If it looks like a duck, but does not quack like one

The struggle is real.

I am an American, born that way.  I am Chinese, raised that way.  I am Dutchified, after living in the Netherlands the past 8 years.  I look Chinese.  I also look Vietnamese… or Indonesian… or Filipina… or… “someone from somewhere in (south east) Asia”.

Image by pat138241 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by pat138241 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I used to live in America, I lived in an area where there is a high Asian population.  Whenever someone saw an Asian person, the general assumed race and ethnicity of the Asian person is Chinese.  You could be Hmong or Vietnamese, and still be called Chinese.  Between all Asians though, we did not ask “What Asian are you?” but instead just listened to the language you spoke, looked at your last name, tried talking to you in an Asian language to see if you understood, or just didn’t care!

Now I live in the Netherlands and I am a confusion to the people here.  I don’t even look like a duck, let alone sound like a duck.  I’m some bird that does not sound like a bird!  The following are things that has happened to me ever since I have moved to the Netherlands.

  1. When young teens leer at me, they say, “Nihao“.  I did get a “Konnichiwa” once.  (This also happens in America.)
  2. Every single time I go to a Vietnamese loempia (lumpia/spring rolls) stall for some food, the owner of the stall will always ask me, “Waar kom jij van?” (Where are you from?).  I tell them I’m from America (which they are very surprised) and then I make sure to tell them that I am Chinese too.
  3. I went to a party of a friend who is Filipina and most of the other guests were also Filipina.  The women kept talking to me in Tagalog until they realized I could not understand.  With their accents too, I often didn’t even know if I was being spoken to in Dutch or Tagalog.  They said I looked Filipina, that’s why they talked to me in Tagalog.
  4. Many assume I am from China.  Even after I have told them I am from America, they still think I am from China (one of my Dutch teachers was one of these people).
  5. I’ve spoken Dutch to people who replied to me in English.  Then I’ve spoken English to other people who replied to me in Dutch.
  6. Many also assume I’m Indonesian because of the Dutch history with Indonesia.  Because of that, they tell me that they like chicken satay/saté.
  7. I’ve been asked, “Where are you from?” and after I respond, they then asked, “Where are you really from?”

So being this strange looking and sounding expat I am, these are the kind of things I have dealt with.  I know not all people are being racist.  I’m also not offended.

Another thing to mention is that adopting babies and toddlers from China is “popular” to many Dutch people.  Sometimes when I am hanging out with my mother-in-law, I wonder if people ever think I’m adopted.

Within the last year, I have made friends with a few other expats (which I will talk about in another post), but every one of them are the same race as the ethnic country they came from.  I wonder if  I will ever meet someone like me.  Actually, if you, reader, are a non-western looking American expat, do please drop me a comment.  I would love to hear about your experiences in whatever country you are living in now.

And without further ado, time for the Dutch portion of my post:

Onlangs heb ik een heel leuke Facebook groep gevonden: Ik geef weg. Dit is een groep dat mensen kunnen dinges gratis geven door elkaar!  Geen geld nodig, alles gratis!  En, het kan bijna alles!  Kleding, schoenen, meubilair, warme eten (echt!), kinderspulletjes, enz.  Alleen medicijnen en dieren kun jij niet geven via de groep.  Ik heb een paar dingen gegeven en ook een paar dingen gekregen.  Vanavond heb ik met mijn man een beetje op de zolder ruimen.  Wij hebben heel veel dingen dat wij gaan geven.  Dat doe ik morgen.

As some people may have noticed, my Dutch portion of my posts does not have much to do with the post itself.  I do this because the things I write about in Dutch are just little snippets from my life that I find interesting.  Anyway, it is high time for me to go to bed, so as I sleep, Be Happy!



Dealing with a “Peuterpuber”

In American English, there is something called “the Terrible Twos”.  This describes when a child reaches the age of two and starts becoming little monsters that think only of themselves and sees no reasoning.  Often people wonder why it is called “the Terrible Twos” when it is a phase that usually starts a bit before two and ends around four years old.  This is practically the toddler years (2-4 years old).   In Dutch the toddler is called a peuter and often people rightfully add the word puber after the word.  Puber means “teenager”.

Personally, I love the Dutch expression for the toddler phase a lot more than American English expression because it describes exactly what the child is like in this age span, and with alliteration!  These little creatures are adorable little humans that act like hormonal teenagers.

