Category Archives: My TCK life

rebellion set in…

though I honestly really can’t place a specific time or place on it. But I became “that” teenager. I hated everyone and everything. I hated what my parents tried to do – you know, things like parenting. I hated that I had a curfew and that I was not allowed to date until a certain age. I hated I could not wear makeup or have my ears pierced. And I hated school.

I began cutting classes here and there and eventually it became full days that I would cut. Oh I got caught, many times. I was suspended from school for cutting…hmmm, what is wrong with that picture? I was grounded by my parents for cutting school.

I began to smoke and drink. Unfortunately I still smoke. I hate it. It never really did make me look “cool” as I thought it did. Drink, yea I still do but certainly not on a regular basis. I would stead my parent’s cigarettes and get in trouble for that.

I had many boyfriends though I’m not sure many of them really meant anything. One definitely did. We went “steady” for almost 2.5 years. He was a good guy though certainly not the best looking around. I have heard that he married and had a family but then lost track of him. That’s too bad as I would love to know how he did.

I guess I basically began to rebel about everything. And yes, I do mean everything. I was terrible. But I didn’t know what was wrong. Why was I so angry? Why did I hate everything that life had to offer?

I was not a very nice teenager. I was mean (though not bully type mean). I was lazy. I liked the boys and felt they liked me (I figured that one out much later).

I wish I could take those years back. But I can’t. I wish I could apologize to my parents. Well I did to my mother but never had the chance with my father.

Unfortunately that was a large part of what made me. I’m not happy about those years and I’m not happy with who I was then. It took many years to figure things out and to finally become somewhat happy with myself. That of course is a continuing thing I am working on.

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discrimination was alive and well…

Did I mention that the school I went “home” to was what I call Lily White? There were no people of color there at all. And by that I mean any color other than white. There were no Hispanics, African American, Asian or anything else other than Caucasian. Now this was very strange to me as the school I had been attending had every nationality, color, religion that you could possibly think of, and probably more!

I did make some friends but it was not that easy for me. I still wanted to be able to do what I had been doing the past couple of years and yet was now too young. These new friends did not understand why on earth I wanted to do those things such as going to the games or dances or whatever. They did not understand where it was I had been and rather made fun of me when they found out. Yes, children can be cruel. And yes, bullying did in fact take place back oh so many years ago.

But being as young as I was I’m not sure that I really thought that much about those things. I knew I was somewhat unhappy but could never really put my finger on why that was. Of course, I’m not sure that I really tried to work it out as again, I was on the young side of life at that period of time.

I found myself also feeling a bit more smart than the rest of the class. Ok, maybe smart is not really the proper word here but there was something that I had that the rest of them didn’t and yes, it did distinguish us. It did put a line between me and everyone else.  Did I actually draw that line? Perhaps I did but am not sure that I was the only one that did.

Things changed for me however, and actually opened my eyes just a bit. But again, being the age I was I did not know how to deal with it.  You see eventually a black family (yes that is what they were called back then) moved into the neighborhood. The daughter was in my class and she and I became pretty good friends.

Of course, no one else in the class or even the school would even acknowledge her. And because I had become friends with her they began to not acknowledge me either. So those “friends” that I had worked so hard to obtain were suddenly gone, out of my life. And yet I had no clue as to why that was, what I had done.

I had never seen discrimination before. That was not how my parents raised us at all. And that was not the life I had lead before. And I did not understand it at all. And it troubled me but I could not put that into words as honestly it was not something I was capable at that point in my life of understanding.

That family moved away not long after that. I do not know why the moved, though at this stage of my life I certainly have my own thoughts about it. But the damage for me had been done. That is certainly, however, not to say that I would not have made friends with her had I know the consequences it would have on my life.  I most certainly would have been friends with her and honestly have always been upset that I did not keep in touch with her. Yes, it would have been much easier on me if she had never moved there but I believe that in reality those so-called friends would have found yet another way to push me out.

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home…or was it really?

Going to a new school was strange. You see my sister and I ended up going to different schools. I was in the 6th grade and she was in 8th or 9th. I didn’t understand why we had to go to different places but everyone said we did. As far as I could tell she fit right in, but then she always did where ever she went or whatever she was doing. But not me.

This school was so different than what I had been used to. First of all it was only K through 6 and I was used to K through 12. I was used to talking to everyone and mingling with everyone. Here it seemed that you really only mingled or socialized with your own grade.

