Looking over A Time To Reflect, I ended that post by looking ahead to 2012 and pondering what we could expect. Some predictions have come true, others have not quite worked out as I expected, as with most things in life. With that in mind, I thought I'd take this chance to give a brief summary of Janny's first year in the UK.
One of the main surprises has been just how well, and how quickly Janny has settled into life here. Given the fact that Janny had never even visited the UK for a holiday before making the move, it was always going to be a bit of a gamble as to whether she would like it and if she would settle. Luckily my worries about the UK weather, missing home, finding friends and just the overall culture shock have all come to nothing. Well, nothing major anyway.
It was late November '11 when Janny first arrived into a cold Newcastle airport. To be honest it could have been worse. Coming from the heat of Thailand and flying straight into a UK winter, I was expecting it to be much colder than the reasonably "warm" 11C which we arrived into. Even our experience at immigration was relatively pain free. The staff were very friendly and any questions they had were directed at me rather than my wife. The weather has undoubtedly been an issue at times since then. Some days in the colder months, or on rainy days Janny prefers to stay at home, which at times I think restricts her. But she hardly ever complains about the cold, and the dreaded heating bills which I was expecting never really materialsed. Janny is more "kee neaow" than me when it comes to using the heating. It may seem fairly obvious, but top of the shooping list for any wive's/girlfriend's arriving in winter should be a pair of ugg style boots, decent warm coat (or three), hat, scarf and gloves.
Janny's first few days here were spent aclimatising and doing the rounds meeting my family and friends. She was an instant hit with my parents. Before Janny arrived I was a little concerned that they may not warm to her, be suspisious of her intentions, or even read too much into some of the stories about Thai girls which are all too common on the internet. But I shouldn't have worried. My wife was accepted and welcomed by everyone she met, none more so than by my parents. After only a couple weeks my parents told me that they felt as if they had known Janny for years and considered her to be a true daughter to them.
As I have two sets of retired parents (mam & step-dad, plus dad & step-mam) Janny spends a fair amount of time with them whilst I'm at work. Her company is in high demand, and it sometimes feels as if the parents are fighting over who can love her the most. I think I've said it before on the blog, but this has had a major beneficial effect on my own relationship with my parents. Before Janny arrived in the UK I guess you could say I avoided social gatherings and family occasions. Not because of any problems in my relationship with them. But because I often felt a little out of place without my wife being there with me. Now that we are "complete", I (we) spend a hell of a lot more time with both sets of parents, as well as my extended family. As a result, I finally feel like I can participate more with the family.
Early in the new year, after a month or two of settling in, Janny started looking for some part-time work. This proved to be a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. She was initially looking for hotel & cleaning work, as this was what she did back in Thailand. But with the state of the UK economy, the amount of applicants for even the most basic of cleaning jobs was ridiculous. Everyone was chasing whatever work they could get. It took two months of sending out CV's and application just to get one response. Just when we thought nothing was ever going to happen, Janny had a lucky break and landed a cleaning job close to home. It was only 6 hours a week but she was eventually offered more hours at another shop, which gave her some money of her own to do with as she pleased. For Janny it wasn't so much the amount she earned, but more the fact that she wasn't relying on me to pay for everything and she chose to send a proportion of her money back home to her family. Unfortunately in October the company that Janny works for started a consultation with all of the cleaning staff and it looks as though she will be made redundant early in the new year, but as it turns out that may not be such a bad thing. More on that later.
It was through Janny's work that she was introduced to her first Thai friend since moving over here. One day a Thai lady walked into the shop where Janny cleans and they swapped numbers. When she first arrived in the UK, Janny was not interested in meeting any local Thai's, but now she seemed very happy that she had met this new friend. At this point I was a little worried, but allow me to explain. Janny is employed by a popular chain of betting shops. Now, we've all heard the stories of Thai's blowing big money on gambling when moving here, and given that this lady had met Janny in a betting shop, this had me worried. That was not helped when Janny told me how much her new friend was spending (and sometimes winning) in the shop. Her friend introduced Janny to another Thai girl, who was also into the gambling in a big way. Both friends worked at a Thai restaurant 6 days a week. On their only day off they would spend hours in the betting shops. Sometimes they would blow all of their wages, but other times they would win hundreds. I was worried that Janny would be taken in by how much they were winning, and ignore the fact that they were losing just as much and more. What worried me even more was the fact that both of the ladies husbands had no idea that this was going on. Luckily after the first few initial meetings, Janny hardly spent any time with these friends. When she did, it would be at home where they would spend time "yak yakking" and making Som Tam. Both are nice girls, very friendly and its nice that Janny has other Thai's to talk to when she needs it. But I must admit that I'm glad they have not become too close.
