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…). 

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.

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.