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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big news

If you are on our email list, then a newsletter with our ‘big news’ will have recently arrived in your inbox!
We did promise to revive this long-neglected blog, so here is a post…

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Mountain House pictures again? Last month we had another opportunity to stay in this amazing place, and it seemed appropriate to pick up where our last blog post left off.

The trip was arranged in celebration of a birthday. I’m not saying whose birthday it was, but it had a ‘0’ at the end! There had been talk of celebrating this big birthday with a trip to the new Disneyland in Shanghai. That would have been awesome, but we had a good reason for keeping the travelling and excitement a bit lower-key. We have a lot of travel plans for the next 5 months.

We’ve been living where we are now, in a village south of Beijing, since July 2012. Remember this post when we moved?

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Now, more than 4 years on, and almost 5 years since we left England, we feel like it’s time for another move. Not because of anything being wrong, just because it feels right to move on.

The big question that you may be asking, and the big question that we have been asking ourselves (and other people!) since the start of this year, is ‘where to?’…

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We don’t know! We do have some ideas though, some of which were suggestions made by the leader of the group that we joined this summer (and yes, that was an important part of our decision to join), some of which are places that were ‘on our hearts’ already.

To backtrack a little bit, a while ago I (Laura) had a crazy idea. It’s usually Phil that has the crazy ideas in our house, so he took me seriously!! Over our years here, we’ve met a number of great teams sent by an organization called the World Race. What they get to do, serve in 11 countries over 11 months, is so cool, and we’ve both wished that we could have done it ourselves. There is an upper-age limit and we are too old! But what if we could do something similar? To travel to a number of countries, experiencing life and opportunities for service in those places? Many ‘Racers’ do end up going back to one of the countries that they visited on their race to serve there longer-term (we are privileged to know several of them because they came back here), and that would be our main reason for doing it. It wasn’t hard to come up with a list of places, and home-schooling means that we are free to travel with the kids.

We played around with some fairly ambitious travel plans, but have arrived at a ‘modified version’ that we feel like will work better for our kids. They are amazing travellers, but we do want to limit our time ‘between homes’. We are taking a trip to Egypt and Jordan next month, then we’ll be back here for Christmas before setting off on our travels in South East Asia. January and February will be ‘on the road’, then by March we expect to be back in England.

It’s a strange feeling, not knowing where we will be living this time next year. It’s exciting and it’s scary, and we can’t wait to take you along on the adventure!

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A Mountain Adventure

“I wish Caleb and Leila were going to be there when we get home so that we could tell them all about this”.

We recently said some very sad goodbyes to a family that has been here since March last year and just moved away. They have become dear friends and our little ones are going to miss their kids a lot. It may be a while before they get to read this (getting internet fixed up can take a while here), but this is for them (and anyone else interested in reading about our little adventure).

IMG_0790The view from inside the courtyard of ‘the Mountain House’!

IMG_0461This is the view from the outside, also of our cute borrowed car.  It has been such a blessing to have our ‘own’ car for a month, and the same kind friend that loaned us her car also said we could go stay at the mountain holiday home that she shares with some other friends.  It was the perfect time for us to have a mini-getaway.

IMG_1264The traditional courtyard home has been beautifully renovated and we loved it.  There was a beautiful coffee-table book in the house called Great Wall Style and we really enjoyed looking at beautiful pictures of similar restored courtyard houses in the same area.

IMG_0815The kids really enjoyed being able to play in the enclosed courtyard (and didn’t wear many clothes!).

IMG_1261We enjoyed ‘al-fresco dining’ and lots of family games.  Hannah and Maya are old enough to play Uno now!

IMG_0788The house is set in a seriously stunning location. We drove past the Great Wall (a section not open to the public) on the way out to it, and there were no shops anywhere nearby, just little clusters of farmhouses and lots of terraced fields.  Phil persuaded a neighbour to sell us some eggs!  On Sunday afternoon we set off from the house for a gentle stroll and found a little stream to paddle in.

IMG_0794The kids LOVE water, and there were a lot of bugs for Peter (and Minnie) to catch.

There were a couple of cryptic sentences in the emailed information about the house regarding local places to visit.  Apparently there was ‘a cool library’ in the next village, and a hiking trail ‘back from it’.  Now, I think most libraries are cool, but I was intrigued to know what might constitute a ‘cool library’ in a such a tiny place.  On Monday, by asking a few locals, we managed to find the road that supposedly led to the library but couldn’t seem to see it, so we just set off walking down the road.  I’m not usually one for taking photographs of flowers, but these were so amazing…I love the twisted buds.

IMG_0851Anyway, we walked down the road and suddenly Abi shouted “I can see the library!”

IMG_0825It was seriously cool!  At first we thought it was more of an art-installation than an actual library, but when we got up close…

IMG_0828There were actual books inside!  It wasn’t open, which was a pity as I would love to have seen what it was like inside, but we spent a while admiring the outside before setting off down the hiking trail.

IMG_0824It was a beautiful trail through the woods.  We stopped for a picnic – peanut butter and Ritz cracker sandwiches anyone?

IMG_0836Finally we reached a mountain pool…and went for a swim!

IMG_0839We ALL went in, but I only got pictures of Abi because she was the last one out.  It was cool and refreshing!

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