Monday, December 26, 2016

Merry Christmas from Shanghai Disneyland!

This festive greeting was over four years in the making!

Christmas cards are a big deal for me. Though we move a lot, our annual Christmas card is one way I can keep in touch with people all over the world that I don't get to see very often. We do one every year, and it occupies my thoughts throughout the year as we travel or have big family moments. Instead of a thousand words, I try to figure out what photo can tell the story of our family's year. 

We moved to Shanghai, China from Macau in spring of 2012 when my husband took on a project opening Disney's newest theme park, Shanghai Disneyland. The minute he signed his contract, I had a vision of this Christmas card. Each year as an opening date was not yet announced, I'd think, "Okay, maybe next year will be our Shanghai Disneyland Christmas Card!" When they finally announced the opening date of June 16, 2016, I knew the card I'd been waiting for was finally going to happen. Christmas card in mind, we took this family photo in front of the Enchanted Storybook Castle on the first day of trial operations in May this year (it was Mother's Day, and almost exactly four years from the date we arrived in Shanghai):

I honestly thought this would be our Christmas card for this year! I mean, the last time we took a Castle photo without a single other person in the photo was the first day of Cast Member previews for Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005! 

Unless you're taking a photo outside the normal operating hours, this just doesn't happen! 

But as Christmas drew closer and the Shanghai Disneyland Resort decorated for the holidays, the idea of taking a new photo with some extra Christmas Magic became my goal. Also, if you look at the photo from May and compare it to the photo from December, you'll see two other big changes, my baby boy Benjamin is now taller than I am, and my firstborn son Nathan is now taller than his Dad! A lot can happen in seven months! So we did some quick consultations with the calendar and went to Shanghai Disneyland on Saturday December 3rd and took about 25 photos... Shanghai is consistently overcast, between the humidity and the pollution, we generally always have a nice filter action happening naturally. But on that day, we had bright blue skies and lots of harsh sunshine and massive amounts of shadows. Example:

I'd brought my big camera and was utilizing every one of the Disney Photopass Cast Members to get the shot I had envisioned, but the language barrier proved to be too much and I couldn't get my idea across (plus, there was a line of people waiting to take selfies next to the Christmas tree). I was trying to be happy with the photos we took, but the combo of not having had a cup of coffee that morning, the harsh winter sunlight (which normally would be a GIFT), and the boys just wanting to please-Mom-can-we-just-be-done-and-go-on-Pirates made me feel grumpy and sad, though I tried to mask it. My husband of 20 years realized I was faking the happiness and halted our hike to go on Pirates to get me some coffee at Remy's Cafe on Mickey Ave. We also had some gingerbread cookies. 

A little bit of festive sugar, a little bit of caffeine, and my outlook changed dramatically. Also, a bit of real Christmas Magic happened and a gentle-but-chilly breeze blew a soft and fluffy cloud in between the sun and our faces, erasing the harsh shadows, and we marched right back to the one spot in the Park where you can get the giant Christmas tree and the Castle (and a few Mickey wreaths for good measure) and had the Disney Photopass Cast Member take just one more photo. And we finally had a winner, the Shanghai Disneyland Christmas card photo I'd hoped for over four years ago!

I was so happy that I didn't even have to fake the Christmas joy I felt in the photo Michael took of me moments later:

Then we went on Pirates (no waiting to get on!), and I changed out of my skirt and stripey Alice in Wonderland tights into jeans so we could ride on Tron twice, which you have to straddle like a motorcycle (but remove your Mouse Ears):

We win at jazz hands.
And later in the evening we went to meet Mickey Mouse, which I'm always, always, always in the mood for and never fails to leave me giggly and excited:

But a certain first-born teenage boy is less than thrilled with:

I can't stop laughing when I look at these photos! But he smiled for the photo that counted, so I'm happy. This one (on another day in smoggy early November before the Christmas decorations came out) also makes me laugh:

I'm overwhelmingly grateful that unlike our experiences with Tokyo DisneySea and Hong Kong Disneyland where we repatriated to America on the days they opened, we've been able to stay after Grand Opening and experience this new theme park as the seasons change. Up next is Chinese New Year! 

