A picture says a thousand words. Frederick R. Barnard
I love China! My favorite aspects of living here are the things you see that get lost in translation, whether it be in words, or in cultural differences. I enjoy observing how our cultures differ and have learned much about tolerance and understanding when people do things differently than me. Many things here are the same, but oh so many are different.
These are a few of the many things we have experienced over the course of our two years living in Shanghai. They have made me smile and I hope will do the same for you. I can only imagine what the Chinese think when they come to America and see all the crazy things we do!
The Chinese tell it like it is
Food safety is always a top priority
Split bottom pants are all the rage with the youngsters
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The locals are experts in efficiency
And they can sleep practically anywhere!
But sometimes things just get lost in translation
Then there are those things that you can’t explain no matter how hard you try
And there you have it! After two years, things here continue to make me smile. I hope these pictures gave you a little chuckle today. We all need things that are just a little different to help make our world a happier place.
A special thanks to Jenny Kuchel who shared some of the memories made during her 12 years living in China.
I had an interaction today that reminded me how living in a foreign country is not always easy.
My son needed new gym shorts, so off I went to the school uniform shop. A simple enough task, right? Ha, why would I think that? Silly me! Walking into the uniform shop, I greeted the lady behind the counter. Our conversation went something like this: I said, “Hi! I need a pair of extra-large gym shorts please”. To the reply of, “Gym…? What do you mean gym?” “You know, gym…umm…like to work out…umm…exercise…?”. Blank look in response. I walked over to some sample gym uniforms hanging on a rack and pointed to a pair of gym pants. “Like these but short”. To which she repeated her question, “What do you mean gym?” In an effort to understand what I was trying to say, she went to her computer and begin a search. I have no idea what her search word was, but the result yielded a picture of jeans. “You mean this?”, She asked while pointing to said picture of jeans. At this point, I’m sure she thought I was utterly crazy coming to a uniform shop looking for jeans. “No, gym…er…umm…P.E.?” Ding, ding, ding! I could see her eyes widen as realization set in. Off she went to find the shorts. When she came back, she was holding two pairs of gym pants. “No, I need shorts. You know, short, not long.” I explained while pointing to my knees. Off she went again. Returning empty-handed she said, “we don’t have any men’s extra-large. Our largest size is children’s 16”. “Well, according to your chart right here,” I began while pointing to their sizing chart posted on the wall, “my son would be a men’s extra large (While he is very tall, Chinese sizes tend to run suuuuper small). If you don’t carry anything bigger than a 16, what is he supposed to wear for gym? I mean P.E.” Again, blank look. She tap, tap, tapped at her computer, looked up and said, “maybe he could wear shorts for P.E.” “Yes!” I replied, more than a bit exasperated. “Do you have size extra large?”, I asked thinking we were going around in some sort of vicious circle. “Yes, we do.”, She replied with certainty. With that, she turned around to the fully stocked shelf behind her and pulled down two pairs of size extra-large gym shorts.
I left having completed my task but giggled and muttered under my breath, “what the heck just happened?”.
I wish I could say I was surprised by this interaction but things like this happen on a daily basis. Some days I wonder if I really do make any sense at all.
Here are a few more examples of things that just get lost in translation:
All in all, this is just another part of our adventure living abroad. I am thankful for frustrating yet ridiculously funny things like this that happen. I hope I made you smile through my story. Sometimes it’s the ridiculousness that makes life entertaining and keeps you giggling your way through this crazy thing called life.
We became an ex-pat family nearly two years ago. I still vividly remember how terrified I was at the thought of uprooting all we knew, leaving two children behind, and boarding a plane into the unknown halfway around the world. Read my inaugural blog, ’tis Christmas Day to see just how emotional that time was. To say we were all a wreck is an understatement.
Yesterday I wrote about The Dark Side of Living Abroad. Things to think about when considering a move abroad. It is not a choice to be made lightly. Everything you know will change. You will be uprooted from all the comforts of your life. But for us, this change has been positive. Sure, we have had ups and downs along the way but I don’t think any of us would be willing to give up the experience we have had living as ex-pats. I am now a firm believer in the idea that everyone should live abroad at some point in their life, and these are the reasons why.
