More delicious food

Headed over to the Former French Concession tonight for dinner with some Swedish friends. Sichuan this time, and ohmygoodness it was delicious. Started with a round of the most amazing cocktail, called the Basil Drop. It was green and frothy and full of basil and fabulous. The food was fresh and spicy and so good…and it just kept coming. Cold cucumber salad and garlic eggplant started us off. Then came a mushroom dish, mapo tofu, spicy pork ribs, dumplings, and these amazing whole shrimp skewers that you ripped off the head, then ate the middles (Including the shell!). At some point we ran out of cocktails and switched to pitchers of Tsing Tao. A delicious and unforgettable evening!

And the Winner Is………..

……..Shama Century Park. Well, truth be told, it’s not the winner yet, but we’ve started negotiations and hopefully sometime next week we’ll hear from the agent that we were successful. Fingers crossed, everyone!

We saw a few more places at Shimao Riviera today, but the apartment that we saw yesterday at Shama really stuck with us. We went back to see it again in the morning and then back another time after lunch to make a list of our requirements. We’re requesting a change to the furniture, adding some office furniture in the big living area, as well as a switch to 2 single beds in the one bedroom since the boys will need to share when we have guests. We also requested some patio furniture and a few other items. Our agent will pass along our requests, and make an offer. We’ll be on pins and needles until then…we really like this place and we also don’t want to have to go house hunting again if it were to fall through.

As a serviced apartment, our neighbors will all be expats, but the Century Park area as a whole has lots of regular apartments, so we won’t be living in an expat only zone outside of the apartment complex. A bonus of the serviced apartment is that they can provide linens and dishes and everything, so we’ll be able to move in straight away when we arrive, instead of holing up in a hotel while we wait for our stuff to come. Having a serviced apartment also means that there is a concierge service 24 hours/day to help with taxis, translation, problems, etc. They also include housekeeping twice a week, have an onsite gym (although I still have my eye on a membership at that swanky place we visited yesterday), and organize lots of fun activities for the residents (kids movie nights, parties, cooking classes, etc). Both schools we are considering offer bus pickup directly from the compound, meaning Eli and Oliver are sure to find school friends that are also neighbors.

I took some video of the apartment to show to the boys, and I will share it here also when i get a chance to upload it. Please everyone think good thoughts for us that we get this place!

Edit: A short video from one of the balconies. The full tour will have to wait until we’re back in the US

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The Plot Thickens….

I’ll admit, I sort of expected that by day three, we’d have pretty much settled on a school for the boys and have chosen at least an area to live in, probably even a compound and perhaps even an apartment! Truth be told, before I got here I thought I was decided on the school (BISS), the area (Lujiazui), and the likely compound (Shimao Riviera Garden). I figured that the trip would just confirm those choices. Monday and Tuesday did, because we saw BISS, loved it, and saw a bunch of places at Shimao that had potential. Then came today, and those things I was certain about are far less certain. Aaaaahhh!

We visited two schools on Day 3, Dulwich College and Yew Chung International. YCIS was a very impressive, dual language program, but probably isn’t right for us. Dulwich, however, was amazing and I loved it so much more than I thought I would. I don’t even know how to pick between it and BISS. I think we’ll apply to both, and if the boys get in both places we’ll show Eli the brochures we picked up at each school, give him our impressions, and let him choose.

We visited two new housing areas today, Jinqiao and the Century Park area. Jinqiao, also known as ‘Green City’ is a purpose built expat community. Dulwich College was located there, as well as another international school. There are expat oriented shops (Carrefour, Starbucks) and restaurants. We visited a nice gym, and the local medical and dental center,which looked like it had been scooped up from the US and plunked right down there in Jinqiao. In addition, the housing was very Western, both in layout and furnishings. The apartments were quite spacious, around 3,000-4000 sq feet, and all included a master suite so big it contained a hallway. We also visited a more Chinese compound, which was gigantic beyond belief, with 4 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, 2 stories, and so many balconies and terraces I lost count. It was very appealing to imagine life in the Jinqiao area, with lots of familiar sights, walking distance to school, gym, doctor, Starbucks, etc, but in the end we decided it was just a little too far out for us, we want to be closer to the middle of the city.

Some pictures from Green City housing:

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We had lunch in the Century Park area, and spent some time exploring. Right before we ate, we visited an extremely nice gym. I began to seriously consider living anywhere nearby just to be close to it. Lunch was in Thumb Plaza, a lovely shopping mall connected to the Kerry Parkside hotel and the Shanghai Expo center. We ended up at a place called Happy Pho, which was delicious. I’m used to eating pho with just the thinly sliced beef, and this version came with some additional meats, some of them definitely parts of the animal I had not eaten before.