Four or five months ago my wife met another Thai lady in town. Thankfully she couldn't be more different from the other ladies. She is a lot older and has no interest in gambling, is very hard working, and with the age difference I think Janny looks up to her as her kind of "Thai mama" figure over here. What is nice about this lady is that, after months of me trying, and failing to get Janny to seriously start studying for the LITUK test, within a few days of meeting, her new friend was encouraging her to complete it with her. It was the push Janny needed to knuckle down, and it took another Thai to get her to do it.
In addition to her Thai friends, I'm also pleased that Janny has made some good farang friends too. One friend in particular, a gay guy, has been really good for her. He has a foreign husband and has also been encouraging Janny to study for the LITUK test, which his partner has just passed. I think it's very important for Janny, and other Thai's, not to fall into the trap of only mixing with Thai friends. This helps them to integrate more.
Lowest & highest point
Our lowest point since Janny's arrival came just after she started work back in March. During the months when it was proving so hard to find work, we began trying to for a baby. A week or two before Janny landed her job, we discovered that she was pregnant. We were both so happy and just couldn't keep the news to ourselves and we told my family almost immediately. Unfortunately our happiness was shortlived and within a few weeks Janny suffered a miscarriage. I was totally gutted, as was Janny. But she bounced straight back and just carried on with life.
The weeks and months that followed were hard. Paticularly waiting for the first "time of the month" after the miscarriage. Janny was determined to start trying again as soon as possible. It was almost 7 weeks before that time came and it didn't get any easier after that. Janny's menstral cycle was all over the place for months. There was no pattern to it and each time she was late by a week or two it gave us false hope that she was pregnant again.
After five months of trying, we came to the decision that if she did not conceive soon, then we would give up. It was killing me to see Janny's disappointment each time she did a negative test. The plan was that she would go on the pill, we would book a trip to Thailand and then start trying again after that holiday. However, as we entered September and our hopes faded, we finally discovered that Janny was pregnant again.
At first I wasn't sure what to feel about the news. I was obviously happy. But that feeling was overshadowed by a total fear that the same thing would happen again. I didn't want to allow myself to hope that things would be different this time. We didn't tell anyone until the week of Janny's first scan. In the early weeks leading up to that I couldn't bring myself to watch any TV adverts for baby products and we tried not to think, or talk about the pregnancy. Waiting for the first scan appointment was a nightmare. When Janny miscarried earlier in the year, she had to have a scan to confirm it. So this time we were obviously very nervous about the appointment. Thankfully everything was fine and we have relaxed a lot more now that she is further on and out of the "danger zone". We've had a couple of midwife appointments since and have another scan booked for mid-January which is when we can find out the sex of the baby. Janny really wants a boy but after losing the first one I really don't mind either way, just as long as everything is fine and healhy. I still can't really allow myself to relax, and I'm trying not to look too far ahead. But hopefully we have had our share of bad luck and everthing will be fine. The baby is another reason why we're not too concerned about Janny being made redundant too. She'll be around 5 months when she's due to finish work, so the timing probably works out quite well anyway. Baby is due early June, two days after my Dad's 60th birthday so he's hoping for a special birthday present from Janny this year :)
How to make the move a success?
This is a difficult one to answer. I don't think there can ever be a defined set of rules or guidelines to follow, as each individual has there own set of circumstances. What's good for one couple may not necessarily be good for another. However, for us, or more specifically for Janny, the following factors have all been key to her having a relatively pain free transition to life outside of Thailand:-
- When she lived in Thailand, Janny had always spent long periods of time working away from her family. I think this has made her a lot more independant and has helped with her lack of homesickness. If Janny had been living with her family before making the move, I really think she would have struggled a lot more.
