Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Digital Footprint 4-Ever

In my Q & A post I wrote about how I'd indeed made friends with people I'd met online. I think that is really easy to do when you're an expat in a foreign country. As a foreign resident of a city far from home, many people will Google the city and come up with a list of blogs authored by people living there. I know I have done it, many times. Sometimes it's helpful, sometimes it's not. I strive to be helpful, but I also don't want to sugarcoat the challenges I face on a daily basis living abroad. However, I also don't use this space to air all my grievances, and believe me, some days I have a lot. But it's not a good idea to lay your dirty laundry out for all the world wide web to see. It's a small world, after all. Case in point:

Last night I came across the blog of someone I have personally never met, but someone who is part of one of the many circles I'm a part of here. In most of her posts, she spews anger and shares every bit of her thoughts on what is wrong with Shanghai and saves some choice words for her husband's company (which she doesn't name, but I know where he works). In the most recent post, she mocks a group of friends. She is not a teenager, and her blog is not on Tumblr (which tends to be pretty unfiltered and raw), so I'm assuming she knows her words can and will be read by people in Shanghai, and perhaps even the exact people she refers to. After all, I found it, without directly looking for it really.

My head was spinning, wondering if I should contact her, and if I did, if it would help. After all, if I got criticism from a complete stranger, even if it was polite and caring, would it change my way of doing things? Probably not. I'm stubborn so I'd probably dig in even deeper. While I don't really believe in karma, I think things will likely come back around and she'll figure this all out on her own. Hopefully without major repercussions.

This situation brings to mind how the digital world is now that permanent record the principal warned us of in our young school days. I came across myself of 17 years ago on the web recently, some shadow of a job board which has my name, address, and phone number (from 13+ moves ago) when I was trying to get more work as a PA in the film industry. The actual site where I'm listed is long gone, but there's the record of the former site, still in a cache online.

A photographer friend of mine recently went to Vietnam, and when he thought he was transferring photos off his memory stick, he was actually deleting them. He was devastated, of course. Who wouldn't be? But arriving back in Shanghai, another friend of his was able to still extract those deleted files, and the photos were saved. Which tells me that nothing in the digital world is really ever truly deleted, gone forever, safe from the eyes of future (or current!) employers or schools.

In years past, I remember feeling some pity for childhood stars who grow up awkwardly in the public eye, where every pimple, wardrobe malfunction, and bad break up became news. In my eyes, the lack of privacy in those formative years was stunning. However, today anyone and everyone can have that same lack of privacy thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and a dozen other online social platforms which we ourselves use to put everything out there. It's strange to see movies like The Truman Show go from feeling like a cautionary tale in 1998 to something many people aspire to in 2014. What will another 16 years from now look like in 2030? And how do I even prepare my sons to be cautious and protect their images now against whatever future technology is waiting to enter the world stage?

Just this week I came across a paper journal my oldest son has been keeping for three years, ever since we moved to Macau. He'd torn out every page and ripped them into small pieces and shoved it in a drawer to hide it from me, afraid of what my reaction would be if I found it. I didn't disappoint in my complete shock over what he'd done. When questioned, he said he didn't want it anymore, didn't want anyone to have access to the private thoughts and feelings on the pages. Though I'm devastated by what he did (none of us ever read it, but I do encourage both kids to get their feelings out in words and drawings in journals, and I treasure my own crazy journals from my teenage years), I think I need to use it as a teachable moment, and share how putting those thoughts and feelings (and photos) online means never having the option to ever rip up and destroy those words at some future point.

And may this also be a polite and gentle reminder to everyone that nothing we ever do online remains unseen. In the illustrious words of rapper Ice Cube, check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Spare Oom

We're nearing the two year mark in Shanghai. In all this time, we've had only two sets of guests. Compare that with Macau, which saw our guest suite filled at least once a month. So, in a wild stroke of genius, fueled by the frustration of having a room with a huge king size bed that we could not use for anything but sleeping, we asked the landlord to remove the bed so we could transform it into something else. We took to calling it Narnia (because you get into it from the Spare Oom), and intended to use it as a creative space for us to work on art projects and sew without having to use the dining room table (which we are terribly old fashioned and actually use to eat meals around). It was a brilliant idea! 