Your world gets bigger
Before we moved abroad, we didn’t even own passports. The United States was our home base, and we didn’t have much desire to leave. Now that we have moved to China we have been to 10+ countries and have seen so many amazing sights. I continue to be in awe of the beauty and diversity of the world. My understanding of differing cultures has broadened 100 fold. My kids have been exposed to so many different aspects of ways to live that their entire view of life has been expanded. It makes us see how blessed we are by seeing how many people throughout the world live without even the basics we take for granted.
Mmm, chicken heads
yep, he ate it!
Your world gets smaller
I can’t tell you how many people I have met who live close to our house back home, or whose children went to the same school as my older kids. When talking to one friend, she began describing her house back home. The more she told me, the more I thought it sounded familiar. Come to find out she lived on the same street as my son’s girlfriend. What are the chances? It is nice to be so far away and be able to talk to people about things (or even places) back home with a common familiarity. It brings comfort and helps ease a bit of the homesickness that can come from time to time when you realize it’s not such a big world after all.
Possibly the most significant change that comes with moving abroad is the necessity to become adaptable. Life is never settled. It is next to impossible to fall into a rut or a routine. Schedules are always changing, travel is frequent, and there is constant adaptation to your new culture. I was a very structured person before we left The States. I thrive on schedules and predictability. Learning to be more flexible was challenging, but I am so thankful to have embraced that skill. For the most part, things don’t tend to bother me like they used to. I can “roll with it” more which makes life more easy-going.
Besides adaptability, I consider the most significant changes have been made in my confidence and faith. I have had to go out and navigate a world in which I am entirely unfamiliar. The language, way of life, and customs are different. This takes guts. In addition, my faith has jumped by leaps and bounds. I have to rely on God to get me through each day, keep us all healthy, and keep those back at home safe. Your God is bound to become bigger when you move overseas.
There are now so many ways to keep in touch with loved ones and friends back home. I can’t imagine moving overseas when the only method of communication was through a letter or phone call. The age of social media has broadened the avenues of keeping in touch. Facebook, email, texting, WeChat, Instagram, etc. We can share our lives with others at the touch of a button. I can see my kids through video chat, so it doesn’t feel like such a long time since we have been “together.” These options make it easy to stay connected and not feel so far away.
One of my biggest worries about leaving my children, family, and friends behind was that I would never see them. However, for the most part, I was wrong. Our first summer here our kids were able to come visit. Hunter, our oldest son, came for two months and Autumn, our oldest and only daughter came with her husband Jackson for one month. It was awesome! We traveled and spent time together without the distractions of being at home. We didn’t have to share the kids with anyone. Not work, school, in-laws. No one. We got them all to ourselves, and it was so special. Since then, Hunter and Autumn have come back, my mom has come to visit, as well as friends and we have experienced the same one-on-one time with each of them.
Quality time at The Summer Palace in Beijing
Me and my Mama at Yu Gardens
Our boys attend a fantastic (and very expensive) American school here in Shanghai. We would have never been able to afford such a prestigious education for them at home. I know not everyone will have the same luxury when moving abroad but we have been so grateful for the stellar educational opportunity that has been given to them. We even asked to extend our assignment in order for our high schooler to graduate here.
As a result of our move, all of our children have had to grow and adapt very quickly. Autumn and Hunter had to learn how to truly live life on their own. We moved to Shanghai a few months after dropping Hunter off as a Freshman in college. How’s that for a quick introduction into a life of independence? But you know what? They have impressed me so much with their ability to handle all life has to throw at them. Elijah, our oldest here, went to Abu Dhabi on a school trip last year. He was in charge of his passport, luggage, checking himself in at the airport, and shared a hotel room with a fellow classmate. I would never have imagined even sending him to the next town overnight when we lived at home.
It’s true when you live overseas your friends become your family. We rely on each other heavily and “do life” together way more than at home. We need each other for support and tend to form fast friendships that last a lifetime. Many people who repatriate have a tough time trying to create friendships like those they experienced while living abroad, only to find people too busy and independent to foster that kind of a close bond.
All of us have developed the “Travel Bug”. My husband, Brett, and I joke that we need to get all of our traveling out of our system now because when we return home, we will once again be on a tight budget with little extra for trips. So we have taken full advantage and as a result, have seen so many incredible things. Follow our travels through photographs here. I remember when we were planning our first trip as ex-pats Brett said we should go to Thailand. I laughed and told him no thank you, that I had no interest in going there. Well, we did end up going to Thailand, and it was absolutely breathtaking. If we didn’t live where we do we would most likely never journey to this side of the world. And let me tell you, this side of the world is pretty incredible.
