Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Countdown

There are three big events on the horizon! Star Wars, my birthday, and Christmas! 


Star Wars episode VII won't actually release in China until the end of January 2016. There is no way we would be able to go six weeks without having the film spoiled for us. So our big family Christmas gift this year is to pluck the boys from school (the don't get a break for Christmas) and fly down to Hong Kong where we have tickets to see it the day it opens there, December 17. Fun fact, it doesn't open in America until December 18. And fun-er fact, we're a day ahead of America here, so it's actually like we get to see it two days before America. Do I sound a little braggy? Yeah. But let me. Most every film that comes to China arrives 4-24 weeks later than the rest of the world, if at all. So please indulge me my excitement of being able to see our most highly anticipated film since Les Miserables early. And actually, we did the same thing when Les Mis came out, we flew down to see it in Hong Kong for Christmas of 2012. It didn't arrive in Shanghai until July of 2013! 

It's not all about Star Wars though, tonight in our creative group, The Playground, we made Advent calendars to countdown to Christmas.


So excited that it's finally December again!


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Pumpkin Everything Season


I love pumpkin everything. But the only pumpkin anything you can get in Shanghai would be pumpkin soup (which I love and the rest of the family doesn't care for). There was that one time I ordered pumpkin cheesecake, and got chunks of pumpkin pulp mixed into a savory cheese mixture (after one bite it was disposed of). I did find some decorative pumpkins in the store yesterday, and joked that this was our urban pumpkin patch. 


At least the pomelos (a citrus fruit common to south east Asia) were getting into the spirit of this time of year:


They look like little scarecrows! 

All of you Americans reading this, please go have a pumpkin spice doughnut from Krispy Kreme followed by a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks in my honor and remember how lucky you are to have never had the combo of cheddar and pumpkin pulp anywhere near your tastebuds! 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Time Hop

There's this wonderful app called Timehop which shows you everything you've posted on any social media site on this day in the past. It's a little bittersweet and a whole lot of awesome.

Some days there's nothing to see... for whatever reason there was nothing at all worth posting about on a particular day. And other days it's filled with photos and status updates and links and all sorts of things that show a little slice of my public history. Here's today, screen grabs from my phone in the Timehop app:










Pretty cool, right? And funny that on this day in the last five years I was actually in five different countries... Five years ago-America, four years ago-Macau, three years ago-Shanghai (no photo, just a status update), two years ago-France, and one year ago-Hong Kong. The only insight I can give you about why this particular day has been filled with so many countries would be that the first week of October is "Golden Week" for China, a week of public holidays where everyone is off work and school and it doesn't count against your accrued vacation time. So many people spend this week traveling. Except us, this year. We're broke having just paid the boys' tuition. But a week of just hanging out at home is good too. 

What I really want to draw your attention to in this post is what happened two years ago today. The second photo above. Here's the full photo:


2013 was our Year of The Mouse, where we went to all the Disney theme parks, world wide, in one year. When Michael, Nathan, and I stepped into Disneyland Paris (seen above), the three of us could claim we'd been to all of the Parks. But Ben had to wait a few more months until we went to Japan and took him to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, as he'd not yet been born when we lived in Japan and so couldn't say he'd been there. 

But why I'm writing this post, and why I think this app is so bittersweet, is that this week, two years ago, was the last time that Nathan, my firstborn child, was shorter than me. We came back home to Shanghai from a week in Paris and London, and I noticed that when I stood eye to eye with Nathan, his eyes were actually looking down at me. We measured him, and sure enough, he was taller than me. 

I always believed it was Pixie Dust and Disney magic which kept you from growing up. But I guess it does nothing to keep you from growing taller. Now, Nathan is six feet tall, and even looks down at his Dad. He's the tallest member of the Chase side of the family, and on the Rose side only my "little" brother and two cousins are taller than him. Nathan turns 15 next month, and he's definitely not done growing yet. Ben is creeping up there, but to walk in Nathan's footsteps and overtake me by the time he turns 13, he'll have to grow three inches in the next nine months. He says he's up the task. Cheeky. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Back to School, Shanghai Style

Hey! It's been a minute. Sorry about that. I was sucking up every last second of summer. Yep, the big news around here is that school has resumed. I've never really written about our school choice here in Shanghai, but Hong Kong's daily newspaper, the South China Morning Post has. Literally. Look:


Yep, that's my family! I subscribe to SCMP's feed on Facebook, and I'll tell you it was ALL SORTS of weird to see our smiling faces show up when I was scrolling through before bed last night.

Would you like to read the article? Click here.

And just for fun, here's our first day of school photos. Or, more accurately, our day before the first day of school photos. We dropped the boys off at the dormitories the night before school started, so no lovely smiling faces in their smart uniforms to go in the scrapbook. Or, on the blog, because I'm not the scrapbooking type!