But far more important was the fact that I returned to a school that was quite white. I don’t think I realized right then that would end up being a problem for me, but eventually it would come into play.

First though came a few other problems. I was of course the new kid and not everyone at this school knew how to accept new kids. They had all, or most, gone through school together and had very few people joining them, especially in the middle of the year such as I did. I am not and never have been one that makes friends easily so I blame myself just as much. But my old school in Singapore had kids coming and going at all times. We were used to the “new kid” and they were very easily accepted. I did not feel accepted then, nor did I, in fact, feel accepted for a very long time.

Then one night my sister went to a game or a dance, I really don’t recall which one. I was not allowed to go though certainly did not understand why not. After all I had, for the past two years, gone to many school dances and games. Why now was I too young to do so? It made no sense to me and yet no one could explain it. I loved my sister but I believe I became jealous and resentful of the fact that she was able to do the things we had been able to do before but for some reason I could not. Was I being punished for something? I didn’t know and again no one could explain it to me.

People would ask me where I was from and when I said Singapore (or Indonesia) they would look at me as though I was crazy. Or wouldn’t have any idea where that was. I would try and explain where it was and would many times be made fun of, which of course I did not understand either. That bothered me a great deal. Eventually I gave up and learned to hate the question of where I came from. It took me a 25 years to finally begin telling people again that I grew up in Singapore. That was how I would put it as for me that was the truth. Little did I know that was all part of being a TCK – a term I would not learn for another 40 years.

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We seemed to all move right into our new lives with really very little problems. At least I don’t recall any if there were some. I loved where I was living and I saw my sister every day at school.  We would go “home” for vacations and be able to spend time with our parents.

During just about every single vacation home we would go on a trip somewhere. Some were just short little things while others were quite adventurous. We would go up to a resort area not all that far away. They had a huge swimming pool with the absolute longest slide into a pool I have ever seen – even to this day. But the water in the pool was ice cold! Oh we had a blast anyway and loved going up there.

 We would go to other areas on the island of Java and hike up into the volcanos, or look at the huge temples. Or we would go to Bali. I do believe Bali was a favorite for all of us. Remember this was in the very early 1960’s so it did not have any big tourist hotels. There were only the little hotels located along the beaches…and they were fabulous. We spent several Christmas vacations there, including one in which we had Christmas dinner (ok, could have been Thanksgiving) on the hospital ship Hope. I remember that one well as we had milk which I swear was the best ever produced.

Yes, there were many, many trips but I am not going to go into those. They would take many pages to write and honestly, I’m not so sure I can remember all of them. I do know that they were all very exciting and wonderful.

We also eventually made friends with the people of the village directly across the street from us.  Even without being able to communicate I played with a couple of little girls over there quite a bit. And yes, I ate whatever it was they ate and yes, I used their little houses above the river as well.

Life was different for us then. But life was good for us as well. We all seemed to excel and grow tremendously in many different ways.

Then one day it all ended. My mother got word to the American Consulate in Singapore to have her help us get ready to leave. My father had a spot on his lung and we were headed home to make sure he got the best care possible.

My sister, AJ and I left Singapore on a PanAm flight. The captain of that flight was the man who had purchased our home back in the states. He would fly us home and then take us back to the house we had left but that was no longer ours. We would begin school while we stayed with them until my parents arrived a few months later. Big changes were about to take place for me.

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my other family

Things were good these days – at least as far as I was concerned. The wonderful family I lived with consisted of my third grade teacher who originally was from Illinois and her British husband who was in the Royal Air Force. They had two daughters just a few years younger than me. It really was a good living arrangement for me.

Sure we went to school and did all that but there were also other fun memories. Wednesday night Amah’s (maid or servant) market was a favorite of mine. It was an open air affair with stalls on each side of the walkway. It was primarily food if I recall correctly. Yes, this was in the 1960’s so I suppose I must admit that it might have been a bit – or should I say a lot – dirty and smelly. But it is a smell that I actually sometimes miss. But what I miss the most is the satay we would purchase and eat for dinner while we walked along looking and purchasing other things. It really was wonderful. To this day when I see satay on a menu I must order it. But sadly nothing so far has come close to what I remember. And yes, it most likely had a lot to do with the atmosphere, the smell and just everything else surrounding me.

I don’t recall exactly where we would go but we also raced go-karts. Now that was total undeniable fun! It was actually a pretty big course. Ok, I was 11. Maybe it wasn’t all that big but it sure felt like it was. I think that was one thing – among others – that I missed when we left.

