Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from Shanghai!


It's our third Christmas in Shanghai, which seems like forever for us! To mark the milestone, we decided to actually feature Shanghai on our annual Christmas card. We just wanted to make sure we were sticking around a bit before we committed... heh heh heh. We live just out of the frame on the far right hand side of the photo, in the shadow of the second tallest building in the world, and the first and second tallest buildings in China. I do love this city so much!

You'll note that Nathan has now surpassed Michael in height, which officially makes him the tallest member of his family, on both sides. Ben is trying desperately to catch up.

This morning Michael and I slowly woke up and made our way to the living room to find the boys around the tree. We asked if they wanted to eat breakfast or open gifts first. You can tell they are teenage boys (or almost in Ben's case) because food came first.


Lucy Rocket wants to wish you a very merry Christmas too! All she wants for Christmas is you! Or more specifically, your lap to sit upon!


This year the boys really, really wanted a Sony PlayStation 4 for Christmas. The only video game system we have is a hand-me-down Wii, which was old when we got it 5+ years ago. We dragged our feet for months on whether to get the PlayStation or not... it's not cheap. This past weekend we still hadn't made a decision, though we did decide to bless some other people who have had rough years this year with surprises to make their Christmases a little more merry. On Monday, Michael walked into his office and on his desk was a Sony PlayStation 3 and Guitar Hero and some games, all left there by his boss who had decided to give them to our boys. I know these two things are related... no one ever became poor by giving! The boys were still over the moon excited about the 3, and we were able to go to our local grey market and pick up some fun games for cheap.


The aftermath of gift opening:



We're off to celebrate Christmas dinner Kiwi-style with our friends from New Zealand. I hear it's all meats and desserts, so both Michael and I will be very, very happy!

Hope you have an excellent Christmas, filled with warm moments and lots of opportunities for making good memories!

XOXO,
Heather, Michael, Nathan, and Benjamin

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Limitless Laowai Podcast (and the sound of my voice)

Hey! I have some exciting news! My friend Ally Mona along with her husband Ron have launched a new website and podcast called Limitless Laowai.

What is a laowai, you ask?

laowai    \ l-why \   noun;

A foreigner, of any nationality, age and profession, currently living and/or working in China; one looking into a future move to China.

I am a laowai. So is my entire family. So are about 85% of my friends here in Shanghai (I'm super fortunate to count among my friends a good number of local Chinese, and that, I think, makes a huge positive difference in my experience living in Shanghai). My friend Ally is also a laowai, and something she noticed about living here in China for so many years is how this is a land of really unlimited opportunity. I say very often that there is so much freedom here in Shanghai, which is a hard-to-explain and controversial statement considering the government system here. Coming from America where everything is heavily regulated, I've come to greatly appreciate how little interference I've had to do just about anything I wanted to do here. It's a huge change of mindset! But not everyone immediately sees that, and many expats really struggle when they are here. 

In an effort to share some stories of positive experiences about living and working in China, as well as allow people here on the ground to share their tips and tricks, Ally decided to create this platform as a podcast. I sat with her over the summer when it was in the dreaming stages and I had the good kind of goosebumps because I believe in this so strongly. Attitude accounts for so much of what we experience in life! I always state that if you are looking for a reason to be miserable, it's there, you'll find it. But if you look for the reasons to sing and be filled with joy, you'll be overwhelmed with things to be grateful for. I, for one, am grateful for Ally! 

I wanted to share the website with you (here) and the podcast as well (here). But I also wanted to tell you that I am a guest on the show today! So if you're wondering what I sound like, wonder no more! You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want to move to China... 


And I promise that in the coming month I will share more about two things I talk about on the podcast but have never shared on the blog (the scary dog bite with police car ride story and our education journey with the boys). So go have a listen! Sign up for the newsletter (here) and subscribe to the podcast if you have any interest in what it's like to live and work in China! 


Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Magic with HRC!

It's finally December! The time of year when I don't have to hide my extraordinary enthusiasm for all things Christmas! 

This month I'm taking photos every day of all the magically delicious Christmas things that catch my eye in Shanghai. 

Three cheers for Christmas! Hip hip hooray! 

Tonight we had our group of creative friends over to enjoy some made-from-scratch turkey soup using up the leftovers from Thanksgiving. We also made paper Advent chains to count the days down to Christmas, and watched A Charlie Brown Christmas, which was originally released in 1965. The depression Charlie Brown felt all those years ago over holiday fatigue and wondering what it's all about is just as relavent today. Never gets old. 


