Only in China!

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

I may not get hair in my food, but I sure hope they’ve washed their hands!
Yep, that’s a dog at the table behind me.
There’s nothing more appealing than fresh vegetables with a hint of cigarette smoke.
Steak, anyone?

Split bottom pants are all the rage with the youngsters

The locals are experts in efficiency



And they can sleep practically anywhere! 

Just another day in Ikea. But the thing I love is the empty bottle of wine next to him.
A driver taking a nap in a lobby

But sometimes things just get lost in translation

“magic seeds refresh your dream life”
I like this kind of health food!
Club B.M.? I wonder if they have nice bathrooms. Lol!
IMG_0597 2
 A life lesson for us all

Then there are those things that you can’t explain no matter how hard you try

A claw machine for cigarettes.
There are no words.

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. 

Lost in Translation

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:

Hey, who are you calling a loser?
Well this is a nice shirt for Disneyland
Shanghai good-looking corporate image planning. Nice!
I can’t make this stuff up!
“waring danger”

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.

Finding the EXTRA in the Ordinary

Sometimes something happens that is extraordinary. You may have experienced it a hundred times before, but this time it is different.

Last week it snowed in Shanghai. Some people referred to it as a blizzard. Schools across the city had a snow day on Friday. In reality, snowfall totals were about one inch. Back home in Michigan, we would hardly bat an eye to such a small amount of snow. However, here in Shanghai, one inch of snow is enough to shut down an unequipped city.IMG_7629

Now back in Michigan we are used to a few snow days per year. Schools actually add a week to their calendar to allow for such days. But a snow day here? Unheard of. A bad air day, perhaps, but never a snow day.

You can imagine the palpable excitement amongst the children when they woke up on Friday to find that not only did they have the day off of school, but upon looking out their windows discovered there was actually snow blanketing the ground. The neighborhood was buzzing with excitement and snowmen were popping up everywhere. This excitement was not limited to the children. Gardeners walked around in awe admiring the snowmen and trying to figure out how to clear snow from the roads. Some of the children in our neighborhood had never seen snow. In fact, some of the workers had never seen snow either. People stopped in their cars to take pictures of trees, and snow-covered rooftops. Watching others enjoy something for the first time brought new excitement and joy to me as well. I found a sense of newness in something I had experienced many times before at home.


Along these lines, I was reminded that since we are living abroad, away from our every day, things become new again. You are afforded a fresh perspective on life. It is such a blessing. Many times we fall into a routine knowing what to expect out of people, out of the weather, out of our errands, etc. It is such a huge opportunity to see things anew again and to get excited over the ordinary.IMG_7660

There is an old saying: “the devil’s in the details”. I beg to differ. I say God is in the details. When you look at life through fresh eyes, you experience new richness and detail you may have only walked past before. I took two long walks during our snowfall. Walks I had taken many times before. However, things look different when covered in a blanket of snow. A quiet hush falls upon the earth allowing you to walk and just be still. A bridge I have passed dozens of times before caused me to stop and take it its graceful lines and architectural detail. It looked beautiful dusted with snow. A small green bush with red berries dazzled in the sunlight because it was coated with a layer of ice. God is in the details. I am thankful for the snow. Because it was such an extraordinary occurrence here, I took the time to slow down and see His artistic hand upon the ordinary things I pass every day.

The snowstorm also reminded me to never give up hope. Sometimes we need the confidence of a child to remind us how to have hope, and that sometimes finding answers to your prayers may come when looking at the outcome from a different perspective. My 11-year-old, Jack said to me on Wednesday night, “tomorrow will be a snow day”. To which I responded, “it’s highly unlikely, don’t get your hopes up”. The next morning we woke up and school had not been canceled although it was snowing outside. While I thought Jack would be completely forlorn, he happily looked out the window and said, “see, I told you it would be a snow day”. Well, he was right! It was snowing, so it was technically a “snow day”. The next day school was actually canceled due to the snow. Jack simply said, “see, I told you we would have a snow day”. Wow! What an example of child-like faith, and always looking at things with a positive perspective. I know it sounds simple, but it was a powerful reminder to me to always have hope no matter how unlikely the outcome may be.IMG_7568

Every day things happen that are ordinary. My question to you is how do you take those things and make them EXTRAordinary? Take time. Slow down. See things from a fresh perspective. Find beauty in the details. Most importantly, never lose your child-like faith, and always hope for the best. One last thing, if you have snow where you are, put on your snow boots, get out there, and build the best darn snowman you have ever built before!