If you are given a chance to live abroad, I say take it. It will change your life by allowing you the opportunity to grow in ways you never thought possible. Our entire family, both at home and abroad have become more close and richer with new experiences we would have never had if we stayed at home and lived our lives as we had before. So stop worrying. Take a leap of faith and go experience all the world has to offer!
If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.
Most of the time living abroad is pretty great. We have a driver and a house cleaner. Eating out happens more regularly. We have the opportunity to travel and experience new things. Yes, it is an experience I would highly recommend. Read 10 Reasons Why You Should Live Abroad to see why.
However, there is a dark side to living abroad. Things you need to really think about before considering such a big move.
A few weeks ago my phone rang. It was my oldest son, Hunter on the other end. He is still in the U.S. While it is not unusual to get a phone call from him at 1am his time (he is 20 and never seems to sleep before 2am at the earliest), I detected an odd sound in his voice. “Hi, mom…so, I don’t want you to worry…”, Were his first words. Well, as any mother could relate, within 5 seconds I had thought through every possible scenario of what could have possibly happened, as well as 50 ways to get home as quickly as I could. He continued, “so, I’m on my way to the E.R.”, followed by a nervous laugh. “I, um, was at a concert and got slammed into a wall and hit my shoulder and my head really hard and now it hurts to lift my arm.” Oh goodness, more scenarios went whirring through my mind. Would he need surgery? What if the doctors wanted to operate right away? Should I go ahead and book a plane ticket? Wait it out? What should I do?!?! He assured me he was fine and sounded it, but my mothering instincts wanted me to be there hugging him tight and be his advocate at the hospital. The fact that he is away at college and I wouldn’t have been there even if we still lived at home made no difference. The point was that I couldn’t get there quickly even if I wanted to.
Thankfully Hunter was fine. He handled it like a man, and I was impressed by his maturity. The next weekend our daughter (also in the U.S.) cut her finger and raced off to the E.R. to get stitches. I joked we needed to rent a standing room for the two of them since they live in the same town. But really, the dark side of living abroad hit me hard, and I thought it would be a good idea to give you some food for thought in case you are considering becoming an ex-pat.
On a side note, don’t worry, I’m not depressed or hate life. It’s all good. Whenever you say anything negative, people start to fear that an intervention or something of the sort is in order. But it’s ok. I have been able to tuck my worry away again and will soldier on with lots of prayer for safety and fortitude.
On another side note, experiences living abroad are vastly different. I know some people move overseas without much to their name. We have come on a very generous package from my husband’s company so I can only speak from our experience.
The dreaded phone call
To be honest, phone calls like the one I received a few weeks ago are a consistent fear for ex-pats. We pray something drastic will not happen while we are thousands of miles away, but we know it could so we constantly live with a nagging fear in the back of our minds. Sure, most of the time we push the fear aside and go about our daily lives. I mean, we simply couldn’t live if we didn’t. But if most ex-pats are like me, that fear hovers right under the surface and can explode when even the smallest of issues occur. Possibly one of the biggest things to think about when considering a move abroad is that you are going to be far away from family and friends. You realize very quickly that you honestly have no control over significant life circumstances. I know, none of us have control over the big things no matter where we live, but it is easy to fall into a false sense of security living within close proximity of your loved-ones. When you think about moving thousands of miles away, you need to be ok with the fact that it will take you a long time to get back home. Possibly even days. Are you ok with this?
A temporary life
An ex-pat’s assignment almost always has an end date. That means not only will you be going home at some point, but the friends who become a huge part of your life will be too. Goodbyes are always painful, and they are constant when you live temporarily. We are continually adjusting to old friends leaving, new friends coming, different routines, trips, etc. We just never seem to feel settled. Are you ok with this?
Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable
Moving abroad means not only uprooting your family and leaving your home but moving to a foreign country where things are going to be very different. Many times this is great. You learn about different cultures and how they live. However, there are also times when it is pretty terrible. Here in China, we have to deal with squatty pottys in public restrooms, and people openly staring at us almost every time we leave the house. And darn it, we never found that ranch dressing we searched for during the first few months of our arrival. For more insight into our adjustment to a new life abroad, click here: The Good, the Bad, and the Hunt for Ranch Dressing. I know, first-world problems, right? So, while we have found our way, there have been many bumps in the road, and it hasn’t always been easy. Some days it can feel overwhelming. Ex-pats actually have a term for it that is widely used over here: Shang-lo days. Honestly, they can be pretty tough, and all you want to do is go home. Are you ok with this?
Living on a roller coaster
The above being said I would compare our emotional well-being to being on a roller coaster. Most of the time we are going up. Things are good, and we are excited about our lives here. But all of a sudden we get to the top and go careening down at break-neck speed. It could be the day. It could be the situation. I don’t know, but I have seen so many people here live on such emotional highs and lows. I mean, just running an errand can ultimately defeat you. For about the first 6 months after we moved here, I would set out and try to accomplish one thing a day. Just one thing. And you know what? Sometimes I couldn’t even do that. I would return home empty-handed and in tears because everything felt like it was just too difficult. It is much easier now after two years of navigating my way around, but there are still some days I return home empty-handed and utterly frustrated. Are you ok with this?
I continuously pray we will not have a life-threatening issue while living here. Ambulances are not available, we don’t have our own car, and we have to use specific hospitals, the most commonly used facility being 45 minutes away, without traffic. Any emergency would be very complicated to handle quickly. So yes, this is a real fear of mine. I rely heavily on prayer and faith that God will provide as needed. I have spoken to many people who live here with a child that has a food allergy and give them so much credit trying to feed their child safely while living in a foreign country where English is not the national language. Obtaining medications is another concern. Some are impossible to get here. We always buy our medications when we are home, especially those requiring a prescription. This involves a lot of preplanning and forethought. Are you ok with this?
I can’t even begin to tell you how skilled I have become with hand-gestures. Not in the profane sense…goodness people (insert eye-roll)! But as a useful tool in explaining what I want to someone who does not speak English. You may argue that we should learn the language of our host country and Lord knows I have tried. But it is just so hard! Terrible excuse, I know. That being said, many times communicating what you want besides asking how much something costs can become extremely difficult, if not impossible with a language barrier. So yes, hand gestures, pointing, I have even resorted to calling my driver and asking him to translate. But it is frustrating especially when it should be simple. Are you ok with this?
What type of massage would you like today?
This is where pointing comes in very handy.
Sure, I completely understand what this says.
These are a few things to consider when contemplating moving abroad. Honestly, the list could be endless, but I have tried to hit the most significant issues we have faced, and continue to face on a regular basis. Most days are great, but some are not. A move abroad should not be taken lightly. You must weigh the pros and cons. Ultimately for us, the benefits of living a life abroad have vastly overshadowed the negatives. We love the opportunity we have been given and are very thankful. I wish you luck in your decision. It may not be an easy one to make, but in the end, you need to be comfortable with, and excited about your choice. Life can be an adventure no matter where you choose to live, whether moving overseas or choosing to stay put and live it out in your own backyard.
To say I’ve had a crappy week is an understatement. It began with a dog bite (just to clarify, a dog bit me, I didn’t bite it), moved onto a series of 8 shots for rabies, a subsequent dog injury caused by my dog (he wanted to play with a rather grumpy old dog who was less than interested), and finding out that my old ayi left us for another job all the while telling me she had to leave Shanghai to help her mother who had a stroke. All this and the sad thing is, it’s only Thursday.
Who would want to mess with this sweet face?
Sometimes living abroad is really hard. Everything here is more difficult than back home. Need something from the store? You have to wait 45 minutes for your driver, finally get to the store, just to find out they no longer carry the item you are looking for. Three stores later, you return home empty-handed and in search of another meal idea you can use for dinner. Need a doctor? Sure, no problem. First, call your international SOS agency. Wait for a doctor to call you back to tell you to go to the hospital. Wait another hour for a subsequent call back with which hospital to go to. Arrange your driver to pick you up and drive to the hospital (which, by the way, takes an hour because traffic is so bad). So, you get my point. Many aspects of living abroad are pretty awesome, but others are just plain awful.
So if you are having a “Shang-lo” day (a.k.a. a really crappy day), I’ve come up with a few tips to keep you going. To help get you over that hump of self-pity and back on your way to loving your ex-pat (or non-ex-pat) life.
