Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Flat Stanley in Shanghai!

Four years ago my son Nathan's 2nd grade class read the book Flat Stanley. All the kids in his class made their own Flat Stanley and sent them off into the world to have some adventures. Nathan's Flat Stanley went to visit my parents and went with my Dad to work on the set of CSI:NY (which is actually filmed in Los Angeles, not New York). You can revisit his adventures by clicking here.
A few weeks ago one of our friends in Macau emailed to say her daughter's friend, who lives in Canada, was also doing a Flat Stanley project. Stanley was having a blast in Macau, but she was wondering if he couldn't head up north to Shanghai to do a little travelling here. I love having guests, so of course I said yes! Because mail takes quite a long time to get to China (even from Macau which shares a border), and even longer to get to North America, I thought I better post some photos so that Taylor in Canada can see what her Flat Stanley was up to just in case he doesn't make it back there in time for Open House!
Flat Stanley took over a week to travel from Macau to Shanghai, China. Here he is in our mailbox!
We showed Stanley around our flat. He was really impressed with our view of the Huangpu River and the Bund!
We took him for a walk to stretch his legs (travelling can be so tiring!) and showed him some bamboo, which is all over China!
Flat Stanley really enjoyed walking our tiny poodle, Lucy Rocket. He didn't want to clean up her messes though. He might not be ready for the responsibilities of a pet just yet. But then again, he was a guest. We don't normally put guests to work!
Of course, we had to take him to one of the many, many Starbucks here in Shanghai.
Here he is touching the pointy top of the Oriental Pearl Tower. My boys say it looks like a rocket ship. Careful Stanley, it's sharp!
We live on the 38th floor of our building. When you ride down in the lift, your ears pop! Stanley said it didn't bother his ears, probably because his are flat.
Here are my sons, Benjamin and Nathan hanging out with Stanley in front of our building. Benjamin is now in the 4th grade and Nathan is now in the 6th grade.
Here's the view from where Nathan and Benjamin are standing:
The building under construction is the Shanghai Tower. During the few days Stanley was with us, the Tower height reached 500 meters! When it is completed, it will be the tallest building in all of China. The current tallest building is the building to the right with the hole in the top. That is the Shanghai World Financial Center. Isn't it funny that they decided to build the two tallest buildings in China right next to each other? When the Shanghai World Financial Building was first opened, it was the second tallest building in the world! Everyone here calls it the Bottle Opener Building, because that's what it looks like!
Here's an artist's drawing of the Shanghai Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center, and the Oriental Pearl Tower, looking from the area where our flat is located.
You know what is inside the Bottle Opener Building? The post office! I have a funny story about the last time I went to that post office, which you can read here. I tried to convince the lady behind the counter to pose with Flat Stanley before I sealed him up in his envelope to mail him back, but she refused. She also said I couldn't take any photos inside the post office! So I stepped out the door really quick to take a photo from the outside, with Stanley hanging out of his envelope for one last look at China.
Sadly for Stanley, the few days he was with us were very chilly and hazy with lots of pollution in the air. Definitely not the best time to visit Shanghai! Now just a week later, we are having beautiful warm weather and the sky was blue with visibility for miles! Maybe he'll have better luck next time. 
Bye Flat Stanley! It was nice visiting with you for a few days! Hope you make it back to Canada and Taylor safe and sound with lots of stories to tell about your world travels!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Better than coffee

Yesterday morning I stretched awake, tumbled out of bed, pulled open my bedroom curtain, and was greeted with this.

I went from groggy to fully awake in less than ten seconds.

I posted this on Instagram and my friend Jimmy said this couldn't be real. But no, seeing people hanging out on the top of buildings forty stories up with no guard rails (or guards to stop them) is a daily reality in China.

I'm just glad the access door to our rooftop is padlocked closed. No need for my boys to go exploring up there. Just the thought of it makes my heart pound and my stomach flip.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


After my husband read my post from yesterday about failure (I never, ever let him preview them), he looked me right in the eyes and said, "It would take a lot more than that to come close to damaging our marriage. Our marriage is pretty tough." And then he dumped some praise on my head and we discussed some options for digging me out of my self-created hole. So no need to worry about the state of our married life.

