31 December, 2017

Looking back at 2017

One of my favourite photos of the year, snapped with my phone on the
way into Manila.
I'm always fascinated reading my "Looking ahead to the new year" post at the end of the year. "Looking forward to 2017" is here.

Everything that I anticipated at that time came to pass, most of it was related to our boys. I even said that this year should be devoid of "planned" drama. That was true, if you don't count the sporting triumphs and graduations. (My definition of "planned drama" is our 2018 . . . more about that next year.)

At times this is how 2017 has felt.
One of the things I did this year: served CAJ by helping run Thrift Shop.
I wouldn't do it, though, if it weren't fun. These people are

part of the diverse community helps keep me afloat here in Japan.
Another favourite photo. Taken in Shizuoka.
The biggest unexpected of the year was our field director passing away due to cancer. Aside from the grief that came with that, there were all sorts of consequences for the field, and for us, that are not going to completely disappear for some time.

For me personally, another big unexpected was a big change in my role with OMF Japan. I've played a much bigger part in OMF's website and social media push than I could have imagined this time last year.

The highlights of my year centred around our eldest son: his triumphant wrestling season, culminating in victory at the Far East tournament in Korea in February, and his graduation. My parents joining us for that was special too. I can tell you that sometimes it felt like we'd never get this boy to that milestone in his life. And here we are now, preparing to send him off to university in just five weeks!

Spiritually it has felt like a good year for me. In the midst of everything going on, in January I had a watershed moment, writing about it in this post: A Coffee Date and, buoyed by that, took time to do this later in the year. 

As I go along in this missionary life I'm learning more about how to stay afloat, even as we said more of the perennial goodbyes to friends.

Blogging-wise, it's been my least productive year, this being my 235th post, only slightly below 2015 at 242 posts. But every other year, except the first year I began blogging, 2009 (and I began my blog in March), I've written more than 300 posts per year. I think the main reason for the slow-down this year is because I have been terribly busy due to that job-change I mentioned above. Also, because I've been administering another blog since July and managing social media for OMF Japan since September, my posting rate has dropped even further, in fact this month I've been almost as quiet as July 2015, the month we transitioned back to Japan and had internet issues, but I think that is as much needing a very quiet break as anything.

Two of my most viewed posts this year were (to my surprise):

I flew overseas twice during the year. Once to Korea and once to the Philippines.  It's 2½ years since we were in Australia  the longest since our first term in Japan (when we did 3½ years). 

During the summer we did a driving tour up the west coast for a bit, then camped at a lake in the middle, and over to the east coast. We also travelled down to Shizuoka for a couple of nights in November.

We camped only three times this year. Once in March, once in July, and once in October. Two of those three camps were with another family. I would have liked more, but for family harmony, that's all we've done. It's funny, though, because people keep asking me about camping. We've become renowned campers, despite only sleeping under canvas less than seven nights this year.

New "things"
Apart from a new component to my job (that involved learning a lot of new things), the new things in my year (that I can remember) included:

  • having a high school graduate in my house who wasn't studying, but rather working part-time (and thus had money)
  • having above son apply to study at university in Australia (and get an acceptance)
  • co-leading an international committee to organise the festivities surrounding our son's graduation
  • going away for two nights for our 20th anniversary . . . and leaving the boys at home on their own
  • being more intentional about learning Japanese (started an online course)
  • Wednesday Words has been a fun thing I've done on my Facebook page since May. We've learnt lots of new words and concepts related to different usages of English.
  • I've begun an Udemy course on editing. We'll see if I get it finished in 2018!
  • watching our new high schooler (middle son) get ribbons at his track finals. He got one at cross country too!
  • riding in a jeepnee and a motorised tricycle in Manila.
  • new camera

That seems like enough reflecting to me. There really is too much in a year to succinctly write it down: good times with friends, down times, special times, sick and exhausted times, frustrated times, tears and anger. They were all there. Some too private to share here, others aren't as painful now that time has passed. Some have left their scars.

But as our pastor said in his sermon this morning I want to give thanks to God for all his blessings that he's given in 2017. Too many blessings to recount—air to breathe, family to love and be loved, food to eat, shelter to dwell in, water to drink, meaningful work to do, etc, etc. But most of all, I have the knowledge that no matter what happens, he will never leave or forsake me (Deut 31:8: "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”). But above that, our God is so great this is said about him in Isaiah 40:
Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,
    or instruct the Lord as his counselor?
Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
    and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge,
    or showed him the path of understanding? (vs 13 & 14)
So, even when things happen that don't make sense to me, that, in fact, seem the opposite of what should have happened, God is still in control. And, though I may question and wonder, ultimately I just need to trust.