1. Get on your knees.
Ok, so I know this may sound cliche, but the power of prayer is a real thing. I could not have got through many difficult times without my faith. It is so freeing to give your issues to God and let Him clean up your mess. And trust me, He has had to clean up quite a few doozies of mine!
Don’t be afraid to cry. It’s ok. We all need to let out a few tears from time to time. Crying doesn’t make you weak. It’s cleansing and (besides the puffy eyes and runny nose), can be quite therapeutic. Honestly, after this week, I don’t know how many tears I have left. Perhaps that means I’ve lost a pound or two?! Yeah, we’ll go with that.
3. Lean on your community.
Someone told me, “you’re all desperate here together,” and she’s right. Ex-pats have a bond. We become each other’s family, and it’s ok to get real with each other. Living this life can be hard, and we really need to have someone who will help you get through your crappy feelings. Honestly, they have most likely felt the same way or gone through the same thing as you so don’t be afraid to let your guard down and open up.
4. Be honest.
Don’t put on a happy face and pretend like everything is fine. It’s not and if you bottle it all up inside it will just grow and fester. Honestly, what good will that do you? You have people in your life who care about you and would like nothing more than to help you work through your stuff. So be honest. Let it all out.
5. Seek out the right council.
Ok, I know I’ve told you to be free and talk about your problems, but it may not be best to tell them to the most gossipy person around. Yes, we have gossipy people overseas too. Instead, seek wise counsel. Someone who will lead you down a positive road, who will honestly tell you if you are being ridiculous, and someone who will offer you good advice.
6. Attitude is everything.
I’ll be honest, this is the most difficult for me. I tend to wallow in my unfortunate situations. Poor me. Why me? But I always need to remind myself that someone always has it worse than me, or the situation could have been worse for this reason or that reason. Whatever. Our attitude really will affect how we react to a situation. If we are in the right mind no matter what the issue, we will be able to deal with things that come our way in a much more effective and healthy way.
7. Hug it out.
There is great healing power in a hug. I’m pretty sure there is scientific evidence to back me up on this one. Trust me, getting a big bear hug makes everything better.
8. Play music.
There’s something very therapeutic about music. Find a playlist that you love and crank it up LOUD. Sing along at the top of your lungs and don’t be afraid to rage dance. Just leave it all on the floor. Sure, some people may find this kind of release in going to the gym or going for a run, but I seriously think they are a little twisted and should never be trusted. Juuuuust kidding. One word of caution, if you are cutting loose in your living room, you may want to close your blinds. I was getting down to some Ed Sheeran…like big-time dancing (for anyone who knows me, this may seem hilarious since you know I don’t dance). When the song ended, I looked up to see one of the gardeners staring at me through my window. Oops, my bad!
Some find comfort by going to the gym. I call them “crazy people”.
Never be afraid to dance like no one is watching.
9. Eat brownies.
Ok, don’t go scarf down an entire pan or else you will have to go join the crazies out on a run. But don’t be afraid to treat yourself. I know brownies can’t solve world hunger (or can they?!), elect a different president, or really make your problems go away, but they are really tasty and can put a little smile back on your face. And hey, while you’re at it, add a scoop of ice cream. You deserve it!
10. Laugh at yourself.
So things are pretty terrible. I know at times like these the last thing you want to do is laugh, but finding humor in the situation always makes it a little bit easier to deal with. After all, you can either laugh or cry, right? Maybe a little bit of both. Last year I was having one of the worst days. Like, just crawl into your bed and shut out the world kind of a day. But I had an errand to run, so I tearfully dragged myself into the car only to discover right before I got in, my driver farted and stunk up the entire car. As I sat there trapped in the noxious gas, I busted out laughing and silently thanked him for helping me get past my wallowing.
So there you go. Your definitive list of how to make lemonade out of lemons. How to live a life of sunshine and lollipops. How to put on a happy smile, and all that other cliche business that is easier said than done. Really though, life is hard. It’s messy. I’ve had a week from hell. Still, I am strong. I can get through this, and so can you. Just take it one step at a time and remember that every day is a new beginning. This too shall pass, and you will be stronger and wiser as a result.
So go take on the world. You’ve got this, and so do I. Now bring on Friday!!