Monday, November 25, 2013

My Favorite Things: Shanghai Edition!

During the past month, I have had many friends who have decided to post things for which they are thankful on Facebook.   Instead of posting an item a day, I thought that I would combine them with information on how to experience awesome Shanghai.  Think of this as My Favorite Things: Shanghai Edition.

Here are my favorite things about living in Shanghai in alphabetical order.  (I have listed two exceptions at the end of the post!)

Chris and I have a new member of our family, and her name is Ayi.  Ayi is the wife I never had but always wanted.  She cooks, she cleans, and she does the laundry she pretty much runs the household.  She loves our puppies, and the puppies love her!  I am seriously thinking about trying to have her move with us back to the States.

Ayi is the best!!!

Blog Readers
My life in Shanghai has been significantly more exciting thanks to the blog.  I know my readers want excitement; so many times I put myself in crazy situations “for the sake of the blog”.  If the blog gets boring, that means that my life is getting boring.  Thank you so much readers!  I promise you there will be many more adventures to come!

Cab Drivers
Having no car is kind of like life before I got my license.  It sometimes sucks to have to wait for someone to pick you up and take you home like Mom did.  Nothing is better after a long day of work or a long night of carousing than seeing that little green light on top of a cab.  To the cab drivers in Shanghai who will more than likely not read this, I owe you one!  Big time!

Many of you would not believe half of the things I see in the city.  Thanks to my camera, I am able to capture and share these random acts of amusement!

Between American and Chinese holidays, we usually celebrate a holiday at least once a month!  I absolutely love teaching my international friends about Western holidays and learning about Eastern holidays from them!

Chinese Support System
Without my Chinese friends, I would be completely lost.  I am so grateful a handful of Chinese folks have taken me under their wings and have taught me everything from how to shop on Taobao to how to pay my bills.   It is comforting to know if I get a notice on my door I can snap a picture of it and send it to Ally or Mavis my work coordinators and they will translate it for me.  Jack and Chu from American Style Nails don't only give me the perfect pedi, they also hook me up with my hair appointments with Zina at I Salon.  I don’t know how my Chinese teacher, Sophie, tolerates my inability to learn Chinese.  Dr. Jenny Yu at Jialiang Kennels is always on call if Ditka or Leia need medical attention.  I also can’t thank the countless strangers who have helped me navigate the insanity I call Shanghai.

Mavis was a HUGE help during my first year of teaching in China.

Sophie is always so patient when I murder her mother tongue.

Sandy our relocation agent cuddles Leia.  Whenever we have apartment issues, she takes care of it stat!

DVD Store
I am happy to say I am able to keep up with Western Movies and TV shows thanks to the kind folks at Movie Feast.  For about 12RMB per disk ($2USD) you can get all of the newest flicks on DVD.  They are a tad pricey by Chinese standards, but I have never had a quality problem with their disks.  They are located right outside Tianzifang, across the street from the SML center.

They also have a nail salon if you are wanting a mani.

 While I have been in Shanghai, I have been spoiled with some pretty spectacular and exotic meals.  There are so many restaurants in this town that it is impossible to get bored with food.   For a list of everywhere to eat, check out Smart Shanghai’s Restaurant Listings.

Bi Feng Tang is one of my favorite Cantonese places!!  

I could live on dumplings!

Google Translate
While sometimes messages are garbled in translation, many times Google Translate will help me determine if the dozens of useless texts I receive are garbage or important. 

I'm not going to even try understanding this one.

I wasn’t kidding when I said my iPhone was my best friend last summer.  My iPhone is my translator, entertainer, GPS, and so much more.  I often wonder how folks navigated foreign lands without smart phones.

Kleenex Packets
I never leave home without at least two little packets of tissue.  Many times Kleenex is my toilet paper, my napkin, my hankie and more.  After living in Shanghai for about a week, I realized life could be very messy without them!

Don't leave home without them!

Everyone can be a Diva or Rock Star without being humiliated in front of the entire bar at KTV.  KTV is Karaoke in a private room with your friends.  I am thankful for the many nights spent rocking with friends at Big E Entertainment Center and other KTV Places.

We channel our inner Steven Tyler.

Learning Opportunities
I have learned so much more about international life and myself since moving abroad.  Thanks to a lighter teaching load and Ayi, I have had significantly more time to learn Chinese with my Chinese tutor and take other classes at the Expat Learning Center.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn photography and earn my EFOL certification.  I don’t think I would have had neither the time nor the energy to take these classes back in the States.

My photography teacher, Franc, chats with a kiddo on a photo shoot.  I highly recommend his class.

Lights at Night
The lights in large Asian cities are so beautiful!   The elaborate light displays make the Shanghai night seem magical.

This is the Bund at Night.

