Friday, January 8, 2016

101 Days Later

Hello Friends!  Believe it or not it has been 101 days since we left Shanghai.  Now that most of our boxes have been unpacked and holidays have been celebrated, I want to catch you up on what’s been happening. 

My last 101 days have been a rollercoaster of transition activities, reunions, and celebrations.  When we’ve been visiting with family, we’ve been asked many questions.  Here are some of the popular ones:

How are you?  What have you been up to?  Have you still been going on adventures?
Since our time in Shanghai, life has been a whirlwind of house hunting, unpacking, and road trips to visit family and friends.
It was such a relief to finally get settled in a home.  It took us two months to find the perfect place.

Much of my time has been spent cleaning and unpacking.  I am so glad to finally be settled in  to our new home.

 I haven’t started looking for a job yet, however I have started volunteering at a local elementary school.  I can’t post any pictures of the kids for confidentiality purposes.  I have been more than busy unpacking, cleaning, needlepointing, cooking, and watching a ridiculous amount of TV.  
When repatriating with no career, I highly recommend picking up a hobby that makes you feel productive.  I am now a cross stitching needlepointing fool.
My adventures have changed quite a bit.  Instead of having my breath taken away by scenes from geography textbooks, my heart has been warmed by seeing my family…especially my nieces and nephew. 
The second weekend back in the US, I was reunited with my high school classmates for my twentieth reunion in St. Louis, MO.


My Mom wanted me to celebrate her birthday in St. Louis, so we had a lovely lunch, caught a play, and had dinner with my Dad.
After celebrating with Mom, we headed up to Philly to celebrate my niece's birthday.  We had a great time at her Little Mermaid birthday extravaganza.

The following weekend we headed up to Northwest Indiana to celebrate Halloween with my other niece.  
Chris and I had a great time trick or treating as Thing One and Thing Two.
Since we have been away for so many years, I really wanted to celebrate the holidays with family!  After a wonderful Thanksgiving with the in-laws, I decided to make another 4 day trip to St. Louis to prepare for Christmas with Mom and Dad.  I wanted to see Christmas lights, so we went to the St. Louis Botanical Garden's Garden Glow.
It was fun to be the third wheel on a date with Mom and Dad.

The highlight of the season was spending time with my family Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  
I had forgotten how fun it was to watch little kids on Christmas morning.  
On boxing day, we had a great time exploring downtown Philly.
Hank and I had a good time chilling out by the ice rink. He doesn't know what to make of me yet.

Does Chris like his new job?

Yes.  He is working with a really good crew of people, and is very busy planning for our next long term adventure. 

How are the dogs?  Are they happy being home?

The dogs are happier than ever!   They are happy to be eating their special dachshund food and LOVE their new backyard.

video


Wow, Shanghai and Burlington are so different.  How do you like it?  Which city do you prefer?

I like comparing the two cities to clothes.  Shanghai is like the little black sequined dress.  It’s fun, it’s exciting, and is always up for a fun night out.  However after a while, I get tired of dressing up and want to snuggle in my pajamas.

Burlington is like pajamas (or yoga pants).  They are easy, comfortable, and very low maintenance.  Burlington is a laid back town that reminds me very much of my hometown.  I love being able to drive myself around town, and having access to a large variety of western food.  I especially love seeing my family and friends.   However, there are many times when I really miss the little black dress. 

Have you kept in touch with your students?  Have you heard from any of your friends from China?

Yes!

Chris visited with our German friends in November, and I hear from my kids on WeChat all the time. We also reunited with some of our American expat friends on New Year’s Eve.

Chris and I spent New Year's Eve in downtown Chicago.

We spent the evening reunited with our expat friends from Shanghai!  We picked up right were we left off and had a wonderful time watching the Star rise by the Chicago River. 
Are you going to keep the blog?  Will you keep writing? 
Yes, yes, yes!  However, I think this may be one of my final posts on An American Girl in Shanghai.

Now that we’re settled, I will be taking more adventures around the Midwest and will be writing on www.anamericangirlsadventures.com !  Chris and I have some fun mini adventures coming up, and I look forward to continue sharing my stories with you!  Thanks for reading, and see you on the new blog!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Letter

Dear Anne-Marie in 2012,

Right now you are sitting in the Lufthansa lounge waiting to board a 747 headed to Frankfurt, and then you will fly to Shanghai.   You are excited, scared, and completely overwhelmed. You are wondering if you made the right choice of leaving your home, friends, and family in search of a little adventure abroad.   What you don’t know is you are about to embark on a 1189-day journey that will change your life forever.

From the minute you step off the plane, life will be an adventure.  You will travel to places that you have only seen in geography textbooks.  You will eat exotic foods, learn a new language, and hold animals that you only have seen in zoos.  You will meet interesting, innovative, adventurous people from all around the world and get an education that can only come from living abroad.  Best of all, you will get to share these experiences with your best friend!








The journey won’t be all fun and games.  There will be days where you are completely frustrated because you can’t ask a simple question because you don’t know how to speak the language.  You will have miserable times where you are forced to wait for a cab for 45 minutes in the cold rain.  You will think the natives are trying to kill you with their erratic driving styles, unsafe food, and China’s horrible air pollution.   You will pay upwards of $5 for a can of tomato soup.  Things that were once simple, like checking Facebook or watching videos on YouTube, will be a hassle.  Learning Mandarin will bring you to tears. In spite of these difficulties, you will survive.     

