Another year past

2012 is over – another year in the past. Most of what happened in the last 12 months will be forgotten, which is partly the reason for writing a bit about it here.

During the process of renewing my home insurance yesterday I was asked if I had made any claims yet. I replied that I had not, but some minutes later I remembered that my bicycle had been stolen from the garage a while back, which I had been compensated for. The man I was talking to asked when the bike was stolen, and for the life of me I could not remember. It was a while ago certainly, but not years ago. Then again it wasn’t months ago either as I would have remembered. I took a wild guess and said about a year ago. Actually it happened in April this year.

How quickly events slip into the quicksand of the general past. How many other things have slipped away to be forgotten? For me I would say it is most things. Unpleasant things slip away the quickest, which is probably why I struggled to recall when my bicycle was stolen. It was something that really upset me at the time as it was my primary mode of transport and a source of pleasure on the weekends when I went cycling up and down country lanes. It had sentimental value too. I bought it direct from the Giant factory in Nancy’s hometown in Taiwan when I was last there some years ago and had it posted to England at great expense and effort. Nancy’s father wrapped and packed the bicycle with such care that not a part was out of place when it was finally taken out. It emerged from its boxing like a chick from an egg. Ready for the world.

This year started with the firm resolve to find a new job and 20 days in, I found myself in the middle of London at a huge job fair for international school posts. It was an exhausting three-day affair at a fancy hotel booked out for it. 150 schools from around the world set up interviews with teachers from around the world and by the end of it some 400 people of the 600 people who attended had secured a new post somewhere in the world.

I was one of those who left with ink still wet on a contract. Mine for the KAUST School in Saudi Arabia. The school catered for privileged children at the newly inaugurated King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Beside the drawback of its geographical location, the job offered a very comfortable residence in arguably the most prestigious compound in Saudi Arabia, complete with a golf course, indoor swimming pools, cinema and even a private stretch of beach along the Red Sea. The salary was enough for me to save more in a few years there than I could in a few decades in the UK. Actually, the opportunity to save money was the primary motivation for accepting a post in a part of the world that I have a distinct aversion to. I willingly dropped the offer to work at the International School of Ho Chi Min City, as well as a much-preferred post at the Taipei European School. I had gone to the job fair almost exclusively for this job and when I was offered it, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. It meant that Nancy and I could return to her home country and pick up a comfortable life we had left behind in 2007. It offered a very generous salary too and we would have wanted for nothing. Nonetheless, the lure of even more money, career progression and the brute experience of life in a formidable part of the world made me accept the offer in Saudi instead. It was something I came to regret.

After some months of back and forth emailing and filling in countless documents that would allow me to reside and work in Saudi Arabia, the position I was appointed for was inexplicably withdrawn at the beginning of April. The school offered their apologies and wished me luck finding another post.

I definitely needed all the luck I could get. The boat had sailed for getting an international school post. All the big job fairs had passed and all the top tier schools had by now recruited their candidates. This left only a few jobs available at second and third tier international schools. In desperation I began applying for them anyway, but the modest salaries and often challenging living circumstances did not warrant uprooting my life in the UK. I began applying for local jobs too, but the boat had sailed for these jobs too. While I was busy applying for international school posts, local teachers were applying for jobs at home. By April the job boards were almost empty.

Fortunately I did not quit the job I had over the Saudi debacle, but the head teacher having assumed that I would almost certainly be leaving had already recruited someone to take over my spot and restructured things accordingly. It was quite obvious that if I did stay on I would be under pressure to quit of my own accord. My time there was up and I knew it.

Out of necessity I started applying for every post going and by mid-year I had two solid job offers on the table. One was at the Nazarbayev Intellectual School in Kazakhstan and the other at a top achieving public school in Winchester. The job in Kazakhstan offered even more money than the Saudi school, and it was to teach Art, which is something I have always wanted to teach. The job in Winchester however was at a school rated “outstanding” by Ofsted and in a beautiful, historic city within an easy commute from my home. I accepted the latter post gladly but felt sorry nonetheless to forgo the opportunity to save much more money, teach art and generally have less pressure at work.

Now a term into my new school I feel very happy to have decided to stay on in the UK. I won’t be able to pay off my mortgage in just a few years working here (in fact I have had to extend the repayment term from 12 years to 25 years to ease the financial pressure), but I am grateful to be working in good school, with high achieving students and nice colleagues. I am also happy to be able continue living in my flat, which has become home. Staying on in the UK has also meant that I am able to keep in touch with my sister and her husband, who often come for a visit. I am also able to keep my dog. It would have broken my heart to give her to my friend Pat even though she adores the dog too and would have provided her with a wonderful new home.

This year has definitely ended better than it started. Some of the highlights in between were my mother’s visit in August, which coincided with the London Olympics, and Nancy’s brother and his wife’s visit in October. Christmas with my sister and brother in law was also a highlight. I particularly enjoyed being flown about in my friend Iain’s small plane during the summer, and Nancy and I have really seen a lot of interesting things in the UK since joining the National Trust.

Of the things I could have done better, producing more art is at the very top of the list. I did some commissions and produced a few paintings here and there, but it really is not enough to leave me satisfied with myself. I need to do more. I want to resume a simple project I started some months ago, which is to illustrate something that makes me happy each day. Ideally the drawing should not take more than 30 minutes, so that I can avoid the excuse of not having time. Not only will this project keep my hand in, it is also quite uplifting on a psychological level. When I was depressed in Japan, I did something similar as a photography project called, “What made me smile today?” The task was to find something everyday and I usually did despite feeling miserable most of the time.

Something else I let slide this year is my state of health. I gained weight, lost weight and gained it all back again. As I go into the New Year it is something I need to tackle without delay lest I put on another 4 little kilograms and reach the century mark!

2013 resolutions:

  1. Produce a piece of art a week. (Illustration, painting, sculpture)
  2. Start a Masters degree. (Probably in Education)
  3. Eat more healthily and get back in shape. (Weigh less than 89kg)
  4. Go on an outing and see something interesting at least once a month. (Make use of National Trust membership)
  5. Email friends and family every month.
  6. Buy a ticket for my older sister to visit the UK. (Preferably in the summer)
  7. Read at least one book a month. (Get a Kindle)
  8. Limit mindless Internet surfing to half an hour a day.
  9. Give my wife a gift of some sort every month. (Flowers, a meal out, a card)
  10. Do some DIY at home every month. (Starting with locks on the bedroom and lounge doors).
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Last two paintings of the year.

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Sheep & Clouds

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At the Millstone

My mother commissioned me to do a painting of her first visit to England.

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Two more

Cloud trees


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