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.
There is something in Shanghai that is very exciting and alive – the idea of a city with two different souls, one from today and another from a long time ago, is amazing.
The city of Shanghai paints a somewhat unusual picture. It is difficult to describe the discrepancies you find here on so many levels. The have’s and the have-not’s; old art-deco buildings amongst new futuristic skyscrapers; glitz and opulence a neighborhood away from street food, entire families sharing a two-bedroom apartment with no heat and laundry hanging from windows. All this and more is what makes the city such a fascinating area to explore.
Last weekend we pulled out our trusty Shanghai Walks book and did a walk entitled, “Suzhou Creek & the Real Shanghai.” For about 2 1/2 hours we wandered up and down the streets behind The Bund learning about the British and American Settlements in Shanghai in the 1920’s, as well as the Jewish migration from Europe and Japanese take over in the late 1930’s. To walk the streets of so much history is fascinating.
Our walk began on The Bund. For those of you who do not know the area, Shanghai is essentially divided into two parts by the Huangpu River. On one side sits the new section, or the Financial District, also known as Pudong. The other side is the old section, called Puxi. A river separating the future from the past. You don’t get any more literal than that. So, our walk began on the historical side of the city. We walked out to the river to look across at the towering skyscrapers that make up the iconic Shanghai skyline. The Oriental Pearl Tower looks like something you would find on the moon with it’s three bubbled levels and smooth silver detail.
From there, we turned around and headed into Puxi. Our first history lesson was that in the 1920’s the British and Americans established settlements in neighboring areas of this side of the river. Just looking at the buildings along The Bund convey the strong British influence during the time. It seems more like you are walking up and down the Thames than the Huangpu River. Gorgeous neoclassical marble buildings with ornate detail all convey an old-world European charm.
Money and culture flooded into Shanghai during this time. Theater, religion, and recreation all became popular pastimes amongst the ex-pats and wealthy locals living in the area. It is fascinating to walk along the Art Deco buildings in this section of town and feel so far removed from Asia. These buildings hold many stories, and opulence remains with stores like Cartier, Patek Philippe, and Gucci lining the streets.
The halls of the former British Consulate
The old British Rowing Club
Art-Deco at its finest
It seems the British and Americans lived in harmony with the Shanghainese until Japan invaded in the late 1930’s. At this time, Japan bombed the city then proceeded to invade, taking over the once peaceful area. The lower-class Shanghainese were forced to move a bit farther away from The Bund, establishing their own neighborhoods. Our next walking point took us through these communities. What a contrast to the wealth we saw a mere two streets closer to the water. Dirty streets, laundry hanging out to dry from every window, local street food vendors offering some great (and not so great) looking dining options. No Ferraris or Rolls-Royces roll through this area. Here, they are replaced by scooters carrying entire families, chickens, and who-knows-what. But even in this section of town, the culture is rich. Perhaps not rich in monetary terms, but in their deep culture. I’m sure just as we observed in the streets closer to The Bund, these roads have changed very little. I can imagine walking down this area in the 1930’s and experiencing many of the same sites, smells, and customs that we do today.
Turning back towards The Bund is a large area under construction. Out with the old, in with the new. The remnants of thoughtfully designed Art Deco apartments stand in a crumbled heap. If those walls could talk, I’m sure they would tell tales of the glory days when the future looked bright and money and opportunity endless. I understand the push forward to make new and refresh cities, but it saddens me when there is not a middle ground. Back in the day buildings were not necessarily made to last here. They were put up quickly and lived in hard. Many of them could not be restored even if building crews wanted to, so they must be torn down and built anew. I suppose you could look at it as an opportunity. New walls to hold new stories. But I love the past and grieve a bit when it is not preserved.
Our walk concluded back where we started, standing in front of the Peninsula Hotel on The Bund. We put our pinkies up and went in for a much deserved afternoon cocktail. I thought as we sipped our delicacies what a contrast it was to an hour earlier when we paid 25RMB for our lunch made by street vendors on the local streets.