 

The boys walking on campus with their suitcases. The big red banner was only up for the first week of school. 


In lieu of an actual first day of school photo, this is a just-finished-moving-into-the-dorm photo (they were saying "hurry up and take the stupid photo, Mommmm!" I took a photo of them against this same wall at the beginning and end of last year as well, to mark their growth. Hopefully they don't paint away that line and I can capture them on the last day here too.



And then this is us and our sad faces, waiting for a taxi to take us home, after leaving the kids on campus. 

The good thing about the particular boarding school the kids attend is that it's just a bit over an hour away from our house, so they do come home on the weekends. Good practice for a few years from now when they're off to college (likely in a different country than wherever we're living).

I'll do a longer school-centric post soon. I started one some time ago and never got to it! 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Go for Faux

China is the land of fakes, knock-offs, and copies. There are a million places you can search to find articles and stories about this (start here, here, or here). I've found that you absolutely get what you pay for. Your Ambercromble & Filch sandals for $3 will fall apart, and likely at the most inopportune time. But then again, I have a Faux-lex Rolex watch purchased in 2005 in Hong Kong which still keeps time...

For the most part, I avoid the fakes, because I don't particularly like shopping and the places where you would go to buy the fakes require you to haggle and bargain, which takes me from simply disliking shopping right into the land of hating it.

I confess I did buy that Faux-lex watch, along with a really great copy of a Luis Vuitton handbag back in 2005 in Hong Kong, and I mainly did it for the experience. Riding in an elevator with a guy holding a walkie-talkie, then down a dimly lit hall into a tiny apartment stuffed with fake handbags really late at night... It was crazy and slightly dangerous and a little bit fun. But having done it one time did not whet my appetite for more. And the fate of the handbag? I gave it to a friend, who in turn gave it to another friend and now who knows where it's at. It was actually such a good copy that I began to fear someone would steal it off my chair at lunch or mug me for it, so I really only ever used it half a dozen times (and got half a dozen compliments each and every time). Plus, I'm not a luxury goods type of girl. A luxury travel type of girl? Yes, oh YES. But stuff is stuff and as long as what I have makes me happy and is useful, a label isn't going to raise my enjoyment of it.

But there is one China fake which I'm currently enjoying and even dragging other people to experience. My most popular blog post of all time is the one I wrote about In-N-Out Burger in Hong Kong. It gets, on average, 15 hits per day. I just googled "Is there an In-N-Out in Hong Kong?" and my blog post from back in 2012 was the #8 result. Sweet right? And clearly, I am not the only one who dreams of Double-Doubles here in Asia. And while In-N-Out has done a few pop-up experiences (my post mentions the first they tried here), there are no plans to actually open a real one. Cue the fake one...


Welcome to my new happy place, CaliBurger. 

There are actually three CaliBurgers in Shanghai, and the one in the photo above is a dangerous and delicious ten minute walk from my doorstep. CaliBurger first opened here in Shanghai, and then spread to Hong Kong, the Philippines, and is now opening soon in America. They aren't shy about saying that it was In-N-Out that inspired them, and they have faced some litigation (which doesn't seem to have stopped them from opening new shops). 

Their menu is similar, but with added, non-beef options (see it here). And instead of "animal style" fries, they have "wild style" fries. Plus, they sell alcohol, including boozy milkshakes (we sampled the booze-free selection). 

But how does it taste? Granted, my last authentic In-N-Out Burger experience was six months ago. But I'd say it was very, very tasty. It's also similarly economic in price starting at about $5 for a combo with a fountain drink and fries, as compared to other burger joints that charge $15+ for a cheeseburger here in Shanghai. 

My one disappointment is that unlike the real In-N-Out, there is no Barq's Root Beer as a choice in the fountain drinks. There's actually no fountain root beer anywhere in China (someone, please prove me wrong... I've been searching for over three years and haven't found it anywhere!). 

I know not everyone is a fan of In-N-Out Burger (hi Rachel) and that other people are rabid fans of it (hi Dad). I'm just grateful that the longer we live here, the more options we have to make us want to stay here. It's pretty much win-win. And based on CaliBurger's popularity here in China, I'd say In-N-Out would do just fine if they ever wanted to do more than just these annual pop-up shops around Hong Kong! 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Warmest of Welcomes



I am not naturally a hugger. I don't particularly love physical touch.

My brother totally did, and I remember as a young child overhearing a conversation my Mom had with someone else about how he would snuggle with her all day long but I was stiff and awkward with my affection.

Have you heard of the Five Love Languages? My top one is Words of Affirmation, with a close second of Quality Time, while my lowest, barely on the scale, is Physical Touch. But I married someone whose number one language is Physical Touch and gave birth to a child who must be touched in every single conversation and wants to snuggle even at age 12, so I've learned to "speak" the language for their sake.

