Sunday, 21 May 2017

Our First Shanghai Excursion: People's Square & The Bund

It is easy to let the stress and work of a move become overwhelming, and once that happens it's hard to remember why on earth it made sense to throw life into disarray. In an international move this is perhaps more so, because everything is so much more stressful and different and homesickness is always waiting ‘round the corner. A good cure for this is to spend at least one day a week doing some fun exploration in the new locale.

As a veteran international mover™, David was well aware of this and made sure that our first weekend in Shanghai involved some relaxation and exploration time. He proposed that we go to People’s Square, followed by Nanjing Road and ending in a walk on The Bund. It was perfect!

People’s Square is rather central to Shanghai and provides a good focal point for downtown Shanghai. The square is a really interesting mix of beautiful gardens, entertainment, food, and cultural practices. David planned our exit from the Metro perfectly, meaning that we came up from underground into the middle of a beautiful garden, with the phenomenal skyscrapers of the downtown towering in our peripheral vision:


We wandered through the garden and then came across a little amusement park: 


From there we walked on to the Marriage Market that is open for business on Saturday afternoons. I tried to get my mum to set up a stall for my brother but she didn’t think he’d appreciate the gesture. 


The end destination of our trip to People’s Square was the Bund, which is one of the “this is Shanghai” landscapes that you can use to identify the city in music videos etc. It was lovely to stroll along the river with the historic buildings of the International Settlement on one side and the futuristic architecture of Pudong on the other.

Pudong
International Settlement

The funniest part of our day happened on the Bund. My mum wanted to rest her hip so she decided to sit down while the rest of us explored. When I came back to find her I was surprised to see her surrounded by a crowd of people. She was such a novelty with her blonde hair that there was a queue of people lined up to take selfies with her. I figured fair was fair so I started snapping pictures of them.


From People’s Square to the Bund is the Nanjing Road area. It’s a jumble of historic & futuristic architecture, luxury Western shops and Chinese malls, and is a marvelous exercise in people watching.

Old-school apartments
Laundry drying on a street corner
Hydration break at a French-style cafe. The cups were so cute!
Art Deco!!!!
 


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Clothing Dilemma? I hope not!

I just placed my first online clothing order for stuff I can’t get in China. Hopefully it goes smoothly, as my one big “oh no” about moving here was how a family of North American Giants would be able to find clothing in a country known for much more slender and shorter people. It’s a wee bit disappointing, seeing all the fabulous clothing everywhere and knowing that no matter how much weight I lose I’ll never be able to fit it because body type & height are against me, but at least there’s always accessories to feed to the instant-gratification need and online shopping for the rest!

Monday, 15 May 2017

Mother's Day

The internet has had its annual production of various Mother’s Day themed writings & discussions – reminders to be courteous to those who long to be mothers or whose children are not living, sorrowful reflections from those whose mothers have passed, debates about whether or not the moms of “furbabies” should be included in the celebrations, talk about gender and modern families, complaints about juggling expectations… you name it, you can find an article on it. 

Since having kids of my own, my thought on Mother’s Day is that it should be a day for treating your mother like a queen. Think of all the discomforts she suffers on a daily basis trying to make her family comfortable and give her at least ONE DAY in which she can be completely spoiled. No cooking. No errands. No chores. No breaking up fights. No having to entertain anyone but herself. Basically no doing anything she doesn’t want to do. That would be ideal. And it doesn’t have to cost a thing unless you want it to, so you don’t even have to feel like you’re participating in a great Hallmark Card Conspiracy in celebrating the day (which is cool, because although I like presents I don’t like commercialism and boy-howdy was a seeing a lot of that when the internet suggestions for Mother’s Day in my neck of the woods all involved taking me out for very expensive meals).

I won’t say that what I’ve described is a fantasy, but I do wonder how many of us find it a reality. I doubt my mum did. Mother’s Day is a Sunday, which meant church, but to keep her from having to cook breakfast my dad would always treat us to McDonald’s before the service. Mum likes McDonalds but she hates getting up early, so I’m not sure if this was a win-win solution. After the service would be the obligatory family dinner, which on the one hand was nice because she loves her family but on the other hand meant a so-so brunch at a local hotel because that’s where my Gramma liked to go etc (my dad, with none of his family in town, would of course get to go wherever he wanted for Father’s Day). My brother and I would give her whatever paltry offerings we’d managed to make or buy, and I’m sure that these were at least treasured for the love behind them even if the quality was sadly lacking. And, having heard so many times since birth how lucky my mum was to have us (after years struggling with subfertility) I’m sure we felt our presence to be gift enough.