What do you think? What sort of year has 2017 been for you? Can you share your biggest unexpected? Or your most surprising new "thing"?

Tomorrow, or maybe Wednesday, I'll get to looking ahead at 2018 (there's lots in the diary already).

30 December, 2017

The second half of December

So what have we been doing over here "on the edge of ordinary" in the last two weeks? A great big slow-down!

For the week before Christmas we went away to our usual holiday spot north-west of Tokyo. The difference this year was that we travelled to our holidays with some friends who stayed nearby for a few days. This family we've done a lot with over the last 2 ½ years, including three camping trips. 

We introduced them to two of our favourite things to do during this annual Christmas holiday: the Lego shop and the budget all-you-can-eat restaurant that has become a tradition for us. We also went together to see the new Star Wars movie (on cheap Tuesday, only AUD$12.50 or 1,100 yen, movie tickets here are usually at least AUD$20).

We also did a lot of sleeping-in, staying up late (at least some family members did), reading, and lazying around. In fact that probably characterises most of our days in the last two weeks, even after we returned to Tokyo.
A lot of what we did when we were away was the same as last year. I didn't feel like taking the same photos again (you can see some in my post from last year here). We did try to go to a beautiful small lake, but it was shut for construction work, so instead we went for a short walk around the area where we've stayed in a neighbouring town. There was unmelted snow on the top of this stream.

We've had a few social things since we came back: friends over for Christmas lunch and a Boxing Day morning tea, and some of us have spent time away from home with friends. But, there has been little regular on our schedule, aside from eating two or three meals a day. We've also watched a few movies (mostly superhero movies). One of our sons hired/rented movies for us as his Christmas present.

After Christmas Day I've spent some of each day "in the office". Mostly work to do with my social media job or answering questions from my editing team about the magazine proof we are checking in preparation for printing in January. But it really has been a go-slow mode. Especially getting up late in the morning (spending lots of time reading and doing relaxing games on my phone in my warm bed).

It seems that it was very much needed. I've had many nights that I've slept 10-12 hours! It's only these last couple of days that I'm naturally waking up after about eight or nine hours of sleep. Indeed it has been a rather busy year and we're very thankful for this time to decompress. Especially as we look towards 2018 and realise that it it also going to be a very busy year, but in some ways, perhaps, a more predictable fashion.

Another view of the above river, with my budding photographer sneaking into the photo.
I love Japan's moss! 
This part of town is characterised by these curious rock walls that
line properties. They are unusual in Japan.
This is the calendar that keeps me organised. It lives beside my desk. Without needing to know the details of what my scrawl represents, you can see that from the 16th onwards, there is little written. That's visual representation of how this month has gone. Neatly divided in half between the usual busyness and rest.

28 December, 2017

The challenge of new glasses

I really like my new frames, but wow, the new lenses
 are taking some adjusting to, and I don't know why.
I took the plunge a couple of weeks ago and went to a Japanese optometrist (with my husband for linguistic support). This is something I've been avoiding for . . . well 17 years (by doing it in Australia when we were there). But it was unavoidable this time, I was struggling with blurred distance vision. Plus I've had a lot of headaches. There are many possible triggers for my headaches, but I thought my glasses could be one, so I set out to eliminate that.

I've heard all sorts of things about the Japanese optometry world and not all of them good. But, I thought, it can't be that bad, can it? After all there are a lot of Japanese people with glasses!

Part of my concern is that for the last 2 ½ years I've been wearing transition lenses, the new form of trifocals! The idea being that for close vision you view through the bottom of the glasses and distance the top, with middle distance somewhere in the middle, but with no hard line between these different parts of the lens. They've been brilliant and didn't take much time to adjust to. When I got them I had made it to the stage where I had to take my glasses off to read, which is really annoying. My sunglasses are still that way, so I can't read a map or my phone with them on. I wasn't sure that Japan had transition lenses, but it turns out they do.

Another of my problems with using glasses for reading is that my favourite recreational reading place is on my side in bed. I deliberately got thin frames this time for side-reading comfort (my previous frames had thick arms which hurt my ear and head sandwiched between my head and the pillow). But it turns out that the ideal place to read through these lenses is a bit narrow and when I lie down the glasses get knocked to the side making it hard to read.

Sorry, I'm whinging here.