Americans, generally speaking, are not terribly physically demonstrative when compared to many Europeans. When we moved to Macau, my husband's job was with a show which employed people from nearly every European nation along with about two other Americans. The first time I went in to the theater to meet the cast and crew, I was hugged and kiss-kissed repeatedly by sixty-odd people. The Americans in the bunch just gave a friendly wave or a handshake. To say it was overwhelming is an understatement. But it wasn't just the initial meeting, every time I'd bump into my new German or Russian or Belgium or French friends, I got the double, sometimes triple, kiss-kiss action and a hug. I decided to embrace this way of greeting, even to the point of being the one to initiate it.


Then we moved to Shanghai. Shanghai does have expats from Europe, but there are overwhelmingly large numbers of Americans here. Especially Americans from the Midwest (lots of automotive and pharmaceutical companies here). I'd spent a year perfecting the hug-kiss-kiss in Macau, and so when I'd meet someone new here, I'd go in for the physical hello. One day a few weeks into our Shanghai relocation, we met my now-bestie Cynthia (from Indiana) and both Michael and I gave her the full European hello. Then Michael and I looked at each other and started giggling. "Sorry," I told her, "we don't usually kiss people we've just met, especially not Americans!" Awkward, but one of my favorite stories.

I've dialed down the kissing to nil, but I still hug, despite not being a hugger. I think this helps with my tendency to be slightly awkward with small talk upon meeting someone, or reconnecting with them. You can engage me in deep, soulful conversation at any time, but the pattern of niceties discussing health and weather make me crazy. A hug can work to cut through all that. However, sometimes this brings a different level of awkwardness.

I have super bright red hair in a land of dark brown hair. I stand out, and this can mean that people will remember meeting me while I might not remember meeting them. I'm also lousy with names and sometimes with faces, but have great memory of things like awesome shoes. Which people generally change instead of helpfully wearing the same awesome pair every single time I see them! I tend to compensate for this lousy memory by greeting nearly everyone as though I've already met them. This means I now have a reputation as being very friendly. Which is okay! Shanghai can be a brutal place with a population of 24 million people who are more than happy to push and shove you out of their way, or at the very least run you right over (true story, I've had many bruises and a scar to prove this). So if I can be a friendly oasis in the middle of all that, awesome! But then there are days like yesterday...

I saw an older man who looked very similar to someone I'd met many months ago and had a few conversations with. He made sustained eye contact with me, which further made me think we knew each other. So I put a huge grin on my face and bounded across the room to give him a big ol' hug. Hello! How have you been! I haven't seen you in ages! He returned my hug but his face was one of confusion. "Do we know each other? I just moved to Shanghai... and I don't think we've ever met," he informed me.

Very quickly I swallowed any embarrassment which could have caused my face to flame into fierce blushing, and tried to do a charming laugh. "Oh! Well welcome to Shanghai, then! I'm so happy you're here! Welcome! I'm Heather! I have to run and find my family now, but it was lovely to meet you and I'm sure I'll see you again soon! Buh-bye!" And out the door I ran.

I posted a very short version of this to my Facebook page, where friends chimed in to say they weren't surprised, or that I had greeted them similarly when we first met and it made them feel so welcome. Sooo, yeah. Maybe I have something in common with a certain enthusiastic Disney snowman?



I never got comfortable with the kiss-kiss greeting, but I'm now firmly a fan of saying hello with a hug. Unless you just prefer a big smile. I'm very fluent in that, too.




Thursday, July 30, 2015

New things

Today was pretty hot. Even Lucy Rocket, who lives to be outdoors, was like oh no, I just can't with this blazing pavement. 



So she hitched a ride on Ben's skateboard. 

Side note: I always check the pavement with my own bare foot before subjecting Lu's little paws to potential burns. The heat in summer here, much like the cold in winter, is brutal. She's less than 4lbs, so easy to pick up and carry to a shady spot to do her biz.

Honestly though, I try every single day to get my kids up and out of the house, even if we just go to the corner mom and pop shop to get a frozen treat. Objects at rest like to stay at rest, so I'm all for a little movement to stop the stasis. But today even I was unwilling to trek up the street for anything at all. Instead, I looked around the house for something to do, and found all the art supplies I brought back from camp that we used in my visual arts classroom. 

There was one student in the class who was a watercolor genius. I'd purchased pretty decent watercolor paints for the students, but she had her own set in her bag which she preferred to use. I engaged her in conversation about her work, and she told me she practices watercolor every day for at least an hour. I couldn't help but be in awe... I can't think of anything right now where I have the discipline to practice an hour a day. 

So with her in mind, I pulled out the watercolor paints and messed around a bit before spending an hour painting. I'd never worked with watercolor before. I use watercolor pencils and acrylic if I need color in my work. It was incredibly relaxing. And what I really loved was how unforgiving the watercolor was. If you mix a color with another color that is still wet on your paper, then the colors blend. It surprised me to find that this did not make me freak out at all. It was nice to not have precise, exact control over the finished product.

