Tokyo

I traveled to Japan for the first time in July 2005. It was one of our best family vacations, and such a favorite that we always planned to return.

Hiroshima 2005

We planned our next trip for March 2011. The kids were in college then, and we were all very excited. And then the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami happened – a terrible day for Japan. Our vacation was to begin Match 14th. We went to Nice, France instead.

I just returned from 5 days in Tokyo. It was as hot and humid there as it has been in Shanghai, China.

Tokyo is a vibrant city with amazing food and lots of lovely gardens.

After only a few weeks of livng in Shanghai, I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the two cities.

Even though Shanghai has the larger population, Tokyo’s sidewalks are more crowded with people, but they feel safer. Car traffic is much lighter in Tokyo; perhaps because most people take public transportation. There are very few scooters in Tokyo, so crossing the street did not feel like a game of Frogger. And when the stoplight was green, the pedestrian had the right of way.

Japanese people are polite, and courteous in ways that match my values. Chinese people push and shove, and only seem to think of themselves. This has been one of my struggles since moving to Shanghai. I have not been treated the way I want to be treated, and try to treat others. And while I can change my behavior to better match where I live now, it won’t change me. But, I don’t think I will ever get used to people pushing me out of the way in order to get a seat on the metro/subway.

In planning my trip to Tokyo, I did not check their calendar, so I didn’t find out until I arrived that Monday was a holiday in Japan. As a result, I did not see as many sites as I had planned. The heat was also a factor.

I visited three parks and two shrines. I love Japanese gardens. They aren’t crowded and very peaceful.

Grand Shine Gate at Meiji Jingu

Hamarikyu Garden – the contrast of old garden with new buildings

I spent a very hot afternoon indoors at an aquarium. Who doesn’t love penguins?

I took a water taxi, which is a great way to see parts of the city you might otherwise miss.

Tokyo’s golden poo

I wandered Takeshita Street. I wouldn’t do this again. It was too crowded, and not very interesting, unless you want to shop for cheap trinkets.

I spent part of a morning at a cat café. The cats were very nice and easy to entertain, but their interest in humans is very tied to which human has treats.

I spent a great afternoon at the National Museum of Western Art. This museum housed a great collection of art across hundreds of years. I also found some type of festival in Ueno Park. The festival had sake and food booths. I tried some dumplings (gyoza).

Pollock

Van Gogh

Miro

I went to the famous Tsukiji Market, but tourists aren’t allowed in the wholesale areas in the morning so I didn’t get to see the fish auction. There are lots of places to eat fresh sushi, and you can tell the best ones based on how long the line is outside of the tiny restaurant.

I visited Hachiko in Shibuya. He was a dog with an amazing story of loyalty to his owner.

I planned to do more, but between their holiday on Monday and the heat, it was more of a leisurely trip than I originally expected. However, according to my Fitbit, I did walk over 30 miles in four and 1/2 days.

When walking in extreme heat, it is very important to stay hydrated. It is very easy to do that in Tokyo as there are beverage vending machines everywhere. Really, everywhere! I find this to be very quaint, and trying all of the different options was a favorite memory of the kids from 2005.

I can’t wait to visit Tokyo again. But I will never do so in the summer…..unless I decide to climb Mt Fuji again, which was a key feature of the 2005 trip.

Week 1 as an expat in China

One week down, and approximately 78 to go. Seriously though, I think I accomplished lots during my first week in Shanghai.

My first challenge was to get over the jetlag. The flight here was my longest ever – 14 hours from Detroit to Shanghai, after a flight from Minneapolis to Detroit. I drank lots of water, got some rest, and still had a bad case of jetlag. Part of my struggle is that it gets dark here earlier in the evening than at home. China doesn’t observe DST. It gets light very early in the morning, which I love, but I also love long summer nights with lots of light, and that doesn’t happen here. Sunset tonight will be 7 pm.

I have really struggled with the heat and humidity. And it rains a lot. I hate sweating. My apartment has an indoor pool, which is kept at a great temperature. I have been in the pool every day since I arrived – in part for exercise, but also because it cools me off to be in the pool.

I have two cats and one dog at home in Minnesota. DH and I discussed bringing one or two of the cats over to Shanghai, and in the ended decided they should stay home. The three animals are really bonded, and I didn’t want to break that up. But I wanted a pet, so we went to a pet adoption event in Shanghai back in April, and met a cat named Rafael. And he is now our cat! We brought him home on my second day, and I am having so much fun getting to know him.

Even though I just arrived, I’ve already planned a trip, because that is who I am and what I like to do. It will be a quick trip next weekend to Tokyo for DH’s birthday.

I started language lessons. Learning Mandarin feels a bit like climbing Mt Everest, but I have a great tutor. Wish me luck. It seems like this will be one of my biggest challenges.

One of my other challenges will be the patience required with the slow internet here. Cue the old dial-up sound from the 1990’s.

I am still in withdrawal from giving up diet Mt Dew. I haven’t spent all day, every day looking for my favorite pop/soda, but I have looked for it.

When you think of China, what animal do you think of? Giant Pandas! I made a quick trip to the Shanghai Zoo this week. I didn’t stay long because of the heat, but I saw two pandas, stopped by the giraffes, and saw a few other animals also. Most of the animals were napping. I want to go back, but I will wait until the weather is cooler.

Wait…not done yet…

I joined a weekly get together at a coffee shop of Shanghai’s American Club. As an introvert, going to events like this are outside of my comfort zone, but I am so glad I did. I will be joining this expat group, and want to volunteer with them also. I met six awesome women and look forward to getting to know them, and the rest of the club, over the coming weeks and months.

I know I will encounter Shang “lows” as well as Shang “highs” while I am here. I am keeping myself entertained laughing at translation errors, and cultural differences/oddities.

Child-sized toilets. They are cute, but would you let a child that small go to the bathroom alone? There really isn’t room for the child and an adult in the stall.

I’ve bought milk in bags in Canada, but they were at least one liter. This is the smallest bag of milk I’ve ever seen.

Most signs in Shanghai are in English, even if the words are awkward and not what we would use in the US.

I hate snakes! I didn’t try the Smiley Fotato Grid. I assume it is potato, but couldn’t really work out what the dish would be.

I’ve learned the number 4 is unlucky in China. But where is 13? There are three other apartments on my floor- numbered 1-3, but I am in apartment #5, instead of 4.

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?