And, unrelated to Christmas, but certainly to December in many places, we are in the middle of a cold snap. Temps will dip below freezing this week. It's actually hovering at freezing right now. Bah humbug! Neither Lucy Rocket nor myself are a fan. She just can't hide her disdain for the chilly wind...


Happy December! Here's to finding meaning this Christmas season! 


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Buh-bye October

Wow, did I seriously go the whole month of October without posting anything? It's after midnight in Shanghai on November 1. October was crazy busy, but all good. We went to Hong Kong, we had a guest from the States, and I've been furiously writing a Christmas production script. No time for newsy updates! 

Even this won't be long. Gotta wrap it up before I turn into a pumpkin. But in honor of Halloween (which is still going on in the States), I have two things to mention. Both involve the kids.

First, my sons go to a Chinese school. Not an international school, but a Chinese school with a bilingual track. A couple of their classes are taught fully in Mandarin, including art, computer science, and PE. There are 3000 students at the school, and the campus is huge and simply gorgeous. My sons are the only Caucasian children at the school, which is predominately Asian with a minority of students from African countries. I'm sure I'll write more about our crazy education choices, but that's the background. 

Last week my son Ben, age 11, was asked to give a speech to the whole school on "Halloween in America." I found this somewhat hilarious, as Ben only participated in any type of Halloween activities in America maybe once or twice, and it would have been over four years ago. But as the token white kid (he is not the only American), he was perceived as the expert on the topic. I am very proud of him though! He said he mixed up a couple of things, like pointing at a mask and calling it a pumpkin, and vice versa, but otherwise he was very confident and bold in speaking. Yay Ben!  

Second, my parents spent a fortune (over $80 USD) to mail us a huge box of Halloween candy, which arrived the day before Halloween (while I was talking on the phone to them!). Since the customs declaration form plastered to the outside of the box clearly stated "Halloween Candy" on it, I waited until they got home from school on Friday to rip into it. It was a super sweet treat. 

The boys have actually gone Trick or Treating here in Shanghai, but this year we all stayed in, snacking on the American candy and watching a double feature of Edward Scissorhands and Nightmare Before Christmas, both Tim Burton films with scores by Danny Elfman. We recently introduced the boys to Beetlejuice as well. It's fun to watch them discover a filmmaker's signature style! 

That's all for tonight. Here's a photo of the boys, and Lucy Rocket, with the booty from my parents...


The dentist is going to love us! Thanks Mom and Dad! 


Monday, September 29, 2014

Chocolate Hair/Vanilla Care, the book!

Hi Friends!


Sorry I've been sparse in this space of late. Between internet issues (the bane of our China existence!) and some big writing projects (my book! My book is taking shape!), there's not much left for the blog. But I did have to figure out a way to get in here to let you know that my friend Rory, who I've posted about here and here, has gone and published a book containing similar information to her popular blog, Chocolate Hair/Vanilla Care.


I just re-read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast (so good, especially now that I've walked those streets in Paris and sat in those cafes he spoke of, and am myself an expatriate), and I was moved by the way he drops in his relationships with so many great writers of his time. It made me think about how I have a strangely high number of friends who are writers and published authors. I daydream of one day long from now writing my own A Moveable Feast set in Asia, where I'll drop in my own friends' names. And then I bring myself back to this day, where I still need to work on my own book before I get to the memoir-writing stage!


Anyway, back to Rory... if you yourself are someone who has a child with natural hair or have natural hair yourself, this book is for you. Check it out!


Back soon! We're heading down to Hong Kong for China's Golden Week, along with the other millions of Mainlanders. There are currently riots going on in the name of democracy. Should be interesting...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Jedi Mind Tricks


If you've spent time with me in real life any time in the last 15 or so years, you know that any time I get together with a large group of people, either family or friends, I always insist on taking a big group photo of everyone. It's just what I do. My kids are well trained in this, and they know that if they quickly pose and smile, the pain is over fast and they can go on with their lives rapidly. Other friends and family members took awhile longer to condition, but for the most part they have come to appreciate that I have over a decade's worth of documenting heights and hair colors and changes. Like I said, it's what I do, and there's no likelihood this quirk of mine is going to change any time soon.

Yesterday was the Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated in China and several other Asian countries. It's a public holiday here, very similar to American Thanksgiving, a time for families to gather together, eat lots of high-calorie food, and feel gratitude for the "harvest" or blessings in their lives. Several traditions including eating Mooncakes and writing a prayer on a lantern which is then lit and sent soaring into the sky under the full harvest moon.



The rising Mid-Autumn moon over the rooftops seen from our bedroom last night.