The strange peuter puber.

The strange peuter puber.

So my son is now three and a half and drives me crazy-mad.  My daughter is now one and a half and she is starting to pick up the naughty things my son is doing as she’s preparing herself for her peuterpubertijd (toddler-teenager-time).  I am currently struggling to get my son to eat (with a fork), to stop sucking his thumb, and well, just getting him to do anything and to just doe normaal (act normal).  It is a daily struggle.

Peuterpuber on eating.  Nearly everyday on every hour he complains about being hungry and how he wants to eat.  But by dinner time, he says he doesn’t want to eat.  I’ve tried not giving him food after 4pm to “starve” him a little before dinner which is at 6pm.  It doesn’t work.  He once even got excited after seeing and getting his dinner, and then SUDDENLY said he didn’t want to eat!  His reasoning?  Daddy wasn’t home (and won’t be home until later).  But aren’t you hungry since you’ve been complaining about being hungry the last 2 hours?  Not hungry.

Peuterpuber on sucking his thumb.  He sucks his thumb all the time now.  Before he used to do it when he’s tired.  Then he started doing it when he’s watching TV.  Now he just does it whenever his thumb is free.  This drives me mad since I was never a thumb sucker and it impedes speech development as well as ruin teeth development, especially if he doesn’t stop by 4 years old.  Other people I know whose sons stopped sucking their thumb was after they sustained some injury (wart, blister, etc.) on the thumb.  Sometimes I do wish he gets a wart or blister!  But I wish mostly that he will have the courage to stop by himself.

Peuterpuber on doing anything.  Everything takes longer.  When told/asked to get dressed, he is still not dressed 10 minutes later.  When told/asked to finish drinking his milk, it is not done unless constantly being told multiple times.  With a little sister around, he is always taking things from her and causing her a lot of distress from that or even from giving her too much love like “hugging” her which looks more like a wrestling hold.  I do my best to not constantly get on my son’s case because my daughter does try to use the crying and whining to her advantage sometimes….


This potty reward chart worked for us!

If anything, potty training is something I am proud of for my son.  It was a real struggle that ran for weeks at first, but after making a sticker reward chart for him on potty training, it was like he flipped a switch and completely became potty trained from the start of the chart until the end.  At night we still had him in diapers (which made poop training a little longer because he’d poop in the morning when his diaper was still on), but after about a month of night time diapers, we let him decide what he wanted to wear to sleep.  He only wet his bed two or three times in the first weeks (which he cried over because he felt shameful but we gave him lots of love) and has not done it ever since.  He will even wake up late at night to pee if he needs to. 🙂

Anyway, I am glad my daughter is not a thumbsucker so that is one less thing to worry about my daughter.  Now it’s about time to start the ol’ pot for her.  For my son, I’m planning to try a reward chart with him on thumbsucking.  It worked for potty training, I hope it works for thumbsucking.  I just need to find a good one.  I might even have to find another one for him to eat all his dinner without so much complaining too.  Well, one bad habit at a time!

If you are trying to potty train and looking for a good reward chart, I suggest the one I used which I found on Sherbert Cafe.  The reason I chose this chart among the thousands out there are the lollypops on the path to the ice cream.  Basically my son would put a cool car/plane sticker on the circles, but when he got on a lollypop, he got a sticker AND a piece of candy.  His final reward was not ice cream, but a trip to the local kiddie-gym which he chose as a reward (as suggested by me).

So back to the topic of my peuterpuber.  What I found most important in dealing with a peuterpuber is to really try to keep your cool.  Most of the time they are not really trying to make you mad.  They are just being this way because everything in the world really doesn’t make sense to them.  Often, they have some idea in their head and if something happens to change or upset what is in their head, then the world is just not “right” anymore!  They often find it very difficult to deal with disappointments, change, fear, setbacks, etc.  There is a lot of anxiety!  Keep a cool head and realize how funny they are being.  Keep reminding yourself that it will get better.  And it is also normal to get upset and mad with them because it is not realistic to be 100% in love with them all of the time!  Finally, I’ve realized that a peuter is not much different from an expat.  They are little humans thrown into a “foreign” world where they have to learn the foreign ways (i.e. becoming more independent like getting dressed, eating with utensils, breaking from certain comforts, etc.).  This is probably why many expats feel anxious and depressed often.

