Cross that off the bucket list-publish book. When we moved to Shanghai in 2013, I started a blog to stay in touch with family and record our adventures. It grew into a daily rhythm to capture the craziness that was our daily life in China. Soon, people from around the world started reaching out to me for advice: Where can I get dog food? Should I bring my own mattress or buy one there? Where should I live if I have kids? Is the pollution really bad? Why yes, it is. Now you know. The lungs don’t lie. Buy a mask and wear it.
When my transfer details were finally worked out and I accepted the offer, I immediately went online and looked for blogs or books to get a feel for what our new normal would feel like. I would be a female executive navigating through the Chinese business world while Thom adjusted to being a trailing spouse. I was disappointed to only find guide books primarily aimed at tourists. I was going to become a local expat and needed a source of truth to turn to that would help guide me through all the unexpected challenges from walking down the street without getting run over (truly a challenge daily!) to opening a bank account and being surprised they still used an abacus to conduct transactions. WTF.
We relied on our Chinese tutor, Fiona, to guide us through many obstacles and just explored through fearless curiosity daily in our quest to not live in the typical expat bubble and instead venture out into the real China. Daily we learned and as our confidence grew, Thom took off on a bike to explore and take beautiful photos and I jumped on the bullet train to commute to Beijing and Nanjing for work on a regular basis.
As a result, our blog posts and photos chronicled a journey that few folks get to take. Those that are lucky enough to live in China can use our lessons learned to adjust quickly and with less pain than we went through at times. Not that we didn’t love living there because we did. We would walk down the Bund, climb the Great Wall (4x) and pinch ourselves. “We live in China!” It never got old and we miss our life and the people there. The pollution, not so much.
Pulling these stories all together after we returned home to Seattle was Thom’s year-long journey. Who knew it was so hard to edit a book? I swear every time we thought we had all the spacing, spelling and template formatting just the way we wanted it, we found more opportunities to improve and had to change it. FINALLY, we hit the button and made my frustrated inner writer very, very happy when Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again: Our Year as Expats in China became a reality.
Will miss Hong Kong!
Fearless and Lucky I am according to my FT
Will anyone read it? Maybe. My mom will. The aunt of a guy I met at a friend’s party who just moved to Shanghai to work for Intel will. Who knows, maybe other people? Making money and world publishing dominance was never the impetus for writing this book. Sharing our adventures, recounting our tales so our granddaughter, Mia, will know that her GiGi and NaiNai were crazy world travelers while she was just being born as well as helping other expats adjust to life in China were the main objectives so we are happy. Back in Seattle, we are always looking for the next adventure. A vacation to Ireland is coming up soon and then possible work travel to India and Europe. Would we move abroad again? You never know. Life is short.
“Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again: Our Year as Expats in China” is available here-looks best in color versions vs. Kindle b/w due to photos:
Yesterday, an awesome person I hired four years ago sent me a picture of herself in that happy moment along with some kind words-she has gone on to quite a career since that time. It made my day. That got me all nostalgic and reminiscing about everything Thom and I have experienced since then and how it has shaped who I have become. Fearless I am after all that we have faced from Seattle to Shanghai and back again!
After living apart for a year so I could join a great company when the opportunity presented itself, the family finally joined me here with James going off to Seattle U. and us selling the house we designed in Coeur d’Alene where the kids spent the majority of their childhood years. I still miss that hot tub with a view of the mountains and fireplace in the master–we built a great house. Damn!
Great sadness came when my Dad passed over Labor Day and I still miss him so much. I’m happy that Mom is doing so well living in South Bend and still looking good and playing bridge at 90. They live long in my family! Grandma Hannah made it all the way to 99 still living by herself.
Soon after, I had the great privilege of opening my store and introducing the Black Keys and One Republic at my store concerts-what fun that was to dance backstage. Since then, I’ve seen One Republic play in Shanghai and Orlando and they still rock it. Big perk of my job is seeing great talent over the years at many concerts–Lady Gaga, John Legend, Bon Jovi, Maroon 5, Katy Perry, Allen Stone and the list goes on…and on…such talent to enjoy! I have no musical gifts so I appreciate those who are able to entertain us all.
While we enjoyed Seattle, we embraced our NYC adventure with great enthusiasm. Oh what fun we had while there for the brief six month assignment! Times Square every day for work and LOTS of Broadway plays with weekly trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Christmas in the city took my breath away and the kids came to share it all. I still get to go back occasionally for business and always fill up on the carbs I love so much-$1 bagels and $1 pizza are my guilty pleasures. We still visit the Madison Square Park dog park every time we go to NYC-Izaak spent many happy hours there playing with the other urban pooches. I hope some day to live there again-you never know.