You will learn what it feels like to completely rely on others.  You will experience extreme kindness from strangers who will help you assimilate in your new country, and local folks will perform small, random acts of kindness that will make your life infinitely easier.  You will have an expat and local support system that will help you live very comfortably in your new environment.  Eventually, you will feel a responsibility to help others who are new to Shanghai get settled, and will do so via the blog.




I know you are sad to have left your job, and are worried about your professional future.  Your first year of teaching will be rough.  You will spend your time carting materials between three schools.  You will need to set up your “community center” (police station) classroom daily, grumpy old men will throw cards in the window while you teach, and a drunkard or two will stumble in your room in the middle of your lesson.  The schools will keep the windows open year round, so you will be teaching in coats, gloves, and even a pm 2.5 mask.  You will learn to teach like MacGyver. 



After you get over the initial shock of the Chinese school culture, you will love returning to the classroom. Students from five different continents will quickly become your kids. You will learn so much from each other and your kids will touch your life in ways you never imagined. Your heart and soul will be filled! 




During the past few months, you have prayed for a group of friends who will make this journey with you. Many new friends will come and go. That is the nature of expat life.  Fortunately, you will have a family of friends who will be with you during your entire stay.  They will be up for all kinds of shenanigans and adventures around town.  You will explore together, laugh together, and take care of each other when you have your down days.   







Yes, you will have a few dark, down days.  Many of them will include a touch of homesickness. You will miss births, weddings, and even funerals of dear friends.  Your heart will ache because life in the US will go on without you.  You will keep in contact with the motherland via Facebook and Facetime, but it won’t be the same as being home. These feelings will pass.  Chris, your friends, and your job will help you emerge from the darkness. 

Savor this time abroad; the months will fly by.  Before you know it, you will be saying goodbye to your eastern home.  While you knew that this adventure wouldn’t last forever, saying goodbye will be the most difficult part of the journey.   You will be very sad, but you will return home with a new sense of adventure and wanderlust that hopefully won’t wane after you leave.

Have fun in Shanghai, and don’t forget to keep an open mind and heart!  Bon Voyage!

Sincerely,

Anne-Marie in 2015



Friday, September 25, 2015

Parting Gifts

Since we are leaving in 3 days, Chris and I are coming to the end of our farewell party season.  As per tradition, we have received many heartfelt gifts prior to our departure.  Some of the gifts are incredibly sweet.  Others have made me laugh…a lot.  Here are some trinkets that I’ll always treasure.

Chris’ Going Away Card

While in China, Chris became somewhat of a steel expert.  So for his parting gift, his colleagues hot glued his farewell card (that was actually a birthday card) on a steel plate.  The messages inside were very sweet, but this is the heaviest card I’ve ever seen.  Apparently his colleagues didn’t want him to forget his time working with steel.

Schnapps



Apparently in Chris’ company (and in many parts of China), it is the custom to give the person departing alcohol from the gift giver’s homeland.  Hence his bosses gave him Schnapps.  This isn’t the cherry pucker we drink in the US, this is super hard hooch that kind of burns going down.  Chris in return gave them some Kavalan Whiskey from Chicago.  Here’s some footage of his going away dinner speech.

video


Lanterns



At Chris’ going away dinner, his boss gave me these beautiful red lanterns.  Why me and not Chris?   Because,
“It is important for every expat man to have a supportive wife at home.  He needs someone who can run the house and help him handle the stress at work.”

Mwahahahaha!  I love the lanterns, and look forward to hanging them in my yard!

Green Tea



Sophie, my Chinese teacher, gave me a lovely tin of green tea.  She thrust it in my hand and said,

“I got this for you.  If you don’t like it, you can give it to a friend.”
Thanks, Sophie. 

Baijiu



As I have mentioned before, baijiu is a clear, Chinese grain alcohol that is pure evil.  It tastes like liquid feet, and burns when you swallow it.  I think every expat needs to try it once, just so they can say they have experienced extreme misery.

One of Chris’ colleagues gave him a large, metal canteen of baijiu with a picture of a dead donkey on the front.  Chris asked his colleague,

“So why is there a picture of a dead donkey on the bottle of baijiu?”

His colleague responded,

“If you feed a donkey this baijiu, it will die.”  The man then gave a maniacal laugh.

Um…thank you?  BTW, did I mention WORST beverage EVER!

My Refter King’s Club Goblet



When Chris made his second relocation trip to Shanghai, he met another Purdue alum that ran a beer bar called DeRefter.  This alum became one of our closest friends in China. 

When we first arrived in China, DeRefter had a challenge.  If you drank 50 of their different beers (NOT AT ONCE MOM), you would become a member of their King’s Club. Once you were a member of the club, you got your name put on a plaque, and you got a special goblet that could be used during every visit.  I am proud to say with much help from my husband, I met the challenge!    (FYI it took me about 11 months to finish.)

This is me at by birthday/ coronation celebration. I am wearing three different tiaras that were birthday gifts. 

Unfortunately, the owner was bought out and the Kings Club program was discontinued.  My goblet went missing. 

Last Saturday our friend gave me my goblet trophy as a parting gift!!! 

My Bracelet



At our first going away party where I learned to play mahjong, my colleagues gave me a beautiful silver bracelet.  On the outside it contains a Tibetan quote, and on the inside, it has a Buddhist blessing inscribed.  My friend handed it to me and said,
“We know you are Christian, so maybe you can give it to a Buddhist friend.”

I am Catholic, but I will gladly accept blessings from any religion and will reciprocate with Christian blessings.  Heavens knows I need them during this time of transition. 


Thank you so much for your gifts my friends!!!  You will be greatly missed!!