So here's the result of my very first dedicated hour of watercolor painting:



I painted flowers, because it was a visual reminder that whatever we water, grows. Just like my student who spent an hour a day painting and had an amazing portfolio to show for it, I want to focus the finite amount of time I have each day making sure to water the areas of my life I want to see grow. And art and creativity are always on my list! 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Try again



I was part of a two week summer camp here in China for local youth (ages 12-19), teaching English and arts. A team of people from Los Angeles came to join up and help run the camp, along with some expats in and around the greater Shanghai area, as well as many local Chinese. I was willing to help out however I was needed, and the camp directors slotted me to teach English. I also partnered with one of the L.A. team members, an old friend and mentor, to teach the Visual Arts class.

My Visual Arts classroom, at the end of the day.
I'm not a trained visual artist by any means, my education is in live theater. But I am an artist because I do make art as often as I can. I have previously taught art (and have even been paid handsomely to do so as recently as May). I run a weekly creative group call the Playground out of my house, so if you asked me what I'm good at, I'd probably list "helping people express themselves creatively through art" somewhere near the top of my list. So that part of the camp was excellent, and working with my friend and some incredibly talented and dedicated teen artists was amazing.

And then there was the English teaching.

I am not risk adverse. I tend to play it safe with food (one too many episodes of food poisoning in the land of squatty potties and a shellfish allergy keep me cautious) and with physical activity (though I did zip-line through the jungle canopy in Thailand for 4+ hours), but with many other areas in life I'm all for stepping out and doing something brand new that has a great potential for failure. I'm mildly comfortable with failure, in fact, and have been known to be pretty excited when something has blown up in my face, especially when it doesn't affect too many other people. Failure means you tried something new! How can that be bad?

I just read a quote today by T.S. Eliot, "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."

And I think that kind of sums up the English teaching for me. Maybe even my whole life. I've never taught English, and certainly not to people who don't speak much of it, if any. But not having done something before is never what I use to gauge whether or not I should say yes to something new.

There were five levels of English being taught, and I was responsible for the ones who had the lowest fluency. In years past at this camp, there were just 6-7 students at that level. I ended up with 19, most all of them teenage boys. I had a strong translator and we made a great team (every day I taught her a new idiom in the English language, and that was actually super fun), another bilingual helper, and two helpers from the L.A. team. Sounds like it should be easy, right? Basically 4 students per adult? Somehow it didn't turn out so easy for me. The curriculum was being written and distributed in real time, and almost every day I'd get it less than hour before class started. I can be good at winging it (the first idiom I taught my translator), but this is not the way I work best or most comfortably, and certainly not a way that can be sustained with any success for me beyond once or twice. The experienced ESL teachers had years of teaching ESL to fall back on. I had physical comedy and enthusiasm, and even that quickly wore thin.

My ESL class in the calm before the chaos.

I limped through the first week with the help of the extremely encouraging helpers, but there came a day in the second week where my helpers missed class for a rehearsal of dance choreography for the evening's assembly and I was on my own. One of my students crumpled up and destroyed someone else's work, causing crazy chaos. As soon as that was settled and it was quiet, another student chucked his pencil right at someone else's head. It was that day, when I was trying to hold back tears of frustration and thinking that I wasn't getting anywhere, that I realized I had truly come to the end of myself and that I don't enjoy teaching ESL, nor do I have any desire to use what strengths I do possess to do it. 

I don't think this sudden epiphany had everything to do with the naughty behavior of a few students (though that did contribute), it was more about realizing that I'm absolutely best at helping people pull out stories or emotion to create something beautiful rather than to teach vocabulary and literal communication using spoken words in a classroom setting.  

Maybe that's the mark of a bad teacher, because I never had any frustration in the Visual Arts class despite the fact that a third of my ESL students (including one of the ones with the naughty behavior) were in my Art class. Shouldn't a good teacher be able to teach anything? I don't know. 

There was some humor, like when we did an activity where each group had to draw and then label every article of clothing they could think of. I was fully aware at all times that my class was primarily teenage boys, and there was plenty of reminders of that, like this:

(It was fun trying to explain to my interpreter what a jock strap is.)