However! Out of the blue we now how guests lined up to stay with us every single month through the end of summer. So, we're frantically trying to turn the space back into a spare room used for sleeping. We've got tons of air mattresses and foam mattresses which, as I mentioned, got lots of use in Macau (our record was eight guests in one night!), so we should be able to make it work. Speaking of work, I better get on it. Our first set of guests arrive the day we get back from Tokyo! Lots to do, as you can see from the photo above! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Crazy Russians in Shanghai

So there is this footage of a pair of Russian daredevils who hopped a fence onto the construction site of the tallest building in China and then climbed all the way to the top, without any safety equipment. This building happens to be a block from my house. Here's a photo of the Shanghai Tower taken from my lobby entrance:

The building on the right with the hole in it is the Shanghai World Financial Center, and it was the tallest building in China (and second tallest in the world) until the Shanghai Tower came along to leave it in the shadows. During Chinese New Year, everything shuts down, including the construction of the Shanghai Tower, which usually goes on round the clock. So it was easy for these two lunatics to climb a fence and gain access - there was no one around.

Here's a still photograph taken by these guys from the tippy-top of one of those red cranes, free of any rope or harness, looking down onto the Shanghai World Financial Center:

Yeah, it totally makes me wanna barf. Which is why I cannot bring myself to watch the video below in its entirety, which is a 5 minute documentation of their climb to the top over a 24 hour period. I have a thing about heights. We don't agree. But I'm posting it here because my husband and sons have watched it, along with all my friends in Shanghai, and thought you might want to see it too. If you don't have a thing about heights that is! (Email subscribers, please click through to the site to view the video!)

Here is a link to some still photos they took, and here is an interview with the daredevils on how they did it and why. I'm guessing security has been beefed up a little since this took place...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Shang-High-Noon, Week 7

Q & A

It's Tuesday again, which means there will be another Shang-High-Noon post today. I realize my blog is filling up with these photos of the sky at noon and I'm not getting much else posted. I'm also realizing that documenting the days and posting each week is making me far more mindful of the rapid passing of life! Yikes, this year is speeding along!

I have so many posts in draft form, but with the photo-posting issue I'm continuing to have, they aren't ready to go yet. Thankfully, I have had a photo-free proposition placed before me this morning, and I'm taking it.

One of my favorite blogs to read is Asia Vu. It's written by MsCaroline, who spent her childhood abroad and then settled in nicely in America, only to find her husband had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to head to South Korea for a couple of years for an interesting career opportunity. So, she's off in expatland again with her own two sons, experiencing deja vu, or as her blog title indicates, Asia Vu! She posted one of those Q&A posts and then tossed the ball to me. I'm not going to toss the ball to anyone else (sorry), but I'll answer the questions she lobbed in my direction.

1.  Where is the one place you have lived that you remember most fondly and why?

Tokyo, Japan, hands down. We're actually heading there in one week and cannot wait. We moved there with our ten week old firstborn son, to a suburb where there were little to no foreigners who spoke my language. My husband worked long hours, and our baby was colicky and moody unless I'd strap him to my chest and explore the city all day, every day. I quickly picked up the language due to my hunger to communicate with anyone over the age of one year, and with no mom or grandma or auntie there to help me, I learned how to be an intuitive and confident mother. It's a place that changed me most, and I would absolutely move back and live there the rest of my life without a moment's hesitation. 

2.  Is there anything you don't/won't cook?  (I, for example, loathe liver and just don't cook it.  Ever.)

I spent a summer in the former USSR while in high school. At an impressionable age, I saw people eat parts of animals which are not consumed in my native America. It put me on the road to roughly six years of being a vegetarian. While marrying my husband put a end to my non-meat-eating ways, I still to this day have a very rough reaction to handling any type of meat products. Living in China doesn't help, where once again I am in a place where delicacies include parts of animals which are not on most menus in America. I will never, ever cook anything with shrimp or shellfish due to a miserable and itchy allergy, and since chocolate gives me migraines, I don't cook with chocolate. Even the smell of a chocolate cake baking in the oven causes a terrible headache, so no chocolate. 
3.  Have you heard the song, "Let it Go" from the movie 'Frozen' and, if so, do you like it?

The movie Frozen actually just arrived ten days ago here in Shanghai. So we've not seen it a huge number of times like many people. And Disney pays our rent, so I feel somewhat obligated to like everything they do! But the truth is, I love Idina Menzel, the voice of Queen Elsa who sings the song "Let it Go." She has a powerful voice and does the song justice. And in looking at the lyrics, I really resonate with the idea of moving forward and leaving the past in the past. There is some sadness there, so it's not completely in the realm of the happily ever after fairy tale. It's the last line that slays me though - the cold never bothered me anyway. Of course she could be talking about the snow and ice, but I think she's talking about the cold shoulder the townspeople gave her upon discovering her chilly gift. And I don't think she means that that never bothered her. Of course it did... I think she's talking herself into believing it. Maybe I like the song more than I thought I did when I first started writing this? It's growing on me. Though this morning I did read a pretty scathing review of the song, saying it's quite controversial. There's always something...

