It is a new year.
While many in the U.S. are drinking champagne, and watching the ball drop in Time’s Square, I am sitting at a desk in Shanghai looking out the window of a 19th floor apartment.
Many people are using this time to make New Year’s resolutions. They want to lose weight, exercise more, spend less money, etc. Me, I am just trying to navigate my way through a new land. Every day is change. Learning, growing. “A new year, a new you” will be my motto. As a family, we have already learned so much in the three days we have been here.
72 hours. A whirlwind. It has been a time of travel, new customs, medical exams, and jet lag. We left before sunrise on December 28th. 4 people, 11 bags, 7 carry-ons, and an uncertain future. I myself left armed with tissues, a bottle of Xanex, and a prayer for a bright future. Goodbyes were the hardest. All those I love who have been a part of my life. My house, my friends, my family. I said a tearful goodbye to it all, and headed East.
Our trip began not so favorably with a Metro Car driver who went to the wrong house, couldn’t lift our bags into the car, then proceeded to get lost trying to navigate his way out of our subdivision. “Is this a sign of things to come?”, I worried. But God was watching out for us, as He always does. At the airport, while many flights were delayed or cancelled due to an ice storm in Chicago, our flights were on time. We passed through security, arrived at our gate, and waited for our flight. The sun was still below the horizon and we were prepared for a long day. The boys and I had the opportunity to sit in business class, but poor Brett was back in coach (Ford pays for the upgrade on your final trip, which he already had the pleasure of enjoying three months prior). I did think of him from time to time as I sipped my free wine, watched movies, and slept comfortably on my seat that turned into a bed. Haha, poor guy. The boys did not sleep at all on either the 3, or the 15 hour flight, despite my reminders to do so. The allure of the movies and free snacks kept them going all night long.Brett and I were sure to tell them not to get used to this posh lifestyle. When we fly back and forth on our own dime, coach will be where we book our seats.
A full 24 hours later, we arrived in Shanghai, exhausted both physically and mentally. We walked off the plane as aliens in a new land. No more English, crystal clear blue skies, or wide open spaces. We stumbled sleepily through immigration. Thankfully, all our bags made it.I prayed we would not be stopped and questioned going through customs, especially carrying so many belongings. I made the effort to look confident, even though I was nervous. Fake it ’til you make it, right? It was unsettling to see men and women, dressed in military uniforms, watching your every move. But again, all was well. We made it through, found our driver, Chen, and made our way to our new city. The sun was setting. Fitting, I thought, for traveling 24 hours. We left in the dark, and arrived in the dark.
After a trip such as ours, it is a struggle to adjust to a new time, especially when you haven’t slept. 5:00 pm felt like midnight. We stumbled to dinner, the boys practically falling asleep in their plates, then headed back to the apartment.It was there our first mishap occurred. As the boys and I rode the elevator up to our temporary apartment, Elijah and I exited at our floor. As I stepped off, Jack trailed behind. I heard him say, “Ooh, a penny!”, and the elevator doors closed, trapping my youngest son inside. While most people would be able to figure out how to get out of an elevator, Jack had never been alone in one before. I saw the elevator begin it’s decent down, not knowing where it’s destination may be. Figuring he would be going to the first floor, I hopped on the elevator next to his, and followed him down. By the time I arrived on the first floor, I stepped out and called to him.
“Jack, open the door!”
“I can’t, I don’t know how”, was his response.
Great. His elevator began to ascend back up to an unknown floor, so I followed up in my neighboring elevator. Up, down, up down we went like a see saw. Finally I caught him, located once again on the first floor. I was fuming, and gave him a hasty lesson in elevator safety. Even simple things like elevator trips were new and different. We were in Shanghai for less than 3 hours, and had already experienced so much.
Our first full day was productive. We ate our first Chinese meal for breakfast and tried to learn how to use chopsticks.Then we went to visit a cute area called Tianzifang. Alleys filled with shopping and dining were quaint and pleasant.After, we went to IKEA. A store I usually hate, but found myself appreciating due to the fact that it was recognizable. I was anticipating this move could be a good for us. Hopeful for the excitement of things to come.
Our second day was not as encouraging. The day began with a hazardous air quality day and my Chinese medical exam. An event no one looks forward to, no matter the country. All I can say is, it was very different. Things we have come to expect in the U.S. are not the same here. I was first ushered into a unisex changing area, then told to go from room to room to have different medical evaluations. An x-ray, blood work, eye exam, etc. Each room, a different test. Wait in the hallway until it is your turn, then go into your room and try to understand what it is they are telling you to do. I suppose it could have been worse. It was weird, not as hygienic as I am used to, but very efficient. Next, we headed to Metro, a Costco-like grocery store. No one spoke English so I did a lot of pointing, and going where I was told. Between the two events, and lack of rest, discouragement set in. How will I do this?…I don’t want to do this!…Can we go home now?? Quite a difference in emotion from one day to the next.
Today has been better. A good night’s sleep, and and easy day. I have been told emotions run high being an ex-pat. So much change..both good and bad. 72 hours have been proof of that. Airplanes, elevators, and doctors. Crazy times. Flexibility is key through the ebb and flow of this new life. “A new year, a new you”. 2016 will be one of adventure for our family. With much to learn and experience, resolutions do not need to be made. Every day will be a growing opportunity. We will have laughter and tears, but in the end will grow more than any New Year’s resolution could ever offer! Here’s to 2016. I raise my glass and say, “Bring on the adventure!”