Last day of work

Today is my last day of work. How long will I be out of the workforce? That is undetermined at this time.

I am going to miss my colleagues. I am going to miss my clients. But will I miss going to an office every day? Maybe. Maybe not. I feel ready for this new phase of my life.

I have left many jobs. I am not leaving this job because I don’t like the work or the company or the boss. I am not leaving because I found a different position in a different company. I am leaving my job, and moving to Shanghai to support my husband and his career.  #expat

And I am leaving my job because this opportunity gives me a chance to fulfill a dream – travel. A China assignment specifically gives me closer access to places that were not previously on my bucket list: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia (just to name a few).

Not having a job is a big change for me. But I don’t plan to be a Peg Bundy and sit on the couch all day eating chocolates. I will volunteer, travel, write, take photos, and do some freelance work. But I feel like I need a label for what I will be doing for the next 18 months. I guess the label is something close to “unpaid vacation.”

Now…time to pack my bags!

Final Countdown

It has been over 7 months since DH first told me that he wanted to take an expat assignment in Shanghai.

Now it is about one month before my move. He moved over in January.

I gave my employer 8 weeks notice, even though I knew they wouldn’t replace me.  8 weeks was probably too long. I am now in my last 2.5 weeks. I am starting to feel like a stale donut. It is probably time for me to go, but no one has “thrown” me away yet. Perhaps there are still a few tidbits that they can pull from me.

After I am done with work on June 15th I will taking a one-week road trip to Montana with my dad. And then I will have 3-4 days at home to finish up last ends, and spend quality time with my pets as they are all staying in Minnesota with Andy.

Am I ready? Not really, but it is time for me to jump in (the deep end). I am confident I have built a really good life preserver over these last 6-7 months.

And I will be back home in August.

 

Shanghai transportation hierarchy

Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way. Culture shock! I haven’t seen this anywhere else I’ve traveled.

It is very inexpensive to ride the metro. And even cheaper to rent a bike. Bikes are available throughout the city. I tried the bike rental for the first time today.

And in the process of riding a bike 4 miles, I learned the hierarchy.

Pedestrians are indeed on the bottom.

As a bike rider I felt elevated out on the street. The scooters and cars are above a bike. But it seems like the scooters were much more tolerant of me on a bike than they are when I am walking.

I quickly became a fan of the cheap and easy bike rentals. It wasn’t as fast as riding the metro, but I got some great exercise today.

So I rewarded myself with a trip to a bakery. There are many fantastic French bakeries in Shanghai. I will continue to use a bike to explore Shanghai and visit bakeries.

House Hunters International

House Hunters International (HHI) is my favorite HGTV show. I TiVo every episode, but I like the European ones the best.

Each episode has the same basic “recipe:”
1. American couple (or English speaking, if from somewhere else)
2. Visit three properties and choose one
3. One person of the primary pair is a “negative Nancy” and finds many things to complain about at each property

I still harbor the fantasy that I will be on a future episode with Adrian Leeds in Paris. Maybe…someday….but now my house hunt is in Shanghai, China, and it won’t be with the HHI crew and cameras.

Each HHI show begins the same way….introduce the family, show where they live now; and then meet with the realtor for (what looks like) 5 minutes to discuss their wish list for their new property, and budget.

My Shanghai apartment hunt began with sending an email to the realtor to give them our wish list. But, I did think about HHI when I came up with my list:

  • Centrally located, near public transportation
  • Lots of light
  • Western amenities, such as dishwasher, oven, large fridge
  • Balcony
  • Pet friendly

I also wanted a pool, something you would rarely see on a European HHI show. The main reason we didn’t select this place was because it didn’t have a pool. And was farther from DH’s office.

We didn’t need to discuss budget because they assured us we would only look at apartments that were within DH’s employer’s budget.

But on HHI they typically take people to a “budget busting” property – I think, in part, to show them how expensive it is to get everything on their wish list. Because, some people’s wishlist’s on HHI are absolutely ridiculous, especially relative to budget.

We were supposed to see 9 properties, which I think was going to be too many. We ended up seeing 8 because one of them was occupied. We went back and saw our top two a second time. I wonder….do they get a second look on HHI? If so, we never see that in the final show.

Our Shanghai house hunt begin with two “serviced” apartments. And, it was tough to beat them. A service apartment in Shanghai means you get some of the same services as a hotel; maid service, and weekly linen changes. Both of the serviced apartments were gorgeous! Much nicer than my humble USA home, and absolutely nicer than I could ever afford if the apartment was in Paris.

In the end, we chose the first apartment we looked at. It didn’t have the best light, but it does have two balconies; one of which looks out on a park. Many of the other apartments were on higher floors, and had nice city views; but I didn’t want my view to be of other tall apartment buildings. I like the park, and I really like living across the street from a park.

Finding a place to live is a very stressful part of the process of becoming an expat. I am  happy with our choice and will probably find it difficult to leave in two years.

Chinese Work Permit

DH is stuck in a loop and hasn’t gotten his work permit yet, which impacts other things such as his payroll.