Then, of course, China was the best experience ever. I still stay in touch with my China team and wish I could be there to support them. At times, it seems like a dream that we lived there but I remember the little details so well–our smiling doorman, the fruit lady on the corner, the dancing groups on every corner every evening, our dvd store with the best looking dog in Shanghai hanging out front always. Our jaunts to Vietnam and Hong Kong were so fun and always filled with quirky wonderful moments. My best friend, Patti and her husband got to visit as well as James spending his holidays there. Thom is working on our book that will combine our blog posts and his amazing pictures. Goal is to have ready by end of the year and I encourage (nag!) him daily to finish so we can share with family & friends. We’ll publish on Amazon to help other expats going to China.
Now, we are back to Seattle as we are meant to be, supporting James while he goes to law school and being in Boise often to see Hannah and Mike and watch our granddaughter, Mia, grow up. As I gaze upon Elliott Bay from our lower Queen Anne home, I am realistic that this is just a temporary stop in our worldwide adventure and that’s okay. I am appreciative and loving it for now. In a few weeks, we will take off to explore Amsterdam. FUN! Our dream one day is to live in 12 different countries in 12 months…don’t know when that will happen but as I look back on the incredible journey the last four years, I know anything is possible if you allow yourself to take risks and I’m all over that! Here’s to the next four years (raising my glass of vino)–may they be filled with great appreciation for all that life can offer. Carpe Diem all!
Cheers to Friday! Unlike most others at the office today, I didn’t sport a Seattle Seahawks outfit. No, I wasn’t staging a protest or taking an anti-football stand. I just don’t feel comfortable wearing a football jersey to the office. I’m not judging others-more football power to them all but it’s just not my style. I’ll wear my skirt and pearls, thank you very much, and still root for the Seahawks!
So besides the gorgeous grey and white pearl necklace that I got for practically nothing at the Pearl Shop at the AP Market in Shanghai (seriously $15 or less for real pearls!), I was also so happy to wear my custom made shirt that has a seriously flattering neckline that makes even me look good-MIRACLE SHIRT! When it works, duplicate it! My favorite Michael Kors shirt wasn’t getting any younger so before it died, I took it to the South Bund Fabric Market in Shanghai while we lived there and had them duplicate it, custom made to my size, and picked the colors/fabric and altered a few other items to really make it one of a kind. The result was the most comfortable and good looking shirt that I own, all for $20 US. BARGAIN! I just wish I had more made while I was there. I got one shirt in black and one in green. My friend, Patti, loved mine so much that she went while she was there with us and got one too.
Paired with my comfy stripe knit skirt, tights and my classic Frye boots, it was the perfect Friday outfit–work and then dinner out at a local Thai place to celebrate a new challenge given to me at work today. Busy times ahead but, for now, I’m ready for the Seahawks to win on Saturday and, yes, I’ll be wearing my football jersey which I find totally appropriate for a weekend ensemble. Pictures to come–have to decide what scarf matches my Seahawks shirt!
From his very humble beginnings in China as the runt of the litter, riddled with illness and unwanted by everyone including his mama, by all measures, Thor should not have even lived let alone be now enjoying life in Seattle. Rescued by a kind expat who found him in the Shanghai stable where she rode horses, he was given a second chance at life. However, she almost immediately faced a life crisis of her own when she had to leave China quickly due to personal issues. She reached out via our apartment complex’s Shimao Riviera Facebook group that Thom belonged to and improbably we became foster parents to a Chinese rescue dog in July 2014.
Thom quickly started taking Thor to the vet to do whatever it took to nurse the little one pounder back to health. I had been in the U.S. on business and came home to meet the little ball of fur that would steal our hearts despite all the odds against him. Sequestered inside for the first few months as he got his shots, we were finally able to take him outside at about four months old. Teaching him to climb stairs was vastly amusing and the look on his fuzzy face when he met his first cat, who promptly hissed at him, was priceless. Of course when we found out that we were repatriating to the U.S. in October, we knew Thor had to come too. Though we feared what a transatlantic flight experience would be like with a puppy, we prayed heavily and, miraculously, he silently sat underneath the seat and was perfect the whole trip to the point we were poking him to see if he was still alive he was so quiet. Amazing!