And now for the Dutch portion:

mantauIk hou heel veel van chinees eten omdat ik chinees ben en opgegroied met chinees eten.  Onlangs had ik mantau (chinees gestoomd brood) gemaakt .  Ik houd niet van brood, maar dit was ZO lekker!  Er zijn heel veel recepten, maar gebruik ik dit recept van Yi Reservation.  Waarom dit recept?  Omdat het was in metriek stelsel!

Ik wil mantau maken leren omdat ik wil de mantau met chinese kleefrijst of cha sieuw (gebarbecued of geroosterd vlees, namelijk varkensvlees) binnen.  Mijn eerste keer mantau maken was een sucess! Het was zacht en smaakt lekker!  Dus, volgende keer ga ik mantau maken met iets binnen.

So that was a bit about my recent adventure in making mantau (Chinese steamed buns).  I think I might have made more Dutch errors this time, but I’m also very tired.  Time to sleep!  Slaap lekker and Be Happy!


My ‘little’ update

Often times I want to write a “perfect post”.  I want to fill it with pictures, good ideas and tips.  Yet this is exactly the reason why I end up rarely updating my blog with posts!  It is not the lack of good ideas and tips, but the focus on trying to be perfect and popular.

I realized I had to refocus and think, “Who and why am I writing these posts for?”  Of course I want to do it for the world, but realistically, this is just one of the many hundred-thousands of blogs on the Internet.  And this is one of many thousands of expat blogs too.  Who would want to read walls of text of random ‘drivels’ from a random woman on the Internet?  Not many. Thinking back to my very first blog that I use to write in all the time, I found the answer.

This blog is for me.  I write for my sanity.  I write to not forget.

Therefore beginning with this post, I am going to revert to writing whatever I wish to write about.  It will not be brain vomit or free flow though.  That is, I won’t be writing anything and everything that comes to mind.  There will be some organization.


My first day doing pedicure.

With that said, I just wanted to update a bit on what’s going on with my life.  Currently, I am taking a Pedicure course.  It is a 4 day (one full day per week) where I learn how to give pedicures to people. Not just cosmetically either, but the whole she-bang like cutting out corns with a surgical knife, sanding out nails, etc.  I should mention that the course is entirely in Dutch.  One of my concerns before I started the course was that I would be barely floating with all these “strange” terms in Dutch.  I don’t know that much about feet (it’s not in any of my studies in America) and I don’t have a medical background, except for just having a science degree.  Fast forward to 3 weeks from the start of my course and I am using Dutch terms for calluses (eelt), corns (likdoorn), ingrown nails (ingroeiendenagel), and other things as if I’ve known these words for ages.  After my first lesson, I was even surprised with how much I understood with what the teacher was saying.

Yes, life often surprises us.  I surprise myself.  I would not have thought in 2008 when I moved to the Netherlands that I would be standing at this moment in life doing what I’m doing now in 2016.

My Dutch isn’t that great.  I’ve been here almost 8 years and I know I still make a lot of mistakes with my Dutch communication.  Especially when I am tired, I can’t think in Dutch.  But I was sitting on the couch at my husband’s grandparent’s house today (it was opa‘s birthday) and just listening to the conversations and realized, “Whoa…I understand what people are saying.”  I realized how just a few years back I was still in a dream bubble.

En nu…kan ik ook misschien in Nederlands bloggen.  Ha!  Maar wat kan ik over schrijven?  Ah!  Ik weet het.  Elke keer als ik een post maken, ga ik een korte verhaaltje schrijven over ik.


Een reclame voor de schoenen.  Kijk de prijs!

Dit is de Nederlandse portie van mijn post.  Ik ga vertellen over mijn nieuwe schoenen.  Voor mijn pedicure cursus heb ik witte kleding en witte schoeisel nodig.  Dus, vorige zaterdag was ik in de stad met mijn man en kinderen op zoek naar witte schoenen.  Ik was bij Bristol, van Haren, en ook AktieSport.  Ik heb witte schoenen gevonden, maar niet “goed genoeg”, te duur, en zo.  Eindelijk ga ik naar V&D.  Daar heb ik mooie witte schoenen precies wat ik wil.  Het was ook van echte leer.  De schoenen zijn €80, maar nu €25.  Ik dacht, “Ja, goeie deal en €25 is wat ik wil uitgeven voor schoenen.”  Ik ga naar de kassa en het was €15!  Tachtig euro voor vijftien?!  Heb ik geluk!  En vandaag heb ik mijn schoonmoeder gezegd dat ik heb veel geluk omdat V&D is nu dicht (failliet) sinds maandag!  Ik denk dat ik kan nooit meer zo goed een deal vinden! 🙂

I hope you enjoyed that bit, if you can read Dutch.  If not, feel free to chuck it in Google Translate to see what I wrote. 🙂  And as I said, my Dutch isn’t that great… and I know I write like I’m speaking Dutch.  I’m proud of myself and that makes me happy.  Now it’s your turn to Be Happy!



