Street of Eternal Happiness

The “Street of Eternal Happiness” is a book set in Shanghai, and written by fellow Minnesotan Rob Schmitz,

This book really spoke to me. I enjoyed it so much I would recommend it to everyone, especially all westerners who are living in Shanghai.

The book includes excellent historical details on China, Shanghai in particular, and the ever-evolving culture. I’ve heard from many people how much Shanghai has changed, and is still changing, but I hadn’t really considered the impact that change has on cultural differences until I read the book.

Rob compared Shanghai to NYC, and how “raw” NYC still was over a hundred years ago.

Between reading the book, and thinking about Rob’s descriptions of Shanghai and its people, and having lived here now for a couple of months, I have found that my attitudes have definitely softened.

The first subway opened in NYC in 1904. The first subway line opened in Shanghai in 1994, and the system grew quickly. Average weekday ridership in NYC was just under 6 million in 2016. Average ridership in Shanghai is 10 million per day. Subway etiquette is still evolving in Shanghai. There is lots of pushing and shoving here, and I try to set a good example, not that anyone is paying any attention to me. I am often the only person who isn’t on their phone.

Shanghai is…”the most populated city of the most populated country on the planet” and I have discovered that patience goes a long way towards harmony with my neighbors.

My favorite part of the book are the stories of people who lived and/or worked on the Street of Eternal Happiness, currently known as Changle Lu. Living in a city with more than 24 million other people means that I will only ever know a very, very small percentage of the population. And, since my knowledge of the language isn’t good, right now I have very little chance of really getting to know my neighbors. Rob got to know several families on the street, and did a great job of sharing their stories.

It was also a good reminder that we all do have a story.

My story right now is in Shanghai, and it is still evolving. Thanks for joining me on this journey!

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.

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!

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.