Not that Thor is always perfect. Last week, as we transitioned from our temporary apartment to our new digs in Seattle, he went through a “I’ll piss on Thom” rampage every day as his teeny tiny bladder needs what feels like constant attention vs. his older brother, Izaak, who only needs walked a couple times a day. Thor’s more of a “walk me every two hours or I’ll piss on you” type of dog. Thom especially hopes his bladder grows stronger quickly as he ages but, in the meantime, water is regulated and walks are frequent. He is just getting old enough to be fixed so, on Valentine’s Day as is our custom on this romantic day with our dogs, we will take him to the vet to be changed forever. Maybe that will help? Here’s hoping!
Thor’s brother, Izaak, our eight year old Vizsla who stayed with our daughter while we were living in China, has become his new chew toy and constant partner in crime. Izaak has taught Thor to raid our trash cans. They also just love to chew on toilet paper right off the roll-yum, yum. Thor can only dream of getting big enough to eat off the kitchen counters and drink out of the toilets like Izaak can do if left unmonitored. They love chasing each other, lapping the apartment. Our neighbor below us doesn’t find it nearly as fun and pounds on his ceiling (with a broom??) to show his displeasure. Too bad grumpy person–dogs just LOVE to have fun and while Thor at four pounds doesn’t sound like the thundering herd, Izaak topping out at 50+ pounds probably does sounds like a small pony galloping around. So sorry! Thor has also become the consummate sock stealer and only needs a second left alone to take off and hide under the couch to chew on his ill gotten goods. Our pet sitter, Madeline, found out the hard way as she must have left the dynamic duo alone for a few minutes, in which time Thor stole her socks while Izaak collapsed on our bed/pillows for a quick nap-check out this tag team of devious dogs below. P.S. Izaak chose Thom’s pillow to park his ass and I got doggy drool on my pillow. Ahhhh, being a pet owner is fun.
It’s taken a few weeks of settling into a new routine in the U.S. and obsessing over a new job for me to find my Seattle voice. When I found out we would be leaving Shanghai, I wondered what the hell I would write about in boring, sleepy Seattle. China was exciting and odd and wonderful all at the same time. Even reading the Shanghai Daily would produce laughs and a story to share. So, off to Chinatown we went today. Surely I would be inspired there!
As we wandered the quiet, deserted streets today on our way to Chinatown for lunch with James (yes, trying to recreate the past!), I noticed not one dude peeing in the street. Weird. In fact, there wasn’t hardly a soul to be seen anywhere in the downtown area. Where was the fruit lady and the shoe guy? Amazing when you go from 25 million people in a city to under 1 million you do feel a distinct difference in the pace and most sane people would appreciate it. Not me—I like the busy streets and hum of a vibrant urban environment. Shanghai! Manhattan!
At lunch, I couldn’t wait to taste and compare the egg tarts, one of my favorite delicacies that didn’t make me sick in Shanghai. Definitely not as good as what we had in China, but the Seattle version was still delicious. James dug into shrimp fried puffs, red bean paste sesame buns, barbeque buns and dumplings. I loved that when I spoke Chinese to the staff that they immediately knew what I was saying. Mydan! Check please! When we asked for “take way”, our waitress chided James to eat more so she could fit everything in one small box. Done. You don’t have to beg a 21Year old boy to eat more.
We walked through Chinatown, Seattle style, and ogled the pastries in the bakery. YUM. Hearing a soulful tune, we stopped to listen to the old guy in the park making beautiful music with his Erhu traditional string instrument while checking out the jumbo size lawn chess set available for all to play but no one was–everyone was too busy stuffing their faces with hot and steamy dim sum on this cold, crisp day with skies so blue and air so clean you could actually take deep breaths, which I couldn’t get enough of. It’s good to be home.
As my days are numbered here in Shanghai, I thought it would be brilliant to do a “What I will miss and not miss list” to remember our adventures here. On my final day before going to the U.S. for a business trip, I ran by my hairdresser Michael first for a touch up to look as good as I can for the new job. First impressions and all. He was sad to lose his steady client and I was sad that I wasn’t going to be around to see his new salon open up eventually, a project he has been working on for as long as I have known him. It’s China, of course, so it is taking forever. Afterward I walked a few miles to a final dinner with our friends, Patti and Larry, who are staying for a week after I have to leave. It has been a joy to share China with them.
Of course I couldn’t find a taxi at rush hour but enjoyed the long walk to Lost Heaven on The Bund through the former French Concession all by my lonesome. It was dark yet I felt safe and the locals were enjoying their walks home too and starting to source dinner from the many street vendors. The tiny shops were all still open trying to lure commuters in to buy their goods.