My hopes are pinned a little on the pair of reading/computer lenses that I've also ordered (recycling old frames). Apparently they will have a larger area for reading and the top will work for the long hours of computer work that I often put in. We'll see. They can be collected early next week.

Oh, have you ever tried putting on ear muffs with glasses on? It can be tricky! I've had a tricky time with my ear muffs this week pushing my glasses up off my nose, which means I'm looking through the bottom half of my glasses and not exactly road-worthy on my bike! And believe me, ear muffs are vital riding in sub 10C weather (if you have a helmet on), ears are quite vulnerable.

Ah, the challenges of middle age. I now understand why everyone in the "senior choir" at the church I grew up in had their own music and couldn't share. It was because most of them wore bifocals and had to have the music at a specific place in order to see it.

I do like my new frames—they are delicate and comfortable on my face. They've also got a cool design on the arms and the inside of the arms is teal, one of my favourite colours. I just hope that I get used to the lenses soon.

18 December, 2017

A taste of home

I'm briefly checking in from our holidays north-west of Tokyo. I enjoyed making these this afternoon. Fruit mince pies (known as "mince pies" by some, I believe, but in Australia "mince pies" have meat in them).
Christmas when you're living overseas involves making your own traditions, these often are versions of what you've known in your home country. These pies are readily available in Australia and I would never make them there because they are too fiddly. But in Japan you can't buy them (at least I've never seen them, the foreign food here tends to be Asian or American, not Australian/British). So making them seems justified, a small taste of home. A totally delicious taste of home!

Another aspect of doing Christmas well overseas is doing things with the friends who are local to you. We've already had a couple of Christmas parties (one school one, one with friends) and we're sharing some of our Karuizawa/Miyota-holiday-traditions with friends who are staying nearby for a couple of days. 

Christmas Day we have another family join us and then on Boxing Day (next Tuesday) hopefully we'll still have some of these pies left for when some UK/Finnish/Peruvian friends will join us for morning tea. If not, then I guess I'll just have to make some more!

Have you celebrated Christmas overseas? What did you do that helped connect you with your home culture?

15 December, 2017

It's about how you recharge

Here's an article I came across 18 months ago about resilience. It asserts that resilience is "about how you recharge, not how you endure"
This is OMF's house, really it is three apartments,
we'll occupy the whole upper floor.

We often take a militaristic, “tough” approach to resilience and grit. We imagine a Marine slogging through the mud, a boxer going one more round, or a football player picking himself up off the turf for one more play. We believe that the longer we tough it out, the tougher we are, and therefore the more successful we will be. However, this entire conception is scientifically inaccurate.
It involves not just physically resting, but giving our brains a rest too. So when you're taking a break you're not looking at email, or mulling over a work problem, or getting riled up about politics or family problems (as best you can). For me that means that taking time to get out in nature, or being absorbed in a good book that allows you to depart from your work and family stressors, are good things. Spending time with friends, chilling out with a movie, and taking time to be creative also work. 

What helps you rest?

I'm about to do all of the above. From tomorrow we're taking our annual Christmas holiday. A week at an OMF holiday house in the foothills west of Tokyo. We've been holidaying in this area at this time of year since 2006, the year after we first moved to Tokyo. It's become a much anticipated and loved time away.

For me it means sleep-ins, lots of reading, hanging out with the family, simple meals, and a few fun outside activities like a favourite restaurant. And really leaving work behind. 

I'm a bit concerned this time, though. I had all my ducks lined up, all the work I needed to get done so that I could walk away for a week and leave my computer behind. But today, for reasons unknown to me I've lost administrator access to the OMF blog, so the three posts that I was going to put up for the coming ten days can't go up.

The main person who helps me through problems like this lives in the UK and doesn't get to work until 5pm our time, by which time I'll be out of the office doing errands and then going to a Christmas party. Maybe, if the problem gets fixed by tomorrow morning, I'll be able to squeeze them in before we go, but it isn't ideal. But "shouganai" as the Japanese say: there's nothing I can do about it right now. 

Aside from that blip, I'm doing my best to get everything else out of the way so that next week can be a great recharging week!

14 December, 2017

2018 looms

We've started to kick into gear in preparing for 2018. We've got this purple diary, my eldest son and I have tickets for February (I'm coming back with him for 15 days to help get him settled), and as of today we've started to get enquiries about meeting with people or visitng churches. 

I've already got a meeting with my OMF line manager set up to talk about how I'll manage to free myself from my various roles enough to actually do the work that awaits us in Australia.