I also will say there were moments where I was very proud. Due to the one child policy in China, virtually everyone grows up an only child. This means that most young people here are not naturally good at teamwork or sharing or functioning as part of a group. They didn't grow up having to share anything, not mom or dad or toys. Even in the traditional classroom when they hit school age, individual accomplishment is prized over any other kind. Generally speaking, every student learns piano so they can play piano, by themselves, rather than every student learning a different instrument so they can be part of an orchestra playing together. But I believe deep within every cell of my body that we are not meant to go through life alone, that we work best when we all have a part to contribute, adding value with our unique gifts and talents (and I say this as a very extreme introvert who loves solitude). So my personal goal with my ESL class was to get them talking to each other, to work and learn in groups, and to be part of a team. Every day we had them fill out feedback forms which were meant to help guide us the next day. Over and over I got the same positive feedback:



I have no idea in the end if their grasp of the English language was increased on the last day from where it was on the first day. But they did learn to work as a team much better by the end of the two weeks than they did on the first day, so I count that as success. And frankly, even the fact that I can sit here after it's all over and say that I discovered teaching English is not for me is something I can count as a success. After all, how in the world do we know what we are capable of if we don't go out and try?

And I'm happy to report that there was at least one student in my class who thought my English teaching skills rocked.



Or at least my help and care rocked. I'll take what I can get. But what I'll give, and give in abundance, is overwhelming gratitude for those people out there teaching 10 months of every year, day in and day out. There's a popular, somewhat snarky saying in America, "Those who can't, teach." Um, this is wrong, so wrong. I can speak English, I can write English. But can I teach English? Not with any skill or grace or patience. Major kudos to those women and men out there doing it, and doing it well. You rock. Thank you. And let me know if you're available next summer. I know some kids who are going to need to learn some ESL...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

#19

Spent the long weekend in Hong Kong, celebrating the end of the school year, Father's Day, and our 19th wedding anniversary. Ten years ago we lived in Hong Kong, so we also spent our 9th wedding anniversary there. Maybe we'll spend our 29th there as well? Perhaps we'll be living there again by then... 


Happy anniversary my love! 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Bookends

First day of school:

Last day of school:


Nathan refused to slip back on his PE uniform so I could have that beautiful symmetry I so crave... But it's the same wall in their dorms and you can see how much they've grown! 

And just because this is China and that's the one and only explanation I can think of for this, I present their school's Christmas tree and fully decorated lobby:


I guess summer vacation is the best gift a student or teacher could ask for, and Christmas is a gift giving holiday, so... Deck the halls? Whatever, I love it. Happy Summer Vacation and Merry Christmas! 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Scenes of Indonesia

The call to prayer rings out starting at 5:00 a.m., and then several more times throughout the day. I thought it might bother or disturb me somehow, because there is no way to escape the loud broadcast.  But as a person of faith myself, after three years of living in China, officially an atheistic country, I find surprise in the comfort of being surround by people so filled with strong personal beliefs that they stop everything to pause and pray six times a day. Is it because they want to? Or because they must? I can't answer that the same way I can't answer why people who share my own faith do some pretty rotten things in the name of "Christianity." 


I was told the traffic here is SO BAD. That it will make me want to cry. And yeah, it's nuts, full stop. However, there is order to it, which cannot be said about the traffic in Shanghai. Yesterday I witnessed people standing on the side of the road, holding out their hands to stop traffic so they can cross the street or to allow a car to pull into oncoming traffic. And, to my incredible surprise, the cars stopped. Vehicles yielding to humans??? What a novel idea! 


I'm a big supporter and advocate of art in public spaces. What I've loved so much about Jakarta so far are the murals that cover buildings and alleys and interior walls. It makes me so happy. 


And finally, we'd heard there were A&W Root Beer places here... Fortunately for us, they are everywhere. And we are happy to indulge as frequently as we can. It's been 15+ years since I've had a float at the A&W Rootbeer where my parents used to live on California's Central Coast. The modern float is as good as the one in my memory! 


Today we're heading south of Jakarta to an area in the mountainous (volcanic) region of Lido. More to come soon!


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Jaunt to Jakarta


Michael and I are on a quick trip to Indonesia (via Hong Kong, seen above) this week. The kids are back home in Shanghai. This is the third time in their lives where they have been in one country and I've been in another. Good practice, I suppose, for the day when they're off to university in a different country on a different continent. 


Looking forward to a little exploration in a new-to-us country! 


It is one hour behind Shanghai, so it's almost like experiencing falling back in Daylight Savings Time. One thing I do not miss about living in America! More photos to come soon! 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Three years in Shanghai

On the morning of May 24, 2012, my son Ben got the worst stomach ache of his life. 

He was doubled over in pain, hysterically crying and barely able to breathe. This was not good timing for two reasons. First, our landlord had come in from Mainland China to our apartment to do a final walk-through and collect our keys, and we were due momentarily to board a plane from Macau to Shanghai, our new home.

Macau flag, left. China flag, right.
It was not going well. We had previously purchased a large refrigerator for our apartment, which the landlord had promised to reimburse from our deposit upon move out, and he was suddenly not willing to give us a cent. I was furious, as we'd had ample time to sell the fridge to recoup our expense if he didn't want it, but he'd insisted he'd pay for it, right up until that day. I was so furious, that I threatened to push the fridge across the kitchen and living room, right onto the balcony and then right over the balcony of our 8th floor home. If we didn't get to sell it, and he wouldn't pay for it, then it was mine to do with as I pleased, including destroying it. 

