Normally in this letter we try to be upbeat and focus on the positive. This year, except for having our health, it's hard to think of what has gone well. In fact, it's scarily similar to 1998 but without the civil unrest and without a company owing us money.
The year started badly, got worse as time went on and hasn't improved - thus the background color.
Read the whole story or take a quick detour to the area(s) of greatest interest:
In 2001 we lost our American dream. Neil had to leave Capital One in March due to a decision to close banking as a Line Of Business. The US Government gives 6 months to find a new employment sponsor (it's a gray period – a time when the visa holder is neither legal nor illegal). But with the economy taking a big U-turn into recession, employers stopped hiring almost immediately. In the period March – May there were opportunities available and recruiters / prospective employers called; but in the period from May – September there were virtually none. And most of the opportunities that were available were subsequently withdrawn because of corporate hiring freezes. From about 12 opportunities over the six months, 3 went to other candidates and 9 were withdrawn.
The result of not having an employment sponsor was that we had to leave the US, something we reluctantly did on Sept 07, 2001. Right now our household goods are in storage in Richmond, VA; Usa, Roger and Rex are in Bangkok, Thailand; and Neil is going wherever there are opportunities to find work. The economic downturn and the events of Sept 11 have affected all kinds of markets. Our house, the one we wrote about last year and loved so much, has been on the market in the hands of a realtor since August but up to now it is not sold. It's hard to believe because it is such a great house. (In September 2001 existing house sales dropped by 11% compared to the same month the year before.)
As a result of this we are now defining a new category of person – executive homeless. We don't have a home (actually we do, but we can't live in it); we don't have a place to live at the moment; our goods are in storage; Neil needs to find a position somewhere and we effectively need to extract the capital from the house in Richmond before we can settle. At the moment we have enough money to live month-to-month, but not enough to send our shipment anywhere.
In May Neil traveled to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia for an opportunity with a bank. It was a strange experience. Everyone at the bank and the hiring manager said he was perfect – so good that they wanted to stop interviewing other candidates, which of course they didn't. Then we heard nothing for a month, and when we did it was to tell us that they'd selected someone else!
Usa suffered a different kind of setback during the year. As we were packing our things in late August, she received a call from her family in Bangkok telling her that her father passed away. He had been sick for a long time, being hospitalized even before our wedding in 1992. However, news of his passing came as a surprise because such news is never expected. This news came to her in the middle of 4 days having packers and movers in our house. Unfortunately, because of the timing she was unable to leave to attend his funeral in Bangkok. We investigated flight schedules and logistics to see if it was possible, but it turned out to be impractical. One primary reason was that if Usa went to Bangkok for the funeral, given our visa status in the US and being a Thai passport holder, she would have been unable to return.
From September to November, 2 months in total, Neil was in Australia looking for opportunities. He found the environment there similar to the US, that is, there were very few opportunities and few people hiring. Some companies were interested in his experience, but couldn't act for their own internal reasons. As a result Neil is currently with the family in Bangkok and we are all trying to figure out "what next".
Just a quick mention of Sept 11. We left the States on Sept 07, arriving in Bangkok the next day. The whole family was out meeting an old friend of Neil's when a phone call came saying that one of the WTC towers had been hit by a plane. We didn't think that made sense. As fortune would have it we were dining in a coffee shop at the hotel where Neil's friend was staying. So we all went to his room to watch it on CNN. In Bangkok we stay with Usa's mother who doesn't have cable TV, so if we were not out that night we would have hardly known anything happened. After 12 hours, the next morning Bangkok time, the Thai TV stations had stopped the relay of CNN in favor of their regular programming, so that was the one opportunity we had to see what happened. And the aftermath, the whole war in Afghanistan, hardly rates a mention in Thailand. Neil left for Australia in the evening of Sept 12, where coverage was better.
Now, why did the year start badly? At the end of our 2000 letter we noted that we were going on a Disney cruise to start 2001. The trip was a bust. Roger was the only one who really enjoyed it. The prime reason for choosing Disney was the full-time activities for children. Roger, who was with the 6 – 8 year olds, joined in and had a great time throughout the week. Rex, who was in the 3 – 5 year olds, went to the first session for his age group and refused to join in after that. We suspect something happened in that first session because this is the first time Rex has not wanted to join activities of his own age group. But whatever the reason Rex clung on to Mama and Papa for the whole trip, not letting go for even a minute. So Usa and Neil didn't get the vacation they wanted and couldn't join in the adult activities on the ship. We couldn't go to the (Italian) restaurant reserved for adults only; we couldn't join in any of the evening adult activities – comedy acts, shows etc. It was a real disappointment. As was the Disney attitude when we tried to comment on it, which was both disclaiming and arrogant.
On the cruise we had a few day trips at the ports of call. We had a day tour of St. Martin. We had a boat and snorkeling trip on St. John's. The ship's restaurants were themed along Disney character lines and were quite OK. There were 3 main restaurants and passengers are rotated through them each evening, so you see each one twice. Lunch was more informal – take what you want, when you want, from wherever you want (or wherever you happen to be). Generally speaking, the food in the restaurants was fair, rarely poor, but also rarely good. We were lucky enough to have our New Year's Eve meal in the ship's "classiest" restaurant and that meal was the best of the trip. They clearly made a special effort that night because the food in the same restaurant in our next rotation was OK, but not as good as the first night.