4.  What is one political or social issue that drives you crazy when people talk about it? (you don't have to give your opinion, just tell what the issue is.)

Hmm... well, I do live in a Communist country where my blog is censored to anyone accessing the internet within its borders unless you have a VPN. I don't want to be too controversial and make things any more difficult on myself than it already is. So this is what I will say to answer: Voltaire said, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." I have often thought of that quote when speaking with someone whose opinions were different from mine. Sadly, I'm seeing the pendulum swinging the other direction, where people are more than happy to publicly ridicule and crucify anyone who doesn't agree 100% with their strongly held beliefs. We're happy to be "tolerant" when tolerance is held back unless we are exactly the same. Personally, I cannot stand the word tolerance. We tolerate a fever, we tolerate the bitter cold winter, we tolerate our bratty little brother. Who wants someone to tolerate them? I personally take the stand that I want to be about love instead of tolerance. All we need is love, not tolerance. And an active way to love someone is to be respectful of viewpoints which are nothing like our own. I confess I am tested on this every single day here in China, which is so incredibly different from the country of my birth (go re-read the first sentence of this paragraph!). 

5. Have you ever made a friend first through blogging/online and only afterwards met her(him) in person? If so, how did you finally meet?

This has happened countless times. While living and writing in Macau, people who were thinking about a move there would Google it and my last blog (Wandering Macau) would pop up. I had many, many emailed conversations with people who had miles of questions. I still get at least one email a month on the subject! For all the people I emailed who made the move to Macau while we still lived there, I was able to meet up for coffee. Some went on to be good friends. I got recognized a lot in the grocery store as well. It's a small place. Here in Shanghai I met someone whose daughter was coming here to teach. He emailed back and forth with me for months and then when he came to visit his daughter and grandsons, we all met up for coffee. I've since hung out with the daughter several times. And check back after we go visit South Korea and hopefully meet up with MsCaroline and family! 

6.  Do  you speak more than one language fluently? If so, how did you learn it? 

The sad thing about living in a foreign country is that I feel like I'm losing my ability to speak my first language fluently! But the truth is this, when it comes to language, if you don't use it, you lose it. I studied Spanish in high school and college and could carry on a passable conversation. I can still somewhat read it, which came in helpful in Macau where one of the official languages is Portuguese. Portuguese sounds nothing like Spanish, but many, many words are spelled very similarly, so it helped on more than one occasion. In Japan, I picked up Japanese quickly because I could go two weeks without hearing anyone but my husband speak to me in English, and only then late at night when he was tired after a long day of work. I had a private tutor three days a week, and a baby who was restless at home. Going out meant interacting with people who only spoke Japanese, and seeing signs which were only in Japanese, not Roman letters that I could sound out. So yes, I became fluent-ish in Japanese. Upon our return to America, I didn't speak a word of it for six years. Sad that I'd lost something I'd spent so much time and effort on, I enrolled in the local community college to take a course of Japanese. I got an A+. We'll see how much I remember when we arrive in Tokyo next week!

7.  If you grew up in a religious household, do you still practice the same religion you grew up with? If not, do you practice a different religion, or no religion at all? 

I did grow up in a family which practices a faith, and still practice that faith today. Owing to my location in the world (see first sentence of question number four), I'm not really going to expand on that here. 

8.  Do you get regular mani/pedis? If not, do you:  a)get them occasionally; b) do your own or c) settle for keeping your nails neat and clean without worrying about painting them. 

I've had three professional manicures in my entire life, the last one being the day before my wedding, nearly 18 years ago. It's not my thing, I work too much with my hands, which means polish chips quickly. But pedicures? This is my one big indulgence. I've been getting a pedicure every few weeks for the last decade. Living in Los Angeles, you can wear sandals year round. Close to the same in Hong Kong and Macau. Here in Shanghai, however, I can't handle the cold, so I don't bother getting a pedi in the winter all that often. But here in Asia, even the simplest (and cheapest) of pedicures take an hour and come with a foot and leg massage. The loooooow prices reduce any guilt over indulging myself here.

9.  Where was the most awful vacation/holiday you have ever taken? What made it so awful  - the location, or the circumstances? Would you go back and try it again under different circumstances?

As long as I've been able to extract an excellent story from the experience, I can say with all honesty that I've never once had an awful vacation/holiday in my life. I live for adventure and love to laugh, and while sometimes in the middle of a challenging situation it's hard to find the laughter, time always brings the funny to light. I will say our most recent trip to Europe included an unexpected 24 hour period where were guests of the State in the Russian Federation, and that was shockingly awful for many reasons (never, ever put your allergy medication in your checked luggage people!), but one of these days you will benefit from our misfortune, so I can't complain too much. And I say yes, I would go back. Michael, however, does not share my opinion on the matter.