I don't normally have this kind of rage, but remember, Benjamin was laying on the couch, crying his eyes out while our Filipino helper hovered over him, rubbing his back, while the landlord crossed his arms across his chest, smugly confident that he was going to take us to the bank and bleed us dry. Michael was yelling because the landlord was already making out with two full month's rent (over $6,000 USD) because we were moving out before the end of our three year lease, and refusing to allow anyone else to take over our lease so we could at least leave without a debit. Why not add an extra grand, the cost of the refrigerator, to his highway robbery?

Our real estate agent, there to help translate and smooth the procedure, saw the crazy fire in my eyes as I pantomimed pushing the fridge over the balcony railing, heard the wails of my son, and he fired off a long, loud string of Mandarin, with accompanying urgent hand gestures directed at the landlord. The landlord's wife, dressed to the nines and up to that point completely still and silent, suddenly came to life, and with sympathetic tones gestured to our son, who was not getting any better. She quietly convinced him to have compassion in this one tiny area so we could take care of our sick child. In Asian culture, the concept of "face" is very real, and fighting head on with the landlord would not get us anywhere. But I needed to get my son to a hospital, and then, hopefully, onto a plane with our eight suitcases, four carry-ons, and four backpacks, and so although I wanted to curse the name of the lying, cheating landlord until the day I died, I'm grateful for the landlord's wife giving him the opportunity to save face, and us the opportunity to get our thousand dollars back for the fridge.

With that out of the way, it was actually Michael who grabbed Ben and took a taxi to a local medical clinic with the helper, while I did the final preparations to get out the door to the airport. Thankfully, Ben was diagnosed with extreme gas pains and not something that would require hospitalization or surgery. They gave him some medicine and hot water, and before we knew it, we were all back at the flat to walk out one last time.

It was a rough goodbye. In fact, it was the roughest goodbye I've had in thirteen moves between five countries. I posted today on Instagram that most people cry at the Macau Airport because they've lost all their life savings at the casinos. We were crying because we lost Macau.


It was a short flight to our new life in a different country, rather than the typical long haul flight with jetlag. We got into our temporary housing. We unpacked. We went out for dinner (Mexican). We went to bed. And here we are, three years later, celebrating our third anniversary of living in Mainland China.


We woke up. We got dressed. We went out to breakfast at Mr. Pancake, our favorite American-style breakfast joint. Michael took a selfie of us on the street corner. Just another day, but also not, because we've broken a record, staying in one place longer than any of the other places we've stayed in our just-shy-of-19 years of marriage. I just never thought China would be the place to hold the record.

And for the record, we have an excellent landlord here. He is as honest, kind, and generous as our last landlord was deceitful, cruel, and stingy. There will be no threats of breaking appliances upon our departure from Shanghai, whenever that might be.

Happy Shanghai-versary to us!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Walk in Shanghai

It's grey and rainy and humid and depressing today in Shanghai. Plus, for whatever reason, there is a bit of a stench coming off the river (I'll remember Shanghai by its smells as much as its sights).


This building below, which is the only thing that blocks our (normally) fabulous view of the Huangpu River, has stood mostly vacant since we've lived here. Next week will mark three years in Shanghai for us (hello record!), and there are no more than five floors with lights on at night. There are many "ghost towns" in China, where major construction has happened and then was abandoned, leaving the shell of a city totally empty (there is one such town about an hour from my house), but it's odd to see something so very empty right smack in the middle of this bustling, vibrant city. Especially a building that has some of the very best views anyone could ever hope for in Shanghai. It's a little eerie. 


And speaking of eerie, may I present this video which is both beautiful and vaguely disturbing? I've been everywhere you see in this video (and you can actually see our building in a shot or two). 


Walk in Shanghai from JT Singh on Vimeo.

It's how I feel much of the time here. Like I'm going backwards while everyone else is going forward, or vice versa. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Coming Attractions: Disney Store in Shanghai

There's still no official opening date set for Shanghai Disneyland (there is a vague Spring-ish/Summer-ish 2016 rumor floating around the interwebs). But I can say that there is something huge on the Disney radar about to drop here in Shanghai this month.


They did a good job trying to cover the sign up, huh? Nothing to see here folks...

And when I say huge, I truly mean it. Opening on May 20th of this month, this is the world's largest flagship Disney Store. I took the photo above last Sunday on Mother's Day. Looks like they still have some work to do on the outside, hopefully the inside looks a little more complete! And just in case you are not really impressed with the size of this store, let me show you an artist's rendering from a bird's eye view:



In the photo I took, I was standing on the white elevated walk way you see on the bottom edge of the rendering, looking down at the courtyard. The location is amazing, it's right smack in the middle of downtown Shanghai, next to a huge mall and the Oriental Pearl Tower, a large futuristic-looking tourist magnet with amazing views. And it's just a short walk from my house! 