From dumpling on the street…
to fancy cocktails at The Peninsula Hotel
Shanghai is deep and layered in its history. It was fascinating to walk the streets and imagine life here in the 1920’s-’30’s. Shanghai is also a contrast of past and future, of the wealthy and the poor. But through it all, despite our history or backgrounds, we still manage to come together and make the city special.
Our walk opened my eyes to many things I have passed time and time again but never took time to really “see”. If you have the chance, step into history. Don’t just read about it in a book. Walk the streets. Stand where you are and take it all in. Imagine a time of days gone by when life was different, yet somehow much the same as today. I am thankful we did, and I know you will be too.
I’ll be home for Christmas You can plan on me Please have snow and mistletoe And presents on the tree Christmas Eve will find me Where the love light gleams I’ll be home for Christmas If only in my dreams -Bing Crosby-
Although living an ex-pat life means constant change and adaptation, there is one tangible thing that has kept me grounded. Our home back in the U.S. I always knew no matter how many different life scenarios we faced while living abroad, we always had the comfort of our house to return to whenever we went home. A place where, for 12 years we hung our hats and made memories. A place where our kids grew up, traditions, and routines were created. I knew where everything was, painted every wall, hung every picture, planted every tree. Yes, our home remained a place of comfort and stability in our ever-changing world.
Now, while I say this, I will admit, it is a bit of a glorified picture of our house back in Michigan. I won’t even go into the headache of owning a house half-way around the world. Renters that did not keep up with maintenance, mail that got missed which led to overdue bills. A yard that was not properly tended to. It seemed every time we went home I would play catch up on all the things that had been neglected over the course of six months. It was a hassle and a lot of work. The last time we went home, I traveled there alone with two of our boys. After a 14-hour flight and arriving home utterly exhausted, all I wanted was a hot shower and cozy bed on which to lay my head. However, we arrived to find the hot water heater broken. Many hours, tears, and dollars later, it was replaced, and I was able to relax. Things like this seemed to happen every time we went home.
Last spring, we were blessed to be given a chance to extend our assignment overseas. We had been hoping for such an opportunity as we wanted to get our oldest child here to graduate high school before we headed back home. Since we knew we would be staying longer than initially anticipated, and keeping our house back home had proven to be such a headache, among a host of other reasons, we decided to sell our house. I will admit, while I knew this was a good idea for every reason imaginable, I am not always practical. My heart tugged at me and made it difficult to leave our memories behind. Silly, right? I mean, you can always take your memories with you, but there is a lot to be said about seeing those memories within the walls in which they were created.
But the decision had been made, and I knew deep down it was the right one. So I took a two-week trip home to prepare the house to go on the market. My mom met me there, and we went right to work. After many hours of purging, organizing, and staging, the house was ready. Thankfully, sheer exhaustion kept me from becoming overemotional about the reality of what we were working towards. I became cutthroat in deciding what needed to stay and what needed to go. But still, everything I touched required a decision. 12 years of clutter is not easy to rummage through. But we did it, I went back to Shanghai, and the house went on the market. The first day we received an offer, and the house was sold. It was a blessing, and a heartache but I had prayed God would be very clear in His path for this part of our lives, and I know this was His answer to my prayer. It’s difficult to argue with that kind of clarity.
The world’s best staging crew
Number of boxes packed!
We earned this!
So the house sold, we moved out, I cried, but we continued to look forward knowing this was what we needed to do. Then came plans for Christmas. All of a sudden my confidence was shaken. No Christmas in our home? No Christmas tree in the corner of the family room? No kids sitting at the top of the stairs waiting impatiently on Christmas morning for the ok to run down and look under the tree? What had we been thinking?
Christmas morning cinnamon rolls. Yum!