For some comic relief, I give you my oldest son's health assignment for today. He was to create a comic strip showing one of his daily activities. Nathan already draws a daily comic strip, but drawing himself drawing himself drawing a comic strip was deemed too meta, even for him. So instead he decided to tattle on his Mom.

His characters never smile, but he assures me they aren't terribly unhappy. He turns 13 this year, and all he wants is YouTube and Facebook accounts, along with a blog of his own to fill with his original thoughts and artwork. Watch out world.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Power of Failure

Several years ago I had the great privilege of facilitating a series of workshops on creativity throughout the state of California. I also taught an eight week class on living a creative life. Here in Shanghai I was able to speak at an event on creativity. Creativity is a great passion of mine. I actively value it, celebrate it, look for it, and help other people do those things as well.

One of the biggest points I made in every workshop, class, or speaking engagement on the subject of creativity is the power of failure. A few thoughts on failure...

Failure teaches us lessons more difficult to learn if you only ever have successes. I'm thinking specifically of humility... Can you learn humility if you never fall flat on your face? Maybe. But failure teaches it far more effectively. And tenacity. Can you learn to hang in there and keep trying and pushing if you succeed the first time you try anything?

Failure helps us grow in so many areas because we are forced to work harder for our success. I know I become far more grateful when I've tried and failed a few times and then finally get it right. I take less things for granted. Huge failures which seem catastrophic can become the impetus for enormous positive change that could never come about while things seem to be going along swimmingly. We think if something isn't broke, why fix it, even if "fixing it" means making life easier or better in the long run.

Failure means we are DOING something. If you never fail, you're probably stagnating. You're not risking anything. It likely means you're not having great successes either, you might just be playing it safe.

I've had some failures which I thought were on the big side, and though painful, I still celebrated them because I was out there trying and stretching and growing and very much living my life to the fullest. But this last month I had a failure that feels a little raw and painful and I'm having a hard time practicing what I preach.

I took something on at the beginning of the year which I thought was going to be very different than the reality of how it turned out to be along the way. When things started going poorly, I made bad choices and dragged my feet on speaking up on my limitations until it was too late for anyone else to help me. In the end everything looked amazing, many people were happy, and I was able to use my gifts, talents, and education to do something spectacular. It isn't obvious how I failed unless you were along for the whole ride with me.

The truth is, I put some friendships in jeopardy by not being able to keep my commitments. I put my already somewhat fragile health at greater risk by pushing myself when I should have been resting, causing my illnesses to be prolonged. I came close to damaging my marriage and had some terrible arguments with the person who certainly didn't deserve my wrath (thankfully my husband also values the power of failure and loves me very much). I got seriously off track on another major responsibility which may now force two other people to fail at something quite important, likely resulting in a significant financial penalty that I'll have to carry.

Tallying up the cost vs the end result, I realize that on the surface it may look like I did something awesome (and I'll share images of the end result next week), but really when you look at the complete picture, I failed and failed pretty hard.


So though I'm not at the point of celebrating my failure, I can at least recognize the important lessons I learned which are so incredibly valuable. Maybe the most important lesson is remembering my priorities, and then making choices that allow me to honor those things that are arguably the most important to me. Another good one is that we're always going to let someone down in life, but we frequently get to choose who we're letting down. I actively chose to let down the people I love most in life, instead of letting down people I barely know. That won't happen again if it is within my power to control.

A final point about failure and creativity: failure forces you to flex your creative muscles which can positively impact every area of your life. Though it's going to be tough to recover a couple areas from my recent big failure, I'm going to need to get really creative in finding a solution to digging my way out. And if I had not failed so spectacularly, I would not now have the opportunity to embrace my passion for creativity in quite this way. Already some of the solutions I'm toying around with involve forcing me to grow in my weakest areas. Maybe that is cause for celebration after all.

I'll close with a photo from a mug at my favorite corner coffee house. Wisdom according to Homer Simpson (which should generally be avoided):

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wanna share a pie?