Merry Christmas, from my family to yours!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Christmas Magic With HRC

I'm taking a break from Facebook. It started on November 8th and will continue until I'm ready to wade back in. It might be awhile. But I'm posting a lot on Instagram. This time of year I do a daily practice I call #ChristmasMagicWithHRC (fyi, HRC would be ME, Heather Rose-Chase, not a former presidential candidate or the Human Rights Campaign, as someone on Instagram just asked me). Every day I find a little something that is related to Christmas, post a photo, and write a little something about it. Some days it's hard to narrow it down to one thing, because in China Christmas decorations frequently stay up year round as they just look festive. My sons' local Chinese school lobby is completely decked out for Christmas, complete with Christmas tree, Santa heads, and huge garland at all times. My birthday is Christmas Eve, and if there was a Christmas Town, I'd be the mayor or the mascot or the most enthusiastic resident they've ever had. Buddy the Elf is my spirit animal. No joke. (Seriously, if you need some Christmas Magic, go check out my Instagram feed right now).

Today I had a truly magical experience, and when I tried to write it out for Instagram, I found it was too long, it got cut off. So I'm going to post it here and link to it from the photo. If you're new to my blog, welcome! So without further ado, here is today's Christmas Magic With HRC:

Nov 16💚😀🎄: You guys! CRAZY long true story (and why my business cards say Christmas Tree Whisperer):

For four years we lived across town, right next to a Pacific Coffee Company, a chain out of Hong Kong. I loved my little corner shop, they played a lot of Beatles and Christmas music year-round, and would always greet me with my order (Hello Caramel Chillino!). But for the first two Christmases we were there, their tree was tragic. It looked like someone had shot ornaments at it for target practice. The top was dramatically tilted because it had a broken trunk. Every time I'd go in, I'd make tiny adjustments to it just to make my heart a little happier. But the third year something snapped in me, and I walked in with wire, wire cutters, ribbon, and Christmas Magic. I calmly started removing the ornaments from the tree, wound some wire up the trunk to stabilize it, and then redecorated each branch. The store's employees watched wide-eyed in silence, whispering to each other, and then grinning widely at the crazy foreigner who fixed up their tree. 

The fourth year they actually got a brand new tree and ornaments, and each and every time I'd walk into the shop, the employees would proudly show it to me, "Look! Christmas tree! So nice!" It was the ultimate mic drop moment, like my work there was done. I felt like that experience could never be topped, which brings us to today...

Six months ago we moved across town and I have a new corner Pacific Coffee here. I'm not greeted by my order (yet) and I'm barely understood despite my best efforts. It makes me miss my old place. Today I walked in and waited in the crowded line and when it was my turn to order, the man at the register shouted at me "CARAMEL CHILLINO from Dongcheng Road!" Yes, yes, that's me, I hollered back, I don't live there anymore, I live here now! 

He started yelling in Mandarin at all the other employees behind the counter, who then looked at me and smiled and started talking loudly. I asked him what was going on, and he said, "I tell them you are the one who brought Christmas to Dongcheng Road and now to all the places!" He pointed out the tree behind me and asked if I liked it. And then he wouldn't let me pay for my coffee. I cried walking home, and I've got a big ol' lump in my throat now. This is our fifth Christmas in China. The Magic is spreading! 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sweet Sixteen

My firstborn son is about to turn 16. And I asked him what he'd like. The conversation didn't go how I expected at all. 

Initially this seemed very strange to me, because what teenager doesn't want to ask for a free something or other for their birthday? And the cake part was perplexing to my friends after I posted this, asking what teenage boy doesn't want cake?! Mine, apparently.

But then I started thinking about my own sixteenth birthday and how all I wanted was running water, and that maybe I shouldn't be so quick to judge the lack of a wishlist...