I soaked it all in knowing this would be my last long walk alone in China. Then it dawned on me. I WILL MISS IT ALL–the good, the bad and the crazy that is China. Just as there is no place like NYC, there is no place like China and I have been lucky enough to live in both wonderful places.
I’ll miss the smile from the taxi driver as I try to practice my Mandarin and agree that the scooter he almost hit deserved it by getting in his way. We laughed so hard in the taxi coming home from dinner when, we heard the taxi driver’s friend which he was talking with on his mobile as he drove the busy streets hawk a loogie with a force so huge that it came through the speaker loud and clear. ARRRRRGH but that’s China and if you breathed in all that pollution every day, you would hawk up a lung too.
I’ll miss playing the “What’s the AQI?” game daily with Thom as we wake up and check out the “fog” in the early morning light. If you can see the bridge in the distance, it’s a good day. Can’t see across the river? It’s a 250+ AQI day so wear that air mask! Pollution bad? Good day to buy more $2 DVD’s and have movie day/night/week and order in food delivered by Sherpa’s.
The TV’s not working again in the bedroom for the fifth straight day? Yep-time to read a book. Instagram blocked now? Astril VPN being targeted and slowed down by the you know who? Yep-time to read a book. Be courageous and drink a cold beverage with ice made from local tap water and end up being crazy sick. Yep-time to spend some quality bathroom time reading a good book. Needless to say, my Amazon Kindle bill has gone up in China and many books have been read.
Now, just as we had to move on from our NYC adventure, now it is our time to leave China. As we repatriate to Seattle, I will challenge myself to keep on writing and observing life with the new lens I have acquired from my China cultural immersion. Yes, I will appreciate the blue skies more but I will also seek out the new and different cultural experiences that are everywhere not just China to keep the adventure alive. We are only on this planet a limited number of days. Why waste one moment being boring when you can make every day special and new?
Everyone likes a good list–especially me, so here’s mine so I won’t forget the fun times in Shanghai:
WHAT I WILL MISS
*a sense of security that I feel in China–no one is going to hurt me, steal from me, rape me, etc. It could happen but rarely ever does here vs. on the streets of Seattle downtown, you never feel safe. There are drugs deals going down (never in China) and people beating each other in broad daylight. I will carry a whistle, mace and running shoes to get away fast when I move to Seattle.
*rat motif items–I am born in the Year of the Rat and have started my own little rodent collection of tasteful and colorful rats to celebrate the year of my birth. Who knew the vermin could be so cute?
*Vietnam–a country full of super nice, smiling people and interesting places. I must go back.
*foot massage, foot massage, foot massage–how could I have gone my whole life prior to China without this necessity to keep my body whole and healthy and, yes, 90 minutes is not enough…not nearly…
*going to the local shoe repair guy who works on the street by my house 7 days a week – $2 to stitch up my bag that ripped and no waiting. Smile he gives me because he appreciates me supporting a local craftsman=priceless.
*beautiful flowers and colored lights to prettify the highways that are choked with traffic.
*the Great Wall-got to go 4x and loved every trip especially the toboggan to go down
*warm egg tarts from KFC–yum,yum,yum!
*various colors light up Pearl Tower depending on the holiday aka Empire State Building but with more gov’t. control
*$2 DVD’s-you get used to seeing movies in the comfort of your own home while they are in the theaters and the subtitles go unnoticed after awhile
*unexpected bursts of loud bangs as businesses attract the gods of good fortune with firecrackers
*Our ayi, Pink, smiling and wearing my NYC taxi apron while taking care of us and our gorgeous apartment
*large rooms and square footage–Seattle teeny tiny spaces with no closet space not so much
*Strictly Cookies, English muffins, Taiwan crackers-carbs galore
*surprises around every corner at every moment
*bargaining like a mule at the fake markets and getting bargains
*collecting pillow covers of every type and color–it has become an obsession
*my plants-they made our apartment beautiful and they lived despite me and my plant guy who would deliver even the heaviest banana tree right to the exact spot I wanted it..glad that Fiona’s friend took them all
*sense of delight when I found food I could eat that wouldn’t make me sick-thanks Fresh Elements
*our support team-Fiona who tried hard to teach us Chinese and bought stuff for us on Taobao, watched Thor, and did everything we needed to make life possible here; Robert and Billy who ensured we had car service fast and reliable; smiling fruit lady on the corner adding extra fruit in our bag because we always overpaid
*neon lights, flashing lights on every thing for any reason
*watching the ferries dodge the coal boats-reflexes extraordinaire
WHAT I WON’T MISS…all that much but maybe a little
*killer elevator in our building with doors that would either maim or kill you–I got some serious bruises from being stupid and not realizing that the doors would close on my flesh vs. the U.S. version that had safety features
*spotty at best internet, TV that doesn’t work most of the time though it’s good to live without it
*those damn bumps on the sidewalks making it difficult to walk–for the blind? Really?