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After seeing how lovely the gym and nearby shopping was, we were eager to see some apartments in the Century Park area. We only saw one today, but it did not disappoint. A penthouse apartment at Shama Century , it really wowed us. As a downside, it is only 3 bedrooms, so the boys would have to share when guests came to stay. But otherwise, it was really awesome, big and light and bright, with balconies on both sides and gorgeous views of Century Park, Shanghai’s largest.

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Ah! Decisions, decisions! Century Park is a gorgeous area, right near the Expo, Thumb Plaza, the fake market, and the amazing gym. The park is big and green and beautiful. It’s right on the metro line. It’s closer to school, whether it’s BISS or Dulwich. But it is further from Ryan’s work, meaning he’d need to rely on the driver to get him back and forth unless he was up for a 1/2 hour or so walk. With the Lujiazui apartments, he could pick between being driven or a short walk to work. Century Park is also further from Puxi, the other side of the river and the old part of the city. Tomorrow we’ll see a few more apartments in Shimao, and a few more in the Century Park area at a different compound. And then we’ll need to pick! Yikes!

北京烤鸭 Beijing Roast Duck

Tonight was another night to try a new food, but this time was not remotely spicy. I’ve been anxious to try Beijing Duck, and was unwilling to wait until we visit there. We had originally planned to head over to Puxi to eat at Lao Beijing , but we were late getting back from the fake market (no pictures from there, too busy buying lots of stuff!). When we asked the concierge to call us a taxi for Lao Beijing in Puxi, and he suggested that we could instead walk just around the corner to Quanjude, we jumped at the chance.

Happy to say it was better than I could have ever imagined. The skin was brown and crispy, with a small layer of fat that just melted in your mouth. We went with just the basic accompaniments since there were just the two of us eating, but I am looking forward to trying out Lao Beijing also, hopefully with the kids along so we can justify ordering more food!

Pictures are of terrible quality, sorry!

Big beers. We each ordered one. Not strong, but Ryan had to finish mine anyway.

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View of Quanjude

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The carving of the duck ( for the table next to us)

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The skin is served first

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Ryan assembles the duck, plum sauce and scallion wrap.

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Mmmmmmmmm!

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Day Two

Day two- done! No pictures to share from most of the day. The morning was spent visiting Eli’s number one choice of school, BISS Pudong. They are finishing up a large expansion project and so there was a lot of chaos and places we couldn’t visit. But what we could see we were really impressed with. So far it’s still the #1 choice but we have at least two other schools to visit. Those two are closer to where we will most likely be living, but we are less worried about a long ride to school for the boys after seeing one of the ‘school busses’….a large full size coach, with comfy seats, a/c, belts, etc. those boys would be riding in style!

After our visit to BISS we headed for our medical clearance check. It’s a requirement to obtain a resident permit that you pass the medical clearance. We (and about 20 other expats, the most caucasians we’ve seen together in a single place so far) stripped down and changed into government issue robes, then were paraded from room to room, with different checks taking place in each area. By the end we had:

been measured for height, weight, blood pressure and pulse,

had our bellies and necks palpitated (‘NORMAL!’, the lady shouted at me. ‘GET UP! NEXT
ROOM!’),

blood drawn (a check for STDs, and I assume cholesterol and blood sugar since we had to fast.
Until 1 PM. That sucked),

Ultrasound of the abdomen- not sure why but they seemed to be looking in the area of the
kidneys? While the other rooms all just gave me a check, the ultrasound Dr. actually wrote
something on both my and Ryan’s forms after this test. Word on the street is almost every
expat gets ‘fatty liver’ marked on their clearance form, so this is probably what it was. You still
pass, but they do make a note of your fatty liver, apparently,

Chest x-ray,

Eye check,

And EKG.

It was all very orderly and surprisingly quick. Most of the doctors and technicians could speak English, and there were signs everywhere to help you through the process, so it went very smoothly. In addition, we had a handler that the relocation company provided to us. He filled out our forms, waited in the line for us, handled payment, and just generally told us to sit and wait while he handled things. It was odd, to be sure, but it was also very nice not to have to navigate that situation on our own. Similarly I’ve come to appreciate our driver. At first I found it super awkward- not only does he drive us around, but he drops and picks us up right where we need to be, even if that means stopping in the street and holding up traffic. He hangs around for however long it takes until we need him again, and while we’re gone he tidies up the car, taking out any trash (like the box left from the pizza we DESTROYED as soon as we got in the car after our medical appointment and could eat again) and always setting out fresh bottles of water in the cupholders next to our seats. (!?!). Even just having the door to the car opened and closed for us is weird for me, BUT thank goodness we have him, because we have no business driving a car in this city. Ever.