I wish I could say that having children and beginning to understand the supreme sacrifice of motherhood has made me a much more attentive daughter, but rather I’ve spent most of my adulthood living far away from home and struggling to get gifts/cards into the post on time (exacerbated by having my own children)… I can’t even give her the gift of having her grandchildren around on Mother’s Day, because we live halfway around the world.

Ah yes, my own two children… this is my fourth Mother’s Day and while it gets a bit easier as they grow older I am still waiting to just be adored & cherished, perhaps worshiped, for the sacrifices I daily make to keep this family trudging along -- the early mornings, the half-eaten meals, the physical pain, the immense effort of patience, the nights spent anxiously worrying, the trying to get time to myself despite constant interruptions. My first mother’s day was relatively easy – we went for lunch after Mass and I think I took a nap. Walter slept. My second mother’s day involved having to drive to the airport to pick up David, who was returning from a trip overseas, and Walter had tantrums most of the day, and I was just plain exhausted. Ditto for the tantrums for Mother’s Day the Third. Last year was pretty good, although I think there were still a more than usual amount of unpleasant incidents involving moody children and I’m pretty sure I ended up an exhausted mess by the end of the day because I tried to cook myself a fancy dinner. This year we’re keeping things super simple, as 3/4s of the household are under the weather. The tantrums are mostly avoided by this. At around noon I realized that I should’ve just booked myself into a spa for a pedicure & a massage, but it seemed a bit late to be doing that, so I bought some street food and took myself window shopping. The children aren’t in preschool so there are no adorably awkward craft-gifts coming my way and, to be honest, I don’t even know if that’s a thing in China. But we did manage dinner out and I had a lot of r&r time today which is something I never thought would come my way.

There are, of course, always sweet moments. The children will remember, on and off, that its Mother’s Day and they will give me their sweet expressions of love in between the regular murmurs of discontent. Eventually, although maybe not on the day itself, there will be presents of things I like and a card that they have laboriously worked on with some direction from David. It will probably take a couple of decades before they realize what parenting entails. It is in the difficulties of the day that I can look for the love and adoration that I wish would be more politely expressed. Each Mother’s Day when I am denied sleeping in because even if David got up they would just yell & carry-on for me until I came out is, in its way, an expression of their love. Every meltdown directed my way is rooted in their faith that I can solve all problems and heal all ills. And even my wish that for just one day the world could give me a break from my burdens and I could just exist, catered to and with no cares, is a reflection of all that I have been given to care for and cherish.




Saturday, 29 April 2017

An Average Day

We’ve passed the four week mark on our China adventure. Moving here makes the move to England look no more daunting than moving from one city to another. Unless you’ve traveled to a non-Latin-based country before I don’t think there’s any real way to grasp the complete and total language barrier and what that means. The people in our neighbourhood have been more than gracious at our fumbled attempts with Mandarin but there’s still a real “lost at sea” feeling to most of my days.

My mum, by the way, is amazing. She flew over here with me & the kids, to help us on the plane and to help us settle in. I don’t think she realized what she was in for but she made the best of everything. We did a lot of mundane, house-setting-up things during her trip and we also did some fun touristy things. I’ll write about those eventually but right now I want to capture the general feel of my days. I’m sure things will change again once I have things like a fridge or a usable kitchen (technically I can use it but in reality it’s still sporting too many creepy crawlies and without a fridge I can’t do much cooking anyway, so…). 

Morning
David’s campus happens to be across the street from our apartment (one huge benefit of having the university find our housing). His office is about a half-hour walk from our home, and it’s a nice walk. It takes about 5 minutes to get out of our apartment compound, then 10 minutes to get to the university entrance, and a remaining 15 to get to his office. Did I mention that the campus is huge? He’s about ¼ of the way into campus. And, as an aside, his office is lovely. It’s a work-space shared with 7 other researchers, which means the days aren’t lonely & isolated, and one whole wall is windows with a beautiful view of trees. And it has air conditioning.

I walk by this most mornings. It's a great start to the day.