This year I decided to invite a small group of friends to join my family in heading an hour out of Shanghai's city center via Metro to Sheshan and the Sheshan Sculpture Park. If I had to rank my favorite places in Shanghai, this area definitely hits my top five. There are no Starbucks or convenience stores. There are lots of trees and plants and stretches of land where there are only bugs and small animals, and the occasional horse, to populate the area. The hotels in the area are very luxe and built to blend with nature instead of soar above it in multi-story high rises, and the whole place is incredibly peaceful.



The Sheshan Sculpture Park is a paid entry area covering over 200 acres with a lake in the middle. Dotting the landscape every few hundred feet are huge sculptures created by artists from all over the world. The nature combined with art is inspiring and peaceful and fun, all at the same time. Much of the art is interactive, like the Fuwa Fuwa Dome, a large multi-domed blob which functions like a trampoline and is meant to be jumped on.




Though honestly I'm sure they prefer you do it while wearing pants. Maybe he wanted to go au naturel while in nature? Oh China...





We ended up with a group of 36 friends on our field trip. This allowed us to negotiate for a group rate, knocking the entry down from about $20 USD per person to about $13 USD per person. I was happy to arrange it all and negotiate the deal and provide directions on how to get there, and all I asked for in return was that before everyone spread out to enjoy their day at the park, they all gather together to take a big group photo.
 

Having warned them of this in advance, they were all ready for it, and it was just a matter of selecting the right sculpture to gather around. I picked the Chinese Acrobats by Tawanese-born, Paris-trained artist Shiau Jon-Jen. I got everyone in place, and then realized that all the other park guests who'd just been standing close by area had disappeared, with no one nearby to hand off my camera to. Quickly scanning the area, I saw a woman with a small son and held up my camera, pointed to the group, and gestured frantically for her to come take the photo. I have never, ever seen someone's face light up so dramatically, and she quickly ran my direction... and then swerved to the group, jumping into the frame and posing with her son, smiling broadly. I laughed so hard. And I also wasn't about to tell her to get out of the photo and come use the camera. Fortunately a slow moving pregnant woman came waddling by just in time, and I begged her in Mandarin to take our photo. And by "begged her in Mandarin," I mean I just repeated the word for thank you while pointing at my camera and then pointing at our group. She understood and took a handful of photos before I thanked her again repeatedly.



After viewing the photos last night on my computer, I had a laugh all over again at our new friend with her son who'd jumped into the photo so happily. I noticed that in the last photo she probably realized she may have misunderstood my request and she can be seen scurrying away.



It made me realize that my force in gathering people for a group photo has reached Jedi proportions. I'm wondering if my photography project for next year should involve gathering random strangers together to have their photos taken. Hopefully I can use my powers for good and not evil. Though I've noticed my kids will always say being forced to have their photo taken is evil. Guess I'm on the dark side. Call me Darth Camera.


The rest of the day was pleasant and relaxing, and it was fun to chat with different people in the group as we came across them having fun, eating our picnic lunch, and seeing three friends who'd sprawled out on the lawn to take Mid-Autumn naps. I guess they were just knocked out by nature, creating their own art in the process. I call it Teachers Dreaming by the Lake under Trees.




As I myself drifted off to sleep last night to the sound of late-night fireworks in the neighborhood marking the festival, I realized what I'm most grateful for on this holiday is being able to bring people together in this far away land to celebrate a holiday that isn't my own, with the people who have become my own, through friendship and shared adventures. Can't wait for the next one!



Sunday, August 17, 2014

Riding the lift with a crabby toddler...

No, really. Look:


I look forward to the weekly changing of the print ads in our elevators. Honestly, they give me such great comic relief as I take the long ride up and down to my flat. Sometimes I'm grateful for the language barrier, because it's always fun to guess exactly what the ad agency was hoping to accomplish (or advertise for that matter!).

Upon seeing this one, Nat remarked that Chinese kids are made of tougher stuff than other kids, who usually start out the toddler years eating something more gentle, like Cheerios or cubed cheese, rather than jumping into live crabs...

Welcome to Autumn and Hairy Crab season!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Why Lucy Rocket Rocks.

I think having a dog while living abroad, specifically while living in Shanghai, is the best. Especially if it's a little dog. Especially if it's Lucy Rocket. 


When we lived in Tokyo, we did so with a tiny newborn blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby Nathan. If you wanna stop traffic, meet people, or vastly improve your language skills, I recommend the foreign baby in Asia route. I rarely got more than a few dozen feet without being mobbed by excited locals exclaiming happy sounds, trying to interact with Nat, who incidentally ate it all up. (Side note: at 13, nearly 14, he is way less enthusiastic about strangers interacting with him than when he was 13 months). 