On the first day of my freshman year of high school, my family moved from Greater Los Angeles to a small town called Lockwood, California - population 123 according the sign welcoming you as you entered. Being born and raised up until that point in a city, it was not an easy adjustment (spoiler alert: 24 hours after graduating from high school, I moved back to Los Angeles on my own... four years in the country did not give me a great love for the country. At all). We'd purchased a plot of forty acres of land at the end of a three mile dirt road, and the plan was to spend a year building a house while we lived in two trailers on the property. Before you think that's a fun, adventurous activity, please note that we never went camping when I was a kid (my mom often said her idea of camping was "cold water at a Sheraton.") and we had just sold and moved out of an enormous ranch-style house which was just a hair under 3,000 square feet where every member of my family had their own bedroom and bathroom, plus a den, a formal living room, a cozy living room, and separate dining room. We went from a house where you could spend the day completely alone even with a houseful of people, to two of these, one for my brother and I to share, and one for my parents:

(After living in Asia for a cumulative 8+ years in tiny flats, that trailer looks awfully spacious to me now!)
We dug a well for water, and used diesel generators for electricity a few hours at night and in the morning. It was not at all a wonderful experience for me. When it would rain, the unpaved dirt road leading to our property would become impassable. The trailers had the capability to heat water for a 4-5 minute shower, which was not nearly enough for a teenage girl with waist-long hair (the MO was turn on the water to get wet, turn it off while soaping and shampooing up, turn it on again to rinse and turn it off when the warm water abruptly ended. I never got better at it or made it a lifestyle). Not to mention sharing such a tiny space with my little brother at the peak of teen mood swings and sibling rivalry (okay, sibling war). I have plenty of stories, but when I dwell too much on this time period, I plunge into angst and moodiness even now. Let's just say that when we finally completed construction on the house and were able to move into actual bedrooms with actual beds and showers that could run hot water for nearly an hour instead of minutes, it was a definite uptick for my hair, my general hygiene, and my over all high school experience.

Living in the house wasn't without challenges however. We still lived in the middle of forty acres at the end of a three mile dirt road. In warm weather, rattlesnakes would wander into our garage (and once into our dryer!). In cool weather wild boars (and sometimes hunters) would wander the property. Cows regularly barged through and were the source of much stress (and a story for another day). In wet weather the road was still impassable except for the one 4WD truck we owned, meaning I walked that dirt road in mud-ruined shoes more than once (and generally while angry, indignant teenage tears streaked my face along with the rain). And in freezing weather, the pipes which ran uphill from our well into our house would freeze, stopping the flow to the showers and toilets and sinks altogether. We got better at mitigating this, but that first winter, just a couple months after moving into the house, was a nightmare.

I was about to turn sixteen on Christmas Eve and a sophomore in high school. The previous Christmas break we'd spent in Southern California at The Disneyland Resort, because a Christmas in tiny trailers on a dirt lot was too depressing even for my parents. But the first Christmas in the new house seemed like something to celebrate, so we had no plans to leave. California's Central Coast freezes each year but it doesn't snow, and that year was no exception. It was a particularly brutal cold snap that hit Monterey County and froze our pipes solid the week before my birthday and Christmas.

I was sad the first day the water froze solid, as we had to flush the toilet using a bucket of store-bought water. The second day I was feeling hopeful that somehow my mom and dad's hard work of wrapping the exposed pipes coming from the well before heading underground would somehow be enough, despite the forecast of even lower temps the following day. The third day I was grateful that it was Christmas break and that no one would see me in my shockingly unshowered state, but felt worse for my parents who were digging up some of the pipe to wrap it with insulation, and were downright dirty. The fourth and fifth day I was tearful, sinking into the blues, curled in my bed with a book and refusing to get dressed (why bother getting any other clothes dirty?). The sixth day I was begging my parents to somehow pull off a birthday miracle for the seventh day, and make, find, beg, steal, or borrow me a shower so I could wash my oily hair and smelly teenage body. I would give up any and all other birthday gifts for my sweet sixteen birthday if I could just have a hot running shower.