Take A Walk

I lived out my teen years in Hawaii. For a few years, we lived up the road from Pearl Harbor. Like, literally right up the road. You could see the famous harbor’s sparkling water sitting right at the bottom of our hill. Do you think in the 5 1/2 years I lived there I ever went down my hill to visit the historic location? Nope. Not once. The same went for Diamond Head, surfing, and visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center. Ok, I will chalk some of my anti-sightseeing attitude to the lack of coolness I perceived in the role of playing tourist. I was a teenager, after all. But, now that I am grown I view it as a tremendous missed opportunity.

One of our goals in moving abroad has been to see and experience as much as we can in the short window of time we have here. As you may have read, we have already done some fantastic things. Check out a few of our crazy adventures here: Get Lost! (in Nusa Lembongan), Terrific Tucson, 2016: Changes, Chopsticks, and Chicken Feet But, recently we took a step back and realized we were going out having all these amazing adventures in other places, but all the while not fully exploring our own city. Living here for two years found us settling into a routine: going to the same restaurants, shopping at the same markets, and doing the same things each weekend. I didn’t want to look back on this experience as I do Hawaii, regretting not exploring our own hometown.IMG_7397

And what a hometown Shanghai is. At 2,448 square miles and 25 million people, there’s a lot to see! Not only are things constantly changing, but the history here runs deep and can be found in practically every corner of the city. I have learned through our travels over the past two years that many times the best way to really see an area is to get out there on your own two feet. Sure, you could take a drive in a car or a bus and get a feel for the area. But taking a bike, a scooter, or best of all, walking affords you such a richer experience. You can take your time looking at things of interest, or pull over at will and really explore an area that might merely whiz by from the inside of a car. Getting outside allows you to hear the sounds, and smell the smells. I’ll admit though, while it sounds cool, this is not always the best experience in China…imagine smelling what you think might be cooked dog, and the incessant hocking of big, juicy loogies. But my point is, you can just stand in one place and take it all in, allowing your experience to be deeper.

You would totally miss a sight like this if you were driving by in a car…well, maybe that’s a good thing. 😉

That being said, Brett and I have laced up our tennis shoes on a few occasions, pulled out one of our trusty Shanghai Walks books, and headed off for an afternoon of adventure. It has been so enriching walking through neighborhoods, learning about the history, architecture, and life of the area. Our appreciation of this city we call home has become more layered and deep as a result.IMG_7434

We have driven through the neighborhoods of our walks countless times and missed so much of the detail within their walls. Getting out of the car and taking a walk allows us to really learn and experience a small part of this city we call home. I highly recommend you take a walk; whether it be on your next trip, in your home city, or even just around your own neighborhood. Sometimes slowing down to take it all in can offer a rich and rewarding perspective on a pretty interesting little nook of the world you may not have noticed from the inside of a car.

Be sure to check out one of the 5 Shanghai Walks books by Barbara Green, Tess Johnson, Ruth Lear, and Carolyn Robertson. They are very well-written, and the walks are detailed and easy to follow. You can find a link to the first one here:

730 Days

It has been two years since we moved abroad. Many of you have come alongside us on our journey through this blog. You have read about the ups and downs, the adventures and the challenges. It has been quite a ride since my first blog post ’tis Christmas Day two days before our big move to Shanghai. We have learned and experienced so much. 

Since you have heard all about my thoughts on how our transition has been going, I thought it was time to check-in with a couple of those left behind. Our daughter, Autumn, 24 (today…happy birthday my dear!), and Hunter, our 20-year-old who is in college back in Michigan. How have they adapted to our move? How have the past two years affected them? I asked them to give me a little synopsis of their thoughts. Here is their take on our 730 days living as ex-pats.