No one could resist Nat's big baby blues!
And yes, I used to have blonde hair.
If I was struggling with a bag and the baby, someone always ran to my rescue, generally preferring to snuggle the baby while I carried the bag. (Another side note: the things you do abroad are very different than the things you do in your country of origin... I would never hand off my baby to a stranger in America, but in Japan I did it all the time. Maybe because he stood out so much and caused a stir wherever he went. It's not like anyone could get very far with him, especially not in the suburb of Tokyo where we lived). 

Someone willing to hold and entertain the baby while we ate?
Our answer was always yes!

Foreign friends here in Shanghai report similar experiences with their little ones, stopping people in their tracks and getting lots of attention. 

While I am forever grateful that we are firmly out of the baby/toddler years, I see the big difference in the experience you have with a baby vs without one. I've spoken to other friends who didn't have children when they lived in Tokyo, and they've said they found it to be a cold and sterile place, lacking authentic friendliness, and it was hard for them to make contact with the locals. I always feel so sad when I hear that, because my experience was so amazing. Michael and I made a deal: should he ever be offered a job in Japan again, he doesn't even have to ask me. We're going. 

So how does this all tie in to having a dog? I'm getting there...

In China, many people are afraid of dogs. And not just big scary looking dogs. Lucy Rocket-sized dogs, at a whopping 1.7 kgs. Which is less than 4 pounds. Lest you think I exaggerate, I will tell you that people have crossed over to the other side of the street or stepped out into traffic when we've been walking her down the sidewalk. On a leash. One time a lady came to our house and I opened the front door while holding Lucy. Lucy made no noise, but the lady screamed and ran back to the elevator in terror. I seriously thought there was a man behind me with a large butcher knife wearing a hockey mask about to stab  me or something. Nope, the lady was just petrified of our dog. She came in, and we locked Lucy in a bedroom, but the lady did not stop shaking and looking over her shoulder the whole time she was here. 

Lucy Rocket, ferocious beast. She will claw her way into your heart. Fiercely. As you can see.
And then there are people (generally the upwardly mobile, status symbol-seekers) who love dogs here. Crazy love. As in outfitting them in tutus, decking them in bows regardless of gender, and putting little shoes on their pups. The poodle is very popular here. 85% of the dogs you see around town are poodles. Not the big Standard Poodle, but the Miniature or Toy size, like Lucy. Poodles are a good breed for the city, they make excellent apartment dwellers, and they don't shed, so they are easy to clean up after. They are also smart and easy to train, so I'm not surprised that they are so popular in Shanghai. With the people who actually like dogs, that is. 

But here is the awesome thing about having a dog, especially a poodle, and especially our completely non-aggressive Lu... In a city where people shove and push and ignore everyone in their path, bringing Lucy with us around town ensures that someone (probably several someones) will react to her. They'll either get out of her way (and thus, our way), or they'll pause to bend over and click at her with a giggle. We get a chance to interact with the locals in a way we wouldn't without her. Without her I just get stared at like the zebras at the zoo. It's nice to have a cute dog to take the focus off me. 

And second, we live in the most urban, downtown part of Shanghai. If you ever see a photo of the famous skyline of Shanghai, our building is in there. There are very "local" parts of the neighborhood, with wet markets and street vendors serving the non-foreigners, but there are also very touristy parts, especially along the waterfront of the Huangpu River. Touristy areas mean an endless number of hawkers, selling their wares. From laser pointers to kites to photos printed on the spot. You can't go a dozen feet without being accosted by them. They target the foreigners, who are easy marks as tourists. And they are incredibly pushy. Like, they almost ruin your evening stroll pushy. Sometimes it's hard to take. 

But you know what's easy to take? Lucy. We put her on her leash (always, it's not really common here, but I'm not willing to lose our tiny dog in a crowd or in the street), and take her with us for our evening walk along the river. And suddenly we're not tourists. Because tourists don't bring their dogs with them to China on vacations. Suddenly our tiny 1.7 kg dog is like an electronic force field, repelling the lady trying to get Michael to buy a flower for me, or the boys to buy a bouncy ball on a stick. It's amazing! Like the ultimate magic trick. 