It's a mixture of exciting, scary, and overwhelming. And we're only just beginning. No mistake about it, 2018 will be a big year.

I've counted the plane trips that I know about and I could be on more than a dozen aeroplanes during the year. Considering I've only flown four times this year, that's a bit of a difference. Yep, quite a different year indeed.

Hold onto your seats, it's going to be a big one. I listened to a sermon today about Psalm 123 and the topic was Keeping our Eyes on Jesus. That was my theme too last time we uprooted ourselves in Japan and moved to Australia in 2014. Looks like it's going to be that again.

13 December, 2017

My coffee story

I encountered a coffee story yesterday and it set me to wondering about other people's coffee stories.

How did you start drinking coffee? Who introduced you? Can you remember your first coffee?

I've got a fun story.

I made it through uni without coffee. My first job was out in a country hospital where I was the only public Occupational Therapist for a whole region. It meant a huge variety of tasks, something that I loved. One of those was doing home visits occasionally, especially for patients who had some kind of disability or accident and needed modifications to their house or lifestyle or advice about how to make changes so that they could live more independently.

This one home visit I did was a long country drive. It must have been a couple of hours from my home base. This was a visit for someone who was in hospital in the city (I hadn't seen the patient, just been referred them by a city-based OT). So I met with the patient's family at this isolated house. It was a shocking place to walk into. A hoarder! There was only a narrow path between piles of junk in much of the house. And it was filthy. The light switches had one small place of white on them: where you put your finger to turn it on or off. The rest was long-term caked-on grime.

I did my rounds: checking the bathroom and toilet and various access points. Taking measurements and making notes as I went.

When I was done they had a cup of coffee and a biscuit ready for me—good old country hospitality. No one asked if I drank coffee and they didn't offer anything else. I hadn't seen the mug before it was filled with instant coffee, but I'm sure it probably wasn't the cleanest.

I drank it. What else could I do?

I didn't get ill, but I also wasn't instantly converted to coffee. However, from that point on, I began to drink coffee—instant coffee mostly. Actually most of the coffee I had back then was hospital-grade International House coffee that was provided at work. Makes me shudder now! Drip coffee was the stuff of coffee shops only back then in the 90s. I didn't own a coffee maker for some time after that. In fact I have only owned one coffee maker and seldom used it, because I married a non-coffee drinker and the coffee maker mostly got passed around other people in Australia while we've been in Japan. 

I use a 100 yen plastic drip-brew maker that sits on top of my mug. But I love to go to coffee shops and my favourite is a cafe latte. Even better is a cosy cafe with a view. And top of the list is a cosy cafe with a friend who has time to chat.

So that's my story. How about you? Are you a coffee drinker? How did you start?

12 December, 2017

These last few days...

Yesterday I rode on some very uncrowded trains.
It's been days and days since I wrote here. Let me quickly fill you in on what's been happening. 
I ran around shopping for Saturday (tell you about that in a minute), then had a phone meeting with my OMF boss and spent the rest of my "office" time (about two hours) trying to get on top of computer work before the weekend arrived.

Then I met my language exchange friends and we talked in Japanese and English for two hours.

I raced home and made two meals: one for us and one for Saturday (tell you about that in a minute).

Friday night I was about done in. I'd had a horrible headache the night before and, well, it was Friday night, wasn't it? We enjoyed an NCIS episode after dinner, as we often do of an evening.


CAJ hosted nine schools for a wrestling tournament. I helped out with catering for the coaches and refs and helped a bit with the admin for the event. It is amazing how much writing is involved. I won't bore you, but some of the wrestler's names were probably written at least a dozen times!

I had a really enjoyable day. I spent a lot of time talking with people (as usual). I caught up with parents of three of our son's former opponents from other schools, one couple I met for the first time, another couple I met in Korea for the first time in February. All three boys are still at school and so were wrestling. It was great talking with all of them. To one mum I got to explain that we are Christian missionaries.

It was a little odd not to have any wrestlers at this meet, but it did mean I
could relax more and enjoy meeting people and helping out.

I also hung out with parents from our team, a couple of new parents too, who had some questions that I could help with. Cheering a good friend's son as he won the final, his first wrestling gold medal, was a highlight. But I was holding my friend's iPhone recording the match at the same time, so we've also got a souvenir with our own unique commentary ;-)

It was a long day: about 12 hours from start (7am) to finish. Thankfully we live close. But hosting an event like this includes sweeping the gym afterwards and removing the wrestling mats to their appropriate places, so that the gym can be used for basketball and PE again on Monday. It was fun to "party" with the team afterwards as we helped clean up the hospitality room. We all ate dinner before packaging up the left-overs to be taken home by those in the team and support team who wanted them.


