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!


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.


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.



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. 


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!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Packing it Up

After our previous packing debacle, I wanted to be well prepared for our move home.  This time around, I spent a couple of weeks weeding out items that were going to be donated or trashed, pre-packed my suitcases to make sure I didn’t exceed the 35 kg limit, and sorted my air freight items into rooms so everything could be placed neatly into boxes.  I wanted no mess, no confusion, and especially no drama.  This time around would not be a multi-day production.   I would be organized and ready to have my 700 kg ACW shipped home.

One of my Facebook peeps added this quote.  It is my new mantra.  If I can't control it, I will control how I handle it.

One week before our departure date, our friendly Four Winds movers came over to pack and ship our airfreight to our new Kentucky home. 

“So, I think this will take about two hours to pack up.” announced Jon, the team leader.

“You’re kidding me…you can pack everything that quickly?” 

“Yes…two hours or less.”  I would love to see this.

I was organized and ready to go. Maybe they could finish in two hours.

After we signed some paperwork, the packers started to examine and pack our goods.  Mind you, they weren’t packing the way I would pack.  They carried in 9 100kg boxes and went to town.  They were packing kitchen items with clothes, and power tools with photos.  My plans of an organized move were crumbling in front of me. I kept asking,

“How are we going to be able to carry a 100 kg (220 lb) box to the correct rooms of our house?”

Jon replied,

“Americans are supposed to be strong, right?” 

Why are they putting a blanket from the bedroom in with the art supplies????
Unpacking is going to be a nightmare.  

After I came to the terms with the fact that I had to ignore my inner control freak, I wandered around the apartment and picked up a few odds and ends.  I was amazed at how much easier moving was this time around. 

Then I walked into my office/craft room.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Yep,  They were dumping everything!

I found the packers dumping EVERY Tupperware filled bin and extracting every piece of contraband possible.  When I say the word contraband, I think of drugs, alcohol, guns, knives…anything that can be used as a weapon.  The Chinese government considers items like glue (liquid and stick form), batteries (or anything that is operated by a battery), coins, or any kind of magnet (refrigerator strength) to be illegal.   Since I am a crafter, my bins were full of contraband. 

I tried to explain how some items, like Cricut Cartridges and hole punches weren’t contraband, but the movers refused to listen.  Fortunately, Jon was able to step in and stop the packers from leaving these items behind after I assured them they weren’t weapons.   After they finished inspecting the each box, the movers returned the items to their original bins.  If all of the items didn’t fit, they wrapped up the remaining items in packing paper. 

When we get our boxes, I will have many packing paper presents full of odds and ends.

No Nerf guns allowed.  They have a tiny battery that operates a red laser light.  How did we get all of these batteries?

We're going to have to figure out how to transport Chris' cigars.  The wooden humidor was okay to pack, but the cigars could catch fire. 
Ancient TI calculators can't come.  They have batteries.

Did I mention unpacking is going to be a nightmare?

After examining the craft bins, the packers moved on to my purses.  I have to confess, I’m not the best at cleaning out my purses when I switch seasons (or outfits).  I occasionally keep dental floss, lip-gloss, tissue pouches and other hygiene objects in the zipper compartments. A disgruntled Chinese man dumped the contents of each of my purses on the floor.  I had to model how neither dental floss nor tampons have batteries so they could be packed.  Minute by minute I was slipping into a deeper state of humiliation.  Didn’t their mothers teach them not to go in a woman’s purse???

After the office, I figured the drama was over.  Then Jon delivered some very bad news.

“Um I have some very bad news for you.  You only have 400 airfreight kg of in your allowance.  We weighed your boxes, and right now you are at 520 airfreight kg.  If you keep going at this rate, you will have around 800 airfreight kg of household goods.”

“I’m sure there is a misunderstanding.  We were told we had 700 kg of air freight.”  I countered.  I pulled up the following email that verified that we had 700 airfreight kilograms of cargo with our relocation package.

“Oh, kg and airfreight kg are different. “  Jon tried to explain how airfreight kilograms are calculated.  They are about half the size of standard weight kilograms.  After multiple explanations, I still have no idea how airfreight kilograms are calculated. 

Since we could not get in contact with Chris’ colleagues in Germany to clarify the situation, we had two choices; get rid of some stuff or pay for extra shipping. I was NOT about to pay for overages, so I kicked into George Banks in the middle of a grocery store mode.

“I would like to go down to the truck and see how much each box weighs.” I insisted.  The disgruntled packer started grumbling in Chinese because he hadn’t eaten lunch yet.  I didn’t care.    Upon seeing the weights of the boxes, I accepted that it was time to get rid of stuff.  I had the packers cut open the boxes.  They were shocked…I don’t think many people unseal the boxes once they have been sealed.  They just pay for the extra cargo.

“Take out the Cricut, and the printer.” These were two heavy items that I could purchase in the US that could go.  I then removed many of my travel books, scrapbook paper, and other odds and ends. Chris also got rid of some of his textbooks and some odds and ends.   I was upset that I had to leave these items behind, but it would be cheaper to buy these items new in the US rather than carry them. 

In addition to the Cricut and printer, we got rid of more than two boxes of stuff.

How did we accumulate so many things?  We were able to bring these items into China, why couldn’t we carry them out on airfreight?

We ended the day at 540 kg.  We knew we would have to pay some overages, but we felt we got rid of every excess thing we owned. 

Total time to pack our airfreight was 3 hours, 45 minutes.  Less time than I anticipated, however we had to figure out how to get rid of the excess baggage.

Later that night, we got this email.

According to the projections, we would have to pay $1615 to get our stuff home.

Chris immediately arranged a teleconference for the following day to clear up this mess.  I wasn’t a happy camper at all.

The following morning, we got this email.
You have GOT to be kidding me!!!  I could've packed more stuff!!

We were curious as to how much stuff we brought over, so Four Winds sent us our Air Weight from 2012.

WHAT?!?!?!  WE LOST 57 AIRFREIGHT KILOGRAMS?!?!?!!?  That could have been my Cricut.

While I’m thrilled we’re not being charged extra money, I’m heartbroken that I could have packed more items.  One day I will look back at this and laugh.  Until then, it’s time to have fun and say goodbye to the city I’ve come to love.  Anyone want a Cricut?