There are challenges to having a pet abroad, of course. Like finding someone to care for her if we want to go on holiday, taking her downstairs for an early morning walk, and the added expense of regular veterinary care which costs more than human care here. But I could not imagine our experience of living here without the constant presence of this furry friend. Life with Lucy rocks. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Playing the cows home

Though I'm a city girl through and through, I have lived in the country. For two years in middle school I lived about an hour north of Los Angeles in the High Desert on two and a half acres. And then for the four years of high school I lived on a huge spread of land on California's Central Coast in a town that had a population of 123 the day we moved in. Or 127 if you counted my family. Moments after graduating high school I moved by myself back down to Los Angeles where I was born and raised up through the end of 6th grade, and where I fit in far better among my fellow city slickers.

But one thing I did when I lived in the middle of nowhere was to roll down my windows and shout or sing cheerful greetings to the livestock lined up against fences along the country roads. I always felt like they could use a little lift in their otherwise surely monotonous lives. And frankly, I myself was in need of something to lift my own spirits. For my troubles I was often rewarded with a chorus of lowing cattle. Whether they were thanking me or telling me shut up is a mystery. But I did it anyway.

It's good to know I'm not the only person thinking along those lines. Check out this farmer with mad skills on the trombone, greeting the morning (and his cows) with song:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lost in Translation. Again.

Our conveniently located wet market where I would get all my fruit and veg for cheap closed down at the end of last year, leaving me trying out all sorts of other options for produce. Sadly, the stores that I can walk to within about a 6-10 block radius tend to be some of the most expensive for produce, stocking imported organic goods from America or Australia. Which, for some people, is fine. But for us it's out of reach for use on a regular basis.

We've been doing a lot of potlucks and hosting lots of dinners at our house this summer, and it's been challenging to find economical options to feed a crowd. This Monday night we hosted our usual group, and I decided on doing a baked potato bar. Pretty simple, just bake up a bunch of potatoes (scrub, poke 6-7 times with a fork, rub with olive oil and coat with sea salt before baking on the oven rack for an hour at 180 Celsius) and then provide an array of toppings.

I searched online for a grocery which sells russet, or at least large baking potatoes with a thicker skin, and found a site that seemed to fit the bill. They weren't russet potatoes, but Kerr's potatoes, which a quick google said were excellent for baking. So I pulled down the number button and clicked "20" because I figured 20 potatoes would feed a group of ten, and there wasn't a unit of measurement listed on the site. But late Sunday evening, several people in the group texted me to say they wanted to bring a friend, nearly doubling the expected size of our group. Always worried about having enough food, I realized that 20 potatoes wouldn't be enough, so I quick signed onto another online grocer who does same day delivery and ordered another 20 potatoes, at a higher price for the convenience.

Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. my doorbell rang and I met the delivery guy at the door with my cash for the first order. He had an enormous cardboard box which he slid into my doorway. He went his merry way, and I went to lift the box and nearly threw out my back! The box weighed a ton! Confused, I grabbed a pair of scissors to open the box, only to find the entire thing stuffed with potatoes.

I didn't order 20 potatoes.

I ordered 20 kilograms of potatoes.

If you're reading this in America, that is 44 pounds of spuds.


An hour later the doorbell went off again, alerting me to my second delivery of the day, the other order of more expensive potatoes I'd placed when I thought I didn't have enough. In the end, I had almost 200 potatoes. When my non-English-speaking ayi (housekeeper) arrived, I did a brief interpretive dance to try and tell her what had happened, and she basically laughed her head off at me. At the end of the day she left thanking me though, because I sent her home with one full 10kg  bag as seen above. 

The potato bar was a success. And very economical indeed because I didn't balk at the total cost of 44 pounds of potatoes! I'm sure next time I'll save even more money when I order a more appropriate amount. And we were good hosts too, as each of our guests got a parting gift of a small sack of potatoes to go. Despite the generosity, we still have about 40 potatoes.

Right now we feel a little bit like Bubba in Forrest Gump when he was describing all the many ways you can eat shrimp. 



Only we're replacing the word shrimp with potato

At least it wasn't an expensive mistake, like the $100 turkey incident...

Monday, August 4, 2014

Dreams of Tibet

I have wanted to visit Lhasa, Tibet for as long as I can remember. Knowing how close we are here in Shanghai, and that you can take a train across the permafrost to get there makes me crazy with anticipation and longing. But knowing we have a son with congenital heart disease whose cardiologist has not signed off on Ben making the trek to such a high elevation means we've not yet gone. Regardless, I'm drawn to it.


Last week on the Time Out Shanghai website I saw a contest for tickets to an art exhibition of photos of Tibet. With nothing to lose, I put my name in the hat and won! Michael and I headed across the river to LOHAUS, a six-story building built in the 1930's. It's a creative space for events and coworking. Why write that novel in a coffee shop when you can do it in an historic building next to other creatives working on their own artistic endeavors?