I believe that my family moving abroad has been an overall positive experience for all of us. It’s had its rough patches. But the opportunity has opened up doors we didn’t even know existed, and that makes it all worth it in the end.

This big change happened right when another big change in my life was happening. I got married, so I already had some adapting to do. It was honestly the best time for them to move since it really gave my husband and me the chance to start our own lives and begin to figure out things on our own. And since I had already lived away from home for four years, the biggest thing to get over was the time difference.

Thanks to technology, we still talk at least once a week and even though I see them less, I am able to try to keep up with their comings and goings. However, there are times where I feel more like a distant aunt than a part of the immediate family. Not so much when I talk to my parents, but with my brothers. I missed a lot of growing up, which is by far the worst part about this whole thing. Since they are teenagers and see little to no value in talking to their sister, my conversations with them end up like a relative during the holidays. “So, how’s school going?” “What sports are you playing?” “Seen any good movies lately?” It’s surface and a little forced. But I have a feeling it would still be that way if they didn’t live on the other side of the world.

The perks have been incredible. I still can’t believe all the amazing things I’ve seen and done since they moved abroad. We’ve seen so much and so little of the world, and it’s just made us hungry for more. It’s completely changed our outlook on life and what we want from it.

But I think the best part about my family moving abroad is how it has changed them. They’re happier now. They laugh more and have an adventurous streak a mile long. Their boldness and courage have grown to amounts I can barely comprehend. And after all the wonders we’ve been blessed enough to see, their transformation is the most incredible by far. 



When my dad told me that my family was moving halfway across the world I was confused and excited at the same time. I was confused because our family didn’t seem like one that would take big risks. We had only traveled in the United States, lived in the suburbs of a normal town, and enjoyed ourselves there. This was also the reason why I was excited about the move. With me going off to college, I was happy that my family could also go off and explore parts of the world that they hadn’t seen before. They are now exposed to so many different cultures in the melting pot of Shanghai and have been loving every second of it.

Of course, with me being left back in the US there were a few problems that arose. At first, I was worried that my family was so far, but luckily I have my sister living just a 20-minute drive away from me. In addition to that, I was sad that I wouldn’t see them as much anymore. However, I am still able to see my family every summer and during the holidays and now they have plenty of crazy stories to tell me about what has happened since I saw them last. The only problem that I haven’t been able to get over yet is the time difference. It is weird having your family 12 hours ahead of you. You can’t always contact them immediately if something goes wrong, or if you just want to talk.

Other than that, I think this move was the best decision my parents ever made. (Except for having me, of course.) Living in a completely different culture has opened their eyes to the world and shown them things that many Americans have never seen. It’s nice to know how much they are enjoying it there and that I can come and visit whenever I can make the trip work.

I am so thankful that my two children “left behind” view our decision to move half-way around the world as positive, all things considered. They recognize the difficulty, but also appreciate the rich rewards that have come with us living in China. It has truly affected us all. I was so worried about leaving them behind and days like today (missing Autumn’s birthday) are tough. But we have all benefitted so much from this move. They have become independent adults and have pleasantly surprised me with the way they handle life on their own. We remain close, talk often, and share amazing adventures together that would never happen if we did not move here.

730 days have flown by and oh what memories we have made! I hope you have enjoyed the ride as much as we have. Here’s to 730 more. Who knows what the good Lord will have in store. I’m sure it will be amazing. So buckle up, here we go!

And, We’re Off!

I think as an expat, you live less with the mantra of, “new year, new you” and more with the idea of, “new year, new trips”. Conversations between those living abroad almost always revert to discussions about trips; both those in the future and those in the past. We talk about travel when we workout, at the bus stop, when we go out to lunch. It is always exciting to hear about people’s adventures and perhaps get a few ideas for trips of our own. It is also not uncommon to talk about future trips while on a current trip. Now, how silly is that?IMG_7325

So it shouldn’t surprise you that as we look to the next twelve months and the events that will be prominent pieces of our year, we talk about our trips. When Brett and I returned home from our Christmas vacation, we looked at each other and basically said goodbye for the next 8 weeks. Aside from one trip planned together, he will embark on 4 work trips to 4 different countries in 4 weeks. Ahh, the power of four…is that even a thing? Perhaps it is, who knows? Then, two weeks later I board a plane to Berlin to join our son, Elijah at a choir festival in which he will be performing. All in all, 6 trips to 5 countries in 8 weeks.

