Ryan is headed to Australia and New Zealand next week, so we’re celebrating Mother’s Day a bit early with one of my favorite activities, the afternoon tea set. This time, because we are at the Pudong Shangri-La, the set includes a miniature version of one of their famous cronuts.
It’s a sunny and beautiful day in Shanghai, everyone is home from work and school, and we’re enjoying a relaxing day. The gym we belong to has a deck area outside the pool, with a bouncy castle, playground for the kids, and a bar and grill. We’re enjoying some food and beers while the kids play. Best. Gym. Ever.
I often post a lot of the funny things the kids say and do to Facebook, and worry that they’ll be lost to time when we all get sick of the FB. (I mean, really, who isn’t tired of it already!). So I’ll try to make am effort to keep more of them here, and hope this blog stats around for a long time so I can look back. In the meantime, I copied my post from a few minutes ago:
I love how bits of information get absorbed and connected together in new and inventive ways in little minds. Oliver just finished telling me about how it’s much fairer these days because girls and boys can both compete in the Olympics, since it wasn’t that way in Old Times. He’s not 100% sure how it changed but he thinks it might have been Nelson Mandela who was responsible. ‘Not quite’, I say. ‘Remember?Nelson Mandela was fighting apartheid in South Africa.’ ‘Oh right’, says he. ‘And he was helping out Rosa Parks with her bus that’s in the Henry Ford Museum’
As part of his homework, each week Oliver gets an assignment in his Learning log to work on over the coming week (sometimes two). I believe we’ve posted one of his videos before, about his research on the Blue Spotted Jack. There was another one, about making a Haloween decoration.. He has kept a log of his physical fitness, made a Christmas card for a friend…lots of great stuff. His assignment for this past week was a lot of fun, and my favorite so far, so I thought I’d share it.
We’ve got the kids in bed, the glögg warmer warming, all is in place for a lovely evening soaking and looking out at the city. The bathtub, however, has been filling for at least 40 minutes and it’s not even close to full. Yes, it is a large one, but I don’t think the size is the issue…the water pressure up here on floor 20 just isn’t that fabulous. Hoping we finish filling the tub in time to enjoy it before we fall asleep!
Oliver celebrated his 6th birthday today, and he did it in style! We started the morning with a nice FaceTime call from Grammy and Blue, and then headed over to the Kerry. Ryan and I went to the gym, to get in a vigorous spinning class in anticipation of the gluttony to come, while Oliver hit the Adventure Zone, where he has worked up to being able to go down even the biggest slides! (When we first moved here, he said he wouldn’t be going down the big ones until he was 8 at least). Eli headed out to do whatever it is that Eli does..he mostly wanders the mall, like preteens all over the globe..it’s clearly a universal behavior. After the gym, we had another quick FaceTime call, this time with Nana and Papa, and off we went to brunch.
Oliver chose The Cook as the location for his birthday brunch, which was convenient since we were already there! This was our second time brunching at The Cook, and we loved it even more than our first visit. Probably because we knew how it works this time..our first visit was a little confusing. Because you can order a la carte, instead of brunch and at times when brunch is not being served, all the items have prices on them…but they are irrelevant for those enjoying the all you can eat buffet…you just order whatever you like. Everything is cooked to order, so you place your order, and the staff scan the card you are given when you first enter, which allows them to know who ordered what, and they bring it to your table when you have finished. The restaurant has many different stations to visit, divided mostly by type of cusine..you can choose anything you like from the many options…sushi, tepanyaki, Thai, Indian, Cantonese, Malaysian, American, pasta, salad, Peking duck, Shanghainese, etc, etc. There is also an an amazing bakery with assorted breads, desserts, ice cream and various toppings. For drinks, the kids went nuts with fresh squeezed lemonade and Ryan and I enjoyed the free-flow adult beverages, which come from The Brew, the onsite microbrewery at the Kerry. We all ate and drank very very well, and the kids were entertained by the clown and magician that stroll around the dining room performing tricks and making balloon sculptures.
After a very long brunch we waddled away from The Cook, and paid a visit to the Lego store, where Oliver picked out a gift from Nana and Papa. Then the boys got haircuts. Now it’s back home, to digest (I don’t think we’ll need to eat again for days!) and put together Legos. All in all, a very happy birthday for our Oliver!
After the awful awful awful air pollution of the past week, it was a relief to see the numbers dip back down into the (still unhealthy, but no longer apocalyptic) sub-200 range. Especially because I’d been looking forward, for weeks, to today because I had planned a Christmas Market Marathon for us. This weekend seems to be THE weekend for Christmas markets in Shanghai. I’m guessing as to the reason, but maybe because they are trying to hit a December weekend before the international schools let out and many expats leave town? Regardless of the cause, this was the weekend of Christmas Markets, and I wanted to hit as many as possible. With big plans for my birthday tomorrow, that meant fitting them all in today.