*avoiding sitting directly behind the taxi driver so I won’t get hit with backwash from him hocking his lungs out the window and bracing for impact because there are never seat belts that work
*worrying that I’ll get sick or crack a tooth and have to submit myself to the China medical system, which is scary even at the best ex-pat places. Got great insurance but don’t want to use it.
*gov’t. Control of all media including blocking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. to keep the peace. It’s just scary not really knowing what the hell is going on in your city.
*public pissing. nuf said
*toxic water, no food safety, chunky air that makes me cough, cough, cough…lungs can heal, right?
*cars, buses, bikes, scooters all trying to kill me daily…thus, the mottos below
*I’d really like to not die today–repeat daily
*you can die fast or you can die slow–a Fionaism
*it’s China (as answers to almost everything, i.e. why is this happening??)
“Take Thom as collateral”. Please. I offered my hubster earnestly to the scarf lady who wanted 100 RMB to ensure we would stay and wait for her to retrieve our requested 200+ scarves I wanted to buy. As Fiona interpreted, she shook her head fiercely in protest, indicating that the crazy Laowai was not a good trade–we settled on 20 RMB which tells you what Thom is really worth. Just saying, sweetie–Chinese perspective. Nothing personal.
With rolling suitcase and multiple Ikea blue bags in tow, we journeyed to the South Bund Fabric Market to bargain the day away. Now, I’ve been known to be called the “Mule” at the markets and today was no exception. No comment, those of you who know me. Note–I have also been called a “bulldog” at work but that’s another story. Funny, I never get compared to the quiet, beautiful animals like a swan or cuddly ones like the panda. Hmmm…
I started with Thom’s favorite Tibetan lady (gal in the red in the pic) with her jewelry spread out on several blankets outside the market–you get a better price if the vendor isn’t paying for stall rent. Having previously bought a few pieces, I knew the price and pieces I was looking for–no more than 25 RMB ($4 US) and lower is better. Unfortunately the Tibetan lady didn’t stock quantity in any items so on to the next blanket. The word spread fast that I was a “buyer” and the vendors put two and two together with Thom watching over our large suitcase…. this Laowai had some RMB to lay down! Let the stampede begin.
They started rushing me with similar necklaces to the one I had picked up to check out. I finally found one gal who had some multiple units of what I was looking to buy for our accessory business that Thom/James will run in the US online plus I was buying for my friend Patti to start her own business back in the wilds of Indiana. God Bless Fiona who just laid into it with her as the bargaining began and quickly became heated. As the Mule with the RMB, I kept shaking my head and using my best Mandarin bargaining phrases that always come in handy. A couple watching it all go down (guy in blue shirt) wanted Fiona to help them too but she waved them off–she is our bulldog negotiator. I did share with the nice folks what they should be paying so they didn’t get ripped off. I’m nice like that–sharing the “Mule” tips to the world.
We got what we wanted and a few stink eye glares from the vendor (white/black check shirt gal) who still took my RMB. I was disappointed not to get all I wanted but I'[l go back to the AP market, where I have found it’s easier to find 10/20 units of the same necklace, which fits our online store concept model better. Thom’s so excited-more shopping and carrying bags. Oh Joy!
Then, it was off to the back local street to gather up 200+ scarves for 8 RMB ($1.33) each for really nice prints on large cotton-like scarves. At first overwhelmed at picking out 25 or so patterns, I quickly starting using my print radar to pick out the best on the cart. Fiona told me later that the local women were watching my selection process and, drawing a crowd, immediately started buying whatever I was choosing–the crazy Laowai lady must know her stuff, right??? Thom swears his very presence attracted the ladies but we all know better.
After refusing Thom as collateral, off the vendor went to her home to get the stock we needed–back in 30 minutes she promised. A hour and a half later, she finally showed up with LOTS of scarves in tow. While we waited for her, the vendor’s mom told us we needed to straighten the scarf display as we had messed it up with our selection frenzy. Sure, no problem, I got this. I have many, many years of retail experience. After just a few folds, the lady told Fiona to tell me to STOP! It seems that I may need some scarf display lessons as she suggested to Fiona that NO ONE WOULD BUY the scarves I was rolling up to stack on the table. Okay, message received. After I had paid for my many scarves, though, everyone was all smiles. Good day at the market for all!