My tongue is turning Dutch: Mayonnaise

Image by artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Dutch love their potatoes.  They love it so much, the potatoes are indeed the “apple of their eye” because they call them aardappel or earth (soil) apple.  Yet the Dutch have a peculiarity when eating their potatoes: they dip it in mayonnaise.

Slowly, my tongue is turning Dutch, but what turned it was ironically something American!  I’m starting to like dipping my potatoes in mayo too and it’s all thanks to an American brand of mayonnaise: Hellmann’s REAL mayonnaise.

As a child, I never cared to dip my fries in any sauce, not even the American favourite of ketchup.  At home, we rarely ate potatoes since we’re Chinese and it’s rice all the way!  The only time my mother used mayo was to smear it on my bread instead of butter and it tastes great with ham.  (On a side note, my Dutch husband thinks mayo on bread is weird, but most Dutchies do not share his opinion on this.)  Or I would mix the mayo with tuna or egg to make a tuna or egg salad.  Our jar of mayo usually took a year to finish too.

So when I moved to the Netherlands, I was of course curious about this whole mayo business.  My husband, his friends, and I went to a McDonald’s and they told me about fritessaus:

“It’s not really mayo. But it is. Sort of.”

“McDonald’s fritessaus is different. They make it special.”

“In Belgium, it’s different too.  It’s more sour, I think.”

So I tasted it and was absolutely not wowed.  After all, I like my fries sauce-less!  Yet after 7 years of living in the Netherlands, I finally decided to try ordering fries with something on it.

It's the onions I love.

It’s the onions I love.

It all started when  I decided to order a patatje speciaal, fries special, and my tongue fell in love.  A patat speciaal is fries with a sauce that is comprised of mayo or fritessaus, curry sauce (it’s ketchup with curry powder), and chopped raw onions on top.

Then at home, my husband enjoys his potatoes with mayo (except when they are boiled, then no mayo).  So to keep my husband happy, I bought mayo… but was quite overwhelmed with the selection at the store!  We begin with your regular mayonnaise, then there’s fritessaus, then your less fat mayo which spawns many different ones (lite, halfvolle, 3%, light and creamy, etc.), mayo mixed with yoghurt, mayo mixed with olive oil, and American fritessaus.  The last one is still very strange to me since as far as I know, Americans do not eat their fries with any kind of mayo-like sauce.  However, my understanding is that it tastes like the special McDonald’s fritesaus I mentioned about earlier, but since McDonald’s does not sell sauces in grocery stores, it became “Mad Sauce”, so people can have the taste of McDonald’s at home.  Different companies decided to make their own version of Mad Sauce and labeled it as American fritessaus.

So, at first I bought regular mayonnaise.  Then I bought both mayonnaise and fritessaus because some of my husband’s friends mentioned how it’s different and how they prefer one over the other when eating their fries and we often have friends over for dinner.  Then I bought Calve’s Yofresh, and this was a hit with my husband’s friends as well as I.  Then what really won me over was when I bought Hellmann’s REAL mayonnaise.  That’s right, I went from not liking sauce on my fries or potatoes to now dipping it mayonnaise and it is all thanks to the American brand of mayonnaise!

Hellmann's_logoFinally, as an interesting tid-bit, the reasons why Hellmann’s won me over is because I grew up on the east coast of America where Hellmann’s is originally sold.  I grew up liking Hellmann’s, but when my family and I moved to the west coast, there is no Hellmann’s but Best Foods.  Best Foods and Hellmann’s have almost the same logo as they are sister companies (Best Foods bought up Hellmann’s), but each have their own mayo recipe which is almost identical.  So when I was in California, I always felt that the mayonnaise did not taste the same (now I know why) and did not like it.  Years later and thanks to Unilever, a British-Dutch company that bought up Best Foods thus bringing Hellmann’s to Europe, I have been reunited with my childhood memory and flavour.  And with that, my old childhood memory has expanded to turn my tongue more Dutch.