The maid, Sue, was Chinese and I’m sure not much older than myself. She and I actually became pretty good friends and she was in the process of teaching me Chinese when we had to leave. Oh how I wish I had kept up with that.

School was also very interesting. It was K through 12 all in one building. At that time there were probably no more than about 350 students total. And we did everything regardless of the grade you were in. We all went to the various games, though I remember the basketball ones the most. We all went to the dances no matter the age. We had friends of every age, or at least knew pretty much everyone.

Oh and one cannot forget the American Club. Oh what a great place that was. There you could get a wonderful hamburger and feel pretty much like you were back in the states. But they also showed movies and had a bowling alley downstairs. Again there seemed to be no age discrimination there at all. Oh, and did I mention that there was no race or religious discrimination in the school? None of that ever seemed to matter. In fact I don’t ever recall thinking about a person’s skin color or where they were from. It really made no difference.

It really was a wonderful life we were living. And we had vacations every three months. Oh but we will discuss those later…

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Living arrangements and travel…

We soon fell into a routine of sorts in which my mother would fly my sister and I back and forth between Singapore and Indonesia. Sure she loved doing so as Singapore had much better shopping and apparently some rather nice bars. But that would soon change. No, not the shopping and bars but the flying back and forth for my mother.

I don’t recall the reason AJ and I left the living arrangement at the hostel but we were soon living with another family. They had a rather large, modern home and had a son and a daughter. I believe the son might have been older while the daughter was my sister’s age. I hated it from the day we moved there. I honestly don’t remember all the reasons I disliked it so much but I remember being terribly angry and sad. Of course what I was not aware of was that my sister also did not like living there. What I learned many years later was that she felt she had to watch out for me and therefore never said anything to me about not liking it.

We stayed with this family for a period of time until my parents realized that neither of us was happy. I don’t know if my sister said anything to my parents but I do believe I might have. And of course they may well have known we were unhappy but had not been able to find another place for us.

I know my parents felt it was very important for the two of us to remain together. After all we were already separated from my parents as well as my oldest sister. They did not want to split us up any further.

How my mother made any arrangements from Indonesia I will never know. Remember this is 1960 through 1962. There were no cell phones, no internet and what information they did get was received very slowly.

Soon however it was determined that we should be split up as they felt it was more important for our living arrangements to be satisfactory than to keep us together. My sister then moved into the home of one of her very good friends while I moved into the home of my 3rd grade teacher.

I loved my new home! For once in my life I was the oldest of three girls instead of being the baby. My host family was an interesting mix as she was originally from Illinois while he was with the Royal Air Force (RAF). They were truly a wonderful family and made me feel so very welcome.

Oh I still saw my sister at school and when we went home on vacation and she still felt she needed to watch over me.

And soon my mother became tired of flying back and forth all the time. That was when AJ and I began to do so on our own! Yes, in 1960 through 1962 my sister who was around 12 and I who was 10 were flying from Singapore to Surabaya, Indonesia and back all by ourselves. What an adventure!

Now you do have to remember that both of these countries were Third World countries at the time and there was really only one airline to use. That airline by the way never left on time, never arrived on time and sometimes didn’t even take off. My parents would wait at the airport sometimes many hours for us to arrive. Somehow, some way we did seem to make it. We did receive some help from the American Consulate in Singapore but really that was just to make sure we had reservations and got to the airport.

Eventually we pretty much learned what stops the plane was supposed to make and about how long it should take. But like my parents we knew that was subject to change at any time. In fact, there was one time it did take a dramatic turn. The plane flew off course and landed at a location we had never stopped at before. Throughout the flight the stewardess (yes, that is what they were) were paying special attention to one particular passenger. When we made this stop out of the way that particular male passenger apologized to us and bought us a candy bar and orange crush. That of course made the world right again. We then took off again and landed at home several hours late. Our parents were there waiting for us of course. However, they were not so much looking at us when we got off the plane but were thrilled to see Charlie Chaplin debark! (ok, you younger folks may have to look him up!!) Yes indeed it was Charlie Chaplin that had apologized and bought us candy and a drink.

An old saying that has been changed somewhat over the years did become my parent mantra which I still use at times. The saying they used went like this:

“Pretty damn seldom where my bag go. She no fly. You no more fit run station than god sake. That all I know.”