So it was a disappointing start to the year; then Neil had no work after March; the unsuccessful job search efforts for the remainder of the year; Usa's father passing away in August; leaving the US in September; and now being executive homeless. Not a great year.
One thing we decided was that if we had to leave the States we might as well visit some of the places that people travel from all over the world over to see. We didn't have time for an extensive journey, so we restricted ourselves to the theme parks of Southern California. It would have been nice to see the Grand Canyon and go to Hawaii but we only had time for one thing and LA was on the way to Bangkok. We spent 5 days in the area and spent one day each at Disneyland, Legoland, Disney's California Adventure, Seaworld and Universal Studios. Legoland was Roger's special request because he'd been wanting to go for many months, long before it was evident we'd have to leave the US. Seaworld was Rex's special request because he loves everything from the sea, especially dolphins and whales.
Throughout the year Usa, Roger and Rex continued on their own ways. Usa has become very bored with not being authorized to work wherever we go. We've been married for 10 years in March 2002, have lived in Indonesia, Singapore and the US, but not once has Usa been allowed by the respective governments to work. She exercised some creative juices in the year by doing some exhibitions of Thai fruit carving, getting some private work as a result. She also put in a lot of work painting our house in Richmond. She did some varied work, some hand-painting, the best example being the children's bathroom which was painted in an ocean theme with fish, dolphins, a whale, the ocean floor and the sky. Other things she did were sponge painting walls, using hand stamps to make patterns on walls and using dual tones on other surfaces.
Roger continued with his sports, this year continuing karate and playing a full season each of soccer and t-ball. He enjoyed the t-ball and karate, but isn't interested in soccer for next year. He finished 1st grade and if we were in the States would now be in 2nd grade. As we are executive homeless, the Thai school system has no benefit for him and the international schools in Thailand are beyond our means, we haven't figured out what to do with his schooling yet. Roger continues to be excellent in his use of the PC and now wants to access the Internet.
Rex started some sport activities this year. He played one season of soccer, but didn't enjoy it. He had good friends in the neighborhood in Richmond and misses them. Rex doesn't seem to want to do much; most of the time he watches whatever Roger is doing. Sometimes he wants to do the same, which means he'll try to take it away from him, other times he's happy just to watch.
For long-term readers of the Gamble Family chronicles, you may have noticed that we haven't mentioned the speech of Roger and Rex for some time. After a difficult start, Roger's speech is now very good. His diction is excellent and he speaks well. Our time in the States was very beneficial for him. In fact, his school had him in speech therapy for 1 hour a week for about a year working to improve his speech and speech concepts. They concentrated less on pronunciation and more on concepts like personal pronouns (I, you, we, they) and correct tenses in sentences. At this time Roger is a dedicated mono-linguist, preferring English and resisting any efforts to speak Thai while in Thailand.
Rex's speech is OK, but has not progressed for quite some time. When we left for the States in 1999 Rex was reasonably good with both Thai and English and his pronunciation was quite clear. While in the States Rex went backwards on several counts. He forgot how to speak Thai, so in coming back in 2001 he is learning to speak again; he has a more positive attitude to learning the language than Roger. (Both Roger and Rex understand Thai.) Rex's diction became less clear about 6 months after we arrived in the States. Then he started omitting the first consonant of every word. One sentence that amused us for ages was 'I want to go to Chuck-e-Cheeses' which came out as 'I ant o o o uck-e-eeses'. Each word was pretty clear, but without the first letter; you had to know what he wanted to say to understand him. Surprisingly, in Sept-Nov 2001, the time we've been away from the States, Rex's diction has improved. He has now started to use the first consonant in words, so he is much easier to understand now. He seems to have problems with the sounds "c" and "g", often using a "t" or "d" instead; thus he talks about "stool" instead of "school" and points out "tars" on the road instead of "cars".
An interesting side note is how different they are with the phone. Roger rarely says more than hello and reluctantly answers one or two questions then gives it back. On the other hand, it's hard to get the phone away from Rex if he knows the person on the other end of the line.
Roger and Rex both like movies. When we were in the States Roger always kept us up-to-date with which movies were being released when. He would typically look forward to a new movie for months. Later in the year he started recommending movies for his parents. He said Neil would enjoy Planet of the Apes and Usa should see Legally Blond. Rex enjoys the movies, but being younger, is frightened by many of the movies that Roger wants to see. For example, Rex refused to see Shrek or Osmosis Jones, but now they're on video he seems to think he'll enjoy them.
In 2001 both Roger and Rex thought it was fun to act like animals – usually dogs and cats. I guess you can't expect too much from children of 7 and 4, but after several months the act lost its cuteness. We live in hope that we'll lose the animals and get our boys back sometime soon.
So, that's 2001 for the Gamble Family. We can only hope that next year is a lot better.