Will I stay? Or will I go?

I moved to Shanghai, China just over a month ago.

I will be back in Minnesota next week. And then to Vegas for a long weekend. The Vegas trip was planned long ago. It is to celebrate my brother’s 50th birthday. 

I do not have a ticket to return to China. 

I left corporate America to make this move. What have I been doing with my time? Reading, writing, doing research, and trying to get used to the heat.

While I have enjoyed setting my own schedule, working for myself; there is a downside. For the first time in my adult life I am not going to an office every day. This means I really need to make an effort to meet people. There is an unofficial/unorganized 3M expat group, and I have met a few people that way.

I’ve been to events sponsored by the American Club Shanghai and the Shanghai Expat Association, but it is summer and lots of trailing spouses are back in the US. I’ve made a few acquaintances, but have not made any friends yet. I know this takes time, especially for an introvert, but spending too much time alone is one of my biggest challenges.

One of the reasons I agreed to move to China was so I could travel. I made my first trip – a long weekend in Tokyo – but Japan is suffering through abnormally high temperatures. I spent as much time inside as possible, as the heat really drains my energy. Please see my previous blog post for additional details on this trip. My next non-US trip isn’t planned yet, but I am close. G’day mate! (That is your hint.)

I brought two diet Mountain Dews with me from the US. I recently drank the first one. It was easier to forget about my habit than I thought it would be. Maybe I won’t even want to drink the other one.

I miss home. I miss my dad, my brothers, and lots of other family. I miss my dog and my cats. I miss my house and my Target. I miss my friends.

The language barrier is really frustrating. I have practiced some with my limited Mandarin. But my ability to speak a little does NOT mean I can understand what people say in response to my requests or questions. My tutor asked me this week if I wanted to learn how to read Chinese, and I rolled my eyes out loud. I need to spend more time practicing. I know this. My tutor knows this.

My first month has been a struggle. I sometimes think I am in danger of becoming a recluse, but I know as soon as the heat breaks some I will be outside as much as possible. I love the park across the street from my apartment. I love riding bikes and how easy and cheap it is to do that in Shanghai. I will get busy with the expat groups in September. There is so much more of the city that I want to explore. Fall is my favorite season, and I am excited for it arrive here.

I know I have the potential to be happy and healthy in Shanghai. I will return in late August or early September. 

The main reason I haven’t booked my next ticket back to China is because I am now missing a front tooth. (Most of it anyway – just a small, discolored nub is left – the result of knocking out the baby tooth as a child.) I tried to have my veneer replaced with a crown right before I moved here, but the new crown didn’t fit well so my dentist sent it back to the lab. Instead of delaying moving here, we decided to wait on the new tooth since I already had a trip scheduled back to Minnesota. But if that new crown doesn’t fit, I am not returning to China until I have a fully functioning tooth. I was given a temporary, but that fell out a couple of weeks ago. It is inconvenient to not have a proper front tooth.

There are things about living in Shanghai that drive me crazy, but I need to give it more time before I make a final decision.

Restaurant Dining in Shanghai

There are some things about dining in restaurants in Shanghai that I find odd.

  1. Only 1 menu per table. And lots of the menus are like Cheesecake Factory – they are like 20 pages, in part because there are pictures of the dishes. And since Dave likes to thoroughly read menus, only having one menu means taking turns.
  2. Sometimes the server will seat us, and then stand at the table waiting for us to order. This feels awkward to me, in part because of the previous point. We need some time with the 1 menu, but haven’t had much success so far in asking the server, in their local language, to come back in a few minutes.
  3. Restaurants don’t serve cold water. This is one of my frustrations when traveling in Europe also. But in Europe they typically serve room-temperature water. In Shanghai, the water is hot. Hot water means, to the locals, that the water is safe. I have learned how to ask in Mandarin for ice cubes.
  4. Food comes out in some random order. In the US, even at Applebees, when you order a salad or an appetizer, it comes out first before your main dish. And the main dishes come out at the same time for all people at the table. Because food comes out randomly, this can mean you are watching other people eat while you wait for your food.
  5. The servers never come back to ask if you’d like dessert. I like this because it has removed a temptation that I am not always able to ignore.
  6. The servers will bring the bill before the food comes out of the kitchen. I like this one also because when I am ready to leave it saves me from having to track down my server.

I still find eating at a sit-down restaurant in Shanghai to be a little intimidating. I don’t know the language, but I have found some success in acting like a two-year old and just pointing at what I want.

Shrimp and rice – my go-to dish

What do people from other countries find quirky about eating in restaurants in the US?


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).


Van Gogh


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.