It's funny, the Disney characters are quite new to Mainland China. Adults my age did not grow up with Mickey and Minnie. Disney has had to come in and do big events to educate people about the company. And maybe the smartest thing of all, they started Disney English, which is a hugely popular children's English language school that uses the characters to teach kids both about the characters and how to speak English. Brilliant, right? So the younger generation of kids out there right now are indeed familiar with Disney. There are also some China-specific animated television shows which look very bizarre to my Western mind, but are crazy popular here with tons of merchandise everywhere you look.

I suspect the store will do very well. And hopefully it will whet the appetite for people hungry for more Disney so that the opening of Shanghai Disneyland will be spectacular. And sure, I'm a Disney shareholder, so of course I'd say that. But honestly, when you've poured three years of your life and career in to something, you want it to succeed. Can't wait!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Oh Mama!

Oh Mother's Day... A day with joy and tension and happiness and mourning. I love being celebrated, but my preference would be birthdays, where the honor comes from simply surviving another year. It's hard to feel comfortable being celebrated as a mom when just this year three friend celebrated with positive pregnancy tests, filled with hope and expectation, only to later find the pregnancy ending too soon to result in that dreamt of child, which will now stay only as a dream. How must they feel on a day where we celebrate moms, when they have carried life within them, but never in their arms? My heart feels heavy even while I was spoiled this weekend with fancy meals, thoughtful small gifts, and handwritten cards from the boys who made me a mama and their dad. 

This actually feels like a uniquely "mom" problem... Making sure everyone has enough, putting yourself second so someone else can get what they need. Perhaps because we're well versed in loss, from lost sleep to lost time, privacy, and a lost sense of accomplishment in the repetitive tedium of early childhood, moms can already deeply empathize over the loss of having the opportunity to give up those things by having a baby at all.

And even heavier on my mind are the people in my life who lacked a mother, or lacked the kind of mother that Hallmark creates greeting cards for. The ones who find themselves shaking in anger or grieving deeply over what could have been but wasn't. I think all these thing weigh on me so heavily the rest of the year, but come to light in tweets and Facebook posts filled with such sorrow this weekend. 

So what can be done? I know that while Nathan and Benjamin made me a mother nearly 15 years ago, I've had the sacred privilege to mother many other people through the years. Some I got for a season, and some are still mine today and always will be. I wish I could go out and solve this problem today for everyone all over the world. But I can't. The scale of the problem is too large. So I do what I can, and I do it with all my heart. These people who come into our lives and home for a season or a lifetime get showered in the kind of unconditional love and support which every kid should get. We've already seen some happy endings which came from the love we heaped on the kids and adults in our life. And hopefully the chain continues... They were loved so they'll turn around and share it again, in a real and personal way. 

So on this Mother's Day I have gracefully accepted the loving compliments and well wishes from friends and family. Because it was having Nathan and Ben, two sons who grew right under my heart, who taught me it is possible to also love someone who has a desperate need to be in someone's heart at all. 

And I can't fail to mention my own mama, Judy, and my mother in law of nearly 19 years, Carol, for both being the best kind of moms in your own way. How grateful I am! And how much I desperately miss you both, living here in China so far across the ocean. 

Above is our annual Mother's Day portrait. I love these two boys with so much of my heart. And Lucy Rocket, the dog? She rocks too. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Shang-Low

Sorry guys. We had the most fabulous time in America for the month of February, and then our return to Shanghai was met with some of the most challenging days, which stretched into weeks, and ended up being months. Hello May, how you doing?

Shang-Low is what everyone calls those days here in Shanghai which are not Shang-high days. And we sure have had our share recently. From personal loss I won't go into here, the devastating discovery of a young family member's cancer, career frustration, a frightening health scare in my own son, to missing the people we've only been able to see twice in the last four years, it was just a constant stream of things causing pain and sorrow. So many that we were honestly ready to pack it up and leave. But leaving felt like it would be such a failure. We wouldn't be here to see the opening of the project that has kept us here the last three years. We'd be leaving at a low point instead of going out on top. It was a weird moment to be in, especially because we did have a significant amount of choice in the matter, with Michael's first contract coming to a close and a second one not yet signed and other opportunities in other countries calling on a daily basis trying to woo him away. It was tough, but we called on people who know and love us for some wise counsel and decided to stick it out. I think just having that commitment in place helped lighten the dark place we've been dwelling in.