Six days with no shower, just a lukewarm wet washcloth to dab at the places that rub together when you walk, is a terrible place to be when you are fifteen, about to turn 16. My thick hair that was long enough to sit on was limp with grease. My body odor was barely masked by the cheap aerosol "Designer Impostors" cologne which knocked off name brand perfumes popular in the early 90's. My brother, one year and one week younger than me, fared no better in the smell department, but as I was no longer sharing a small trailer with him, I didn't care as long as he stayed in his room and I stayed in mine. My parents, who were doing sweaty, dirty, physical work outside in the cold were surely more in need of a shower than I was, but 15-going-on-16 year old American girls aren't necessarily known for caring more about their parent's physical appearances than their own, unless they somehow show up in public and embarrass you. And the middle of forty acres of land at the end of a three mile dirt road was not really "public" so they got a pass and I could fully dwell on my own dramatic, angst-filled, deteriorating state.

Our nearest neighbor was about two miles away, on a branch off from the start of our three mile dirt road. It was my high school principal and his wife, empty-nesters with grown children living elsewhere. Their house was at the top of a hill overlooking our valley, a huge imposing house which looked better suited for an architectural magazine cover than a tiny rural town. Let's be honest here, no one really wants to be neighbors with one's high school principal. But when you live in the middle of nowhere, it's important to be friendly, if not close, with your neighbors. And my parents, on the eve of my sixteenth birthday, boldly called up my principal, explained that we were now in day six, soon to be day seven of no water, and asked if they would grant my birthday wish of allowing me to use their bathroom to take a shower the following morning. And of course, no matter what I might have thought about him previously, he turned out not to be a monster and said OF COURSE.

So the morning of my sixteenth birthday, Christmas Eve to the rest of the world, my parents drove me up the hill armed with a towel, a bar of soap, shampoo, conditioner, and a change of clothes, and gave me one of the best birthday presents I've ever received. The principal and his wife offered for the whole family to take showers, but my brother evidently declined, and my parents were content to sit in the kitchen drinking coffee with Mr. Principal and his wife, while I was given free reign of the master bathroom and the most advanced, luxurious shower I've ever encountered anywhere in this world to this very day.

First of all, it was huge. Bigger than any I've ever seen before. Take an average pretty big master bathroom and make the whole thing into a tiled shower room. Second, it had three different ways to shower. There were two rainfall-style overhead shower heads that could be operated individually or in tandem with a shower buddy. There were two high powered massaging shower heads coming from two sides of the shower. And then there were nozzles coming straight from three of the walls, car-wash style, which would spray water from shoulders to ankles. Third, the bathroom had in-floor radiant heating, meaning my bare feet were not freezing on the tiled floors, they were warm and toasty. I was in awe of the luxury. I tried every shower head device, and then simply used them all at once. After a week of freezing weather and no shower, it was heavenly. I soaped up over and over again, scrubbing away my dry, flaky skin on my body and the shiny, oily skin from my face, shampooed and rinsed my greasy hair three times before finally getting a lather, and then just stood in the endless hot water until my sudden guilt over using someone else's shower while my parents patiently waited made me turn off each shower head, one by one. I combed and braided my wet hair and got dressed in clean clothes and could not wipe the smile off my face. I'm smiling now as I think about it. I have never been so clean in my life!

We returned home and collected my brother, and then drove the 30 minutes south into town to eat a birthday dinner at a fancy, dimly lit, Italian restaurant in Paso Robles. I remember the jokes about the dim lighting being a good thing because of the state of my parents and brother, but I had only gratitude, not embarrassment. I don't remember if I actually had any gifts to open that evening after the waiters and my parents sang Happy Birthday to me over a candlelit tiramisu, but I will never, ever forget that amazing shower. Christmas came the next day, bringing with it slightly warmer weather and enough thawing water to finally flush toilets via the modern magical way, and quick showers for my brother and parents in our own house. I don't remember any gifts we got that year, but I do remember we laughed a lot.