This is the Jing'An temple at night.

Sherpa’s, Mealbay and every other company that delivers food.
I often wonder how long I could live in my apartment without having to leave.  Delivery services like Sherpa's and Mealbay ensure that I don’t have to venture out to eat as long as I have a little cash on hand.  If I want to cook, stores like City Shop and Field’s deliver groceries right to my door.  These services are lifesavers; especially during the soupy, cold winter months.

Many evenings when Ayi doesn't cook, the Sherpa Man is our knight in shining armor.

Skype, Magic Jack and WeChat
Skype, Magic Jack and WeChat allow me to communicate with the West free of charge.  Skype is a video chatting application that allows my Mom to see me more frequently than when I lived in the States.  Magic Jack allows users to call American and Canadian phones free of charge.  WeChat is the social networking app of choice for many Chinese folks.  WeChat allows you to post status updates, send text messages, use your phone as a walkie-talkie, and video chat.  These three apps keep me in the loop!

Smart Shanghai and Other Helpful Online Expat Resources
Looking for something to eat, something to do, concert tickets, or  wanting to know how to get somewhere? Try these websites.

Thanks to these websites, we are never bored.

Spectacular People Watching
One of the most refreshing things about Shanghai is I never know what I am going to see when I walk out my door.  I am so thankful for the insanity and for the days I have my iPhone available to capture these moments.

I am glad to see he is comfortable in the middle of the road.

That has to hurt his head!

All dressed up....

How do these carts never topple?

One of the greatest things about being a teacher is I get to share my life with my students.  At times they are noisy, silly, and a tad naughty however they are one of the main reasons why I love my job.  They are sweet, smart and will always be “my kids”.  They always brighten my day!

My kids are awesome!

The Park
In the middle of Shanghai, there are serene patches of land known as parks.  Chinese parks are one of the best places to people watch!  My favorite is Fuxing Park.

Many folks love to cut a rug al fresco!

Others prefer to nap.

People practice Tai Chi.

People love drinking tea and playing cards near the teahouse in the center of the park.

Some games get extremely heated.

Tianzifang and Other Hidden Alleys
One of my favorite pastimes is getting lost on cultural streets like Taikang Lu. better known as Tianzifang.  You never know what you will see!

Travel Opportunities
Since there is a good chance Chris and I will live in Shanghai for 3 years, I feel a great sense of urgency to travel and see as many sites as possible.  We have vacationed more in the last 16 months than our first ten years of marriage.  We have seen Hangzhou, Suzhou, Beijing, Xi’An, Sanya, Hong Kong, Macau, and the Philippines.  If time and money permit, we hope to see Australia, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

It will not surprise many that China has pretty strict control over what is published online.  According to one news source, China has 500,000 more internet censors than soldiers.  Over here, The New York Times, Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube are blocked.   After living in a country where the government controls pretty much everything, I will NEVER take my first amendment rights for granted again. In the meantime, I am SO thankful for my VPN.  It allows me to access the information I need and stay connected with the world.

I would not be nearly as happy in Shanghai without the friends that have come, gone, and stayed.  My Bosch, Pacican, and Purdue crews have celebrated with me during the highs, and have supported me when I hit my culture shock lows.  Due to differing assignment lengths and visas, expats come and go frequently.  Regardless, words can’t express how wonderful it is to know people from all over the world who understand what you are experiencing.  It is wonderful to be surrounded by such diverse, smart, adventurous people!

Last and most importantly, I am thankful for the opportunity to experience everything with my best friend!  I wonder every day how we were so lucky to find each other and how we ended up on this amazing journey.  I could not do this alone!

Now that I am finished spilling my guts, it’s time for me to get ready to consume millions of calories thanks to upcoming Thanksgiving celebrations!  Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope you have a warm, safe holiday season!  Stay tuned for more adventures!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to Survive an Elementary School Halloween: My Sugar Zombies in Pictures

I officially survived my second Halloween in Shanghai.  It was a fun and crazy Halloween season!

In preparation for Halloween, all of my English Corner students created their own Halloween masks.  I found the masks on Fuzhou Lu for 3 RMB ($.50) per mask. 

Some of my kids are amazing artists!
Some of my other students are incredibly sweet but scare me at times.

The day before Halloween, I arrived at school to see this message.  We're not in the States anymore!!
When I arrived at the first grade campus on Halloween morning, I was greeted by tons of little sugar zombies who were ready to trick or treat!

I was surprised when I learned kids would be trick or treating first thing in the morning.  I thought that the school would have waited until after lunch before the madness would begin.  

Trick or treating was an extreme event at school.  There were times where I feared being trampled.  Many of the kiddos thought all they had to do was yell,
"Trick or Treat!" and hold out their hands for candy.