On Saturday LOHAUS was hosting photographer Yunyao Shen, a 25 year old man from Shanghai with quite a story. It begins, as many stories do, with a girl. She wowed him on first sight, and suggested he get a digital camera to take photos of her. He thought things were going well, but she then asked if he had a house, which he did not. Sadly, she left him for a man who did have a house. His heart crushed, Shen approached the girl's father, who suggested he go to Tibet and practice his photography there (to get him out of the picture perhaps?). He did, and fell in love. Not with another girl, but with the place. He took lots of photos and gained popularity, eventually taking pics of Tibet for National Geographic.


I love his story, for it was through following his heart (trying to get the girl's attention and affection) he found his dream, his passion. Even more amazing, Shen has a heart issue, and recently had a heart surgery which was deemed a failure as it didn't fix the issue. I got a chance to speak to him about it, telling him how my son's cardiologist won't let him go to Tibet. He said he carries his medication with him at all times, and had a scary moment on a recent trip there when his small group camped out overnight and was being chased by wolves (or possibly a leopard, his English was good, but some things got a little lost in translation). Everyone had to run to get to a safe place, and he said he thought for certain he was going to die because his heart was beating so fiercely and painfully. Yikes! He agreed it is not good for him to go there, but he cannot stay away.

We were VIP's, treated to the first session of the day where Shen spoke about his work. In the photo above where he's speaking, you can see the photo he took of the ex-girlfriend who started him on this journey. She is wearing a Tibetan robe, standing in a grass field, her back to the camera.


The exhibit was on all the floors of the LOHAUS building, with a different theme on each floor. On one floor we got to sample some Tibetan snacks. Everything was dried and preserved. I had a drink of some milk tea instead of the Chilean wine they offered and I really regretted it. I'm not a huge fan of tea or of dairy products, so who knows why I decided to take a big swig of a combo of both? Ugh.


Another floor was set up to evoke the feeling of the Tibetan sky, with prayer flags going up to the ceiling, and some of Shen's photos of the night sky on the walls.


On another floor, there were postcards of all of the photographs in the exhibit. Everyone got to take one and write their own dream on it, along with our mailing address. The next time Shen is in Tibet, he will post them to us. I chose the photo of the Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lama prior to 1959, and Michael chose the photo of the ex-girlfriend. I won't share with you my dream, and I haven't asked Michael what his was. It kind of felt like making a wish on a birthday candle.

Writing dreams on postcards.
Where we left our dreams, to be mailed back to us from Tibet.

On the sixth floor we got to sit for Shen to take our photos, as well as talk to him a little bit. We got to check out his camera as well. The photos he took of the guests will go into a future project. The details were hazy. In the photo below, you can see him down on the ground. The man on the couch had also been to Tibet, and he too has a heart condition. He said his doctor let him go because he could control the condition through medicine taken throughout the day. Sadly, Benjamin has congenital heart disease, a defect of the heart rather than a condition which can be treated with medication. His heart, at sea level, is already working much harder than my heart or yours, so it would put him at serious risk to take him to a place where it would be forced to work even harder. Maybe I can convince the grandparents to come stay here in Shanghai with Ben so Michael and I can go to Tibet? Please?


Yeah, I totally took my photo with the photographer. I feel so short.



The LOHAUS building has a tiny rooftop overlooking the city atop the sixth floor. I loved this view, down into a courtyard showing the nearby roof with bricks and metal to hold down the waterproofing. Over in Pudong on my side of the river everything tends to be much more slick and sleek and new. There's only so much you can do with buildings built in the 1930's when they start aging and leaking without simply tearing them down. 



We make the trek back downstairs to the ground floor. This photo was taken looking straight up to the rooftop skylight.



It was a gorgeous exhibition in an amazing creative space. I feel so fortunate to have won tickets to experience it. As we left, our VIP status earned us some swag, and we got a couple of books, including one of Yunyao Shen's photographs featured in the exhibition, and some goodies from Fujifilm, a sponsor.

And we were all given a bracelet from Tibet, the multi-colored braid highest on my arm (look how well it goes with what I was already wearing!). This especially excited me, as my love for bracelets is documented here, and it's so nice to have some tangible thing from a place I dream of visiting.



After a day of discussing dreams, I am ever hopeful that this is one of my dreams that will indeed come true.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Shanghai Pretty

We live right across the river from this building, the Bund Centre Building. I'm frequently in the neighborhood around it, and have been inside it just once, for a special birthday dinner for my friend Leslie.