This story reminds me of those saccharine sweet sayings we spout when someone goes through a rough time... about not appreciating the light until you've been in the dark and so on. As a young teenager, I had absolutely no appreciation for things like leisurely showers, normally flushing toilets, and private bedrooms with doors that close until I'd spent time without those things. So I guess I can look at my own son and his lack of desire for anything specific, or anything at all, for his own upcoming birthday and feel some joy that he is content in his life with what he already has. I'm just hoping that he doesn't have some secret wish that he'll reluctantly share the night before his birthday... Otherwise he's just getting cash. Cash and balloons. Lots of balloons. Because #Heatherlovesbirthdays even if #Nathandoesnot.

Happy birthday, son. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Things I could feel bad about. But won't.

Michael and I got to jump on a plane from Shanghai to Los Angeles to attend a four day conference on leadership, creativity, and humanity two weeks ago. It was something we really wanted to do, but the limitations to our finances living here in Shanghai mean that we can budget a trip to America only every other year, and this was not our year. But in the beautiful way that things sometimes have a way of working out when you are absolutely meant to be somewhere, someone else totally unrelated to the conference provided the funds via an envelope filled with cash to cover the cost of round trip airfare and the conference admission. The conference was amazing. So much good stuff that I'm still mulling it over and trying to find ways to adjust my life to fit all the new information we were flooded with. But this isn't a post about the conference. I don't even know how to write about it just yet. In addition to the four conference days, we decided to stay an extra three days in Los Angeles, one for Michael to have work-related meetings in Glendale, one for us to go to Disneyland, and one for us to do some shopping.

One thing I didn't know about myself until I moved abroad: I hate shopping. I grew up hitting outlets and thrift/resale shops long before that was a cool thing, digging through rack after rack to find a gem or a bargain. But living in China there is so little emphasis placed on what you wear (I do not exaggerate when I say I see people, grown people, in pajamas, each and every day). Plus, I'm just getting older and caring so much less about what people think. Between the two, I have lost any desire to spend hours finding just the right thing to look cute. I know I've said this before somewhere, but my curvy body doesn't necessarily lend itself to finding something off the rack here in Shanghai, land of slim and slender people of China. At this point in my life, I want to look covered (in something black, preferably) and feel comfortable. And I don't want to spend two hours in a dressing room trying to find something that'll work.

One trick I've found as an expat was to head to some of my favorite online retailers and buy things to be sent to my in laws house just ahead of our visit. Then I can take my time trying things on and sorting them into piles to keep or to return to the retail storefront (it's not because I'm such a hardcore fan of Old Navy that most of our clothes are from there, it's all about the ease of returning stuff!). But a tricky thing to cope with and work around is sizing. In China, if I buy something, I'm likely to be a size XXXXXL. As in 5XL. So I look at the sizes on the websites in America and think that I at least better buy a size XL because surely anything smaller would be way too tiny. But then I try it on and see how baggy it is and it just blows my mind that I can actually fit in something that doesn't have an "X" on it at all. Seriously.

But then there's also variations due to style and personal preference. My preference will always be baggy over tight, but there's a difference between baggy and hanging off the shoulders or cinching a belt just to make something stay above your curvy hips. When we left America over five years ago, bootcut jeans were still in fashion, and jeggings weren't yet a word. Then the skinny jean phase hit. Now we are apparently in a sort of a culotte phase, or at least a sort of straight leg jeans era instead of the super skinny jeans. Here's what I know about my body: my weight has barely fluctuated since we left America. I lost a little weight after the hysterectomy, but even so, my waist has become thicker and my face rounder as I entered medical menopause (yay me). My hip and chest sizes haven't changed at all. And I still wear the same size jeans today that I did six years ago, even though living here in China makes me feel like surely I'm a lot bigger than I used to be. I'm not... I'm just surrounded by people who are a lot smaller than I am. So even when I bought skinny jeans in the last few years because that was the style, my normal size fit. But I sized up because of preference. My abdomen is criss-crossed with scars from various surgeries and I hate anything tight there at all. When the straight leg style became available again, I bought the size up and realized it was way too baggy and ill-fitted. So I went back down to my normal, pre-China, pre-jegging/skinny jean size.