10.  Have you been watching the Olympics? If so, which events do you enjoy watching the most?

Nope. Not even a minute of it. Is it still going on? I did see the photos circulating the web of the Olympic housing, and it reminded me that I shouldn't complain about the challenges of living here in Shanghai. True story: when we left Macau, Michael was also in talks for a position in Sochi, Russia. So if Disney hadn't made their firm offer first, we might be living in a house with no door knob or an unexpected pool in the lobby of our apartment complex. 

11. Where is one place you haven't yet visited but would absolutely love to go someday?

The Rose Clan has a castle in Scotland built in 1460 which is the oldest castle still tenanted by a descendant of the original clan other than the British royal family's castles. I have planned and cancelled three separate trips to Scotland to visit my family's ancestral home near Loch Ness, part of which had been turned into a bed and breakfast. My grandparents went and many of my cousins have gone. I don't think it was as meaningful for them as it would be for me, simply because that castle has formed a huge part of my identity since I was a young child, and the family name of Rose is incredibly meaningful to me. I was shocked to find recently that the 25th Baroness of the Rose clan had passed away a year ago and they've shut up the castle to the public. A new Baron has been named, a nephew of the late Elizabeth Rose. We had hoped to make a trip there within the next two years, and now I'm uncertain whether it will ever happen. As far as any other place I've not yet visited, the only remaining place on my "bucket list" is to go to Lhasa in Tibet. I can actually board a train here in Shanghai which goes across the permafrost on the Trans-Siberian Railway and arrives in Tibet a week later. Unfortunately, the elevation is too high to safely bring our heart patient son Ben with us, and currently you must have a visa with a minimum of four travelers to enter the region. So we must wait for an optimal time when we have someone to take Ben in for a couple of weeks and convince someone to come with us. Visiting any other place in the world that I've not yet been to is simply strawberry sauce on my perfectly delicious sundae of life! 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Transnational Adoption and Third Culture Kids

American sociologist David C. Pollock has described Third Culture Kids (or TCK's) as "a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background."

It's a term bandied about repeatedly in expat circles, and our family certainly fits the definition. Even when we were most recently living in America, the country we were all born in, Nathan's best friend was an expat from Burma and Ben's closest buddy was on a two year assignment from Australia. Despite having never lived in either of those two places, my boys felt most comfortable with other kids who shared a common experience with them, rather than the kids who were born and raised in the school's neighborhood. 

I've shared many, many posts from my friend Rory's blog, Chocolate Hair / Vanilla Care, which talks about transracial adoption among other things. But today I want to point you to a different blog, that of Stephanie Rosic, who authors the blog Blended, which talks about the same topic. No, no, before you get ahead of yourself, we are not currently in the process of adopting a child here in China, or anywhere else for that matter! However, our dear friends the Bradens, have adopted two children in the past. Glen recently contributed a post about his experience with not just transnational adoption, but also in raising those kids as Third Culture Kids, outside not only their country of birth, but their passport country as well. 

The Bradens and Chases conquer Disneyland Paris!

My kids have grown up parallel to the Braden kids over the past decade and we most recently saw them in London on our October holiday (more posts still to come!). They are the closest thing to family who are actually not really related (in fact, I have to continually remind myself that Glen is not actually my real life brother, and Kristine is not actually the sister I never had!). I love and respect them immensely and I'm so grateful Glen took the time to share a part of their story! Please click here to go directly to his column on Stephanie's Blended blog. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Shang-High-Noon, Week 6

Wow, what a gloomy week! We did have snow flurries two of the days. In fact, it was actually snowing in the photo on the 5th day, so the third photo down on the left side has some dark spots, which are snowflakes falling on my phone (and face!).

I've been uploading the photos from my phone on the Blogger app, since I'm having so much trouble with Blogger on my computer. However, in doing so, I've noticed the colors are far more saturated than they are on my phone or on the computer when the photo is saved there. This one is a little more accurate. I think using Internet Explorer is the problem, I can't upload any photos while using it. This one was done using Google Chrome, which is good, but a different and more laborious experience than I'm used to. Oh well, here's to change, right? And here's hoping next week we'll see a change to more blue skies! 

The Lumineers in Shanghai

This morning my throat is raw and sore. But it's in that state due to screaming and singing along at the Lumineers concert last night, so I guess that's okay!

As much as I loved Macau, it had so few choices for live music or stage productions. We'd take the ferry to Hong Kong every other month to catch any big tours that came through town. The performing arts in Shanghai are closer to the Los Angeles scene, we're only limited for choice by what our funds will allow!