Are you keeping up? There’s more. During this 8-week time frame, our daughter and her husband will fly to Shanghai. Yay! We will spend a day at Disneyland then all six of us head to Thailand for a good old-fashioned family vacation (minus Hunter who has to stay home and attend college. Boo!). I find it amusing that our family vacations used to involve all of us piling in a car packed from floor to ceiling with luggage. We would head off to stay at a relative’s house because we couldn’t afford a hotel for six people. Now we are all boarding a plane to another country and will stay in a resort with our own private pool. I’m not trying to brag. Once we move back home, we will be back to piling in the car once again. I am just saying that we are truly blessed to have opportunities like this, and I am so grateful.IMG_2337

But, back to the schedule. Let’s not get distracted here, people! While we are in Thailand, my mom will fly to Shanghai. She will help Brett hold down the fort while Elijah and I are in Berlin, a trip we leave for two days after returning from Thailand. Aaand that brings us to the second week in March. To say winter will fly by is an understatement (and a bit ironic-haha!). I feel like when I am explaining our schedule I should be standing in front of a command center with a map, a calendar, and a pointer.

Although it will be busy, we are looking forward to creating new memories. I am so excited to bring you along with me. I hope you enjoy the ride. Perhaps you could keep track of my calendar and tell me who is supposed to be where and when? I don’t think I will be able to keep it all straight.

Here’s to starting 2018 off with a bang! Let the travel and the memories begin. And don’t worry, I won’t even get started on my thoughts about our summer. 😉


What a Year!

Happy new year!

We are back from our Christmas vacation and returned relatively unscathed. Of course, we did have to go out with a bang when Jack, our youngest, came down with possibly the worst illness of his life the day before we returned home. I knew when I checked on him at 3:00 that afternoon, and he was still sleeping that this one could be a doozie. It certainly didn’t disappoint. 10 hours before our flight, he was running a high fever and vomiting. Just what you want to deal with when you need to embark on a 12 1/2 hour flight, right? We didn’t know what to do. Postpone the trip back? Gather all his strength and just get him home? Finally, we decided to bite the bullet and continue on our scheduled flight. To say it felt like the longest flight in history is an understatement. I swear the plane was suspended in mid-air for at least five hours. Kidding. But we made it. Jack may have used up all the vomit bags on the plane, but he did it. We made it home, and he didn’t move from the couch for the next four days. The boys finally went back to school today, and I have reveled in a peaceful, quiet house.

Survival mode


But this post isn’t about Christmas, it’s about 2017. What a year it was! When I take a moment to look back and take in all of the blessings bestowed upon us throughout the year I am truly humbled. So let’s get to it and recap The Bunch’s adventures over the last 12 months.


Chinese New year came early in the year which means, three weeks after returning home from Christmas, we were off again. Our daughter, Autumn, came out to Shanghai to join us on an incredible journey to Siem Reap, Cambodia, then onto Halong Bay, Vietnam, and finally ending our journey in Hanoi, Vietnam. It was an excellent trip full of history, gorgeous architecture, and even a cruise. But no trip would be complete without all of us contracting some form of (what I call) the plague and one by one we all succumbed to the nasty illness. Poor Jack went in and out of a high fever and vomiting the entire Halong Bay Cruise that I doubt he remembers much of it. Hmm…there seems to be a theme with him, traveling and getting sick.



Autumn returned home but not before meeting our new puppy, THOR! (And Puppy Makes 8) What a joy. He adjusted quickly to our home and has become a very loved member of The Bunch. So February was spent with sleepless nights and living according to a puppy’s schedule.