We went to church as usual then afterwards did our annual 100 yen Christmas shopping. This is where we all go to a big 100 yen shop and buy presents for one another. It's fun and low stress, and also now a long-standing tradition!

After lunch I rested, then made fudge to give the boys' teachers, as well as to keep in our fridge for various random occasions (not to mention just nibbling on ourselves).


I did a "field trip" out to the Christian printers that print our magazine. I've also had some dealings with them for OMF. It was good to get an overall impression of their operation. Not to mention gain a great deal of admiration for the challenges of turning the electronic files we send them into something beautiful on paper. Their biggest machine is two storeys high and many metres long. Huge. One of their main things is printing Bibles, especially for countries where its hard to get Christian material. They also print Bible-manga, and have them in many different languages now (I forget how many, but their website says 33 languages).
Christmas decorations at the party (yes, I finished the post after
I got home)

That trip was out into more rural parts of the Kanto plain and took an hour to get there on three trains (including a 500m walk between train stations). After I got back early afternoon, I made a menu for the rest of the week and did my grocery shopping. Then I had a couple of hours to catch up on email etc. before dinner was needing attention.


Today I've been at my desk all day. I had an magazine Skype meeting at 9 that I was ill-prepared for and hence it went longer than necessary, then a video call with a friend over lunch. But other than that I've been pecking away at these keys all day.

However, I'm about to go down the road to the annual CAJ Staff Christmas party, which is something I always look forward to. A nice ending to the day!

I really didn't expect that my schedule would be quite so full as that over the last week. I'm an eternal optimist, which works against me often: I usually think I can fit more into my day/week/month than is actually feasible.

07 December, 2017

Third reprint

This 35-page booklet was a project I worked on in 2013 and 2014. It was published three years ago and has sold 6,000 copies round the world since then.

It's also been translated into German and will soon be in Chinese too.

We've sold out the English version again, so we've done a third print and they've arrived in the office. 

I've done my head in this week in trying to figure out how do-able it is to get a Kindle version of this book available. It's been unreasonably complicated.

However, let me know if you'd like a print copy for your own library. (See this post from our second reprint a bit longer than a year after it was published).

06 December, 2017

Kids newsletter for December

I sent this Kids Newsletter out this week to those on our email list. Feel free to use it. If you'd like a better copy or even to be on the mailing list, drop me a line.

I'm also looking for suggestions for a theme for 2018.

05 December, 2017

Becoming obsolete

The other day I stumbled upon this blog post I wrote in 2011. It's about how a big goal in parenting (or my parenting) is to make yourself obsolete (at least in most things). Or, another way to say it: raising young people who become independent adults.

I'm surprised to find six years later that what I was longing for back then is actually coming true. I'm becoming obsolete!
Those days when we needed to watch over them so closely have
faded into the past. This boy is now 12 ½ and took himself to a
restaurant with a friend the other day!

I realised the other day that most days I do no household tasks in the mornings before school/work. This is how most school mornings run in our house:

6am  David and I wake up to read the Bible and pray together (in bed), David puts the washing on
6.50  David leaves me to finish up our prayer list while he makes lunches and prepares breakfast
7.20  Breakfast (all are expected to be present if possible)
Between the end of breakfast and 8.30 these things happen (without any prompting or supervision from me):
  • everyone puts their own plates etc. on the sink
  • table is cleared and dishes washed by one boy (same boy every weekday morning)
  • washing is hung up outside by another boy
  • everyone does their own personal preparation for school/work including hygiene issues without any reminders or helps (sometimes I'm needed, but very rarely)
  • David and the boys leave for school (walking as we live so close to school)
I don't lift a finger, generally (today I put bread in the breadmaker, wrote shopping lists, and put washing on, but that is unusual). 

To my 2011 self, a morning like that would have seemed fantastical! But it's true. Most mornings I have time, not only to do my own self-care, but I read my Bible (using a reading-through-the-Bible-in-one-year plan) and check FB. The main thing I'm asked at this time is "Is it going to rain?" I.e. should I take an umbrella or put the washing inside or out.