What a fascinating life I live, that’s why I can tell you all to Be Happy!



My son’s first traktatie!

In the Netherlands, it is customary for school children (ages 4 to 12) to go to school bearing gifts on their birthday.  That’s right, the birthday child give gifts to the non-birthday children and teachers.  The gift is called a traktatie.

A very creative treat.

A very creative treat.

Working in a school in the last few years, I have usually been at the receiving end as I stuffed my face each week with little cakes, cookies, chocolate, stroopwafels, or the occasional fruit.  (And I wonder, why are the Dutch teachers not going into some diabetic shock?)  Usually, the traktatie are pretty plain, but some parents (usually the mother) will go all out, as you can see in the photo on the right.  That little wonder is an oreo dipped in white chocolate, decorated, wrapped with a sour strip and stuck together via toothpick and icing on a vanilla cupcake.  And you have to remember, they did not make one…they made THIRTY-PLUS  of these cute little sugar bombs, one for each child AND teacher in the school.

Then it was my turn. (Cue suspenseful music.)

My son turned 3 in September and he goes to a peuterspeelzaal (pre-school).  I actually started to stress about this.  What do I make? How many do I make? When do I make it?

So a week before my son’s birthday, I sat down and talked to the teacher.  This was in Dutch of course. 😉

“So, Johan is turning three next week on Sunday”

“Oh great! And he comes here on Tuesday and Friday, so let’s schedule it in on Friday at 11.30.”

“Well, um…I’ve never done a traktatie before. What do I do?”

“You don’t do this sort of thing in America?!?!”


“Nothing happens when a kid has a birthday?!?!”

“Well, I mean, er, we sing happy birthday and maybe there’s cake, but it’s not common to do traktatie in America.”

So the teacher then explained to me that first I need to prepare 15 treats.  The treats needed to be something sweet yet healthy… but fruit, despite being sweet and healthy, is not special since they get it everyday and at school.  So not fruit. Oh.

I thought about it and decided I was going to make 15 banana muffins!  It’s a sweet treat that’s marginally healthy since it contains fruit, but it’s not a fruit!  Then I realized how much work it was going to take and worst of all, muffin/cupcake pans come in twelves.  Which means I had to make two batches which equate to 24, but that would make me have nine extra muffins.  What do you do with nine extra muffins? Not in my thighs that’s for sure.

Then I decided to visit (cue fanfare music) Action.  If you don’t know Action, it is a haven for bargain hunters.  There is something for everyone including your furry friends.   I decided to go check out what they have in terms of a small inexpensive toy as a traktatie and to my great enjoyment, there was actually a section with all kinds of birthday related things like little decorated plastic baggies to put goodies in.  So I shopped and almost went overboard.  I bought bouncy balls, stampers, packs of cookies, mini notepads, party horns, and the little plastic baggies for all the treats to go in.  All of that equate to 45 euro cent per child.


Johan and his birthday hat.

I packed all the little gift bags and the day of came.  I arrived to the school bearing gifts!

After the teachers got all the children to settle down and sit, she pulled out a special chair for Johan to sit on.  They put on a special hat (another Dutch birthday custom, but only done up to group 1, which is kindergarten), sang a few Dutch birthday songs (which often includes many hurrahs), pulled out a foam cake and lit tea candles for Johan to blow out.  Then they gave my son a wrapped gift (which came from a trash can…funny).  My son opened the gift as the rest of the children were hanging off their seats in anticipation and it was a toy car!  This whole time I’m waiting for my cue and finally I saw a nod from one of the teachers and got up as Johan was instructed to give a traktatie to each child.  It is also important to note that it is also customary for everyone to wait until everyone received a traktatie before anyone gets to play or eat anything.  Then when everyone has received something, everyone says or sings thank you to the child.

Yet of course as it was my first traktatie… I made a mistake: I forgot the teachers and interns!  As the children were sitting in the circle, munching on their cookies, the teachers had nothing and were just sitting there.  Thankfully, there were only 14 children including my son so, the 15th bag was for the teachers and intern so they all shared one pack of cookies.  To think that having been on the receiving end for about 4 years, I should have remembered and thought about it.  I really felt ashamed.  Well, I’ll remember next time.

So this wraps up my first time doing this whole Dutch custom.  I hope you enjoyed this read and Be Happy!