For this last super quick trip to America, I wanted to get a few pairs of pants to replace two pairs that died a death of being worn out last winter. So I bought my usual size, resisting the urge to buy up a size, and had them shipped to my mother in law's house. When we visited her, I went and tried everything on and found almost everything fit just fine. Except in one area. One truly shocking area. And it was not my waist, which I confess has gone up nearly 3 inches since the hysterectomy/medical menopause. It was not my curvy hips or my sprinter's thighs or my round-from-sitting-too-much derriere. It was my big, bodacious calves! I was shocked to find that nearly every pair of pants I'd bought were stretched incredibly tight across my lower legs. They weren't even snug in the waist or hips, but the calves were begging for mercy. This wasn't just one pair either, it was three... in different styles and fabrics and brands.

I packaged them back up to return them to whence they came, and thought a lot about my calves. Actually, I had a lot of negative thoughts about my calves, a part of my body I'd not really ever considered before. I mean, we're taught to stress about our belly and our hips and our breasts and our upper arms from a pretty young age. But nobody mocks someone's big calves on the schoolyard or puts "How to have tiny calves by summer!" on the cover of one of those cursed beauty magazines which love to highlight flaws.

My calves are extremely muscular. While the rest of me has some gentle padding (thicker in some places than others), my calves are pretty ripped. Seriously, if you were here right now, I'd flex one and make you feel it. And yet there I was, feeling rotten about about the one part of me that's arguably pretty darned awesome. I mean, my summer staple clothing item (whether in fashion or not) is capri-length pants. Because they cover my large sprinter's thighs and highlight my sweet calves and tiny ankles (thanks Mom for the tiny ankles!). So why was that a bad thing? I tried to let it go, and when we returned the pants I did search around and find some that fit and didn't make my calves bulge like the Hulk.

However, calves have been on my brain since our return to Shanghai. I've noticed just how many flights of stairs I climb in an average day here, and it's a lot. Most of the Metro stations only have escalators either going up or down, not both, and sometimes not at all, so you can't get away from stairs. And because I'm suddenly paying attention, I've noticed that climbing a flight of stairs really engages my calf muscles. What does 5+ years of daily stair climbing do to a body? I mean, I wish it did more, but I'll take this. I could feel really bad right now about having what are apparently freakishly large calves by American beauty standards. But I'm not going to. Really, I'm not. I'm just going to say way to go, you beautiful and strong body! You really keep us going places! And I'll leave it at that.

I mean... I have enough other things to feel bad about when I scrutinize myself thankyouverymuch. Like my eyebrows... I was chatting with two girlfriends while in L.A. who complain of wild and unruly eyebrows that they have to pay someone to wrangle into submission. Another girlfriend here in Shanghai just asked me to go along with her to some local salon that only does brows, asking if she should book the appointment for two or just one. Ha! Me? The few hairs on my face that have bravely gathered together to make up my eyebrows are completely translucent and extremely sparse. Efforts to use any kind of eyebrow pencil or powder to make them pop, even by my favorite professional make up artist, make me feel like a clown. So I just wear glasses which draw attention to the frames, instead of wearing contacts which would put the 13.5 hairs that make up my brows front and center. Yes, I do think about this more than I should. And yes, I do feel bad about it. And indeed, brows are things discussed on the cover of those cursed beauty magazines which love to highlight flaws. And I hope that if you know me in real life you won't start staring at the space above my eyes, slight tilt to your head, wheels turning as you ponder how someone survives with so small a brow. Awkward. Instead, can I suggest a friendly, "Hey gorgeous!" I promise I'll return the favor. Because wow, have you seen yourself today? Your beautiful and strong body is really taking you places! Go you! 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Hello? Anyone still here? Deep apologies for the lack of posts. My biggest excuse is a big one: the country I live in blocks my website (all Google products including Blogger), and the workaround I have been using to still access it (along with facebook, gmail, and instagram) has been less than reliable this year, so I haven't been able to access it at all in 2016! The only posts I've done were from Dubai, where the internet is far more open and uncensored.