Our first stop was a bit of a bust. This being China, there are frequently situations where details are lost in translation. This was the case for the Winter Wonderland at 3 on the Bund. Despite a promise of ‘all day family activities’ and an epicurean market, we arrived to find that other than the brunch, there was nothing else going on until 4. No matter, we had a nice walk along the river to get there, and afterward headed to our next market on the itinerary.
Next up was the Marche de Noel at the Cool Docks warehouses further up (down?) the Bund from our first stop. This was a much bigger sucess. First we stopped at the Cool Docks 1 location, both because the boys were in need of a snack, and because we had no clue where the market actually was. The boys filled up on gelato, the grown ups on coffee, and then we were off to the actual market. And it was a blast! We enjoyed some glühwein (E&O got real Belgian hot chocolates) while strolling along the vendor booths. We found a Swedish lösgodis company, and grabbed a photo of Eli with their adorable mascot. We purchased a box of pre-mixed candy, and are looking forward to checking out their store to see if you can mix your own as well. The boys also got a chance to decorate some cookies for a good cause.. They were delicious. (I took a bite. Mom tax.)
Our final stop for the day took us to the Christkindlmarkt over in the Former French Concession. This one actually charged admission, but your 25 RMB ticket was then good for an equivalent amount in food and beverages. More glühwein for Ryan and me, as well as bratwurst. It’s just not an authentic Christkindlmarkt without bratwurst! This market looked the most authentic, with little wood huts for each vendor. It was also the busiest. It was packed! We still managed to buy some gifts, eat some delicious sausage, drink delicious mulled wine, and the kids found a playground. It was all very festive and Christmasy and was a wonderful end to our market marathon. We continued to pretend we were in Europe by finishing the night around the corner at La Creperie. I had a crepe that had raclette cheese, potatoes, ham and cornichons. It was like having a whole raclette meal, in crepe form. Unsurprisingly, I had no room for a dessert crepe after that, but don’t worry, the kids did!
There have been a couple of articles that I have read recently that have really illuminated for me some truths about what it is about expat life that we enjoy so much. We had such a great experience living in Sweden, and while we missed everyone and were glad to get back to the States for a while, before too long we were talking about how nice it would be to live abroad again. There are a lot of things that appeal, the travel opportunities, ability to expand the kid’s cultural experiences,etc etc. All of these are wonderful, but one of the absolute best parts of our experience has been the people we meet. You would probably assume that life as an expat can get sort of lonely, since you’ve uprooted and moved yourself to a country where you most likely know no one. But it’s amazingly quite different….expat communities are like a petri dish for friendships…the conditions are such that relationships can be encouraged to happen faster and more prolifically than they would out in the “real world” of your home country.
This first article from an Australian travel blog, talks about this phenomenon. The author writes about various friendships he has made in expat communities, and marvels and how quickly they came to be. This has certainly been the case for us here in China, where we have lived for all of 6 weeks, and yet already I am finding my calendar to be totally full with social engagements. Today’s blog post is, in fact, happening only because I decided today would be a day at home to catch up on things like email and blogging and stuff, and so cleared my schedule for the first time in weeks. The author of the article from The Age seems to attribute this hyper social scene to the personality type of expats. He argues that the kind of people who will take on an expat assignment are also the kind of people who make friends easily, are always up for hanging out, and are generally and uber-friendly bunch. Which, I think, is true to a certain extent. We certainly noticed that with our group of expat friends in Sweden, and so far in China the theory is bearing out as well. However, we have plenty of friends at home who are just as gregarious and ready and willing to have a good time, yet are living happily in the US and not interested in moving abroad. Similarly we do know some expats that don’t fit his profile of the adventurous social butterfly extrovert..thus I think there is more at play than just a certain personality type comprising the majority of the expat population.
Another article , also from Australia, delves into some other reasons behind the speed and intensity of friendship making for expats. She writes from the perspective of the expat wife, but it really applies to trailing spouses of any gender; Shanghai has itself quite a community of “guy tais” ( a play on the Mandarin word “tai tai”, for housewife). In fact this one just wrote his own article about the friend phenomenon . They both write that it is the intensity of the expat experience that brings these friendships about. Which certainly rings true- you wind up sharing things with complete strangers in ways that would just NOT happen back at home. Take this for example..say you arrive in your new country and quickly wind up with some sort of unfortunate and embarrassing medical condition that you need to treat. While pantomime is a perfectly acceptable tool when you’re looking for, say, a ladder….you just don’t want to go there when you’re looking for medicine to treat your yeast infection or explosive diarrhea! Online dictionaries and translators can help you express what you are looking for, but they’re not as useful in understanding the response. And with those as your only other options, suddenly asking a near complete stranger where to buy some Imodium just isn’t as horrifying as it would have been back home. Chances are they have a stockpile at home that they’ll share with you, and by the way why don’t you come over for dinner after that stomach problem clears up?
Regardless if it is personality or circumstance or some other reason behind the phenomenon, we’ve been blessed to meet some incredible, lifelong friends through our adventures, and we’re looking forward to making many more in the next three years. And then returning to the States and all the dear friends we left behind, whose friendships, despite being forged under much less intense circumstances, are still as valuable to us as those made elsewhere in the world.