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martini making…

School was quite different there in Singapore than it had been back in the states. First of all it was kindergarten through 12th grade all in one building so everyone was together. And everyone meant just about every nationality, color, religion that you could possibly conceive of. What was truly interesting though is that you just didn’t think of all of that. It was just the normal everyday way of things.

Our first vacation my mother came and picked us up to take us home. It was then that we learned they had done a bit more research into schools.  Each one of us was given a choice of where we wished to go. The choices were a boarding school in Sweden which was on the semester schedule, a boarding school in the Philippines also on the semester schedule or remain in Singapore.  My oldest sister chose to go to school in the Philippines while my next older sister and I chose to remain in Singapore.  I really don’t know why any one of us made the decisions we made, but it did mean that not only were we split apart from our parents but would now be split from our oldest sister. But once again somehow that just did not feel strange. It was just a part of life as far as we were concerned.

My mother then flew my oldest sister (we will call her EJ) out to the Philippines to get her enrolled in school while my other sister (AJ) and I stayed home with my father. My father was a college professor and had obtained a teaching job at the university. The project he worked on was to help them improve their medical college. So during the day while he was teaching my sister and I were alone at home. Well, ok, we were never really alone as we had servants! Yes, that was very much a change for us. We had a laundry woman who would do our laundry every few days and then iron everything in sight. The iron she used was one of those really heavy things with coals inside. In later years after realizing the work she did I felt so sorry for her. My mother told me later she had offered to buy and electric iron but she would have nothing to do with that.

We also had a driver. Actually we had many drivers as apparently there were problems with some of them. Being the kid I was I never bothered to find out what the problems were. And we had a yard man. He was an older gentleman that worked out in the hot sun all day long. But I do believe he taught my father how to grow the orchids that my father loved so much (as do I!). We also went through several cooks before finding our gem of one who stayed with us until we left. Oh my but she was a fabulous cook. And lastly we had a “house boy”. What was his job? Honestly I am not exactly sure but I do know he was very, very cute!

Every afternoon around 4:00 it would be “tea” time. Well in our household tea time turned into beer time. The houseboy would bring my parents beer and my sisters and I “Orange Crush” which was just about the only soda available. But along with that he would bring out some sort of snack. My favorite of those were the fried bananas. Whenever we were home the cook always made sure to make those – many times as she knew how very much I loved them.

Those were the weekday afternoons. On Friday evenings my parents liked to have a real drink and did enjoy their martinis. So the houseboy and the cook wanted to learn how to make them so they could serve them properly. My father showed how to measure the ingredients and make the martinis and believed that was that. Apparently several hours later my parents heard the servants in the back of the house laughing very loudly. My parents were not strict with the servants at all but they were curious as to what was so funny so they headed back there to see what it was all about.  Apparently the houseboy and cook had been practicing making martinis and of course had to taste every single one of them. However, they would take a sip and then throw out the rest of it. First of all these people did not drink alcohol so it hit them pretty hard and fast. But they were also throwing out the very valuable vodka my parents had brought with them.  They laughed about that for years to come and my father continued to make the martinis.

It did not take a lot for us to get used to this lifestyle at all, or at least I don’t think it did. I think children tend to acclimate to this type of thing better than the grownups. Though I do believe my mother became quite accustomed to the servants quite quickly.

Life in Indonesia was in fact very different for us. But it was also a very exciting time in our lives.

 

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starting school…overseas

Since my parents had initially thought they would “home school” us they did not really research any other options. Keep in mind that back then – in the early 1960’s – researching was quite different than it is now as there was no internet. So when we arrived in Indonesia they learned of the Singapore American School and off we went. My mother with three little girls tagging along headed over to Singapore to sign us up and schedule living arrangements.

Interestingly I did not feel this was all that different than the norm. Maybe I was just too young to realize it, I really don’t know.

We ended up living in a “hostel” with several other, mostly American, girls, with me, once again being the youngest. The home, though, was run by a British couple and their teenage son. Oh and the house was absolutely wonderful. I’m not totally sure of the style but it certainly had a British influence. It was quite large with the living area; kitchen, dining and I believe a small living area on the ground floor. The next two floors were the very large bedrooms with at least 2 girls in each room. My memory of this has faded considerably so there may have been more than two in each room. My room was in the circular turret which made me feel a bit special.