Family Christmas tree expedition
Eagerly awaiting present opening
We began talking about all the different ways we could spend Christmas. It wouldn’t be fair to pick one parent’s house over the other to spend the holiday. Our daughter’s house is too small to squeeze all of us in and really, did we want to pay money for a house rental in Michigan in the winter? Who in their right mind would choose such a cold vacation destination unless they had to?
A typical winter in Michigan
So after going around and around, we chose Seattle, Washington as our Christmas destination. My husband lived there as a child and still has family there. It is warmer, and we figured it would be a bit easier for us to get to; but at the same time allowing easy access for the rest our family to come join us, if possible.
Decision made, we announced it to the family thinking, of course, everyone would want to come spend Christmas in the Northwest. Well, our daughter and her husband could not get the time off of work to travel across the country. Again, I wondered what we were doing. Why did we sell our house and lose the opportunity to spend Christmas with everyone? But, once again I needed a reality check. Sure, we saw all the family when we went home, but it was only for a day, maybe two, tops. Is that really a reason to keep a house? One you have outgrown and can no longer consistently take care of?
So this year we will be celebrating a different kind of Christmas. It is the first one we will not spend with our daughter and, like any mother, it kills me, but also like any mother, there needs to be a time when we let go of our children, no matter how hard it may be. Our daughter now has the opportunity to make her own holiday traditions and memories, and although I will miss her dearly, I am happy for her. I know how special it is to sit in front of your own Christmas tree, bake cookies in your own oven, and hang stockings in front of your own fireplace.
As for us, I don’t know how the holiday will go. Being in a house rental in an unfamiliar place is going to be very different. Will it just feel like a vacation? Will it feel like Christmas? I know, Christmas is supposed to be about celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior surrounded by those you love, and we will. Our oldest son and my mom will be joining us. But I am such a traditionalist. Despite having all the boxes checked in order to have an enjoyable holiday, will it still FEEL like Christmas? I don’t know. It will be yet another way living an ex-pat life has given us cause to adapt to any and all situations. Sometimes that is easier said than done.
Although this Christmas will be different, I am happy and excited to have the opportunity to visit yet another new place. Despite the fact that we will not be in our own home, I know we will continue to make new Christmas memories. Who knows, we could love it so much with all the pressure being off all the Christmas “to-do’s” that we may want to continue this tradition in the future. We will see.
I wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas and hope you are surrounded by those you love whether in your own home or elsewhere. Merry Christmas to you all!
In America, many people spend the day after Thanksgiving shopping. We call it Black Friday, and it is THE best day to stock up on Christmas gifts by hunting for the best bargains of the year. However, because we are a family who tends to avoid crowds at all costs, we began our own Black Friday tradition. Instead of Black Friday, we participate in Cookie Friday.
The day after we stuff our faces with turkey, we gather as many neighborhood kids as we can rustle up (a.k.a., my minions), and begin getting in the Christmas spirit by decorating sugar cookies. Not just any sugar cookies, mind you. The best sugar cookies you have ever tasted. Thick, chewy and soft. Topped with sweet icing and a lovingly painted design. Well, I do have kids painting these delectable morsels, so I will admit, not every design is lovingly painted. Having as many boys as I do in the house, I should have realized cookies in the shapes of people were bound to get creatively turned into something…ahem…inappropriate. The first year of Cookie Friday led the way to a new tradition quickly adopted by every male participant. The bikini. Not exactly Christmassy, but they sure do get points for creativity.
The yearly gathering for Cookie Friday happened in our home every year for 12 years. None of my immediate family members were allowed to even whisper the word “shopping” until nearly every cookie was decorated. It became a very special tradition not only for us but for our kid’s friends as well. Come to think of it; perhaps I was acting as a babysitter so that other parents could go shopping. Hmmm…maybe I planned that all wrong. That being said, Those 12 years were very special. We welcomed old and new friends, and slowly watched them grow up. But through it all, no matter how old the neighborhood kids got, they always came together on Cookie Friday to usher in the Christmas holiday together.