Except for its height, it fits in so well with the architecture of the other buildings on the Bund. I was certain it was built close to the turn of the century, like the rest of the Bund buildings, completed in the early end of the 1900's. Today I looked it up, and saw that it was indeed built close to the turn of the century-- just the wrong century! It's actually as new as most of the buildings here on my side of the river! It was completed in 2002, after five years of construction. It houses mostly commercial offices, but it also has some space devoted to the Westin hotel, with rates starting around $170 USD. 

It's one of my favorite buildings in Shanghai, and today as I passed by it I couldn't help to enjoy the view of Shanghai's best summer feature: those elusive blue skies! 

As the sun was setting this evening, I caught a photo of it from my side of the river.


There's been some heavy tropical storms and typhoon warnings in this part of the world, bringing glorious cool winds and huge fluffy clouds to Shanghai. I always say summer is my favorite season. That's easy to say in the perpetual perfection of Southern California. But when the weather is like it currently is in Shanghai, it makes me wish summer lasted forever. Or at least wishing for every day to be just like today, too gorgeous to hold me indoors. Instead I'm laying in bed, waiting for the forecast heavy rain to start and sing me a lullaby to sleep. Tomorrow will be an indoor day for certain.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Oh Daiso!

I recently read somewhere online that there is a Daiso store in Shanghai. Daiso is basically a Japanese dollar store. Our community in Los Angeles is home to many Japanese dollar stores, but I never visited a Daiso. In Macau however, Daiso was my favorite place to find all the stuff I didn't know I needed! There was a small one in Taipa and a huge one on the Macau peninsula. I frequented both regularly. And of course they can be found all over Japan.

Tonight Michael and I left the boys home with pizza and crossed the river for some fun in Puxi. We tried out a new restaurant, and then wandered around the Former French Concession area for about an hour and a half in our quest to spend more time away from the "America Town" area further inland on our side of the river.

At one point during our stroll, I looked up to see the Daiso storefront, and we quickly crossed the street and took a flight of stairs down to the basement which held all the amazing products I have missed since leaving Japan and Macau, and even Los Angeles. 


Everything in the store is 10 RMB, close to a buck fifty. I think I showed pretty good restraint considering how everything in the shop was just so darned cute! 


We're saving up funds for something big in September, so I limited myself to only getting things I have a use for now. I have an art project ready to get started with one of my purchases. Can't hardly wait!


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Seaside Horseback Riding in China

My Mom was one of those girls obsessed with horses. She didn't get one until she was an adult though. She and my Dad both had one, and the story goes that one was sold when I was born, and then the second one was sold when my little brother came along. Horses are expensive! When I was in middle school we lived on a plot of 2.5 acres about an hour north of Los Angeles.  Since we had the space, my Mom gave me what she always wanted growing up, a horse of my own.

I loved my horse, a huge and gorgeous Morgan. She was a pro who'd done both western and English style riding, barrel racing and dressage (jumping), parades and even some police work. Nothing ever spooked her, not even coming across an angry rattlesnake on a trail, which she gingerly stepped around while my companions' horses bolted and jumped every which way, nearly tossing their riders. While the other girls in my community worked with their horses every day to get them to listen to their cues, my horse Chela (CHEE-la), made me look awesome without any effort on my part. This is a good thing, because I was not one of those girls obsessed with horses, so hard work would have meant less love for Chela. Not that taking care of a horse is easy! But she made it worth the effort. All this to say that when I heard about an opportunity to go ride horses on the seashore, I was extremely excited about the opportunity to get back in the saddle.

We were promised a day riding horseback by the sea on a small island. Small is relative... the island was 25 square miles, which is still larger than Macau which only claims 18 square miles. We went to Hengsha Island via car, about a two hour drive plus ferry ride from my home in downtown Shanghai. To see how far we went, see the map below. We live right about where the * is before the word Home, and we went to the squarish island about where the * is after the word Island.


Just so you get an idea of how big Shanghai is, everything you see in the photo above on the right side of that lake on the bottom left is part of Shanghai. The bright blue is the end of the Yangtze River, and the islands you see in the mouth of the river leading out into the East China Sea are alluvial islands, made up of silt flowing down the river. Much of the island we visited was marshy land with very low buildings. No high rise towers to be found. 

To get there we took a tunnel under the river to the long skinny island, and then our van drove right onto a ferry boat which took us across to Hengsha Island. I've been on many a boat and in many a van, but never in a van while on a boat! 
The ferry boat pulling up to the pier.
Waiting our turn to drive onto the ferry boat.

