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!

Driving Miss Daisy

Or in my case, driving miss Julie…

It is common for expats in Shanghai to have a driver. Ours is named Li.

In 5 weeks I’ve used the driver twice. The first time was to pick up a vacuum, six blocks away. And again today because it was raining- my second typhoon- and I knew the driver would need to be out anyway to pick Dave up at the airport.

I don’t want to drive myself in Shanghai. I am comfortable taking the metro. I like biking. And I walk. And traffic is terrible!

I suppose the primary reason I don’t use the driver is because having a driver seems to me to indicate a level of wealth and a lifestyle that I don’t have. But he is getting paid to do a job.

I will probably get used to it, like so many other odd things about living in China.

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.

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.

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.

The Bund

The list of “must see” places in Shanghai is short. My travel “bible” is the book “1000 places to see before you die.” I track my progress against that list here:

The Bund is one of two places listed for Shanghai, China. It might be the most photogenic place in Shanghai.

I arrived at sunset, which was lovely; but I’ve heard sunrise is even better.

I think it will be my favorite place to walk.

I’ve seen lots of other pictures of the Bund, but what surprised me the most was the river traffic.

I live near the Mississippi River in St Paul. I’ve stayed on the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris and traveled the Danube river. I have never seen so much boat traffic on a river anywhere else. And I was shocked at how fast some of the barges were going.

I love to kayak. I asked a friend before arriving in Shanghai if I could kayak on the river. She laughed, and now I know why.

After seeing the Huangpu river night I had a funny vision in my head of kayaking “frogger-style” across the river – and losing.

I look forward to exploring both sides of the river.