Many of the kids reminded me of the carp longing to be fed at the Botanical Gardens in St. Louis

Batman kept having wardrobe malfunctions during Trick or Treating time.  His visibility was impaired by his mask.  I was so surprised that the kids were able to dress up for school.  In the US, kids usually have to dress up like a storybook character if they wear a costume to school.
Many of the kids wore random costumes.  I don't know if this girl is supposed to be Snow White or the Devil.  She is too cute either way!
Many of the kids did not fully understand the concept of trick or treating.  After I would give them a piece of candy, they would give me a piece in return. 

Needless to say, I was NOT excited about having to teach kids right after trick or treating time.  Much to my surprise the kids were calm, and class was business as usual.

The kids didn't eat any of their candy, and class was business as usual.  Amazing!
It wasn't a Happy Halloween for everyone.  One kiddo forgot his costume, and refused to borrow any props that were offered.  However, he did accept candy in his backpack.  When I wished everyone a Happy Halloween he replied,
"No Ms. Anne.  It's a very very very very very very very SAD Halloween."  It kind of broke my heart.
After class at the first grade campus, I headed back to the main campus for more halloween fun.

While on breaks, kids would swarm the office for treats.  The nun costume cracked me up!

I loved the kiddos who masked the student statues and fought the zombies.  

Much to my surprise, students are allowed to bring toy weapons to school as part of their costumes. 

The kids swarmed the teachers in search of treats.  I felt bad...I ran out of candy early.

Some of my fifth graders pose before class.  
I am proud to say I survived the attack of the sugar zombies!!!  Happy Halloween!!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What to Expect While You’re Expating: A Reading List

While I was preparing for my Chinese Adventure in the States, I longed for a What to Expect When You’re Expecting like book that would tell me what to expect and how to behave while in China.  I figured if I had nuggets of expat wisdom, I would survive my time over here with a little grace. 

Now that I have lived over here for a while, I have come to the conclusion that there is no book that could ever include everything that one needs to know before living in China.  However, there are some good books out there that will give you at least a little idea as to how to enjoy your time abroad.

Book #1

When I first arrived in Shanghai, Chris hit the ground running with his new position and I had two months to explore my new city.  Many weekdays, I would throw this book in my bag and go.  I like this book because it is portable, informative, and succinct.  It has become my Shanghai to do list and a welcome gift for all international visitors who crash with us.   (I actually put checkmarks by everything I see.)  If you are moving to a location other than Shanghai, I highly recommend finding a small travel book similar to the Frommer’s book and making it your destination bucket list.  It helps to know what to see when you are getting to know your new surroundings.  (Even if many of the locations listed are touristy.)

Book #2

Our Chinese teacher in America, Jie, gave me this book as part of our “cultural awareness” training.  If you are looking for a textbook like read on how to integrate in Chinese culture, this is the book for you.  It gives much information in a very businesslike manner without personal anecdotes. It is great if you want the straightforward scoop without personal insights.

Book #3

If you are moving to or doing business with China, and love picture books this is the book for you.  I picked it up in the Shanghai Pudong airport and read it on Chris’ birthday trip to Beijing.  Much to Chris’ chagrin, I kept saying, “Oh now I get it” the entire flight.  I especially loved these gems. 

The author does have a tendency to over stereotype, so I would advise taking some of the illustrations with a grain of salt. 

Book #4

The author of this book, Lisa Carducci, is the wife of an Italian Ambassador who has successfully integrated into a variety of cultures.  If you are looking for a combination of advice on how to happily integrate into the Chinese culture and grandmotherly wisdom, this is the book for you.  (While reading it, I felt like I was having a conversation with my former boss and my grandmother, both of whom are Italian-American.)  I especially love the author’s explanations on why elderly Chinese folks love going out in pajamas and her commentary about Chinese youth on busses. 

Book #5

Imagine traveling through China for three months with an old college friend.  That is Lost on Planet China.   The author of this book backpacked through China to try to “Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation”.  J. Maarten Troost does not claim to be an expert on China, but he does an amazing job of describing his impressions of the country.  I picked up this book in the airport, put it down for a year, picked it up again and could not stop reading.  He does a beautiful job of combining Chinese history and humor.  He is unfiltered with his thoughts.  (I am actually surprised I was able to purchase the book in China.  Some of his observations slipped passed the censors.) 

Book #6

Photo source:
If you are looking for a hilarious account of a Midwesterner’s time in China, Ni Howdy is the book for you.  The author gives a fantastic account of her tenure in Chengdu.    I especially enjoyed her tales of rats in her Chinese hospital bathroom and teaching at the university level.

Current and former expats, what books are/were indispensable to you?  Please feel free to share below!

More tales soon!