I'm a sucker for singer/songwriters, and the Lumineers (singers of the played-to-infinity song Ho Hey, to which the crowd went wild over the "took a bus to Chinatown" lyric) fit the bill perfectly.

They played at a small venue and tickets sold out early. We purchased our within minutes of finding out about the performance. They'd advertised tickets would be sold at the door, so a line was forming up the three flights of stairs at the Mao Livehouse, filled with hopeful people who would ultimately be disappointed.

We got there early, and managed to be right at the front with a group of teenagers we know. Which would account for the sore throat... if you're standing in a group of screaming teens, you must scream along, right? Here's a photo our friend took from the loft right at the start. I'm the red head in the center, a few heads below the lead singer's foot. Michael is to my direct right.

Since we were at the front, I could see the set list taped to the floor in front of me. My favorite song of theirs is Submarines, and I was sorely disappointed to not see it on the list. So my screaming started immediately when they actually opened the show with that song! Hooray! 

It was a great night. They sounded just like their album, and played their hearts out. I did make lots of awkward eye contact with Jeremiah Fraites, the band's percussionist and the one always sporting the suspenders. He can play the tambourine, which makes him my favorite (I have no rhythm and can't even clap and sing simultaneously with any success, so I hold lots of admiration for those who can). 

The Rolling Stones are playing Shanghai next month. We're practicing our moves like Jagger. So much to see here!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Shangh-High-Noon, Week 5

We had some pretty high pollution this week, despite the holiday of Chinese New Year where everything is supposed to shut down. The massive amount of firecrackers probably didn't help the air quality at all!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

No place like home

We're in the midst of the Chinese New Year holiday, where the country shuts down and locals travel to their home villages and expats head off to warm Southeast Asian beaches. Still recovering financially from our October European holiday, we're just staying put, enjoying time with friends in town and having Michael home with us for ten days. 

Today we woke to temperatures in the mid-60's, and after a leisurely breakfast and a quick call to America to talk to Michael's Mom, we took a stroll along the Huangpu River which flanks our home. The boys brought their bikes and our dog came along for the fun too. We headed toward the more touristy area across from the Bund, and joined in the parade of visitors here from other parts of China who were all wide-eyed with wonder at the tall buildings (and the lone foreign family with two boys and a tiny poodle). 

Nathan and Ben pointed out the subtle differences of the Chinese people who were clearly not local (or transplanted locals) to Shanghai. The thick, padded, fur-lined coats, bulky and utilitarian footwear, choppy haircuts, rounder, redder, and sun-and-wind burned faces spoke of people who live closer to the land in places without the comfort of central heat and air. 

As we walked slowly with the awestruck horde of visitors, I felt bubbles of pride welling up within me. I'm such a hardcore California girl, and even more so, an Angeleno... a person who calls Los Angeles their hometown. That will always be true of me, even if we never again actually live in Los Angeles. But today I felt that this place, this city of Shanghai, was home. My home, my city. Not just yet another zip code on the long list of places we've used as a return address on letters. 

As I saw all the tourists snapping photos of the part of this city I see every day from my sofa, I felt so proud to actually live here. In 2013 I struggled mightily to find my place here. It was really the first time I've felt that way anywhere in the world. I'm normally a location chameleon, able to blend and fit in anywhere with great haste and ease. But not here. 

As the year was drawing to a close, I felt twinges of regret that I'm wasting away this precious time. I was born with a craving for adventure, and all I could focus on was the yucky taste in my mouth Shanghai (or Shanghai's pollution) was giving me, instead of grasping the opportunity to explore and discover new things. Enter attitude adjustment, stage right. 

Nothing whatsoever about our situation has changed, but pushing the negativity away meant focusing on the positive. And focusing on the positive means that the stunning and unexpected warm day, during a season when snowflakes fell from the sky last year, made me nearly well up with tears of deep gratitude for this day, this neighborhood, this city, this home

We had a casual gathering of close friends over last night, a full house of thirteen. As I chopped veggies in the kitchen, I looked up to see some people snoozing on the couch, kids playing on the floor, everyone comfortable enough to root through the cupboards to find a glass or a spoon and helping themselves to what they needed. No formality, no ceremony, no orchestration, just casual contentment surrounding me.

It's hard for me to exactly articulate the feeling of peacefulness which washed over me last night and again today during our walk, but this is close: if home is where the heart is, these are the people who hold a large part of it. This is the place which, for better or worse, increases my pulse. This is a moment in time I will be homesick for when our zip code changes again. God willing, that won't be for a long, long time.

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