said plenty before, especially living in a very transient foreign community, but this felt different because we were the ones leaving!  When we said goodbyes in England five years ago, we knew that we’d be visiting semi-regularly, and that things wouldn’t change toooo much when we were away, but depending on where we end up next, a family trip to China might not be happening again for a while, and change is relentless here.

I say ‘here’ because we are still in China, just!  When we were planning this part of our travels, we had a couple of ideas, and presented them to Abi to help us decide.  “Which would your siblings prefer as a Christmas gift; a trip to Disneyland (Hong Kong or Shanghai), or a trip to visit our friends ‘up north’?”.  These friends moved 18-months ago, so Hannah and Peter haven’t seen their best friends for way too long, and it was a pretty easy decision to make.  We tried to keep it as a Christmas surprise, but I (Laura) let it slip to Peter a while ago, so he’s been able to look forward to it…we loved watching Hannah’s face when she watched the video from her friends on Christmas morning though!

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So, instead of saying our goodbyes to Beijing at the airport, we left from Beijing Railway Station (which is SO much nicer than Beijing West Station, if that means anything to you!).  Twenty-five hours on a train?  No problem.  We had a soft-sleeper carriage, with four bunks (with mattresses a lot less soft than the name would imply), plenty of snacks and instant noodles, iPlayer downloads, and some stunning views from the window.

We’re loving the snowy weather, Korean food (we’re right near the border, and this area is a ‘Korean Autonomous Prefecture’), and spending time with great friends.

Where next?  Tomorrow (Tuesday) we fly, via Seoul, to DaNang in Vietnam, where it will be a little warmer than it is here!

How are we feeling?  Strange!  Most of the time it doesn’t feel real that we’ve actually LEFT.  We’ve taken a number of long trips away from our home in Qingyundian, to England and Thailand, and it’s easy to forget that this isn’t just a trip that we’ll be returning from. There is grieving and processing still to be done, but we are also very excited about the adventures around the corner, and our new home; wherever it turns out to be!

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To Cairo & Amman, and back again.

Egypt – check, Jordan – check…two down, three (or maybe four, or five!) countries to go!

We just got back from our trip to the Middle East, so time for a quick rundown before we head into the busyness of packing up and saying goodbyes here in Beijing.

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It was an amazing journey in an incredible part of the world.  If you are reading this hoping to find out the answer to the question ‘are the Harversons moving to Cairo or Amman?’, you aren’t going to get an answer (because we don’t know ourselves, and are committed to walking through the whole process before making any decisions), but here are some highlights of the trip…

The kids did so well!  They coped wonderfully with the long overnight journey to Cairo and the jet-lag.  They were mostly very patient with all the exploring and the meetings.  They had many new experiences and tried some new foods; Maya really liked falafel.

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We were glad to have some time just as a family at the start and end of the trip, but loved being part of a team (8 other adults) for 8 days.

We found many things to be very different to life in China, and also felt like Cairo and Amman are very different from each other.  Cairo is a huge, crazy, noisy, dirty city…we loved it!  Amman is very beautiful and more peaceful (certainly in the part of the city we stayed in).

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If you are on our newsletter email list, look out for one coming your way soon with some stories from the trip.

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What we will miss / not miss…

Suddenly, what was ‘a while off’ has become very close…this time in TWO WEEKS we will be in Egypt, and once we get back from that trip we’ll only have about THREE WEEKS left before we say our goodbyes. Craziness.

It won’t come as a surprise to hear that we are thinking a lot about what we are going to miss, and not miss, about our lives here.  Most of the entries in the ‘going to miss like crazy’ column are actually people, and we’re still living in denial about actually having to say farewells to them, so I won’t be mentioning specific people in this post (but you know who you are!).  So, what else are we going to miss?

Our beloved ‘real-China’ village.  It’s far enough from the city (an hour on a  good day, ‘who knows when we’ll get there?’ on a bad day) to feel like the middle-of-nowhere, and it’s delightfully peaceful.  Even when the traffic builds up on the not-made-for-cars main road, everyone is very chilled about it.  A little trip to buy fruit and veggies is always a delight, and very easy on the wallet.  Phil will miss his runs through the fields, and we’ll all miss the river views and the fields, the corn drying on the road…

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Beijing, the big city.  Even though we don’t live actually in Beijing, we’ve been going there every Sunday for the last 4.5 years, plus some other days as well (more for Phil).  We have our favourite haunts, but there is always so much more of the city to explore.  We maybe won’t miss the traffic though!

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‘Little Learners’.  From its beginnings as a ‘moms & tots’ group, started by Phil back in his Community Centre days, to its current incarnation as a small homeschool co-op, Little Learners has been incredible provision for Hannah & Maya, and they are already feeling sad about the thought of saying goodbyes.  They have so much fun with their remaining 2 classmates, Drake & Mickey, and love their teachers (Drake & Mickey’s mums, plus their current American volunteer teacher, the lovely Erin).  It’s because of Little Learners that Hannah’s Chinese is so good, and they are both making great progress with their reading and writing (in Chinese and English) and maths, plus they make awesome crafts.

Minnie!  Of course we are going to miss our fluffy little pooch A LOT.  She’s been a delightful addition to the family these past 16 months.  Something rather cool has happened that is going to help with saying goodbye to her though – she’s going back to her original owners, who left Beijing last Summer, but are now back in the city and really want to have her back!  Abi especially is so happy that Minnie will be happy (even though we think she might miss us a little bit).

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The food.  Yes, we will miss almost all of the food.  The cheap, yummy village food, the special-treat meals in the city, even the cafeteria food.  I know we’ll be getting cravings for spicy green beans/dumplings/street food/the list goes on…

Our 3 modes of transport.  Phil is going to miss his rental car that has served him so well this past year, and we’ll all miss whizzing around the village on our electric bike and in our 3-wheel cart.

The idea of saying goodbye to all of this is eased a little by thinking about the things that we are not going to miss:

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Our tiny apartment.  This little three-bedroom apartment on the third floor has been our home for the past 4.5 years, longer than any other home we have had together (and also longer than Laura has lived anywhere since she was very young!), and we have been very happy here.  There are good things about having a small apartment, like cleaning up being quicker, but we’ve felt increasing ‘squished’ in recent years.  When we moved in we just had two kids and a baby, now we have four bigger-every-day kids!  Also, our kitchen is cramped and our bathroom, while very nice by local standards, is…less than awesome.  Yes, the whole room gets wet when anyone showers, and yes, we often wish for a bath.

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Also, our stairwell, and the cigarette smells that waft into our apartment.

The air quality and the weather.  Our lungs will thank us for leaving the pollution behind, and we won’t miss the super-cold winters or the mosquito bites in the summer (although there’s a chance we’ll end up somewhere where we still get the latter).

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Still, goodbyes are hard!

 

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