As I mentioned my memories of this time have long faded. But I do recall playing jacks on the floor with my sister whom I will call AJ and several of the others. AJ and I played so much and learned so many new games of jacks that we became quite good. Eventually that would be the one thing in which I was true competition for her through the years.

The other thing that was quite different for us was the school. One of the major differences was that it was a year round school in which we would be in school for 3 months then have one month of vacation. Much different than the nine months of school with three months’ vacation that we were used to “back home”.

The other thing that really stood out was that the other students were of every nationality, race, religion that you could possibly think of. Discrimination? Absolutely none. Keep in mind that we had arrived from a town in California in which I recalled never meeting anyone whose skin was a different color than mine. Different religions I was not aware of as we were taught never to speak of religion or politics – which of course would change through the years.
But being children we pretty much fit in with no problem at all. Well at least I didn’t. My best friend turned out to be a girl from Sweden and of course there was a boy that I liked that was originally from someplace in Africa.

Oh and one other thing about the school was at the time, and I believe this is still true, was that it was from kindergarten up through grade 12. Therefore, while we were all in different grades in school we all also attended the same school.

My mother got us settled into the hostel and school then returned “home” to Indonesia and my father. I learned later several things about these years from my mother many years later. They fell in love all over again…not that they had fallen out of love but it just strengthened. They treated these years as the honeymoon they had not previously had. They took numerous trips – with and without us. My mother became quite spoiled as we had servants, including a cook, so she did not have to worry about taking care of the house.

This experience was such a different type of lifestyle than what we had been used to back in the “states”. And yet at the time I never really felt it was all that different and just seemed to fit in with no problems. Oh the joys of being a child!

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my childhood adventure begins…

When I was 10 years old we moved from our well loved neighborhood of large old houses and wonderful friends to a whole new world. A world that I had no idea even existed. It was quite an adventure to say the least and truly ended up being some of the best years of my life.

We moved to Indonesia – yes the same country that Barak Obama lived when he was a child – though we were in a different city. My parents had originally believed they would home school us but if memory serves me right that really only lasted about a week! I’ll talk about that in another post.

Our home was quite “modern” in that it had floors which were tile over concrete, windows that opened and closed, actual bedrooms for each of us and air conditioning! But where we were there were no other children for us to play with. Well that may not necessarily be true.

You see we lived directly across the street from a Kampong or village. Let me set the stage for you here. Sitting in our living room you could look out the front window and you would see in this order, our front yard, a somewhat paved road, a Kali (river), a dirt road, then the village. There were by the way, little buildings built over the river which I soon learned were their outhouses.

Initially we were told that we should not play with the kids in the village nor should we ever, ever drink the water unless it was boiled. Oh my…how things changed from that first initial week there.

Some quick thoughts: we ended up drinking the water – from the faucet! My sisters and I were allowed beer (or Orange Crush) in lieu of water at many times. The people in the village were wonderful, lovely people – and yes – at least I played with the kids there. The red bridge that eventually crossed the river was built with the help of my father. It was a beautiful country. I can still read my parents letters to friends back home and see and smell what they are describing.

This was a special time in my life. It was a time that would eventually define me though some for the best and some, well not necessarily for the best.

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who am I

I have spent much of my adult life trying to figure out what happened to me. Why did I turn out the way did. No, I’m not a bad person and I’m not in jail (nor should I be). But very early on I began to make poor life decisions, and continue on with that pattern. I then try and figure out why I made those decisions.

And I was a terrible teenager. Oh, I was, believe me. And really for no good reason. I had great parents. I really did. We had a nice house and as far as I was aware had money for everything I wanted. My parents had a great marriage and while they did not show a lot of affection for one another (you just didn’t back then) I knew they were very much in love. And yes, I was the baby of the family with two older sisters. But we were not particularly close though.

So what was it in my childhood or in my past that turned me into who I am today? While I am not necessarily ashamed of who I am I’m also not particularly proud of who I am either. I am ashamed of some of my life choices though as well as how I have treated my family.

When I was in my 30’s my mother and I spoke of my childhood and I explained to her what I felt had been part of the problem. Interestingly enough it was almost 30 years later that I read an article that explained much of the same thing. It was through that article that I learned I was an adult TCK. I finally had a name to my situation, to my life.

I don’t necessarily like long blog posts so I will stop here. But before I do I will explain that a TCK is short of Third Culture Kid. That is an individual who, before the age of 18 (in other words their developing years) in a culture outside of their parents. I spent several years overseas – and loved it. The problems began when we returned home.

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