So I'm celebrating. I'm no longer micromanaging my boys in the mornings, they're making steps towards being independent adults. In fact they're both doing a good job of staying on top of school work too, so I'm very happy. The main thing they still need telling to do is take a shower...but it's slowly getting better.

This afternoon/evening I'm taking time off parenting/household management. I'm going to support the high school wrestling team competing at a rival school. Our eldest son is in charge of dinner, his brothers have been asked to help out with table setting and washing up. So we'll see how it all goes. I'm hoping there won't be too much damage control needed when we get back after 9pm. But to my 2011 self, that would have been an absurd notion.

But for those who are still in the trenches of micromanagement. Do not despair. They do get there!

02 December, 2017

December newsletter

This evening I finally sent out our December prayer letter (with the wrong month on the header—a rookie mistake!). 

I don't usually put our prayer/newsletter up here, mostly because it has information about our kids that I don't want to share publicly. But I've taken that out of the bits that I'm sharing today. If we know you and you would like to get the full version, please let me know.

30 November, 2017

Autumn in Tokyo yesterday

This week is a bit of a slower week and yesterday was an extraordinarily warm, sunny day for late November (high teens), so I took the time to go out on my bike. I rode through my usual park south of us, went a bit further south (discovering some nice back streets) to a coffee shop and a little bit of Christmas shopping. 

I picked up an onigiri (Japanese rice ball) for lunch and picnicked on my way back home in a little park I discovered just south of the bigger park. Though surrounded by suburbia, it was very quite most of the time.

Just like in spring, this time of year you find unexpected surprises around many corners. Instead of flowers, it is coloured leaves.

This was sandwiched between buildings.

This was in the park (I didn't have my big camera with me. Apologies for the blurriness.)

And the twin seats I've often sat on and photographed before (below is what they look like in June).

This was across the road from the big park. Just gorgeous.

This was a portion of the small garden at the end of the little park I sat in to eat my lunch. A curious little place.

I discovered one of the white-gloved men at work rearranging bikes! Most of them are beyond retirement age, I don't know how they manage, lifting these bikes all day.

It was great to get out for some exercise and explore our local area a bit more. I enjoyed getting away from my computer and the warm autumn air. I soaked it in before the grimness of a Tokyo winter (my least favourite season here). Today is cold, grey, and drizzly. I'm glad I had the time and opportunity to go out yesterday.

29 November, 2017

Expats and community

Yesterday on Facebook, a former CAJ teacher shared an article she'd found about why expats love (and need) community. It was a good article for a couple of reasons—community IS very important to expats and the article explains why but also why expats struggle in the area of community when they return to their passport countries.
Some of the current members of our community. The
people I travelled with to Korea for wrestling earlier
in the year. 

You've read me rave on about community, friends, relationships here. Here's a sample:

And this post called The Colander of Expat Life, that has had more than 2,000 hits on it since I wrote it last year.

After I read the article above (the first one) I wondered if my non-expat readers understand what community is like for expats and why we need it so much (besides losing all our support network at the same time by moving away from our home countries)? The article says this:
Relationships go deeper quicker because our conversations are fueled by vulnerability.
No one says it out loud — “Hey I’m a bumbling idiot and you seem like a slightly less bumbling idiot, think you could help me out here?” — but that’s the field where community grows.
We huddle up — and we help each other — because we would fall apart if we didn’t.
We move forward together and learn to function at varying degrees of competence but all of us (even the long time vets) are operating at a fraction of the functionality of the average local person. 
Because we're functioning at a lower level than the locals, we need one another so much more. It works in facilitating relationships with locals too. Asking for help can open many doors of opportunity that you wouldn't otherwise have if you were competent  That's how I met my best Japanese friend: I was hopelessly incompetent when our children were in kindergarten together and she rescued me.

Here's a couple of other examples when I've been helped by expats in our community (local or Facebook):

But it's also important to realise that when we go back to our passport countries, not only  have we been changed by the experience of living like this, but that others won't get it. And we won't find quite the same type of community living again. That's why I wonder if people who haven't lived outside of their home country understand. This is what Jerry, the author of the article wrote:
[We expats love community] so much so that we long for it wherever we go, especially back “home” — but “home” is a different reality.
You’re not a bumbler there.
Scratch that. You’re not supposed to be a bumbler there.
We haven't transitioned back to living in Australia permanently (or even for a longer period than 12 months) yet, but I can see from our experiences of living there that we miss (or at least I do) the community I've got here, even if it is constantly changing.

So do go and read the article—if you are or were an expat it will ring true and if you aren't you might learn something about us.