As part of prep for the move he first sent a copy of his grad school transcript. It was notarized by the school, and authenticated by Minnesota’s Secretary of State. That wasn’t good enough, so he pulled his diploma out of its lovely frame, and begrudgingly sent that to Baker McKenzie (the law firm dealing with paper work, and other aspects of the move).  He didn’t want to send his original diploma, but it arrived back at our house, via FedEx. We thought that issue was closed.

Nope! Now that he is in China they want to see the diploma. The problem:

The diploma has been packed up with the rest of his personal belongings, and is still in the US.

It is still in the US because it can’t be released until he has his work permit.

Which he can’t get until he receives the diploma from the moving crate.  This feels like an odd game of international “chicken.” Who is going to blink first?

Well…I guess this confirms what all experienced travelers tell you: keep your most important belongings with you.

I don’t know where the moving crate is, but I assume they could crack it open, pull out the diploma, and send that to China.

Hopefully this gets resolved soon. Has anyone else encountered this issue during a move abroad?

 

How to buy things in China

I think I am a typical American. I have a debit card from my bank. I have Visa and AmericanExpress credit cards. I don’t carry very much cash.

Before I discuss the challenges of buying stuff in Shanghai, China; let me lay out my understanding of the evolution of credit, etc. in the US, so we can compare.

I grew up in the 1970’s. My mom wrote checks and my dad mostly used cash. I am not sure Chinese people ever wrote checks. My translator had never seen a checkbook. I write 3-5 checks per year now, as I use automatic payments for most of my bills. But writing checks was the norm for a very long time.

In the 1980’s credit cards became mainstream. They had been around for decades before that, but your average person didn’t have a credit card in the 60’s or 70’s. And credit cards, for most people, started with a local store card. My first credit card was for Target. It eventually evolved into a Visa, but they started as a single-store card.

Also in the 80’s was when people stopped getting a check from their employer that they then had to deposit in their bank. Direct deposit is now the only payroll option available for most companies. It is cheaper and convenient. My paycheck is deposited automatically, in the middle of the night when I am sleeping.

As writing checks was starting to be phased out in the early 1990’s, banks began issuing debit cards. A debit card looks like a credit card, but the owner must have money in their account in order to make a purchase with a debit card. In theory, you needed to have money in your account in order to write a check; but there was typically a 2-3 processing delay before a check cleared. Debit cards deduct money from your account immediately (almost). And, if you didn’t have the funds; well, the bank might let the purchase go through anyway and then charge you a $35 overdraft fee. Banks in the US made billions of dollars charging fees to their customers.

The last big change to happen in the US with debit/credit cards started a few years ago when the banks started putting chips in our cards. Chip/pin has been the norm in Europe for many years. It has been deemed, by many, to be more secure than the swipe/signature method the US was using to process credit card charges. And really, did anyone ever check the signature on the receipt to make sure it matched the signature on the account. No! Traveling in Europe without a chip card was difficult.

Traveling in China with any US debit/credit card is difficult. Cash was the norm, but that is quickly changing.

The norm in Shanghai is paying via WeChat or Alipay, and to a lessen degree – Apple Pay. My interpreter told me she doesn’t need to carry a wallet. She uses apps on her mobile phone to buy what she needs – groceries, subway tickets, restaurant meals.

I don’t think this will catch on in the US. I’ve seen Apple Pay for a few years now, but Americans are worried and fearful of the security of using our phones to make purchases. There have been so many hacks in the US, and identity theft continues to be a big problem here.

I wanted to try WeChat, but I think I need a Chinese phone number and bank account in order to set up WeChat’s wallet. I also tried to link my US credit card with Alipay, but that didn’t work either. I think I successfully set up Apple Pay, but I haven’t tried it yet.

I was able to use cash to purchase subway/metro tickets, but not my US cards.

I like using the kiosks at McDonald’s to order, as they have an English option, but I can’t pay at the kiosk. If you wait a minute or so at the payment screen it will eventually give up and give you a piece of paper that you can take to the counter where you can pay cash.

I’ve eaten at a few restaurants that took a US card, but that seems to be the exception in Shanghai.

I don’t mind using cash, but I understand the speed and convenience of using an app on my phone to make purchases. It seems foreign right now, but I assume I will get used to it.

And maybe it does become the norm in the US….someday.

 

 

Building a life in Shanghai

All buildings need a good foundation. This is what I have done to start my foundation for a good life in Shanghai:

VPN – I set this up before leaving the US. I think it is essential for American expats who want access to all sites that you can use at home. #greatfirewall

Apartment- DH’s company provided excellent assistance with this overwhelming task. We looked at 8 properties, and ended up choosing the first one we saw. It isn’t on a high floor, as recommended by others, but it is elegant and the view is of the park across the street, instead of another high-rise.

SIM – Our interpreter took us to China Mobile to get a local phone number. Plans are different from what we have in the US; the biggest difference, so far, is that many plans don’t include text/SMS because everyone here uses WeChat.

Bank – Our interpreter also helped us at the bank. There are still things we are trying to figure out, such as transferring money from the US.

And now that DH has his Chinese bank account, he can get paid! But this also allowed us to set up Alipay. I will cover this in a separate post, but know that buying things here is easier with Alipay. US credit card are not accepted at most places.