CNY – Year of the Pig

Chinese New Year (CNY) is a Chinese festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar. The festival is usually referred to as the Spring Festival in modern China, and is one of several Lunar New Years in Asia. (Definition from Wikipedia.)

The Chinese “zodiac” is based on a 12-year cycle of animals and 2019 is the year of the pig.

Recent years of the Pig are: 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019.

Two of the major components of CNY seem to be spending time with family and giving gifts. In these ways, it seems most like an American Christmas. Decorating is also part of the celebration- see below for photos.

One of my expat friends was told by her Chinese teacher that the holiday means the most to children and the elderly.

But since most people seem to receive several days off from work (up to a week), it seems like everyone I see is getting in the spirit.

I was on the metro earlier this week, on one of the lines that goes to a train station, and it was packed with people- many of whom had suitcases and/or red packages.

Money is given in red envelopes- hong bao.

Tipping isn’t part of the culture in China, but it is customary to give hong baos to people who regularly perform services for us. We have excellent staff at our apartment, and while I mostly take the metro, I love my driver, so I will be happily giving out hong baos tomorrow.

I am leaving Shanghai for CNY since 3M China gives a generous amount of time off for the holiday. Next up – Thailand!

We enjoyed a pig cake last night with our Chinese teacher to celebrate CNY. My teacher said she doesn’t eat eyes – even chocolate ones – so she had the cute curly butt.


Thank you.
Simple, and I was taught that saying these three words is an important part of being polite and considerate.

A new expat friend recently asked me what the Chinese word is for please. It is pronounced “ching” (pinyin=qing), but I told her she won’t hear it very often, and there doesn’t seem to be an expectation to use it. 

In an effort to improve my comprehension of spoken Mandarin I spend a lot of time eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. I never hear please. 

I asked my Chinese teacher and she told me the time when it would be expected is when I want to ask someone a question. “Ching wan” translates to “please (may I) ask” …and then the actual question. 

It felt weird to me also when I first arrived to not be using please as liberally as I would at home, or even in other countries. I always try to learn three phrases in the local language when I am traveling:
Please. Por favor. S’il vous plait.
Thanks. Gracias. Merci.
Where is the bathroom?

My friend seems determined to use the word now that she knows it, but like me, she may eventually give up after a while. 

I am still trying to give up smiling because Chinese people don’t really do that either. #culturaldifferences 

One of my struggles with living in the most populated city on the planet is my American belief that living here for everyone would be better if we showed each other more kindness, but I recognize that perhaps my version of it may not be the best for this culture.

(Images from Google image search)

The Expat Script

When two expats meet for the first time, there are a series of questions they ask each other:

Where are you from? What country, state, etc?

How long have you been here (living in your new country)?

How long do you expect to live here?

What part of town do you live in? (Or building, etc.)

Do you have children? If yes, are they here also? If yes, how old are they? If young, what school do they attend?

What company does your spouse work for?

Did you give up a job to move here? If so, what type of work did you do?

You get the idea….

But if your memory isn’t great, you might go through the script more than once with someone.

As a shy and introverted person, I really like the script. If me and my new acquaintance get through the script, but haven’t found something in common or some spark, then it isn’t likely we will develop a long-term friendship. Sometimes it feels like speed dating.

I thought it would be easier to make friends after moving to Shanghai, but the tide has turned and I am making good progress towards finding people to spend time with.

December 2018 Update

I have been too quiet on this blog. That will change next year.

What keeps me busy in Shanghai?

I meet with my Mandarin teacher (Hanyu laoshi) 1-2 times per week. It is a difficult language to learn, but I keep working at it. I spend time every day listening to native speakers…hoping to be able to understand part of what they are saying. I can usually pick out individual words, but full comprehension just isn’t there yet.

I am the board secretary for the American Club Shanghai (ACS). This is one of my volunteer positions. ACS is a great group, and I expect to take on more responsibility next year.

I am on the editorial team for Courier magazine, which is the publication of the Shanghai Expatriate Association (SEA). This also is a volunteer position. My role will change next year, and I expect that transition (top secret for now) to give me an opportunity to expand my skill set.

I play mahjong every Friday with SEA. Not only is this a fun social experience, but it is also good “exercise” for my brain as I strategize each game.

I play “may I” every Wednesday with Brits Abroad Shanghai. It is a card game similar to rummy and “phase 10.” This also is social as well as more brain exercise.

I have done some traveling. I just posted some of those stories to I have more to post.

As a shy introvert I need to push myself constantly to find more opportunities to meet people. Making friends has been harder than I expected, but like the language, I keep working at it. ACS, SEA and Brits Abroad all offer a variety of events and activities every week.

And lately, I’ve been attending all of the parties put on by the expat groups, in addition to a few private parties also. Here some are pictures from holiday parties.


I made an unplanned trip back to Minnesota in November. My husband went home for emergency eye surgery. He is healing well and hopefully will get most of his vision back. Because of this trip I was able to spend Thanksgiving in the US. I really enjoyed spending time with my dad, brothers and their families.

I leave Shanghai Thursday so I can spend Christmas in Minnesota. I am very excited, but I will miss my Shanghai life, and Dave, as he is staying in China for the rest of the year.

Just before my husband flew home for his surgery his boss asked him if he’d like to extend his work in Shanghai beyond the originally planned two years. I surprised myself by immediately agreeing that we should stay longer. I agreed to this adventure because I want to see all of Asia. One more year just won’t be enough for me to do everything I want to do. There are others reasons also I think we should stay, but I will work those into more content to post here.

More to come in 2019…..

Happy holidays!!

Terra Cotta Warriors


A farmer was digging a well for water in 1974. It was a very dry year. He unearthed one of the greatest discoveries of my lifetime.

You really need to see pit 1 of the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum. Here are my pictures, but they don’t fully capture how amazing this active archaeological site is.

The building is over 250 yards long – more than 2 football fields.

Site of the well the farmer was digging

New section they recently started digging out more warriors

I wonder if the people who created the warriors and buried them could have imagined our interest in them now.

Warrior hospital

The chariots didn’t survive- the empty space behind the horses

Terra cotta warriors- a very, very difficult puzzle!

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Great Barrier Reef


I completed my open water scuba diving requirements 17 years ago on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Since then I had completed 13 dives. (Puts me way behind the curve from most divers.)

As a Minnesotan, diving is an expensive hobby because it requires me to travel somewhere else to dive. I dove once in Lake Huron, for practice. It was cold.

I have spent way more time visiting Europe than going places where I could dive, but I did put the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) on my bucket list once I realized how much I love to dive.

But…realistically, I didn’t actually believe, at the time, that I would ever scuba dive the GBR.

I just returned from a fantastic trip to Australia, and it started in Cairns.

Cairns is a small town where many people go to access the GBR. I know an Australian woman who described it…

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