We drove the length of the island to get to the ranch, which sits in a hotel resort filled with these little villas. Knowing we were on an island, I immediately had flashbacks to the television show LOST and the camp of the Others. Michael got a card from the front desk, because we have to go back, Kate!


We unloaded from the van, used the facilities (squatty potties), and then got suited up. We were outfitted in nifty leg chaps, which proved to be very useful while riding through the marshes, and helmets. Side note: helmets are a must with horses. My friend Sue who I've known for 25+ years has worked professionally with horses her entire adult life, and preaches helmet wearing like a revival tent reverend. She was recently thrown from a horse, badly damaged her body, but would not be here today were it not for the helmet she was wearing. Helmets, people. Not just for bikes!

Our group was small, just ten people. We were joined for the day by our friends Riza (left) and Lirie (right), both from the Philippines and working here in Shanghai for Citibank. They both love adventure, and not knowing if this was going to be a crazy awesome trip or just a crazy trip, I was hesitant to invite anyone along. But knowing Riza and I share the same philosophy (it's always a great day as long as you get a story out of it), I made sure she came.  

We were quickly paired up with horses and given some basic instruction. It took no time at all for me to remember my lessons from so very long ago. My body, however, did not quite respond in such an agile way as it did when I was fourteen!

We went on two hour-long rides, with a lunch break in the middle. We rode through the LOST village up a steep bank to a hole in a fence leading down to the marshes.


When I saw the hole, I thought, "Are we really going through there?" We did indeed. And yes, my hair is really that red right now (and the heat+sweat made my face that same color most of the day as well). 

Coming down on the other side of the hole in the fence. The horses didn't balk at it one bit. The same cannot be said for the humans!


We started our ride through the marshland, and gratitude for the leg chaps was immediately felt as the water and mud kicked up. It was a hot and humid day, but the cloud cover kept the direct sun off of us, and the breezes from the sea were quite cooling. 





We rode alongside a dam, and saw lots of wildlife, including noisy water-jumping frogs, goats, cranes, and a herd of cows who were giving us some serious stink-eye as we went past. 




Michael on a horse:


You could tell these horses are used to doing this route, because we got to a certain point and every single one of them stopped, paused, and then made a wide arc to head back. 

My horse and Michael's horse were not friends. They refused to stay together. I think the photo I took of Michael above and the photo Michael took of me below were the only two times we ever got close to each other!





After the first ride, we went for a five minute drive to a restaurant. There was absolutely nothing about the place which would indicate it was a restaurant. No sign, very out of the way location, and looking quite like a traditional house. But it had a few tables and air conditioning, so we ate what they put in front of us. It had a traditional flushing western toilet, so it got the seal of approval from my legs, which were quite like jelly after an hour of riding.

Michael, me, Riza, Lirie, Francois, and Marion.
We walked around the immediate area for half an hour, peering onto the porches and yards of the houses in the neighborhood. Most had small gardens growing produce to feed their own families.


After lunch it was time for our second ride. We went a different direction, straight out toward the East China Sea. We went through the shallow marsh land again, before riding along some higher ground.


The horses spread out quite a bit, and mine drifted toward the back, where I got lost in daydreams. Until the coach bringing up the rear would shout "Jia!" and my horse would break into a trot. Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I tried posting, going up and down in a pattern with the trot, but my stirrups were a bit short, and my knees were a bit, um, well, they're just getting older like the rest of me. Ouch.


We finally rode right up to the sea wall, where the horses lined up to let us admire the view. All the photos I took out toward the sea look like a wall of grey. But the breeze was amazing, and I really didn't want to turn around to go back.



But alas, we had to return. And sadly, those glorious sea breezes were now at our back. Which meant my bright red face began to drip sweat as though it was a rain cloud. It was not a good look for me, and everyone who saw me exclaimed about how red my face was. Yeaaaaah. That happens. A lot actually, since my surgery. I think my face must be jealous of all the attention my fiery red hair gets, and wants in on that action. 

The photo below was taken at the sea wall above, looking back at our starting point/destination, which is the horizon line. My heart sank when I saw how far we had to go to return, and how pokey-little-pony my horse was being. I don't think he wanted to return either. 


But eventually we made it back, where we were treated to watermelon which was grown just a few meters away. After we had our fill, the horses decided they wanted some too, and moved in for a sweet treat.



All in all, an extremely fun day. Just wish I wasn't so painfully paying for it now!


Trip booking details can be found here.