Four years ago I was in America prepping for our move to Macau. I had a local access cable channel on the television that played full concerts of random musical acts which kept me company while I packed late into the night. I was feeling so much turmoil, as the Macau job started with two weeks notice and Michael had already boarded a plane, leaving the boys and I back in America to finish out the school year before joining him abroad. It was hard. But a concert came on that channel which stopped me from packing. There was a guy in an outdoor amphitheater, standing in his bare feet on an oriental rug, doing an acoustic set. I watched the whole hour long video. I'd never before heard of Jason Mraz, but wow, did his lyrics fill me with so much peace and hope for the future. As soon as Michael and I were reunited, I made him fill my iPod with all of his songs, which were on repeat for some time.

In late March of this year, I found out Jason Mraz was going to be playing here in Shanghai on April 1st. It took me 60 seconds to book tickets immediately after that discovery. It started out a pretty dreary date night for Michael and I. We were both feeling pretty blue and run down. But music is medicine for a weary soul, so we went with open hearts.

The concert did not disappoint. From the opening act, a girl band called Raining Jane which had us turning to each other to say, "I bet they're from Los Angeles," (they are, they formed at UCLA), to the final song, it was like going to church and having a religious experience. Every lyric of every song on the new album was like a message speaking into our exact situation. I kept wanting to shout out AMEN! Even the name of the concert and album Yes, was a message waiting for us to receive it. You better believe this new album is also on repeat around here these days.

My favorite song was 3 Things, and actual tears fell down my cheeks as Jason sang the lyrics he wrote about a tough time in his own life. The opening lyric?  There are three things I do when my life falls apart. Number one I cry my eyes out and dry up my heart... Yes, yes, and more yes. Number two is saying thank you to the experiences that got you to this point, and then number three is gracefully letting the door close on that chapter. With a final note to try and try again.

It's worth a listen, and a buy if you need a boost today (video of a live performance embedded below).


I want to say that the evening was a turning point and that everything was absolutely fine after that. In some ways it was, we had hope in a previously hopeless space. But the thing about dark periods in life is that you have to walk through them. You can't easily bypass them. I feel like things are looking up. And even if they aren't, the beautiful thing is that just because I can't see it with my own eyes, it doesn't mean the future isn't bright. The sun still rises each and every day, yes? Yes.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Daily Beach Pic

I made this a year or two ago. It hangs in my kitchen above the kettle, thus the steam-curled edges.

During my month long holiday to America in February, I went to the beach almost every single day, if only to do a quick parking job by the strand to watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. 


When we lived in the Los Angeles area, we went to the beach on a regular basis. Generally it was at the end of the work and school day, and we'd pick up sandwiches or a bucket of fried chicken before making our way to the sand with a big blanket. We'd eat, and then the kids would run around and make all the noise they wanted. It was the perfect way to let them burn off some energy while we adults enjoyed the tranquility that only a beachy sunset can provide.


I also had a routine where I'd drop the boys at school and then walk a mile or two along the sea, just high enough on the shore to not get my sneakers wet, but close enough that my glasses would be opaque, soaked with salty spray. I loved it. 


I always marvel at people who'd buy houses within a mile of the ocean but never actually go there. I remember telling someone about my near daily walks and hearing them say it had been several years since they'd even driven past the ocean, let alone put their toes in the sand. This actually made me sad, for I find it to be a place of peace, joy, energy, and solace, all for the cost of a few quarters in the parking meter. Or free, if you can figure out which day you're allowed to park on which street without getting a citation. When I told people that I was going to go to the beach every single day of this holiday, they thought it was in jest, even my own kids. Oh no. Not at all. 


In fact, upon arrival at LAX airport bright and early on February 1st, the order of things was this: pick up rental car, pick up SIM card for my mobile phone, drive to In-N-Out Burger, drive to the beach, soak up the sun with my sons on the sand. We ran into my bestie Jenny at In-N-Out Burger (she was visiting L.A., and running into her was a huge awesome surprise!) and she and her family joined us at the beach! That rocked.


Funny story: when we pulled up to the beach on the day of our arrival, I had all our luggage in the car and asked the boys if they wanted to change into their swimsuits. It was 82 degrees after all. Both declined and said they would not go in the water. But when we got to the sand, Benjamin pulled off his shoes and socks and then ran straight into the surf fully clothed, not even slowing down when he hit the water. Such is the call of the ocean!


I took photos and posted them to Instagram each day, the collection of which you can see here. On the days we didn't go, we were at Disneyland, so I got creative with my "beach" pic posts. Can you spot them above? One of my favorite quotes is the one at the top of this post, which hangs in my kitchen. The cure for anything is saltwater- sweat, tears, or the sea. I do believe that with all my heart. And this month of seaside saltwater up and down the California coast cured so much that was swirling inside me, threatening to overcome. And thanks to my collection of daily photos, I'll have plenty of my saltwater "cure" to ponder for a long, long time.

The day we arrived in America. Some people have been known to kiss the ground. I just let my feet kiss the surf.