Because we live so close to the university, and because our kitchen is not cooking-friendly at the moment, and because the food on campus is generally as inexpensive as if I cooked it myself (or perhaps more so!) the kids & I walk David to work most mornings and have breakfast with him on campus. We also have the option of buying food from a lady who sells it near the gate of our compound, which is great on mornings when we don’t want a walk to start the day. We breakfast Chinese style, so on various forms of steamed starchy things with a bit of protein and, in my case, what I can only classify as “black bean milk” since there’s no English on the package. It’s delicious although the rest of my family thinks I’m bizarre for this choice.

Work DayDavid does his work and the kids & I do ours, which at the moment is the running of the household, and trust me, it takes a considerable amount of running right now. We don’t have a washer yet and from what The Internet can tell me, Laundromats are few & far between here and with the language barrier I can’t figure out how to ask the right questions at the numerous laundry-dry-cleaners in my neighbourhood, so right now we have to travel 1hr each way to the nearest Laundromat. This is usually a once a week trip, but with the backlog of clothing (it took me nearly three weeks just for this option) it’s a little more frequent.

When not doing laundry I’m cleaning, and cleaning, and cleaning. Our apartment has several luxuries, like a bathtub, hot water in the kitchen and bathroom, and a Western toilet (although I think that’s normal for housing here anyway) but clean it was not. It’s mostly been dust served with a side of cockroaches. We’re in a subtropical climate and bugs are to be expected but I don’t fancy sharing my living space with creepy crawlies so I’ve launched a campaign of deep-cleaning, poison, and hole-sealing. It takes a long time but the results are pleasing. People who have lived here longer suggest that I just hire someone to clean it for me, but I suppose the cleaning is my form of “nesting” and it feels nice to be laying claim to a new space (above ground! with affordable rent! and lots of natural light!).

Lots of scrubbing but now a perfect breakfast nook. 
There are, of course, all the other mundane tasks that fill up the day, like getting groceries or dealing with paperwork, but laundry & cleaning tend to top the list. We also try to do sightseeing at least one day a week, and now that I’m feeling more settled and know how to get around we’ll be getting back into the swing of following the liturgical calendar more closely.

Evening
We meet David for dinner on campus. This is one of those weird moments of culture shock where the foods you think you recognize taste nothing like what you’re expecting. This was really rough the first couple of weeks where all I wanted at the end of a long day was to know what I was going to be eating. However, now that I’m recognizing different dishes it’s getting a lot easier. I’ve got some definite favourites, like the Sichuan pork bowls, black fungus, or Grandmother’s Pork (it’s a pork belly & egg dish in a sweetish bbq like sauce) and some definite no-thank-yous (here’s looking at you, fish or most chicken stews – I just can’t cope with all the bones). Walter’s found a chef who makes Chinese crepes to order, so that’s his dinner regular, and Annie usually orders a giant bowl of dumplings. There are hundreds of food options on campus so it’s just been a process of finding what best suits our tastes and going with that. As everyone always says, the food in China is *not* the Chinese food you’re used to, and this definitely rings true even for those who, like me, tried to branch out to more authentic places before moving over here. But, as everyone who’s been to Shanghai also says, the food scene here is awesome.

After dinner we take a leisurely walk home and wind down, just like we did in Canada, only I get more down time here because I can actually do stuff other than spend most of my waking hours in some form of work. That’s a major win.

A cafe on campus, where we often go for a little sweet & hot drink after dinner. 
So yes, Shanghai life is a definite win and I’m so grateful that we were able to take this opportunity.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

First Impressions

Posted now that I have internet
***
We’ve been in China for 3.5 days as I write this. It’s been intense and I’ve had moments where I wonder if we’re crazy, but overall the excitement of being in a new country is infectious.

Flying here was so easy that it must have been a miracle. The kids were so good on the plane that my scolding of them was only for the regular things, not for anything major. They played, slept, watched shows, and generally enjoyed the experience of flying. As for me, I found that the 11.5 hours passed much more quickly than I thought it would.

Getting off the airplane was intense. The gate area had a lingering smell of food, it was stuffy, and it was just familiar enough to other airports to be really disconcerting in its differences. But after we’d all had some water and a chance to refresh it was no big deal to make our way through immigration and customs and baggage claim and to the taxi. And then it was off for the real adventure!