However! Thanks to a photographer friend in Los Angeles who was here visiting recently, I found a new blogging platform which isn't blocked and can be accessed pretty easily. It's a platform that has sprung up since we left America 5+ years ago, so I'd never heard of it. It's not free, but I think it'll be worth it.

After going through a pretty rough season where I didn't write at all but instead poured my heart out in painting, I'm happy to say I'm back to making art with the written word again. I've focused so much on fiction for all my writing, but in the past year I've seen that the actual stories that come from my colorful life are what I want to write about. So that's what I'm doing lately, laying down moments of happiness, pain, and wonder from a lifetime of wandering. We'll see what happens with it.

Starting next month I'll start transitioning over to the other blogging platform and hopefully get back to bringing new content to My Wandering Life. We're still in Shanghai, by the way. But we did move house, away from our flat on the 38th floor overlooking the Huangpu River, and into a much lower flat right at the tree tops where my view is a sea of green. Oh, and a little project my husband is working on opened two months ago. Shanghai Disneyland is the most beautiful and amazing place, and I've been seven times and every time I go there is more to see. I'll share more with you soon. It's super photogenic! We're here for the long haul though. About to jump on a plane and head to the beach on an island in the South China Sea where the boys will engage in water sports and I will sit under a canopy and doze with a good book. Life is good.

More soon, I hope! You can find me on Instagram for more in my day to day life. It's supposed to be a photography site, but I don't know how to not write when presented the option! I'm Roseknows.

Monday, February 15, 2016

MIKA in Shanghai!

I can't remember when I first discovered singer/songwriter MIKA. I just know his music makes me happy. His Popular Song with Ariana Grande, which borrows the hook from the song Popular in the Broadway musical Wicked, is very addicting. I have the video on my phone, and when I need a quick pick me up, I watch it and laugh at the tale of revenge (and want Ariana's dress at the end).

But the song of his which has particularly resonated for me while we've lived here in Shanghai is Celebrate. In the past (rough) year, I've scribbled "It will be OK" all over the place, including on the front of my journal (which I would never rip up the way MIKA rips up his in the music video below), a line from this song.

I love his videos. They are all so creative and energetic, and everything I've read and heard says that his live performances are the same. But we live in Shanghai, China, where many BIG commercial groups come through, but not so many smaller international groups. At least not smaller international groups I've heard of or want to see. Regardless, MIKA has been on my live performance wish list for quite some time, definitely since before we lived in Asia this last time around.

At some point late last year I got an email saying MIKA was playing in Shenzhen, which is in southern China. We did fly down to Hong Kong to see Star Wars, but that was something the whole family wanted to do, and it was our Christmas gift to each other this year. I sighed and thought, "so close." And then yesterday this image came through my spammy email:

Did I buy tickets for Shanghai less than two minutes after seeing it? Why yes I did. And I'm so excited. I've been playing his new album, No Place in Heaven, all morning. Good stuff. There's some really great things about being an expat, living abroad. But sometimes we don't get access to things we would if we were living back in Los Angeles, where we were spoiled for entertainment choices every single night of the week. We only get 20-something foreign films in movie theaters a year here (which is why Star Wars didn't come to China until January 2016, China had already hit it's quota for foreign films in 2015). So when we do get any musical act, musical, theatrical or dance production come through which looks even remotely interesting, we go see it. If enough shows sell out, more artists and performing groups may feel encouraged to come to Shanghai. Win-win for all of us. 