A month filled with travel. Brett went on three work trips. My Mom came to Shanghai for a visit and to watch Jack and Thor so our third-born, Elijah and I could go to Abu Dhabi. Back in October he auditioned for a highly selective choir festival, and was chosen! Of course, I couldn’t let him go to a foreign country alone ;), so my dear friend Diane and I packed our bags and joined the school choir on a fun-filled week in Abu Dhabi. We even managed to squeeze in a day trip to Dubai. What a fun experience!



Gosh, April was actually a relatively quiet month. We spent time getting back into a routine after all our travel. I had a friend come visit for a couple of weeks, and we had a great time playing tourists around the city. We even took a tour on a Barbie bus. Brett was offered an extension from a three to a five-year work assignment in Shanghai. This resulted in a decision to sell our house back in Michigan.


What a blur! Our oldest son, Hunter came to Shanghai for the month. I said a quick hello to him and took off on a plane to Michigan to meet my mom and prepare our house to go on the market. It was a challenging job to get everything ready in 2 weeks, but we decided we didn’t need sleep and attacked it with everything we had. By the end of the month, the house was sold! Again, back to Shanghai to say a quick hello and goodbye to Hunter who had to return home.


Two weeks later, the boys and I went home (we were able to stay in our house for the summer-woo hoo). We were there for 3 days, then drove 11 hours to Virginia. I dropped them off with my in-laws for almost two weeks (they are saints), while my mom and I went on a fantastic trip to Scotland. It was incredible and so special to have time spent with just her. Read about our awesome adventure here: For the love of Scotland! Two girls take off on the trip of a lifetime. Back to Virginia and into the car to drive another 11 hours back home. This time a little less jet-lagged, but not by much.


Two more weeks working on moving things out of the house and it was time for Brett to fly from Shanghai to join us. We spent a week on the west-side of the state in South Haven and had a great time with Brett’s brother and his family. When we returned back home we had 5 days to finish moving out of the house, then we headed off to the wild west on a quick trip to Tucson, Arizona. It was Brett’s grandmother’s 100th birthday, and despite everything going on, we couldn’t miss such a huge event.


Back home for one night, slept on the floor, and moved the rest of our things out the next morning. We sobbed a tearful goodbye to our empty house (well I did anyway) and headed off to the west-side of the state again but this time to Grand Haven. After a week there we went to Seattle, Washington for two days to spend a bit more time with Brett’s brother and his family. Finally, we dragged ourselves onto the plane heading home. We spent the rest of the month recovering from our summer, starting school, and giving our poor lonely puppy lots of extra snuggles.



This month was all about getting into a new school routine, but of course, we had to throw some travel in as well. Jack and Elijah went on school trips. Jack had a four-day team building trip to Moganshan, China and Elijah had a 7-day faith-building trek through the mountains of Beijing. Really, do these kids have any idea how fortunate they are?IMG_3652


One full day after the boys returned, we boarded a plane for Nusa Lembongan, Bali. What a crazy trip, but also relaxing and rejuvenating for us all. We drove scooters, relaxed by the pool, and even went white-water rafting. Read about our trip here:Get Lost! (in Nusa Lembongan), and A Day on Bali.



Elijah joined his school’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in which he played Mr. Bingley. Half of November was spent with play busyness. Whew, it was a significant commitment for all of us! A couple of days after his last performance, he went on another week-long choir trip, this time to Guangzhou, China. A bit less glamorous than Abu Dhabi, but pretty great just the same.IMG_5174


In the blink of an eye, it was the end of the year, and we were headed back to Seattle, Washington to spend Christmas with some of Brett’s family. No longer having our home in which to spend the holiday concerned me but we rented a house on Bainbridge Island and enjoyed the Christmassy feel that came along with spending the holiday in the evergreen-covered Pacific Northwest.IMG_7241

If you managed to follow all of that, I give you credit. I am exhausted just recapping everything. We had a busy but exciting year filled with family, travel, and adventure. It was truly fantastic. While I hope 2018 will be a little more settled, I know it is doubtful. This crazy ex-pat life is rarely settled, but look at the memories we have made. Here’s to an adventurous, happy and healthy new year. May you be blessed!