We live in Minhang, just across the street from Jiao Tong University. I really like what I’ve seen of the area. In many ways it’s like any other large urban area – traffic, shops, busy intersections, and complicated traffic patterns. Sometimes it reminds me of Berlin and sometimes it reminds me of Richmond. The river areas remind me of Cambridge, lined as they are with willows and the reinforced banks that still seem foreign to me as a Canadian. There is a lot of green space where we are, so much well-designed green space. There are pockets of trees and little gardens everywhere and they all have a cultivated, cared-for beauty. It is not nearly as crowded as I’d feared. Yes, there are people everywhere, but it’s never been anything like London or even Cambridge during the busy times. This might be because we don’t live in city centre, so I’ll have to report back. Also, the streets are well cared for and don’t seem any dirtier than other cities. Whenever we go out in the morning there are crews of street cleaners vigorously sweeping away leaves with their brush-brooms.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Just a matter of days...


Our visa applications have finally been approved for submission! Hurray! I didn’t realise just how stressed I was until I got the phone call saying that all the applications had been approved. We’re going to Vancouver tomorrow to pick up our visas. I must say that I’ve been impressed with the number of things that Consulate has in place to help with application hiccups. For one thing, although your application may get sent back a few times for additional information there is no fee to pay for these rejections and I never was left with the impression that things wouldn’t work out. Other countries want the fee upfront, before you learn if you’re accepted or denied. As well, the office is set up with a photocopier and printer, so that if the documents you need are readily available you can actually procure them without leaving the Consulate. This came in quite useful to us on Monday past. 

Now comes the part that, in years past, was the most stressful – the packing of the suitcases. This time I am not freaking out, or at least not freaking out most of the time. I think it helps that the luggage allowance for Asia isn’t as horribly restricted as for the rest of the world. 2 suitcases per person feels like a luxury now that most international destinations only allow 1. And when two of those people are basically the size of one large suitcase, there is perhaps a little more space available for packing than one those suitcases all belong to one adult! It also helps, of course, that I’ve done this move & setup thing so many times in the past. It’s not that I don’t think there will be stressful times, it’s just that I’ve learned not to bother anticipating that stress this time around.

This morning I woke up to the sound of the rain running through the pine trees outside my window. The sky is a luminous white which suggests that the rain will stay. The children & I have been snatching outdoor time here & there, whenever we can, and it’s not often because the rain will not stop. It is easier to embrace the dreary weather because I know there are not many days left of waking up in a 100 year old logging-shanty-turned-cottage in the middle of a coastal rainforest. Soon I’ll be waking up to…I don’t know what. I know that our place has a lot of opportunities for cleaning & tlc, but that’s ok. For the first time in three years I’m looking forward to having the time & energy to creatively turn our home into something cozy.

See? Cozy
When it's not raining
And sometimes even when it is

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Waiting to Move

I mentioned that the kids & I were waiting for some paperwork to come through before we could join David in China. As difficult as it is to be without him, there have been a few benefits to this (for us, probably not for him!):

  1. Settling in to life in a new country is always challenging, and I don’t just mean the learning to do things in a new place. Expat life has this really glamorous image thanks to those Expats who work for big multinational corporations that give them incentive packages to live overseas. This is certainly not the reality for many of us, so travel to a new country usually involves trying to squeeze all one’s worldly goods into 1 or 2 suitcases and then doing a fair bit of roughing it until one has a chance to set up home. I really hate that David is going through this set-up experience without us, but I’m glad for the sake of the children that things will be a little more settled when we do arrive. 
  2. Having time to ease into back into stay-at-home-mum life is amazing. I keep having to remind myself that it’s OK to take as much time as I want to play games with the children – I’m used to having to squeeze all of our fun into a few hours balanced with housework. I know a big part of this is due to being at my parents, since my mum is taking care of most of the meals and if I have any urgent business to attend to I can easily shut the door and get it done, but it’s certainly helping me feel more relaxed and that’s leading to an easier transition with the kids. I’m not sure how things will change once we’re settled but I think there will be a nice change of pace with David coming home from his office every day to give me some downtime. Walter is also supposed to start school in September so I’m trying to enjoy every last moment with my big boy preschooler right now. 
  3. Being able to have all this quality time with my parents is great. It’s the first time since the kids were born that my visits will them haven’t had an undercurrent of change & stress. I mean, maybe this sounds crazy since I’m in the middle of moving overseas, and certainly I have my moments of feeling incredibly stressed, but there’s also lots of time to just kick back and enjoy life. The kids are running around the house & playing with my childhood toys, mum & I spend our days doing spring cleaning and planning yummy things to make, we go for walks in town, there’s lots of opportunity to visit my Gramma, and mostly we’re just enjoying each other’s company on this extended quasi holiday.
sleepy Annie is happy she can indulge in green apples & peanut-butter 

building before breakfast