If you're in Shanghai and want to see MIKA, tickets are available for Thursday February 25 (Friday is sold out! Hooray!) by clicking on this link. Hope to see you there! 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Friendly Face

We've just returned from a holiday in the United Arab Emirates, visiting one of my best friends from Macau who now lives in Dubai, and a friend I went to high school with who I haven't seen in 23 years since our high school graduation day who now lives in Abu Dhabi. It's Chinese New Year here in China, and my sons, who go to a local Chinese school, have over five weeks off of school. So we looked for a place which was warm and where we have friends we could crash with (we're about to pay for the second term of the school year, so we needed to economize).

It was lovely and wonderful and exactly what we needed as a family (my husband only got to join us for a few days) and I'll write more about it later. But something funny happened, which happens pretty much everywhere we go in the world: a total stranger approached me for help in a place I knew next to nothing about. It's happened to me on my first day in London (with a Chinese man who was lost on the Underground), during a holiday in Tokyo, and immediately after our arrival in Macau, plus plenty of other times on vacations throughout the world.

It happened twice during this trip to Dubai. Once, when the boys and I were were wandering along the coast of the Persian Gulf (which in the UAE is called the Arabian Gulf, I was corrected multiple times), enjoying the warm air and listening to the turquoise waves crash on the incredibly soft sand (see photo at top of post). "Excuse me, We're trying to find the Metro?" It took me a moment to realize the young couple were actually addressing me. Having just taken the Metro, and done the same walk that they were going to need to do (25-30 minute duration), I asked their final destination, looked up the proximity to a Metro station at the other end, saw how close it was to where we were, and quickly judged the price of the Metro vs. the cost of a taxi, and recommended that they just take a taxi to save time, spending about the same money. I'd passed a taxi stand so I sent them there, and I went back to enjoying the sun and surf.

The second time was at about 1:30 a.m. at the Dubai International Airport, while I was gazing off at nothing, waiting in a long line at Starbucks before our connecting flight to Moscow. A woman walked directly up to me, thrust her phone at me, and said, "I can't connect to the wifi, can you get it to work?" She didn't have an iPhone (which is really the only smartphone I have any experience with), but I took the phone and spent several minutes trying to help her figure out the slightly complicated way the airport has to get you on their free wifi, and then back into the messaging app she was trying to use to send a friend at her destination a text about her delayed flight. Off she went, a quick "thanks" over her shoulder. There was a man in a suit with an American accent in front of me, and he turned to ask if that was my mom. "Nope, never met her before." He looked slightly taken aback. "Why did she ask you for help?" "Beats me. She really should have asked my 15 year old son over there. He's the expert with all things wifi." He grinned widely, and said, "It's your friendly face."

I don't think I'm particularly friendly... I'm an introvert and don't go making conversation with random strangers if I can help it (that would be my Dad). But I do have insatiable curiosity about everything in the world around me. I'm highly observant with a great sense of direction, and I ask a thousand questions. The best thing that ever happened to me was when I got an iPhone (my first ever smartphone) and had Google at my fingertips to answer any question in seconds. My brain exploded with happiness at all the new information which was mine instantly! My kids say I know everything. That isn't true at all. The more I learn, the more I realize there is so much I don't know. But I do know how to find answers, and if someone asks me a question I don't know the answer to, I tend to drop everything until I can find the answer or can point them to another person who can answer it. I'm not really sure why people confidently approach me for directions and help, especially when I'm lost in revelry over the beauty of the shoreline, or completely zoned out waiting for caffeine in an airport terminal after midnight. But it never, ever annoys me. So maybe even if I don't feel that I'm particularly friendly, the guy in line was right... my face must say otherwise.

Now if you walk up to me and ask me something about Shanghai, where I have lived for four years, you'll get the full guided tour with fun facts and even commentary on where the best western toilets are while we're out and about. Go ahead... come visit and test me on this!

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