I already shared the image of the McDonald's delivery guy with his heated backpack on an electric scooter. I thought I'd share how we get Domino's pizza here. Well, *we* don't actually, my preference is a place called New York Pizza which has the best sauce around. But for those expats who will order Domino's simply because of the link to home and overlook the cardboard taste, you can still have your pie in 30 minutes or less. But these guys pedal for their paycheck.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In Season

Almost seventeen years ago my husband and I won a trip to Spain on the Newlywed Game television game show. It was amazing. Meals were included, and every night we'd dine in a fancy room with a personal waiter for each of us, refilling our drinks when we'd so much as take a sip. At the close of each meal, I would get a small bowl of vanilla ice cream, topped with a heap of the best strawberries I'd ever eaten in my life. Until today.

Our street has a multitude of vendors of all kinds which stop by right in front of the entrance to our complex. Pirated DVDs, produce, keys, shoe repair, plants, wicker furniture... Whatever you want or need will eventually appear if you hang out long enough. I have purchased plenty of things from most of the vendors, especially the produce. Lemons out of the back of a van belonging to the guy who picked them from his family orchard that morning go for 1/10th the price of the lemons in the grocery store. I buy local when I can.

The last few weeks I've seen so many vendors hawking strawberries. Unfortunately, it's only when I'm leaving for a few hours instead of when I'm coming back. But not today! I stepped across the street to my local bakery for our daily bread (the lack of preservatives here means tiny loaves that have to be consumed in 48 hours or else it sprouts mold), and I saw the strawberry van. The boys and I picked up a large bowl for about $1.75 USD. Contrast that with the tiny container of sad looking strawberries I saw at the grocery store for about $12 USD. Without the benefit of our local vendors, we'd have missed strawberry season completely this year!

Scrubbed and rinsed and lightly chilled, every last strawberry was consumed within the hour. And maybe my memory of those delicious berries in Spain is fading, but I have to say the Shanghai strawberries were perfectly ripe and juicy, with just the right amount of sweetness. Spectacular.

I do hope the van is there again tomorrow.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

It's Just a Dinosaur

I got a spammy text which I ran through Google Translate just for giggles. And then figured it was my duty to share so you could have some giggles too.

"Hola Super Brand Mall will be closed for relocation in May, the audience commodity clearing the last three fold straight down the price in the end, more dinosaurs, Carolina, grapes and sounds of Ya Bedding counter guarantee, come buy it [HOLA Rite music]"

Saturday, April 6, 2013

McDonalds Delivery

What to do if you get a craving for a Big Mac but just feel way too lazy to walk a couple blocks to get one and don't have a car? If you live in Shanghai, you just have them deliver! No, we've never had McD's bring us food (I avoid them, period). All the fast food places here deliver, which I suppose is the Shanghai equivalent of a drive thru.

And just for scale, in my last post when I mentioned scooters, I was talking about what the delivery guy is using, not a kid's Razor scooter! These are all electric powered and there's more of those on the road in our part of town than cars. And none of the traffic laws (like stopping at red lights) apply to them. At least with the electric power they're quiet. Though their silence can be bad as you can't hear them approach. I've nearly been run down countless times, but no near-misses by anyone bearing a Fillet-O-Fish to a hungry neighbor!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

In the lift this week:

I got to ride up to my flat with both Brad Pitt and a number of scooters. Since parking in the subterranean garage costs money, and scooters are stolen constantly in Shanghai, people just walk them through the lobby, into the elevator, and park them in their apartment entryway. The fact that (a highly photoshopped) Brad Pitt is being used for advertising in China is quite interesting. After he made the film Seven Years in Tibet, China banned him from entering the country. Curiouser and curiouser.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


I'm having a particularly bad week. Having difficulty finding the usual thing to chuckle over in the midst of terrible situations. I had to look outside the situation this time, and turn to the reliability of always finding some really bad English (Chinglish) here in China. It may not be a silver lining to my current troubles, but it sure is sparkly. So I'll just pretend!

(This is a package of sticky-backed plastic rhinestones, which cost 3 RMB / 50 cents USD)

Say it in crystals
well-being and charming!
Auto Beauty
Decorate your car, enjoy your trip.
Computer landscaping
As cold as this technological
products can be changed
to the glaring fashion items.
Home decorating
Make your cup be nice and vivid.
-To improve the pattern and appearance of the product without notifying, please comprehend us.
-Please contact our company if you find defective products owing to the production.
-If you clip or transform the products without agreeing to the warnings, breakage and responsibility have no relationship with.

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