Since we have moved to Shanghai, Cookie Friday has been put on hold. It is too difficult to execute here. But I’ll be honest, although it was a lot of work (I baked hundreds of cookies, hence the need for my minions), it is one of the things I miss the most about being home.
I hope this recipe makes its way into your family traditions. It is a family recipe that has been passed down through generations. Gather around, call all the kids, put on some Christmas carols, and enjoy making memories of your own. And, if a bikini-clad sugar person makes its way into your traditional Christmas Sugar Cookies, consider yourself all the luckier. 😉
Christmas Sugar Cookies
3/4 C butter 1 C sugar 2 eggs 1/2 tsp. vanilla 2 1/2 C flour 1 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. salt
Mix butter, sugar, eggs, & vanilla. Blend in flour, baking powder, & salt. Chill at least 1 hour, or up to 1 week. Roll dough 1/2” thick. Cut with festive cookie cutters and place on ungreased baking sheet.
400 degrees for 5 minutes. Make sure the cookies are only slightly browned on the bottom. They taste better when they are thick and chewy.
Frosting 2 C confectioners sugar 2 egg whites
Beat to spreadable consistency. Separate into small bowls. Add food coloring. Paint cookies with frosting. Get creative. Top with sprinkles and a big heaping of love.
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.
Every year the fall season arrives with a healthy dose of nostalgia and delicious things to eat.
I will admit I go completely pumpkin and apple crazy this time of year. I just can’t get enough! Pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice lattes, applesauce, apple cider. You name it if it includes either of these two ingredients I am all in. Add some cinnamon and you have me sold in an instant. Yes, I am a sucker for anything fall-ish, especially if it involves food. Ok, if you know me at all, you may argue that I am a sucker for anything that involves food any time of year, and you are correct. But throw together some pumpkin, cinnamon, and sugar and I am in love.
Perhaps one of the reasons fall holds such a dear place in my heart is due to the family traditions we have established over the years. Since we have moved to Shanghai many of these traditions are not possible to continue and I miss them dearly. But I suppose it would be challenging to find an apple orchard or pumpkin patch tucked amongst the buildings of this massive metropolis.
Family trips to an apple orchard were always my favorite. We would pile in the car and drive waaay out to find the perfect orchard. One such orchard continues to hold a dear place in my heart. Clearview Farm in Sterling, Massachusettes. You can’t get any more picture perfect than this little farm. Set down a country road on the outskirts of a lovely little New England town this farm sells apples, pumpkins, and produce. The owner, Diane Melone, is a descendant of Mary from the popular children’s rhyme “Mary had a Little Lamb”. Yes, Mary was a real person, and her lamb did actually follow her to school! Honestly, I can’t make this stuff up. Every year we would drive through a rainbow cacophony of trees, over hill and dale until we arrived at Clearview. Once on the farm, we would grab a wagon and make memories picking apples, enjoying the weather, and loving the precious simple time spent together.
When we picked all the apples we could possibly carry, we would pile back in the car and take them home. Once there, I would look at them wondering why in the world we had picked so many, and even more importantly, what the heck was I going to do with all of them?
One year my daughter’s preschool class went on a field trip to, you guessed it, an apple orchard. When they returned they made apple crisp. Her sweet teachers sent home the recipe and it instantly became a yearly favorite in our house. Yes, 20 years later I am still making the same recipe with a few tweaks here and there. It is delicious, super easy, and one that I hope will make its way into your fall family traditions as well as help you use up some of those apples you picked on your family trip to your favorite orchard.
Fall Favorite Apple Crisp
Prep Time 15 minutes Cook Time 30 minutes Total Time 45 minutes Servings 4 servings (if you’re lucky)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
3 cups apples, sliced thin
1 tbsp. flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. water Pour into an un-greased pan
3. Prepare Topping
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup softened butter
2/3 cup brown sugar Combine. Sprinkle on top of apple mixture.
30-45 minutes or until browned and bubbly
Enjoy! We like to eat our apple crisp warm with a healthy scoop of vanilla ice cream. Mmmm!