- Feeling part of the family. From the day she arrived, Janny has been accepted by my family and everyone she meets. Thats credit to her personality more than anything. But the fact that she became close with them very early on has been a massive help in making her feel welcome and settled.
- Contact with home. To be honest Janny doesn't call Thailand too often. She doesn't often feel the need. But when she does, it's good to have an easy and cheap way to do it without having to worry about expensive bills. We use a service from 18185.co.uk. It basically works by registering your landline number with them. Before making a call you enter 18185 followed by the Thai number you want to connect to. Those calls are invoiced seperately by 18185 and do not appear on the standard landline bill. The calls are only about £0.01p per minute. You can also use it from a mobile. It works much the same way, other than you input a specific UK based number before the Thai number which redirects the call at a UK call rate. It is slightly more expensive but still only around £0.04 per minute. Other good free methods are Skype & Facebook
- Food! This is a big one. At the risk of making generalisations. Food and cooking are massively important to Thais. So having access to good Thai food is a major priority. By Thai food I don't mean a local Thai restaurant. The food served in restaurants is aimed at farang and is often nothing like what a "real" Thai would eat at home. We are lucky that we live in a big city and have plenty of asian stores close by. We even have a specifically Thai minimart not too far from us. It's taken some time to find the best places to buy certain things. But Janny's Thai friends know where the the best stores are and one even works in an asian shop. Chinese/asian stores usually have a lot of Thai products, especially noodles, curry pastes, fish and vegetables. Chillies were an issue at first as the one's we were buying from the supermarkets were just not hot enough for her. We've since found some good ones at a local market and Janny also likes the scotch bonnets which she buys from the Indian shops. We have also found that Indian stores are good for things like pappaya and are much cheaper than the big supermarkets. Make sure a decent pestle & mortar are high on the shopping list too.
- Access Thai TV. Janny loves her Thai lakhorn (soaps) and we usually watch an hour or two everyday in bed before we go to sleep (although it usually sends me off after about 5mins). We use a paid internet streaming service called mydootv.com. It's only £5 a month (although you have to pay in 90 day intervals at £15). It keeps Janny happy and there's some shows which I enjoy watching too. So it's a small price to pay for the amount and choice of viewing. The best thing about the service is that we've never had any "buffering" issues like you sometimes get on streaming sites. We simply connect a VGA cable up to the netbook and watch it through the TV. So really its just like watching a normal TV show.
- Friends! I mentioned earlier that it took a while before Janny wanted to mix with other Thais in our city. But we all need friends, and at the end of the day, Thais love to have a good old "yak yak" with each other. That's not to say just because another person is Thai and living in same city that they should automatically become best mates. That said, finding a small group of friends has been great for Janny's independance. Before they came along, we spent almost all of our spare time together and there was never really anything to push her to do her own thing. Now she can get around on her own and it gives us our own space which is important in any relationship.
2013 is going to be a massive year for Janny and I. The year ahead is certainly going to be much more of a challenge. Janny's current visa expires in Feb '14. Whilst that may seem like a long way off. If I've learned one thing over the past year, it's that time passes so quickly and we can't afford to be complacent about her next visa requirements. That puts pressure on Janny to pass, not only the LITUK test, but also the new B1 English test which becomes a requirement from October. Ideally I'd like both sorted before the baby is due in June. That in itself will be a massive challenge for us both.
I start a new job much closer to home in a couple of weeks. That should help take some of the financial pressure off, especially considering we will be losing Janny's small salary when she is made redundant around about the same time. I've been looking for a fresh start for a while now, so hopefully it will give me a boost and it'll certainly be nice to be working closer to home.
A much needed Thailand holiday is certainly in my plan for late in the year. I'm really missing LOS. Plus it will have been two years since Janny has been home by then. I think it's important to give that some priority, but not at the expense of Janny's visa requirements and whats best for the baby. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens in that respect.
So that's about it for now. It's hard to sum up all that's happened over the past year within a few paragraphs. But overall it's been a relatively smooth journey, other than the obvious setbacks. It certainly could have been a lot worse. Anyway, here's to many more years ahead. I really should make an effort to update the blog more often too :)