Pontificating on Expat life

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.

Taking the Metro in Shanghai

Much to Mr. Shen’s dismay, I’ve been getting around more and more by subway these days. I think poor Mr. Shen feels a bit slighted, but I just prefer the public transit option. Unfortunately the language barrier is such that I can’t yet tell him not to take it personally, but hopefully I’ll get there at some point.

The Metro in Shanghai really is fabulous. It is clean, fast, and outside of rush hour, not terribly crowded. Signs are well posted and in English, making navigation easy. Lines are color coded, and this scheme applies across all maps, directional signs, etc. Easy peasy. There are also apps available to help you plan your trip.

The metro is also incredibly inexpensive, with most trips I have taken costing less than $1 US. There are customer service booths in the station where you can buy a reloadable card, which you then scan on entry and exit, and the cost of your ride is calculated and deducted from the card. Bus trips (I haven’t been that adventurous yet!) and taxi fares can also be paid with this card.

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Fabric market

We went to the South Bund Fabric Market in Puxi this weekend. The boys need coats for wearing to school. It just didn’t seem right to send Eli to school with a sports coat and then put a ski jacket on top.

So we had the guys measured for custom made cashmere coats. They got to choose all the details of the style, buttons, zippers, fabric, everything.

We are excited to see how they turn out.

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Haloween at Shama

Before we moved, the kids had noticed the candy and decorations and whatnot going up in Ann Arbor, and asked if there would be Halloween in China, and we told them probably not. Boy, were we wrong! There are Halloween displays everywhere, pop up shops, and about 10 zillion parties to choose from. Because we were totally unprepared, there was a bit of a panic about not having costumes, but then I remembered…we live in Shanghai! Land of the many many many tailors! And so that problem was easily solved…we bought a couple of masks, and then headed over to the tailor section of the nearby fake market to order up some capes. (Eli ordered a custom shirt, too. More on that later)

Today our apartment building is hosting Trick or Treating, and then a party. I had to do some searching, but I eventually was able to locate what I’d consider to be Halloween candy, bite sized pieces of familiar US brands. Turns out I needn’t have worried, there were an amazing array of things being given out. I’d also considered just buying a bunch of full size candy bars, since they were easier to find. Thank goodness I abandoned that plan, as there were 130+ kids! and the imported candy bars are outrageously expensive.

If you’re looking for photos of Eli, you’ll have to wait. He ditched us today in favor of a skateboarding camp over in Puxi. The folks that run his skateboarding after school activity also do weekend clinics, so he’s signed up for that the next 5 weekends. Hopefully he’ll finish up in time to join the party before it winds down.

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