After the medical visit we inhaled that pizza in the car (and had him take us to get some much needed coffee) on our way back across the city to look at more of Shimao Riviera. The city is so big it’s impossible to describe. After fighting some ridiculous traffic (again, never ever ever driving myself. Ever.) we made it back over to Lujiazui and Shimao Riviera Garden. We looked at an apartment with a similar layout to what we saw yesterday. Same big foyer, round dining room, master bath w/TV in front of the tub(!) to watch if you can draw your eyes away from the cool river view. This apatrment was higher up, so had some extra impressive views. The decoration, however, was a little on the ornate side. The pictures pretty much speak for themselves:

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That’s it so far for today. We’re heading to go check out the nearby Fake Market and then probably over to Puxi for dinner.

Fun with New Foods

We went wandering in search of dinner tonight and had some great finds. We mixed things up a bit and ate dessert first, stopping at a choux puff stand. You can pick from several types of pâté à choux balls, and a variety of cream fillings. They were so good!

Afterwards we wandered a bit more before settling on a Hunan place nearby. Not knowing just what we might be getting into, Ryan ordered two dishes…a mushroom skillet thing and a celery and beef dish, both of which were not marked on the menu as spicy. If they were the Hunan version of mild, I don’t think I could handle even looking at a dish they call spicy. Check out the photos I took of Ryan enjoying his meal. I promise, there was absolutely no hamming it up for the photo. He was too busy trying to survive to bother with silly poses.

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Househunt Day One

Day one of our house hunting trip is under our belts. Whew! We started the day off with some sightseeing, taking in Tian Zi Fang, Xin Tian Di, and the Bund, as well as a drive by of Nanjing Road and Jing’an temple. Joey, our relocation agent, took us to buy metro cards and to a supermarket that specializes in imports- it was eye opening. Luckily we aren’t hoping to eat all of our regular US foods after the move. A small box of granola was priced at 118¥, which is around $20 US! Pretty much everything is available (pop tarts! Doritos! Belgian beer!), you just have to be prepared to pay for it.

We had beautiful blue skies today, so the view from the Bund was spectacular. Also of note, I’ve been in the country less than 24 hours and already had someone ask to take a picture of/with me. I’d heard of this phenomenon- tourists taking a picture with the giant American they found while sightseeing. I just never imagined it would happen so quickly.

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After our morning’s sightseeing we had lunch at Din Tai Fung in Xin Tian Di. Apparently it’s somewhat horrifying to the Shanghainese that the best version of their quintessential dumplings, the Xiao Long Bao, is found at a Taiwanese chain in a shopping mall. Having never had xiaolongbao before, I can’t verify that these were the best, but they were certainly delicious! In addition to the classic xiaolongbao we had another type of steamed dumpling, filled with an unidentified green vegetable, and a side dish of fried green beans with pork. Everything was so very tasty.

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The afternoon was filled with looking at apartments. We checked out three compounds- Yanlord Garden, Shimao Riviera Garden, and a serviced apartment complex (essentially a hotel apartment). We liked what we saw at the first two. The grounds and facilities seem more extensive at Shimao (2 clubhouses, outdoor wave pool w/an artificial beach, several themed gardens) but the apartments at Yanlord were a little bigger. We’ll probably return to see more of those compounds, depending on what we think of the other areas we visit in coming days. The serviced apartment was absolutely gigantic (around 4,000 square feet), with multiple balconies, 2 floors, and a master suite approximately the size of our house in Ann Arbor. (The very last photo below shows the hallway that was part, just part (!) of the master suite) The dining table looked big enough to easily seat 10-12 people. It was furnished in a very ornate style and was exceedingly fancy, and was just not for us.

Photos from Yanlord Garden apartment:

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Photos from Shimao Riviera Garden:

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Photos from Serviced Apartement:

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Umbrellas everywhere

There are umbrellas everywhere. It is common to see them on corners so you can hide from the sun while you wait for the light to turn green. Many women use them when walking around to find some shade. Note: it has been 100+ all week with high humidity.

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